Finishing Your Photo Applique

Okay… If you have your supplies and your sewing machine is in good working order, it’s just about time to start having some serious fun. 

First give your quilt top a good press on both the right and the wrong sides.  This will not only make sure it’s wrinkle free, but also ensure all the applique pieces are still firmly attached.  Square up all the corners and then layer your quilt (backing, batting, top) and pin, spray baste, or Free Fuse into place.  Be sure your batting and backing is at least two inches larger on all four sides than your top.

Second, let’s talk about your sewing machine’s tension.  Every sewing machine comes with its tension pre-set at the factory, but that doesn’t mean you can’t change it.  And chances are, you may have to, especially if the thread on top of the machine and the thread in the bobbin are two different weights.  Adjusting the tension will not hurt your machine – just remember to return it to its regular settings when you’re through.

The key with any tension is you don’t want the bobbin thread to show on the quilt top and you don’t want to see the thread used on the front to pop through on the back.  Usually your tension is factory-set in a neutral position (generally somewhere between four and five).  When you move the number higher, you increase the top thread tension and when you lower the number you decrease the top thread tension.  To change the bobbin’s tension you must work with the bobbin case.  Normally with this type of applique quilting you only need to worry about the thread on top of your machine, since it will be heavier than the thread in the bobbin.  I have used a 12-weight thread on my machine – which is pretty thick – and I’ve lowered my top tension to almost zero.  Which is fine.  The main idea is to keep the tension between the top and the bobbin thread even.  If you see “pops” of bobbin thread on the top surface of the quilt, lower the top tension gradually.  Sudden moves with tension adjustment are not a good thing. 

If you’ve lowered the top tension as much as you can, and you still see the bobbin thread peaking through, you may need to switch to a heavier thread in the bobbin.  Usually if the same thread weight is on top and in the bobbin, the tension issue goes away.  However, there are always exceptions to this and if even after you’ve played with the tension and changed bobbin thread and you’re still seeing “pops,” you may want to check your needle to make sure you have the correct size and type inserted.

So….what if the opposite is happening?  What if the top thread is showing on the back of the quilt?  You reverse the process.  Slowly tightened the top tension, number by number, until the tension evens out and there are no more “pops” of top thread on the back of the quilt.

Now we’ll get to the part of the actual applique quilting (it’s a type of thread painting, but don’t let that term may you anxious).  If you’ve free motion quilted on your domestic machine before, you can skip over the next couple of paragraphs.  If you’ve never free motioned, have only done it a few times, or it’s been a while since you’ve tried it, stick with me here.  Before you begin working with your “real” quilt – the one you’ve spent hours of effort on – let’s make a practice sandwich and try work on it first.  Take a square of fabric at least 12-inches square (it’s helpful if you have a scrap about this size of the actual fabrics used on your “real” quilt) and fuse a few leaves and petals on it.  Using the same batting, make a quilt sandwich.  Drop the feed dogs on your machine and practice free motion quilting.  Get comfortable controlling the speed of your stitches, quilting the background, outlining the petals and leaves, and making sure your tension is correct.  Once you’re satisfied with your quilting, load up your “real” quilt. 

Stitching in the ditch. It’s straight quilting stitches done by a walking foot or regular sewing foot as close to the seam as you can get. Do not stitch in the seam, as this weakens the piecing stitches.
  1.  Step One – If you have added borders, put your walking foot on your machine (a regular straight stitch foot will also work if you don’t have a walking foot) and stitch in the ditch near the seam where the border joins the background.  If there is a second (or third) border, stitch in those ditches, too.  This will help anchor the quilt layers together.  Even if I don’t have borders, I stay stitch the edges my quilt to add some stability to them.  I also stay stitch the outer edge of the last border.  
Stay stitched edges. This is simply a line of straight stitches about 1/8-inch from the edge. Sometimes it’s called edge stitching.
  •  Step Two — Remove the walking foot or straight stitch foot from your machine and attach the darning foot/free-motion presser foot.  Make sure you have the correct size needle inserted and the feed dogs dropped.
Almost ready to rock and roll….but first I add this….
A Supreme Glider. This fits over the bed of your sewing machine and makes the surface super-slick and smooth so it’s effortless moving the fabric. It comes with a hole cut out for your feed dog area. In my opinion, this is a “must have” for free motion quilting on a domestic machine.
  • Step Three – The edges of the applique pieces need to be sewn down first.  Thread your needle with a color of thread which will blend with the shapes in the middle of your quilt (because that’s where we begin). 
  • Step Four — Lower the presser foot and if your machine has a needle-down option, engage it. 
  • Step Five — Position your needle over the edge of a piece of the applique.  Using the handwheel or the needle up/down function, lower the needle and then bring it back up.  A loop of thread from the bobbin should come up with the needle.  Pull the bobbin thread up to the front of the quilt.  Then holding both the top thread and bobbin thread behind the presser foot, take a few stitches in place to lock the threads.  Then clip the thread tails behind the presser foot off, even with the quilt top.  If you repeat this process every time you change thread, you will avoid those ugly “thread nests” on the back of your quilt.
Outline stitches around applique pieces.
  • Step Six — Begin sewing around the edges of the applique pieces to permanently adhere them to the quilt top.  There are a couple of thoughts to bear in mind as you do this.  First, these stitches may be a bit longer than you’re used to.  This is fine, but you don’t want them as long as basting stitches.  Second, speed is not your friend.  If you’ve watched videos of quilters quilting with their domestic machine or long arm, you know it appears they are quilting super-fast.  This is not the case.  The videos are sped up on purpose.  Watching someone quilt for longer than 10 minutes can get boring.  Video producers speed up the quilting in order to keep viewers’ attention and to move the video to the next part.  You do want your hands to move at the same rate as your needle (remember your feed dogs are down and you’re moving your fabric).  If you’re uncomfortable with the speed, take your foot off the petal and allow the machine to come to a stop.  Then try again.  Give yourself a few minutes, but soon you’ll pick up a rhythm and be happy with it.
Pull the bobbin thread up by lowering the needle and then bringing it back up. Stitch in place for a few stitches to lock the threads, then snip the tails.
  • Step Seven — When you’re finished with tacking down the edges of the first piece of applique, stop with the needle in the down position.  Lift the presser foot and use the handwheel or the needle up/down button to raise the needle to its highest position.  Gently pull the quilt towards you so you can see where you stopped sewing.  Tug on the top thread so it pulls a loop of bobbin thread to the top.  Clip the top and bobbin thread off.  This will prevent the threads from forming a “nest” of threads on the back. 
  • Step Eight — Continue working around each piece of applique in this manner, until each piece is tacked into place.  Always work from the middle of the quilt out towards the edge and change thread as needed to match the fabric. 
I used varigated thread with the entire piece. This meant I only had three thread changes: Pink, green, and the goldy-brown I used over the flower centers.
I purchased a yellow eyelash yard, thinking I might use this to couch the center, but decided it actually detracted from the flower, so I didn’t use it.
I’m pretty satisfied with this little quilt. I still have to echo quilt the flowers or meader around them (haven’t decided which one I’ll use). And also need to determine how to quilt the borders. I know it looks as if this quilt has a pink and a black border, but the black is actually black batting.
  • Step Nine – Once all the pieces are tacked down, now it’s time to add highlights, shadows, and other details you can’t add with fabric.  This time begin working from the outside edges in and concentrate only on what’s under your needle.  Don’t worry about any other area of the quilt.  Go over the area as much as you need to in order to make it look like you desire.  Change thread colors as needed, being sure to bring the bobbin thread to the top of the quilt each time so there won’t be any thread nests on the back.  Use darker thread for the shadows and lighter thread for highlights.  When you’re working on petals, follow the curvature of the shapes.  At first, you may need to mark the areas with a chalk pencil or Frixion Pen.  For the leaves you can quilt in veins as well as add highlights and shadows. 
  1.   Step 10 – Once the appliques are tacked down and detailed out, now we must quilt the background.  Generally I tackle this in one of two ways.  I will either echo quilt the applique by stitching about ¼-inch away from the shapes and then without lifting the presser foot or cutting my thread, stitch another ¼-inch away from the first stitching.  I’ll continue echo quilting this way until the background is filled.  Or I may decide I want to meander quilt the background.  Sometimes the process I decide to use depends on my mood…at other times I’m way more practical.  If I have a lot of open space, I usually echo quilt.  If everything is tightly spaced or the piece is small, I tend to meander quilt. 
Echo Quilting
Meander Quilting

And that’s it.  That’s all there is to applique quilting.  Once the quilting is complete, you’ll need to square the quilt up (trim off the extra batting and backing and make sure the corners are 90 degrees), press it, and bind it.  Then add a label and a hanging sleeve and step back and admire your handiwork. 

I hope you enjoy this process as much as I do.  If there is any quilting technique where you can truly make the quilt you want to make and enjoy adding all the details to, it’s this one.  I encourage you to give it a try.   I would also advise beginning with medium sized wall hanging.  A small one can be difficult because it takes some time to realize what details you need to keep in and what you need to leave out. A small space just compounds that problem.  A large quilt may be too taxing for the first attempt. 

Until Next Week, Remember the Details May the Difference!

Love and Stitches,



The Next Steps in Photo Applique

As promised, today we’ll get to the fun part of photo applique – the fabric.  Like I stated in the first blog about this process, the best thing about applique is it doesn’t take a great deal of fabric.  You don’t have to break the bank purchasing lots of yardage.  However, this also can be the worst thing about applique quilting.  You’re not buying huge amounts of fabric, but you may end up with forty 1/8-yard cuts.  I will tell you in all honesty, you do need a lot of variety for this process.  Keep in mind, you’re “painting” with fabric.  You will not only need a lot of colors, but you will also need some shades, tints, and values of each color.  Let’s review these terms before you start pulling fabric for your project.

Hue – This term is used interchangeably with the word color.  Hue is the purest form of a color and contains no white, gray, or black. 

Value – Value is the lightness or darkness of a color.  For this type of applique, you will need a good range of values in order to make it look more realistic and give it dimension.  Remember way back in the first blog on this topic, I told you to go for a walk and take pictures or examine photos on Google.  Go back and look at those now.   You’ll notice not all the leaves are the same color of green. Sometimes stems and stalks aren’t green at all.  Flower petals can run the gamut from the lightest value of a hue to the darkest all in one petal.  You will need a range of values to realistically reflect this. 

It’s also important to remember that value is relative to the fabrics surrounding it.  For instance, let’s say we have this stack of purple fabric.  We can see the stack has a nice range of values, from light to dark.  However, if we place one of the light purples next to a medium purple, the medium will actually work as a dark.  If we placed one of the lighter medium purples next to the darkest one, the medium could work as a light. 

Tint – A tinted color occurs when you add white to it.  Most of us call tints “pastels.”  I use tints to indicate areas where sunshine or another light source is hitting.  If I am working with fruit, a tint could be used to show unripen areas:

Tints will also make an object look closer.

Shades –  A shaded color occurs when you add black to a hue.  Shades are used to represent areas of an object distant or in the shadows.  Shades recede into the background, making the object look further away.  If you only need a slightly shaded hue, add gray instead of black.

Shaded Fabric

As you’re auditioning fabrics, it’s a great idea to have the original picture in hand, and keep imagining the photo in 3-D.  As you examine the photo closely, ask yourself these questions: 

  • What is the background?
  • What elements are in the foreground and most prominent?
  • What elements are in the background?
  • What are the objects between the foreground and background (if any)?

The elements which are most prominent will require the most detailed work, the objects between the foreground and background, not so much detail, and the background elements require little or no detail.  And in some cases, they can even just be hinted at, not directly dealt with. 

Fabric Choices

My cardinal rule of fabric shopping for any quilt is use what you have first.  If you have fabric in your stash which will work for a project, use it first, and then fill in what you need with additional purchases.  However, there are certain characteristics all the fabric needs to have, regardless of where it came from.

First it needs to be tightly woven.  The fabric will be subject to heat (sometimes through several pressings) and needle abuse.  A homespun or other loosely woven fabric will be difficult to work with.  They simply won’t hold up to the heat and quilting.  Because of this, one of the most ideal fabrics to use is batiks.  These are tightly woven due to the dye process used to create them.  And the undulating colors can give the impression of tints and shade all in one fabric.  Over the last several years I have discovered ombre fabrics, which are equally wonderful. 

Ombre Fabric

These are some apricots I appliqued for a quilt. Every one of them were cut from the same half yard of ombre yellow/orange fabric.

You can have several tints and shades in a single yard of fabric.  Other cotton fabrics work equally as well, just as long as they’re not loosely woven.

Second, generally speaking, a solid or a fabric which reads as a solid works best.  This means tiny prints, tone-on-tones, and small geometrics will work well.  Most of the work in photo applique is small.  Large prints would lose their integrity in such small places.  However, don’t count large prints totally out. Parts of the print can work really well.  For instance, several years ago I purchased this Tula Pink print.

Peek-a-Boo…see the elephant?

If you look closely, you’ll see elephants.  And I can’t tell you how many times I’ve used the elephant ears as flower petals.  They work fantastic! 

The largest piece of fabric needed is the one for the background.  Just like with all other types of applique, you will want that piece to be larger than needed.  The applique process will shrink the background just a bit.  My rule of thumb is I like a generous inch of extra around the top, bottom, and sides.  If you’re piecing the background (which is a great way to add interest to your quilt), the same rule applies – make sure it’s bigger than needed. 

How much fabric to purchase is sometimes difficult to determine.  This is an easy question if you’re working with a pattern.  Someone else has done all the math for you and you know how much yardage you need.  Working from a photo is different.  You really don’t have a solid idea of exactly how much fabric you need.  This is where a flexible stash and knowing what type of photos you gravitate to come in handy.  If you know you like pictures of buildings or barns, you will want to collect fabrics which reflect those colors and textures.  If photos of lakes, streams, and oceans are your thing, blues and greens will probably dominate your stash.  I like animals and flowers.  I have fabric in lots of colors and textures, but I don’t have a lot of yardage.  I have found fat quarters are great for this technique and half-yard cuts are even better. 

However, if I had to pick a dominant color for nearly any of these, it would be green (unless you settle on applique portraits, which is an entirely different blog).  In my experience, I have found a large palette of greens is necessary.  Grass, stems, leaves, trees…so much green.  And these run the gamut from the yellow greens of early spring to the almost black greens of some evergreens and pines.  One other tid-bit about greens occurring in nature – most of them are shades of greens, not hues or tints. 

