Just Cut the Fabric

Most of my quilt blogs are about techniques and skills and quilt history.  They may also feature pictures of beautiful quilts.  I’ve gotten fairly personal in a few of these blogs – you’ve known about my dad’s death, my mom’s health, and my brother’s cancer.  One year my daughter’s cervical cancer was front and center most of the time.  My readers have encouraged me, prayed for me, and lifted my spirits so much.

Right up front, I want to say this is one of those personal blogs.  In November, I’ll hit one of those milestone birthdays –  the kind which end in a zero.  I’ll give you a hint, it’s between 50 and 70. You know, you don’t really plan on getting older.  I mean, you may plan for retirement, but somehow your brain doesn’t cash the check your body is aging and changing.  What’s even more telling is your brain doesn’t allow for the fact your family and friends are aging, too.  When you run into someone you haven’t seen in a while, it’s always a shock when you discover they’ve gotten older just like you have.  Somehow, at least in my brain, time stands still.  These people and places I may not have seen in years are encased in a timeless bubble of how they looked “then”, and I’m always surprised how they look “now.” 

Time wrote me a reality check this week and it was difficult to cash.  Health-wise, I’m fine.  I could stand to lose a few pounds, but overall, I’m good.  So, this isn’t about me.  This week I found out a wonderful woman I worked with years ago passed away.  During the time we were both employed at the same place, we were close.  Her son took karate from my husband.  There were eight of us (all women) at this place of employment who were very good friends.  Eventually, we all left.  And as time and circumstances ultimately do, we lost touch.  We got together for lunch sometime in the mid-2000’s, but then… nothing.   Eventually one of us moved to Georgia.  One to Virginia.  One to Ashville.  One to Charlotte.  One to Sparta. Last week, the group got together again, sans me – who couldn’t for a variety of reasons.  And it was through searching for one of our group, we discovered she passed away. 

Fast forward into the next week.  I’ve explained I grew up in a small town and I attended a small high school.  We have an active Facebook alumni page which I regularly receive alerts from.  I generally know which class is having a reunion, whose grandkids are attending the same high school, and all the little things that make living in a small town and attending a small school so wonderful. 

I also receive alerts about who’s passed away.  And since it’s a small school in a small town, even if this person has graduated years before me, I know them.  I may not know them well and it may have been years since we talked, but I remember them.  This week, there was another notice.  A man from the class of ’74 died.  I knew him.  Knew his sister and both his younger brothers.  One of those brothers was in my graduating class. 

You may be asking why did these deaths hit me so hard when I hadn’t seen them in years? 

They were both in their 60’s.

It was sobering moment.

It made me stop and take stock in myself.  Who I am.  What I want to accomplish.  What I want to leave behind.  All those questions I need to answer truthfully at this point in my life took front in center. What I need to throw out.  Relationships I need to foster and grow and those I truly need to release.   

So, what does all this have to do with quilting?  If you’re what I call a “Passionate Quilter” – someone who quilts regularly, feels your best when you’re interacting creatively with the art, lives for the fellowship of other quilters, and all of this holds a nearly sacred place in your soul – it means stop procrastinating. 

Stop putting your quilting last.  Housework will be there tomorrow.  So will laundry.  You may have to work for a living (if you aren’t retired), but that doesn’t mean your occupation defines your life and most of your time.  Creativity is as necessary to the soul and spirit as water, coffee, and wine.  It sees you over rough patches and can be part of a foundation when you can’t see your way.

Fellowship with your quilting friends.  I’m not trying to be sexist or inconsiderate here, but let’s face it:  the majority of quilters are women.  Women need other women at every point in their lives.  Our circumstances may shift and change, but most of the time – no matter where they’re at – women build networks with other women.  We need these webs of friendship and fellowship for many reasons.  Support.  Encouragement.  Laughter.  And I’ve found as I’ve gotten older, I need my girlfriends more than ever.  There are things I can’t discuss with my mother, daughter, or even Bill.  But I can with the group of women I quilt with.  And they give me honest (sometimes brutally honest) answers.  They call me out when I’m wrong.  They love me when I’m unlovable, cry with me when things go wrong, and support me when I have absolutely no idea what I’m doing.  They’ve brought meals to my daughter when she was sick as well as gifting her with a quilt.  As women get older, their lives change.  Spouses may die, kids move away, parents are gone…but friendships with women your own age support a solid foundation of good mental health…shenanigans…and usually a glass of good wine (or two).  Think Golden Girls with a quilt studio.

Stop putting off making the quilts you want to make.  I realize on the surface this can sound kind of selfish.  As a whole, quilters are givers.  We make quilts for family and friends.  We make them for cancer patients and kids and babies.  Honestly, we’ll make a quilt for just about anybody.  It’s who we are and what we do.  And this is great.  But don’t let that stop you from making a quilt just for you.  In the pattern you want.  In the colors you love.  With the technique you’re the best at.  If you want to try a harder pattern or a new technique – go there fearlessly.  If pushing yourself makes you happiest, do that.  If you want something you can mindlessly stitch while watching TV or listening to an audio book, do it.  In all of our selfless giving to others, remember to take some time to take care of yourself.

Cut the fabric.  All of us have that one piece of fabric.  It’s beautiful.  It may even be on the expensive end of our fabric purchases.  With me, it’s within an easy arm’s reach.  Looking at it makes me feel a little happier.  I love the colors and the design.  Chances are, you have a favorite piece of fabric in your stash, too.  My question now is, “Why is it in our stash and not in a quilt?”  If you’re like me, you think it may be too beautiful to cut.  Or I’ll cut it wrong.  Or once I use it up, I may never find another piece of fabric I love as much.



Cut the fabric. 

Life is too short not to.  If you don’t cut it up and use it, after you die, no one will cherish it quite like you do.  There’s a good possibility it’ll end up in an estate sale for pennies on the dollar or even worse – Goodwill.  Find a pattern or make one.  Cut the fabric.  Put it in the quilt and love that quilt.  Then at the end of things, you can pass it on to someone else who will love it and appreciate it because you loved and appreciated it and it’s part of who you were. 

