Double Wedding Ring Quilts — The Quilt Surrounded by Myths

This quilt….

Probably needs no introduction.  It’s a Double Wedding Ring.  For years it’s been prized by collectors and esteemed by quilters.  To make one of these – and make it well – is one of the hallmarks of a skilled quilter.  When I began research on this quilt, I had only heard it called a Double Wedding Ring (DWR from here on out).  I also assumed it came into quilty context during the 1920’s and 1930’s.  I was wrong on both counts.  The Shelburne Museum has a DWR dating between 1825 – 1850, and it’s called Pincushion.  The more I studied DWR quilts the more I realized the real history behind its origins is lost in a murky maze of design changes and multiple names.  Before the 1920’s it went by many names – Rainbow, Around the World, Pickle Dish, Coiled Rattlesnake, Endless Chain, King Tut, and Friendship Knot – are just a few.  And it has undergone just as many design alterations.  To get to the bottom of this quilt’s myth and mystery, we’re about to take a deep dive into the world of the DWR. 

The beginnings of the DWR block name may have its origins with this block:

This is the Single Wedding Ring and the earliest published mention of the SWR was October 1, 1887 in Farm Life and Home.  The SWR was also called Sawtooth and Odd Scraps Patchwork.  It is worth mentioning when the SWR was published, it was not given any name, the block was only illustrated in an engraving.  It wasn’t called SWR until April 12, 1930 in the Kansas City Star.  Since that point, it has been consistently called by the name SWR.  There is much discussion among quilt historians concerning the theory if the name change for this block was due to the popularity of the DWR.  We may never know, but while there are some construction similarities between the two blocks, the DWR actually is more closely linked to other quilt blocks (more on this a little later). 

The first time the quilt was called by the name Double Wedding Ring was in Capper’s Weekly on October 28, 1928.  According to the Topeka, Kansas publication, Mrs. JD Patterson of Wellington, KS designed the block and gave it the name.  Whether this is true or even if there was such a person as Mrs. JD Patterson, we may never know.  What we do know is you could order the pattern from Capper’s for the grand sum of fifteen cents.  Then came this lady:

Ruby Short McKim.  If you’re like me and are an avid appliquer, you know her for her applique patterns.  But Mrs. McKim had some serious piecing skills too, and on October 31, 1928, she published the pattern in the Weekly Kansas City.  It’s worth noting she didn’t call the pattern DWR until she published her 1931 catalog, Designs Worth Doing.  I imagine she finally decided to call the pattern DWR then because the pattern was hugely popular (no matter who was publishing the pattern) and this was the name which quilters knew and knew well.  As a matter of fact, the DWR was so popular, for the next 10 years The Kansas City Star published the pattern multiple times and quilters began to get quite competitive by seeing how small they could make the squares in the rings and how many they could fit in each block. 

To keep this quilt in context, it’s important we remember the time frame in which the DWR popularity peaks.  Like most quilt blocks, it appeared in quilts long before it received a name that stuck.  However, it’s interesting to note the DWR, Grandmother’s Flower Garden, and Sunbonnet Sue all hit the height of their fame during the 1920’s and 1930’s.  We’ve already done a deep dive into Sunbonnet Sue, but haven’t yet really touched on Grandmother’s Flower Garden.  To put it in perspective, there were so many DWR and Grandmother’s Flower Garden quilts dominating state and county fairs, a lot of them gave these two quilts their own categories in their shows.  As a matter of fact, one fair in Missouri counted 161 DWR quilts in that quilt category.  Most quilt historians will definitely agree the DWR reached the height of its popularity during the twenties-to-thirties decade and most of the catalogued DWRs fit into those ten years.  Despite this, there are some collectors who believe their quilts are pre-Depression era.  This is perhaps due to the fact that although a time-current DWR pattern was used, the quilt was made out of pre-1920’s fabric (hey, stash is stash…use it up whenever).   Usually, a close look at construction techniques can clear this up – for instance if stars were used instead of four-patches to join the rings, the quilt could very well be pre-1920. 

However, the longer I looked into the DWR, its inception, and its rise in fame, the nagging question kept tickling my mind:  What made it so popular?  All those curves and bias…it’s not an easy quilt.  And you also have to ask, since the quilt was unilaterally made across the United States, how did everyone (pre-internet and Pinterest) learn about the pattern?  Let’s look at the last question first.

We know for a fact the first time the pattern published under the name DWR, was 1928 in Kansas.  Varying Kansas-based publications (primarily newspapers) published the pattern frequently during the ensuing 10 years.   We know other publications picked the pattern up from the mid-west newspapers and the DWR went on to be published in newspapers and magazines up and down east coast and further west.  The pattern was printed in enough publications and so frequently anyone who wanted to obtain the directions and make the quilt was certainly able to do so.

What made it so popular?  I imagine Depression era quilters were no different than we are today – you see a pretty pattern and you want to make it.  And despite the construction challenges the DWR brings to the table, it is a lovely quilt pattern.  Yet the real reason behind its popularity depends on which quilt group you ask – those who either inherited or were given the quilt or those who actually made the quilt.  During the mid-1970’s through the eighties, a nationwide push began for the states to catalogue and index the antique and almost-antique quilts of their citizens.  Various quilt groups and guilds set about this task and were extremely successful.  Part of the intake process (besides photographs) was a questionnaire concerning the history of the quilt – how did you come by it?  Handmade or machine stitched?  Why was this quilt made?  The folks who didn’t make the DWR answered the last question generally in two ways – it was made for warmth or it used up scraps.  Both of these answers are valid, but if the person who made the quilt was present, the answers could be starkly different:  I made it for entertainment or I made it because it was a challenge.  Both of those last answers, at least in my opinion, shows us quilters really haven’t changed all that much.