With your original photo in hand, pick out your fabrics and set them aside while we consider the last fabric issue:  Do you prewash or not?  My regular readers know I am pretty much a devout prewasher for several reasons – primarily to stop any fabric bleeding.  However, my stance about prewashing fabric for wall hangings is not so devout.  Wall hangings are usually not washed.  They’re vacuumed or wiped down, but not thrown in a washer.  They may get dusty, but generally not stained or heavily soiled.  Fabrics which are not prewashed are crisper, and for this applique method, you may actually prefer this over the softness of a washed fabric.  The only caution flag I would throw in would be this – do a test swatch of the fabric with the fusible webbing.  Sometimes the finishes manufacturers put on material keeps the fusible from adhering to the fabric securely.  If you find this happens, you may need to change fusible, prewash your fabrics and then starch and press them, or plan to use a little basting glue to securely adhere the applique pieces to the background.

The Process – Step One

For this first step you’ll need the original photo and one of your enlarged line drawings.  Remember earlier when we were discussing fabrics and I told you to think three dimensional?  You’ll need to do this again as we prep our applique pieces and see our quilt take shape.  This is easiest to do if you make your appliques in order, from the bottom to the top.  Start by making the shapes which will be fused closest to the background fabric and then work forwards to the ones in front.  Remember, nothing is permanent until you fuse it down, so if you need to adjust something or make an additional applique, you can. 

A light box is extremely helpful for this process. And I will walk you through the way I perform these next steps.  As you work with this applique technique, you’ll fine-tune your own method.

  1.  I cut my Steam-a-Seam into manageable “chunks”.  I use a lot of this fusible in my quilting, so I purchase it from Joanne’s by the bolt with a coupon.  Having a piece of that’s 5-inches x 18-inches is a lot easier than wrangling with the whole bolt. 
  2. Taking one copy of my enlarged line drawing, I place it on my light box with the right side of the copy facing the surface of the light box (you’re reversing the image).  I keep my photo and the second copy of the line drawing next to the box.  I start tracing the objects from the background out and numbering them in sequence (be sure to leave about a half-inch of space between pieces).  I write the number of the applique piece on the fusible and the second line drawing.  I continue doing this until I’ve finished making fusible drawings of all the applique pieces.
  3. After everything is traced, I rough cut the pieces from the fusible webbing.  I don’t cut directly on the drawn line, but about ¼-inch away from it, leaving some margin outside the drawn line.  I have found it’s easier and less confusing to do a few pieces at a time.  When you have lots of these fusible pieces laying around, it’s easy to lose one.
  4. I fuse the primary piece (such as a leaf or a petal) to the wrong  side of the fabric.  Once the piece has cooled, I then cut it out on the drawn line.  Then I repeat the process for all the detail pieces which go on the primary piece.  Once I’ve arranged all the detail pieces so that I’m happy with it, I press those into place.
I cut my fusible web pieces out with about 1/4-inch margin around the drawn line.
I press these to the WRONG side of my fabric and then cut out along the drawn line.

It’s easy to see why it’s important to have some kind of tag line on the back of the main piece to know which flower each petal belongs to or where each leaf is placed.  If you don’t, laying out your photo applique gets super confusing really quickly.  Once I have all the pieces for one unit (such as a flower) prepped, I bring out my Teflon pressing sheet.  I slide my second line drawing under the Teflon pressing sheet (most of these are sheer enough to see through), I carefully peel the paper backing from the first piece and lay it in place.  Then I proceed to the second, pressing with a hot iron as needed.  You can continue this way until the entire unit is made.  Let the unit cool completely before lifting it off the Teflon pressing sheet and set it aside.  Continue this process until you’ve made all your units.

Begin my pressing all the small, detailed pieces on the petals and the flower center.
This is the final line drawing of my coneflowers. Notice all the smaller details on the petals. Those will have to fused to the petals and then the petals fused together.
I have positioned the Teflon pressing sheet over the first coneflower. An opaque Teflon pressing sheet is really necessary with this technique. I know there are other great types of pressing sheets on the market, but in my opinion the Goddess sheets are the best.
I begin by pressing small groups of the petals together, overlaying them. I have personally found using a smaller iron, such as the one in the picture, gives you better control. A large iron can send everything flying off the pressing sheet.
After I’ve pressed the small groups of petals together, I fuse them together into the flower ring.
Then I add the flower center. The center is what holds the entire flower together, so it’s super important to make sure all the tops of the petals are beneath the center.
After the flower has completely cooled on the pressing sheet, you can carefully peel it off and move it somewhere else while you fuse your other units together.
This is the second cone flower.
  • The next step is to mark your background fabric.  Depending on the complexity of your design, you may only need registration marks or (if you’re OCD like me), you want a bit more preciseness and want to mark more details on your background.  First, mark the finished size of your quilt on the background fabric.  Remember, we’ve cut our background fabric at least one inch larger than the finished quilt.  This marking will serve as a framework for our applique placement – all the pieces should fall somewhere in the finished size marks. 
  •  Grab your light box and position the background fabric on it.  You may not be able to fit all of the fabric on it at once, so you may have to work in sections.  Anchor the background fabric with some tape so it won’t wiggle out of place.  Then place a piece of transfer paper (usually shiny side facing the background fabric – you want the side which will transfer the markings in contact with the fabric) on the background fabric.  On top of this, place one of the line drawings.  With an embossing tool or similar object, trace the main parts of your applique onto the background.  You don’t have to draw every petal, leaf, or feather – just a rough outline so you know where to place all the units.
  • Once the line drawing has been transferred, take the background fabric to the pressing area and arrange your units.  Press into place.  If some pieces don’t want to stay fused in place, use a little basing glue on the back of the piece and repress.  If you’re not a basting glue fan, you can always use glass head pins to keep them in place. 

Now you’ve got to make some decisions.  The first decision concerns borders.  If you decide you want borders on your quilt, now is the time to trim your quilt along the lines you drew on the background fabric in step 5 above.  Make your borders and sew those onto your background fabric.  If you’re not so keen about adding borders, you can trim your quilt now or wait until after it’s quilted.  It’s entirely up to you.  If you decide you want to wait and trim after it’s quilted, once the top is sandwiched with batting and a backing fabric, stitch along the framework lines prior to quilting.  Then trim after the quilting is complete.

The second decision we need to make concerns thread.  If you are a regular reader, you know I’m a thread snob.  I like long-staple cotton thread to piece with and micro thread to quilt with (usually).  However, this type of applique is different.  In this type of applique, the thread is a co-star along with the fabric.  The thread will serve as sort of a “paintbrush” to give your photo applique a finished look.  It will add shading, highlights, and details (such as the veins of a leaf), as well as hold the quilt together.  For this reason, you will want a heavier thread than you may normally use.  My beloved micro thread would get lost in this type of applique.  I generally use 40 weight thread or even lower (remember with thread, the lower the number the thicker the thread) and I have used polyesters and rayons to give glints of shimmer.  Also, unlike a lot of quilting, you will be switching thread colors.  So, just as you auditioned fabrics for this quilt, now you’ll need to audition thread.  Pick the colors which are in your applique units.  Unspool a few inches and lay them on your applique.  Thread looks so different when laying flat against the fabric.  Value is also important when choosing your thread, so pick lights, darks, and mediums of each color.

Audition as many spools of thread as you did pieces of fabric! Thread is defintely the co-star of this applique event and needs just as much consideration as the fabric.

If all this thread choice is a bit overwhelming, you may want to use variegated threads.  These swing throughout the values of one color on one spool of thread.  The only cautionary statement I would issue is this:  Avoid variegated threads which have large areas of white as they switch values.  This white will stick out like a sore thumb on your applique.  Allow me to name drop here – Tula Pink has some wonderfully gorgeous, variegated thread. 

Tula Pink Varigated Thread Set

You will need a lighter weight thread in the bobbin, and this thread should match your backing fabric (which we will discuss in detail in a bit).  I usually use 50-weight my bobbin.  This lighter weight thread allows me to wind a lot more on my bobbin than a heavier thread, which means I won’t be stopping to change out bobbins as frequently.  However, depending on the tension and your machine, you may have to use the same thread on top of your machine and in the bobbin.  You’ll find out if you need to do this in the sample we’ll work with before quilting the actual quilt. 

Along with your thread choices, you will need a few more supplies before we begin quilting the top. 

A busy quilt back hides a multitude of quilting sins.
  • Backing fabric – If you don’t remember anything else from any of these blogs, come away with this fact:  a busy quilt back covers a multitude of quilting sins.  Stay away from solid-colored backs or backing fabrics with lots of wide, open spaces.  These will show every stitch.  And unless you’re just a master quilter, you probably don’t want every quilting stitch to show.  Fabrics with strong color contrasts and geometric designs may not be the best choice either.

It’s really tempting, at this point when you’re so close to finishing this project, just to riffle through your stash and pick something – anything – just to be done.  Or to use the cheapest, available fabric option.  Let me encourage you not to do that.  A good backing allows your quilting stitches to melt into it and it will help your quilt hang better.  A cheaply manufactured backing won’t do either of these. 

  • Batting – Choosing batting for a wall hanging is a bit different than choosing batting for a show quilt or a one which goes on the bed.  With a bed quilt, I’m concerned about drapability and durability (if the quilt will spend some time on the inside of a washer).  With a show quilt I’m concerned about a batt which highlights the applique and stand up to heavy quilting.  Batting for a wall hanging should help the quilt hang flat against the wall and be thin enough it doesn’t cause too much bulk for a domestic machine.  For those reasons, I tend to lean towards 100% cotton batting for wall hangings.  One hundred percent cotton battings are generally low loft and work very well for photo applique quilts. 
  • Sewing machine – You don’t need a super-fancy sewing machine with 10,000 different stitches to work with photo applique quilts.  You do need a sewing machine with a good, straight stitch and has the ability to drop the feed dogs.  You will probably want to clean your machine before starting this process and again after it’s complete, as well as make sure it’s oiled (if it requires oiling).
  • Sewing machine needles – This depends a lot on the individual quilter.  Personally, I prefer 90/14 or 80/12 denim or topstitching needle.  The super-sharp point allows the needle to penetrate all three layers of the quilt sandwich without missing a beat and the wide eye easily accommodates heavier weight thread.  If I’m working with a photo applique top  which has a great deal of fusible webbing, I have used Schmetz nonstick needles – the fusible won’t stick to these.  If the applique has some specialty fabrics which may be a bit fussy in the applique process, I’ve turned to Organ’s silk needles.  If the needle in your machine has been there for a while, you will probably want to change it before beginning the quilting process.  And if the stitch quality changes, the needle begins producing large holes, or the thread starts breaking, stop and change it again.  Normally sewing machine needles are good for about eight hours’ worth of normal stitching (twice as long for titanium-coated needles), but this process puts some serious stress on the needle.  Just keep the picture below in mind as you stitch.
  • Scissors —  Curved scissors or embroidery scissors are handy to have with photo applique because they will let you clip threads close to the surface of the quilt.
  • Safety pins or Spray baste or Free Fuse – Again, this is a personal choice.  You will need something to hold the quilt sandwich together, so it won’t slip as you stitch.  Some quilters like safety pins, others like spray baste, and still others like Free Fuse.  There are no wrong choices here – it’s whatever works best for you.  Personally, for small quilts such as these, I reach for the spray baste or free fuse.  I dislike stopping to remove pins.
  • Free motion or darning foot – When I decided to upgrade from my Janome 7700, I was chagrined to find lots of different feet now claim these titles.  What you need is a foot which looks like this:

Or this:

You want a foot you can see around, but you don’t want an open-toed quilting foot such as this:

The toes will catch on the fabric edges and threads and make a mess.  If you machine didn’t come with a darning foot, google your machine to see if there’s one available.  Sometimes local dealers will carry them and generally you can always find them on a web site somewhere.  If your particular brand of machine doesn’t have a darning foot, you can order a generic one – just make sure you know if your machine is a high or low shank, so you’ll get one which fits. 

  • Quilting gloves – One more time with the personal choice disclaimer.  Some quilters find they can’t quilt without these, others never use them.  Personally, I find the gloves allow me to have a better grip on my quilt so I can manipulate it where it needs to go. Quilting gloves have something on their surface which allows them to hold onto the quilt sandwich better than just your bare hands.  Sometimes it’s the fabric the gloves are made of:

And sometimes it’s these plastic-y dots. 

Some quilters have told me they simply go to a dollar store and purchase gardening or work gloves and use those.  My personal favorites are these:

Admittedly these are a bit pricey, but they do allow my hands to breathe better and when I’m not using them, I can pull my three fingers out of the gloves and allow them to hang around my wrist (so no looking for the gloves when I go back to quilting).  I also use quilting gloves when handling yardage – such as when sewing on borders or blocks into rows. 

Get all this stuff together, because next week we start the quilting process. 

Until Next Week, remember the Details Make the Difference!

Love and Stitches,



The First Steps in Photo Applique

When I began to applique, I approached this technique just like any other new quilting method:  I used a pattern.  I used a pattern and followed instructions until I became really comfortable with it and then began to change it up.  I’d add things – like butterflies to my flower appliques – or take away things if I didn’t like them.  Eventually, with time and practice, I started drawing my own applique patterns with a pencil and paper.  Then I was introduced to Electric Quilt and that added another layer of preciseness to my quilting.

However, there came a time when I would take a picture of something.  Something special – a sunset, my daughter’s wedding flowers, my grand darlings – and I longed to reproduce them in a quilt via applique.  First I tried enlarging the picture.  I would take the enlarged picture, lay it on my light box, and cover it with a piece of paper.  I would then try to roughly outline the picture to make my applique pattern.  Sometimes this worked, but more often than not, it didn’t.  The pictures were complex, and I’d get bogged down in the details.  After a while, I gave up and returned to easier appliques, but in the back of my mind, I knew there must be some way to turn some of my photographs into line drawings and then turn those into an applique pattern. 

As time passed, cell phones became more and more sophisticated. App engineers eventually came up with several programs which could take the photos I have on my phone and turn those into the line drawings I needed.  Below, I’ve listed what I think are the best five apps which can convert those pictures on your phone into easy line drawings for applique.  Most of these give a free trial period before hitting up your credit card. 

Photo Director — Is the best app to use to turn photos into sketches, mainly because of its ease of use. Just select a picture and an effect to transform an image into a drawing. Turning photos into sketches is fun with PowerDirector because it provides a simple user interface and gives you plenty of creative options.

Prisma — Prisma is a fine choice to turn pictures into drawings, but you may not find it as easy to use or as versatile as PhotoDirector. However, Prisma comes with a nice assortment of effects for customizing photos.

