Now You Have All the Pin Info…Here’s How to Use Them (Part Two)

Now that we’ve talked about the primary types of pins quilters need, let’s look at when to use them.

  1. We pin the patches together before we sew them into block units.

For this type of pinning, the glass head, silk pins, straight pins, dress maker pins – almost any straight pin will work except applique and fork pins.  The pin shaft must be long enough so it can be inserted into the fabric like this:

Or this:

And the pin won’t shift.  To be honest, unless my patches are large-ish, I don’t pin at this point.

  • We pin block units together before we sew them in to blocks.

Once the block units are constructed, then we begin to sew them into blocks and here’s where your pinning options open up.  Typically – or at least as often as we can – we press our seam allowances in opposite directions so the seams will “nest.”

This process allows the seams to fit snugly against each other, lining up perfectly.  However, as the fabric travels over the feed dogs and under the needle, it can shift a bit, causing the seams to get a bit out of sync.  I will share with you the way I pin my units together.

I start where the seams nest and I pin here.  Even if the unit’s top and bottom look a bit off, this can be “fixed.”  It’s more important the seams meet correctly.  There are three ways this can be pinned at this point.

You can insert one pin in the seam.  This is fairly effective.

You can insert one pin in the seam and two on either side of the seam allowance to make sure the seam doesn’t shift, and then remove the pin in the middle.  The seam won’t budge, trust me.

You can use U-pin.  The seam won’t shift any with this pin.

From the middle, I pin out one way and then the other.

If the top and the bottom of the unit doesn’t exactly come out even, don’t sweat it.  If the amount is small enough you can “fudge it” in your seam allowance, do so.  If it’s too much of a difference, something went wrong in your seam allowance or cutting.  You may want to remake it.  Totally up to you.

The situation changes when you must join multiple seams together.  Stars, compasses, Stack-and-Whacks, and pinwheels all have lots of seams which come together at one point.  It’s easy to have lots of bulk there, making the center impossible to lay flat.  For sake of example, let’s use a pinwheel block.  Despite all the bulk, this is one of my favorite blocks – they’re just happy!  And the first thing to consider with multiple seams isn’t the pinning, it’s the pressing.  It’s super important all the seams are pressed in the same direction – towards the darker fabric if at all possible.  This will help them “nest” and make the process much easier.

Now start with the sub-units.  Join two blocks together.  The way the blocks were pressed should make the seams nest together easily. 

Pin these together the same way you would any nesting seams (pick one of the three methods mentioned in last week’s blog…decide which is your favorite and go with it).  Sew the two blocks together with a ¼-inch seam.  Your intersection should look like the picture below. 

The stitching lines will cross over each other ¼-inch away from the two raw edges of the unit.  Press the seams to one side (towards the darker fabric if possible).  The intersection should match up and look nice and neat

Repeat with the other two blocks, again pressing towards the darker fabric. 

Now comes the tricky part, but if you’ve pressed and pinned correctly, the intersection matches up pretty close to perfect.  Align the two sections together. On the first unit, insert a pin right where the two stitching lines intersect.

Now align the other unit behind the first and insert the tip of the pin right in the intersection for the second unit as shown.  Push the two units together on the pin, but do NOT twist the pin around and try to put the tip back into the unit.

Let the pin stick straight up like a flagpole as shown below.

Now insert a pin just to the left and the right of your “flagpole” pin. If your flagpole pin leans one way or another as you insert the side pins, it means your intersection is shifting. Reposition the side pins to keep the center pin straight.

Once you have the left and right pins in place, you can remove the flagpole pin. Continue pinning the remaining seam allowances together.

Now sew the two units together. As your needle approaches the center intersection, the stitches should cross over the previous stitching lines as shown below. If necessary, use a stylus or sewing stiletto to guide the seam allowance and prevent it from flipping over.

At this point, the center should look great, but there’s still a lot of bulk in the middle to deal with.  There are a couple of ways to handle this mass of seams coming together.  First, you could press the seam open.

This would help distribute the bulk a bit better.   In all honesty, this is my least favorite way to deal with it.  As someone who quilts my own quilts, I have a preference that seams aren’t pressed open, as the quilting action can weaken open seams.  I prefer (as much as possible) to have the seams pressed to one side.  So, here’s how I handle it — carefully remove the stitches from the first two-unit assembly steps, leaving only the last seam that joined the two block halves together.  This will let us “spin” those seam allowances into a mini star on the back side as well, distributing all the extra bulk evenly.

You’ll now be able to press half of the long joining seam in one direction, and the second half in the other, and the center will lay flat! A perfect center, no lump to quilt over, and the seams stay pressed to one side.

If the center is spun, the block should lay completely flat.

Dresden Plates, Compasses, and some Star blocks can be handled in similar fashion.  The trick is to assemble half the block at a time, press the seams in one direction, and pin and sew together.  Release the stitches to relax the center and press.  This works most of the time.  However, with some blocks – especially those with lots of seams coming together like this:

It’s simply better to press the adjoining seam open and deal with any quilting consequences later.  If I was in this situation as a long armer, I’d avoid quilting the center of the block. 

