In Praise of Pool Noodles

It’s the end of July.  Sadly, summer is winding down.  There are Back-to-School sales everywhere.  All too soon (too soon for me, because I am a rare specimen – a Southern woman, who despite the vicious North Carolina humidity, loves her some hot weather), all the summer supplies will be on sale.  Yup.  All the summer clothes, swimsuits, and garden equipment will be relegated to the 50 percent or more off aisle of your local hardware, retail, and dollar store establishments.

Especially the pool noodles.  Most especially those.  I mean, after all, as soon as Labor Day 2021 is in the books, pools close.  Who would need pool noodles then?

Quilters, of course.

So, before all that squishy foamy goodness is gone until Summer 2022, grab the beverage of your choice, kick back in some air-conditioned comfort, and allow me to explain just what we quilters can do with pool noodles. 

In case you have no clue what I’m talking about, these

are pool noodles.  First, let’s dive Get it?  Dive.  It’s a water pun.  into what a pool noodle is.  Originally, these were called Water Woggles and were marketed in the 1980s.  The pool noodle is a cylindrical piece of buoyant polyethylene foam and is usually hollow.  They’re useful when learning how to swim, for floating, for rescue reaching, water games, and aquatic exercise.  Most pool noodles are about 63-inches in length and 3-inches in diameter.  Honestly, there are literally thousands of ways to use these things.  There were at least five pages of pool noodle useage ideas when I Googled pool noodles. 

To begin with, they have two great characteristics.  First, they’re inexpensive even during the height of summertime pool activities. And since it’s now the end of summer and they’re on sale, they’re even less expensive.  Second, since they’re made out of foam, they’re can easily be cut with a knife.  Both of these are important to quilters, because sometimes we don’t need the full 63-inch length.  How can quilters use these inexpensive, foam goodies?  Allow me to give a few examples which may make your quilting life a little easier.

Quilt Storage

One word of warning before we get too deep into this example:  Quilts stored on a pool noodle can only be so big – usually no bigger than a double-size.  Even though there are pool noodle connectors, generally the bulk of a large quilt makes storing it on a pool noodle difficult.

However, we all look for ways to store quilts without folding them.  If you want a way to store quilts so the fabric and batting aren’t stressed along a fold line, this is really a great way to keep them.  Quilts smaller than a 96-inches x 108-inches can be stored on pool noodles.  If the quilts are really small – such as wall hangings and such – several may be stored on the same noodle.  Roll them around the foam (quilt front to the outside) and pin. 

One word about those larger quilts.  If you have to store them for an extended period of time, the best place is on a bed, covered with a sheet.  If you have to fold them, make sure you unfold them, shake them out, and then refold with different fold lines every few months, or you may get a permanent crease in the quilt.  Even worse, if it’s an older quilt, the fibers may fray or split.

Mailing Quilts

If you’re mailing a small quilt, see if you can’t wrap it around a noodle and then put it in a circular mailer (the kind blueprints, calendars, or golf clubs are mailed in).  If this is possible, there’s a much greater chance the quilt will arrive at its destination in perfect health. 

Transporting Quilts

Using pool noodles is also a great way for you to transport your quilt.  For instance, if you’re taking some of your quilts to a show or meeting, and you really want the quilt to look pristine when you get it there, wrap it around a noodle or two.  Most likely you’ve pressed the quilt before these events and want it to remain looking that way.  Using a pool noodle minimizes any chance of it wrinkling. 

Basting Quilts

For this, you’ll need three pool noodles, and this method works best with quilts you don’t have to extend the pool noodles several times with connectors in order to get the needed length.  There are several steps to this, and I’ll try to explain it clearly.

First:  Pin the edge of the backing among the pool noodle in four or five places.  The right side of the fabric should be on the outside of the pool noodle.  Carefully roll the fabric snugly around the noodle and try to avoid making any wrinkles.  (Hint:  The larger the quilt, the more effort this takes).

Second:  Repeat with the batting on the second noodle.

Third:  Repeat with the top on the third noodle.  Be sure to have the wrong side facing out with this one.

Fourth:  Place the noodle with the backing in front of you and unroll it about two feet.  Spray with basting spray (if you like the Quilter’s Select Free Fuse, I’m sure you can use that, just make sure to have your iron handy).  Personally, I like the 505 spray baste.

Fifth:  Take the tube with the batting and starting right in front of you, roll it over the sprayed part, making sure there are no wrinkles.  I apply a little pressure and pull it away from me once I have the edge basted down securely. 

Sixth:  Spray the batting.  Don’t soak the batting.  Spray lightly.  Then take the roll with the quilt top and place it over the batting.  Pull the basted part towards you and roll out more of the backing.  Repeat the process until you have everything basted.

This is a great way to baste quilts and minimize the mess spray baste can sometimes make.  However, it’s easy to see how this process could be a bit difficult with larger quilts.    

Store Binding

This is probably my favorite pool noodle use.  I find yards of binding almost unmanageable. I’ve tried wrapping it around an empty paper towel tube and using a binding buddy, but still had binding issues.  However, once I used part of a pool noodle, I knew I had found my answer to the unruly binding issue.  You only use a section of the pool noodle for binding storage – roughly 9-inches – so, if your pool noodle is the standard 63-inches long, this means you can get seven pieces of foam to use for binding storage.  Use a sharp knife to cut your noodle into pieces.  Take one end of the binding and pin it to the foam piece and simply wrap the rest of the binding around the noodle and secure the other end with another pin. 

