From Lone Star to Morning Star

I really didn’t think Lone Star Quilt Block Construction would take two blogs…yet here we are…

There are no doubts that the Lone Star is a challenging block to construct.  And if you stick with the traditional look of the block, there are Y-seams to navigate.  Y-seams aren’t too difficult, but they do require precision.  Traditional paper piecing can help with that.  I think I would go the paper piecing route, too, if I wanted to make a Lone Star block smaller than 15-inches square.  There’s just too many points and seam matching to contend with and paper piecing takes the guess work out of it.

To begin with, many Lone Star paper pieced patterns will look similar to this: 

This star has larger diamonds than our pieced star and will finish at 24-inches square.  The steps for paper piecing a Lone Star are no different from paper piecing anything else (Go here: However since there are more pieces to this larger star version, I’d like to throw out a few helpful hints.

  1.  Don’t skimp on the fabric.  Be sure to give yourself lots of wiggle room.  There is nothing more upsetting than thinking you’ve got enough fabric for all the seam allowances and then find out you don’t.  Yes, paper piecing takes more fabric than traditional fabric, but your trading fabric  for precision.  And the Lone Star block requires precision.
  2.  Take your time.  Don’t rush the process.  Your patience will be rewarded with a perfectly pieced star.
  3. I would label the paper pieces with which fabric goes on each square.  This will help you avoid confusion. 
  4. If you’re printing the pattern on your printer, be sure it’s sized correctly. 
  5. DON’T FORGET TO MARK THE DOTS AT THE POINTS OF THE DIAMONDS AND TRIANGLES, ¼-INCH AWAY FROM THE EDGE OF THE FABRIC.  Some paper piecing patterns will have the dots; some won’t.  If your pattern doesn’t have them, be sure to make them. 

Just as with the pieced Lone Star, make your diamonds first.  Then sew two diamonds together so you end up with four sets of two diamonds each.  Be sure to stop and start at the dots.  Sew two sets together to get one half of the Lone Star and then sew the other two sets together for the other half of the Lone Star.  Make the dots ¼-inch away from the fabric edge on the corner of your squares which insert on the top left and right side and the bottom left and right side.  Repeat the same process for the tips of the triangles which will be inserted. 

Follow the same instructions from the pieced Lone Star in last week’s blog to insert the squares and triangles for the paper pieced one.  As a matter of fact, you may prefer to make these bigger (as we did in the traditionally pieced block) and then trim the block down once all the stitching is completed. 

A couple of final ideas before we leave the construction phase of the Lone Star and move back into the history of the block.  There are two variations I want to show you which I think are stunning and will eventually find their way into something I’ll make in the future.  The first one is this:

This block is called the Lone Star Starburst.  I love the simplicity of this block and the way the background drifts back into the star to break up the block. 

This Lone Star:

Is completely appliqued (what an easy-peasy way to make this block!).  A large Lone Star is pieced with solid fabric diamonds.  Then the material which would have been the different colored diamonds in a traditional Lone Star are laid out and stitched down the middle so the “float” across the surface of the Star.  They are then quilted around so the block gives off the traditional vibes of a Lone Star, but employs an easier, more fun (at least in my opinion) technique. 

Okay, now let’s return to the checkered history of the Lone Star block.  The Lone Star began its life as the Mathematical Star and along with the Irish Chain, Mariner’s Compass, Orange Peel, and Job’s Troubles is one of the oldest known quilt blocks.  It is an immigrant to our country, with its birth obstetrically in England.  It boarded a boat with early American settlers and found its way to the East Coast where it became very popular in Delaware, Maryland, and Pennsylvania.  And by the late nineteenth century, it had found its way to the Northern Plains via missionaries and was introduced to Native Americans, primarily the Lakota or Sioux people. 

Here’s where things get a bit sticky.  I am not Native American, so I am not trying to speak for them.  I am, however, reporting what history now tells us – the good and the bad.  The missionary surge on the Northern Plains did more than spread the doctrine of the Baptists, Methodists, Presbyterians, Episcopalians, and Catholics.  The missionary movement also sought to “civilize” the Native Americans.  Boarding schools, both on the reservations and off, sprung up and Native Americans were encouraged to send their children (if you want to read that as “forced” in some cases, that word would apply) to them.   Over and over the skills and lifestyles of the East Coast missionaries were pushed on the Native Americans to the point many of Lakota customs and much of their culture were pushed underground.

One of the activities which was offered to the Native American women and girls was sewing.  And depending on who you talk to about it, it had varying degrees of success.  Many of the women who were young girls in the boarding schools have unfavorable views of the lessons and their teachers.  The classes were strict and demanding.  The older women, who learned through sewing bees and group classes tended to enjoy learning and the social exchange.  As a matter of fact, these groups were so successful, the religious denominations had to “up their game” with their sewing circles so they could retain members – heaven forbid anyone in the Episcopal group be tempted to join the Catholic sewing circle because the Catholic sewing circle had more to offer. 

Long story short, many of the sewing circle members of all faiths learned to quilt.  And the pattern they embraced was the Lone Star, which they re-named The Morning Star.  The Morning Star is the last and brightest star on the eastern horizon before dawn.  It is believed the Morning Star represents the way the spirits come to Earth and serves as a link between the living and those who have passed.  The affinity for this pattern probably falls back on traditional Native American artwork as seen in items such as this:

And this:

The star is clearly seen in these and was probably pretty natural for them to embrace a quilt block which so closely resembled artwork they were already very familiar with.  Many of these early Lakota Morning Star Quilts were made from black, red, yellow, and white fabrics, representing the four directions.  This was traditional.  As time went on and more quilts were made, it became clear those early quilters preferred solid-colored fabrics.  These quilts grew to be symbols of honor among the Lakota people.  They were draped across the shoulders of warriors and hunters when they returned from battle or a successful hunt, or at the start of their Hanbleceya – Vision Quest.  They were also presented at funerals to honor loved ones on their final journey. 

