Find Your Quilting People

I have a daughter.  Some of you know this.  She is many things – a logistics engineer, a mother, a wife, an activist for women in the logistics field, and a graduate student.

A quilter, she is not.

She loves the quilts I make, and she has a healthy appreciation and respect for the art.  I think, possibly, in the future, when her life slows down a tad, she may pick up a rotary cutter and some fabric and slice and dice her way into our world.  She also reads my blogs. 

After reading the one on Anita Smith, she sent me this text: I think you need to do a series on why quilting is so important for younger generations. 

If you’ve read some of my past blogs, you know this is a twist on a topic I’ve hit on once or twice, but those had more to do with quilt guilds and quilt groups attracting younger quilters.  However, this is different.  She wants to know why quilting is important for younger generations. 

At this point I could go into all the ways quilting is a creative force.  It allows hopes, dreams, and visions to spill out onto fabric and batting.  It stitches down ideas and revelations for the world to see.  I could wax eloquent on the way it works both sides of the brain and helps prevent nasty things like Alzheimer’s and dementia.  But in so many ways, it would be wrong.  Not that quilting doesn’t do all of that, but so do other forms of fiber arts like knitting and crocheting. 

And so does dance, playing an instrument, drawing, painting, photography, and sculpture.  Quilting doesn’t have the market cornered on good mental health. 

I think, if I had a group of Millennials (and younger) crowded into my quilt studio right now, wanting to learn to quilt, I’d tell them this: 

It’s not all about the quilts.  It’s about the quilters – the fellowship.  It’s about sharing the good times and the bad.  It’s about multiplying the joys and halving the sorrows.  It’s about taking the scraps life hands you and sticking your finger in fate’s eye when you make something beautiful out of it.  That’s what quilting is all about.

Yes, I would emphasize quilting is important.  It is the legacy birthright handed down from our foremothers.  Quilts were made to keep us warm, but any women’s studies professor will tell you in order to understand women, what they did, what they held as sacred and important is found in their quilts until about 1920.  We poured our political beliefs, our sacred trusts, our love for family and friends into those textiles.  Most of those were shown in highly symbolic quilt blocks or applique, but the voices of those thoughts and feelings are there.  Once women got the right to vote in 1920, our voices, for the most part, went from silent thread and fabric to vocally proclaiming our rights and beliefs.  At that point the patriarchy began a slow death spiral as we found our footing in “man’s” society.  Quilts weren’t necessarily created by quiet, meek women.  If you listen closely to the quilts, you’ll find they scream these women’s thoughts. 

A lovely rose block to look at, but if you think this Democratic Rose block doesn’t blare the maker’s political views, think again.

And if you look closely at today’s art quilts and quilts created out of tragedies such as COVID, 9/11, the AIDS Crisis, the Challenger Explosion, and every war we’ve ever fought, the quilts are still quite vocal.  Despite the fact we can protest, proclaim, march, hold rallies and news conferences, many quilters find their quilts leave lasting statements long remembered after some grandiose speech is long forgotten.  The act of quilting allows us to pray, rant, and grieve…and then put some kind of order to these feelings.  Stitching allows us an outlet – often solitary, often only between us and God – to regain a sense of peace and control, even when everything outside our front door has been wrenched out of our control.

So, yes, the quilts are important. 

I could give an object lesson to the younger folks in my quilt room.  I could hold up various tools such as a seam ripper and needles and thread.  I would ask how many of them knew how to use them.  I’d inquire how many had ever used a sewing machine.  And then I would tell them quilting could effectively teach them how to use each and every one of them.  I’d explain the skills learned in quilting can carry over into everyday life.  That needle and thread you may use to hand stitch can easily be employed to tack a sagging hem.  The busted seam on your favorite shorts can be sewn back together on a basic sewing machine.  No going to an alterations shop.  No forking out $10 to fix a loose hem or a gaping seam. Quilting can teach you mad skills which can save you major cash.    

So, yes, quilting can teach you lifelong abilities guaranteed to save you money and make your friends look at you in awe.

But quilting is even more than that.  Allow me to insert my personal quilt journey.  Around 15…maybe even 20 years ago, my mother handed me a quilt.  This quilt:

It’s a utility quilt, made from dress making scraps and bits of leftover feedsacks.  It’s quilted with white, cotton thread.  It was made by my great grandmother, Annie Elizabeth Wolfe Perry.  The quilt sat, neatly folded, on a bench at the foot of my bed for years.  I would look at it every day.  And nearly every day I would think about how I would like to learn to make the quilt.  But between babies and school and work and a husband who worked out of town more than in, I didn’t have time.

Then one day my mother was over and asked to see the quilt.  I unfolded it and spread it out on her lap.  She began to point to different blocks.  “That was a piece of my grandaddy’s shirt.”

“This was a piece of my momma’s dress.”

“Here’s a piece of material from my school dress.”

The quilt became more than a quilt.  It was a textile repository of family stories and the lives of a hardworking textile family scraping out a living in Spray, North Carolina.  And a flip switched in me.  I no longer wanted to learn to quilt, I wanted to learn about this quilt.  A few phone calls to the local history museum landed me an appointment with its textile specialist.  She was able to give me a brief rundown of the fabrics, where they came from, and why a wool blanket was used for batting and backing, but as for the quilting?  Really not her area of expertise.  However, she did send me on my way with a list of local quilters and their phone numbers who could answer my questions “far better than me.”

More phone calls.  More appointments.  Meetings with women who knew their art intimately.  They listened to my story and looked at my quilt with rapt attention.  They ran their hands and fingers over the top with sheer reverence.  Stories and wisdom spilled out over cups of coffee and glasses of sweet tea.  As I pieced together the history of this type of quilt, and began to close this chapter of my life, I remember I didn’t want it to end.  I wanted to continue hanging out with those women.  I wanted to listen to them talk.  Learn their stories.  Absorb their wisdom.

