Thread — The Stuff Which Holds It All Together

This would be me….

Whether you hand piece or machine piece, whether you prefer machine applique or hand applique, or whether you hand quilt or machine quilt, you must have thread.  Thread is the common denominator which ties all of quilting together. And after thirty-something years of quilting, I admit I’m a self-professed thread snob.  When I started sewing, there were only three thread brands available in my area – Dual Duty, Coats and Clarke, and Mettler.  Mettler was the best of the three. It was more expensive, and was only available at the one quilt  store in my area.  Time and experience taught me the Mettler was worth the extra pennies and the drive clear across town. 

As more fabric stores opened near me and with the upstart of internet sales, I became aware of additional thread brands and suddenly terms like thread weight, denier, and staple became important.  The more I learned, the pickier I became.  As a result, there are some brands I absolutely won’t purchase for machine or hand use.  With this blog, I want to discuss some general characteristics of all thread, and why I prefer certain brands for certain uses, and how I categorize the thread in my quilt studio.  For my long-time readers, I realize I wrote a blog on thread a few years ago, but one of the great characteristics of thread manufacturing is it’s always changing and improving.

First, let’s look into some general construction methods.  It’s worth remembering the higher the quality of thread the less special handing is needed.  Overall, thread is made from natural fibers (wool, silk, cotton, or linen) or from synthetic fibers (rayon, polyester, or nylon).  While there are literally dozens of fibers and fiber combinations which can be made, there are several common fibers used in quilting/sewing.

Spun Thread – Cotton or polyester staple fibers spun into single yarns and then twisted together.

Corespun Thread – Spun cotton or polyester staple fibers wrapped around filament polyester fibers.

Textured Thread – Polyester or nylon which has been mechanically textured to make thread fuzzy, stretchy, or woolly.  Texturing is a procedure and is used to increase the volume and elasticity of a filament yarn.  Textured yarns and those goods made from them are soft, have fullness, a high degree of elasticity, thermal insulation, and moisture-transporting properties. 

Filament Thread – Shiny thread made of polyester, rayon, or nylon strands.

Monofilament Thread – A single nylon or polyester filament.  Polyester is preferred over nylon.

Bonded Thread – A strength-enhancing resin is coated on the outside of the thread.  This increases the tensile strength and helps reduces friction.  Bonded threads are usually meant for upholstery and heavy-duty sewing.

Those are the common thread construction methods.  Now let’s talk about the common thread types.

Cotton Thread…sooooo many beautiful colors!

Cotton – This is the thread most used by quilters.  Cotton threads are made by twisting the fine staples (fibers) from the cotton boll to make a thread.  It’s important to understand there are different degrees of cotton quality.  There’s regular staple, long staple, and extra-long staple cotton.  The regular staples (fibers pulled from the cotton boll) are 1 1/8-inch in length.  Long staples are 1 ¼-inch long and extra-long staple is 1 3/8-inches in length.  The longer the staple, the stronger the thread and the less lint it produces.  That’s the great attribute about long-staple thread.  The downside is long staple thread costs more than the regular staple thread.  Overall advantages of cotton thread are:  strength, medium sheen, and the natural fibers help grab the fabric to create a tight seam.  There are a few disadvantages.  It’s difficult to tell high quality from low quality sometimes (I’ll give you a few pointers further down the blog).  The lint factor can also be problematic, however the longer the staple the less the lint. Cost can also be turn-off – quality cotton thread is more expensive. 

Corespun Polyester/Poly-Wrapped/Poly Core – These three names are used interchangeably for the same thread.  This thread has a filament polyester core which is wrapped in spun polyester.  This thread is strong, reduces puckering, and has excellent stitchability.  It produces low-to-moderate lint.

Filament Polyester – This thread is made from long, thin strands of polyester fibers which are twisted together.  The advantages of filament polyester are elongation (the fibers can stretch and recover) and smooth stitches with no lint.  However, the thread is not as strong as corespun (when considering the same size of thread) and finer filament polyester may require some tension adjustment on your machine.

Monofilament Polyester – Monofilament polyester is kind of like fishing line made for sewing.  It’s simply a single strand of polyester thread.  This is a very fine thread, blends well, and can be ironed on medium heat.  However, since it is so very fine, you’ll probably have to adjust the tension on your machine.

Spun Polyester – Spun polyester is made in a way remarkably similar to the way cotton thread is made – small polyester fibers are twisted together to make a long strand of thread.  This thread is less expensive to produce, so it will affect you less in the wallet than cotton thread.  Disadvantages to spun polyester are moderate-to-high levels of lint build up and it’s not as strong as filament or corespun polyester.

How Rayon is Produced

Rayon – This is definitely a thread of a different color.  Instead of twisting fibers together, rayon is created by pressing cellulose acetate (usually made from wood pulp) through small holes and solidifying it in the form of filaments. Rayon has several advantages:  high-sheen colors, softness, and it’s inexpensive.  However, it also has some real disadvantages, too.  It’s not always colorfast (it can bleed onto your fabric when washed, under UV lights, or when it’s exposed to bleach), it’s not as strong as trilobal polyester, and it’s not as durable as polyester. 

Nylon – Nylon threads are synthetic, just like polyester.  It’s often used in the form of a monofilament clear thread or a textured thread.  To be bluntly honest, this thread can give anyone a lot of problems. So much so that it’s not recommended for sewing of any kind.  The most-used version of nylon is a bonded version used in upholstery and other heavy-duty sewing.  This thread is made from a different type of nylon than nylon sewing thread. 

Metallic Thread

Metallic – Metallic threads are created from multiple layers of materials wrapped and twisted together.  The quality of this thread can range from very high to very low.  A good metallic thread does not require a lubricant.  A quality metallic thread leaves a beautiful sheen and has an excellent stitch no matter if you’re embroidering, quilting, or just sewing.  Usually there has to be some tension adjustments made when you’re using metallic thread and you may need to sew slower than normal.

Mylar Thread

Glitter or Mylar – Mylar threads are created by bonding thin layers of flat mylar material.  This thread can produce a holographic effect and can be used in embroidery, quilting, or sewing.  The disadvantages are the same as metallic thread – you may have to adjust your machine’s tension and you will probably need to slow down as you sew. 

Now that we’ve covered thread construction and the types of thread, we need to talk about thread processing.  All thread goes through much of the same processing:  twisting, lubricating, winding, etc.  However, cotton thread may have additional procedures done to it.  These extra processing methods will change how the thread is used as well as how it stitches. 

Mercerized – This is the process of immersing the cotton fibers in a caustic solution which will cause the fibers to swell.  Mercerization allows the dye to better penetrate the fibers and increase the thread’s luster.  Mercerized thread is also stronger than non-mercerized.  In today’s thread market, we can take for granted our cotton thread has been through this process, because nearly all of it is, even if it’s not stated on the label.

