Quilting Cottons and Color Issues

So…after the two blogs I wrote about fabric stashes, I had a few questions from a few readers.  These concern types of fabric, the differences between cotton fabrics, and why some colors of fabric are so hard to match up.  I wanted to answer these questions before we moved on to a few other topics before our end of the year wrap up.

The first question wanted to know if there is a difference between cotton fabrics and quilting cottons.  The short answer to this is “Yes.”  Quilting cottons and regular cotton fabric are very different, but in order to understand why, you first need to look at how the manufacturers turn cotton into fabric, because that’s where the differences come into play.  The first step is harvesting the cotton.  The cotton plants are defoliated and harvested primarily by machine.  These machines really perform a “two-fer”:  They harvest the cotton and remove large pieces of trash, twigs, etc., from the cotton and then form it into bales.  From there the cotton is ginned – the seeds and smaller contaminants are removed.  Then it goes to a textile production plant where the cotton is carded.  The process turns the cotton fibers into long strands and the strands are spun to create yarn. 

This process is the same regardless of what kind of cotton fabric will be produced.  However, once the strands are spun into yarns (think of a fiber more like thread and less like something you knit or crochet with), the yarn can be dyed and then woven into cloth, or the yarn can be woven and then dyed.  It all depends on what kind of fabric the textile manufacturer wants to produce.  And here’s where the differences between quilting cottons and regular cotton fabrics show up. 

Quilting cotton yarns are not dyed.  The raw yarn is woven into fabric which can have at least a 60-thread per inch thread count or higher.  This means an inch of quilting cotton will have 30 threads running vertically and 30 running horizontally.  This is called 60-square and is generally considered the average count for quilting cottons.  I have seen quilting cottons with thread counts higher than 70, but those are the exception and not the rule.  The higher the number, the stronger and denser the fabric.  Cotton fabric manufactured for garment construction has a lower thread count. 

So…how can you tell the difference between regular cotton fabric and quilting cottons?  If you’re shopping at your LQS, chances are they will have quilting cottons marked as such either on one of the ends of the bolt or some other location on the fabric.  If you’re shopping online, it is more than likely this information will be in the fabric description.  However, if you’re shopping for quilt fabric at an establishment which sells all kinds of cotton material (such as some big box stores), it may be a bit more difficult to find this information.  Sure, you could take a magnifying glass with you and count the threads per square inch, but there are easier ways to determine what kind of cotton fabric is on the shelf.  First is the price itself.  Quilting cottons are more expensive than other cotton fabrics.  Second is the feel of the fabric.  Quilting cottons feel heavier than regular cottons.  And third are additives sometimes listed on the sales tag.  Let’s take a look at each of these and compare those to cotton fabrics produced for garment making.

The higher thread count in quilting cottons can make it feel denser and sometimes heavier than garment cottons.  It’s this high thread count which makes quilting cottons perform so well when sewed into a quilt.  Quilting cottons will allow a quilt to last for decades and be handed down for several generations before becoming worn.  Garment cottons generally don’t have as high of a thread count.  If you hold apparel cotton up to the light, you will likely see some light through it.  This is due to the lower thread count and thinner material.  You normally can’t see light through quilting cottons – the high thread count makes the fabric opaque. 

The feel of quilting cottons is different from garment cottons not only due to the higher thread count, but also the additives sprayed on the raw fabric.  Quilting fabric is created to resist shrinkage and other wear and tear.  It’s designed to maintain its color and print.  If you’re a pre-washer like me, it’s good to know these additives aren’t washed out of the fabric.  However, quilting cottons are also more than likely treated with a softener, a stain and sun guard, and sometimes even a stiffener.  These make the fabric look pretty as it sits on the shelf and protects against fading.  These additives can be washed out, which is why pre-washers sometimes have to press starch or a starch substitute into the back of their material to make them stiffer.

Greige Fabric

Now let’s go back and re-visit what I said earlier about the yarn which produces quilting cottons.  This yarn remains undyed through the weaving process and called griege (pronounce “gray”), grey fabric, gray fabric, or loom-state fabrics.  And the use of the term “gray” can be somewhat deceiving.  Sometimes the raw fabric is a light gray, but at other times it’s cream or ecru.  It depends on the type of cotton used as well as the additives mixed in with production.  It’s the raw, griege fabric which can throw us the first hurdle when we need to find a true hue.  If you add a true blue dye to a griege fabric, most of the time the process will conclude with a really nice true, blue hue (remember a hue is the color in its truest form).  As a matter of fact most colors do well regardless of the color of the griege fabric.  However, I have found three colors in my quilting world which give me issues on a consistent bases:  white, teal, and black.  Let’s talk about the most difficult color first – white.

Scientifically speaking, color is an expression of light.  Certain materials absorb and reflect specific wavelengths of visible light, which results in objects taking on a certain color to the human eye.  Revisiting the blue mentioned above – a blue object reflects and disperses blue light back at us while absorbing all other wavelengths of light, so you see only blue.  When all light is reflected back, we have the color white.  So a true, white hue reflects all the colors back at us.  However, if you’ve ever tried to purchase white fabric, it’s amazing how many shades of white are out there.  Strictly speaking, a shade is a hue mixed with black, so gray technically is a shade of white or a tint of black (tints are formed by adding white to a hue).  Other shades of white include cream, eggshell, ivory, Navajo white, and vanilla.  If this isn’t complicated enough, there are achromatic whites – whites which have red, green, and blue added equally.  There are also chromatic whites, which are whites that have red, green, and blue added but they are not added equally.  And if you’re talking about paint instead of fabric, keep in mind Benjamin Moore has 152 shades of off-white, Behr has 167, and PPG has a whopping 315. 

No wonder purchasing anything white or white-ish is so confusing and befuddling.

To add to the white dilemma, as a quilter, you must keep in mind three things when purchasing white fabric.  First, the indoor lighting can alter how the white material looks.  Overhead florescent lighting is brutal to any color.  Remember this blog?  You really want the overhead lighting to be as close to natural daylight as possible.  With many quilt stores, this isn’t possible, so carry your white fabric to a window and give it a serious look over.  Is it the shade of white you want?  Second, remember the fabric placed next to the white can pull out other colors.  For instance, if you purchase a chromatic white that has more red than blue or green, and you place it near a red fabric, your white may appear pink.  Likewise if you purchase a chromatic white with more blue and it’s placed near blue fabric, it also may appear blue or even gray.  So it’s a good idea to take some fabric swatches with you when you pick out your white fabric and audition everything close to a window. 

The last thing to keep in mind when purchasing white fabric has to do with on-line sales.  Let’s say you’re making a scrap quilt and need five yards of white fabric (white fabric works wonderfully with scrap quilts – it makes everything play nicely together).  You place your order and in a few days, five yards of white fabric shows up on your doorstep.  Now let’s say something happens – you need to pull a yard of it for another project or you make a cutting mistake.  Now you need to buy some more of the white fabric, but you can’t find your original order.  You go back to the online establishment and begin to peruse the site only to discover there are at least 15 different white fabrics.  You take the white fabric you have and hold it up to your computer screen, comparing the fabric to each online swatch carefully.  When you think you’ve decided on the correct one, you add two yards to your cart (just to be sure you have enough) and check out. A few days later it shows up and you tear open the box only to find…

It doesn’t match the four yards of white you have.

I can tell you from experience how frustrating this is.  My third piece of advice concerning purchasing white fabric is to hold on to all the paperwork.  This way if you need to reorder, you can go by the SKU number.  I realize many quilting websites will keep your order available to you online in case you need to reorder.  But if the website you’re ordering from doesn’t or the original website is out of the white needed and you must order from somewhere else, you have the SKU number in hand to make sure it’s the right white. 

