Find Your Quilting People

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

A quilter, she is not.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So, yes, the quilts are important. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I hungered for that sense of community.

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

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

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

Not just anyone will do that.

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

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

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

Until Next Week,

Love and Stitches,


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


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

Continuing with our discussion on patterns…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The finished block size is 6-inches.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And one of these:

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

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

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

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

Love and Stitches,



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nope.  Not even close.

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

Every word.

Even the parts which are not clear to you.

To the end.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Center Strings – ½ yard black

Side Strings – Assorted prints, ½ yard

Inner Border – 3/8-yard pink     

Vine – 6 ½ x 10-inches gray

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

Bird – 6 x 9-inch black polka dot

Binding – ½ yard black and white print

Backing and Batting – 55” x 70” inches

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

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

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

Inner Border – 3/8-yard pink  red

Vine – 6 ½ x 10-inches gray green

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

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

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

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

Backing and Batting – 55” x 70” inches

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

At this point, we have: 

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

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

Remember the Details Make the Difference!

Love and Stitches,



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Love and Stitches,



Quilters and Their Patterns

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

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


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


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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Until next week, remember The Details Make the Difference!

Love and Stitches,



Negative and Positive Space — the Ying and Yang of Quilting

When you ask a quilter if they are an artist, a hobbyist, or a sewer, generally you’ll find a good chunk of us will fall into all three categories.  Some definitely consider fabric their medium for creating works of art.  Some consider quilting a hobby and others quilt along with sewing garments or other crafty things.   However, in one aspect all of us fall into the artist category because we deal with both positive and negative space. 

The word negative is the key to a lot of ideas – those black and white images produced on a strip of film way back in the day when the camera was a separate piece of technology not on your phone, a bad attitude, or a bank account in serious trouble.  However, for quilters the terms negative and positive can be broken down into two simple ideas:

Positive space is the area of interest.

Negative space is the background. 

What I want to try to do with this blog is define both spaces in the realms of traditional quilts and modern quilters.  This blog is by no means the definitive work on either.  I just hope it proves to be a “jumping off” place to spark your interest and get you thinking.  There are lots of articles and books on this subject by artists who have studied negative and positive space a lot more thoroughly than I have. 

First, let’s take a look at a “traditional quilt” and its use of negative space.  With a traditional quilt, the background is considered the negative.  It doesn’t matter what color the background is – ecru, gray, black, red, pink, purple or any other color – the negative space is the background fabric.  The background can be solid, a micro-print, tone-on-tone, etc. 

The above image is a “traditional” quilt – it has pieced blocks, sashing, and borders.  In this quilt you can see the background fabric is a mottled fabric and it enhances the block in several ways:

  1.  It’s used as a buffer between the blocks.  Used as the sashing between the blocks, rows, and borders, it separates each block and each row.
  2. It allows the viewer to have the time to view each block and gives the eyes a resting space before moving onto the next block.
  3. It creates a framework around each block, each row, and then the quilt center.
  4. It enhances the positive images of the quilt – the areas of interest – the blocks and borders. 

Let’s see what happens when we take away the negative space in a traditional quilt.

This is still a nice quilt.  However, in keeping with my Zone of Truth caveat, it makes me just a bit jumpy on the inside.  There is nowhere for my eyes to take a break and “catch a breath” before moving onto the next block (although I seriously like the secondary design this quilt has going on).  I am one of those folks who liken viewing a quilt to taking a long, slow stroll. I like to look at a block or two or a specific   area on the quilt, think about it, and then move onto the next section.  When the negative space is removed, there’s nowhere for my eyes to do that.  I feel I must take in the entire quilt at one time.

This quilt is the same.  The 1718 Coverlet is indeed a thing of beauty and a joy forever, but it’s a struggle to look at because there is literally no negative space.  It was English paper pieced and owned by the Brown family of the United Kingdom.  The Coverlet was purchased at a 2002 auction by the British Quilters Guild.  I think it’s remarkable the Coverlet has held up as well as it has because most of the fabric used is silk.  Despite its “peerage” I still think it’s difficult to look at.  I have to force myself to pause at each block and look at it closely. 

However,  there is one group of quilters who are absolutely own the use of negative space – the Modern Quilters.  This particular group of quilters uses bold colors and prints, high contrast and graphic areas of solid color, improvisational piecing, minimalism, expansive negative space, and alternate grid work. 

Quilt by Karen Abraham

These quilts embrace negative space and use it to its best advantage.  It surrounds the pieced blocks and can serve to bring calm to the brightest color scheme.  Personally, I find modern quilts thought-provoking and soothing all at the same time. 

Quilt by Jennifer Meakins

The aspect I find so different between modern quilts and traditional quilts is the actual quilting.  Traditional quilts use quilting to enhance the pieced blocks and fill in the negative areas.  Modern quilts use the quilting as part of the overall quilt design.  Skeptical about this?  Okay, think about your own quilting.  When you chose a pattern and piece the quilt, at what point do you consider the actual quilting?  You may be careful with the piecing process so that the quilting process is easy, but when do you actually think about the quilting design?  Once the quilt is finished and you must consider how to quilt it?  When you talk with your long arm artist to decide if an edge-to-edge or some custom quilting will enhance the quilt?  Or do you consider how you will quilt the quilt before you make the first cut into the fabric?

Quilters who are accustomed to working with lots of negative space often already have the quilting planned in their minds before they start piecing because the negative space works in tandem with the piecing for an overall effect. 

In both kinds of quilts – both modern and traditional – negative space plays as much an important role as the positive does.  Negative space offers balance, symmetry and is the Ying to the Yang of design.  And the ways to work with negative space offer so many quilting options. 

  1.  It can create movement.  Quilted lines, waves, arrows, etc., can draw the eye across the movement.  Curvy designs can soften hard angles and lines.
  2. It can showcase blocks.  This is especially true with traditionally pieced quilts. 
  3. Negative space can be used to create optical illusions, such as in this quilt:

Quilt here and above by Steph Skardal

For me, negative space is used most optimally when it serves to deconstruct the traditional.  This can be done with both applique and pieced quilts.  All it takes is for the principle of subtraction to be applied to a pattern.  For instance, take this traditionally pieced quilt:

Now let’s subtract a few blocks and see how it looks:

You’ve got more negative space and more places for your eyes to rest.  There are also lots of opportunities for quilting.  The deliberate subtraction (or deconstruction) of a traditionally pieced quilt completely changes the look. 

Applique quilts go through a similar process when they’re deconstructed.  Below is a pretty traditional Rose of Sharon Quilt.

Look what happens when we subtract some of the blocks.  The entire “mood” of the quilt changes.  Alter the fabric from the traditional red, green, and yellow to some of the brighter, new fabric lines, and it’s almost unrecognizable as a Rose of Sharon. 

With most quilts, some negative space is needed to assure symmetry and balance.  Which raises the question, do all quilts need negative space?  Well, no.  The 1718 Coverlet answers that question.   However, if you’re like me and feel just a bit anxious as you view the quilt, you may tend to believe quilts need the negative space to balance the busy-ness in the other areas of the quilt.  Most  do have blocks or parts of blocks which serve this purpose.  For instance, consider Log Cabin Quilts. One side of the blocks is usually constructed out of a light-colored fabric (at least lighter than the other fabrics). 

It’s this lighter color which allows the eyes to rest as they travel across the quilt.  Look what happens when half the block doesn’t contrast as much.

It’s difficult to really see what’s happening with this quilt.  The contrasting logs don’t have to be light-colored fabrics, but they do need to be in sharp contrast to the other fabrics. 

Then there are quilts such as this

The Snowball block is the joiner block for this quilt.

Which use “joiner” blocks instead of sashing to separate the blocks.  Generally they help the quilt form a secondary pattern, but they also tend to have more negative space than the primary blocks, giving your eyes a place to rest. 

So now that you may have decided to construct a quilt with lots of negative space, how are you planning to quilt it?  I have a few favorite techniques I use.  My list is by no means exhaustive, but these are generally my “go-to” quilting formulas for large areas of blank space.

