The Missing Link

Before we get into this week’s topic, I’d like to give you fellow quilters a quick public service announcement:  Check your thread.

 The reason for this PSA is a picture I saw on my Facebook feed over the weekend.  A long arm artist was readying a quilt to put on her machine when the top literally began falling apart.  She checked the top’s stitches and tension and both of those looked correct.  She called her customer and found out that the quilter in question had used old thread.  We’re talking thread-on-wooden-spools old thread.  My guild had a similar situation a few years ago.  A member who was downsizing had some tops she had constructed but had never quilted.  Another member (who had a long arm) took these tops to quilt for our charity quilt program.  Since the tops were several, several years old, the long armer threw the tops in her washing machine before putting them on her long arm.  And the tops completely fell apart.  The issue, once again, was the thread. 

If you have thread in your stash wound on wooden spools, put them in a pretty jar to display in your sewing room.  That’s literally all they’re good for at this point.  Thread does have a shelf life, albeit a pretty long one.  According to the Superior Thread website (if you ever have a question about thread, this should be a go-to resource), “A good quality thread produced today will last much longer than thread that was produced 15 or 20 years ago.”  So, if you’re like me and still have those gold, plastic Dual Duty or Coats and Clark spools of thread – toss them.  A high-quality cotton thread that is manufactured today will probably still be fine to use 40 or even 50 years from now.  Why?  The difference is due to the advancements in spinning, dyeing, and twisting as well as the evolution of genetic engineering in cotton plants.  Since cotton is a natural fiber, it will degrade over time.  If you have older thread in your thread stash, the best way to determine if it’s still usable is to take a 12-inch section of the thread and hold it between your two hands.  Give the thread a sharp pull.  If the thread snaps (a nice, crisp break), then it’s probably okay to use.  If it separates and pulls apart easily (like pulling a cotton ball apart), throw it in the circular file and get another spool of thread.   

However, polyester thread is different.  With this thread, the color may fade over time, but there is no evidence that it deteriorates like cotton thread.  Synthetic fibers last longer than cotton ones. 

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When we started 2020, I expressed a strong desire that by the end of the year, we all could take a pattern or design and make it our own.  I want us to get really comfortable about changing a design element in a pattern or coming up with our own pattern if a quilt drifts into our imagination and won’t let us go.  In keeping with this year’s theme about advancing our quilting skills and altering designs to fit how we want our quilts to look, I’d like to hit on the topic of connector blocks — also referred to as linking blocks.  These are secondary blocks in a quilt that serve to pull the main blocks together for an unexpected secondary pattern.  Often these blocks are what I consider the “backbone” of quilting – snowball blocks, square-in-a-square blocks, four-patch blocks, etc.  Let me show you what I’m talking about.  See this quilt?

This quilt has no sashing, because it has connector blocks and really doesn’t need any.  This is the main block.

And this is the connector or linking block:

The block that is used most often as a linking block is the snowball block.

This block can transform a quilt top in many ways and gives a nice, open area to have some serious quilting stitches. 

However, while the snowball block is the most often used connector block, it’s not the only one.  There are some more complicated ones that also serve as great linking blocks.

If you want to play around using linking blocks instead of sashing or an on-point layout (personally, I’ve found the regular horizontal layout much easier to use when I’m working with linking blocks), you’ll need to do a little planning.  Take your primary design block and draw it out on graph paper or throw it into EQ8.  (Personally, I find the software the easiest to work with, because you can insert numerous blocks of the same design just by pointing and clicking.)

Primary Design Block. You could also deconstruct this block beautifully.

Then draw your connector blocks or insert them into your computer layout.  Keep in mind the connector block   more than likely will need to echo the corner of the design block.  So, if the design block has a straight edge (such as a triangle, square, or rectangle) in the corner where it meets the connector block, the connector block will need to echo that straight edge.  In other words, don’t have a curved unit meeting up with a square.  Since there are few hard, fast rules in quilting, there are exceptions to this. 

My pick for the linking or connector block.

If you don’t like what you have come up with, work with the linking blocks until you create something that makes your quilter’s heart sing with joy. 

My Christmas Quilt with the chosen design and connector blocks. See what an important role the color choice and placement plays with this?

The really cool factor that can occur when you use a primary design block along with connector blocks is a secondary design can emerge.    Of course, color placement is an important factor in this process, so you may have to play around with fabric positioning as well as block design to get this to happen – such as using the same colors in the corners of the design blocks and the connector blocks.

Jacob’s Ladder with a Nine Patch forms a nice secondary design

What I really, really want you to have this year is “Own Your Quilting Experience.”  Quit depending on kits and patterns to dictate everything that comes out from under your needle.  I really hope that at the end of 2020, you have the tools and the confidence to look at a pattern as only the starting point of your design.  If you don’t like the way a pattern calls for making HSTs, you know the most effective way for you to make the HSTs and will use that method.  If you don’t want a border constructed out of four patches, you know how to redesign that border to look the way you want it to look.  And if you have a fabric panel in your possession, you have the know-how and the confidence to cut that sucker apart, put it in a layout that you like, and make that top sing in four part harmony. 

This is not to say I’m anti-quilt kit.  I’m not.  The Alaska quilt that’s under my needle now is a kit.  But I do think that a steady quilting diet of kits can really short-change your creative ability and stunt your growth as a quilter.  Change your patterns up.  Take one small thing at a time.  Substitute HSTs for plain patches.  Change the size of the blocks.  Do something to make it uniquely yours.  Garner confidence with each change you make and learn from the mistakes that happen (because they are going to happen, believe me).  Then try it again. 

Until next week, Level Up That Quilting!

Love and Stitches,

Sherri and Sam

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