Finishing a Sampler Quilt

Last week I introduced the concept of sampler quilts – a bit of their history, how they’re made, and some steps you can follow to ensure you’re successful if you decide to construct one.  This week I want to delve a little deeper into them.  Today we’ll discuss how to complete a top and the quilting process.

If you use a sampler quilt pattern, you’ll have the finishing directions as part of the pattern.  But this is not always the case.  Sometimes if you join a sampler BOM as part of a quilt along or a program at a LQS, once it’s over, it may be up to you how to join your blocks and make the quilt top.  Or you may like a pattern’s blocks, but not the way the blocks are set.  In any of these scenarios, you have to decide how your finish quilt will look.  This is the process I want to walk you through, to give you the skills and confidence to finish the quilt.

The very first step I take with every sampler quilt I make is sash my blocks.  For me, sashing in a sampler quilt does takes care of two issues.  First, it can serve to add cohesiveness to all the blocks.  Second, it calms the blocks down.  Even if you followed my suggestions in the first Sampler Quilt post and used all the same background color, judiciously utilized the focus fabric, and employed some precuts from one line of fabrics, the sashing will serve to add some tranquility to the top.  For me, if you simply sew all the blocks together, the eye has no place to rest a second or two before taking in the next block.  So, you may want to plan on sashing the blocks.  If all the blocks are the same size, this can be a fairly easy process.  If the blocks are different sizes, you have to get more creative.  Let’s start with an easy sampler.  Let’s say we have participated in a quilt along and now have 25 blocks which are 10 ½-inches unfinished. 

To begin, you must decide if you want to set the quilt in rows or on point.  I’m sharing both construction methods with you today, but if you want an in-depth dive in the process, go here

Let’s deal with rows first.  Since we don’t have directions to tell us how wide or narrow to make the sashing, we need to figure it out ourselves.  In a series of blogs I wrote several years ago, I gave you a couple of formulas to work through to make sure the sashing wasn’t too wide or too narrow.  We used the Golden Ratio to figure our sashing limits.  This is easy-peasy, and don’t let the math scare you.  You can use the calculator on your phone to do this.  All you have to remember is the Golden Ratio – 1.618.  To determine how wide you can make the sashing, multiply the size of the finished block by 1.618.  We currently have twenty-five 10 ½-inch blocks, but once they’re set in the quilt top, they’ll measure 10-inches.  This is the finished  size. 

10 x 1.618 = 26.17924

Now we divide 26.17924 by 4 because the block has four sides.

26.17924/4 = 6.54481

We’ll round this to 6.5.  By this calculation, the widest we can make the sashing and it still look good is 6 ½-inches.  But what if we don’t want our sashing this wide?  We can use the Golden Ratio to estimate how narrow we could make the binding and the quilt still look balanced.  This time we multiply by half the Golden Ratio – which is roughly .618

10 x .618 = 6.18

Now divide by the four sides

6.18/4 = 1.545

We’ll round this to 1.5 or 1 ½-inches.  The narrowest we can make the sashing is 1 ½-inches.  However, the sashing width can fall anywhere between 6 ½-inches and 1 ½-inches and still look balanced.  It all depends on how you want your quilt to look.  I’ll be honest here and tell you one of my favorite sashing widths is 2 ½-inches.  There are two reasons for it.  First, I have a handy-dandy sashing ruler which is 2 ½-inches wide.  I simply line the ruler up with the edge of the fabric and cut.  Second, if I can find a jelly roll in a color I want to use for sashing, my cutting is already done for me.  And once you’ve decided on your sashing, now you can entertain the idea of cornerstones. 

Finally, you may want to consider borders.  We’ll use the Golden Ratio for this, too.  In this instance, we’ll use the new finished block size and plug in the formula.  With the 2-inch sashing, the new size of our finished block is 12-inches:

Original 10-inch finished block + 2-inch finished sashing = 12-inches. 

12 x 1.618 = 19.416

Now divide by 4

19.416/4 = 4.854 or 4 7/8-inches.

The widest we could make the borders is 4 7/8-inches.  However, I’ll be frank here.  This measurement of eighths can make you crazy. I just round up to 5-inches.  The widest we can make the borders is 5 inches.  Now let’s see how narrow we can go.

12 x .618 = 7.416

7.416/4 =1.854 or 1 7/8-inches, which I’d round up to 2-inches. I dislike one-eighth measurements. They’re neither ruler nor cutting mat friendly.

We can make our borders anywhere between 2- inches and 5-inches wide.  And this is the total border width. If we decide to go with a 5-inch border, we could break the border into any incremental measurements as long as they total up to five.  We could have two borders, one 2-inches and one 3-inches.  Or we could have a 1-inch border and a 4-inch border.  As long as the total width of the border ends up being 5-inches, it will look balanced. 

Depending on the set of blocks, sometimes you can put them on-point and they’ll look amazing.  Generally, the block needs to be somewhat symmetrical in order for it to look right when it’s set on-point.  Let’s work with this layout (on-point happens to be one of my favorite layouts) and a new formula called Quilter’s Cake. 

With this on-point example, we’re working with eighteen 12-inch finished blocks, which we will sash (if you want on-point quilt with setting squares in between the blocks, go here:  Even though this quilt is set differently than the first horizontal row example, the premise is still the same – sashing serves to calm down the blocks.  The first step is to determine how wide and how narrow the sashing strips can be.  Let’s math it out.

12 x1.618 = 19.416

19.416/4 = 4.854 or 4 7/8 (which I would round up to 5…because of my personal issues with 1/8-inch increments).  This is the largest width we could make the sashing.

Now we have to determine what is the narrowest width we can go with:

12 x .618 = 7.416

7.416/4 = 1.854 or 1 7/8 (which I would round up to 2 – because you know why…)

Since the sashing can be anywhere between 5-inches and 2-inches, I will opt for 3-inch sashing this time since these blocks are bigger than the ones we used in the horizontal rows.  And here’s how the borders will look–

New finished block size:

12-inch finished original block + 3-inch finished sashing = 15.  Our new finished block size is 15-inches.

