This is the last blog post for 2018. I have had one goal with this year’s theme Quilt with Excellence: Go back over the quilting basics and hone in on those skills. As any coach (athletic, academic, or art) will tell you, repeating the basics, practicing the fundamentals over and over again is really what makes you a better athlete, academic, or artist. The reason behind that theory is this — You can’t move on to harder stuff until a true understanding of the basics is there. Those basics should come as natural as breathing. They should be second nature. I wrote almost every one of 2018’s blogs from the stand point that each reader was pretty much a beginner. In writing this way, it allowed me to carefully emphasize each step and try to explain it fully.
Why all this emphasis on the basics? Because 2019 will be a bit different for my blog. It will be more personal, for sure. Less teaching and instructing and more just assuming you folks know what you’re doing. It will be more creative and less structured. But before we leave 2018, I would like to leave you with these recommendations for any level quilter – beginning or advanced – that should set you up for always Quilting with Excellence.
Don’t ever become discouraged. Sometimes it’s easy to get in a funk with your project. The reasons for this can vary from you’ve simply worked on a project too long or it’s a little beyond your skill set. I would like to encourage you to take a break from a project if you need to or hit up YouTube for some tutorials if that’s the problem. But don’t abandon the art just because you’ve hit that quilting wall.
Learn quilting terms. Every hobby, profession, etc., has its own jargon – terms and lingo only associated with that area. If I slung the term fat quarter out at a grocery store, I’m sure someone would think I was pondering the poultry poundage of a possible purchase. Throw that same term out at a LQS and it’s understood. If you come across a term you don’t know, look it up.
Buy the best fabric, thread, needles, and machine you can afford. Once the quilting bug has bitten, make sure you have the basics in your sewing caddie – seam ripper, scissors (for paper and fabric), mat, rotary cutter, pins, etc. But don’t skimp on the important stuff. When I first began quilting in 1986, I was on a budget. I would walk into Piece Goods (remember them?) and head straight to the remnant section. That department held small quantities of quality fabric. This buying strategy allowed me to practice on good material that didn’t bust my checkbook all to pieces. If I made a mistake and had to “unsew,” this fabric could take the abuse without fraying. Likewise my $200 Singer machine (purchased as a floor model from Brendles — remember them?) was a great starter machine. I wish I had her back but used her as a trade in on my first “big girl” machine – A New Home. The Singer, called Betsy, sewed like a top until her bobbin case went wonky. The New Home introduced me to the joys of good thread and Schmetz needles. I purchased the best of what I could afford each step of the way and the quality of the tools made sewing wonderful. I seldom had to worry about something malfunctioning.
That said, take care of your supplies. Replace your rotary cutter’s blade regularly. Replace the needles in your sewing machine after 8-10 hours of sewing. Clean your machine and oil it. Take it in to the tech at least every 18 months (if you use it every day) for a deep cleaning and oiling. Replace hand sewing needles and pins. Don’t use short staple thread. Take care of your equipment and it will take care of you.
Read the pattern through before you take the first stitch or make the first cut. And that bit of advice comes from the woman who truly believes directions are simply a suggestion instead of the gospel-truth. There is certainly more than one way to make flying geese or half-square triangles…and you may want to use your method rather than the pattern’s instructions. That’s fine. But the pattern will give you the “start-to-finish” GPS for a project and if you want to take a detour on your way to the finish line, that’s awesome. The instructions may give helpful hints about how big each block unit should be before they’re all sewn together. Highlight the important information. Circle what confuses you and google that part before starting – because chances are if you’re not clear on something, another quilt artist had the same issue. There may even be a YouTube video or blog for your quilt. Either or both of these are valuable helps.
Have a pretty good idea of how you plan to handle your quilt from start to finish. I’m a big proponent of having all the supplies purchased and kitted together from start to finish. Cut everything out – even the borders but leave them a bit longer in case your quilt top is a bit bigger than the directions indicated – put the like pieces in Ziplock bags and mark them. Make your binding and your label. Sew your quilt top. Press it. Sandwich it and know how either you’re going to quilt it or how you want the long arm artist to work his or her magic. I’ve found if you must stop and cut borders or binding or flounder when the quilting process starts, it’s just easy to shelve the project and not finish it.
