Paper Piecing — What You Need and How to Do It

At one time or another, especially if you’ve quilted for a while and have perused quilt sites for inspiration, you may have heard the terms paper piecing, foundation piecing, or English paper piecing (EPP) bandied around a bit.  For a beginner, either new to quilting or the whole I’ve-only-traditional-pieced quilt group, those terms can be confusing.  Are they the same thing?  If they’re not, then how are they different?  When do I use them?  And most importantly, which one is best?

Like most other quilting techniques, the best one to use depends on the quilt you’re making.  I will readily admit that English paper piecing drives me up a wall (to me it’s too tedious, or maybe I’ve been spoiled by Cindy Blackberg’s Stamp Piecing Method).  The English paper piecing method uses cardboard templates. You trace around your templates on the wrong side of the fabric and then cut the patches out with a ¼-inch margin.  Place the cardboard template in the center of the fabric and hold it in place with a dab of fabric glue.  Then you fold the fabric around the template and baste in place.  When several of these are done, they are whipped stitched or ladder stitched together to form a pattern.  Some quilts, such as Lucy Boston’s Patchwork of the Crosses, or the 1718 Coverlet require English paper piecing.  Other patterns can be adapted to it (such as Grandmother’s Flower Garden), if the quilter really enjoys this method.

Grandmother’s Flower Garden

English paper piecing is normally not confused with paper piecing or foundation piecing, but foundation piecing and paper piecing are often used interchangeably.  The difference between the two lies in the supplies used.  But in order to understand the distinction between them, let’s define them first.  Foundation piecing is a piecing method used to stabilize the fabric as the block is sewn together.  It employs muslin (or some other thin cloth) as the foundation.  Strips of fabric are sewn onto the muslin, often in random order, to create a quilt block.  Foundation piecing is used in string quilts, spider web quilts (sometimes, not always), and Crazy Quilts.  The muslin is not removed before quilting, it’s incorporated into the quilt.

Crazy Quilt

Paper piecing is different from foundation piecing in that the block pattern is either drawn or printed onto a paper source.  The block’s patches are positioned onto the paper and sewn on with by machine by a dictated numerical system.  Sometimes units are paper pieced and then the units are sewn together into the block.  There are two main differences between foundation piecing and paper piecing:  The block is printed onto paper and after the piecing is finished, the paper should be removed.

That is the cut and dried method.  I will also admit that in today’s technology-driven quilt world, there are a few gray areas here.  With the onset of freezer paper than can be run through an ink jet printer, muslin can be ironed onto the freezer paper and sent through the printer and have the paper pieced pattern printed onto it.  The muslin can be removed from the freezer paper and the pattern used as a traditional paper pieced block without the quilter having to remove the papers at the end of the process.  And on the other hand, some paper piecing “papers” tout the fact they don’t have to be removed before quilting the quilt.  So, you can see why today the terms foundation pieced and paper pieced are used interchangeably.  In many quilters’ eyes they are literally the same thing. 

Those are the three categories of paper piecing and their definitions.  Now let’s look at the circumstances where paper piecing may the best choice for making a block.

  1.  If the block is really complicated.

There are some blocks I wouldn’t touch with a ten-foot pole unless I could paper piece them.  Take this block:

Maltese Cross

It looks complicated, if you think in terms of traditional piecing.  But if you want to paper piece the block, it can be broken down into units and then sewn together.  And FYI here, if you have the EQ software, it does have the paper piecing option for most of the blocks in it.  There are some blocks you can’t paper piece.  Electric Quilt also allows you to mirror-image the block, which is something you must do if the block is not symmetrical. 

  •  The block has lots of bias.

This is a personal thing here.  I get really antsy if there’s lots of bias edges in a block.  It’s easy to stretch out of shape even with the most careful handling and pressing.  However, between starching the fabric and the stability of the paper, the bias tends to keep its shape perfectly.

  •  The block has lots of pieces.
Pickles and Rings

If there are lots and lots of units in a block, paper piecing seems to simplify the process without overwhelming me.  I can concentrate on one unit at a time and as the units are completed, suddenly sewing the block together doesn’t seem quite so daunting.

  •  The blocks are tiny.

If Dear Jane taught me nothing else, it taught me that smaller blocks are much easier if they’re paper pieced. 

Dear Jane

The unfinished blocks in this quilt are 4 ½-inches.  That’s small, but I learned that if I can paper piece those, the corners match pretty perfectly, and the bias is protected.  I’ve embraced this concept to the point where I paper pieced 99 percent of my Farmer’s Wife and now paper piece nearly all my pieced sashing cornerstones in a quilt.

  •  You’re working on a group quilt, such as a raffle quilt.