Clip2Comic — If you want to turn photos into sketches that look like cartoons or line drawings, Clip2Comic is a good choice. After applying your drawing effect, this app takes you from image to drawing with a high-resolution picture you can share with friends or colleagues.

BeFunky — BeFunky is a photo editing and graphic design app that lets users turn any photo into any favorite kind of drawing with a single click. It uses AI-powered photo editing tools and an intelligent auto-collage feature to produce professional results that even beginners can create.

Photo Lab Editor – This is the one I use most often.  Photo Lab Editor is a filter app that also comes with awesome effects, photo editing tools, and classy styles. Putting all of these together, it’s a good app for turning photos into sketches. The Photo Lab community also has over 230 million fans to share sketches with.

Personally, I think working with these on my iPad is easier than using the small phone screen but I’m 61 and my eyes aren’t what they used to be.  If you’d rather use your DeskTop or Laptop to edit your pictures, check out what’s pre-installed on your hard drive.  Most computers come with photo editing software with varying degrees of editing abilities.  If you have a program which can turn your photos into line drawings, that’s great.  If you don’t have those capabilities, you may want to check out some of the software available for computers.  There are lots of programs which will convert a photo to a line drawing.  Most offer a free trial, and I honestly wouldn’t suggest purchasing one which didn’t offer the free trial period.  And during this time, I would load up several pictures and play with the software to see if you feel completely comfortable with it.  Some are more user friendly than others. 

The one I use is Sketch Drawer by Soft Orbit.  It’s super user friendly and doesn’t take me hours to turn a photo into a line drawing.  Bonus – it’s super affordable. 

No matter if you’re using an app on your phone or software on your computer, you must take the time to play with it a little in order to find what works best for you.  You’ll want to get as close to a line drawing as possible without a lot of background “static.”  In other words, you don’t want the line drawing to look like this:

This sketch of my coneflowers has too much confusion in the background, plus the flowers aren’t too distinct. You’ll want a cleaner sketch to work with. You can get this by playing with the controls on the right side of the screen. Super easy, super fast.

You want it to look more like this:

Much, much better. From this, I can can continue to work with the drawing in Sketch Drawer or use tracing paper and pencil to develop my own sketch.

Because from this, you will want to simplify it a little more.  When you look at the line drawing, ask yourself what is the most important image to you?  I love coneflowers, so for me, it’s the flowers.  I want to emphasize those by excluding all the “extra” images and concentrating only on the coneflowers.  I could do this in a couple of different ways. 

  1.  I could let the background do the work for me.  I could choose a background fabric which would give the idea of a garden, or I could make one.  I could piece a background with half-square triangles for leaves, or I could applique very simple leaves, a few buds, etc., on a background, but allow the coneflowers to be the dominate image.
  2. I could simply let the flowers be front and center.  I could choose a few coneflowers and leaves and nothing else.

Both options are good (and there’s probably a few more ideas floating around out there).  The decision you make depends on the look you want.  I have a definite journey for this little quilt, so I will go with option 2.

Now we have our line drawing…what’s next?  Here’s where the real fun starts.  Let’s go over the basic supplies you’ll need before we talk fabric.

  1.  Fusible Web – I’ve written entire blogs about fusibles (go here: ).  If you’ve worked with fusibles for very long, you probably have your favorite.  I would suggest one which can hold up to the heat of several fusing sessions and one with a paper back – so Misty Fuse shouldn’t be up for consideration with our photo applique.  Personally, my favorite fusible for this is Steam-A-Seam 2.  I have found the 18-inch-wide kind works better than the strips.  Also on a personal note, I have found Steam-a-Seam Lite and Soft Fuse do not work as well as the Steam-A-Seam 2.  The applique pieces undergo a couple of ironings, and the lighter fusibles do not seem to hold up as well under that kind of heat. 
  2. Iron and Pressing Surface – You need an iron with a steam function (most irons have them) and a pressing surface.  This can be an ironing board or any other type of pressing surface, such as a wool mat.  Since you’re working with fusible webbing, you may want to protect the surface by covering it with a piece of muslin. 
  3. Ultra Fine Sharpie Marker
  4. Glass-Head Pins or Basting Glue – Sometimes the fusible won’t stick well in places or it may release if the fabric is repeatedly handled.  Re-adhering the applique piece to the background with a glass-head pin (the glass head won’t melt under the heat of an iron), or basting glue is helpful. 
  5. Scissors for Paper and Fabric – Make sure both pair are sharp and will cut cleanly.  Sometimes the fusible can make the blades a little gunky.  This will wash off, though.
  6. Teflon Pressing Sheet – This is one of the handiest tools any quilter working with fusible applique can have in their toolbox.  The Teflon-infused pressing sheet serves two purposes.  It can keep the fusible webbing off your pressing surface, and it can allow you to assemble applique units together into one piece before fusing them on to the background.  This really makes your applique easier and more precise.  For instance, if you’re working flowers, you can fuse the entire flower together, peel it off the Teflon sheet, and press it onto the background fabric.  This is so much better than trying to fuse each tiny little applique piece into place.  There are several kinds of Teflon sheets on the market, and I own a couple of different types.  All of them are equally good.  However, if I could offer one piece of advice, it would be to go ahead and buy the large/extra-large sheet.  This allows you to work with large pieces of applique or several small units at once. **
  7. Tracing Paper – I will admit, if you have appliqued for awhile and have developed an eye for placement, this may be one of the tools you can bypass.  However, if you’re a little iffy about your placement skills or you’re like me and are just OCD about your applique placement you may find you need this.  You can place tracing paper between your line drawing and your background fabric, trace the drawing with an embosser (or other similar instrument), and the drawing will be transferred to the background fabric.  I suggest graphite transfer paper – that’s my favorite because it rinses out easily.  Whatever you do, avoid the waxed kind.  It’s been my experience that this kind is difficult to remove from fabric. 
  8. Rotary Ruler, Cutter, and Cutting Mat – For squaring up.
  9. A Design Board – This is entirely optional.  However having a place where you can audition your applique before you press it into place is great.  It allows you to move pieces around and make sure they’re exactly where you want them before you fuse them to the background.  I know what some of you are thinking…” I can lay it out on a bed or a table.”  And that’s true.  But usually these types of quilts are made to be hung on a wall.  So it’s really helpful if you can lay them out on a vertical surface.  The design board doesn’t have to be huge.  It can also be temporary.  I’ve used the wrong side of tablecloth taped to a wall with painter’s tape as a design wall.  Once I was through, it came off the wall without damaging the paint. I folded the tablecloth up and stored it to use another day. 
  10. A Copier/Printer and a Good Working Relationship with a Print Shop – When you begin experimenting with your line drawing, you may be working with a small image of what you want to make.  My original rendering of the cone flowers was initially a 5-inch x 7-inch drawing.  I took this to my printer/copier and enlarged it until it filled an 8 ½ x 11-inch sheet of paper.  This was better, but I wanted to turn the picture of my coneflowers into about a 20 x 20-inch wall hanging.  Since my printer didn’t have these capabilities, I went online to my local office supply place and emailed them my line drawing and asked them to work with it and see how close they could get it to the size I needed.  They got it pretty close… 20-inches x 24-inches.  I could live with this.  I also have two copies of the enlarged line drawings made. 

Because this office supply has worked with me for so long, they had a good idea of what I needed.  If they need to print it on several large sheets of paper, I’m fine with that.  Taping the sheets together doesn’t bother me.  And they know this.  However, I also know they could print it on a plotter and give it to me on one large sheet.  If you find you really enjoy this type of applique, you may find developing a good, working relationship with a print shop is invaluable. 

Next week we’ll talk about the fun stuff—fabric.  I’ll show you what kind works well with this applique method and the type you need to save for another project.  We’ll also begin the applique process.

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

Love and Stitches,


**This is the Teflon pressing sheet I use:

This Teflon pressing sheet is called Fat Goddess Pressing Sheet and it’s a whopping 21″ x 27″. I like it because it can be rolled up and stored in the the canister in comes in. Plus, it’s opaque, so you can see through it, which comes in handy with applique placement.

Cultivating Creativity

I am a sucker for applique.

Of all the quilting techniques out there, my favorite is applique – by hand or machine, it doesn’t matter.  There is something infinitely freeing about it.  It gives the quilter the ability to back away from triangles, squares, and rectangles and produce something realistic.  Instead of lines and sharp angles, you can have curves and circles.  There’s more color play with applique as you strive for bouquets of flowers in every color of the rainbow. In short, applique is fun.  More fun than piecing.  I asked Google how many applique quilt patterns were out there in stores.  It couldn’t give me an answer, although Pinterest helpfully volunteered it had over 900 applique quilt pins.  In this blog, I want to explore a couple of things.  First, how to turn a picture into an applique pattern, and second how to use something I call quilted applique.  This process may take more than one blog, but I don’t have any worries about that.  We’ll start with the basics and move on from there.

A lot of folks think quilters have to be ultra-creative people.  Color choice and design should be as natural to them as breathing.  I’d like to squash that little erroneous piece of information right now.  While most quilters are to some degree creative, extreme creativity isn’t necessary for the process.  And most quilters who have quilted for several years will tell you their creativity expands the more they quilt.  All that’s really needed to get started is the ability to read and follow directions.  Everything else will come with time and practice.  Each applique quilt you construct will not only make you a better quilter, but it will also give you the confidence to go a little further and dig a little deeper in the creative process. 

Another erroneous school of thought is applique quilters must have a huge stash – I mean just look at all the colors we use in flowers and leaves, etc.  It must take hundreds of fabrics to make some applique quilts.  In all honesty, it’s not about how much fabric you have, but that you have the right fabric.  Overall, applique may use several different fabrics, but usually the applique pieces are on the small size.  Sometimes (as in the quilt I’ll be working on later in this blog), you may use less than a fat quarter for the applique.  The largest fabric requirement will be the background, binding, and borders.  Which brings me to this point – one of the best things about applique is that it doesn’t take a lot of fabric.  And one of the worst things about applique is that it doesn’t take a lot of fabric.  Why?  This means you only need a little money to develop a huge applique stash with pieces an eighth of a yard or less…which can lead to storage issues.  Cultivate your applique stash carefully…which brings me to my next point…

Also cultivate your creativity.  If you’re one of my readers who think you don’t have any real creativity, I also want to squash that little negative and erroneous school of thought.  Everyone is creative in some way.  Creativity is a part of everything we do.  It plays a part in how we dress, how we cook, how we plant flowers…even the way you balance your checkbook.  No one escapes this life without having some form of creativity.  However, what I really want to do is help you grow your creativity.  There are lots of ways to do this, and no one way is right or wrong.  I want to offer some general suggestions and then you need to fine-tune them, so they work for you. 

  • Take walks.  This is a two-fer.  If you need to take so many steps per day as part of your fitness routine, you can grow your creativity and increase the number of steps all at the same time!   However, as you walk, I want you to pay close attention to a few things.  Notice the sky.  Notice it’s not all one shade of blue.  Neither are the clouds all one shade of white.  Look at the grass, leaves, and stems.  Observe they are not all one shade of green.  As a matter of fact, some of them are not green at all.  Some are brown.  Others are yellow.  Look at the flowers or trees in bud.  A rose isn’t all the same color red or pink.  Dandelions are yellow, orange, and white.  Take pictures of a few of these.  When you get back home, enlarge these pictures on your phone and look closely at all the shades, hues, tints, and tones.  It’s even better if you can upload the pictures from your phone onto a computer and look at them on a large screen.

If you can’t take a walk, Google some images of flowers, leaves, and butterflies (actual Google photos are better than paintings or drawings for this exercise).  Notice the leaves aren’t all one color.  A purple pansy can be numerous shades of purple.  Nothing nature produces is all one solid color.  Neither is anything perfect.  Leaves can curl or be lopsided.  The petal on a flower can be a bit crushed.  Notice all of the imperfections nature brings to the table, yet we don’t get upset at them.  We accept them as part of the whole.  When we focus on the rose or the leaf, we don’t necessarily zero in on what’s wrong with it.

  • Doodle.  Draw.  I don’t mean major works of art and certainly nothing to hang in the Louvre. I mean little swirls and curlicues.  Straight lines and curved ones.  Cartoon-ish figures.  Graduate to flowers and animals.  It really doesn’t matter.   However, what all this doodling is doing to your brain is highly important.  It’s engaging your memory to reproduce something you’ve seen (perhaps on your walks).  And repeatedly drawing your favorite curlicues and swirls trains both your brain and your hand to draw and redraw them from muscle memory.  This is important – trust me.  I’ll tell you why in a bit. 
  • Be disciplined in your pursuit of creativity.  I realized, even as I typed this, that discipline and creativity sound like polar opposites.  Zone of truth here – when someone mentions the word creativity  to me, I tend to picture someone in long, flowy, multicolored skirts with gray hair down to their waist, flowers in their hair and beaded necklaces and bracelets.  My mind conjures up this person who is free-thinking and artistically uninhibited who can take paints and fabric and create these wonderful works of art right off the top of her head – gorgeous works which everyone loves. 

However, except in rare cases, this is not how creativity works (although I totally could get behind the long, flowy skirts and gray hair down to my waist and beaded necklaces and bracelets). Creativity requires discipline – the ability to work every day at your art.  Just like any other talent we want to develop, creativity takes steady practice.  The more you do it, the better you become at it.  Picasso got up and painted every day, whether he felt like it or not.  At his peak, Beethoven practiced 14 hours a day.  And while it would be disingenuous to think any of us could practice our quilting 14 hours every day, it’s not so hard to work in a few minutes here and there or a few hours on the weekend to work at the craft we love so much. 

In my opinion, I think all of us are born as creative beings.  Unfortunately, the school system can work that right out of us (I can say this freely, since I am a former educator).  We are taught to follow the rules, color inside the lines, and hold our pencils and crayons a certain way.  Some of these learned behavior literally strangles the creativity right out of people.  Rejuvenating, revitalizing, and resurrecting our creativity comes with the freedom of realizing there are no rules.  There is no right or wrong.  What you like is right. 

I’ve taught quilting for years.  I was a French heirloom garment instructor before that.  And I think I can say with a lot of honesty, a fairly large number of quilters get stymied on color theory and placement.  They will read books, articles, and blogs.  They will invest in apps for their phones and color wheels.  After all these years of teaching, I want to let you in on a secret:  Nine times out of ten, most of what is involved in color theory, etc., is already innately built into our brains and intuition.  Yes, all the information on color theory and placement is exceedingly helpful, but you’re already engaging most of the principles.  Don’t get hung up on somebody else’s set of rules. 