I like this binding storage method for a couple of reasons.  First, I tend to make my binding as soon as I complete my quilt top.  This way I know it’s ready to rock and roll as soon as I take the quilt off the long arm.  Second, if I’m running low on the fabric I plan to use for the binding, I know I need to purchase additional fabric, or pick something else.  Once made, the binding can be stored in my project box and remain wrinkle free until I’m ready to sew it onto my quilt sandwich.

I’ve also found this 9-inch length of foam storage goodness easier to hold in my lap while sewing the binding on by machine.  It doesn’t tend to slide off as easily as paper towel tubes.  The noodle makes controlling the binding so much easier.

For those applique enthusiasts who find themselves making yards of bias tape for stems and such, the 9-inch sections of pool noodle is a great way to store them. They won’t wrinkle or stretch while they’re waiting on you to stitch them down.

Put it on a Hanger

If you have a queen-sized quilt top or larger, we know rolling that top around a pool noodle isn’t possible.  Most of us will opt to fold the quilt, but we also realize the creases can harm the fibers and we may end up with semi-permanent wrinkles in our quilt.  Instead of folding my quilts or quilt tops for storage, I lay them over clothes hangers.  I’ve found if I cut a length of pool noodle the same size as the base of my hanger, then slit the side of the noodle lengthwise so I can pop the noodle onto the base of the hanger and lay the quilt over it, I won’t have a fold in the middle of my quilt.  The thickness of the noodle also adds additional support for the weight of the quilt.

I’ve also found this is a great way to store window treatments. 

Use Them as Pincushions

If you must slice and dice a pool noodle to use it, you may find you have a few inches left.  These leftovers can be used for portable pincushions to put in your hand sewing or hand applique supply boxes.  They’re not as bulky as regular pincushions, so they take up less room.

For those quilters who like to pin baste, a larger section of foam is the perfect place to park the safety pins we use.  They can remain open, are easy to grab, and keeps all the pins in one place.

They Make Great Booster Seats for Spools of Thread

This hint mainly pertains to long armers.  Most long arm heads have something like this

That you place the thread on while you’re quilting.  Usually, I use cones of thread on Leighann the Long Arm.  However, once in a while I’ll find Superior Thread may be out of the color of thread I want in cone form or I’ll want a specialty thread.  If either of these occasions occur, I have to settle for spools of thread, not cones.  And sometimes spools of thread “hiccup” on Leighann’s thread holder.  They need a little more height, so the thread won’t wrap around the base of the holder and stop the thread flow.  If this happens, I cut an inch of pool noodle from the length and slide it over the holder then place the spool on top.  The added height stops the problem (most of the time, anyway). 

Quilters have always been known to use non-quilty notions in their studios.  Pool noodles fall into that category.   It’s the end of summer, folks.  Those pool noodles are on sale  and can be used in so many ways.  Go forth and purchase a half a dozen or so.  My favorite place to buy them is Dollar Tree.

Until Next Week, Quilt On!

Love and Stitches,

Sherri and Sam 


Dealing with FOMU

Today’s topic is FOMU – what it is, how it works, and (hopefully) I’ll give you a few steps to get over any FOMU in your quilting world.

In case you didn’t know, FOMU is an acronym for Fear of Messing Up.  All of us experience FOMU in some area and at some point in our lives.  It’s typical and normal and human.  I used to get it when I began a new job.  Others have it when they must give a speech or a performance of some type.  And quilters…well, we get it, too.  Sometimes it occurs when we start to cut into a piece of beautiful fabric.  At other times it may occur when we try a new machine.  For me, one of the biggest FOMUs I have is when I’m in a class, learning a new technique.  The only thought running through my head during that time is “I’ve done this stuff for over 30 years…I should know how to do everything by now…”  But I don’t and this is why I’m in class.  I worry I can’t keep up or I’ll do something so hugely wrong it will completely wreck my project.   I had HUGE FOMU moments when I was learning to long arm. 

Biggest FOMU moments in my quilting life?  Working on my guild’s raffle quilt.  A large chunk of our budget comes from ticket sales.  Since I’d rather applique than eat, I always am asked to work on the border.  I’m honored and I have so much fun, but I am anxious I will mess it up royally and ticket sales will plummet. 

Fear of messing up happens to us all.  People who have irrational FOMU are said to have atychiphobia.  I think, as a quilter, it’s easy for us to have FOMU moments because almost everything in the media concerning our art is presented in pristine perfectness.  Websites and sales catalogues glow with faultless examples.  YouTube videos with quilt teachers show only precise and flawless technique and projects – not to mention speedy performance.  All of these things are enough to make any quilter (no matter or long or how short a time they’ve quilted) have just a bit of atychipobia about the process.

I think we all have moments in our quilting where we have to hold our breath and murmur a prayer for clarity and steady hands.  What I hope to do today is give you some tools to work through any FOMU you may have.  Be aware that FOMU may strike at different points in the process.  For me, it’s always when I’m cutting the quilt out – which is probably one of the reasons I dislike that part of the quilt process the most.  For you, it may be when you’ve finished the quilt and have to decide on the quilting.  Or flying geese may be your nemesis.  It varies from quilter to quilter and sometimes even from quilt to quilt.  What I hope to do with this blog is give the tools you need to fight FOMU and keep it from putting a screeching halt on your quilt process.