Appreciate your skills and talent.  Nearly every time I compliment a quilter or hear one complimented, the usually the first sentence out of that quilter’s mouth is something like, “Thanks, but look at the mistake I made over here…” 


I think quilters (or any other artist for that matter) should recognize what and how long it took them to get to the point they’re at today.  It took hours of learning and practice and pushing ourselves to obtain certain skill sets.  That is not something to be shrugged off or taken lightly.  It took time and patience and determination.  Don’t wave off a compliment.  Accept it.  Say thank you.  Perhaps offer to show the person how you made the quilt. 

But above all else, recognize your talent and skills. You weren’t able to order them off Amazon.  You worked hard to obtain them. 

Live is short, quilter friend.  Make the quilts you want to make.  Fellowship with your quilty friends.    Acknowledge your talent and the skills of others.  Take chances.  Push yourself.  Don’t allow anyone but yourself to define your own quilting journey.  And at the end of it, you’ll know you made some beautiful quilts, maybe even used them to comfort others.  You’ll have a ring of friends who will mourn your loss as an artist and friend.  The skills you worked so hard to develop will be passed down to others and continue to be explored and perfected even more.  Maybe your quilts will hang in a museum.  Maybe they’ll live on to comfort your child, grandchild, or great-grandchild when you’re gone.  They may be the only “hug” a foster child, cancer patient, or abused woman has. Be fearless….be bold…

And go cut that fabric.

Love and Stitches,

Sherri and Sam


Running All the Numbers

I toss out a lot of math in my quilting blogs.  But when you think about quilting, there’s a great deal of geometric work involved.  I’ve always taken the math end of the art for granted until a couple of weeks ago when I went to get my oil changed.  In North Carolina the Delta variant numbers are still pretty high.  The oil-changing establishment I went to closed their small waiting room and were allowing everyone to stay in their car while oil is changed and fluids are checked.  So, while I was waiting for the mechanics to take care of my Tahoe, I read a quilting book.  The lead mechanic noticed.

“Are you a quilter?” he asked.

I nodded.  “Over 30 years.”

“My wife just started quilting.  She made quilts for Christmas presents.  Quilters are engineers!  There’s so much math and planning involved!”

I never thought of quilters are engineers, but I guess we are to a degree.  But mathematicians?  We’ve been mathing out quilts for generations. 

As a whole, quilters can read and follow pattern directions pretty well.  However, altering the pattern, reproducing a quilt without a pattern (for example, making a copy of an antique quilt), or designing your own quilt can be a challenge if you don’t know how to “math” the quilt out.  There are formulas for just about everything.  And instead of this freeing up quilters to make the quilt they want, I find most quilters are just a bit intimidated by the math.  Don’t be.  I will tell you what I told the countless chemistry and physic students who passed through my classroom:  Numbers are your friends.  They don’t lie.

The great thing about quilt formulas is they never change.  They’re pretty stable across the board.  Over the years I’ve mentioned lots of formulas.  Finally, a good quilting buddy of mine asked if I would put all the formulas in one blog post so she wouldn’t have to Google each formula when she needed to use it.  This seemed like a good idea, so the here we go…

Block Units

Before we take a deep dive into block units, there are two important facts to remember:

  1.  When adding seam allowances, etc. to the unit, use the finished size.  For instance, if we want to reproduce a finished 2-inch square, we begin with 2-inches.
  2. These formulas work only  with  ¼-seam allowances. 

Squares and Rectangles

Finished size + ½-inch.  For example, if I need a 3-inch finished size, I will cut a 3 ½-inch square of fabric.  The added ½-inch allows for ¼-inch seam allowances on all sides.  If I needed a 3-inch x 5-inch finished rectangle, I would add ½-inch to both measurements and cut a 3 ½-inch x 5 ½-inch unfinished rectangle.


This formula assumes the length needed is WOF.  For this, you simply add ½-inch to the needed width.  If you need a 2-inch strip WOF, add ½-inch and cut the strip at 2 ½-inches by WOF (width of fabric).

Half-Square Triangles

This formula works whether you’re constructing the HSTs by placing two pieces of fabric right sides together, drawing a diagonal line from one corner to another, and then sewing two seams, ¼-inch away from both sides of the diagonal line, or simply cutting a square on the diagonal to make two triangles.

Finished size of HST + 7/8.

Keep in mind each HST unit made this way actually produces two HSTs.

Quarter-Square Triangles

This block unit involves four triangles and most of the time this unit will involve cutting four squares of fabric – meaning each square can produce four QSTs, depending on if each fabric is only used once.  For this formula, take the finished size of the QST and add 1 ¼-inches.  Cut your squares this size, and then cut each of them twice on the diagonal.

Finished size of QST = 4-inches.

4-inches + 1 ¼-inches = 5 ¼-inches. 

Cut four squares (one in each fabric needed) and then cut each square twice on the diagonal.


A trapezoid is a rectangle which has each end cut on a 45-degree angle in opposite directions. 

This block unit works a little differently than the prior ones.  For this shape, take the finished height and add ½-inch.  So, if you need the trapezoid 3-inches in height, you will cut your fabric strip at 3 ½-inches.  The length works a little differently.  Since you must cut off both ends of the strip at 45-degree angles, you have to add more than just the standard ½-inch for the seam allowance.  For the trapezoid’s unfinished length, add 1 ¼-inches to the finished length.  If we need a 7-inch finished trapezoid in length, we will add 1 ¼-inch and cut our strip 8 ¼-inches long. 

So, for a 3-inch x 7-inch trapezoid, we will cut a strip of fabric 3 ½-inches x 8 ¼-inches.  Then we align the 45-degree angle on a ruler with the horizontal edge of the rectangle and carefully cut the end of the strip from the bottom corner to the top edge.  Flip the trapezoid upside down (or rotate the mat).  Align the 45-degree angle on the ruler with the edge of the shape and cut again. 