Nowadays the Morning Star Quilts may have the center re-designed to incorporate additional cultural symbols such as an eagle, headdress, or buffalo skull.  They may also be made of sateen or cotton-polyester fabric instead of quilting cotton.  Yet they remain one of the most valued gifts of the Lakota people.  They are still draped over the shoulders of recipients to symbolize protection on their journey through life.  They are used in banners for graduations and school functions.  They are used as altar cloths in churches or placed on top of sweat lodges.  They are given to mark momentous life events such as weddings or births and offered as gestures of sympathy to a family honoring the passing of a loved one. 

For more information on Morning Star Quilts and the Lakota (Sioux) peoples, I recommend The Star Quilt on the Northern Plains:  A Symbol of American Indian Identity by Birgit Hans.

I hope this blog has served two purposes.  First to give you a bit of history about the Lone Star Quilt – its names, its journey, and its new-found purpose with Native Americans.  And secondly, to show you it’s not that difficult to make this block.  It may look intimidating, but it’s not.  You just have to take your time and up your precision game.

Until Next Week, Remember the Details Make the Difference!

Love and Stitches,



The Journey of A Quilt Block: From England to the New World, From Mathematical to Lone Star

Let’s talk about star quilt blocks this week.  Star blocks are some of the oldest quilt patterns out there, with the earliest patterns dating back to the 18th century.  Anyone who has a penchant for making a quilt with star blocks – and probably even those of us who don’t – are familiar with this quilt:

It has gone by many names and has a checkered history.  We’ll look at both of those aspects; however, first let’s look at where this quilt/quilt block came from and how it found its way to the United States. 

For sure, this is one pattern that seems to be distinctly American.  Peruse almost any quilt collection in any museum in the United States and you’re sure to see one of these beauties.  But the star is also located in other countries – specifically England, where it was first named The Mathematical Star and the settlers carried this name with them when they landed on the Eastern Coast of the United States.  Early Mathematical Star Quilts employed English Paper Piecing as the primary construction method.  Since early EPP used geometry texts and lessons as a basis, it’s easy to understand why those quilters named the quilt Mathematical Star – it’s made of the rhombus (diamond) shape and two isosceles triangles facing each other.  It is a mathematical challenge to draft and it’s equally challenging to quilt (all that bias!). 

Once the pattern hit the US East Coast, the name changed.  It was particularly popular in the Baltimore area, where it took on the name Star of Bethlehem, named after the star which led the Wisemen to Baby Jesus.  It’s also been called Star of the East and Broken Star.  The smaller stars which sometimes surround the large star in the middle have been called Blazing Stars or (if the points touch) Touching Stars.  Two names bestowed on the pattern have special significance:  Lone Star and Morning Star. 

Texans took one look at the pattern and fell head over heels in love with it.  So much so that they’re the ones who gave the quilt the name “Lone Star” since Texas is the Lone Star State.  However, in my own  humble opinion, it was this woman, who not only made quilting cool, but also raised the rest of the nation’s quilting consciousness about the star:

That’s right.  Janis Joplin. 

In a letter dated August 22, 1965, a 22-year-old Janis Joplin wrote a letter to her fiancé, Peter de Blanc, from her parents’ home in Port Arthur, Texas.  In that letter she said, “Also of interest we’ve picked the pattern we’re going to use on the quilt.  It’s a huge 60” wide 8-pointed star that will shade from light blue at the center to dark blue on the outside.  It’s called – READY? – the Lone Star Quilt.  Too much, really.”

Native Americans also embraced this quilt pattern, calling their quilts Morning Star.  Missionaries introduced quilting to the Native American girls in their boarding schools in the late 1800’s. The name, Morning Star, refers to Venus when it appears in the sky just before sunrise.  This quilt, and how it came to be embraced by the Lakota (Sioux) people will be discussed a bit later in the blog. 

There is no debating that the star is beautiful.  It is also one of the most complicated blocks out there.  Even if you’re only making one block – a center medallion for a quilt – there are lots of pieces.  Which begs the question, what is the best way to construct this quilt?  Of course, you could always use the English Paper Piecing method, which was the first technique used to make it.  But with easier piecing techniques, there’s more than one way to assemble the star. 

Strip Piecing Method

I will use the directions for a small Lone Star block.  You can enlarge it for a bigger star and may even be able to use a jelly roll for the strips.  But for this star, you’ll need five fabrics with good contrast but still look good together.

Number 3 (in this case, that beautiful lime green) will be the most prominent, number one will be in the center,  You’ll need to keep this in mind when you choose your fabrics.

Cut one 1 ½-wide strips by length of fabric each from numbers 1, 2, 4, and 5.  Cut two from fabric 3.  You should have a total of six strips measuring 1 ½-inches x 42-ish inches.

Next cut each strip in half so you have 12 strips measuring 1 ½-inches x 21-ish inches.

Now we need to make three groups of fabric strips.  Group one is fabric 1, 2, and 3.

Group two is 2, 3, and 4.

Group three is 3, 4, and 5.  You’ll have three strips left over.  Set those aside for another project.

Please over look the mess in the background.

At this point, no matter if I’ve prewashed my fabric or not, I starch the strips.  It’s up to you if you want to use Best Press, Best Press 2, or regular spray starch (I’m team #spraystarch).  The object is to stabilize the strips.  They’re just a bit stretchy right now and you almost want them to have the texture of paper.  This means you will need to starch the strips several times.  Do not saturate your fabric and then iron it with a back-and-forth motion.  This will make everything wonky.  Lightly spray the back of the fabric and then with an up and down motion, press the starch into the fabric.  Repeat until the fabric has the texture and feel of writing paper.  I know this sounds like overkill, but it will really go a long way in keeping the bias intact and making your points sharp and meet each other beautifully. 