Get to Point C

In past blogs, I’ve mentioned it’s a good idea to have quilt goals – goals for the New Year, goals in new techniques, etc.  I think a good way to get over any FOMU you may experience with a quilt is to set goals for it.  These don’t have to be anything earth-shattering or major.  Just realize that to get from point A to point C, you have to go through point B.  And if point B is the part of the quilt you’re worried about, the push to keep moving may be enough to spur you through any FOMU moments. 

Face it Head On

As much as I love project boxes, they can be your worst enemy.  They’re great for organization.  You can put your cut-out quilt, threads, patterns, notions, and anything else you need for the quilt in the box, and it keeps everything together. 

However…they make great hiding places for quilts which are giving you issues.  You can tuck that quilt top back in the box, slam the lid, throw it in a closet, and forget about it. 

Don’t.  Don’t do it.

Face any quilting issues head on, even you have to take some time to look at a few videos about the technique  giving you problems.  What you don’t need to do is….

Take Too Much Time Planning

Once you jump on the internet, it’s easy to chase quilted rabbits down quilt-lined rabbit holes for hours. YouTube is the worst for this.  It gets a minimal whiff of what you’re interested in and suddenly sixteen similar videos find their way into your feed.  Next thing you know it’s three hours later and you’re no closer to solving your problem than you were three hours earlier.  Look for answers, but set a time limit for your research – no more than 30-minutes.  Any longer and you’re ignoring the elephant in the room.  Look for answers and inspiration and then use those to push you forward and through your FOMU.

Use What You Love

If you like a particular fabric designer, line of fabric, color of fabric, or a particular quilting technique, use it in your quilts.  You’ll be more prone to jump any FOMU hurdles to get to the part of the pattern you love or to play with some of your favorite fabrics.

Take Your Time Cutting the Quilt Out

Even though this is the only part of quilting I have a dislike for, I don’t try to zip through this process.  The first step in a smooth quilting process is accurate cutting, so this means slowing things down a tad.   If the pattern calls for twenty-four 2 ½-inch blocks, take your time and make sure the blocks are as close to 2 ½-inches as you can possibly make them.  Most quilters can’t be both fast and accurate.  So if you’re like me and cutting out the quilt is probably the biggest FOMU moment you have with a pattern:  Don’t try to cut multiple layers, don’t try to cut so fast you break the sound barrier, and reward yourself after each cutting step – a piece of chocolate, a sip of wine (not the whole glass, because there’s that accuracy thing I spoke about earlier),  or the carb of your choice. 

Realize Outside Forces Can Affect You and Cut Yourself Some Slack

From the beginning, I’ve been a Type A personality.  I expected perfection from myself in everything.  Time and life events have gone a loooonnnnngggggg way to mellow me out, but I still like to know I give anything I undertake 100 percent of my effort and attention.  This (unsurprisingly) includes one of the things I’m most passionate about –quilting.  When working through a quilt, it’s important to realize events, health, and most especially stress, can not only affect the quality of your quilting, but also how you work through the project.  For instance, normally HSTs may be “your thing.”  You may know how to make them and make them well.  They’re not wonky, they’re true to size, and completely lovely.  Throw in a factor such as you’re waiting on some test results from your doctor, or you were rear-ended while driving to work, and your ability to make those absolutely wonderful HSTs may be affected because you’re mind is somewhere else.  If this is the case, cut yourself some slack.  Don’t berate yourself.  Realize everyone has these moments.  Take a deep breath and try something else.  If that doesn’t work, call it a day and get some rest, talk to a friend, or do something mindless.  Just don’t let the outside force turn into FOMU moment.  Soon enough you’ll be back to your usual skill level. 

Test Blocks Are Your BFF

If you’re undertaking a challenging quilt pattern, make a test block out of your scraps.  This helps get you over FOMU in two ways.  First, you’re using your scraps – not the lovely fabric chosen for the quilt – so nothing goes to waste.  Second, the test block takes the pressure off.  It’s made for nothing but your information – is it as hard as you think it will be, are the seam allowances accurate, and is there a different technique you’re more comfortable with you could use in the block?  All a test block takes is your time and your scraps.  But it can go a long way in taking the FOMU away.

Make Peace with Your Seam Ripper

I hate, you hate, we all hate ripping out stitches.  However, it’s a fact of life it’s going to happen because we’re all human and we all make mistakes.  I learned a long time ago there’s really very few ways you can completely ruin a quilt.  You may deviate from the directions, but generally you can get the quilt back on track again in some way (here’s where it’s great to have some quilty friends to help you).  Part of pushing the quilt forward may be taking out some stitches with a seam ripper, and there’s nothing wrong with that.  We don’t like to do it – it takes time away from stitching – but a good seam ripper can be worth its weight in fabric.  Learn it’s your friend, not your enemy. Which is a great way lead-in to my next point…

Cutting Mistakes Can be Great Opportunities

I’ve revealed I dislike cutting out quilts.  I’ve also told you slowing down when cutting is a great way to get over your FOMU when slicing and dicing your fabric.  However, there will be at least one time in your quilting career when you’ll make some cutting mistakes.  Once you realize you’ve goofed, it’s super-easy to let that stop you from moving ahead with the quilt.  Don’t let this become one of those events which completely halt you in your quilting tracks.  Look at the pattern to see if you can shrink the size of the blocks, or maybe even alter the blocks so your unit will work, and you won’t have to purchase more fabric.  Sometimes this means setting the project aside for 24-hours to think about what to do, but usually there is an alternate opportunity out there.

