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!
See you then! And until then…
Always Quilt with Excellence!
Love and Stitches,
Sherri and Sam