Another thing which can kill creativity is not believing in yourself.  Don’t compare your creative journey with someone else’s.  Some people seemingly can turn their creativity tap on at will and it rushes out at that person’s bidding.  Some folks (like me) find their creative journey slower and more methodical.  Don’t judge the way your process works with anyone else’s.  Each method and journey are different for each person.  Neither is ever wrong.  It’s what works for the individual.

Negative self-talk is also a sure creativity killer.  Whenever I hear any quilter say, “Oh, I could never do that,” or “There is no way I could ever make a quilt that beautiful,” I cringe.  Sure, you may not have the skill set now, but in 18 months or two years, you may be perfectly able to make the quilt.  Allow me to share with you a personal experience I had several years ago when I was an educator.

Some of you may know, teachers are required to take so many enrichment classes every so many years to keep their teaching certificates up to date.  These classes can be related to the direct subject matter you teach, or it can be information about things you would like to integrate in your classroom.  One particular summer, I was late getting around to signing up for a class at my local community college.  The only thing left was creative writing – which I did hold a personal interest in but wasn’t so sure I could integrate that into physics and chemistry.  However, it would fulfill my certificate requirements, so I signed up and paid the fee.   As I settled into the first class, I was wary the tiny, conservatively dressed, gray-haired lady leading the workshop could teach any of us anything about creativity.  Frankly she looked like a woman my grandmother would be very comfortable sharing a church pew with on Sunday morning.  Then she volunteered the information she was writing a book about the brothels in California during the Gold Rush.

Well, that certainly wasn’t what I was expecting.  Sunday school material, maybe.  But Houses of Ill Repute? No.

I had a lot of fun in that class.  I wrote a children’s book about kittens.  But the main thing I came away with was this:  When you jump into your creativity zone, you have permission to set the very critical part of you – the part which doubts what you’re doing, worries about what other people will think – outside the room.  Ms. Berensby told us she would physically set a chair outside the door of her office and tell the critical part of herself to take a seat and make itself comfortable.  Then she shut her office door and got to work.  The actual act of this somewhat ridiculous motion set her creativity free. 

You may need a chair and a closed door.  Or just maybe you and the critical part of yourself just needs a come-to-Jesus meeting.  I’ve learned to let everything go the minute I step inside my quilt studio. 

As you develop your creativity, you’ll change as a quilter and as a person.  The biggest changes you may note are these:

  1.  You realize every mistake is a potential success, even if you have to start over.  Several times.
  2. You let your mind and eyes look outside the box.  Sometimes you don’t even acknowledge a box.
  3. You don’t mind digging through the trash, the scrap bins, or anywhere else you think you can find what you need to make your quilt perfect.
  4. You play more with your art.
  5. You’re not afraid to try new things.
  6. You realize it’s the process which counts, not the finished product.
  7. Most importantly, you learn to persevere.  That doesn’t mean you don’t mess up, get mad, or even have a good cry now and then.  It means after the crying has stopped, you go back and try again. 

Wow!  I’ve written slightly over 2,000 words and haven’t even begun to talk about the applique process I want to use for this blog.  Next week we’ll start by looking at some apps which can turn your pictures into line drawings and how to simplify them.  And then we’ll talk about fabric.  Meanwhile, take a walk, doodle, and be creative…everywhere… Spread that stuff like sunshine.

Until Next Week, Remember the Details Make the Difference!

Love and Stitches,



The Emporia Phenomena

Every once in a while, we are lucky enough to experience a phenomena.

 Phenomena can be defined in two ways.  The first definition deals with scientific observation — a fact or situation that is observed to exist or happen, especially one whose cause or explanation is in question.  The second definition is a little less scientific and a bit more personal:  a remarkable person, thing, or event. During the mid-to-late 1920’s until the 1940’s, quilting experienced a fantastic growth period.  Quilt shows were established.  Techniques were changing and expanding, trending away from the traditionally pieced quilts to include applique.  And over in the sleepy, small town of Emporia, Kansas, there was a quilting phenomenon taking place.  As a matter of fact, it was such a bright spectacle quilt historians call it “The Emporia Phenomena.”

First, let’s take a brief stroll through Emporia.  Emporia was founded in 1857 and drew its name from ancient Carthage – a city known as a historical place of commerce.  It is nestled between the larger cities of Wichita and Topeka and became the county seat for Lyons County.  Living up to its name as a city of commerce, it attracted several railroad lines during the 1800s.  One of the railroad executives, John Byers Anderson, donated his entire library of books to the city in celebration of his 50th wedding anniversary.  Not to be outdone, his friend Andrew Carnegie donated the funds to build the library.  Nowadays it’s home to about 24,139 people (according to the 2020 census) and it’s known as the Disc Golf Capital (each year it hosts one of the largest disc golf championships in the world) and the first weekend after Memorial Day, it hosts Unbound Gravel.  Unbound Gravel is a dirt bicycle race through Flint Hills.  The bike routes are 35, 50, 100, 200, and 350 miles long, if you’d be so inclined to register for the event. 

The Emporia Phenomena took place between 1925 – 1950, with most of the creativity hitting its peak in the early to mid-1930’s.  Three quilters were responsible for the phenomena – Rose Francis Good Kretsinger, Charlotte Jane Whitehill, and Hannah Haynes Headlee.  This blog will look at each one of these women and then try to explain why the Emporia Phenomena happened.  We will begin with the most well-known quilter, Rose Good Kretsinger.

Rose Francis Good Kretsinger

If this quilter’s name sounds vaguely familiar to you, it’s probably not because of her -quilts, but the book she co-authored with Carrie Hall, The Romance of the Patchwork Quilt in America.  This book is considered to be one of the classic quilt history books, and even though copies can be difficult to come by (it was first published in 1935), the book is still out there, especially if you’re  content with an e-version.

Rose was born in Hope, Kansas on November 29, 1886, but lived most of her adult life in Emporia.  Interestingly, her father was a partner in Good & Eisenhower, a dry goods store.  Shortly before Rose was born, her father sold his share of the store to David Eisenhower and moved to Abilene.  However, the store didn’t prove to be profitable, so Eisenhower moved to Texas, where he and his wife had a son, Dwight David, who grew up to be President. 

From Abilene, Rose’s family moved to Kansas City, Missouri.  By this time Rose was in her teens and she headed to Chicago to study at the Art Institute in 1908.  After graduation, she spent a year in Europe before returning to Chicago where she designed jewelry.  In 1914, she retired from design work and married William Kretsinger, an attorney and rancher.  She had two children, a boy named William and a girl, Mary Amelia.  During this time she attended all the meetings and activities the women in her set did and became an influential leader in her group of friends.  Her life rocked along until 1926.  This year was a watermark in Rose’s life.  First, her mother died from injuries sustained in an automobile accident.  Rose was close to her mother and her grief was deep.  Second, this was during the Colonial Revival, which promoted arts and crafts such as quilting.  Partly to deal with her grief and partly to participate in the Colonial Revival, Rose took up quilting.  She was now forty years old and had inherited an antique bed from her mother.  After consulting with some of her friends and magazines, she decided a quilt would be just the thing the antique bed needed to set it off. 

Not finding a quilt pattern to suite her tastes, Rose copied an antique quilt.  She found the handwork soothed her and provided a form of grief therapy for her.  Her friends made quite a fuss over the quilt and encouraged her to enter it in the local fair.  She did, and to her surprise, she won first place.  Both shocked and pleased, she began a second quilt and over the next two decades produced a remarkable group of quilts which ignored the current commercial trends.  Rose didn’t follow commercial patterns, instead focused on antique quilts.  She didn’t like the patterns or kits of the day, which produced the same type of quilts over and over.  “Women are depending more upon the printed pattern sheet to save time and labor.  These having been used time and again often become tiresome,” she stated.  Rose instead turned to old quilts, finding her inspiration in them.  She borrowed family heirlooms from friends and sketched museum quilts.  And while feed sack prints and other new multicolored dress prints were available, she preferred to use calicoes and antique fabrics to get the look she wanted. 

The characteristic which made her quilts so different from others was their design.  While Rose did copy old quilts, she only copied them to a certain point.  They were her inspiration, but not her destination.  Her gift to the quilting world was her reworking of the old designs.  Because she was trained as an artist, she knew how to add drama with vivid colors and black accents, how to add line with an overlay of quilting and a scalloped edge, and how to add a touch of sophistication by reorganizing compositions by tightening up some items and filling blank spaces.  Then she would finish the quilt center off with bold borders.  Her unique combination of traditional standards and modern design earned her local and national fame, as she won contests from the Lyon County Fair to New York City. 

After the Kansas City Art Institute held an exhibit of her quilts in the early Thirties, she earned national attention as a quilter.  So much so that Carrie Hall asked Rose to co-write The Romance of the Patchwork Quilt.  Rose’s contribution was the section on the history of quilting, and she added photographs and diagrams of both antique and contemporary designs to augment her writing. 

Orchard Wreath by Rose Kretsinger

Rose’s only original quilt design was The Orchard Wreath.  Designed in 1929, this quilt was inspired by a Coca-Cola advertising card she picked up at a soda fountain.  Rose’s daughter, Mary, asked for an orchid quilt to match her bedroom and this time instead of finding inspiration from antique quilts, Rose found it in a Coca-Cola ad.  All of her other quilts were either inspired by antique quilts or were redrawn from older patterns.  Regardless, they all were outstanding quilts and garnered lots of attention in the national quilt shows in the Thirties and Forties. 

Calenduia by Rose Kretsinger

The 1942 National Needlework Contest (sponsored by Woman’s Day) awarded her quilt Calenduia second place.  The first-place winner was Pine’ Hawkes Eisfeller and her medallion wreath quilt called The Cottage GardenThe Cottage Garden was a variation of a quilt made in 1857 by Arsinoe Kelsey Bowen and was featured in Ruth Finley’s Old Patchwork Quilts and the Women Who Made Them. To say Rose was a little disappointed (and maybe even a little miffed) about second place would be an understatement.  Beneath the picture of The Cottage Garden in Woman’s Day, Rose tersely wrote, “Poor Design.”  However, not to be outdone, Rose designed her own version of Eisfeller’s quilt and called it Paradise Garden.  ***

Paradise Garden by Rose Kretsinger

Many people consider Paradise Garden to be Rose’s masterpiece.  This quilt, along with Orchard Wreath, were selected by a panel of experts for the exhibit America’s 100 Best Quilts of the 20th Century.

It is interesting to note that Rose didn’t quilt her own quilts.  Like many of the “professional” quilters of her time, Rose hired local quilters to quilt her tops.  The names of these quilters are long forgotten, but Rose’s children remember her designing her own quilting motifs to send along with the tops to her quilters.

Locally, Rose was generous with her time and talent.  Her quilts were displayed in Emporia and inspired other quilters to attempt their own designs or request her patterns.  She readily shared both her patterns and her knowledge and assisted others in making quilts.  She was in every way, the heart of the Emporia Phenomena.  Rose appliqued most of her quilts between 1926 and 1932.  In 1940, she became a widow when William Kretsinger died of heart failure.  Paradise Garden  was begun shortly after his death.  In 1949, Farm Journal Magazine sold two of her designs, Oriental Poppy and Old Spice.  Rose continued living in Emporia until her own death in 1963 at the age of 76. 

Oriental Poppy by Rose Kretsinger
Old Spice Quilt by Rose Kretsinger

In 1971, Rose’s daughter, Mary, donated twelve of Rose’s quilts and two of Rose’s mother’s quilts to the Spencer Museum of Art at the University of Kansas.  Rose, along with Carrie Hall, was inducted into the Quilter’s Hall of Fame in 1985 – which in a way was bittersweet.  The women had a sort of falling out over the royalties of The Romance of the Patchwork Quilt in America.  Whether Rose felt slighted or if it was something else, was never made clear.  It’s ironic one of the events which propelled both women into the Quilters Hall of Fame (besides their quilting) also battered their friendship. 

Rose Kretsinger’s influence did not stop after her induction.  In 1992, the Wichita Art Museum and the Kansas Quilt Project organized the exhibit Midcentury Masterpieces:  Quilts in Emporia, Kansas, which featured the work of Rose and her Emporia friends.  In 1998, her quilts toured Japan and were featured in the publication American Quilt Renaissance:  Three Women Who Influenced Quilt Making in the Early 20th Century.  The other two women were Carrie Hall and Marie Webster.

Charlotte Jane Whitehill

One of the most frustrating things about quilt/quilters research is the fact quilting was considered “women’s work” for so long and didn’t merit the attention and documentation granted to anything men did.  Even though the Emporia Phenomena occurred after women received the right to vote and were gaining recognition momentum, some of the ones who left truly indelible fingerprints on our art received little to no attention by newspapers or other publications.    Charlotte Jane Whitehall is one of those quilters, who despite leaving behind beautiful quilts, little is known about her.  We do know she was born in 1866 in Wisconsin and lived in Emporia during the 1930’s.  Like most of us, Charlotte picked up quilting as a hobby and made her first quilt when she was 63.  She was a district manager for an insurance company and found quilting was a great stress reliever (sound familiar?). 

Charlotte was known for several of her quilts.  The Album Quilt:  Lennartson Family Album

Indiana Wreath named one of the top 100 in The Twentieth Century’s Best American Quilts. 

The Rose Tree

One very important fact set Charlotte apart from the Rose Kretsinger and Hannah Headlee – her job required her to travel.  This allowed Charlotte a much more varied fabric stash than the other two women.  She would arrive in a town and visit dry good stores to find fabric not available in Emporia. 

Like Rose, Charlotte copied antique quilts.  She preserved many 19th century and museum quilts (perhaps she also visited museums when she traveled?) by reproducing them.  Whether Charlotte did this on her own, or was prompted by watching Rose Kretsinger, we don’t know.  We do know, that like Rose, Charlotte eschewed the kits and patterns available to her. 

Charlotte moved to Denver, Colorado in the 1940’s and continued to make quilts for about another five years.  She remained in Denver until her death in 1964.  In 1955, she and her daughter donated 28 of her quilts to the Denver Art Museum.

Hannah Haynes Headlee

Of the three women who sparked the Emporia Phenomena, I consider Hannah Haynes Headlee to be the rebel. 

Like the other two women, Hannah came to quilting a bit later in life.  She was born in Topeka, Kansas about 1867.  She was an artist, quilter, teacher, and china painter.  She supported herself primarily through teaching and painting china.  She was married three times and is remembered as the first woman in Topeka to own (and ride) a bicycle.  In 1914, she accompanied her niece (Hannah had no children of her own) Paulina Haynes Shirer to the New York School of Fine Arts and paid their living expenses by teaching and painting. 