The option of last resort – If you can’t successfully reduce the bulk in the middle and it poufs out –  cut it away.  I have used this technique before in times of sheer desperation.  Let’s take this block for example:

There are a lot of seams coming together in the middle.  Even if you carefully press the seams in one direction and release the stitches where you can, the bulk may be difficult to deal with.  When I’m faced with this situation, circles are my saving grace.  Determine what sized circle would cover the middle and be in proportion to your quilt block.  Construct the circle and sew it over the middle either by hand or machine (if you choose to applique by machine, pin the circle in place or use glue or fusible webbing only on the edges of the circle).  The very carefully, from the wrong side of the block, cut away the bulky middle.  Your block should now lay nice and flat.

  • We pin blocks together to make rows (with or without sashing).

Zone of truth right here – if you have vertical sashing between your quilt blocks, sewing the rows together becomes infinitely easier.  There are no seams to match.  You pin the sashing to the right side of a block, sew it on, then sew the next block to the sashing. 

If there is no sashing between the blocks, and seams must match up so the quilt top looks put together correctly, the same rules apply as before.  Press the blocks (as much as you are able) so the seams will nest.  Then use your preferred pinning method for nesting seams and sew the blocks together.

  • We pin the rows together to make the quilt center (with or without sashing).

Sewing the rows together to make the quilt center is in many ways similar to sewing the blocks together to make rows.  If the horizontal sashing has no corner stones, cut the sashing to fit, pin in place, and sew it together.  However, because of the length of the sashing in this case, I tend to use fork-pins or Wonder Clips.  Regular pins – such as patchwork – can fall out while sewing on the horizontal sashing.  The Wonder Clips or fork pins tend to stay put.

If the horizontal sashing has cornerstones, press the sashing and cornerstones so the seams will nest with the row of blocks and pin.  In my opinion (and experience), fork pins work best to sew this type of sashing to the rows.  The fork pins will keep the seams nested together, and the pins are better able to support the weight of the rows and sashing without falling out, like patchwork pins would. 

  • We pin borders onto the quilt center.  Sometimes there are multiple borders, so we may pin borders to border.

I won’t go into the particulars of how to make sure your borders are the correct size before you cut them out and pin them on to the quilt center.  I do have an upcoming blog on this topic, but if you absolutely need to know now, go here:

Regardless of whether your borders are pieced, solid pieces of fabric, or appliqued, it’s important to follow this process:

  1.  Find the center of the quilt top.  Put a pin there.
  2. Find the center of the border. Put a pin there.
  3. Place the border and the quilt center right sides together, lining up the center pins and pin them together.  Then from this center point, pin the borders on.  I find the fork pins hold the bulk and weight of the quilt center and border the best. 
  4. If there are multiple borders, repeat the same process, but find the centers of the borders, pin those right sides together, then pin out from the center.

I hope this blog answers questions about pins and how to use them.  Truthfully, pins are almost an afterthought with a lot of quilters – as long as they have some kind within arm’s reach, everything is fine.  However, having the right pin for the job can make all the difference in the world.  It just makes the task at hand easier. 

If you have a topic you would like for me to explore, please leave a note in the comments.  It may take me a week or two to have a blog about it, but I really do like to write about quilty subjects folks are interested in.

Until next week, Make Your Quilt Yours!

Love and Stitches,



Pins and Pinning — Why It’s Important to Have the Right Pin for the Right Job (Part One)

I appreciate everyone who reads my blog.  I really do.  WordPress let me know how many people read my blog every day and what country these folks are from.  For those of you who read regularly, I am super-appreciative.  For those of you who read once in a while or find me when you’re researching some quilt issue, I also appreciate you.  Last week I had a reader who requested a blog on pins and pinning.  I love this.  I love when readers ask me to write on certain quilty topics.  If there’s some topic you’d like me to blog on, leave a comment and I promise I’ll get to it.  Keep in mind I usually have three to four blogs ready to publish ahead of what you want.  Your blog topic will come up, but it may be a few weeks. 

I wrote about pins way back in 2017.  In some respects, pins have changed.  I’ve always said one of the best things about quilting is it’s not static.  It doesn’t remain the same.  The field changes.  We get new quilters, new designers, and new tools.  And often, old notions are re-worked into something better.  Pins are one of the tools which has somewhat changed.  However, my theory about non-pinners has not changed.

Let’s begin with a brief history.  Pins were first used (as far as archeologists can tell) in the Paleolithic Era.  They were made from bone and wood.  Lots of these early pins were curved.  Bone and wood gave way to brass and steel, then nickel-plated steel.  The French made the best and finest pins, even though London, England established the first Pinners Guild in 1356.  John Ireland Howe of Connecticut invented the first pin making machine in 1831 and improved it in 1842 to the point three of the machines could spit out 72,000 pins a day. Today we have beading pins, T-pins, U-pins (also called Fork Pins), dressmaker pins, pleating pins, applique pins, lace or bridal pins, patchwork pins, quilting pins, silk pins, pearlized pins, sequin pins, and tidy pins (used to hold things like slipcovers in place).  There are other types of pins, but these are the ones folks who sew know well.  In this blog, since I write about quilting, we will look at applique pins, patchwork pins, quilting pins, dressmaker pins, silk pins, glass head pins, U-pins. and safety pins.  I chose these because they are the ones most used by quilters.    

Before we jump into the pointy world of pins, let me offer a couple of pieces of advice.  First, pins are not expensive.  A quick review of the pin selection on Amazon offers a wide selection, all under $10, and sometimes you get multiple containers of pins for one price.  For this reason, don’t purchase cheap pins – you know, the ones which are fifty cents a pack.  Pins are an inexpensive quilting notion.  You can afford to purchase the “top shelf” brands.  Pins are coated with nickel to prevent rusting, and even though the nickel will eventually flake off, since pinning isn’t permanent, this isn’t too much of a concern.  However, the cheaper pins may have a thinner nickel coating.  They may also not have a sharp point (which is needed for quilting cottons and batiks), and they may be so thick they feel like small nails – which could lead to larger-than-desired pin holes in your quilt. 