Gassed – When the label states a thread has been gassed, it means it’s been passed through a flame at high speed to burn off the longest pieces of lint.  This results in a smother thread with low-to-no lint, and it has a brighter sheen than its non-gassed counterpart.  Gassing is also called silk finish or polished cotton. 

Glazed or Coated – Glazed thread is coated with a coat of wax, resin, or starch and then polished to create luster.  The glaze makes the thread stronger than even mercerized thread.  This type of thread is not recommended for sewing machine use because the glaze can rub off in the tension discs and contact points as well as collect lint, fuzz, and dust which can cause a buildup in the thread path.  However, glazed thread is great for hand quilting.  I also use it in back basting applique. 

I realize this is a lot of information – I’ve written nearly 2,000 words at this point and I haven’t told you why any of this is important and where you can find it.  So right now, I want you to pause reading this blog and go grab a spool of thread with a label on it.  Go ahead…I’ll wait.

Got that spool of thread?  Okay.  Now look at the label.  Just like the labels on machine and hand sewing needles, there’s a lot of information packed onto the label of a spool of thread.  Keep that spool of thread nearby while you finish reading this blog. 


I’m using Superior Thread King Tut, Aurifil, and Mettler as examples.  These three brands are the ones I use most consistently in my machine piecing.  Hand sewing thread is a completely different animal and we will hit that hard in my upcoming blogs on hand applique.  On any label, you should be able to identify the thread manufacturer and the color of the thread.  The color is usually identified by a number.  With my King Tut, the number is 918.   The Aurifil is 2605, and the Mettler is 623.  The number is important – especially if you’re using the thread for topstitching or decorative stitching.  If you run out of thread and need to re-order or pick some up at the LQS, you know exactly what you’re looking for and it will match up wonderfully. 

The next item which should be readily available is the type of thread it is.  With these three, it’s plain to see they’re all cotton – but remember, I mentioned earlier most quilters piece with all cotton.  So, let’s take a look at some thread I use on my embroidery machine so you can see the difference. 


On the tiny label on the top of the thread, we see it’s 100 percent polyester and it even states it’s an embroidery thread.  However, even if the label had fallen off the spool of embroidery thread, I could tell it’s not a cotton thread because of the sheen.  We know from the definitions of the types of thread that polyester threads are brighter and shinier than cotton threads. 

The blue polyester embroidery thread has more sheen than a cotton thread

Another piece of information on the label is any additional process the thread has been put through.  Remember the additional finishing processes only apply to cotton thread.  So, if you’re using cotton thread, you will need to see if it is gassed, glazed, or coated.  A quick run-though of my thread inventory turned up no gassed thread, but a Google search found that Wonderfil Thread is gassed, which is plainly listed on the label. 

Gassed Thread

If you look at this label on a spool of Coats hand quilting thread, we fine the tern Glace’, which means glazed – so this is clearly thread we won’t use in our sewing machines. 

What you don’t see on any of these is the term mercerized because nearly all cotton thread is put through this process – so much so that most cotton thread manufacturers simply don’t put the term on the label.  You will still find mercerized on older spools of Coats and Clark Dual Duty, though.

In addition to these terms, you’ll find numbers, and just as with needles, these numbers are important. Some numbers are included on all spools of thread, and others aren’t.  The first crucial number is weight.  If you don’t remember anything else in this blog, commit this to memory:  The smaller the weight number, the heavier the thread.  A size 30-weight (30 wt) is larger than a 50 weight (50 wt) thread.  I could get into a lot of details on how thread manufacturers come up with weight, but it deals with a lot of metric measurements and would probably bore you.  Just keep in mind the smaller the weight, the heavier the thread.  The weight of thread you pick out will have a lot to do with the finished look of your quilt.  For instance, if you’re raw-edge machine appliqueing, you will want your thread to cover the edges of the fabric as much as possible to prevent fraying.  For this reason, you would probably want to pick a 40-weight or even 30-weight thread.  If you’re machine quilting and you want your stitches to really shine, again, you may decide to use a heavier weight quilting thread.  However, you wouldn’t want to use a heavier thread when you piece.  It’s important to keep the ¼-inch seam allowance as true as possible for accurate piecing.  You want to go with a higher number weight thread – such as a 50 or even 60 weight (60 wt. is my preferred weight thread for piecing).  Thread labels aren’t uniform, so you may have to look around for the weight.  And if the spool has labels on the top and the bottom, part of the information may be on each label. 

Another number which may be on the label is the denier number.  This is the weight in grams of 9,000 meters of thread.  If 9,000 meters of a thread weighs 120-grams, it’s a 120-denier thread.  Larger denier numbers are heavier threads.

Tex is an additional number which deals with the weight of the thread.  This is the weight in grams of 1,000 meters of thread.  If 1,000 meters of thread weighs 25 grams, it has a tex number of 25.  Larger tex numbers indicate it’s a heavier thread. 

The last set of numbers can be confusing, so I will try to explain them as clearly as I can.  These numbers are used on thinner threads, and they’re often mistaken as the weight, but it’s not.  The Number System or Number Standard was developed in Japan and is also known as the Gunze Count System.  For instance, if you see No. 50 or #50 on a spool, it doesn’t mean it’s 50-weight (50 wt) thread.  However, just like most of the other numbers on a spool of thread, the lower the number, the heavier the thread. It’s important to remember all the numbers don’t mean the same thing.  You may have a spool of thread stamped with 50 wt., No. 50, and 50/3.  All three numbers mean something a little different.  Don’t get too anxious about all of the figures and fractions.  Further down the blog I’ll tell you what I think are the important ones to remember. 

Finally, on most thread labels, you’ll see something like this:  30/3 (or 30/1×3) or 50/3 (or 50/1×3).  These are called composition numbers.  The first number is from the number system and tells us if it’s a heavier thread or a thinner one.  With these two examples we know the 30 is heavier than the 50.  The second number tells how many plies – threads twisted together – are in a strand of the thread.  Each of the examples has three plies.  As a general rule, the heavier threads have more plies than the thin ones.  For me, this is more important in hand sewing than machine sewing because the eyes of hand sewing needles are smaller than the ones on sewing machine needles and thus harder to thread.  It’s a whole lot easier to get 2-ply thread through the eye of a needle than 3-ply. 

Really good thread companies will also supply you with one more piece of information:  what size needle to use with the thread.  For instance, if you take another look at the label on my spool of King Tut thread:


You’ll notice it clearly states, “Use Topstitch #90/14.”  I know exactly what needle to have inserted in my needle mount before I make the first stitch.  However, if this information isn’t on your spool, the rule of thumb is you need to use a needle whose eye is 40% larger than the diameter of your thread.  To keep it simple, remember this – a 50 weight thread uses a 75/11 or 80/12.  A 40 weight uses 90/14, and a 30 weight needs a 100/16.  These are the three most used thread weights in quilting.  If you find your machine is skipping stitches or shredding the thread, go up a needle size. 

