How to Build a Workable Fabric Stash (Without Breaking Your Budget)

I think one of the most helpless moments I’ve ever had as a quilter was at the Paducah AQS show.  I went with a group of quilty friends on a tour bus.  Our local quilt shop was coordinating the trip.  I had dreamed of attending a Paducah show for years.  And it did not disappoint.  On the first level of the convention building was every kind of sewing machine and long arm imaginable.  The other floors and the “Bubble” featured beautiful quilts and fabric and notions.  However, as part of the tour, we also got to visit some of the other quilt stores in downtown Paducah as well as the Mothership of All Fabric Stores – Hancock’s of Paducah.  I had ordered from them for years (and still do).  I was kind of anxious to see everything in person.  I left the bus and went in with great expectations.  

And promptly backed right out.  

Hancock’s of Paducah. Defintely worth the trip.

It was overwhelming.  I had never seen so much fabric in one place.  I needed a minute.  It was a cacophony of colors and designs.  I was used to my little LQS which had material sorted by family and then by color.  At Hancock’s it was sorted by fabric house, then designer, then family, and then color.  It truly was an assault on my vision – but in a good way.  Luckily I had a list and a plan and a budget.  However, I saw several people there who didn’t, and they seemed to aimlessly wander around in circles wondering what to buy. I wondered then (as I do on occasion now) if anyone had shown them how to have a foundational fabric stash and how to skillfully add to it? 

I was fortunate to have a beginning quilting teacher who taught me what a good stash is and how to start one that didn’t bust my budget or take over my house.  I’d like to pass this information along to you and add a few things I’ve learned along the way.   The first lesson to remember is not to let your stash exceed your storage space.  If you only have a couple of drawers or a filing cabinet or you’re blessed to have an entire room, keep your stash confined to that space.  You and your family will be happier.  If circumstances dictate your storage space is small, you may have to purchase fabric more frequently.  If you’re fortunate enough to have a large area, be wise about your purchases.    Fortunately, no matter what your fabric storage situation is, if you cultivate your stash correctly, most of the time you can at least begin a new project without hopping on the internet to fabric shop or planning on a quilt store haul with your quilting BFFs.  I think it’s one of the best feelings in the world to plan a new quilt and then be able to pull 99 percent of everything I need from my stash. 

Knowing how to grow your stash also makes shopping for fabric a lot easier.  I live in a small town set between High Point and Greensboro, North Carolina.  If you’re a Keepsake Quilting fan, you realize I am near both Keepsake and Pineapple Fabrics. Several times a year Keepsake and Pineapple have warehouse sales.  The fabric is sumptuous, the prices are awesome, and I get to see a lot of my quilting buddies.  Because I know my stash and what I need to re-supply, it really helps me to get the most bang out of my buck at these sales.  And this information is what I’d like to share with you.   In my quilting world, there are four types of fabric needed in a stash:  Solids, Prints, Blenders, and Low-Volumes.  I don’t really think it matters if you’re primarily an applique quilter or a piecer, I believe these four categories of fabric are the essentials.  Let’s start with solids and work from there.


Zone of truth:  Overall, I’m not a solids type of person.  Not even as background fabric for my applique quilts.  However, solids are the backbone of the quilt world.  Does your quilt need some structure?  Add some solids.  Need to change the “feel” of your quilt?  Again, throw in some solids.  Think of solids as the “Little Black Dress” of your fabric stash.  You may not use them every day, but they can dress up a quilt or dress it down.  For instance, take a look at this quilt.  

It’s really pretty busy.  Every fabric in this quilt is a print.  However, let’s see how adding solids can change the look and feel of the quilt.  First let’s consider a palette of sweet pastels.    

See how adding solids can completely change everything about a quilt?  In this case, it toned it down just a bit.  Relaxed it.  Gave it a more “snuggly” feeling.  This is the type of quilt you want on your bed or slung over the back of a couch within easy reach while you watch TV.   Now let’s repeat this process, but this time our palette of solids will be bold, jewel-tones.   

The same quilt now has an entirely different feel.  It’s much more formal.  This is a quilt you might relegate to the guest room or hang on a wall.  Or even give as a gift on a formal occasion, such as a silver wedding anniversary.    In both cases, the solids completely changed the quilt.   

The next step is to know what solids to purchase.  My rule of thumb is to keep several shades and tints of your favorite quilting colors on hand.  There can be a difference between your favorite color and your favorite quilting color.  For instance, my personal favorite color is purple.  I like all the shades and tints of it.  However, for all my love of all things purple, I actually use very little of it in my pieced quilts (applique quilts are different – I’ll throw in some purple flowers every time!).  My favorite colors for pieced quilts are (insert drumroll here): 

Orange and pink.  I love how pink can brighten almost any quilt and a touch of orange (from the orang-iest oranges to the deep lemony ones) can make a quilt sparkle.  Pair that orange with some gray or beige fabric and it’s absolutely yummy.   

If you’re not sure what your favorite quilting colors are, there are a couple of activities to help you. First, look at the quilts you’ve made.  Not the fabric in your stash, not the quilts you want to make.  Look at the completed tops.  Discounting the quilts made from a kit, what colors do you tend to gravitate towards in most of your quilts?  Those could be your favorite quilting colors.  If you’ve just started quilting and don’t have a lot to chose from, let Pinterest and Instagram help you out.  What quilts do you tend to pin on your boards or like on Instagram?  Why do you like them?  If the answer is the quilt’s colors, then analyze what colors especially appeal to you.  Don’t be surprised if your favorite quilting colors are different from your personal favorite colors.  