Occasionally you will see this in a quilt block:

This is a half-trapezoid – only one of the ends has been cut at the 45-degree angle.  This isn’t any more difficult to make than a trapezoid, but the math is a little different.  The height is determined the same way – add ½-inch to the finished height.  However, for the length you only need to add 7/8-inch.  Using the same trapezoid finished measurements as above (3-inches x 7-inches), we will cut the unfinished trapezoid 3 ½-inches x 7 7/8-inches.  Then simply cut the whichever end needs to be slanted at 45-degree angle. 

Isosceles Triangle in a Square

This unit involves cutting two shapes:  background triangles which are mirror images of each other and the isosceles triangle itself.  It’s also important to remember the sides of the isosceles triangle are of a different measurement than the base of the triangle.  The background of this block has a left- and right-facing sides (the mirror images).  In order to cut the fabric correctly for this, we will need to cut two rectangular pieces of fabric with their right sides together.  This will give us the mirror images needed.  To get the correct size rectangles needed to do this, take the desired finished size of base (this will be the shortest side of the mirrored triangle) of the mirror image triangle and add ¼-inches.  For instance, if this number is 3-inches, add 3/4-inch to this and cut a strip of fabric 3 3/4-inch long, by the WOF. 

To determine the length, take the desired height of the block and add 1 ¼-inches.  So, if our finished height is 5-inches, we will cut the 3 ¼-inch strip into 6 ¼- sections.  Place two of these sections right sides together and make a diagonal cut from one corner to the other.  We will need to make an equal number of diagonal cuts from left bottom corner to the right top corner (these are the “lefties”) and an equal number from the top left corner to the bottom right corner (these are the “righties”). 

Now for the triangle in the middle.  The definition of an isosceles triangle tells us the two sides of the triangle are the same length, but the base (bottom) of the triangle is different.  And it’s the base we will work with first.  In order to get the width of the isosceles triangle, take the finished base measurement and add 7/8-inch to it.  So, if the base of our triangle is 3-inches, we will cut a WOF strip 3 7/8-inch wide.  To figure the height of the triangle, we do the exact same thing.  We take the finished height and add 7/8-inch to it.  If the desired height is 2 ½-inches, we add 7/8-inch to that and know we need to sub-cut the 3 7/8-inch WOF strip into 3 3/8-inch rectangles. 

Cutting the triangles from these rectangles is super-easy.  Fold the rectangle in half to find the center and finger press a crease into the fabric.  Line a ruler up with one of the lower corners and allow it to meet the center at the fold at the top of the rectangle.  Cut.  Repeat the process on the other side of the fabric.

Word of wisdom here – for me, this method works well if I’m only cutting a few isosceles triangles in squares.  However, remember this quilt?

It felt as if I had thousands of isosceles triangles in squares in this quilt.  Instead of cutting, sub-cutting, and creasing the fabrics, I purchased this little jewel:

I don’t often purchase specialty rulers, but for me, these paid for themselves with this quilt.  These rulers put all the moving parts of the isosceles triangle in a template, so I didn’t have to fret over the math.  Two rulers solved any issues. I simply cut a strip of fabric (WOF) the width the instructions directed, and then used the ruler templates at the appropriate markings to make my skinny side triangles and the center isosceles triangle.  This saved me sooooooo much time!

Equilateral Triangles

The sides and base on an equilateral triangle are all the same measurement.  And like the isosceles triangle, this begins with a strip.  Take the finished height of the equilateral triangle and add ¾-inch.  For instance, if the finished height of the equilateral triangle needs to be 5-inches, we need to cut a strip of fabric 5 ¾-inches wide x WOF. 

Align the 60-degree mark on a ruler with the bottom edge of the strip and make the first cut.  Discard this piece.  Rotate the ruler so the other 60-degree marking is aligned with the top edge of the strip and cut.  Before making any additional triangles, verify that the measurements of the triangle from to top bottom is the measurement of the strip.  If there are any errors – such as the 60-degree cut is off – it will show up at this point.  If all is well, continue rotating your ruler in this manner until you’ve cut all the triangles you can out of the strip of fabric. If there is an error, correct it before continuing to cut out the triangles.

If you find yourself cutting a lot of equilateral triangles, there is a ruler:

For them. 

45-Degree Diamonds

I’ll be upfront here and let you know there are hundreds of 45-degree diamond rulers on the market.  And if I were constructing a quilt with a lot of them, I’d look into one of these rulers.  My favorite diamond ruler is this one:

This little jewel allows you to cut diamonds, equilateral triangles, and triangles. But if you’re only cutting a few diamonds every now and again, you may want to keep the formula in mind. 

Diamonds, like triangles, begin with a strip of fabric.  Take the desired finished width of the diamond and ½-inch.  This is how wide the WOF strip needs to be.  For instance, if we need a 3 ½-inch wide finished diamond, we simply add ½-inch and make our WOF strip 4-inches wide.  Place the strip in a horizontal position and square off the end.  Align the 45-degree marking on the ruler with the top horizontal edge of the strip and cut.   Move the ruler across the strip to the appropriate measurement (in this case 4-inches), making sure to keep the 45-degree marking aligned with the edge of the strip.  Make the second cut and repeat until you have made all the diamonds you need. 

If the diamond is elongated, the piece will have a left and right side – just like the isosceles triangle in a square.  The images will mirror each other.  If this is the case, cut a strip the finished width, plus ½-inch across WOF.  Fold the strip right sides together and cut, keeping the 45-degree mark aligned with the top of the strip.

These are the formulas for the most commonly used block units.  In the second half of this post, we will review the Golden Ratio and Quilter’s Cake. This will be a brief review, as I’ve discussed both of these at length, but the request was I put all my quilting math formulas in one place.

