Quilting Confessions

I have a confession to make.  It’s not a particularly ugly one or anything remotely scandalous. And I imagine in the quilting universe there are more than just a few quilters out there who also can testify to this confession:

For years I was a topper.

Yup.  That was me.  I made quilt tops.  I rarely quilted a stitch (unless it was a small quilt).  I made so many quilt tops that despite the fact I’ve owned a long arm for three years now and have kept Loretta humming, I still have two bins full of tops.  When I began to quilt, the person who taught me only hand quilted, so that’s how she instructed me to complete my quilts.  And while I love to hand quilt, the process is time consuming.  This, coupled with the fact that I enjoy machine piecing, led to the dilemma to lots of tops and few completed quilts. 

Now, many years later, I’m comfortable with machine quilting on Big Red and I’m growing more comfortable with Loretta every day.  Of course, the obvious outcome of this is I have more completed quilts, but I will also share with you that quilting my quilts has made me a better piecer.  And while I realize that lots of quilters quilt with their checkbooks (pay someone to quilt their tops), I would like to encourage you to quilt at least a few of your own tops.  I think you’ll be surprised how much this improves your sewing and piecing. 

  1.  When you quilt your own quilts, you have to think about the entire quilt from the beginning.

It’s really easy to become captivated by pretty fabric and equally pretty patterns.  However, after you’ve quilted a top or three, you begin to understand that if you have lots of points coming together at one spot, certain sewing and pressing techniques will need to be used to make the quilting process go smoothly.  If you’re a novice quilter and your quilt has some quality negative space, you understand that there will be major quilting involved, thus a longer time commitment (so if you’re on a deadline, this pattern may not be the best choice).

You understand that some fabric handles the quilting process better than others.  You deal with the fact that if there are lots of colors in the top, you may be changing thread more often.  You know that a busy quilt backing hides your stitches and a solid or muted backing emphasizes them. 

It’s evident that the more you quilt your own tops, the more consideration is given to each step of the quilting process – from choosing the pattern and fabric to how you piece your top.  This overview makes you a better quilter because each step is really perceived as part of the whole and not individual processes.  This brings us to the second point…

  •  You get pretty darn picky about your patterns.

The more I quilted, the leerier I became about pattern designers that farmed out their quilting instead of quilting at least some of their own tops.  In my mind, if a designer didn’t see his or her quilt through the entire process (at least at some point), they may not have a grasp on how every choice affects the completed project.  You learn quickly that lots of tiny pieces in a quilt means you have to deal with more bulk.  And to me, the kiss of death with any pattern is the phrase, “Quilt as desired.”  Um.  At least give me some suggestions. I may not use your suggestion, but I will have a jumping-off point to dive into the pool of my own creativity.

  •  Quilting your own quilts makes you extremely aware of what really does and does not work.

Besides becoming aware of what type of fabric can handle machine quilting well, you become equally aware of what type of backing your machine likes, what type of batting gives the desired drape, and what quilting notions are really worth their salt.  As far as backing goes, I learned quickly that all of my machines really like the 108-inches and larger fabric backing.  They simply quilt better with those.  Of all of my machines, Big Red actually handles a pieced back the best.  Loretta will hiccup over a pieced back unless the seam is horizontal.  See, it’s knowledge like this that helps me make decisions when I’m purchasing fabric.  If I’m quilting on Big Red, I can use the fabric requirements on a pattern.  If Lorretta will be doing the quilting, I budget and plan to purchase backing fabric – just because I don’t always have time to deal with her issues.  I’ve learned Big Red can work with just about any batting.  Loretta likes cotton, 80/20, or wool.  And my long arm is much more pickier about thread than the other machines. 

As far as quilting notions go, the one item that threw me a big-time learning curve was what I used for paper piecing.  I really like this product:

It’s kind of like the interfacing used in garment making.  The big plus this product has concerning paper piecing is that it’s opaque – you can see through it.  In addition, you’re supposed to be able to leave this in your quilt top – which beats the heck out of pulling all those paper pieces out of a quilt top when you’ve finished sewing the center.  I used quite a bit of this in my Farmer’s Wife quilt and in the small quilts I made in 2018.   I also used it in a 2017 Mystery Quilt challenge I participated in.  I quilted my small quilts on Big Red and she gave me nary a problem about the papers left in the tops.  I threw the Mystery Quilt on Loretta and she gave me nothing but grief.  Moral of the story:  If I’m paper piecing and planning on letting my long arm work her magic, all of those papers will have to come out, regardless of what the directions say.  That means after I finish designing and appliqueing my Farmer’s Wife borders, I will be spending an evening binging on Netflex and pulling out the papers. 

It’s knowledge like this that is gained by quilting your tops yourself.  It brings so much information to the table as you’re making decisions about your top.

  •  You learn the importance of correct pressing.

I have written several blogs on pressing verses ironing.  If you haven’t read those, let me summarize here:  Ironing and pressing are inherently different actions and pressing is not optional when it comes to quilting.  Ironing is the back and forth action used for getting the wrinkles out of clothes.  Pressing is an up and down motion used for setting stitches and seam allowances.  The back and forth motion of ironing can really do some damage to bias cuts of fabric (it will stretch them), while up and down pressing will not.  A quilt that has blocks with stretched bias blocks is difficult to get to lie flat, so that means that no matter what kind of machine you quilt your top on, there is a big chance that you’re going to get puckers and tiny  tucks. 