Make a practice block first. This will let you know if you need to use a regular ¼-inch seam or a scant one. It will give you a good idea of how big each unit of the block should be before the entire thing is stitched together. You can make it from scraps, and yes, it does take a little extra time, but it’s fabric and time well spent. Which brings us to the next point…
Learn how to sew a consistent ¼-inch seam. I know I blew all sorts of quilting gaskets in everyone’s head when I wrote the blog about how the ¼-inch seam is not the Holy Grail of quilting. And it’s not. The unfinished size of the quilt block is most important. Sometimes getting that correct unfinished size means not using a ¼-inch seam…but most of the time it does. Practice until you can sew a consistent ¼-inch seam and know the difference between a regular quarter-inch seam and a scant quarter-inch seam.
Learn how to correctly use a rotary cutter. When those things first hit the sewing market, I thought they were just glorified pizza cutters. But once I learned how to use one I have never been so thankful for a new quilting notion. Now instead of spending time meticulously tracing templates and cutting my patches out with scissors, I could zip through my cutting process in half the time.
Learn several different methods of quick-piecing techniques and use those for making “standard” quilting units, such as half-square triangles, pinwheels, and flying geese. These will allow you to cut out fabric quickly and piece quickly and accurately. Try different ones until you’ve found your favorite methods.
Press your blocks and seams…don’t iron them.
Measure and sew borders the correct way. Don’t just cut long strips of fabric, sew them to the sides and then cut the excess fabric off. Do it correctly so that you can square up that quilt top one last time.
Sew your binding on with a consistent seam allowance and miter the corners. The mitered corners give such a nice, finished look to a quilt.
DON’T OBSESS OVER ERRORS
In another life, years ago, I was a high school science teacher. One of the life lessons I tried to leave with my students is this – mistakes can either be road blocks or detours. They can either stop you dead in your tracks and you never move another inch, or those same mistakes can teach you another way around a problem. What you make of them – a road block or detour – is entirely up to you.
Each quilt should be fun to make and teach you something new. That’s the joy of quilting. And that’s what I’ve told every person that I’ve taught to quilt. If you let the errors made in each quilt teach you something, you’re well on your way to becoming a better quilter. If you don’t, and those mistakes stop you from quilting, then they’ve become a road block to your creativity. It’s your decision which way you treat them.
Don’t obsess over them. Don’t compare your quilts to another quilter’s. Take what you’ve learned from each quilt and make the next quilt better. And in the process, you’ve taken a detour to learn something new. It’s a win-win. Don’t sweat it.
Christmas is next week, so this is the last blog for 2018. I want to thank you for being along for the ride. I’m excited about next year’s theme and can’t wait to tell you about it!
If you’re a devoted Disney fan and have had the opportunity to go to one of the Disney parks, you may be aware of a little game that visitors can play called “Hidden Mickeys.” Scattered throughout the parks are various Mickey Mouse logos. They can be hidden in tile work, stones, art work, or even in the rides themselves. Finding them takes a good eye and patience, but they’re so cleverly hidden that you feel extremely accomplished when you do.
I want to play this game with you in this blog. Except in this little exercise instead of finding Mickey, we’re going to find hidden quilt blocks. Unlike the Hidden Mickey’s, these blocks are hiding in plain sight. I call them “Peek-a-Boo Blocks.” They are simply pieced blocks that are a version of the “parent” block. But instead of being identical to the “parent,” there are slight differences. A line, square, or triangle could be removed, making the hidden block look different, but not so different that it doesn’t play well with the “parent” blocks. Using the hidden blocks with the “parent” blocks is a great and easy way to design your own quilt. And the more patches in the quilt block, the more options are available for hidden blocks.
Take for instance this block:
If the side units are replaced with solid patches, you get kind of an cross design.
Remove more units, and the cross appears even stronger.
Remove some of the patches that form the cross and you get a kind of a pinwheel design going on:
You can combine the “parent” block with the hidden blocks for a quick, easy design that looks complicated. It’s really just the same block with different color combinations that gives the appearance of being really complex.
If this appeals to you, remember the more patches the block has, the more opportunities there are to change it up and make hidden blocks. Like with this one.
You can remove and add patches, keeping the same three colors, and get these combinations:
These can be combined to create a quilt that looks intimidating, but it’s really easy:
These are blocks that I’ve played with. But how do you start with any block? It’s not hard, I promise.