After you’ve nailed down a couple of your favorite quilting colors, I strongly recommend you get this little tool:  

This gadget is kind of like a small notebook of solid color paint chips.  You can easily zero in on one of your favorite quilting colors.  Besides having your favorite quilting color prominently displayed, it will also show tints, shades, and contrasting colors.  When you go shopping for solids, take this with you (it’s small enough it easily can fit in the back pocket of your jeans or shorts or in your purse or bag).  When you purchase solids in your favorite colors, you can use this to find other solids (or prints) which work well with the solids.  The 3-in-1 makes shopping not only easier, but also helps you make wiser fabric purchases.  What you don’t want to do is buy fabric simply because it’s on sale or you think it’s something you “might” use in the future.  Purchasing fabric should be done with the same thought process as stocking a wardrobe — buy quality things you will use, not fabric which will end up sitting in the bottom of a drawer or closet. 

  Another handy-dandy tool to use when buying solids is the selvedge off a print fabric you want to use in your quilt. 

Selvedges are a valuable source of information and it’s a good idea to keep them until you’re finished with a project.  If you run short of fabric, the selvedge will have the name of the fabric house, the designer, and the collection on it.  This makes it super easy to find more of it. It will also contain a series of colored circles or other images.   These are the colors of dyes used in the printed fabric.  You can use these dots to help you find a solid color which will work well with the printed fabric.   

As a quilter who has always been far more comfortable with prints than solids, I had to start small.  I would buy fat quarters or half-yard cuts.  As I became more at ease when using solids, my cuts would become larger.  However, I still don’t purchase a great deal of yardage (with the exception of black).  I tend to use solids almost as lattice work.  They’re the part of the quilt every other piece attaches to. The solids give it good bone structure, but my prints and/or applique are what give my quilts movement. This quilt style is neither right nor wrong, but it’s what works for me. 

While every quilter needs solids in their stash, how much or how little they’re used is up to the quilter.  Some quilters use a lot of solids.  Some don’t.  It’s up to you to discover your own quilting preferences and style.  

Until Next Week, Remember the Details Make the Difference!  

Love and Stitches,



The Zeigarnik Effect and Your UFOs

So…the government is admitting there may be such things as UFOs. 

    Some of us are shouting, “Finally!”  

Others of us are skeptical.  After all, it is the government spreading this information.  

We quilters…we quilters have known all along there were such things as UFOs.  Albeit our UFOs look more like this…  

And less like any flying saucer out there in the vast universe.  For quilters, UFO doesn’t mean Unidentified Flying Object.  It stands for Unfinished Object.  You know – those quilting projects we started and have never finished.  I realize there are other monikers for them.  WIPS (Works in Progress), PIGS (Projects in Grocery Sack), and PITO (Projects in Time Out) are just a few of other titles these unfinished gems fall under.  But I like the term UFO because to me it denotes a project set aside with no definite plans of returning to it.   

However, if you think this blog is one which contains all kinds of tips and tricks about motivating yourself to pull those UFOs out and finish them up…you’re wrong.  At the end of this blog I’ll share how I stay on track to finish my projects, but for right now I want share with you the psychology behind UFOs, and why those UFOs may even be good for your mental health.  

Let’s start at the beginning.  You have a project under your needle.  You’re working diligently on it, plugging away, but the finish line is still weeks from now.  And when the  quilting is added to the time needed to complete the top, the end of the tunnel looks hopelessly far away.  But still you keep working … until something new catches your eye.  It’s shiny and exciting.  The fabric is much prettier than what you’re working with.  The pattern isn’t quite as tedious, either.  The cherry on top is several of your quilting buddies have started this same quilt!  You could join them, and a new quilt bee would be born!  That would be so much more fun than the quilt which is currently seeming to take a hundred years to finish.   

Without much thought, the card or cash comes out, the new pattern and fabric are purchased, and bada-bing, bada-boom you begin on the new, shiny quilt and the other now-tedious one is relegated to one of the many project boxes in your quilt studio.  You enjoy the new quilt – it’s everything you thought it would be – and it’s super fun sewing with your quilting buddies.  However, the nagging thought about the unfinished quilt, the one you already put a lot of time and effort into, sitting in a project box, bothers you.  You’re not sure why, but it does.  It stays on your mind. You promise yourself as soon as this new project is complete, you’ll pull the old one out and finish it up.  

Welcome to the Zeigarnik Effect.  

The Zeigarnik Effect was named for Russian psychologist Bluma Zeigarnik.  Bluma was in Vienna for a few years and found herself eating out quite a bit.  As she visited different restaurants, she noticed a phenomena about the waiters.  It seemed to her that if a server was actively waiting a table, they could remember the orders (who got what, etc.), what each person was drinking, and how they preferred the meal prepared.  However, once the table was cashed out, the waiters could remember very little, if anything, about the customers.   

So Bluma mulled this over for a while, returning to various restaurants for a few more weeks and noting that unless there was a major interruption in the process, the waiters could remember very little (if anything) about their customers’ orders once the bill was paid.  She wondered if the same thing would happen to her students.  She gave her pupils a series of tasks to perform and complete.  Some of the tasks involved sequencing objects, basic math equations, and reading comprehension.  With half the students, she made sure their tasks were interrupted frequently and at times for as long as an hour.  The other half were allowed to complete their list of tasks without interruption. The next day she questioned the students about their tasks.  The ones who were allowed to complete their tasks without interruption were not nearly as thorough nor did they remember as much about their tasks as those who were frequently interrupted.  Those students who were pulled away from their tasks not only completed them better, they also were more driven to complete them before they suffered another interruption.  They also could remember in great detail what step they were in the middle of when they were interrupted and could return to that point after the disruption.  The students told Bluma the unfinished task bothered them.  It stayed on their mind until they could return to the classroom to complete it. 

