When you ask a quilter if they are an artist, a hobbyist, or a sewer, generally you’ll find a good chunk of us will fall into all three categories. Some definitely consider fabric their medium for creating works of art. Some consider quilting a hobby and others quilt along with sewing garments or other crafty things. However, in one aspect all of us fall into the artist category because we deal with both positive and negative space.
The word negative is the key to a lot of ideas – those black and white images produced on a strip of film way back in the day when the camera was a separate piece of technology not on your phone, a bad attitude, or a bank account in serious trouble. However, for quilters the terms negative and positive can be broken down into two simple ideas:
Positive space is the area of interest.
Negative space is the background.
What I want to try to do with this blog is define both spaces in the realms of traditional quilts and modern quilters. This blog is by no means the definitive work on either. I just hope it proves to be a “jumping off” place to spark your interest and get you thinking. There are lots of articles and books on this subject by artists who have studied negative and positive space a lot more thoroughly than I have.
First, let’s take a look at a “traditional quilt” and its use of negative space. With a traditional quilt, the background is considered the negative. It doesn’t matter what color the background is – ecru, gray, black, red, pink, purple or any other color – the negative space is the background fabric. The background can be solid, a micro-print, tone-on-tone, etc.
The above image is a “traditional” quilt – it has pieced blocks, sashing, and borders. In this quilt you can see the background fabric is a mottled fabric and it enhances the block in several ways:
It’s used as a buffer between the blocks. Used as the sashing between the blocks, rows, and borders, it separates each block and each row.
It allows the viewer to have the time to view each block and gives the eyes a resting space before moving onto the next block.
It creates a framework around each block, each row, and then the quilt center.
It enhances the positive images of the quilt – the areas of interest – the blocks and borders.
Let’s see what happens when we take away the negative space in a traditional quilt.
This is still a nice quilt. However, in keeping with my Zone of Truth caveat, it makes me just a bit jumpy on the inside. There is nowhere for my eyes to take a break and “catch a breath” before moving onto the next block (although I seriously like the secondary design this quilt has going on). I am one of those folks who liken viewing a quilt to taking a long, slow stroll. I like to look at a block or two or a specific area on the quilt, think about it, and then move onto the next section. When the negative space is removed, there’s nowhere for my eyes to do that. I feel I must take in the entire quilt at one time.
This quilt is the same. The 1718 Coverlet is indeed a thing of beauty and a joy forever, but it’s a struggle to look at because there is literally no negative space. It was English paper pieced and owned by the Brown family of the United Kingdom. The Coverlet was purchased at a 2002 auction by the British Quilters Guild. I think it’s remarkable the Coverlet has held up as well as it has because most of the fabric used is silk. Despite its “peerage” I still think it’s difficult to look at. I have to force myself to pause at each block and look at it closely.
However, there is one group of quilters who are absolutely own the use of negative space – the Modern Quilters. This particular group of quilters uses bold colors and prints, high contrast and graphic areas of solid color, improvisational piecing, minimalism, expansive negative space, and alternate grid work.
Quilt by Karen Abraham
These quilts embrace negative space and use it to its best advantage. It surrounds the pieced blocks and can serve to bring calm to the brightest color scheme. Personally, I find modern quilts thought-provoking and soothing all at the same time.
Quilt by Jennifer Meakins
The aspect I find so different between modern quilts and traditional quilts is the actual quilting. Traditional quilts use quilting to enhance the pieced blocks and fill in the negative areas. Modern quilts use the quilting as part of the overall quilt design. Skeptical about this? Okay, think about your own quilting. When you chose a pattern and piece the quilt, at what point do you consider the actual quilting? You may be careful with the piecing process so that the quilting process is easy, but when do you actually think about the quilting design? Once the quilt is finished and you must consider how to quilt it? When you talk with your long arm artist to decide if an edge-to-edge or some custom quilting will enhance the quilt? Or do you consider how you will quilt the quilt before you make the first cut into the fabric?
Quilters who are accustomed to working with lots of negative space often already have the quilting planned in their minds before they start piecing because the negative space works in tandem with the piecing for an overall effect.
In both kinds of quilts – both modern and traditional – negative space plays as much an important role as the positive does. Negative space offers balance, symmetry and is the Ying to the Yang of design. And the ways to work with negative space offer so many quilting options.
It can create movement. Quilted lines, waves, arrows, etc., can draw the eye across the movement. Curvy designs can soften hard angles and lines.
It can showcase blocks. This is especially true with traditionally pieced quilts.
Negative space can be used to create optical illusions, such as in this quilt:
Quilt here and above by Steph Skardal
For me, negative space is used most optimally when it serves to deconstruct the traditional. This can be done with both applique and pieced quilts. All it takes is for the principle of subtraction to be applied to a pattern. For instance, take this traditionally pieced quilt:
Now let’s subtract a few blocks and see how it looks:
You’ve got more negative space and more places for your eyes to rest. There are also lots of opportunities for quilting. The deliberate subtraction (or deconstruction) of a traditionally pieced quilt completely changes the look.
Applique quilts go through a similar process when they’re deconstructed. Below is a pretty traditional Rose of Sharon Quilt.
Look what happens when we subtract some of the blocks. The entire “mood” of the quilt changes. Alter the fabric from the traditional red, green, and yellow to some of the brighter, new fabric lines, and it’s almost unrecognizable as a Rose of Sharon.
With most quilts, some negative space is needed to assure symmetry and balance. Which raises the question, do all quilts need negative space? Well, no. The 1718 Coverlet answers that question. However, if you’re like me and feel just a bit anxious as you view the quilt, you may tend to believe quilts need the negative space to balance the busy-ness in the other areas of the quilt. Most do have blocks or parts of blocks which serve this purpose. For instance, consider Log Cabin Quilts. One side of the blocks is usually constructed out of a light-colored fabric (at least lighter than the other fabrics).
It’s this lighter color which allows the eyes to rest as they travel across the quilt. Look what happens when half the block doesn’t contrast as much.
It’s difficult to really see what’s happening with this quilt. The contrasting logs don’t have to be light-colored fabrics, but they do need to be in sharp contrast to the other fabrics.
Then there are quilts such as this
The Snowball block is the joiner block for this quilt.
Which use “joiner” blocks instead of sashing to separate the blocks. Generally they help the quilt form a secondary pattern, but they also tend to have more negative space than the primary blocks, giving your eyes a place to rest.
So now that you may have decided to construct a quilt with lots of negative space, how are you planning to quilt it? I have a few favorite techniques I use. My list is by no means exhaustive, but these are generally my “go-to” quilting formulas for large areas of blank space.
Echo the shape of the block – After the inside of the block is quilted, outline outside of the block a few times, with each line of quilting about ¼-inch away from the other. Then use some filler loops, meanders, or swirls to move to the next block.
“Wallpaper” the quilt – Simply use horizontal or vertical rows of straight line quilting to cover the quilt. Wavy lines can also be used, as well as grids. It really doesn’t matter, chose one and cover the quilt with it.
