The Cutting Edge…Part Two

Last week we talked about all things scissors…fabric scissors, paper scissors, embroidery scissors, how to take care of your scissors…we covered the field from how much to spend to how to store them.  This week we’re turning our attention to the other cutting instrument in your quilt studio – the rotary cutter.  This cutter is the second most-used tool in quilt studios, with the first being the sewing machine.  Initially rotary cutters were developed in the 1980’s and were used in the garment industry.  It wasn’t long before quilters decided they needed this tool in their lives and it made the leap from the sewing notions aisle to the quilting making aisle.  What did quilters do before this?  Well…they used scissors.  Quilters would spend ours cutting out their quilt patches by hand with sharp scissors.  Each piece of fabric, as well as each completed block, required precision trimming with scissors. 

Once the rotary cutter was introduced, not only did the cutting and trimming become faster, it also became more accurate. Quilters could quickly move through the cutting process.  Before the rotary cutter, cutting could take days (or even weeks) of tedious work.  This change made quilting more exciting – at least for folks like me who would rather get through the slicing and dicing as soon as possible so we can get to the good stuff.  In the blink of an eye, the rotary cutter changed the quilting industry and quilt making forever. 

The choice of rotary cutter is just as important as the one you will make about the scissors you use.  And making that decision can be difficult, because as soon as you hit the rotary cutter aisle in a brick-and-mortar store or a website, the choice seems endless.  Couple that with the fact the price range varies as much for cutters as they do scissors, and it’s easy to feel dazed and confused.  So, the first item we’ll discuss is what to look for in a rotary cutter.  Just like scissors, rotary cutters are an extension of your hand.  You want to make sure the cutter feels comfortable and is controllable.  Safety features are also important.  As you begin your search for your perfect rotary cutter, keep the following in mind:

  1.  There is a wide variety available.  You have to search for the one which best suits your needs.  There are different brands, some use different blades made from different metals and there are narrow ones and wide ones.  Handles can vary from brand to brand and even be different within the same brand.  Some come in kits with fun accessories which will make your cutting experience easier and more enjoyable.  When I began my search for a rotary cutter, I made a list requirements:  It had to be ergonomically friendly for carpel tunnel, blade replacement should be easy, and it had to have a blade cover.  As I shopped, I disregarded any cutters which didn’t meet those requirements.  It took a while, but the I still use my original cutter almost daily. 
  2. There is more than one size blade diameter.  Most blades run from 18 mm to 60 mm in diameter.  Which size do you need?  It depends on your cutting preferences.  If you like cutting multiple layers of fabric, then you need to steer   your shopping towards the 60 mm sized rotary cutters.  However, its important to remember as the size of the blade increases, you may lose accuracy, maneuverability, and ease of cutting.  If you’re creating intricate shapes with your fabric, fussy cutting, cutting around templates, or cutting through no more than two layers of fabric at a time, you will probably want a smaller, more maneuverable blade.  You may want to purchase an 18-mm to 28-mm cutter.  If you want one rotary cutter to cover all your cutting needs, then the middle range cutter (45 mm) is probably your best bet.  With this size, you won’t lose a great deal of precision, but you will still be able to cut through most fabrics easily, including stacks of thinner fabrics.  Personally, I have 45 mm, 28 mm, and a 60 mm rotary cutters.  Bear in mind I didn’t purchase all of them at once, but over a quilting life span of 34 years.  If I had to pick one size rotary cutter to keep and disregard the rest, I’d chose the 28 mm.  As a rule, I cut no more than two layers of fabric at a time (I have accuracy issues if I cut through multiple layers).  For me, the 28 mm is ideal.  However, for cutting through batting, you can’t beat the 60 mm.  I purchased the 45 mm when I started quilting, and still use it for cutting strips.  You will need to weigh your cutting habits against your wallet and decide what is best for you. 
  3. Consider blade safety.  A good safety feature to look for on a new rotary cutter is a button which allows to retract the blade when you’re not using it.  And as a general rule, you want to keep your fingers away from the blade when cutting, as well as push the rotary cutter away from you when slicing through any fabric.  I can hear some of you now, “I don’t have kids in my home.  Why do I need to retract my blade when I’m not using it?”  Allow me to offer up a personal experience. 

For the longest time, I never retracted my blade.  When I began seriously quilting, my kids were older and knew not to touch my rotary cutter.  I’d lay the cutter down on my cutting table, walk away, and not worry about it.  Then one hot, southern summer day, I was cutting out a quilt and needed a potty break.  Let me emphasize it was a hot day and I had on shorts.  And sandals.  Two important points.  I put my rotary cutter down and moved away, and in the process accidentally knocked my cutter off the mat.  It skipped down my bare leg and across my sandaled foot.  I had a total of four gashes which would not stop bleeding.  It took my son, a local fireman, and God only knows how many butterfly band aids to stop the bleeding – all because I didn’t retract the blade when I left the cutting area.

You need a rotary cutter with good safety features.  Trust me. 

  •  Consider the blade material.  A good blade will save you both time, energy, and money.  It will allow you to cut through as many as six layers of fabric at a time.  You won’t have to exert a lot of effort to move the cutter through multiple layers of cloth, either.  You’ll be able to use it through multiple projects without needing to replace it.  You won’t have to re-purchase fabric because your blade had  tiny burrs on it and as a result, it chewed your fabric.  Most of all, a good blade is safer.  With a good, sharp blade, you’re less likely to exert so much force on the cutter you lose control over the blade.  The best rotary cutter blades are made from tungsten or carbon steel – the same material good kitchen knives are made from.  So, when you’re shopping for rotary blade replacements, be sure to read the package carefully to make sure the blades are made from one of these metals.  Olfa’s blades are made from Tungsten steel and Improve Cut blades are comprised of carbon steel.  Titanium blades are a recent addition to the blade family.  I sew with titanium sewing machine needles, but haven’t tried these blades (I tend to purchase rotary blades in bulk and don’t need anymore right now).  However, some of my quilting buddies have used the Titanium blades and have nothing but good things to say about them. 

All rotary blades dull over time.   As you use your cutter, notice if you have to put a lot of effort in pushing it through the layers of fabric or if the blade “skips” cutting in places.  If either of these are true, then it’s time to replace the blade.  And I’ll admit, this is not my most favorite task, but replacing the bad blade with a good one really makes cutting easier.  All good cutters will let you remove and replace the blade, allowing you to keep the handle which best suits your hand.  If you’ve tossed the blade replacement directions, YouTube or Google search your particular cutter.  I just about guarantee you can find the directions (and better yet, a video) on how to replace the blade.

I quilt a lot, and as a result I use my cutter several times a week and must replace my blades pretty regularly.  If this is also your scenario, you may want to do what I do – purchase blades in bulk.  I’ve found this very cost-effective.  If you don’t quilt as much as I do, most brands of blades come in packs of five.  However, blades are among the more pricey consumables in a quilt studio (discounting fabric).  The good news is big box fabric/hobby shops stock most of the popular blade brands.  Use their 40 percent off coupon to buy your blades.

  • The blade handle is very, very important.  You will be gripping the hand of your rotary cutter for hours.  It’s very important the handle is comfortable to hold at the angle you’ll use it.  Fiskar’s ergonomic handles are a quilting favorite, but my advice concerning rotary cutter purchase is the same as buying scissors:  if possible, go to a store and purchase it.  Hold it in your hand and imagine pushing it through layers of fabric for hours at a time.  If your hand is comfortable with the initial purchase, any subsequent purchases can be made online.
Comfort Cutter

However, if you can’t purchase your rotary cutter in person, be aware there are some brands made specifically for special needs.  There are some handles specifically designed with arthritis and grip issues in mind.  My Comfort Cutter from The Grace Company allows you to add attachments to your handle, so it can be personalized for your grip, and is designed to allow you to press from overhead, making cutting easier. 

Ruler Track
  •  Your particular brand of cutter may offer accessories.  It’s a given you’ll need rotary cutting mat to go with your cutter, and we will discuss those later in the blog.  However, there are some other accessories you may want to consider.  First, there’s a ruler track.    A ruler track can be carefully placed on your fabric, then your rotary cutter fits into the track on the ruler like a rail car, and you simply follow the line up and down.  This provides a very straight cut.  The only draw back is at some point you’ll run out of “track,” limiting the length of the cut. 

Another accessory which comes with some cutters is extra blades.  This is a nice added bonus, since you will use those blades.

  •  Make sure the cutter fits your handedness.  Like scissors, rotary cutters come made for right-handed people and left-handed people.  And some cutters are ambidextrous and may be used by righties or lefties.  Be sure to read the cutter description to make sure it will work for you.

Now, with all that said, I’d like to list the six best-selling rotary cutters.