You will also want to check your machine to make sure it sews and exact ¼-inch.  With other blocks you can give yourself a bit of grace if your seam bobbles here and there, but not with the Lone Star block. 

Sew each of the three sets of strips together, staggering each one about an inch from the top of the preceding one.

PRESS THE SEAMS OPEN.  I know I normally encourage folks to press the seams to one side, towards the darker fabric. However, with so many seams converging in this pattern, it’s more important to reduce bulk to make construction and quilting easier.

Once the strip set is pressed flat, take it to your cutting mat.  There should be a 45-degree angle on your mat.  Find that and line the edges of your strip set up with it like this:

And cut the end off so you have a 45-degree angle. 

The align your ruler with the newly cut edge and measure over exactly 1 ½-inches to make your next cut. 

Take your time and measure accurately.  Continue cutting at a 45-degree angle until you have eight strip sets.  Repeat with the other sets until you have a total of three sets of strips, with eight in each set.

Now we’ll get ready to sew the strip sets together into a diamond.  The first diamond takes longer than the others, so be patient.  But once you get the hang of it, it’s really fairly simple.   Keep your strips in the groups we laid them out in once we first cut the fabric.  Group One is fabrics 1, 2, and 4.  Group Two is fabrics 2, 3, and 4. And Group Three is fabrics 3, 4, and 5. 

Take one strip from group one and one strip from group two.  Lay them beside each other so the seams meet.  Then flip the strip from group two over the strip from group one. 

It’s super important that the seams remain matched up during the construction process.  If they’re off, your star will look wonky.  And just because they’re lined up when you lay them out and flip strip two over strip one does not mean they’ll stay that way.  You may find it helpful to measure ¼ -inch on the back of strip two at the seams to understand where the strips need to line up so your points will be perfect.  I do this with a pin, sticking it through both fabrics and checking to make sure that the pin goes right through the seams of both strips. 

I think it’s more important to check this at the intersection of your seams than it is at the ends of the strips.  If you take time to pin carefully you will be rewarded with perfect points.

I repeat at the other two seams and pin everything.  Then stitch with a ¼-seam down the sides of the strip.  Open the two strips up and check.   If the seams align, you’re good to go! 

If not, grab your seam ripper and pick out the stitches and try again.  The first set may take you a bit more time than you’d like, but once you get the hang of it, the process goes much faster. 

Once you’re satisfied with the first two strips, add a strip from Group Three and repeat the process, sewing it to the strip from Group Two.  When you’re through with this, press the seams open.  At this point, I also starch the diamonds again. 

Once you have all eight diamonds made, it’s time to begin constructing the block. 

The traditional Lone Star Block uses Y-Seams.  I won’t go into all the details on how to handle Y-Seams, but I have written a blog about them.  To read that, go here:

At each of the points on the diamond, place a dot (I use a Frixion pen – the dot is in the seam allowance so it won’t affect anything, plus I can see the black ink better than a blue marker or pencil) ¼-inch away from the point. These will serve as your stopping and starting markers.   

Pin two diamonds together, using the same pinning method we used when we sewed the strips into diamonds.  Be sure to match the seams and pin carefully.  Then sew the two diamonds together, beginning and ending on one of the dots.  Personally I find it’s easier to sew from the top to the bottom of the diamond and be sure to backstitch or knot the thread at the beginning and ending of a seam.  Repeat with the diamonds until you have four pairs of diamonds.

Then, once again employing our pinning technique, sew two of the diamond sets together to form half the star.  Repeat for the remaining two other sets, so you have two halves of the Lone Star.  Do not sew the two halves together yet.  First we have to deal with the background fabric.

Cut six 5 ½-inch squares.  Cut two of the squares in half on the diagonal.  You should now have four squares and four triangles. 

I find it helpful to lay out my star next to my sewing machine.  It just keeps me on track with assembly.  Take the square in the left-hand corner and flip it over to the wrong side. 

On one of the corners make another dot, exactly ¼-inch away from the edge of the fabric.  We will match this dot to the dot on the diamonds to set it in the block.  Match the dots and pin along the seam line.

Beginning at the outer edge of the block, sew the background square to the side of the star until you get to your mark.  At this point, keep your needle down, right on that dot.

Lift your presser foot, keeping the needle down, and gently pull the edge of the background square toward the front of the sewing machine while also rotating the star towards it.  Rotate your fabrics until both line up on a straight line and you can finish the seam. 

Turn your block over and press well.  This time you can press your seams towards the solid square of fabric.

Now you will repeat this process with the triangle.  Mark the point which is inserted between the two diamonds with a dot ¼-inch away from the edges of the fabric.  Pin, sew from the outside of the triangle to the dot.  Keep your needle down in the center of the dot, rotate your fabric and continue up the next side.  Press again, pressing the seams towards the triangle.  It’s important to remember, the square and triangle will be a bit larger than the open area between the diamonds.  We can trim this down later.  It’s always easier to make things smaller than to make them bigger (except my thighs which have not got this memo).

Pin the two halves of the star together, matching the seams the same way you did earlier.  Sew them together, remembering to stop and start at the dots you made on the diamonds.  Press seams open.  Insert the side triangles using the same method you did for the top and bottom triangles.

Press the seam toward the triangle.  Trim the star to 15 ¼-inches.  This is the unfinished size. 

At this point you can make a small Lone Star Wall Hanging or use it as one block or the center medallion block in a quilt.

Next week we will take on paper piecing a Lone Star and I’ll try to explain the significance of this block to the Sioux.

Until next week, Remember the Details Make the Difference!