Break the background into shapes and quilt each shape – This one is a lot of fun. Before you put the quilt on the long arm or sandwich it up for your domestic machine, divide the negative spaces into shapes. Mark the spaces with a water-soluble pen (or your preferred marking tool) and then quilt the outline of the shape. For instance, if you’ve divided your background into rectangles, stitch around the outline of the rectangles once or twice. Then fill the center with tiny meanders, loops, or whatever you like. Then move to the next shape, outline, and repeat. When you’re finished, you will find some really interesting texture has emerged.
“Ghost” in the blocks – This one may require a little ruler work unless you can freehand some perfectly straight lines. This technique works like this – let’s say you just quilted an Ohio Star, and there’s enough negative space to quilt another Ohio Star – just without an actual pieced block there…
Squares with different quilting motifs
Quilt and “Ghost Quilting” by Beth Sellars
This certainly makes for remarkable texture and a great deal of eye candy.
Personally, I think all my quilts need a least a little negative space. This “empty” area gives the eyes somewhere to take a breather and it adds symmetry and balance to a quilt. Without negative space, I feel almost anxious when I look at a quilt. I hope this blog has explained some of the options negative space holds for you as a quilter, and it’s given you some ideas on how to handle it.
Until Next Week, remember the Difference is in the Details!
I am so blessed to be a quilter. Not only have I had the wonderful opportunity to take classes and make wonderful quilts, but I have also had the privilege to meet so very many exceptional men and women who are not only proficient in their craft, but they also have unique stories to tell. And many of those men and women have not only helped me become a better quilter, they have also helped me become a better person. Their stories have touched my heart. And a few have touched my soul.
Such is the person of Anita Smith.
I “met” Anita more years ago than I’ll admit. I’ve always enjoyed applique – it’s my favorite quilting technique – so when I found an ad in a long-forgotten quilt magazine for The Applique Society, I sent in my dues. After a few years, I had the privilege of serving on the board, and that’s when I met Anita. She was the founder and past president of TAS. Eventually I rotated off the board and she came back as President, setting the “little” applique group up to spectacularly meet the challenges of the 21st century. Throughout this time we chatted on the phone, emailed, texted, and once saw each other at the TAS Annual Meeting. The stitches which joined us as friends quickly tightened as I learned more about her. In October, I asked Anita if she would share her story with the readers of my blog. She graciously agreed. My interview with her is below, along with some additional comments from me. Please note English is not her native tongue – German is. And despite the fact she claims she still struggles with her words sometimes, the passion she has for her quilts shines brightly despite any language barriers.
Anita: Thank you Sherri, for asking me to do this interview for you. This is the first time someone has asked to interview me. I have had to really take the time to think through why I have done what I have in my quilt life and especially my applique life. I hope I have adequately answered the questions you have asked and have made the interview interesting for those reading it.
1. Tell me about your past. Where did you grow up?
Our family immigrated to America in 1956 after the war in Europe left that country in poverty. We were sponsored and ended up in Ohio. My parents were tailors and I lived in Ohio until I got married. In 1971, when my husband and I married in California, we lived in the San Diego area where he was stationed in the Navy during the Vietnam War era.
Anita lives on Whitbey Island, Washington. She often posts pictures of her home on her Facebook page. It’s gorgeous. And despite the fact I’m not a cold weather fan, I think living there would kind of be like living in a fairy tale.
How did you end up on Whidbey Island?
When a good friend moved to Washington State in 1978, I visited her and fell in love with Whidbey Island.
And could you tell me a little about Whidbey?
It had a simple and down to earth living. It has ocean water all around the island with clean fresh air. The atmosphere was more “back to earth” and we were getting into that lifestyle during this time. We love living on the island. It is like being in a woodland retreat area, but we live there full time. The evergreens, mountain views, ocean views, eagles and whales abound in the area. It is so restorative to live here.
2. Why did you decide to learn to quilt?
Shortly after moving to Whidbey in 1979, I met a lady at the camping resort we were staying at who was into quilting. She invited me to go to a local quilting class she was attending. It was a major turning point in my life. My parents were tailors, but I didn’t learn to quilt from them. I only learned how to “tear out things” because they were perfectionist with their sewing. So when I met Helen Thompkins in 1979/80, she was someone I could learn from because she made sewing/quilting fun and positive. Helen taught the old way in hand piecing and in quilting and best of all she offered lots of encouragement and humor.
Anita’s First Quilt
Were you self-taught or did someone teach you?
After learning how to do the basics in quilting with Helen Thompkins, I had people ask me to teach them how to make the quilt I was making. I loved helping people learn and so my quilt teaching began in 1981. I love, love teaching beginners and also those who don’t think they can learn. I have so many success stories. I show them what they CAN DO and not focus on what they already think they CAN’T DO. Because I was teaching beginners and intermediate students, I needed to learn more and there was not much available at the time. So I learned from books and magazines how to quilt. I wanted to do the hand method because it was more adaptable to my style and also my goal – friendship and a slower pace of the quilting process. I was not big into machine piecing at the time. I still love teaching the simple hand method and process. Many people are “product minded and focused.” I am “process minded and focused.”
3. I know applique is your passion. When did you decide this would be your “calling” in the quilt world?
In Helen Thompkin’s class I fell in love with the freedom of applique. I loved that with applique, the restrictions of squares and triangles disappeared, and the freedom of shapes and design emerged. I began to teach applique more and more as more students wanted to learn. There were a few that became star students and accomplished much. After teaching one of my students the Baltimore Album style applique, she showed a friend who happened to have an original family Baltimore Album quilt. We all researched this quilt after she showed it to us. What an amazing experience it was to hold an “authentic” Baltimore Quilt! I continued to keep in contact with this family and we worked on replicating this quilt over the next few years. I also created the historic “The Captain’s Quilt”. I am still working on this quilt and hope to finish it in the next year or so. While on a family trip in 1996, I had the opportunity to go to Baltimore and was able to attend the first Baltimore Applique Society quilt show. That was a life changing experience to see all those beautiful Baltimore style quilts.
In October 1997, Anita along with several of her applique friends and with the support of some well-known applique artists, founded The Applique Society. Through the years it grew from a small, local-ish group to a group of appliquers from across the globe. At first it was a loosely formed group, with some local chapters, linked with a bi-monthly newsletter. When Anita returned as President, COVID pushed Zoom into nearly everyone’s consciousness, including the TAS executive board. We now have monthly meetings via Zoom as well as great workshops with nationally and internationally known teachers. Trust me, if you like to applique, the $25 dues is some of the best money you’ll spend.
But it all began with this woman and her vision.
What prompted you to start The Applique Society and how did that come about? Can you give me a brief history of where it came from to where it’s at today?