And here’s where the secret lies in my quilting journey:  I didn’t learn to quilt because of the quilts.  I wanted to quilt because of the quilters.

I hungered for that sense of community.

If I had to tell this group of imaginary Millennials gathered in my quilt room only one reason they needed to learn to quilt, it would be for the community quilting provides.

My first quilt required several trips to the fabric store – Hancock Fabrics.  It was from this ugly humble first quilt, I began to meet quilters.  The salesperson who initially helped me didn’t know batting from backing, but pointed me in the direction of someone who did.  My first quilting friend was made.  Over the next few years, through workshops and trips to different quilt shops and sit and sews, I found my group of quilters.  We’ve quilted together through highs and lows, Covid, deaths of parents and spouses, and everything in between.  Prayer requests, wishes, dreams, rants, and regrets are shared as stitches are stitched.  There’s true support there, but we also hold each other accountable.  No one puts up with my “stuff” and will generally call me out on it.

These are the women who brought my daughter meals when she was recovering from her cancer surgery.  These are the people who prayed for my brother when he was undergoing treatments for Multiple Myeloma.  They regularly ask about my 83-year-old momma.  These are the folks I’ve cried with and laughed so hard with I had to go change my pants.  They are what I call my “Sunday Friends” – the ones I could call on a Sunday afternoon with an emergency and they’d show up with whatever I needed.

Not just anyone will do that.

If I had to give any Millennial a reason to quilt, it would be this – the wonderful opportunity to belong to a tight knit community who would love you, support you, and likewise call you out if you’re wrong about something.  A community of different races and ages and sexes, but all strung together by needles, thread, a love of quilts and quilters.  A gift so wonderful but yet as timeless as quilting itself.  Women’s history tells us quilters have gotten together in groups for hundreds of years. Our generation is no different, and the next group of us won’t be either. 

So why is quilting so important to the next generation?  It’s honestly not the quilts, as important and beautiful as they are.  It’s not the construction skills learned.  It’s the folks you meet along your quilting journey who become closer than some family and will love you no matter what.

In the words of the great poet, Maya Angelou: “Let me remind all women that we live longer and better lives when we have sisters we love, not necessarily born in our bloodline or of our race. Sisters.”

Until Next Week,

Love and Stitches,


PS I would be remiss if I did not recognize there are male quilters out there, too. I’m sure they also enjoy the sense of community quilting brings. However, I’m writing from a historical perspective and while men have always been a part of our quilting fabric, the field has been predominantly female for hundreds of years.


How to Read a Quilt Pattern Part 2: What on the Inside

Continuing with our discussion on patterns…

Now you have your pattern read and re-read, you’ve marked up sections you have questions about, and you’ve picked out your fabric.  It’s time to look at the inner part of the pattern and begin to cut our material and assemble our quilt.  At this point, there are a couple of items to keep in mind.  First, don’t think just because your pattern may have wonderful pictures or illustrations, you can get by without reading the directions.  No matter how great the graphics are, they are never completely complete.  You need to read all the instructions.  Second, most quilt patterns – no matter if they are stand alone, in a book, or in a magazine —  are similar.  There’s no great learning curve between the three.  Since you can’t get started sewing until you’re through cutting, let’s look at the cutting directions first. 

There are two different types of cutting instructions.  The first is simply a diagram.  Each unit tells you how long and wide to cut it.  It’s pretty easy to follow.

This next set of directions is a bit more complicated.  It’s for a table runner called Autumn Splendor by Norma Whaley.  The runner has three star blocks.  Each set of cutting directions is clearly labeled and easy to follow.  One item I would like to note is the numbering of the cut units. 

The number of units to cut is shown by parenthesis.  The size of the unit is outside the parenthesis.  For instance, the pattern tells us to cut (4) 2” squares and label them A.  This means you will cut four 2-inch squares.  These will go in the A position on the block, as shown on the diagram.  I would cut these, clip them together, and add a post-it note to them with an A on it.  This way I know exactly what these units are for and were they go. 

“Roadmap” of the block layout
The light areas denote background fabric. The darker areas denote the other fabric.

Note the two diagrams above.  The one in the upper position is a kind of “roadmap” on how to assemble the block units.  corner.  It illustrates how you put the block together.  It shows where each block unit goes.  The graph in the bottom shows how to assemble the units into rows, and then the rows into the block.  You can see the background fabric is white and the star points are darker.  This helps with color placement.  Most patterns will denote the background as white, and the prints as grayed out or black. 

As we finish reading through the pattern we find some other important info. 

First, section A points out all three star blocks need to finish at 6-inches.  This means when the blocks are sewn into the table runner, they will measure 6-inches square.  However, in order for it to finish at this size, it has to have a seam allowance, generally ¼-inch for each side.  So, when you complete the block, but before it’s sewn into the runner, it should measure 6 ½-inches.  This is the unfinished  size. 

In section B, there are pressing directions.  I love a pattern with pressing directions.  Let me explain why.  When you’re constructing blocks, one of the goals is for them to lie as flat as possible and to reduce bulk.  Correct pressing, so the seams nest and bulk is reduced, is incredibly important.  This pattern tells us how to iron that nine patch in the middle of the stars so all the seams nest and the corners line up. It also directs us on how to press the flying geese side units so it will lie flat.   Not all quilt patterns give you this information and may take some time to figure out the best way to press your block. 

We’ve read through all of this, but do you know what’s not anywhere on this pattern?  The unfinished size of the nine-patch or the unfinished size of the flying geese.  Nope.  All we know about unfinished sizes are two factors:  The size of the corner blocks (2-inches) and the unfinished size of the block (6 ½-inches).  We can “math” this out.  Before we do this, let me remind you if you are “mathing” quilt blocks out, work with the finished sizes and then add the seam allowance at the end.  This is what we know:

The finished block size is 6-inches.