The Golden Ratio

1.618  — this is the number that’s “golden.”  While this ratio has been used in everything from art to zoology, quilters use it primarily for sashing and borders.  It works like this:

1.  To determine how wide a sashing can be, multiply the size of the finished block by 1.618 and then divide by 4.  For instance, if the finished block size is 8-inches, it would work like this:

8 x 1.618 = 13

13/4 = 3 ¼-inches.  The widest the sashing could be and still look balanced against the block is 3 ¼-inches (finished).

To determine how narrow the sashing cand be, multiply by roughly half the Golden Ratio (.618) and then divide by 4 again.  If our finished block size is 8-inches, we would calculate the narrow sashing like this:

8 x .618 = 5

5/4 = 1 ¼-inches.  The narrowest the sashing could be and still look balanced is 1 ¼-inches.

You also need to remember the width of the sashing can be anywhere between 1 ¼-inches and 3 ¼-inches and it will look just fine.  Anything narrower than the smallest number or bigger than the largest number will look wonky.

We also use the Golden Ratio for estimating our borders.  To do this, we have to take the size of the finished block + the sashing.  Using our 8-inch block from the above examples, let’s say we sewed 2-inch sashing to the block.

8-inch block + 2-inch sashing = 10-inches.  (We always work with finished numbers and then add seam allowances)

10-inches x 1.618 = 16.18

Then divide by 4, since there are four sides on a quilt.

16.18/4 = 4-inches 

The widest the borders need to be is 4-inches.

For the how narrow the borders can be, we take the block size + the sashing x .618

Using the example above, the math would look like this:

8-inch block + 2-inch sashing = 10-inches

10 x .618 = 6.18

6.18/4 = 1 ½-inches

The narrowest the borders need to be is 1 ½-inches

Now to get to the total of the widest possible border, we can split that border up into multiple borders of varying widths until the sum of the borders equals the largest width.  So, using the above example with a 4-inch border, we could have two borders at 2-inches each, two borders with one 3-inches and the other 1-inch, or three borders each 1 1/3-inches wide —  or any other variation which will total 4-inches.

Quilter’s Cake

This number is 1.414.  I call this “Quilter’s Cake” because it makes the formulas fun and otherwise it’s just one of those geometry numbers used to figure out triangles with two 45-degree angles and one 90-degree angle –which is exactly what we’re doing with on-point settings, but no one wants to remember their high school geometry class while they’re quilting.  Quilter’s Cake is used in on-point quilt settings such as the one below. 

There are side triangles and corner triangles.  The number of side triangles will depend on the number of rows in the quilt – the more rows the more side triangles needed.  However, there are always only four corner triangles, because most quilts only have four corners.  These are the triangles we’ll deal with first. 

          Corner Triangles:  Take the finished size of the block, divide it by 1.414, and then add 7/8-inch seam allowance.  So still using our 8-inch finished block, the math will look like this:

8/1.414 = 5 2/3

5 2/3 + 7/8 = 6 ½.

We will need two 6 ½-inch squares, cut on the diagonal to make the four corner triangles.

          Side Triangles:  For the sake of example, let’s say our quilt has ten side triangles – three on the right side, three on the left side, two along the top, and two along the bottom.  This time we multiply by 1.414 and add 1 ¼-inch seam allowance. 

Still using our 8-inch blocks, the math works this way:

8 x 1.414 = 11 1/3-inches

11 1/3 + 1 ¼ = 12 ½

These squares are cut twice on the diagonal, so we get four triangles per square.

Since we need ten triangles:  10/4 = 2.5, which we will round up to three.  We will need to cut three 12 ½-inch squares and then cut them twice on the diagonal.

There you go…all my quilter’s math in one blog.  There are additional formulas for estimating yardage, however they are all together in the following blogs:

Mathing the Yardage II

If you want information on that, go there.

I hope this keeps everyone from Googling for hours to find my quilter’s math!

Now a quick update on my brother, Eric. Many of you have asked how he’s doing. I am so happy, thankful, and joyful to report the stem cell transplant is over. His body responded well to the procedure and he left the step-down unit yesterday and went home. His numbers are well within the normal range, and other than his hemoglobin being a little low (which is to be expected) and his liver enzymes are off (due to the meds), he’s doing very well. He will return to meet and talk with his post-SCT team on Monday, but doesn’t have to return to UNC for labs until Nov. 30. He can’t be around people because his immune system is still compromised. I’m just so glad this is behind him and he’s home. Continue to keep him in your prayers — and thank you for praying for him!

Until next week, Quilt On!

Love and Stitches,

Sherri and Sam


A Tisket, a Tasket, Let’s Make Some Baskets

There are more than 400 basket quilt images in Pinterest.  If you search EQ8 for basket blocks, you’ll get 50 patterns to choose from.  If anyone wants to make a basket quilt, there’s probably a block out there you’ll love.  And we’re not the only group of quilters who share a love for this block.  Quilters have been piecing and appliqueing baskets for hundreds of years.

While the earliest known quilt pattern is Mosaic – which is now called Grandmother’s Flower Garden – quilters have always been influenced by objects used in everyday life.  In all cultures, the basket was a daily presence in a woman’s life.  Light willow constructions, white oak egg baskets, schnitz baskets to hold Pennsylvania’s store of dried apples or feathers – all were filled and emptied and refilled in the eternal repetition of housewife’s duties (pg 7 and 8, Small Endearments:  19th Century Quilts for Children, by Sandi Fox).  Quilters pieced replicas of baskets because they were familiar with them and gave them names which were well-known to them – Tulip Basket, Basket of Lilies, Garden Basket and Fruit Basket.  This occurred with several early quilt blocks such as Monkey Wrench and Churn Dash.  Quilters drew and pieced blocks, influenced by familiar objects. 

