How to Handle Your Curves (The Sequel)

I’ve written a blog for a good while now.  I looked at my older blogs ( and those go back to January 2011.  In short, I’ve blogged about quilts, quilters, and quilting for nearly 12 years. That’s a lot of words, a lot of stitches, and a whole lot of fun.  I’m not about to quit now, but at this point after so many years, I’m bound to repeat myself. And this is one of those blogs. 

In a way, I think this is natural.  Quilting isn’t static.  New tools, new fabrics, and new technologies are always in play in our art form.  Couple those with the fact quilters as a whole are highly innovative and are constantly developing new techniques and you’ve got continuously changing craft.  Which brings me to this week’s topic:  Curves.

I promised a blog on this a few weeks ago and after the marathon two-parter on guilds, I knew I needed to get back to a “how to” blog, as these tend to interest the majority of my faithful readers (of which I am incredibly thankful for).  However, as I was putting in my rough outline, there was this niggling feeling in the back of my mind: Hadn’t I already written a blog on this?  And wasn’t it fairly recent?  Or did I just think I wrote a blog on curves because I felt I needed to write a blog on curves and my subconscious was throwing me a curveball about the whole curvy blog situation?  This was what was running through my over-active brain about 3 a.m.


So, after pouring myself a cup of coffee this morning and grabbing a half of a bagel, I did a Google search on my blog and curves.  Sure enough, there it was:  November 25, 2020 – How to Handle Your Curves (  It’s almost two years old, and everything that I wrote then applies now.  However, I have learned a few more tricks I want to share with you.  I suggest if you haven’t read that blog (or can’t remember it), go and give it a quick read.  It reviews the way I handle curves and my techniques haven’t changed that much.  What I would like to do with this week’s blog is expound on some of those methods and make them easier for you. 

I love quilts with curves.

For me there’s something very soothing in gentle curves.  It allows the eye to freely travel over the quilt top, viewing each block.  Gentle curves are my favorite, not only because they’re easy to piece, but also because I think they’re more attractive. 

The smaller, tighter curves almost demand the eye follow them across the quilt.  They make your line of vision move fairly quickly.  I also think the tighter curves have endless possibilities as far as quilt blocks go.  I’ve used the tighter curves to make birds, entire circles, and all sorts of “joiner” blocks or block units.  In general, I’m talking about this little block:

This block is known as Drunkard’s Path, and my November 2020 blog goes into the history of this little square.  It can be used by itself or as a block unit in a larger block.

Before we jump into what I’ve learned since 2020, let’s review a few of the basic guidelines concerning curves.

  1.  Starch or Best Press #2 is your quilting BFF for this block.  Because both pieces of Drunkard’s Path employ curves, you’re constantly dealing with bias.  To keep the bias stable so it doesn’t stretch hopelessly out of shape, liberally spray your fabric with either starch or Best Press #2 before cutting, no matter if you prewash or not.  I’ve found several applications of either work best.  Lightly spray the fabric, then press in with a hot, dry iron.  Do this several times until the fabric almost feels like paper.  Don’t try to perform this step with one heavy application of starch or Best Press #2.  Soaking the fabric with either and then trying to press it dry only results with lots of flaking. 
  2. You will work with templates.  If you want to trace around your templates and then cut them out with scissors, make sure your marking tool doesn’t drag across the fabric and your scissors are sharp.  If you’re using acrylic templates and a rotary cutter, a smaller cutter (such as a 28 mm) works better than a larger one.  Make sure your blade is sharp and doesn’t drag across the bias.
  3. If traditional piecing is the technique you want to use, be sure to pin, pin, pin.  Judiciously.  Please read my November 2020 blog for more information on this.
  4. When it comes to sewing the two pieces of fabric together, remember two things:  First, speed is not your friend.  Sew slowly.  Sometimes a walking foot works better for Drunkard’s Path than a traditional quarter-inch piecing foot, as it feeds both pieces of fabric evenly over the feed dogs and under the needle. Second, you may find a scant ¼-inch seam allowance is easer to control than the full quarter inch.

With the basics covered, let’s move onto what I’ve learned since the first blog. 

Glue is a viable option for pins.  That’s right.  Basting glue can be substituted for pins.  If you hate stopping and starting during the sewing process (because you shouldn’t sew over pins), you may want to try glue basting the two pieces of the Drunkard’s Path together instead of pinning.  It takes a bit of patience and some good basting glue (such as Roxanne’s Glue Stick), but this works well for curves, especially the gentle ones.  I have used it for tighter, smaller curves, but honestly, it sometimes takes longer to glue baste these tiny curves than it does to pin them.  You have to decide which you detest more – sewing over pins or spending more time on glue basting.

Correct pressing is incredibly important.  Remember in my 2020 blog, I named the two pieces of the Drunkard’s Path.  This is “pie”:

And this is a la Mode:

In nearly every Drunkard’s Path block, you press towards the “a la mode” piece, even if this piece is a lighter colored fabric than the “pie.”  If the curve is super-tight, you may find snipping the curve helps the pressed seam lie flat.  However, there’s also this pressing tool:

This is called a tailor clapper.  If you may remember this semi-obscure sewing tool if you took tailoring or home ec.  Your mother or grandmother may have had one in their sewing or ironing space.  And if you’re thinking, “Hey, that’s just a big block of wood!”  you would be absolutely correct.  A clapper works by quickly dissipating the heat from a freshly pressed seam.  Once the seam is pressed, run the clapper over top of it.  Because the wood rapidly dispels the heat, the seam lies flatter than if you allowed it to cool on its own.    I’ve found using a clapper on a Drunkard’s Path seam results in a smoother, flatter seam without snipping any fabric.

There are options other than templates.

If you have a computerized fabric cutter, such as a Brother Scan and Cut, downloadable templates are available for Drunkard’s Path.  This method requires some additional fabric prep, and you can only cut so many at a time, but the trade-off is both block unit pieces are extremely accurate.  Plus there’s no tracing and cutting on your part or dealing with pushing a rotary cutter around curvy acrylic templates.  Likewise if you have an Accuquilt cutter – it has Drunkard Path dies.

Remember applique – by either hand or machine – is always an alternative.

The Drunkard’s Path block is only two units, but those units are curved.  If you machine piece them, you’re placing a concave curve to a convex curve, pinning or glue basting like crazy, and then sewing them together. This takes time and patience.  And while gently sloping curves aren’t too difficult and neither are large Drunkard’s Path blocks, I find myself using a different technique if the blocks are smaller than 6-inches and/or has a tight curve – applique by machine or by hand.    Truthfully, hand appliqueing the curves takes no longer than machine piecing. I think raw-edge applique may be the quickest way to make Drunkard’s Path blocks and gives the least headaches! 

I hope this additional information for managing your curves is helpful.  The longer you quilt and the more you’re exposed to different technique and tools, the more you find yourself changing up the way you make your blocks and quilts.  I think I may comb through some of my older blogs and give a few updates on them.  There are some older techniques I seldom use any longer.  The quilting field is always changing and evolving.  It always has and always will.  Embrace the change.

I do realize other quilts have curves – such as the Double Wedding Ring.  Even though those curves are a bit different from the curves of Drunkard’s Path, quilters must remember this:  A curve is a curve, regardless of the block.  All curves can be handled the same way (although I don’t think I would applique the rings of the Double Wedding Ring Quilt – that would look a bit odd to me).