Love and Stitches,



Jack the (Seam) Ripper

When you stop and think about it, many of the quilting tools we use are taken for granted.  Since they’re used so often, they definitely don’t have the sparkly attraction that things like rulers and patterns have.  They’re banal, nearly boring, and so common place we really don’t give them much of a second thought – you know things like pins and…seam rippers.

Ah.  Seam rippers.  The unsewing tools of our time.  The notion we like to spend as little time with as possible, primarily because their use notates a lack of progress…even regression.  They have a negative connotation and we truly do take them for granted.  So much so, I’d wager many of us are still using that cheap one which came with a basic quilting kit.

Please don’t tell me you’re still using this kind of ripper….

  Please tell me you’re not.  In this week’s blog, I want to address the dreaded seam ripper.  I want to discuss what makes a good one, how to use it, and my favorite kinds. 

The Ripper’s History

For as long as folks have sewn, we’ve made sewing mistakes.  Stitches in the wrong place.  Crooked stitches.  Too long or too short stitches.  And we’ve always had to have some way of removing them.  We may have used scissors, the tip of a knife, or the needle, but we’ve devised some way to remove the stitches and correct our sewing.  Then somewhere in 1883, W. Miller applied for a patent for a thimble with a small knife attached.  This was the first form of seam ripper.  Later on in 1898, Canadian John Fisher developed a tool whose sole use was for ripping out seams.  This tool was a twisted piece of metal with a small blade held between two pincher ends.  

1950’s Seam Ripper — notice there is no familiar red ball.

The design evolved from the single slicer between tiny jaws into a curved blade by the 1950s, with a little knobby protector appearing later.   From that 1950’s edition, little has changed.  There have been a few add-on features and in one or two cases, a complete overhaul, but generally little has changed about the basic seam ripper. 

General Facts about the Ripper

Appearance – Ninety-nine percent of seam rippers look the same:  A long and a short “finger” with the cutter in the curve between the two.  Very basic, but it does what it needs to do – rip out the stitches. There is also a handle and a shaft. 

It should be sharp – A sharp seam ripper should always be your favorite seam ripper.  This means the ripper can become dull over time and just like your rotary blades, needles, and pins, it should be replaced when it becomes dull.  Seam rippers are cheap (I’ve found I can buy 30 for around $18).  Replace it as needed.  Purchase several and keep one at your sewing machine and then others in your hand sewing project boxes.  If you can’t remember the last time you’ve replaced your seam ripper, then it’s time to do so.  A dull seam ripper is hard to use, and it may result in accidental cuts in your fabric.  With a dull blade, you push harder to remove stitches and that makes it easier to cut your fabric. 

You can mark and save your dull seam ripper to use to pull out corners or use as a stiletto when sewing.  If you do decide to toss the ripper, be sure to put them in a sharps container, empty Altoids type tin, or wrap tape around the business end so no one accidentally gets poked. 

Most of them have a red ball on the short finger — What’s it for?  This awesome feature allows you to slide the seam ripper along a seam for fast ripping. The red ball goes between the layers of fabric and holds them apart, so they are not cut when the thread is.  This is much, much faster than picking out individual stitches, or clipping every five stitches and pulling the seam apart.  It also helps align the seam with the blade of the seam ripper for easy cutting.  Granted this takes a bit of practice, but once you gain this skill, you’ll never unsew any other way.  It’s fast and as painless as ripping stitches can ever be. 

If your seam ripper doesn’t have the red ball, I don’t recommend sliding it down seams.  When you purchase a new ripper, just make sure it has the red ball on the short finger. 

The handle and cap are important – Because seam rippers are relatively inexpensive, it’s easy to think they’re all alike, or at least pretty similar to each other.  While it’s true all of them are made to remove erroneous stitches, it’s not true they’re all alike.  Yes, all seam rippers have a handle, but not all the handles are ergonomically friendly.  And while it is our goal to spend as little time with the ripper as possible, when it is in our hand we don’t want it to put a great deal of stress on our palms, fingers, and wrists.  Personally I don’t recommend this type of seam ripper:

It really stresses out my wrist.  A thicker handle works better (at least for me).  Seam rippers are one of the cheaper quilting tools, and like thread and needles, your personal preference should dictate your choice.  Try out several to see which works best for you.

You also want a seam ripper with a secure cap – especially if it will be tossed in a travel sewing kit or you have little ones around your sewing area.  If you have a hard time keeping up with your cap, remember many of them fit snugly on the end of the handle.

It can do more than just remove incorrect stitches – It can remove seams to change the design of a fitted garment.  It can be used to open up buttonholes.  It can be creatively used to rip jeans and other clothing or fabric for re-styling and repurposing. 

Choosing the Right Ripper for You

Just like it’s important to have the right needle and thread for the job, it’s just as essential to have the correct seam ripper.  As a matter of fact, you may find you need more than one ripper in your studio.

  • If you are working with fine fabric and thin thread, you may opt for one of the smaller rippers.  These have fine blades and smooth edges which prevent the ripper from inadvertently ripping or snagging the fabric.
  • If you’re sewing with heavier fabric like denim, you will want a more heavy-duty ripper.  These rippers are larger and have heavy duty blades which can easily cut through the heavier thread used with denim, outdoor gear, and weather-proof clothing.  They also can be used for refashioning garments that require a strong push to rip.
  • If you have arthritis, carpal tunnel, or any hand, finger, or wrist pain, one of the ergonomically shaped rippers is helpful.  Comfort is a key consideration in any activity and these ergonomic seam rippers with a soft grip and round shape can ease hand strain and stress. 
Ergonomical Ripper
  • Consider the “add-ons” many seam rippers now come with.  Seam rippers can now come with a magnifier, LED light, an awl, and a needle threader. 
  • Think about the newer model ripper like this:

Instead of having the two fingers with the blade in the curve, this seam ripper is simply a curved blade. (In all honesty, I think it’s a type of scalpel because the few times I did teach life science and had to perform dissections, the scalpel looked like this).