15 x 1.618 = 24.27

24.27/4 = 6.0675 or 6 1/8-inches, which we will round down to 6-inches.  This is the widest we can make the borders.

15 x .618 = 9.27

9.27/4 = 2.3175 or 2 1/3-inches. 

Remember, you can slice and dice your borders anyway you want, as long as the entire, finished border does not exceed 6-inches in width.  Also keep in mind, you can opt for no border at all.

What you’ve probably noticed by now with the on-point setting are the triangles along the sides and at the top and bottom corners.  These are collectively called setting triangles and now we need a formula to figure not only how big to make them, but also how to cut them.  These triangles are sub-cut from fabric squares.  Let’s deal with the four small, corner triangles first.

The first step in this process is to disregard the new, finished size of block (original, finished block size + the sashing).  We will work with the original finished size of 12-inches.  I also want to introduce you to Quilter’s Cake – 1.414.  Consider this the “Golden Ratio” of triangles.  To cut the four corner triangles, take the finished size of the original block, divide it by 1.414 and then add a 7/8 seam allowance.  This 7/8 seam allowance is constant, no matter how large or small the corner triangles need to be. 

(12-inch finished, original block/1.414 Quilter’s Cake) + 7/8 seam allowance

(12/1.414) +7/8 = 9 3/8.  I would round this up to 9 ½-inches.  These triangles are easy to trim once they’re set in the quilt. 

You will need to cut two 9 ½-inch squares and then cut each square once on the diagonal.  This will give you the four corner triangles you need.

When you sew the corner triangle onto your quilt, be sure you align the diagonal cut with the quilt edge. You want the grain lines (here marked with arrows) facing the outside.

Now we have to determine how big to cut the squares for the side triangles.  In this layout, we have six triangles along the right and left sides of the quilt.  The math is similar to that of the corner triangles, but this time you will sub-cut the fabric square twice on the diagonal to make four triangles. 

Take the finished size of the original square and multiply it by 1.414

10 x 1.414 = 14.14

We still need to add a seam allowance, and for the side triangles this is 1 ¼-inches (this stays consistent no matter what size side triangle you make).

14.14 + 1.25 = 15.39 or 15 3/8 inches – which I would round up to 15 ½-inches. 

Since we need six side setting triangles and we can get four triangles from each 15 ½-inch square, we cut two squares and cut each square twice on the diagonal.  I know we’ll have two triangles we won’t use, but you can always put these in your scrappage or somehow incorporate them into the label.  

Like the corner triangles, you want to keep the grainline facing outwards (again, marked with arrows).

Once you’ve decided what kind of layout to use with your sampler quilt, you can get busy cutting and sewing.  Then comes the next hurdle — how do you quilt it?  To help you make this decision, I will break sampler quilts into two categories:  Those quilts which are pieced and those which are primarily appliqued.  Let’s deal with the pieced samplers first.

Truthfully, the quilting design depends on either A) How much time you’re willing to put into the quilting or B) How much you’re willing to pay for the quilting.  If the answer to both is “Not much,” I suggest you find some kind of all-over design which will complement the piecing.  For instance, if your sampler quilt has a lot of star blocks in it, you may want to choose a pantograph with stars in it.  And you can’t go wrong with loops or meanders.  Any kind of all-over, edge-to-edge design won’t take too many hours out of your schedule or break your piggy bank.  This isn’t my favorite kind of quilting, but it can work – especially if your sampler blocks are on the small-ish side. 

However…if you want to spend a bit more time (or a bit more money), there are other options. 

  1.  Soften up hard geometric designs with some curvy quilting.  For instance, if your quilt has blocks like this which incorporates lots of triangles:
Orange Peel

Try softening up the look by quilting orange peels which join in the center to create a kind of simple, curvy flower.  If your sampler has lots of triangles, this may work well over the entire quilt, or you (or your quilter) may find other designs to join the flowers.

  •  Split the blocks.  This idea comes straight from the talented and awesome Bethanne Nemesh and her book Sampler Quilt Smackdown, which can be ordered from her website  The way this works is you take a block and divide it in half diagonally.  Fill in one side of the triangle with more detailed work and on the other half you simply outline the block with quilting stitches or do something equally as simple (such as meandering or loops).
  •  Let the fabric speak to you.  For instance, if you have a large print in some of your fabric, simply quilt around the print.  If it has large flowers, quilt around those.  If there’s a large fabric motif involved, that’s a great jumping off point.
  •  Allow the quilting to create a secondary design.  This takes a bit more planning, but it’s really a great look.  Look over the quilt top with a critical eye.  If there are triangles, rectangles, or squares which are on the edge of the block, quilt the same shape in the sashing and borders, extending and echoing that shape. 
This gorgeous quilting is by Geeky Bobbin.
  •  When you can’t think of anything else, echo, echo, echo (to borrow a line from Angela Walters).  Repeat the shape of the block unit by quilting about ¼-inch in from the seam and keep repeating. 
  • Break down the block.  If you see a secondary pattern in the blocks themselves, such as this:

You may want to incorporate it in your quilting.  If there are tons of half-square triangles, you should consider diagonal lines in your motif.  No matter what kind of quilt you’re quilting, sometimes the blocks themselves can point you in the direction the quilting needs to go.

Applique samplers offer different quilting adventures.  I will explain my method of quilting applique quilts (whether samplers or not), but strongly encourage you to view quilts quilted by other long armers who have many more years of custom quilting techniques under their belts than I have.  The first step I take is to outline the applique motif.  I try to stitch as closely to the applique as I can, and then echo around it about ¼-inch away.  Then I fill the background in with some tightly stitched meander, cross hatch, or similar stitch.  This “smashes” the background down and allows the applique to appear to “pop” off the background.  If a wool batt is used, at this point the applique will appear almost trapuntoed.  And if the applique block is small, I may just echo around the applique pieces until the block is filled. 

There is one more step I do take with blocks which have large applique pieces such as this:

These blocks are 26-inches when sashed with cornerstones.  Thus, the applique pieces are large.  If I’m quilting blocks such as this, I will go back and fill in details in the leaves and flowers to make it look more realistic and interesting and to make sure the pieces don’t sag away from the batting and backing.

