Risk Taking and Making…

Opportunity does not come giftwrapped.  You must take risks.

As quilters, it’s easy to ride the flow.  We find a pattern we want to make.  We purchase the fabric or raid our stash.  We cut according to directions and construct according to instructions.  A few weeks stitching at our machines produces a quilt top we either quilt ourselves or farm out to a quilting artist.  It’s returned to us, we put the binding and the label on, and tada!  We have a quilt.  The process – for the most part – has been controlled and “user-friendly.”  There were no odd surprises or difficult challenges or scary moments.  It was relaxing and fun.


What would happen if we changed some things about the quilt we’re making?  I mean obviously, the quilt would transform into something it wasn’t.  It would no longer look like the quilt in the pattern.  We could substitute blocks or put applique where there wasn’t any before.  We could change sizes of blocks or the quilt itself.  We could alter borders and add embellishments.  The quilt which arrives out from under our needle would look different than the one on the pattern.  All of that is a given.

But what about us?  What happens to us as a quilter when we take risks?  What occurs when we dare to toss aside the pattern and simply see where the quilt takes us?  First let’s look at what risk taking does to people in general, and then let’s home in quilters. 

Broadly, there are two types of risks.  There are those which are calculated.  These are the ones where the pros and cons of the decision are carefully considered.  The risks are weighed against possible losses and gains.  These are the risks associated with such things as investing and in some cases, medical decisions.  A lot of thought, research, and discussion goes into these risks.  And overall, if the risk is taken, the outcome is generally favorable. 

Then there are those risks where we throw caution to the wind and go for it.  Decisions are made on a whim or a dare.  Whether the end result will be favorable or not varies as much as a coin toss.  Sometimes these risks are as stomach-dropping as a roller coaster and others are as serious as an “I do” at the end of an altar. 

Both kinds shape us as individuals.

For quilters, I think taking some risks is vital to your creativity.  While using a pattern or a kit is great and both can certainly help us along on our quilt journey, there is something to be said about turning a pattern on its ear or throwing it out the window entirely.  It does something to your mind.  It’s very freeing, but also a tad scary.  Most of us, from the beginning, have been taught to quilt by patterns.  We were coached step-by-step through blocks and then rows.  We are comfortable with this.  Patterns are our oldest friend and closest quilting confidant.  They are what we know best.  However, risk is easier when you take what you know – what you’re the most comfortable with – and make a few changes here and there.  Sure, taking a chance with those can still be a little scary, but we know we always can return to the pattern for guidance.  And risk taking is easier with patterns you’re the most familiar with.  Don’t think so?  Then take a look at this quilt:

Which is made from this quilt block:

Which was originally this quilt block:

A nine-patch.  The quilt referenced is called a Disappearing Nine Patch, and it may not have ever been made if someone hadn’t taken a few risks with a regular nine-patch block.  The nine-patch is a familiar quilt block – probably one of the first beginner quilters learn to make.  Since the block is so familiar, taking risks with it was easy. 

Changing things … taking risks … can result in creative break throughs for you as a quilter.  Quilters are artists.  No matter if you are most comfortable religiously following a pattern, like to mix things up a little, or you are adept at stirring the creative pot – you are an artist, a creative soul, a maker.   Taking chances will free your mind.  It will allow you to think on a different level.  The barriers are gone, and anything is possible.  It fills you and gives you energy.

And sometimes it’s a bit intimidating.  Let me throw in a personal example.  I am taking a quilting class.  And I mean a “quilting” quilting class – the kind where you’re working with your long arm or stationary machine and quilting the top, batting, and back together.  I signed up, was given access to the teaching platform and dutifully began to download the lessons, instructions, and assignments.  Part of the class preparation is to make some small tops to quilt before moving onto the big assignment which involves quilting all kinds of yummy fabric, including silks.  I had several small quilt tops I hoped would work so I could dodge a few of the assignments.


Part of this quilting journey is learning to think creatively and “on your feet.”  It’s allowing your creativity to drive the process.  The first small quilt I had to make involved this block:

Drunkard’s Path

Which is not my favorite.  All those concave and convex curves and bias…just not my thing.  I read through the pattern, and to my surprise, there were no hard, fast directions.  No pattern.  No solid dimensions of what your blocks needed to finish at.  Cut eight blocks of one fabric somewhere between 9 and 10-inches.  Cut eight more blocks from another fabric the same size as the first blocks.  Put one block of fabric A on top of fabric B, with both blocks right sides up.  With your rotary cutter cut a gentle curve.

What?  No ruler?  No template? 


I can’t tell you what a mind-hurdle I had.  Nor can I explain the fun I had, either.  Suddenly I was gifted with permission to make that curve as gentle or as tight as I wanted.  Gentle curves.  Wavy curves.  Almost-straight curves were produced with sheer random.  Sewing them together was fun and easy.  At the end I had four large pinwheel-ish blocks.

But getting over the mind-hurdle of no concrete finished sizes (just trim them all to one size), no template, no pattern…it pushed me out of my comfort-zone box.  It was freeing and fun…and I realized I’d do it again in a hot minute.  Then I asked myself why I wasn’t already doing it more often?

Because I’m afraid of making a mistake.  But honestly, once you get to the point where you understand it’s just a quilt and most things can be fixed, suddenly you find your “comfort zone” has evaporated and anything can happen because by removing those barriers, you’ve given yourself permission to make mistakes.  And this is a good thing. Why?  Because great things can come from making mistakes.  Edison didn’t come up with the lightbulb on the first try.  He made lots of mistakes.  In the end, all those mistakes paid off.  Each one let him know what didn’t work and pointed him to what would. 