The more I researched the more I realized another important characteristic about this quilt:  It’s surrounded by more myth than truth.  The first myth surrounds its publication and how it came to be named DWR.  According to Capper’s Weekly (the weekly Kansas publication which published the first DWR pattern), the name was conceived when some unknown man came up with the idea of a double wedding ring ceremony and this gave his wife the idea of a double-ringed quilt. Then in 1932 a brochure was published which connected the DWR to the Civil War.  The publication offered the story of a grandmotherly woman who had made many quilts.  One was particularly special, and she was saving it for a niece’s wedding.  The wedding had been postponed because the groom had been wounded in the war and had been hospitalized for quite a while.  When the wedding date came, the groom had no money for rings, and the niece told her aunt the sad news.  Reportedly the grandmotherly woman said, “My child, I’ll furnish the rings.  You’ll have my favorite quilt, and we will call it the Double Wedding Ring.”

Fascinating stories, but neither are true…even the part which notates the quilt was originally designed in Kansas.  This is the second myth which surrounds the DWR.  The Ladies Art Company in St. Louis also published the pattern in its 1928 catalogue with a 1928 copyright.  So does the DWR claim Kansas or Missouri citizenship?  The fact is we may never know.  Like most of women’s art prior to the Women’s Movement, quilting was relegated a second-class citizenship no matter where it originated.  Apart from patterns printed in newspapers and ribbons awarded at fairs, not much thought or factual preservations was thrown its way. 

Gimmel Rings

However, we can trace back where the concept of the DWR may have begun.  Engravings of what we consider to be this block appeared in fourth century Roman drinking cups.  Gimmel rings, found primarily in England during the 15th and 16th centuries also may have contributed to the DWR idea.  Gimmel rings were a type of engagement rings.  The Gimmel ring varies from our 21st century engagement in this concept — both the man and woman wore one.  Once the wedding occurred, the woman wore both rings.  And as late as the 17th century, Germanic people who settled in the United States wore the block on their clothing and painted or carved it in their furniture. 

So, we have some idea of where the concept of the DWR came from, but how did this get translated into a quilt block?  Does the DWR have any quilty DNA which can link it to other blocks?  Well…yes…sort of.

A quick glance at the above 19th century Pickle Dish blocks show where perhaps the first construction idea came from.  Some enterprising quilter probably got tired of making all those triangles and decided squares would be easier.  This would be my theory.  However, if you take a look at the Indian Wedding Ring block below (which was also popular during the 1930’s), it’s easy to see how this quilt block could also lead to the DWR.

  Still, if you look back even further, you find this block:

This is known as the Burr Block or Pine Burr Block.  When placed in a quilt, the effect is very similar to the DWR.  So, if you really want to go all on the DWR, and consider the Pine Burr a possible quilty DNA donor, you will have to place the quilt’s actual origins in Tennessee, Louisiana, and Texas.  Those states are the first ones we see the Pine Burr block and quilts developed and designed. More than likely as Southerners went West (especially after the Civil War), the Pine Burr block morphed into the Pickle Dish and Indian Wedding Ring and then made the jump to what we know as the DWR. 

One more esoteric fact about the DWR before we leave its history behind:  North Carolina has its own version, and as far as my research can tell, we’re the only state to lay claim to this DWR fact.  Behold the Scuppernong Hull Quilt:

Whether a group of North Carolina quilters took one long look at a Pickle Dish, Indian Wedding Ring, or Pine Burr block and just thought all those blocks or triangles were too much work, we may never know.  They may have decided just to use solid, non-pieced rings cut on the bias instead of employing all that piecing.  However, as a native North Carolinian, I like to think those quilters were inspired by the Scuppernong Hull itself. 

For those of you who have never eaten this delectable fruit, let me explain.  The Scuppernong is a grape with a skin so thick it can’t be chewed up like a green or red grape.  To properly eat one of these, you take a ripe Scuppernong and with your thumb and index finger, squeeze the inside of it out – preferably right into your mouth.  As a child, I spent many pleasant North Carolina summer afternoons doing this very thing.  Scuppernongs make the best jelly and juice.  And very good wine, if you’re so inclined to make some of that.  The discarded hulls look much like the rings in the Scuppernong Hull Quilt.  It was always a good idea to pitch these somewhere pretty quickly, as the sweet juice attracted all kinds of bees and wasps. 

Today we find the DWR quilt still morphing into something new.  While there are still plenty of traditional DWRs still made…

There are lots of patterns which take the original concept and twist it.  Victoria Findlay Wolfe completely deconstructs the “traditional” look of a DWR and replaces it with plays on the negative space, ring construction, and fabric choices. 

Judy Niemeyer has several DWR quilts which toss applique into the quilty equation or replaces the traditional four-patch which joins the rings with stars.

And also gone are the historic calicoes and feed sack prints used.  Today’s DWR quilts have a myriad of background colors and the rings run the gamut from modern prints to batiks. 


The one which is currently under my needle (off and on…I can only work on her for a days at time) has a yellow background and batik squares.  There are templates to help you make the block, as well as paper piecing patterns.  I’m using John Flynn’s method:

It takes more time than paper piecing, but the rings and melons go together effortlessly.

Despite the changing times, fabric, and patterns, the DWR remains one of the most well-loved and challenging quilts to make.  If you’re a true beginner quilter-sewer, this quilt isn’t for you…give yourself a year or two to gain some experience.  But if you feel as if you’re quilting mojo is stuck in a rut, you may want to give the DWR a try.  If all that bias and those rings make you feel a little iffy about the process, make a small one.  There is no rule which says all quilts have to fit on a bed!