Lastly, let’s talk thread.  Like most quilts, samplers offer a variety of fabrics and if applique is thrown in the mix, there are even more colors involved.  My personal, favorite choice of quilting thread for samplers is Superior Thread Micro Quilter 100 weight in a neutral color.  This thread is so fine it’s nearly invisible, yet it’s strong and you don’t have to be as fiddly with it as you do a monofilament thread.  I have been known to change thread colors on large pieces of applique (to match the fabric), depending on how much time I want to put into the quilting and what this quilt’s future is (is it show-bound or a special gift for a special person). 

I hope the last couple of blogs has maybe stirred up some interest in sampler quilts.  They’re a great way to use up a family of fat quarters, jelly rolls, or layer cakes.  They’re also terrific for exploring new quilting techniques you may not want to commit an entire quilt to undertaking.  And there are definitely some lovely patterns and quilt alongs out there to consider.

Until next week, Quilt On!

Love and Stitches,

Sherri and Sam


Sizing Up the Sampler Quilt

You may have seen a quilt similar to this one at some point in your quilting journey:

Blue Sampler Quilt

This type of quilt is called a Sampler Quilt.  Per dictionary definition, this kind of quilt is called a sampler quilt because they incorporate a sample of many different and varied patchwork blocks and types of patchwork fabric. A sampler quilt can have examples of pieced patchwork blocks, appliqué blocks and paper pieced blocks such as clamshell or hexagons to name but a few.  Samplers are a uniquely American innovation in quilting. Until the early 19th century, most quilts made in the U.S. were similar to those made in Europe, where medallion quilts were all the rage. Starting in the early 1800s, American quiltmakers began designing quilts to feature blocks of the same size, but not necessarily the same pattern, laid out in a grid. In fact, for a few decades, pieced samplers were as prevalent as one- or two-block quilts.  As time passed, some sampler quilts became known as Friendship Quilts or Album Quilts.  I do have a blog planned in the future which features the history of all three of these quilts, but for this post I want to discuss why sampler quilts are important today and how to put one together successfully.

 Years ago, when I taught beginner quilting, I started my students with a lap quilt made of two blocks – a nine-patch and a solid block of fabric.  This simple quilt taught the basics – how to keep a consistent ¼-inch seam, how to strip piece, how to press and match corners, and how to pick out a simple color palette.  My intermediate beginner class always made some type of sampler quilt.  I had my reasons for this choice.  Sampler quilts are generally a bit larger than lap quilts.  Each block taught a different technique, so the student was able to spread their quilting wings and try something new.  Hand work as well as machine work usually figured into my choice, as well as the experience of deciding on an expanded color scheme.  With a good sampler quilt pattern, I could teach lots of techniques and all the students would have invested in it was one block – not an entire quilt they may not really like. 

While sampler quilts may have begun in the early 1800’s, it wasn’t until newspapers had the technology to print quilt blocks in a series that this type of quilt really gained popularity.  Today, they work well in quilting groups – both online and in person.  There are websites and quilt stores which offer one block a month.  If only the pattern is provided, there may be no cost involved at all.  If fabric is included, there is a fee.  Sometimes you know what all the blocks look like going into this kind of BOM and sometimes you don’t.  In addition to these types of sampler quilts, there are wonderful books such as those in the Farmer’s Wife series by Laurie Aaron Hird (she just came out with the third book in this series in May 2020). 

The First Farmer’s Wife Sampler

Tula Pink has a wonderful sampler quilt book, City Sampler:  100 Modern Quilt Blocks.  This is also another great sampler source. 

Tula Pink’s City Sampler

And of course, the Grandmother of all Quilt Samplers is Dear Jane.

Dear Jane

The key with sampler quilts is usually each block teaches a different quilt technique.  This is important to remember as you may look for a pattern for yourself.  The blocks in a quilt such as a Baltimore Album Quilt are all different,

Baltimore Album Quilt. I really want to make one of these.

but they all possess the same technique – applique.  Dear Jane is a sampler because part of the blocks deal with simple piecing, others with paper piecing, and still others with applique.  With any sampler quilt, the crucial theme to remember is the quilt teaches several different types of techniques, not just one or two.

At this point, you may be asking yourself if you should make a sampler quilt.  I realize not all quilters like sampler quilts – for some, they’re too busy or aren’t uniform enough for their taste.  If you feel this way, there are ways to work around it, and we’ll deal with those issues in just a bit.  However, if there’s a few different quilting techniques you want to learn but don’t want to put all the effort in several quilts, find a sampler which incorporates them in one quilt.  At the end of the project, you’ll know if you like the techniques enough to really master them and  you’ll have a quilt as a bonus. Of course, making a sampler quilt is a good way to reinforce what you already know about quilting or maybe brush up on some skills you haven’t used in a while, too. 

Once you start a sampler, there are some issues you need to keep in mind.

  1.  A consistent ¼-inch seam allowance is important.  Anyone who has followed my blog for a while knows I stress that a consistent seam allowance is important.  However, long-time readers also know I’ve repeatedly said the ¼-inch seam allowance isn’t the Holy Grail of quilting – the final block size is.  It’s more important all the blocks end up the same unfinished size than they all have a ¼-inch seam allowance.  However…most of the time, the ¼-inch allowance is the one you need to use.  And this is most important in sampler quilts.  Remember, sampler quilts are made of different blocks.  Other quilts aren’t.  If you’re constructing the same block over and over, you know what areas you can fudge a bit in, so the blocks come out the same unfinished size.  Since sampler quilts are made of different blocks, this luxury isn’t available.  Keep the seams ¼-inch consistently.  If there are few “mistakes” when you’re squaring the blocks up, I have a few secrets to share with you at the end of this blog to help you out. 
  2.  Don’t be afraid to make a few test blocks.  There are some quilt blocks and quilt units you’re probably perfectly at ease with – four-patches, nine-patches, log cabins – blocks such as these are pretty simple.  You also may be really good at making your favorite block.  I have two favorite blocks – Corn and Beans and Monkey Wrench.  I can whip those blocks out quickly and accurately, all while have a wonderful time.  But Attic Window?  Well, that’s entirely another issue.  If there are a few blocks in the sampler pattern you think may give you some problems, use your scraps to make a test block of these.  This way you won’t waste the fabric designated for your quilt and you can work out any issues before making the real thing.  And this brings me to number 3…
  3. Don’t be afraid to use your plan.  Quilt directions are nice to have, as long as you remember, they’re not the Holy Grail, either.  This is quilting, not the Ten Commandments.  You’re free to deviate from the directions.  So, if there’s a block in the quilt you don’t want to make, feel free to substitute with a block you enjoy constructing or redesign the block to suit you.  I promise the quilt police will not show up at your door with a warrant for your arrest. 