Okay.  I realize I just gave you a lot of information about thread – maybe more than you ever wanted to know.  What I’d like to do now is distill it down to what I believe are the most important items to consider on a thread label, where I purchase most of my thread, how I classify my threads, and the brands I prefer for different uses.  Again, let me reiterate, I do not work for any of these companies, nor do I receive any “freebies” for recommending them.

For me, the most important number on a thread label (beside the number which references the color) is the weight because the weight affects everything about the appearance of my quilt.  I want my ¼ seams to be as accurate as possible, therefore I don’t want the thread taking up a lot of room.  This means I will use a 50-weight or better yet, a 60-weight thread to piece with because they’re thinner and take up practically no room in a seam.  If I’m making a quilt which has raw-edge applique, I’ll use a thicker thread (30 wt or 40 wt depending on how I want the applique to look) to make sure the edges of the fabric are completely encased.  If I want my quilting stitches to melt into the background of my quilt, I’ll reach for an 80 or even 100 weight thread.  The desired appearance of any aspect of my quilt has the ultimate bearing on which weight thread I use. 

The second-most important number is the thread ply.  For this reason, I love labels which have fractions, such as 50/2 or 50/3.  For piecing, I want the thinnest, yet strongest, thread I can get.  If there is a 50/2 or 60/2 available, I’ll use it.  Same for hand applique – the thinner the thread, the easier it is to get it through the eye of the needle.  I use 2-ply or even 1-ply if I can find it. 

However, all my cotton thread has one thing in common:  it’s all long-staple.  Long staple thread is stronger and produces less lint.  If you’ve ever been in a situation where you have to go through the aggravation of re-threading your machine time and time again because your thread is breaking – you’ll learn to love and value long-staple thread.  And if you have a computerized machine, spare it the lint and don’t use cheap thread.  Plunk down the extra pennies for the long-staple thread.  Your machine will thank you in the long run.

Most of the time, my studio is humming with the long arm and at least one sewing machine.  I have multiple projects under my needle and multiple deadlines (even if they’re self-imposed).  Because of this, I don’t break down my thread by brand, ply, or weight.  I categorize it into three broad labels:  piecing thread, quilting thread, and machine applique thread. I have an area which houses all my piecing thread.  Since I favor 50- or 60-weight for this, all of the thread in that cabinet is one of those weights.  They’re also all either beige, light gray, dark gray, white, or black.  Piecing neutrals work with just about any quilt or color combination and keep you from having to change the thread to match the fabric.  My quilting thread is a little more complicated, but like my piecing thread, it’s all kept in one area.  My quilting thread ranges from 30-weight to the 100-weight Micro-Stippling thread from Superior Threads (one of my very favorites).  I use my quilting thread on both my domestic and long arm and it’s not hard to tell the higher weight from the lower weight.  What really comes into play with my quilting thread is appearance – how do I want my quilt to look after it’s quilted?  Do I want my stitches to really show (this calls for heavier thread) or melt into the background (the thinner the thread the better)? 

However, the one type of thread which is all over the thread-map is my machine applique thread.  Since I love both raw-edge and finished-edge machine applique, I have a lot of weights and colors. It’s difficult to keep them straight!  For this reason, I tend to keep them sorted by color and then by weight.  For instance, all my blues are together, and they will be put in a row from lightest to darkest and within that range, they will be grouped by weight.  For instance, my light blues will be together, and they start at 30-weight and go down the line to 80-weight (for finished edge applique). 

As I’ve mentioned before, after 30 some years of quilting, I am a self-professed thread snob.  Through trial and error, I’ve learned what brands work best for me.  At this point, I will mention which thread brands I consistently use and why.  Again, let me remind you, I receive no freebies and I’m not employed by any of names I’m about to mention.

Aurifil – This is my go-to piecing brand.  I can purchase it in 50- or 60-weight, and one of the best things about it is the spools are different colors for different weights.  A green spool is 40/2.  An orange spool is 50/2 and a white one is 60/2.  You don’t even have to read the label to know what weight you have.  It’s also 2-ply, which means it’s a great, thin piecing thread.  They also have a wonderful  brand of hand applique thread, and it’s on brown spools.

Superior Threads – Any type of thread, any color of thread, any weight, ply, or specialty thread is housed at Superior Thread.  They have great pre-wound bobbins and a wonderful piecing thread called Bottom Line – technically, this thread is for bobbins, but I’ve used it in piecing if I’m out of Aurifil.  Superior Threads have wonderful hand applique thread and equally fantastic quilting thread.  Almost any of their thread can be purchased in cones or spools.

Both Aurifil and Superior Threads are made from long-staple cotton.

If you want to purchase Superior Thread, you can go directly to their website:

You will find not only a seemingly endless array of thread and pre-wound bobbins, you’ll find needles, thread notions, and a terrific educational section.  Let me throw this in here – if you’re ever able to attend a workshop with Superior Threads, it’s well-worth your time.  Their customer service is second-to-none and I’ve never had to wait more than a day or two to receive my thread.

Aurifil is made in Italy, and it has a website, but individuals cannot purchase from the site.  The website has good information about their product, but for actual purchase, I love Red Rock Thread: This site is all things thread.  The selection is outstanding, and the customer service is stellar.  It also houses needles (both hand and machine in lots of different brands) and other thread notions. 

I hope this blog has at the very least given you a good overview about thread.  At the most, I hope it has explained my thread snobbery and maybe has produced a few coverts to join me.  Somewhere in the middle, I can only hope it gives you the information you need to make the right thread choices.  Thread is truly the factor which does more than hold and bind our quilts together and it just makes good sense to use quality thread to finish our projects.

Until next week, Quilt On!

Love and Stitches,

Sherri and Sam


My Favorite Quilting Notions

I’ve written blogs for a pretty long time now.  And in these blogs, I’ve discussed different quilting notions, what works for me and what doesn’t, as well as those which are worth the money and those that are more hype than substance.  As a result of these blogs, I’ve been asked (several times by several different people) what are my favorite quilting notions.   A few months ago, I started making a list of those items I used regularly.  And by regularly, I mean every time I sit down to quilt.  These tools are the subjects of this week’s blog, but before we take a deep dive into Sherri’s Favorite Notions and Gadgets, let me throw in two disclaimers:  First, these are the notions which work best for me.  They may not work for you.  However, I’ve quilted a long time over thirty years, but who’s counting and I think my opinions are worth some consideration.  Two, I am not nor have I ever been employed by any of these companies, nor do I receive any “freebies” from them as a result of my endorsements.  The quilting tools which made this list are here because in my unadulterated opinion, they are simply great notions to have in your quilt studio.

One final item to remember – these items are used primarily for piecing, not applique, although some may be used in both quilting techniques.  I am planning a blog on my favorite applique tools which is getting so long it’s embarrassing. 