Find a block that appeals to you.
Replace the outer patches with strips of background fabric. Alternating these blocks with the parent blocks will eliminate the need for sashing.
Find a block that appeals to you.
Remove only some of the side and corner pieces and see what you get.
Find a block that already has some recognizable blocks within it.
Replace the material around the recognizable block with background fabric.
Find a block with a strong center unit.
Begin deleting some of the adjoining units and bringing in the corner units.
Not all pieced quilt blocks will have hidden blocks lurking within them. The only way to know for sure is to draw them on graph paper (if the design doesn’t have too many pieces) or work with a designing software program such as Electric Quilt if the block has lots of pieces (this is just easier than drawing it out).
And if this idea has really tickled your fancy, there is a wonderful book by Lerlene Nevaril called Hidden Quilt Blocks. She has many different blocks already broken out for you and sized. It’s simply a matter of picking out what you want and going with it for your next quilt. This book is a wonderful addition (and one of those quilting investments) that any quilter should have in their library.
We’re quickly coming to the end of 2018 and our Year of Quilting with Excellence! We have one more blog left for this year and I want to discuss how to set yourself up to successfully make any quilt you want to sew. This will recap some of what we’ve discussed as well as throw in some personal experiences I’ve had in quilting. Then, per usual, I will give you my Annual State of the Quilt and introduce our theme for 2019 – which I decided on back in February 2018. I’m excited, as this next year will be more personal than normal. This year has been a real “how to” year, and my inner teacher was happy to instruct. But 2019 will be different. I promise.
Besides the double-fold binding, there are four other binding options available for non-art quilts. Those are the knife-edge finish, prairie points, single-fold binding, and bias binding. We’re going to take a look at all three, the pros and cons of each, and when you may want to think about using them on your quilt.
A knife-edge finish is also called knife-edge binding, but it’s really not a true binding. A knife-edge finish doesn’t use a separate piece of fabric, as in the double-fold binding. Instead, you fold under the excess fabric along the edges of the quilt top and the quilt backing and sew those edges together, either by hand or by machine. This finish is flatter when it’s used to connect quilts that have borders that are either lightly pieced or not pieced at all. The more seams at the edges of the quilt top, the more difficult it is for the knife-edge finish to lie flat. And if you have plans to use this method, a low-loft batting works best, as there isn’t a lot of bulk to fight and it looks neater.
When is a Knife-Edge Finish a Good Choice?
When the quilt will not undergo a significant amount of stress – in other words, it won’t be used for anything other than being looked at, as in a wall hanging, miniature, or landscape quilts. A knife-edge finish is not as durable as other quilt finishes.
A knife-edge finish works well with table runners and place mats, if they’re for show only and won’t be hitting the washing machine every couple of weeks.
If you want your quilt perimeter to look really stream-lined, without the bulk of a binding.
This method works well if your quilt has an irregular edge, like in a Grandmother’s Flower Garden.
When Should a Knife Edge Finish be Avoided?
Baby quilts and bed quilts will generally be laundered more often and experience a great deal of wear. A knife-edge finish would not hold up well under these circumstances.
How to Finish a Quilt with a Knife-Edge
Sandwich the quilt as usual – top, batting, and back. Quilt as normal but stop quilting about an inch from the outer edge of the quilt.
Square up the quilt edges to remove excess batting and backing.
Fold one side’s backing and quilt top away from the batting, leaving only the batting exposed.
Trim away ¼-inch of the batting with a rotary cutter. Be careful not to trim or nick the quilt top or back.
Repeat for the remaining three sides of the quilt, to trim down the batting. Be sure to remove a consistent ¼-inch of batting from each side.
Starting at one side, fold the backing up and over the batting and pin in place. Fold and pin the entire side, checking to make sure the fold-overs are equal.
Turn the quilt top under, matching the top’s folded edge to the already pinned side, removing pins one at a time, as you work and insert them again to hold both layers in place. The folded edges should match exactly.
Baste the turned-under fabrics together. Basting holds the folds in place and allows you to remove the straight pins.
Fold under the corners as needed to create a smooth, lump-free transition from one edge to the next.
Turn under the remaining sides the same way and baste.
Use a blind stitch and a thread that matches or blends with the fabrics to connect the top and backing along the edges. Applique needles are a good choice for this work.