Same with quilters.  There are few “mistakes” which are totally unfixable in quilting, so give yourself permission to make some errors.  Great quilts can come from knowing what didn’t work so well and how we “fixed” the mistakes.  Breathe.  Trust yourself through the process.  And   if you get completely frustrated with the quilt, just walk away for a while – not forever, but for a few days. 

At this point, I’d like to leave you with a couple of thoughts.  First, let’s talk about the quilt which seems unfixable.  You’re in the middle of quilt construction and you’ve made some changes.  Maybe you’ve altered some blocks, changed some block sizes, or re-designed the borders – but whatever you’re doing isn’t working.  You’ve put the quilt in time out for a few days, thinking by the time you get back to it, you will have come up with a solution.  But a solution doesn’t happen and now you’re left with a quilt you’re not sure what to do with.  When this happens to me, the first thing I do is consult my quilting friends.

I regularly quilt with a group of women I’ve known since 2010.  We met in person for years, but now because of Covid and all those minion variants, we meet via Zoom.  These women are some of the best quilters (and friends) I’ve been blessed to know.  I can send a picture of my quilt via text or Zoom and within a half an hour, I have options.   These options happen because my friends have space between themselves and the quilt.  I’ve been up close and personal to it for days.  They’re looking at it for the first time.  Their minds see the quilt differently and as a result they can offer me solutions I haven’t thought of.  Quilting friends are invaluable for many things, and their creative minds and quilting talent are two of them.  If you have quilters who are near you, develop relationships with them (this is why bees and guilds are so important).  If you don’t have nearby quilty friends, let me encourage you to join an online or Facebook quilt group.  Most of these groups are carefully monitored and unkind comments and unsolicited advertising aren’t allowed. 

If all else fails and you can’t find a workable quilting solution, you can give the quilt away.  Leave it on a free table at a guild meeting (along with your leftover fabric and any directions).  Drop it off at Goodwill.  Or….simply trash it. Before you hyperventilate by gasping in horror, let me remind you:  It’s. Just. A. Quilt.  It’s fabric and stitches.  It’s plans and designs.  Designs which didn’t work out as planned.  Salvage anything you can (such as fabric and notions), and to borrow a phrase from Frozen’s Elsa – Let it go. 

Now you’ll be singing this in your head the rest of the day…

And remember the quilt wasn’t a total waste.  It taught you lessons.  It showed you what didn’t work.  You took a risk and it didn’t go as planned.  Take what you’ve learned and move on. 

So, as we move through this year’s theme of Making Your Quilt Yours, I want you to try something for me.  I want you to take some risks.  I want you to change somethings in your patterns.  Big or small, it doesn’t matter. I deeply desire you learn to get comfortable taking some risks and changing a few things here and there.  Then send me pictures.  My email is  Show and tell me what you changed.  I’ve shown you folks plenty of quilts I’ve made and have given you specifics (often in nauseating detail) of what I altered, how I altered it, and why.  Please return the favor.  And if you give me permission to do so, I’d like to share it on my blog.

Nothing ventured, nothing gained.

Until next week, Make Your Quilt Yours (and pretty please share it with me),

Love and Stitches,

Sherri and Sam


The Intersection of Reality and Expectations

You will read this blog sometime in February 2022.  However, I’m writing this blog on January 26, 2022.  For the record, I always keep at least four weeks of blogs “in the can” just in case something happens.  I don’t write well under stress.

With this time frame in mind, this blog is about Expectations Verses Reality.  Most of my regular readers know I have a process I muddle through at the beginning of every year.  I make a list of the quilts completed the previous year, a list of quilts I want to finish during the current year, and a list of quilts I want to start.  Each list has its own purpose.  The list of finished quilts is for encouragement.  Every time I look at it, it says, “See?  See what you can do when you focus and kick your determination into high gear?”  In 2021, I completed four quilts – Twinkling Twinkle, All Roads Lead Home, Sunflower Dance, and the T-shirt quilt I made for my brother, Eric.  Four quilts pieced, quilted, appliqued, bound, and labeled.  Not too shabby, if I do say so myself.

I find myself in the middle of three quilts I began in 2021 and am working to finish in 2022:  My guild’s 2021 BOM, a chemo quilt for a good friend, and the alphabet quilt I blogged about in September 2021.  More on all three of these later.  Lastly, there are two quilts I want to start this year – Garden Party Down Under and Windblown Tulips.  I’ll also talk about these in a bit.  Of course, my “Lifers” are still there, but good progress has been made on two of them.  A Day in Grandmother’s Flower Garden is nearly completely assembled.  I’m sewing the columns together. 

Remember, this quilt is pieced entirely by hand.  It’s taking some time, but truthfully, it’s coming along faster than I expected.  I have found I can work on this one for a few weeks at a time and then the quilt and I both need a break.  The columns are long.  I worked out a plan to manage the bulk.  I sew two columns together and then attach those to the quilt top.  This limits the amount of time I’m dealing with all the bulk in my lap or on a table.  The challenge will be the borders, but those are still in the distant future.  I’m really not thinking about them too much right now.