We cut the four corner blocks at 2-inches.  When we subtract the seam allowances, we get 1 ½-inches as their finished size (2-inches – ½ seam allowances).  Since there are two of these blocks on each row, we add them together to get 3-inches.

Now we subtract the 3-inches from the 6-inches, and we have 3-inches left in the top row of our star block.  This means our flying geese should finish at 3-inches, and their unfinished measurement is 3 ½-inches (3-inches + ½ inch for the seam allowance). 

At this point, you have options.  You can go with your math and begin cutting out your quilt and sewing the units together.  Or you can make a test block out of scrap fabric to be sure everything works.  Personally, even if you’re really sure your math is correct, I strong suggest making a test block of every type of quilt block used in your project, even if you’re pretty darned sure of every unit’s unfinished size.  A test block can tell you lots of things…

  • If you like the construction methods the patterns used
  • If there are any incorrections in the pattern
  • Your math is correct
  • You want to make any changes
  • If pressing directions aren’t given, you can discover the best way to press the blocks

All of this information is important to know before you slice and dice your beautiful quilt fabric.  Yes, a test block takes time, but it can provide you with a wealth of information.  I would also add this – as you complete a few blocks, take the time to measure these and do any trimming necessary.  It’s always easier to trim a few at a time than to get to the end block construction and have 50 or more to true-up. 

Lastly, let’s talk organization.  The two quilts used as examples in this blog don’t have a lot of pieces.  Sure, you’d need to mark the size of the rectangles on Hope for Tomorrow, but overall compared to queen and king size quilts, there aren’t many block units.  But it’s good to have an organizational plan in place if you have lots of block units.  My favorite organizational tool for this is food storage bags which have the plastic zipper.

You can tuck each unit in its own bag for easy identification.  All the 2 ½-inch squares can go in a bag, all the quarter-cut triangles can have their own bag, etc.  These bags can be labeled according to size and set aside. 

Paper plates are another useful organizational tool.  Let’s say we’re making a scrap quilt from Monkey Wrench blocks:

I can put all the pieces for one block on a plate and then stack another plate on top of it and put the pieces for the next block on it.  I can keep stacking plates on top of each other and when I’m through, I can slip them into the plastic bag the paper plates originally came in for either storage or transportation to a sew day or quilt retreat. 

And one of these:

Is terrific for storing rectangular pieces of sashing, or string blocks such as those used in Hope for Tomorrow or the strips for a log cabin quilt. 

The two best things all these storage ideas have in common are they’re inexpensive and easily found at dollar store establishments and thrift stores.

I hope this blog and the one last week has helped any of you who have issues reading quilt patterns.  While not all quilt patterns are the same, it’s safe to say the majority of pattern designers want their instructions to be understandable and clear.  And if you are having problems with a pattern, remember your first line of defense is our old friend Google. 

Until Next Week, Remember the Difference is in the Details!

Love and Stitches,



Quilt Patterns: How to Read Them and What to Look For

Today I want to talk a bit more about quilt patterns.  In a recent blog, we went over what makes a good quilt pattern:

  • It has the unfinished measurements for each block unit
  • It has the unfinished measurements for each block
  • It offers the quilt in several different sizes
  • It has illustrations, line drawings, or pictures to give us a visual boost as we follow the directions

A great quilt pattern will have all of the above and the following:

  • “Oops” room – The pattern’s fabric requirements add a little extra to each measurement to cover any cutting mistakes.  It doesn’t have to be much, as little as 1/8th to ¼ of a yard works just fine.  Even me, for as long as I’ve quilted, can make cutting errors.  That tad of extra fabric can really turn out to be a helpful thing.  How do you know if a pattern allows for a little fabric than the quilt actually requires?  Sometimes this information is in the pattern directions.  Somewhere in all the verbiage the designer may state there isn’t any need to purchase additional fabric because the directions call for more material than actually needed. 

If you can’t find this information anywhere in the pattern, you can always ask Google.  Simply Google the question “Does quilt pattern designer __________ ask for more fabric than needed in their patterns?”  Sometimes Google will return with a definite answer.  Past knowledge is also something to go on.  For instance, I’ve made a few Judy Niemeyer quilts.  I know she always adds a bit more fabric than actually needed in her fabric requirements because I have a history with her patterns.  I don’t purchase any extra (unless I just like the fabric).  However, I have also used EQ 8 for designing several of my own patterns.  I know when I print the EQ fabric requirements, there is a little “oops” room, but not much. 

After researching this question for a bit, I have discovered most  pattern designers do add a bit of extra to their fabric requirements.  Exactly how much depends on the designer.  There are no industry standards. 

  • Gives you a “jumping off” place for color decisions – While pattern designers develop patterns because they love what they do, they also have to sell patterns in order to cover their expenses so they can design more patterns.  A large portion of the sales depends on the visual representation of the pattern.  In other words, the picture on the front of the pattern will be as visually appealing as they can make it.  Which is great for us, because it gives us something to go on as we pick and choose our patterns.  A quilter may decide they like the quilt just the way it appears on the pattern and will find fabric which closely matches what the designer used.  Others (like me) may prefer to shop their stash first and only purchase what is needed.  And still others may make the quilt to match a room or color preference.  If you decide to change the colors up, use your cell phone to take a picture of the quilt on the pattern, change the filter to view it in black and white, and then make your fabric selections based on lights, mediums, and darks.
  • Is clearly labeled – Somewhere in the pattern, it’s really great to have a label indicating if the quilt is for beginners, intermediate, or advanced quilters.  I defined these categories in the earlier blog:  However, let me add if you feel a bit bored in the category you’re in, don’t be afraid to move up to a more difficult pattern.  If the quilt proves a bit too hard for your liking, you can tuck it away for a while longer and bring it back out later.
  • If the pattern includes applique pieces, it states clearly if the applique pattern is already reversed, or you need to reverse it – Depending on the applique technique used, this information is pretty important if you want your applique pattern facing in the correct direction.  If the pattern is congruent (you can draw a line down the center of the pattern and it’s the same on both sides) this doesn’t matter so much.  However, if the figure is like this:
You could draw a line down the center of Sunbonnet Sue and the two sides would be different. So Sue is not congruent and needs to be reversed before cutting out the templates on fusible and the wrong side of the fabric.