Itwas while I was at the Baltimore Applique Society Quilt show I got the “vision” of an applique group which would go around the world and have many members. I was in the hotel room where I was staying and began to write down the vision. I still have that notebook today. After I got back home from that trip, I spoke to a woman who had begun a large quilt group in our area which was very successful and drew many in the Pacific Northwest area. She was so very helpful to answer many of the questions I had and then she gave me the name of Jeannie Austin. Jeannie was immersed into Applique and Baltimore quilts. It was after talking to her about my trip to Baltimore and the Baltimore quilt we discovered on Whidbey Island, that we became good friends and very involved in the Whidbey Island Family who had the Baltimore quilt. We proceeded to help the family understand the value and significant history of the journey of this quilt.
Elizabeth – Jane – Anita –Robertson Quilt
The daughter of this family just finished writing about the journey of this quilt and the history surrounding it. She completed her own exact copy of the original quilt, and the book has the patterns of this quilt too. Here is the link in case you wanted to learn more about this amazing story and history. It has captivated me! It has impacted me! And this family has impacted me! It is amazing when a quilt is so impacting in our life.
The Robertson Quilt – Track its journey from Baltimore to Whidbey Island
In December 1996, I discussed the possibility of starting an applique group in our area with some well-known applique quilters and received great “do it” feedback. I put 100 invitation letters in the Freeland post office on Whidbey Island. That invitation letter went to all the quilt groups in Washington State I could find addresses for, to see if there would be enough interest in starting an all-applique group in the Pacific Northwest. I began hearing back from some and expected about 30 people in the spring of 1997.But when the day came, over 80 people showed up at the little local quilt shop in Edmonds, Washington. The steering committee was formed, and the people were in place to make history; The Applique Society (TAS) was birthed that day. October 1997 we became a nonprofit corporation in the State of Washington. In October 2022 we celebrated 25 years as TAS. In the fall of 2018 I joined the TAS board again and along with open minded board members, we have taken TAS to a new direction of this applique journey. We have gone to online Zoom monthly meetings and a quarterly newsletter. We have nationally and internationally well-known teachers give presentations and classes via Zoom. TAS is growing and moving with the times of how to reach out to the world with the “language of cloth”. We all understand this language of cloth even if we don’t speak the same language. We have met so many wonderful people through the World Wide Web. Check us out at www.theappliquesociety.org
No conversation with Anita is complete without talking about the quilts she has made or is in the process of making. Many of her quilts are from her own designs. All of the quilts are beautiful. Despite what she says about perfection, her quilts are pretty darn close to it.
4.There are four quilts you’ve made which really speak to my heart and I’d like for you to talk about those:
1790 Love Entwined redrafted by Esther Aliu
Now this is a good start to ask about the quilts I have made and am in process of making. Love Entwined is a great one to start with. As soon as I saw this quilt in 2013, it grabbed my heart. I just knew I needed to make this quilt. Because I was not familiar with the history 1790 Georgian Era, I decided to do some research and see what colors would be used during that time period. Since the original quilt was photographed in black and white, there was no color information available other than the description by the photographer and that information was subjective. I researched the Georgian Era and was able to get great info from an architectural designer friend. She had resource books she copied and scanned that showed the colors and the structures from that time. I took that info and then went to my large collection of fabrics I had been building the last 10 years. I usually would get 1/3 to ½ yard pieces of fabrics with interesting designs on them which would give an applique piece some depth and movement. I had been working as an office manager for a doctor at the time and took some of my paycheck to buy fabric each month that was on sale. So, because of this, I had all the fabric I needed for this project. I just loved the process of choosing the fabrics. I would choose the fabrics and then put them into one of the extra-large zip storage bags – 2ft x 1ft x 7 inches (60cm x 51cm x 18cm). I will not use any of the fabric in that bag until my project is finished. The fabrics are contemporary designs and colors are different than what some would use. I have taken the “family colors” of the Georgian Era and worked from that source to create what I have done so far. I love, love the colors I have chosen.
I worked on this quilt from July 2013 to December 2015 when life changed for me. My second mom got dementia, broke her hip, and had to move into a nursing home. I was her Power of Attorney and had to travel to Florida to deal with all the contents of her home, her 10ft x 20ft storage unit, and then sell her house. It was an intense period, and I had no time to stitch. So the quilt was waiting for me to finish it when I got back. It will get finished and worked on… soon. My mother, who was a tailor, saw the quilt in 2015 and had some positive comments about it. That was a rare thing coming from her. She told one of the staff in the nursing home she was in that “her (Anita’s) stitches are better than mine.” She did not tell me directly. I only overheard her saying it. So when I finish this quilt, I will have good memories of that comment and this picture of her looking at it and inspecting my handwork.
Anita’s mother inspecting Anita’s Love Entwined Quilt
Some of you may wonder at Anita’s term “Second Mom.” This woman’s name was Lillian Kemp. Both Lillian and her husband, Jack, played large roles in Anita’s life. I’ll let Anita explain this before we move onto the second quilt:
Lillian Kemp was my second mom. When Brad (my husband) was transferred to San Diego, he missed his girlfriend back in Ohio. In March 1971, he went walking on the Coronado beach near the Navy base. That very week I had gone to the local Baptist Church for a revival meeting at the invite of Brad’s father. I accepted Jesus that evening, and my prayer was “God you know how badly Brad and I want to get married, you work it out.” Jack Kemp would go around and pick up sailors for the weekend and bring them home to a give them a meal and take them to church on Sunday. He saw Brad walking on the Coronado beach and picked him up. Lillian and Jack talked to Brad about this girl he was missing, and Lillian said, “Maybe in a few months when you get settled, you could have Anita come out and stay at our house”.
Brad wrote to me about it and the plan was made for me to go to Jack and Lillian’s house in two weeks. We were 18 years old and in love and nothing was going to stop us from being together. I was there in April and then on May 8, 1971, we got married in Jack and Lillian’s home with their Pastor officiating the marriage. Lillian became my second mom. Her only child, a son, died tragically two years later in a car accident, and we became even closer. She was also a spiritual mother, too, in my walk with God. So God answered my prayer in that simple Baptist church on the day of my Salvation. In 2021, we celebrated 50 years of marriage.
Good Grief (1856 Huguenot Friendship Quilt – Triplett Sisters pattern)
“Good Grief” became the name of my quilt in 2020, based on the 1856 Huguenot Friendship Quilt pattern by the Triplett Sisters. In March 2020, my good quilting friend did not survive open heart surgery and died at 65 years old. We had done so many quilting and applique things together and then she was gone. I had to do something to refocus the grief and loss. I helped the family with sorting through her quilting area, but the grief was still so deep. So I decided to focus on something creative. In May 2020 I began the Huguenot Friendship quilt.
Little did I know how much this quilt would be important in the grieving process in 2020. Each block was “doable”, and each block brought color and focus on beauty instead of sadness. I also had a garden to grow and canning to do, but the blocks were also part of my year. I “stitched a garden to heal the soul”.
Then September 3, 2020, my mother died at 91 of sepsis and organ failure. My two sisters were able to be with her when she passed. I prayed for her at home because it all happened so quickly and there was a limited amount of people who could see her because of the COVID restrictions in the hospitals. So I did not go to her. At least she was not alone as many people were that year. She died in the hospital with her two daughters (my sisters) with her. My brother also could not make it either. It was sad.