A Horn of Plenty for a New Generation is moving right along.  Over Christmas, I finished prepping all the Apliquick applique pieces, bagged and tagged those, and pre-quilted the remainder of my quilt squares.  This quilt has undergone some serious changes – so much so, it has its own upcoming blog where I will walk you through my design process and explained the decisions I made.  The Language of the Flowers got put in time out.  I think this quilt will remain there at least until I get the last few fruity blocks appliqued in my Horn of Plenty quilt.  I do have the next block prepped, though….so there is that.

Garden Party Down Under is a quilt designed by Irene Blanck.  This quilt is offered as a block of the month through The Quilt Show.  You must be a member of The Quilt Show in order to receive the patterns.  There are two reasons I love this quilt.  First is the designer, Irene.  I’ve met Irene through some sit and sews with The Applique Society via Zoom.  She’s amazing, gracious, positive, and funny.  She also is a very, very talented designer.  She created this quilt during the Pandemic – a time when she couldn’t receive outside shipments of fabric (she lives in Australia).  She pulled her quilt from her stash and it’s bright and beautiful.  She used fabric I would have never dreamed of using.  I’m making this quilt with that kind of fabric – fabric I would look at in a quilt shop but wouldn’t have any idea how to incorporate it into one of my quilts.  Currently the project box holding the material for this quilt looks like a box of 64-count Crayola crayons threw up in it. 

I’m having such a blast collecting the fabric, I can’t wait to start the applique, but I promised myself I would have to complete one of the projects currently under my needle before I make the first cut. 

Windblown Tulips Pieced Background

Windblown Tulips  is a small applique wall hanging.  I’ve pieced the background and have the templates cut out, but this is as far as I’ve gotten with this one.  This project is portable, so I have a feeling it will go with me on the next Florida trip to see my son. As far as my color palette goes with this one, it’s very “me.”  A pop of unexpected, but primarily traditional fabrics. I decided to use freezer paper applique with this project.  All the applique I’ve worked over the past two years has been either Apliquick or raw-edge applique.  I decided I need to re-visit this technique, so I don’t forget how to do it.

Now we get to the part where reality crashes into expectations.  I’m in the middle of three projects.  The first one is this:

You may remember this little quilt top.  This is my guild’s 2020 BOM no judgement – no one said it had to be finished in 2020 and in my defense, I was making hundreds of masks.  For this quilt, all we got were the patterns and a requested colorway.  There were no finishing directions.  We had to come up with our own layout.  Since I love all things on-point, that’s the direction I went.  And I’m really pleased with the layout and the borders – which allowed me to use up some leftover half-square triangles.  I only need to quilt this and get it bound and labeled.  Then I’ll send it to a good friend who’s battling through her second round of cancer.  I’ve had the quilting marked out for weeks, but still am feeling a bit unsettled about it.  I need a weekend where I’m snowed in (with power), a bottle of good wine, and some uninterrupted quilting time.  I’ll anchor the quilt and let it talk to me.  Or I need a weekend when the hubs is fishing or golfing and I have a couple of days to myself.  Either way, my plan is to have this mailed out no later than Easter.  There.  I’ve set a date.  Hold me to it, ya’ll.

HPQG 2021 Mystery Quilt. I promise there is a quilt in there somewhere.

I don’t think I introduced the High Point Quilt Guild’s 2021 Mystery Quilt … and that’s because short of buying the required fabric, I hadn’t touched it until recently.  This was designed to be a two-color quilt, which was something I’ve never undertaken.  I’m still in the middle of making block units, which will soon be sewn into blocks.  This pattern introduced me to a new way of making four-patches and I must admit, I didn’t like it.  It did, however, use my favorite technique for flying geese – the No Waste Method.  I’ll be putting this thing together in a few weeks.  I purchased enough fabric for borders, but I’m debating about taking some of the border material and sashing the blocks.  I’ll see how everything pans out once I get the blocks sewn together and lay them out.

The third quilt I began in 2021 and will finish this year is the alphabet quilt I discussed in this blog:  I’m very happy with this quilt.  If you remember, I had to redraft this quilt from a whole cloth quilt to one with squares so that it would be easier to raw-edge applique.  I completed my squares, cut them down to 10 ½-inches and have sewn them together.  The original pattern had the center of the quilt at 34 ½ -inches x 44 ½ -inches, unfinished.  My center is 47-inches x 58-inches. 

This means I may need to redraft my borders, too.  The original borders were 8 ½-inches wide.  However, once I did the math (10-inch finished block x 1.618 divided by 4) I get about 4-inches.  Since the borders will hold a multitude of appliqued flowers, I decided to leave them at 8 ½.  As a matter of fact, I plan to draw a layout of the borders with the flowers on them at 8 ½-inches and see if perhaps they may even need a bit more breathing room.  The applique pieces are large, and I don’t want them to appear too crowded.  This quilt will have a follow up blog in the near future. 

Do I think I can finish all three of my works in progress this year?  Yes.  I just need to stay focused.  I do this by making not only this list

And keeping it somewhere I can easily see it, but I also make weekly lists of what I want to get done. 

On this list I make sure I have specific goals.  I don’t necessarily tell myself  to spend a certain amount of time each night quilting.  If there’s a sure-fire way to set myself up for failure, it’s that.  My days can vary as much as yours does.  Somedays I have more time to spend in my studio and somedays I have significantly less.  I know I have fewer hours Monday through Wednesday due to the nature of my job.  From Thursday on, my schedule is more flexible.  Each week I make sure I have some goals which can be accomplished quickly and a few which will take more time.  The lighter tasks are taken care of earlier in the week and I hold off on the lengthier tasks until the weekend. 