Second, you will need more than one pin type in your quilting studio.  I have one type I use more than others, but you do use different types of pins for different applications.  I’ve found giving each type of pin their own pin cushion is a great organizational tool.  This way I know what kind of pin I’m reaching for with a quick glance.

Third, pins do need to be replaced.  We are pretty conscious our sewing machine needles and rotary blades need to be swapped out regularly.  Pins (and hand sewing needles, too) do get dull with use.  Every year or so, treat yourself to some new pins.  Yes, using that emery strawberry on the side of your tomato pin cushion does help sharpen the point a bit as well as remove rust, but pins still should be replaced.  And when you dispose of them, be sure to put them in some kind of container, such as an empty pill bottle.  Don’t throw them in the trash loose.  Someone could get hurt when they dispose of them.  My go-to for this is an empty, clean Parmesan cheese container.  I drop old pins, needles, and dull rotary blades in it. When it’s full, I use packing tape around the top of the container to make sure it won’t come off after I toss it in the garbage.  Another helpful hint:  Keep this container close at hand.  As you pull bent pins out of your pin cushion or other pin catcher, go ahead and toss those in the container. Nothing is more aggravating than trying to work with a bent pin. 

Fourth, don’t sew over your pins.  Most quilting pins are small in diameter, so it’s easy to think they can’t hurt your machine or your needle, but that’s not true.  Sewing over pins can bend or break your needle or make a burr.  I have seen pins jammed into the feed dogs, caused by a combination of speed and the needle hitting the pin at just the right angle.  It’s best to just slow down your sewing, take the pin out, and then continue.  All of that said, now let’s take a look at the different pins used in quilting and how to use them.

Applique Pins

For those of us who applique, these little pins are a Godsend.  While I do use basting glue with some of my applique, there two techniques which are not necessarily basting glue friendly:  needle turn and back basting.  These little pins are perfect for using with those two methods.

Applique pins are smaller both in length and diameter than other types of pins.  In my previous pin blog, I mentioned these pins were generally no longer than ½-inch in length.  This has changed.  There are now longer applique pins – as long as an inch.  Over the course of applique and time, quilters discovered that while the ½-inch pins are great for small-to-medium sized applique pieces, longer pins were needed for larger pieces.  The diameter of these pins has not changed.  It’s still smaller than other pins. 

There’s another characteristic which sets applique pins apart from other pins – their heads.  Applique pin heads are tapered, so your thread won’t get caught around them as you’re sewing.  And don’t let the size of shank fool you.  Despite the fact that these pins look more delicate than standard pins, they can easily go through multiple layers of fabric, making them perfect for multi-layered applications. 

One word of warning – don’t mistake sequin pins for applique pins.  Sequin pins look a great deal like the smaller applique pins, but they’re not the same.  Sequin pins are used for attaching beads and sequins to Styrofoam forms when you’re make Christmas decorations, etc.  The shafts are thicker, and the heads are larger – not a good fit for quilting.

Patchwork Pins

There are a couple of different patchwork pins.  There’s this kind:

And this kind.

Both are patchwork pins, and both are used for the same purposes – holding fabric in place.  These pins are the workhorse of quilters.  When in doubt which pin to use, this is your “little black dress” of quilting:  It will work for almost anything.  Which kind you use is a personal preference issue.  Both have long shafts and a relatively small diameter.  I use the first kind in small blocks.  They’re not quite as long as the other and tend to be easier for me to handle in 6-inch or less blocks. 

The second kind – often referred to as “Flat Head Pins” are a little longer than the first kind, although the diameter is equally small.  Most of the time the flat, plastic disk is round, but I’ve seen them shaped like cats, puppies, butterflies, and flowers.  These pins can serve a couple of other purposes other than holding larger block units or quilt blocks together.  Because the shaft is longer (about 1 ¾-inches), you can easily pin all three layers of the quilt together.  This is helpful if you need to anchor binding or want to pin the quilt sandwich together before quilting.  But this round plastic disk…

Is large enough to write on.  I have a set of these pins that I use to pin my quilt top together.  I used a fine-tip Sharpie to write the row and block positions on – such as 1-3 – which means row one, block three. 

One issue to be careful about when using these pins is heat.  Since the disks are plastic, they can melt and make a mess on your block and your iron.  However, in researching this blog I did find out some pin manufacturers are now making the plastic heat resistant.  Such good news!

Quilting Pins

In all honestly, there isn’t a great deal of difference between Patchwork Pins and Quilting Pins.  Like Patchwork Pins, they have a long shaft, but the diameter is larger, so the pin can handle the bulk of a quilt sandwich without bending.  This larger diameter is the chief difference between the two types of pins.  Quilting Pins are my go-to pin for my Long Arm.  They can handle the bulk of my zippers, the leader, and the quilt back (I float my top) without bending.  I always keep them in a magnetic bowl near my long arm.