For those of you who have sent messages and emails concerning my COVID diagnosis, I do have an update.  The doctor did give me a prescription cough medicine and orders to rest as needed and not push myself.  He also told me to return to his office in two weeks if I was not better.  Thankfully, the cough medicine was a miracle worker and did the trick.  The fatigue is almost all gone, so I think I can safely say I don’t have the Long Haul Covid.  However, this new strain going around is something.  If I did not know I had been exposed, I honestly would have thought for the first couple of days I just had a bad head cold. Ya’ll take care of yourselves!

Love and Stitches,



Quilt Guilds: What’s the Bang for the Buck, What are Your Responsibilities, and How to Form One if Needed (Take Two)

Last week I discussed what quilt guilds were and what they weren’t   We talked a little bit about how they operate and how guilds differ from other quilting groups.  This week, I still want to highlight quilt guilds, but this time I want to tell you how you can benefit from joining a guild.  After all when you join a guild, dues are paid.  It’s important to know what you’ll get out of those dues.  And in the spirit of transparency, these points are subjective – they’re certainly things I’ve received from the guilds I belong to, and I have no reason to doubt other guilds aren’t at least similar.

You establish friendships with people who have the same passion as you do. 

If you join a quilt guild, you will not only be amongst folks who love quilting as much as you do, you will also find quilters at all different levels – beginning, intermediate, advanced, and a special group I call “The Grand Dames of Quilting” – those quilters who have quilted long enough they can look at a quilt and not only tell you how to make it, but also have expert skill in every area needed to make the quilt. 

Also in complete transparency, I can tell you my fellow guild members are some of my closest friends.   As you talk about your shared passion of quilts and quilting, you get to know each other on other levels, too.  And these friendships – across all levels and types of quilters – are priceless.

Belonging to a guild makes you a better quilter.

Remember how I discussed in my first blog that the show and tells are phenomenal?  Yes, they are inspiring and breath taking and encouraging (I’ve never heard a quilter criticize another quilter’s quilt at show and tell — it’s all remarkably supporting), but viewing those quilts somehow makes you want to become a better quilter. 

Likewise the educational programs push you in directions you may have never thought about undertaking as a quilter.  Not once did I ever think I would make an art quilt, but after a couple of guild programs on that genre, I tried one.  I found out I not only love looking at art quilts, but I have a great time making them.  They are so creative, and you can use just about any technique.  If my guild had not offered educational programs on art quilts, I may not ever had attempted one. 

There’s access to swaps, raffles, and free tables.

In my opinion, one of the best things about guild meetings is the free table.  Each month, members can bring sewing related items they no longer use, want, or need: fabric, patterns, thread, books, magazines, etc.  These are put on the free table and guild members (and their guests) can shop the table and take anything they want for free.  Those items left over at the end of the meeting are donated to Good Will or another charity. 

This is great!  It keeps items out of the landfill and allows folks to clean out unwanted items.  And what you may no longer need may be the exact item someone else does!

Swaps are a little different and generally involve fat quarters, fabric squares, blocks, or 2 ½-inch strips.  The best way I can define this for you is to give an example.  Let’s say the guild announces it will have a fat quarter swap.  Those members who want to participate sign up.  For the sake of example, let’s say 10 guild members sign up, including you.  At the next guild meeting you bring 10 identical fat quarters. Every other member also brings 10 fat quarters. These can be pulled from your stash or purchased.  Each of the other nine participates receive one of your fat quarters and you keep one for yourself.  At the end of the meeting, you leave with nine fat quarters (one from each of the other folks), as well as the one of your own you kept for yourself.  My favorite swaps are quilt block swaps.  A quilt block (such as a nine-patch) in a designated size would be announced.  Each member would make enough blocks for their swap.  It’s amazing the variations you can get, and it’s so much fun figuring out how to use them.

Raffles are a great way to have a chance at winning some quilt related items at a very low cost.  Someone in the guild will put together a basket with quilting supplies, or perhaps offer a nice gift certificate to a local quilt shop.  You can purchase tickets (usually at $1 per ticket) for a chance to win the item.  If you’re ticket’s drawn, it’s yours!  If not, you’re out very little cash.  Usually all monetary proceeds from the raffle go into the guild’s general fund to support programs. 

You have opportunities to participate in challenges and contests.

Once in a while, the guild president or executive board will issue a challenge.  Sometimes this challenge can be as simple as incorporating the guild logo into a quilt.  Other times, it’s a bit more difficult.  For example, the High Point Quilt Guild just had an ugly fabric challenge.  A fabric store gave our guild several yards of…well…not-so-attractive fabric.  Unsure of what exactly to do with this…gift… the executive board issued an Ugly Fabric Challenge.  The yardage was divided into fat quarters and given to those members who wanted to participate.  The fabric had to be incorporated into a quilt or quilted item.  However, to make this challenge more challenging, there were rules:

  1. It must be a “traditional” quilt – it should have a top, middle and back.
  2. At least 30 percent of the quilt must use the fabric given out for the challenge. 
  3. The challenge fabric cannot be used as the binding or backing.
  4. The quilt can be no larger than 42-inches by 42-inches and no smaller than 24-inches x 24-inches. The measurements can fall anywhere in these parameters (in other words, it could measure something like 30-inches x 24-inches). 

Challenges are great and they force you out of your quilting comfort zone.  They are fun and make you a better quilter.  And this was the winning quilt constructed by my good friend, Karen. The ugly fabric was the material used to make the purple flowers (imagine yards of this…Oy-vey).

Sometimes guild will hold contests.  These work like challenges.  The president or board gives a theme for quilts and a deadline.  Quilts are turned in, judged (usually by the guild members casting votes) and prizes are given.

There’s lots of inspiration and quilt education.

I’ve mentioned before the show and tells at guild meetings are so inspirational.  This really helps keep your creative juices flowing.  Guild meetings are also educational.  Sometimes there are speakers who will discuss their area of expertise – color theory, accurate piecing, applique – the list of topics is endless, and with Zoom now firmly in place with most guilds and teachers, guilds can book speakers from literally all over the world. 

A guild membership may also net you a percentage off at your local LQS.

Many LQS’s offer a percentage off to shoppers who show a valid guild membership card.  Usually this is 10 percent.  Local quilt shops do this to build good will with local guilds.

If there’s a quilt retreat involved, it’s worth the membership.

In my previous blog about guilds, I mentioned how wonderful these events are.  Seriously.  Trust me.  If you find a local guild who offers a yearly quilt retreat, take advantage of it.  You won’t be disappointed.

Realize guild meetings have changed.

Zoom has changed the way guilds meet.  Some guilds have gone to Zoom only meetings, and then break out into smaller groups to meet in person for sit and sews.  Some guilds have their major monthly meeting on Zoom and then hold their business meeting in person.  Some guilds have a hybrid meeting – you can meet in person, but it’s also broadcast via Zoom.  And some guilds are like my local guild – during daylight savings time we meet in person, but when the time changes we revert to Zoom.  This is helpful to our older members who don’t like to drive at night.

And while Zoom is great for guild meetings, it’s also great for quilters who would like to join a guild but either don’t have a local one or the guild they would like to join is too far away to drive to.  Now instead of guild membership being comprised of only locals, folks from all over the world have the potential to join your guild. 

No spouses, no kids.