Until next week, Quilt On!

Love and Stitches,

Sherri and Sam


Finished is Better than Perfect

Okay, last blog about machine quilting, I promise…

The last basting method I want to discuss is thread basting.  In the past … in the days before nifty ideas like using safety pins or the invention of spray adhesives, everyone thread basted.  And it works pretty much the same way it sounds – you baste the sandwich layers together with thread.  You begin much the same way as if you’re pin basting.  You lay your back out and tape it down, then add the batt, and then your top.  However, this is where the similarities end.  At this point, you’ll need a sharp needle (a long one works best), a spoon, and some thread.  Personally, I use hand quilting thread.  Working from the center out, I stitch from the middle out to form a vertical line from the top of the quilt to the bottom.  Then I stitch another line across the middle.  My stitches range from 1- to 1 ½-inches in length and when my fingers begin to get sore, I use the spoon to help me push the needle from the quilt back to the quilt top.  Be aware whatever surface you use may get scratched from the needle.  If the quilt is larger than a wall hanging, you may opt to continue to stitch horizontal and vertical rows across the quilt sandwich to form a grid. 

I have never thread basted anything larger than a wall hanging.

And with the small quilts, instead of a grid, I “spider web” the thread basting.  I stitch my vertical and horizonal lines and then stitch diagonal from corner to corner, adding more diagonal lines as needed.  Just like with pin basting, the idea is to keep all three layers together, so you may need to have your stitch lines no more than 3-inches apart and certainly no more space between the stitch lines than the width of your hand. 

I only use thread basting if I’m hand quilting a quilt and the quilt sandwich is in a hoop.

Pins would only get in the way of a hoop and any of the fusible basting methods are hard to push and pull a needle through.  I remove the basting stitches as I quilt.  Let me also add this helpful hint: If you really like thread basting but don’t want to go through the process by hand, quite often a long arm quilter can thread baste the quilt for you. This can be a huge times-saver if there’s a big quilt involved.

Now, as promised last week, we’ll cover moving the quilt through the harp, practice, posture, speed, finishing, and stress.

Moving the Quilt through the Harp

To refresh your memory on terminology, this is the harp of a domestic sewing machine:

Big Red has a large harp, plus the lady is on the hefty side (she weighs a bit), and she has an extension table.  This makes her ideal for free motion quilting.  However, even with the extension table, it can be a challenge to move the bulk of a quilt through the harp.  Some quilters “puddle” their quilt:

Some roll it up:

Try both ways to see which one works best for you, especially if you have a standard harp width.   Personally, I’m a “puddler.”  If your sewing machine is a portable or simply doesn’t weigh a lot, you may find the machine wants to move out of place when you shift your quilt.  Some  rubberized shelf lining placed under the machine may help keep it from moving.  

Successful domestic machine quilting begins with the batting.  Whether or not you have a large harp, the space between your needle mount and the right side of the machine is limited.  This size limitation must be taken into consideration when you chose your batt.  A super-fluffy batt would just add more bulk and make it difficult to maneuver the quilt as well as get it under your quilting or walking foot.  A thin batt works best.  I use either a cotton batt or 80/20. 

A smooth, slick surface is also pretty important.  You want to be able to move your quilt sandwich without it getting caught or have any drag.  There are a couple of ways you can make this happen.  Some domestic machine quilters use this:

Silicon spray.  Let me be perfectly clear at this point:  I have never used this.  I understand from other quilters who have that this is a wonderful product.  However, Big Red is highly computerized, and I don’t even used compressed air to clean her because I’m afraid moisture will from the spray can will find its way into the nooks and crannies of her inner works.  If you have a basic sewing machine, this product may work fine.  If you have a sensitive machine like mine, I might avoid it.

However, I do use this: 

This is the Supreme Slider, and it fits over your needle plate and feed dogs:

It has a tacky back, so it sticks to your machine surface (although as mine has aged, I’ve used a piece of painter’s tape here and there).  The front is smooth and slick, making a perfect surface for you to use to quilt your quilt.  This product comes in two sizes (medium and large-ish).  What I like best about this product is it allows you to still keep your feed dogs up as you free motion because the Slider covers them.  This isn’t such a big issue for me now, but when I began to free motion quilt, I was really antsy about lowering my feed dogs.  I had a hard time getting used to the feeling of not having the dogs engaged.  To be able to keep them up (at least for a few days) was extremely helpful.  


If I could change one thing about how I was taught to quilt, it would be this:  Someone needed to pull me aside and make me start quilting my own quilts way earlier in my quilt journey.  My first quilt teacher hand quilted everything, and this was the way I was taught.  However, I worked, had two small kids, and had a husband who worked out of town.  The thought of hand quilting my tops was frustrating because I didn’t have the time.  Then I learned I could pay someone to quilt my quilts and that’s how I operated for years.  So, when I finally bit the bullet and decided to learn how to quilt my own quilts, I was met with this equally frustrating realization:  I had to practice.

This doesn’t sound like a bad thing, right?  After all, practice makes perfect.  But if your quilting time is limited and you’re already good at applique and piecing, the thought of starting over in some quilty area from scratch can be daunting and, well… frustrating.  If I had been taught (or urged to learn) how to take care of this step at an earlier point, I probably wouldn’t have fought it so hard.  Or have taken so long to learn it. 