For quick projects, such as place mats, you may want to omit the blind stitch and machine stitch a seam around them, placing it about 1/8-inch from the outer perimeter to secure the folded edges. Some quilters do this after blind stitching, but at that point, it’s personal preference. It’s not really necessary. It just depends on whether you like this look.
After the knife edge is finished (either by hand or machine), go back and quilt that 1-inch unquilted area. Take care to avoid puckers.
Prairie points are folded triangles used to finish the edges of quilt and embellish them, so there are really a two-for-one deal! They can also be used in blocks and borders to give a 3-D effect, but that’s another blog.
When Are Prairie Points a Good Choice as a Quilt Finish?
Prairie points are a great choice if you need to use up your fabric scraps or need an unusual way to pull your colors together in a quilt top.
When Should Prairie Point be Avoided?
Personally, I wouldn’t use them in a baby quilt, but overall, they are really versatile. I think you have to look at the quilt itself and understand how it’s defined – for instance while prairie points would look great on a pieced quilt constructed of star blocks, they would horribly out of place on a Baltimore Album Quilt.
How to Finish A Quilt with Prairie Points
There are couple of different ways to finish a quilt edge with prairie points and we’ll discuss both ways. However, each technique begins with a square of fabric and the length of the base of a prairie point’s triangle is half of its finished height (yes, we have to math on this). Use this formula to decide which square size will work best on your quilt. This formula works for both techniques, so only one equation to remember.
Multiply the desired height at the point of the triangle by 2.
Take this number and cut the squares ½-inch taller and wider than the calculated dimension.
So, if the desired height at the very top of the triangle is 2 ½-inches, multiply that times 2 and add ½-inch to that. (2 ½ x 2) + ½ = 5 1/2. Cut 5 1/2-inch fabric squares.
Technique One: Prairie Points with Open Folds at the Center
Fold a square straight across the center, wrong sides together, so that it forms a rectangle.
Fold the folded edge down equally along each side to create a triangle with an open fold in the center
Press lightly to keep the folds in place.
With this technique, the prairie point is sewn to the quilt so that the open fold is visible on the right side of the quilt.
Technique Two: Prairie Points with the Open Folds Along the Sides
Fold a square diagonally from corner to corner, wrong sides together.
Fold the square again, along its longest edge, being careful to align the edges with each other.
Press lightly to keep the folds intact.
This type of prairie point produces a finished triangle with an opening along one side. Tuck the triangles into the openings side by side as you distribute them along the quilt.
How to Sew Prairie Points to the Edges of a Quilt
Sew the prairie points to the quilt after it’s been quilted. Leave about 1 ½-inches unquilted space around the edges of the quilt. There a couple of backing options available, so be sure you read through everything before deciding which plan of action you want to take.
Trim the quilt batting and backing to match the quilt top, making sure to square everything up as you go. Fold the batting and backing out of the way.
Beginning at the corner, arrange the prairie points along one edge of the quilt, right sides together. Adjust the positions of the prairie points as needed. Pin into place.
Sew the prairie points onto the quilt with a ¼-inch seam allowance.
4. Repeat for the remaining three sides.
5. Trim corners to reduce bulk if necessary.
6. Flip prairie points right side up, taking the seam allowance to the back of the quilt. Press to help fold the backing under by ¼-inch, pinning it in place to cover the line of stitching.
7. Blind stitch the backing into place.
8. Add additional machine or hand quilting if necessary to fill in gaps around the outer edges of the quilt.
Backing Option: When you trim layers, leave the backing ¼-inch larger than the quilt top and batting, on all four sides. Turn under ½-inch before stitching the backing into place.
Single fold binding that only has one thickness. Instead of cutting the binding strip at 2 ¼ to 2 ½-inches and then folding it wrong sides together, this binding is cut narrower and is not folded. Most of the same methods used for double-fold binding are used in the single-fold binding, but there are a few differences – for instance, the binding pocket can’t be used for this method.
When is Single-Fold Binding a Good Option
Single-fold binding is a great option on small quilt projects. Mug rugs, mini-quilts, and miniature quilts are all great uses for this binding Double-fold binding is often too bulky for such small projects.
When Should Single-Fold Binding Be Avoided?