October 2020, they finally opened the nursing home my second mom was in, and I could go see her. But I was only allowed to visit for 15 minutes a day. For two weeks I went every day to see her and my last day I was able to be there 30 minutes. During the off times I was in my hotel room and worked on the applique for the Huguenot Friendship blocks. I had cut and basted all the blocks before I left to go on the trip. It became the focus. I also listened to positive messages on YouTube. Dealing with GRIEF… at just losing my mother, more GRIEF… realizing my second mom was not far behind…
Then December 22, my second mom died. She was finally free from her dementia, from her broken body, and from the world of loneliness. Her sister died in the same nursing home just that past August. This is why she stayed in Florida. I wouldn’t/couldn’t take them away from each other.
Grief became “Good grief” in this quilt. I stitched a garden to heal my soul. Those who have experienced grief and loss understand this journey. The colors I chose for the center were different. I had some fabric that had bees in it and had that in beige, red and black. I again chose fabrics from my collection which were unique and had interesting designs and colors on them. The black became the border because in Europe it is common to put a black border around cards to announce the death of a loved one or funeral notices. I thought this was perfect for my “Good Grief” quilt. That is what quilts are, a language spoken in cloth which is understood, no matter what unique language we actually speak.
“The Journey of Hope” quilt
I have been working on this idea of “The Journey of Hope” for many years. I always wanted to make a quilt about my family’s heritage but was not sure how to do that. In the fall of 2018 I took a class from Susan Standley about a westward journey through the book named “Hope’s Journey”. It sounded really interesting and so I went to the classes. I learned a lot each month but because it was talking about the journey which women took to go west in America, I had a hard time connecting with their stories. I began to think about my own journey to America and I journaled about my thoughts on this subject as I was going through the classes with Susan.
The author of the book, Betsy Chutchian, came to one of the meetings. It was at this meeting I told her about my idea to try and make my quilt more personal to my family’s history story by using blocks I researched from other books and libraries of old blocks. I did lots of searching and found my best sources were “The Quilters Album of Patchwork Patterns” by Jinny Beyer and “Encyclopedia of Pieced Quilt Patterns” by Barbara Brackman. EQ8 in conjunction with the Encyclopedia of Pieced Quilt Patterns created Block Base. It was a wealth of information to search out names of blocks which would work for my quilt idea. Searching out the right names and the right sizes all were possible with the resources I found. At the end of the classes I presented the name of this quilt as “The Journey of Hope” to Betsy and got her blessing with a label for the quilt and it was signed by her saying “Follow your path… Hope’s Journey – Betsy Chutchian 2019”. In 2019 I did all my block research and then it was time to design the quilt. Now that has been a journey and process! I have sketches in my notebook but each one was inadequate. My only source in 2019 was the Jinny Beyer book. The next challenge was how do I get these blocks to fit into my design? There were so many obstacles in this process. Then in 2020 the Block Base and the Encyclopedia of Pieced Quilt Patterns joined forces. I ordered the book and program, and it changed the whole idea of my focus. Now with EQ8 I could create the blocks I had put down on a list and make them into the size I wanted. But first I had to pare down the list to what would fit in the area I wanted to make a quilt. What size would I make this quilt?
That is when my desire to use the Fibonacci method of quilt sizes came into play. I knew I was limited on the full size of the quilt being 105 inches, so I found a ratio that would work with that and came up with the 65 inch center with 10 inch borders. Then I found I could make the blocks in the center 5 inches, 10 inches and 15 inches and still be within the Fibonacci ratio. Patterns were picked and the design emerged. I also wanted to put the name of the quilt in the border. I had to research a German Typographer and found one. I was able to get the print for the quilt project design and just recently completed the typography with border sizes and patterns. The blocks in the center of the quilt will tell the story by their block names, like farmers daughter, wagon wheel, Ohio Star, snowball wreath, danger signal, cross and crown, and many more. There are 55 blocks in the center and 4 blocks in each corner. If I hand piece one block a week (which is reasonable), it will take over a year to make that area. Then I would do the applique in the lettering for another half year or so. This will not be a fast quilt. The outer border is still waiting to be designed. So 2020 was taken up with the “Good Grief” quilt and 2021 was trying to heal from the loss of my mothers and my friend. I thought I was finally on the mend and able to proceed with the things needing done in my world. BUT 2022 proved to be a difficult year.
From January 2022 to July 2022, I lost 5 key people in my life to death. Again the grief wants to engulf you. It was harder this time. REFOCUS, REFOCUS, REFOCUS and I worked through the summer with gardening to work through the grief. But I also had time to reflect too. It was at that time I thought about my father’s family and their journey during 1939 to 1945. My father’s family came from East Prussia. In 1945 the Russians invaded East Prussia and killed, tortured, and violated men and women. They took the land away from any German/East Prussian property owners.
During this invasion and while they were trying to escape, my father’s grandfather watched his beloved 22-year-old granddaughter killed in front of him. My father’s father died also in the invasion. They both had to be buried somehow in the worst winter in the area and the frozen ground took a week to dig the hole for both of them (granddaughter/son-in-law). There was so much loss, starvation, and death around them. I can’t imagine the losses they had to deal with and the emotions that go along with that. My father was 17 and his brother 18 when they were forced into joining a military or die that day. In 1945, his 3-year-old and 5 year old brothers only had their grandfather to take care of them. How did these people have HOPE? How did these people, my ancestors survive this?
I am the family historian, and I was able to get the last letter that great grandfather wrote in 1949 before he passed away. In this letter there was a message of HOPE. Hope of his other granddaughter who was going to America, hope of a future. He spoke of making sure they got a Bible when they came to America and make God and the Bible were an important part of their lives. With this they would have HOPE. There was NO bitterness in that letter. No anger of the loss, ONLY HOPE in all the words to her. My father gave me this letter and told me it was from his Grandfather and would weep telling me about this letter. After I had it translated (it was in old script writing) I understood why the letter impacted him so deeply. I tear up just reading it too. It is like this great grandfather is still speaking to his family today.
As the family historian, I have collected all the stories of the family’s journey to freedom and HOPE. I think it is now that this story needs to be told in 2022. We all need HOPE again.
I have been thinking a lot about… how did this man find HOPE in that difficult time? How did my parents find HOPE during a time of hopelessness and poverty in the country we immigrated from? So it is time for the story of “The Journey of Hope” quilt to be told. Watch for the progress in the coming year.
Sisterhood Quilt – The members of TAS from around the world who sent in blocks since 2000 to 2022
The Sisterhood center block design was a wonderful gift to The Applique Society (TAS). Bunny Leighton had heard of my vision for TAS — that it would reach applique lovers from around the world who knew and understood the “language of applique.” She took this vision and created the design “The Sisterhood.” Bunny captured the heart and soul of The Applique Society.