So this is where I’m at – the intersection of Reality and Expectations.  I think I’ll get through most of my goals this year just fine and safely travel until I get to 2023’s intersection of Reality and Expectations.  Lists work for me.  If you find yourself aimlessly wandering around your quilt studio or wondering what project to tackle next, you may find a list like mine works for you.  It sure feels good crossing things off you’ve completed!

Until next week, Make Your Quilt Yours!

Love and Stitches,

Sherri and Sam


Sticky Situations

Today I’d like to discuss a subject which is entirely subjective:  fusible webbing.

The choice of a fusible can be as personal and biased as your favorite batting brand or fabric designer.  And on the surface, fusibles may even seem like an afterthought compared to all the other quilting decisions you have to make.  I mean, you need to hold some fabric patches in place while you stitch around them – why does this need to be a huge decision?  Can’t you just grab whatever you have laying around and use it?

The answers to these questions are just like most of those in quilting…yes…and no.  To begin with, let’s talk about the difference between fusible webbing and fusible interfacing.  Both are fusibles (can be adhered by the heat of an iron) and both can be used in quilts, but they are different, and each has its own separate purpose.

Fusible interfacing is actually a fabric which gives shape and stability to whatever cloth item you’re making.  Fusible webbing is a fiber.  I use both in my quilting.  I use fusible webbing primarily in machine applique, although there are a few other areas I may use it.  While the term fusible interfacing is usually thought of in the context of garment construction, I have also found it super-handy in some quilting techniques.  For instance, if a quilt I’m making has large blocks which are set on point, such as this one:

I will use a type of soft, thin tricot fusible interfacing to stabilize the bias and keep it from stretching. 

This type of interfacing is easy to piece with and so thin it doesn’t interfere with the quilting process.  I have also used this interfacing on the backs of blocks which have a lot of bias-cut pieces  to stabilize those before sewing the blocks together in rows. I cut the interfacing the exact size of what the unfinished block should be, center it on the back of the block and press.  If I need to (because the block may be uneven), I can use the edge of the interfacing as the sewing edge.  For T-shirt quilts, it’s indispensable as a stabilizer for the knit fabric. 

Featherweight and even medium-weight fusible interfacing are found in my studio.  I use these on the backs of my quilt labels to give them a bit of shape before sewing them onto the back of my quilt.  And if you’re a quilter who also makes bags, you probably have several other different types of interfacing in your quilting space. 

Fusible webbing is different – and from here on out, when I mention fusible, I’m talking about fusible webbing, not interfacing.  One of the advanced techniques I plan on highlighting this year is raw-edge machine applique, and some kind of fusible is needed for this method.  This webbing reacts to the heat of an iron, and it melts onto the back of your fabric and its paper backing is removed– unlike a fusible interfacing.  A fusible interfacing’s bonding agent will melt onto the wrong side of your fabric, but the interfacing itself will remain intact.  There are a couple of great things about fusible webbing and fusible interfacing.  First, neither are too pricey.  Second, both can be found in big box stores such as Joann’s, Hobby Lobby, and Walmart.  And third, fusible is a US term.  In the United Kingdom and some other countries, it’s known as Bondaweb. 

However, before we start discussing the different types, weights, and brands of fusibles, I would like to offer a few tips for using any fusible. 

  • You may want to prewash your fabric before applying any fusible.  Sometimes the finishing chemicals on the fabric prevent the interfacing or webbing from adhering the way it should to the wrong side of your fabric.  Prewashing will remove all finishes.
  • Make sure you use the correct weight for the fabric and object under construction.
  • Keep in mind the webbing fuses two pieces of fabric together and makes them stiffer.
  • Keep fusible tape or strips in your sewing kit.  They’re great for mending – especially quick hem fixes.
  • Always, always, always remember the webbing is not a permanent bond (as neither are glues, basting sprays, or the bonding powder).  It will dissolve with washing or use over time.  It’s always necessary to stitch around the fused piece of cloth to ensure it stays in place.

How Fusibles Work

Unlike fusible interfacing which only has the bonding agent on one side, webbing has adhesive on both sides.  That’s important to keep in mind as your iron is the tool which adds the heat and activates the adhesive.  As long as the paper backing is on the webbing, it’s easy to tell which fabrics have fusible on them and which don’t.  Once the backing is removed, it’s harder.  If an iron directly touches the webbing, be prepared for a sticky mess on your iron.  This is why you may want to keep a tube of this:

In your sewing space or something else which will clean your iron in case of a fusible accident.  Word of caution here…you only need a dab of the cleaner.  One time I used too much on the surface of a hot iron and this produced a lot of smoke…which made the smoke detector go off…which prompted a visit from the local fire department – who were not amused.  And looked nothing like those hot firemen in the calendar, much to my disappointment.

The first step when working with fusibles for any type of applique is to look at your pattern.  Using fusibles for machine applique is a bit like working with freezer paper applique on the wrong side of the fabric – the applique pattern pieces need to be reversed.  Usually, if the applique pieces are reversed in the pattern, it will state this somewhere in the instructions or directly on the applique pattern pieces. If you can’t find this information anywhere, assume the pieces are not reversed. 

To reverse pattern pieces, I use my light box (if you don’t have one of these, go here I tell you how to make your own).  I flip the pattern over, so the printed side is against the surface of my light box.  I then position my fusible over the pattern with the paper side facing up and trace the pattern.  This will reverse all the applique pieces.  If the pattern is reversed, put it on the light box with the printed side up, position the fusible with the paper side facing up and trace. 

