The Unspoken Rules of Quilt Shop Etiquette

It’s been a long while since I’ve thrown up the Grumpy Quilter logo on my blog.  However, the time has come, and I need to get this off my chest, not only for myself but also for my friends who either work in a quilt shop or own a quilt shop.  I have never owned a quilt shop, but have worked in one, have friends who are employed at a quilt shop, have friends who own a quilt shop, and have certainly spent enough time in a quilt shop to speak with authority on this subject:  Quilt Shop Etiquette. 

You wouldn’t think of eating in a restaurant with your mouth open or talking loudly or running after a waitperson to get their attention or leave after you’ve ordered because you think the prices are too high (at least I sincerely hope you wouldn’t). Just like there are certain rules of etiquette for restaurants, there are certain standards of comportment for quilt shops.  Over the past couple of years, I’ve noticed some quilt shop customers’ behavior which has left me flabbergasted.  Then, I thought to myself, “Self, maybe these dear people have never been enlightened to proper quilt shop etiquette.  Why don’t you give these folks a heads up?”  So, consider this blog my attempt to educate those fabric consumers who may not know The Unspoken Rules of Quilt Shop Etiquette.

  1.  There are guidelines for behavior outside the quilt shop.  Just in case you don’t know, quilt shop employees and owners have a life outside the retail establishment.  They have families, other interests, obligations, etc., just like you do.  So, if you see them outside the quilt shop, it may not be the best time to ask questions about a fabric line, a pattern, a class, or complain about something in the shop.  Say hi, smile, and move on.  Chances are after dealing with retail issues all week, the owner or employee really doesn’t want to talk about quilting for a bit. 

Sometimes the quilt store employee/owner may give you information about the shop and then it’s okay to proceed with a quilty conversation.  For instance, I have a dear, dear friend who is employed by a large quilt/fabric store.  I see this person usually at least once a week and we text back and forth almost every day.  If she gives me some quilty information, I may ask questions, but it doesn’t take up our entire interaction. 

Just be aware of the situation and be sensitive to the fact they may not want to “talk shop.” 

  •  There are guidelines for behavior inside the quilt shop.  First, let me give you some cold, hard facts about quilt shop revenue.  According to the American Retailer, most quilt shop owners only keep 1%-3% of any fabric sale.  So, let’s set up this scenario:  You decide you want to make a queen-sized quilt.  You don’t have a pattern in mind, but you know the quilt shop you frequent has lots of patterns.  Once you enter the door, either the owner or employee greets you and finds out your plans.  Patterns are pulled out.   Decisions are made.  Fabric is auditioned, photographed, discarded, substituted, and finalized.  By this point, there’s a good (and realistic) chance the employee or owner has spent two to three hours with you.  Equally realistic, the final costs may come to $350.  Yes, this can be considered a chunk of change.  However, also realize if the store owner makes 1%-3% net on the sale, this only comes to $3.50 — $10.50.  If it’s the employee who made the sale, they’ve only earned $1 — $3 per hour on your purchase. 

It’s no wonder more and more brick-and-mortar quilt stores are closing their store fronts and moving to on-line sales only. 

And before you wonder if this is truly a realistic scenario, let me remind you, at one point I was a part-time quilt shop employee (mainly to support my habit).  I cannot begin to tell you how many times I had worked with a customer in this same situation, only to be told right before I started to cut the fabric, “Don’t bother.  I’m sure Walmart or some shop on the internet has the same fabric and pattern for less money.”  The matter was made infinitely worse if they blatantly shopped the internet while I waited on them. 


For everyone’s sake, don’t be this customer.  You just really injured your relationship with the quilt shop (i.e. don’t expect to have the welcome mat rolled out the next time you come in the shop), you’ve wasted the owner’s or the employee’s time they needed to help other customers or fill orders, and the fabric at the big box stores isn’t close to the quality of quilting cottons.  The courteous thing is to walk out with something, no matter the reason for the visit.  It doesn’t have to be an expensive purchase.  It can be a marking pen, pins, or needles.   I’ll issue a Zone of Truth here:  This is what really bothers me about shop hops and the Row-by-Row experience.  These events are coordinated with the thought they will help quilt store owners stay afloat during what is considered the slow time of year – summer.  The idea is customers will come into the shop to either get their shop hop passports stamped or pick up their Row-by-Row pattern.  Quite often this is all they leave with – and both items are free.  No purchases are made. 

Again, don’t be this customer.  The purchase doesn’t have to be large or expensive.  A few dollars here and there during the slow time of the year goes a long way in keeping the quilt shop’s doors open. 

Now let’s talk about special orders.  Sometimes when you’re making a quilt, you need a special fabric.  The store may have had this material in stock at one time or it may not have enough for your needs.  You may have searched in vain for a substitute or for other locations which may have the fabric.  Nothing worked and now you ask the shop owner if they will special order the fabric for you.

If you have a good relationship with the shop, chances are the owner will do his or her best to make this happen.  They will do this as a favor for you – their loyal customer and friend.  Now you need to know how to handle this situation to maintain this relationship.  If an entire bolt is ordered, realize this means 12-15 yards of the fabric is now winging its way to the shop.  You need to prepare yourself to purchase the entire bolt, because the shop owner may not sell the remaining fabric after they’ve given you the actual yardage you need.  If the owner insists this is not necessary, at least buy five yards to make it worth their effort. 

Also keep in mind as much as you love your LQS, other people love it just as much as you do.  This means at any given time you decide to visit your favorite quilt shop, other quilters may also be there.  No matter how good a customer you are, no matter how much of your paycheck resides in the shop owner’s till, wait your turn.  You may know how much you spend at the shop.  And the owner certainly does.  However, those customers there who are ahead of you have absolutely no idea.  If you try to jump ahead of them, it will make you look like an awful person and if the quilt shop owner acquiesces, it makes them look like they play favorites.  This will leave a bad taste in the mouths of the other customers, and they’ll be less likely to return.  Then the store owner loses revenue.  If you absolutely can’t wait, tell the owner and plan to return a bit later.  Trust me, you’ll earn major brownie points. 