Single-fold binding is not as durable as its double-fold counter point. It should not be used on any quilt or quilted object that will be frequently laundered.
How to Finish a Quilt or Quilted Item with a Single-Fold Binding
Cut your strips at 1 ¼-inches. These can be cut on the length-wise grain or the cross-wise grain – whichever method fits your quilt’s needs.
Sew the strips together at a 45-degree angle, just as you do with double-fold binding strips. Press the seams open.
Start about halfway down one side of the quilt and pin the binding into place, leaving a tail, just as you would with the double-fold method. Sew the binding to the top, with a ¼-inch seam, turning the corners the same way you do for double-fold binding. A quarter-inch foot with a guide is great to have to do this, but a walking foot is even better.
Stop sewing about five or six inches from where you started.
Fold the bottom binding strip towards the center of the quilt at a 45-degree angle. Next fold the top binding strip toward the edge of the quilt at a 45-degree angle, leaving about 1/8-inch gap between the folds. By leaving the 1/8-inch gap in joining the ends of the binding, it will lay nice and flat. Press.
Pin the fold together, sew in the crease, and back stitch at both ends of the seam.
Trim the excess binding strips, leaving a ¼-inch seam allowance.
Press seam open.
Finish sewing the binding in place.
Trim excess batting and backing after sewing on the binding. Fold binding to back, turn under ¼-inch, and pin in place. At this point, I give it a quick press and miter corners when turning.
Blind stitch the binding down on back, use close small stitches, being careful to conceal the first stitching, but not going through the front of the quilt. You may want to put three or four extra stitches in the folds of the mitered corners to hold them in place.
Of all the binding methods I use, this is hands-down, my favorite. While I do use the double-fold binding most of the time, I prefer bias binding. Here’s why:
It’s the most durable of all bindings. Remember this diagram?
Bias binding is cut on that bias grain, so the fabric weave will be cross-wise. This sounds like a picky issue, but that cross-wise weave is the strongest weave and will hold up better and longer than even a length-wise grain binding.
It can give you some beautiful effects with your binding. It allows stripes or checks to be on the diagonal verses straight up and down or left to right. That’s a really terrific effect. I love to use a red and white stripe bias binding on Christmas quilts because it looks like a peppermint stick when cut on the bias. It’s a little thing, but it’s a wonderful finishing touch.
When to Use Bias Binding
In the past, most bindings were made on the bias. But since this method does require more material, and is generally a bit more difficult to make, it fell out of favor. So…if you need or want to use this method, remember to purchase extra material and plan to spend more time in this process. Here’s a few times you will want to employ this method:
If the quilt will take a lot of abuse – either through washing or play or general use. It holds up the best of all bindings.
If you plan on having a scalloped border. Because the binding is cut on the bias, it’s a bit stretchier and it can follow the curves and fall into those crevasses easily and lies flat.
4. You want that diagonal look with your checks, plaids, or stripes on your binding
When to Avoid Using Bias Binding
If you didn’t purchase additional fabric. Unless the quilt pattern calls for bias binding and tells you how much fabric you need for this technique, you may not have enough fabric to make the bias binding.
You don’t have the extra time. Bias binding doesn’t require a great deal of extra time, but it does take a little longer than double-fold binding.
How to Make Bias Binding
The first thing to remember is that this is bias binding not bias tape.
The next thing to remember is that for a queen-size bed quilt, you will need to purchase, on the average, ¾-yard extra binding fabric. This method is awesome, but it does require extra material.
I make 3/8-inch binding rather than ¼-inch binding. It looks better, gives you a little more fabric to grab onto, and I think looks more proportionate on a queen or king-sized quilt. I also think that extra 1/8-inch gives a nicer looking frame to the outside of the quilt, especially with batting that can have a thicker loft.
To begin, fold the fabric so the selvage matches the cut edge of the material to get that perfect 45-degree angle. Press the folded edge to get a crisp crease. I even give it a shot of spray starch.
5. Keeping the fabric folded, use scissors and cut along the crease.
6. Press the fabric flat now, so there are no evident folds.
7. Now we begin to cut the fabric. With bias binding, it’s best to use the markings on your ruler rather than the markings on your rotary mat. This is just more accurate.