I do realize there are exceptions to this.  My High Point Guild has a lovely couple who quilt together.  But for the most part, a guild meeting is a couple of hours where you’re with people who share your passion, and the spouse and kids are at home.  This option, for a lot of people, is a great reason to join a guild

So, you ponder what I have written and decide to join a guild.  You’ve paid your dues, and you’ve received your membership card.  Now what?  As a founding president and past president of a guild, I can tell you membership has its rewards, but it also has some responsibilities:

  • Remember dues are paid annually. 
  • Be there for guild meetings – either online or in person.  Don’t just attend when the speaker is interesting.  There is a lot of work on the part of the executive board to produce interesting meetings which are also a lot of fun.  Support your guild and your executive board by showing up.
  • Volunteer to serve on committees.  This is a great way to show support for the entire guild and a great way for you to learn how things operate –which you should.  You’ve paid dues to join, it’s only prudent you understand how and why the guild operates the way it does.  Believe me when I tell you the guild officers are always looking for folks to serve on committees.  They will welcome you with open arms.
  • Hold an office.  Not right away, of course, but plan at some point in the future to hold an office.  One of the biggest gripes I heard when I was president of the High Point Guild was this: “The same group of people are always in charge!”  Know what?  It was the same group of people who always volunteered.  After you attended meetings for a while and worked on a committee, run for office.  It doesn’t have to be the presidency.  There are other elected offices.   
  • Plan to participate.  I realize folks can’t be at every guild event.  Life happens.  Sometimes there are vacations and sickness and other events beyond your control.  However, as much as you are able, plug into workshops, charity sews, retreats, etc.  You’ll learn a lot about guild members you don’t know, as well as show your support.
  • If you’re in a position of leadership, plug new people in.  The longer new guild members just sit in a chair at a meeting, the harder it will be to get them active.  Ask them to serve on a committee or help with some event.  This will make them feel wanted (as they should be, because they are) and this encourages them to keep coming back to meetings and participating.
  • BE FRIENDLY.  I cannot emphasize this enough. It’s easy to “group off” at guild meetings.  You see your friends and you want to get caught up.  This is natural and it should happen.  But greet other members and especially speak to new people.  This is so important.  I can personally relate to this.  Back in the early nineties I was a new quilter.  The school secretary where my kids attended found out.  It happened this woman was an avid quilter and belonged to (at that time) the only guild in Guilford County.  She invited me to attend.  I did so eagerly, thinking I would have a chance to meet other quilters and learn new things.  Know what happened?  No one – not one person – at that meeting spoke to me.

I never went back.  It left such a bad taste in my mouth that I rarely even attend this guild’s quilt shows. 

  • Be encouraging.  When show and tell is presented, compliment the quilter.  Thank the speaker.  Support the executive board and president.
  • If you have an idea, have a follow through.  It’s great to have ideas, and believe me, your guild’s board wants to hear them.  However, what will make your idea become reality is to have a rough plan on how to make it work.  It will help the other guild members “see” what your plan is and how it will be successful.  The guild certainly won’t expect you to handle everything yourself, but it will help them see the resources the guild will need to make it happen.  Plus, it will get members excited about your idea.

Okay, so what if there’s no local quilt guild near you and you would really like to have one?

Form one!

It’s not too difficult and you don’t need a large group of quilters to start.  I had a hand in starting the High Point Quilt Guild, so I would like to walk you through the steps we took to form our guild.

Our guild began from a group of quilters who met at a Tuesday night sit and sew.  We had enough interest to form a guild within this group, but before we called our first organizational meeting, this group did some leg work.

We started by contacting some existing guilds and asked them for a copy of their bylaws, amendments, and newsletters.  Once they understood what we were undertaking, the older guilds were happy to share their knowledge and experience.  Most guilds have a webpage, and often these items are on it.  We also talked to other guild members about how much they charged for dues, how they handled their finances, what kind of charity work they undertook, and how they found speakers. 

While some of us were taking care of this, another group was looking for a meeting place and placing notices in local quilt shops, fabric stores, community centers, hobby shops, and churches.  We also established a social media presence.  Once we had most of this nailed down, we called a community meeting to establish the guild.  I was hopeful we would have a dozen or so folks attend.

The room was packed.

Because the initial group was well-prepared by this point, we adopted bylaws and elected officers that same night.  From there, we began meeting monthly.  After the first few months, we established our charity program and before long we had our first quilt show.  This was over ten years ago.  Our guild has changed – our current membership doesn’t look much like the initial membership – but our commitment to our charity quilt program and educational outreach remains strong.  We learned to bend with circumstances (like introducing Zoom when Covid hit).  We’re committed to each other and work hard to make our guild a success. 

So if you’re thinking about forming a guild, this may be the plan you want to follow.  However, there are also some additional questions and ideas your group will need to ponder.

  1.  Will guild file to be a 510C3?
  2. Will the guild be opened to everyone, or will we limit membership? 
  3. Will the guild operate under a primary purpose (such as charity quilts) or will it have several areas of purpose?
  4. Where will your meetings be held?  It works best if you can find a central location
  5. How many times a month will you meet?  Once a month and have the business meeting part of the guild incorporated into the regular meeting or have the business meeting separately?  Will you hold one meeting during the day and another at night? 
  6. What time will meetings be held?
  7. What types of programs will interest members?  It’s a good idea to know if your members are primarily beginners or intermediate at this point.  Block-of-the-month, secret sister, challenge blocks, row-by-rows, round robins are all programs most skill levels enjoy. 
  8. It’s a good idea to have some outside speakers come in, but also know and utilize the talent in your group.
  9. Plan to adapt the bylaws and amendments in a speedy manner, as well as elect officers early on.  If the membership votes to become a 510C3, begin the filing process.  You must register with the state you form in first before you can begin filing with the IRS.  Once you’ve registered with your state, you have over a year to file with the IRS (which gives you time to fund raise for the fee the government charges). 
  10. Decide on what the annual dues will be and what they will cover.  Will dues cover speakers and administrative only, or will the charity quilt program also have a line item in the budget?  Will workshops and retreats be paid for by additional fees charged to members or will the guild absorb some of this expense? 
  11. There are other guild officers besides the president, vice-president, secretary, and treasurer.  Other positions which should be considered are program director, librarian, newsletter editor, historian, charity quilt coordinator, community education outreach director, and membership.  Not all of these have to be elected positions.  Your guild may decide to set some of these positions up as committees and the elected board can ask people to serve on them.  I do like the way our guild has set up the president/vice president offices.  The vice president automatically succeeds the president, which gives our guild some continuity. 
  12. Always remember Zoom has opened up a lot of doors for guilds.  Make it work for you, too.

If you’re not a member of a guild, I hope these two blogs have given you some ideas about how guilds operate and why they’re really good organizations to belong to.  Quilt guilds work hard to be a bright spot in their community and in the lives of area quilters.  If there’s a guild near you, I encourage you to check them out and join.  And once you join, plan to contribute.  And if there’s no guild near you, but you want to form one, I hope I’ve given you enough direction to begin the process. 

Until next week, Make Your Quilt Yours!

Love and Stitches,



Quilt Guilds — What They Are, What They Aren’t, and Why They’re Important (Take One)

Today I want to go back and explore a sub-topic introduced in my blog on 1970 quilts (  Towards the end of it, I mentioned the folks who became quilters during this decade formed our quilt guilds.  It’s this group – the guilds – I want to focus on this week:  What is a quilt guild, what’s not a quilt guild, and why these guilds are beneficial to quilters. 

Let’s start by taking a look at the history of quilt guilds.  Historically, guilds have been around for hundreds of years.  Guilds were groups of craftsmen and artisans who met together for the purpose of safeguarding their craft or trade.  Each group had certain standards for their members and if you hired one of these craftsmen to do a job, the project was completed thoroughly and accurately.  A craft guild guaranteed a certain quality of work.  Sometimes these guilds even had uniforms or “dress codes” for their members, which meant you knew who belonged to what guild on sight. 