I took that design and made the block. It is 34 inches high by 34-1/2 inches wide. I used fabric that would represent the cultures shown. I even found actual Japanese fabric for that culture.
Once I had the center finished, I thought, “What else can I do with this block now?” The idea was to have as many people as possible who were interested in doing so, make a block for the quilt. Some only did their signatures. Others made simple applique blocks and then others made more detailed applique blocks. Blocks from around the world were sent to me to include in the quilt. This quilt, when finished, will be in some museum for historic value documenting the applique lovers of this time period and The Applique Society. I’ve spent 23 years of collecting blocks for this quilt. Right now I am in the process of seeing what I need to do to finish the quilt and begin to do the quilting. I would really like to hand quilt the center. So maybe a combination of machine quilting and hand quilting will happen. We will see what takes place as it gets closer to that phase.
If you would like to make a block, send your block to
Anita M Smith
P.O. Box 491
Freeland, WA 98249-0491
**Cream or Off-White Cotton – washed
**7-inch block… I will cut the block so please keep the design inside the 6-inch design area
**Use a Pigma Pen or archival pen to write on the block
**Applique Design and/or embellishment is welcomed
**On each block please include your full name, city, state, and country
**Also include the date, month, and year you completed the block
What has each quilt taught you?
In writing about all the quilts above and the journey I have taken with each one, I see it taught me I love to tell stories with fabric, my first love in quilting is applique and I love to “paint with fabric.”
How did you decide on the designs?How did you decide which fabrics to use?
Each quilt is unique and each one is created based on an original idea. Even the quilts which were from a pattern like the 1856 Huguenot Friendship Quilt was turned into a unique quilt by using different colors and an additional name. “Good Grief” stitched a garden to heal the soul. It brought healing.
The Journey of Hope was planned one way and then when new information and opportunity to create something unique in unique sizes came about, it changed the whole idea and now it has taken on a life of its own. The Journey of Hope continues to tell me what to change and what to add. It is fun when a quilt “talks” to you.
Love Entwined pattern is going to stay as it was created. What changed was the fabric, the colors from what was seen so faintly. I love that the quilt was photographed in black and white because then it unlocked the creativity of each maker for their own version of the quilt. Love Entwined was the first quilt that “talked” to me and told me what fabric to use. It surprised me what fabrics I chose, but they worked.
See below the original from a book and then the redesigned center by Esther Aliu.
5. Where do you see yourself in five years as a quilter? Do you have goals? If so, what are they?
That is a very good question. In five years I will be 76. I hope the quilts I have at the top of my list “to be finished” will have been done and have gotten into one of the major quilt shows and that some will win major awards. We can all dream… but I know from the quilts I have seen, the level of perfectionism one must achieve in order to win awards may be out of my reach because of the fact I will not obsess with perfection in my work. I will do my best in the work I do, but the perfection goal is not there. I do know my work has to “speak” and must have “heart” and has to “deeply move” the viewer. Good Grief did this. I watched at our local fair where it was hung, that there were many brought to tears, and many had difficulty speaking after reading the label or the note I put with the quilt.
When I finish “The Journey of Hope,” my goal for it is to put it in Houston and then see what it does. When it is finished being shown around, I will take it to Germany and present it to the East Prussian Museum for the historical value of its story. I hope it moves people to heal and to have HOPE.
6. What was it like being interviewed by Ricky Timms?
I was so nervous to meet Ricky. He is so well known and I didn’t know what to expect. When I met him he IMMEDIATELY put me at ease. Before I was recorded, he asked many questions, and I answered them. It was then that he went over what his goal was and what he hoped to ask me. Also where to look and what quilts would be focused on. Once the interview began, Ricky asked the questions just like a friend would ask. All the preparation ahead really helped, and I felt totally at ease in the interview. Ricky said he was given a chance in his life with quilting and so he was giving people a chance to share their ideas, quilts, and stories with the interviews he gives. He was giving back what he was given and passing on the kindness. It was an honor to meet him and talk to him.
7. What other hobbies do you have besides applique and quilting? (Details on your garden and food preservation would be greatly appreciated).
My other love I enjoy is working in the garden and my yard. I love the outdoors in the Pacific Northwest and to hear the owls hooting, the birds singing, and to watch the bees and hummingbirds. You can listen as the bugs fly by and watch a dragon fly light on top of a fence. You can see the swallows fly and catch the bugs. You watch spring blossom and nature begin again after the rest of winter. Doing the physical work outside confirms to myself that I can still manage on my own things that others would hire out to do. I have helped my husband build a fence around our two large lots. I painted them with stain last summer. Building flower beds and watching the Irises grow and the lavender attracts the bees again.
I also love photographing nature. I love being able to see if I can create it in applique. I post these photos on Facebook to share with those that may not know about such simple beauty.
My favorite thing to do is to take a walk on the beach where my son lives and look for Agates. I explore the earth near the beach and imagine what people and Indians were doing over 100+ years ago in the area. I love walking in his woods and listening to the quiet and smelling the earth and the ferns abundant on his property.
My life and goals are simple. I keep my applique techniques simple. I seldom watch TV. I enjoy learning and listening to positive messages. Since losing nine people in two years, I am reminded my time on earth has an “expiration date.” I know where I am going and that gives me peace. What I do want to do is live my life to the fullest while I am still on this earth and fulfill the plan God has for me to do. I know doing applique and quilting, working with TAS, canning and gardening, and being a mentor and teacher to those who God brings into my life — all these things have purpose. So I want to fulfill my purpose on this earth.
8. What is the one quilt pattern you would make again and again and why?
I have made the Disappearing 9-patch for Veterans Quilts in a group I am a part of. It was lots of fun and so I made some regular quilts with that pattern. I love that you can have a core fabric and then because of the way you cut the 9-patch there is one square that will be larger than the others. That one can be a fun fabric like I plan on using for a special quilt for a family member I want to make. Plus the 9-patch can be any size and it can still be successful. Just try it… you will like it…
Usually at this point in my blog, I’m wrapping things up. I search for a few well-chosen, possibly witty words to close out my column so you will remember it long enough to remind yourself to read it again next week. I can’t do that with this blog. The words which Anita has spoken and written so eloquently are more than enough for all of us to remember what she said, and even more so the journey she has taken as a quilter. She’s a remarkable woman and so extremely talented.
I am so blessed to have her as a friend.
Until next week – Remember the Difference is in the Detail!
Love and Stitches,
PS: All photo credits for this blog also go to Anita
Social media. We quilters use it all the time. We look up patterns. We join on-line groups and Facebook pages. I blog. You read my blogs. We tweet and Instagram and thank the good Lord for the resources YouTube brings to us. As matter of fact, we use social media so much and have for so long we kind of take it for granted.