And while we’re discussing shopping etiquette, let’s talk about the quilt shop employees.  You may be BFFs with the owner.  You may know the owner by name, know their kids’ names, even their grandkids’ names.  However, when you come in the shop and she or he is busy with another customer or involved with something else (because bookkeeping, ordering, and payroll must be done), don’t demand ask for the owner to wait on you.  A quilt shop owner employs others who may know more about quilting than they do.  And quite often this is the case.  Trust me, an employee can often have better input than the owner.  They may have quilted longer, had more quilt education, or be better at picking fabrics.  Don’t turn your nose up when an employee offers to wait on you.  Treat them with kindness and respect.  Trust me when I tell you they do a great job and will go out of their way to make sure you’re happy.

Lastly, let me hit three other personal responsibility items.  You could be the best quilt shop customer ever, but if you neglect the following three details, your best-customer-ever status will quickly disappear:

  1.  Come prepared.

Know what you want and have the needed information with you so the quilt shop can make sure you leave happy.  For instance, if you need border fabric for your quilt, know how much you need and at least have a picture of the quilt center on your phone to reference the colors.  The best-case scenario is to have the center with you.  If you need backing, know how big your quilt is.  Don’t expect the quilt store owner or employees to read minds or be psychic.  If you need to match your focus fabric, at least have a picture or a swatch of it with you.  Just because the shop had the exact same fabric two weeks ago doesn’t necessarily mean they have it now.    If you’re starting a new quilt, have the pattern with you or be prepared to find one at the shop. 

In other words, do your homework.  This ensures you leave happy, and no one is frustrated.

  •  Note the layout of the shop and respect it.

Most of the time, even the smallest quilt shop will have a designated area for cutting, another area for auditioning fabric, and possibly a classroom area which serves as a place for consultation or problem solving.  Respect the layout – it’s there for a reason.  Don’t audition fabrics in the cutting area.  Don’t have lengthy consultations or problem-solving sessions at the fabric audition area.  If you’re at a new quilt store (or one which is new to you), ask where the designated locations are.  This is important because generally a layout is in place to control traffic and over-crowding.  And if a shop is super-busy, it’s often critical these areas are respected. 

  •  Realize the quilt shop owner or the employees may not be conversant with all quilting techniques or sewing machines.

I can tell you how to find out what sewing machines your LQS is familiar with:  Look what’s at the entrance of the shop.  If a fabric store sells machines, they’re in broad view as soon as you step into the store.  Why?  Remember what I told you about net fabric sales – that it’s generally only 1%-3% of the total purchase?  Not so with sewing machines.  Usually the biggest net sales are made from sewing machines.  Those will be out front and center of the LQS, set up and ready for you to try.  If you have the brand sewing machine the shop sells, the owner and the store employees will be very, very familiar with that brand and can help you with nearly any issue you have. 

If you don’t have the store’s brand, the quilt shop staff may not be able to help you.  For example, if you have a problem with a consistent ¼-inch seam allowance, they will probably give you generic advice, such as “move your needle over,” but they may not be able to tell you how to do this on your machine. 

Don’t get upset.  Go home and boot up your internet machine.  Search for your machine’s manual. Find out how to move the needle. This is why God gave us Google. 

Likewise, don’t expect all of the store’s employees to be familiar with every quilting technique.  Chances are there will be some folks proficient in the major quilting techniques such as color choice, piecing, and hand and machine applique.  But other more obscure methods like broderie perse or trapunto?  Maybe not.  But again, that’s why God gave us Google.  Go home and use it.

Okay.  End of rant.  I honestly don’t complain too much, but this is one of those times.  Having been a quilt store employee as well as a customer, I can understand the frustrations on both ends.  However, some of our behaviors have gotten out of hand.  I have noticed since we’ve been released from COVID lockdowns, everyone’s patience seems a little worse for the wear.  Take a deep breath and realize it’s usually not the store owner’s or the employees’ fault.  Quilt shop owners are like other business owners right now – it’s difficult to find help.  There may be lines at the register and the cutting table and fabric is not immune to supply-side logistic nightmares. 

Just …. Be kind everyone to everybody.  Take a deep breath and be kind.

Love and Stitches,



Grain Lines and Squaring Up – Part 2

If block units, blocks, and all the sashings are squared up and the cutting is accurate, at this point, your quilt center should be squared-up, too, right?

This is where we left off last week.  We went through exactly what the squaring-up process is and why it really shouldn’t be left as the last step before sewing on the binding.  At this point, we’ve square up everything as we have constructed the quilt and now we’re ready to put on the borders.  And yes, if you’ve faithfully squared-up the block units, blocks, sashing, and rows, your quilt center should come out to the size the quilt pattern says.  It’s easy to think at this point you only need to cut the borders to the size dictated by the pattern and sew them on. 

Well, yes…and no.  Technically if all the squaring up has been done, the borders should go on quickly and easily.  However, if you’ve come this far, you want to be sure everything will still go together wonderfully in the end.  So here’s what we will do:

  1.  If you’re quilt top is badly wrinkled, press it.
  2. Lay it out, face-up on the floor or a table – some surface which is big enough, so the quilt lies flat.
  3. With a measuring tape, measure the length of the quilt an inch in from the right and left edges and in the middle.  Average these three measurements.  The average will be the length to cut your side borders.  Ideally, all three measurements should be the same.  However, there may be variances and if there are, the measurements still should be pretty close.
  4. Cut out your left and right borders the width needed per the pattern and the length deduced by your average.
  5. Find the center of the length of the border strip and the center of the length of the quilt.  Pin both centers together and then pin the edges together, working from the center pin down one side and then the other.  Sew on and repeat on the other side.
  6. Press the borders, with the seams pressed towards the border strip.
  7. Lay the quilt out again, face-up on the floor a table – some surface which is big enough that the quilt lies flat.
  8. Now measure how wide the quilt is.  Again, take three measurements – one an inch from the top, one an inch from the bottom, and one across the middle.  Average these three measurements together and cut your top and bottom border this length and the as wide as the pattern calls for.
  9. Repeat the pinning and sewing as dictated for the left and right borders.

One really helpful hint about borders – border pieces cut along the lengthwise grain of fabric really stabilize your quilt center the best.  However, whatever you do, cut all the border pieces on the same grain – all lengthwise or all crosswise.  If you mix the grains, the borders will be wavy.

Sandwich your quilt and quilt it or send it to the long arm artist.