And both sides are different, it does.  Techniques such as Apliquik and some freezer paper methods need the image reversed. 

  • Lists the designer’s website – Most designers, even the newest ones, have a Facebook page or a website.  And while most designers work really hard to produce error-free patterns, mistakes do happen.  They use their Facebook or website to list these errors and supply the corrections.  It’s really a good idea to check the website or Facebook page before starting the quilt to see if any mistakes are there.

Okay, so let’s say you have your pattern in hand and are ready to start your quilt.  You find the fabric requirements, pull together your choices, and are ready to begin slicing and dicing your material.  This is the next step, right?

Nope.  Not even close.

Let’s take a step back to where you have your pattern in hand.  The very next step to take is reading the pattern.  From the first page to the last page, read the pattern. 

Every word.

Even the parts which are not clear to you.

To the end.

Now go back and read the pattern a second time, this time a little slower.  Keep a pencil, pen, or highlighter handy to make notes.  If the thought of marking up your pattern bothers you, make a copy of it.  Because this copy is only for you, and you’ve purchased the pattern, no copyright laws are violated.  As you read the pattern through this second time, take special consideration of the following:

This pattern is Hope for Tomorrow designed by Rana Heredia. It can be purchased on the
  1.  The pattern cover – This should have a color illustration or picture of the completed pattern.  It has the name of the quilt and usually has the designer’s name.  You can glean a lot of information from the cover.  You can consider if the color scheme used would work for you.  If the quilt has a center medallion, you may want to think about using a panel for it instead of appliqueing or piecing one.  It may also have the publisher listed. 
  2. The pattern back — This part of the pattern may contain the pattern number (showing this pattern isn’t the designer’s first).  It may also have a bar code, which means the designer took the time and applied for one of these.  A QR code like this:

May also be present.  When you scan these with your phone, additional information about the pattern or a video will pop up. Many patterns, like the one featured in this blog, has the fabric requirements on the back.

One feature on the back which doesn’t get a lot of attention but should be noted is the Copyright Statement.  This piece of information can tell you a lot about intended usage – such as can you make this quilt for resale?  Are you permitted to enter a quilt made by this pattern in show?  Good designers spend hundreds hours making patterns and often have quite a chunk of money invested in designing software and fabric.  The Copyright Statement helps protect them.  However, even if you can’t find a Copyright Statement anywhere in the pattern, remember all patterns carry a copyright, even if it’s not stated. 

  •  The “Innards”  — The bulk of information about the quilt and the directions is sandwiched between the cover and the back.  The second time you read through the directions, pay attention to a few things. 
  • Is it logical?  A pattern is like a recipe.  The success of the next step depends on the previous one.  The pattern should follow an understandable order.
  •  Is it well-written or does it have a lot of typos?  Maybe it’s the left-over school teacher in me, but if a pattern has a lot of grammatical errors, I tend to question the designer’s attention to detail.
  • Can you follow the order of the steps?  Most patterns number them.  If the one you’re working with didn’t, read through it a third time to make sure you can follow the pattern and know the procedural order. 
  • Make sure you know what the abbreviations mean.

Now let’s move to the fabric requirements and notions section of the pattern.  I’d like to share with you the way I handle this part.  The first step I take is to make a copy of this part of the pattern because I generally mark it up to within an inch of its life.  I rarely (if ever) will make my quilt identical to the one on the pattern cover.  Therefore, the colors I need will differ from the colors of material listed in the fabric requirements.  For instance, let’s look at the supply list for Hope for Tomorrow:

Center Strings – ½ yard black

Side Strings – Assorted prints, ½ yard

Inner Border – 3/8-yard pink     

Vine – 6 ½ x 10-inches gray

Leaves — (3) 1/8-yard of low-volume black and white prints and pink prints

Bird – 6 x 9-inch black polka dot

Binding – ½ yard black and white print

Backing and Batting – 55” x 70” inches

This is a great color combination, but it couldn’t live at my house because I have nothing pink and black.  When I saw this quilt pattern, I pictured it in Christmas reds and greens to use as a table runner during the holiday season…or maybe as a wall hanging.  This is how I would take those fabric requirements and mark them up.

Center Strings – ½ yard black white-on-white snowflake print

Side Strings – Assorted prints, ½ yard – Various Christmas prints, ½ yard total

Inner Border – 3/8-yard pink  red

Vine – 6 ½ x 10-inches gray green

Leaves — (3) 1/8-yard of low-volume black and white prints and pink prints

               (3) 1/8 yard of greens and Poinsettia reds, equally divided

Bird – 6 x 9-inch black polka dot  Cardinal red

Binding – ½ yard black and white print ½ yard red and white striped print, cut as true bias binding so it looks like a candy cane.

Backing and Batting – 55” x 70” inches

Keep in mind all of this would be in my own dubiously neat handwriting.  So you can see why it’s a good idea to make a copy of this part of the pattern.  Plus, the next time I make the quilt, I may want to change it into an Easter pattern, so there would be different fabric decisions.  If I kept writing and re-writing fabric choices on the supplies section, it would be impossible to keep everything straight. 