Feel free to also make the blocks out of order.  Generally, there is no reason you have to make block one first before you proceed to block two.  Even if you’re participating in a BOM or a quilt along, if a there’s a block you really don’t know if you want to make, set it aside for a few months.  By the time you’ve gotten some additional blocks under your belt, it will be obvious if you need to make that particular block or can substitute another one.  The only thing which may give you an issue is putting the top together.  If you plan on making the rows as you complete the blocks, then you may want to make the blocks in order (or change the layout of the top). 

If you’re making what I call one of the Super-Sized Samplers (Dear Jane, one of the Farmer’s Wife quilts, or something like Tula Pink’s City Sampler), this same premise holds for them – even more so.  You may decide you want to make all of one type of block at the same time (this is actually a good idea – you can get a good rhythm going and get a lot accomplished).  For instance, with the Farmer’s Wife, you may decide to make all the Star Blocks in one sitting.  Flag those pages and get busy.  You won’t ruin anything by getting all of those completed in one sitting. 

However, let’s park it here and have a serious discussion about these Super-Sized Samplers.  Personally, I love them.  I love the variety and I adore small blocks (unless they have set-in seams – then, ugh!).  I’ve constructed several of these mega-samplers and in the process, I’ve learned a thing or three about them.  These quilts have blocks which range from the super-easy to oh-my-heavens-what-were-they-thinking difficult.  If you decide to make one, the first piece of advice I’d give you is check and see if the quilt has a Facebook Group (most of them do) or a website.  In these groups or on the website, often you’ll find a listing of blocks from easiest to hardest.  If you’re unsure about making the quilt, chose one block from the easy, intermediate, hard, and difficult categories and make one of each.  This process will only take your time and scraps, but it will give you an indication of how difficult the difficult blocks actually are.  Lists are subjective.  What was hard for the list-maker may not be as challenging for you.  The sites will also give helpful construction hints as well as show pictures of other quilters’ work.  I’ve found them to be an invaluable support group. 

The second piece of advice I would like to share is this:  mix the blocks up.  Don’t work from the easiest blocks to the most difficult ones.  At the end of the construction process, you’ll face a wall of quilt blocks which will take a lot of time, effort, and thought.  After a few of these, you may decide to cut your Super-Sized Sampler quilt experience short.  Try to intersperse the hard blocks with the easy ones so you won’t face burn out at the end.  Believe me, I know this from experience.  I accidentally did this very thing in the first Dear Jane I made.  Dear Jane was the first Super-Size Sampler I made (I have the fabric for the second one…so…it’s in the works).  I made the blocks in the order the book published them, so I could join the rows as I went along.  On the surface, this sounds like a great idea, except following this process meant I had all those triangles and kites to make at the end.  And for some reason, my quilting mind could not get over the hump of moving from constructing four-sided blocks to three-sided triangles.

It was not a good time.  I ended up putting Jane in time-out for a good while until I could face all those triangles again.  In retrospect, I should have interspersed making the triangles along with making the blocks.  I will do this on the second one. 

  •  Press and measure as you go.  Normally, when I’m making a quilt, I cut everything out, make the units, and then begin block construction.  After I’ve made about a half-a-dozen blocks, I’ll press then and then square them up.  Don’t use this process with a sampler quilt.  It’s so much easier to give the block a good, final press and then square them up as you go.  If you’re making a quilt with all the same blocks, it’s easy to catch your mistakes and quickly learn how to correct them.  Since sampler quilts are made of lots of different blocks, it’s harder to rectify errors.  Stopping to press every block let’s you correct mistakes as you go. 

And there will be mistakes – it happens to all of us.  But I’d like to share some of the ways I get my blocks which have errors in them to cooperate enough to get set in my quilt top without me having to take the block apart – because taking a block apart should always be the last resort.  So, park your seam ripper and consider these options:

  • If the block is a tad small, try pressing the seams open.  Normally, I don’t like to press seams open, because the quilting process can weaken open seams.  However, if your block is 1/8- to ¼-inch too small, pressing the seams open can give you just the tad more fabric you need to make the block true-up to the required unfinished size.
  • If you have a block which looks like this:
The sides of these blocks are uneven. I’d definitely try my freezer paper trick before I’d take all those Y-seams apart.

You may be wondering if you need to take the block apart and correct the unit which is coming up a bit too small.  When this happens to me, I don’t reach for the seam ripper, I reach for my freezer paper.  Cut a square of freezer paper the size of what the unfinished block needs to be.  Center and press the freezer paper to the right side of the wonky block.  Proceed to piece as normal, but when you get to the spot where the block unit is too short, consider the edge of your freezer paper as the edge of your fabric and sew as normal.  Once that one seam is complete, remove the freezer paper and examine the seam to make sure the fabric was caught in the stitches.  If it isn’t, try pressing the seams open in the block unit only and repeat the process.

  • Finally remember sashing covers a multitude of quilting sins.  If you have a block or two which is a tad small here and there, quite often by the time the block is sashed and set in the quilt, you (nor anyone else) will be able to tell.
  •  Use some constants.  Sampler quilts have a variety of blocks and the larger the quilt and the more blocks it has, the more difficult it may be to have a unified look – which is why some quilters don’t like samplers – the quilt looks too busy.  When I make a sampler, I freely pull from my stash and scrappage, but I do try to keep a couple of fabric choices constant.  The first is my background or neutral.  I may use different prints, but the background/neutral fabric will be the same color, hue, or shade.  The second fabric constant will be a line of fabrics in the same family.  For instance, when I decide to make a sampler, I’ll pull one line of precuts – fat quarters, a layer cake, charm pack, or jelly roll – and use one of these precuts in every block.  This is an easy way to make sure the blocks harmonize, and the quilt has a coherent appearance. 