In other words: Iron your clothes.  Press your quilt blocks. 

The next concept you grasp pretty quickly is bulk reduction.  And I’m not talking weight loss here – I’m talking about eliminating as much bulk as you can where seams come together.  There are certain blocks where this is not possible – like pinwheel blocks.  When all those seams meet at the junction of the four half-square triangles, there is a couple of tricks that can be played to help reduce block, such as “spinning the center” on the back of the block. 

However, the fact remains that there still is some serious thickness there.  You make a plan to quilt around it. 

But you learn that it’s important to reduce bulk as much as you can, so that your machine needle doesn’t break as it travels over the quilt sandwich.  I’ve learned to press the seams so that they nest. 

When I began quilting, pressing seams to either the right or the left was an anathema to me.  I had made clothes before I quilted, and in garment sewing, the seams are pressed open.  And on occasion, I still press block seams open, especially if there are a lot of points coming together and I can’t spin the seams.  The more I quilted my own tops, the more I learned that reducing bulk was sometimes more important than following the pattern pressing directions.  However, there’s one instance when your quilt seams should always be pressed to the side:  If you’re planning to stitch in the ditch around your blocks or block units.  If these seams are pressed open, your quilting stitches will merely catch thread, and not fabric.  This weakens all the stitches and they will rip out with repeated use or laundering.

  •  You learn that “squaring up” is important in each step of the quilting process.

I have probably talked so much about “squaring up” that you’re rolling your eyes and whispering, “Not again!” under your breath.  However, as a former teacher, I will tell you the same thing I told my students, “If I say it more than three times, it’s really important.”

So, folks…squaring up is important.  Every step of it is important.

If all your blocks are the same size, that means your quilt center will come out as true to size as possible.  And if the borders are put on correctly (I have several past blogs that deal with the correct way to put on borders), then your quilt will lie perfectly flat.  It will be a beautiful thing to behold – no ripples, straight and even borders…it will be lovely.

When it comes to quilting it, it will truly be a thing of beauty and a joy forever.  It will lie flat as it’s quilted – no matter if it’s quilted on a stationary machine or a movable machine.  And I probably don’t have to tell you that if you’re quilt lies flat, you’ve reduced your chance of puckers and tucks on the front or back to almost zero. 

Unless you’ve quilted a top that isn’t square, you may not appreciate what a fine thing a truly squared up quilt is.  Those quilt like a dream and when the quilting is done, the completed project looks awesome.  Plus, it’s given you no trouble.  Easy-peasy.

If you’ve never quilted one of your own tops, I hope this blog encourages you to try it.  Start small…work into larger tops.  When I began to machine quilt, I quickly grew to love seeing the texture come into play and watching secondary patterns emerge.  You can have a great deal of fun with the quilting.  So add another layer of quilting knowledge and fun to your adventures.  Just …. Quilt it!

Until next week, Quilt with Passion!

Love and Stitches,

Sherri and Sam


Good Times…

Remember those days when you first began to quilt?  Remember the excitement you had looking over new patterns?  The thrill of those first fabric safaris?  The anticipation of those first cuts and stitches?

Remember all the mistakes we made?

Ahh…. Good times.

I look back at those time (and those quilts) with a great deal of fondness.  When I signed up for my first block-of-the-month club, I had lots of sewing experience, but zero quilting knowledge.  For a woman that made all her children’s clothes and most of her own, quilting threw me a learning curve or two.  I thought that this week I would write about some of those early quilting mistakes I made.  For those of you that have quilted for a while, I know you’ll roll your eyes at some of them (as you admit to yourself that you made those goofs, too). For those of you that are new to quilting or have only made a few quilts, I hope you realize that all of us quilters made most of the same mistakes you have. 

  • Don’t mix pre-washed fabrics and fabrics that have not been pre-washed.

This sounds like a minor thing.  And I will admit quilting fabric has improved over the years to the point where crocking isn’t a real concern unless the fabric is really dark and shrinking (on a significant level) rarely happens. However, I still don’t think it’s a good idea to mix the two.  I also admit that there are still (sometimes heated) debates about the benefits of pre-washing or not pre-washing your fabrics.   But, if you’re like me and tend to wash and iron your fabric before you put it in a quilt, it’s a good idea to make sure all the fabric is prewashed.  If you sew a piece of pre-washed fabric to a piece of non-washed fabric, the non-washed fabric can still shrink a bit when the quilt is laundered.  This situation may lead to a slightly puckered appearance along the seam lines or applique pieces.

  • The ¼-inch seam is pretty much the “standard” quilt seam allowance.

This was the hardest thing about quilting for me to conquer.  I sewed clothes before I quilted and the standard seam allowance for most clothing patterns is 5/8-inch (or at least it was back when I made clothing – I have no clue if this still holds true).  The ¼-inch seam just appeared to be too small.  I worried about my seams raveling down to the thread and the quilt falling apart.  But after quite a few of my first blocks came out really wonky and bulky, I quickly learned that I had to master that ¼-inch seam allowance.  Today’s quilters have lots of tools to help with that – special quilters feet for their sewing machines, marking tools, seam guides, etc.   Use whatever works for you to get a consistent ¼-inch seam.  And be sure to recognize the difference between a scant ¼-inch seam and a full ¼-inch seam.  A scant seam is just a thread or two shy of the full ¼-inch.  Some patterns use the scant and some will use the full.  Always make a test block to see what works.  If the block comes out smaller than the quilt pattern indicates it needs to be, switch to the scant ¼-inch seam and try it again.