If the quilt pattern has lots of moving parts (i.e. it’s got lots of pieces or lots of applique), you may find it will include one of these: 

I can’t begin to tell you how wonderful these are.  You can cut a swatch of the fabric you chose for each needed piece and tape or glue them next to the description.  This really helps keep things crystal clear with more difficult patterns – especially applique.  If your pattern doesn’t have one of these, you can always make your own.  In fact, if the quilt pattern you’re using is complex, making your own swatch sheet can eliminate countless mistakes and headaches! 

The next thing to read back over are the notions.  Some notions are so standard they may not even be listed, such as thread.  But other items may be specifically mentioned, such as a specialty ruler.  Maybe it’s just me, but every time I encounter a pattern which calls for a special ruler, I immediately ask “Why? Why can’t I just use a normal ruler?”  Some of my long-time readers know I don’t like to have anything in my quilt room which can’t multi-task.  The only single-action tool I have is this:

And I hope I don’t ever have to use it.  The problem with some specialty rulers is this:  You can only use them to make one type of block or block unit.  To me, that’s not a good use of my money.  If I have a pattern which calls for a special ruler, I immediately search for any fine print on the pattern.  It’s in this fine print you can often find ways around having to purchase another ruler.  If there’s no fine print, I Google the pattern again to see if there is a tutorial or YouTube video on how to make the quilt.  In those resources are often found alternate construction methods which don’t require the ruler. 

If you take another look at the Hope for Tomorrow pattern, you’ll notice the leaves and bird are appliqued.  I need to find out if the pattern for the bird is reversed. The leaf doesn’t matter since both sides are congruent.  The reason I need the bird reversed is because I plan on using the raw-edge applique technique, which requires the reversed pattern for placement on the fusible web and the wrong side of the fabric (Go here: for additional instruction).  I think the only applique technique which doesn’t require the pattern to be reversed is freezer paper on top). 

Bird on front of applique pattern
The bird template is facing the opposite direction from the bird on the cover

I also need to know if the applique pattern is full-sized or if I need to enlarge it.  For instance, I’m using a cone flower pattern to make a wall hanging. It clearly states it should be enlarged 200%.  However, the applique pattern for Hope for Tomorrow says nothing about it needing to be enlarged, so we will go with the assumption it isn’t required.  But the pattern does not state if the templates are reversed anywhere on the pattern.   We have to compare the template to the picture of the quilt.  Since the birds are facing opposite directions, we know the applique pattern is reversed, even though we not directly told so. 

At this point, we have: 

  • Read the pattern through at least twice.
  • Googled the pattern to see if the designer allows additional fabric for “oops” moments and has issued any corrections to the pattern.
  • We have chosen the colors and fabric for our quilt.
  • We have scanned any QR code for additional information.
  • If there’s applique involved, we have determined if the templates are already reversed or if we need to reverse them ourselves.  We also know if they need to be enlarged.
  • We can logically follow all the construction steps.
  • We know if any special notions – such as particular rulers – are needed.
  • We know if the quilt pattern is a beginner, intermediate, or advanced.
  • We know if our plans for the quilt falls within the designer’s copyright statement.
  • We’ve developed our swatch sheet (if needed).
  • If we’re not using the same fabric as shown on the pattern cover, we’ve made a copy of the fabric requirements and marked them up with our own design ideas.

All of this information, and we haven’t even gotten to the inside of the pattern yet…which we will do next week. So until then….

Remember the Details Make the Difference!

Love and Stitches,



Quilt Appraisals: What Are They and When Do You Need One?

A few weeks ago, I wrote a blog about show quilts.  In that blog, we talked about what steps you should take if you’re entering a quilt in a show.  I mentioned it’s important to have a label securely fixed to your quilt, due to the fact quilts have been stolen from shows.  This is occurring with somewhat alarming frequency – and not just with the quilts hung for judging.  I’m friends with a few major vendors at these quilt shows.  The vendors have also reported quilts stolen from their booths.

In my opinion, it takes a pretty low person to steal a quilt, or any artwork for that matter.  These objects are more than just a price tag.  They are the artists’ passion, creativity, and life work.  Most of us want these thieves to be caught.  We want the full judgement of the law brought down on them.  However, life isn’t an episode of Law and Order, so unfortunately this doesn’t always happen.  Quilters need to be vigilant and wise about how we mail quilts and how we surrender our quilts to be shown.  We will deal with mailing quilts at the very end of this blog.  However, what I want to discuss with you now is something you need to do before that – and may want to do with all the special quilts in your life. 

After I published the blog on show quilts, I had a wonderful reader offer a suggestion.  She said it would be a good idea to have a quilt appraised before sending it off to a show.  This is a great idea and I’ve had a few of my quilts appraised.  But  I wasn’t sure  if my readers knew what a quilt appraisal was, how to go about getting one, and why it’s so important.  According to the National Quilt Museum, a quilt appraisal consists of a description of the quilt in terms of pattern, fabrics, techniques, and quality of construction.  It takes into consideration the quilt’s condition, confirmation of information known by the current owner, replacement value, and an approximate date of quilt.   A qualified quilt appraiser will carefully look over the quilt and consider the following:

  • The current market – What are similar quilts selling for now?
  • Construction techniques – Quilts made by skilled quilters and well-made quilts are generally worth more.
  • Condition – Fading fabric, holes, or tears from use or fabric weakness and staining all reduce the value of a quilt.
  • Quilt design – Is it pleasing to the eye?  Does it have good color and design choices?
  • Quilting – How much of it is there?  Is it enough?  Does the quilting add or detract from the quilt itself?  Is it hand or machine quilted – one is not appraised better or worse than the other.  Regardless of the method used, the quilt will be evaluated on how much quilting there is, how complex it is, and how well it was executed.     
  • The quilt’s provenance — They will consider any of the quilt’s history you may have.
  • The quilter’s resume – Quilts made by well-known and award-winning designers are generally worth more.  In other words, you may construct a quilt from one of Scott Murkin’s patterns, and even if your quilt is perfect, it still won’t be worth as much as any of Scott’s.