Don’t Be Afraid to Learn New Things

Another great aspect about quilting is there is always something new to learn, or a different way of doing something, or a new technique.  When I’m tossed in a classroom situation (an in-person class, not a Zoom one), my mind battles three things:  1.  I’m probably in an unfamiliar classroom 2.  Despite the fact I packed my supplies and followed the list to the letter, I’ve left something at home and 3.  I need to set my space up so it looks vaguely familiar, and I can find things.  Those three items set my mental teeth on edge, and it can quickly turn in to a FOMU moment.  I don’t know if you’re the same way, but there are several ways to work around it.  Realize the other students in the room are there for the same reason you are – to learn and grow as quilters.  Recognize they’re learning something new, too.  Everyone is in the same quilting boat.

It’s also important to understand quilt teachers love their students and want to help them.  From my personal experience, I want each student to leave my classroom understanding what I’ve taught and I’m more than happy to take additional time to explain things.  Don’t let fear of the classroom stop you from learning something new.  And classes (both Zoom and in-person) are a great way to make new quilting friends.  

And last, but most important…

Remember it’s just quilting, it’s just fabric, and it’s all a part of your quilting journey

This isn’t brain surgery, it’s a hobby.  It may be a passion, but it’s not a person.  Notions, fabric, patterns – they can all be replaced or altered to fit.  There’s no need to stress yourself out over any of it.  If you have a FOMU moment, take a deep breath.  Work on another part of the quilt.  Let mistakes become creative, alternative opportunities.  Take 24-hours away from the project if you need to.  Just be sure to return to it and finish it because….

Finished is way better than perfect!

Love and Stitches,

Sherri and Sam


A Rose by Any Other Name

What’s in a name? That which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet;

–William Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet

Roses are one of the most – if not the most – familiar flowers in the world.  They’ve been plied in poetry, sung about in songs, listed in literature, and (depending on the color chosen) can symbolize true love, purity, innocence, or jealousy.  There’s a parade every year in California which celebrates them, and they can either be the consolation prize, anniversary gift, bride’s bouquet, or funeral spray.

Yup.  Roses get around.

So, it should be no surprise roses have twined and climbed their way into the quilting world.  There are a few pieced rose blocks and quite a few paper pieced rose blocks.  However, by far the majority of quilt blocks with roses in them are applique blocks.  Today, I want to discuss the history of these blocks – how they came about and why.  I should also warn you that despite their lovely appearance in quilts, quite a few of these fabric roses come with some thorny issues.  Get the beverage of your choice and pull up a chair as we go strolling through the quilted rose garden.

To start with, we must understand the time period rose quilts began to gain popularity.  Prior to the 19th century, the majority (not all, but most) quilts were pieced.  Before this and the rise of the Industrial Revolution, women quilted more for practicality than creativity, self-expression, and any aesthetic goals.  Quilts were made to keep you warm at night and you used your best work and best fabrics in the quilt for the guest bed or those young girls tucked away in their hope chests.  Once fabric became part of the American industrialization process and machines over took the at-home looms, material became cheaper and more abundant because we no longer had to import it or make it ourselves. 

As we moved away from being a farm-driven, agricultural society, households changed.  Income was no longer entirely crop-dependent, so there was some leeway in the household budgets for paid servants and tools which lightened a woman’s workload.  As a result, she suddenly had some precious free time.  Now what to do with it?

I know, I know…right now you and I both want to shout, “Why, she quilted of course!”  And that answer is right…kind of.  While there certainly was time for more of the prettier sewing crafts, the majority of women who had some spare time took up (drum roll, please…)


Now I’m not talking about acres and fields of produce, but they developed a serious interest in kitchen gardens and especially flower gardens.  Store owners and traveling salesmen were quick to take note of this new hobby, and alerted seed companies. In turn, the seed companies began to produce seed catalogues which had the most beautiful, colored renditions of flora and fauna.

And here’s where all of the above ties into rose quilts.  Yes, the women gardened, but they still also made quilts.  At some point (and who knows where or when – there are no records to accurately pin a date), the women decided they wanted to reproduce these beautiful flowers in their quilts.  With their seed catalogs and their own gardens to inspire them, these quilters began to applique flowers in their quilt blocks.  Floral quilts, not just rose quilts, were making a big splash around 1840. 

But who could resist roses?  They’re beautiful and fragrant and if you reproduce them in a quilt, you have a rose garden all year long.  Couple this with the fact roses are used several times in scripture, and you are bound to have some artistic, Bible reading quilters developing an applique quilt pattern.  The block we know as Rose of Sharon probably had the roots of its beginning in The Song of Solomon 2:1-6:

I am the rose of Sharon, and the lily of the valleys.

As the lily among thorns, so is my love among the daughters.

As the apple tree among the trees of the wood, so is my beloved among the sons.

His left hand is under my head, and his right hand doth embrace me.