Now let’s take a look at teal.  If you think white is a confusing color, teal can push you right over the quilting edge.  And if you want to blame someone or something, here’s your target:

See that stripe of greenish-blue on the top of its cute, little head?  Well, evidently around 1917, this color became the Pantone Color of the Year (that is sarcasm…Pantone didn’t have a color of the year until 1999).  Everyone fell in love with this color they called teal.  By 1927 it was showing up in clothing.  Between 1948 and throughout the 1960’s, teal was used in interior decorating.  It fell a bit out of fashion until the 1990’s when it was re-birthed as a fad color.**

The issue with teal is where it falls in the color wheel. 

Teal rides the edge exactly between green and blue.  Because it’s at this midway point, hundreds of shades can be produced, from dark to light, ranging from more green to more blue.  To make matters a bit more confusing, many times teal is used colloquially to refer to shades of cyan (blue) in general.

However for us quilters, our concern is more how the dye is combined before it’s incorporated into the greige fabric.  The color teal is made by mixing blue into a green base. How much of each is used will result in of the shade of teal produced.  If more blue than green is used, the teal will show more blue.  If more green is used, the teal will have a green cast.  It also can be deepened by adding black or gray, or lightened a little by using white.  So the color teal can range from deep greenie teals to teals which almost appear blue.

When purchasing teal fabric, be sure to take the same precautions as you do when purchasing white.  Audition it near a window or a source of light which closely resembles daylight.  Bring the other fabric swatches with you to make sure the teal chosen will work.  When placed near a blue fabric, no matter how deep the green base is, the teal will take on a blue-ish cast, and likewise when it’s placed near a green, it will appear greener.  However, this is the one fabric color I will default to a fabric family every time.  If I’m constructing a quilt and want to use a teal, and there’s a teal available in the same fabric family I’m using, I will default to that teal every time.  Yes, teal is that tricky of a color.

One last word of warning about teal.  Personally, I think it’s a good idea if you can make your initial purchase in a brick-and-mortar fabric store.  Here’s why:  Teal is used to create colors on computer and television screens by reducing the brightness of the cyan used in screen images (both pictures and fonts).  If you’re purchasing teal fabric and you’re shopping for it online through a screen which employs teal, it can be easy for the actual color to be distorted.  Unless you’re purchasing from teal in a fabric family, or you have some of the actual fabric in hand and can pull the information from the selvedge, you may want to make your first teal purchase in a quilt shop. 

Finally, let’s take a look at the color black.  Since white reflects all the colors, it’s only natural that its opposite – black – reflect none.  Black isn’t on the visible spectrum of color.  It’s the absence of light.  Unlike white and other hues, pure black can exist in nature without any light at all.  It exists as a shade (some color theorists will argue that white isn’t a color either, it’s only a shade).  Black fabric is made from the darkest pigmented dyes available, and this is why there are so many shades of black.  Currently there are 134 shades of black, with the new blackest black being Vantablack. 


Black, much like white, can have red, green, and blue added either in equal or varying amounts, which can alter the shade.  Tiny amounts of white can also be added to lift the color a bit, but not so much that it turns the black into gray.  So again, audition your black with other fabric swatches and in natural sunlight or lighting as close to daylight as possible.  Personally, if I need a deep black for a project, I reach for the Amish Black most of the time.  It’s fairly readily available and reasonably priced. 

Amish Black

I hope I’ve answered your questions about fabric and why some colors are more difficult to match up than others.  Color is both fascinating and fun when it comes to quilting.  Choosing fabric is one of my most favorite activities and it’s really amazing what lighting and placement can do to your fabrics. 

Until Next Week, Remember the Details Make the Difference!

Love and Stitches,


  **My favorite color of teal is this:

It’s the color for Cervical Cancer Awareness (as well as some other reproductive cancers).  Many of you remember my daughter’s cervical cancer diagnosis and I want to take the chance to again thank each of you who prayed for her (she is now cancer-free) and to remind you to get your pap smears. I want everyone to stay healthy. We have a lot of quilting years ahead of us!


The Sewing Machine Renaissance (Part 2)

Edward Clark

The Birth of Singer as a Brand

As stated previously, Isaac Merritt Singer was a piece of work.  It wasn’t Singer’s “winning” personality or scrupulous work ethic which pushed the Singer name out front.  Singer was a known “scalawag” even to those who worked with him.  A gentleman named Edward Clark, who co-founded I.M. Singer and Co., stepped in and took charge.  He created the company’s earliest ad campaigns and came up with the “hire-purchase” contracts – basically an installment plan for those who wanted to purchase a machine but couldn’t afford the entire cost upfront.  Clark also had the wisdom to give Singer the boot.  He gradually squeezed the unpredictable Singer out of active management in the company and dissolved their partnership in 1863 to form the Singer Manufacturing Company.  It was then, under Clark’s leadership, the Singer Sewing Machine became synonymous with the domestic sewing machine.  Clark also implemented:

  • Door-to-door sales.  These served two purposes.  First, it allowed someone in the home to actually see the sewing machine they could buy.  They could touch it and understand how easy it was to use.  These visits also required the canvassers to collect weekly payments from those folks on the installment plan.
  • Flashy-up-to-date, modern showrooms.  This allowed for large open spaces where it could be demonstrated how the machines work.
  • The Singer Sewing Machines went to county and state fairs.  If you remember my blog about the history of quilt shows (, it was first the county fairs, then followed by the state fairs which had the first quilt shows.  If you’re showing quilts, you’re bound to be interested in a sewing machine. 
  • The buy-back program.  Singer became active in buying up used sewing machines (both their own and other brands).  This served to tamp down the secondary markets of used sewing machines.  Just like with today’s sewing machines, Singer would roll out a new sewing machine model and encourage consumers to replace their old one.
Drawing of early Singer Showroom

And while these sales practices were both effective and profitable, the company’s organization became another one of Singer’s major innovations.  Singer Manufacturing Company created a centralized bureaucracy to run itself.  The company’s central headquarters found a home in Manhattan’s financial district where it controlled and communicated with its sales agents around the world. Eventually, it built the Singer Tower, one of the first corporate skyscrapers in the country and for about a year, the tallest building in the world. 

Singer Tower

Then, not content to corner the market on US sales, Clark eyed the international markets, aggressively opening factories around the world to minimize duties and shipping costs.

This is what made the brand “Singer” so popular.  For years it was almost as if no other sewing machine brand was known.  Want a sewing machine?  There was at least one Singer dealer in nearly every town, and if not in your town, in one nearby.  And probably one close enough for a salesman to come to your home if needed.  My mother has sewed all my life.  Her first two sewing machines were Singers.  It wasn’t until the late 1970’s she even considered another brand.  

In short, the reason Singer became so well-known is that was a disrupter.  It took what was considered normal business practices and turned them on their heads.  It wasn’t just enough to build an affordable, dependable, easy-to-use sewing machine.  Clark had to get his nifty new machine into the hands of millions of women.  Invention is new and creative, but to bring it to market and get people to adopt it is difficult – often even more difficult than the invention itself.  But Clark and the Singer Manufacturing Company did this and for a number of years, Singer was the top-selling sewing machine.

It’s also almost impossible for us – modern day quilters with an average of four sewing machines each – to understand what a HUGE event these sewing machines were.  We get super excited about getting a new machine ourselves.  It’s a warm, fuzzy event and we spend hours behind our new machines, learning every quirk and short cut, amazed at what it can do.  However, on September 22, 1860, The Scientific American pronounce that after the Spinning Jenny (a multi-spindled spinning frame) and the plough, the sewing machine was “the most important invention that has ever been made since the world began.”  