  •  Faultless Niagara Spray Starch

I’ve said it before many times, but it bears repeating:  I like spray starch better than Best Press.  Yes, I have Best Press in my studio and use it on occasion, however, I like the crisp, sharp, flat edge which regular starch gives.  Best Press doesn’t equal starch in appearance.  And before anyone complains about the “all those flakes starch leaves behind when you press fabric,” if the starch leaves a white residue, you’re not using it correctly.  Spray lightly, let the starch sink in the fabric, and then press.  You don’t want to soak the material.  If you need your fabric a bit stiffer, starch it twice.  One additional tidbit of starchy information – purchase your spray starch at a grocery or drug store.  The cans sold at dollar establishments are second runs and have a higher water content.

  •  Clover Seam Ripper

All seam rippers are not created equal.  The Clover Seam Ripper is easy to hold onto and the “hook” part is thinner, allowing you to get it under stitches easily and cleanly.

  •  Wooden Clapper

This is one of those tools left over from the days when I made most of my clothes and all of my children’s.  After you press the seam, you run the Clapper firmly over it.  This forces the heat to dispel quickly and flattens bulky seams out nicely.  So, if you’re making a quilt block which has a lot of seams which join together at one point (such as in a Pinwheel Block), using a clapper will help tamp down all the bulk.

  •  Karen Kay Buckley Scissors

I’ve mentioned these scissors quite a few times in my blogs.  These wonderful tools have tiny, serrated edges.  When you must use scissors to cut quilting templates, these are great!  The serrated edges act like tiny pinking shears, which means your quilting cotton fabrics won’t fray badly.  I have a pair of small KKB scissors in my on-the-go quilting bag, and a larger pair which stay near my sewing machine.  Two words of caution:  First, when you take these scissors to be sharpened, make sure the person doing the sharpening is aware the of the serrated edges (the teeth are so tiny).  Second, occasionally there will be a copycat pair advertised on social media.  Don’t be fooled by the knockoffs.  They’re nowhere near as good as the real thing.  

  •  A Round Rotary Mat

I love these round mats for two reasons.  First, they sit on a base, which makes it super easy to get to the area you need to trim or cut – just rotate the mat until it’s right in front of you.  Second, the mat comes off the base and they both are easily packed up to take with you on a retreat or vacation.  Standard rules apply for these mat as for other mats – store flat and keep away from heat.

  •  Wool Mat

I’m always a little skeptical when a new quilting tool hits the market and proclaims itself as the “best quilting tool ever!”  Maybe I’m just old-school or maybe I’ve quilted so long, and I’ve heard this line so many times I have a hard time believing any new product is just that good.  Let me tell you, wool mats proved me wrong.  While a bit on the pricey side, they are well worth the money.  Seams lie flat, and they’re wonderful for freezer paper applique.  If they made a wool mat large enough to fit my entire ironing board surface, I would save my pennies and purchase one.  I have a small one for my hand sewing kit and a medium-sized one next to my sewing machine for quick presses.  I’ve even given them as gifts to my closest and bestest quilting friends.

  •  Pincushion/Thread Catcher Combo

This may be one notion you have to make yourself or purchase at a quilt show.  Either way, this tool has a thread catcher with a pin cushion on top.  The pincushion on mine is attached with Velcro, so I can remove it and move it to my long arm if I need to.  I just think it’s super-handy to have them both together right by my machine – I don’t have to reach very far for pins or to dispose of small snips of fabric or thread.

  •  Ott Light

Good lighting is essential with any type of crafting.  I’ve tried many brands, but I keep coming back to Ott.  The light is clear and bright, and Ott has designed their lamps in nearly anyway imaginable.  They have everything from the large floor lights to the tiny ones with clips you can attach to a book for reading or your sewing machine.  Their customer service is stellar, and the bulbs last a long time.

  •  Glass Head and/or Silk Pins

Many quilters use the long, thin pins with a flat head.  I have a couple hundred of these, but primarily use them to pin my quilt backs to my leaders on my long arm.  I also use them to hold stacks of block units together.  However, for pinning my pieces together before putting them under my needle, I prefer silk or glass head pins.  They’re sharper and thinner than the other kinds, and the glass head pins hold up to the heat of an iron without melting. 

  • Cordless Iron

I was a little skeptical of cordless irons when they hit the quilting market a few years ago.  I had owned cordless vacuums and sweepers and it seemed after a period of time, they lost their power and didn’t perform as well as their counterparts with a cord.  However, after a couple of my friends brought this cordless iron to quilt retreat and allowed me to test drive it, I changed my mind pretty quickly.  This iron is great for ironing rows or tops – there’s no cord to get in the way.  It holds it heat well for several minutes before you have to put it back on the charger.  It reheats super-quick, so there’s no time lost.  And the fact it has points on both ends means you can use it in either hand. 

  •  Creative Grids Rulers

I’ve sung the praises of Creative Grids Rulers for years.  This company has any ruler, in any width or length, you could possibly want.  They also have an impressive line of specialty rulers as well as the acrylic templates for ruler work on a long arm or domestic machine.  What makes them wonderful to me are the grippers built in the rulers and the fact they’re reasonably priced. 

  •  Frixion Pens

Remember what I said in my blog about freezer paper:  Quilters are known for using items in their quilting which aren’t technically made for quilting.  Frixion Pens are in that group of nonquilting quilting tools.  These pens are made for writing and the heat from the friction of an eraser makes the ink go away.  Quilters were quick to pick up on this and use the heat of an iron to make the ink disappear.  The downside to this is the ink technically never permanently disappears.  It fades, but if the object is subjected to cold temperatures, the ink reappears.  For that reason, I wouldn’t mark a quilt top with it, but as far as marking dots for Y-seams or tracing templates, I love these pens.  They have fine points and work well for marking the parts of the quilt which will be covered by other fabric or trimmed off.

  • Good Thread

I admit it, I am a self-professed thread-snob.  But in my opinion, I have never seen the value in plunking down a lot of cash for fabric, notions, and a pattern and then skimp on the thread.  Cheap thread can be bad for your quilt and equally bad for your machine.  I like the long-staple, cotton thread in a 50-to-60 weight for piecing.  I do have a new blog in the works dealing with thread.  It will publish in a few weeks.

  •  Quilter’s FabriCalc

This handy-dandy fabric calculator is simply wonderful.  I love it mainly for two reasons.  I do a great deal of math when I design my own quilts – even though I have EQ 8.  When I work with Quilter’s Cake or the Golden Ratio, I always work with decimals (chalk it up to teaching chemistry and physics for too many years).  However, I have to convert the decimals to fractions, inches, and yardage when dealing with fabric.  The FabriCalc performs this conversion with a click of a button.  It also gives you quilt yardage, block yardage, square yardage, border yardage, drop, and about a hundred other measurements quilters need at one time or another.  I know there are phone apps out there which tout they can do the same thing.  And I’ve tried quite a few of those.  However, they fall short of the FabriCalc and all it can do.  This is one of those tools I use literally every week.