The earliest baskets were on whole cloth quilts.  If you remember from my blog:, these quilts weren’t pieced, but were large pieces of finely woven cloth which were layered with a batting and a back and then heavily (and beautifully) quilted.  One of the first motifs used on these quilts were baskets.  Sometimes the baskets were trapuntoed to stand out in relief to the background.  Women who had these quilts or made these quilts were quite often women of time, talent, and money:  Money to either purchase the quilts or the funds to purchase materials and have additional household help so they could have the time to make these quilts.  These whole cloth quilted baskets were followed by ones in broderie perse.

Then used in Medallion Quilts.  Baskets were particularly popular with Medallion Quilts.  These baskets ranged from very stylized ones to appliqued ones from plain fabric. 

Baskets are heavily used in Baltimore Album Quilts.  Baskets began to make appearances in Baltimore Album Quilts as early as 1870 in a quilt from Vermont and are still common in today’s Baltimore quilts. Crazy quilts also had baskets in them, although these baskets were embroidered, not pieced or appliqued. 

What does make basket blocks and quilts different from other blocks and quilts is they were appliqued before they were pieced.  With other types of quilt blocks, this process was usually reversed – they were pieced first then quilters appliqued them (just like alphabet quilts – the letters were first pieced and then appliqued). 

Eventually, somewhere along the quilt journey, either a quilter didn’t have the time to applique a basket or was ingenious enough to try to piece one.  Around 1855, the move was made to piece baskets in quilt blocks instead of appliqueing them.  The earliest and most “primitive” baskets used triangles and diamonds which were cut from fabric and then pieced.  The simplest baskets used a triangle as a base and had appliqued handles.  Eventually the baskets developed to the point a triangle was used as a base and then had diamonds radiation from it to represent flowers. 

Along the way, basket blocks found their place in Friendship Quilts. 

Almost everyone appreciates and loves a good basket quilt.  And given there are large enough spaces to write one’s name and a sentiment in most basket blocks, they proved to be a staple in many of these quilts. 

The great thing about basket blocks is the quilter can run the designing gamut with them.  They can be elaborately pieced or appliqued. They can be filled with flowers or fruit.  Ribbons and birds can be added.  Appliqued baskets can be woven from narrow strips of fabric or made from different pieces of cloth.  I didn’t think I owned any basket blocks until I wrote this blog and began to look back through my personal quilt library.

There is this, from my Spring Tulips Quilt.

This fun little block from my Farmer’s Wife Quilt. 

Coincidently, this is the only block in the first Farmer’s Wife Quilt pattern with applique – the tiny handle is appliqued into place.

And this basket of apples in my Fall mini quilt which currently sits in my entrance way.

And this woven basket I’m working on.

There are literally hundreds of basket patterns on the market, but if you want to make your own, it’s really pretty simple.  A basic basket block comprised of triangles like this:

Is easy to grid out.  This basket is on a 4 x 4 grid:

It’s made of HSTs, two rectangles, and one square. 

No matter what size block you want, the 4 x 4 grid works.  Let’s play with a 10-inch finished block.  Since this basket is gridded on four parts (four across and four down), we divide 10-inches by 4 and get 2 ½.  This 2 ½ measurement is the finished measurement, which means we will need to add an ½- seam allowance. 

2 ½ + ½ = 3.  The unfinished square and HSTs will need to measure 3-inches. 

The rectangle along the right side should be estimated as follows:

  1. The length of the rectangle is the sum of two of the finished units – 2 ½ + 2 ½ = 5.  Then we need to add ½-inch seam allowance (for the top and bottom of the rectangle) to bring it the unfinished length to 5 ½.
  2. The width of the unfinished rectangle is the same as the HSTs and square – 3-inches.
  3. We need to cut the rectangles 3-inches x 5 ½-inches.

Personally, I want to make the HSTs by marking and sewing two squares of fabric together.  This method doesn’t expose the bias until the last minute, so it avoids stretching it out of shape.  We need to do an additional bit of math here, so allow me to introduce you to another wonderful formula – how to calculate a HST if you want to make it from two squares of fabric.  To do this, you simply add 7/8-inch to the finished size of the square.  Since our finished HST is 2 ½, we add 7/8 to 2 ½, which gives us 3 3/8-inches.  We need to cut the two squares to make the HST 3 3/8-inches.  I also like to cut my HSTs a bit bigger and then trim them down to size (making HSTs by any method can become a bit wonky because you’re dealing with bias).  Trimming them down just a bit ensures all my HSTs come out the correct unfinished size.  To do this, I add an additional ¼-inch to the formula:

2 ½ + 7/8 + ¼ = 3 5/8.

I’ll cut the squares for the HSTs 3 5/8, knowing I’ll trim them down just bit.

Now for that large HST in the middle.  Returning to the grid diagram, we can see that middle HST take up four 2 ½-inch squares – two horizontally and two vertically use this information to determine how big the finished HST should be:  2 x 2 ½ = 5.  The center HST should be 5 inches.  We can apply the same formula we used above to determine how large to cut the squares for this block unit:

5 + 7/8 + ¼ = 6 1/8-inches, but because I dislike dealing with 1/8-inch increments, I’d round this up to 6 ¼-inches. 

Now returning to our basket, we know we will need to cut:

Two 3-inch x 5 ½-inch rectangles from the background fabric

Four 3 5/8-inch squares of background fabric

Four 3 5/8-inch squares of basket fabric

One 6 ¼-inch square background fabric

One 6 ¼-inch square basket fabric

One 3-inch square of background fabric

To construct, you would place each 3 5/8-inch square of background fabric to a 3 5/8-inch basket fabric right sides together, draw a diagonal line on the wrong side of one of the pieces, then stitch ¼-inch away on both sides of the line.  Cut along the drawn line to produces two HSTs.  Press and trim down to 3-inches.

Repeat with the large, center HST.  Then stitch the block together.

This is a simple, easy, pretty basket.  And when you think about all the possible designs which could be used, the quilt is only limited by your imagination.  You could use contrasting colors

Or go tone-on-tone

Or reverse the lights and darks

Or go scrappy.

They could be Christmas baskets

Or baskets from the 1930’s.