  • Cut accurately.

As most quilts are cut out via rotary cutter, mat, and ruler, one of the best pieces of advice I can give you is to learn to use all three accurately.  Let’s start with the rotary cutter.  There are literally dozens of these made.  Take the time to really research the different kinds of cutters to find the best one for you.  Personally, my favorite is the Martelli brand.  These are super ergonomic, and I can cut for hours without my hand hurting.  For those left-handed quilters out there, they make cutters for you.  The kind of cutter you pick depends mostly on the kind of quilter you are.  If you’re an occasional quilter, almost any brand may do.  If you’re a serious quilter, it depends on the type of quilts you make.  If applique quilts are your passion, you’re only cutting background fabric, so a less expensive rotary cutter will work.  If you’re a piecer or combination piecer/appliquer, plan on spending a little more for a good cutter.  That thing is literally going to be an extension of your arm, so make sure it fits comfortably in your hand.

You’ll probably want a self-healing mat – one where any marks made by the rotary cutter will fade out.  A rotary mat is a serious investment, but even the self-healing ones will need to be replaced from time to time.  Again, my favorite brand is Martelli – I get the most bang for my buck with them.  Their mats seem to last FOREVER.

Try out several rulers, too.  For all- purpose cutting I use these three most of the time. 

My longest and widest ruler has a lip on the end so I can set it firmly against my mat when I make a cut.  This helps prevent any slippage. 

I also use this one for smaller cuts. 

I like Creative Grids rulers because they have the non-slip circles built into them, so they’re less inclined to slip.  And this one technically isn’t a ruler, it’s a binding tool. 

However, it’s exactly 2 ½-inches across which makes cutting all those 2 ½-inch strips and blocks a breeze.  Out of all three of these – the cutting mats, rotary cutters, and rulers – rulers are the easiest things to throw down some serious money on.  There seems to be a ruler made for almost any kind of block you want to cut out.  My general rule of thumb is that if I can’t use a ruler for more than one kind of block, I don’t buy it. The ruler will be sitting in my ruler file most of the time and I consider that a waste of money.

Once you’ve settled on the mat, ruler, and rotary cutter that works best for you, be sure to at least use the same mat and ruler throughout the project to make sure all the cuts are consistent.  You’d be surprised that there can be as much as a half inch difference between some brands.  And this is how to hold a ruler as you cut:

The ring finger and pinkie stabilizes the ruler against the fabric, so it doesn’t slip. The middle finger, index finger, and thumb put pressure on the ruler to hold it in place.  Also, as soon as the rotary cutter begins to skip and not cut through your fabric, change the blade.  Additionally:

Always move the rotary cutter away from your body.  And close the cutter when you’re through using it.

Only use the rotary cutter with a rotary mat.  Any other type of surface will dull the blade quickly.

Crisp fabrics are easier to cut. So, if you pre-wash, use spray starch or sizing when you iron the fabric to give it a firmer hand.

Some quilt patterns will tell you to stack your fabric when you cut it. Just be aware that the more fabric layers there are, the less accurate the cutting becomes.

Square up the edge of the fabric before you make your first cut by cutting a small strip off the side so that the layers will be even.

  • Press the correct way and press often.

Pressing the seams isn’t an optional step when it comes to quilting.  Pressing helps the points and corners to match up as well as makes the block lie flat.  If the blocks lie flat, then (hopefully) the quilt top will lie flat.  And technically there are several tools that can be used to press your seams.

You can use one of these:

Simply run the slanted end over your seam to push it to one side.

Or this:

You simply roll this over your seam to help it to lie flat. 

I use either of these when I’m paper piecing.  With paper piecing, you’re ironing each seam every time you add another piece.  And while my small ironing station is near my sewing machine, it’s still time consuming to turn around and iron each seam.  So, one of these pressing tools speeds things up and can stay right by Big Red or Marilyn as I stitch.

However, there comes a time when you have to use an iron.  Using the steam setting is clearly a personal choice.  Since keeping water in your iron tends to speed up the iron’s death cycle. I opt not to use keep water in the tank but have a spray bottle of water that I can use if a tough area needs a spritz or two of steam.  And always use an up and down motion when pressing, instead sliding the iron back and forth – this movement can stretch the bias of the fabric and make your block all kinds of wonky.

  • It’s not a race.

It’s really not about speed – although when a quilt pattern and fabric completely captivate your creativity, it’s easy to want to rush yourself through the process to see the pretty product.  And if you’re sewing lots of straight seams, it’s even easier to sew fast.  I’ve found that block-of-the-month clubs or group sews also make me want to push my pedal to the metal and rush through the process so I can keep up with everyone else. 

Keep in mind that faster does not equal accuracy.  Slower sewing generally means more accurate sewing.  For me it all boils down to this:  I hate ripping out what I’ve sewn.  I would rather sew at a slower pace and be able to keep the seam I just sewed intact and accurate. 