Zeigarnik began to hypothesize that failing to complete a task creates underlying cognitive tension and this results in a greater mental effort to keep the task in the forefront of our minds until it’s complete.  It’s only then we can “let go” of the job.  Of course, motivation and short-term memory can play a part in this Effect, but in most cases, all unfinished tasks are the same.  Including UFOs.  

In other words, if we have a project which is set aside, unfinished, it is more than likely this will bother us to the point we will finish it for no other reason than just to have cognitive relief.  So maybe…just maybe, having a few UFOs laying around isn’t such a bad idea.  They subliminally put pressure on us to finish them.

I realize there are as many ways to handle UFOs as there are quilters.  I know a couple of quilters who finish every quilt they begin – from start to finish – without beginning another quilt.  However, there is a common thread running through these few folks — they also have another hobby in their lives which they are more vested in than quilting. It could be knitting or weaving or stained glass or almost anything else.  But in their vested hobby?  They have several projects underway.  I’m this way with knitting.  I recently learned to knit.  I finish one knitting project at a time before starting the next.  But quilting?  I have four quilts in progress right now.   

Perhaps, in the grand scheme of all quilty things, a few UFOs are good for our mental health.  Now we need to learn how to deal with them by putting Zeigarnik’s Effect into play for our benefit.  Since interrupting a project can cause cognitive tension (i.e. it nags you mentally), the best way to relieve this is by putting the UFO back into play.  And while you may not be on board with finishing the entire project right now, you can take the first step.  This helps you feel better about the situation (relieves some of the cognitive tension) and yourself.  You’ve stopped procrastinating.  The project is technically now not a UFO – you’ve worked on it, and all progress is some progress. As a matter of fact, you may feel so good about this tiny bit of progress, you decide to keep working on the UFO a bit at a time.  Before you know it, it’s no longer a UFO but a full-fledged completed project.   

[Let me pause here and add a personal note.  Some of you have wondered why I leave my studio at night in the middle of a quilt pattern step.  This is the reason.  After a long day at my job, if I had to think through the next part of the pattern, or cut anything out, chances are I would forgo any time in my studio.  I just don’t have the mental energy.  However, if I’ve stopped in the middle of a step, I won’t procrastinate.  I know where I am and can keep working.  And often completing this step spurs me to the next step.]

This next part of the blog is personal.  This is the part where I tell you how I handle my UFOs.  This is a system which has worked for me for years.  However, it may not work for you.  Feel free to take bits and pieces and find a system which works best for you.  

Mentally corralling all my WIPs is emotionally exhausting.  I’m also 61 years old and discovered a few years ago I need to write things down to help me remember them.  At the beginning of each calendar year, I make a list of the UFOs I want to complete (and I mean completely finish – quilted, bound, labeled, and a picture taken).  I list them in the order I want to complete them.  This means I no longer have to remember them and can simply move from one project to the next without over-thinking anything.  And I put the quilt which is closest to completion at the top of the list.  Completing that first project is such a good feeling you want to feel it again (hello dopamine) and  makes you want to finish the next one. 

  I also list a couple of projects I want to begin.  So allow me to park it here and briefly discuss how I prep projects.  I wrote an entire blog about this (, but what it boils down to minimally is I have the quilt completely cut out and have gathered any notions or special thread I may need for the project.  These are put in a project box so I can keep them together.  I also cut out my binding and make my label.  And this is a personal issue.  I have discovered once I am through the quilting process, I am ready to get the quilt trimmed and the binding sewed on.  If I have to stop and make the binding, guess what happens?  That’s right.  It gets set aside, which is a crying shame because I’m so close to completion.  I have always championed quilt labels – they’re so important to a quilt’s legacy.  However, if I don’t have that label ready to go when it’s needed, I waffle about it.  I make the label early, putting all the essential information on it, but ink in my signature and the date completed when I’m ready to sew it on.   

Now I have my Master List (which I keep hanging above my computer…nothing like a little visual reminder), the next step I take is to “chunk” the projects.  I am the type of quilter who can’t work solely on one project at a time.  I tend to keep three in rotation:  a UFO, a new project, and either a hand-pieced or hand applique quilt.  I go through each project and decide what steps need to be taken with each – this is where the term “chunking” comes in, I break the projects into manageable chunks.  This does two things.  First, it stops me from becoming overwhelmed.  Second, it allows me to better plan my time.  Let me also add, I “chunk” my projects on a weekly basis.  Allow me to explain.   

Every Sunday I sit down and make out two “to do” lists – one for the household chores and one for work.  Between the two, I can pretty much discern what days are super-charged and the others which aren’t.  The days I have a lot to do on both lists (usually Monday and Tuesday), I don’t plan on taking on any quilting “chunks” which would encompass a lot of time and mental energy.  I save those for the less busy days or the weekends.  I also make a list of my quilting “chunks” I hope to get accomplished during the week, so I don’t get sidetracked.   I like lists.  They keep me on track.  I also enjoy marking things I get done off my list.  If I get everything done, I reward myself with something I want, like sushi or a specialty coffee from my favorite local coffee shop.   

I hope this blog has done two things.  First, I hope it has freed you from any major guilt you may have about UFOs.  I honestly think they’re part of most quilters’ experience.  Use the cognitive tension they create to your advantage in finishing them.  Find a way which works for you to manage your UFOs and move them out of that category into the Galaxy of Finished Projects.  

Until Next Week, Remember the Details Make the Difference!  

Love and Stitches, Sherri


More Bad Quilting Habits (Part 2)

We hit the first ten bad quilting habits last week. We’re looking at the final ten this week. Who knew there were so many bad quilting habits?