And batiks are never out of the question. 

Baskets are only limited by your imagination.  This is truly one of those blocks which the fabric can do most of the work for you.  Try graphing out a basket block on your own and using the formulas given to come up with your own block.  Jump out of your comfort color zone and do something different!  You may decide you need an entire quilt out of these sweet baskets!

Until Next Week, Quilt On!

Love and Stitches,

Sherri and Sam


Bits and Pieces

I collect blog topics.  In the notes section of my iPhone, I keep a running list of ideas I want to write about.  With most of these I can easily get at least 2,000 words.  However, on occasion, there are topics I want to hit, but can’t get that many words out of.  These are relegated to a file I call “Bits and Pieces”  — topics which deserve some attention, but I can’t write 2,000 words on the subject.  I collect these “skinny” ideas until I have quite a few and then throw them all into one blog.  Sometimes these topics come from questions asked by my readers and sometimes they come from ideas I’ve read about or developed myself.  This is one of those Bits and Pieces blogs.  Grab a seat, the beverage of your choice, and be ready to skip from one topic to the next.

Storing Fabric

I know, I know…there are a thousand different ways to store fabric.  Search for fabric storage ideas on Google or Pinterest and literally hundreds of ideas will pop up. One of the most popular is bins.

You purchase these semi-see-through bins and put all the colors in each family in a bin – the reds in one bin, blues in another, etc.  The lid’s snapped on and it can be stored on a shelf or stacked in a closet until you need fabric.  Personally, this system doesn’t work for me because I must see what I have so I won’t buy the same fabric again…not that I’ve ever done that (eyeroll).  But this system works well for some quilters especially those who aren’t like me and don’t have floor-to-ceiling-come-to-Jesus-stashes.  However, what makes this bin-storage idea different from all the other ones is this:

A color chart.  You can label the bins according to color, but you can print a color chart out for each color family and tape it to the inside of the lid.  This chart not only gives you the range of the color family in the bin, but also gives hues and shades.

And for me, what is really the saving grace with this method is it will help you truly sort your color families.  On occasion there will be a color which really fits into the category I call “funky.”  By this, I mean a fabric could possible fit into several different color families depending on the dying process.  Teal is one of those colors.  Some teals can fall into a bluer category, some go gray, and others have a green undertone.  These color charts can help you decide if a teal needs to live in the blue bin, the gray bin, or the green bin.  Unless you have a bin solely for teals…which makes the decision making super easy. 

One word of caution concerning bin storage.  Make sure the lids aren’t completely airtight (like vacuum-sealed).  Cotton fabric needs to breath. 

Pressing Issues

I frequently am asked about pressing.  In a couple of recent blogs, I mentioned pressing quilt blocks as well as units and several readers asked how I pressed my blocks, did I use steam, or did I use starch or Best Press in the process.  As a rule, I don’t use steam.   But we all know rules were made to be broken.  If my blocks are coming out pretty true-to-size, I will give them a press with a hot, dry iron before I true them up.  If the block’s a little small, a shot or two of steam may help to flatten some of the fabric, and the block will expand a little.  I don’t necessarily starch my blocks, because I starch the fabric before I cut it, and unless there’s a lot of bias on the edges of the block, it doesn’t need to be starched again.  If there is bias along the edges, I may starch the block — it just depends on how stable the bias is.  Concerning block units, I tend to use the Darth Vader method of pressing:

I go to the dark side. I press the seams to one side, away from the lighter fabric. This way, the seams won’t show on the right side of the block.

However, you can’t always do this.  The cardinal rule with quilt blocks is this: you need to reduce bulk as much as possible. This outranks any pressing rules.  Bulk reduction allows you to quilt (either by hand or machine) without any hiccups.   When you have a block or block unit where lots of seams come together (like a pinwheel block), bulk reduction may mean pressing the seams towards the lighter fabric.  When this happens there are a couple of actions which can be taken to prevent seam shadowing. 

First, you can get past the seam point, make a tiny clip in the seam (don’t cut through the sewing thread), and press the remainder of the seam toward the darker fabric.

Sometimes, you can “spin” the fabric at the seam point to reduce the bulk and allow you to still press toward the darker fabric.

If neither of those are a possibility, you can “shave” the darker fabric.  Cut away about an 1/8-inch of the darker fabric, so the lighter fabric has a larger seam allowance and can completely envelope the darker fabric when you press toward the lighter side of the unit. 

My absolute, last-seam-standing, go-down-with-the-ship option is to press the seam open.  At first thought, this may seem like the best and easiest way to handle the situation – you would have one layer of the lighter fabric pressed toward the light fabric and the dark fabric pressed toward the dark material.  Easy-peasy, problem solved.  However, when you press a seam open in a quilt block, you’ve exposed the sewing thread.  When the quilt is quilted, the quilting process can weaken this exposed thread. Yes, occasionally seam have to be pressed open, but this only as a last resort. 

Pre-wounds:  The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

I think it’s only fair I go on the record right here:  I love pre-wound bobbins.   I’ve stated this fact in a couple of previous blogs.  The question I get asked concerning my overwhelmingly positive bias towards them is “Why?”  Why do I like them so much?  There are three reasons.  The first one has to do with the fact I’m pretty lazy about a few things and winding bobbins is one of them.  I dislike rethreading my machine to wind bobbins and then rethreading it again to sew.  Secondly, pre-wounds hold so much more thread than self-wound bobbins.  Most sewing machines and independent bobbin winders are programmed to only wind so much thread on a bobbin and then stop.  And this programmed amount falls far short of the amount of thread put on a pre-wound.  Third, convenience.  It’s just so much more convenient to pop out the empty bobbin and reach for a pre-wound.  It only takes a few seconds compared to the time needed to re-thread your machine and fill a bobbin. 