 Each occupation had its own guilds.  There were guilds for masons, brick layers, stone cutters, butchers, etc.  These groups weren’t like our modern labor unions, but they did protect their craft and their membership.  Quilt guilds – or at least quilt guilds as we know them – really didn’t form until the late 1970’s.  You must understand where these seventies quilters were historically.  Quilting took a hit in popularity from 1940-ish until the mid to late sixties.  As more and more women entered the workplace, they had less and less time for quilting.  The 1970’s ushered in a renewed interest in all handcrafts and the Bicentennial’s emphasis on early American arts such as quilting, pushed our craft back into America’s consciousness.  An entirely new group of people became interested in quilting, and by the end of the decade they had become extremely proficient in the art.  As a result, the seventies transformed quilting almost as much as the 1930’s.  New tools, new fabrics, and new quilting standards were embraced.   As the eighties dawned, these now-proficient quilters realized two things.  First, they had to teach the next generation of quilters, and second, these beginning quilters needed time to meet with the advanced quilters to learn the art, be supported, and have the same type of fellowship the 1970’s quilters had.  As a matter of fact, two of the larger quilt guilds in my area were formed in 1981 and 1982, directly as a result of the 1970’s quilt revival. 

The outcome of the 1970’s quilt revival was two different types of quilt groups.  There were bees and sit and sews, and then there were quilt guilds. Both types of these groups are beneficial to quilters in many ways, but quilt guilds are different from sit and sews and quilt bees in at least seven different areas.

Guilds have a democratic system of teaching, sharing, and community service, although most of the teaching is very informal.

Everyone is welcome to share information, offer tips and tricks, and become involved in the guild’s community service projects.  This usually also occurs in other non-guild quilt groups to varying degrees.

There are by laws, elected officers, and dues are collected.

A guild is not guided by an individual’s or group’s preferences.  When a guild forms, they write their own “rules” called by laws.  If changes to the by laws need to be made, amendments can be issued by the elected officers and voted on by the guild.  The guild also charges dues to become a member.  The funds collected from the dues are used for speakers and other fun stuff the guild wants to do.  The amount charged for dues is suggested by elected officers and voted on by the members.  These are usually only paid once a year.

There’s less of a social aspect in a guild than in a sewing group. 

Here me out, because I know a lot of you guild members are thinking, “No…I have a great time with my friends at guild meeting!”  I hear you…I feel the same.  However, think about this:  At a sit and sew or bee you can chat with your friends, conversation trends from one topic to another, there is no agenda, no goals, no real schedule other than you have to leave by a certain time.  With a guild, there’s generally an agenda.   You have a social time, a speaker or program, a business meeting, show and tell, and announcements.  There’s limited time for chit chat. While a great time is had by all, a guild meeting is different than a sewing group.

Guilds have an active charity program.

Bees and other quilt groups may decide, from time to time, to undertake charity sewing.  The biggest example of this is the recent COVID pandemic.  When the virus first reared its ugly head and there was a shortage of masks, it seemed everyone jumped in and sewed masks.  Masks were made by the thousands by individuals, quilt groups, and quilt guilds.  When supply met up with demand, sewers backed off on the mask making.  Some quilt groups will make quilts or other needed items as asked or when they see a need they can meet, but it may not be an organized, consistent effort. 

Quilt guilds are a little different.  Within the mission statement or in the by laws, generally you’ll find a statement about their charity program.  The guild is plugged into one or more organizations they supply quilts or quilted items.  The charity quilt program has its own committee, its own chair, and (at least in my local guild) has its own line item in our budget.  It’s an on-going guild project which never stops and starts.

Guilds promote quilting, pass on the tradition, and embrace and encourage the new.

Personally, I think no other group of folks promote the art of quilting more than guilds.  If presented with an opportunity to educate anyone about what quilts are, their place in history, and how to make quilts, a guild will jump on it.  Like most crafters, we are acutely aware we’re one generation from losing the art to history.  We love seeing our guild numbers grow because the increase in membership means we’ve gotten more people excited about quilts and quilters. 

Not only that, but as the field of quilting changes, quilters tend to embrace that change.  An example which comes to mind is Modern Quilting.  For years pieced and appliqued quilts were very traditional, even if new fabric lines were used.  Along came Modern Quilting and gave traditional quilting a shot in the arm.  Blocks were deconstructed, negative space was celebrated, brash solid colors like orange dominated the palate, and straight-line quilting was the star of the show.  I remember reading the quilt magazines at the time.  They would explain the movement and how it was changing quilting.  The art world, at least for a while, didn’t know what to make of it.

You know what group did embrace it?  The guilds.  They listened to the quilters tell their story about the quilt – why they made it, what appealed to them about the quilt.  They examined the quilts..  Ohh’ed and ahhh’d over them.  Encouraged these quilters and welcomed them to the wonderful world of quilting. 

For us, it wasn’t a lot to understand.  It was a group of folks who loved making quilts.  They may make them differently than we did, but they were quilters.  That’s all that mattered. 

Show and Tells are PHENOMINAL.

Usually with every guild program, there’s a “Show and Tell” segment.  During this time quilters bring finished quilts, quilts in the middle of construction, or simply some blocks.  They stand up in front of the guild (it’s not as scary as it sounds), and briefly talk about their project. 

This is wonderful for two reasons.  If you’re the person showing your project, and you need some suggestions on anything (such as how to quilt it, does this color work with the palate, etc.,) you will get honest answers with a great deal of quilty wisdom behind them.  Second, these show and tells are incredibly inspiring.  It’s really so motivating to see other quilters’ quilts.  I know we can go online and look at some beautiful quilts, but to see gorgeous quilts up close and personal, made by folks we know just ramps up the inspiration.

Guilds offer libraries, workshops, retreats, and quilt shows.

Some guilds have lending library.  In this library are books, magazines, quilting tools, stamps, patterns, and other items you can check out just like at a “regular” library and return at the next monthly meeting.  This is a wonderful system and is helpful to quilters at all quilting levels. 

From time to time, guilds will offer workshops.  These are usually day-long or half-day classes with a quilting teacher.  Sometimes a pattern or quilt is taught, sometimes techniques are.  Usually the guild charges a separate fee for the workshops, as this fee must cover the teacher’s mileage, meals, and hotel (if needed).  One of the good byproducts of COVID is Zoom classes and workshops.  When the virus shut us all down, quilting teachers were still booked for classes.  With a little ingenuity and practice, most of those instructors moved their workshops to the Zoom platform, meaning guild members could take the workshop from the comfort of their own studio and the quilt teacher didn’t have to pack everything in her studio up and spend the weekend out of town.  Guilds didn’t have to pay for mileage, meals, or hotels, so the workshop fees remained at a reasonable rate.

Guilds also may offer quilting retreats.  I will be completely transparent at this point:  A quilt retreat is good enough reason to join a guild.  Seriously.  My local guild has two a year.  The one in the spring is a day retreat.  We meet somewhere locally, sew all day long, go back home and sleep, get up the next day and do it all over again.  This goes on for three or four days.  In the fall we have an overnight quilt retreat at Haw River State Park in Brown Summit, NC.  I’m throwing out the park’s name because they are used to quilters and will set up the rooms especially for them.  For four days, we sew.  Meals are provided at this retreat, so we literally don’t have to lift a finger.  We sew, eat breakfast.  Then we sew and eat lunch.  Then we sew and eat dinner.  Then we sew until we’re too tired to stitch another stitch and go to our rooms there at the park and sleep until the next morning so we can get up and do it all again.  The park fees are extremely affordable. 