  • If you’re new to quilting, don’t “go big or go home” and don’t go too complicated too soon.

If you’re new to quilting or haven’t made too many quilts, it’s easy to choose a bed quilt for your first quilty venture.  I mean, quilts normally go on beds, so why not make a quilt you can sleep under? 

First, making a bed quilt – even a twin-sized – is a serious commitment of time and money.  It takes quite a bit of fabric to make a bed quilt.  You can learn the same quilting lessons on a smaller quilt that you can on a larger one without the serious monetary investment.  And if you decide that quilting really isn’t your “cup of tea” there has been no significant money spent.  Make a couple of smaller quilts and if the quilting bug bites you hard, then go big or go home.

Same thing applies with the pattern choices.  Find a pattern that identifies itself as a true beginner quilt, such as the Rail Fence.  That one has lots of straight seams.  Don’t try something like Storm at Sea even if you have lots of sewing experience in other areas.  Start simple and work your way into the more difficult patterns. 

  • Practice, practice, practice.

Every good quilter was a beginner at some point.  The way good quilters become excellent in their field is practice.  Quilting is just like just about everything else in life – the more you do it, the better you get at it. 

  • Watch your stitch size.

I have found that (generally) the pre-set stitch length on most sewing machines is just a tad too big for piecing.  Big Red is a Janome 7700 – which was advertised as a quilter’s sewing machine.  Her stitch length is pre-set at 2.20. 

When I am piecing, I lower this to about 2.0 or even 1.9 if I’m sewing small pieces together.  There are a couple of reasons for this.  First, with quilting, you don’t have to lock your beginning stitch or your ending stitch.  The thread gets caught in the adjoining seams.  However, a longer stitch length doesn’t lock the thread as securely as a small stitch length does.  Second, a smaller stitch length ensures your block won’t be wonky. I’ve found a longer stitch length – even the pre-set on Big Red – tends to make my block feel kind of floppy (for lack of a better word). 

And if you’re paper piecing, you’re going to need to set that stitch length even smaller.  I go down to a 1.8 or even 1.5 when I’m paper piecing.  The smaller stitch perforates the paper foundation and makes it easier to release.  I have a future blog about paper piecing coming up, so stay tuned.

  • Join a guild or some kind of quilt group – one that actually meets face-to-face.

Don’t get me wrong, I love my Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest and other internet groups.  If you run into a problem and post on one of these, you’re going to get some solid answers in a short amount of time.


There is nothing like meeting face-to-face with a group of quilters.  I have always been especially inspired by my groups’ show-and-tells.  The work is stunning and the knowledge these quilters can pass along is invaluable.  Don’t be afraid to go to a guild meeting or a bee – as a whole quilters are a very welcoming bunch and love to share.  Most guilds have a Facebook page.  If there’s a guild in your area (Google it to find out), see if they have a FB page or website so you can find out about meeting times and dues in advance.  This quilty fellowship really helps sharpen you as a quilter – in my opinion, it’s invaluable.  Don’t quilt in complete solitude.  Get out there and meet some quilting friends!

  • “True Up” after each step.

If you’re not sure what this means, it’s really simple:  After making each unit for a block, make sure it’s the right size.  Then as you finish a block, measure it to make sure the block is the right size.  Then as you make the borders, make sure they’re the right size for the quilt center.  I love quilt patterns that tell you what size each unit in the block should be.  That goes such a long way in making sure your block ends up the right size.  And while most quilt patterns will tell you how long the make the borders, be sure to measure the center in three places vertically.  Take the average of these three measurements and cut your left and right borders that length.  Sew those on.  Then measure again horizontally in three places, take that average and make your top and bottom border.  This procedure will square up that quilt top.

This takes some time, but it really pays off in the long run.  Your quilt top will lie nice and flat.  Your borders won’t be wavy.  And it will be a dream to quilt.

  • And finally, don’t worry about making mistakes.

I have never made a perfect quilt top.  Every quilt I make has mistakes in it.  And every goof up I’ve made has taught me something.  That’s the great thing about quilting.  You’re always learning and evolving into a better quilter. 

Don’t let the fear of making a mistake stop you from trying something new.  Keep moving with the quilt.  Finished is way better than perfect and keep in mind that all quilters make mistakes.  We also learn clever ways to hide them.


I just received a disturbing Facebook update from the North Carolina Quilt Symposium. The 2019 Symposium is the last one we will have. The NCQS has fallen victim to the same scenario that a lot of our LQS’s have — they cannot compete with YouTube videos, internet classes, and on-line fabric and quilt sites.

Seriously people. Support your local LQS as well as your local quilt groups. We’re going to turn around one day and will have lost all of these. And our quilting culture will never be the same again.

However, I do see this as a wide-open opportunity for local quilt guilds and bees to step up in a LARGE way to fill this gap. Don’t let me down, fellow quilters.

Until next week, Quilt with Passion!

Love and Stitches,

Sherri and Sam


The Designer in You

This week I’d like to discuss a couple of words that are bandied about quite a bit with quilters – design and consistency.  Those are a couple of words you hear about in quilt judging.  The word “design” comes into play even more often when quilters talk about quilt designers, those designers’ designs, and how to design their own quilt.  We’re discussing design first, as that’s probably the word that most folks are familiar with.