Fiskars 45mm Contour Rotary Cutter

This rotary cutter cuts smoothly and precisely, even through as many as six layers of fabric.  It works for either right or left-handed quilters and the ergonomic design prevents hand fatigue, allowing for accurate cutting for extended periods of time.  My favorite thing about this cutter is the thumb control on top of the handle.  One touch with your thumb causes the blade to engage or retract (meaning the blade won’t be exposed when you lay it down).  This cutter comes with steel blades.

Fiskars 60mm Titanium Softgrip Comfort Loop Handle Rotary Cutter

If you’re comfortable cutting multiple layers of fabric, this is your cutter.  It’s ergonomically designed to prevent hand fatigue and provides excellent control.  It’s made for right or left-handed quilters and this design provides great visibility for either.  This cutter comes with a titanium blade so it’s tough enough not only for cutting through multiple layers of fabric, but also wonderful for squaring up quilts or cutting batting.

Olfa 45mm Deluxe Handle Rotary Cutter

This cutter cuts up to six layers of fabric easily and works well for most quilting applications.  The rubber grip contoured handle is easy on the hand, but not as ergonomically friendly as the previous listed rotary cutters. The handle does include a squeeze trigger blade control which allows it to self-retract.  When engaged, the red button keeps the blade open for longer periods of time.  One of the best characteristics about this cutter is the blade can be moved to either side, making it perfect for either right or left-handed cutters.  The Olfa 45mm Deluxe Handle Cutter also has a pinking blade which can be used on loosely woven fabrics (such as homespun) to keep fraying to a minimum.

Olfa 60 mm Deluxe Rotary Cutter

This handy-dandy cutter can slice through 8-layers of fabric at a time.  The handle is ergonomic and includes a squeeze trigger which allows the blade to self-retract.  This cutter is a good choice for anyone who makes tote bags or quilted purses.  It can easily cut through the thin foam used in making those.  Just avoid cutting foam which is thicker than the width of the blade.  It also makes easy work of trimming the quilt sandwich or cutting batting.  Quilters who make rag quilts find the 60mm Deluxe cutter especially useful when cutting through those projects that involve layers of wool.

Martelli Ergo 2000 45 mm Rotary Cutter

Allow me a moment of complete self-plugging of a product:  I love Martelli Cutters because of their ergonomic design.  The cutter puts your hand in perfect alignment for cutting, taking a great deal of strain off the wrist, arm, elbow, and fingers.  And because of the added pressure of correct hand alignment, a quilter can cut up to 15 layers at a time.  Since Martelli’s are built so differently than Fiskars and Olfa, changing their blades is a bit different, but the company puts out handy YouTube videos which explain how to use the blade guards and how to change the blades.  You can’t switch the blades to different sides, so you will have to purchase either a right-handed or left-handed cutter.  The cutter can be refilled with any 45-mm blade on the market.  These cutters are not (at least to my knowledge) sold in fabric or quilt stores.  The company does vend at many, many quilt shows and has a wonderful on-line store.  I can also personally attest their customer service is stellar.  I’ve contacted them before about an issue I was dealing with concerning their 45mm cutter and they simply shipped me a brand-new cutter, no questions asked. 

Olfa 9551 Rty-1/G 28mm Straight Handled Rotary Cutter

This cutter is perfect for small quilting projects.  A quilter can push the tab forward to use the blade and pull it back to retract it.  It’s great for working on small pieces, or cutting out around templates or applique pieces, as this cutter handles curves smoothly.  The blade switches sides for either right or left-handed users.  Keep out of the reach of children as this cutter is pretty simple to figure out.

How to Care for Your Rotary Cutter

Just like scissors, purchasing a rotary cutter is a financial investment.  And with any such pricey purchase, it’s important to take care of the cutter so it will last a long time.  It’s equally important to take as much care of the blades.  While the blades will be replaced, there are some things you can do to prolong their lives.

  1.  Never cut paper or interfacings with your cutter.  This will dull the blade.  If you find yourself reaching for the cutter when your want to cut these, purchase a separate cutter for cutting paper or interfacings.  
  2. Be sure to keep pins away from the cutting area.  If you accidentally hit a pin, it will put a nick in the blade, and it will no longer cut all the way through the fabric.
  3. Old blades are still very sharp.  Find a way to safely dispose of these.  Some folks fold an index card in half and tape the short sides.  They put the blade in the pocket and then tape across the top.  I keep an empty parmesan cheese container in my sewing room.  I put used blades, dull pins and needles, and broken sewing machine needles in this.  When it’s full (and it takes a long time to fill it), I duct tape the top securely and then toss it.  Whatever way you decide to dispose of your used blades, make sure it’s secure enough that the blades won’t injure anyone emptying the trash.
  4. Don’t scissor back and forth with your cutter.  It will make a rough edge along the seam and loosen the threads.  Instead, use the strength in your shoulder to push the blade forward, away from your body in one smooth action.  It takes practice, but eventually you will make steady cuts.
  5. Store the cutter and blades out of the reach of children.   These things are sharp.  Kids are way smarter than we give them credit for.  They can figure out how to use a rotary cutter in a hot second.
  6. Never leave the blade open on your work surface (see personal injury story above).  Get in the habit of closing your blade each time you place it down. 

You want a cutter which will fit your hand and take as much strain off your wrist, elbow, arm, shoulder, and fingers as possible.  My advice is to purchase the cutter which best fulfills your requirements and doesn’t bust your wallet.   Your choice of cutter will depend on what kind of quilter you are.  If you’re primarily a piecer, comfortable with cutting through multiple layers of fabric at a time, you will probably opt for a 45mm or 60 mm cutter.  If you usually are cutting around templates or dealing with applique pieces, a 18mm or 28mm cutter may be just what you need.  If you’re mostly an applique quilter and cut your applique pieces out with scissors, you may opt for the 45mm rotary cutter.  It will still handle layers of fabric, but remain controllable in the event you do decide to use it with your applique.  The choice is a personal one, and eventually (if you quilt long enough) you may decide you need a couple of different rotary cutters in different sizes. 

I had planned to cover rotary mats in this blog, but I’m already well over 3,000 words.  We’ll hit those next week.  So, until then…

Quilt On!

Love and Stitches,

Sherri and Sam


The Cutting Edge

You can’t make a quilt if you don’t cut some fabric.

That’s the simple truth.  Once fabric and pattern are in hand, the next step is cutting.  And I’ll admit (and as many of you already know) this part is the one I like least in the entire quilting process.  However, unless you buy a pre-cut quilt kit, you can’t get to the fun stuff until you’ve sliced and diced it all up.  Making sure you have good scissors, rotary cutters, and a good cutting mat will make this process easier, accurate, and if you’re the least bit like me – a little more enjoyable.  So, today’s blog will talk about all those cutting tools, what makes the good ones good and the great ones great, as well as how to take care of them.  Each one of these is an investment in both money and ergonomic ease.  Choose wisely and be prepared to plunk down some cash.

Scissors Verses Shears

Okay…I’ll admit since the introduction of the rotary cutter to the quilting universe, scissors are nearly a second thought now.  Until the 1980’s, quilters traced around templates and then cut their patches out with scissors.  Once rotary cutters showed up on the quilting aisle in fabric shops, the use of scissors to cut quilting fabric declined.  However, even though we cut most of our quilt tops out with a cutter, there still are times when scissors come into play.  It’s important to know what makes up a good pair of scissors and how to take care of them. 

To begin with, there are two types of “scissors.”  There are the scissors and shears.  What’s the difference?  A lot.  To begin with shears are shaped like this:

And scissors are shaped like this:

This is the quickest way to tell them apart.  Now let’s get into specifics.

Shears are primarily used in garment construction.  The bend between the handle and the blades makes shears the perfect cutting instrument for slicing through multiple layers of fabric.  The blade length is longer in shears than in scissors – the beginning length in most shears is 7-inches.  Scissor blades can start as small as an inch.  The handles are different, too.  Shears’ handles have one hole for the thumb at the end of one blade and a larger hole on the other to accommodate four fingers.  Shears were developed for serious fabric cuttage.  Their shape is perfect for cutting several layers of material without putting undue stress on the wrist and fingers. 

At this point, your burning question is “Do they have a place in my quilting world?”  Maybe.  Depends on what kind of cutter you are.  If you’re comfortable cutting multiple layers of fabric with a large rotary cutter, then probably no.  However, I do keep two pairs of shears in my studio and find they’re easier than scissors to use when I need to cut batting. 

Scissors, on the other hand, can run the gamut in blade size and use.  There are specialty scissors out there for nearly every type and kind of crafting.  My aim is to make you understand the differences, what makes a good pair of scissors, give you an overview of the types, and tell you what kind I keep in my studio.

Scissors differ from shears in blade length, handles, and what they’re used for.  Blades on scissors can vary from as small as 1-inch to greater than 8-inches.  And there are some non-scissor scissors (such as snips) which are generally tossed into this category.  The handles have two holes of the same size, which means one can accommodate the thumb and the other one or two fingers.  Other than the shape, the biggest difference between shears and scissors is what they’re used for.  Shears are made for big, heavy-duty cutting jobs.  Scissors aren’t.  They are for small cutting projects. 