Once the quilting is done, you’re on the final stretch.  And at this point, you have two options:  Do you want to wet it and square it up again or not?  There’s a reason this becomes an option.  A long arm artist will baste the top, bottom, and sides of your quilt to the backing and batting.  This will help stabilize the quilt and keep all three layers of the quilt sandwich from shifting and keep it square.  They will also do some stitching in the ditch along some of the squares for the same reason.  If you’re quilting your quilt on your domestic machine, you do the same thing.  However, no matter how careful you are, the quilt could become slightly un-square during the quilting process – not so much the quilt center, but the borders.  Instead of the corners being a perfect 90-degrees, they become a bit wonky.  There are two ways to approach putting those borders back to a 90-degree angle.

The Wet Method

I will be honest at this point and tell you I generally only use this method for wall hangings which must lie flat and even against a wall or truly special quilts, such as those destined as mile-marker gifts (such as weddings, special birthdays, etc.), or quilts which are definitely show-bound.  While this method does work wonders to get everything squared-up beautifully, handling a wet quilt can be difficult and the larger the quilt, the more difficult it can be. 

This method requires two items – a washing machine and either an area you can pin the quilt flat, or one of these:

A cardboard dressmaker’s cutting surface.

The first step with this method is to trim the backing and batting even with your quilt center.  To make sure I get the four corners of the quilt as close to 90-degrees as possible I use a square ruler along the sides, like this.

Then thoroughly wet your quilt.  I generally do this via the washing machine on a delicate cycle (my washer does not have an agitator – if yours does you may opt for a soaking in the tub or shower stall instead of using the washing machine).  Helpful hint insert:  If you’ve used water dissolvable marker or Frixion pens on your quilt, this is a great time to get those out.  After the quilt has gone through the delicate cycle and spun out, it’s time to pin your quilt to either a clean carpet or the cardboard cutting surface.  Pin judiciously, making sure the sides and top are perfectly straight and even.  If you’re using a carpet, you may want to purchase one of these:

The laser light can help you line up your quilt evenly.  If you’re using one of the cardboard dressmaker cutting surfaces, the gridded lines on it are your guide. 

This process takes time.  Use your hands to spread the quilt out and manipulate the quilt sandwich to square it up.  After the corners are at 90-degree angles and the sides are even, pin it in place and allow it to dry completely.  If you have a fan, you may want to use it to help it dry quicker.

The Dry Method

This is the method I use the most, because most of my quilts are made to be “used up.”  They’re not show quilts or super-special-once-in-a-lifetime quilts.  The quilts are cuddle quilts, play quilts for my grand darlings, picnic quilts, lap quilts, and charity quilts.  This method will square these quilts up nicely, but I don’t have to wet them.

The first step I take is to trim down the backing and batting – especially if the quilt was long armed.  Traditionally we always make sure the batting and backing are several inches larger than the quilt top, but most long arm artists want you to have a 6-inch to 8-inch border of the back and batting so they can clamp it to hold the quilt taunt.  I trim those down to about an inch, just so I don’t have so much bulk to deal with.

I realize the borders may still be basted down to the batting and backing, and if the stitches are still pretty well intact, you can skip this next step.  If the basting stitches have broken or aren’t intact, I take the quilt sandwich to the sewing machine and stitch the sides and top and bottom of the quilt again, about 1/8-inch away from the edge of the quilt top.  This keeps everything taunt as you begin to square up the quilt for the last time. 

If you don’t have one of these:

You may want to purchase one.  I find these square rulers are the most useful for squaring up the corners.

Place the square ruler at one of the corners of the quilt.  Line it up as best you can at the bottom (or top) of the ruler and along the sides.  Then, with a rotary cutter (a 45 mm or 60 mm works best for this), trim the backing, batting, and any slender pieces of border fabric you need to in order to make the sides, top, and bottom of the quilt square and even. 

Now all you have to do is bind your quilt and enjoy!

I hope these two blogs have helped you in two areas.  First, I really want you to understand how important it is to square up your quilt with every step, and if you’re making large blocks, it’s crucial to make sure your fabric is on-grain.  These minor actions play a major role in making sure your quilt will lie flat or hang straight.  Second, I hope the blogs have demonstrated squaring up isn’t a horribly scary process.  As long as you have a good ruler, cutting mat, and sharp rotary cutter, you’re good to go.

Until next week, Make Your Quilt Yours!

Love and Stitches,



What You Need to Know about Grain Lines and Squaring Up

Have you ever viewed a quilt which looked like this?

It’s a really nice quilt, and the maker may have spent a lot of time thinking about design and color and techniques.  But there’s just something off about the quilt.  You may not be able to put your finger on exactly what it is, but something is off.  So, you wonder is it you, or is it something else?

Well, if you looked at the quilt above and thought those thoughts, it’s not you.   It’s the quilt.  Even though a quilt may be perfectly pieced or appliqued beautifully, there’s still something wrong.  It doesn’t hang straight.  It may look a bit wavy.  It simply doesn’t look right, but you can’t figure out exactly what’s wrong with it.  There are technically a couple of things which could be happening here, either independently or in conjunction with each other – off grainlines and/or poor squaring up.

As I’ve stated many times before, fabric has three grainlines:  crosswise (also known as width of fabric or WOF), length wise (known as length of fabric or LOF), and bias – which cuts across both the crosswise and length wise grains.  For my quilters out there who are also garment makers, you are probably familiar with these terms.  Generally, if quilters are cutting fabrics in strips in preparation to sub-cut it into units, the strip is cut across the width of the fabric.  And here is where the first issue may crop up.

Quilter’s cottons (or any other 100 percent cotton fabric for that matter) are woven.  This means the threads or yarns are placed perpendicular to each other and are attached by weaving, to make up the warp and weft of the fabric.  Once the fabric is completely woven, it’s processed, finished, folded, and wrapped around a bolt.  During these processes, the threads can shift, causing it to lose its perpendicularity. 

Now the fabric is off grain.  And to be honest, most fabric is off grain by the time it’s rolled off the bolt to be cut.  If you’re making a garment, cutting fabric strips to be sub-cut, or cutting out large quilt blocks as either setting blocks or applique backgrounds, it’s important to put the fabric back on-grain.  This is not a difficult process at all.  Simply make a small cut across the selvedge, about an inch in from the side:

And rip the fabric from selvedge to selvedge. 

Then re-fold the fabric to make your crosswise (WOF) cuts, making sure to line up the torn edges.  Now you’re ready to rock and roll.