First, let’s talk about the Rose of Sharon block and then we’ll discuss how wrong it is to compare the block to the flower – and I don’t simply mean appearance-wise. 

In the mid-nineteenth century, quilters began to develop the block, which was probably birthed in the mixed influence of scripture and local flower gardens.  Overall, there are a great many Rose of Sharon quilt patterns, but the central idea in each of these is usually the same – there is a central, stylized rose motif and stems and other smaller flowers (also usually roses or rose buds) which radiate out from the central rose.  Some quilt designers made these blocks large, which made the applique process easier and required fewer blocks to make a quilt.  Others made them smaller, resulting in minute, breath-taking detail. 

Rose of Sharon Quilts

These are what are considered “typical” Rose of Sharon blocks.  These beautiful applique quilts were reserved for the best fabric (usually in shades of pink, green, red, and perhaps some yellow).  Usually, Rose of Sharon quilts were used as the “best” quilts in a home, pulled out only when company arrived to stay the night, or as engagement or wedding quilts.  By the end of the nineteenth century, most young, single women on the Eastern United States had at least one of these quilts carefully tucked back in her hope chest.  One tidbit of quilt trivia – Rose of Sharon quilts were much more popular in the Eastern United States than anywhere else in the country.  No one is sure why, and it wasn’t as if no one in the mid-West or far Western US wasn’t making the quilts, but most of the quilts we have in museums and family possessions can trace their roots from Maine to Texas. 

About the same time the Rose of Sharon quilts were developed, another rose pattern came on the scene:  The Ohio Rose.  Here’s where the quilt history of both blocks gets a bit murky.  Some quilt historians use the names of the blocks interchangeably – which is to say, they consider the Rose of Sharon Block and the Ohio Rose to be variations of the same block.  Others don’t.

Rose of Sharon Quilt
Ohio Rose Quilt

I’m one of those quilters who sees two separate blocks, despite the fact both blocks were birthed in same time frame, and both use stylized rose motifs.  For me, just looking at each block:

Rose of Sharon Block
Ohio Rose Block

Shows enough differentiation to the point I believe they are separate and distinct blocks.  However, I’m not the only one who holds to this assumption.  If you type in the name Rose of Sharon in EQ8, the result will yield 31 blocks, with most of them looking like this:

Type Ohio Rose in the search line of EQ8, and you only get two blocks, which look like this:

Even when pieced in a quilt, I don’t think there’s enough similarities to call them different versions of the same block.  The Rose of Sharon generally has vines, stems, and buds radiating out of a large, stylized, center rose.  And while the Ohio Rose has the same type of center rose, usually there are only buds on short stems protruding out from it.  The Rose of Sharon is more elaborate and graceful.  The Ohio Rose is not as showy.

With those differences behind us, now let’s return to the reason why it may be wrong to call the Rose of Sharon a rose to begin with.  Most quilt historians believe the block’s name is a direct reference to the scripture from the Song of Solomon (see reference above).  The plains of Sharon in Palestine vary from fertile to swampy, but a red flower did grow there during biblical times:

Actual “Rose” of Sharon

This flower grew wild (now it is rare and must be cultivated) and in abundance and would have been familiar to the one writing the passage in the Song of Solomon.   However, this red flower is not a rose…it’s a tulip.  As a matter of fact, botanists from this part of the world call it the Sharon Tulip and it grows from a bulb, not on a vine or bush.  There is an actual Rose of Sharon bush, the Hibiscus syriacus, which, despite its taxonomy, is a native of China – not Palestine.

Maybe we should begin a campaign to rename the block…Tulip of Sharon?

Now let’s take a look at these two blocks:

Whig Rose
Democratic Rose

If you’re thinking these are variations of the Tulip Rose of Sharon block, you would be partially correct. The first block is called a Whig Rose and the second is the Democratic Rose.  The Whig Rose has a central motif and is surrounded by eight identical designs radiating out from it.  The Democratic Rose has cockscomb around the central flower.  While the names are often used interchangeably (just like Rose of Sharon and Ohio Rose), they are two distinct blocks used originally for two distinct reasons.  Bear with me, because here’s where quilting became political….

Let me first remind you about the time frame we’re discussing.  As the Whig Rose and the Democratic Rose were designed, the time period is circa 1840… and it’s election time in the United States.  If you think the 2020 election was unique with its polar opposite candidates, mud slinging, debates, character assassinations, and total chaos, think again.  The election of 1840 was probably just as horrendous, but they didn’t have the 24-hour news cycle and social media to contend with.  Henry Clay (a Whig) and Andrew Jackson (a Democrat) were running for President.    I know Whig may be a bit foreign, so let me explain what this party was.  It was a populist party and it stood in defiance of the Democratic party which was pretty autocratic at the time.  Henry Clay and the Whigs supported a strong congress, while the Democrats were content to let the President call the shots and the congress played a more supporting role. 

It was a hard-fought, and sometimes politically dirty, election.   It’s so good to know we’re not the only generation who went through this. Let me also point out during this time, only men had the right to vote in the federal elections and it’s estimated that 80 percent of those males who could vote did vote in the 1840 election. 

Yes, the election was that big.  And while the menfolk could burn up the op ed page in local, state, and national newspapers as well as turn out in droves for in-person debates, women couldn’t.  Most women were relegated to the home and their opinions were not warranted to be scholarly or important enough to be heard outside their own four walls.