  •  Echo the shape of the block – After the inside of the block is quilted, outline outside of the block a few times, with each line of quilting about ¼-inch away from the other.  Then use some filler loops, meanders, or swirls to move to the next block.
  • “Wallpaper” the quilt – Simply use horizontal or vertical rows of straight line quilting to cover the quilt.  Wavy lines can also be used, as well as grids.  It really doesn’t matter, chose one and cover the quilt with it.
  • Break the background into shapes and quilt each shape – This one is a lot of fun.  Before you put the quilt on the long arm or sandwich it up for your domestic machine, divide the negative spaces into shapes.  Mark the spaces with a water-soluble pen (or your preferred marking tool) and then quilt the outline of the shape.  For instance, if you’ve divided your background into rectangles, stitch around the outline of the rectangles once or twice.  Then fill the center with tiny meanders, loops, or whatever you like.  Then move to the next shape, outline, and repeat.  When you’re finished, you will find some really interesting texture has emerged. 
  • “Ghost” in the blocks – This one may require a little ruler work unless you can freehand some perfectly straight lines.  This technique works like this – let’s say you just quilted an Ohio Star, and there’s enough negative space to quilt another Ohio Star – just without an actual pieced block there…

Wallpaper Quilting

Squares with different quilting motifs

Quilt and “Ghost Quilting” by Beth Sellars

This certainly makes for remarkable texture and a great deal of eye candy.

Personally, I think all my quilts need a least a little negative space.  This “empty” area  gives the eyes somewhere to take a breather and it adds symmetry and balance to a quilt.  Without negative space, I feel almost anxious when I look at a quilt.  I hope this blog has explained some of the options negative space holds for you as a quilter, and it’s given you some ideas on how to handle it.

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

Love and Stitches,



A Quilting Force to be Reckoned With: My Interview with Anita Smith

I am so blessed to be a quilter.  Not only have I had the wonderful opportunity to take classes and make wonderful quilts, but I have also had the privilege to meet so very many exceptional men and women who are not only proficient in their craft, but they also have unique stories to tell.  And many of those men and women have not only helped me become a better quilter, they have also helped me become a better person.  Their stories have touched my heart.  And a few have touched my soul.

Such is the person of Anita Smith.

I “met” Anita more years ago than I’ll admit.  I’ve always enjoyed applique – it’s my favorite quilting technique – so when I found an ad in a long-forgotten quilt magazine for The Applique Society, I sent in my dues.  After a few years, I had the privilege of serving on the board, and that’s when I met Anita.  She was the founder and past president of TAS.  Eventually I rotated off the board and she came back as President, setting the “little” applique group up to spectacularly meet the challenges of the 21st century.  Throughout this time we chatted on the phone, emailed, texted, and once saw each other at the TAS Annual Meeting.  The stitches which joined us as friends quickly tightened as I learned more about her.  In October, I asked Anita if she would share her story with the readers of my blog.  She graciously agreed.  My interview with her is below, along with some additional comments from me.  Please note English is not her native tongue – German is. And despite the fact she claims she still struggles with her words sometimes, the passion she has for her quilts shines brightly despite any language barriers. 

Anita: Thank you Sherri, for asking me to do this interview for you.  This is the first time someone has asked to interview me.  I have had to really take the time to think through why I have done what I have in my quilt life and especially my applique life. I hope I have adequately answered the questions you have asked and have made the interview interesting for those reading it.

1.     Tell me about your past.  Where did you grow up?

Our family immigrated to America in 1956 after the war in Europe left that country in poverty.  We were sponsored and ended up in Ohio. My parents were tailors and I lived in Ohio until I got married.  In 1971, when my husband and I married in California, we lived in the San Diego area where he was stationed in the Navy during the Vietnam War era.

Anita lives on Whitbey Island, Washington.  She often posts pictures of her home on her Facebook page.  It’s gorgeous.  And despite the fact I’m not a cold weather fan, I think living there would kind of be like living in a fairy tale.

How did you end up on Whidbey Island?

When a good friend moved to Washington State in 1978, I visited her and fell in love with Whidbey Island.

 And could you tell me a little about Whidbey?

It had a simple and down to earth living.  It has ocean water all around the island with clean fresh air.  The atmosphere was more “back to earth” and we were getting into that lifestyle during this time. We love living on the island. It is like being in a woodland retreat area, but we live there full time.  The evergreens, mountain views, ocean views, eagles and whales abound in the area. It is so restorative to live here.

2.     Why did you decide to learn to quilt?

Shortly after moving to Whidbey in 1979, I met a lady at the camping resort we were staying at who was into quilting. She invited me to go to a local quilting class she was attending.  It was a major turning point in my life. My parents were tailors, but I didn’t learn to quilt from them.  I only learned how to “tear out things” because they were perfectionist with their sewing. So when I met Helen Thompkins in 1979/80, she was someone I could learn from because she made sewing/quilting fun and positive.  Helen taught the old way in hand piecing and in quilting and best of all she offered lots of encouragement and humor. 

Anita’s First Quilt

Were you self-taught or did someone teach you?

After learning how to do the basics in quilting with Helen Thompkins, I had people ask me to teach them how to make the quilt I was making.  I loved helping people learn and so my quilt teaching began in 1981. I love, love teaching beginners and also those who don’t think they can learn. I have so many success stories. I show them what they CAN DO and not focus on what they already think they CAN’T DO. Because I was teaching beginners and intermediate students, I needed to learn more and there was not much available at the time.  So I learned from books and magazines how to quilt. I wanted to do the hand method because it was more adaptable to my style and also my goal – friendship and a slower pace of the quilting process.  I was not big into machine piecing at the time. I still love teaching the simple hand method and process. Many people are “product minded and focused.” I am “process minded and focused.”

3.     I know applique is your passion.  When did you decide this would be your “calling” in the quilt world? 

In Helen Thompkin’s class I fell in love with the freedom of applique. I loved that with applique, the restrictions of squares and triangles disappeared, and the freedom of shapes and design emerged. I began to teach applique more and more as more students wanted to learn.  There were a few that became star students and accomplished much.  After teaching one of my students the Baltimore Album style applique, she showed a friend who happened to have an original family Baltimore Album quilt. We all researched this quilt after she showed it to us.  What an amazing experience  it was to hold an “authentic” Baltimore Quilt!  I continued to keep in contact with this family and we worked on replicating this quilt over the next few years. I also created the historic “The Captain’s Quilt”.  I am still working on this quilt and hope to finish it in the next year or so.  While on a family trip in 1996, I had the opportunity to go to Baltimore and was able to attend the first Baltimore Applique Society quilt show. That was a life changing experience to see all those beautiful Baltimore style quilts. 

In October 1997, Anita along with several of her applique friends and with the support of some well-known applique artists, founded The Applique Society.  Through the years it grew from a small, local-ish group to a group of appliquers from across the globe.  At first it was a loosely formed group, with some local chapters, linked with a bi-monthly newsletter.  When Anita returned as President, COVID pushed Zoom into nearly everyone’s consciousness, including the TAS executive board.  We now have monthly meetings via Zoom as well as great workshops with nationally and internationally known teachers.  Trust me, if you like to applique, the $25 dues is some of the best money you’ll spend. 

But it all began with this woman and her vision.

What prompted you to start The Applique Society and how did that come about?  Can you give me a brief history of where it came from to where it’s at today?

It was while I was at the Baltimore Applique Society Quilt show I got the “vision” of an applique group which would go around the world and have many members.   I was in the hotel room where I was staying and began to write down the vision. I still have that notebook today. After I got back home from that trip, I spoke to a woman who had begun a large quilt group in our area which was very successful and drew many in the Pacific Northwest area.  She was so very helpful to answer many of the questions I had and then she gave me the name of Jeannie Austin.  Jeannie was immersed into Applique and Baltimore quilts.  It was after talking to her about my trip to Baltimore and the Baltimore quilt we discovered on Whidbey Island, that we became good friends and very involved in the Whidbey Island Family who had the Baltimore quilt.  We proceeded to help the family understand the value and significant history of the journey of this quilt. 

Elizabeth – Jane – Anita –Robertson Quilt

The daughter of this family just finished writing about the journey of this quilt and the history surrounding it.  She completed her own exact copy of the original quilt, and the book has the patterns of this quilt too. Here is the link in case you wanted to learn more about this amazing story and history. It has captivated me! It has impacted me! And this family has impacted me! It is amazing when a quilt is so impacting in our life.