At this point, let me throw in a Zone of Truth.  If you’re cutting small fabric pieces to go into block units, it honestly doesn’t matter if the fabric is on-grain or not.  By the time you get those pieced and quilted, no one should be able to tell if you’ve corrected the grain line or not.  However, the larger the fabric pieces, the easier to tell if they’re off-grain.  Even when they’re quilted, they will want to ripple and not lie flat.  My general rule of thumb is if I am cutting strips or blocks 3-inches or larger, I make sure my fabric is put on-grain. 

Now let’s talk about what may be the second issue which could be wrong with the quilt at the top of this blog:  Improper or absent square-up.  What is square-up? In broad terms, squaring up a quilt pertains to the quilt sandwich – it’s a step taken after the quilt is quilted and before the binding is sewn on.  The process makes sure the four corners are at a perfect 90-degree angles.  However, like I said, this is a broad definition.  Personally, I think a quilt should be squared up at every step during construction.  Let me explain.

To me, squaring up a quilt begins as soon as you have the quilt pattern in hand.  The very first thing I encourage any quilter at any level to do is read the pattern twice before purchasing fabric or making the first cut.  The first read-through is to get you acquainted with the process the designer took.  And now here’s a Zone of Truth about fabric designers:  Some of them are really great.  Some of them are not.  Don’t be fooled by a pretty cover.  Take that pattern out and read it.  As you read it, look for certain aspects:

  1.  Pictures, illustrations, or line drawings – Quilting is a visual art.  Sometimes a picture can be far more helpful than words.
  2. The cover picture is clear – While I may not choose the color way the designer chose, the cover picture has enough clarity I can take a picture of it with my cell phone and flip it to black and white so I can see how many lights, mediums, and darks I need.
  3. It indicates in some way if it’s a beginners, intermediate, or advanced quilting pattern.
  4. If it’s an applique pattern, it tells you if the applique pattern pieces are reversed or you need to reverse them with a light box.
  5. The designer has listed his or her website.  This is important.  Go to the website and see if the designer has updated the pattern.  No matter how hard designers try (and the vast majority of them try really hard) not to make mistakes, mistakes do happen.  Good pattern designers usually have a place on their website where they list the pattern, any mistakes, and the corrections.  If you cannot find a corrections tab on the designer’s website, Google the pattern.  If nothing about the pattern is returned but the images of the designer’s quilt and their site, you may want to rethink making the quilt.  This usually means either no one has purchased it, or the directions are so poor no one has attempted it. 
  6. The directions allow for a bit of extra fabric in case you make a cutting error.
  7. As you are constructing your block units, the pattern supplies you with an unfinished unit measurement.

For me – and I’ve quilted for 35-years at this point – these seven aspects are important.  However, number 7 is super important in the squaring up process.  Let’s say you have to join a half-square triangle to a square.  The HST has an unfinished measurement of 2 ½ inches and the square also has an unfinished measurement of 2 ½-inches.  If the pattern lists this unfinished block unit measurements as 2 ½-inches x 4 ½-inches, you realize once you’ve sewn the HST and square together, the unit should measure 2 ½-inches x 4 ½-inches.  Once the HST and square are joined and pressed, you can measure it.  If it is the correct measurement, you can proceed to join all of these units together, checking as you go to make sure the unfinished measurements stay consistent.

However, if the joined HST and square aren’t 2 ½-inches x 4 ½-inches, you realize you must take steps to correct it.  Seam allowances can be examined to see if they are a true ¼-inch.  You can re-measure the HST and square to make sure they have been cut and trimmed correctly.  In other words, you can correct the tiny mistakes before they become huge quilty issues.  This is why those unfinished block unit measurements are so important. 

But what if the unfinished block unit measurements aren’t in your pattern?  Don’t worry.  You can figure out those measurements on your own.  For instance, let’s take a look at this block:

This is the Greek Square block, and it’s made up of HSTs and squares which are pieced from two rectangles.  The finished block is 6-inches, which means each HST and pieced square should finish at 2-inches (2 + 2 + 2 = 6).  Unfinished means you simply add ½-inch for the seam allowances.  So as you’re piecing each HST and square, you want those to be 2 ½-inches, unfinished.  Once they’re joined together in rows, the row should come out to 6 ½-inches (2 ½ + 2 ½ + 2 ½ = 7 ½.  Then subtract two ½-seam allowances for the middle block:  7 ½ – 1 = 6 ½.  Once the square is set into rows, that extra ½-inch seam allowance will go away and the block will finish at 6-inches). 

Figuring out the unfinished measurements isn’t hard, and it’s important to do if the pattern doesn’t supply them.  While all of this may seem like intense (and even unnecessary) attention to detail, it’s these actions which are the first “squaring up” of the quilt.  You make sure the block units are the correct size.  If they’re not, you adjust cutting, seam allowance, or even the thread (by switching to a different weight or ply) to make sure the units come out at the correct unfinished size.

Once the units are made, join them together to make the block.  Because of all the care put into the units, the block should come out at its correct unfinished size.  However, it’s still necessary to measure the blocks to be sure.  I make several blocks and then spend some quality time at my cutting mat, measuring and trimming (if needed).  This is the second “squaring up.”

Now let’s talk sashing.  Sashing is the strips of fabric you put between the blocks and between the rows.  It has lots of design possibilities.  Sashing can be pieced or appliqued.  Wide sashing opens up lots of quilting opportunities.  It adds width and length to a quilt.  However, if used correctly, sashing can also be a great squaring up tool.  I learned this little trick when constructing my Dear Jane.  As you’re cutting your quilt out, also cut the vertical sashing to the size required by the quilt pattern.  After you’ve constructed your block, sew a sashing piece to the right side of the block.  If the sashing and the block are the same size – whoop whoop!  Your block is squared up, and the sashing is the right size.  If one is off, re-measure both and make corrections where needed.  This is a great, little square up trick, and it saves time.  Once all your blocks are completed, the sashing is already sewn on and you’re ready to sew the blocks into rows.

Speaking of rows, now it’s time to sew the sashing between the rows and on the top and bottom of the quilt (if required).  It’s important to make sure all the rows are the same length.  There’s a couple of ways to do this.  If the pattern doesn’t have any borders, you can check and see what the finished width of the quilt is and add ½-inch.  If your rows measure this, you’re golden.  If the pattern has borders, you can subtract the combined border finished width from the width of the finished quilt and add ½ inch.  All the rows should come pretty close to this width.  If you’re off a smidge (1/4-inch or less), don’t sweat it.  This amount can be worked around. 