The pronouncement was met with mixed reviews.  There were a few groups who lamented that the machines would destroy handicraft.  Another group – a larger one comprised of primarily women – welcomed the machine with open arms and wanted one.  The machine would greatly speed up the construction of family linens, draperies, and clothing – all of which females were responsible for.  According to the American journalist and women’s rights activist Sarah Hale, “to make an average shirt by hand required 20,620 stitches; at a rate of 35 stitches a minute, a competent seamstress could complete a shirt in ten to fourteen hours” (Godey’s Lady’s Book, 1867).  A sewing machine, at 3,000 stitches per minute, could allow a seamstress to assemble a shirt in an hour with neater results.  

However, behind the scenes, there were always the fear the sewing machines would put tailors and seamstresses out of business.  A few years after sewing machines were mass-marketed and put on the payment installment plan (which meant most of the machines were Singer), this didn’t happen.  Instead these business incorporated sewing machines into their everyday production.  The machines sped up clothing construction and lowered costs in the long run, allowing families to begin to purchase “ready-to-wear” clothing at reasonable prices.   

Welcome to the Birth of the Sweat Shop

But having sewing machines in a shop didn’t mean everything was rainbows and unicorns, either.  As clothing began to be more and more mass produced, prices plunged as the market was flooded.  And while this was a good thing for the consumer, it wasn’t always great for the clothing manufacturers or their employees.  In order to stay ahead of supply and demand and keep the fiscal bottom line in the black, more and more pieces of clothing had to be churned out.  Which meant two things:  More seamstresses had to be hired and wages had to be lowered.  

These establishments were first filled with immigrants who left Europe to settle in the United States.  They used this work experience – no matter how awful it was – as a transition period.  They worked hard, saved what little money they could, and sent their children to American schools.  This difficult, low-paying employment was considered the first step to their financial freedom – not a career.  Later, after World War I, the immigrants’ positions were filled with African Americans who were met with the same working conditions.  It wasn’t until  the early 20th century, when social reformers and labor activists began to believe that the right kind of pressure from unions, government, and reform groups could eventually eliminate sweatshops from the garment industry.

Following the lead of early women’s suffrage groups, the National Consumers’ League and the National Women’s Trade Union League were formed to promote alliances between “women who spend” and “women who work.” With increased public support, garment unions began to build lasting organizations.

From the 1900s into the 1930s, strikes, labor and community organizing, factory investigations, and local and state legislation all heightened public awareness about acceptable labor standards. These activities laid the groundwork for federal New Deal reforms in the 1930s designed to eliminate sweatshops and strengthen unions (National Museum of American History).

  All of this begs the question, did the invention of the sewing machine cause the birth of the sweatshop?  Probably yes and no.  Before this, employees (primarily women) were hired to work in less than desirable conditions, sewing by hand and paid by the piece.  More than likely the sewing machine magnified the problem since more pieces could be produced by workers.  More workers and more machines meant more pieces. More pieces meant more money to everyone except those sewing the garments.  

The Domestication of the Sewing Machine

By 1902, most homes had a “domestic” sewing machine in them. A great number of these machines were Singer, all were treadle, and the average price was around $125.00.  And since sewing machines were now commonplace, sewing machine manufacturers now set about trying to conceal them or make them look like a piece of furniture by producing wooden boxes to cover the machine and drop-down cabinets to hide the machine.    Domestic sewing machines were designed to be a bit smaller and sleeker than the ones used in the mass construction of garments.  They had pretty brass plates and colorful designs on them.  Singer especially continued to design and re-design the domestic sewing machine and then on October 3, 1933, they rocked the sewing machine universe with the introduction of the Singer Featherweight.

1933 Singer Featherweight

Entire books have been written about the history of the Singer Featherweight, and I’m not re-writing those here.  Briefly, the Featherweight was produced from 1933 until 1969 (except between 1942 and 1944 when the Wars Act prohibited the manufacturing of them due to metal constraints plus the Singer Manufacturing Buildings were some of the first conscripted by the government for war work).  These small sewing machines would change up outside artwork, have special decals for special events (such as for the Chicago World Fair), and gradually improved bobbin winding, lighting, and stitch length control.  Most of the Featherweights were 221’s, but between 1953 and 1961,

222 Featherweight

A hundred thousand 222 Featherweights were manufactured in Kilbowie, Scotland.  These machines were a tad bigger, had a free arm, more space between the needle housing and the sewing plate, and the feed dogs could be lowered.  I am a happy (and lucky) owner of one of these 222 Featherweights.  One of the things about a Featherweight which makes is special is you can Google the serial number on the bottom of the machine and discover what year it was “born.”  My 222 was made in 1962 and her name is Marilyn – homage paid to the superstar Marilyn Monroe who died in 1962.  (Seriously…featherweight collectors geek out over stuff like this)  

Another notable characteristic about the feather weight was its advertising.  It touted itself to be a small, portable machine with all the features of a regular-sized sewing machine, plus it was backed with all of Singer’s guarantees of quality.  “It is,” one advertisement proclaimed, “a machine you can use, teach your daughter to use, and then watch your granddaughters use.”  In other words, the Featherweight could conceivably last for …well…years.  

And they have.  Many of my quilting buddies own and use featherweights.  

For a long time, Singer almost took the “if it isn’t broke, don’t fix it” stance.  A Singer customer was generally pretty happy with their machine.  New machines were purchased on occasion, such as for a wedding gift or to replace a machine handed down to a female relative.  However, after World War II ended, the number of home sewers dropped.  That meant fewer machines were sold.  It was at this point, Singer realized they needed to upgrade their machines – make sewing interesting and fun again.

Sewing Machine Renaissance 

This, my readers, is why I have written 3,375 words about sewing machines.  Sewing machines – why do companies change their machines so much?  I mean you purchase one and it’s not six months until the company revises the sewing machine and puts out a newer model with sleeker design and more mouth-watering features.  Consider me for example.  I wanted a Janome M7 Continental for years.  Saved for it.  Purchased it.  Have used it for two plus years, and now Janome has a M8 Continental with a stitch regulator!  If I had known one was in development with a regulator, I would have held off purchasing the M7.   

What I call the first sewing machine Renaissance happened in the early to mid-seventies.  A couple of issues were pressing the entire sewing machine manufacturing front to change up their machines.  First, was the bottom line.  Any company – sewing machine or any other type of manufacturer – is always interested in not only keeping the bottom line in the black, but also keeping it as fat as possible.  Old straight stitch and zigzag machines were no longer making the cut.  The consumer wanted additional stitches, embroidery options, and automatic buttonhole features.  So Singer, as well as New Home, Jukie, Husqvarna, and others developed sewing machines which would do all of these.  

The second issue which pushed the development of not only better machines, but more machines was the Bicentennial.  America’s 200th birthday struck a chord in folks to return to the handcrafts of the past.  Quilting was one of these handcrafts.  Sewing machine sales improved but were still “wobbly.”  However as more people took up sewing and other needle crafts, sales slowly improved.  Sewing enthusiasts learned machines had lot of other options beside straight stitches and zigzag.  The number of quilters has steadily increased since this time, and with those larger numbers comes a demand for machines.  The sewing machine market remained comparatively tight, and today it’s really three major manufacturer which own all the machine labels.   

The field rocked along pretty steadily until 2020 when COVID-19 reared its head and suddenly masks were in demand and due to the lockdowns, folks had hours of time at home.  With both of these factors in play, suddenly the demand for sewing machines skyrocketed.  I remember going to my local Walmart one evening for sewing supplies – not my usual haunt for sewing needs, but I desperately needed elastic and it was the one place I hadn’t looked — and was completely blown away by the fact the entire sewing section was empty.  Nothing but a few straggly fat quarters were left.  No thread.  No needles.

No sewing machines.  

