As I’m writing this blog, I’m at beautiful Emerald Isle, NC, on our last family summer vacation of the year. It’s 79 degrees already at 9:30 a.m. – a fact that makes this column a little difficult to write because I want to talk Christmas. Not Christmas quilts or Christmas fabrics but items you may want to put on your Christmas list for folks to buy for you (or you can purchase for yourself – who says you can’t buy your own Christmas presents?). These are items that I own myself and absolutely love. And before we get any further along, the standard disclaimer applies: I do not work for any of these companies, nor am I reimbursed in anyway for recommending them. I’ve tried these products and really like them. Plus, the companies that stand behind these items have given me great customer service through the years.
- Wafer Light Box
If you love applique, chances are you are either using some type of light box or have devised one of your own. For years I used a light box that I purchased from a tattoo supply – I liked it better than the standard quilting light box because it had a bigger lighted surface area and I could set it up at an angle. However, I recently purchased a CuttaPillar wafer light box and love it better than any I’ve owned. Overall, I think any wafer light box is better than a standard one (easier to store, easier to transport, LED lighting), but the CutterPillar goes a step further. There are cutting mats that can be used on top of the lighted surface which is totally awesome, and it has a great storage bag that makes it super easy to transport to classes or retreats. I don’t know how I lived without this light box.
- Karen Kay Buckley Perfect Scissors
Any product that Karen Kay Buckley produces is stellar. I’ve used her Perfect Circles, Perfect Leaves, Perfect Ovals, and Perfect Stems in my applique projects for years. Then she came out with a line of scissors that I became equally excited about. While geared toward applique artists, these scissors are great for any quilting technique because first, they’re ergonomically made. Your hand doesn’t hurt if you have to cut a lot of pieces. Second (and the detail that completely sold me on these scissors) is that they’re micro-serrated. The blades have tiny teeth on them that will work the same way as the pinking shears used in garment production – the edges of the cut material won’t fray. They come in a variety of blade lengths, too. A couple of warnings to keep in mind with these: First, if you have to have them sharpened, but sure to let the person sharpening them know that the blades are serrated. Believe me when I tell you the teeth are tiny, tiny, tiny on these scissors. You almost can’t see them with your naked eye. Second, be aware that the market was inundated with a cheap knock off about a year ago. I believe legal steps were taken to remove them from the internet, but some could still be out there. The knock-off brand is nowhere near as wonderful as the Karen Kay Buckley scissors.
- Electronic Quilt 8 (EQ 8) Software
If you’re beginning to take steps in designing your own quilts, or changing up quilt patterns to suit your tastes, this software needs to be on your Christmas list. I get the fact that yes, you can make your own pattern or change a current pattern with graph paper and pencil, but this software makes it so much easier and faster. In addition, you can add not only color to your blocks, but actual fabric renditions are in the software so you can really see how it will look. You can save your quilt project and come back to it later, knowing it’s on your laptop’s hard drive and you don’t have to go searching for that elusive piece of graph paper. The folks that produce EQ are constantly coming up with additions to the software to keep it up to date. This includes fabric lines and blocks by designers. These are available for a nominal fee through the Electronic Quilt website. When you register your software online, EQ will send you an email to let you know about new updates that are available.
Once you have the EQ 8 software, as the company develops EQ9 and makes that available for download, you don’t have to purchase the entire EQ9 – just an update to the current software. And the update is less expensive than the entire software platform.
Barbara Brackman’s Block Base is available as an add-on, as well as the Dear Jane software (which can run independently from the EQ programs). The EQ program already comes loaded with hundreds of blocks, layout designs, quilt patterns, etc. It’s a great investment and does live up to the hype around the program.
- Wool Pressing Mat
This item is kind of new to the quilting arena, although they’ve been used in the commercial garment making industry for years. They’re made of pressed wool, approximately ½-inch thick and hold heat well. You can pin your blocks or block units to it as you block them to make sure they come out the required size. I especially love to use it with applique pieces that I need to press or turn the edges under. It’s the perfect combination pressing cloth and ironing surface.
These come in a variety of sizes. I purchased the largest one. And truthfully, if they made them large enough to cover your entire ironing board, I’d have one of those, too. There is a disclaimer that the wool “smells” when you use steam. And it does the first several times you use it. Some folks in the industry recommend using essential oil on the mat to make it less offensive, but honestly, to me the odor was not that bad. After a few uses, it completely disappeared.
- Apliquick Applique System/Tools
This gift would be a wonderful addition to the quilters that love either prepped edge machine applique or hand applique. Most of us, myself included, were taught by either the needle turn method or the freezer paper method. The freezer paper method employs using some kind of iron to help turn the edges of the pieces under. Any iron used that close to your fingertips can result in burns. Hence, the beauty of the Apliquick system – no heat is used. The edges are turned under and glued onto a special paper (kind of like interfacing, but it’s not). Special tools are used that look kind of like chop sticks to help turn the edges under. It’s a little awkward at first, but it is by far the best method I’ve used – and I’ve done a lot of applique. I can prep anything from the tiniest circles to larger pieces quickly and easily with the Apliquick method.
- Martelli Rotary Cutters/Cutting Mats
I’ve sung the praises of Martelli cutters and mats in previous blogs, but I want to mention them again. The mats are self-healing and run as large as 30-inches x 60-inches. They even have a round one on a base that can be turned – kind of like a lazy Susan. While all mats eventually will need to be replaced, the Martelli brand has the longest cutting life. Yes, you’re going to spend more money on a Martelli mat, but yes, it’s going to last you literally years longer than any other mat.
The rotary cutters are ergonomically designed and are available for either right-handed or left-handed quilters. Instead of having the handle running up the palm of the hand, these have the handle on the side, taking more off the stress off the hand and distributing it equally throughout the hand, wrist, and arm. The cutters are available in 45 mm and 60 mm sizes. You should use the Martelli blades with these cutters and I’ve found the blades carry about the same shelf life as other rotary cutter blades.
- Undercover Mat
I’m in possession of two of these wonderful creations. I keep one under Big Red and the other is packed in the bag I take to retreat and sewing classes. These are a great way to keep your scissors, seam ripper, stiletto, and other sewing tools together at your machine. These are available for purchase, but if you have the time to make a few for Christmas gifts (or for yourself), this is not a hard project to undertake. Plus, there are several great free patterns on the internet for this little jewel.
I realize that there are a few quilting staples that are always going to be on your Christmas list: fabric yardage, fat quarters, jelly rolls … you’re always going to want or need fabric. But the seven items above are a few specialty items that can really enhance your quilting life a great deal. Some of these items carry a larger price tag than others. However, I have and use all of these tools and I do enjoy them. I’m sure you will, too.
Happy Holiday Shopping!
Until next week, Quilt with Passion!
Love and Stitches,
Sherri and Sam