However….all pre-wounds are not alike.  It’s important the pre-wound bobbin is balanced (all the thread is evenly spaced – not bulging at the top, middle, or bottom) and the thread used is quality thread.  If either of these factors aren’t present, the pre-wound will give you serious issues while you’re stitching.  As quilters, we’re fortunate. We tend to stick to basic thread colors – cream, gray, dark gray, black, and occasionally white.  Pre-wounds are easily found in these colors.  I’ve ordered mine from Superior Thread, Red Rock Thread, and Missouri Star.  Besides knowing what color you need, you should  be aware of what kind of class your bobbin is.  This information may be in your manual.  I found this information about Dolly by Googling “What kind of bobbin does a Horizon M7 Continental take”?  It popped up immediately – class M. 

And as far as LeighAnn the Long Arm goes, I’ve always used pre-wounds on her.  A long arm can go through bobbin thread quickly and the additional amount on a pre-wound makes life a little easier for the long armer. 

Organizational Quandaries

This topic came up at my Tuesday night Zoom and Sew.  Most quilters are semi-organized.  By this, I mean most of us keep items for projects together – fabric, pattern, special notions, etc.  We generally have hand sewing/hand applique tools in a box, bag, or kit.  Machine applique notions may be in another box, bag, or kit.  But the question arose about “general tools,” such as irons.  How do you organize those?  In my opinion, I think you need to look at which aspect of quilting those items are used most and store them with those tools.  For instance, still using irons as an example, I have the Clover Mini-Iron, three small irons, a travel iron, two standard irons, and a cordless iron (I know that’s a lot of irons…but may I remind you this is a judgement-free blog).  Even though I rarely undertake freezer paper applique since discovering Apliquick, I keep the mini-iron with my hand applique because it’s primarily a hand applique tool.  My small irons are kept in the area I store duplicate supplies.  In this area, I keep extra seam rippers, small rulers, markers, pressing pads, etc. – anything I need to throw in a bag for an all-day sewing class/workshop/sit and sew.  I keep one standard iron in the pressing area near my machine and the other is in the bag I take with me to overnight classes/workshops/retreats.  My cordless stays on my quilter’s ironing board because this is the area I use to press large pieces of fabric, quilt tops, and borders.  The cordless makes my pressing life easier because there’s no cord to get in the way. 

I think it’s most convenient to keep general quilting supplies – fabric markers, small rulers, pins, seam rippers, small scissors – near your sewing machine within easy reach.  If you have an area for duplicate supplies, it’s easy to “shop” your studio before hitting up a quilt shop or Amazon.  I also think it’s nice to have this area to pull from when prepping for classes or workshops.  This means if you accidently leave your spare seam ripper or needle threader in the classroom, you’re not stymied until you can swing by and pick it up.  You have another one waiting in your sewing area. 

Is There Really a Big Difference Between Best Press and Spray Starch?


And I think it’s a personal decision on which one you like better and use.  I admit it, I’m a Faultless Spray Starch girl.  When I was taught to quilt, this is what my teacher used and as a result, I used it, too.  Plus, back in 1986 there wasn’t such a thing as a starch substitute (unless you count sizing).  Flash forward until today and there’s regular starch and starch substitutes (such as Best Press) in assorted fragrances. 

And despite all of this, I still think regular starch is a better choice.  I like the crisp feeling it gives fabric and I think it can stabilize bias better than a starch substitute any day of the week.  Overall, I think it outperforms a starch substitute for these reasons:

  1.  If you’re a pre-washer like me, once the fabric is dried, the finish is gone, and the fabric has a soft hand.  This isn’t a bad thing if you’re using it for hand applique and want a soft hand.   However, if you need to cut the fabric for piecing, the softness can work against you.  You need to use something to give the material a crispness.  Starch does this better than a substitute. 
  2. It can save your sanity by stabilizing the bias.  As a general rule, I don’t expose bias until the very last minute.  A block or block unit with bias which is handled a lot stands a good chance of getting the bias stretched.  And stretched bias equals a wonky block.  Once the bias is exposed, I lightly spray the block unit with starch and press it with a hot iron.  If the exposed bias area is large, I may repeat this step three or four times until the fabric is almost paper stiff.  I can’t get this result with a starch substitute. 

I have tried starch substitutes for the above processes, but didn’t receive the same, desired results that I did from starch.  Starch substitute aficionados will tell you (loudly at times), that spray starch will attract bugs.  It can.  Starch is produced from vegetables  — primarily corn – so yes, it is a tasty treat to nasty bugs such as silverfish.  However…only if the fabric is starched and stored for a period of time.  If you’re starching your fabric and then cutting and piecing it, or starching the block units before you sew it, the starch will not remain in the fabric long enough to attract buggies.  To all those pre-washers out there, don’t starch your fabric if has no further plans than warming up space with your other stash for a while.  Wait to starch it before you cut it.

Another starchy complaint I hear is “It flakes.  It flakes so much it looks like my fabric has dandruff.” 

Well then, you’re not starching and pressing correctly.  Here’s how you do it:

  1.  Shake the can well.
  2. Lightly  spray the wrong side of your fabric.
  3. Press with a hot iron
  4. Repeat if needed.

Most flakey starch issues come from not shaking the can well and saturating the fabric before pressing.  Spray lightly, press, and repeat. 

Lastly, the choice is truly a personal one and there are room in our quilting world for both containers.  Best Press has come out with Best Press 2, which is touted as having the same stiffness as starch.  I just ordered a bottle from Missouri Star.  Once it arrives and I’ve given it a test drive, I’ll let you know what I think.  And if you are Team Spray Starch, always purchase your starch at a drug or grocery store and not dollar establishments.  Dollar stores generally get second runs of spray starch and these have a higher water content, which means they won’t work as well.

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly of Marking Tools

Just as sure as you need thread to sew, at some point a quilter will need to mark their fabric.  This could be as simple as a dot marking the ¼-inch seam allowance for Y-seams, the diagonals on half-square triangles, or as complicated as applique placement.  I will be brutally honest and tell you, if the marks will be cut away (such as the diagonal lines drawn on squares of fabric to make HSTs), it really doesn’t matter what you use.  I’ve grabbed the nearest pen  to do this, which means on occasion I’ve used a gel pen, Sharpie, and ball point pen.  These marks don’t remain on the fabric – they’re cut away – so it really doesn’t matter.