Or so the menfolk thought.  We women have always had our own opinions, so I have no doubt the female population of 1840 had their own candidates of choice and probably did tell their husbands, fathers, brothers, and sons exactly what they thought about Henry Clay or Andrew Jackson.  However, getting those opinions out from the home front had to be done subtly – thus enter the Whig Rose and the Democratic Rose.  And if you go by the number of surviving quilts in museums and in family inventories, there were far more Whig quilts made than Democratic quilts.  Let me throw in this little tidbit, too:  If you find a quilt made during this period with a raccoon on it, that’s also probably a Whig quilt.  Their animal symbol was the raccoon.  Likewise, if you find a quilt made during this time with a rooster on it, that’s most likely a Democratic quilt – the Democrat’s animal symbol in the 1840’s was a rooster, which is why the cockscomb surrounded the center rose.  The donkey didn’t become the symbol of the Democrat party until 1870 when the cartoonist Thomas Nast popularized it in newspapers. 

Let me add that every with the Whig Rose or Democratic Rose cannot be thrown into the political quilt category.  Lots of quilters simply liked the design and used it.  Many of those quilters called all of these quilts Rose of Sharon.  And some quilters gave the blocks yet other names, such as The Odd Fellows Rose. 

Odd Fellows Rose

This rose quilt has its own distinct set of characteristics.  It has a center rose medallion which has tiny triangles and a square in the center with concave sides.  It has four, not eight, identical motifs which not only include full flowers, stems and leaves, but also berries and cockscomb.   In addition, the Odd Fellows chain is worked into the border.  There is a lot happening in these blocks.  There were other rose blocks also developed with similar Rose of Sharon characteristics:

Kentucky Rose
Prairie Rose
Colonial Rose
Modern Rose of Sharon
Modern rose of Sharon

Modern Rose of Sharon quilts uphold most of the traditional nuances associated with this block, but some characteristics have been twisted.  For instance, the traditional Rose of Sharon quilts were made with pink, red, green, and yellow fabrics.  The modern quilters have no issue with steering away from this color palette. The 21st Century rose blocks are done in every color of the rainbow.  Plus, the historical white or cream background has been replaced with many different shades.  Several years ago, Accuquilt developed the die for the Rose of Sharon quilt for their cutters.  The flowers are also pre-programmed into the Brother Scan and Cut.  While the basic shapes of this block have been preserved, the colors now run the gamut.   

In her quilt-famous book, Old Patchwork Quilts and the Women Who Made Them, Ruth Finley claims the best-known applique pattern is the Rose of Sharon.  I’m not so sure.  Mrs. Finley’s book was published in 1929 – so it was written just a bit before our friend Sunbonnet Sue hit the height of her quilting popularity.  Today, I say both patterns are easily recognizable.  However, I will give our Rose of Sharon this:  It takes far more skill to pull off a Rose of Sharon quilt than it does Sunbonnet Sue.  Sunbonnet Sue is all soft curves and very few shapes.  The Rose of Sharon is sharp valleys and vines.  It’s buds and circles and hills.  It’s points and stems and leaves.  A quilter who can applique a successful Rose of Sharon block by any method has achieved a high level of applique skills. 

And deserves a round of applause.

Until next week, Quilt On!

Love and Stitches,

Sherri and Sam

PS – In several past blogs I’ve mentioned how important it is to change the needle in your sewing machine after about 8 hours of sewing (you can double that amount of time if you use titanium needles).  I know that after 8 hours of sewing, the needle can still go through fabric pretty well and you may wonder why it’s necessary to change it until you get issues with skipped stitches or the needle breaks.  Well, here’s why….

I came across this picture during my internet searches this week.  The needle on the left is a new sewing machine needle.  The needle on the right is a close up of the same needle after eight hours of sewing.  A picture is worth a thousand words.

Sam says go change the needle in your sewing machine

How To Choose the Right Cutting Mat for You

This blog is the last one in the cutting trinity.  We’ve talked about scissors and rotary cutters.  Today we’re looking at the final leg of the cutting tripod – the cutting mat.  Whether you use scissors or a rotary cutter to slice and dice your fabric, chances are you will use a mat with either or both.  A cutting mat is simply a great cutting and measuring surface.  We will examine what makes a good mat and – more specifically – what quilters should look for in a mat.  Then we will talk about the five best cutting mats on the market today.  So, get comfortable and grab a beverage because we’re dissecting cutting mats today.

As quilters, we automatically think we’re the only ones out there in the cutting universe who use cutting mats.  But we’re not.  There are many mats made for sewers and quilters, but there are a lot of other hobbyists who use mats for their passion, also.  It’s important to purchase mat which will work best with your hobby.  So, it stands to reason the first question anyone has to answer is what kind of cutting tool will be used on the mat?  For us, that means a mat which can hold up to a rotary cutter.  For other folks this means a mat which can withstand a knife or straight edge blade.  Most mats come with a description somewhere on the label.  Read it through to make sure it will work for whatever you’re using it for.  Generally, unless you’re simply using it for measuring and not any cutting, a 2-mm mat is too thin for any blade.