  •  My iPad

I have a great laptop and my EQ 8 lives there.  However, my iPad lives right next to my sewing machine so I can binge watch Netflix, Disney, Hulu, YouTube, or PureFlix while I burn the midnight oil quilting.  During the COVID pandemic, I developed a new appreciation for the device.  I took so many great Zoom classes and it was so wonderful to have the iPad right by my sewing machine.  I didn’t have to keep standing up from my machine to walk over to my laptop.  I could stay right there with Big Red and keep working while I listened to my teachers. 

  • A Quilt Planner

I have to write things down.  I don’t think my memory is that bad, I just have a lot to remember! Before I go to bed, I write down what I need to get done the next day.  I’ve learned that this list takes a lot of pressure off of me.  I don’t have to try to remember what I need to do; I just have to consult the list.  A quilt planner works in a similar way.  I list the quilts currently under my needle and then check off what stage they’re in, if I have a deadline, and who (if anyone) it will be gifted to.  It’s nice way to make sure everything gets done and it gives me a feeling of accomplishment and makes me feel that progress is really being made.

  •  Quilting Clips

These little items are worth their weight in gold.  They can hold all the units of a block together until you can sew them, or they can hold long edges together (like the border to the side of the quilt).  They’re primarily used to hold binding down as it’s sewn to the quilt, but they have so many more uses.  I’m teaching my grand darlings how to sew and put these in their sewing kit instead of pins.  Almost anything you can use a pin for, you can substitute a clip for instead.  And dropped clips are so much easier to find than dropped pins.

  •  Small Rotary Cutter

My favorite brand of rotary cutter is the Martelli line, because they are so ergonomically outfitted for your hand, wrist, and arm.  Since the handle is on the side of the blade, it takes a lot of stress off the wrist – which is important if you’re like me and have some Carpel Tunnel in your wrist.  I have the large, medium, and small cutter and out of those three I use and love the smallest one the most.  The 28 mm blade allows for accurate cutting of block units and gives you the ability to cut around templates.  I like the control I have with the small cutter.  I use the larger ones to cut multiple layers of fabric, but for everything else, I reach for the small one.  If I can take only one cutter to class or retreat, this is the one which goes in my travel bag.

  •  Design Area

This area can either be large or small, depending on what you need and the room you have. If you have a wall with nothing on it, this will make a great design area.  Purchase a vinyl tablecloth with a flannel back. Hang it on the  wall with the flannel side out.  The flannel will hold your blocks in place as you decide how you want to lay out your quilt.  LeeAnne the Long Arm takes up too much room in my studio for me to have a design wall, but I do have this:

Which really comes in handy.  If I have a complicated block, I can use this to lay out the units in the correct order and then sew them together.

  • Eleanor Burns Triangle Square-Up Ruler

In this blog I’m taking for granted everyone has their favorite rulers they use for cutting squares, rectangles, and strips.  And I want to add it’s extremely rare I get attached to a specialty ruler.  However, I make an exception for the Triangle Square-Up Ruler.  I’ve sung the praises of this ruler before, so I won’t go into a lot of detail here.  But let’s just say half-square triangles make their way into a lot of quilts – and they can get wonky because of bias.  With this ruler, you square up your HST while it’s still in triangle form.  It’s quick.  It’s oh-so-accurate.  It’s easy.  I don’t care if I’m only making one HST – this ruler comes out.  It stays on my cutting mat at all times, so I don’t have to go looking for it.  It’s just that good.

  •  My Sewing Machine

At this point, let me remind you I’m not employed by any company, nor do I receive any type of “freebies” for mentioning brands and names.  I have sewed on several brands of machines (including Bernina), but my favorite is Janome.  You can’t beat them.  They’re work horses.  While some of the models are heavily computerized, they won’t drain your bank account like other brands.  They’re user friendly.  My first “serious” sewing machine was a Janome and I really haven’t strayed too much from the brand.  For me, having a dependable sewing machine in my studio is the best quilting tool available.  If the machine is fussy or finicky, all the joy can be sucked right out of quilting.  Yes, I’ve had minor issues with them, but I can say with complete candor those are issues I’ve been able to resolve myself.  Aside from basic cleaning and oiling, none of my Janomes have been in the repair shop for a major overhaul.

And now it’s time to introduce you to the newest Janome in my studio – the M7 Continental. 

Her name is Dolly (as in Hello Dolly….I saved my pennies for a couple of years to bring you home).  She’s amazing and has a prettier straight stitch than Marilyn, my Featherweight.  We’re still getting acquainted, but man, does she come loaded with a lot of great stuff – including an even  bigger harp than Big Red.

For those of you wondering if I’ve given Big Red the boot, I have not.  She’s now in semi-retirement.  We plan to purchase a vacation home in the very near future, and she will go to live there, waiting for me to spend time with her then.  This means I’ll have a great machine at both houses and won’t have to drag one back and forth.  But for right now, she’s still in my studio and I still sew on her every few days to make sure she and I keep our established relationship going strong. 

These are my favorite piecing notions.  Please remember, I’ve quilted a long time and acquired all of these over a period of years, which means I not only spread out the cost, but also (through trial and error) discovered what worked for me and what did not.  If you’re a beginner quilter, you’ll go through a similar process.  If you’ve quilted longer than I have, I’m sure I’ve missed some items which you may really love.  No matter what, I’m sure my list is probably a little different than yours.

Now a bit of a housekeeping issue.  Several of you have asked how my brother, Eric, is progressing with his Multiple Myeloma treatments.  He began chemotherapy on April 27.  He has the treatments on Tuesdays, which involves a steroid, an infusion of a bone-strengthening medication, an injection in the abdomen of the chemo, and a pill.  All of this is done in the pharmacy – he doesn’t have to go into the chemo unit at the hospital at all.  And while he has ample drugs to combat any nausea, so far, he hasn’t had to use them.  I’m thankful the doctors caught this disease early and it’s treatable – even curable.  Continue to keep him in your thoughts and prayers and I’ll keep you up to date with what’s happening.  Depending on his blood counts, he’s looking at stem cell replacement in the fall.  If the chemo works faster than expected, late summer.  Thanks to everyone who’s told me they’re praying for us.  I appreciate your concern – I appreciate your prayers even more.

Until next week, Quilt On!

Love and Stitches,

Sherri and Sam


Using Freezer Paper in Your Quilting

Quilters are famous for using items in their quilting which really aren’t quilting tools at all.  Bicycle clips are great to use for keeping quilts rolled up.  The magnetic dishes used by mechanics to keep screws in are great storage places for pins.  A clear, plastic shower curtain is a wonderful tool to use as you plan your quilting designs — lay it on top of the quilt and use a dry erase marker to draw your quilting pattern.  If you don’t like it, use a dry paper towel to remove the marks.  One kitchen item which seems to find its way into all quilt studios is freezer paper.  Whether you applique or not, freezer paper is a great addition to any quilter’s notion box.