The Robertson Quilt – Track its journey from Baltimore to Whidbey Island

In December 1996, I discussed the possibility of starting an applique group in our area with some well-known applique quilters and received great “do it” feedback. I put 100 invitation letters in the Freeland post office on Whidbey Island.  That invitation letter went to all the quilt groups in Washington State I could find addresses for, to see if there would be enough interest in starting an all-applique group in the Pacific Northwest.  I began hearing back from some and expected about 30 people in the spring of 1997.But when the day came, over 80 people showed up at the little local quilt shop in Edmonds, Washington. The steering committee was formed, and the people were in place to make history; The Applique Society (TAS) was birthed that day. October 1997 we became a nonprofit corporation in the State of Washington. In October 2022 we celebrated 25 years as TAS. In the fall of 2018 I joined the TAS board again and along with open minded board members, we have taken TAS to a new direction of this applique journey. We have gone to online Zoom monthly meetings and a quarterly newsletter. We have nationally and internationally well-known teachers give presentations and classes via Zoom. TAS is growing and moving with the times of how to reach out to the world with the “language of cloth”. We all understand this language of cloth even if we don’t speak the same language. We have met so many wonderful people through the World Wide Web. Check us out at

No conversation with Anita is complete without talking about the quilts she has made or is in the process of making.  Many of her quilts are from her own designs.  All of the quilts are beautiful. Despite what she says about perfection, her quilts are pretty darn close to it.

4.    There are four quilts you’ve made which really speak to my heart and I’d like for you to talk about those:

1790 Love Entwined redrafted by Esther Aliu

Now this is a good start to ask about the quilts I have made and am in process of making. Love Entwined is a great one to start with. As soon as I saw this quilt in 2013, it grabbed my heart.  I just knew I needed to make this quilt.  Because I was not familiar with the history 1790 Georgian Era, I decided to do some research and see what colors would be used during that time period. Since the original quilt was photographed in black and white, there was no color information available other than the description by the photographer and that information was subjective.  I researched the Georgian Era and was able to get great info from an architectural designer friend.  She had resource books she copied and scanned that showed the colors and the structures from that time.   I took that info and then went to my large collection of fabrics I had been building the last 10 years. I usually would get 1/3 to ½ yard pieces of fabrics with interesting designs on them which would give an applique piece some depth and movement.  I had been working as an office manager for a doctor at the time and took some of my paycheck to buy fabric each month that was on sale.  So, because of this, I had all the fabric I needed for this project.  I just loved the process of choosing the fabrics.  I would choose the fabrics and then put them into one of the extra-large zip storage bags – 2ft x 1ft x 7 inches (60cm x 51cm x 18cm).  I will not use any of the fabric in that bag until my project is finished.  The fabrics are contemporary designs and colors are different than what some would use.  I have taken the “family colors” of the Georgian Era and worked from that source to create what I have done so far. I love, love the colors I have chosen.

I worked on this quilt from July 2013 to December 2015 when life changed for me.  My second mom got dementia, broke her hip, and had to move into a nursing home. I was her Power of Attorney and had to travel to Florida to deal with all the contents of her home, her 10ft x 20ft storage unit, and then sell her house. It was an intense period, and I had no time to stitch. So the quilt was waiting for me to finish it when I got back.  It will get finished and worked on… soon. My mother, who was a tailor, saw the quilt in 2015 and had some positive comments about it.  That was a rare thing coming from her.  She told one of the staff in the nursing home she was in that “her (Anita’s) stitches are better than mine.”  She did not tell me directly.  I only overheard her saying it.  So when I finish this quilt, I will have good memories of that comment and this picture of her looking at it and inspecting my handwork.

 Anita’s mother inspecting Anita’s Love Entwined Quilt

Some of you may wonder at Anita’s term “Second Mom.”  This woman’s name was Lillian Kemp.  Both Lillian and her husband, Jack, played large roles in Anita’s life.  I’ll let Anita explain this before we move onto the second quilt:

Lillian Kemp was my second mom.  When Brad (my husband) was transferred to San Diego, he missed his girlfriend back in Ohio. In March 1971, he went walking on the Coronado beach near the Navy base.  That very week I had gone to the local Baptist Church for a revival meeting at the invite of Brad’s father.  I accepted Jesus that evening, and my prayer was “God you know how badly Brad and I want to get married, you work it out.”  Jack Kemp would go around and pick up sailors for the weekend and bring them home to a give them a meal and take them to church on Sunday.   He saw Brad walking on the Coronado beach and picked him up.  Lillian and Jack talked to Brad about this girl he was missing, and Lillian said, “Maybe in a few months when you get settled, you could have Anita come out and stay at our house”. 

 Brad wrote to me about it and the plan was made for me to go to Jack and Lillian’s house in two weeks.  We were 18 years old and in love and nothing was going to stop us from being together.  I was there in April and then on May 8, 1971, we got married in Jack and Lillian’s home with their Pastor officiating the marriage.  Lillian became my second mom.  Her only child, a son, died tragically two years later in a car accident, and we became even closer.  She was also a spiritual mother, too, in my walk with God.  So God answered my prayer in that simple Baptist church on the day of my Salvation. In 2021, we celebrated 50 years of marriage.

Good Grief (1856 Huguenot Friendship Quilt – Triplett Sisters pattern)

“Good Grief” became the name of my quilt in 2020, based on the 1856 Huguenot Friendship Quilt pattern by the Triplett Sisters. In March 2020, my good quilting friend did not survive open heart surgery and died at 65 years old. We had done so many quilting and applique things together and then she was gone. I had to do something to refocus the grief and loss. I helped the family with sorting through her quilting area, but the grief was still so deep.  So I decided to focus on something creative.  In May 2020 I began the Huguenot Friendship quilt. 

Little did I know how much this quilt would be important in the grieving process in 2020.  Each block was “doable”, and each block brought color and focus on beauty instead of sadness. I also had a garden to grow and canning to do, but the blocks were also part of my year. I “stitched a garden to heal the soul”.

Then September 3, 2020, my mother died at 91 of sepsis and organ failure. My two sisters were able to be with her when she passed. I prayed for her at home because it all happened so quickly and there was a limited amount of people who could see her because of the COVID restrictions in the hospitals. So I did not go to her.  At least she was not alone as many people were that year. She died in the hospital with her two daughters (my sisters) with her. My brother also could not make it either. It was sad.

October 2020, they finally opened the nursing home my second mom was in, and I could go see her. But I was only allowed to visit for 15 minutes a day.  For two weeks I went every day to see her and my last day I was able to be there 30 minutes. During the off times I was in my hotel room and worked on the applique for the Huguenot Friendship blocks.  I had cut and basted all the blocks before I left to go on the trip.  It became the focus. I also listened to positive messages on YouTube. Dealing with GRIEF… at just losing my mother, more GRIEF… realizing my second mom was not far behind…

Then December 22, my second mom died.  She was finally free from her dementia, from her broken body, and from the world of loneliness. Her sister died in the same nursing home just that past August.  This is why she stayed in Florida.  I wouldn’t/couldn’t take them away from each other.

Grief became “Good grief” in this quilt.  I stitched a garden to heal my soul.  Those who have experienced grief and loss understand this journey. The colors I chose for the center were different.  I had some fabric that had bees in it and had that in beige, red and black.  I again chose fabrics from my collection which were unique and had interesting designs and colors on them.  The black became the border because in Europe it is common to put a black border around cards to announce the death of a loved one or funeral notices. I thought this was perfect for my “Good Grief” quilt.  That is what quilts are, a language spoken in cloth which is understood, no matter what unique language we actually speak.

“The Journey of Hope” quilt

I have been working on this idea of “The Journey of Hope” for many years.  I always wanted to make a quilt about my family’s heritage but was not sure how to do that.  In the fall of 2018 I took a class from Susan Standley about a westward journey through the book named “Hope’s Journey”.  It sounded really interesting and so I went to the classes.  I learned a lot each month but because it was talking about the journey which women took to go west in America, I had a hard time connecting with their stories.  I began to think about my own journey to America and I journaled about my thoughts on this subject as I was going through the classes with Susan. 

The author of the book, Betsy Chutchian, came to one of the meetings.  It was at this meeting I told her about my idea to try and make my quilt more personal to my family’s history story by using blocks I researched from other books and libraries of old blocks.  I did lots of searching and found my best sources were “The Quilters Album of Patchwork Patterns” by Jinny Beyer and “Encyclopedia of Pieced Quilt Patterns” by Barbara Brackman.  EQ8 in conjunction with the Encyclopedia of Pieced Quilt Patterns created Block Base. It was a wealth of information to search out names of blocks which would work for my quilt idea.  Searching out the right names and the right sizes all were possible with the resources I found. At the end of the classes I presented the name of this quilt as “The Journey of Hope” to Betsy and got her blessing with a label for the quilt and  it was signed by her saying “Follow your path… Hope’s Journey – Betsy Chutchian 2019”.  In 2019 I did all my block research and then it was time to design the quilt.  Now that has been a journey and process!  I have sketches in my notebook but each one was inadequate.  My only source in 2019 was the Jinny Beyer book.  The next challenge was how do I get these blocks to fit into my design?  There were so many obstacles in this process. Then in 2020 the Block Base and the Encyclopedia of Pieced Quilt Patterns joined forces.  I ordered the book and program, and it changed the whole idea of my focus.  Now with EQ8 I could create the blocks I had put down on a list and make them into the size I wanted.  But first I had to pare down the list to what would fit in the area I wanted to make a quilt.  What size would I make this quilt? 