Dress Maker Pins

Again with the honesty issue – I don’t use these much, but I’m throwing them in because they’re so easy to find.  Go out of town and forget your pins?  You can find these pins in drugstores, grocery stores, big box stores, and dollar stores.  Sometimes even convenience stores.  They generally are found on the aisle with the laundry detergent or in the basic sewing sections.  They are used to hold light-to-medium weight fabrics together, and they will work fine for quilting if they’re the only pins available.  They tend to be shorter in length than Quilting or Patchwork pins, and the diameter is small – meaning if you’re trying to pin through the quilt sandwich, they are prone to bend.  Do be aware the quality of this pin can vary.  I’ve seen some which could pass for small nails and others whose point wasn’t sharp at all. 

Silk Pins

Silk Pins and Dress Maker Pins are often lumped in the same category, with the names used interchangeably.  The big difference between the two is the shaft’s diameter.  Silk Pins have a bit smaller diameter than Dress Maker Pins.  Otherwise the length is about the same. 

Glass Head Pins

If I was pressed to name a favorite pin, Glass Head Pins would be it.  I was introduced to this pin back in the mid-eighties when I did a lot of lace-shaping for my daughter’s French Heirloom dresses.  These pins are long and small in diameter, but the head is made of glass.  This means the head won’t melt under a hot iron.  So, if you’re pre-shaping your stems or other applique shapes before stitching them down, this is the pin to reach for.  Compared to the other pins, these are a bit more expensive, but worth every extra penny. 

U-Pins or Fork Pins

These are new to the pinning market. Called Magic Fork Pins, the rubberized head is easier to use and heat resistant.

This pin is one which some quilters always use and must have in their studio. Other quilters could happily avoid for them the rest of their quilting career. The U-pin is like having two pins with one head.  It doubles the pinning security because once you pin anything with one a U-pin, it’s not going to move.

 U-pins are used in many crafting areas, so as a quilter you must be careful to have the right type – otherwise the pin could leave visible holes or not be sharp enough to go through multiple layers of fabric.  I have found these pins handy in two areas.  The first is when you pin your quilt rows together.  No matter whether you’ve sashed or not, no matter how large or small your quilt blocks are, when it comes time to pin the rows together, you’re dealing with bulk and lots of seams.  These pins hold the rows securely together, so there’s virtually no chance of the pins slipping out no matter how long those rows are. 

Pinning nested seams are the second reason these pins are pretty handy.  The whole premise of nesting seams is to make sure the seams of two units or blocks line up and don’t shift.  Placing U-pin so both prongs are on either side of the seam means there will be no fabric shifting at all.  Those seams will look perfect every time.

These pins also are great if you have to pin something together on a flat surface – so if you have to match up stripes, plaids, or checks, this is a great little tool to have in your studio. 

Safety Pins

If you hand quilt or quilt on your domestic machine, you know how handy these pins are.  These are used to hold the quilt sandwich (quilt top, batting and backing) together while you quilt.  If the three layers aren’t somehow held together, they will shift and this makes the quilting process very difficult, if not impossible.  The type of safety pin used doesn’t matter.  The size does.  It has to be large enough to hold all three layers of the quilt sandwich.  So the standard safety pin works fine – usually in size 3.

However, there’s also the quilter’s safety pin.

This has a slightly bent pin which makes it easier to close.

There are also these:

Which I have not tried, but I understand this is a small pin with a thin shaft, but it can hold three layers together well.  The unique characteristic of this pin is you can insert and close it with one hand. The Wonder Pins have great reviews on Amazon and several users stated if you have arthritic hands, this is the pin you need. 

Typically, I don’t use safety pins for quilting since I have a long arm.  Even if I throw a quilt sandwich on my M7 Continental, I generally use basting spray to hold everything together.  However, I recently took a class in reverse applique, and I used safety pins to hold two 36-inch squares of fabric together while I basted them.  I was exceedingly grateful I still had my old safety pins.  The procedure would have been a nightmare if I had to use straight pins – the thread would have caught on the points or pin heads with every stitch.  So, even if you don’t use these pins in the quilting process, hang on to them if you still have them.  They may just come in handy.

Okay, enough on pins and pinning this week. I realize we’ve hit almost 3,000 words and I haven’t mentioned how to pin anything. We’ll pick that up next week.

So until then, Make Your Quilt Yours,



Should You Monetize Your Quilting?

Why do you quilt?

Valid question with so many answers.  I quilt because I love the creative process, it puts me in contact with other creative people, and it’s a huge stress reliever.  There’s just something about needle, thread, beautiful fabric, and endless possibilities which excites me.  There are probably as many answers to this question as there are quilters.  Now let me ask you another question:  Could you – or would you – consider making money from your art? 

Now there’s a loaded question that could give some explosive answers.  Obviously, some quilters (as well as other fiber artists) make this transition or else we wouldn’t have the myriads of beautiful fabrics, wonderful patterns, and great magazines, web pages, and books.  Afterall, quilting is a multi-million-dollar industry.  There are quilters who are constantly engaged with manufacturers to produce all the quilty things we love.  And if this process wasn’t successful, all those wonderful quilt shows we adore so much wouldn’t be happening.  So, it’s obvious some quilters do bridge the gap between quilter and quilt entrepreneur quite successfully.   Same thing with long arm artists.  Once they feel proficient in their craft, often they will agree to quilt for others. 

And there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that.