A salesclerk said they had sold out of everything two days prior.  She didn’t know when the shelves would be restocked.  She had no idea when they would get another shipment of sewing machines.   A few emails to other local brick-and-mortar quilt shops revealed pretty much the same story.   

By now, of course, the Pandemic is over.  You can find Brother sewing machines at Walmart.  My local Bernina dealer is fully stocked.  However, at the end of this entirely too long blog, I have questions.

  1.  Are the new sewers, born during the Pandemic, still sewing?  If they are, what are they sewing now?  Do they know about quilt and fiber arts guilds?
  2. How many of these new sewers held on to their machines if they’re not sewing any longer?  Or was the market flooded with “slightly used sewing machines for sale?”
  3. With the large number of sales during the Pandemic, are sewing machine companies re-tooling both their machines and their advertising in order to hang on to this new market?  The die-hard faithful sewists will always be out there and at times can be lured into a trade-up. Are they redeveloping their lines of beginner-friendly and intermediate machines?

Cision PR Wire estimates that there were $3.3 billion dollars’ worth of sewing machine sales in the United States in 2020.  They predict by 2026, the US will have $4.2 billion in sales.  Will the increase in sales coupled with new sewing hobbyists produce another Sewing Machine Renaissance?  Will history repeat itself?  How many of the machines will incorporate artificial intelligence?  Instead of smaller machine beds, will the harps continue to increase to accommodate large quilts for quilting, putting long arms in the position of having to lower costs in order to sell?  Will domestic machines become robotic like some of their long arm counterparts?  

I have so many questions.  The Pandemic opened the world of sewing and sewing machines to hundreds of folks who had never sat behind one before.  Now what will the sewing machine manufacturers do to keep those folks behind a machine or in the market for a new one?   

What are your thoughts?

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

Love and Stitches,



The Sewing Machine Renaissance (Part I)

Let’s talk about sewing machines.  

According to Craft Industry Alliance 2021 survey, the average quilter owns four sewing machines (this does not include long arms or embroidery machines which are exclusively for embroidery and do not sew seams at all).  Ask any group of quilters what their favorite brand is, and you’ll hear enthusiastic replies of Brother, Juki, Janome, Bernina, Pfaff, or Husqvarna – as well as at least a half a dozen other name brands. 

As avid quilters, it’s hard to imagine our worlds without sewing machines in them, but we know at some point, our quilting foremothers hand pieced and hand quilted all of their quilts. Because while the patent for a sewing machine was issued in 1755, it wasn’t until 1830 – some 75 years later – that an actual, working sewing machine was made.   

And it caused a riot.  Seriously.   

Before we jump into the deep dive of sewing machines, let’s take a brief look at their history and the legendary Howe/Singer feud.  

All The Sewing Machine Men

Charles Weisenthal

In 1755, a British patent was issued to a German named Charles Weisenthal.  And while Weisenthal went into great specifics about the type of needle the machine used, he was more than a bit sketchy about the rest of the details about his invention.  The patent mentions nothing at all about it.  It’s unclear whether or not the machine was ever actually made.  

Thomas Saint

In 1790, an English inventor and cabinet maker, Thomas Saint, was issued the first patent for a complete sewing machine.  The patent describes an awl which punched a hole in leather and then passed a needle through the hole.  We don’t know if Saint ever actually made one of these machines himself, but a later reproduction of his invention based on his patent drawings didn’t work.  

Balthasar Krems

In 1810, German Balthasar Krems invented an automatic machine for sewing caps.  Krems didn’t bother to patent his invention and it never functioned well.

Josef Madersperger

 Austrian tailor Josef Madersperger tried several times to make a workable sewing machine.  He was finally awarded a patent in 1814, but the machine was unsuccessful.  

In 1804, all fingers were crossed, because it looked as if a patent for a workable sewing machine would happen.  Thomas Stone and James Henderson were granted a French patent for a machine that mimicked hand sewing.  Scott John Duncan was also granted a patent for an embroidery machine with multiple needles.  Both of these inventions failed and were soon forgotten.  

Barthelemy Thimonnier

However, things began looking up in 1830.  A French tailer named Barthelemy Thimonnier developed a “real” sewing machine that worked.  It used one thread and a hooked needle, and it only made a chain stitch used with embroidery.  But all was not well in France with the introduction of the machine.  Barthelemy was nearly killed when an enraged group of French tailors burned down his garment factory because they feared the machine would cost them their jobs.  Needless to say Barthelemy tossed his machine in an effort to keep peace (and his head on his neck).  

But Barthelemy’s machine worked.  While it only produced a chain stitch, it worked well enough that tailors were in fear they’d lose their jobs.  Word spread, even to America, about this invention and in 1834, Walter Hunt built America’s first almost-successful sewing machine.  His machine sewed only straight seams, but taking a page from Barthelemy’s history, Hunt feared the machine would cause large numbers of tailors and seamstresses to lose their jobs (as well as his factory may end up in ashes).  As a result, Hunt never even bothered to patent his invention.  

Elias Howe — the “real” Father of the Modern Sewing Machine

Then a gentleman named Elias Howe entered the sewing machine arena.  Unlike the other machines’ needles which had an eye at the top or in the middle of the shaft, Howe’s needle had its eye at the point.  The needle was pushed through the cloth and created a loop on the other side; a shuttle on a track then slipped the second thread through the loop, creating what we know as a lockstitch.  It worked!  However, Howe encountered problems defending his patent and marketing his invention.  So for the next nine years Elias Howe struggled to garner interest in his machine and protect his patent.  But instead of the lockstitch mechanism remaining Howe’s, Issac Singer used it when he invented the up-and-down motion mechanism (the one we’re used to today – the other machines sewed from the side of the machine), and Allen Wilson developed a rotary hook shuttle (similar to the bobbin mechanism on our sewing machines) to make the lockstitch. 

Isaac Merritt Singer — He looks like a piece of work, doesn’t he?

If none of the names I’ve thrown out rings any bells, chances are the name Singer  did.  And for years Isaac Singer and Elias Howe engaged in an epic battle over the rights to the first workable and affordable sewing machine in America.  However, while Howe was almost everything upright and honorable and integrity-filled in this battle, Singer wasn’t.  In the words of my beloved paternal grandmother – He was a piece of work.  

Isaac Merritt Singer was born October 27, 1811, the youngest of the eight children of Adam and Ruth Singer.  His parents divorced in 1821 and Ruth abandoned the family. By the time Isaac was 12, he ran away from home to join a traveling performing stage act called the Rochester Players. Between acts, he worked as a joiner and lathe operator. In 1839 he patented a machine to drill rock and was awarded $2,000 for his efforts – that would be $65,740 today.  Instead of sensibly banking his cash, Singer pocketed it and returned to acting.  He married Mary Ann Sponsler (a fellow actor) and produced eight children with this woman.  He continued to invent tools for building until about 1850-ish when he and several other inventors took note that there were numerous unsuccessful sewing machine models on the market and the female consumers were pretty eager for a successful one.   

Between fathering a total of dozen children (another four with a mistress), continuing to dabble in acting, and patenting other inventions, Isaac Merrit Singer became nearly obsessed with re-inventing the sewing machine Howe worked so hard to produce.  By this time Howe had locked down the patent and charged exorbitant licensing fees to anyone who built or sold something similar (while he was having a lot of trouble manufacturing and marketing a workable sewing machine, he didn’t want anyone encroaching on his patent).   

However, like I said before, Singer was a piece of work.  By 1846, he had taken Howe’s ideas and improved on them, adding a thread controller and combining a vertical needle with a horizontal surface.  In 1851 he applied for a patent and formed the I.M. Singer and Co.  It looked as if Singer now had both a usable sewing machine and the patent to keep it.  However, there were a handful of other inventors who also had improved Howe’s machine and patented their improvements.  This created a little problem called a “patent thicket.”  This means numerous parties could lay claim to key parts of the invention.  