However…no matter where you start or how you start, you’ll have to practice.  When you free motion, the dogs are dropped, and you are in control of your stitch length.  It takes a bit to learn how to keep this mostly consistent.  I suggest two plans of attack for your practice strategy.  For both, you’ll need to make some quilt sandwiches.  I made a stack of sandwiches out of the same batting, no larger than 8-inches square.  I did this because I knew anything much larger would be intimidating.  I was determined to at least practice every other day, so this size square was “doable” for me.  And if you have any orphan or left-over quilt blocks, this is a great place to use them.  For the first plan of practice attack, unthread your machine and lower your feed dogs.  Then move the sandwich back and forth and up and down to get used to the feel of not having the dogs engaged and to determine if you have more control moving the sandwich up and down or side to side. For the second plan of practice attack, thread your machine and repeat daily for a couple of weeks.  You may want to start by free motioning your name.  Remember, over half the battle with learning how to free motion is muscle memory.  You’ve been writing your name for years. 

I want to add at this point, every sewing machine is different.  Understand you’ll have to play with the tension to get the stitches to look like this:

And not this:

Or this:

Each sewing machine comes with its own set of feet.  Typically, most come with a darning foot, which is what the majority of quilter use when they’re learning to free motion.  Big Red came with these:

Which really gave me a good variety to start out with.  Later I purchased this:

A ruler foot.  Now, thanks to technology, most domestic machines can perform ruler work just like long arms can.  If you’re interested in that I strongly suggest you point your web browser to Westalee Rulers or Angela Walters.  In my opinion, they’re the best in this field.

As you begin to free motion, there are a couple of websites which will prove to be extremely helpful, informal, and encouraging.  The Midnight Quilter with Angela Walters is fabulous.  She is wonderfully entertaining as well as so informative and helpful. She has all her videos on YouTube. Leah Day ( is just as informative and helpful.  Both of these women are excellent free motion quilting teachers.  And personally, I think learning free motion quilting via video is so much easier than trying to learn it through a book. 


I went over sewing posture in a lot of detail in this blog:

There really isn’t a lot of difference between sewing posture and quilting posture.  The one item which changes is our hands. When you free motion, your hands are positioned similar to this:

What you don’t want to do is let your hands get too far ahead of your quilting area (so you’re moving your sandwich with your elbows) or remain too far behind.  They both should remain parallel to the area you’re quilting.


Speed – no matter how slow or how fast you move through the quilting process – is a very personal thing.  Some quilters feel they have more control moving a bit slower and others seem to be true speed demons.  Much of this has to do with experience.  The more you machine quilt, the more you become aware what is your most comfortable pace.  And, if you’re like most of us, certain types of quilting work better at a slower rate and the simple designs allow you to move quicker. 

What I really, really don’t want you to do is compare your speed to how quickly the domestic machine quilters are moving on their YouTube channels. I’ll let you in on a little secret about that – most of those videos are sped up.  Why?  Well, the quilting process takes time and to have a video of someone spending long minutes quilting would be…well… boring.  So, many of these videos are fast-forwarded during the quilting process when they’re edited.  Sometimes this effect is obvious and other times it’s not.  Just don’t be intimidated into thinking, “I’m not a great quilter because I can’t stitch that fast.”  Chances are, the quilter in the video isn’t quilting that fast in real-life, either. 

Eyes on the Finish Line

I love the quilting process.  I mean, I really love just about everything concerning making a quilt.  I’m not crazy about cutting the top out, but I’d still rather be doing that than say….laundry.

Joking aside, I love adding the texture quilting brings to a quilt.  For me, the piecing or applique (or both) can be picture-perfect, but it’s the quilting which adds the soul and personality to a top.  The quilting stitches can add anything from a touch of whimsey to a formal atmosphere to a quilt sandwich.  Truthfully, I’m always kind of sad to see the quilting process end.  However, I also realize not every quilter enjoys this as much as I do.  For those of you, I offer a couple of suggestions.  First, I still think you should learn to quilt your own tops, but you may only want to quilt those quilts which won’t require a great deal of “fancy” work.  You may want to stick to cuddle quilts, play quilts, or those quilts on the smaller size range.  Let your checkbook quilt the larger quilts or the ones which require a bit more workmanship than you care to get into.  Second, remember once the quilting is done, all that’s left is the binding.  You’re nearly finished with your quilt!  And sometimes that though is enough to spur you on to the finish line.


I’m really talking about two kinds of stress at this point.  The first is the kind you carry in your shoulders, down your arms, and to your hands as you’re hunched over the sewing machine, trying to get all those stitches in your quilt just right.  To begin with, don’t hunch.  Keep your posture correct.  However, if you find yourself putting the death grip on your quilt, let me offer this suggestion:  Relax your hands and try moving the quilt with only your fingertips.  It’s very, very difficult to keep tension in your arms and shoulders when only the fingertips are used to move the quilt.

The second kind of stress is what I call “regular” stress – the pressure you put on yourself as you try to make sure all your stitches are the same length, and the tension is perfectly balanced.  You know… the kind of stress carried when you want everything about your quilt to be perfect.  Let me offer this piece of advice:

Honey, no one has ever made a perfect quilt.

Few quilters have come close, but most of us have learned how to emphasize our strengths, minimize our weakness, and how to hide our mistakes.  This kind of stress can suck the joy out of everything – including quilting – and that’s not why we quilt.  We quilt to be creative, make something beautiful, and to relax.  Don’t let the stress of perfection ruin your quilting journey.  I learned a long time ago to give it my best, but finished is so much better than perfect.

Until Next Week, Quilt On!