When we throw out the word design, what comes to your mind?  Is it patterns?  A quilt design program?  Is it a sketch on graph paper?  Or do you automatically think to yourself, “I use quilt patterns – I could never design my own quilt!  I don’t even know how to begin!” 

Then let me stop right here and blow another quilting gasket in your brain:  Every time you make a quilt, you design.  Yes, you do.  Let me explain.  When we typically think about design, we embrace the concept of a quilt pattern.  Design is much more than that.  Quilt design embraces color and impact.  It consists of workmanship.  Design begins the minute you decide to make a quilt – whether it’s a pattern that you’re drawn to (or may have drawn yourself), or simply a lovely piece of fabric you’ve got to take home with you.  From that moment on, you – as a quilter – have begun the design process.  You’ve either decided on a pattern and have to make fabric decisions, or you’ve decided on the focus fabric and now have to find a pattern.  Whichever comes first in your quilting process, the design decisions are now beginning

When you have your pattern and your focus fabric, the next step in the process is picking out the supporting fabrics – the neutral, the lights, and the darks.  I’m not going into too much detail here, as I’ve really written ad nauseum about this in the past.  If you need to refresh your memory, re-read my 2019 blogs on the subject.  Even if you’re copying the fabrics on a pattern as closely as you can, you’re still designing.  Chances are the exact fabrics needed may not be available and substitutions will have to be made.  However, it’s very important to remember all the fabrics chosen should be picked with the idea that the greatest visual impact is needed for a truly wonderful quilt.  Make sure your darks are true darks and not mediums and the lights are true lights.  Great color combinations coupled with wonderfully pieced blocks or stunning applique all make for great visual impact. 

The next design concept that comes into play is workmanship.  Here’s where quilt experience comes into play.  The longer you quilt and the more quilts you make, the better your workmanship becomes. Quilting is like a lot of other art forms in this concept – the longer you work at it, the techniques evolve into something truly wonderful.  For instance, if your quilt pattern has lots of flying geese, and you’ve quilted for several years, you may know a great way to make those geese that’s not in the pattern directions.  Use the technique that works best for you and embraces your best piecing.  I’ve said the following until I’m nearly blue in the face, but I’m repeating it once again:  The quilt pattern and its directions are suggestions in moving from the beginning to the finished product.  The quilt pattern designer often will use either the standard directions in making a unit or the procedure that works best for him or her.  And neither of those may not work best for you. 

And here is where the word consistency comes into play. Make sure your units/blocks have uniform appearance.  For instance, let’s look back at those aforementioned flying geese.  If you struggle with this unit and tend to cut the tips off of the beaks of the geese, just go ahead and cut all the tips off the beaks.  That way it looks like this plan was part of the design, and not just a struggle with workmanship.  No one is going to know but you. 

Workmanship also includes making sure intersections meet and the points are sharp.  It means that the piecing thread either matches the fabric or blends in with it. 

If the quilt is hand appliqued it means that the stitches are so small they aren’t seen, the curves are smooth, and the points are sharp.  If you have trouble attaining points on leaves or petals (or anything else in your applique), round those suckers off.  Do that for all the pointy pieces of your applique so that it will look consistent.  If your quilt is raw-edge machine applique, make sure the stitch used is right for the size of the applique piece and the thread matches the applique fabric as closely as possible.  If it’s machine applique with a finished edge, make sure the stitches are small and are as near as possible invisible to the eye. 

Now let’s discuss the actual quilting in a quilt.  I have reached the point where this is one of my very favorite parts of the quilt-making process.  I love seeing the texture come into play.  To me, good quilting just adds another layer of personality to the quilt top.  When considering design and workmanship in the quilting, a couple of things are obvious.  First is the size of the quilt stitch.  If you’re hand quilting, this means that all of your stitches are consistent in size – it doesn’t necessarily mean that all of your stitches are tiny.  I know we’ve all heard the great quilt history stories of the past where those women could hand quilt up to 10 stitches an inch.  As long as your hand quilting stitches are pretty much the same size both on front and on back of your quilt, that’s true consistency.  The same holds true for machine quilting – either on a stationary or moveable machine.  This gets a little tough when moving the needle around curves, but it’s something to strive for.  That’s why if you have a long arm or mid arm with a stitch regulator it’s a good idea to learn how to work with that option turned on.  It’s the sure way to make all the stitches uniform length. 

Finally let’s talk about the quilting itself.  Most quilts require some “stitch-in-the-ditch” quilting.  This stitching is done along the seams and stabilizes the quilt layers so they don’t shift any during the quilting process.  It’s a good idea to make this stitching as invisible as possible, so use a thread that matches the fabric.  If there are lots of color changes in your top, you may want to give monofilament thread a try, as it blends with anything.  Keep the stitches in the seam.  After the stabilization is finished, then the actual quilt design needs to be considered.  My “go-to” quilt design is a large, all-over, edge-to-edge meander – which works if it’s a play quilt or a charity quilt or some quilt I’ve pieced together just for fun.  However, I will be the first to admit it lacks complete creativity.  The meander works great to hold the quilt layers together, but on the whole, it really adds nothing valuable to the quilt (however it can be very effective as tight meander background stitch).