The results of the patent thicket were largely predictable.  A sewing machine war broke out.  Inventors were suing each other right and left, burning up their resources and not further developing the sewing machine.  To calm the storm (and finally get an affordable sewing machine on the market) a lawyer stepped in with a novel idea.  Orlando Brunson Potter (who also was the president of rival manufacturer Grover and Baker Sewing Machine Company) purported the factions could merge their business interests.  Since a powerful and profitable sewing machine required parts covered by several different patents, he proposed an agreement that would charge a single, reduced licensing fee which would then be divided proportionally among the patent holders.  It took some heated arguments coupled with some cool logic, but in the end, Howe, Singer, Grover, and Baker as well as manufacturers Wheeler and Wilson all eventually agreed to the wisdom of the idea.  Together they created the first “patent pool.”  It merged nine patents into the Sewing Machine Combination, with each of the four stakeholders given a percentage of the earnings on every sewing machine, depending on what they contributed to the final design.  Three of these designs were and are crucial to a high-quality sewing machine:  Howe’s patent on the lock stitch, Wheeler and Wilson’s patent on the four-motion feed, and Singer’s patent on the combination of a vertical needle with a horizontal surface.   

This patent merger immediately resulted in an uptick in sewing machine manufacturing.  The concept of a workable machine could now freely move forward because the patent merger took the best concepts of each inventor and used those.  The merger also caused the cost of the licensing fee to drop from $25 (roughly $1,000 in today’s money, and half the cost of an 1850 sewing machine) to $5.  This made sewing machine manufacturing affordable and as a result, dozens of production houses sprang up.  So this crowdsourced sewing machine could be sold cheaply to a wide audience.  But it had nine patent holders tied to the merger.  Have you ever wondered what caused Singer to come out on top and so far ahead of the others? 

The answers will be posted next week.

Until then, remember the Details Make the Difference!

Love and Stitches,



How to Build Your Stash (Without Breaking Your Budget) Part 2

If building a stash followed the same casting as a play performance, solids would be considered the “walk-ons,” low-volumes and blenders would be the co-stars, and prints would be the stars of the show. 


Prints are the scene-stealers, the main attraction, the seductress of the quilting world.  I mean, what’s not to love?  All the colors, all the beauty, all the cuteness is packed into prints.  These are the fabrics which beckon you from across the quilt store floor and whisper “Buy me…you won’t regret it,” in your ear.  Prints are the fabric which can cause you to whip your cash or card out and buy five yards without an ounce of regret.      However…unless cultivated carefully, prints can also be the blatant liars of the quilt world. 

When I began purchasing my stash, I was immediately drawn to prints.  I found myself purchasing yards and yards of printed fabric, only to find I couldn’t make a quilt out of all those prints.  They didn’t go together.  I needed solids and blenders and low volumes to make my quilt work.  Remember this graphic from last week?   

Way too many prints in this quilt. It needs some supporting fabric players to calm it down.

A quilt without the supporting extras and co-stars doesn’t work very well.  Part of having a usable, successful stash is to have enough blenders, low volumes, and solids to pull together with a print and make a quilt.    However, far from being a super-star diva, prints do bring a lot to the quilt table, both in appearance and flexibility (if you know how to use them). 

First, prints come in a wide variety of scales (the sizes of the prints) – they can run the gamut from tiny prints to large ones. And it’s a good idea to have a selection of all sizes.  Most of the time, small or medium sized prints will work in almost any quilt except for perhaps miniatures.  The larger sized prints may take a little more work.  If those larger prints are cut into smaller pieces for blocks, they tend to lose their integrity – you can’t really make out what the print is because you’re literally only seeing a tiny bit of the print.  Many times these large prints can work as terrific focus fabrics – the fabric which pulls the quilt together.     

Personally, I tend to use larger prints for One Block Wonder quilts, Stack and Whacks (if they have the repeating print needed), and as the center of a block, such as the Square-in-a-Square. 

In this quilt, the print focus fabric is used in the center of the stars and in the border.

I can fussy cut the print to really showcase its beauty. I also use them for borders.  

The same quilt with the same print focus fabric. This time I added more fussy cutting to the borders in order to really showcase the print fabric.

While normally I like to add more zing to my borders with some additional piecing or applique, if the quilt has no more plans than to live on the back of a couch or on the floor as a play quilt, I tend to make those borders out of a solid piece of fabric.  A larger print can serve as the focus fabric and pull everything together nicely.   

Second, it’s a good idea to vary your style of prints.  I am automatically drawn to floral prints. I love flowers.  However, it’s important to think out of the box.  Florals are great, but so are geometrics, novelty prints (prints with animals, cartoon characters, etc.), themed prints, and prints with fruit.  And if you mix them, they can be unbelievably beautiful together.  This may be easier to do than you realize if we can get over the mental hump and stop thinking that only “like” prints can go together – such as if a quilt has floral fabric, fruit has no place in that quilt.  However, let me show you a couple of little quilts I made:

  This yellow part here – it’s a banana print.  

You have to train yourself to think outside the box.  Try different prints together.  Audition them before you cut anything out.   You may be surprised at how some seemingly incongruous fabrics play well together.    Before we leave prints, let me offer a couple of purchasing tips I use:

  1.  When buying fabric on a website, be sure there’s some kind of measurement indicated to give you an accurate idea of how big the scale is.  Sometimes the size is in the fabric description.  Other times there’s a ruler at the bottom of the fabric swatch to help.  My favorite websites allow you to enlarge the pictures, so you have a really good idea about the scale.  I have discovered I have no problems with purchasing small and medium printed fabric online.  However, I need to see larger prints in person.
  2. Pay attention to your favorite designers.  Most of them design several similar pieces of fabric at one time.  These are called Fabric Families.  Often these families will have coordinated blenders, solids, a large print, and several small and medium prints.  Even better, many times they will continue to use the same dye lots for several years in a row, so even the fabrics you purchased several years ago from your favorite designer will work with the newer lines.  Kansas Troubles is such a line. 
  3. Use your prints to help you find your solids and blenders.  Remember what I told you about the information on selvedges in the blog about solids?  Use those colored dots to help you find your solids and blenders.  Purchase a couple of each.  This way if you use your print scraps in another quilt, you already have some fabric which coordinates. 
  4. Revisit your prints.  Tastes change, times change, you change as a quilter.  What worked for you a few years ago may not even be a blip on your radar screen right now.  For instance, when I taught school, I had a lot of fabric school-ish prints on them – apples, handwriting, even chemical equations.  I used those in a few of my quilts.  A few years after exiting education, I no longer wanted them.  It’s a great idea to review your prints from time to time and purge what you know you no longer like and know you won’t use.  Give it away, sell it, or donate it.  It will also allow you to see what prints you’re still in love with and want to use.  Then you can review your solids and blenders to see if you need to add to them, so they coordinate with the prints. 


Now let’s talk about the James Bond of quilting fabric – the blenders.  Blenders are those unassuming fabrics which are really the secret agent of quilting.  They can take your solids and prints and make your quilt go BAM!  So what exactly are blenders?  They are any fabric with tone-on-tone prints, very small prints (so small the fabric can almost read as a solid), or a print that is close enough together that it literally “blends” when seen from far away.      At this point, you may be wondering why blenders are so important?  I think it’s because they do exactly what they say they do – they help blend the prints and solids in your quilt.  They provide visual texture to your quilt in such a way that nothing else does.  Texture may not have ever crossed your mind when you think about quilts, but quilts need texture to make them visually interesting.  We tend to think of texture as something we can feel with our fingers – such as linen or velvet.  The fabric in most quilts is smooth, it has no tangible texture.  Blenders do add texture, but it’s visual  not tactile texture.  And personally, I think it’s much easier to pick out my blenders once I have my prints and solids determined.  Most Fabric Families have a blender or two in them.  If you’re on a budget or don’t have a lot of room to store a lot of stash, purchase the blender yardage called for on your quilt pattern.  However, let me also add a couple of purchasing tips about blenders.