I get so much accomplished at these retreats.  And what’s even better, we have such good, quilting fellowship.  We teach each other and encourage one another.  I come away refreshed and renewed. 

Quilt shows are another event guilds participate in.  Sometimes a guild is large enough to hold their own quilt show, and if your guild does, plan to participate.  For most guilds, their quilt show is the major fund-raising event for two years.  Attending other guilds’ shows is something nearly all guilds do. If there’s a guild quilt show that’s fairly local, it’s nothing for members to load up and all attend the show.  They’ll shop the vendor mall, gaze at the quilts, and then generally a meal is involved.

The same goes with shop hops.  This may be an organized effort between quilt shops which are located within an hour or less of each other or it may be an “unorganized” effort between guild members who want to visit several LQS’s together.  Either way, a lot of fun is had (and a lot of fabric is purchased).  Again, there’s usually at least one meal involved. 

In other words, a guild will offer lots of opportunities for fun and quilty fellowship for their members, as well as educational opportunities.  You don’t always get that in a quilt bee.

The guild is conducted like a business.

Besides the facts there are by laws and elected officers, guilds do operate like a business, because in many aspects they are – or more specifically, a nonprofit.  Dues are collected.  Additional fees may be charged.  Fund raising is performed.  What matters is each and every member of the guild has “skin in the game” – their dollars and their work.  For this reason, the guild treasurer should present financials to the guild on a monthly basis and to the executive board as needed. These financials should detail income and payables, and let members know what is in the bank account at the beginning of each month. 

The executive board puts forth a budget which the membership will vote on for the beginning of each fiscal year.  Ideally, the treasurer should supply a budget v. actual worksheet for the membership on at least a quarterly basis.  If special fund-raising events occur (such as a quilt show or raffle quilt) the membership may request additional profit and loss statements on those. 

The guild secretary takes minutes at each meeting and those minutes are made available to the membership either through email, the guild’s website, or they’re published in the newsletter.  Everything is all very business-like and probably differs a lot from most bees and other sewing groups. 

There is one point where quilt guilds may specifically differ from quilt bees and even other guilds, and this is their nonprofit status (501C3).  Truthfully there is some disagreement whether a guild needs to obtain this status.  To become a nonprofit, there’s quite a bit of hurdle-jumping and a whole lot of paperwork and a substantial fee must be paid to the Internal Revenue Service.  This is a decision each individual guild must decide and vote on for itself. I will offer two pieces of advice at this point (since I filled out the papers and did the filing for the High Point Quilt Guild).  First, if your guild wants to ask for donations – either monetary or goods-in-kind (such as batting for charity quilts), having a legal 501C3 status allows the donations to be tax deductible, which may help generate donations.  Second, it’s much, much easier to get the nonprofit status when your guild is just starting out.  There are more hurdles to jump over when the guild’s been established for a number of years. 

One more thing about the 501C3 status – you don’t need a lawyer or accountant to do this for the guild if the guild is new and establishing itself.  Yes, it takes time and a good bit of patience.  Yes, the IRS will ask you for clarification and additional information.  However, if I could successfully undertake this task for my guild, I think most people could, too.  I was happy to save my guild the money an attorney or accountant would charge – especially since we filed for nonprofit status the first year we began meeting and funds were low. 

All of the above details what a guild is.  And from these, it’s easy to see how a quilt guild is different from a quilt group.  However, there is one bit misconception about guilds, and I’ve seen folks confused about this misunderstanding.  Unlike a quilt bee, where quilters bring their work to sew on, you don’t actually quilt or learn to quilt at guild meetings.  I’ve seen this misunderstanding work against guilds in a couple of ways.  Trying to find a meeting place can be difficult for a guild unless you specifically tell your landlord there will be no sewing machines or irons or any sewing at all during meetings.  The folks who own a building or church may worry they don’t have enough electrical outlets or room for machines or the floor will be left covered in fabric scraps and thread.  Let them know pretty quickly in the initial conversations, the group only needs a place to meet and listen to speakers.

Second, people who want to learn to quilt are often disappointed no actual quilting takes place during meetings.  Guild meetings consist of speakers or demonstrations about quilts, tools, etc.  Guild meetings cover that type of education.  However, I also want to add I think it’s super important guilds have meetings for these beginner quilters.  The membership of guilds has changed drastically since Covid.  Let me use my own local guild as an example.  When we had our last meeting before the virus shut us down, the majority of our members were past the beginning quilter stage.  Enter Covid, which closed our doors until November 2020.  During this time stores sold out of sewing machines as folks either wanted to return to sewing so they could have something to do or make masks.  When we re-grouped as a guild, about a third of our members (primarily our new ones) identified as beginners and were requesting beginning quilting classes on our annual survey. 

This is way too many folks to leave floundering in the waters of “How do I do this?”  If a guild has members who want to learn the basics, it’s a great idea to teach them.  Workshops can be offered, perhaps taught by older members who have been around the quilt block more than a few times.  If the guild breaks out into bees, a beginners quilting bee could be formed.  If those two options don’t work, try starting a mentor program, pairing up a newbie quilter with a seasoned veteran.  Bottom line:  Don’t let the beginners walk away in frustration.  Find a way to teach them.

We’ve spent a good amount of time and a lot of words explaining what a quilt guild is and how they’re different from bees and sit and sews.  I’ve explained how guilds operate, what they are, and what they aren’t.  Next week I want to give you all the reasons you should join a guild.  And if there isn’t a guild near you, I’ll give you some ideas about starting one. 

Until next week, Make Your Quilt Yours!

Love and Stitches,



Welcome to My Studio

I don’t talk a great deal about the quilts I create in my studio.  I do this for a couple of reasons.  First of all, I’m a teacher. I enjoy writing blogs about techniques and quilting tips which help my readers.  If I can show you something to help you make the quilt you want to make or make your quilting life a bit easier, this makes my day.  Copywrite issues are the second reason I don’t show a lot of what I make. Some of what I work on is based on quilt patterns by other designers and some of the creations are solely mine.  In the past 10 or so years, quilt designers have dealt with the horrible issue of their ideas, tools, and patterns getting “ripped off” by quilting ne’erdowells.  We weren’t given the credit we deserved, or someone took a tool, pattern, or technique which duly went through the copywrite process and claimed it as their own.  And social media has exacerbated the situation more than I can tell you.

However, today I’d like to show you what I’ve accomplished so far this year.  And let me start off with this disclaimer: 2022 has been a weird year.   This should explain a lot considering we’re still dealing with the aftermath of 2020.  I have not finished or started anything I planned to this year.  As far as my “lifers” are concerned, A Day in Grandmother’s Flower Garden and Language of Flowers haven’t been touched.  Horn of Plenty for a New Generation is a different story.  I only have two more blocks to applique before I make a firm decision on how to construct and piece the quilt top. 

Usually I have completed more of the projects on my yearly quilting goals list, but not this year.  It’s not that I’m necessarily in a quilting “funk,” but I’ve had a couple of quilting challenges thrown in my path.  Allow me to explain. 

During the Covid lockdowns, many quilt guilds began to have virtual meetings.  The Warwick Valley Quilt Guild was one of them.  One of my good quilting buddies, Eileen, is a member of this New York Guild.  She encouraged me to check her guild out, and I did.  The speakers were fabulous, the women were awesome, so I joined. 