If you’re working on a quilt where lots of people will be making blocks, paper piecing will assure that all blocks will turn out the same size (fingers crossed…).

The biggest drawback with paper piecing is that it does require more fabric than traditional piecing.  So, if you make the decision to paper piece a pattern that has traditional pieced fabric requirements, allow yourself 1/4-yard to a yard extra material.  With paper piecing, you trade fabric for accuracy:  Yes, it takes more fabric, but yes, it’s also more precise.

There are lots of notions that are available for paper piecing.  You don’t necessarily have to use standard copy paper to do this, but that is the most readily available.  If I’m out of my desired paper piecing paper, I copy (either by hand or by copier/printer), the pattern onto standard copy paper.  I unthread my machine, remove the bobbin, and shorten the stitch length.  Then I “sew” around each of the sewing lines on the pattern. 

Perforated Pattern

It’s important to understand that most paper piecing patterns have two lines drawn on them.  More often than not, the sewing line is a solid one and the cutting line is a dotted or dashed line.  The reason I do this is to perforate the pattern so it will make for easy paper removal.  While copy paper is the most readily available medium, it’s also the hardest to remove.  Between perforating the pattern beforehand, and then sewing the fabric on with the same small stitch, copy paper can be easily removed. 

The second most readily available paper piecing paper is newsprint. 

Ream of 8.5 x 11 inch Newsprint

This can be purchased or ordered from most office supply stores or Amazon in 8 ½ x 11-inch size, so it can be run through your copier or printer.  This is easier to remove than standard copy paper, but I still recommend that you perforate it.  And FYI, if you live in an area like I do where humidity runs rampant until the end of October, note that this paper holds humidity well and that can make it difficult when running it through a copier/printer.  Run a hot, dry iron over it before printing or keep it near a dehumidifying agent.  Either of those will help a great deal.

The next group of papers for paper piecing are opaque.  You can see through them, which really makes them really ideal for this technique – you’ll see why in just a bit.

Vellum – This medium used to be constructed from an animal membrane, but now it’s produced from rag cotton.  It feels like a cross between parchment paper and super-thin plastic. 

See-through papers – This includes my favorite June Tailor’s Perfect Piecing Papers, Carol Doak’s papers, and myriads of other papers.  You may have to try a few to find the one that works for you.

Wash-away papers – If the thought of spending hours pulling out papers from your project before quilting it drives you up a wall, then this may be the product for you.  These vary in thickness and quality, and some can be put through the copier and printer and some cannot.   Read the directions and review them thoroughly before using.  And on a side note, if you’re not a pre-washer, you may want to include that step in your prep work if you use this medium and plan on just soaking the blocks in a sink to get rid of the papers.  Of course, if you’re planning on completing the quilt and then throwing it in the washer with a color-catcher, you can get around the pre-wash. 

After you’ve picked the paper you’re using for your pattern, go ahead and trace, print, or copy the block/block units onto it.  Then assemble everything else you will need:

Sewing Machine – Standard rules apply here.  Make sure it’s cleaned and oiled and has a good needle in it.  Shorten the stitch length to 1.8 or 1.5, depending on what paper is used.  On a side note, paper piecing is notoriously “linty” and dulls your needle no matter what medium is used.  It’s a good idea to clean your machine and replace your needle when the quilt top is completed.  And speaking of needles, I use a topstitching needle for paper piecing.

Awl – Sometimes this is needed to help move the fabric and paper over the feed dogs and under the needle.

Walking Foot – This is optional.  Some quilters like to use them with this technique and other quilters don’t.  I find a walking foot is exceptionally helpful in paper piecing.  There is more thickness than usual with this procedure – fabric, seams, and paper.  I find that a walking foot is a big asset in moving all of that over the feed dogs.

Thread – Quality piecing thread – the same kind you would use of for any other piecing.

Iron or Another Pressing Tool – An iron, seam roller, or wooden presser is a must.  To save time (and steps, unless you’re Fit Bit attentive), use a method that can be kept near your sewing machine.  It simply saves time.

Straight Edge – A straight edge is used to help fold back the paper before trimming.  This straight edge can be almost anything that is thin – so it can’t be a ruler.  It can be an index card, a strip of Mylar, or a postcard.  My favorite things to use as a straight edge are these:

These are advertising cards you can pick up at quilt shows or maybe even receive in the mail that are of thick, coated card stock.  They are nearly perfect for every pattern (unless you need a long, straight edge) and are free.  Can’t get much better than that. 

Add-a-Quarter Ruler – This tool is used to keep a ¼-inch seam allowance when trimming.  If you decide you really like to paper piece, and plan on doing it often, you may also want to add an Add-an-Eighth ruler to your quilting tools. 