My focus fabric with sampler quilts is usually a medium- to large-size print and I use it in the border.  However, I also look for opportunities to use it in the quilt top – such as in the center square of a star block or square-in-a-square block.  If the focus fabric is sprinkled throughout the quilt top, it really looks pulled together when constructed. 

  •  Know your contrast comfort level and stick to it.  If you’re comfortable with as stark of a contrast as black and white, you’re pretty much up for almost any color combination in your sampler.  If complementary contrasts such as red and green are your ideal, own it and have these types of contrasts in your quilt.  The main idea is to be constant in your use of contrasts.  In other words, don’t start out featuring contrasting color schemes in each block and then stop half-way through the quilt.  Use them consistently and be sure to lay your blocks out in the way they’ll be sewn together before starting the construction process.  Look the layout over carefully.  Back up and squint at it.  Take a picture with your phone and edit it to black and white.  Take all of these actions so you can make sure the contrast is spread evenly throughout the quilt top.  If a block has too little or too much contrast, discard it.  You can use it as the label for the quilt. 
  •  Watch where you place the yellows, lime-greens, and oranges.  I like a little yellow in my quilts.  It’s a happy color.  I also am partial to lime green and I like orange.  It’s great to use these colors in a quilt but be careful where you place them in your quilt top. The eye travels and homes in on yellow and the colors which have yellow undertones such as lime-green and orange.  Don’t group them all together in one spot, but make sure they’re evenly spread throughout the quilt top.  Don’t put them all in one corner or just in the center.  Spread them out, or else those viewing the quilt will focus in on the one area which has the yellow, lime-green, or orange and not pay as much attention to the rest of the quilt. 

Next week we’re taking a look at some construction ideas for sampler quilts, as well as ways to quilt them.  This week, if you have a chance, take a few minutes and look at some sampler quilts on Pinterest and think about making one.  Do they appeal to you?  If you made a sampler quilt, what would you like to learn or learn to do better?

Until next week, Quilt On!

Love and Stitches,

Sherri and Sam


Show and Tell

Over the past several months, I’ve had a few of my readers request “Show and Tell” from me.  Periodically, I post pictures of what I’m working on, projects I’ve completed, and such.  I think, if memory serves me correctly, the last time I posted any pictures of my quilts was right after Christmas.  Several of the quilts I completed were designated Christmas presents, so I had to wait until they were delivered and opened before I could make them public.

I will state this:  If the Pandemic did anything for me (other than give me a greater appreciation for the on-the-front lines medical community, people who didn’t have the option of sheltering in place, and the joy of take out and delivery), it gave me the opportunity to hunker down and work on what I wanted to without the temptation of joining another quilt along.  As a result, I really did get a lot done – as well as making hundreds of masks.  And I loved getting UFOs off my to-do list.  This feeling of accomplishment has carried over into 2021 and I find myself still ticking off the projects I wanted to get completed off my list.

This sweet little sunflower quilt:

Is the result of a class I took with Barbara Eikmeier.  In this Zoom class (another thing I have learned to appreciate and love), Barbara taught the basics of back basting applique.  I have used this technique for years, but her class was a great way to refresh myself on the fundamentals, as well as remember just why I loved this method.  Back basting was one of the first applique skills I was taught.  It’s old school – no glue, special paper, or tools required – just thread, needles, a pencil, the pattern, and your fabric.  Bonus – look at that scalloped border!  Barbara taught an error-less way to make these.  I had so much fun making this quilt.  I love sunflowers, and I hope to use this pattern a make a lap quilt or wall hanging in the future.  The quilting isn’t my best – I used an 80/20 batting and should have stuck to 100 percent cotton.  It’s a little too poufy and I think that detracts from the sunflower.

Last fall, I began a class with Kathy Delaney, who designed the pattern Horn of Plenty for a New Generation.  This quilt is based on the designs by Eveline Foland.  Ms. Foland published her applique patterns between January 5, 1932, and February 24, 1932, in the Kansas City Star newspaper.   The first thing which drew me to this pattern and class was the subject matter.  In my applique world, which is overwhelmingly floral, this was fruit – something delectably different.  The second factor which made me want to make this quilt was Kathy herself.  If you Google Kathy Delaney, you will find a host of patterns and books, as well as a YouTube channel.  Besides being an internationally known quilter and teacher, Kathy is just a wonderful person who loves her students.  And despite the fact I’ve appliqued for nearly 35 years, I knew I would learn a lot in her class – which I am.  I also have met quilters from all over the United States in her Zoom class.

Here are my blocks:

Here’s a couple of added interest facts about these blocks. If the fruit has any highlights (such as in the apple block), I used the reversed applique technique. For the apricots, I found Ombre fabrics worked best, and I’m using them with some peaches I’m currently working on.

You may notice I have pre-quilted the background in these blocks with a 1-inch crosshatch.  Personally, if I plan on crosshatch quilting my applique, I try to do as much of it as possible before I actually applique the pieces.  Here’s how that works:

  •  I prep my applique pieces per normal.  With this quilt I’m using the Apliquick method.  There’s a lot of overlay with this pattern – pieces sitting on top of each other.  The Apliquick paper prevents any shadowing, and I don’t have the fiddly issue of lining my applique pieces with a piece of white fabric.  The heat-set paper takes care of this issue.
  • I cut my background fabric between 1 ½-2-inches larger than the unfinished size the pattern calls for.  Normally with applique, you only need an inch more than the unfinished size – the additional fabric allows for any shrinkage which occurs during the applique process (by either hand or machine).  Since I’m actually quilting the background before I hand applique, and the quilting process also can make the background shrink, I add a little more in the area of fabric margin if I’m pre-quilting. 
  • After the background squares are cut, I mark them with the crosshatch design and the applique pattern.  In this case I’m using a 1-inch cross hatch. 
  • I cut a batting square a little larger than the background fabric square and spray baste the two together.  Once the quilt top is complete, there will be another piece of batting used to quilt the entire quilt.  In order to keep bulk to a minimum, I use a 100 percent cotton batting for pre-quilting.  Once the background and batting are spray basted, I stitch along the drawn crosshatched lines using my domestic sewing machine. I don’t want the quilting to compete with the applique, so I will use Superior Threads Micro Quilting Thread #7003.  This is utterly mindless, enjoyable work.
  • Once the pre-quilting is complete, I applique as usual.  Yes, the addition of batting makes it a little awkward sometimes, as well as a bit bulky, but if I plan on crosshatching my applique backgrounds, it is so much easier to do it before I stitch my applique than to have to run the stop-and-go process on my long arm when the top is complete.  That drives me nuts, even with backtracking.  Helpful hint – working on a flat surface makes appliqueing pre-quilted backgrounds so much easier.
  • When my applique is all stitched down, I also outline the fruit with one strand of Aurifil 50/2.  I used a stem stitch and made them a bit longer than you would a typical embroidery stitch – the longer stitches look smoother going around curvy fruit.
You can see how I outlined the striped leaf with a strand of green Aurifil. The stem stitches are a bit longer than normal and I’ve found if I can use a thread a shade darker than the fabric, it looks really good. If I don’t have any thread a shade darker than the fabric, I try to match them as closely as possible.

To ice this fruity, quilty cake, I found this fabric on Bear Creek Quilting’s website:

I could not ask for anything more perfect to use for sashing and borders.

I’ve also completed a quilt or two.  I decided in 2020, I would make both my children a quilt, since I hadn’t given Meg or Matthew a quilt in several years.  This is the quilt I made for Meg:

The pattern is Twinkling Twilight.  Despite the fact it looks as if I’ve used more than a dozen different fabrics, there is only eleven 1/3-yard cuts.  I used Ombre fabrics, so it appears as if there is way more material involved than it really is.  This pattern is comprised of four-patches and triangles using the Tri-Rex ruler, with lots of reverse cutting.  It was a challenging quilt, and I really like it.  It’s bright and bold, and I can’t wait to see Meg’s face when I give it to her.

Label on Meg’s Quilt. I label nearly all my quilts. I give the designer credit for the pattern and I should have put the city and state where the quilt was made. I read something from Tula Pink which stated she always puts one esoteric fact on her label — like the average price of a gallon of milk — to give the quilt some historical perspective. I thought that was a neat idea and have been doing this for a few years now.

Now take a gander at these:

This fabric is from the Boundless collection.

These are the pieces I’ve just started working on for my son’s quilt.  And no matter what you may think, the fabric isn’t batik, but it could pass for it.  I’m using the pattern All Roads for Matt’s quilt.  Now, in case you’re wondering if I’m playing favorites because Meg’s quilt is finished and Matthew’s isn’t, let me assure you I cut both of them out at the same time and took both of them with me to the Fall-Quilt-Retreat-that-Didn’t-Happen.  My plan was to get both quilt tops completed, bring them back home, spend my Thanksgiving vacation getting them both quilted, and then have both bound and labeled by Christmas.  Well, as some of you may remember, we were at quilt retreat less than 12 hours when a storm rolled through, and the park lost power.  They sent us home, refunded our money and I continued work on Meg’s since I actually did get started on hers at retreat when an unwelcome guest set up shop in my family.

Multiple Myeloma

My regular readers know my brother and only sibling, Eric, had smoldering Myeloma for about three years.  In January 2021 the shoe dropped, and the disease went from smoldering to active.  The doctors at Duke University had been tracking him during those years, following up with blood work, bone scans, and bone marrow biopsies.  As a result, the disease has been caught early and his outlook is very, very good.  Early cancer detection is a wonderful thing and I truly believe it’s 90 percent of the battle.  However, for Eric, the other 10 percent is chemotherapy and a stem cell transplant.  As I’m writing this, he is almost through with the chemo – which thankfully has had very few side effects.  He’s deciding on the particulars about the transplant, which should take place in the fall. 

Now that you have this background, let’s talk about the quilt which really took front and center in my quilting universe this year and pushed my son’s quilt to the side for a while.   Also allow me to divulge a bit about my relationship with my brother.  Eric is six years younger than I am and despite the age gap, we are fairly competitive (all in good fun, though).  We’ve mellowed some as we’ve both gotten older and we are definitely closer now than we were growing up.  There’s rarely more than a few days between calls and texts.  He’s my brother and one of my best friends. Well before his Multiple Myeloma diagnosis, I decided I wanted to make him a quilt.  As a matter of fact, about four or five years ago I decided I wanted to make him a t-shirt quilt.  Now for another tidbit about us.  We both grew up in North Carolina – a state where college basketball is as sacred as the Holy Season.  We live in the heart of ACC country, where UNC, Duke, State, and Wake Forest meet at the center of nearly every basketball playoff.  Eric is a die-hard, dyed-in-the-wool Carolina fan… 

I am not.


And if you know anything about North Carolina basketball, you are keenly aware Carolina and Duke are the most rivalest of the rival teams.  Forget NBA playoffs with some over-paid basketball players.  Here we all know the best basketball games are the ones between Duke and Carolina.

But I digress…

Several years ago, my original plan was to have my sweet sister-in-law covertly remove some of Eric’s many Carolina t-shirt and hand them over to me so I could construct the quilt.  About a week after we discussed what t-shirts and how many I needed, Deanne called me.

“I can’t get them,” she told me.

“Why?” I asked.  “I mean he has hundreds.  How’s he gonna miss six or nine of them?”

“I don’t know.  It’s like he has a running inventory in his head.  I move one and he asks me where it’s at.  I don’t think this is going to work.”