However, allow me to insert a personal story at this point. Let’s take a trip back to the seventies. A lot was going on then, both historically and socially. And one of those events was the introduction of HBO. While cable television had been around since the forties, it wasn’t until around 1972 that HBO – the Home Box Office – became available to large cities and then trickled down into the suburbs. One of those suburbs was my little hometown, and my dad was one of their first customers. Dad owned a couple of companies during this time, and he often had to work nights to fill in for absent employees or just to keep things running smoothly. He saw HBO as an opportunity to watch movies he didn’t have time to see at a regular theater and as an alternative to our local TV channels. He signed up, the cable was laid, and we were soon watching programs other folks around us weren’t.
Which in a small town brought up lots of discussions – weren’t we worried about inappropriate programming? Didn’t this mean our family would watch more TV (especially my brother and me) than normal? Didn’t it bother us that we were paying for both good and bad programming? Dad had some pretty hard, fast answers: No, no, and no. No one would force us to watch anything we didn’t feel was appropriate, he and Mom made sure our chores and homework were done before Eric and I plopped down in front of the television (which, for the record, I’ve never been one to watch hours of TV), and you pay for electricity, which can bring both good and bad into a house, so what’s the difference?
Here’s the bridge between HBO and social media: They both work the same way. There are both good sides and bad sides to social media, just like there are good points and bad points with movie channels. Which side you allow into your life and your quilting determines its impact on both you and your art. Social media – like HBO – is neither inherently good nor bad. It, in and of itself, is neutral. It’s how it’s used which determines its influence.
Right off the top of my head, I can list lots of advantages for social media:
We can stay connected with quilters from all over the world
Lots of information and research are available from hundreds of sources with just a click of the mouse
You can both shop and pay for on-line “must have” quilt purchases
So many learning opportunities!
Zoom meetings for guilds and other quilting groups mean teachers are available from anywhere in any time zone
Even if you move to an area with no quilt shops, guilds, or groups, you can stay connected with the ones back home or find new ones.
All social media is a stage, and I really, really want to operate the trap door.
There is a dark side to social media, too, even for quilters who (in my opinion) seem to have the sunniest of dispositions.
Online vs. Reality – If you’re like me (and a lot of other quilters), when you’re lacking inspiration, have a few extra minutes here and there, or you’re trying to find a quilt pattern, you will peruse social media as well as Google/Google images. Sometimes these pictures are photoshopped – the photographer has downloaded the actual picture into a software program and has “touched up” the real image. Getting rid of a few stray threads is one thing, but to alter the image to the point where it looks almost nothing like the original is another. And according to my photographer husband, sometimes it takes a trained eye to know if a program such as Lightbox or Photoshop has been used. There is a chance – if you’re looking at a picture of a quilt – you may not be looking at the “real” thing. The image could be altered. So if you look at a quilt and think “Oh, I could never make something like that. It is so far above my skill level,” there is a chance no one has actually made that quilt. It’s an altered derivative of the original.
However, once those thoughts have run through your head, it’s super-easy to think you can’t make it or you’re not a good quilter or you begin to have massive amounts of self-doubt. If this happens, take a deep breath and turn off your laptop, iPad, or step away from your phone and repeat this: I can make that quilt. I do have the skill set. I can do it. It’s just a quilt.
Increased Usage – Using social media can be like eating potato chips. It’s nearly impossible to eat only one chip. Once you’ve used one site to find something, your search will very obligingly return few more. This is especially true with YouTube. I may only want to watch one or two videos about quilting feathers, but YouTube will very helpfully line up five more for my viewing pleasure. Next thing I know, I’ve spent three hours watching videos about quilting without putting in a single stitch. A timer can be helpful in these situations. Set it for 15 minutes or a half hour. When it dings, step away from the screen and move on to the next thing.
Social Media Addiction is a Real Thing – This is a bit different from the Pit of Increased Usage. This addiction occurs when you post something – a question or better yet a picture of what you’re working on – and afterwards you continually check the social media page to see how many people have liked or commented on it. Psychologists tell us every “like” or positive comment produces a hit of dopamine to the brain (dopamine is the chemical in the brain which allows us to feel pleasure, satisfaction, and motivation) and other happiness hormones. Our brains happen to like this very much and want to repeat this process as many times as possible. So we find ourselves continually checking our social media pages and every time the number of “likes” or comments increases, we feel pretty good about ourselves. Then as the number of these taper off, our “feel good feelings” go away and our brain sends us a signal: Do something else so we can feel this happy/satisfied/motivated again.
This, if we’re not careful, can begin a cycle of Social Media Addiction. Feel bad? Post a picture or comment to see the responses. Didn’t get as many responses and likes as last time? Let’s see if we can fix this. Post something else. And the cycle continues.
Allow me another personal example. I have written a quilt blog since 2008, first on Blogspot and now on WordPress. Most of the time – as a matter of fact all of the time until around 2016 – I received virtually no feedback. Once in a while I would get a comment or a like, but not often and certainly not enough for me to keep checking the blog app on my phone to keep up with the nonexistent numbers. I was writing for my own pleasure and fun.
Then in 2016, something happened. For starters, by this time my writing had improved. Second, for whatever reason – karma, happenstance, sheer luck – I began to have regular readers and they would comment. People began to subscribe. This made me happy, of course, but it still didn’t make me check my WordPress app on a daily basis. Then in 2018, the unthinkable happened. I posted on Wednesday morning as normal, then after lunch I received a message from WordPress: I had over 1,000 readers since I posted at 8 a.m.
You better believe for the next several months I rabidly checked my WordPress app several times a day. Could I have over 1,000 readers in one day again? If I didn’t, what did that say about my writing? Was my topic relevant? Then I began looking at which countries my readers were from. Needless to say, I nearly drove myself (and probably some other folks) nuts.
I had an addiction and I had to get over it. I removed the app from my phone for nearly a year. If I wanted stats, I would have to power up my laptop and go through all that trouble to find out how many readers I had and who was reading from what country. I do admit I now check the app a few times a week to look at the numbers. The countries don’t bother me so much anymore, but I am thankful folks in lots of other countries take the time to read my blog.
It’s important to note the opposite can also happen. Unfortunately, I’ve seen some real “Quilting Bullies” on some sites – especially Facebook. I am happy the admins of most of these pages will shut the bullies down quickly. However, I’ve seen some pretty bad manners. If one quilter shows something they’re making which another quilter believes was done incorrectly, poorly, or (gasp and clutch your pearls) not the way they would have done it, they criticize the project and the quilter. If you post something and expect to receive complete validation or a huge hit of dopamine every time, don’t be surprised when it doesn’t happen. I even would go so far to say if having another quilter post something derogatory would bother you to the point you didn’t want to quilt, it’s probably a good idea not to post anything.
Fear of Missing Out (FOMO) – Admittedly, this is one of those issues which seems to occur in younger social media users. Fear of Missing Out kind of goes hand in hand with Social Media Addiction in that FOMO sufferers feel the need to frequently check their social media pages. However, instead of posting something in order to get a hit of dopamine, FOMO people are afraid if they don’t continually monitor their social media, they’ll miss out on something. So if you’re constantly scrolling Instagram, Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter, or other sites in order to catch immediate releases of patterns, books, or just day-to-day updates from your favorite quilters, you may suffer from FOMO.