Love and Stitches,

Sherri and Sam


Holding the Quilt Sandwich Together

Okay…still talking about quilt sandwiches…this has taken a lot longer than I anticipated, but I think there’s a lot of good information in these blogs.  I had lots of questions when I put together my first quilt sandwich and didn’t know where to get them answered.  Everything I read simply told me to layer the backing, batting, and top together.  No one ever told me I needed tape.  No one ever explained the differences in batting.  No one ever told me how to keep the three layers together.  I spent frustrating weeks simply trying to get the sandwich to stay together while I sewed a simple crosshatch design over the top.  And come to think of it, no one ever told me a walking foot would have made the quilting process easier.

I really don’t want that for you folks.  It’s terribly frustrating.

In today’s blog, we’ll discuss prepping the three layers and some of the different methods used to hold them together.  Again, this process is one you go through if you plan on quilting your quilt on a regular sewing machine – whether you’re doing the quilting or someone else is.  If you plan on long arming the quilt, or having someone else long arm it, the process is somewhat different.  I wrote a blog about it and it’s here:

Baby Got Back

We’ve briefly touched on the quilt back earlier, so I won’t repeat myself.  If you haven’t read the first blog in this series, I suggest you go back and read it if you have questions.  Once you’ve either pieced your back or have purchased the wide quilt backing fabric, you’ll need to press it to make sure it’s a smooth and wrinkle-free as it can be.  I realize some folks can make a quilt sandwich on a small surface, but I’m not one of those people.  I’m explaining how I work the process.

Once the back is smooth, lay it out with the wrong side up on a surface.  Using masking or painter’s tape, tape the top, bottom, and sides down so that the back does not even think about moving.  Remember, you’ll be adding the batting and the top, so you don’t want the back to shift at all.  And one more word about the taping process.  You simply want to hold the back firmly in one place, you don’t want to stretch it.  At some point, you’ll remove the tape and the last thing you want to happen is for the back to shrink back to its normal size.  Lay the back out, smooth out any wrinkles, bumps, or folds with your hands, and tape it down.  That’s all you need to do.

The Right Stuff in the Middle Makes a Good Sandwich

I’ve written entire blogs on batting.  Likewise, I’ve spent a lot of money on batting.  I can tell you without hesitation, the right kind of batting in the middle makes a huge difference in the appearance of your quilt.  So, I want to give you two pieces of advice:

  1.  Make sure you’ve chosen the right kind of batting for the appearance you want.
  2. Don’t buy cheap batting.  Cheap batting is like cheap shoes – good for a short while, then you deeply regret it. 

Make sure all the wrinkles and fold lines are out of the batt and read the directions which came with it to make sure you have the correct side of the batt against the backing fabric.  With some batts (depending on how they were finished) it doesn’t matter.  If they were needle punched or have a scrim, it will.   Center the batt on the backing.

The Top

The last part of the sandwich is the top – the item you’ve spent so much loving time and care on.  Give the wrong side of the top another look over to be sure you haven’t missed any stray threads and then center it (right side up) on the batting.  Also be careful to make sure there is adequate backing and batting margins on all four sides.  Smooth out any lingering wrinkles.

Now that the sandwich is made, we have to look at some of the different methods quilters use to hold the sandwich together.  If we were to pick the sandwich up as it is right now, the three layers would shift, and we’d have a hot mess on our hands.  First, let me tell you there is no one absolute best way to keep the batting, backing, and top together.  Like most quilty subjects, it’s whatever technique works best for you and what you’re most comfortable with and what gives you the best results.  Truthfully, I use different techniques for different sized quilts.  This part of the blog will highlight the most well-known methods of adhering the three layers together.  I’ll also let you know the pros and cons of each and the ones I like and the ones I’m not so crazy about.  What you don’t want to do is move your quilt before all three layers are joined together. 

Pin Basting

For this method, you’ll need:

Your Quilt Sandwich

Safety Pins – the curved kind made for quilters are easier to use than the standard safety pins

A Long Ruler or Yardstick

(Optional) Kwik Clip

Beginning at the center of the quilt, start inserting the safety pins.  I like to make sure I have pins at seam intersections and at the top of points.  You’ll want to have a pin every three inches or so, but certainly have them no further apart than the width of your hand.  It’s really tempting to have bigger spaces between the pins, but don’t go down that path.  The primary purpose of any type of quilt basting is to keep all three layers together in such a manner they don’t shift.  Larger spaces between pins allow for the possibility of shifting.  Some quilters place their pins on the bias, claiming this angled position holds the quilt sandwich better.  Whatever you do, stagger the pins (don’t have them in neat rows and columns like chairs in a classroom).  As you insert the pins, the quilt top will wrinkle a bit.  Use the long ruler to smooth it out as you go. 

Couple of words of advice at this point.

  1.  Store your pins open.  This way you don’t have to stop and open each pin before you insert it in your quilt top.  I store my basting pins open in a jar and when I’m ready to pin baste, I simply sprinkle  some on the quilt top so I can grab them from whatever angle I’m working at and keep pinning.
  2. Close all your pins once you’re completely through pinning.  This helps to keep wrinkling and shifting to a minimum.  If your sandwich isn’t too large, it’s easy to simply close the pins with your fingers.  But if it’s a large quilt, all that closing of the pins can lead to sore fingers.  That’s where the Kwick Klip comes in – use it to close the pins instead of your fingers.  Some quilters have told me a teaspoon works just as good, but I’ve never been too successful with the spoon method.
  3. There are also these on the quilt market:

These are small bits of foam (you could slice up a pool noodle instead of purchasing them) which fit over the pointed end of a quilting pin.  Some quilters use the long straight pins to pin their quilt and push the foam piece over the end of the pin to hold it in the quilt.  I’ve tried it.  I give this method one out of five stars.  The foam tends to fall off as soon as you move the quilt.