Try to find a design that goes with the theme of the quilt.  If you’ve made a quilt top with lots of flowery fabric, quilting flowers over it is completely appropriate.  If you’ve made a Christmas quilt, holly leaves would be perfect. However, I’ve seen quilts where I’ve really struggled to understand the reasoning behind the quilt design.  For instance if you make a quilt with the Maple Leaf block, why would you want to quilt flowers across the top?  In my mind, these two don’t go together, but maybe it’s just me…

In closing, what I’ve tried to say in this blog is:  Pay attention to the details and do the best work that you can.  You’ll never regret the time and effort put into making a quilt the best it can be.  I may moan and groan about being faced with more work, but I’ve never looked back at a quilt and considered any of that extra labor a waste of time.  I love looking at that quilt and knowing it was done as precisely and correctly as I could make it.  While I will always believe a finished quilt is better than a perfect quilt, I do get a buzz out of knowing that I completed that quilt to the very best of my ability. 

Until next week, Quilt with Passion!

Love and Stitches,

Sherri and Sam


Those Wonderful Mountain Mist Quilts

I love antique quilts.  When the hubs and I go “antiquing,” I’m always on the lookout for old quilts and quilt tops that need rescuing.  I consider it my mission to help them escape from the store, clean them up, and give them a good home.  My favorite era of antique quilts are those from the 1930’s.  I love the colors, the feed sacks, and the fact that the women (and some men) during that time made do with what they had.  They took the time and the resources on hand to make something beautiful that would brighten their lives during the dark times of the Great Depression.

My favorite group of quilts from the 1930’s is the Mountain Mist Quilts.  Several months ago, my friends Lisa and Susan asked me to go with them to the Quilt Museum in Virginia.  At that time, the museum had a group of the Mountain Mist Quilts on display.  You could look as long as you wanted and take as many pictures as you wanted, as long as you didn’t use a flash.

Before I show the pictures of the wonderful Mountain Mist quilts, let me give you a little background on the company.  Mountain Mist was and is a batting company.  For more than 180 years, Mountain Mist has produced batting and it’s still available for purchase.  Nowadays, the batting is packaged in plastic bags, but during the early days it was sold with paper wrappers around the batts.  These wrappers protected the batting during shipping and while it was on the shelf.  On the inside of these wrappers, the company included full instructions for one of the featured quilts.  Directions for making the quilt, color suggestions, and quilt designs were also included.  As new quilt patterns were developed, the outside wrappers were updated to show the new designs. 

Mountain Mist Paper Wrapper — Outer View
Inner Wrapper with Pattern for Grandmother’s Flower Garden. This Pattern is Still Popular.
Another Mountain Mist Pattern…
And This is the Quilt Made from the Pattern Above

As the 1930’s brought a resurgence in quilting (partly due to necessity), the Mountain Mist Company upped their quilt game a bit.  They contracted with various quilters across the country to make quilts from their patterns.  They worked with only the best quilters and these women would take the patterns and create beautiful quilts.  These quilts made up the Mountain Mist Collection.  During the 1930’s and until some point in the 1960’s these quilts were shipped across the country to stores that sold Mountain Mist Batting.  The quilts were displayed with the batting and patterns to promote sales.  And it worked beautifully.  Eventually as time and tastes and hobbies changed, Mountain Mist discontinued shipping the quilts with the batting.  Most of the quilts were collected at the Mountain Mist company offices and eventually they became a permanent display at the International Quilt Study Center and Museum at Quilt House at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.  Occasionally the university will allow the quilts out to be displayed at other museums so that quilters everywhere can enjoy and be dazzled at these quilts.  That’s why Lisa, Susan, and I were on our way to The Virginia Quilt Museum.  The International Quilt Study Center had loaned them out to the museum for several months.  And the Quilt Museum, housed in a historic house, was the perfect backdrop to these wonderful quilts. 

The Beautiful and Wonderful Virginia Quilt Museum
This is an original Mountain Mist Quilt, aptly named Sunflowers. This is one of my favorite Mountain Mist Patterns.