With the differences between the two explained, let’s talk about what we need to look for no matter which one we decide to purchase. 

  1.  The blades should move easily.  You shouldn’t have to force them apart or back together.  If they’re difficult to open and close, this will tire your hand quickly.
  2. Look at the pivot point or screw.  This is sometimes called the button.  You should be able to wipe this area clean and it should show no sign of wear or rust.  I personally like my buttons to stick up above the blade instead of being inset.  More on why this is preferable in a bit.
  3. They should feel good and have a comfortable weight in your hand.  You don’t want them too light (this may make accuracy difficult) neither do you want them too heavy (this will tire your hand).  If possible in this internet-purchasing world, go to a store and buy your scissors.  This way you’ll actually be able to hold them and get a good idea of the way they feel in your hand.
  4. Make sure they’re made for your handedness.  Most scissors are made for right-handed people.  If you cut with your left-hand, be sure you purchase a pair made for left handers.  And some scissors are ambidextrous.  The great news is most scissor companies make all three types – left, right, and ambidextrous.

 Scissors and shears are investment purchases.  If you buy quality ones and take care of them, they will last you a lifetime.  My mom still has the shears she used when she made my clothes when I was a little girl.  They’re over 50 years-old and still cut wonderfully.  So, should you purchase one or both?  If you make garments as well as quilts, then you probably want a good pair of each.  If you only quilt, you can make do with only scissors.  New types of specialty scissors are introduced every year. At this point, I’d like to talk about the most popular type of brands and how they rank.


The great thing about this brand is you can find them at both big box stores and many small quilt and fabric shops.  They’re a great all-around brand and run the price range from inexpensive to high-end pairs with all the bells and whistles.  Fiskars offers scissors, shears, and snips and has products which can be used from the kindergarten classroom to the most exclusive sewing studio.  The range in cost tells you about the range in quality, so for this reason quilters, we want to head towards the more expensive end of the Fiskar models (if you can afford it). 


For me, when I pick up a pair of Gingher scissors, I’m a kid again, rummaging through my mom’s sewing area.  Gingher Brand has been around since 1947 and by 1965 they were the crème d’ la crème of the sewing world.  Unlike Fiskar, Gingher offers a more limited range of models on the higher end.  This means all quality, all the time – no second guessing needed.  Basically, any Gingher scissor which goes home with you is bound to be wonderful.  These scissors are all metal, although the handles may be gold or silver.


While this brand may be one of the newer ones to us quilters in the United States, Kai scissors and shears have been made in Japan for over 100 years.  Kai scissors and shears are made with stainless steel and vanadium.  What’s vanadium?  It’s what Kai uses to make their scissors extra strong and helps them stay sharp for way longer than typical sewing scissors.  I’ve test-driven Kai scissors and am impressed.  Most likely the next pair of scissors I purchase will be Kai’s.  Currently, I have a pair of Gingher’s I’ve used for years – since I taught French heirloom sewing in the 1980’s – and they’re still just as great as the day I bought them. 

This scissors I’ve mentioned above are standard sewing scissors.  There are plenty of specialty scissors on the market and now I want to mention those.  Some of these are well-worth the money and others simply depend on what kind of quilter you are.

Karen Kay Buckley’s Perfect Scissors

It’s no secret I love these scissors.  They come in several sizes (my favorites are the 1 ½-inch and the 7-inch ones).  The handles are flexible, so they can be used for long periods of time without rubbing sore places on your thumb and finger.  I think the best feature is the micro-serrated edges.  I’m an avid appliquer and cut my applique pieces with these scissors because the serrated edges help keep the fabric from fraying.  Two warnings about these scissors:  First, if you ever need to sharpen them, make sure the tech knows the blades are micro-serrated, and second, occasionally knock-off brands appear on the internet (especially on social media sites).  Purchase the real thing at Karen’s website.  The imitators aren’t nearly as good as the originals. 

Pinking Shears

Pinking shears have come a long, long way.  Back in the dark ages when I took home ec, they were bulky, heavy, hard to open and close, and cut in zigzags.  Today they come in all colors, are lighter and easier to use, and cut in scallops as well as the traditional zigzag.  Before there were sergers and fray block, pinking shears were the only way (besides a zig-zag stitch on your sewing machine) to finish the edges of your fabric.  The zig-zag stitch on your sewing machine would often leave a raised edge which could be seen from the right side of your sewing project (especially after it was pressed), plus it was an additional step in the construction process.  Lots of sewers just opted to pink everything.  I own a pair of pinking shears.  I purchased them in the 1980’s when I made all of my kids’ clothes and a good chunk of mine.  I still use them when I’m piecing a block with curves.  Pinking the pieces works sometimes works better than clipping the curves.  If you only quilt, you may want to seriously count the cost of pinking shears against the amount of time you would actually use them.  If you make garments as well as quilt, pinking shears are worth the investment. 

Embroidery Scissors

Yes.  You need a pair.  I use my embroidery scissors every time I sit down to sew.  As a matter of fact, I use embroidery scissors so much, I have three pair – one at Dolly, one in my hand sewing kit, and another pair in my applique kit.  They’re the perfect size to snip threads and trim applique pieces.  While these won’t be used for cutting large chunks of fabric, you do want a pair with good points, feels solid in your hand, and can be sharpened if needed. 

Rag Quilting Snips

If you decide to make a rag quilt, you can certainly use your regular scissors to make the perpendicular clips in the seams.  However, if rag quilts are your thing, you will probably want to invest in these snips.  Once you use the snips, I’m told you will never go back to using regular scissors.  Fingers rest above the handles instead of being slipped into holes in the handles.  This is a good thing, because you make a lot of cuts through multiple layers of fabric in a rag quilt and may get blisters using regular scissors.  The spring action of the handles mean they will pop right back into place for the next cut with no effort from you.  The rounded tips create a bit of a buffer at their ends, just enough to keep you from cutting too deeply into a seam allowance.  I have made one rag quilt and have no desire to make another, so I don’t have a pair of these snips.  However, if I enjoyed making these quilts, I would definitely invest in a pair of Rag Quilting Snips.

Fiskar Soft Touch Titanium Scissors/Shears

Fiskar labels these as scissors, even though they have a bend.  For me, the biggest selling point with the Soft Touch is the titanium nitride which coats the blades and prevents wear.  However, there is another great selling feature about these:  the spring action handles.  These handles prevent hand fatigue and for those of us with arthritis, carpel tunnel, or other aches pains, the spring action takes a lot of stress off the fingers and wrist.  I had a pair of the Soft Touches when I made clothing and loved them. They fall in the mid-range price of Fiskars, so their purchase won’t hurt your wallet too badly.  By the time I wore mine completely out, I was no longer making clothes – just strictly quilting – and chose not to replace them.  However, if I went back to constructing garments on a regular basis, I’d purchase another pair. 

Gingher Knife Edge Applique Scissors

Before I knew these as a type of applique scissors, I was acquainted with them under the alias of “Lace Scissors.”  When I taught French Heirloom Sewing, these scissors were a must for anyone trimming fabric away from lace.  I use them so much I have two pairs of them.  At some point, a quilter realized these chrome over nickel scissors were super-duper handy for applique.  The paddle-like blade (sometimes known as the duckbill –as a matter of fact, as an instructor I referred to these scissors as “the ducks”) keeps one edge of the fabric away from the blade while the pushing edge you want to cut toward the sharp blade.  The offset handles provide a good view of the fabric as you’re cutting.  I applique a lot and use these scissors a great deal.  They are a bit pricey.  If you’re not an avid appliquer, you can live without them.  However, if you’re as smitten with the art as I am, you may want to eventually invest in a pair or ask for them at Christmas or your birthday. 

Gingher 4-inch Safety Scissors

These blunt-tipped scissors remind of the scissor we had to use in elementary school,  but don’t let looks fool you.  Despite the rounded end, the scissors are sharp.  These are great to have around for little clipping tasks and you don’t have to worry about puncturing fabric or skin.  You can safely toss these in your purse or sewing tote.  I don’t have a pair, but my friends who travel via airplane tell me these are great to take on a flight.

I don’t own every pair of scissors I’ve mentioned.  I do have two pairs of Karen Kay Buckley’s Perfect Scissors (the 1 ½-inch and the 7-inch), a pair of 8-inch Gingher scissors, and several pairs of embroidery scissors. I’ve been gifted several others, but these are the ones you’ll find out and in use in my studio.  The Perfect Scissors and Ginghers are used to cut fabric.  However, if you’ve quilted long enough, you know you’ll also end up cutting a fair amount of paper, too.  Which brings us to the next topic…

Do I need to be super-picky about the scissors I use to cut paper?