  • I use too much low-quality thread and/or fabric.  Let’s be clear about this one – inexpensive or on sale does not always equal low quality.  Not by a long shot.  However, short-staple thread (generally considered not as good as long-staple thread) and thin, loosely woven fabric can cause lint build-up in your sewing machine and projects which don’t look as good as you’d like.  When I first began quilting, I couldn’t afford lots of quilting cotton yardage.  It was too expensive for a teacher’s budget.  So I opted for smaller projects which took less fabric.  Less fabric meant I could afford better fabric and thread.  I was amazed at the difference!  Quilting may be your hobby, but that doesn’t mean it’s not important.  Ask yourself if you wait a few weeks and save your money to purchase better fabric and thread, will it make a huge difference in your time schedule? 
  • Not washing my hands before I handle light-colored fabric.  Washing your hands before handling any fabric is a good habit to get into, but especially light-colored ones.  I solved this problem by keeping a container of wet wipes in my quilt room.  These are available at dollar store establishments, so when I hit the Dollar-Dollar-Twenty-Five Cents Tree store, I stock up.
  • Holding needles/pins in my mouth as I’m sewing or pinning.  Please, please don’t.  Just stop.  I’ve never had this habit, so I’m not sure what’s the best way to break it, but I have heard horror stories about pins and needles which were accidentally swallowed. 
  • I’m a speed demon.  I sew everything too fast and then I’m furious with myself when my blocks/quilts don’t look good.  I’ve said it before in my blogs, and I’ll repeat it here:  Speed is not your sewing friend.  Personally, I have always sewed at a slow speed because I make fewer mistakes this way.  And if I make fewer mistakes, then I don’t have to spend quality time with my seam ripper.  And I hate spending quality time with my seam ripper. 

  The easiest way to overcome this bad habit is to lower the speed setting on your sewing machine.  This is kind of like having a governor on your car – it can only go so fast. At first it may seem like you’re just plodding along, but you may be surprised at how much you get done because you’re not stopping to correct mistakes.  Slow sewing also:

  1. Allows you to stop before you sew over a pin.
  2. Keep seams nested so your corners match up.
  3. Helps you keep a consistent seam allowance.

  If you’re really a big fan of speed sewing, let me encourage you to make a test block (which everyone really needs to do before beginning a new project).  The test block will show you what areas are easy, and you can speed through, and which parts are a bit trickier, and you should plan to slow down.  

  • Even when I sew slowly, I have issues with my seam allowances.  Their widths are all over the place – narrow, narrower, wide.  I can’t seem to keep them a consistent width.  First, don’t beat yourself up if you have this habit.  This issue is pretty common with quilters, especially folks who are new to the craft. I came to quilting from a garment construction background and I was used to sewing 5/8-inch seams.  Quarter-inch seams just seemed so flimsy and narrow.  I had a difficult time adjusting.  There are a few tools on the market that can really help and none of them are terribly expensive.  First, there’s the quarter-inch quilting feet:

  Some have a phalange on the side you use to line up your fabric.  Others don’t.  Many of the newer sewing machines come with this foot, and if you purchase a machine geared especially for quilters, one of these feet should come with it.             

Next, there are tools such as the Perfect Piecing Seam Guide:

You line your sewing machine needle up so it cleanly pierces the hole.  Lower your presser foot to hold it in place, and then place a piece of Painter’s or Washi tape to the right side of the tool. You may want to place several layers of tape to build up a bit of a ridge.  Be sure to line your fabric up so the side of the fabric floats against the side of the tape.  This will give you a visual guide so you can sew ¼-inch seams.   

  • I don’t remove all the selvedge (or none of it) before I begin cutting and sewing.  I hate wasting that inch or so of fabric!  Okay, I feel you on this one.  Selvedges now are so wide they take away at least an inch or more of fabric.  Some are even wider than an inch I’m looking at you French General Fabrics.  We’re lucky if we even get 44-inches of useable fabric.  Even if manufacturers could produce selvedge-less fabric, we really wouldn’t want them to.  These have valuable information printed on them:  The name of the fabric house, the line of fabric, and those colored images show what other hues of fabric would work well with ours. 

  Selvedges are found on both sides of the lengthwise grain of a piece of fabric.  Colors of selvedges may vary.  Some are the same color as the fabric, and others are white-ish.  They are also thicker than the rest of the fabric.  This thickness is due to the way the selvedges are woven.  Bottom line, if you sew the selvedge to another piece of fabric that’s not a selvedge, your seam will look wonky due to the thickness differences.  Not only this, but if the selvedge is wider than your seam allowance, it will show on the right side of the quilt block.    The best way to avoid this selvedge slip-up is to remove all the selvedge from the fabric as you’re cutting and sub-cutting your block units.  Occasionally, you’ll miss slicing off a bit of it, but as long as that part falls in the seam allowance, your fine.   

  • I don’t bury my threads as I quilt.  I wait until the end, thinking I’ll get them all at one time.  By then either I miss a few or I’m too “done” with the quilt to even go back and try.  The only way to break this habit is to imitate Nike and “Just Do It.”  Yes, burying your threads isn’t the most fun part of quilting.  However, if you can bury them as you quilt, you’ll save yourself tons of time in the long run.  When I’m quilting either on my domestic machine or my long arm, I make sure I have a needle (my favorite are the self-threaders – they save you tons of time) stuck in a pincushion next to my machine.  That way I just have to reach for it instead of having an impromptu scavenger hunt through my studio to find one. 
  • I forget to take pictures of my finished projects.  I can identify with this.  I do take a lot of pictures of my works in progress so I can use them in my blogs.  However, it’s really surprising how few pictures I have of my finished projects.  The really bad issue with this is I keep very few of my own quilts.  While yes, there are a few folks I can go back to and get a pictures of the finished quilts (such as friends and relatives), this isn’t always the case.  I think the best way for me to remedy this is to make the picture-taking part of the process:  Bind the quilt, label the quilt, take a picture of the quilt.