After all the pieces are traced onto the paper side of the fusible, use a sharp pair of paper scissors to cut the applique pieces out, leaving about 1/8 to ¼-inch margin around the drawn lines.  Position the applique pieces on the wrong side of the fabric and press. 

A few words of caution at this point.  First, be sure to read the directions for the type of fusible used.  Somewhere in the directions, it should be stated what heat setting to have your iron set on and how long to hold the iron on the fusible.  Too much heat, too much time, too little heat, or too little time will affect the bonding agent.  Second, I avoid using mechanical pencils to trace my applique pattern onto the fusible.  I know that sounds kind of picky, but here’s why:  the wrong side of the fusible – the side with the webbing on it – is bumpy.  I can’t get a smooth line when I trace with a mechanical pencil.  I think the lead is too thin.  I like these pencils:

To trace just about anything in my studio.  The lead is soft enough to give me a smooth line and dark enough I can see my marking, but not so dark it gives me any issues on my fabric. Added plus, they’re inexpensive and can be found in just about any grocery or drug store. 

Then cut the applique pieces out on the pencil lines.  If the pieces won’t be used immediately, leave the paper on.  If not, position them on the background fabric before removing the paper.  Once you’re happy with the block, remove the paper backing, reposition, and press.  This is generally the way I handle my raw-edge applique blocks.  Once the paper is removed from the webbing, the back of the fabric is tacky from the webbing and can be difficult to maneuver.  If my block only has a few applique pieces, I may opt to remove the paper, position them, and then press.  However, if the block is like this:

And has a lot of pieces, I’ll wait and remove the backing until I’m happy with the arrangement.  If you’re still a little unsure of the process, there are a couple of upcoming blogs on raw-edge applique.

Now that we’ve discussed the difference between fusible interfacing and fusible webbing, and know (in a very broad, general way) how to use the webbing, let’s take a look at some of the major players in the fusible world and a couple of minor ones I really like.

Thermoweb – While you may not be familiar with this name, if you’re any kind of crafter, I bet you know the name Heat and Bond.  Thermoweb is the parent company.  They produce iron on adhesive, Heat and Bond, Heat and Bond Light, Heat and Bond Featherweight, and fusible webbings sheets which can be run through an ink jet printer or a cutting system such as the Brother Scan and Cut.  There are a lot of great things about these products.  Thermoweb has  merchandise for just about any fusible need you have.  They are reasonably priced and can found in most big box stores which has a sewing or crafting section.  Years ago, I appliqued a lot of sweatshirts (I did hundreds of sorority sweatshirts for a local college). I tried several different fusibles, but found I preferred Heat and Bond because it left the applique pieces stiff and could stand up to the abuse of a thick, satin stitch.  The downside to Thermoweb is just this – I find even the Featherweight leaves a bit of a stiff hand. However, there are ways to work around this and we’ll talk about them later.

Steam-A-Seam/Steam-A-Seam 2 – Like Thermoweb, this product is readily available in big box stores with a sewing section as well as quilt shops.  The biggest difference between Steam-A-Seam and Thermoweb is the packaging.  With Heat and Bond, the fusible is backed on one side with paper.  With Steam-A-Seam, both sides have paper.  On one side, the paper can be easily pulled away from the fusible.  On the other side, it can’t.  Trace on the side which stays attached to the webbing.  The paper from the other side can double as a pressing sheet or tear away stabilizer (sometimes needed with machine applique).  Like Thermoweb, Steam-A-Seam also has the 8 ½ x 11 sheets which can be run through an inkjet printer. 

Right now, you may be asking “Why two pieces of paper protecting the fusible webbing?  Isn’t one enough?”  Technically, yes.  And while the extra piece of paper can be used as a pressing sheet (and why this is kind of handy will come in later) or a stabilizer, the second piece of paper really serves to protect the webbing if it is stored for a while.  I have found if the fusible not used for a while, eventually the webbing will separate from the paper.  This additional piece of paper helps the fusible to keep its integrity. 

Wonder Under by Pellon – Pellon has given us quilters a lot of great products through the years and Wonder Under is one of them.  Like Thermoweb and Steam-A-Seam products, Wonder Under is available in lots of big box stores and quilt shops.  The biggest difference between Wonder Under and the other two fusibles is Wonder Under is acid-free.  This is something to keep in mind if you’re construction a quilt for the ages – the fusible won’t damage the fabric since it’s ph-balanced. It comes in various weights and types, but it’s important to keep in mind Wonder Under’s fusible bond is permanent. If you’ve fused a piece of applique in the wrong spot, you may be able to move it, but the adhesive will remain behind.

Misty Fuse – Compared to Wonder Under, Heat and Bond, and Steam-A-Seam, this may be a name you’re not familiar with.  I just recently discovered this wonderful fusible.  Misty Fuse has no paper backing, which makes working with it a little tricky.  It is great for use in sheer fabrics, so if you’re using super lightweight fabrics in your applique for things like insect or fairy wings or icicles, Misty Fuse can take care of your machine applique needs without compromising the fabric’s appearance. 