When I began sewing in the early eighties, I wasn’t a proficient quilter.  Yes, I made a quilt or two, but I primarily made garments.  More specifically, children’s garments and (believe it or not) equestrian wear, sorority sweatshirts, and square dance costumes (it’s a long story).  I became fluent in children’s garments because I had two kids, although the journey specifically began with my oldest child, my daughter.  I couldn’t afford to dress her like I wanted to, so I learned to sew.  During the eighties, it was still less expensive to make clothing than purchase it (Target didn’t appear in Greensboro until much later).  I learned to smock and make the heirloom children’s dresses.  Word spread.  Soon I had orders from other mothers and (most often) grandmothers.  Then I was asked to teach smocking and heirloom sewing.  Somewhere in this chaos, the wife of one of my husband’s friends asked if I could hem the pants she wore in horse shows.  From there I made her a jacket.  Then the word spread I could make horse show attire – something I had no idea there was even a market for.  In between English Riding clothes and christening gowns, someone else asked me to make them a square dance skirt and word spread again.   Same thing happened with a local university’s sororities and their sweatshirts. 

Soon my sewing was nearly a second full-time job – which in hindsight was a good thing, because my next child, Matt, was born with severe meconium aspiration.  I won’t go into what a wild rollercoaster ride this was, but one of the end results was I could not put him in any type of childcare until he was two.  Colds, respiratory infections, and the like had to be avoided at all costs. 

Suddenly I was home.  I wasn’t working. But my sewing supplied a stable income with flexible hours.  One day I was working on some super cute overalls, but the pattern’s directions were horrible.  By this time, I had five solid years of garment construction under my needle, but the instructions were still confusing me.  So I did what people did in the days before you could Google a pattern:  I picked up the phone and called the pattern company. I asked for clarification.  Somewhere in the process of being transferred for the umpteenth time, I muttered “I could write these directions so much better.”

To which the final customer-service-representative-with-an-attitude told me (quite snippily), “We have professionals who write our pattern instructions.”

“Well, you need to get other, better professionals,” was my reply.  In my defense, I was tired, had two fussy kids, and was behind the eight-ball with this project.  Needless to say, the call ended.  I still had no better clarification, but customer service no longer seemed to be interested nor did they care. 

Long story short, I went to bed that night angry.  The next day, I got up, caffeinated, and made the overalls. 

Then I re-wrote the directions….

And I sent them to pattern company’s head of customer service, along with a long letter about how their customer service was pretty lousy and so were their directions.

Two weeks later, I get a call from the company.  They want me to re-write some pattern instructions.  They would send me some patterns and a check for fabric.  I could make the garments and then re-write the directions.  Afterwards, I could keep the patterns and the garments.  The company would retain the copyright on the directions, but they would pay me for my time and use of my “sewing studio” (which was a corner of my kitchen).  Nothing to lose, I agreed.  A week later, two boxes of patterns show up at my doorstep. 

I wrote all of this to say one thing:  It’s fine to monetize your quilting if given the chance and you want to.  In my situation, I really didn’t have an option but to sew for money because my family needed my income.  Would I have done the same thing if I didn’t have to?  In all honesty, probably not to the extent I did.  I loved making the christening gowns and seeing the delighted faces when I showed my customers the final product.  I reveled in the fact I made a family heirloom.  However, the deadlines were sometimes difficult to deal with and there always was that one customer, who no matter what you did, you couldn’t make happy. 

Would I monetize my quilting?


I know some of you have taken classes with me, and you know I do get paid for teaching, but I consider teaching quilting a joy and lots of fun.  So, yes, this part of my quilting life is monetized.  However, it’s only a small, small part of what occurs in my quilting life.  So why would I decide to make money on my garment sewing, but not my quilting? 

The first obvious reason, of course, is my financial situation at the time.  We had to be super-careful with Matt the first couple years of his life.  I needed to bring in some kind of income, and God, happenstance, Karma – call it whatever you will – worked out a plan for me to do this.  However, I began seriously and exclusively quilting at a later time in my life – around 1998.  Matt had long been declared perfectly healthy and I was working full-time again.  I didn’t need any additional income quilting could contribute to our household budget. 

The second reason is a little more complex.  I didn’t like what all the pressure and deadlines did to my creativity.  When I made garments for my kids, I could choose my own fabric, my own embroidery or smocking plates, and my own pattern.  The only person I had to please was myself (and the kids, once they were old enough to articulate their preferences).  There was freedom in this – I could stretch my creativity as far as I wanted it to go.  However, after a couple of years of sewing for other people, I felt really stifled.  I was making what everyone else wanted, and even if the product was lovely, it wasn’t what I wanted.

I soon lost my joy of sewing and creating.  I dreaded sewing.  I didn’t want to look at my sewing machine.  I had no desire to stitch a stitch.  And this feeling lingered until the time I went back to work on a full-time basis and told my customers I had constructed their last garment.  My sewing machine basically gathered dust as I came to the realization my children were growing faster than I could sew and clothing purchased at Target had less price points than the ones I made.  I was at a crossroads.  There was a fifty-fifty chance I would sell my machine and all but my very basic sewing supplies or find another sewing project easier to manipulate than garments. 

This is when I began quilting in earnest. People won’t outgrow quilts.  I can take as long as I want to make one.  I determine the colors, the fabric, the pattern, any embellishments, the quilting design, and the recipient (if any).  As the freedom of choice returned to me, so did my creativity.

I learned that, at least for me, monetizing my sewing dumbed myself down.  I was so focused on the sole intent of making money with my craft, I was losing a bit of my magic…my sewing mojo…my precious hobby which kept me sane. So, am I telling you I believe no one should make money from quilting?