An Add-an-Eighth ruler will help you maintain a 1/8-inch seam allowance for times that a ¼-inch seam allowance is too bulky.  These rulers come in a longer length and a shorter one.  I have and use both kinds.  And they’re handy for other cutting jobs in quilting, so this isn’t a one-use only tool. 

Glue Stick – A bit of glue is used to hold the first patch into place.  This doesn’t necessarily have to be a fabric glue stick.  Any glue stick that says it’s water soluble can be used.

Transparent Tape – Any clear tape that you an see through.  This may be needed for pattern repair.

Fabric – Fabric with a firm weave is the best, as the wear and tear on it will be more than what’s experience with traditional piecing.  Remember that the stitch length is shortened, so more time will be spent on the feed dogs.  Then the paper must be removed.  Loosely woven fabric doesn’t hold up very well under those conditions.  If you do any type of prep work on your material (such as prewashing), go ahead and do that.  Then look at your pattern:

Decide what colors go where and mark them on the front of the pattern. 

Marked Block for Halo Medallion

Then measure your patches and flip the pattern over so you’re looking at the back side of the pattern.  This is where an opaque medium really comes in handy.  You will need to measure the individual patches and cut them out from the fabric.  You can use the front side of the pattern for this if the patches are symmetrical (the same on the left and the right, such as rectangles, squares, and some triangles).  If it’s asymmetrical (not the same on the left and right), you need to work from the back of the pattern and make templates for the asymmetrical pieces.  If you’re using standard copy paper or newsprint, a light box is a great tool to have to get you through these steps.

When you cut out your patches and/or templates, be sure to add a half-inch to give yourself enough seam allowances.  Truthfully, if you have a pattern that is made for paper piecing, most of the time the directions will tell you how big to cut out the patches and even have templates if needed.  Judy Niemeyer patterns are great paper piecing patterns. 

My favorite Judy Neimeyer Pattern, Pepper Dish

While her patterns look challenging, she breaks down the cutting and sewing directions into easy chunks.  For me, Dear Jane was one of the most difficult paper piecing quilts.  Jane Stickle hand-pieced the original quilt, which made putting together odd shaped patches a bit easier.  However, for today’s quilter, a lot of those blocks need to be paper pieced.  The patterns had to be reversed and even then, some of those patches drove me up a wall. 

Now let’s get down to it.

Step One

Take the first patch and use a dab of the glue stick to adhere it to the wrong side of the patch marked number 1 on the paper piece pattern.  Make sure that the fabric not only completely covers the area, but also overlaps all sides at least ¼-inch.  This is for your seam allowance. 

If you’re using standard copy paper or newsprint, you will probably want to hold it up to the light so you can see that you’re doing this correctly.  This is where an opaque paper piecing medium is really handy.  There is no guess work.  However,  if you’ve perforated your copy paper or newsprint paper, you’ve reduced any chances of error. 

Step Two

Take the second patch, and while still working from the wrong side of the pattern place it on the unit marked number 2.  Make sure there is ¼-inch overlap on all sides. 

Now flip it to line up with the edge of the first patch, so that right sides of the fabric are together. 

You may want to pin it in place to make sure it doesn’t wiggle out of position. 

Step Three

Now flip the pattern over so you can see the right side of the pattern – the one where all the lines are.  Sew on the solid line.  You will want to start a few stitches from where the solid line begins and then sew past the line for a few stitches.  This is to allow all the threads to lock and not unravel.

Step Four

We’re still working from the right side of the pattern.  Take your straight edge and line it up with the solid line. 

Fold back the paper over the straight edge.  Take the Add-a-Quarter ruler and line the lip up with the edge and trim.   

Notice the Add-a-Quarter ruler has a “lip.” This allows it to fit snugly against the paper and straight edge for a perfect cut.

Step Five

Flip the pattern over to the wrong side.  Flip the second patch out to make sure it covers all of the area it needs to and has a ¼-inch seam allowance extending out into all the unsewn sides.  If it does, great!  Press the patch and repeat this process until all the areas are covered.

If you’ve found you may need to make some adjustments and need to rip out the patch, be aware that due to the small stitch length, the pattern may tear.  Use the transparent tape to mend the pattern and keep moving.

Step Six

Once the entire unit or block is covered with your patches, now it’s time to trim the block.  Put the block or unit on your rotary mat right side up and trim along the outer most dotted line.  If you’re paper piecing units, once all of them are complete and trimmed, they can be assembled into a block. 

At this point, you will need to consult your pattern directions to see if the papers can be removed then, or if you need to wait until the entire quilt centerd or entire quilt top is completed before removal.

That’s it!  That’s all there is to paper piecing!  It’s a bit different, since you’re working with a paper medium and from two sides of the pattern, but I solemnly swear this is a wonderful piecing method! 