Once you’re sure your rows are approximately the same length, now it’s time to make your horizontal sashing to go between the rows.  If it’s a solid piece of fabric, cut the  fabric strip across the WOF (joining pieces if necessary) to fit the measurement of the row width.  Find the center of the row of blocks and the center of the horizontal sashing and pin the two centers together.  Then pin out from the center for the left and right sides.  If you’ve measured, cut, and joined correctly (if needed), the horizontal sashing should be easy to pin into place. 

Sometimes the sashing looks like this:

Those small squares which fall beneath the sashing are called cornerstones.  And while this may look a tad intimidating to construct, it’s really not.  Here’s how it goes:

  1.  Cut the strips of horizontal sashing the finished width of the block, plus ½-inch for the seam allowances.  So, if the finished width of your block is 8-inches, you’d cut the strips at 8 ½-inches.
  2. Cut the cornerstones the same size as the finished width of the vertical sashing, plus ½-inch.
  3. Sew the cornerstones to the horizontal sashing strips. 
  4. Sew the horizontal sashing to the rows, matching and nesting the cornerstone seams with the vertical sashing. 

If block units, blocks, and all the sashing were squared up, once the quilt center is assembled, it should automatically be squared-up, too, right?  Is there a need for additional squaring up at this point?

Tune in next week to find out the answer to this and other burning quilty questions….

Until Next Week, Make Your Quilt Yours!

Love and Stitches,



Gentle Curves

I feel I’ve been remiss about a blog.  When I wrote this blog: I approached it with the primary emphasis on tighter curves, such as this

Quilt block containing several Drunkard Path Units

I mentioned gentle curves, but beyond giving them a passing reference and telling you I really liked them, I didn’t go into any details about how to handle them or how to make them.  So, this week I want to correct that oversight and deal with the gentle curves

Of the quilt world.

Much like their counterpoint tight curves, gentle curves lead the eyes across the quilt.  And depending on how the quilt is designed, the curves can lead away from the quilt outward

Or focus the eyes toward the center of the quilt.  They give movement and direction to almost any quilt top.  And, if you ask me, they’re a bit more fun and a little easier than their tighter-curved sister.  So, let’s take a look at how you construct and quilt gentle curves.

Like Drunkard’s Path, gentle curves can be appliqued on or pieced.  This quilt block

Known as Orange Peel, has easy curves and is simple to applique.  The orange peels (often called “melons”) can be stitched down by hand or machine without a lot of trouble.  This quilt block can be pieced, but it would be tricky.  Much easier just to applique those melons in place. 

When these blocks are placed together, they form a beautiful quilt center that beckons the eyes to follow the curves across the front. 

Notice the Orange Peel Quilt has primary and secondary patterns.

There is also this quilt block

Called Clamshell.  And it’s really not so much a quilt block as it is a unit.  Depending on the desired look, it can have a tighter curve or a gentler one.  Again, this unit is for applique—either by hand or machine.  When the clam shells are appliqued onto a background, the results are beautiful.

This type of quilt is a great stash buster and is nearly mindless work. 

This quilt block**

Which is really a mixture of tight and easy curves is machine stitched – just in case you were wondering if all gentle curves had to be appliqued.  This block usually requires templates and the ability to sew accurately in really tight spaces. In all honesty, this quilt block requires some slow sewing and determination and a glass of wine doesn’t hurt, either. However, the payoff is one outstandingly beautiful quilt.

Now let’s look at all three quilts:

It’s easy to see how the curves pull your eyes across the quilt.  Even though the curves aren’t as tight as a Drunkard’s Path, the movement is still there.  It’s rhythmic and soothing.

These three quilt blocks are made from patterns.  And while I love these quilt blocks (even Winding Ways), my very, very favorite gentle curves are improv curves – curves you don’t need a pattern for.  These are improv curves:

These are gently, wavy curves which remind me of the ocean.  These are super-easy to make, too.  All you need is to get over any fears of not having pattern directions and some fabric, a rotary cutter, and your imagination.

To begin, cut your fabric into rectangles.  I always cut my fabric larger than my block.  So, if my finished square needs to be 12-inches, I may cut my rectangle strips as long as 14-inches.  How many I cut is up to me.  I’m literally sewing strips of fabric together to make a square of fabric.  For the sake of not complicating things too much, let’s cut three strips 5-inches wide by 14-inches long.  This gives us lots of squaring up opportunities. 

Take the two of the strips and place them both right sides up, one on top of the other.

If there’s any doubt about how sharp your rotary cutter blade is, now is the time to change it.  A dull blade is going to make this next step much more difficult.  In the middle of the vertical side of the two rectangles, make a straight cut of about an inch.

It’s much easer to control your curve if you begin with the straight cut.  If you go in at an angle, the fabric will shift, which will make things a little cattywampus.

After you’ve made this first cut, make a gentle, wavy cut with your rotary cutter. Don’t go too much above or below the middle of the rectangle.  For the sake of example, I’ve marked my rectangles with a Frixion pen so you can see how much above and below the center of the rectangle I steer my rotary cutter.  And at the end of my cutting, I also exit the rectangle with a straight cut.

Now remove the top pieces.  You’ll find the two bottom ones will match up with these two pieces just like a puzzle.

Like sewing any other block units together, match the two pieces, right sides together and take them to your sewing machine.  You may want to shorten the stitch length just a bit.  I lower my length from a 2.5 to a 2.0.  This shorter stitch lets you control the curves just a bit better.  If you have a ¼-inch piecing foot, it will come in handy here.  Line the edge of the fabric up with the foot and sew.  Your job is just to guide the fabric.  I’ve found if I slow down my speed just a tad and then just let my fingers guide the fabric over the feed dogs and out the back, this works well for keeping the gentle curves intact.  Don’t try to force it.

Once you have both pieces sewn together, repeat with the remaining two. 

Now we need to add the third strip.  Take the two blocks you just pieced and lay them right sides up on a rotary cutting mat.  Take the third strip and place it right side up on the pieced squares.  Here’s where you have to be a bit careful.  When you make your gentle cut, you do not want to intersect the seam, so be sure to stay away from it.  Using the same technique as above, make about a straight 1-inch cut on the side and then carefully make a gentle, curvy cut, and exit on the other side with a straight cut.

Line the pieces up. Then take them to your sewing machine and sew them together, letting your fingers simply guide the fabric and not force it.