It depends on what kind of paper-cutting you’re doing.  If you’re only separating pattern pieces by rough cutting, then pick yourself up a cheap pair of Fiskars.  However, if trimming freezer paper applique patterns and any other type of detail-oriented paper cutting are in your quilty future, you may want to be a bit more discerning in you paper-cutting-only scissors. 

Westcott Titanium Bonded Scissors

These are definitely a “do-it-all” scissor.  The titanium-bonded blades can slice through cardstock, cardboard, and laminate, as well as tissue-paper patterns.  The plastic handles are gently contoured to prevent cramping or any stress to your hand.  These are an investment purchase – they do cost a bit – but if you give them proper care, they should last a lifetime.

Scotch Precision Scissors

These scissors check off all the major boxes.  They come with a rubberized grip which means comfort, no matter if you use them for just a few minutes or long hours at a stretch.  What’s especially appealing is their universal design – left-handed and right-handed folks can use the same pair of scissors.  The thumb holes are shaped to accommodate the natural squeezing action of all users, reducing not only awkwardness, but also pain and swelling when used over and extended amount of time. A quick Amazon search turned up several pairs, all around $5.00.

Canary Small Scissors

These are designed specifically for paper art, but if you’re trimming teeny-tiny freezer paper pieces for applique, you’d love to have a pair of these.  Canary Scissors are handcrafted in Seki City, Japan.  They have a sleek, sharp blade which can navigate small areas and tight turns easily.  These are around 4-inches, are lightweight, and portable.  However, the handles are small, so if you have large hands, they may be uncomfortable for long periods of use. 

At this point, I want to encourage you to keep your paper-cutting scissors in one area and your fabric scissors in another.  Don’t use your fabric cutting scissors to cut paper – it will dull them.  I’ve heard some instructors say as long as you wipe down the blades after using the scissors, it doesn’t matter what you cut.  I haven’t found this to be true for myself.  I developed a system many years ago to not only keep the two types apart, but also how to tell which kind of scissor should be used for what kind of use.  I began seriously sewing when my kids were young, and kids need to cut paper for all kinds of projects.  After they had mistakenly grabbed my good Ginghers one too many times, I came up with this idea.  Every pair of scissors destined to cut paper had red or orange handles.  Fiskars have orange handles and Scott Precision scissors have red ones.  One quick glance at the handles let the kids know if the scissors could be used for their art projects.  I’m using the same system with my grand darlings. 

Of course, there’s always this method:

But then you have to keep up with the key!

Scissors are one quilty tool you’ll use nearly every time you sit down to sew – whether you’re working at your machine or are hand sewing.  Investing in good, quality pairs is the first step in scissor nirvana.  Like just about every other quilting tool, regular care and upkeep will go a long way in extending the life of your scissors for years.  So, now I want to give you my Top 10 Tips for Taking Care of Your Sewing Scissors.

  1.  Avoid Moisture

Moisture is not good for any scissors.  When we think about moisture, we think about water and wetness, and yes, you need to avoid having your scissors around any liquids.  However, you also don’t want to keep your scissors on your ironing board.  The ironing board will retain moisture from steam and if you stash your scissors on it, they come in contact with some dampness.  Make sure your fabric is completely dry before you cut into it, too. 

  • Cut Only Fabric with Your Best Fabric Scissors

We may have several pairs of scissors we use in our studio, and probably one of those pairs is predestined for only cutting paper.  But the other scissors may also cut ribbon, interfacing, fusible webbing, etc.  This is fine, but you may want to keep one pair for fabric only.  True, this tip is more for folks who make quilts and garments, but the first time you pick up your best scissors for a prolonged cutting job and find they’re chewing the fabric more than they’re slicing through the quilting cotton, you’ll thank me for this tip. 

  • Tighten the Pivot Screw and Apply Oil Periodically

Over an extended period of time, you may feel the blades are looser.  It’s fine to take a screw driver and tighten the pivot screw (which is also called a “button”).  You may also want to put a drop of oil on the screw, and wipe down the excess. 

  •  Get Them Sharpened Regularly

One of the things I miss most about Hancock Fabrics is their scissor sharpener.  At least once a year, they would have a couple of guys come into the store to sharpen scissors.  You’d sign up for a time slot and bring in your scissors and the two men would work their magic.  I finally found someone in High Point who sharpens scissors, and recently took six pairs to him – however, it had been nearly three years since they had been sharpened.  Sometimes local quilt shows will have a scissor sharpening tech you can utilize.  If your local fabric or quilt store doesn’t offer these services, Google local knife sharpening shops.  Quite often they will sharpen scissors, too. 

  •  Wipe Them Clean

Some fabrics are abrasive and can damage the metal on your scissors, especially some man-made fabrics.  The best way to prevent this from happening is to wipe down the blades with a clean cloth after each project. Be sure to wipe the area around the screw, too. This is why I like the screw to stand out and not be inset — it makes cleaning this easier.

  •  Avoid Pins

Don’t cut over pins.  And while this tip is more for garment makers than quilters, it’s important to remember.  If you end up cutting through a pin, you’ve probably inflicted serious damage to your scissor’s blades.

  •  Don’t Drop Them

This can damage the alignment of your scissors, nick the blades, and cause the blades to bend or the tips to break.

  •  Keep the Case Closed

Store your scissors in a cool, dry place, preferably in their own sheath, pouch, or case.  Be sure to store them in a place where they won’t be knocked off onto the floor.  And for those of us who travel with our scissors, transport them in their case, pouch, or sheath to protect the blades.  If your scissors didn’t come in one of those, wrap a rubber band around the blades to keep them stable

  •  Spend Your Money Wisely

We’ve already covered this pretty well.  But let me reiterate this:  Scissors are an investment.  A quality pair will cut better, last longer, and can be sharpened over and over again.  They will last you a lifetime.

  •  Cut At the Right Spot

It may come as a surprise, but there is a right place on the blade to cut thin fabrics, small areas, and thicker fabrics.  When cutting layers of fabric or thicker fabric, start at  the part of the blade near the pivot screw and use the entire length of the blade.  If you’re cutting thinner fabrics or smaller areas like notches or small curves, use the tips of the blades.  This sounds like a little detail, but cutting with the wrong area of the scissors can cause them be become misaligned – as well as making your cutting much more difficult.

If all of this information has caused you to pause and take a second look at your scissors, then I have done my job.  Quilters use rotary cutters and mats so much that I don’t think we give our scissors the consideration we need to.  I remember when I began quilting in 1986, the rotary cutter was still a relatively new tool, and it was a long while until we saw rotary cutting directions in quilt patterns. We traced around templates and then cut our patches out with scissors.  Over time, things have changed, but every once in a while a pattern will grab your attention which requires you to trace templates.  And you may find it easier to cut these templates out with scissors rather than your rotary cutter.  A good pair of scissors makes this easier.  Trimming applique pieces is also easier with sharp scissors.  Invest in at least two pairs – one with 7- to 8-inch blades and a smaller pair.  Keep them sharp and take good care of them. 

While we’re on the subject of cutting, next week we’ll cover rotary cutters and mats – two things we all keep in our studio.  So, until next week…

Quilt On!

Love and Stitches,

Sherri and Sam


Grandmother’s Flower Garden

I want to talk about the third quilt in the 1920-1930 popular pattern trinity.  We’ve talked about the first two – Sunbonnet Sue and the Double Wedding Ring Quilt.  I mentioned Grandmother’s Flower Garden (hereafter known as GFG) was just as well-known as the other two.   During the 1930’s all three quilts were so popular quilt shows often gave each quilt their own categories at state fairs. You’ll find there are some similarities in the histories of the Double Wedding Ring Quilt and the GFG.  We’ll start with the history first. 

When I see any quilt made of hexagon patches, the first idea which pops into my mind is GFG.  The six-sided shape is so identified with this quilt pattern that it’s difficult to wrap your mind around the concept hexagons are used in lots of other ways in both pieced and appliqued quilts.  However, it’s important to remember this geometric shape wasn’t used in what we recognize as a GFG until much later in its quilty life.  In its beginning – way back in 18th century England – it was known as a “one-patch.”  The term “one-patch” was given to any quilt patch which solely used throughout the piecing process to make the quilt.  So, a hexagon was a one-patch….

But so was this…

And this

because the entire quilt top is made up of only one kind of patch. 

No one knows exactly who came up with the hexagonal one-patch.  Perhaps some quilter was inspired by the mosaic tile work in a floor, wall, or stained-glass window. 

Maybe they took inspiration from a seal.

We don’t know for sure and probably never will be able to pinpoint who took the first scrap of fabric and formed a hexie out of it.  What we do realize is this six-sided patch formed quilt blocks like this:

And the English quilters gave these blocks the names Flower Garden, Mosaic, Honeycomb, Six-Sided Patchwork, French Rose Garden and French Bouquet.  We’ll talk about how all of these names merged into the one single name we recognize – Grandmother’s Flower Garden – a little later in the blog. 