Until Next Week, Quilt with Passion!

Love and Stitches,

Sherri and Sam


Applique Vs. Piecing

I am fortunate to have quilting friends from all over the world.  Some of us are internet buddies and some of these folks I have been blessed enough to meet face-to-face.  One of these friends is a lady named Eileen who lives in New York.  When I was President of the Applique Society, Eileen was my Vice-President, right-hand help, and partner in crime.  She reads my blogs and after one recent publication posed this question to me:  How does applique affect you differently than piecing?

I’ve pondered this ever since she asked me that.  To be sure, both of those techniques can intertwine.  An applique quilt can have a pieced background, or a pieced quilt can have applique interspersed in the blocks or have an applique border.  They’re not necessarily independent of each other.  However, as far as my quilt journey goes, given the choice of piecing or appliqueing, I will usually pick applique over any other technique.  I know why – I love to applique.  Something about that quilt method grabbed my attention from the time I took that first stitch.  I’ve tried most of the applique techniques out there and love all of them.  However, after mulling Eileen’s question over in my mind for about a month now, I have realized something:

Piecing does affect me differently than applique.

Now before all you avid piecers get riled up, let me plainly state that I love piecing blocks, too although not nearly as much as I love appliqueing blocks.  The two quilting applications are more different than alike and it’s important to come to grips with those differences as you plan quilts.  Let’s talk about strictly pieced quilts first. 

While with both techniques, it’s really all about the fabric, in piecing, the fabric is truly front and center.  Fabric choices have to be made with the idea of greatest visual impact in mind.  It’s the fabric that will primarily “Carry the Show” in a pieced quilt, even more so than the piecing.  Did I just blow another quilting gasket in your brain?  That’s right.  In a pieced quilt, the fabric choices will carry the greatest visual impact.  Now I am not in any way, shape, or form condoning deliberately sloppy piecing.  Piecing should be done as accurately as possible.  However, when you step back about 10 feet from a pieced quilt, the average person’s eyes don’t pick up piecing mistakes (unless the quilt is being judged…the judges will pick up piecing goofs).  In the space of about 10 feet from the quilt, the fabric choices are what stand out.  It’s the colors, hues, and shades that make the biggest impact.  This is why I preach make sure your darks are true darks, your mediums are true mediums, and your lights are true lights.  If your darks aren’t real darks but mediums, the visual impact goes down and your quilt looks “muddy.” 

The quilting itself is also really important in a pieced quilt.  It’s also a priority in an applique quilt, but in my opinion, making quilting decisions about an applique quilt is easier – and I’ll have more about that later.  Overall, quilting in and of itself is more than just stitches to hold the three layers together.  It should enhance the quilt as much as possible, whether it’s an all-over, edge-to-edge design or custom quilting.  With a pieced quilt, there are three design concepts driving the visual impact:  Piecing, fabric/color choice, and quilting.  Two of these have starring roles – the quilting and the fabric/color choice.  Piecing co-stars.  I realize that I may get some push back on this comment, but in my opinion, it’s true.  Again, unless the quilt is being judged, apply the 10-foot rule listed above.  The piecing is important and should be as accurate as possible, but the visual impact is driven by the colors and  enhanced by the quilting.  That’s why the quilting motif should match the theme of the quilt.  For instance, if you’re using the Maple Leaf block, then don’t quilt flowers across the quilt, if you use an all-over design.  A leaf motif would be a better choice. 

However, if edge-to-edge quilting is not your thing, then the sky is really your limit when you quilt the quilt.  Each block can have a custom look.  It’s at this point – more so than an all-over quilt design – that the quilting begins to have as much visual impact as the fabric/color choices, even from 10-feet away from the quilt. 

With an applique quilt, the applique is the star of the show, period.  Every other decision made about the quilt should enhance the applique and not compete with it – from the choice of background fabric to the quilting.  This puts pressure on the quilter to make sure the fabric decisions are the best they can be, and the applique method used emphasizes the applique and doesn’t compete with it.  So, the type of applique technique I use on a quilt may not necessarily be my favorite, but it may be the best for the quilt.  The thread used is equally important.  I’ve written several blogs about different types of applique and thread, so if you’re curious, Google those.  I won’t rehash everything here. 

The way I quilt my applique quilts is really pretty simple.  (Please note at this time, I do not in anyway consider myself a true long arm artist.  Even now if I have a quilt that is show-bound, I have someone else quilt it.)  My procedure usually goes something like this:  I quilt around the applique pieces and then echo stitch   around those one or two times.  I do a dense background stitch to make the applique seem to “pop” off the quilt top.  If the borders are appliqued, I do the same thing with them.  If the borders are plain strips of fabric or pieced, I’ll do as much custom work as I’m comfortable with.  I also tend to use as fine of a thread as Loretta the Long Arm will tolerate with my applique quilt.  Nothing should compete with the applique, not even the quilting thread. 