After all of this is taken into consideration and the appraiser verifies as much as they can, a dollar amount is assigned to the quilt. 

Please note, nowhere in this information does sentimental value figure into the appraisal equation.  Nope.  Appraisals deal with cold, hard, facts and numbers.  If you have one of your Great-Aunt Sally’s Sunbonnet Sue quilts appraised only to find out it’s worth a mere few hundred dollars, you may experience a moment of offence, because the quilt may be (in your eyes) a priceless heirloom.  The quilt may have huge sentimental value because it’s a family treasure.  But the bottom line is Aunt Sally’s Sunbonnet Sue’s quilt must be compared to others from the same pattern, and frankly there are literally hundreds of Sunbonnet Sue quilts in existence from the 1930’s.  While your quilt may be extra-special and irreplaceable in your eyes, the bottom line may tell a different story. 

Now that we have a good idea about what an appraisal takes into consideration, who exactly are these appraisers?  Quilt appraisers are folks who have a concentrated focus on textiles. They have an extensive background in fabrics/quilts/garments/other textiles and have worked with an experienced appraiser in a type of apprenticeship program.  Appraisers are defined as “someone who holds a certified designation from a recognized appraisal society and regularly performs appraisals for which compensation is received and follows the Uniform Standards of Professional Appraisal Practices.”  Appraisers should be independent contractors (no links to fabric houses, museums, quilt brokers, etc.)   They are expected to perform ethically and competently in accordance with accepted appraisal standards of their professional organization and by the accepted standard of the appraisal industry as defined by federal guidelines of The Uniform Standards of Professional Appraisal Practice (USPAP).  Probably the most recognized quilt appraiser certification comes from PAAQT – the Professional Association of Appraisers – Quilted Textiles.  Appraisers who have PAAQT certification have gone through rigorous training and overall are very good at what they do.  The American Quilter’s Society also has an appraiser certification program and it’s rigorous and thorough.  Between AQS and PAAQT, there is at least one appraiser in most states and several regions of Canada. 

With all this information about quilt appraisals and appraisers behind us, let’s get down to the nitty gritty of this blog – When should you have a quilt appraised and how do you put the appraisal process in motion.

Not every quilt you make needs to be appraised.  If you’re making a back-of-the-couch quilt, a play quilt, or a quilt which is made for day-to-day use, it probably does not need an appraisal.  However, if you’ve made a quilt in which you’ve put a great deal of time, effort, money, and it holds some intrinsic value (such as it was made for the first grandchild, it was a wedding quilt, or it’s destined to be an heirloom quilt, etc.) then you may want to take the time, effort, and cash involved and get it appraised.  It could be worth your time, effort, and the fee just to know how much the quilt is worth.  Allow me to insert a personal story here.  I had quilted for years, and my technique of choice is applique – primarily hand stitched applique.  A local quilt show had an appraiser on site, and I took what I believed was best hand sewn applique quilt and had it appraised.  I knew I would be happy if the appraisal showed my quilt was worth several hundred dollars.  My jaw nearly dropped to the floor when I found out it was worth almost $4,800.  And may I add this was in the late 1990’s.  I can only imagine what it’s worth today. 

Besides the self-satisfaction, there are other quilty scenarios when an appraisal may come in handy:

  • You’re donating a quilt for some non-profit use.  You may decide to donate your quilt to an organization and allow it to raffle your quilt off to raise money.  You may choose to donate one of your quilts to a museum.   When this happens, you can have your donation documented as a gift-in-kind.  The organization or museum will not state what the quilt is worth, just simply acknowledge you gave them a quilt.  The dollar amount you assign to this quilt to claim it as a charitable gift for a tax deduction is up to you.  If you plan to claim this gift as a tax deduction, you will need some paperwork to back the deductible amount, and this is when an appraisal is needed.  If you have an appraisal by a certified appraiser in hand, the IRS will have a difficult time declining the deduction.
  • You want to sell a quilt.  If you plan to sell a quilt you’ve spent a great deal of time, effort, and money on, an appraisal is an item to have to support your asking price.
  • The quilt is in a scenario where it could be stolen OR you need to ship/mail the quilt to another location.  I’ve lumped both of these situations together because they both involve insurance companies.  With either of these cases, your quilt could disappear, never to be seen by you again.  This is a painful thought for nearly any quilter.  So much time, attention, love, (and not to mention money) is spent on the special quilts we want to put in shows or send to others.  It’s excruciating to think the quilt may never reach it’s intended destination or recipient.  However, between the tears of frustration and anger, we still have to think logically, and this means we should file an insurance claim.  We may not ever get our quilt back, but we can be recompensed monetarily.  While this won’t replace the quilt, at least we can have the funds to go buy some more fabric and start over.

But…there’s bad news about this type of insurance claim.  Unless you have an appraisal from  certified appraiser stating what your quilt is worth, the insurance will only pay out an extremely small amount – the cost of a blanket from a big box store.  Insurance companies make no differentiation between quilts and blankets.  To them they’re one and the same.  An appraisal at least gives you the documentation to correct them and be rightfully recompensed. 

I also think if you have this type of quilt in your home, or some well-made antique quilts, you need to have them appraised just in case the unthinkable happens.  If thieves break into your home and have an affinity for fancy textiles, at least you’re covered.  However, be sure to check with your homeowners insurance to make sure the quilts are covered by your policy.  With some companies, quilts are considered fine art and need to be covered by a rider (which generally isn’t too expensive). 

Before we leave the topic of why you need an appraisal, I do confess I don’t have every quilt I mail appraised.  If I’ve made a friend or relative a chemo quilt or just a “regular-nothing-too-special” quilt, I don’t have those appraised because I can reproduce those without a whole lot of issues.  I may not like to re-make them, but those quilts usually don’t merit an appraisal.  However, with that said, when you mail a quilt (any quilt – appraised or not) don’t put the world “quilt” anywhere on the package.  If you must supply a description anywhere, label it fabric or blanket.  This lowers the chance the quilt could be stolen. 