Absolutely not.  If no one tried their hand a quilting entrepreneurship, we would be at a loss.  No beautiful quilting fabrics.  No wonderful patterns.  No marvelous quilting teachers with awesome workshops. No nifty quilting notions.  What I am saying is this – there must be balance and sometimes finding that balance is tricky.

If you’re the type of quilter who is perfectly fine trading all your creativity off for cash-in-hand, a full-time quilting business will work wonderfully for you.   But if you’re like me and you need at least twenty minutes a day to turn off your “work” brain and engage your “creative” brain in order to feel your best, having all the creative time sucked out of your life could possibly be emotionally crippling.  This is why “professional” quilters/quilt personalities still find time for their own quilting.  They need this creative space in order to be their best. 

Finding this balance boils down to two motivations described by psychologists – extrinsic motivation and intrinsic motivation.  Extrinsic motivation is the drive to make money and gain achievements.  In other words, an extrinsic quilter would make quilts only for financial gain or to compete and win big prizes in quilt shows.  Intrinsic motivation is the drive to do what you love – not for money, fame, the end result, the finished quilt, or the used-up stash.  Intrinsic is internal.  You’re quilting for the love and joy of the process.  Nothing more.  Nothing less.

Every quilter who becomes proficient in the art usually knows what type of quilter they are – extrinsic or intrinsic.  And there may come a time in your quilt journey when you have to cross from one type to the other because things change, and life has plot twists. Sometimes opportunities present themselves to you which are too good to pass up and you find yourself tiptoeing from one camp to the other.  And I’ll be the first person to tell you, switching camps can really make you grow as an artist.  Don’t shy away from the opportunity. 

Now, after nearly 2,000 words of quilty psychology, let’s get down to brass tacks and talk dollars and cents.  Even the most intrinsic of quilters will probably be asked at some point, “How much would you charge to make me a quilt?”

I will tell you what my standard answer is:  My starting (and I put emphasis on the word “starting”) price is $1,000.00.  I have a good reason for flipping this amount out – I figure if the person wanting the quilt doesn’t run for the hills with a $1,000.00 starting price, we could possibly have a serious talk about me constructing the quilt of their dreams. 

This starting price – and your starting price – should be only for your labor and only for a definite amount of time.  Let’s say your hourly rate is $20 an hour (do not sell your quilt know-how short – don’t go for minimum wage).  When we divide $1000 by $20, the result is 50.  A thousand dollars only covers a 40-hour work week, one additional eight-hour day, and two hours of another day.  Knowing what we know about how long making a quilt can actually take, $1000 doesn’t seem too much to charge, does it? 

The customer should also be part of the price equation.  If you’re lucky, the customer will give you a color palate and you can purchase the fabric, backing, and thread.  Should this occasion arise, be sure to mark up what you spend on these as well as other items purchased for use on the quilt (such as specialty rulers you will probably never use again) by 10%.  Just incase you may feel like balking at this, let me reassure you this is broad industry standards.  My husband and I own an environmental company.  If we are undertaking a time and materials project, all materials we purchased are marked up 10%.  The 10% covers your time and fuel.  I would advise, if the customer wants to choose the fabric themselves, ask if you can go with them.  Many non-quilters have no idea about the type or quality of fabric needed to construct a great looking quilt.

The two last items which need to be considered are deadlines and the complexity of the quilt.    In their defense, most non-quilters have no idea how long it takes to make a quilt.  If the needed-by-date is unrealistic, don’t hesitate to turn the project down.  Explain the process of quilt construction, with a rough working timetable for each, as well as how this wouldn’t fit in your schedule.   The complexity of the quilt also needs to be considered.  Some quilts, such as a double wedding ring, can take weeks to construct, even if all the parts go together well.  And if the quilt pattern is beyond what you’re comfortable with in your skill set, don’t be afraid to say no. 

If you do want to sell quilts, it may be a good idea to have some “stock” quilt patterns – those patterns you know exactly how much time and material they take.  Perhaps have a few choices for baby quilts, wedding quilts, and queen-sized quilts (these are the most used sizes).  If you’ve used the pattern several times, you are aware of how much time it takes to make the quilt.  These would be fairly easy to price. If a customer really wants a different quilt, you can either tell them only those choices are available, or the quilt they want would cost more than your “stock” quilts. 

Be clear about the actual “quilting” part of the process.  If you long arm, use a sit-down machine, or your domestic machine, will that be an additional up-charge?  And if you don’t plan on undertaking any of the quilting, be transparent to your customers about it.  Tell them you don’t quilt the quilt – just construct the top – and they will need to find a long armer.  If you have friends who long arm for profit, you may want to recommend them, or have a list of long armers in your area who they can call. 

Above all else, don’t let anyone “guilt” you into making their quilt.  I’ve had friends and family who have attempted this with me.  They believe because quilting is my hobby and passion, I will jump at the chance to make another quilt at no charge if they supply the fabric and other materials.  I have too many quilts I want to make for me to even let theirs be a blip on my radar.  I know that may sound harsh, but it’s a difficult lesson I learned a long time ago when I made heirloom children’s clothing – they won’t stop with just one.  And if you don’t say no the first time, it’s even harder to say no the second. 

Considering how making garments for others almost completely tapped out my creativity, I don’t think I could ever monetize my quilts.  I won’t even long arm for anyone but myself and I have no plans to  monetize my blog.  However, this may be a good option for you.  Just don’t sell yourself or your talent short.  Both are valuable and precious.