A few final thoughts before I end this blog, and this deals with YouTube. I love YouTube as much as any other quilter. There are some YouTube quilters I follow and watch regularly. We will get to them in a minute, and I’ll tell you why I follow them and think they’re simply wonderful. However, I’d like to issue a few cautionary statements about YouTube videos and channels. First, almost anyone can start their own YouTube channel. YouTube has proven itself to be the great equalizer. No more paying the “regular” channels to put something on them or hoping they pick you up as an afternoon or morning show. With YouTube, there’s no dealing with the camera and lighting people at a local station or PBS. You can film and edit your own stuff, load it up, and unless YouTube dings it for inappropriate, stolen, or plagiarized content, it will be available for viewing in just a bit. As a result we have access to hundreds of quilting teachers from all over the world. Some of them are very good. Some of them are not. After you’ve quilted a while you can pretty much weed out which teachers are worth watching and which are not. It’s important to remember most of the sewing and quilting parts of the videos are sped up due to time limitations. So if you think you’re hopeless because you can’t sew or quilt as quickly as some of the YouTubers, don’t despair. There’s more than a good chance they can’t sew or quilt that fast, either.
As promised, these are the quilters I regularly watch on YouTube:
Angela Walters – If you want to learn to quilt or quilt better on your domestic sewing machine or long arm, Angela is your girl. She has teaching videos where she uses both and breaks it down so it’s super-simple. Angela is the one who really got me over my fear of quilting on my domestic sewing machine. She does demonstrate how to piece quilts, with most of quilts using pre-cuts and a little additional yardage. She also has live YouTube (and Facebook) shows about once a week. You can type in your question in the comment section, the questions are monitored, and she does answer them. Bonus, she checks back with the comment sections for several weeks, so she can continue to answer questions.
I like Anglea because she’s real. If she’s speeding up the videos, it’s apparent. She will point out what quilting areas gave her problems and how she worked through them. Her tapings are relaxed, and she has this way of just making you feel you can quilt as well as she does, and that nothing is impossible.
Karen Brown – This Canadian quilter is simply wonderful. She owns up to her mistakes and then tells you how to avoid them. At the beginning of every new year, she has a declutter challenge which is a lot of fun. She (along with thousands of other quilters) cleans out her sewing rooms and gets ready for a year of clutter-free quilting. I love that she’s a “green” quilter – she repurposes everyday items as useful sewing tools and makes after-quilts to cut down on the number of scraps hitting landfills. She also offers technical solutions and covers a myriad of quilting topics in a clear, concise way. If she speeds up her videos, you definitely know it. She’s just a great, all-around quilter.
Abby Cox – Admittedly, Abby Cox is not a quilter. She’s a seamstress and is proficient in garment history and construction. While I don’t make garments any longer, she has placed a longing in my soul to construct a Victorian dress. I’ll probably never do it, but a girl can dream. However, I have found her hand sewing tutorials to be EPIC. No one does it better than Abby. She is one of the wittiest YouTube sewers out there. If you want to be educated and entertained, I strongly recommend her YouTube videos. The one on bras is enlightening and HYSTERICAL. The one on Valentine’s Day is even better.
This next quilter is not on YouTube, but you can find her on Instagram. She generally has a new video on Instagram every day – Bethanne Nemesh. If you’ve been around long arms, long armers, or looked up instruction for long arms, her name will pop. She’s more than a long armer, she is an artist. What this woman can do with thread and a long arm is amazing. She also can help you become amazing, too. I’ve taken several of her on-line classes and she is truly incredible. And much like Angela Walters, she makes you believe you can do what she does – which is half the quilting battle. Bethanne is incredibly generous with her time and knowledge and definitely worth the daily watch.
Like a lot of things in life, social media is neither good nor bad, black nor white, positive nor negative. It’s what you do with it and allow it to do to you which matters most. Use it for good, and when it’s impacting you in a negative way, know when to shut it down and walk away. Either way, I can’t picture our current quilting world without it. Use it wisely and well.
Until Next Week, Remember the Difference is in the Details!
Love and Stitches,
PS — A couple of “housekeeping” things. First, one of my readers gave me a really great suggestion. I wrote a blog a few weeks ago about quilt shows and entering your quilts. I mentioned there had been some theft of quilts from shows in the past several years. This reader suggested getting your show quilts appraised for their value prior to entering them. It’s a great suggestion. And while an insurance settelement can’t replace the quilt, at least you’d have money to buy new fabric to make a replacement quilt.
Second, next week you may want to brew yourself a cuppa before you read my blog. It’s a long one — nearly twice as long as I normally write. I am interviewing my very good quilting friend, Anita Smith. She talks her journey as a quilter and an immigrant. May want to have a few Kleenex around, too.
One of the very few quilting “rules” is the ¼-inch seam. It’s one of the standards drilled into our quilting consciousness from the time we pick up our first quilt pattern.
Sew a ¼-inch seam.
Keep a consistent ¼-inch seam.
You’ll always use a ¼-inch seam.
There’s no denying ¼-inch seam is pretty important. However, what’s more important is to know what tools there are available to help us keep that consistent ¼-inch seam, and the difference between a ¼-inch seam and a scant ¼-inch seam. Let’s talk about the two different types of seams first.
Two Types of Quilt Seams
The standard ¼-inch seam is just that – a full ¼ of an inch. It should measure consistently ¼-inch throughout the seam. In most quilt patterns, if the directions state ¼-inch seams or don’t indicate the seam width at all, it’s understood the full ¼-inch seam allowance is implied. A scant ¼-inch seam means the seam allowance is a thread or two under a full ¼-inch. Usually quilt directions will indicate if a scant seam allowance should be used. The pictures below show the difference between the regular ¼-inch and the scant ¼-inch seams. The white chalk line is ¼-inch away from the edge of the fabric. When I use a full ¼-inch seam, the stitches fall directly on top of the chalk line.
When I use a scant ¼-inch seam, the stitches fall slightly to the right of the chalk line.
The dilemma a lot of us quilters fall into is Multiple Machine Management. One of the standard pieces of advice I received throughout my quilting years was, “Always use the same machine throughout your piecing and assembly process.” I determined a few years ago the reason this tidbit of guidance was continually flung my way is this – different sewing machines mark their ¼-inches differently and it can be easy to get confused if you switch out machines, resulting in your seams not remaining consistently ¼-inch. And while this really is excellent advice, most quilters know this may not be possible, because most of us have more than one sewing machine.
I currently have five domestic sewing machines. And let me remind you this is a Nonjudgement Zone. I have a Featherweight, a small Juki I use for classes, a Juki 2010Q, a Janome 7700, and my M7 Continental. Most of the time, I start and finish my quilts on my M7. However, if I decide to attend a day quilt retreat, bring a machine to a sit and sew, or take a class, I’m not hauling around my M7. She’s a beast. I’ll take the Janome 7700 or my small Juki. In all actuality, I may trade off machines several times during my quilting process. I need a way to make sure all my machines are sewing an accurate ¼-inch seam allowance.
