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

4 replies on “Bits and Pieces”

Hi Sherri, I have just found your blog. I wrote earlier that I was a beginning quilter living outside the US and so blogs like this are a lifeline to the community. But, can I candidly admit that I am having some trouble navigating this blog other than to go from archival blog post to archival blog post (which is a wonderful way to spend a rainy afternoon but isn’t as easy as being able to latch onto topics that apply to where I am at the moment). If there is a better way for me to reach out to you other than peppering your blog with comments, I sure would be happy to avail myself of that method.

Signed, I’m hooked but still baffled. Your (new) friend, Sharon

Hi Sharon!

My blog was a bit easier to follow a few months ago, but WordPress stopped supporting the layout I had, so I “upgraded” to the current one. Truthfully, the older one was a little easier to navigate, but not much. I honestly don’t mind answering questions, so if you have any, don’t hesitate to ask.

I have to search my own blogs for info sometimes. The way I do it is Google Sherriquiltsalot and then add the topic I am looking for. This usually works pretty well. However, if there is an issue you need help with, let me know. I love to get blog topics from my readers because then I know I’m researching and writing something they really want to know about!

Love and Stitches
Your new Friend,

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