As you’re able to tell, in the outset, the hexagons weren’t used in what we consider the “traditional” GFG.  They were used in a variety of ways and in a variety of settings.  Another characteristic of those early one-patch quilts were the colors.  We’re used a conventional color palette of pastels which must include yellow centers, green, and white.  The earlies hexagonal quilts were made in browns and grays and fabric choices ranged from silk to wool to calicoes.  So, how did all these changes come about? 

Just like Sunbonnet Sue and the Double Wedding Ring, the GFG is an immigrant to this country.  The early renditions of the quilt left England by the 18th century.  As a matter of fact, by 1770, quilt historians can trace  hexie templates to this country.  Many quilt historians believe the hexagon quilt block is one of the oldest quilt patterns.  It’s probably not older than the four-patch, but most likely older than the earliest Double Wedding Ring Quilts (remember, DWR quilts existed long before they were called DWR – that name wasn’t adopted until the 1930’s).  We do know the first  GFG block pattern was printed in 1835 in Godey’s Ladies Book, and it was called Mosaic.  This was the earliest printed quilt pattern of any type in America. 

Unlike the Double Wedding Ring, we really can’t pin down when the Mosaic block was re-branded as Grandmother’s Flower Garden.  With the DWR, we can pin down publications and their dates to come up with a highly reasonable time when the block and quilt became universally known as the Double Wedding Ring.  We can set an acceptable timeline for Sunbonnet Sue’s birth.  Not so with GFG.  We do know that as late as 1929, it was called Honeycomb as well as GFG.  At some point during the 1930’s, quilters settled on one name and just like the DWR, the moniker stuck.  When we look at a quilt like this:

Both quilters and most non-quilters know this is as Grandmother’s Flower Garden Quilt.

The next part of this blog is my speculation, but I do base it on the reading and quilt research I have done – which encompasses what a lot of quilt historians have written about the GFG.  We know during the Depression Era, mid-west publications such as The Kansas City Star, printed quilt pattern advertisements in every publication.  For a very small fee, you could write into the newspaper and receive instructions on how to make the block.  Quite often, you didn’t even have to send off for the pattern.  Lots of newspapers and magazines published the directions in each edition.  It stands to reason it was during this time the name Grandmother’s Flower Garden became so strongly associated with the Mosaic block that all other names fell by the wayside – just like what happed with the Double Wedding Ring.

However, unlike the DWR, a particular color palette became closely linked to the GFG – to the point we nearly wince when we see any GFG which deviates from it. 

The center is nearly always yellow, representing the center of a flower.  The first group of hexies (a total of six) surrounding the center could be any color, but they were usually a solid color and were in the pastel family.  The next grouping consisted of 12 hexagons and these were generally also a pastel solid.  The last group of 20 hexagons were either white (representing a picket fence surrounding the garden) or green (representing the flower bed or garden).  Depending on the pattern, there may also be diamond shaped “joiners” around each block, playing the role of sashing.  These diamonds could vary in color, but most of the time they were green – especially if the last row of hexies was white. 

At this point, we have to ask, “Why was this pattern so popular during the Depression Era?”  A quick glance at the pattern lets you know the quilt would be a scrap-buster.  Quilt patterns such as GFG and the Double Wedding Ring were/are popular because both use up serious scrappage.  And during the Great Depression, people were learning to make do with what they had.  Any leftover bits of fabric from garment construction, etc., weren’t thrown out.  They were carefully saved for projects such as these two quilts.  However, I suspect that like the DWR quilt, the makers were after more than just a pattern which would use up scraps.

If you remember from my blog on DWR quilts, we discovered quilt makers made the DWR quilts for entertainment and a little friendly competition.  Quilters competed to see how many squares they could put in the arches and how small they could make them.  With the GFG, we see quilters competing in a similar way – how small could they make the hexagons and if they could make all the flowers differently.  These quilts were more than just a way to keep your family warm – they entertained the quilt maker during the Depression’s dark days of making do and wondering if your family members would make it home from World War II.  However, like Sunbonnet Sue and the DWR, it’s difficult to pin down exact reasons.  Until the Women’s Movement, quilts and quilting were considered “women’s work”, and no one could see the need for documenting anything much.  Families were fortunate if the best quilts were saved and passed down to the next generation.  You were even luckier if there was a label or accurate oral history given with the quilt. 

Overall, how you construct a GFG hasn’t changed that much.  During the quilt’s heyday, cardboard templates were cut from cereal boxes, newspapers, old mail – anything sturdy enough to make the required sized hexagon.  The template was laid on the fabric and traced, then cut out with enough seam allowance to enable the quilter to baste the fabric to the template.  When enough hexies were made, they were whipped stitched together to form a block.

In other words, they were English Paper Pieced.  Nowadays many quilters still make their hexagon patches the same way, however, we’re fortunate enough to have pre-cut card stock which we use to glue-baste the fabric instead of thread-basting it.  Then the hexie patches are whipped stitched together.  Some quilters leave the papers or cardstock in until the quilt is complete and then take them all out at once.  Others don’t.  If you’re fortunate enough to find an old GFG or other hexagon quilt which used newspapers for the templates and those templates are still in the quilt, it may be easy to date your quilt if you can find a template with a year printed on it. 

While I’ve always admired GFG, I have never been a huge fan of English Paper Piecing.  I am constructing my GFG by using Cindy Blackberg’s Hexagon and Connector Stamps.  This method completely alleviates the use of papers of any sort.  I simply stamp my hexies and connectors out on the wrong side of my fabric, cut the out, and then sew along the stamped sewing line.  Cindy retired a few years ago and her stamps are no longer manufactured.  Occasionally you can find them on Ebay.  However, a Google search came up with a few stamp suppliers.  If you own an Accuquilt, this company has several sizes of hexagon templates.  So does Inklingo as well as the Brother Scan and Cut (and I imagine other such cutters have similar templates). 

After the GFG quilt top is made, the next step is quilting it.  This is one of the few quilts which has a traditional quilt pattern.  The hexagons are generally quilted ¼-inch in from the seam.  But while researching the GFG for my blog, I came across this:

And it completely took my breath away.  Obviously, this is machine quilting (I couldn’t find out who did the quilting or if it was done on a domestic machine or long arm).  Finding this picture has made me completely re-think how I want my GFG quilted. 

Before I close out this blog, I want to stop and have us consider the hexagon patch all by itself.  I know we’ve concentrated on one particular quilt pattern it’s used in.  But hexagons lend themselves as much to applique as to piecing:

They’re a perfect patch for flowers.  They can serve as building blocks for walls, trees, and snowmen. 

Fussy cut and strategically placed, they are stunning sitting alone on a background. 

And then there’s this awesome idea (which is not mine, but belongs to Avery Lane Sewing). 

Hexagon cupcakes.

So, besides being the lone patch in one of the most easily recognized quilt patterns ever, the hexie patch has tons of potential when used all by itself.  The sky’s the limit with this little block.  Just think outside the hexagonal box.

Until next week, Quilt On!

Love and Stitches,

Sherri and Sam


My Favorite Hand Applique Notions

If I were forced to choose one quilting technique over all the other, I’d pick applique.

I love hand applique.  There’s just something rhythmic and soothing about pulling the needle and thread through fabric.  It’s painting pictures with textiles.  My first quilting instructor taught her beginning quilters how to applique, so unlike many first-time quilters, I was exposed to the art from the start.  I fell in love with the technique, and I’ve only grown more addicted as the years rolled by.  I think it had something to do with the fact it was portable – I could take it with me anywhere – and it was so different from piecing.  I’ve appliqued by hand for 34 years.  Over this time, I’ve amassed quite a few tools.  Some of them I really liked, and others were total duds.  What I want to do with this blog is introduce you to some of my favorite hand applique tools.  I warn you this list is embarrassingly extensive.  I also want to assure you if you decide you want to try hand applique you don’t have to purchase all of these before you begin.  I’ll tell you which ones are necessary and which ones you may want to add to your tool box if you become an applique addict like myself.  And the standard disclaimer applies:  I don’t work for any of these companies nor do I receive any “freebies” when I recommend them.  The following is my unbiased opinion.  What works for me may not be what works for you.  Also, this list is for hand applique, not machine – although some of the tools do work for both techniques.

Freezer Paper

I did an entire blog on how quilters use freezer paper:  I won’t re-hash the details again, but I keep the 8 ½ x 11-inch sheets and a roll of freezer paper in my quilt studio. 

I rate freezer paper as necessary.