  • I don’t think about how I want to quilt my quilt until the last minute.  Then I stare at it with a deer-in-the-headlights look and either settle for straight line quilting, meandering, or just tell my long arm artist to do whatever she wants.  Honestly, I think most of us can relate to this, simply because most of us have lots of hurdles to jump when it comes to quilting our quilts.  I was incredibly guilty of this until I started quilting my own. 

In an ideal world, we know exactly how our quilt will turn out before we make that first cut in the fabric.  And technically this is a really great idea because it would mean there was no hesitancy between steps to think things over.  We’d just keep stitching until we took the final picture (see what I did there – I decided we all would take pictures as part of the process).    However, I have quilted for over 35 years.  During this time, I’ve talked with hundreds of quilters, and most of them struggle with finishing their quilt.  I did, too.  And it wasn’t until I began quilting my own quilts that I got over it.  First I scoured Pinterest to find motifs I could quilt with my walking foot because the thought of dropping my feed dogs freaked me out.  I did walking foot quilting for a while, but finally one day I attached my darning foot, dropped the feed dogs, and began meandering.  From there, I gained more confidence.  The more I practiced, the more I loved it and the better I became.  I developed favorite motifs for half-square triangles, pinwheels, and four-patches.  Now, whether I’m quilting a quilt on my M7 or my long arm, I generally have an idea from the beginning about how I’ll finish my quilt.  I’ve also found many quilt patterns (especially those in magazines) offer quilting suggestions.  Take those seriously.  They’re a great jumping off point. Long story short, the best way to break the habit of a short-term freak out when it’s time to quilt your quilt is to start quilting some of your own.  This process breaks down the creative wall.  And even if you don’t quilt all of your quilts, it helps you know what to discuss with your quilt artist.   

  • I can’t seem to throw anything away  — patterns, projects I don’t like any longer, or fabric which no longer brings me joy.  I had this problem, too.  When I first started quilting I was scared to let anything go.  I might need it.  So I developed two really bad habits with this point.  First, I purchased fabric much faster than I could sew it.  Second, there are way too many quilts I want to make.  My pattern collection far exceeds my life expectancy. 

Thirty-seven years later, I can tell you with all honesty, Elsa was right. 

Let. It. Go.  

For a lot of quilters, it’s hard to be creative when you have stacks of fabric, books, patterns, and notions scattered everywhere around your sewing area.  For those folks, it’s pretty crucial to their creative process for their quilt studio to be semi-neat.  These are the folks who generally clean out their studios once a year (at least) and purge what they’re not using or no longer want.  I am not one of these people.  My studio consistently gives off the  “There appears to have been a struggle”  vibes. I usually have at least three (usually closer to five) projects in process at the same time.  I am shooting photos for my blog and reviewing patterns.  I have inherited three stashes from quilters who have either retired from quilting or passed away.  And for a long time I thought it would be disrespectful of me to give away anything I inherited from them.   I’m over it.  And I don’t think I woke up one day and subconsciously made the decision to purge.  I think it was a gradual process of not being able to find things when I needed them.  I purged my studio and I feel like I can breathe again. 

So let me throw this out there to you if you’re struggling like I was:  If it doesn’t bring you joy, it’s time to remove it from your sewing space.  This means fabric, patterns, books, and projects.  Yes – projects.  Even if you’re in the middle of it.  Life is too short to work on quilts you don’t absolutely love.  If you’ve been waiting for permission to purge, there it is.  You have it from me.  Go forth and throw out.  Give it away.  Sell it.  Do whatever you need to do.  

I hope these two blogs help everyone realize we all have bad quilting habits.  And like any bad habit, it takes time and patience to break them.  There are tips and tricks you can do to make it easier, but it really all boils down to a determination to make a change, and knowing this change can make your quilting life easier.  

Until next week, Remember the Difference is in the Details!  

Love and Stitches,



Bad Quilting Habits (Part 1)

Let’s talk about habits.    According to James Clear, author of the best-selling book Atomic Habits (which is a super-good read and should be on your bookshelf or in your e-reader), habits are the small decisions you make and actions you perform every day. According to researchers at Duke University, habits account for about 40 percent of our behaviors on any given day. What you repeatedly do (i.e. what you spend time thinking about and doing each day) ultimately forms the person you are, the things you believe, and the personality you portray.  

And the quilts you make.  

This week and next, I want to highlight some of the most common bad quilting habits.  Not all of these are my bad quilting habits.  I performed extensive research for this blog – I texted 15 of my closest quilting buddies at 9 p.m. on a Friday night and asked them “What is your worst quilting habit?”  They were more than generous with their replies.  Along with their bad habits I threw in a few of my own.  But I didn’t just list the bad things, I’ve tried to give you some ideas to use to break the bad habits.  

  • I only change the needle when it breaks/I use the same needle for everything.  Ideally you need to change the sewing machine needle after every eight hours of use – you can push this up to 16 hours if you’re using titanium needles. 

  I say this realizing it’s difficult to keep up with the hours.  If you’re super ambitious, you can track your sewing time with your phone.  But if you’re like me and forget, I change my needle after every large project or after every two or three small projects.  This seems to work well.    As far as using the same needle for everything…just don’t.  Different needles are made for different applications, and while at first glance they all may look same, they’re not.  Using the right needle for the right technique and the correct thread and fabric makes all the difference in the world.  Needles aren’t expensive.  Treat yourself to several different types and sizes.  You’ll thank me.  