Pros – This is a really secure way to baste a quilt.  The three layers tend to stay together well, and once you’ve purchased the pins and perhaps a Kwik Klip, you’re set (I’m assuming you already have a long ruler).  And it’s not as time consuming as thread basting a quilt.  This method also works well if you’re hand quilting on a frame.

Cons – It does take longer than spray or powder basting, but it doesn’t make nearly as big of a mess as those two methods can.  Two biggest drawbacks are sore fingers and having to remember to remove the pins as your quilting. 

I like this method and use it on wall hanging sized quilts and smaller. 

Fuse Basting Methods

These methods offer the fastest ways to baste, and they hold the sandwich together pretty well.  I’ve used three fuse basting methods:  spray, powder, and fusible batting.  We’ll take a quick look at all three.

          Spray Basting:  This method uses a spray glue which temporarily holds the three layers together until you can get them quilted.  The glue is temporary and does wash out.  Some brands of glue work better than others.  My personal favorite is 505 Spray and Fix Temporary Fabric Adhesive.  

          Fusible Powder Basting:  This is a recent addition to the fusible options methods.  You simply sprinkle the powder between each of the sandwich layers and press.  The heat of the iron activates the bonding agent, so the quilt sandwich is temporarily fused together.

          Fusible Batting:  Usually fusible batting is an 80/20 cotton batt which has been treated with a fusing agent.  You layer your sandwich per usual and then use an iron to activate the bonding agent.  Just like the powder and spray, the bond is temporary. 

I think it’s important to remember with all three types of fuse basting, the bond is temporary.  If you use any of these methods and then there’s a time lapse between creating the sandwich and quilting it, the bond may not have held.  I have no idea how long you can leave the fused sandwich together for the powder and the batting, but I’ve come back to a spray-fused quilt three years later don’t judge me and it was still together.  Keep in mind it was draped over a quilt rack and not manhandled or folded during the wait period.  

Each of the three has its good points as well as a few drawbacks.  The spray basting method is certainly the most flexible of the three.  Since it is a spray and doesn’t need any type of heat to activate the bonding, you can use this method nearly anywhere, including against a wall – simply tape your back to the wall, spray it, add your batt, spray the batt, and then add your top.  So, if you don’t have a horizontal flat surface to work with, with the spray baste you can work with a vertical flat surface.  However, since it is a spray, the adhesive may land on surfaces other than your quilt layers.  It’s easy to avoid this by simply covering the surface with paper or an old sheet (my favorite – afterwards you throw it in the washer).  On a day when there’s no wind or rain, you can use this outside.  It is worth mentioning some of the spray bastes will leave a sticky residue on your needle and it’s important to make sure the nozzle has not become plugged if it’s been a while since you’ve used it.  Spray basting is my favorite way to baste anything larger than a twin-sized quilt.  However, I don’t like it in my sandwich if I plan to hand quilt.  The spray seems to make the sandwich too stiff to needle easily.

The powder fusible is a more controllable than the spray because you sprinkle the surface with it – most of the powder will hit the target.  The powder which goes off course a little can easily be swept up.  It won’t make your floor or table sticky unless it comes in contact with heat.  Since it is a powder, only a horizontal surface will work with this method.  However, sandwiching your quilt works a bit differently with the powder.  You lay your batt out (don’t tape it down), and then put your back on top of the batt.  Then you press the quilt back and the heat from the iron activates the bonding agent in the powder.  Then you flip your quilt and repeat the process with the top.   I’ve found the powder has about the same fusing power as a spray.  I’ve also found a cordless iron is a wonderful tool to have to use with this method.  The biggest drawback for me with the fusible power is I find it difficult to use on larger quilts – they’re harder to flip.  Personally, I love this method on smaller quilts and wall hangings.

Finally, let’s get into the details of fusible batting.  This is my least favorite fusible.  I’ve found it doesn’t hold the sandwich layers together as well as the spray baste or fusible powder.  I’ve had my quilt sandwich shift and come apart as I’ve maneuvered it under my needle.  Since most fusible battings come prepackaged in a bag, the first step is to lay the batt out and let the wrinkles and folds relax a bit.  Here’s where my first issue with fusible batting comes into play:  the wrinkles never seem to really completely relax, which means when you use an iron to activate the bonding agent, it’s easy to get wrinkles in your quilt sandwich – especially if you’re using this type of batt on a large quilt.  The fusing process for the batt is exactly the same one you use for the fusible powder:  Lay the batt out, put the back on top of the batt, press the backing, flip, lay the top on the batt, press the top.  The pressing has to be handled a bit more carefully.  You must hold the iron in one place several seconds before moving to the next spot.  As I mentioned before, this is my least favorite fusible for any quilts larger than a medium-sized wall hanging.  However, for small quilts and bags, the fusible batting is awesome. 

We still have six concepts left to cover:

  1.  Moving the Quilt Through the Harp
  2. Practice
  3. Posture
  4. Speed
  5. The Finish Line
  6. Stress

Plus I want to cover thread basting — a basting technique which doesn’t seem to be used much any longer, but under certain circumstances, it’s the best way to baste a quilt. But this blog is already pretty long.  So, we’ll have one more blog on machine quilting before I move onto another topic.  I realize I’ve probably gone above and beyond in details, but this is info I really, really wish someone would have told me before I sat down back in 1987 to machine quilt my first quilt.