Glue Sticks

I’m kind of a glue snob simply because I’ve had nightmare situations arise from using the wrong glue or the glue not living up to all the hype the manufacturers advertised.  I keep four kinds of glue sticks in my studio.  The first kind is this: 

This is a pretty tacky glue brand.  I use it with the apliquick (a type of prepped edge applique) as it tends to hold the fabric to the stabilizer really well.  This type of glue pen is re-fillable.  I also use this type of glue pen: 

This glue is not quite as tacky as the yellow kind, but works well in prepped edge applique, too.  It is also refillable.

You’ll also find the standard Elmer’s School Glue Stick in my toolbox.  I have used this in prepped edge applique, but I’m more likely to use it with needle turn applique.  If I’m having trouble getting the points of leaves to play nice, or if my fabric is raveling just a bit too much, I can run my needle over the top of the glue stick and the additional tackiness this gives generally will make the fabric behave in the way I need it to. 

The fourth glue stick is Roxanne’s Glue Stick.  If you’ve been around the quilt block a few times, you are aware any of Roxanne’s products are stellar.  They produce a bottled basting glue which is truly awesome.  However, someone with a great deal of quilting wisdom decided to produce the basting glue in stick form.  This glue stick has the same basting qualities as the bottled adhesive has, but I think it’s easier and more accurate.  I tried one stick and immediately ordered six more.  That’s how much I like it.

You need at least one glue source in your toolbox.  So, a glue stick is necessary.


I’ve mentioned light boxes in a few blogs and wrote a blog on how to make your own:   Personally, I use a Cutapillar Wafer Light Box and love it.  However, you can plunk down some major bucks for one of these tools.  I would rate a light box of some sort as necessary, but if you’re just beginning to applique, I’d hold off purchasing one until I knew exactly how much I used one.  Make do with a window or one you can make yourself. However, if you decide you want a nice light box, this is a great gift to ask for at Christmas or your birthday.

Quilting Thread

I do not use quilting thread for my hand applique stitches – that type of thread will be discussed a little further down the blog.  But I do find the inexpensive hand quilting thread you can pick up at Walmart or Hobby Lobby is a great item to use if you find you like the types of applique which require basting – such back basting applique.  And I’ll be honest, if I have large applique pieces, I prefer to baste them down instead of using pins or glue.  I use the cheap quilting thread for this. 

Whether you need quilting thread or not depends on which types of applique you enjoy.  So, this item is not necessary until you decide if you need it.


Most hand appliquers find they need something to help keep their thread from tangling.  The first defense is not to use a thread length over 18-inches.  However, sometimes additional thread-help is needed.  There are thread conditioners, such as Thread Heaven which work well.  My personal favorite is beeswax because it’s all-natural and has a track history of not harming either the thread or the fabric.  Synthetic thread conditioners haven’t been around long enough to have a track record, but they are super-tacky and attract dirt.  Try both and see which one works for you.  Beeswax (or any other thread conditioner) is optional.  This is a personal decision.  I know just as many quilters who use at as those who don’t.  It’s whatever works best for you.


I’ve written an entire blog about hand sewing needles here: I won’t repeat what I said there.  I do think you need to know there should be two types of hand applique needles in your toolbox.  The first is the needle you’re most comfortable using for hand applique.  In my applique world, these are the Tulip needles in size 9 or 10.  The two sizes are generally my go-to needles regardless of what brand needle I use.  I prefer the Tulip needs because of the way they’re manufactured – they work with the grain and take stress off the fingers and wrists. 

The second needle is the Clover Black Gold applique needles.  I use a lot of batik fabrics in my applique.  Batiks are tightly woven and are generally difficult to needle.  I’ve found the Clover Black Gold work better than any other needle with batiks.

I also keep embroidery needles in my applique toolbox.  These needles have large eyes and if I am using quilting thread to baste, they tend to handle this thread easily.  If back basting applique is on your to-try list, you may want to pick up a pack of embroidery needles. 

Needles are a necessity. Give yourself time to find which brands and sizes work best for you.


As a self-professed thread snob, I could literally write chapters about thread.  So, allow me to be upfront with you about applique thread:

It’s a personal choice.

There are some appliquers who swear by silk thread.  I swear at it.  I’ve never been comfortable using it and it slides out of the eye of my needle no matter how well I knot it.  However, you may try it and absolutely fall in love with it.  Silk thread has the ability to literally melt into your fabric, so your stitches don’t show.  However, I’ve heard horror stories about the thread pulling away from the fabric when the quilt was washed.  I want to tell you my favorite threads for hand applique – and you may agree with me or may decide something else works better for you.  And that’s fine.  That’s why we have so many thread choices.  Thread manufacturers make sure there’s something for everyone and every taste. 

My go-to-always-in-my-applique-toolbox are these:

These bobbins are 50-weight, 2-ply, long-staple Egyptian cotton thread.  You can find these at Superior Threads.  This was the first type of hand applique thread I was introduced to and it has remained my favorite for its durability and its ability to match nearly any fabric I use.

My second favorite is Aurifil 80-weight, 2-ply, long staple cotton thread.  This Aurifil thread comes in an array of colors.  In the thread blog I published a couple of weeks ago, I mentioned Aurifil uses different colored spools for different weights of thread.  Their 80-weight thread is on brown spools, so it’s super easy to keep it separate from the Aurifil you use on your sewing machine. 

I do realize that no matter how carefully you search, there will come a time when none of your thread blends in well with the fabric you’re using.  When this happens to me, there are a few basics I fall back on.  The following thread tends to melt into the fabric and work well no matter what colors are used:

DMC (on the spool) 50 weight #822

Wonderfil 80 weight #EF15 and #EF29

Aurifil 50 weight, 2 ply #2325 and #2900

And if applique push comes to shove, I use Superior Threads Microquilter Thread.  This is a polyester thread, but it’s 100-weight.  It literally disappears no matter if you’re using it for quilting or applique.  However, finally – no matter how tempting it is – don’t use monofilament thread for hand applique.  It doesn’t work well.

The point is this:  Try different threads.   You want your applique thread to match your fabric as closely as it can.  Overall, thread isn’t an expensive item, so check out different brands and different weights until you find something which works best for you.  Thread is necessary.  Discover which brands and weights work best for the project you’re working on.


These can be reading glasses or items such as this:

Sooner or later, most quilters reach for one or the other.  Whether it’s aging eyes or simply a desire to really see the stitches you’re making, at some point these may find their way into your sewing area.  These are optional.  Who knows?  You may keep your 20/20 eyesight forever. But probably not.

Marking Tools

It’s a given.  With hand applique, you will have to mark patterns and fabric.  The trick is to find the marking tools which work best for you.  I’ll be frank and tell you I have more than one marking tool in my applique kit, because I use different markers for different fabrics and different applications. 

  1.  Number 2 lead pencils – I keep both the mechanical and the standard you-gotta-sharpen-them pencils in my toolbox.  Sometimes I need them to mark up a pattern.  Other times I use pencils if I’m not sure if any of the other markers will work on the fabric I’ve chosen.
  2. Water-soluble markers – If I had to pick only one marking tool to use, this would be the one.  I use them to trace around applique pieces or to mark spots I need to put in some embroidery stitches.  Word of caution here – don’t iron over the marks.  The heat will set the ink, so it won’t wash out.
  3. Frixion Pens – I’ve discussed these before here: I use them to trace around templates and other areas where the ink will be hidden or cut away completely.  My personal favorite Frixion pens are Frixion fine liners.
  4. Chalk Pencils/White Charcoal Pencils – While all the above marking tools are great, they don’t work so well on dark fabrics.  This is where these two pencils come in handy. 

And let me throw in this consumer awareness tip:  With the exception of the water-soluble marker, don’t buy any of these at a quilt shop/fabric store.  Most of these can be purchased much more inexpensively in the art department of Amazon or a big box store (ie, Hobby Lobby or Walmart).  Marking tools are necessary but not expensive.  You’ll probably need more than one.

Apliquick Applique Supplies

I realize this applique method doesn’t work for everyone, but I really like it for several reasons.  First, I can turn the edges of my applique pieces under without using an iron (no risk of burning my fingers).  Second, because there is an interfacing under each applique piece, you’ve reduced your risk of “shading” – having one applique piece show through another.  And third, since there is that interfacing, you can use Apliquick prepped pieces on dark background fabrics without lining your applique units.  The interfacing keeps the background from showing through even with white fabric.  These are strictly optional.

Roxanne Basting Glue

I know I mention the Roxanne brand in the glue stick section of this blog.  I also keep a small bottle of the liquid Roxanne Basting Glue with my applique supplies.  Sometimes you just need a small dab of glue in a tight place a glue stick can’t reach.  When this happens, this is the glue I reach for.  It doesn’t dry stiff and is water-soluble.  A bottle of water-soluble basting glue is necessary.

Small Paint Brush

This can be purchased at a dollar store establishment.  I find a small paint brush is needed for starched-edged applique.  I also find it’s a handy thing to have if the tip of my glue bottle is hopelessly clogged.  Simply unscrew the cap and dip the brush in the glue bottle.  For me, a small paint brush is a must-have, but for everyone else I’d throw it in the optional category.