  • Not regularly cleaning my machine or having it serviced.  If you are the type of quilter who works on only one project at a time, clean your machine after you finish a project.  If you’re the type of quilter who has several projects going, this won’t work for you.  Instead clean your machine every time you change your sewing machine needle. 

  Look, it’s easy to forgo this step – especially if you have a machine you only use occasionally.  But you’re really harming your machine if you don’t clean it regularly.  My machine-cleaning dilemma was solved with the purchase of my Janome M7.  After stitching for a while, suddenly my machine will stop sewing and a dialogue box appears telling me to clean my bobbin area.  I can close the dialogue box out and keep sewing – all for the space of less than five minutes before the dialogue box appears again and the machine quits sewing.  Finally I give up in exasperation and open the bobbin area and give it a good cleaning.  A couple of words of caution – read your manual to know what areas to clean and oil and what tools to use.  Almost universally canned air is a no-no, as it can actually force lint into crevasses it doesn’t belong in.  Canned air also contains some moisture which is not good for any machine.  I’ve found an old, clean mascara brush is my best cleaning tool, along with cotton swabs, toothpicks, and a soft toothbrush.  I know some quilters use a vacuum on their machines, but I’ve never tried this, so I can’t attest to how well or how poorly this works.   Sewing machines also need to be serviced regularly depending on how much sewing you do.  If you’re like me and use it almost daily, have it serviced at least every 18 months.  It’s during these sewing machine “spa days” the tech oils and cleans the areas you can’t.  The tech can also see any areas or parts which need to be replaced before they begin to cause major issues.  

  • Unthreading my machine wrong.  Zone of truth here…this is one of my worst habits.  It’s just so stinkin’ easy to pull that spool off the spool holder and then re-thread your machine. However, when you do this, you are forcing the thread through the machine in the exact opposite path it needs to go.  This abrupt, wrong movement can wreak havoc with the tension disks the thread goes through, as well as force lint into them.  The correct way to unthread your machine is to clip the thread at the spool and then pull the remaining in your machine out through the eye of the needle. 
  • Not reading the pattern thoroughly before beginning.  You really need to read the pattern, folks.  Read it through once to get an idea of how the steps go, what parts will take the longest, if you can do the hardest part first, etc.  Then go pour yourself a cup of coffee, make a cup of tea, get a bottle of water, or an adult beverage and read the pattern through again.  This time read it slowly and mark it up.  Underline the parts you need to pay close attention to.  See if you like all the techniques the designer used, or if there’s another technique you prefer.  If you have serious questions about the pattern, Google it.  Yes, this process takes away from the “fun stuff,” but it can save you so much time, headaches, and heartaches in the long run. Trust me on this one.
  • I don’t feel I make fabric purchases wisely.  Boy, this is a rabbit hole if there ever was one.  There are literally books written about handling your fabric stash. I won’t go into a lot of details here (this will be another blog), but let me give you a few brief tips I’ve learned the hard way.   First, don’t allow your stash to exceed your storage space. Even though a fabric hoard sounds like a wonderful thing to have, other family members may not appreciate it as much as you do.  Second, go through your stash at least once a year (depending on its size – if it’s a small stash, you may not need to do this).  This process lets you know what you have and what you may need, what beautiful fabrics you may have forgotten you own, and it allows you to purge what you now realize you’ll never use because all of us have purchased fabrics we look back on and wonder what in the world we were thinking.  Craft America put out some statistics a few years ago which stated the average fabric stash is worth $6,000.00  Respect your fabric and treat it well.


  • I don’t have a designated place for my supplies.  I waste a lot of time looking for things.  I think this is something we’re all guilty of.  When you’re in the creative process it’s easy to lay down your scissors here, stick a needle in any random pincushion, or move your rotary cutter or seam ripper.  Karen Brown of Just Get It Done Quilts has a great idea on how to coral your quilting notions.  She suggests using a container for your scissors, another for your smaller notions such as seam rippers, and a designated section of a drawer for your needles.  At the end of your sewing time, make sure everything you took out of the specified locations goes back in it.

   I took this a bit further.  I looked on Amazon and found this:  

This is a Cobbler’s Apron, and it not only protects your clothes from stray threads and such, but it also has nice, deep pockets.  Every time I move a notion out of its designated spot, it goes in one of my apron pockets (except my rotary cutter for obvious reasons).  At the end of my sewing time, I simply empty what’s in my pockets back into its designated spot.   

  • I can’t seem to get control of my scraps.  When you quilt, scraps happen.  It’s a fact of quilting life.  How you wrangle your scrappage depends on what kind of quilter you are.  If you’re a piecer, you will keep larger fabric pieces than an applique quilter.  There are numerous Pinterest Boards, books, and YouTube videos out there which are really a big help.  My advice would be to go through some of those and see what method will work the best for you.  Scrap storage is one of those personal quilting issues and what works for me may not work for you.  The most important idea to keep in mind is you can’t keep every little scrap.  Well, that’s not exactly true.  You could do this, but you’d have so much scrappage it would be difficult to store and even more difficult to use.  Set a size limit of what you’ll keep.  Since I do a lot of applique, I keep nothing smaller than 8-inches square and my scraps are sorted in bins according to color.  And like my “normal” stash, I go through my bins regularly. 
  • Not rotating my mat.  Oh, I’m guilty as charged.  My mat is so big, and it takes such an effort to do this.  However, if you don’t rotate your mat or continue to use your rotary cutter in the same places, you’ll get deep cutting ruts in your mat.  Alter your cutting locations and once a quarter, rotate your mat.  Put it on your calendar or in the reminder section of your cell phone.
  • Sewing over pins/not pinning when I should.  I’ve taught beginners quilting a few times.  I tell my students to pin.  It’s important.  It helps with accuracy.  However, I’ve found usually one of two things happen.  Either they don’t pin because they don’t want to take the time to stop and take the pins out before they sew over them, or they pin and sew over the pins because they don’t want to take the time to pull the pins out. 