This ripper has an entirely different styling than traditional rippers.  The curved blade is not tucked away below a point – it is at the edge of the shaft.  It features a large handle and sometimes comes with a thumb hold for better control.  The blade is thin and extra sharp so it easily cuts through unwanted threads, sliding under the stitches for smooth cutting.  This type of ripper is great for use with sergers. 

Zone of truth – because I don’t have small ones at home (even my grand darlings are now heading towards double digits), I’m pretty lax about capping my rippers.  However, this is the one type of seam ripper I religiously cap – the blade is super, super sharp. 

Now before we get into this last part – the part where I rank my favorite seam rippers – let’s have a moment in Sherri’s Zone of Truth.  First, I’ve sewed and quilted for nearly 40 years.  Trust me, I have spent some quality time with seam rippers.  Second, since I dislike having quality time with seam rippers, I tend to use the ripper which is most efficient and least destructive so I can return to sewing.  Third, I am not employed by any of the companies which produce these seam rippers.  I receive no “pro-bono” products from them, nor do they sponsor any of my blogs.  The following is my unadulterated opinion based on years of use.  These are ranked from “okay” to “this is the best seam ripper ever.”

Number Four – Nifty Notions Brass Seam Ripper. 

This is the Queen of Rippers.  It’s brass, so it has a bit of “heft” in the hand.  It also feels down-right luxurious.  Legend has it the world will end before the red ball falls off a Nifty Notions Seam Ripper.  Rumor also has it that the ripper stays sharp for at least a decade.  It is wonderfully stylish and guaranteed to bring ripper envy in your quilting group sessions.  The reason this ripper didn’t rank higher was its price.  It sells from $16 to $24 (you can get them personalized, which is the reason behind the $24 price).  I have never had to contact Nifty Notions customer service, so I can’t vouch for how good or bad it is, but the internet was mixed.  Some complained that the ripper came to them dull, or the point snapped off and Nifty Notions was slow (or simply didn’t) make it right. 

However, in my research I have found that our friend Eleanor Burns has a brass seam ripper on her site which is around $15 and it received 4.5 out of 5 stars.  So if you simply must have a brass ripper, you may want to check out Quilt in a Day website. 

Number Three – The Surgical Seam Ripper.

 Yes, this seam ripper is just a tad on the scary side.  And yes, you must be more careful with this ripper than the others.  However, if you have a large area you need to unsew, this is the tool for the job. 

Number Two – The Mini or the Maxi Seam Fix Ripper. 

If you’re not into all the bells and whistles and simply want a great seam ripper without spending a lot of money, this is your ripper.  It comes fully loaded with a sharp blade, safety ball, a lid, and comes equipped to erase the threads which have been ripped out.  The lid has this large, rubber bulb on top.  Simply run that over the threads in your seam and it picks them all up.  The mini is my favorite ripper to keep with my hand sewing projects or in my sewing travel bag.

Number One – Clover 482 Seam Ripper

In my opinion, this seam ripper gives you the most bang for the buck.

I’ll be honest…I found this ripper on sale a few months ago and purchased eight of them.  They’re just that good.  Its handle is comfortable to hold and in my opinion it’s the best all-around ripper on the market.  It’s ergonomically friendly, the blade is thin but sharp, and it does take a long time to dull.  I will admit, the cap doesn’t stay snug, so just that word of caution.  These are a smidge over $6 on Amazon.

One final word about rippers.  If you use an embroidery machine, you know how long it takes to rip out any mistakes made.  I have found this

Works wonderfully well for embroidery machine mistakes.

Since I’m actually writing this the night before Halloween, it seemed fitting to call this blog Jack the (Seam) Ripper.  However, unlike our ripper’s scary, unknown counterpart, our ripper only unsews mistakes and clears the path for better stitches.  And like a few of the quilting notions we use regularly, a good seam ripper isn’t that expensive.  Make sure you use one which doesn’t put stress on your palm, wrist, or fingers.  Try out a few and see which one works best for you.

Until Next Week, Remember the Details Make the Difference!

Love and Stiches,



Retreating to Quilt

Tucked away in the small North Carolina town of Browns Summit, 15 miles north of Greensboro, straddling both the Guilford and Rockingham County lines, lies Haw River State Park.  Covering over 1,400 acres, this is North Carolina’s newest state park.  It has hiking trails, a lake, cabins, and all the other amenities most state parks have.  The center of the park is the Summit.

The Summit Conference Center

The Summit once was owned by the Episcopal Diocese.  The state purchased the Summit and 300 acres of land as its initial development.  The Summit Conference Center and lodge rooms are central to this blog because they host my guild’s Fall Quilt Retreat.  We sew and have meals in the conference center and sleep in the lodge rooms.  The High Point Quilt Guild has held this retreat every year since 2012, except for 2020 and 2021.  COVID prevented anything from happening in 2020.  We thought 2021 was a go until Tropical Storm Wanda made her presence felt.  We had just pulled up and unloaded when the power went out.  None of us were too happy about returning home less than a few hours after we arrived, but with Duke Power making no promises about when the lines would be humming again, we had no choice. 

This year, we had a total of 24 quilters gathered for four days, and three nights of quilting.  Just quilting.  The park takes care of everything else, including meals.  Which are delicious, as the park has a chef on staff. 