8. I cut my strips 2 ¾-inches. With the 3/8-inch seam allowances, this still gives you a little wiggle room when the thickness of the batting is taken into consideration. I also find it handy to mark my ruler with blue painter’s tape and write the width on the tape, so I can easily see where I need to line everything up and cut. It’s easy to see and easy to remove.
9. After cutting the fabric crease with scissors, turn the fabric one-quarter turn clockwise so that the cut crease is now vertical. Fold the fabric in half, lining up the cut so the raw edges are even, as pictured below. This is now your new raw edge to line up the ruler for cutting your strips.
10. As you cut your strips, move the fabric away from the cut edge, rather than picking up the ruler. If your rotary cutter doesn’t make a clean cut all the way through the fabric, it’s easier just to cut through the fabric with the ruler in place, rather than trying to line up your ruler with the same cut edge.
11. Normally, I can get nine to ten cut strips out of ¾-yards of fabric. This is probably more than you will need, and a little extra for “insurance.”
12. After the strips are cut, trim the selvages off the angled ends. This gets rid of the selvage and lines the bias binding strips up perfectly for sewing.
13. Pin the ends together and sew together with a 1/4-inch seam. Press the seam open.
14. Press the binding in half, wrong sides together, the same way you do with double-fold binding.
15. Pin binding into place, beginning a third of the way down on either the right or left side, leaving at least a 12-inch tail of binding hanging to use to join the binding strips together. Sew as directed for double fold binding, using a dual feed walking foot if you have it. Word of caution here – since this binding is cut on the bias, it’s super stretchy. Handle it carefully, using caution not to stretch it. If you do that, the binding will never lay flat.
16. Stop sewing about 12-inches away from where you started. Lay the quilt flat, so you have clear access to the part of the binding you need to join. Fold the left side of the binding back, in half, and make a straight cut with scissors.
17. Lay the binding you will sew on top (the binding to your right), overlapping the two ends. Between the cut edge of the left binding, use a ruler to measure where you should cut the tail of the binding to join the two ends. When I cut this piece to join the binding, I always cut the binding ¼-inch less than the width of the binding. Since the binding is cut at 2 ¾-inches, I cut the last piece 2 ½-inches – ¼-inch less than the original width. That seems like a small detail, but that will make your binding lay perfectly flat.
18. Mark a diagonal line on the binding to the right. This is the sewing line. Line up the binding edges for sewing and pin across the diagonal line, so it won’t wiggle while you sew. Be sure to lay the right strip over the left strip, so the end of the right strip meets up with the edge of the left strip at a 90-degree angle. Trip to 1/4-inch and press open. Now sew the last of the binding to the quilt.
The Last Word on Binding
The following are tips that I use on nearly all my binding. These help the binding go on easier and look better. These work for me…they may not for you… so consider that statement my disclaimer.
When I trim and square my quilt up before sewing on the binding, I always leave about a scant 1/8-inch of batting and backing margin outside my quilt top. That little bit of extra insures your batting will be full and pretty.
Before I sew the binding to the quilt, I pin it to the quilt top – all the way around the perimeter. This lets me see if any of the binding seams will hit at the corners of my quilt, where I have to miter the binding. It makes the binding process a whole lot easier if the quilt corner and the binding seam don’t meet.
Once I have sewn on my binding, fold it out and press it, using a bit of steam and sometimes starch. That additional step makes the binding fold over easily and look wonderful. If it’s bias binding, I will omit the steam and/or starch, because those can stretch the bias.
Remember when I told you I use a different colored thread in the bobbin that doesn’t match the binding? The reason I do this is that the contrasting thread makes a perfect stitching guide when you fold the binding over and blind stitch it to the back.
Sometimes, depending on the look I am desiring for my quilt, I sew each binding strip on separately, overlapping the ends of the strips to make tidy corners. I don’t do this often, but it can work if I’m running a bit short on binding.
I always use a walking foot to sew on my binding. It feeds all the layers – quilt top, batting, backing, and binding, through my machine evenly.
If I need a hanging sleeve, or even think I will need a hanging sleeve in the future, I put it on with the binding. I can’t tell you how much time this has saved me.
I realize this is probably more than you ever wanted to know about binding but let me challenge you to move out of your binding comfort zone and try some different binding techniques. Sometimes changing up your regular quilting routine is simply a nice change of pace…and sometimes it can take a nice quilt to WOW territory in a few stitches.