With these thoughts in mind, I have realized something: Piecing a quilt stresses me more than appliqueing a quilt. I know this is a personal thing. Applique may drive you up a wall, and that’s fine. The reason there is so many quilting techniques is that there are so many different kinds of quilters. For me, there are way too many decisions that I have to get as close to perfect as possible with piecing. And while I really do enjoy piecing, I feel as if I always have to think three steps ahead in the process – even with paper piecing (which is much more precise than regular piecing). With applique, once my pieces are prepped, all I have to do is enjoy the process. So, when I say applique relaxes me, this is the reason. I don’t have to think. I just have to enjoy it – whether it’s machine or hand applique.

I know this is a really personal blog, and while yes, I’m out to get applique converts, Eileen’s question really got me to thinking hard about why I like applique so much.  I love the fact that it’s like “painting with fabric” but even more than that, it relaxes me, relieves stress, and let’s my brain take a break from everything else whirling around me.  And that’s what quilting should do for every quilter.  Whatever technique you enjoy, it should serve as an island of sanity in an insane world – whether it’s piecing or applique or a combination of both.  And lately the quilting process itself has become one of my chief joys.  Adding that extra texture with a touch of whimsy brings me a great deal of happiness. 

So … go forth and find your joy in quilting. 

Until next week, Quilt with Passion!

Love and Stitches,

Sherri and Sam


You Really Need a Quilt Retreat in Your Life…Seriously

As hard as it is to believe, it’s almost Autumn.  In a few weeks, not only will the days get noticeably shorter, the temperatures will begin to hover in the blessed range of the 70’s and 60’s – at least where I live. Fall brings visions of pumpkins and Halloween and Thanksgiving.  But for me there’s an added event that adds extra spice to my Autumn experience – my annual quilt retreat. 

I’ve written about my guild’s “Drop Everything and Just Quilt!” experience several times.  It’s an event that I look forward to every year.  As of this blog, it’s 63 days, 22 hours, 33 minutes, and 35 seconds until it starts (not that I’m counting or anything).  It’s noticeably smaller this year, as there is another quilt retreat held on the same date, but I believe it will be better than ever.  I love quilt retreats and go on at least two every year.  If you get a chance to attend one, go for it. It’s at least several days of uninterrupted sewing time where you don’t have to plan for meals, nor does it matter if you wear make up or a bra.  Quilting is the name of the game and it’s the only game in town.

Packing for a retreat can be a bit daunting.  Unlike the last minute get-away trip that may fall in your lap, packing for a retreat takes some thinking and some planning.  It’s not something you can wait until the last minute to do.  So, in this blog I wanted to share with you how I pack for an overnight quilt retreat that can be reached by car.  Any quilt retreat you have to fly to get to requires an entirely different planning scenario. 

Example of a Quilt Retreat Brochure and Itinerary

First, let’s deal with some standard logistics.  Find out if you need to bring your own linens and if meals will be provided on sight or do you have to go out to eat.  Are the meals included with the price of the retreat?  Will there be trips to local quilt shops or will workshops offered? All of these play into how you map out your time, what you bring, and how much cash you need to have.  If workshops are offered, there should be a supply list.  Be sure you have all the items on the supply list that you need.  Depending on the teacher and the workshop, some of what you need may be provided by the instructor.  It’s not unheard of for teachers to have some of the supplies available for purchase. 

Next, read through all of the retreat information.  I know you did this when you registered but go through it again.  This time look for cutting and ironing specifics.  These may not have crossed your mind, but they are important.  Regular irons pull a lot of wattage, and having multiple irons plugged in can throw a breaker or blow a fuse.  There may be ironing stations available, so all you may need to pack is a small, travel iron and an ironing surface.  Cutting stations may also be available.  If that’s the case, you need only pack a small cutting mat to use at your machine, the rulers you will need, and a rotary cutter. 

Another thing you may also want to do at this point is find out what the room set-up will be.  Will you have a long table to yourself, or will you have to share it with another quilter?  Will you have a smaller table to yourself?  All of these will help you plan how you can most efficiently and ergonomically set up your sewing station.  If you have your own sewing table that you’ve specifically set up to meet your needs, ask if you can bring it.  I know that as I’ve gotten older and have more back issues, I need to have my table at a certain height to reduce stress on my neck and shoulders.  Lots of quilters I know have resolved that issue with the Ezy-Quilt tables that not only adjust for physical needs but are also convenient to transport.  It never hurts to ask and usually the answer is “Yes.”  Just remember, you’re sewing for hours a day, for several days.  Make it as comfortable for yourself as possible.  Keeping comfort in mind one more item you may want to throw in your car is a cushion for your tushie.  Standard padded chairs and (God forbid) folding chairs aren’t comfortable after about two hours. 