Until Next Week, Make Your Quilt Yours!



The Zoom-Zone of Truth

Heads up about this blog, folks…it’s a Zone of Truth today.  I’ve mentioned Zoom in several previous posts.  I’ve explained about how my local guild operates with Zoom, how I’m able to attend guild meetings with a New York guild, how my beloved Applique Society uses Zoom to bring together appliquers from all over the world, and how I meet with quilters for local and international Sit and Sews via Zoom. Through this modern technology, I now have the wonderful opportunity to join other guilds from all the United States as long as I have the app on my computer, a router, modem, and internet. 

Zoom was the modern miracle which kept us all together when the world was falling apart from Covid. 

I guess what I’m surprised at – where this Zone of Truth is – I don’t understand why more quilters don’t take advantage of quilt workshops and classes offered through Zoom.  I’m not talking about monthly guild meetings, but actual, honest-to-goodness quilt classes — the type which once were only taught at quilt shows, large retreats, or in the instructor’s studio.  Trust me, if you’re not taking advantage of all Zoom has to offer concerning quilt workshops and classes, you are seriously shorting yourself.  These have the best of both worlds to offer, and the fees are not outrageous.  The most I have spent in quilt classes was for on-line long arm classes.  The price for these cost me some serious coinage, but the cost included the kit (which contained silks), thread, and two classes a month for six months, and  the class was videotaped.  These tapes are on a teaching platform I can access for the rest of my life.  So the price I paid verses what I received in return was more than a win-win ratio for me.

In many ways (at least in my opinion),  Zoom classes are better than in-person instruction.  First, Zoom has brought quilting teachers from all over the world right to your device.  I’ve taken classes with English, Canadian, Spanish, French, Australian, and New Zealand instructors.  Without Zoom, I would have never been able to do this.  The expenses of travel, lodging, and instruction to six countries would be prohibitive.  But thanks to the internet and PayPal, I can point, click, and then have a front row seat with some of the best quilting teachers in the world.  Which brings me to the second way Zoom classes are awesome…

You literally have a front row seat.  Seriously.  These quilting teachers have pretty much perfected their on-line instruction.  Quite often they work from three or four cameras, switching between them so you’re able to see what they’re doing up close – no crowding around the instructor and her sewing machine, hoping you can get a good view of what’s going on. 

The third reason on-line classes are great is you don’t have to pack up to attend the class or leave it.  I don’t care how careful I am, it seems I always forget something when I have to go to a class.  And it’s just as easy to leave something behind when you pack up to leave.  There’s none of that worry with a Zoom class.  I can’t begin to tell you how wonderful it is to simply walk across my studio and retrieve a tool or a piece of fabric I need.  And once the class is over, I simply put everything away.  There’s no unpacking. 

So how do you find these wonderful on-line instructors?  Most  of the well-known quilting writers/designers/instructors offer Zoom or Zoom-type classes.  Find their website and quite often you’ll come across what they offer and when it’s offered.  Many quilt organizations, such The Applique Society, offer workshops through their organization with well-known and talented instructors.  The Quilt Show offers classes, too.  It may take a bit of searching and some Googling, but there are classes out there for almost every aspect of quilting. 

With all of that said, in some ways an on-line class is no different than an in-person one.  You can’t just show up, turn on your computer, and log-in.  There’s a bit more to it than that.  After you pay your class fee, you are usually given a supply list.  Sometimes this is emailed to you, sometimes it’s on the website where you signed up.  It’s important you have this.  Read through the list and note if there are items on it you don’t have in your studio.  If there are supplies you need, don’t wait until the day before class to get them.  With our supply chain still under stress, it’s not as easy as it was a few years ago to waltz in your LQS or big box store and find everything you need.  Some supplies may have to be ordered, so be sure to allow time for shipping. 

Personally, I always prep for any class a week out  — whether the class is in-person or on-line.  Read through the class instructions.  Some teachers want the fabrics prewashed.  Others may not.  If any prewashing, starching, cutting, or marking needs to be done, do it then.  This allows you to read the directions thoroughly and make sure all the correct steps are taken.  You’ll also find out if there are items you need you didn’t anticipate, such as new rotary blades or thread conditioner.  In addition to this, I make sure I complete a few extra steps normally not listed in class directions.

  1.  If the class involves machine piecing or my long arm, I always wind extra bobbins before the class starts.  Classes don’t move so fast you couldn’t possibly stop and wind a bobbin, but it’s just easier to grab a wound bobbin, drop it in your bobbin case, and keep moving.  Then you don’t feel rushed to try to make up for the time spent winding the bobbin.
  2. Thread your hand sewing needles.  Under normal circumstances, I have no issue getting the thread through the eye of a needle.  But throw the fact I’m in class with this action, and I can’t do it to save my life.  I feel too rushed, the eye of the needle is too small, or I can’t find the needle.  It saves time if you can have your hand sewing needles threaded and ready to go.
  3. Arrange the sewing area into a U-shape, if possible.  Ideally, I like to watch my classes on an iPad.  This is the best way, I think, because there are stands such as this: 

For an iPad.  This can be set directly in front of your sewing machine, at eye level, so you can watch the Zoom class while you sew.  If I can do this for any class I take involving my sewing machine, it keeps me from turning to my left or right to view a laptop.  Then on the left-hand side of my machine, I have my pressing station, and on the right-hand side I have my cutting area.  I don’t have to get up and move to any other part of my studio while the teacher is instructing us.  I set up the same way if I’m taking a hand piecing or a hand applique class. 