These everyday items prove to be amazingly versatile applique tools.  I use them to turn under stubborn fabric edges, manipulate points, turn under the snipped edges of concave curves, and when a super-small dab of glue is needed, this is my go-to gadget.  I use toothpicks for these jobs, but other quilters have used awls, stilettoes, and the Purple Thang.  No matter what tool you decide to use, you’ll need something to help you at least manipulate points and curves.  As a result, any of these tools are necessary, but it’s up to you to decide which one you like.  However, I’ve been #teamtoothpick for over 30-years.  A dampened toothpick just grips the fabric better than anything, in my opinion.


I have two sizes of fabric scissors in my applique tools.  A small pair:

And one slightly larger. 

The small pair has approximately 1-inch blades and the larger pair has blades which are about 3-inches.  I use Karen Kay Buckley’s Perfect Scissors because I like the serrated edges.  You may like another brand, but I would have a small pair (not snips) and a slightly larger pair available.  If you find you’re trimming smaller pieces, generally the smaller scissors offer more control.  The larger ones are better for cutting larger sections of fabric or larger applique units. 

I also keep a pair of inexpensive scissors in my toolbox.  I use these exclusively for cutting paper – any kind paper.  These three types of scissors are necessary. 


With this topic, you may be asking if the pins you already have will work.  The answer is, “Yes…. If you’re willing to put up with the hassle of the thread tangling around the head of the pin.”  Quilter use all kinds of pins or at least they shouldMost of us have the long flat head pins in our pincushions.  I also have a stock of glass head pins and silk pins.  And these will work if we use them to hold down an applique unit while we’re stitching around it.  However, what I find aggravating about using these pins with any hand sewing is the thread catches around the head of the pins and you spend a great deal of time untangling it.  There are a couple of different brands of pins which may help make your applique work a little easier.  The first kind are these:

If you notice the heads on the applique pins are smooth and rounded.  The thread slips right over top of them.  The Little House Applique pins are similar but are thinner and sharper. 

And Karen Kay Buckley has her Perfect Pins. 

The Little House and the Perfect Pins are also longer than Clover’s applique Pins.  Regardless of the type of pin you chose to use, pins are necessary.


I wrote blog on thimbles, so I won’t repeat it all the information, but if you want to read more about thimbles go here:  I use a thimble and find I sew faster with it than without it.  However, using a thimble is a personal choice.  Some quilters use them, some don’t.  So, a thimble is optional.  However, if you use one, make sure it fits.

Good Lighting

Sewing of any type needs good lighting.  My personal preference is Ott brand, but there are lots of great lighting options out there.  Just make sure you have it because it’s necessary.

Flat Surface

For years I held my applique solely in my hands.  Then one Sunday I was watching Abby Cox’s YouTube channel and she mentioned how hand sewing on a flat surface was easier and faster than bunching it up in your hands.  Now Ms. Cox makes historically accurate costumes by hand – not quilts — but it started the gears turning in my head.  So, I tried hand applique on a table surface and was really astounded by how much easier it was.  And since my hand applique tends to accompany me on vacations and road trips, I purchased this:

From Barnett’s Hoops to take with me.  It has an adjustable surface, you can iron on it, it has a magnet tab for your needles, it’s padded, and it has spool holders.  Hand sewing on a flat surface works for me, but it may not for you.  It’s optional.  If you want to try it, I do recommend using a TV tray or a table first before you purchase a portable flat surface. 

Sandpaper Board

We quilters use all kinds of non-quilty tools and sandpaper is one of them.  This is a handy item to have if you’re working with prepped edge applique and you’re using the glue stick method verses the starch and iron method.  The sandpaper will hold the applique piece in place while you’re using either the Apliquick tools, your fingers, or an orange stick to turn the edges over.  To make a quick, inexpensive sandpaper board, put  a sheet of fine-grit sandpaper on a clipboard.  Recently, I was gifted this:

Which is also nice, but sandpaper and clipboard work just as well.  If you like the glue stick method for prepped edges, this is a really nice tool to have, but it is optional.

Pre-made Applique Mylar Templates

Yes, if you like the template applique method, you can purchase heat resistant mylar and make your own templates.  However, for basic shapes such as leaves, stems, and flower petals, some companies offer the heat-resistant mylar templates which have been cut with a laser.  This not only speeds up the work process, but these templates are super smooth and super accurate.  Karen Kay Buckley has a series of stems, leaves, circles, and ovals.  Piecing the Past Quilts has a large stock of heat-resistant mylar shapes – everything from vases to stems to flowers to birds.  I’ll be honest at this point and tell you the laser cut templates are a little on the pricey side.  Most of the shapes are optional.  If you’re an applique enthusiast, I do recommend you get Karen Kay Buckley’s Perfect Circles in both the large and small sizes. 

Those are necessary in my opinion because you use circles in sooooooo many applique patterns.  I realize there is a new circle system called Applipops, but I haven’t tried those yet. 

Bias Tape Makes/Bias Bars

Many, many applique patterns incorporate stems and/or vines.  Some quilters use the needle turn method to produce the vines – and I will use that technique if my stems and vines are narrow – my rule of thumb is if they’re less than a ¼-inch, I make them via needle turn.  However, for anything ¼-inch or larger, I use either the bias tape makers or bias bars. 

I use both methods for making stems and vines pretty equally – it all depends on the look I want.  If I want them to stand off the background a bit, I’ll opt for the bias tape bars.  If I want them flat against the fabric or I have to make yards and yards of bias tape, I grab the bias tape makers. I prefer the Clover Bias Tape Makers because the instructions are clear, and they have a handle to grab so you don’t burn your fingers when making the tape.  It does seem to me the tape makers are faster than the bias bars, but you may find the opposite to be true for you.  Anyway you look at it, one of these bias tape making systems is necessary.

Starch and a Small Iron

An iron is needed for any prepped edge applique that uses starch or the freezer paper method which requires you to press the edges of the fabric to the plastic-coated side of the freezer paper.  I know some appliquers use a regular iron for this, but I always burned my fingers badly and didn’t feel like I had control over the fabric.  A small iron works better for me.  Small quilting irons come in an array of shapes, sizes, and types.

And some quilters use portable irons for this.  The one you use is a personal matter – whatever feels best in your hand. 

With most prepped edge applique, starch or a starch substitute is needed.  Again, this is a personal preference.  I use regular starch, but a lot of my quilting buddies prefer Best Press.  I have a split verdict on these two items.  Starch or a starch substitute is necessary.  We use both for so much more than just applique.  However, a small iron is an investment.  They can run the price gamut from $50 to $30.  Normally I steer quilters – especially beginning quilters – towards the lower-price end of things whenever I can.  However, since an iron is necessary, I want to change this up a bit.  If I were a beginning quilter, I would go for the small iron verses the mini-Clover applique iron.  The Clover iron is less expensive, but the small iron has a lot more options.  It can be used for a small ironing station near your sewing machine, and it’s easily packed up to take to workshops, classes, and retreats.  It’s also good to take on trips to hit those wrinkles in your clothes – so even if you decide applique isn’t for you, this iron can still be used when a mini-iron would set idle.  

Scrap Stash

All quilters produce stash.  It’s a byproduct of what we love.  Applique enthusiasts look at stash differently than strictly-piecers.  That left-over piece of green?  Stems and leaves.  Swatches of yellow or pink?  Flower petals.  Unlike a pieced quilt where we purchase so many yards of each color, an applique quilt can use hundreds of shades, tints, tones, and hues of the colors we want.  All the leaves don’t have to be the same color.  Each cherry can be a different red.  If you like to applique, keep your scrap stash, but manage it.  Realize you can’t keep every scrap, so have some rules for yourself. With me, I don’t keep any scrap less than 8-inches square.  I sort it into bins (purchased from Dollar Tree) according to color.  I applique a lot, so I don’t have much trouble keeping the scrappage to a manageable amount.  Regardless of how much you have and how you organize it, scrap stash is necessary if you applique.

There you have it!  Those are my favorite applique tools.  Keep in mind, I’ve appliqued over 30-years and I amassed these over a period of years, not weeks.  When I began appliqueing, all I used was a couple of marking tools, quilting thread, beeswax, good needles, applique thread and a pattern.  Don’t stress out about the tools.  Depending on which method you learn, purchase what you need and then add to it as you decide what works for you.  The first method I learned was needle turn, which in my opinion, is the purist version of hand applique.  It requires the fewest tools, is extremely portable, and works for nearly every applique pattern.  If you decide to try this method, I recommend Back-Basting Applique Step by Step by Barbara J. Eikmeier. 