That is when my desire to use the Fibonacci method of quilt sizes came into play. I knew I was limited on the full size of the quilt being 105 inches, so I found a ratio that would work with that and came up with the 65 inch center with 10 inch borders. Then I found I could make the blocks in the center 5 inches, 10 inches and 15 inches and still be within the Fibonacci ratio. Patterns were picked and the design emerged. I also wanted to put the name of the quilt in the border.  I had to research a German Typographer and found one.  I was able to get the print for the quilt project design and just recently completed the typography with border sizes and patterns.  The blocks in the center of the quilt will tell the story by their block names, like farmers daughter, wagon wheel, Ohio Star, snowball wreath, danger signal, cross and crown, and many more.  There are 55 blocks in the center and 4 blocks in each corner.  If I hand piece one block a week (which is reasonable), it will take over a year to make that area.  Then I would do the applique in the lettering for another half year or so.  This will not be a fast quilt.  The outer border is still waiting to be designed. So 2020 was taken up with the “Good Grief” quilt and 2021 was trying to heal from the loss of my mothers and my friend.  I thought I was finally on the mend and able to proceed with the things needing done in my world.  BUT 2022 proved to be a difficult year. 

From January 2022 to July 2022, I lost 5 key people in my life to death.  Again the grief wants to engulf you.  It was harder this time.  REFOCUS, REFOCUS, REFOCUS and I worked through the summer with gardening to work through the grief.  But I also had time to reflect too.  It was at that time I thought about my father’s family and their journey during 1939 to 1945. My father’s family came from East Prussia.  In 1945 the Russians invaded East Prussia and killed, tortured, and violated men and women.  They took the land away from any German/East Prussian property owners. 

During this invasion and while they were trying to escape, my father’s grandfather  watched his beloved 22-year-old granddaughter killed in front of him. My father’s father died also in the invasion.  They both had to be buried somehow in the worst winter in the area and the frozen ground took a week to dig the hole for both of them (granddaughter/son-in-law).  There was so much loss, starvation, and death around them. I can’t imagine the losses they had to deal with and the emotions that go along with that. My father was 17 and his brother 18 when they were forced into joining a military or die that day. In 1945, his 3-year-old and 5 year old brothers only had their grandfather to take care of them. How did these people have HOPE? How did these people, my ancestors survive this?

I am the family historian, and I was able to get the last letter that great grandfather wrote in 1949 before he passed away. In this letter there was a message of HOPE.  Hope of his other granddaughter who was going to America, hope of a future.  He spoke of making sure they got a Bible when they came to America and make God and the Bible were an important part of their lives.  With this they would have HOPE. There was NO bitterness in that letter. No anger of the loss, ONLY HOPE in all the words to her. My father gave me this letter and told me it was from his Grandfather and would weep telling me about this letter. After I had it translated (it was in old script writing) I understood why the letter impacted him so deeply. I tear up just reading it too. It is like this great grandfather is still speaking to his family today.

As the family historian, I have collected all the stories of the family’s journey to freedom and HOPE. I think it is now that this story needs to be told in 2022. We all need HOPE again. 

I have been thinking a lot about… how did this man find HOPE in that difficult time?  How did my parents find HOPE during a time of hopelessness and poverty in the country we immigrated from? So it is time for the story of “The Journey of Hope” quilt to be told.  Watch for the progress in the coming year.

Sisterhood Quilt – The members of TAS from around the world who sent in blocks since 2000 to 2022

The Sisterhood center block design was a wonderful gift to The Applique Society (TAS).  Bunny Leighton had heard of my vision for TAS —  that it would reach applique lovers from around the world who knew and understood the “language of applique.”  She took this vision and created the design “The Sisterhood.”  Bunny captured the heart and soul of The Applique Society.

I took that design and made the block.  It is 34 inches high by 34-1/2 inches wide.  I used fabric that would represent the cultures shown.  I even found actual Japanese fabric for that culture. 

Once I had the center finished, I thought, “What else can I do with this block now?”  The idea was to have as many people as possible who were interested in doing so, make a block for the quilt. Some only did their signatures.  Others made simple applique blocks and then others made more detailed applique blocks. Blocks from around the world were sent to me to include in the quilt.  This quilt, when finished, will be in some museum for historic value documenting the applique lovers of this time period and The Applique Society.  I’ve spent 23 years of collecting blocks for this quilt.  Right now I am in the process of seeing what I need to do to finish the quilt and begin to do the quilting.  I would really like to hand quilt the center.  So maybe a combination of machine quilting and hand quilting will happen.  We will see what takes place as it gets closer to that phase.

If you would like to make a block, send your block to

Anita M Smith

P.O. Box 491

Freeland, WA 98249-0491


Block details

**Cream or Off-White Cotton – washed

**7-inch block… I will cut the block so please keep the design inside the 6-inch design area

**Use a Pigma Pen or archival pen to write on the block

**Applique Design and/or embellishment is welcomed

**On each block please include your full name, city, state, and country

**Also include the date, month, and year you completed the block

What has each quilt taught you? 

In writing about all the quilts above and the journey I have taken with each one, I see it taught me I love to tell stories with fabric, my first love in quilting is applique and I love to “paint with fabric.”

How did you decide on the designs?  How did you decide which fabrics to use? 

Each quilt is unique and each one is created based on an original idea.  Even the quilts which were from a pattern like the 1856 Huguenot Friendship Quilt was turned into a unique quilt by using different colors and an additional name. “Good Grief” stitched a garden to heal the soul.  It brought healing.

The Journey of Hope was planned one way and then when new information and opportunity to create something unique in unique sizes came about, it changed the whole idea and now it has taken on a life of its own. The Journey of Hope continues to tell me what to change and what to add.  It is fun when a quilt “talks” to you.

Love Entwined pattern is going to stay as it was created.  What changed was the fabric, the colors from what was seen so faintly. I love that the quilt was photographed in black and white because then it unlocked the creativity of each maker for their own version of the quilt. Love Entwined was the first quilt that “talked” to me and told me what fabric to use.  It surprised me what fabrics I chose, but they worked. 

See below the original from a book and then the redesigned center by Esther Aliu.



5.  Where do you see yourself in five years as a quilter?  Do you have goals?  If so, what are they? 

That is a very good question.  In five years I will be 76.  I  hope the quilts I have at the top of my list  “to be finished” will have been done and  have gotten into one of the major quilt shows and that some will win major awards. We can all dream… but I know from the quilts I have seen, the level of perfectionism one must achieve in order to win awards may be out of my reach because of the fact I will not obsess with perfection in my work.  I will do my best in the work I do, but the perfection goal is not there.  I do know my work has to “speak” and must have “heart” and has to “deeply move” the viewer.  Good Grief did this. I watched at our local fair where it was hung, that there were many brought to tears, and many had difficulty speaking after reading the label or the note I put with the quilt.

When I finish “The Journey of Hope,” my goal for it is to put it in Houston and then see what it does.  When it is finished being shown around, I will take it to Germany and present it to the East Prussian Museum for the historical value of its story. I hope it moves people to heal and to have HOPE.

6. What was it like being interviewed by Ricky Timms?

I was so nervous to meet Ricky.  He is so well known and  I didn’t know what to expect.  When I met him he IMMEDIATELY put me at ease.  Before I was recorded, he asked many questions, and I answered them.  It was then that he went over what his goal was and what he hoped to ask me.  Also where to look and what quilts would be focused on. Once the interview began, Ricky asked the questions just like a friend would ask.  All the preparation ahead really helped, and I felt totally at ease in the interview.  Ricky said he was given a chance in his life with quilting and so he was giving people a chance to share their ideas, quilts, and stories with the interviews he gives.  He was giving back what he was given and passing on the kindness.  It was an honor to meet him and talk to him.

7.  What other hobbies do you have besides applique and quilting?  (Details on your garden and food preservation would be greatly appreciated).