There are several techniques and tools available for this process. We’ll take a look at each and weigh the pros and cons.
The Quilting Foot
Before the advent of sewing machines designed especially for quilters, these were considered “specialty feet” and were an added cost. Now if you purchase a sewing machine designed for quilters, these are normally thrown in at no additional charge. These feet vary in appearance from machine to machine, but the standard feature among all of them is they have some way of letting you know you’re sewing a full ¼-inch seam. The foot for my M7 looks like this:
The phalange on the right lines up with the edges of my fabric. As long as the fabric stays snuggled up to the phalange, I’m sewing a full ¼-inch seam.
Quilting feet may also look like this:
As long as the edges of your fabric are lined up with the right side of this foot, you’re sewing a full ¼-inch seam.
There are even walking feet which have a ¼-inch seam designation. This is the one for my machine.
Quarter Inch Walking Foot
Regular Walking Foot
I use my regular walking foot for sewing on binding, paper piecing, or quilting. However, I have found the ¼-inch walking foot to be remarkably handy if I am piecing a quilt with lots of seams joining together at one spot.
There are also scant ¼-inch quilting feet. Some quilter’s sewing machines have this foot thrown in as part of the package. With others, this foot is a separate purchase. I use the Little Foot brand scant ¼-inch foot.
When you line the edges of your fabric up with the right side the foot, you sew the scant ¼-inch. If you’re able to move your machine needle’s position a little further to the right, you may be able to sew a scant seam without purchasing an additional foot. Read your sewing machine manual or Google your brand to find out.
Faith in the Feet
If each of your sewing machines has a quilting foot (which in my opinion really should be called a “piecing foot”), the assumption is you can sew a consistent ¼-inch seam no matter what machine you’re using. The idea is valid, but that’s putting a lot of faith in your presser feet without solid proof. It’s super-important to know for sure the ¼-inch seam is consistent throughout your machines. Fortunately, there are a few ways to handle this.
The first way is to set up your machines to sew a ¼-inch seam. Gather some scrappage and sew a ¼-inch seam 6-inches long on each of the machines. Then, one at a time, take each seam and press it open (I think it’s good to do one at a time, so you won’t forget what fabric was sewn by what machine). Measure the pressed-open seam allowance. If it measures a full ½-inch, then you know that sewing machine does sew a consistent ¼-inch seam allowance.
Full Quarter Inch Seams
Scant Quarter Inch Seams
If you have a machine (or two) which fail this ¼-inch seam allowance assessment, try this second test to make sure something didn’t go wonky on the first one:
Cut three strips of fabric, 2-inches wide by 7-inches long. Two of the strips should be the same color and one needs to be a contrasting color (this just makes the test easier).
Sew the three strips together, using the same ¼-inch foot used on the first test.
Press the seams towards the center strip. Measure the joined strips crosswise. It should measure exactly 5-inches in width.
Measure the center strip. It should measure exactly 1 ½-inches wide. If it’s narrower than this, your foot is grabbing more than ¼-inch. If it’s wider, then it’s grabbing less.
If this test meets the 5-inch and 1 ½-inch measurements listed above, run the first test again just to be sure. On the first try, the machine could have wobbled, the foot could have bobbled, or something happened to alter the ¼-inch seam. If you have two consistent tests producing two consistent ¼-inch seams, you’re good to go.
If your machine and its foot failed you, don’t despair. There is still something you can do. This little tool right here:
Is an amazing apparatus to have in your quilting notions. It’s the Perfect Piecing Seam Guide. It’s available through Keepsake Quilting, Perkins Dry Goods (perkinsdrygoods.com), and Amazon. It’s not a major purchase, cashing in at a mere $8.15 (on average). However, it’s one of the handiest gadgets to have on hand, especially if you’re test driving a new sewing machine and want to make sure its quilting foot is truly ¼-inch.
On the right side of the guide is a raised edge. In the middle of the raised edge is a tiny hole, just big enough to insert a sewing machine needle. Raise the presser foot on your machine and adjust the seam guide so your needle will go through the hole on the guide completely. Do this manually or you may break a needle and scare yourself silly and ruin the guide. Once the needle is through the hole, leave it in the down position and then mark your needle plate on the right side of the edge of the seam guide. That mark shows you where you need to have the edge of your fabric as you sew. Some folks use moleskin, fingernail polish, a fine-tipped permanent marker, or a magnetic seam guild to mark this ¼-inch spot.
At this point, usually the question pops up about moving your sewing machine needle – instead of marking your machine on the ¼-inch spot, can’t you just move your needle over to the left or right to adjust for the difference? Of course! Just two pieces of advice here – make a note somewhere about how much to move the needle over (the note section on your cell phone is a handy-dandy place to put it) and make sure you move the needle back to the original position when you’re through.
Now, after all of this, I’m getting ready to completely disavow the ¼-inch seam quilting rule: It’s not always valid all of the time.
Nope. The ¼-inch seam rule is not the do-all, be-all, and end-all of quilting. It’s far more important your blocks consistently come out the same unfinished size called for in the pattern. Sometimes this may mean using a scantier-than-scant seam allowance. Sometimes this may mean using a larger seam allowance than the ¼-inch. Most of the time, however, the true ¼-inch will work best. But you really need to know this information before you start slicing and dicing your beautiful quilt fabric. For this reason, I strongly recommend making a test block out of some scrap fabric and then measuring it after it’s finished and pressed. If this block comes out slightly larger or smaller than the desired unfinished size, check a couple of things:
If you’ve moved your needle recently, did you move it back to its normal position before you began sewing?
Did you grab the right presser foot? One of my machine applique feet looks nearly identical to my Little Foot. I have put the wrong foot on my machine more than once.
Did your foot “bobble” any? Sometimes in our rush to sew, we don’t attach the presser foot correctly, and it wiggles a bit. Make sure your foot is on securely.
Also make sure you’re feeding the fabric through your machine at a steady rate. Frequent stopping and starting can cause seam allowance issues, as well as sewing too fast. It’s difficult to control your fabric when you’re sewing too quickly. Steady fabric feeding and a moderate speed are helpful to maintaining the ¼-inch seam allowance.
4. Check your thread. The weight as well as the number of plies can make a difference. If your block is just a tad too big, try switching to a heavier weight thread with more plies. If it’s just a bit too small, switch to a lighter weight thread with 2-plies.
Standard disclaimer here: I do not work for Janome, Juki, Singer, The Little Foot Company, Amazon, or Keepsake Quilting. When I mention products, it’s because I use them, like them, and get stellar customer service. I am not paid by these companies nor do I receive any free goods for mentioning them in my blog.
Most of the time quilt patterns use a full ¼-inch seam. Knowing how to consistently sew one is a little detail which makes a huge impact on your quilt and your quilting experience. However…it’s just as important to know when to break that ¼-inch rule and how to do it.
Until Next Week, Remember the Details Make the Difference!