When the High Point Quilt Guild formed in 2012, one of the first activities it wanted to undertake was a quilt retreat.  However, we wanted the retreat itself, as well as the location of the retreat, to fit certain qualifications.  First, we wanted it to be affordable.  Second, because many of our members were still employed full-time, we wanted a location which didn’t take hours to get to, since some members would have to come after they got off work.  And third, it needed to be handicapped accessible as some of our members used walkers and others had knee and hip replacements.  Plus, if the location was handicapped accessible, that meant there were no stairs – no hauling your sewing machine up and down the steps.  Haw River State Park met all these requirements.  From January until April of every year, the retreat registration is open only to guild members.  After April 1, we open registration up to other quilters. 

It’s no secret I love this quilt retreat.  For me it’s not only four days of quilting, but also four days of not being accessible by phone.  It’s not sitting in front of a computer for hours dealing with numbers.  It’s four days of being with close friends who have the same passion as I do.  It’s so many creative minds melding in one spot.  I come away refreshed and re-invigorated about my craft.  And if it’s true that laughter is the best medicine, I come away healed.  I laugh so much I nearly pee myself.  

I packed several projects – I always pack more than I get around to working on, but I’d rather have that problem than be sitting there with nothing to do because I got it all done.  However, there were three projects I wanted to complete if nothing else got finished:  My temperature birds, my reverse applique quilt, and the hexie quilts.  I took my temperature birds with me.  I was behind on three of them but got caught up the first day.  They all were paper pieced and sewed onto the appropriate columns.

I make a bird a week, and it’s actually kind of nerve wracking to know I have fewer than 10 birds left – meaning there’s fewer than 10 weeks left in 2023!

Couple of things about these birds. First, yes, they’re paper pieced. Second, North Carolina autumns are a toss of the dice. The top feathers on the wing represent the highs of the week and the bottom feathers the lows. You can tell our temperatures vary wildly in the fall. Shorts one day, jeans the next. I don’t pack away my summer clothes until December.

For those of you who remember this blog:, you know I discussed making two quilts for my children.  My mother hand pieced hexie flowers during the pandemic shut down.  She handed those off to me, and I had to design a quilt highlighting these wonderful blocks.  These are the result of the blog:

I still don’t think there’s a more perfect gray to set these hexies off than Robert Kauffman’s da Vinci line.

My Reverse Applique Quilt was completely quilted prior to retreat.  However, at retreat, the binding was made and sewed on, as well as a hanging sleeve and label. 

In retrospect, I wish I would have chosen another color other than that beautiful Robin Egg blue. I love the color, but I think it blends in too much with the background fabric.

If you want to make your quilt sound all fancy, pick a color and look up its Latin name. Caeruleum is Latin for blue.
I quilted the life out of this quilt. I wanted the background to recede as much as possible so the blue would “poof” more. I quilted this on my Janome M7 Continental, no rulers, all free hand. I’m kind of proud of that.

I didn’t lay a finger on the other projects because this year’s retreat was … different.  At least for me.

The other nine prior retreats seemed to be, well, driven, for lack of a better word.  Get there as early as possible.  Get set up.  Then tear through your to do list as hard and fast as you can.  This year was softer.  Comforting.  Sure, I know we all got plenty done, but there also was lots of talking and fellowshipping.  Not just about quilts, but about what was going on in our lives.  Sharing.  Extending compassion and sympathy.  Two of our members recently lost their fathers.  Several of us are now dealing with aging parents.  A couple were new to widowhood. 

Quilters taking care of quilters as only quilters can. 

We pulled out of the parking lot after lunch on Sunday.  I left to the sound of women laughing and looking forward to next year.  Good-byes and “I’ll see you soons.”  Exchanges of email and phone numbers.  With my heart warmed and my soul filled, we left out of the park and headed home, only to count down the days until next year.

Every quilter really needs a quilt retreat like this in their life. Every woman needs a group of women friends like those I quilt with.

Until next week, Remember the Details Make the Difference!

Love and Stitches,


PS — Bonus Pic. I finished this before retreat. It’s from the pattern Wild Tulips by Dawn Heese. This is probably the most “folk art” quilt I’ve ever made. I tend to go for quilts with a bit more precision. Folk Art quilts are very forgiving and part of their charm is their “un-precision.” I used the freezer paper method of applique with this and truly enjoyed every stitch.


The Fluffy Stuff in the Middle — Part II

Continuing our batting discussion from last week…

The fiber content of batts can be cotton, polyester, silk, alpaca, or bamboo.  These five are the most common.  There are blends – such as cotton/polyester – too. 

  • Cotton – Cotton batting carries several advantages.  First, it’s a natural fiber, so it breathes.  It doesn’t slip around as much during the quilting process.  Many cotton batts are bonded, therefore the fibers stay together and don’t shift or beard.  However, remember bonding uses a glue or other adhesive, meaning the quilting lines should be close together.  This is a great batt for traditional and heirloom quilting as it softens with age. Cotton batting also shrinks, which is something you can use to your advantage as you plan the appearance of your quilt.  If you want your quilt to have an antique appearance – the lovely, puckered look of older quilts – then pre-wash your fabrics.  Assemble your quilt top, quilt it, and then toss the quilt in the washer.  Allow it to air dry or dry on the gentle cycle of your dryer.  The cotton batt will shrink, but the fabric won’t, and the finished result will be that beautiful, puckered appearance. 

While we’re discussing pre-washing, let’s park it here for a hot second and address the issue of pre-washing batting.  I don’t, as a rule of thumb, pre-wash batting.  Even if I have horrible wrinkles or fold lines, I don’t do it.  In my opinion, this could thin the batting in spots since it’s not protected by a quilt top and a backing.  The only circumstance I can conceive about washing a batt would be if it had a horrible odor.  And then I think I’d return the batt and get a new one. 