  First, don’t sew over pins.  It can damage your machine or break your needle.  And I know what some of you are thinking right about now:  “I’ve sewn over my pins a kazillon times and nothing’s happened.  What makes me think I should change?”  Well, Zone of Truth…I thought that, too.  Then one time my needle hit a pin and the force drove the pin deeply into the feed dogs, which resulted in all kinds of bad things happening to my machine.  Expensive things.  So try to get in the habit of pulling out the pins before you sew over them.    Pinning block units, block rows, and borders is a habit you really need to cultivate.  It increases your accuracy so much I wrote two blogs on the different types of pins and how to pin.  Go here and here to see why and how to pin.  Keep a pincushion near your sewing machine and take a few minutes to pin before you sew.  You’ll be surprised at how much this helps you meet corners, keep points intact, and make rows and borders come out even.   

  • Not changing my rotary blade when I need to.  Zone of truth – I’m guilty of this one, too.  I begin cutting out a quilt or trimming blocks or doing something involving my rotary cutter and realize the blade needs changing.   But I’m smack-dab in the middle of something and think to myself I’ll change it the next time I need to use the cutter.

But the same thing happens the next time.  I end up with a cutter I’m pushing through the fabric multiple times to slice all my fabric layers.  A sharp, new blade would have made this work so much easier – however, changing the blade takes time, we only have a little fabric to cut…yada, yada, yada, and the excuses pile up on why we don’t just stop and change the blade. There are a couple of solid reasons why we should – beside the dull blade making the cutting process more difficult.  First, we end up putting a lot of pressure on our wrists, arms, and elbows as we bear down and push the blade along the fabric.  Second, the additional pressure is really making deep gouges in our cutting mat.  I did two things to help me break this habit.  First, most rotary cutter manufacturers have YouTube videos on how to change out the blades.  I watched these a few times before I disassembled my cutter, installed a new blade, and then put it back together.  Second, I purchased my blades in bulk, so I didn’t have to scramble to find a new one or take the time to order them.  It’s just so easy to pull a new one out of its designated spot and install it in my rotary cutter.

We’ve still got ten more bad quilting habits to go. These will be covered in next week’s blog. Until then…

Remember the Details Make the Difference!

Love and Stitches,



Questions from My Readers

I enjoy reading the comments folks leave about my blogs.  I answer most of them I give no feedback to smart alecks.  So if you left smug, smart butt comments, you didn’t receive a reply. Totally not worth my time.  I do receive quite a few questions along with comments.  I collect these.  If I have a question which merits a lengthy reply, it becomes a blog.  The other questions I tuck back and twice a year I answer them.  This is one of those times.  I’ll probably do this again in November or December.   

  •  How much time a week do you spend quilting and how do you manage it?  Not as much time as I would like.  Ideally, my perfect day starts with me rolling out of bed about 6:30 a.m. and starting the coffee pot.  After the coffee brews (I have one of those fancy-schmancy ones that grinds its own beans – it’s wonderful), I fill my Minnie Mouse coffee cup, add two creams and two sugars and go to my studio. I quilt until lunch, go out with friends, come back, answer a few emails, and quilt some more.  Bill and I go out to dinner, I come home and settle in on the couch with some seriously good Netflix or Hulu and some handwork.

May I also add, this ideal day has never happened.   I am 61.  I still work full-time at our business.  If my world laid itself out like an ideal day, I could probably quilt around 30 hours a week.  Maybe 40, if I was pressed.  However, in my real world, I’m really lucky if I get 10 to 12 hours in a week (more if Bill is out of town on a job site).  I do much better if I can get in a few stitches (and words for my blog) before my workday starts, but that seldom happens.  We own a service industry, and the nature of those beasts is they begin early.  I tend to work through lunch, so I’m finished by 2 or 3 p.m.  I can take care of what household chores I need to do and I’m in my studio after dinner.  An hour or two is usually spent writing my blogs and then I sew for another hour or so.  On weekends I sew more.   

I stay fairly organized.  I keep everything I need for a project together.  I also keep my sewing supplies grouped together.  All my fabric markers are together.  All my scissors are in one spot (meh…pretty much).  I struggle with corralling my hand applique supplies together because hand applique is portable.  I literally stitch this all over the house.  I’ve often had to shut down a project just to find my Perfect Circles or beeswax.  This semi-organized state does save time, because except for a few rogue hand applique supplies, I know where everything is. 

However…this next organizational step is the one which helps the most:  I always leave something unfinished under my needle – either the kind I hold in my hand or the kind in my sewing machine.  This way, when I do step back into my studio, I know exactly where to start, and I can begin without any hesitation.  This is exactly what I need to keep working on a project.  I don’t have to begin by re-reading instructions or figuring out what to do next.  It’s there, waiting on me, and quite often just the act of sewing a few stitches in a part of the project I’m familiar with is enough to propel me to take the next step. 

  •  Do you do anything else besides quilting?

I’m assuming work doesn’t count with this question.