She is renowned for this quilt:

Iris Garland.  There is some school of thought which suggests Hannah was inspired by Rose Kritsinger’s Orchard Wreath.  If she was, she left no written record of such inspiration, although Hannah and Rose were acquaintances. 

To me, the characteristic which sets Hannah’s quilts apart from both Rose’s and Charlotte’s is their almost watercolor quality.  Hannah was a painter and came from that artistic background.  She used fabrics which were subtle in contrast, but her borders were nearly gothic in design. 


Basket of Roses


Many of her quilts were given to her nieces, nephews, and cousins, although seven eventually found their way into museums.

 One interesting side note about Hannah Haynes Headlee.  She was one of the needlework judges who gave Pine’ Hawkes Eisfeller’s The Cottage Garden the winning vote over Rose Kretsinger’s Calenduia.

Rose Kretsinger, Charlotte Jane Whitehill, and Hannah Haynes Headlee are the three quilters whom history claims are responsible for the Emporia Phenomena.  There are several characteristics all three quilters have in common:

  1.  They bucked commercial patterns.  All three eschewed the readily available patterns found in magazines.  They found their inspiration from antique quilts or quilts in museums.
  2. They did not use many (if any at all) of the fabrics available to them at their local dry goods stores.  They preferred antique fabrics, unusual fabrics, or calicoes.  All three had the means to get those fabrics.
  3. They all preferred applique medallion quilts.
  4. All three began quilting later in life, and two of them had art backgrounds.
  5. All three gained national and international attention in the quilt world during their lifetimes.

You have to wonder, especially with the quilts bearing similar designs and fabric choices, if they were inspired by each other.  History does tell us Rose’s quilts were predominantly displayed throughout Emporia.  Did Charlotte and Hannah draw inspiration from them?  Did the three actually ever meet in some capacity and talk quilts?  Did they know of Marie Webster — who was designing her beautiful applique quilts during this same time period – and were they inspired by her quilts?  Regardless, to have so much quilting talent concentrated in one small area at one time was indeed unique and wonderful. There is no wonder they caused a phenomena.   However, there still is so much we don’t know about these women and their quilts.  The sad part is, we may never know.  We can imagine.  We can speculate.  But we may never know the entire story behind these three amazing women and how they and their quilts sparked the Emporia Phenomena. 

Until Next Week, Remember the Details Make the Difference!

Love and Stitches,


***One last footnote about The Cottage Garden Quilt.  When I write quilt history blogs, I often refer to Barbara Brackman’s writings, as I did in this blog.  She is one of the best cataloguers of quilt blocks and quilt history.  However, when researching this blog I found a contrasting article about The Cottage Garden Quilt and its maker from the Kansas Historical Society. 

The KHS lists Josephine Hunter Craig, not Pine’ Hawks Eisfeller, as the maker of the quilt and calls the quilt The Garden instead of The Cottage Garden.  It also lists Josephine Hunter Craig as one of the top contenders in the fiercely competitive quilting environment in Emporia.  This is her quilt The Garden:

The article goes on to state:  “Along with other top Emporia quilters like Rose Kretsinger and Charlotte Jane Whitehill, Josephine Craig’s quilts often swept state fair contests as well as captured national awards. 

The Garden is one of the best examples of Craig’s skill and artistry.  Appliqued and quilted in Emporia in 1933, it was inspired by an 1857 version of the garden medallion which appeared in Ruth Finley’s book, Old Patchwork Quilts and the Women who Made Them (1929).  Finley called the garden medallion the ‘acme of the branch of art’.  These quilts became the standard of excellence for Emporia quilters, who were inspired to create their own medallion designs.

Friends Elizabeth Goering and Maud Leatherberry collaborated with Craig on the pattern and quilting for The Garden.  Although Craig was a contemporary and competitor of well-known Emporia quilter Rose Kretsinger, Craig was a farm wife and therefore not in the same social circle which involved membership in the Garden Club and other city organizations.

Craig’s version of the garden medallion won numerous local and national contests. In 1934, Hannah Haynes Headlee (herself an award-winning quilter) was one of the judges who awarded The Garden first prize in a national contest sponsored by Capper’s magazine. It also captured First Place at one of the first national quilt contests, the Eastern States Exposition at Springfield, Massachusetts in 1936. Other honors for The Garden included first prizes at the Kansas Free and Kansas State fairs in Topeka and Hutchinson, respectively.

This spectacular quilt was donated to the Kansas Museum of History by Paul and Frances Carpenter of Kansas City, Kansas. Dr. Paul Carpenter is Josephine Craig’s grandson.  Four other quilts by Josephine Craig also were donated to the museum by the Carpenter.”

In my opinion, when you compare the two quilts, it’s easy to see where Rose pulled her inspiration and yet changed the design.  Both quilts won numerous awards.  Both quilts are (in my opinion) equally lovely. 


Prep Work Makes All the Difference

I get asked a lot of questions about my quilts and my quilting.  Some of those inquiries really only need a paragraph or two to fully answer.  I tend to collect these and when I have between ten and a dozen I write a blog and answer all of them at once.  However, on occasion I get asked a question which merits an entire blog.  This is one of those occasions, and the question asked is “How do you prep your quilts?”  My first thought was the person wanted to know how I readied my quilt for the long arm.  But no, this person wanted to know how I organized my quilt units for maximum efficiency when I sat down to sew.

Ohhhh booyyy.  Maximum efficiency.  Some days I have it and some days I don’t.  In the words of that great lyricist, Mary Chapin Carpenter – Sometimes you’re the windshield and sometimes you’re the bug. I’ll be honest, I don’t have all the answers to this efficiency dilemma and what works for me may not work for you.  Each studio set up is different and each person works at a different pace.  Some people can work steadily for an hour or two and then feel the need to get up and stretch.  Some can only manage twenty or thirty minutes at a time.  I can tell you I had to develop a system which not only allowed me to put in some serious work in short spurts of time, but also set me up for longer periods of time without interruption.  I am not retired.  I work full time at the company my husband and I own.  I know Monday and Tuesdays are my most difficult days and those are the times I may not finish pushing paperwork until late in the evening.  Wednesdays are lighter and so are Thursdays.  Work on Friday is virtually non-existent.  Weekends are pretty much wide open.  This means at the first part of the week, I may only have thirty minutes or less to sew.  The other days are more flexible.  Regardless, I like to have things semi-organized so when I can sew, I make the most of it. 

My quilting world is divided into three types of quilts: Kits, Pieced, and Applique.  How I organize each depends on the type of quilt.  Let’s start with kits.

I treat all quilt kits the same way:  As soon as I get them into my studio, I open them up and make sure I have all the fabric listed and the amount included matches what directions state should be there.  Let me add this caveat here:  Most quilt kits are just fine and dandy.  The amount of fabric included in the kit is what’s stated on the pattern.  As a matter of fact, there’s usually a bit more.  However, mistakes can be made anywhere along the way, so measuring to make sure you have what you need is always a wise thing to do.  No matter if it’s one block from a 12-month block of the month program or an entire kit, this is time well-spent.  And as much as everyone knows I’m a pre-washer I don’t prewash the fabric in a kit.  Even though you usually have a bit more than you need, prewashing does cause the fabric to shrink a bit.  I would err on the side of caution and plan to throw several color catchers in my washer the first time I wash the quilt. 

If the unthinkable occurs and I am short a few inches or an entire piece of fabric, I immediately email or call the website or store where I purchased the kit.  They will supply you with additional fabric and in some cases replace the entire kit.  The sooner this is done the better.  If the kit is an especially popular one, it could sell out completely and additional fabric may not be available.  I’ll also add this – Ebay and Etsy can save your quilting sanity.  Sometimes you can find additional kits or kit fabric on these sites.  I’ve found Ebay to be especially helpful if I am working with a kit which is several years old. 

Moving on to non-kitted pieced and applique quilts… I treat both quilts alike in a couple of ways.  First, I make sure all my fabric is prewashed.  Second, with both quilts I cut out all the blocks and block units before I take my first stitch.  I have some sound reasoning behind this.  Of all the quilting steps which must be taken, I dislike the cutting out part the most.  I would rather get it all over with at one time so I can get to the fun part as soon as possible.  The other reason has to do with the fabric itself.  If I make cutting errors and need to purchase some additional fabric, now is the best time to know it.  It could be drastically too late if I’m 35 half-square triangles into a total of 50 and run out of one of the fabrics.  If the fabric is a recent enough purchase, chances are I can still find it where I purchased it at.  However, if it’s from my stash, it could be several years old and no longer available for sale.  Again, this is where Ebay and Etsy can save your quilting sanity.  There have been several times one or the other site has exactly what I need. 

Other than those two facts, the way I treat pieced and applique quilts differ.  With pieced quilts, I read the directions through a couple of times.  I decide if I will strictly follow the cutting instructions on the pattern or will make the units the way I want to. If I have to make dozens of four patches, I won’t cut out individual squares.  I’ll use the quick strip method.  I’ll make my half-square triangles larger and trim them to size.  I’ll decide if there are certain parts (such as flying geese) I can paper piece.  After these decisions are made, all the units are cut out – including the borders.  Some people wait until the top is completed before cutting the borders.  I personally don’t do it because it slows down my momentum.  If I know I have to get up from my sewing machine and wrangle several feet of fabric, I tend to try to find something else to do.  Let me also add I do cut my borders out longer than the pattern calls for.  Sometimes the finished measurements of your quilt top will differ from those on the pattern.  Always measure the length and width of the quilt center to get the correct border measurements and then it’s simple to just trim the cut-out borders to that – much easier than wrangling yards of leftover fabric.

After all of the units are cut out, it’s very important to coral them so they will stay organized.  The way I control the madness depends on the status of the quilt.  If the quilt will be stashed away for awhile or there’s travel plans in its future, I like these:

I keep the zip-type storage bags in three sizes – sandwich, gallon, and two-gallon – in my studio.  I generally put all the units of the same size meant for the same intended use in a bag.  For instance, if I have a grouping of 4 ½-inch squares which will be used to construct half-square triangles, all of those will go in one bag and I’ll write on the front of the bag “4 ½-inch square for HSTs.”  Sometimes I even write the name of the quilt on the bag – especially if I think it may be several months before I can begin sewing.  Just a note of personal reflection right here – always write what’s in the bag and what it’s for on the outside of the  bag.  You may think you’ll remember, but that’s not always the case ask me how I know. 

If the quilt is in the “direct to the sewing machine” status, I organize differently.  The zippered bags sit well in a project box, cardboard box, or tote bag.  However, they’re slippery and tend to slide off my sewing tables, especially when stacked on top of each other.  If I plan on starting the quilt right away, I opt for these:

These clips come in small, medium, and large and keep the cut-out units together pretty securely.  Recently I discovered these clips:

Which are bigger and can hold quite a bit.  They also have a hook so they can hang.  I use these to hold completed blocks as well as units.  Just like with the plastic bags, you need to indicate what size the units are and their intended use.  With the clips I simply write this information down on a post-it note and slide it under the nose of the clip. 

Once my units are organized, I find an old cookie sheet, disposable baking pans from the dollar store, or any other large-rectangle-ish pan.  These work great to store these units in and they fit nicely in the area beside my sewing machine.  If the project will be transported or stored for a while, I like stash them in the clear, plastic boxes you find at office supply places or dollar store establishments. 

Now that all the units are cut out and ready to rock and roll, it’s time to make sure I have any specialty threads and notions nearby.  If I’m paper piecing any units, all of the copies needed are printed.  I have the machine threaded and extra bobbins available.  I’ve changed my sewing machine needle (if needed) and I have read through the pattern directions at least twice and have my plan of action.  When I have time to sit down to sew, everything is there, and I can make the most of my time whether it’s 15 minutes or three hours.  I don’t have to stop and cut out additional units or chase down any special rulers. 

I handle my applique quilts in a similar manner.  If the quilt is both pieced and appliqued, I follow the method I use for pieced quilts and save the applique part until last.  And no matter whether I machine or hand applique the quilt, I prep the quilt the same way.  Like pieced quilts, the first step is cutting out all the units.  And let me add this helpful hint: If your applique pattern doesn’t state your background squares are larger than needed and will be cut down to size later, be sure to add ½-inch to the size of the square.  Both hand and machine applique will cause the fabric to pull up just a bit and if it’s not larger than needed, it may be smaller than you want when the applique is complete. 

At this point, the quilt prep becomes like an assembly line.  I mark all the centers of my applique squares and mark the backgrounds with any reference lines for applique placement.  Then I prep all my applique pieces.  Zone of truth here – this can take a long time depending on the size of the quilt.  Some quilters prep one block at a time, but as much as possible, I try to have all the applique pieces prepped and bagged/clipped for each block before I begin sewing.  This works for me because I love the applique process.  Once I start, I don’t want to stop.  I just want to keep sewing!  I may spend two weeks or more prepping an applique quilt, but this prep time is really worth it.  It doesn’t matter if it’s machine or hand applique or what method of applique used, advanced prep work really pays off. 

The one thing I usually don’t do is layout the applique pieces on all my background blocks. I don’t do this because I use glue to hold my pieces in place (unless I’m using the needle turn or back basting applique techniques), and the units can come unglued, fall off, and get lost.  If you want to lay out all your blocks at once, you can always thread baste the applique pieces in place.  This generally will ensure they stay put. 

After all the prep work, make sure you have any notions near your sewing area.  With either hand applique or machine applique, thread is the primary issue.  If you work with silk thread, make sure it’s nearby.  Same with cotton thread or any other type of thread you plan to use.  This way there’s no hunting for what you need if you have a few minutes to put in a few stitches.  I find this is especially important if you’re switching thread colors to match the fabric. 

Finally, there are a couple of additional steps I take to make the most of my quilting time.  These suggestions don’t have anything to do with the actual quilt prep, but these are a few ideas I’ve found save me time in the long run.  I work full-time, have a dynamic family life, and am active in my quilt guild and several other quilt groups.  If I have even 15 minutes to put in a few stitches, it pushes my quilt a little closer to completion.