 My other love I enjoy is working in the garden and my yard.  I love the outdoors in the Pacific Northwest and to hear the owls hooting, the birds singing, and to watch the bees and hummingbirds.  You can listen as the bugs fly by and watch a dragon fly light on top of a fence. You can see the swallows fly and catch the bugs. You watch spring blossom and nature begin again after the rest of winter. Doing the physical work outside confirms to myself that I can still manage on my own things that others would hire out to do. I have helped my husband build a fence around our two large lots. I painted them with stain last summer.  Building flower beds and watching the Irises grow and the lavender attracts the bees again.

I also love photographing nature.  I love being able to see if I can create it in applique. I post these photos on Facebook to share with those that may not know about such simple beauty.

My favorite thing to do is to take a walk on the beach where my son lives and look for Agates. I  explore the earth near the beach and imagine what people and Indians were doing over 100+ years ago in the area. I love walking in his woods and listening to the quiet and smelling the earth and the ferns abundant on his property.

My life and goals are simple.  I keep my applique techniques simple.  I seldom watch TV.  I enjoy learning and listening to positive messages.  Since losing nine people in two years, I am reminded my time on earth has an “expiration date.”  I know where I am going and that gives me peace.  What I do want to do is live my life to the fullest while I am still on this earth and fulfill the plan God has for me to do.  I know doing applique and quilting, working with TAS, canning and gardening, and being a mentor and teacher to those who God brings into my life — all these things have purpose.  So I want to fulfill my purpose on this earth.

8.     What is the one quilt pattern you would make again and again and why?

I have made the Disappearing 9-patch for Veterans Quilts in a group I am a part of.  It was lots of fun and so I made some regular quilts with that pattern.  I love that you can have a core fabric and then because of the way you cut the 9-patch there is one square that will be larger than the others.  That one can be a fun fabric like I plan on using for a special quilt for a family member I want to make.  Plus the 9-patch can be any size and it can still be successful. Just try it… you will like it…

Usually at this point in my blog, I’m wrapping things up.  I search for a few well-chosen, possibly witty words to close out my column so you will remember it long enough to remind yourself to read it again next week.  I can’t do that with this blog.  The words which Anita has spoken and written so eloquently are more than enough for all of us to remember what she said, and even more so the journey she has taken as a quilter.  She’s a remarkable woman and so extremely talented. 

I am so blessed to have her as a friend.

Until next week – Remember the Difference is in the Detail!

Love and Stitches,


PS: All photo credits for this blog also go to Anita


The Trap Door of Social Media and Your Quilting

Social media.  We quilters use it all the time.  We look up patterns.  We join on-line groups and Facebook pages.  I blog.  You read my blogs.  We tweet and Instagram and thank the good Lord for the resources YouTube brings to us.  As matter of fact, we use social media so much and have for so long we kind of take it for granted. 

However, allow me to insert a personal story at this point.  Let’s take a trip back to the seventies.  A lot was going on then, both historically and socially.  And one of those events was the introduction of HBO.  While cable television had been around since the forties, it wasn’t until around 1972 that HBO – the Home Box Office – became available to large cities and then trickled down into the suburbs.  One of those suburbs was my little hometown, and my dad was one of their first customers.  Dad owned a couple of companies during this time, and he often had to work nights to fill in for absent employees or just to keep things running smoothly.   He saw HBO as an opportunity to watch movies he didn’t have time to see at a regular theater and as an alternative to our local TV channels.  He signed up, the cable was laid, and we were soon watching programs other folks around us weren’t.

Which in a small town brought up lots of discussions – weren’t we worried about inappropriate programming?  Didn’t this mean our family would watch more TV (especially my brother and me) than normal?  Didn’t it bother us that we were paying for both good and bad programming?  Dad had some pretty hard, fast answers:  No, no, and no.  No one would force us to watch anything we didn’t feel was appropriate, he and Mom made sure our chores and homework were done before Eric and I plopped down in front of the television (which, for the record, I’ve never been one to watch hours of TV), and you pay for electricity, which can bring both good and bad into a house, so what’s the difference?

Here’s the bridge between HBO and social media:  They both work the same way.  There are both good sides and bad sides to social media, just like there are good points and bad points with movie channels.  Which side you allow into your life and your quilting determines its impact on both you and your art.  Social media – like HBO – is neither inherently good nor bad.  It, in and of itself, is neutral.  It’s how it’s used which determines its influence. 

Right off the top of my head, I can list lots of advantages for social media:

  • We can stay connected with quilters from all over the world
  • Lots of information and research are available from hundreds of sources with just a click of the mouse
  • You can both shop and pay for on-line “must have” quilt purchases
  • So many learning opportunities!
  • Zoom meetings for guilds and other quilting groups mean teachers are available from anywhere in any time zone
  • Even if you move to an area with no quilt shops, guilds, or groups, you can stay connected with the ones back home or find new ones.

All social media is a stage, and I really, really want to operate the trap door.

There is a dark side to social media, too, even for quilters who (in my opinion) seem to have the sunniest of dispositions.

  • Online vs. Reality – If you’re like me (and a lot of other quilters), when you’re lacking inspiration, have a few extra minutes here and there, or you’re trying to find a quilt pattern, you will peruse social media as well as Google/Google   images.  Sometimes these pictures are photoshopped – the photographer has downloaded the actual picture into a software program and has “touched up” the real image.  Getting rid of a few stray threads is one thing, but to alter the image to the point where it looks almost nothing like the original is another.  And according to my photographer husband, sometimes it takes a trained eye to know if a program such as Lightbox or Photoshop has been used.  There is a chance – if you’re looking at a picture of a quilt – you may not be looking at the “real” thing.  The image could be altered.  So if you look at a quilt and think “Oh, I could never make something like that.  It is so far above my skill level,” there is a chance no one has actually made that quilt.  It’s an altered derivative of the original.

However, once those thoughts have run through your head, it’s super-easy to think you can’t make it or you’re not a good quilter or you begin to have massive amounts of self-doubt.  If this happens, take a deep breath and turn off your laptop, iPad, or step away from your phone and repeat this:  I can make that quilt.  I do have the skill set.  I can do it. It’s just a quilt.

  • Increased Usage – Using social media can be like eating potato chips. It’s nearly impossible to eat only one chip.  Once you’ve used one site to find something, your search will very obligingly return few more.  This is especially true with YouTube.  I may only want to watch one or two videos about quilting feathers, but YouTube will very helpfully line up five more for my viewing pleasure.  Next thing I know, I’ve spent three hours watching videos about quilting without putting in a single stitch.  A timer can be helpful in these situations.  Set it for 15 minutes or a half hour.  When it dings, step away from the screen and move on to the next thing.
  • Social Media Addiction is a Real Thing – This is a bit different from the Pit of Increased Usage.   This addiction occurs when you post something – a question or better yet a picture of what you’re working on – and afterwards you continually check the social media page to see how many people have liked or commented on it.  Psychologists tell us every “like” or positive comment produces a hit of dopamine to the brain (dopamine is the chemical in the brain which allows us to feel pleasure, satisfaction, and motivation) and other happiness hormones.  Our brains happen to like this very much and want to repeat this process as many times as possible.  So we find ourselves continually checking our social media pages and every time the number of “likes” or comments increases, we feel pretty good about ourselves.  Then as the number of these taper off, our “feel good feelings” go away and our brain sends us a signal:  Do something else so we can feel this happy/satisfied/motivated again. 

This, if we’re not careful, can begin a cycle of Social Media Addiction.  Feel bad?  Post a picture or comment to see the responses.  Didn’t get as many responses and likes as last time?  Let’s see if we can fix this. Post something else.  And the cycle continues. 

Allow me another personal example.  I have written a quilt blog since 2008, first on Blogspot and now on WordPress.   Most of the time – as a matter of fact all of the time until around 2016 – I received virtually no feedback.  Once in a while I would get a comment or a like, but not often and certainly not enough for me to keep checking the blog app on my phone to keep up with the nonexistent numbers.  I was writing for my own pleasure and fun.

Then in 2016, something happened.  For starters, by this time my writing had improved.  Second, for whatever reason – karma, happenstance, sheer luck – I began to have regular readers and they would comment.   People began to subscribe.  This made me happy, of course, but it still didn’t make me check my WordPress app on a daily basis.  Then in 2018, the unthinkable happened.  I posted on Wednesday morning as normal, then after lunch I received a message from WordPress:  I had over 1,000 readers since I posted at 8 a.m.

You better believe for the next several months I rabidly checked my WordPress app several times a day.  Could I have over 1,000 readers in one day again?  If I didn’t, what did that say about my writing?  Was my topic relevant?  Then I began looking at which countries my readers were from.  Needless to say, I nearly drove myself (and probably some other folks) nuts. 