Because Misty Fuse is lightweight, it’s wonderful for applique quilts with multiple layers – such as art quilts or landscape quilts.  These types of applique quilts may have lots and lots of fabric fused on top of each other and a “regular” fusible can add to the bulk of the quilt, making it difficult to get a needle through in the quilting process.  Misty Fuse literally disappears after ironing and doesn’t change the hand of the fabric.  It comes in white, black and ultraviolet – which works great on sheer fabrics. 

Since it has no paper backing, you have to change how you use this fusible.  Lay the Misty Fuse on the wrong side of the fabric, and cover with a silicone sheet (a silicone baking sheet works well), a Goddess Sheet (more on these in a bit), or parchment paper.  Press according to directions. 

Couple of things to keep in mind as you use Misty Fuse.  First, save your scraps.  I keep mine in a Ziploc baggie.  Since there is no paper backing, even the smallest pieces can be used in your applique.  Second, if you have fabric scraps with Misty Fuse on the wrong side and you want to save them, be sure to store them separately from your regularly scrappage.  Misty Fuse is so lightweight, it’s difficult to tell it’s even on the wrong side of any fabric. You could run into some pressing issues if you accidently used some of the scraps with Misty Fuse on them in a pieced block.  Ask me how I know.

Soft Fuse ­ — My relationship with Soft Fuse goes back several years.  I had never heard of this fusible until Dragonfly Quilt Shop opened its brick-and-mortar store in High Point around 2009.  Up to this point, I used whatever fusible Hancock Fabrics had marked down – which meant either Steam-A-Seam, Wonder Under, or Heat and Bond.  I took an applique class at Dragonfly and had the chance to use Soft Fuse.   I was instantly hooked.  It allowed the fabric to maintain a soft hand (not as soft as Misty Fuse, though) and I didn’t have to “window cut” (more on this technique later) any of my applique pieces unless they were really big. 

Like most of the other fusible webbing, Soft Fuse comes in rolls or sheets.  It has a paper backing and bonds well with everything except super heavy fabric.  And it preps just like the major three fusibles.  To tell you how much I like this product, when Dragonfly closed its brick-and-mortar shop, I purchased every roll they had.  The only complaint I have about the product is it doesn’t age well.  I’ve found the longer the product sits opened on a shelf, the more the webbing pulls away from the paper. 

Vliesofix – This fusible is produced by the Czech Bead Company and is available more readily in Europe than in the US.  There are a few quilt websites which carry it, and if you’re curious enough, order some and try it for yourself.  I’ll have to be upfront and tell you I never heard of it until I began researching this blog and have never tried it, either.  It does get good reviews (five out of five stars on Amazon) and it is similar to Wonder Under.  It comes in varying weights and sizes and is used in everything from quilts and other fabric crafts to hat making. 

Tools You Need to Get Started

Fortunately, most of these tools you already have in your quilting toolbox.  There are a one or two you may want to purchase, but in those cases there are inexpensive alternatives you can use until you make your mind up about raw-edge applique. 

  • Sharp paper scissors.  Fusible webbing is paper backed, so a good pair of paper-cutting scissors is needed.  I use my large Fiscars for big pieces and a pair of small embroidery scissors for small pieces and tight curves.
  • Regular pencils.  I know this one seems kind of picky, but I don’t think you get a smooth tracing line with a mechanical pencil.  The lead is too thin.  My favorite soft lead, #2 pencils are Ticonderoga.  In the fall, you can get these for a steal in the back-to-school sales. 
Cutterpillar Wafer Light Box
  • Light Box.  These simply make life easier for tracing.  I’ve blown through three light boxes in my 35-year quilting adventure and am currently using a Cutterpillar.  This has become my all-time favorite due to its versatility and ability to transport.  It’s not bulky and it’s easy to carry to classes and retreats.  If investing in a light box is not in your budget at this time, remember you can make your own.  Just know some kind of light box will make your applique life so much easier.
  • A Goddess Sheet or the equivalent.  Raw edge machine applique is no different from other types of applique in many ways.  Like other techniques, you will want to assemble your piece as much as you can off the block.  This way you only have to move one large piece onto your applique block instead of hundreds of small pieces.  This is easy with hand applique, but it gets trickier with raw-edge machine applique because the fusible is on the back of the fabric.  If you try to press all the pieces together on your ironing board, you may end up fusing that piece to your ironing board cover or pressing mat.  A Goddess Sheet is a Teflon coated sheet which allows you to press your fusible applique pieces to each other, but then it lifts cleanly off the sheet.  A silicone baking sheet or a piece of parchment paper does the same thing. 
  • Learn how to “window cut.”  This applique technique is not used all the time.  As a matter of fact, if you’re working with a pattern that has lots of small applique pieces, you won’t need this technique.  Likewise, if you’re using a fusible which doesn’t leave the fabric stiff.  This technique comes in handy if your applique pieces are large and you don’t want the fabric to be tough from a lot of fusible.  You trace the applique pieces on the paper side of the fusible, and then cut it out about ¼-inch away from the drawn line.  Then you move to the inside of the applique piece and cut the inside of the fusible away about ¼ to ½-inch from the drawn line, leaving just a “fusible outline” of your image.  Press to the wrong side of the fabric and cut out on the drawn pencil line.  Window cutting (or windowpane cutting as it’s sometimes referred to) keeps the fabric from becoming stiff from a large area of fusible.  And the fusible which is cut away can be used for smaller applique pieces.