So, I decided to buy my own Carolina t-shirts.  As a Duke fan, this was a difficult thing to do.  I felt I was betraying my boys.  But slowly and steadily, after each Sweet Sixteen and National playoff, I would purchase a t-shirt here and a t-shirt there.  In a couple of ways this worked better than waiting on Eric to give up a t-shirt.  I could order all the same size (extra-large) and make sure I had a good blend of blues.  When the Multiple Myeloma diagnosis came, I decided I needed to go ahead and make the quilt.  I had ten t-shirts and thought I needed 12 (key word to remember here: thought), so I quickly purchased two more.  Once they arrived, I de-boned the t-shirts and pulled out my pattern…

Only to discover I needed fifteen t-shirts.

In ordinary times, this would not have presented a problem.  I would simply jump on the Johnny T-shirt website and order three more shirts.  But let me refresh your memory of the time frame.  At this point, it’s January 2020.  We’re in the middle of a Pandemic.  Know what didn’t happen in 2020?

College Basketball.

Therefore, no new t-shirts for me to choose from.  After some creative swearing and web searching, I found an Ebay vendor who had three Carolina t-shirts I didn’t have.  The last one was technically a football t-shirt, but the goal lines ran down the far-right side of the shirt, a good portion of which would be cut off in the de-boning process.  I hit the Paypal site, did the monetary transaction and waited for my shirts.  A week later, they arrived, and I began the construction of a monster of a quilt.  I used Angela Walter’s t-shirt quilt pattern as inspiration and eventually it grew to around 110 inches square.  Things were zipping right along until I received a news bulletin on my phone: Roy Williams retired as the UNC basketball coach.

Oh dear.

You have to understand why this was so important.  For years, the incomparable Dean Smith coached the Carolina men’s basketball team.  Even if you dislike Carolina and barely tolerate Carolina fans, you respected Dean Smith.  He was a man of great integrity.  Dean coached at UNC for 36 years, retiring in 1997.  Roy Williams took over and had been the coach since then.  I had a t-shirt in the quilt commemorating Dean Smith. 

Now, in order to make the quilt complete, I had to find one for Roy.   Despite the fact I was on the last row, I knew I had to find the shirt and make it work.  A couple of internet searches and $22 later, I had my shirt.  It arrived in two days, and I added it to the last row. 

Top complete, I quilted it (for the record, Leighanne the Long Arm does not like t-shirt quilts) and sewed on the label.

This quilt is huge.
I think this is the largest quilt label I’ve ever made. Eric and I text each other groan-worthy puns consistently, thus the line about Bruce Lee’s brother. And I had to add the Duke logo just because….#siblingrivalry

I still have a quilt or two planned out for the rest of the year.  I need to get busy on my Guild’s 2021 BOM.  It more or less got pushed to the side once I started Eric’s t-shirt quilt.  I have an alphabet quilt in the works, too.  It involves machine applique.  I also am nearly finished with the center of my Grandmother’s Flower Garden.  And I still have 11 more applique blocks to make for my fruit quilt.  This year will be a busy one.

Until next week, Quilt On!

Love and Stitches,

Sherri and Sam

Sam is busy keeping his naps on schedule….

Whole Cloth Quilts – The Mystery and the Methods

Around the early 1800’s three types of quilts became popular:  the whole cloth, broderie perse, and medallion quilts. Several of my past blogs have featured medallion quilts – how to make them, why the construction process sharpens both your design and quilting skills, and how they’re still relevant in the 21st century.  Today I want to talk about whole cloth quilts.

18th Century White Whole Cloth Quilt

Whole cloth quilts were status symbol quilts in the mid-1800’s.  Either a woman had the leisure time and the expertise to produce one of these quilts or she had the money to purchase it.  Making a whole cloth quilt not only took time and resources, it also required exceptionally fine needlework skills.  The majority of whole cloth quilts were constructed of white fabric – thus they are also known as white quilts.  However antique whole cloth quilts exist in other solid colors and there are whole cloth quilts made from print fabric.  There will be more on both of these a bit later.  But first let’s take a deep dive in the quilting DNA of white, whole cloth quilts. 

While most of our quilt blocks and techniques take their origins from England, whole cloth quilts can declare dual nationality – England and France.  From  French shipping records dating from the early 1800’s, we find whole cloth quilts coming from Provencal, France, primarily around the Marseilles area. 

As a matter of fact, so many of these French white quilts were imported, the ships’ manifests simply denote them as “French Quilts” or “Marseilles Quilts.”  This is also true when these white, whole cloth quilts were listed in household inventories, bills of sale, and wills.  England was also producing their share of whole cloth quilts, but these were not as popular as the ones from France. 

Welch Whole Cloth Quilt — notice the double stitching lines

The English quilts were a bit different from the French quilts – so different it’s pretty easy to tell which white quilts came from either country.  The English whole cloth white quilts came from Wales.  French quilts generally had smaller stitches (sometimes as many as 22 stitches per inch) than the English quilts.  And the quilts from Wales had repetitive motifs – spirals, paisleys, fans, hearts, leaves, and large circles.  They also had two or three borders separated by double stitching lines.  French quilts generally had no distinct borders.

At this point, there are a couple of issues which muddy the waters for quilt historians.  First, it’s important to remember whole cloth quilts were status symbols – something which is a bit odd for quilts as a whole.  Most quilt early quilts were made for warmth and beauty, with the best quilts saved for guest beds and hope chests.  However, they were not seen as status symbols. Remember a white, whole cloth meant the family was wealthy enough for the woman to have the time and skills to make one or (most likely) the money to purchase one.  This implies just because a whole cloth quilt was in possession of a family, it in no way meant someone in the family made it. 

The second issue to contend with is this:  As a group, white, whole cloth quilts can be difficult to accurately date.  Many of the quilts were “Frankensteined.”  The Marselles Quilts were smaller than most typical American-made quilts.  The French quilts were made to rest on top of the bed and not necessarily hang down on the sides and bottom.  Most American households liked their quilts to have the side drops, as well as be long enough to cover the bottom of the mattress or tick, and reach the top of it, too.  The Marselles Quilts were large enough to only cover the center of a bed.  As a result (and especially as mattresses became larger), women would sew several white quilts together in order to have a quilt which would completely cover their bed.  The best white quilt was used as the center, then additional quilts would be cut apart and sewn on the sides, bottom and top.  As a result, it’s nearly impossible to accurately give one date to the entire quilt. 