This is a newer interpretation of the same pattern. I am seriously digging that background fabric. Also the different shades of yellow in the petals give the quilt more depth and I do like the border treatment on this one.
To me, this was kind of any “odd duck” among the mostly traditional Mountain Mist patterns. I do remember this one is named “Hollywood.”
Here’s a closer look at the hand quilting on this quilt.
This is my second-favorite Mountain Mist quilt. I love all things daffodils.
Here’s a closer look. The applique is stylized and not complicated. The quilting is simple, but look closely at it — soooooo many tiny stitches! And if you squint, you can still see the blue pencil marks on the quilt.
This quilt is my FAVORITE Mountain Mist Quilt. I love the simplicity — there’s not a lot of “busy-ness” in this quilt. The quilt’s name is “Orange Blossoms.” The quilter used the negative space to showcase her quilting talent. And while I’m not a great fan of prairie points, they are a great addition to this quilt.
Close up of the quilting on Orange Blossom
Another view of the gorgeous quilting. Also notice the applique isn’t perfectly shaped. Most, if not all, of the applique on these quilts was needle turn.
Can you imagine prepping all those petals for applique?
I love the way clam shell quilting was juxtaposed next to cross hatch. And notice the tiny brown circles appliqued on the white petals to make the dogwood blossoms look as realistic as possible.
Spider webs were quilted in the center. While this may seem odd to us, it could be a throwback to the embroidery and quilting done on Victorian Crazy Quilts when spiderwebs were a symbol of good luck.
This is a child’s quilt. The applique is applied with the buttonhole stitch — the only Mountain Mist Quilt I saw that had this treatment.
My third favorite Mountain Mist Quilt. I’ve never see tulips designed that way.
Ohio Rose
Look at the feathered wreaths quilted into the background!
The quilter evidently won a blue ribbon for this quilt — it’s attached on the left. Look at all those perfect circles! Look at the GORGEOUS quilting! Be still my heart….
More spider webs.
All of the quilts on display showcased that wonderful 1930’s color palate — one of my very favorites color ways.
Rose Tree. Lovely quilting and equally lovely applique. I’d throw this one in “My Favorites” category, too.
Even back then, quilters were looking for ways to use up their scraps. This would be a great pattern for anyone in any time frame.
Isn’t this Iris quilt beautiful? Some of the petals have faded on this one, but I love this pattern, too. I like the way the flowers are staggered.
Beautifully quilted negative space, simple, but perfect stitches, and those 1930’s bubble gum pinks. It doesn’t get much better.

I know this blog is “picture heavy,” but these quilts are worth the viewing. If you ever get a chance to see them in person, go for it. And if you’re near the Virginia Quilt Museum, be sure to take time to visit. Bonus — there’s a great fabric store right down the road from it!

Until next week, Quilt With Passion!

Love and Stitches,

Sherri and Sam


Quilt Soup

Way back…in the early to mid-1990’s, I had a meal process.  Stay with me here…I promise I will tie this back into quilting.  During that time, we were on a “snug” budget.  In 1989, I had Matthew, who was born an intensive-care unit baby.  As a result of his respiratory issues, I couldn’t put him in a daycare situation until he was two years old.  Long story short, for a while we had a one-income, a baby-and-a-toddler financial situation.  To say our budget was snug is really a euphemism.  I would search the grocery ad circulars every week, find the store that was had the best sale, and write out my menu.  I made my list and purchased only what was on that list.  

I always bought groceries on Thursdays, as that seemed to be the day that there was the most “extra, non-advertised” sales in the grocery stores.  So, Wednesday nights were “Surprise Soup” night at the Fields house.  The leftover veggies went in a stock pot along with some chicken or beef broth.  I’d chop up the left-over meat and it would go in there, too.  I’d add some spices and simmer that sucker all day.  At supper time, we would have a pretty good tasting soup and salad meal.  And not one morsel of food went to waste. Bonus:  my refrigerator stayed clean.

So now let me tie this back into quilting.  Let’s call your stash the leftovers and a quilt top can be the soup.  Do you know just by looking at your stash, how many quilt tops you have the potential of making?  I think most quilters – myself included – tend to over purchase fabric.  I mean, it’s pretty and it makes us feel better just by looking at it.  But let’s talk reality here.  If, the average quilter is age 63 and according to the same set of statistics that give us that age also tells us  the average stash is worth $6,000, how many quilts can we make in the years ahead with just what we have on hand? 


Let’s do some quilty math.  And I’ll use visuals.

A few of my fat quarter collections

See these?  These are stacks of fat quarters.  Years ago, when I was in education, I was the self-proclaimed Fat Quarter Queen.  Since my life was wonderfully chaotic and busy then like it’s not that way now the quilt projects I created were primarily small and primarily applique.  I’d buy fat quarters out the wazoo.  They were exactly what I needed and exactly what I could afford (see opening paragraph about a one-income-toddler-and-infant situation).  I still have lots of fat quarters and still gravitate to them when I’m in a quilt store.  But do you know how many fat quarters it takes to make a quilt?  

If you’re making a king-sized quilt, your looking at roughly between 40 – 50 fat quarters.  A queen takes approximately 30 – 40 fat quarters.  The difference lies in if background fabric is needed and if the quilt has borders.  So those numbers may vary, but not by much.   If you have lots of fat quarters on hand, it’s a good idea to group them according to color.  That way when you plan your next quilt, you will know if you’ve got enough “leftovers” to make that top. 

And while we’re talking about fat quarters let’s park it here and talk about what a fat quarter is.  It’s a 21-inch x 18-inch piece of fabric.  While they can certainly be used for lots of quilt pieces,  if you find you have a lot of fat quarters or have a few fat quarters left over from a project, there are other ways to use them up.  My go-to application is applique.  But if you’re not too hype about making an applique quilt, you can cut that fat quarter up into other pieces. 

Cutting the fat quarter up either of these ways gives you a variety of options, but if you’re only need the same-sized piece, keep in mind that you can get twenty-five 3 ½-inch squares, sixteen 4 ½-inch squares, and twelve 5-inch squares.  All of these sizes are unfinished.  Half-square triangles are also terrific options with left-over fat quarters.  To cut an HST, remember to add 7/8-inch to the finished size needed.  So, for example if you need 3-inches finished HST, you would cut them 3 7/8-inches.  You can get 40 HST that finish at 3-inches or 24 HST that finish at 4-inches out of a fat quarter.  That’s a lot of bang for your buck.  Strips are also a great possibility, too.  There are seven 2 ½-inch strips or six 3-inch strips in each fat quarter. 