This means the second question is how thick is the mat?  You want a mat which is 3-mm thick or more. Anything thinner than 3-mm is not durable and usually has a plastic-y feel to them.  This means they won’t handle a rotary cutter blade.  As a matter of fact, the blade may slice through any mat thinner than 3-mm.  Somewhere on the mat’s label should be the number of plies in the mat, what the plies are made of, and how thick each of the plies are.  Ideally, you want a 3-mm or thicker mat and the inner ply to be fatter than to outer ones.  A thick inner cutting mat ply helps prevent the mat from being cut through and prolongs the life of your rotary blades.  Another attribute you want is for the matt to be self-healing – which means the plies are manufactured from separate tiny pieces of material which are pressed together creating a solid surface to cut on. Whatever type of cutting implement you use on this mat, the blade will go between these tiny pieces. This separates them rather than cutting into the entire unit of the surface.  After cutting, all these little pieces go back together – more or less.  No matter how careful you are with your mat, eventually you must replace even self-healing mats.  But a mat which is self-healing generally lasts longer and doesn’t develop “ruts” in the mat from your rotary cutter for a good while.

What’s the mat’s surface like is the third question you need to ask.  Does the mat have a textured surface?  Does it have a glare?  A glare isn’t good.  When a mat reflects the overhead light, it makes accurate cutting difficult because it’s hard to see the fabric and the grid lines.  You also want the surface to be slightly textured.  If the mat is slick, it’ll be easy for the fabric to slide around, making accurate cutting impossible.  If the mat is too textured, it will dull your rotary blade.  All mats are generally gridded – either in inches or centimeters.  It’s really handy to have the grid numbered on all four sides.  I live in America, so my mats are in one-inch increments.  If the mat is large, it’s super nice to have a measuring line in the middle of the mat as well as at the top or bottom.  If I’m cutting shorter pieces of fabric, this means I have a closer measuring guideline and don’t have to use a long ruler to cut small pieces of fabric.  I also think (at least for quilters), the mat should be marked with 45, 60, and 30 degree angles, and have clearly delineated bias lines for cutting bias strips.  Beginning quilts may not use these so much, but the longer you quilt, the more important these become. 

The last five rotary mat considerations depend entirely on your preference.  These include color, size, markings, quality, and features.

Color – You don’t want a mat which is the same color as most of the fabric you quilt with.  So, when choosing a mat, try to purchase one in a color that will contrast most of your quilts.  For instance, if you love the color green and use green in most of your quilts, you may not want to purchase a green cutting mat.  Invest in a grey, pink, red, or blue one.  When I began quilting in the 1980’s, mats came in two colors – green and gray.  Now there are lots of color options in mats.  Some mats will have different colors on each side, and some are the same color on both sides, but one side may be gridded and the other side plain.  Make sure you can easily see the grid marks no matter what color you decide to buy.

Size – The best size mat for you depends on a couple of factors:  What size quilt do you most often make and what kind of space do you have available in your cutting area?  You don’t want a mat larger than the table it will be placed.  Can you leave your mat out all the time, or will you have to store it between uses?  Do you like to use long rulers and cut lots of yardage needed for large quilts or do you make primarily small projects and use shorter rulers?  Answering this question is important, especially if your space is limited and your budget it tight.  If you can only afford to purchase one mat when you begin to quilt, make sure it’s the right mat for you.

Grid Measurements – Most mats have a measuring grid which covers the surface.  If you live in the United States and purchase most of your patterns in the US, you want to make sure your mat has measurements in inches.  However, if you live outside of the US and purchase most of your patterns in countries other than the US, you may wish to have metric measurements as well as standard measurements on your mat.  The good news is that there are mats which have the standard inches on one side and metric on the other, so you are free to purchase whatever patterns from wherever you want and still be able to do the cutting without any math conversions.  This wasn’t a huge issue until patterns were sold via the internet.  Now we can purchase patterns from anywhere and with the right kind of mat, cut the quilts out without any issues. 

Another item to pay attention to is whether the markings on the mat incorporate the sizes you traditionally use.  For instance, the mat’s description may read “11-inches x 17-inches.”  This may mean the mat’s surface measures 11” x 17” but the grid lines on the it may only be 10-inches x 16-inches.  Look at the mat carefully to make sure it measures how and what you need it to. 

Quality – We’ve already discussed it’s important the mat be self-healing.  Let me also add to this some self-healing mats can have as few as three plies and as many as 15.  The thickness of the mat will impact how you will want to store it, whether it may warp, and how long it will last.  You will also want to check and see if the mat has a warranty.  Most reputable mat producing companies usually provide some kind of warranty to assure you they believe in their product and stand behind it.  You will pay more for this added quality, but it’s worth it to have a product which will stand up to years of use and if anything does go wrong, the manufacturer will make it right. 

Added Features – Considering all this information, it’s easy to see there are literally hundreds of mats to choose from.  However, there are other features you may want to consider before you go mat shopping.  If you’re like me and attend quilt retreats, classes, and workshops or you enjoy taking your quilting on the road with you as you travel, you may want a mat which can do double-duty.  There are mats which have one side that allows you to cut and then you can flip it over and the other side lets you do your pressing. 

There are mats such as these:

That open like a portfolio and one side is for cutting and the other is for pressing.  There are cutting mats that can be taken apart and packed, then reassembled once you’ve reached your destination. 

And there are mats which rotate (these are my favorite).  The rotating mats are really good for those quilters who paper piece or work with tiny piecing units or small applique blocks. 