  1.  Every New Year, I make a list of quilt projects I want to work on.  Generally this list is broken into four parts – Projects to finish, projects to start, projects to start and finish, and “lifers” (those projects which may take a few years to finish).  I keep this list hanging over my computer so I can see it every day.  It keeps me on task.
  2. Every Sunday, I sit down and write out a list of everything I need to do for the week.  These tasks include projects around the house, tasks for my family and organizations I belong to, and three or four quilting goals.  The weekly quilting goals correspond with the yearly quilting goals.  Some weeks I have time for several goals or a couple of lengthy ones.  Some weeks I don’t. I just remember each little step pushes my quilt closer to the finish line.
  3. When I stop machine sewing for the evening, I always make sure the units for the next step are by my machine and ready to rock and roll.  This way I don’t waste minutes searching for the things I need.  They’re ready to go as soon as I can catch some spare time.
  4. I do the same thing with my hand work.  And this is super easy to do if everything is prepped and ready to go.  I may not have the time to spend time behind my machine or I simply may not feel like it.  But if my handwork is ready to go and stacked by my chair in front of the TV, I can easily put in a half an hour binding a quilt, sewing down some applique, or hand piecing a few units. 

I’ll be the first to admit, prep work is not a lot of fun.  It’s not the “sexy” side of quilting.  But I will also be honest and tell you good, solid quilt prep saves time and sanity in the long run.  Once everything is prepped, you have the ability to make the most of your sewing time, whether is fifteen minutes or several hours.  And every step — big or small – gets you closer to finishing your quilt.

Until next week, Remember the Details Make the Difference!

Love and Stitches,



A Brief History of Quilt Shows (Or Challenge Accepted)

I’m not sure why I enjoy writing about obscure quilt topics.

Overall, any writer can tell you obscure topics require hours   of research.  Research that can yield little to no information.  Remember my blog on the quilt projects of the 1980’s?  That topic fascinated me.  When I began to look into it, I figured it would require a day or two of research, perhaps some follow up phone or email interviews and I could have it “in the can” within a couple of weeks.

“The Power Behind the Needle: The Quilt Projects of the Eighties” took two years to research and one heartbreakingly short week to write.  These projects were such a touchstone to quilt preservation, appreciation, and quilt guilds, I just knew the internet would be awash with tons of information.  In actuality, the amount of remaining data about them was so small.  So very, very small.  Tragically small.

I’m All About Preserving Quilt History

I’m one of those quilters who strongly believe preserving quilt history is as important as preserving our quilts and continuing to teach new quilters.  What we have today, as far as techniques and traditions, was established years ago.  And while none of us (at least I think) would go so far as to state we all need to return to such traditions as hand quilting everything, we all can agree this art needs to be perpetuated in our twenty-first century quilting landscape.  Just as most of us (at least I hope so) can agree understanding our quilt history is important. 

The backwash of this is a historic hard reality:  Quilting was women’s work.  And society viewed women’s work through a patriarchal filter which meant it wasn’t nearly as important as men’s.  Therefore, a great deal of our quilt history was passed down by women to other women in the forms of diaries, letters, and family folklore.  Quilts and other women’s textiles did not merit much else.  Once women obtained the right to vote in the 1920’s, things shifted a bit.  Newspapers began carrying quilt patterns and columns written by women.  Books and magazines promoted the art.  Yet we are still left with questions about quilts and quilters which may never be answered.

But we try to come up with solutions.  We study diaries and quilts and almost anything else we can get our hands on.  Which kind of brings me to this week’s topic.  A few days ago, I had the opportunity to view a Zoom lecture sponsored by The Quilt Alliance and their Textile Talks.**  Barbara Brackman and Merikay Woldvogel spoke about the Mother of All Quilt Shows, the Sears Quilt Show at the 1933 Chicago World’s Fair.  (If you want to know more about this, go here: and here: ).

Challenge Accepted

Which brings me to today’s blog.  In case you didn’t know, Barbara Brackman*** is the Grand Dame of quilt history and quilt blocks.  She began cataloguing quilt blocks on index cards in the 1970’s and all her research led to her wonderful Quilt Block Encyclopedias and EQ’s Block Base.  Merikay Woldvogel wrote one of the first books about Depression Era Quilts (Soft Covers for Hard Times).  Barbara and Merikay knew of each other but actually met when both were researching the Sears Quilt Show.  Then they proceeded to co-write a book about the show. 

During the lecture Barbara mentioned it would be nice if someone could research the history of quilt shows and how they have changed throughout the years.

I’m not sure if part of me said, “Challenge accepted” or “Gee, that does sound really interesting and since I already include quite a bit of quilt history in my blog…this sounds like a good match.”  Either way, I couldn’t stop thinking about the topic.  On a quiet Sunday afternoon in March, I cranked up my computer and Googled “History of Quilt Shows,” and “How have quilt shows changed?”

And got back literally nothing except information on Ricky Timms and Alex Anderson’s The Quilt Show. 

Nothing ventured, nothing gained, I searched “First Quilt Show,” “Quilt Judging,” and various other similar topics.  Still nothing.  Finally I pulled out one of my secret weapons:  Susan Pierce.  Susan is a fellow guild member.  We quilt together on most Fridays.  She’s one of my good friends.  She also knows A LOT about quilt history.  And she did not disappoint.  She pushed enough information my way that it pointed me in the directions I needed to go.

From Livestock Shows to Quilt Shows

The first thing to remember about quilt shows is this:  Quilters quilted for years without any.  And the large quilt shows we’re so used to now (such as AQS Paducah and Houston’s International Quilt Show) are very recent additions to the world of quilting.  For years, women would spread their quilts out for others to look at or put their best quilt on the bed in the guest bedroom.  These types of activities were their quilt shows.  Those quilts were examined, the workmanship praised, and they were pronounced beautiful and outstanding works of art.  Sometimes patterns were requested by the viewers.  And this had to be enough until County Fairs came on the scene. 

Depending on who you ask, which county had the first fair is up for some serious debate.  York, Pennsylvania had one in 1765.  The Franklin County Fair is the oldest, continually operating fair.  It’s been held in Greenfield, Massachusetts since 1848.  The Topsfield Fair (also in Massachusetts) began in 1818 as a cattle show.  No matter which fair you believe is the oldest, it’s safe to say county fairs were major events by the mid-nineteenth century.  While most of these events began primarily as livestock shows, it didn’t take long for the fair officials to implement categories specifically for women to enter.  And one of these categories was quilting.  The county fair quilt shows were more than just an opportunity to win ribbons; it was a chance to see other quilts, examine what new techniques others were using, and come away with great ideas for your next quilt.  Like today, you may have agreed with the judge or thought the judge needed glasses, but a good quilty time was had by all.  These quilt shows are the first recorded quilt shows in America. 

State fairs weren’t an event until 1841, when New York held its first state fair in Syracuse.  Other states soon followed, with Texas holding the record for the largest state fair and Illinois having two state fairs.  Forty-eight of our states and the District of Columbia currently have state fairs.  In many ways, these state fairs mimicked county fairs, except they were bigger, had more attendees, and anyone in the state could enter any of the categories – including quilting.  The state fairs offered a larger venue for quilters.   Quilters from all over the state could enter their projects.  Yes, it took some time for them to get their quilts to the state fair location, but in one way state fairs generally differed from county fairs – the prize winners took home cash.  That, in and of itself, was enough to motivate many quilters to finish their quilts, pack them up, and get them to the fairgrounds on time.  Ribbons and bragging rights are one thing, but cash is the great incentivizer. 

The First Large, Well-Documented Quilt Shows

At this point, quilt show history gets hazy.  While county and state fairs continued to have a quilt venue and listed the winners with pictures of their quilts in the newspapers, other quilt shows (if there were any) didn’t even have this amount of publicity.  As a matter of fact, when I began researching quilt shows apart from what the fairs conducted, I came away with a myriad of dates.  One resource stated the first quilt show (all of these are separate from those at the fairs) was in 1975.  Another said 1978.  However, I think there were at least two large quilt shows prior to the Seventies.  One of these I know very well – The Sears Quilt Show at the 1933 and 1934 World’s Fair. 

I won’t rehash everything here about the Sears Quilt Show because I wrote two fairly exhaustive blogs about them and the links to these are listed above.  The Sears Quilt Show remains the Mother of All Quilt Shows.  Attendance topped out in the thousands, and it awarded $7,500.00 in cash prizes.  The grand prize winner not only took home a ribbon and bragging rights, but also $1,000, which in the middle of the Great Depression was worth $18,014.27 in today’s money.  Although Sears gave quilters a tight deadline (the show was announced in January and the deadline was May), they did award local and regional winners as well as the grand prize winners at the Chicago World Fair.  This show also still holds the record for the number of quilts entered – 24,000.

The second large-ish quilt show was The Detroit News Quilt shows.  And this wasn’t so much one show, as it was a series of annual shows.  If you remember earlier in this blog, I mentioned women received the right to vote in 1920.  The right to vote gave women more than just power in the voting booth.  It gave them a voice.  Entrepreneurs, newspapers, and elected officials with an ounce of forethought realized the 19th amendment was simply the tip of a very deep iceberg.  Women would become a market group, voting bloc, and readership in their own might.  The Detroit News realized this and in the 1930’s hired Edith B. Crumb as the editor of their Beauty in the Home section.  As soon as Ms. Crumb settled in, she started the Quilt Club Corner in 1932. For a small fee, women could join the club.  Membership included having your letter to Ms. Crumb read aloud by her on WWJ, a popular Detroit radio station.  The club also produced a list of members for their membership which included addresses so members could correspond and meet.  Best of all, it allowed members to enter their quilts in a show.  The first of these shows was held November 17-19, 1933.  This show attracted over 50,000 viewers and had over 1,000 quilts entered.   Word quickly spread to quilters outside of Detroit and Michigan.  The second Quilt Club Corner show was held October 12-14, 1934, and was “a greater success than the first show.” 

The shows continued for several years.  Ribbons were awarded as well as cash prizes (first prize garnered $25).  The show expanded categories to include Juvenile Quilts as well as applique quilts.  These shows were hugely successful.  However, they ground to a halt in 1941.  After the bombing of Pearl Harbor, Ms. Edith Crumb met with some of the members of Quilt Club Corner and formed The Detroit News Needles for Defense Club.  Everyone who knew how to use a sewing machine or needle and thread was invited to join this new club and members of the Quilt Club Corner were given a special invitation by Ms. Crumb to join.  The Quilt Club was disbanded for the duration of World War II.

After the War, it did not return.

Post World War II and the Bicentennial Quilting Re-Birth

Post World War II, women once again found their position in society shifting.  During the War, women took the place of men in factories and farms, as men enlisted or were drafted into the Armed Services.  When the war was over, and men returned home, things did not go back to the way they were prior to 1941.  Many women remained in the workplace.  Quilting dipped in popularity because there wasn’t a lot of spare time for it. While county and state fairs still had quilt venues, it wasn’t until our Bicentennial Year that quilting regained a renewed interest. 

I explained much of what happened in to quilting in the Seventies here:  The 1976 United States Bicentennial renewed an interest in many folk arts and quilting just happened to be one of those.  New quilters were abundant and as the Bicentennial festivities drew to a close, they realized two important things.  First, they wanted to continue to quilt, because they loved it.  Second, they wanted to form groups which would meet to continue to foster quilting and teach new quilters.  As a result of this second idea, quilt guilds were formed throughout the Seventies, Eighties, and beyond. 

Here’s when I believe quilt shows as we know them today began to come into play.  When the guilds first formed, they met to teach and promote quilting skills.  However, what many non-guild folks may not realize is a guild is run much like a business – even though the majority of guilds are registered nonprofits.  The guild needs money for office supplies, hospitality supplies, etc. Membership fees cover part of these expenses, but most guilds learned rather quickly a bigger fundraising event was needed to sustain their bottom lines.  Quilt shows, by necessity and by choice, became the defacto means of keeping the guilds’ bottom lines in the black.  They also served another purpose.  Quilt shows became a way of demonstrating to the community how important quilts were and how the local quilt guild helped their community (since most guilds have a charitable outreach of some kind).  Members were encouraged to display their quilts and ribbons were awarded.  Thus, the local quilt show was born.  Today, we’re used to hearing about local guild shows on a consistent basis.  The earliest of these shows was recorded in 1978 by the East Bay Heritage Quilters. Props must be given to a guild which was founded in June 1978 and held a show in October of that same year. 

While the Seventies and Eighties birthed literally hundreds of local quilt guilds and their shows, a national awareness about quilts still lingered from the aftermath of the Bicentennial.  So much so, there were several national quilt shows held during this time, including Jonathan Holstein’s and Gail van der Hoof’s 1971 Abstract Designs in American Quilts, which drew major attention to quilts.  Quilts were hung vertically, presenting them as works of art, rather than domestic necessities.  Their prominent display in New York’s Whitney Museum of American Art drew thousands of viewers.  From these national quilt shows, three other folks formed national/international groups and developed what I call the “Big Three” of the quilt shows we’re familiar with today.

In 1975 Karoline (Karey) Bresenhan formed the International Quilt Festival in Houston, Texas.  If you’ve read my blog on the Quilt Projects of the Eighties, you may recognize her name.  Hot on the heels of the success from the Texas Quilt Project and growth spurt of Texas quilt shops and guilds, Karey decided to form both the International Quilt Market – which features vendors from all types of sewing and quilting goods manufacturers – and the International Quilt Festival, a four-day event which eventually drew quilters from all over the world.  This show has numerous categories and awards both cash prizes (ranging from $12,500 to $1,000) and ribbons (not to mention serious bragging rights if you come home with a ribbon attached to your quilt). 

Also in 1975, the Mancuso Shows were born.  Peter and David Mancuso formed the Mancuso Show Management from David’s antique shop in New Hopes, Pennsylvania.  Originally the brothers wanted to host a series of antique shows, but soon found out that quilts and quilt-related textiles were the items which drew the most attention.  They have now hosted over 300 QuiltFest shows, which awards cash and ribbons to the winners.

In 1983, Meredith and Bill Schroeder headed out to a national quilt show in Bell Buckle, Tennessee.  The Schroeders, who were avid quilt collectors, were not surprised at the number of quilts – 400 – hung in the exhibit hall.  What did grab their attention was the number of spectators who poured into see the quilts. Thousands of enthusiastic folks lined up each day and paid to view the quilts.  Delighted in the eagerness of the attendees, Meredith formed the American Quilters Society in 1984.  By 1985, AQS held its first show in Paducah, Kentucky.  To me what is unique about this, is the town of Paducah. During the week of the quilt show, the city literally turns into Quilt City, USA.  Quilts are hung everywhere – even gas stations.  An average of 37,000 folks attend this event and both cash awards and ribbons are awarded.  The cash awards in the Paducah AQS show are a bit different.  There are straight-up cash awards and then there are purchase awards.  Purchase awards mean your quilt is purchased by the show for future exhibits.  The Best of Show Winner is a Purchase Award.  While the winner may go home without his or her quilt, they pocket a substantial sum of cash and have the honor of knowing their quilt is now hanging in the National Quilt Museum (also founded by the Schroeders and named the National Quilt Museum by Congress in 2008).