  1.  Most Fabric Families and your favorite designers have blenders.  If you like a particular fabric family or a designer, purchase several yards of their blenders you like the most.  Like I’ve said before, many designers/manufacturers will use the same dye lot for several years with their fabric, meaning the fabric you purchase today will probably work with a few fabric families developed years from now.  Ask me how many of my quilts have Kansas Troubles fabric in them. This is what I call investment fabric purchasing.  What you buy today will definitely be used up.  You may want to purchase these blenders in several colorways. 
  2. If you quilt long enough, you’ll find a favorite blender line.  Trust me.  This happens to be mine:
These are a few of my favorite blenders from the Folio line produced by Henry Glass.

I have this line of blenders in several different colors.  It is a tone-on-tone, but there’s enough difference in the shades and tints to give the fabric some motion.  If you’re like me and do discover a favorite line of blenders, you may want to begin with 1 ½-yard cuts.  There will be certain colors you use more than others and when you repurchase those colors, you will want to increase the yardage amount. 

  •  If you’re not sure what to purchase at a fabric sale, look for at a quilter’s yard sale, or pick up off the free table at guild meeting, go for the blenders. They don’t disappoint and will be used.

  Blenders also work well to tone down scrappy quilts and play nicely with any quilt that has small piecing.  Sometimes they can even be substituted for solids – which really adds depth to a quilt.  When analyzing what fabrics to use in a quilt, ask yourself if you can substitute a blender for the solid.  The results are truly awesome and add real zing to your quilt.  Blenders add unexpected sparkle to any quilt and serve as strong supporting characters.  They soften the transition between solids and prints, too.  Besides tone-on-tone prints (which are my favorite blenders), seek out subtle and micro prints, tiny polka-dot fabrics, and even super-small checks. You will not be disappointed. 

Low Volumes

Finally, the fourth type of fabric needed in your stash are the low volumes.  What are low volume fabrics?   Low volume fabrics can be described as basically subtle white, cream, neutral or pale colored print fabrics often with a delicate self-colored pattern or subtle design and are usually selected to offset the much brighter palette of colors available in many fabric lines.

  These fabrics are important because they, along with some sashing, offer the eyes a place for visual rest.  A few years ago, I showed you this quilt:

  The 1718 Coverlet.  This quilt is entirely English paper pieced and I’m sure it’s truly a thing of beauty and a joy forever, but it drives me nuts.  Why?  Because it’s too busy.  There’s no spot anywhere for the viewer to pause and take a rest.  If it had a few low volume fabrics or some sashing, there wouldn’t be a problem.  These low-impact visual spots also do something important besides letting your eyes take a break.  These visual resting areas add to the beauty of the quilt.  They help the eye interpret the design clearly and allow the eyes to roam and be led.   

At this point, especially if you have a plethora of solids in your stash, you may be asking if it would be okay to use a white or a cream solid as your low volume fabric.  It absolutely is!  However, a low volume print is very versatile and will add depth and dimension that a solid cannot, while still supplying the needed visual rest.   You also may be asking this question:  If a blender is a tone-on-tone and a low volume is a tone-on-tone, is a blender a low volume or is a low volume a blender? Yes and no.   A low volume print is any print where the print seems to bleed away when seem from a distance.  It’s similar to a blender but differs in that low volumes will be light and soft in color – think whites, creams, sage, blush, etc., in subtle prints.  Blenders can bring the rainbow and be eye-shockingly bright.    In other words, a low volume can be a blender, but a blender is not always a low volume.   

If you need to add low volumes to your stash, and you have some storage room, three-yard cuts are great to have on hand if pieced quilts are your quilt patterns of choice.  If applique is your technique of choice, you may want to purchase more – especially if you lean towards large background blocks.  While you’re shopping for blenders and low volumes to add to your stash, keep in mind that either or both of these are great things to add to your cart if you need a specific dollar amount for free shipping.  Both blenders and solids will be used down to almost their last inch.  However, before we leave low volumes behind, let me issue a couple of words of warning:

  1.  If you decide to make a quilt out of all low volume fabric, be sure to include enough contrast.  If you don’t, it will appear there’s a “void” in the quilt.  If you’re a seasoned quilter, you’ll know to pick enough different colored low volumes to make contrast happen.  If you’re a newer quilter, purchasing a whole collection of low volumes in coordinating prints may be the best way to approach the quilt.  This helps ensure you’ll have enough contrasting fabric.
  2. A design area and your camera phone are your BFFs.  Lay your fabrics out on a design wall or the floor (a larger space allows you to see more of the fabric) then back away and look at them. If you notice any “voids,” move the fabric around and see if you can remove them.   Then take a picture of it and look at it.  If there’s an area which looks as if there’s a hole (because all the super light colors are together in one spot), move the fabric around again.  Keep doing this until all the voids are gone.  If, no matter how many times you shift your fabric, you keep having voids, you may need to pull some of the fabric and replace it with other low volumes.
This would be a great low volume quilt. The blocks are simple, but the way they’re positioned forms a secondary pattern. There is enough color contrast to be interesting and avoids any “voids.” I’m not sure I would leave the borders this color, though.

  Now let me pause and bring you this public service announcement: 

Remember, there are no real rules in quilting.  

Which means my stash may look vastly different from yours.  I primarily applique and have pretty much passed on making large bed quilts any longer (I used to make two large bed quilts a year until I had given everyone a quilt I wanted to).  If I piece, I tend to make twin sized or smaller quilts, table toppers, or wall hangings.  All of this means, I have smaller cuts of fabric, but I have a lot of low volumes, blenders, and prints.  I have less solids.  While I think it’s important to have some of all four in your stash, the type of quilter you are (or will become) will determine what percentage of each is in your fabric hoard.  My piecing is much more structured than my applique.  For instance, I tend to use my prints as my focus fabrics either in the large pieces of my blocks or incorporate it in the border (or both).  Everything else is either smaller prints or/and blenders.  I may or may not use a solid.  If I do, I generally try to find an over-dyed solid and use it as a “zinger” (something scattered across the quilt top to add a bit of sparkle).    With applique, I want to convey feeling, emotion, or mood.  All bets are off when it comes to my applique quilts.  I can throw everything at them I need to in order to achieve the outcome I desire. 

  The more you quilt, the more you try different techniques and work with new patterns, the more your quilting style will show itself.  You’ll discover which techniques you like the most.  You’ll discover your favorite quilting colors and fabric designers.  It may take a few years, but you’ll fine tune your stash and your quilts to be completely those of your design.  Fabric shopping will become more efficient and effective.  Stepping into your quilt space to make the quilts you want to make, the way you want to make them will soothe you and free you like nothing else can.  

Before ending this week’s blog, I’d like to give a shout out to Castle Rock Quilt Club in Castle Rock, Colorado. They invited me to be their Zoom presenter last night. We talked about the history of quilt shows and had a blast! Such wonderful folks and beautiful quilts! Thank you so much Castle Rock Quilt Club! Hopefully we can do it again!

Until Next Week, Remember the Details Make the Difference!  

Love and Stitches,  



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

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

And promptly backed right out.  

Hancock’s of Paducah. Defintely worth the trip.

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Until Next Week, Remember the Details Make the Difference!  

Love and Stitches,



The Zeigarnik Effect and Your UFOs

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

    Some of us are shouting, “Finally!”  