Now let me explain a little bit about how I view quilt guilds – or any other group I join.  Yes, I pay a yearly fee which allows me to enjoy meetings and fellowship with others who share the same passions I do.  However, there is a price to this membership and most of the time, the annual fee does not (by a long shot) cover all the group’s expenses.  This is why it’s important to help out in fund raising opportunities.  And this gets a little tricky because from where I live in Jamestown, North Carolina and to Warwick, New York is 583.2 miles.

So it’s not like I can show up to help with a quilt show or anything…

However, there will be a mini-quilt auction at their quilt show in the fall, so I made two quilts for the sale:

I used this quilt in this blog:

It’s a great example of how versatile half-square triangles are.  This is a sweet, little Christmas wreath which can be used as a table topper or a wall hanging.  It went together quickly and easily, and I had enough HSTs left over to make an “after quilt” (quilt back).  If push comes to shove, the back of the Christmas quilt could be used for St. Patrick’s Day.  It’s a two-fer as far as I’m concerned.

This is the second quilt I made:

This quilt was a ton of fun from beginning to end.  I used some fabric from an old Judy Rothermel quilt kit.  I machine appliqued it and then quilted it on Dolly, my New Horizon M7.  I used the walking foot for the straight-line quilting; however, you may remember one of the reasons I upgraded from Big Red to Dolly was the M7’s quilting ability.  Despite having my new machine for over a year (it was a year in April 2022), I had not had a chance to drop the feed dogs and try her out.

Well, let me tell you I am more than impressed with this machine.  To begin with, dropping the feed dogs is a breeze.  One touch of a button and they’re dropped.  Now, look at this tight, mini-meander and loopy quilting:

I had sooooooo much fun!  The machine handled free-style quilting as good if not better than my long arm. No buyer’s regrets on this machine.  So much fun!  I looked forward to working on this quilt every night. 

Despite the fact these were small quilts, they did eat into my quilting schedule.  Well, those two quilts along with the fact I was asked to design the High Point Quilt Guild’s 2023 Raffle Quilt, I lost some serious “Me” quilting time.  Fortunately, my BFF Janet working on the majority of the applique has helped out tremendously.  I farmed out the block units and have sewn the pieced blocks together.  I’ve simply resigned myself to the fact 2022 was the year of “Quilt Happenstance.”  There’s always 2023.

The one quilt on my list of goals which has received a great deal of love and attention is the Horn of Plenty for a New Generation.  I love this fruity applique quilt, and I’m happy to say I only have two remaining blocks to applique and then I can begin piecing it together.  Here are the blocks I’ve completed since the last time I posted about it.

You’ll notice the blocks are pre-quilted. This works for some quilts, and Horn of Plenty for a New Generation is one of those quilts. However, if you decide to do this, you will need to use a technique such as Apliquick or plan on interfacing or lining your applique pieces so the pre-quilting will not shadow through.
These are cranberries, not cherries, so yes, the block is positioned correctly.
These are logan berries. In the orginal pattern, tiny slits of black fabric were reversed appliqued to give the appearance of clusters of round berry parts –kind of like blackberries. There was no way I would put myself through this since I was using the Apliquick method. I found a couple of pieces of batik fabrics which gave the illustion of berry clusters and let that fabric do the work for me.
These odd-shaped fruits are paw-paws. When I altered the layout of Kathy Delaney’s pattern, I went from needing 18 blocks to 20. This meant I had to design two of my own. Wanting to reflect my Southern heritage, I chose the paw-paw (sometime called the Appalachian banana) and the persimmon. I haven’t started the persimmon block yet.
To show you how blocks can change as you’re designing and making your quilt your own, take a look at part of the original paw-paw block. You can tell from some of the left-over Frixion marks on my block, quilt of few of the leaves were seriously altered. And the original paw-paws were much greener than the final ones. I had this wonderful piece of green ombre fabric and I thought it could take care of everything except the brown stems. Once I laid everything out, it looked too flat. Thus, I changed out the paw-paws to the block above this one. Never be afraid to design “on the fly.” If you’re gut is telling you something doesn’t look right, go with your gut.

Lastly, it’s confession time.  I feel as if the last several blogs I’ve posted haven’t been as good as I normally like them to be.  I contacted Covid last month and have really had a difficult time getting over it.  Despite the fact I am double vaccinated and boosted, I have struggled in my recovery and am still not well.  There is a possibility I may have what’s called “Long Haul Covid” – I’m negative but will feel the symptoms for a long time.   I still cough a great deal, especially at night and the fatigue is devastating.  Everyday about 2 p.m., I’m faced with the choice of making another pot of coffee and powering through the rest of my day or giving up and taking a nap.  The days I can nap work better than the days I caffeinate and keep going, but my schedule does not always allow for a nap.  I see the doctor next week (which in real time is the end of July) to see what he thinks.

My blog will continue because it’s one of the highlights of my life, but there may be times when it’s shorter than normal.  Keep me in your thoughts and prayers!

Love and Stitches,



Care and Feeding of Power Tools and Other Assorted Expensive Quilting Notions

It dawned on me that we’re halfway through the calendar year now.

Wow…where did the time go? 

We’ve spent a good deal of time discussing tips and techniques about how to make each quilt you construct your very own – how to change blocks, add details, and swap out negative space.  All of these little details enable you to take a pattern or a picture of a quilt, keep what you like, change what you don’t, and make that quilt uniquely your creation.  I hope all these ideas have kept your sewing machine humming and your rotary cutter cutting and your iron hot.  However, since I’m writing this blog on July 17, 2022, I think it’s time we give our equipment a thorough look over to keep it in great working order.  In this blog, I will talk about some of the more expensive, non-consumable sewing notions and tools and how to take care of them. 

The Sewing Machine

I think I can safely say, your sewing machine is the one item in your quilt studio which holds the most investment – both in time and money.  Most of us don’t purchase machines every year or so, but only when our present machine dies from overuse, or the newer models have features we simply can’t live without.  Some of my really long-time readers remember when I purchased Big Red.

I bought her in 2008, and she was only the third machine in my quilting career.  I didn’t purchase Dolly (my New Horizon M7 Continental) until April 2021. 

I wasn’t dissatisfied with Big Red, it’s just the M7 had so many new features she didn’t – such as multiple choices for quilting with rulers and a larger harp.  Big Red, despite the thousands of hours sewing and millions of stitches stitched, still runs like a top, because I take care of her. 

If you perform basic maintenance on your sewing machine, there’s no reason it won’t sew for years on end.  Your first point of reference on machine care should be your sewing machine manual.  Each brand of sewing machine is different, even if they’re made by the same manufacturer.  If you’ve misplaced your manual, don’t fret.  Google your machine’s brand, make, and model.  More than likely, your sewing machine’s manual is online and all you need to do is download it.  In your manual, you need to find a section on Care and Maintenance.

All the instructions about what to clean and how to clean or if to clean are here.  Some of the new models request you do no cleaning or maintenance, but bring the machine into the dealer once a year.  Be sure to read this section before you perform any cleaning or maintenance on your machine.

Generally there are a few things each sewing machine needs in order to keep it in tip-top working order (again, read your manual first).  And be sure to unplug the machine before doing anything.