For anyone who may not know, freezer paper is a heavy-duty paper with a plastic coating on one side only.  Years ago, before things like freezer bags, aluminum foil, and plastic wrap found their way into our pantries, freezer paper and butcher paper ruled the food-storage world.  Freezer paper was used to wrap cuts of meat or fish in, with the plastic side of the paper against the meat or fish.  This would allow the shopper to continue their grocery store trek without the meat or fish leaking all over the other food and household items.  The butcher or fishmonger would write what was inside the wrapped bundle on the plain paper side.  Even today when you get a special cut from your grocery store’s meat or seafood counter, chances are it’s wrapped in a type of freezer paper before it’s placed in a plastic bag. 

Today, we’re much more accustomed to using freezer bags than freezer paper – to the point, it’s sometimes difficult to find freezer paper such as this:

In the local grocery store.  I’ve found it primarily in Food Lions, but I’ve also had to order it from Amazon.  This boxed freezer paper is the most common type, but as soon as the quilt world caught sight of how versatile freezer paper can be in the studio, quilt notion companies came out with their own freezer paper.  An internet search for quilting freezer paper can yield these:

8 1/2 x 11 inches
Large Freezer Paper Sheets
Extra-large Freezer Paper Sheet

The extra-large kind can be used for planning borders.  The big sheets may be used for large applique pieces, such as those in Blackbird Designs Country Inn quilts.  My personal favorite is the 8 ½ x 11-inch size because those can be run through an ink jet printer.  More on why this is important a bit later down in the blog.  Right now, you may be asking yourself, “Is there any difference between the Reynold’s brand freezer paper and the other freezer paper?”  That’s a great question and it really deserves a two-fold answer.  First, let’s compare price.

According to a Google search, most stores which have Reynolds Freezer paper sell the kind that is 75 feet long by 18 inches tall.  When we convert the feet to inches (75 x 12), we have 900 lengthwise inches of freezer paper.  Multiply 900 by 18 and we know we have 16,200 square inches of freezer paper.  Another search told me the average price in retail establishments is $3.69 per 75 feet roll (consumer awareness bulletin here – Reynolds freezer paper was much higher on Amazon than in stores).  When we divide the square inches by cost per roll, we literally get fractions of cents.

Now let’s look at the freezer paper which is sold in sheets.  I want to shop on my own turf here.  Let’s look at the 8 ½ by 11-inch sheets produced by C. Jenkins.  I’ve used other brands of freezer paper sheets, but always come back to these.  In my opinion, they’re the best.  Each sheet in these packs is 8 ½ x 11. This means each sheet has 93 ½ square inches (8 ½ x 11).  Each pack has 50 sheets, so we have a total of 4,675 square inches (50 sheets x 93 ½-square inches per sheet).  Comparing Reynolds Freezer Paper against C. Jenkins product shows the Reynold paper has 11,525 more square inches than its competitor. 

The average price for C. Jenkins sheets is $9.94 (consumer awareness bulletin #2 – this freezer paper is less expensive on Amazon than in most quilt stores). This means we’re paying roughly 20 cents per sheet ($9.94/50) for the C. Jenkins 8 ½ x 11-inch freezer paper sheets. 

So yes, price per inch, you’ll pay less by purchasing the roll of freezer paper verses the freezer paper sheets.  However, there are a few details you may want to consider before you run to Target or Food Lion to grab that roll of Reynolds Freezer Paper. 

  1.  Rolls of freezer paper destined for food use is food-grade paper.  While this may sound completely obvious, what must be taken into consideration is this paper is not meant to last through multiple ironings, starched edges, and sewing (either by hand or machine).  This paper was produced to wrap food in, be stored for a short while in the freezer and then tossed in a garbage can.  So, it’s not as sturdy as freezer paper made with quilters in mind.
  2. Reynolds Freezer paper can’t easily be fed through an ink-jet printer.  The key word here is easily.  It can be used in a printer, but I’ve found it finicky and difficult – which means I gave up after about the 10th unsuccessful try feed it through. 
  3. I’ve found I can use Reynold Freezer paper for most quilting applications, but I have to iron two pieces of it together in order for it to be sturdy enough to stand up to the abuse quilters put it through – which means I’ve now halved the useable square inches in a roll to 8,100.  However, the roll is still a better buy even with the reduction in square inches. 
  4. This last detail is also pretty obvious – one type of freezer paper is a roll, and the other type comes in sheets.  This means the rolled paper wants to curl and this can make tracing difficult.  The sheets are flat, so they’re easier to work with. 

The second detail which must be considered is purpose.  Although Reynolds Freezer paper plainly touts it can be used for quilting, that isn’t what it’s constructed for.  It’s made for kitchen freezers.  Quilters put freezer paper through some serious abuse, and quilting freezer paper is made to withstand it.  This freezer paper is thicker, and the plastic coating can withstand multiple ironings before it will no longer adhere to fabric.  Personally, I’ve found even if I iron two sheets of the Reynolds Freezer Paper together so I have the needed thickness, the plastic coating will not stick to fabric for more than a couple of pressings before I have to toss it.

For me, the quilter’s freezer paper sold in sheets just works better and I use it far more often than the freezer paper sold in grocery stores.  Let’s look at some ways quilters use freezer paper.  I’m sure you know some of these, but others may be new.