Let me add a couple of caveats here.  First, with all these curves, you’re dealing with a lot of bias.  I spray my fabric well with either spray starch or Best Press 2 Starch Substitute.  Either of these tend to make the fabric a bit stiff which not only keeps the bias in check, but I also think it makes cutting the fabric easier.  Second, don’t force the fabric in anyway.  Let your fingers gently guide it.  Third, despite my nearly rabid love of pins and pinning my block units, this is not the place for either.  That’s right.  You heard correctly.  Don’t use pins.  I personally find them more of a hindrance with these types of curves than a help.  You may need to stop (with your needle down) and re-line up the fabric pieces so the edges meet, and then resume your sewing.

Once the strips are assembled into a block, give it a good press, and wait for the block to cool before any additional cutting or trimming. 

At this point, there is so much you can do with the block.  You can keep adding curvy strips, so the block becomes a placemat, table runner, wall hanging, or small quilt.  Simply square up the piece to eliminate the uneven edges, quilt, and bind.  However, one of my favorite uses for these gently curving blocks are as backgrounds for applique.  I am not crazy about solid fabrics used for backgrounds in applique.  They have no movement and don’t pull the eye in towards the applique pieces.  In the past, I have always used a background with a small print, mottled colors, stripes, checks, or even muted plaids.  The mixed colors and print add a subtle movement to the background which enhances the applique.  However, once I became comfortable working with improv curves, I began to use those in my backgrounds.  I generally don’t have more than three curvy pieces in the background (because too much of a good thing still can be too much and I don’t want the background to distract from my applique), but having three neutrals sewn together (and with this technique, one of the pieces of fabric could be a solid) definitely adds something special to the applique block.

Let’s look at another way gentle curves can be used in quilting:  the quilting itself. 

The absolutely great thing about these gentle curves is that they can be made with a walking foot.  So, for all you quilters out there who are still just a bit apprehensive about dropping those feed dogs and free-stylin’ it, gentle curves may be just what you need to begin the journey of quilting your own quilt.  Besides using the walking foot, quilted gentle curves have some definite advantages.  First, they are super-easy.  Used either horizontally or vertically, most of the time you don’t even need to mark your quilt. 

However, there are also some additional gentle curvy quilting designs which may require a bit of marking, but still use the walking foot.

And if you have a quilt top with a lot of geometric shapes, curvy quilting can help balance the quilt out by offering a total opposite look with the quilting.  It can tone down those harsh lines. 

**Now, let’s go back to this quilt square:

I breezed over the construction in the first part of the blog.  However, I anticipate I may get some questions about how to construct it.  I decided to include those instructions at the end of my blog. 

Three very important issues to deal with before we begin sewing instructions.  First, color placement is everything in this quilt.  When the color placement is right, you not only have the gentle curves in the block, but you also have the illusion of large circles.  It’s a super-good idea to sketch out this quilt and color it in or use a quilting software program such as EQ 8 to make your color and fabric choices.  Second, templates will be used.  Fortunately, free templates for this block are readily available on the internet.  They can be downloaded and printed on cardstock.  Lots of quilt stores have the acrylic templates, also.  Missouri Star, Marti Mitchell, John Flynn, and Amazon offer lots of selections for purchase.  You can either trace around the templates with a fabric marker, Frixion pen, or pencil and cut the pieces out with scissors or use a rotary cutter.  A small rotary cutter is easier to use – it seems to handle the curves better than a larger one.  Third, the larger a Winding Ways block is, the easier it is to construct.  My rule of thumb is this:  If I plan to machine piece my Winding Ways blocks, they’re never smaller than 8 ½-inches unfinished.  Any smaller than this and I will hand piece them.

To make one block, you will need to cut four of template A in your focus fabric and four of templates B and C in your background fabric.

On the pieces cut from template A and template B, you will need to find the center.  Fold the piece in half and gently finger press it to find the center.  You may want to mark the center with a dot made by a water-soluble fabric or a Frixion pen.  Then make a dot ¼-inch in on the top of the left and right sides of the pieces.  Many time acrylic templates already have holes drilled in them to make marking the fabric units easier.

At this point, pinning these units will seem similar to how we construct a Drunkard’s Path.  Piece A is your pie and piece B is the ice cream.  As the ice cream goes on top of a piece of pie, so piece B goes on top of piece A.  Pin the centers together, and then put a pin in the dots on the sides of the pieces.  Now you need to pin the curves just as you do with a Drunkard’s Path block. 

Sew A and B together and press. 

Repeat this process with Piece C on a long edge of Piece A.  Make four of these units and then lay them out to make sure you have everything placed correctly. 

Join two of the units together and then repeat for the other two.  Be sure to press the seam to the side

Sew these two new, larger units together and press.  I admit I press this seam open, as curved seams are difficult to spin in the middle. 

There you have it – a beautiful Winding Ways block!

I hope this blog encourages you to embrace gentle curves.  They’re so much fun and are so easy to make.  They allow you to think a bit outside the box and can add lots of dimensions to a quilt or an applique background or the quilting itself. 

Until next week, Make Your Quilt Yours!

Love and Stitches,



Sustainable Creativity

The subject of this blog is “Quilter’s Block,” not “Quilt Block.”  Don’t get the two phrases confused, they are very different.  A quilt block is a quilt block.  A unit of a quilt top.

Quilter’s block is not a part of any quilt.  It’s that thingie which invades your creative space and keeps you from making the quilt you want.  It’s a dam holding back your creativity.  It’s the death-knell to your inspiration.  I sort of hit on this subject way back in 2019 when I wrote this blog: I talked about when your desire to quilt has left the building.  When you have no craving at all to handle fabric, thread, and needle.  A bad case of lost quilting mojo means you may never quilt again.  A less severe case means it may be a while before you do.

Quilter’s block isn’t quite like that.  With quilter’s block, the desire to quilt is there, but you just don’t know what to do.  You wander aimless up and down the aisles of a quilt shop, and none of the fabric speaks to you.  You hole yourself up in your quilt studio only to spend hours lost on YouTube or Pinterest.  You leave without putting in a stitch.  If you’re at this place now, or you’ve been there and got the t-shirt from the trip, don’t despair.  We’ve all had quilter’s block at one time or another.  And instead of giving you a hot, hip list of all the mental exercises you can put yourself through to get rid of quilter’s block, I want to try to explain the creative process (which in many ways is like nailing Jello to a wall), which may in the long run, allow you to understand why creative people think and react the way they do, and how to deal with yourself when the creative spigot is turned off.