These three large shows are juried shows (meaning you must send in photograph of your quilt for acceptance before it’s hung in the show).  They also have great vendor malls and classes are available to take during quilt week.  Most local quilt shows are not juried, but many do have good vendor malls, and some offer classes. 

The In-Between Quilt Shows

There are a couple of quilt shows which fall between the definitions of a “small, local show” and one of the Big Three.  The two I’m specifically thinking of are Road to California and the Sisters Quilt Show.

Road to California was purchased by Carolyn Reese in 1991.  Prior to Ms. Reese’s purchase, Road to California existed as a small, local-ish quilt conference in Anaheim, California.  She changed the dates, pulled in well-known judges, and developed a fantastic vendor mall.  The result is an outstanding quilt show, attended by more than 42,000 people.

The Sisters Quilt Show is much smaller than Road to California, but it is held completely outdoors and is completely free.  This show generally attracts around 10,000 people and the buildings in Sisters, Oregon serve as the backdrop for nearly 1,400 quilts.  There are no categories.  There is no judging.  This is just an unabashed display of gorgeous quilts – of every color and every type — for your viewing pleasure.  While this show is only for one day (the second Saturday in July), there are lots of quilting events throughout the week, including classes taught by well-known quilters.

There are other (literally hundreds) of “in-between” quilt shows like these all across the United States.  Nearly all of them (such as the Vermont Quilt Festival and the New England Quilt Festival) are off-shoots from the Bicentennial’s quilt revival.  Most have vendor malls and award both cash prizes and ribbons. 

What Does the Future Hold for Quilt Shows

The “Big Three” will soon become the “Big Four”

While the “Big Three” continue to hold ground as the most well-known quilt shows, there’s an up-and-coming fourth player in the national quilt show realm:  QuiltCon. 

QuiltCon is the largest, modern quilting event of its kind and it’s produced by the Modern Quilt Guild.  It is a juried show with twelve judged categories, special exhibits, and a vendor mall curated especially for modern quilters.  It’s only 10 years old but it’s drawing in thousands of spectators and is hanging outstandingly beautiful quilts.  My prediction is the “Big Three” will become the “Big Four” soon.  I am proud and happy that my state’s capital – Raleigh, North Carolina – is QuiltCon’s 2024 host.

COVID still somewhat alters some quilt shows

For all the quilting quilters did during lockdowns, I still find the ugly backwash of the virus present.  While the large quilt shows and most of the in-between ones are up and running full speed ahead now, many of the smaller, local shows are gasping for breath.  Post-COVID, some guilds found their membership gutted, and no longer have the number of people needed to organize a show.  Some good information was garnered during this time.  Several organizations tried the virtual route – the quilts were displayed virtually and there was a virtual vendor mall.  And while there were varying degrees of success, over all this virtual picture was pretty dim.  Quilters like those in-person shows.

Quilt shows have come a long way from side exhibits at county fairs.  After enjoying a nearly dizzying height of popularity in the Thirties and then falling into near obscurity only to enjoy a re-birth of it again after the Bicentennial, they have grown and changed to reflect quilters and their love of quilting.  And personally, I’ve enjoyed falling down this quilty rabbit hole of obscure information about one of the hottest topics for any quilter.  Please take a few moments to read the additional notes at the end of this blog.

Until next week, Remember, the Details Make the Difference!

Love and Stitches,


**Quilt Alliance is located in Asheville, North Carolina.  Once a week they offer a free Zoom presentation about some historical aspects of textiles.  Quite often the program concerns quilts.  If you log into their website, you can sign up for an email notification about the Zoom programs. 

***Barbara Brackman is part of a YouTube Channel called Six Know-It-Alls and a Quilt.  Six well-known quilters discuss quilts and textile history.  This is a wonderful YouTube Channel, especially if you like quilt history.  The ladies are knowledgeable and hysterically funny at the same time.

****Those of you who have read my blogs about the Sears Quilt Show (and if you haven’t, this footnote will make absolutely no sense) remember the grand prize winner of $1,000 was Margaret Caden.  The winning quilt was titled “Star of the Bluegrass.”  And to be honest, there was nothing super-spectacular about the quilt (even by 1930’s standards).  It was a star quilt, done up in the particular minty-ish green so popular during the Depression Era.  The technique which made the quilt stand out was the “stuffed” (trapunto) leaves in the blocks adjacent to the stars. 

Margaret Caden’s Star of the Bluegrass

To be honest, this quilt has a pretty shady past.  Margaret Caden was a professional quilt maker.  She and her sister, Anna, owned a needlework/quilt making business.  They employed seamstresses to make the quilts they sold, including Star of the Bluegrass.  Margaret herself didn’t put a stitch in the quilt.  She paid her seamstresses to make the quilt and offered them none of the prize money as a bonus.  And after the quilt was complete, she didn’t follow the standard procedure for acceptance in the contest.  Quilts were to be shipped to a regional Sears in the quilter’s area.  At that Sears, they would be judged.  The top three would then move onto the Chicago World’s Fair.

Margaret Caden didn’t do this.  She shipped hers directly to the Chicago Sears for judging.  She probably did this for a couple of reasons.  The particular quilt design of this star and then a relief area was very well-known, well-used, and well-loved in Caden’s home state of Kentucky.  As a matter of fact, most antique quilts with this design (especially if they were made from silks) have a Kentucky province.  To have this quilt in the Kentucky (or surrounding area) Sears wouldn’t be in Caden’s favor.  There were probably a dozen similar quilts in that particular contest.  However, it wouldn’t be viewed as “common” in Chicago.  It would stand out. And since the quilt pattern was so common in Kentucky, it’s unlikely Margaret or Anna Caden even designed much, if any, of the Star of the Bluegrass.  In fact, it was a Mountain Mist quilt pattern.  Few, if any, changes were made.

Beside the $1,000 cash award, a nifty ribbon, and bragging rights, the Grand Prize Winning Quilt would be gifted to the First Lady of the United States, which at this time was Eleanor Roosevelt.  There are pictures and articles about Mrs. Roosevelt receiving the quilt.  Meanwhile, Margaret Caden went back to Kentucky and monopolized on her big “win.”  Pictures of the Star of the Bluegrass were everywhere, so the Caden sisters made quilt kits (for the quilter) and completed quilts (for the non-quilter) in the exact same colors as the winning quilt.  Hundreds of the Star of the Bluegrass quilts soon populated Kentucky’s homes – not to mention out-of-state sales.

Meanwhile, the original Star of the Bluegrass, which was supposed to be residing in the White House, disappeared.  We know Mrs. Roosevelt received it, and then it literally vanished.  The Roosevelt Family has been asked repeatedly through the years if any family member has it, or do they remember ever seeing it.  The answer to both questions has always been, “No.”  It’s not in the Roosevelt Presidential Library nor White House Repositories.  It wasn’t listed in the items Eleanor took with her when she moved from the White House after her husband died.  It is thought, if Mrs. Roosevelt had knowledge of the quilt’s “shady” past and monopolized future, she would not have displayed it.  Instead she may have packed the quilt away for a while and then gave it away to someone who helped her in the White House when she moved. 

We will probably never know.  More than likely the quilt was tossed a long time ago. 

From time-to-time we do hear that the Star of the Bluegrass has been found.  Each time this happens, it turns out the quilt either came from a kit or was one the Caden sister’s needlework company produced.  The closest we’ve ever came to the actual quilt was a few left over “stuffed” leaf blocks one of the seamstresses kept as her own souvenir. 


Quilting with Fibonacci

First, I want you to repeat after me:

“Numbers are our friends.  Numbers do not lie.”

Repeat this phrase as many times as necessary while reading this blog.

I am rather consistently amazed with quilters who don’t know how to “math” out their quilts or don’t understand how to.  I’m even more amazed at quilters who would rather not learn how to do quilt math and simply follow all the directions on a pattern.  Quilt math sets you free to alter patterns or design your own quilt.  And there’s nothing to really dread about this math. It’s addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division.  If you can balance your checkbook and come up with a workable household budget, you can easily conquer the math needed to change patterns or design your own quilt top.

Quilts and quilters generally have an uneasy working relationship with Algebra and Geometry.  Occasionally the fields of Algebra and Geometry will throw us quilters a formula we can use.  And what I find gratifying about these higher maths (especially geometry), is when the formula is introduced in the concept of concrete numbers, it makes a lot more sense than it did sweating out variables in Ms. Blalocks’ seventh period geometry class.  Which is why I also think Algebra should be taught in lockstep with chemistry, but that’s a different battle for a different day.  I have written a lot about the Golden Ratio (1.618) and quilting (Go here: ) and how we can use it to produce wonderfully balanced quilts, sashing, and borders.  Today I want to introduce another similar formula called Fibonacci.  But before we get into what exactly Fibonacci numbers are and how we use them in quilts, let’s talk a little bit about Fibonacci himself.

Fibonacci, also known as Leonardo BonacciLeonardo of Pisa, or Leonardo Bigollo Pisano (‘Leonardo the Traveller from Pisa’), was an Italian mathematician from the Republic of Pisa, considered to be “the most talented Western mathematician of the Middle Ages”. The name he is commonly called, Fibonacci, was made up in 1838 by the Franco-Italian historian Guillaume Libri and is short for filius Bonacci (‘son of Bonacci’). However, even earlier, in 1506, a notary of the Holy Roman Empire, Perizolo mentions Leonardo as “Lionardo Fibonacci”.  Fibonacci popularized the Indo–Arabic numeral system in the Western world primarily through his composition in 1202 of Liber Abaci (Book of Calculation). He also introduced Europe to the sequence of Fibonacci numbers, which he used as an example in Liber Abaci.

Fibonacci was born around 1170 to Guglielmo, an Italian merchant, and customs official. Guglielmo directed a trading post in Bugia (Béjaïa) in modern-day Algeria, the capital of the Hammadi empire. Fibonacci travelled with him as a young boy, and it was in Bugia (Algeria) where he was educated that he learned about the Hindu–Arabic numeral system.

Fibonacci travelled around the Mediterranean coast, meeting with many merchants and learning about their systems of doing arithmetic. He soon realized the many advantages of the Hindu-Arabic system, which, unlike the Roman numerals used at the time, allowed easy calculation using a place-value system. In 1202, he completed the Liber Abaci (Book of Abacus or The Book of Calculation), which popularized Hindu–Arabic numerals in Europe.

Fibonacci is thought to have died between 1240 and 1250, in Pisa. (Wikipedia)

The key phrase from all this history is this:  Sequence of Numbers.  While Fibonacci was pretty darn keen about substituting Hindu-Arabic numbers for Roman numerals (because the Hindu-Arabic numbers we use today make computations so much easier – can you imagine three-digit addition with Roman numerals?), he was also fascinated with number sequences.  What made it even more fascinating was Fibonacci saw his number sequences reflected in nature, art, and architecture.  The way the number sequence works is though simple addition.

Begin with the number one.  Add the number before one (in this case, zero) and one together to come up with two.

1, 1, 2

Now add the 2 and the second one together to get 3.

1, 1, 2, 3

Keep adding the new number to the one immediately preceding it, and this is the Fibonacci Sequence:

1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, 34, 55, etc.    

So, how do these numbers work in day-to-day life?  The Fibonacci Sequence is seen in tree branches, as the sequence begins with the trunk and then works out and up in the branches.  If you’re a storm tracker, the swirling masses of hurricanes is a great example of the Fibonacci numbers at work.  The numbers in sequence, with one being the eye or center of the storm, expands in a tight formation of the Fibonacci numbers.  Pinecones, flower heads, galaxies, flower petals, nautilus shells, and humans all exist as great examples of the Fibonacci Sequence.  However, in nature, instead of these numbers lining up in horizontal or vertical row, most of the time they appear in a spiral sort of form like this:

The Fibonacci spiral or Fibonacci sequence is one of the mathematical formulas par excellence in terms of the proportion aurea or divine proportion. The number is repeated infinitely, we can find it both in the organic form of nature and in the galaxies of the universe itself. It consists of drawing circular arcs connecting the opposite corners of the squares adjusted to the succession values, by putting side squares 0, 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, 34, 55 and so on.

Which, if you look closely, can be found reflected in nature and architecture.

By now, if you’re still reading about the plethora of numbers I’ve thrown at you, I bet you’re wondering what does any of this have to do with quilting?  And that’s a fair question.  But before I answer, I would like to ask you to do something:  Think about a Log Cabin quilt block.  For my example in this blog, I am using this Log Cabin variation.

If you follow the progression of this block, in the lower right-hand corner are two squares of equal size.  For the sake of keeping things simple, let’s say both of these squares are 1-inch.  So, these are the first two numbers of the Fibonacci Sequence: 1, 1.  The patches adjacent to the left side and top are twice the size of the joined first two patches, making them 2-inches.  This is the third number of the Fibonacci Sequence:  1, 1, 2.  The next set of patches would be 3-inches (1, 1, 2, 3) and the sequence would continue on until the block was as large as you needed it to be.  It would also be balanced and pleasing to the eye because it used the Fibonacci Sequence during construction.

Fibonacci may also be observed in some applique pieces, especially flowers.  Note the spiral formation in the rose and the petals in the other flower.

Even star blocks reflect the Fibonacci Sequence.

So, at this point we know who Fibonacci was, his number sequence, and how to compute his number sequence.  Which brings us to the main topic of this blog: How do we use the Fibonacci Sequence in our quilting?  Is it anything like working with the Golden Ratio?  Let’s tackle the first question before the second.

One of the easiest quilts to make is a Rail Fence Quilt.

This quilt is made of blocks like this:

Which are simply strips cut the same length and width and sewn together.  There are two things I love about Rail Fence Quilts.  First, they are super-duper stash busters.  If you like to cut your leftover fabric into some kind of manageable stash-keeping system, Rail Fence Quilts is a great vehicle for this.  After you’ve constructed your quilt top, cut the remaining fabric into strips in the width of your choice (I usually cut mine 2-inches wide).  Store them somewhere until you have enough to begin piecing your blocks.  Sew the strips together lengthwise until the sewn together strips are as wide as you’d like the blocks, and then cut the strip apart into blocks. 

The second reason I like the Rail Fence Quilt is, despite its simplicity, there are some serious design variations you can throw out with these strippy blocks. 