In closing, I want to caution you there is no “universal” fusible.  In other words, there is no one-and-only fusible you need to keep in your quilt studio which will cover all your fusing needs.  The fusible webbing used depends on what you’re making and your fabric choice.  Bags can require several different types of fusibles as well as interfacings.  The effect desired also depends on the type of fusible used.  If a winter quilt has lots of icicles, you may want to make them out of sheer blue fabric and use the ultraviolet Misty Fuse to keep them looking transparent.  Heavy fabrics such as denim need a fusible made for thick fabrics. 

The brand you like best is personal and subjective.  Just like anything else in quilting, the longer you keep sewing, the more products you’ll use.  What I may really like, you may not.  Like batting, the choices are your own and what works best for you.  My advice is to try several.  Fusible webbing isn’t expensive.  Fuse several shapes using different fusibles to a background.  Stitch around them.  Toss them in the washer and then the dryer – do this several times.  After about the third round, decide which one still looks good to you.  That just may be the brand you’ll want to stick with.

Until Next Week, Make Your Quilt Yours!

Love and Stitches,

Sherri and Sam


How to Tame Those Tiny Fabric Pieces (Without Losing Your Mind or Your Patience)

Quilts such as this:

And this:

And this:

Are beautiful.  They’re eye candy, and a lot of quilters are immediately drawn to them, not only because they’re beautiful, but also because they’re challenging.  What’s so difficult about these quilts?  The size of the blocks. 

Ranging anywhere from 4-inches to 6-inches (finished), the blocks in these quilts are on the smallish side of things.  Are these the smallest blocks in any quilt? No.  Not when you consider a quilt such as this:

A postage stamp quilt, where the blocks can measure about 1-inch (maybe less) when finished.  However, the blocks in a postage stamp quilt aren’t pieced.  Then there’s always that random hexie project out there with super-small pieced hexies. 

The more you research quilts with small blocks, the more options pop up.  I was introduced to small blocks when I constructed my Dear Jane quilt a few years ago.  This project pushed me from my usual 10-inch blocks to something considerably smaller.  Smaller quilt blocks caused me to “up my game.”  For me the smaller size meant I had to be particularly precise and accurate, as any mistake seemed to be magnified despite the block’s tiny dimensions. And after a few of the blocks were under my belt, I had found my favorite construction technique for them – paper piecing.  

I like to paper piece.  It took me a while to learn how to do it correctly, but once I did, I fell in love with it.  However, this blog isn’t about paper piecing.  It’s about how to sew small blocks.  I’m writing this from a non-paper piecing perspective because some quilters don’t like paper piecing or know how to do it, and some small blocks such as this one:

Can’t be paper pieced. 

To start, let’s talk about some quilting notions you’ll need to have on hand.  Most of these supplies can already be found in your sewing space.

  •  Spray Starch.  This will be your BFF when working with small blocks.  And here I’m talking about straight-up, real spray starch.  In one way, cutting out the pieces for a 6-inch block is no different from cutting out the pieces for a 12-inch block – accuracy is important for both.  However, with larger blocks there is a bit more “wiggle” room which isn’t there with small blocks.  From my own personal experience, I’ve found starching the fabric until it feels like paper makes cutting small pieces a lot easier.  Shake the can of starch well, then working from the backside of the fabric, spray the fabric lightly and then press with a hot, dry iron.  Repeat the process until the fabric feels like paper.  Don’t think you can do this with one pass by saturating the fabric and then pressing it.  You’ll get a lot of starch flakes this way and a damp fabric which the iron won’t dry completely.  One more bit of wisdom at this point:  If the quilt with small blocks won’t ever be washed (such as a wall hanging), I don’t prewash my fabric.  The extra layer of fabric finish plus the starch makes the material extra-stiff. 
  • Downsize Your Rotary Cutter.   Most quilters use a 45-mm rotary cutter.  This size falls in the middle and usually handles everything but the thickest of layers with ease.  However, when rotary cutting small pieces, a smaller cutter may give you more control and accuracy.  I began using a 6-mm rotary cutter when I worked on Dear Jane.  It really felt small in my hand after cutting with a 45-mm or 60-mm, but now I find I prefer the 6-mm to almost any other size.  I have petite hands and this size just works better for me.  I also have this:

Which I purchased some years ago from Missouri Star.  It also works super-well when cutting small pieces, or prepping pieces for reverse applique.

  •  Thinner Thread.  While the block and its units may be small, this means everything used will seem to be amplified – including thread.  Reducing bulk is one of the goals for any quilt block, and it’s really important for small ones.  Thinner thread is one way to reduce bulk and increase accuracy.  I typically use #50 in either two or three-ply (depending on the brand).  For small blocks, I will go up to #60 or#80 in two or three ply.  In a pinch, or if I’m out of the #60 or #80, I’ll still use #50, but make sure it’s only two-ply. 
  • Be Careful About the Scale of Print Fabrics. Under normal circumstances, I would consider this:

To be a small-scale print.  I’ve placed a dime next to the print to give you some idea of how small the print is.  However, if I cut this into a 1-inch square

You can see how the print can lose its integrity.  When working with small block units in small blocks, be conscious of how the print will look once it’s cut down, and then has a seam allowance taken in.  With super-small block units, you may want to stick to solids, small dots, or tiny stripes.  With others, you may find yourself fussy-cutting small prints to show off in the middle of a tiny star or snowball block.  If there’s any doubt about your prints, it’s a good idea to audition your fabric through a cut-out template.