After all of those questions are answered, go into your home quilting area.  Take a look around and make notes of the items you use every time you sit down to piece, applique, or quilt.  Those are the items you want to pack up first.  I have found it super easy to keep all of these together in one place at home.  When I’m packing to go class or a retreat, all I have to do is grab this…

Picked up this little caddy on the Clearance Shelf at Office Depot! Great $3.00 find!

And this…

This is an antique candy dish. The center holds a pin cushion that can be popped out and the tiny holes are perfect for scissors, screw drivers, and stilettos.

At this point, I know I have my essentials covered.  I also make sure I’ve packed this:

Combo Pin Cushion and Thread Catcher. Small quilt beneath courtesy of my good friend, Susan Pierce.

It’s a combination thread catcher and pin cushion.  This helps me keep my work area tidy.  The pin cushion is Velcroed on, so I can move it if I need to. 

Now let’s get down to the nitty-gritty.  You’re attending this retreat to get some projects completed or at least on the path to progress.  The next set of questions that need to be answered concerns the quilts you plan to work on.  The first obvious question that needs to be answered is how many projects should I take?

When I’m considering what to take, I begin with a timeline.  This is where finding about meals and any “field trips” comes into play.  If you have to leave the retreat area, you need to allow time out of your day for this. So, if you plan on quilting from say 9 a.m. until 10 p.m. that night, if you must go out for meals, you want to deduct about 2 hours for each off-site meal (if a sit-down restaurant is supplying the meals).  More for shopping excursions. 

Once the actual amount of sewing time is determined, it’s time to decide what projects to take.  As a rule of thumb, I have found it’s better to have more projects than you may need – for two reasons.  First, you may hit a stumbling block on a project that you just can’t get around.  It may need to be put in time out until you get home and in your own sewing space.  Second, it’s absolutely miserable to be at a quilt retreat and run out of things to sew.  However, don’t bring so many projects that you take up half the sewing room space with all your stuff.  There’s a fine line between being adequately prepared and being unrealistic.  After you get a quilt retreat or two under your belt, you know what your fine line is.

At this point, I begin to put my projects into boxes, if they’re not already in one.  I’ve found that boxes are the easiest way to stay organized, and if the projects are small, or the boxes are big, I can fit two quilts in one box.  I get these boxes prepared this way:

  1.  I make sure all the projects are cut out.  Even if there are lots of cutting stations at the retreat, I don’t want to waste valuable sewing time cutting a quilt out.  Also check your retreat information.  Some retreats won’t let you tie up a cutting station cutting your quilt out. 
  2. I begin to put everything I need for that project in that box – the pattern, any notions or tools that’s not in my general sewing caddy, or specific thread.  Since most quilters use either beige, white, or gray sewing thread, those are packed in my regular sewing supplies.  But if a specialty thread is needed, such as for machine applique, I make sure all those threads are in the box.  Remember when I introduced those small containers I found at Dollar Tree finds a few blogs ago?  They really come in handy at this point.  I can keep all my threads, special rulers, and other notions organized.  I have learned the key to packing for a quilt retreat is to remember you have to unpack when you get home.  If you organize your projects when you pack them up and keep them that way at retreat, you never have to wonder exactly where you stopped on the project when you get it out to work on it again even if it’s not until the next quilt retreat – not that I know anything about that. 
  3. I label each box with the project’s name.  I use an index card to do this.  That way if I need to make myself a note about the project (such as I need additional thread or yardage), I can write that on the index card.  When I’m unpacking, it will remind me what I need in order to complete each project or if I’ve run into any issues with quilt construction.   
  4. I pack a variety of sewing projects – big ones, small ones, machine work, and hand work.  This way if I get bored with one technique (because, let’s face it – after a few hours on one project, that’s all you can handle no matter how much you may love it), I can move to another.  I also like to actually finish something on retreat.  If I have a few small projects tucked away in a box, I can do this.  And if I decide I want to visit with a friend at retreat, I can pull my chair over to her sewing area and do hand work while we chat.

Now a couple of odds and ends before I end this blog. 