  1.  The needle plate and bobbin area – Remove the needle plate according to your manual’s directions and gently brush the lint off the backside.  Remove the bobbin and brush the lint from the bobbin case (either the drop in bobbin case or the front-loading kind).  I have found cotton swabs, a soft toothbrush, or a clean mascara wand work super-well here.  These allow you to get in the tight spaces to remove the lint.  Be sure to clean the teeth on your feed dogs, too.  Please, whatever you do, don’t use canned air.  I caution you on this for two reasons.  First, instead of blowing the gook in your machine out, it can actually force it into some tighter spaces, which may require a sewing machine tech to remove.  Second, most canned air has some kind of moisture content which can be equally harmful to sewing machines – especially today’s computerized ones. Likewise, I don’t recommend any type of vacuum cleaner, either.  The suction may be too strong and can damage your machine.
  2. Oil your machine if required — Again, this is a consult-your-sewing-machine-manual thing.  Many modern machines (like my M7) do not require me to oil it.  All the areas which need oil are inside the machine, so my sewing machine tech must do any necessary oiling.  If your machine requires oiling, oil those areas highlighted in your manual.  However, there is one area every sewing machine can use a drop of oil, and it’s here:

On the needle bar.  A drop of oil on the needle bar helps everything run smoothly.  Apply one drop, then sew out several inches of stitches on some scrap fabric to help distribute the oil. 

Lastly, only use oil specifically designated for sewing machines.  If your machine requires oil, most of the time a small bottle will be included with your notions when you purchase your machine.  However, when this runs dry, or you misplace it purchase only sewing machine oil.  Other types of oil can harm your machine. 

3. Clean the exterior – I try to do this weekly, but sometimes I don’t, especially if I’ve got a project under my needle with a firm deadline.  Again, don’t use canned air, because it can harm your machine.  If your machine is dusty enough it requires a damp cloth, make sure to dry it down afterwards and avoid any mechanics or points where moisture can enter.  Usually, a dry, soft cloth is all that is needed. 

It’s important to clean your machine on a regular basis.  If you’re sewing several times a week, and all you’re putting through your machines are quilting cottons, a once-a-month cleaning may be all you need.  If you’re working with fleece, paper piecing, fur, wool, flannel, or are quilting all three layers of your quilt, you will want to clean your machine as soon as you’re through.  These are notoriously lint-producing and can clog up your machine.  Your manual may give you a general guideline on how and when to clean your machine.  However, the more time you spend sewing on your machine, the better you’ll become at discerning the different sounds your machine makes – like the ”thunk” mine makes when it needs a cleaning. 

A few final ideas before we move away from sewing machine care.  If there will be several days between sewing sessions, cover your machine.  Most sewing machines come with either a hard cover or a soft one (some have both).  Covering your machine helps keep it clean inside and out.  Second, no matter how diligent you are about cleaning your machine, plan on having it serviced every 12 to 18 months.  A sewing machine tech will clean and oil all the areas you can’t get to, as well as troubleshoot any potential problems.  If you purchased your machine from a local store, chances are they have a tech you can use.  If your machine was some sort of an on-line purchase, Google the brand and find a local dealer.  They also will probably have a tech you can use.  If push comes to shove, or you’re unhappy with your present sewing machine tech, consult a local quilt guild.  Most quilt guilds have a website or Facebook page.  Shoot them an email or post the tech question on their page.  If the name of the same tech keeps appearing, this is more than likely a good person to take your machine to for some in-depth maintenance. 

Third, be careful about the type of cotton thread you use.  I realize some machines aren’t picky about thread – they will sew with any brand, from the cheapest to the most expensive without a hiccup.  However, this doesn’t mean you should sew with all of them.  Some cotton thread brands are notorious for producing lint around the bobbin and needle plate area.  Look for long staple cotton thread.  The long staple thread generally is not as linty as the other types of cotton thread.

Rotary Mat and Rotary Cutters

Most quilters have a couple of rotary mats – usually one to take to classes, bees, and workshops and one to use at home– as well as several different sizes of rotary cutters.  These were introduced to the quilt world in the 1980’s and completely flipped quilt patterns on their heads.  We went from having quilt instructions given with templates to directions with templates and rotary cutting.  Finally at some point in the late eighties, templates just disappeared, and all quilt instructions took for granted you were using a rotary cutter and mat.  The rotary cutter not only changed quilt patterns, but also reduced quilters’ reliance on scissors.  As a result, scissors became less expensive.  Use of the rotary cutter took off like lightning, but the cutter never had quite the same price points as scissors. 

On average, the quilter reaches for her 45 mm cutter the most.  This is the medium-sized cutter and can glide through a few layers of fabric without a lot of fuss.  The second most-used rotary cutter is the 60 mm.  This cutter can cut through multiple layers of fabric with one stroke.  Then there are the 28 mm and smaller cutters.  My favorite – if you’re asking – is the 28 mm cutter.  It’s small and can be easily controlled.  It can zip around plastic templates and small rulers.  It makes trimming dog ears off  half-square triangles a breeze.  There are also 18 mm rotary cutters, which I also like, but finding blades that small can be challenging. 

Rotary cutters can vary in price from around $4 to $20, depending on the size and brand.  And while this isn’t a great deal of money for a cutter, most quilters have several of them (I have eight) in total, so the possibility of having over $100 invested in rotary cutters is a very real one.   To protect that investment, you need to know how to take care of your cutters.

  1.  Change your blades regularly – If you have to push down unnecessarily hard or re-cut several areas the blade didn’t slice cleanly through, it’s time to change the blade.  The blade may be dull or nicked.  Rotary cutter blades are one of those things I like to buy in bulk, because you always need them.  Each cutter works a little differently when it comes to changing the blades. I always lay down the parts in the order I take them off the cutter.  When I need to put everything back together, I begin with the last thing I took off and work backwards.  Most cutters do have YouTube instructions if you get hopelessly lost.  While the blade is off, take the time to wipe down the handle and inside cavity of the cutter.  More likely than not, these may be pretty linty. After the new blade is installed correctly, put a drop of sewing machine oil on the center.

Most rotary cutter blade brands are interchangeable – in other words you can use Fiskar blades on an Olfa cutter.  The only cutter brand I’m aware of which may not have interchangeable blades is Martelli.  The holes are a bit different.  However, I have three Martelli Rotary cutters and they are my favorite.  I like the ergonomic shape of the cutter – it takes a lot of strain off the wrist. 

2. Wipe down your cutter and blade after use – Most of us don’t use our cutters a lot on a day-to-day basis.  We may use them to trim squares or cut off dog ears, but we don’t cut out quilts every day.  Those days when you put your rotary cutter through the paces – such as you cut out a quilt or trim lots of squares – take the time to wipe the lint off the blade afterwards.  Remember the blades have oil on the surface to keep the lubricated and you don’t want to remove all the oil.  You simply want to remove the lint.  If you have some canned air and are dying to use it, this would be a good place to employ it.  Afterwards, add a drop of sewing machine oil to the center. 

3. Keep the surface of your cutting mat clean.  Don’t roll the cutter blade over any pins, needles, or anything else other than fabric and your mat.  Items with a hard surface (such as needles and pins) can put a nick in the blade.  Also be careful not to use the rotary cutter on a worn mat with lots of grooves and never use the cutter on anything but a cutting mat — which brings us to taking care of your rotary mat.

Rotary mats can run the price point gamut of $10 to over $100.  The cost depends on the size, brand, and if the mat is self-healing or a regular hard surface.  Most quilters have a couple of these mats – one to use outside their quilt studio and one to use in the studio. My personal preference is the self-healing type.  If taken proper care of and stored correctly, these mats can last several years before needing to be replaced. 

  1.  If you must store your mat – even for a short time – store it flat and in an area away from heat and cold.  Keep them out of direct sunlight. 
  2. Clean your mat regularly —   Since you’re cutting fabric, you’ll find threads on the surface of the mat.  If you’re mat is still fairly new, it’s easy to use a soft cloth and wipe these off the surface.