  •  Make sure all the standard sewing tools and any specialty tools needed for class are nearby.  Keeping all of those together cuts down on frustration when you can’t find something.
  • If there is a pattern or a book involved with the class, be sure to read through it before the date of the workshop.  If the teacher has written a book on the same topic as your workshop, usually the book is a great investment, even if it’s not required.  The book gives you two advantages:  First, it’s a wonderful way to get to know the instructor.  It gives you an idea about how he or she may pace the class, what will be emphasized, what kind of sense of humor the teacher employs, and what parts he or she is a real stickler about.  Second, it lets you know if any additional tools may be good to have on hand, even if they’re not listed on the supply sheet. 

If a pattern is required for the class, reading through the pattern does the same thing, with one additional caveat:  it allows you to know ahead of time if you want to construct every part of the pattern the same way class calls for it to be made.  If you quilt for a while and try out different techniques for basic block units, I guarantee you this will happen – you’ll discover a construction method you will not compromise on for any class with any instructor.  For me, you cannot beat making four patches via the strip-pieced method.  I’m good at it, I’m fast at it, and I’m extremely accurate with it.  If a pattern calls for four-patches, this is the way I will make them unless there’s a very good reason for me not to.  I have similarly strong feelings about flying geese and half-square triangles. 

  •  Check your rotary blades and your sewing machine needle.  If either or both are dull, change them.  And if the class calls for a particular type of thread which needs a particular type of needle, make sure that sized needle is already in your machine before class starts. 
  • A small design wall comes in handy.  I make sure mine is close by in case I need it for class. 
  • Make sure you have food and drink nearby.  If you’re taking a class which is several hours long, lunch can be a toss up.  Some teachers I’ve had incorporate a designated lunch break for students (around 30 minutes).  Others don’t.  If you don’t see it indicated somewhere in the class information, assume there isn’t a lunch break.  If the class is a morning one, and you need a warm caffeinated beverage to assist you with your alertness, you may want to pour that pot of coffee or tea in a thermos or carafe and have it in your studio.  I make sure I have several bottles of water nearby (stay hydrated!) and some high-protein snacks as well.  If there is a designated lunch, I make a sandwich or fix a salad before class starts and have it ready to go.  I have learned if there is a lunch period, many of the students hang out on the Zoom class and eat together.  It’s a great way to make new friends. 
  • Make SURE your viewing device is fully charged.  Most of the time, a fully charged device is good for a class which is a few hours.  However, as a backup, it’s a good idea to have your chargers nearby and be able to plug them in without disrupting your classroom experience. 
  • Remember to stand and stretch.  Sitting for hours at a time is hard on your body.  If you find your once-comfy sewing chair becoming uncomfortable, a cushion can be helpful, also. 

By now, most of us have used Zoom or at least have more than a passing knowledge about it.  If you need a refresher before your class there are lots of YouTube videos which explain the process.  However, just like at an in-person class, there are some etiquette guidelines to follow – and the first one is how the teacher wants questions asked.  Some teachers are fine with you speaking up and asking while the class is conducted.  Others want you to put your questions in the chat module.  If this isn’t indicated in the class information, ask this question before the teacher begins instruction.  Second, mute yourself (if the instructor doesn’t) when class starts.  No matter how much and how often you’ll tell the people you live with you have class, you’ll get interrupted, and the other folks don’t need to hear those conversations.  Likewise, your cell phone may ring.  And here’s a helpful hint:  if your bandwidth is giving you issues, muting your mic and turning off your camera can sometimes give it a little bit more room and help your viewing situation to run smoothly. 

Fourth – and this one is really important – Don’t try to video tape the class via the Zoom option or with your cell phone.  Doing this had never even filtered through my mind, because I know these workshops and classes are one of the ways our quilt instructors/teachers put food on their tables and pay their bills.  However, not-so-long ago, I took a class from an internationally known long arm artist and she requested we leave our video on at all times.  Being curious, I asked her why.  She told me previously she had allowed students to keep their cameras off if they wanted, but then she found out one of her students turned their laptop camera off, but video taped the entire class on their cell phone and then loaded it all up on YouTube!   Having the students keep their cameras on during class prevented this from happening again.  Unless the instructor has given you express permission, don’t video any of the workshop.

Finally, be forgiving.  In many ways, Zoom classes are no different from in-person classes.  Accidents happen. There are delays.  With Zoom or any internet classes, connections can be faulty, equipment can balk at the worst times, and cameras can fall off their stands.  Most teachers are prepared for this and can quickly get class back on track.  However, none of them have control over the internet providers.  Sometimes connections can get sketchy.  I’ve had classes completely rescheduled because of this.  Just keep in mind all of us are human and there’s only so much we can do.  But I will add this – in my experience, disruptions such as bad internet connections rarely happen.  Overall, I would give all of my Zoom/internet class experience a solid 98.

That’s it.  This is my Zone of Truth for today.  Take a Zoom class or find an internet class which interests you.  Maybe start with a one-day class which only lasts a couple of hours, then take a longer one. If you don’t try one of these wonderful quilting options, you’re missing out on some awesome learning experiences – trust me on this one.

Until Next Week, Make Your Quilt Yours!

Love and Stitches,