  • I take a back up machine.  Remember my little Juke I call Jenni?  She’s small and light and doesn’t take up an enormous amount of space.  While Big Red is a given (she’s going to go on retreat), I take Jenni just in case Big Red has some issues.  I also make sure that both machines are cleaned and oiled before I leave.  And if one of them is due for service, that’s done before I hit the road.
  • I find out if adult beverages are acceptable.  I love a glass of wine after dinner, but some retreats don’t allow alcohol.  I always check before I make a last-minute stop at the Teeter to stock up on 19 Crimes.
  • There are a few things that you may need that you’re not thinking about as you throw fabric and scissors into boxes.  Those are: pain killers, a water bottle, a heating pad, comfortable shoes, and Ziploc bags.  Sewing for hours a day can cause some physical discomfort.  The pain killers and heating pad go a long way in stopping any small aches before they turn into big ones.  Comfortable shoes are always a given, under any situation.  And stay hydrated!  After an hour of sewing, stand up, stretch, and drink some water.  Be as good to your body as you are to your quilt. Ziploc bags are handy for lots of things, from somewhere to stash your wet toothbrush to bringing home small scraps you may want to keep.
  • You may find one of these very handy:

These folding wagons are wonderful.  I have two of them.  One is only for beach use and has larger wheels that go across the sand easily.  This one is strictly for quilting use.  You can put a lot of stuff in one of these and wheel it to your sewing area.  It makes loading and unloading a breeze and I store my project boxes in it at retreats.  At home, it folds up neatly and takes up little storage space in my closet. 

  • There are lots of great quilt retreat packing lists on the internet.  I encourage you to search for one and use it.  There a couple of items you may want to add to that list just to make sure all your bases are covered:

Extra needles – both sewing machine and hand

Your cell phone and iPad and their chargers

Your foot pedals and power cords to your machine ask me how I know this.

Clothing that can be layered.  This is important, because temperatures can vary greatly – both yours and the rooms’. 

Lastly, make sure all of your paperwork is in order – any balance owed is paid, you have the roommate requested (if you have one), and you know the address of the location.  This last item is important for two reasons.  First (and the most obvious) is so you can plug it into your GPS.  Second, make sure your emergency contact knows where the retreat is located.  God forbid anything happen on a quilt retreat, but if it does, they will know where to find you.  It’s also a really good idea to make sure the Retreat Leader is aware of your emergency contact information as well as any food or medical allergies you may have.  Most retreat registrations forms have a space for this.  Make sure it’s filled out accurately and legibly.  And if you have any medications or special foods you need that require refrigeration, ask if there is a refrigerator you can stash your stuff in or if you can bring an ice chest. 

Whew.  I think that covers most of it.  Every time I pack for a quilt retreat, I learn something new.  But what I really want to leave you with is this:  if you have an opportunity to attend a quilt retreat – even if it’s just a one-day retreat – take advantage of it.  You will get a ton of stuff done, you’ll enjoy wonderful quilty fellowship, you’ll learn something new, and make new quilting friends.  Quilt retreats are truly worth every dime and every minute of preparation.  And if there isn’t a quilt retreat in your area, why not develop your own?  Grab a few quilting buddies, find a location, and set up for the day.  Everyone can bring their own lunch and order pizza for dinner.  If it’s a small group, someone’s house may work just fine.  If it’s a larger group, a church fellowship hall or library room may be available for minimal or no cost.  It doesn’t have to be fancy-smancy.  What counts is the fellowship and the progress on projects.

Until next week, Quilt with Passion!

Love and Stitches,

Sherri and Sam 


Perfection is Seriously Overrated

I’ve made few confessions about myself this year.  In an effort for you to get to know me better – what kind of person I am as well as what kind of quilter I am – I have confessed a few things, with the latest being that for many years I was a “topper.”  But today I have another confession to make:

I’m a classic Type-A personality. 

What does that mean?  Individuals who are Type A personalities tend to be outgoing, rigidly organized, highly status-conscious, sensitive, impatient, anxious, proactive, and concerned with time management. People with Type A personalities are often high achieving “workaholics”.  And all of that makes me sound like a person most people wouldn’t want to socialize (much less quilt) with.  When I was in my teens and twenties, the description nailed me to a T.  But children (both my own and those I taught) toned me down quite a bit.  Today I am a mellowed-out Type A – which means I still am a voracious list-maker, I’m more patient (because stressing out does nothing for your blood pressure or anyone else’s) and am not status-conscious.  I still strive for good time management and am pretty organized (but not rigidly so).  I am proactive about things and people that are important to me.  However, I think age and circumstance have put the brakes on my workaholic-ism.  If I have an opportunity to quilt or play with the grand darlings, everything stops for this and no cares are given. 

So, most of my Type A personality traits are under control.  But most Type A personalities are also perfectionists.  And this issue has been one that has plagued me the most throughout my life.  It often rears its head in my quilt studio.  In other areas of my life I’ve generally had deadlines that spurred me to jump the perfectionist fence and just keep moving – because Type A personalities generally hold deadlines in near reverence. 