The Tucker family quilt was actually “Frankensteined” from four white, whole cloth quilts.

The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation found itself in possession of a “Frankensteined” white quilt which was purported to have once belonged to the Tucker Family – a prominent family who lived in Williamsburg in the 1700s.  The family was wealthy enough to have owned several of these white quilts, so this quilt may have been in their possession.  It was donated to the Foundation, and the members decided to have the quilt x-rayed in order to discover more about the quilt and how old it really was.  The results showed four quilts were sewn together to make the large quilt, ranging in dates from 1815 – 1830.

  Each more than likely had a different maker, as stitch length and thread composition are varied, as well as the make and weaves of the fabrics.  This study simply re-emphasizes the trouble quilt historians and archivists have in dating some of the white, whole cloth quilts. 

So, how were these quilts made?  The top of the quilts was usually made from finely woven fabric and the batting of choice was wool.  The wool batting allowed for a raised effect when the quilt was quilted.  In addition, trapunto was also sometimes used.  If you’ve never heard the term trapunto before, let me explain.  When a quilter uses this technique, it means they add additional stuffing between the quilting stitches, like this:

Trapunto makes the unquilted areas or less-quilted areas more pronounced.  Sometimes if a wool batt is used, only small, tight quilting stitches are needed to make the quilt look as if it has this effect.  However, at other times, some additional help is needed. Which brings us to what was used as the backing of a whole cloth quilt.  Most of the time, the backing was comprised of a fabric of less quality than was used with the top.  The weave was looser, so the quilter could tease the fibers apart and insert additional batting, cotton, or cotton cording in the trapunto section.  However, in the best white, whole cloth quilts, the back and the front are indistinguishable. 

Antique colored whole cloth quilt

It’s worth mentioning there were also richly colored whole cloth quilts made during the 1800s.  These were made with glazed wool and wool batting, in bold, bright colors, particularly the colorfast indigo and red.  Now, here’s where quilting history gets a little confusing again.  These deeply colored, wool quilts were the successors of the woolen petticoats.  In the 18th century, women wore colored, woolen petticoats which had been intricately quilted.  To show these petticoats off, their dresses had an open panel in the front, like so everyone could see the lovely quilting designs. 

You have to admit, it would be a shame to cover up such a beautiful petticoat.

Later some of these petticoats were made into quilts by cutting the length in half and sewing the two resulting panels together.  This is what makes tracing the history of some of these richly colored whole cloth quilts difficult.  Often in books, household inventories, and wills a quilt isn’t mentioned at all.  It’s listed as a petticoat, even though it’s been “Frankensteined” into a quilt.

In the late 1800’s and into the early 1900’s, fabric manufacturers began producing flowered chintz fabrics.  We see their use in broderie perse and medallion quilts.  However, if a quilter came across a piece of fabric she didn’t want to cut up, she may have decided to make a whole cloth quilt from the fabric.  These quilts weren’t as popular as the white or colored whole cloth quilts, but there are a few remaining print whole cloth quilts still in the possession of some collectors.  Unlike the other two whole cloth designs, the quilting is not the prominent feature – the fabric is.  Therefore, the quilting is simpler so the fabric can be showcased. 

Whole cloth made from printed fabric

Whole cloth quilts began with the Arts and Crafts Movement, and they continued to be popular into the first half of the 20th century.  Then they became less fashionable with both quilters and fewer households purchased them.  However, recently they’re making a comeback.  With the increasing number of quilters who have access to long arms and stationary sewing machines designed for quilting, more quilters are trying their hand at whole cloth quilts.  This time the quilts are made from any color or print imaginable and the thread ranges from white to variegated (which is really pretty on a whole cloth quilt) to any color the quilter wants.  Whole cloth quilts are once again showing up in quilt shows and in quilting groups.  If you think one of these wonderful quilts may end up on your quilty to-do list, keep a couple of things in mind.

  1.  Many quilt stores now sell quilt tops with a quilting pattern printed on it so you can follow the design to easily make your first whole cloth quilt.
  2. If you want to make one of these in a more traditional way, make sure your fabric is firm and has a fairly tight weave so the quilting stitches can be seen. 
  3. Be sure to prewash your fabric so there won’t be any shrinkage.
  4. Cut the batting larger than the size of the quilt (at least three inches larger if you’re hand quilting or using a domestic sewing machine; four inches or more if using a long arm).
  5. The choice of thread is important.  Audition several colors and don’t be afraid to throw in metallic or variegated. 
  6. Mark the quilting design on the top.  Washable pens or pencils are the markers of choice.  A Frixion pen could leave permanent “ghost” marks and an air soluble may fade before you finish.
  7. And finally…the most important thing to remember is work from the center out when basting and stitching.

I love writing about the history of quilts and quilt blocks.  And when I find some technique or block that’s been around for a long time, and discover quilters are still using them today, I just think it’s the coolest thing.  I believe one of the most remarkable characteristics about quilters is we take a technique or a block which is been around for years, put a modern spin on it, and twist it with our own uniqueness.  This is what keeps our art alive and vital. 

Couple of housekeeping items before I end this week’s block.  First of all, I am in the process of starting a podcast.  The segments won’t be weekly, but will probably begin once a month until I can bring myself up-to-speed. This is an idea I began toying with during the Pandemic, but it took me longer to pull things together than I thought.  First, the microphone I used for my Zoom meetings didn’t work … or at least work well… with a podcast.  I recorded one of my blogs and it sounded horrible.  And then I had one critical set back:  My blogs are highly visual.  I bombard you with graphics and pictures and I can’t do this with my podcasts.  So, some of what I planned to do had to be drastically re-written.  I’ll keep you updated, but as of right now, I know Sherriquiltsalot will be available soon on Spotify.  More details to come, I’m sure.

For those of you who have asked, videos are still on the horizon.  I just need some help with equipment and a tutorial on editing. I have the software, so that’s the first step…

Until next week, Quilt On!

Love and Stitches,

Sherri and Sam