  I’m an avid reader.  I read a minimum of 20 pages per night.  I do give myself a caveat with this.  I give a book three chapters to catch and hold my interest.  If it can’t do this by the third, I discard it and move on to the next one on my list.  Call it a side effect of graduate school.  I had to read so much then, and some of it was more boring than watching paint dry.  I vowed once I was through, I would continue be an avid reader, but only for knowledge I wanted to gain and for entertainment. 

  However… I do have a person in my life who has piqued my interest in a new hobby.  I think all your friends have the innate capability of expanding your knowledge about life, it’s just up to you how much.  Our business has a wonderful CPA.  Lynn is more than just my accountant.  She’s a good friend.  Lynn is also extremely creative.  Her art centers around miniatures.  Gorgeous, filled with details, working on a 1/8-inch scale miniatures.  I have ahhed and ooohed over her work for years.  Then last year, I saw this on Pinterest.  

I immediately knew I wanted to make two – one for each of the grand darlings.  After I purchased the lanterns, Lynn invited me over to her studio to “give me a few things to get started.”   

“Don’t buy a thing,” she said, “Until I see you.”  

I left her art studio (which rivals any quilt studio I’ve ever seen) that day with three bags full of “stuff” and a new interest. 

These are the two finished lanterns. I got such a kick out of personalizing them for each granddaughter.
Here’s a close up of some of the details.

After I finished the grand darlings’ lanterns, I tackled my daughter’s old dollhouse.  My mother made this for Meg years ago, and when she outgrew it, I carefully tucked it back for her.    

The original doll house. All it really needed inside was a thorough cleaning and some paint. I did retain the upstairs paint that Mom did and the outside of the doll house was pristine and didn’t need any paint

A few coats of paint, some new flooring, and a Christmas house was born. 

Cherry wood floors and lace curtains.
Installed a new window on this side. The original was a plastic contraption which had long since disappeared. This window opens and closes.
Personalized the front door. I also changed out the original door knob to something a little fancier.
Hung a few Christmas wreaths…my daughter is a Christmas fanatic.
Then I added some Christmas flowers in a flower box on the new window.
The completed inside, both upstairs and down. It does have working lights. The pictures which follow show more of the details.
The porch light is a working light, too.
Could not resist the tiny Amazon packages…

The chair and the couch downstairs are the last two original pieces of furnishings Mom put in the dollhouse before she gave it to Meg.  

This Florida miniature is a work in progress. My son and his wife enjoy being outside, so although I had originally planned something similar to the lanterns I did for my grand darlings, my plans changed. I want it to reflect them. I have some fake grass ordered for the bottom, because the rug is doing nothing for me. The grill and tiny beer bottles were irrestitible. I have one more mini-dog on the way.
Instead of the tradition Christmas tree, I have a group of palm trees I’ll string running Christmas lights on. He’ll get a kick out of this.

I’m currently working on a Florida miniature for my son (above), and I have plans for a Christmas one for my mom.   

I set aside a few hours on Sunday morning to work on these and I’ve found it’s a wonderful “head clearer.”  It makes me think in an entirely different way.  And unlike quilting, where once the quilt is cut out you could feasibly sew nonstop until the top was complete, there are stops and starts with miniatures to let paint or glue dry, or have items delivered.  

Will it replace quilting?  No.  But I am enjoying this new creative path.  

  •  I know how you got started quilting.  How did you get started writing?

I have played around with writing for as long as I can remember.  When I was a kid, I’d draw pictures and then write a story to go along with them.  In high school I served as editor of the newspaper and as one of the two copy editors of the yearbook.  Flash forward to college, and I also was editor of its paper (and the first female solo editor). Along with all this “extracurricular writing,” I was still churning out all those papers you do for undergrad and grad school.  Eventually, through another series of karmic “accidents” I found myself writing and editing some curriculum for a publishing house.  And then after frustrating call to a pattern children’s pattern company about the quality of their directions, they asked me to re-write quite a few of their pattern instructions.  Overall, I’ve generated a lot of words in my life.  And like quilting, I can’t imagine a time in my life when I won’t write.   

About 15 years ago, another North Carolina quilt blogger decided to “retire” her blog.  She became a grandmother and wanted to help with her brand-new grandson.  A void was left.  After a lot a bit of nudging from a few gals I have quilted with for years, I began my blog in an effort to add another North Carolina quilter into the blogosphere.  It began in 2008, first on Blogspot and then on WordPress.  WordPress isn’t perfect, but it’s a little easier to manipulate.  I will probably update the look of my site next year.  It needs a little freshening up.  

  •  How’s the book coming?

Oh oy-vey.  Some of you know, but a lot of you don’t, I do have a beginner’s quilt book in the works.  The problem with publishing houses nowadays is they expect you to do all the work (graphics, pictures, etc.) but offer no assistance.  If I was fully retired and could devote about three to five hours a day on the project, I could tackle it without any issues.  However, that’s not the case at the moment, so the best answer to this is S-L-O-W-L-Y.  I really need to find a graphic designer to help with the illustrations.   

  •  If you could only use one technique in your quilting from this day forward, what would it be?

Hands down, it would be applique.  With applique you can do so much and convey so many feeling that regular squares, rectangles, and triangles cannot.  I do like to piece, but applique has my heart.  It can convey happiness and whimsy but turn on a dime and express great feelings of fear, grief, and dismay.  Applique can tell stories and forever freeze a moment in your life in fabric.   I know some quilters don’t like the technique, but if I only could own only one, applique would be it.   

There are a few more questions left, but I want to save them for later in the year.  If you have a question, leave it in the comment section of a blog.  I file these and when I get enough, I write a blog like this or if the question needs a lengthy answer I’ll devote an entire column to it.   

Until Next Week, Remember the Details Make the Difference!  

Love and Stitches,