But I normally don’t have deadlines with my quilting.  Hence dealing with the demon of perfectionism in my quilt studio can be difficult.  And this demon has the tendency of sucking the joy out of quilting. 

Now, I am not talking about striving to make your quilt the best it can be, nor am I condoning sloppy workmanship.  I think every quilt deserves your best efforts.  However, I have a habit of allowing the sticky web of perfectionism to stop me in my tracks.  I tend to completely halt working on a quilt until everything looks just right.  For instance, I will repeatedly rip out a seam in order to get all the points perfect.  And in the long run this does absolutely nothing for me or the seam. 

I had to learn to get over this.  To borrow a phrase from Frozen’s Elsa, I had to “Let it go…”

If you’re like me and have these same issues, allow me to share – from my heart to yours – what I’ve learned and how I cope. 

First, I had to embrace the concept finished is better than perfect.  No other quilt taught me this better than Dear Jane. 

So many small blocks and kites…so many techniques on this quilt.  I learned that if I continued to stop work on this quilt to correct minor imperfections, I would never get it done.  Although the top still needs to be quilted (I don’t have the skill set yet to do this quilt justice), it is finally finished, and I am earnestly thinking about making another one. 

If you’re a half-way serious quilter, at some point,  a quilt will come into your life that will teach you this lesson.  As much as you should strive to make this quilt as well as you can, employing every ounce of knowledge and talent you have, it won’t have perfect piecing, or perfect applique, or perfect quilting.  You will realize that your best is all you can give it and you need to move on.  In the long run, you have to embrace the fact that no one is really going to notice those teeny, tiny mistakes.

Next I learned that comparing myself to other quilters is the kiss of death.  I quilt with three fantastic groups of quilters.  These women and men are serious about their craft and can work wonders with needle and thread.  I can readily say on any given day, most of these folks can out quilt me by a mile.  And my guild’s show and tells are inspiring….and intimidating.  I can easily look at those quilts and tell myself “I can never do that…I’ll never be as good of a quilter as they are…”  It would be super easy for me to go home, pack up my stash, sell my machines and throw my hands up in despair.  It could be a pretty straightforward decision to just stop quilting.  I could allow my creativity to plummet.  However…

Most of those quilts I’m envious of are made by artists that have practiced their craft for decades.  I must embrace this fact. Lots of these quilters have been quilting years longer than I have and they’ve worked through the same issues that I have – and perfected their craft through practice, repetition, and learning from mistakes.  I tell myself the same thing as I admire the quilts at quilt shows.  It’s easy to get intimidated by award-winning quilts.   I had to acknowledge that my quilt journey is probably radically different from other quilters and comparing myself and my quilts to others only serves to bring my journey to a screeching halt. 

It’s just not worth it.  Comparing myself to others sucks the joy out of my quilting.  I learned to draw inspiration instead of intimidation from these quilts.  And in the long run, I really don’t think any quilter wants to intimidate another quilter.  Most quilters enjoy helping other quilters along the way.

I also have to ask myself, “Why am I making this quilt?”  There are so many answers to this question.  I could simply like the pattern or the fabric or the technique.  Those are quick answers to that question.  I could be making it as a donation to my guild’s Charity Quilt Program.  Maybe I’ve got plans to give it to a loved one or friend.  With those quilts in mind, I don’t have to be as picky about all the corners meeting perfectly or a few points having their tops lopped off.  Those techniques won’t matter – the only thing the receiver of that quilt will feel is my love for them.  I hope when they wrap themselves up in those quilts, nothing but my affection and concern is felt.

But there are those quilts that come into my life when I just know they are destined to go into a show.  Whether it’s the complexity of the pattern, the harmony of the fabrics, or just the quilter’s instinct in me, I realize pretty quickly this quilt could stand up to some serious competition.  That’s when I allow all my perfectionistic OCD-ness to come out to play.  And it generally pays off.  However, to hold every quilt I make up to show standards creates nothing but stress.  For me, quilting is a stress-relief from a job that is wracked with deadlines and guidelines and the bottom line.  I can do my best work for every quilt but shouldn’t freak out about every little detail.  That can wait for the heirloom or show quilts. 

All quilts hold the great and wonderful capacity to be learning experiences.  When we allow them to be just that, we’ve entered the true “Zen” of quilting.  We’re practicing our craft, learning new things, and allowing our creativity to run rampant.  It’s wonderful feeling.  Don’t let the demon of perfectionism ruin it for you.  Remember what I’ve learned:

It’s perfectly okay not to be perfect.

Until next week, Quilt with Passion!

Love and Stitches,

Sherri and Sam