In my world, there are three types of quilters:

  1.  The ones who follow the pattern to the letter – down to either using the exact same fabrics the designers used or purchasing material as close to the designer’s fabric as possible.
  2. Those quilters who veer from the pattern a bit – they may alter a few of the blocks, enlarge or reduce, make the border their own, etc. Minor alterations, but the pattern is followed about 70 percent of the time.
  3. The quilters who are not even in the same room as the pattern – they consider the directions a jumping off point (such as how much fabric to buy), but overall, the pattern is merely a suggestion, that is if they use a pattern at all

If you read the above characteristics with broad strokes, it’s easy to think the third category of quilters are not only the most creative, they’re also the smartest quilters – I mean radically altering a quilt pattern or even designing your own is a fairly detailed process, right? 

Yes and no.  It is a process, but it’s not too complicated.  If you have a grasp of basic math skills (and I’m talking addition, subtraction, division, and multiplication and know how to use a calculator), you can alter almost any pattern and can certainly design your own quilt.   The fact is creativity has nothing to do with intelligence.  Once you get past an IQ of 120 (which is only slightly about average), creativity and intelligence are not related at all.  Allow me to give you a personal example.

I taught high school science for years.  One of the perks of this (or at least what I considered a perk), was I got to help judge middle and elementary school science fairs. 

I loved elementary school science fairs.  Crowded gymnasiums filled with kids, their science fair backdrops, cool experiments, and chattering excitement.  These students were excited (meh – at least over all excited) about their experiments and projects.  After you’ve judged these things a few times, you know the drill.  The students who the teachers feel have done a particularly good job with the presentations, the hypothesis, experiments, and reports are strategically placed so you see them first and they’re easy to get to.  This allows the judges to spend a bit more time with them before they check their watches and find out they need to hurry along before judging is over.  And I’ll be honest with you here – those kids did tend to take home the ribbons and move to the next level of competition. 

However, it wasn’t those kids who fascinated me.  It was the kid in the corner who honestly, really had a brilliant and probably original idea, but didn’t know quite how to execute it as well as the kids who were now flaunting ribbons.  These were the students I spent extra time with after the fair was over because I knew in all probability, it was going to be those kids who grew into the adults who would rock our scientific world. 

What does this example tell us?  Both groups of kids – the one in the corner and the one with a ribbon pinned to their backdrop – were of at least average intelligence.  However, the one with the ribbon was probably more creative.  They could execute idea and package it attractively.

So you see, intelligence and creativity actually have very little to do with each other.

Creativity has been defined as “A joyful willingness to engage with the world.  It’s a fearless state of alertness to detail.” (Peter Himmelmann, Forbes, April 16, 2018).  While our creativity isn’t determined by our intelligence, it is fostered by our openness to a given situation.  We’ve seen this played out again and again when fabric shopping with friends.  We can look at a piece of fabric and think it’s the ugliest, homeliest, awfullest thing we’ve ever seen.  We mutter under our breath “What in the world was the designer thinking?  Do they need glasses?”  Another quilter in our group will purchase three yards of that fabric, go home, and turn it into one of the prettiest quilts we’ve ever seen.  Same fabric, different level of openness.

As quilters, it’s important to keep ourselves open to the possibilities of a pattern and fabric.  Found a quilt pattern you like?  Great!  However, are there a few things you’d like to change about it?  Does it have a block unit or technique you really would prefer not to execute?  Redraw the blocks or block units to what you want.  Better yet, draw a complete quilt top you’d like to make.  The sketch doesn’t have to be perfect, it just needs to reflect what you’d like the quilt to look like.  Then break it down into blocks, and then the blocks into block units.  Keep yourself open to the possibilities.  The one tenant I continually emphasize in my blogs is this:  The pattern is merely a suggestion.  It’s the place you begin, not necessarily the place you finish.  Make your quilt yours. 

It’s also important we don’t evaluate while we create.  Evaluating while you’re trying to create it is a bit like trying to drive your car forward when it’s in park – it doesn’t work.  Creating means you’re playing with new ideas, visualizing what you want to make, planning it, and considering all the possibilities.  Evaluating means you’re analyzing and judging.  You’re picking apart ideas and sorting them into piles of good or bad, useful or not useful.  So as you begin the process of creating your quilt, pull your fabrics with abandon.  Audition them.  Keep out all the ones you think will work – even if it’s more than you need.  Shelve the fabric you won’t use. 

Then leave them alone for 24 hours or longer.  Go back and narrow the field to what you need.  Make your blocks.  Lay them out the way the pattern suggests.  Then play with the arrangement.  Use your phone to take pictures of the different layouts.  Then once again, give yourself 24 hours or longer to “stew” over the possibilities.  Now begin to evaluate. 

In this creative/evaluating process, there is always room for you to catch your breath.  Instead of deciding on your fabric and immediately launching into the cutting process, you’re allowing your mind to “breathe.”  While you may be moving onto other things, your subconscious mind is still evaluating.  When you return to your fabric choices or layout, the creative side of your brain has done remarkable work.  Now it’s possible to narrow decisions and decide what really pleases you. 

Personally, I think the worst quilting mistakes I’ve ever made (although to the viewers these blunders may not be visible), is rushing the creating/evaluating process.  I either evaluate while I’m making my initial choices, or I evaluate too soon.  A 24-hour time span works best for me.  Yours may be shorter or longer.  But the more you allow yourself “breathing” room between creating and evaluating, the more tuned in you become to what works best for you in this process.  The important take away here is this:  There should be a clear separation between creating and evaluating. 

We should also be cautious about how we listen to “experts.”  There are many quilters who have plied their art for a long, long time and I truly consider them the “Grand Masters” of our field.  These are the quilt teachers, best-selling authors, YouTube stars, and noted fabric and pattern designers of our world.  And yes, they are truly worth listening to and taking note of.  I’ve taken their classes, read their blogs, and have their books.  However, following anyone’s advice to the letter can stifle creativity.  Listen to what your gut is telling you about your quilt.  Some of the most successful people in the world did what people told them would never work.  Some of what I consider the best quilts I ever made are the ones I truly listened to my heart and gut and went with those verses the pattern or the designer.  With this thought, we need to be cautious about how we view failure.