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

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

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

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

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

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

Welcome to the Zeigarnik Effect.  

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Until Next Week, Remember the Details Make the Difference!  

Love and Stitches, Sherri


More Bad Quilting Habits (Part 2)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

Let. It. Go.  

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

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

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

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

Love and Stitches,



Bad Quilting Habits (Part 1)

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

And the quilts you make.  

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Remember the Details Make the Difference!

Love and Stitches,



Questions from My Readers

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

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

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

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

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

  •  Do you do anything else besides quilting?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  •  How’s the book coming?

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

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

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

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

Until Next Week, Remember the Details Make the Difference!  

Love and Stitches,



Pressing Concerns

Today I would like to tackle a pressing topic – and that topic is do you press or iron your quilt blocks?  I also will touch on when you do it, how to do it, and hit on some notions which may help in any tedious pressing situation.  First, let’s talk about the difference between pressing and ironing.    

Admittedly, the two terms are often used interchangeably.  Overall most everyone knows both pressing and ironing involve a hot iron and sometimes steam.  However, there is a difference between the two and I have found the easiest way to keep them straight is this:    

You iron your clothes.  Also, admittedly, few people do this anymore.  Imagine my surprise when my adult daughter asked to borrow my iron to get the wrinkles out of my grand darlings’ school uniforms a couple of years ago.  She didn’t own an iron.  Most folks throw their clothes in the dryer for a few minutes and the heat causes the wrinkles to relax. 

But just bear with me here.  If you have a wrinkled shirt, you use an iron with a back-and-forth motion to smooth the wrinkles out.  Pressing is an up and down motion with an iron.  You press your quilt fabric, block units, applique, and quilt blocks.  The reason you use an up and down motion instead of a back-and-forth motion is bias. 

A back-and-forth motion can stretch the bias, and as a result your block, block unit, applique, quilt block, and quilt fabric may be forced off-grain and stretched out of shape.  Lots of horrible wonkiness may be the end result.      At this point, I must admit I have issues with some quilt patterns and quilt teachers/books/videos.  One of two things are occurring with several of them:  Either they don’t press between steps, or they assume you just *know* when to do it and omit this step in their lessons/books/patterns/videos.  For reference with this blog, I am only dealing with pieced blocks, not applique, because pressing applique is a little different.  Anyway, here’s Sherri’s Rule of Thumb about pressing:  Press your block units every time you make a seam. And use an iron.   

I realize this may sound a little extreme.  However, keep in mind that as you’re creating your beautiful quilt top, one of the goals is to have all your blocks lie flat.  Another goal is to reduce bulk.  Pressing with an iron helps you do both.  I also know there are “iron substitutes” on the market, and they do come in handy in a pinch.  Plus I realize many quilt designers are now telling you to “finger press” seams.  This also can work in a few situations.  However, I don’t think anything works better to reduce bulk and make your block units and blocks lie flat as a hot iron.   

Most of the time we press our seams to one side – usually towards the darker fabric —  so our seam allowances won’t “shadow” through the lighter fabric.  I have found the best way to do this is to press the block unit the way it is as it comes from under the needle.   This sets the thread in the fabric.  Then press the seams to one side from the wrong side and then again from the right side.  

Press this way first…just the way the block uniti comes out from under your sewing machine needle…
Then press towards the darker fabric

That’s the short version of pressing.  Let’s examine when there are exceptions to pressing seams to the dark side.  The best quilt patterns will tell you which way to press your seams.  They may do this verbally (e.g., “Press all seams towards fabric B”) or have directional arrows pointing to the right or left.  However, not all patterns take the time to give these instructions, or you may be designing your own quilt and need to know which direction to press the seams.  This is when making a test block is a really good idea (actually it’s a good idea all the time…but that’s another blog for another day).  As you construct the test block and press each unit, then each row, finally the entire block, you can see direction the seams need to be pressed in order for them to nest.    

This nesting is important because it lines up seams and makes your blocks lie flat.  And sometimes in your test block, you may find there are occasions when the seams need to be pressed towards the lighter fabric in order for nesting to take place.  If this happens, there’s no need to panic or think you’ve broken some kind of unwritten quilting law.  The quilt police won’t show up at your house and demand you turn over your sewing machine.  If both of the fabrics are light, you may find there is minimal shadowing (shadowing happens when a darker fabric’s seam is clearly seen through the right side of the quilt top).  If you can live with this minimal shadowing, keep constructing your quilt blocks.   However, if the fabric in the seam is definitely darker and definitely shadows through in a manner you can’t live with, you can minimize this. 

Graded Seam

Carefully trim the darker fabric in the seam down to 1/8-inch and then re-press the seam.  Most of the time the trimmed darker seam is nowhere near as noticeable as the untrimmed one.  Don’t trim it to less than 1/8-inch or you may find your seam unsewing itself when you complete the top or go to quilt it.    And one last word about pressing the seams to one side – always do this when you plan any stitch-in-the-ditch quilting.  The quilting will go on the side without the seam allowances, making the stitching easier and smoother.  

All of this may beg the question, “Are there any circumstances in which you would press the seams open?”  

Again, the best quilt patterns will tell you when to do this.  However, if you’re designing your own quilt or this information isn’t on the pattern, when do you know to press your seams open instead of to the side?  There are a couple of circumstances which come into play, but remember the goals of accurate pressing are to make the block lie as flat as possible and to reduce bulk.  When you have a quilt block like this:  

And all of the points come together at one spot, there’s going to be a lot of bulk to deal with.  One of the ways to deal with this is to press all the seams open.  This spreads all the fabric out over the area. **   I also press my Y-seams open. 

Again, you have three pieces of fabric converging at one point.  Pressing the seams open not only reduces the bulk, but also helps with accuracy.  It’s easier to see the point where your needle needs to land both when starting and stopping the seam.  And if by chance I am piecing my background for either hand or machine applique, I also press those seams open – again to reduce bulk and to make the block lie flat.     

There is one other “special” pressing situation you need to be aware of, and that’s concerning four-patches of any type.  Wherever you have four blocks of fabric joined – whether they’re half-square triangles or solid pieces of material – generally you’re working with some combination of light and dark fabric.  You know your seams should nest, but no matter which way you press your seam to the side, it will shadow.  Here’s a little trick called “Spinning the Middle.”

  1.  At the center where all the seams meet, use your seam ripper to loosen a few stitches.

2.  Then twist the block at the seam until you get a tiny four-patch in the middle.  This will allow either the light seams to be pressed to the light side or the dark seams to be pressed to the dark.  This same method can be used for half-square triangles.  This method works great to reduce bulk, help the block lie flat, and prevent shadowing.

Four Patch with a Spun Middle
Two Pinwheel Blocks Made from Half-Square Triangles.
One has the seams pressed towards the darker fabric and the other has the seams pressed open. Both have the middle spun. Either pressing method works.

    Just remember as you are dealing with any pressing situation, there are two main goals in mind:  Reduce bulk and make your block lie flat.  If you keep those two ideas in mind, you’ll do just fine pressing your block units, blocks, and quilt fabric.   Before we wrap this blog up, I want to offer a few more tips and tricks about pressing and highlight some new(ish) pressing notions on the market.

Do you use steam when pressing?  This is another one of those issues which generally divide quilters into two camps – those who use and love it and those who can completely live without it.  Personally, I like a little steam in certain situations.  If I am pressing my quilt fabric before cutting it, I will use steam.  Wrinkled fabric results in crooked cutting, so there are occasions when you will need to press your fabric even if you’re not a pre-washer (if it comes off the bolt wrinkled, or it becomes wrinkled from storage).  If there is a lot of bulk in a block or block unit, I’ll use steam to help reduce the bulk because it will flatten the seams better than just a dry iron.   