I had an addiction and I had to get over it.  I removed the app from my phone for nearly a year.  If I wanted stats, I would have to power up my laptop and go through all that trouble to find out how many readers I had and who was reading from what country.  I do admit I now check the app a few times a week to look at the numbers.  The countries don’t bother me so much anymore, but I am thankful folks in lots of other countries take the time to read my blog.

It’s important to note the opposite can also happen.  Unfortunately, I’ve seen some real “Quilting Bullies” on some sites – especially Facebook.  I am happy the admins of most of these pages will shut the bullies down quickly.  However, I’ve seen some pretty bad manners.  If one quilter shows something they’re making which another quilter believes was done incorrectly, poorly, or (gasp and clutch your pearls) not the way they would have done it, they criticize the project and the quilter.  If you post something and expect to receive complete validation or a huge hit of dopamine every time, don’t be surprised when it doesn’t happen.  I even would go so far to say if having another quilter post something derogatory  would bother you to the point you didn’t want to quilt, it’s probably a good idea not to post anything. 

  • Fear of Missing Out (FOMO) – Admittedly, this is one of those issues which seems to occur in younger social media users.  Fear of Missing Out kind of goes hand in hand with Social Media Addiction in that FOMO sufferers feel the need to frequently check their social media pages.  However, instead of posting something in order to get a hit of dopamine, FOMO people are afraid if they don’t continually monitor their social media, they’ll miss out on something.  So if you’re constantly scrolling Instagram, Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter, or other sites in order to catch immediate releases of patterns, books, or just day-to-day updates from your favorite quilters, you may suffer from FOMO.

A few final thoughts before I end this blog, and this deals with YouTube.  I love YouTube as much as any other quilter.  There are some YouTube quilters I follow and watch regularly.  We will get to them in a minute, and I’ll tell you why I follow them and think they’re simply wonderful.  However, I’d like to issue a few cautionary statements about YouTube videos and channels.  First, almost anyone can start their own YouTube channel.  YouTube has proven itself to be the great equalizer.  No more paying the “regular” channels to put something on them or hoping they pick you up as an afternoon or morning show.  With YouTube, there’s no dealing with the camera and lighting people at a local station or PBS.  You can film and edit your own stuff, load it up, and unless YouTube dings it for inappropriate, stolen, or plagiarized content, it will be available for viewing in just a bit.  As a result we have access to hundreds of quilting teachers from all over the world.  Some of them are very good.  Some of them are not.  After you’ve quilted a while you can pretty much weed out which teachers are worth watching and which are not.  It’s important to remember most of the sewing and quilting parts of the videos are sped up due to time limitations.  So if you think you’re hopeless because you can’t sew or quilt as quickly as some of the YouTubers, don’t despair.  There’s more than a good chance they can’t sew or quilt that fast, either. 

As promised, these are the quilters I regularly watch on YouTube:

Angela Walters – If you want to learn to quilt or quilt better on your domestic sewing machine or long arm, Angela is your girl.  She has teaching videos where she uses both and breaks it down so it’s super-simple.  Angela is the one who really got me over my fear of quilting on my domestic sewing machine.  She does demonstrate how to piece quilts, with most of quilts using pre-cuts and a little additional yardage.  She also has live YouTube (and Facebook) shows about once a week.  You can type in your question in the comment section, the questions are monitored, and she does answer them.  Bonus, she checks back with the comment sections for several weeks, so she can continue to answer questions.

I like Anglea because she’s real.  If she’s speeding up the videos, it’s apparent.  She will point out what quilting areas gave her problems and how she worked through them.  Her tapings are relaxed, and she has this way of just making you feel you can quilt as well as she does, and that nothing is impossible. 

Karen Brown – This Canadian quilter is simply wonderful.  She owns up to her mistakes and then tells you how to avoid them.  At the beginning of every new year, she has a declutter challenge which is a lot of fun.  She (along with thousands of other quilters) cleans out her sewing rooms and gets ready for a year of clutter-free quilting.  I love that she’s a “green” quilter – she repurposes everyday items as useful sewing tools and makes after-quilts to cut down on the number of scraps hitting landfills.  She also offers technical solutions and covers a myriad of quilting topics in a clear, concise way.  If she speeds up her videos, you definitely know it.  She’s just a great, all-around quilter.

Abby Cox – Admittedly, Abby Cox is not a quilter.  She’s a seamstress and is proficient in garment history and construction.  While I don’t make garments any longer, she has placed a longing in my soul to construct a Victorian dress.  I’ll probably never do it, but a girl can dream.  However, I have found her hand sewing tutorials to be EPIC.  No one does it better than Abby.  She is one of the wittiest YouTube sewers out there.  If you want to be educated and entertained, I strongly recommend her YouTube videos.  The one on bras is enlightening and HYSTERICAL.  The one on Valentine’s Day is even better. 

This next quilter is not on YouTube, but you can find her on Instagram.  She generally has a new video on Instagram every day – Bethanne Nemesh.  If you’ve been around long arms, long armers, or looked up instruction for long arms, her name will pop.  She’s more than a long armer, she is an artist.  What this woman can do with thread and a long arm is amazing.  She also can help you become amazing, too.  I’ve taken several of her on-line classes and she is truly incredible.  And much like Angela Walters, she makes you believe you can do what she does – which is half the quilting battle.  Bethanne is incredibly generous with her time and knowledge and definitely worth the daily watch.

Like a lot of things in life, social media is neither good nor bad, black nor white, positive nor negative.  It’s what you do with it and allow it to do to you which matters most.  Use it for good, and when it’s impacting you in a negative way, know when to shut it down and walk away.  Either way, I can’t picture our current quilting world without it.  Use it wisely and well.

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

Love and Stitches,


PS — A couple of “housekeeping” things. First, one of my readers gave me a really great suggestion. I wrote a blog a few weeks ago about quilt shows and entering your quilts. I mentioned there had been some theft of quilts from shows in the past several years. This reader suggested getting your show quilts appraised for their value prior to entering them. It’s a great suggestion. And while an insurance settelement can’t replace the quilt, at least you’d have money to buy new fabric to make a replacement quilt.

Second, next week you may want to brew yourself a cuppa before you read my blog. It’s a long one — nearly twice as long as I normally write. I am interviewing my very good quilting friend, Anita Smith. She talks her journey as a quilter and an immigrant. May want to have a few Kleenex around, too.


Why the 1/4-inch Seam is Important…Except When it isn’t

One of the very few quilting “rules” is the ¼-inch seam.  It’s one of the standards drilled into our quilting consciousness from the time we pick up our first quilt pattern. 

Sew a ¼-inch seam.

Keep a consistent ¼-inch seam.

You’ll always use a ¼-inch seam.

There’s no denying ¼-inch seam is pretty important. However, what’s more important is to know what tools there are available to help us keep that consistent ¼-inch seam, and the difference between a ¼-inch seam and a scant ¼-inch seam.  Let’s talk about the two different types of seams first.

Two Types of Quilt Seams

The standard ¼-inch seam is just that – a full ¼ of an inch.  It should measure consistently ¼-inch throughout the seam.  In most quilt patterns, if the directions state ¼-inch seams or don’t indicate the seam width at all, it’s understood the full ¼-inch seam allowance is implied.  A scant ¼-inch seam means the seam allowance is a thread or two under a full ¼-inch.  Usually quilt directions will indicate if a scant seam allowance should be used.  The pictures below show the difference between the regular ¼-inch and the scant ¼-inch seams.  The white chalk line is ¼-inch away from the edge of the fabric.  When I use a full ¼-inch seam, the stitches fall directly on top of the chalk line.

When I use a scant ¼-inch seam, the stitches fall slightly to the right of the chalk line.

The dilemma a lot of us quilters fall into is Multiple Machine Management.  One of the standard pieces of advice I received throughout my quilting years was, “Always use the same machine throughout your piecing and assembly process.”  I determined a few years ago the reason this tidbit of guidance was continually flung my way is this – different sewing machines mark their ¼-inches differently and it can be easy to get confused if you switch out machines, resulting in your seams not remaining consistently ¼-inch.  And while this really is excellent advice, most quilters know this may not be possible, because most of us have more than one sewing machine.

I currently have five domestic sewing machines.  And let me remind you this is a Nonjudgement Zone.  I have a Featherweight, a small Juki I use for classes, a Juki 2010Q, a Janome 7700, and my M7 Continental.  Most of the time, I start and finish my quilts on my M7.  However, if I decide to attend a day quilt retreat, bring a machine to a sit and sew, or take a class, I’m not hauling around my M7.  She’s a beast.  I’ll take the Janome 7700 or my small Juki.  In all actuality, I may trade off machines several times during my quilting process.  I need a way to make sure all my machines are sewing an accurate ¼-inch seam allowance. 