  •  A Stiletto Will Come in Handy. Even though I have small hands, I find they get in the way when feeding tiny block pieces over my feed dogs or holding the fabric steady.  A stiletto can do this for you, and still allow you to have control over the material.  Your choice of stiletto is a personal one.  These great tools are not expensive, so if you don’t like your first choice, try another.  I have several

But this one is my favorite.  The pointy end is long enough to control the fabric without the risk of being hit by the sewing machine needle.

  • Pins.  I pin a lot.  I know some quilters simply nest seams and keep moving, but I’ve always found pinning helps everything match up better.  And I think it’s even more important to pin when sewing small pieces.  I’ve also found small, thin pins work best with small blocks and block units.  My go-to pins are these:

Glass head pins.  They are thin and sharp.  Added bonus, because the pin head is made of glass, they won’t melt if you accidently iron over them. 

Now that you know what tools you’ll need to begin working on small blocks, let’s talk techniques.  Overall, cutting and sewing small blocks isn’t any different from other sized blocks.  However, the one concept I quickly grasped with tiny blocks is this:   whatever “normal” sewing technique I used with average-sized blocks, I had to be doubly careful with when working with small blocks.  It just seems any  mistake you make with a small block just looks bigger than it does on a larger block. 

Accurate Cutting:  Accurate cutting is important regardless of the size of the quilt block.  Be sure to read and re-read the needed measurements before cutting.  If templates are used, quite often with small blocks, it’s more accurate (and easy) to trace around the templates with a pencil or fabric marker and cut out the units with scissors.  If rotary cutting, make sure your blade is sharp.  The drag of a dull blade can distort your cutting.  And with accurate cutting in mind…

It may be easier to make the block units slightly larger and then cut them to fit:  My regular readers know this is how I make my half-square triangles – I make them about a quarter inch larger than needed then cut them down to the exact unfinished measurement required.  This allows for complete unit accuracy.  I’ve found this technique even more useful when dealing with small blocks.

Use smaller seam allowances or trim the seam allowances down a bit:  It’s important to reduce bulk as much as you can with any quilt block.  This makes pressing, sewing, and quilting easier.  With small blocks, reducing bulk is even more important.  Let’s say you’re constructing this block, which is three inches finished:

The center block unit is 1 ½-inches, finished.  If all the ¼-inch seams surrounding this block are pressed towards the center square, this means one-inch of the center square will be covered by two additional layers of fabric from the seam allowances.  All of this bulk concentrated into such a small space can make pressing difficult (the block won’t lie flat) and make quilting – even by machine – difficult.  So, there’s two ways to approach this bulky issue.  You can re-draft the block using smaller seam allowances or, after you’ve sewn the seam, you can trim away a bit of the seam allowances with a sharp pair of scissors.  And while we’re discussing bulk reduction, here are a few more ways you can reduce it even more:

  1.  Clip or blunt the additional fabric at corners (such as in half-square triangles).
  2. Press the seams open.  I know I normally don’t advise this, but small blocks are different.  If you can, press the seams open.

Use leaders and enders:  If you’re not familiar with these terms, let me explain.  Fabric is fed over the feed dogs, under your needle, a stitch is formed, and then the fabric is fed off the back side of the feed dogs and off your needle plate.  When “normal” size block units are used, the feed dogs can engage when they touch the fabric, and the material is evenly fed over the feed dogs. However, with small block units, the dogs may begin to move before the fabric is on them and this results in a hole being chewed in your fabric.  And if your block units are super-small, they may get completely “eaten” by your feed dogs and this produces frustrating minutes of removing the entire needle plate and digging the fabric out of the dogs and anywhere else they may have lodged (usually very tightly in a very hard place to reach).  To avoid this happening, use a leader and an ender.

What are these?  They are simply small pieces of cloth you begin your stitching on and when you’re finished with a seam, you sew off on another piece of fabric (thus the names, “leader” and “ender).  I use scraps for these, folded in half.  My favorite thing to make leaders and enders out of is leftover pieces of binding.  Those work really well.  The leader engages the feed dogs and gets them moving so when you line your block units up as the leader feeds off, the dogs keep moving and your fabric glides over them instead of being chewed.   The ender will allow the fabric to smoothly feed off the dogs and keep the seam allowance consistent as the stitching ends.  And leaders and enders bring me to the next point…

Chain piece and strip piece whenever you can:  This makes life easier for you and speeds up the sewing.  You can get into a rhythm sewing like units or strips together and this will also help with accuracy.  And while you’re sewing, you may want to try this…

Reduce your stitch length:  Your regular stitch length may be too long for small pieces.  There may be too few stitches in the seam to hold the pieces together well.  Try shortening your stitch length if you feel this is the case.  I know short stitches are harder to take out if you make a mistake, but you want your block to stay together. 

Be careful when you press your block:  Be sure to press (up and down motion) and not iron (back and forth motion).  Ironing can stretch any bias, and this makes any block wonky. 

Always square the blocks up:  Just because the blocks are small, they don’t get a pass on normal follow up.  Make sure they come out to the correct unfinished size. 

Armed with correct quilting notions and techniques, constructing small blocks isn’t any harder than constructing larger blocks.  And if you think you may never have to deal with small block units because they look as if they would fray your last nerve, think about blocks such as this: 

Which has 64 pieces in an 10-inch block.  Small quilt block units don’t necessarily always stay in small quilt blocks.  Sometimes they can live in larger blocks, too.  It’s important to know how to handle these well and without fear.

Until next week, Make Your Quilt Yours!

Love and Stitches,

Sherri and Sam