  There are two ways to utilize steam.  You can keep the steam feature turned off on your iron and spritz the fabric lightly (don’t soak it) with water before you press it.  If you’re pressing extremely wrinkled fabric, I have found (at least for me) this method works best, especially if I can use a spray bottle filled with warm water and allow the fabric to relax a few minutes before pressing.  The other method is to engage the steam function on your iron.  I’ll be honest at this point – if you always keep water in your iron, it can shorten your iron’s life span.  If you do add water to your iron, you may want to empty it when your sewing session is complete.  And be sure to read the directions which come with your iron as to whether your iron needs distilled or tap water (most are fine with tap water). 

  Is there a “best” iron for quilters?  No.  Not really.  The type of iron you like to use is the best quilting iron for you.  Irons are like so many other quilting supplies.  They can run the gamut from several thousands of dollars for ironing systems such as this:  

To this one which is just under $15 on Amazon.   

Admittedly, I am hard on irons.  They tend to get knocked off my ironing board or pressing surface pretty regularly.  Therefore, my favorite kind of iron is a cheap one because it’s probably going to have a short shelf life regardless of whether or not I put water in it.  I will recommend two irons.  First, is the Cordless Panasonic. 

I have one of these and I absolutely love it.  It re-heats quickly and has a retractable power cord.  This iron is so great when you need to iron large areas of fabric, such as wrinkled yardage, quilt tops, and borders.  There is no cord to get in the way.  It comes with a handy-dandy carrying case and is worth every red cent.   The second iron is this:  

Which, unfortunately, is hard to find.  These have no auto-off, a feature of today’s irons that gets on my nerves.  Some of these have no water tank, but they seem (at least to me) to get hotter than modern irons.  These can be found on-line (Google antique irons – a lot were made mid-twentieth century and died out in the late 1980’s), but also shop thrift stores and estate sales.  You may have to give them a little love and care, but if they work, they’re a great addition to your studio.  Just remember to unplug them or turn them off when you’re through.  

Why is my pressed seam “wobbly”?  If you’ve pressed your seam and it has curves or kinks in it, those are the result of too much pressure.  You’re pressing your seam too hard.  I’ve found this trick is useful to avoid curvy seams.  Take a permanent marker or a pencil and draw a straight line on your pressing surface (if you don’t want the line to be a permanent part of your ironing area, cover the area with a light-color fabric or muslin).  Pin the beginning of your seam to the beginning of the line, matching up the seam with the drawn line.  Then repeat the process at the end.  Now press.  If you’re pressing too hard, the seam will move off the line.  Reposition the seam and press again, this time without so much pressure.  A few times of repeating this procedure will let you know how much pressure too much and how much is just right.  

Finally, we’re wrapping up this blog with a few notions which may help you with any pressing issues you may have.  These are all notions I own and use regularly.  Standard disclaimer insert:  I am not paid by any of these companies to endorse their products.  I have used them all for several years and have found them very useful.  Some of these are fairly new, others have been used by sewists for years.

  1.  Wool Mat – This pressing surface consists of wool fibers which are bonded together.  The mat absorbs the heat from the iron and reflects it back into the fabric, literally cutting your pressing time in half and doubling the effect.  These mats come in all sizes and in rolls.  I keep a medium-sized one near my sewing area for pressing blocks, block units, and applique.  I have a small one in my sewing bag I take with me to sit and sews or bees.  My plan is to purchase a bit larger one for my ironing board. 

Couple of things you want to keep in mind about these mats.  First, they do have a bit of an odor about them when you press.  My DH says it smells like a wet dog (bless his heart).  You can drop some essential oil on the mat if the smell bothers you.  Personally, I don’t find the odor that offensive, but I’ve used my mat so long I could be nose blind.  After a period of use, you may find something like rust stains on your mat.  You can use one of these to remove the stain:

  Or you can wash your mat.  I have not tried washing my mat, but according to the interwebs, there are methods to do this.  Be sure to use a detergent which is specifically for wool and one that won’t leave a residue, such as Eucalan.    Wool mats can be a bit pricey, but I think they’re worth the expense.  

  •  Flatter – This nifty notion comes as both a soak and a spray, both scented and unscented.  It helps the wrinkles relax and freshens the fabric (which may come in handy if your fabric was stored for a while).  It leaves your fabric super-soft, smooth, and static free.  It’s also environmentally friendly and generally can be used by folks with sensitive skin. 
  •  Starch/Best Press – There are a few reasons to use these products besides the fact they can also flatten seams to reduce bulk.  If you’re a pre-washer, you know once dry, the fabric has a softer hand than non-pre-washed fabrics.  A light spritz of starch or Best Press pressed on the wrong side of the fabric helps to restore crispness.  Likewise a spray of either can help the wrinkles to relax.  A couple of words of warning:  First, if you plan on pressing your blocks or fabric with spray starch or Best Press and then storing them a while, you will want to go with the Best Press.  Regular spray starch is derived from potatoes, which may attract bugs.  Best Press isn’t, so there won’t be any buggy issues in the future.

Second, dollar store establishments often will stock spray starch.  Be aware some (not all) of these cans of starch are seconds and may have a higher water content than those found in grocery stores, big box stores such as Walmart and Target, or drug stores.   

  • Tailor’s Clapper – If you think this looks like a chunk of wood, you’re correct.  Tailor’s Clappers have been used for hundreds of years to smooth seams and fabric, as well as help reduce (or at least smooth out) some bulk.  The wood itself absorbs the steam and traps the heat inside of your fabric, instead of setting it free into the air of your sewing room. This is the magic of the tailor’s clapper. Your fabric needs the right combination of hot to cool, steamy to dry in order to make a perfectly flat seam. These are available in stores and on the web.  If you decide to invest in one of these wonderful, retro quilting notions, be sure the TC is made from a hardwood, such as tulip or maple. 

To use a TC, you need steam, so you’ll either want to spritz your fabric with water (or spray starch or Best Press) and then hit it with a hot iron or engage the steam function on your iron.  Press your seam or bulky area, remove the iron, and then press with the TC for 5-7 seconds.   

  •  Pressing Tools When an Iron Isn’t Available – As much as I try to plan ahead, sometimes I forget my iron when I attend different sit and sews or find out I can’t bring one.  If either of these are the case, there are a couple of smaller pressing tools I keep tucked in my portable sewing back which work to flatten an area until I can get home and give it a proper pressing with an iron.  The first one is this:

This wooden tool, when run down either a seam pressed to one side, or an open seam can deal with the bulk and flatten seams.  The same goes for this:  

Which you may have used to help seal seams in wallpaper.  Side note on this notion.  This is the one iron substitute which works well with paper piecing.  It’s heavy enough to make the paper and the fabric behave.   And if all else fails, a fingernail run down a seam works well enough until you can gain access to an iron.

I hope this blog has cleared up any confusion between pressing and ironing.  I also hope I’ve given you some tools and notion ideas to make pressing easier.  Whatever iron, pressing notion, or iron substitute you use, just be sure to press those seams.  Accurate and consistent pressing is part of the Holy Trinity of quilting (along with accurate cutting and keeping a consistent seam allowance).  

Until Next Week, Remember the Details Make the Difference!  

Love and Stitches,


**Here’s a helpful hint if you have a block like where there are lots seams coming together at one point. 

With a block like this, it’s almost impossible to get all the seams to open up fully so you can press them accurately.  My standard go-to in this situation is a circle.    I simply trace a circle template over the area where all the points converge, then I cut the bulk out slightly inside the tracing line.  I make a circle applique patch out of another fabric and applique it over the hole (either by hand or machine).  Bulk is eliminated and I’ve added a bit more interest in the block.