Fear of failure – wasting resources and time – is like putting a wet blanket on a burning creative fire.  The thought of “What if this doesn’t work, and I’ve wasted all this fabric and time on nothing?” is real.  We all face this thought.  And none of us want to waste material or time.  So with this fear, let me remind you of the wonderful athlete, Babe Ruth.  During his athletic career, Babe Ruth hit 714 home runs.  I realize this record has been broken, but it’s still an outstanding number of home runs, and for years he was known as the King of Home Runs.

However, did you know he was also the Master of Strikeouts?  See, the Babe never swung for singles or doubles – he only swung that bat with the thought of making another home run.  He thought it was worth the risk of failure (striking out) to be successful (homeruns). 

If you avoid failure, you won’t be successful in anything.  Be okay with your mistakes.  If you take more chances, you’ll have more gorgeous, wonderful quilts than you know what to do with.  And those quilts with mistakes – don’t toss them.  Quilt them up and use them as charity quilts or cuddle quilts or gentle reminders risks are always worth taking.  Failure is as much a part of the creative process as successes are.

Not my studio….

The creative process also means finding your Zen in the middle of chaos and confusion.  Sometimes the best description of my quilt studio is this:  There appears to have been a struggle.  In the middle of making a quilt (usually several quilts at one time), to the casual observer my studio is a mess.  Fabric is everywhere, papers are strewn, and my design board makes no sense at all. 

But it all makes sense to me, and that’s the most important thing.  While to others (including my long-suffering husband) it may look like a quilt store threw up in my studio, I know exactly what I’m doing.  After the project is complete, I will clean it all up and it will return to its former state of tidiness, but when I’m pushing through the process, it often appears quite chaotic.  While you’re pulling fabric, designing, and redesigning your quilts, realize your studio may look like mine.  But keep in mind there will be time to return everything to its rightful place. 

Now, after reading all of this you decide to take the leap and veer from the quilt pattern directions.  You’re excited to put your stamp on this quilt but also a little leery you’ll make a huge mess of the whole thing.  Let me offer four pieces of advice.  First, have confidence in your abilities.  I’ve mentioned several times in my blogs making a quilt is like eating an elephant – you can do it as long as you take it one bite at a time.  In other words, don’t look at the entire quilt while you construct it.  Look at it one unit at a time, one block at a time, and then one row at a time.  This way you not only keep yourself from becoming overwhelmed, but also are able to concentrate on only what’s under your needle.  If you want to change a block and use half-square triangles instead of set-in seams, you just need to remember a half-square triangle is a half-square triangle no matter what quilt it’s in.  You pick your favorite construction method and get down to business.   A flying geese is a flying geese.  A four-patch is a four-patch.  Take it one step at a time and realize you know how to make those units.  Yes, a little self-doubt is good for the soul – it does keep you on your toes – but it shouldn’t stop you from changing things up a bit

Second, realize very, very few things are impossible in the world of quilting.  You may think your idea seems crazy at first, and you may wonder if your concept will work, but nothing is impossible.  Don’t even let the word “impossible” dwell in your mind.  Instead divide your quilt world into two categories:  Things I’ve Tried and They Worked and Things I Haven’t Tried, but I’m Pretty Sure Will Work.  This sounds much more positive and workable.  And truthfully, it is accurate.  Every quilter has had to back track and change things, but in the end usually a wonderful quilt is the result.  Ignore the word impossible and get on with it.

While you’re ignoring the impossible, also ignore the discouragers.  This is my third piece of advice.   No matter what you do in life, there always will be some people who tell you it’s impossible, it won’t work, or you can’t do it.  I’ve quilted over thirty years, and during this time, I’ve discovered most quilters are extremely positive people who encourage each other.  But there’s always that one…who no matter what… will find something wrong with everything.  Including your quilt or your quilting ideas.  Ignore these quilty lemons.  Every road to victory is paved with predictions of failure.  And keep this little mental tidbit in mind:  Once you have a great quilt under your belt, full of your creativity, your ideas, and your skills, those naysayers will probably shut up.

And good riddance to them.

Fourth, avoid analysis paralysis.  This means don’t spend so much time thinking about what you want to do and cramming your brain with so much information that you decide the risk is too much and you back out of your decisions.  Yes, information is knowledge, but knowing what could possibly go wrong with each step can make attempting the project seem not worth it. Remember, chances are what could go wrong – the mistakes you might possibly make – more than likely won’t happen.  The risks are worth the rewards. 

The last few thoughts I’d like to leave you with are ideas to nurture your creativity.  For quilters, pretty fabric, viewing beautiful quilts, and talking to other quilters are all part of this creativity sustainment.  However, there are a few additional, non-quilt-related activities you can undertake which will also help foster your creativity. 

  • Exercise more – Often the more you sit around, the more lethargic and unmotivated you feel.  The key is to realize when you actually need rest and when you’re avoiding physical activity.  If you’re not really tired, make time to move around more than you normally do. Instead of implementing a strict workout routine (unless that’s your thing), just make sure your day involves some gentle forms of exercise.  Take a walk, do some stretching…changing your environment by moving around helps you see things from a different perspective.  This is why I encourage you to take a break from quilting after you’ve sewn an hour.  Get up.  Stretch.  Hydrate.  You’ll find you’re a better quilter for it.
  • Cut out mindless entertainment – If you are what you eat, are you also what you watch?  If you opt for more creative entertainment, rather than mindless stuff all the time, it will have a positive impact on your creativity.  It’s not that you shouldn’t have some completely mindless entertainment at times (because we all do), just balance that with some good movies, good books, and quilty YouTube channels, too. 
  • Follow your inner voice – Listening to your inner voice can be simplest way to overcome stifled creativity.  Treat all your “crazy” ideas as valid, rather than immediately dismissing them.  You can always dismiss them later if they turn out not to be the best option. But first, give them a chance.  Brainstorm how you can follow through on an idea so you can accomplish your goal.  It might not look anything like your original quilt idea, but you’ll discover this by taking time to imagine the different possibilities. 

I realize I’ve discussed creativity in broad strokes.  I’ve touched on quilting with some of these strokes and in others I’ve left the ideas solely up to you.  The primary issue I want you to come away with is this:  Use all the creativity you have in a quilt.  Don’t be afraid to switch things up.  There are honestly very few quilting “mistakes” which cannot be fixed.  And with every goof, there are valuable lessons learned.  You’ll never reach your full potential in anything until you push yourself out of your comfort zone. 

Until next week, Make Your Quilt Yours!

Love and Stitches,