Now with all of this information, before I leave you, I want to list and describe the five best cutting mats for quilting and sewing in 2021.  These are not my choices but were polled from quilters in Quilters Review.  All of these mats are self-healing.

  1.  Crafty World Professional

This is often called the “best cutting mat” and it comes in three handy-dandy sizes:  9” x 12”, 12” x 18”, and 18” x 24”.  It has blue and green color options and seems to be the best mat for quilters, hobbyists, and crafters.  It’s versatile and flexible can be used for everything from quilting, garment making, and model kit building.  It has a smooth surface and the self-healing capability to ensure it lasts 10 times longer than ordinary mats. Thick and double-sided, it’s easy to use and accurate for cutting quilting fabric.  Clear lines are available in 1/8-inch measurements.  The 3mm thickness protects your work area and has a non-slip base to keep it firmly in place, no matter how much you’re cutting.  It will last for years before it needs to be replaced.

  •  Olfa’s Fabric Cutting Matt

This mat is only 1.5mm thick, so it is on the thinner side of self-healing mats.  However, it is a larger mat – 24” x 36”.  It works great for cutting those long pieces of quilting fabric with your rotary cutter.  The mat has one side which is solid green, and the other side comes printed with grid lines in one-inch increments.  The surface is smooth, but should not be used with fixed-blade knives – it’s made for rotary cutters.  This mat does have the angle markings I mentioned earlier.  And as rotary mats go, the Olfa is pretty easy to clean – a gum eraser can remove anything that gets stuck in the mat.

  •  US Art Supply Self-Healing Cutting Mat

This mat is very similar to the Crafty World Professional, but this one come with a pink and blue color option.  This is an 18” x 24”, and it has five ply construction.  The grid marks are in ½-inch increments with 1/8” marks for accurate cutting and both the 45-degree and 60-degree guides.  The mat is reversible and both sides have the grid markings.  It is 3mm thick, resilient, can be used repeatedly, and has a long-life span (well…a long life span for a mat, anyway).  If you aren’t crazy about pink and blue, there is also a green and black option.

  •  Dahle Vantage 5-Layer Healing Mat

This mat’s five layers means it has maximum self-healing potential, and this one mat covers all the bases from sewing to crafting to cropping.  It comes in three color options:  black, blue and clear.  It also comes in several sizes:  9” x 12”, 12” x 18”, 24” x 36”, and 36” x 48”.  Each of these mats feature a 3mm thickness and has a preprinted ½-inch grid to allow for accurate measurements.  The five-layer PVC construction means this mat has maximum self-healing.  PVC construction protects all of your blades from becoming dull and damaged.  It also has a limited warranty, so if your mat doesn’t meet your expectations, you can return or replace it.

  •  US Art Supply, Self-Healing 5-ply Cutting Mat

This mat measures 36” x 48” and is green and black.  It has 5-ply, self-healing construction as well as ½-inch grid with precise alignment due to the 1/8-inch marks.  It also has 45-degree and 60-degree markings.  The mat is reversable and has the grid on both sides.  This mat can handle rotary cutters, craft tools, sharp blades, and writing instruments. 

Once you’ve decided which mat is the right one for you, it’s important to make sure you place the mat on a hard, flat, solid surface which is at least as big as the mat.  If you try to cut on a soft surface (such as carpet), your cuts won’t be as accurate.  At this point, if you’re like me and don’t like to cut through more than two layers of fabric at a time, you’re good to go.  However, if you like to stack your fabrics and cut multiple layers at once, make sure 1) Your rotary cutter can handle multiple layers and 2) You’re stacking the same type of fabrics together (such as all quilting cottons or all batiks).  Mixing thin and thick fabrics for cutting will make the process difficult and your slicing and dicing inaccurate. 

After you’ve used your mat for a month or so, if possible, turn the mat so you’re cutting from the other side.  This will slow down the wear and tear on the mat and evenly distribute the erosion. 

Cutting mats are an investment, and you will probably want to make them last as long as possible.  You can extend the life of your mat by rotating and flipping them often and avoid cutting in the same place each time.  If you must store your mat between uses, be sure to lay it flat, and never, ever leave it in a warm place, such as the trunk of a car.  The heat will warp it.  Likewise, if you leave it in a cold place (like the trunk of a car in the winter), your mat may become brittle.  If the mat gets dirty, clean the surface with lukewarm water and mild detergent.  However, at some point, your mat will need to be replaced.  If the surface has ruts in it and the grid marks are growing faint, it’s time to go shopping for a new mat. 

Two more items before we wrap up this blog on cutting mats.  When I began my research, I noticed several sites which had information on how to de-warp your warped cutting mat and how to restore the mat’s self-healing properties.  According to several hits via a Google search, you can de-warp your mat by ironing it.  You lay a pressing cloth or towel on your mat and press.  Self-healing properties are said to be restored by soaking your mat in warm water and then laying it flat to dry.  I’ve never tried either of these methods, but if you have and they worked, please let me know. 

I’ve completed a few quilts and am planning on a show and tell blog in the near future.  A couple of these quilts are meant to be gifts, so I can’t show them until I gift them…so….it’ll still be a few weeks.  But until then…

Quilt On!

Love and Stitches,

Sherri and Sam