Until next week, Quilt On!

Love and Stitches,

Sherri and Sam


Before You Add the First Quilting Stitch….

Okay… the above quote deals with an actual sandwich – the kind with bread, cheese, meat, tomatoes, etc.  However, I do think the same idea holds true for a quilt sandwich.  You want the best “ingredients” you have — a wonderful top, the type of batting needed, and a great back.  As promised, this blog will deal with the quilt sandwich, how to prepare it, and several of the different ways you can put it together. 

Let’s take a look at the center of attention, the quilt top.  I’ve mentioned you should press and starch it and clip any long threads as well as remove any loose ones.  What you need to decide now is how are you going to quilt it?  I admit, when I first began quilting on Big Red, I really did not plan this step out well.  My primary goal was getting my quilt sandwich together and then start quilting.  This was not a good idea – in soo, soooo many ways.  My quilting was never consistent, and I had a lot of stops and starts (knotting the thread and re-starting in a different place).   Ideally, you want to quilt as long as you can without breaking the thread.  Some quilting designs will run off the edge of the quilt, so this isn’t an issue, but other times you’ll have to stitch over some areas to get to your next starting point.  This is why it’s important to plan your quilting designs.  It’s so critical I want to spend the next several paragraphs discussing it. 

At this point, I wish I could spout off some magical formula on how to quilt any quilt – what works best on HSTs, or flying geese, or square-in-a-squares.  However, I can’t, because such a formula doesn’t exist.  What I can tell you is that the longer you quilt your own quilts, a couple of facts will emerge.  First, you’ll find your favorite way to quilt certain units.  Let’s take a look a HSTs, since they’re a common block unit.  My favorite way of quilting these units is this:

Nine times out of ten, if I’m quilting HSTs on a standard, domestic sewing machine or a long arm, this is my go-to quilting design.  It works its way around the block, allowing me to emerge at any point of the square and continue to my next design.  It also leaves an open area.  If the HST is large-ish, I can fill in the open area with pebbles or close meanders.  This design leaves a lot of room for variations.    This is certainly not the only quilting design for HSTs, but it’s my personal favorite.  How did I discover the design? 

First, I looked at a lot of quilts – both in person and on the internet.  Truthfully, the best way to determine what designs you like and which ones work best for you is to study quilts which have already been quilted.  And if you’re machine quilting your quilts, you need to study quilts that are machine quilted by either a long arm or a domestic machine.  I look at quilts in Pinterest and Google.  I spend about an hour a week (not all at once, but here and there) looking at quilts.  The ones which really catch my eye are saved either in a file on my phone or computer or on my Pinterest boards.  These are the ones I refer to when I’m considering my quilting designs. 

Second, the more you machine quilt, you quickly realize which quilting designs become your “go to” ones for certain units, like my favorite design for HSTs.  This realization doesn’t happen overnight, but over a period of months or even years.  The more you quilt, the more you recognize which designs you do best as well as which ones allow you ease of travel (moving from one block or one design to the next).  There is no formula for this except practice.  

Regardless of whether you’re using your favorite quilting design or are trying out something new, it’s rare that any quilter can begin the quilting process without making some kind of reference point on their quilts.  This is called “marking the quilt.”  Truthfully, I do this more when I quilt on Big Red than on LeeAnne.  With LeeAnne I have the luxury of seeing the entire quilt top spread out on the rollers.  With Big Red, I’m only seeing a section at a time and may not have a visual reference point of how I plan to get from one point to the next.  If I have the surface marked, it’s like having a road map spread out in front of me.  I just follow the blue line…

My favorite marking tool for quilt tops is a washable marker.  This means all  the ink disappears when you rinse the quilt in cold water.  I don’t use Frixion on the quilt top, because those markings can come back if the quilt is subject to cold temperatures.  I don’t use a pencil because the marking may not wash completely out.  A washable blue marker has served me well for quilting either on my sewing machine or my long arm.  When shopping for such a marker, just be sure the directions plainly state the markings can be removed by cold water.  On a couple of occasions, I’ve grabbed a blue marking pen, assuming the ink will disappear with water only to discover a few days later it was an air soluble eraser and all my marks had disappeared! Not a good day. 

After you have the correct marking tool, you must decide if you want to mark you top in great detail, use a grid, dot-to-dot markings, or use stencils.  I can explain how I go about this process, but again, what works for me may not work for you.  However, the more you quilt, the more you’ll clearly see what the most effective way for you is.

  1.  Detail Markups

This type of marking means you’re literally drawing out every line you’ll quilt.    

I find this type of markup extremely helpful if I’m quilting different designs in each block, like the picture above.  I tend to do this with smaller sampler quilts.  I figure if I go to the trouble of piecing different blocks, each block should have its own different “quilting personality.”  And frankly to do the same type of quilting designs over differently pieced blocks can actually detract from the beauty of the quilt (in my opinion).  The detailed marking process can also help you as you plan how your needle will travel across the quilt – you can strategize how you will quilt from one design to another without breaking the thread.  At times, you’ll have to backtrack (quilt over some previous stitches), but you always want that to be as short of a trek as possible.  Beginner quilters may find detail markups the easiest way to get started – there’s a line to follow.

  •   Grid Markings

This particular type of quilting strategy is called “Quilting on the Grid.”  This term can have two definitions.  The first is to stitch straight lines to form a grid pattern over the whole surface.

This is not free motion quilting, but straight lines which are quilted by hand, or by using a walking foot on the machine, which automatically gives an even stitch length. Examples of this type of grid quilting are crosshatch, dropped diamonds, or vertical and horizontal lines across the top of the quilt. 