But…let’s play with this block by throwing in the Fibonacci Sequence.  Going back to our initial sequence (1, 1, 2, 3, 5), what if we cut our strips the width of the Fibonacci Sequence?  How would that look in a block? It’s not hard to figure this out.  Remember, we always work with the finished size of the block, and then add a ½-inch seam allowance.  This would the actual width we cut the strips.

Strips One and Two: 1 + ½ = 1 ½-inches

Strip Two: 2 + ½ = 2 ½-inches

Strip Three: 3 + ½-inches = 3 ½-inches

At this point, our block would be 7-inches finished, and would look something like this:

And there are lots of fun ways to lay this Rail Fence Quilt out.

You can have even more fun by dividing the 7-inch block into two rectangles with coinciding Fibonacci numbers. 

Rectangle One could measure 3 x 7-inches finished and the second rectangle could measure 4 x 7-inches finished.  Within these two rectangles you could piece units within the Fibonacci Sequence and come up with something like this:

Depending on your color choices, you can get some mind-bending layout ideas. 

Please realize, too, you don’t have to stick to strippy blocks when Fibonacci is in play.  Let’s revisit our sequence again:  1, 1, 2, 3, 5.  As long as the units in your block (even if the units are pieced) measure these finished sizes, your good to go.  In other words, you could have a simple pieced block with the units measuring 1, 1, 2, 3, 5 like this:

Or you could take those units and piece them.  As long as the finished measurements of each unit come up to 1, 1, 2, 3, and 5, you’re still well within the Fibonacci Sequence. 

The Fibonacci Sequence doesn’t just pertain to pieced blocks.  Applique blocks also use them.  The circles in this appliqued quilt

Used the Fibonacci Sequence to determine what size they needed to be. And those applique blocks with flowers all over the place?  Many times the designers of those blocks used the Fibonacci Sequence to determine how big to make them.

Let me leave you with one last very practical example of how we quilters can use the Fibonacci Sequence.  Most of us have one of these:

Somewhere in our stash.  We saw the panel and we liked it.  Or in my case, I keep a few nursery panels around to make quick baby quilts for gifts.  The quickest and easiest way to deal with panels is to simply put borders around the panel.  An afternoon of quickly cut borders, sewing, and some simple quilting results in a nice baby shower gift.  We can use the Fibonacci Sequence to determine the borders’ sizes.  However, I can hear some of you right now, “One-inch borders are so narrow to sew and don’t show up well against my panel.”

That very well may be true, but allow me to also throw in this caveat – you can make the first border 2-inches wide (you simply add the 1, 1).  The second border would also be 2-inches wide.  The third, 3-inches wide, and the final one would be 5-inches wide.  You also don’t necessarily have to begin the sequence with one.  You could begin with two.  In this case, your sequence would look like this: 2, 3, 5, 8, 11.

Finally, let’s look at the last question:  Does the Fibonacci Sequence and the Golden Ratio have anything in common?  Truthfully, beyond both producing pleasing blocks, applique, or quilt size, no.  But it is amazing how close the numbers come without landing squarely on top of each other.  We use division with the Golden Ratio (1.618).  If we take the Fibonacci Sequence numbers and divide them by their preceding number, the answers look like this:

2/1=2, 3/2=1.5, 5/3=1.667, 8/5=1.6, 23/8=1.625, and 21/13=1.615.

So you can see that the final number (21/13) gets super close to the Golden Ratio.

The Fibonacci Sequence is another tool you can tuck away in your quilting toolbox and bring out when you want to alter a quilt pattern or design your own.  It also comes in pretty handy when you’re dealing with some orphan blocks in different sizes or a quilt panel.  And always remember, no matter how traumatic your high school math classes were, numbers are our friends.  They never lie.

Until next Week, remember the Difference is in the Details!

Love and Stitches,



All that Fabulous Fabric

In many aspects, quilters can be divided into two groups:  Those who cultivate a stash and those who do not.  Stash – just in case you don’t know what that means – is the fabric accumulated by quilters without a specific purpose in mind.  The quilter either liked the fabric and decided she or he would make a quilt out of it at some future point, or the fabric fits one of the basic quilting needs:  It can be used as a neutral, a background, focus fabric, or is a blender.  However, no matter if you’re a stash builder or a stash minimalist, both types of quilters need fabric.  And that’s what today’s blog topic deals with – what is a good fabric, what’s not a good fabric, and where to find the best fabric.

This blog will also have many “Zones of Truth” in it on my part.  Here’s the first one:  I am a self-professed fabric snob.  I haven’t always been this way, but the longer I quilt the more particular I become over notions, thread, and fabric.  When I began quilting years ago (back when we lived in caves and I sewed with a needle made of bone), I couldn’t afford quality fabric unless it was on sale.  I used the “cheap stuff” because those were the price points my wallet could afford.  However, once I was able to construct a small quilt out of quality fabric, I was amazed at the differences.  The quilt looked better, it definitely felt better, and sewed so much more easily.  A light bulb went off and I decided I would only use quality fabric and purchase it as I could afford to.  This could mean I waited awhile to start a project or only made a small one.  However, the quilting experience was so much better with good fabric, it was worth the wait or the altered size. 

And now, since fabric can be purchased from quilt shops, big box stores, and hundreds of online sites, how can we tell if it’s quality fabric?  There are a couple of different ways.  The first is thread count.  Most of us may be aware of this term concerning bed sheets – the higher the thread count, the softer the sheet.  While quality quilting fabric doesn’t need to have as high of a thread count as sheets, it does need to be somewhere in the 60 threads per square inch category – 60 threads running horizontally and vertically in the square inch.  

So what do you do?  The next time you’re fabric shopping, do you take a magnifying glass and count the threads per square inch before purchasing? 

Nope.  The fabric will have three other characteristics to show it has adequate thread counts.  First, it will be smooth to the touch.  It won’t be super stiff, it won’t feel like sandpaper, and will be soft to both the palm and back of your hand (the back of the hand is more sensitive than the palm).  Second, it won’t fray.  Pull the bolt out and look where the fabric has been cut across the crosswise grain from selvedge to selvedge.  If there’s a great deal of fraying, the chances are pretty good the fabric has a thread count lower than 60 threads p/s/i.   Third, it will have a crisp hand.  This is different than feeling stiff.  A low thread count fabric will feel stiff enough to almost stand up by itself.  A crisp fabric can hold a crease well.  To determine if a fabric is crisp, fold a section of the material and run your nail down the fold.  Open the fabric.  If the crease you just made by running your nail down the fold remains in place, then the material has a good thread count. 

At this point, let me throw in this additional fact:  Good fabric will have a finish on it.  During the manufacturing process (usually towards the end of production, right before the material goes on the bolts), the fabric has a chemical introduced to its surface.  Now this finishing has a lot of pros and just as many cons, depending on what kind quilt your making.  If you plan on fusing any of the fabric (such as in raw edge applique), sometimes the finish can prevent the fusible webbing from adhering properly.  If any type of dye, ink, or paint is introduced to the fabric’s surface, quite often the finishing will interfere with that.  Some finishes will also flake off, so if you have a sensitive nose, it can make you sneeze. However, the finish does help the fabric look great on the bolt.  When a fabric is treated with a finishing chemical, it keeps its shape, and it prevents bleeding.  A super-stiff fabric not only has a lower thread count, but it will also (more than likely) be less colorfast than a finished fabric. 

Most of today’s quilts are made from 100 percent cotton fabrics.  And with today’s consumer interest in all-natural, organic everything, cotton fabric is easy to come by.  However let me add this additional piece of information for you to ponder – Besides having the ability to purchase good fabric to use in quilts, did you know we now can purchase cotton fabrics designed especially for quilters?  These are called Quilting Cottons, and it’s important to note that all cotton fabric sold as quilting fabric may not be Quilting Cottons.  Quilting Cottons are a bit heavier than regular 100 percent cottons, weighing in at roughly four ounces per yard.  So faced with the possibility of purchasing either regular cotton fabric or Quilting Cotton, why should you choose the Quilting Cottons?

First, Quilting Cottons are heavier than regular cottons.  This means there’s less chance of the batting bearding through.  Second, Quilting Cottons are also more tightly woven than regular cottons, meaning they are extremely stable and won’t stretch or warp while cutting and sewing.  The third and fourth reasons are from my Zone of Truth.  If I have to cut a lot of pieces on the bias, or I’m making true bias binding for a large quilt, I try my best to perform those two tasks with Quilting Cottons.  The tighter weave of the fabric gives it more stability and I personally think this keeps the bias from stretching too much.  The fourth reason concerns the quilting itself.  I think Quilting Cottons quilt up prettier than regular cotton fabric (and this reason is completely subjective).

Of course, quilts from the past were not always made from 100 percent cotton fabric.  Many times women had to work with what they had or what they could find.  It’s not odd to find wool used in antique quilts and quilts from the 1970’s have an abundance of double knit and polyester.  Today quilters will often turn to linen and flannel for their quilting needs.  However, with the growing popularity of “upcycling,” many quilters are searching for fabric/used clothing at thrift stores, estate sales, and their own closets.  Which can raise the question (especially if there’s no tag on the item), how do we know if the fabric is 100 percent cotton or not?  Luckily there’s a test we can do to find out.  All you need is a couple of square inches of the fabric and a match.

Place the test fabric in a flame-proof container and use the match to set it on fire.  Let it burn out completely.  If the fabric burns like paper, the flame has an orange to yellow after glow and the ashes dissolve in water, it’s 100 percent cotton fabric.  If the cloth appears to melt, smells like burning hair (or something equally offensive), and the ashes are brittle, it’s not 100 percent cotton. 

At this point, you may be wondering why it’s important to know if the upcycled fabric is all cotton or not.  Remember all fabric have different shrink ratios – even among different types of organic fabric.  Pure cotton fabrics shrink at a different rate than 100 percent linen.  Polyester/cotton blend fabric has little to no shrinkage.  If you make a quilt with different types of fabric before pre-washing them, you’ll get different shrink ratios and this may make the top a bit difficult to quilt and look a little wonky.  Of course you can completely avoid this test by prewashing everything…but I know some quilters don’t like to do this. 

These two photos are of the quilt, “Goodwill To Men” designed by my one of my quilting BFFs, Janet Wells. Most of the paid fabric in this quilt was upcycled from men’s shirts purchased at thrift stores (hence the name, Goodwill to Men). Not only did this upcycled project turn out completely beautiful, Janet snagged two ribbons for it in our guild’s last quilt show.

By now you may be thinking, “Okay…you’ve convinced me to go for the good fabric.  Where do I shop so I know I’m purchasing good quality, 100 percent cotton fabrics?” 

Not  most Big Box Stores.  If you find yourself shopping at Walmart or even Joann’s for fabric, be sure use the touch test to see if it’s good stuff.  You don’t want a stiff fabric.  You want one with a smooth surface which doesn’t ravel a lot.  And this can be a bit dicey at times in these stores.  Take your time as you shop there and be sure the fabric will work in your quilt.  Quilt stores are a different story.  Quilt shops exist to satisfy the quilter’s itch for good fabric.  Noted, it will cost more than the cloth in a Big Box Store, but overall you won’t have to worry about the quality.  Online stores can be a bit of guessing game.  I suggest you try website affiliated directly with a quilt shop, or the well-recognized online names such as Fat Quarter Shop, Shabby Fabric, Keepsake Quilting, Pineapple Fabric, Missouri Star, Stitchin’ Heaven, Hancocks of Paducah, E-quilter, and Fabric Shack, to name a few.  These online stores have an excellent reputation for wonderful fabric and stellar customer service. 

Finally, one last Zone of Truth as I’m rounding out this blog on fabrics — I would like to share my favorites.  I’m asked pretty frequently which lines of fabric I use in my quilts.  My very, very favorite is Fig Tree Fabrics.

Fig Tree Fabrics

I love the sweet colors and prints this fabric house produces.  And added bonus (after hearing me harp for months about most fabric families don’t have a true dark) they will have a true dark in their fabric lines. 

My next favorite is Henry Glass.

A very small example of Henry Glass fabrics. This fabric house is huge!

This production house has Kim Diehl’s fabrics and hundreds of other whimsical prints.  If I need inspiration, I look at their website. 

P&B Fabrics

P & B Fabrics round out my top three.  I began purchasing this line of fabric for their quilt backs. Often backing fabric feels stiff and thin.  P&B’s doesn’t.  It’s thicker and the mottled colors are just gorgeous.  As a matter of fact, I use a lot of their backing fabrics in my tops.  All of their fabric is so wonderful to needle, either by hand or machine.

After these, in no particular preference are: Buttermilk Basin, Hoffman, Cherrywood, Tula Pink, RJR, and Riley Blake.  All of these are great to sew with (by hand or machine) and come in clear, bright colors and with a variety of neutrals and shirtings. All of these fabric companies have produced quality fabric consistently for years.    

One line of fabric you may have noticed is absent is Moda.  When I began using Moda some years ago, it was a really good fabric.  Through the years, it has appeared to me, the fabric has gotten thinner and feels a bit rough.  My complaint is primarily with Moda’s solids.  Fortunately, I have discovered a line of solids which are crisp – Painter’s Palette.  They work well with either machine stitching or hand stitching.  And an added bonus with this line is the consistency of the fabric colors.  They don’t discontinue colors readily and the fabric dye doesn’t change.  For instance, I used their Agave for a quilt I started a couple of years ago.  Unfortunately when I ordered the fabric, I had not planned on using Agave in the borders, but changed my mind as I was completing the top.  I ordered two additional yards, a year later, and everything matched perfectly.  Painter’s Palette also produces a handy-dandy swatch card which is true to color, also, making fabric coordination oh, so easy. 

No matter where you purchase fabric, keep in mind it’s important the material feel smooth, not ravel at the cut edges, and is crisp. Indulge yourself in the colors and prints you love because any sewing project – quilting or otherwise – is a time commitment.  You and those fabrics will be spending hours together.  Make sure it will sew wonderfully and bring joy to your eyes and heart.

And here’s where my standard disclaimer goes:  I don’t work for any of the fabric companies, stores, or websites mentioned in this blog.  They do not supply me with any “freebies” for mentioning them.  My blog is not monetized in anyway by any corporate entity.  The opinions expressed are my own, drawn from over 30 years of sewing and quilting experience.

Until Next Week, Remember the Details Make the Difference!

Love and Stitches,



Find Your Quilting People

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

A quilter, she is not.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So, yes, the quilts are important. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I hungered for that sense of community.

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

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

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

Not just anyone will do that.

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

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

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

Until Next Week,

Love and Stitches,


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