By now, you may be wondering how you can find a quilt appraiser.  If you go to the PAAQT or the AQS website, there are listings of certified quilt appraisers broken down by state (for the US) and providences (for Canada).  Most states have at least one appraiser and the site has their contact information.  You’ll need to email or call to set up an appointment for the appraiser to look at your quilt.  The appraiser needs to see the quilt in person – not just from photographs.  Along with your quilt, bring any additional documentation.  For instance, if it’s an antique quilt you’re having appraised, bring any certified Provence.  If it’s a quilt you’ve made, any fabric sales receipts, pattern, etc.  The appraiser will take pictures and issue a report about your quilt’s value.  Another option may be quilt shows.  Sometimes quilt shows have appraisers on-site for the duration of the show.  An appointment still must be made, but if you’ve got plans to attend a quilt show and an appraiser is there, take advantage of the opportunity. 

Lastly, it’s important to remember time changes the value in things.  Overall, well-constructed quilts go up in value.  Likewise, if you become a well-known quilter, quilt designer, or have some successful quilt sales, the value of your quilt will go up.  It’s a good idea to have quilts re-appraised every three to five years, for insurance purposes, if nothing else.

Until Next Week, Remember the Difference is in the Details!

Love and Stitches,



Quilters and Their Patterns

There’s kind of an ongoing joke among folks who have quilted for a while:  Which came first, the pattern or the fabric?  Yes, it’s kind of corny and yes, it’s a direct derivative of the old chicken and egg joke, but it’s still valid.  Do you buy fabric for a pattern, or do you buy a pattern to use up the fabric you bought weeks ago?  Or do you do a bit of both?  I would like to push the boundaries a bit further by asking, do you know what kind of pattern to buy?  I mean do you know what kind of quilter you are, so you’ll know what type of pattern to toss in your cart before you check out?  Let me explain.

You see, most patterns have some kind of label on them indicating what skill level is needed to successfully deal with the quilt pattern.  Usually these labels fall into the categories of beginner, intermediate, advanced, and the ubiquitous “for all levels.” However most quilt patterns don’t define these labels, which makes it difficult to determine if you’ve purchased a pattern which falls within your skill set. What I’d like to do first is loosely define what each label means.


  • Can sew a seam in a straight line (more or less…somedays I have a hard time sewing a straight seam).
  • Can follow basic pattern instructions and recognizes basic quilting terms.
  • Familiar with the most frequently used quilting jargon.
  • Can measure and cut fabric in a straight line with a ruler, mat, and rotary cutter.
  • Can press fabric and knows the difference between pressing and ironing.
  • Is familiar with the basic functions of their sewing machine:  move the needle, wind a bobbin, vary stitch length and width, sew a straight stitch and a zig zag stitch, and can clean and oil their machine.


  • Has completed (more or less successfully) several projects.
  • Is proficient in multiple quilting techniques.
  • Has taken classes (either in person or via internet) and/or has read numerous books on quilting to improve their skill set.
  • Can sew amazingly straight lines.
  • Knows how to handle curves, paper piecing, and applique.
  • Very familiar with quilting terms and jargon.
  • Knows how to cut in the most efficient manner.
  • Has a repertoire of tips and tricks on various quilting topics.
  • Is becoming comfortable working with color.
  • Can balance a range of print sizes within a design.
  • Knows a great deal about threads and needles.
  • Has sewn with a variety of fabric textures.


  • Has many years of sewing experience.
  • Has mastered many techniques.
  • May be designing their own patterns.
  • Have taken classes (either in person or via the internet) from experts.
  • Has quilted many, many years and has tried almost every quilt block out there.
  • Sews with precision, expertise and near perfection.
  • Knows most quilting terms and jargon.
  • Discovers and shares quilting tips and tricks.
  • Takes only advanced classes (Meh – I’ve been known to take a class simply because I like the teacher or the folks taking the class).
  • Has years of experience combining color palettes and scaled prints.
  • Knows how to work with all types of fabric and may even be designing their own.
  • Completes some or all of their quilt tops from start to finish – including the quilting.
  • Fluent in all characteristics of threads and needles.

If you’ve read through these characteristics and can definitely place yourself in one of these categories, that’s awesome!  With other quilters, there may be some definite gray areas.  For instance, in the intermediate quilter category, applique is mentioned as one of the techniques to master.  I was introduced to applique as a beginner and by the time I hit the intermediate stage, I was already fluent in it.  And if you’ve sewn other projects before quilting, don’t put yourself in the  beginner category.  You may not have made quilts, but you know how to read a pattern and are familiar with your machine and different fabrics.  I would put folks like this in an advanced beginner group.  Maybe construct your first quilt from a beginner pattern, but if it bores you to tears, next time reach for an intermediate one.  

All of the above information is important, but what about the labels on the patterns?  Do the beginner, intermediate, and advanced labels on quilt patterns match the labels put on quilters?  The answer is “Yes, — for the most part.”  Beginner patterns are very detailed, have lots of pictures, and are generally straight line sewing.  Intermediate patterns are not as detailed.  For instance, these patterns may tell you to make 48 four-patch units, measuring 2 ½-inches unfinished, but  not tell you how to make them.  They assume you have a favorite construction method and will use that to complete the four patch units.  Intermediate patterns may use multiple techniques (such as piecing and applique) and include curved piecing.  They use complex color palettes and advanced blocks and block units.  Or they may take a basic block and put a new twist on it.