There are several techniques and tools available for this process.  We’ll take a look at each and weigh the pros and cons.

The Quilting Foot

Before the advent of sewing machines designed especially for quilters, these were considered “specialty feet” and were an added cost.  Now if you purchase a sewing machine designed for quilters, these are normally thrown in at no additional charge.  These feet vary in appearance from machine to machine, but the standard feature among all of them is they have some way of letting you know you’re sewing a full ¼-inch seam.  The foot for my M7 looks like this:

The phalange on the right lines up with the edges of my fabric.  As long as the fabric stays snuggled up to the phalange, I’m sewing a full ¼-inch seam. 

Quilting feet may also look like this:

As long as the edges of your fabric are lined up with the right side of this foot, you’re sewing a full ¼-inch seam. 

There are even walking feet which have a ¼-inch seam designation.  This is the one for my machine.

Quarter Inch Walking Foot

Regular Walking Foot

I use my regular walking foot for sewing on binding, paper piecing, or quilting.  However, I have found the ¼-inch walking foot to be remarkably handy if I am piecing a quilt with lots of seams joining together at one spot. 

There are also scant ¼-inch quilting feet.  Some quilter’s sewing machines have this foot thrown in as part of the package.  With others, this foot is a separate purchase.  I use the Little Foot brand scant ¼-inch foot. 

When you line the edges of your fabric up with the right side the foot, you sew the scant ¼-inch.  If you’re able to move your machine needle’s position a little further to the right, you may be able to sew a scant seam without purchasing an additional foot.  Read your sewing machine manual or Google your brand to find out. 

Faith in the Feet

If each of your sewing machines has a quilting foot (which in my opinion really should be called a “piecing foot”), the assumption is you can sew a consistent ¼-inch seam no matter what machine you’re using.  The idea is valid, but that’s putting a lot of faith in your presser feet without solid proof.  It’s super-important to know for sure the ¼-inch seam is consistent throughout your machines.  Fortunately, there are a few ways to handle this.

The first way is to set up your machines to sew a ¼-inch seam.  Gather some scrappage and sew a ¼-inch seam 6-inches long on each of the machines.  Then, one at a time, take each seam and press it open (I think it’s good to do one at a time, so you won’t forget what fabric was sewn by what machine).  Measure the pressed-open seam allowance.  If it measures a full ½-inch, then you know that sewing machine does sew a consistent ¼-inch seam allowance. 

Full Quarter Inch Seams

Scant Quarter Inch Seams

If you have a machine (or two) which fail this ¼-inch seam allowance assessment, try this second test to make sure something didn’t go wonky on the first one:

  1.  Cut three strips of fabric, 2-inches wide by 7-inches long.  Two of the strips should be the same color and one needs to be a contrasting color (this just makes the test easier).
  2. Sew the three strips together, using the same ¼-inch foot used on the first test. 
  3. Press the seams towards the center strip.  Measure the joined strips crosswise.  It should measure exactly 5-inches in width.
  4. Measure the center strip.  It should measure exactly 1 ½-inches wide.  If it’s narrower than this, your foot is grabbing more than ¼-inch.  If it’s wider, then it’s grabbing less. 

If this test meets the 5-inch and 1 ½-inch measurements listed above, run the first test again just to be sure.  On the first try, the machine could have wobbled, the foot could have bobbled, or something happened to alter the ¼-inch seam.  If you have two consistent tests producing two consistent ¼-inch seams, you’re good to go. 

If your machine and its foot failed you, don’t despair.  There is still something you can do.  This little tool right here:

Is an amazing apparatus to have in your quilting notions.  It’s the Perfect Piecing Seam Guide.  It’s available through Keepsake Quilting, Perkins Dry Goods (, and Amazon.  It’s not a major purchase, cashing in at a mere $8.15 (on average).  However, it’s one of the handiest gadgets to have on hand, especially if you’re test driving a new sewing machine and want to make sure its quilting foot is truly ¼-inch. 

On the right side of the guide is a raised edge.  In the middle of the raised edge is a tiny hole, just big enough to insert a sewing machine needle.  Raise the presser foot on your machine and adjust the seam guide so your needle will go through the hole on the guide completely.  Do this manually or you may break a needle and scare yourself silly and ruin the guide.  Once the needle is through the hole, leave it in the down position and then mark your needle plate on the right side of the edge of the seam guide.  That mark shows you where you need to have the edge of your fabric as you sew.  Some folks use moleskin, fingernail polish, a fine-tipped permanent marker, or a magnetic seam guild to mark this ¼-inch spot.

At this point, usually the question pops up about moving your sewing machine needle – instead of marking your machine on the ¼-inch spot, can’t you just move your needle over to the left or right to adjust for the difference?  Of course!  Just two pieces of advice here – make a note somewhere about how much to move the needle over (the note section on your cell phone is a handy-dandy place to put it) and make sure you move the needle back to the original position when you’re through. 

Now, after all of this, I’m getting ready to completely disavow the ¼-inch seam quilting rule: It’s not always valid all of the time.

Nope.  The ¼-inch seam rule is not the do-all, be-all, and end-all of quilting.  It’s far more important your blocks consistently come out the same unfinished size called for in the pattern.   Sometimes this may mean using a scantier-than-scant seam allowance.  Sometimes this may mean using a larger seam allowance than the ¼-inch.  Most of the time, however, the true ¼-inch will work best.  But you really need to know this information before you start slicing and dicing your beautiful quilt fabric.  For this reason, I strongly recommend making a test block out of some scrap fabric and then measuring it after it’s finished and pressed.  If this block comes out slightly larger or smaller than the desired unfinished size, check a couple of things:

  1.  If you’ve moved your needle recently, did you move it back to its normal position before you began sewing?
  2. Did you grab the right presser foot?  One of my machine applique feet looks nearly identical to my Little Foot.  I have put the wrong foot on my machine more than once. 
  3. Did your foot “bobble” any?  Sometimes in our rush to sew, we don’t attach the presser foot correctly, and it wiggles a bit.  Make sure your foot is on securely. 

Also make sure you’re feeding the fabric through your machine at a steady rate.  Frequent stopping and starting can cause seam allowance issues, as well as sewing too fast.  It’s difficult to control your fabric when you’re sewing too quickly.  Steady fabric feeding and a moderate speed are helpful to maintaining the ¼-inch seam allowance. 

4.  Check your thread.  The weight as well as the number of plies can make a difference.  If your block is just a tad too big, try switching to a heavier weight thread with more plies.  If it’s just a bit too small, switch to a lighter weight thread with 2-plies.

Standard disclaimer here:  I do not work for Janome, Juki, Singer, The Little Foot Company, Amazon, or Keepsake Quilting.  When I mention products, it’s because I use them, like them, and get stellar customer service.  I am not paid by these companies nor do I receive any free goods for mentioning them in my blog. 

Most of the time quilt patterns use a full ¼-inch seam.  Knowing how to consistently sew one is a little detail which makes a huge impact on your quilt and your quilting experience.  However…it’s just as important to know when to break that ¼-inch rule and how to do it.

Until Next Week, Remember the Details Make the Difference!

Love and Stitches,



Back Away from the Copier….

Okay, here’s the scenario.  You’re casually searching the internet quilting sites.  You’re not really looking for anything specific, but you come across this darling quilt pattern.  You check the price.  It’s not unreasonable.  Added bonus, it’s a digital download.  Before you can say bibbitybobbityboo, you hit up Paypal and it’s yours.  You download it to your computer, print it out and raid your stash.  Next thing you know you’re having a wonderful time making this darling quilt.

In the middle of this creative chaos, a quilting buddy drops by and has the same reaction you did to the pattern – she falls in love with it and wants to make the quilt, too.  You give her the website and the price, but she responds with this: “Why don’t you just email me a copy of your pattern?”

And here’s where the slippery slope of copyright violations begins.  On one hand, it’s simply an email, upload, point, click, and send.  On the other hand, your friend didn’t pay the designer for her pattern.  You want this person to remain your quilting buddy, but you know the sale of patterns is what funds the designer’s cost of living.  But it’s only one copy, right?  It doesn’t really hurt anything.

Or does it?