Pre-cuts are great and versatile – to the point that I have an entire blog planned on this topic.  But let’s get back to the fabric you have on hand.

One of the issues I run into as an applique artist is that I never seem to have the exact color of blue or green I need.  I’m not sure what it is about these colors (or maybe it’s just me…), but for whatever reason I’m always searching for just one shade up or one hue down from the blues or greens I have on hand.  This is where it pays to have some quilting buddies.  Ask them if they have it.  Unless you’re quilting friends are the type that purchase fabric only for the project they’re working on, and thus have limited stash, most quilty friends are happy to share.  It relieves them from some fabric.  Offer to swap for something you have that they need. 

Despite the fact that we shop our stash before starting a quilt, often times we still have to make purchases.  Or we go to quilt shop that’s having a great fabric sale and we know we’re going to leave with several purchases to add to our stash.  How do we know how much to buy and what to buy?  Let’s talk about how much to purchase first.

If you’re buying fabric for a particular pattern, the pattern should tell you how much fabric you need, with a little extra built in.  It’s rare that a pattern will only give you exactly how much you need with no wiggle room for mistakes.  Let me clarify this with a couple of caveats. First, if you’ve never made a quilt by a designer before, take the time to Google the quilt.  Quite often, if there are issues with the fabric requirements or the quilt itself, there are will be hits on Google that highlight these. Second, if you plan to use a technique that’s not listed in the directions (such as no-waste flying geese or cutting borders on the lengthwise grain instead of the crosswise grain), additional fabric may need to be purchased.  Also, if you absolutely love the fabric and can see yourself using it in another project, go ahead and treat yourself to a half-yard or so extra.  Between the “wiggle room” built into a quilt pattern and the half-yard extra, you should have enough to use in something else.

But what if you have no particular quilt in mind and you’re purchasing solely to add to your stash?  If you’re low on a particular color that you use a lot, it makes sense to replenish that.  In my case, it’s greens.  I use a lot of greens in my applique work for stems and leaves.  Every couple of years, I find my greens are running low and will stock up.  Also check your favorite colors.  It should come as no surprise that quilters tend to use their favorite colors in their quilts and often that area of your stash will become depleted.  Neutrals are another area that allow for guilt-free purchases.  Neutrals (grays, ecrus, beiges, whites and any of their variations) are used in most quilts.  And while yes, I do know that the definition of what a neutral is has broadened in the last ten years, the basic neutrals are always in demand.  If you can find those on sale, three or more yards is a clear-conscious  purchase in my mind. 

Then there’s that fabric you just can’t say “No” to.  It’s either the color or the design, but you know you love it and you know you’re going to use it.  I will be frank with you.  There have been times when I’ve fallen in love with a fabric to the point that I’ve purchased the entire bolt.  And I can say with all honesty, that I loved the fabric enough to where it has shown up in three or more quilts.  I’m down to simply scraps with the remainder of the material, and those scraps are in my applique bins.  This phenomenon doesn’t happen often, but it does occur.  If you just love the fabric, first consider what kind of quilts do you make?  Are they mainly small quilts, such as wall hangings or lap quilts, or do you construct primarily bed quilts?  If it’s bed quilts, then you probably want to purchase no less than five yards.  If it’s wall hangings, no less that three.  The reason behind these amounts is this:  one a fabric line is depleted, most fabric manufacturers will not reprint a line unless there is HUGE demand for it. 

So, get it while it’s there…it may not be in stores forever. 

Next there are these:

Orphan blocks.  In the process of making a quilt, you’ve made too many blocks or too many prepped applique pieces.  What do you do with these?  Do you throw them out or push them aside and forget their presence until you clean out your sewing area and then throw them away? 

Soooooo many half-square triangles…..

If I have enough left-over blocks, like these from the scrappy quilt I’m making, I come up with a way to make these into a lap quilt that I donate to my guild for their charity quilt program.  My plan is sash these with some gray fabric I have in my stash.  Between the sashing and the 4 ½-inch HSTs, I’ll have a nice-sized quilt to give to the chemo patients at the Hayworth Cancer Center. 

And remember this quilt?

I had nine four-patch squares left over, so I set them on-point with some additional squares and triangles and put a plain pink border around them.  This is a made a nice mini quilt that I will lay on the table that the big quilt hangs over. 

My little quilt is ready for binding!

When I made this wall hanging,

I discovered I had prepped one too many applique pieces.  So, I used the leftover one on the quilt label. 

And in the process of making my Farmer’s Wife quilt, one of the blocks came out too big.  Instead of tossing the block, I’m using it as part of the quilt label.

I have two orphan blocks from my Farmer’s Wife. I’m not sure which one I’ll use as part of the quilt label.

My thoughts are these – use what you have on hand as much as you can in your creative process.  This not only cuts down on items heading for the landfill, it also keeps a little extra cash in your pocket, which is something we all can use.  By keeping our stash manageable, it allows us to see what we have and what we need to invest in.

Until next week, Quilt with Passion!

Love and Stitches,

Sherri and Sam