Using freezer paper as a quilting stencil
  1.  Applique – Freezer paper has been used for applique templates for a long time.    Some quilters like to use the templates on the right side of their fabric and others on the wrong side – it just depends on which applique method used.  I definitely use the freezer paper sheets for applique because I can reuse the templates several times before the plastic side is completely gone.  Add the fact this paper holds up well to the starch-and-iron method, and the freezer paper sheets are just better.   Another reason I generally use the sheets for applique is their ability to be run through a printer or copier.  If you have an ink jet printer (please….don’t run freezer paper through a laser printer…it’s not pretty), you can make use the 8 1/2 x 11-inch paper to make accurate copies of your templates.  Be sure to consult your printer’s manual to determine if you should load your freezer paper shiny side up or down (the shiny side is considered the wrong side of the paper with most printers).
  2. Labels – Before I purchased my embroidery machine, I made all my labels using freezer paper, my laptop, and my ink jet printer.  It’s really super easy.  With your word processing or graphics program, design your quilt label.  You can play with fonts and graphics (even photos) until you get it exactly the way you want it – just make sure it fits on an 8 ½ x 11-inch layout.  Cut a piece of light-colored fabric which is also 8 ½ x 11-inches and press it onto an 8 ½ x 11-inch piece of freezer paper (the freezer paper sheets seem to work best for this).  Make sure the fabric has no air bubbles and it’s firmly pressed to the freezer paper all around the edges.  Load this into your ink jet printer and print as normal.  Once the ink has dried, remove the fabric label from the freezer paper and press the label with a hot, dry iron to set the ink.  Easy-peasy.  I still use this method if I want to personalize my label with a lot of detail. 
  3. Stencils for Quilting – This idea has been a lifesaver for me both on the long arm and my domestic machine.  Sometimes you find a drawing you simply love and want to quilt it in your quilt.  But either you can’t find it in a pantograph (for your long arm) or the design may be a little more complicated than your free motion quilting skills can undertake.  This is where freezer paper (either in roll or sheet form) can come in handy.  Trace the design on the freezer paper and cut it out.   Then press it onto the area you want to quilt.  Quilt around the freezer paper template and then remove it.  You’ll have to quilt the inside of the area as you desire, but the outline of the design has been made with the help of a freezer paper template.  I find freezer paper templates especially helpful when quilting on my domestic machine.
  4. Paper Piecing – I was only made aware of freezer paper’s paper piecing potential a few years ago when one of my friends made a quilt which was roughly 12-inches square.  It was paper pieced, and I swear I think that small square had a million paper pieced pieces.  My friend used freezer paper in her small quilt.  I wrote a blog about it:   While I wouldn’t use the freezer paper piecing method for all my paper piecing, (I still love the paper you can see through best) it does have potential.  Depending on how the pattern is drawn, you could use either the sheets or the roll. 
  5. Extending Your Fabric – Okay, I’ll be completely up front here:  This trick is not going to work if you need a large chunk of fabric.  If that’s the case, you need to go back to the quilt shop or the website and simply purchase another yard or two.  This little stunt works if you only need a small amount of fabric – like a few inches or so.  You’ll need a piece of your fabric, the freezer paper sheets, an 8 ½ x 11-inch piece of white or light cream-colored fabric, and an ink jet printer capable of producing a good, quality photograph.  Prepare your freezer paper and piece of white or light-cream colored fabric in the same manner you do for labels.  Place it the printer tray.  Place the fabric you need more of face-down on the copier bed (just like you’re preparing to make a copy), and simply proceed to make a copy.  Removed the copied fabric from the freezer paper and heat-set with an iron.  Please note there will be slight color discrepancies between the copier fabric and the original.  However, if you only need a few inches and can place it in an area where the copied fabric won’t stand out so much, this little trick can be a sanity saver. 
  6. Taming Fussy Fabric – Most of the time – probably somewhere around 99 percent – I sew with quilter’s cotton, batiks, or some other type of cotton fabric when I’m piecing.  But when I applique, all bets are off concerning the type of material I’ll use because I’m after effect and appearance, which means I may use any type of fabric.  Need something that looks like ice?  I may opt for a see-through, shimmery material.  Is there a fancy dress or stars in the applique pattern?  I’ve been known to use lame’.  While piecing quilt blocks may lend itself solely to 100 percent cotton fabrics, applique fabric can run the full fabric spectrum.  Usually, I’ll still opt for cotton fabrics in my applique, but if there’s another type of fabric which will give me the appearance I want, more often than not, I’ll use the non-cotton material.  Usually, I can sew these alternate fabrics by hand or machine with only a few minor changes (such as don’t use a hot iron or use a pressing cloth).   However, sometimes the non-cotton fabric may be loosely woven and fray easily.  To help the fabrics keep their shape, I may back them with freezer paper.  After the material is stabilized with the paper, I can cut out the shapes.  I keep the freezer paper on the applique pieces until I’m ready to stitch them down.  This doesn’t prevent all fraying, but it does help.  I have also found this freezer paper technique handy when sewing homespun – which can be both super-stretchy and loosely woven.
  7. Squaring up My Quilt Squares – I know, I know – we square up our quilt squares with rulers.  This is true.  However, freezer paper can be used in emergencies.  Let me set the stage for this great, little trick.  You’ve made all your squares and are in the process of trimming them down to the needed unfinished size.  However…there’s this one quilt square which is giving you real grief.  All the block units are the correct size except this one unit on the edge and it’s somewhere between 1/8 to ¼-inch too short.  At this point, if you’re like me especially if you’re like me, you don’t feel like taking the block apart to fix your mistake (because you’re almost through) or you don’t have enough left-over fabric to re-make the block.  Here’s where a handy-dandy roll of freezer paper will save your sanity.  Cut a piece of freezer paper the same the size as the unfinished quilt block is supposed to be.  Center and press this to the right side of your wonky quilt block.  The sides of the freezer paper should match up with everything except the area where your units are a bit too short.  Proceed to sew the block into the row or setting triangles as normal, but when you get to the area where the block unit is too short, use the freezer paper edge as the edge of your fabric.  This will work if the unit which is too small is less than ¼-inch too short. 
  8. Templates – There are two different ways I use freezer paper as quilting templates.  The first concerns English Paper Piecing (EPP).  On the rare occasion I EPP (remember, I use and adore Cindy Blackburg’s quilting template stamps), I use freezer paper instead of the cardboard for templates.  For this, I use the freezer paper sheets, since they are sturdier than the freezer paper on rolls.  I iron two sheets together (plastic coating sides facing) and then cut my templates from this.  These are sturdy and will stand up to the wear and tear of EPP.  The other way I use freezer paper templates are for really odd-shaped block units.  I came across this method when I was working with my first Dear Jane.  This quilt has some unusually shaped block units.  To use freezer paper to help me piece these blocks, I printed the block out on the freezer paper sheets and then cut the units apart.  I ironed each unit to the wrong side of the fabric and then cut the units out, allowing for a ¼-inch seam allowance (an Add-a-Seam ruler comes in super-handy here).  I would line up the edges of the fabric, making sure the lines of the freezer paper, as well as the points, matched and then stitch.  Most of the time this method worked exceptionally well – however, with Dear Jane, there’s always a unit or two which drove me nearly completely crazy.  I used traditional paper piecing with those blocks.
  9. Pattern Stabilizer – This use for freezer paper isn’t remotely related to quilting, but since some quilters also make garments, I thought I’d throw it in.  Years ago, when I made most of my clothing and all of my kids’ clothes, I had a hefty amount of money invested in patterns – those brown, tissue patterns which would tear easily if you weren’t too careful.  We were definitely living on a budget back in those days, so I wanted to take care of those patterns and make them last as long as I could.  I discovered if I pressed those pattern pieces onto freezer paper and then cut them out, they would last longer and stay in pristine condition for a long time.  I used Reynolds Freezer Paper for this.  Once I had finished with the pattern, I’d clip it to a clothes hanger with safety or clothes pins and store it in a closet.  I’d put the guide sheet and pattern envelope in a freezer bag and pin those to the pattern as well.

I keep both kinds of freezer paper in my quilt studio and use both kinds regularly.  Freezer paper is one of those non-quilty tools I don’t think I could live without.  It’s versatile and not too expensive.  Applique is the most common use, but it lends itself to a lot of other tasks, too. 

Until next week, Quilt on!

Love and Stitches,

Sherri and Sam


Chasing Roots

Most of the time, this blog is about quilting.  But not today.  Not exactly, anyway.  Today it’s about family.