However, the more you use your mat, the better the chances you’ll get grooves in it, even if it’s self-healing.  These grooves appear in the most-used cutting segments – such as in 2 ½-inch, 3 ½-inch, and 4 ½-inch increments.  This is just a fact.  You can delay groove-making by using a sharp rotary blade, but eventually, just like those crow’s feet by your eyes, they’re gonna show up.  When they do, threads and small bits of fabric inevitably find their way into the grooves.  I’ve found using a white eraser (the other kinds seem to leave a residue) or a bit of tulle over the surface will dislodge anything in the grooves. 

3. Wash your mat – Some warm water and mild dish soap really help extend your rotary mat’s life.  Besides thoroughly cleaning it, if the mat is self-healing, the warm water will help the grooves fade away.  It’s best is you have some where (such as a bath tub or shower stall) where the mat can be laid flat to soak in warm water.  No matter how the mat is washed, lay flat to dry.

4. Flip the mat – Some mats are marked in 1-inch increments on both sides.  Every few weeks, flip the mat over so both sides wear equally.  If you have a large mat which covers a cutting table like this:

Rotate your mat every month so that what was the top of the mat becomes the bottom.  This will also help the mat wear evenly. 


In this category, I’m only discussing this kind of iron:

Not any of the smaller irons or mini-irons used in applique.

I have my own take on the irons I use to press seams, quilt tops, and borders:  I use the cheapest I can find.  This is because I am notoriously hard on them.  They get knocked off my pressing station, ironing board, and any other surface I press on.  They generally die an ignominious death and I simply make another Target, Walmart, or Thrift Store run and purchase yet another cheapest-in-the-store iron.  I rarely…rarely…spend more than $20 on an iron…except for this:

My Panasonic Cordless Iron with the Dual Pointy Ends.  I cannot tell you what a great iron this is when you have to press your quilt top, borders, or any other large fabric surface.  There is no cord to get in the way, it stays hot for several minutes, and when returned to the base, reheats quickly.  This is the only iron I will pay top dollar for and treat with newborn-baby-care.  Needless to say, I want to take the very best care of it I can.

Other quilters I know invest good money in their iron and have all kinds of bells and whistles on them.  No matter what kind of iron-consumer you are, it’s good to know how to take care of them. 

  1.  To steam, or not to steam, that is the question – By this, I mean do you put water in your iron?  Personally, I don’t put water in my iron because I feel it shortens its life (even if it doesn’t die a cruel death by being launched from your pressing station).  If I need steam, I spritz the fabric with some water from a spray bottle and hit it with the hot iron.  However, there are quilters who like to use the steam feature on their iron.  If you’re one of them, be sure to read the manual which comes with your iron to find out what kind of water should be used.  Some irons are fine with tap water, but others will use distilled.  Be sure to use the type of water your iron requires.  Tap water can have heavy metals in them which will affect the way your iron heats and steams. 
  2. Do not over fill your iron.  The water reservoir generally has a “fill to” line.  We usually pour water in our iron when it’s sitting vertically.  Quite often, we think this fill line is too shallow, and the iron can hold and ounce or two more water.  However, when the iron is using steam, it’s not in the vertical position, but the horizontal one.  If the iron is over-full, it can sputter and spit out the extra water.  Just fill to the line marked on the reservoir.  It’s there for a reason. 
  3. After every use, unplug the iron (even if it has an automatic turn-off feature).  If you’ve used the steam feature, empty the water reservoir.
  4. Clean your iron frequently as needed.  When the iron is unplugged and cool, rinse out the water reservoir with hot water.  Wipe the entire iron down, including the cord, with a damp, clean cloth.  Use a second clean cloth to dry the iron.
  5. Clean the water reservoir to help avoid hard water build up.  Pour white vinegar into the water chamber, turn the iron on high, and let it sit for about five minutes.  Turn off the iron and unplug it, then empty the vinegar out of the reservoir.  Rinse the reservoir with clean water. 
  6. Clean any residual starch or dirt on the soleplate with a clean cloth dampened with white vinegar.  For stubborn residue, mix baking soda with warm water and give it a good scrub.  Wipe the paste away with a clean, damp cloth and air dry before using.
  7. Be sure to check the holes on the soleplate.  Sometimes if the iron isn’t steaming correctly, it’s because these holes are plugged.  Use a thin piece of wire (such as a straightened paper clip) and clean the ports by poking the wire in the holes.
  8. Fusibles require they’re own special treatment—When you’re working with heat sensitive fusibles, it’s easy to accidentally touch the wrong side of the fusible to the hot surface of the iron.  And when this happens, you’ve got a sticky mess.  The trick is to work quickly, while the iron is still hot.  Once the iron is cooled, the fusible is harder to remove.  While the iron is warm, try rubbing the surface over a dryer sheet.  Sometimes this is all you need to do.  If that doesn’t work, try dampening a piece of fabric and pressing with the still hot iron. 

If neither of those work, or if the fusible covers most of the soleplate, try Goo Be Gone or a Magic Eraser.  Usually one of those works pretty well.  If you do use either one of these (or both), be sure the soleplate is clean before returning to pressing and fusing. 

Wool Pressing Mats

I love my wool pressing mat.  It retains heat and makes pressing wrinkles out of fabric, seams to the side, or pressing fusible webbing onto applique pieces a breeze.

I have a couple of these mats.  One lives on my ironing board, the other on the pressing station near my sewing machine and the tiny one in the box with my applique supplies.  This one is my go-to when I use my small applique iron in classes. 

Wool mats can range in price from $15 to nearly $80, making it a pricey pressing notion.  And in my opinion, these are worth every penny, but they’re certainly not an expense you want to deal with frequently.  It’s good to know how to take care of these mats in order to make them last as long as possible.

  1.  It’s best to store them flat – Just because they can curl up, doesn’t mean they should.  Storing them flat keeps the fibers intact and the corners down.
  2. Be cautious about using steam with them – If you have a wool mat, you’re more than aware of the slight odor they give off when used.  Steam amplifies this smell just a bit.  However, steam also does something else.  Wool mats retain heat very, very well, which means they also will retain the hot steam.  And this means the surface under your wool pressing mat can get wet due to the steam.  If you use steam with a wool mat, just be sure there’s a towel beneath it to absorb any residual water. 
  3. Starch can discolor the mat – Starch will leave brown-ish residue on the mat.  A starch substitute (such as Best Press) will not.  The residue doesn’t hurt anything, but it does discolor your mat. 
  4. A clean mat is a happy mat – A lint roller can be used to pick up strings and small pieces of fabric left on the mat’s surface.  If the mat is super-dirty, it can be washed.  Fill the kitchen sink or bathtub with warm water and add soap.  Soak the mat flat, and lightly scrub the surface on both sides.  Rinse well and hang to dry or lay flat. 
  5. For stubborn stains, such as built-up starch residue or fusible webbing, I’ve found this little tool is a great thing to have:

This tool has rows of tiny teeth.  When you run this over badly stained areas of the mat, it gently picks up the stained fibers, making it look like new. 

I hope the information in this blog helps you to take the best care possible of your more expensive power tools and notions.  While, yes, even in the best of circumstances these are all consumables, most of us don’t switch them out for several years (unless you’re like me with irons, and then heaven help you).  Remember to consult your manuals for specific instructions before using any of these instructions.

Until Next Week, Make Your Quilt Yours!

Love and Stitches,