I use cotton batts if I want my quilt to have great drapability.  Cotton batting is a low-loft batting, which allows it to have a soft feel.  I use cotton batting in any pieced quilt which is show-bound.  It just gives pieced quilts the best appearance.  A couple of additional thoughts about cotton batting before we move on.  First, since cotton batting is low-loft, it’s ideal for use with embroidery machines or quilting on a domestic sewing machine.  There won’t be a lot of bunk to deal with in the harp.  Second, while it’s great for machine quilting, it’s difficult to hand quilt.  It’s just a tough batt to work a hand quilting needle through and have those tiny, hand quilting stitches we all want. 

  • Polyester – Like polyester thread and fabric, polyester batting has taken a pretty bad rap in the past.  When I first began quilting (back in the dark ages), there weren’t a lot of quilting references and there was no internet to Google information on batting.  I walked into a big box fabric shop to buy batting and all they had was polyester.  Since I was making a baby quilt, I assumed I needed the fluffiest batting available – which was a 1-inch polyester batt.  I was so wrong.  I couldn’t finagle the quilt sandwich under my sewing machine needle, much less put a hand stitch in it.  I finally tied the poor thing. 

But that’s all there was available – thick, polyester batting.  Once cotton and wool batts entered the marketplace, polyester batting retreated and reformed itself. 

Today’s polyester batting comes in a variety of lofts (from an 1/8-inch to ½-inch) and has none of the “sparse” spots the earlier polyester batts had.  For me, polyester batting is the ideal batt for children’s play quilts or any quilt which will see the inside of a washing machine frequently.  Polyester batting washes well, dries quickly, and doesn’t mold or mildew.  It’s available in white, black, and light pink (Mountain Mist Cream Rose). 

Since polyester is a synthetic fiber, it doesn’t breathe well and can overheat.  But it is a super strong fiber that holds its shape even when washed repeatedly.  I use polyester batting on the rare occasion I’m asked to make a play quilt.  However, if I plan to hand quilt a top, the 1/8-inch polyester batting is my go-to unless it’s a show quilt (then I opt for silk).  It hand needles like butter. 

  • Silk – This batt quilts like no other.  It takes hand or machine quilting and elevates it to the next level.  It is a bit on the expensive side, so I tend to reserve its use to show-bound or heirloom quilts.  If you can’t find a wool batt to use, silk makes a terrific substitute.  Most silk batts have some polyester blended with the silk fibers to stabilize the silk and reduce shrinkage.  It’s available in natural and black. 
  • Wool – This is a very warm batting, and it adds the warmth without the weight.  Wool batting is light, it absorbs moisture, and it’s great for use in cool, damp climates.  Like silk batting, it hand needles beautifully and can be used year-round, not just in the colder months.  It’s more expensive than cotton or polyester, but most of the time it doesn’t cost quite as much as silk.  Years ago wool batting required dry cleaning, but now it’s washable.  It comes in natural and black.   

If I make a quilt that’s both pieced and appliqued, this is my batting of choice.  The thicker loft means my quilting stitches will take the spotlight.  And when those stitches are around my applique, it means the applique will appear to “pop” off the quilt top and also be showcased.  If the applique quilt is show-bound or is made for a special occasion, I will “double batt” the quilt – I’ll use a cotton batting against the backing and a wool batting against the top. 

  • Bamboo – Zone of Truth.  I tried the bamboo batting years ago, as soon as it hit the market.  I was not impressed.  It was stiff and difficult to work with.  However, jump ahead to 2023 and it’s an entirely different bamboo batting ball game.  The bamboo fibers are mixed 50/50 with cotton fibers and is now luxuriously soft and supple. Bamboo battings have an excellent loft and a thin scrim which make it perfect for machine quilting.  Like cotton batting, it’s a challenge to hand quilt.
  • Alpaca – This is a very new batting, and I’ve never tried it.  The manufacturer has stated it’s a lot like wool batting and it’s also a very warm batt.  They’re still working with the bonding method so that this type of batting can be washed like wool.  It is available in natural and black.  If any of my readers have tried it, I would love to know how you feel about alpaca batting.
  • Cotton/Polyester Blends – Overall, this is my “go-to” batting for cuddle quilts, charity quilts, and generally any quilt which isn’t made for a special occasion.  This batting really gives you the best of both worlds – the durability of polyester with the look of cotton.  Most quilters simply refer to this blend as “80/20” – which refers to an 80 percent cotton/20 percent polyester blend.  However, the ratio of cotton to polyester fibers varies from brand to brand.  This type of batting lends itself to both machine and hand quilting.  Because of the addition of polyester, the loft is slightly higher than 100% cotton batting. 

If you use a long arm artist, be aware this cotton/poly blend is what most of them keep on their long arm.  So, if you want a specialized look for your quilt that can’t be obtained by the blend, you may want to verify what type of batt they use and offer to purchase any specialized batt they don’t have on hand.    

I realize this is a lot of information about batting – more than you may have wanted to know or even to consider!  However, batting is just as critical to the appearance of your quilt as the top or backing.  Even though it’s not seen, its after effects surely are.  However, there are still a few more things to keep in mind.

  1.  If you choose cotton batting, give it a close eyeballing to make sure there are no seeds in it.  Most cotton batting is very high quality, but even with this, sometimes you’ll see a seed or two.  Use a pair of tweezers to remove the seeds.  The reason?  Over time they will leave a stain.
  2. Again, if you’ve picked cotton batting to go in the middle of your quilt sandwich, you probably want to chose white over natural color.  And I’ll admit this is a personal preference thing.  I tend to use a lot of white in my quilts and the dark flecks in the natural cotton batting can show through.
  3. If you’re machine quilting on your domestic sewing machine, a low-loft batting may work best.  The high-loft batting is thicker and takes up more room, thus making it more difficult to maneuver around your machine’s throat.
  4. Know when to use black batting.  Just like the other battings, black batting comes in a variety of blends and lofts.  I don’t use black batting often, but it is important to know when to use it.  If I’m making a quilt that has a lot of black and white in it, I’ll use black batting.  However, I will also plan on quilting the black areas more densely than the white areas. 