I don’t often mention quilt groups by name (other than the local guild I belong to), but if you really are curious about applique or enjoy it, I do recommend you consider joining The Applique Society (  The membership is $25 per year, and there are monthly meetings via Zoom.  These meetings have the best of the best applique teachers presenting their methods, their journey, and their quilts.  There are also Zoom workshops which are simply outstanding.  Honestly, it’s one of the BEST  $25 expenditures I make.  There are applique bees which meet monthly via Zoom.  There may even be a local chapter near you for in-person meetings.  This is an international group (we have members from all over the world), so if you don’t live in the US, no worries!

Until next Week, Quilt On!

Love and Stitches,

Sherri and Sam


Post-COVID Quilting

One year from now,

Five years from now…

One generation from now…

How will you tell your story?

For the most part, it’s over.  The CDC has changed the mask rules.   According to some statistics, approximately 64 percent of Americans have received one of the vaccines, and there’s plenty of vaccines left for everyone who still wants to be immunized. 

In short, we’ve made it through the COVID-19 pandemic.  And just like our ancestors who lived through the Spanish Flu, 2020-2021 altered our lives in more ways than one.  Most of us still keep one mask in our car, bag, or pocket.  Hospitalization numbers are still reported.  This recent pandemic will continue to cast a shadow on our lives for some time – and for some of us, permanently.

Quilters (primarily women) have a long record of recording history in their quilts.  Elections, assassinations, AIDs, 9/11 – all of these earth-altering events have been immortalized in needle, fabric, and thread.  COVID-19 was no different.  A 14 year-old woman name Madeline Fugate was determined to remember those who died in the pandemic.  She is a young textile artist in her own right.  Madeline put out a call for blocks made in memory of loved ones who passed away from COVID.  She and a few others are turning these blocks into quilts.  Where did she get this idea?  Her mother worked on the AIDs quilt. 

As quilters recording events, we create context.  Much of this context incorporates our own feelings and thoughts, but doesn’t make our quilts less valid than any other essay, news report, blog or vlog.  Our quilts are real and raw and necessary to create calm during chaos.  I had so many quilters tell me they couldn’t have made it through the isolation and fear of early 2020 without their fabric and sewing machine.  I attest to this.  Sewing kept me sane.  Making masks made me feel as if I was making some kind of difference and helping out in some way.   Other quilters chose to record their feelings in a quilt.  There’s Disappearing Act by Linda Colsh.

Home by Maggie Vanderweit

And What’s Your Excuse? By Wendy Starn.

Lots of other quilters incorporated the spikey virus into their quilting.  Some pieced or appliqued it into their quilt.  Every quilt I completed during COVID had some mention of the pandemic.

But COVID changed so much more than just our quilts themselves.  It changed our quilting world.  There were no quilt shows.  I watched as shows ground to a halt in late 2019 and by the Spring 2020 they completely stopped.  In-person classes ceased.  My guild had no retreat.  There were no quilt groups (such as bees), either.  My local guild met in March 2020 and didn’t meet again until January 2021. 

All of our personal universes were upended.  I watched my son-in-law homeschool my two granddarlings (and he’s done a terrific job).  I worried about my daughter who in the midst of the pandemic took a new job which required some travel, long hours, and contact with lots of people.  I saw my 80-something mother at Christmas 2019 and then not again unless I was wearing a mask and the visit was brief. We didn’t get to spend significant time with each other until I was fully vaccinated – May 14-16, 2021.  I watched my son and daughter-in-law spend hours searching (and finally finding) disposable diapers for a friend who is a single mom.  I worked from home, ordered groceries and food delivery online, and like everyone else, hunted down toilet paper and hand sanitizer until supply finally met demand.

And as much as COVID is a horrible sickness and as much as 2020 flipped us on our emotional and mental rear ends, some truly good things came out of a very dark time.  Great things…amazing things.  We learned we could meet by Zoom.  My local Sit and Sew meets via Zoom on the same night we met in person.  I was able to join two guilds in two different states because of Zoom.  I was able to take classes from internationally known teachers because the instructors decided if we couldn’t come to them, they would come to us via the internet.  Under normal circumstances, I would never had the opportunity to take classes with these teachers due to distance issues.  However, with the aid of cameras, software, and the world-wide web, I had a front row seat to instructors in Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Wales, Arizona, California … and a few more places I’ve forgotten.  I was able to join an applique group for monthly online meetings via The Applique Society.  Suddenly a host of women whose names I knew became “real” because I could see them at least once a month.  Friendships which at one time were linked only by a newsletter became steadfast because of Zoom. 

We learned to make masks.  Lots of masks.  We learned what we could use to make nose clips and how to scrounge elastic out of the least likely places.  All of the stash we were hopelessly and endlessly teased about became worth its weight in gold.  It seemed as if everyone wanted to learn to sew.  For the first time in my lifetime, I walked into a Walmart and there was no fabric, no elastic, and no sewing machines.  I understand at some point during the pandemic, the wait time to have a machine shipped to you was over eight weeks.  Manufacturers couldn’t keep up.  And neither could fabric stores and quilt shops.  After years of declining in-store sales, brick-and-mortar establishments reported an uptick in transactions and foot traffic.  I hope our LQS’s are now in a better place financially and the number of closings stop or at least slow down. 

We worked hard at ways to keep in touch.  Until COVID, I was the type of person who thrived on the personal interaction with other people.  I needed it to be creative and to flourish as a person.  The pandemic squashed most in-person meet-ups for a while.  I mentioned my mother and my guild.  I didn’t get to see much of my brother, either.  However…necessity is the mother of invention.  We all had to get creative and work to keep in touch.  I went from calling my mom three times a week to a daily 20-minute or so conversation.  I think I learned more about her during COVID than I ever have.  I found I looked forward to those conversations, and even though we’re now post-pandemic and can see each other, you know what?  We still talk every day.  I feel lost if I don’t hear the sound of her voice. 

My quilty friends and I texted and Zoomed.  We had two guild members who offered their house as a pick-up and drop off point.  We were in the middle of the guild’s BOM.  Susan generously offered her front porch as a place we could pick up our blocks.  Karen offered her front porch for everything else.  As so many of us took advantage of the isolation, we cleaned out our sewing areas.  Texts flew back and forth. ”Do you need this?”  “I’m looking for…”  Karen’s front porch bench served as the “post office” for everyone.  Drop it off…pick it up… And somewhere along this, we learned her mother needed Cream of Celery Soup but couldn’t find it at the grocery store.  I think three of us made sure she had plenty.  And while Eric and I only rarely saw each other, we texted several times a week.  Mostly puns or really bad jokes or memes.  We talked, too.  Worried about our mother.  Kept up with his blood counts. 

So, despite all the isolation, I am happy to report my relationships thrived.  We all had to get creative (as I know you did, too), but we came out of this okay.  But I found my quilting changed.  The first aspect I made sure changed was my quilt labels.  I’ve been called the quilt label queen, not because my labels are outstandingly beautiful, but because I’m fanatical about making sure my quilts have labels.  I still did this during COVID, but I added one more line on my label to put the quilt in historical perspective – “Made during the COVID 19 Pandemic.” 

Every quilt I gifted in 2020 had this line added to the label.  As a matter of fact, I only stopped adding it to my label when the CDC announced the change in the mask mandate for fully vaccinated people.  I was vaccinated.  In my mind, the pandemic is over for me.

I found my quilting evolved in 2020.  There were no in-person classes and my Zoom classes dealt more with technique than another project.  For the first time in years, I felt free to make the quilts I wanted to make because I wasn’t hindered by class deadlines.  I not only made these quilts, I made a lot of them.  I finished six quilts during the pandemic – I mean from start to the last binding stitch.  This was a record for me.  And I used whatever techniques I wanted to in order to finish them.  Instead of fawning over the pattern’s preferred technique or construction method, I just made the quilt the way I wanted.  I regained some quilty courage – the kind I had when I first started quilting and didn’t know any better.  And that feeling is amazing. 

I don’t think any of us have come out of COVID the same person we were when the pandemic started.  I’m certainly not.  I have never been a particularly anxious person, but I find myself doing battle with it daily now.  I don’t take in-person moments for granted.  I relish every second.  I have also developed a low-tolerance for politicians, news, and so-called medical experts.  BS tolerance level has reached an all-time low.  My creativity has re-evolved and I’ve engaged with so many other quilters all over the world.  It’s hard to look at any of that as negative.

Maybe COVID-19 has served as a sort of chrysalis or cocoon.  Maybe after hunkering down for nearly an entire year, we’re all emerging as different people and different artists.  If you find this is so about yourself, then this is your story.  This is the tale you will tell in a year…five years….and to the next generation.  We will tell it in words.  It will outlive us in our quilts.  We survived.  We’re loved and we love others.  We’re valuable.  On so many, many levels, we’re all brave.  Now we have a new normal to conquer.

Don’t let anyone else tell you otherwise.

Until next week, Quilt on!

Love and Stitches,

Sherri and Sam