Advanced patterns assume you have several quilts under your belt and are familiar with lots of techniques.  They may employ a super complex skill set, such as intricate and realistic paper piecing.  This category of quilt patterns includes miniature quilts – the scaled down version of the larger original. The applique may use many, many small and detailed pieces.  The piecing may take a basic unit and break it down into multiple, complex pieces.  For instance, a pattern may call for six side-setting triangles for an on-point quilt, but each triangle could be made from 20 smaller triangles.  Often the directions are brief and there are fewer pictures than even in an intermediate quilt pattern.  These patterns are detailed, but so rewarding. 

The last category of quilt pattern is the All-Skill Level pattern.  These patterns assume someone who has never quilted before can follow the directions and successfully make the quilt top.  These types of patterns are frequently offered as a free bonus when you purchase pre-cut fabrics.  I admit, I have issues with these patterns.  Some of them are very well-written and are fun to make.  Others…not so much.

Now that I’ve defined the beginner, intermediate, and advanced labels for both patterns and quilters, let’s get into the nitty-gritty of what really makes a great quilt pattern.  In a world where we all can self-publish either on paper or electronically, the market is flooded with quilt patterns.  There is so much to choose from and so many of the designs are simply lovely – but just because the final product is breathtaking, doesn’t mean the designer knows how to write a good pattern.  Here are the characteristics of what I think makes a great quilt pattern:

  1.  The unfinished sizes of each block unit are given.  Take a look at this quilt block

This block is called Birds in the Air and it’s made up of half-square triangles, small triangles, and one large triangle.  Let’s say the quilt directions tell us the unfinished block measures 6 ½-inches.  That’s great, but it would be even better if the pattern would say exactly how large those HSTs should be once they’re sewn together.  If the initial directions tell us to cut two 3-inch squares of fabric and make the HSTs by sewing ¼-inch away from a diagonal line drawn on the square and cutting it apart on the drawn line, there is a chance – simply because we’re dealing with bias once the squares are cut in half – the HSTs could end up in several slightly different sizes and  a bit wonky.  I prefer to make my HST’s a bit larger and then cut them down to the correct unfinished size.  Unless that size is given by the pattern, I’m working with trial, error, and a great deal of “hope this works out.”  When dealing with any block unit which has some bias (such as HSTs, Square-in-a-Square, and Flying Geese) I always would rather make those unit’s just a tad larger and then trim them down to the required unfinished size.  This also is super helpful in making sure all your unfinished blocks come out the right size, too. 

2.  More than one quilter has made the quilt before the pattern was published.  Taking for granted the designer has at least made one of the quilts by the pattern, it’s always good to see if they asked other quilters to make the quilt by their directions.  And here’s where I am going to turn into a pattern snob – remember what I told you about it’s super easy to self-publish now?  I have absolutely nothing against self-publishing.  Nothing at all.  However, because it’s so easy to do this, it’s also easy to get in too much of a hurry and publish before enough testing is done.  Take for instance this book, Simple Double-Dipped Quilts:  Scrappy Quilts Built from Blocks with a Unique Twist. 

Kim Diehl wrote this book and designed the patterns.  As you flip through the book, it’s easy to see she employed several other quilters to piece these quilts.  By doing this, Kim was assured her patterns were clear and understandable.  Sure, Kim could make the quilt, but if someone else could also successfully make this quilt by her directions, Kim knew (for the most part), her directions were good. 

Even if you’re not using a book, check to see who made the quilt on the pattern front.

If it’s not the designer, you’re assured at least one other person made the quilt according to the directions given.

3.  Google the quilt pattern.  You don’t necessarily have to do this for every pattern.   Those from well-known quilt designers will have a track record of accuracy.  However, before you purchase a pattern from a designer you’re unaware of or unsure of, take a couple of minutes to whip out your cell phone and Google the pattern.  More than likely, the designer and bits of information about them will pop up.  Move past this and hit the image tab.  If no other images appear except for the quilt made by the designer, you may want to back away from the pattern.  A couple of issues may have occurred, the first being the age of the pattern.  If it’s a relatively new pattern, no one may have had the time to make the quilt.  You may want to wait a little while before you commit to it.  Give it some time and see if others can successfully make the quilt. 

The second issue may have to do with the directions.  Go back and read what Google says about the designer.  If you read several negative reviews about the directions, you definitely want to back away.  Ask me how I know. 

4.  Corrections are given.  No matter how careful pattern designers are, mistakes are made.  These aren’t made deliberately, but people are human, so errors happen. Most pattern designers – even the new, obscure ones – have a web page or blog.  The good designers post corrections on their web site or blog.  Quite often these corrections will come up in your Google search of the pattern and designer. 

One last word about patterns before we call it a week.  I consider myself an advanced quilter.  After 33 years, numerous quilts, an eagerness to try any technique, and an impressive quilting library, I think I can label myself as advanced.  However, I do keep some beginner quilt patterns in my studio.  I have these hanging around for several reasons.  First, these are really fun quilts to make.  I enjoy constructing them and quilting them.  Second, if I’m involved with an advance quilt which really requires some concentration and determination, there will come a point when I need a break.  An easy quilt is a great way to have some mindless, productive sewing and still have a good time.  Third, there always seems to come a time when I need a baby gift, a chemo quilt, or some occasion when a quilt is just the thing to give.  By having a simple quilt pattern tucked back, I can quickly put a quilt together and get it bound and quilted.  On a side note, I’ve used one of these patterns so often, I know by heart how cut and sub-cut the fabric for the blocks.  If I have scrappage left over from cutting out a quilt, I will cut it into the required sizes and tuck them away to make a quick, scrappy version of the quilt.  

Quilting is fun.  It’s supposed to be a stress-release.  Making sure you’ve picked the right pattern keeps it tension-free.  Be aware of what kind of quilter you are and what kind of pattern you need.  If you’re getting kind of bored, move up to the next level and try a more challenging pattern.  But above everything else, enjoy your time quilting!

Until next week, remember The Details Make the Difference!

Love and Stitches,