The other type of quilting on the grid deals with lines, but instead of quilting the straight lines on your top, you draw them out, and then use the grid as a base to execute your quilting:

This type of grid quilting is a lot of fun and has endless possibilities.  If you want to try this, or want more information on it, The Grid Design Workbook by Cindy Seitz-Krug is a great reference. 

  •  Dot-to-Dot

Some of you may be familiar with this term through the wonderful Angela Walters.  This type of marking is either A) For the more experienced quilter who doesn’t necessarily need a lot of reference points or markings to quilt, or B) the quilter who is more interested in echoing and emphasizing the existing shapes in the piecing.  Instead of making lots of lines or grid marks on the quilt, you simply make a series of dots which serves as your reference points. Then you join the dots with stitching (kind of like those dot-to-dot puzzle books we had when we were kids). To do this on a long arm, you use a ruler for designs with lots of straight lines.  For straight line quilting on a standard sewing machine, you use a walking foot.  The quilter uses the block units as a reference to start and stop.  For more information on this type of marking, go to YouTube and put Angela Walters name in the search bar.  She has several videos on this.  Cheryl Barnes also has an excellent book, Dot-to-Dot Quilting.

  •  Stencils

Whenever anyone mentions quilting stencils, I think of these:

I have a drawer full of them.  I’ve been given stacks of these once someone finds out I’m a quilter (“You quilt? My mother was a quilter!  Surely you can use these!”) or I’m a sucker who can’t pass them up at estate sales/yard sales because God forbid any of our quilting heritage end up in a landfill.  If you have any of stencils like the ones in the picture, be aware this particular type of stencil is usually for hand quilting.  And yes, there can be some differences between stencils designed for machine quilting and those created for hand quilting and it’s important to recognize the disparities before you set your heart on a stencil which may not work well for machine quilting.  The best place to start explaining the differences is with some pictures.

If you take a close look at these two stencils, the first idea which pops up is the stencil on top is more complex than the stencil on the bottom.  The more complex stencil is intended for hand quilting.  The complexity of the pattern means the hand quilter would have to “travel” the needle  (push it through the batting only, not allowing the tip of the needle to puncture the quilt top or backing), in order for it to come up at another point to continue quilting.  All of these starts and stops would be harder, but not impossible, to undertake with machine quilting.  There would be a great deal of back tracking involved – so much to the point, I’d just find another quilting design I liked equally as well.

However, the stencil on the bottom is perfect for machine quilting.  The less complex design means you could quilt long lines without back tracking. 

The primary issue to remember is this:  Make sure the stencil fits the space you need.  You don’t want it too large or too small.  It should fit well with a bit of margin around the design.  For this reason, don’t be afraid to use parts of the stencil instead of the whole design.  Don’t worry if you have to extend the design by marking the stencil twice.  There are usually some type of registration marks on the stencil which will help you line everything up nicely. 

Stencils can be marked with chalk, a water-soluble maker, Quilt Pounce, graphite pencil or Hera Marker.  Again, I hesitate to use  a Frixion pen for marking my quilts.  Even though the ink disappears when it’s ironed, I’m always afraid the marks will come back.  There are gaps on stencils, but if you want you can fill those in before you start quilting. 

Quilting with stencils have at least three great benefits.  First, you can take the stencil, some paper, and a pencil and practice drawing the design several times before you actually begin free motion quilting it.  Before you poo-poo this as a waste of time, it’s important to understand that free motion quilting on either a sewing machine or long arm involves a lot of muscle memory.  The more you do it, the more the muscles in your arms, hands, and fingers remember how to do it.  As a matter of fact, the more you doodle any design you want to free motion, the better.  Feathers, pebbles, meanders – it doesn’t matter.  The more you put your body through the paces of drawing the design, the more it will remember how to correctly do it when it’s the actual quilt sandwich you’re working with. 

The second benefit is stencils are a great starting place.  You have all the marking done quickly and easily.  This frees your mind up to think about any fillers you may want to add to make the quilting a bit denser.  And the last one is this:  You can wait to mark your quilt with stencils after you make your quilt sandwich. 

However, since we now can perform ruler work on most domestic machines, as well as even work with pantographs (more on this in a later blog), it’s getting harder and harder to find stencils – at least really good ones in a variety of designs.  If you want to try quilting with stencils, I suggest you try this website:  This small business has a huge variety of stencils and marking tools at very reasonable prices.

As much as I wanted to and planned on discussing how to make a great quilt sandwich, I got into a lot more detail about marking your quilt than I thought I would.  I promise we will cover the quilt sandwich topic next week.

Lastly, an update on my brother, Eric.  He finished radiation and has begun infusions with a drug which will strengthen his bones for the upcoming treatment. He did get a second opinion from another Multiple Myeloma specialist at the UNC Hospital System.  There were really no surprises and the specialist pretty much echoed what his doctor at Duke Hospital told him – except for a couple of things.  Another consult with the doctor at Duke and they’ve come up with a plan which all parties feel will be the best in order to treat and cure this disease.  Chemo will begin April 12.  Since Eric does not live in Durham (where Duke is located), they are networking with the cancer specialist at local hospital – something they’ve done in the past with outstanding success.  This means instead of a 30-minute drive from his home, it’s only five minutes.  I feel so blessed that he and I live in the area of North Carolina we do.  We have three great teaching hospital systems literally right in our backyard (UNC, Duke, and Wake Forest).  God is good.  Please keep him in your thoughts and prayers.  Chemo will continue for several, several weeks before the stem cell transplant.

Love and Stitches,

Sherri and Sam