I will also use black batting if I’m using vivid reds, greens, blues, and purples.  The black batting actually enhances the warmth and richness of the quilt top’s intense dark hues.  And of course, if my quilt uses black background fabric, I will use black batting. 

  •  There is a right and wrong side to batting.  Lots of folks don’t realize this, but it’s true.  Just like there’s a right and wrong side to fabric.  And if you place your batting wrong side up, you can have issues with thread tension as well as bearding.    Needle punched batting has a right and wrong side.  Even if the label on the batting doesn’t indicate if it’s needle punched or not, you can tell by looking at it.  If one side of the batting has tiny dimples in it, it’s needle punched.  And the side with those tiny dimples in it is the right side.  The wrong side of needle punched batting has tiny balls all over the surface.  This side should go against the backing fabric, and the dimpled side should go against the top.  If you reverse this, the chances of your quilt bearding have increased, because as your needle pierces the tiny balls, it will pull up fibers.  There’s a right and wrong side to most bamboo batting, too, as many bamboo batts are needle punched. 

If your batting has a scrim, the scrimmed surface is the wrong side.  Make sure it goes against the quilt back.  The reason behind this is it’s believed the side with the scrim should be against the side of the quilt which receives the most abuse.  So, while the topic of which side of the quilt – top or back – receives the most abuse is a hot one, most batting producers agree the back of the quilt receives the most wear because it’s always against something – a bed, a wall, etc.  One the chance the batting has a scrim and is needle punched, go with the dimples against the quilt top. 

However, if you’re working with a bonded batting, rest easy – it doesn’t have a right or wrong side.  And if you’re in any doubt, take a piece of the batting and push a hand sewing needle through it from each side.  Whichever side is easiest to needle is the right side.

  •  If you’re quilting on a domestic machine, always use a new needle.  It will cleanly punch through all the layers of the quilt sandwich, so bearding won’t occur.  My favorite domestic machine quilting needles are microtext and top stitching needles.  The size of the needle will depend on the thread used.  Long arm needles are more heavy-duty and can take the abuse of quilting a top or two (depending on the side of the quilts) before being replaced. 

The longer you quilt and the more different brands of batting you try out, you will probably find yourself liking one brand over the other.  My very favorite brand is Hobbs, followed by Quilters Dream, and then Warm and Natural.  I like Hobbs for lots of reasons:  They have different lofts and blends, so I can find just about anything I need for any quilt I’m making, and their customer service is stellar.  They also have a very informative website.  If I have any questions about what to use, I generally can find the answer there.  And if not, an email to a customer service rep is answered quickly. 

If you plan to quilt your own quilts on a domestic, mid-arm, or long arm, here’s one more reason you may want to give Hobbs a try — they have a sample pack of their 13 most frequently used batts in 18-inch squares.  Purchase a pack, sandwich them between some quilter’s-quality muslin and experiment.  This is an economical way to determine which type of batt works for you. 

Finally, as it is with fabric, you will have batting scraps.  Unless they are small, you may want to hang on to them.  For the larger pieces, sort them according to fiber content – keep all the 100% cotton batting scraps together, all the cotton/poly together, all the wool together, etc.  If you’re running short on a batting, you can zig-zag the larger pieces of batting together to make the batt long enough.  Overlap the pieces just slightly and make a clean cut with your rotary cutter.  Then move the pieces so they lay side by side, fitting together like pieces of a puzzle, and  zigzag  together.  If you zigzag them with one piece on top of the other, a ridge will form and it will show through your quilt top.  Just be sure use all the same type of batting pieces together – in other words, if you need to make a cotton batt a few inches longer, be sure to use your 100% cotton batting scraps.  If you use another type of batting scraps, the shrinkage ratio may be different, and this will make your quilt look wonky once it’s washed.

I used the smaller batting pieces on my Swiffer Sweeper.  It works so much better than the disposable cloths.  I have used the super-small pieces to dust knick-knacks and furniture.  The batting gets into the grooves better than anything else I’ve ever used.

Before closing, let me encourage you to quilt as many of your own tops as you can.  For years I quilted on Big Red, then a mid-arm, and finally a long arm.  Since I purchased my Janome M7 Continental, I find myself quilting anything smaller than a twin-sizes quilt on it.  Quilting your own tops not only gives you the satisfaction of completing each step of the construction process, it gives you valuable insight on why it’s important to fully complete each step of the process.  If you haven’t thought twice about why it’s important to square up after each step or reduce bulk as much as possible, quilting your own quilt will give you first-hand experience on both how and why it’s important.  I’ve come to love the quilting process as much as everything else.  I love to see the texture pop off the quilt, right beneath my hands.  You don’t have to quilt all your quilts, but I would encourage you to quilt some of them.

Until Next Week, Remember the Details Make the Difference!

PS – Standard disclaimer. I’m not employed by Hobbs Batting Company, nor do I receive any type of reimbursement or fee for endorsing their product.  I only promote products that I have a history of using and that history includes consistently great results and superb customer service.  In my over 30 years of quilting, Hobbs is one of those companies.

PS #2 — About a week or so after I wrote this blog, one online quilt store offered flannel-backed batting, touting one of its qualities as “You don’t have to baste the quilt because the flannel works to keep everything in place.” I read through the description, but wasn’t too hyped about the price — a twin-sized batting was nearly $50 before shipping and handling. Birdie Bird produces this batting. If any of my readers have tried this or do try this batting in the future, would you be so kind as to let me know how well it quilts? I would appreciate it.