Several years ago, I wrote about chasing my Dad’s family tree in South Carolina.  But today…today, Eric, Mom, and I chased hers.  I knew a little about Mom’s family. Her mother, (my grandmother, Cora Alberta Perry Forbes) was born in McDowell County, West Virginia.

By  1930, she moved to Leaksville, North Carolina. 

Leaksville was a sleepy little town nestled next to the Dan River, whose financial life blood was textiles.  In 1967 Leaksville, Spray, and Draper were incorporated into Eden, NC.  Grandma married George T. Forbes and had five children – Garland (Denny), Donald, Mom, Elizabeth (Beth), and Herman.  Grandpa went off to fight in World War II, and when he came home, he decided the family life wasn’t for him.  He took off to who-knows-where, leaving Grandma a single mother with five mouths to feed.

Single motherhood wasn’t a popular title back then.  Grandma had her mother (Annie Elizabeth Wolfe Perry) and her dad (Felix Gaither Perry) to fall back on, but she knew she needed more than Leaksville could give her.  You see, back then in North Carolina, tobacco and textiles were kings.  And while tobacco still holds value in my state’s economic system, thanks to NAFTA and a short-sighted former President, textiles have pretty much come to a stop here.  And even back while her children were in elementary school, Grandma Forbes knew she and her children needed stability which textiles didn’t offer.  She applied and was accepted into nursing school…

In Alamance County.

Which is not really close to Rockingham County where most of Grandma’s family lived.  It’s strange how you accept some events as a child.  When I was growing up, I knew Grandma was a nurse.  She always had held that position.  It wasn’t until I was an adult with my own kids, did I realize what a monumental thing this was.  A single mother with five growing children, uproots herself and her family from everything and everyone familiar, divesting herself of her support system, to move her family to a town about an hour away, and put herself through nursing school, because she knew – even though it was tough at the time – this move meant better job stability for both her and her children in the long run. 

She was a strong woman, who raised a strong woman, who in turn raised me to be tough, and I’m pretty sure my daughter would say this end of the DNA rubbed off on her (remember Meg went back to school to earn another degree while both of her kids were toddlers, obtained a management position, all while she fought her own cancer battle).  We girls don’t whine…we deliver. 

But today was about more than that.  Today allowed the three of us to have some uninterrupted time together before Eric begins his chemo treatments and Mom has the nerve block put in her back.  Today was about remembering where Mom grew up and letting her have control of the narrative.  Today was about reminiscing, remembering the good times, and not forgetting the ones she loved.  This is the house Mom grew up in…


It’s a little bigger and better than what it was back in the 40’s.  There’s a two-car garage in back and it now has indoor plumbing. 


And this is her grandparent’s house.  There was little distance between the house Mom grew up in and her grandparent’s home.  Burton Grove Elementary School (no longer standing) was down the street from Grandma and Grandpa Perry’s. 

The ballfield was across the road from their house. 


Mom and her brothers and her sister would walk home from school each day, passing their grandparent’s home.  On Sundays after church, they’d play ball across the street. 

Mom attended church at King Memorial Baptist Church, and was baptized there.


I heard so many stories I had never heard before.  There was a two-story YMCA.  The gym was on the top floor.  Every summer the health department took over the basketball court and inoculated the folks.  Mom couldn’t remember exactly what these shots were for, but she hated the beginning of summer because she knew her mom would walk all the kids down to the Y for vaccinations.  Mom has an intense dislike for needles.  Given her options, she told me, she’d try to run and hide somewhere.  However, Grandma Forbes held steady, and all her kids got the inoculations.  After that, Mom said summer was pretty cool.  She learned to swim in the Dan River, which flowed behind their house.

There was a beauty queen who lived down the street from them.  This lady came all the way to Burlington to see Grandma once.  When World War II was over, lots of people gathered in the town and sang hymns.  There were skinned knees and childhood friends.  Aunts and uncles and cousins.  There was this boy across the street from her grandparent’s house who threw a rock and hit Mom in the back of her head.  I understand Great-grandpa Perry dressed that kid down pretty hard. 

And like with all families, there was loss.  Great-grandpa passed first from a heart attack, before Mom ever married Dad.

Then Uncle Donald, who was a long-distance truck driver.  He hit a bridge in New Jersey in 1970.  He was only 30.

Great-Grandma fell ill with pneumonia and died in 1971.  Aunt Beth died in 1975.  My heart ached for Grandma and Mom who lost three family members in the span of five years.  Let me also throw this fact in:  My Aunt Beth died of kidney failure.  Once she was diagnosed with kidney problems, it was my grandmother the nurse who went back to school to learn how to put Aunt Beth on and off the kidney dialysis machine.  My mother would take the blood samples to the lab to so they could check and make sure the toxins were no longer present. 

We rounded out the day with coffee from The Roasted Bean, a trip to Stitch Party Studio Quilt Shop (where I always have a good time and the folks are oh-so nice), and dinner at Ronni’s in Reidsville.  It was a good day.  I learned a lot about the people I had found on  Seeing where they lived and how they grew up not only put names with faces and locations, but also allowed me to see how close the family ties were.  I was especially glad to see where my Great-grandmother, Annie Perry, lived.  Remember, it was her quilt which started me on my quilting journey. 

Great-grandma Perry’s Quilt. It’s plainly a utility quilt. I really appreciate how she made do with the scraps she had.
It’s quilted in the Baptist Fan pattern. Large stitches from a heavy, white thread.
A heavy blanket serves as both batting and backing. More than likely the blanket is a cast-off from the Fieldcrest Textile Mill in Eden. Notice the quilting stitches are smaller on the back. From what I can tell, the quilt is machine pieced and hand quilted.

It’s not a particularly skillful quilt.  The quilting stitches are large, and a heavy blanket serves as both the batting and the backing.  However, it’s irreplaceable to me, and cherished every day.  According to Mom, Great grandma would piece the quilts and then sometimes her sisters and daughters would come over to help with the quilting. 

By the time I had tucked away a great baked ham dinner from Ronni’s and shared a slice of chocolate cake with Mom, I was tired.  I knew she was, too, as well as Eric.  As I caught sight of the last of Rockingham County in the rearview mirror, I couldn’t help but puzzle over the relationship of DNA and location.  I understand DNA and what it means.  This is what makes you male or female.  Decides if you have blue eyes or brown, if you’re short or tall, or have curly or straight hair.  DNA is the chemical sequence which makes you…you.  Unless you have an identical twin, no two people have the exact same DNA sequence.  Your DNA is a combination of the DNA of your biological parents.  But when you consider location…that makes your DNA even more unique.  What if Grandma had never left Leaksville?  Would Mom had ever met Dad?  Would I have ever existed?  Where would I be (or would I be at all) in this trip around the sun? 

I have no answers. 

However, I wanted to share my adventure with you, especially since I learned a little more about the women who do make me…me.  It’s not all about DNA.  Sometimes it’s about nurture.

And sometimes it just comes from being raised by really strong women.

Until next Week, Quilt On!

Love and Stitches,

Sherri and Sam