But for those marks that do matter – those which have the possibility of having traces remain for years – you have to be a bit more careful.  For small dots and such, I tend to use a Frixion or a #2 pencil.  These marks are small, and I need to use something these 60-year-old eyes can see.  If I’m appliqueing and the fabric will overlap a marking, I’ll reach for a Frixion. However,  Frixion pens have one issue which scares me just a little:  I’ve heard the markings can come back and haunt you.  They’ll reappear on the quilt if it gets cold enough (Frixion ink “erases” with heat – so sewing enthusiasts love them because the marks disappear with the touch of an iron).  And we have to remember Frixions were made to write on paper, not fabric.  They’re still so new to the quilting world, they don’t have a textile history.  Years from now we have no idea if the ink will leave lasting harm on the fabric. 

Choosing your favorite marking tools is as personal as deciding if you like starch or a starch substitute.  Try several (they’re all reasonably inexpensive) and decide which one works best for you.  I used #2 pencils to mark everything for years and didn’t have any issues.  Then I found this:

Water-soluble marking pens.  The blue ink disappears with water.  This is what I use to mark my quilt tops for quilting and my background fabric for applique placement.  Once the project is complete, I wash or soak it in cold water, and it goes away.  This marking tool has been on the market for years and has a great reputation for disappearing with cold water and never returning to haunt a quilt or other textile.  Just don’t heat-set the ink with an iron before you wash your project in cold water. 

 Is Pre-Washing Absolutely Necessary?

No.  It’s not.  Many quilters consider this step obsolete with the advent of better dying processes and Color Catchers.  However, there are reasons to pre-wash your fabric other than fear of your fabric crocking or renegade dye traveling to other fabric in your quilt.  I break down the details for the case of prewashing in this blog:

I am a pre-washer for many of these reasons. 

How to Chose a Great Quilt Teacher

COVID_19 has completely flipped this topic on its ear, and here’s why:

Once everyone realized COVID wasn’t just Washington State’s or New York’s issue – that this virus would impact every state in our nation and beyond, the quilt world went silent for a while.  We had our magazines, our on-line groups and Facebook pages, but everything else just stopped.  It had to.  There were no quilt shows, guild meetings, and no classes.  However, we quilters are a pretty ingenious bunch.  As soon as Zoom became “a thing,” quilt teachers from all over the world learned how to teach via Zoom.  As a result, quilters now have the amazing opportunity to take classes from teachers anywhere in the comfort of their own studio.  No packing, no traveling, no forgetting supplies. 

It seems as if all the “big” names in our quilting universe now have classes and seminars available on Zoom and I really don’t see this changing anytime soon.  It appears quilting teachers like to teach from the comfort of their own studio as much as we like taking from the comfort of ours.  And if it’s a well-known teacher who is offering classes, it’s pretty easy to find out what the quality of those are.  You can Google the teacher or check his or her social media pages and read the feedback from students.  But what about the local teachers who are not nearly as well known?  How do you know if taking classes from any of them are worth your time and money?

I can say without any hesitation, most quilt teachers – known and not-yet-known – are overall generous with their time, teaching, and talent.  They don’t mind answering questions and are eager for you to understand what they’re instructing.  But if there’s some questions in your mind, contact them prior to registering for the class.  With most quilting teachers (myself included) there’s a supply list and on that supply list is an email address for students to use if they have any questions prior to the class.  Contact the instructor and explain what areas you’ve got questions about.

If you know another quilter who has taken classes with this instructor ask them how the class is conducted, if the teacher doesn’t mind questions, and did most everyone leave the class happy with the outcome?  In addition to these questions, you may want to know:

  • Did the teacher design the pattern or is he/she using a purchased pattern?  This may give you insight into their design skills. 
  • Google the pattern used.  See if you can get a read on if the pattern has been successfully used by others.  If no one but the teacher has constructed quilts from the pattern, this can be a red flag.
  • Does he/she teach regularly at the LQS and other locations?  If so, do they seem to have mostly full classes?
  • Do they see you through to the end?  Besides teaching the technique, block, or quilt, do they offer follow-up classes or encourage after-class contact if you run into problems or need some help deciding on how to finish the quilt?  Teaching quilting doesn’t necessarily end when class time is over and most quilting teachers don’t mind meeting with you later for follow up.

I can honestly say, even after quilting over 30 years, I learn something in every class I take.  And if any of you are hesitant about taking classes via Zoom, don’t be.  It seems we quilters have become pretty expert at this.  The Zoom classes I’ve taken have incorporated Powerpoint slides, two or three cameras, and videos.  They rock.

One Final Thought

Let me end this rather lengthy Bits and Pieces Blog with some quilty advice:  Don’t go with your first idea no matter what it is.  It’s super easy to get over enthused about a pattern and go with your first color selection.  It’s equally as easy to get excited about some design changes you want to make with a quilt pattern and run with them.  Allow yourself the luxury of at least 24-hours to make sure you’re still happy with your decision.  At least 95 percent of the time, I change my mind during that 24-hour period.  I’ll discover a part of the design which may be hard to execute the way I want to.  The extra day allows me to sift through my stash at a slower rate and more thoroughly.  Often, I discover enough fabric in my stash which will work with my color scheme, and I don’t have to purchase much – if any – additional.  Give yourself the gift of time before you spend weeks on a project.

I know this blog contained a lot of topics, but I do hope it helps of you.  We’re winding down our 2021  Quilting Survival Guide.  If there are some topics you’d like for me to write about before the end of the year, leave those in the comments and I’ll do my best to get to them before 2022. 

Until Next Week, Quilt On!

Love and Stitches,

Sherri and Sam