Before we slide too far down this slippery slope, let’s take a brief look at what a copyright is, what it covers, and how long it lasts.  What we recognize as a copyright began in 1790.  The first copyright law was written into the United States Constitution.  Copyright materials were given legal status in the US District Courts and were good only for 14 years.  Things rocked along pretty smoothly for 40 years.  Then the United States Supreme Court heard the Peters v. Wheaton case, which entailed a reporter’s publications of the Supreme Court Justice’s opinions.  Another person (Wheaton) published Peters’ (the reporter’s) work.  The justices ruled against Peters because the work dealt with opinions which could not be copyrighted.  The next big copyright event occurred February 3, 1831.  New regulations pushed the lifespan of a copyright to 28 years and musical works could now be copyrighted.  From there, the timeline goes like this:

August 18, 1856 – Dramatic works are protected

March 3, 1865 – Photographs are protected

July 8, 1870 — The second general revision of the law centralized copyright activities, including registration and deposit, in the Library of Congress. It also extended protection to works of art and gave authors the right to create their own derivative works, including translations and dramatizations. The indexing of registration records began.

August 31, 1876 – The Statue of Liberty is copyrighted

January 19, 1880 – Supreme Court decides ideas cannot be copyrighted

January 12, 1885 – It’s determined government publications cannot be copyrighted

There have been additional tweaks made to copyright laws, but these are the big ones.  What’s important to quilters boils down to just a few main points.

  1.  Anything written or published prior to 1927 is now public domain.  There are a few exceptions to this, and these are primarily major works in which a family, publishing house, etc., has gone to great lengths to maintain the copyrights.  Even the Wizard of Oz books are now public domain.
  2. Anything written or published between 1928 and 1978 has a copyright life of 95 years, but the copyright had to be renewed 28 years after the work was first written or published.
  3. In 1992 the United States Copyright office completely eliminated copyright renewals. 
  4. You can copyright a quilt pattern, article, book, etc., in one of two ways:  Register it at the US Copyright’s website or mail a copy of whatever it is to yourself and don’t open it.  The postmark serves as date marker just in case your copyright is called into question.  The unopened envelope or package demonstrates it hasn’t been tampered with. 

If a work – be it a musical composition, an article, a book or part of a book, or a quilt pattern – has a copyright, this means only the author, composer, or designer has the right to distribute the copyrighted work as he or she decides.  Which means if you didn’t have the designer’s permission to email your quilting buddy a copy of your pattern, you’ve broken the law.  So will the police (the real police, not the quilt police) break down your door and arrest you?

In all probability, the answer is “No.”

Unless you are making hundreds of copies, selling them, and pocketing the proceeds, your one shared pattern with your quilting friend will raise no eyebrows nor make you need bail money.  However, what you have done is taken money away from the quilt designer.  These quilty artists and engineers spend huge chunks of their time coming up with wonderful patterns, notions, and reading material for quilters.  Yes, it’s fun.  Yes, they have a passion for quilting and quilters.  But they also have bills to pay and mouths to feed (even if it’s just their own).  Selling these patterns, notions, books, etc., is not just their passion, it’s their job.  It’s how they make ends meet.  It’s how they monetarily survive to create even more patterns, notions, and reading material.  If enough people “share” the designers’ goods, it can put a serious dent in their income.  Enough to make them warily decide if they’ll invest the time and energy to do it again.  So at this point, I think it’s important to realize making copies of patterns for your friends is definitely an illegal activity, but even more than that, it’s unethical.  Some folks may even say you’ve stolen money from someone without getting caught. 

In the not-too-past-past, a Facebook quilting group’s administrator wanted to begin a group quilt initiative.  The premise was everyone who wanted could make the quilt and they would share pictures and their construction experiences on the Facebook page.  It was a noble idea, and one meant to bring the group together. The issue which sent everything sideways was this:  The administrator made copies of books and online instructions from several bloggers and combined them in the group project without permission from the bloggers/designers (several who, by the way, were members of this Facebook group).  The result was a great deal of rudeness, and the administrator threw the protesting bloggers out of the Facebook group.  The admin’s reasoning was the patterns were all wonky log cabins and people have been making log cabins quilts for hundreds of years.  The bloggers’ stance was, “Yes, that’s true, but you lifted my directions, word for word, without asking me for permission to use my instructions.” 

And the bloggers/designers were right.  Despite the fact the log cabin quilt block is one of the oldest blocks, the instructions belonged to the bloggers and the Facebook admin should have sought their permission to use their directions.  Revisiting our initial scenario, let’s say the quilt pattern your friend wanted a copy of was made of tiny Dresden Plates.

The Dresdan Plate has been around for over a hundred years.  It’s obviously not copyrighted any longer.  But the directions written by the designer are not that old.  That’s what is copyrighted.   

At this point, I would like to address a few copyright areas which can seem a little gray. 

  •  What can you do if a friend or quilting group really likes the pattern you’re using and wants the pattern?

There are several answers to this question.  If you’re through with the pattern, you can always let them borrow your pattern.  If you don’t think you’ll ever use the pattern again, you can give them the pattern.  If neither of these are viable options, send them the website information, and gently explain why you don’t copy patterns.  One of three things will happen.  If the person didn’t know copying (either by email or print) a pattern was a copyright violation, they’ll agree with you and purchase their own pattern.  If the person isn’t your real quilting buddy, they may be a bit huffy about it (don’t think it won’t happen – it has to me).  However, if the person is a real friend, they won’t think anything about it and either purchase the pattern or ask you to loan it to them when you’re finished. 

  •  Is there anything quilt pattern related which is not copyrighted?  Surprisingly, most quilt motifs are not copyrighted, unless they’re highly specialized, computerized, or are a pantograph.  A quilt you make is not copyrighted, and quilts you make to give to others are not copyrighted because no money has changed hands.  It gets a little trickier when you make quilts to sell.  If you make a quilt from a designer’s pattern, then you may need to get permission to sell quilts made from the pattern.  However, if someone hires you to make a quilt from the pattern, that’s different.  The pattern is purchased, and you are paid for your labor.  The best advice I can give is read the fine print on the pattern.  Most designers state their copyright policy somewhere on the it.

What about if the pattern is in a magazine or a quilt book by various designers?  Again, read the copyright policy in the front of the book or magazine.  Most of the time you only need permission from the designer to sell quilts made from their pattern.

  •  What about a raffle quilt?

Guilds and other quilt groups make raffle quilts to raise money.  The quilt is made, and tickets are sold for a chance to win the quilt.  If a pattern is used, the guild or group needs permission from the designer.  Let me also add this:  I’ve worked with my guild’s raffle quilts for nearly 13 years.  We have never had a designer tell us “No.”  We are always very careful to give the designer credit on our tickets or any other printed information, either in hard copies or digital.

  •  If you alter a quilt, at what point does it stop being the designer’s work and become yours?

The general rule is if anything – a work of art, a poem, play, music, or quilt – is altered more than 40%, the design then is yours.  However, there is kind of an ethical caveat to this.  Once that 40% is bridged, the original work is given some credit, such as “Inspired by: ____” on the label.

  •  What if I have a pattern which is out of print and my friend wants to use it?  Is it okay to make a copy of it then?

If the pattern was printed prior to 1928, the copyright laws have long expired.  There are no problems.  However, quilt patterns do come and go quickly in our quilting world.  Personally, I had a quilt pattern I looked for several years and finally found it on a used book site.  I can share how I handle the out-of-print situation, but this is one of those gray areas you need to come to your own conclusion.  I search the web and see if the pattern or book is still in print anywhere (not used editions, but new).  If it is, I order from there.  If my searching comes up empty, I make a copy – especially if I know the designer is deceased.  Most of the time, a designer’s family doesn’t continue to operate the business after the designer passes.  They will sell what they have in stock and then close the business or sell it to another designer.  There are a few exceptions to this, such as Sue Garman’s quilting site, Come Quilt with Me.  As I understand, her daughters are still running her site and printing her beautiful patterns.

  •  Do I need to protect my own quilt designs? 

Yes, yes, yes – a thousand times yes.  Copyright it (by either method mentioned above).  Don’t share it on social media until you do.  Even if you have no plans on mass producing patterns or becoming the next quilting show star, all your hard work is encompassed in that quilt.  Don’t think some conniving conperson won’t lift your design, claim it for theirs, and mass produce it on those cheap “blankets” we’ve all seen on Facebook.  It’s your baby.  Protect it.  

One final word about designers.  You can promote them without fear of any copyright infringement.  If you see a quilt you like on Pinterest, pin it.  This drives more quilters to the quilt, and they’ll discover the designer you’re so fond of and maybe go purchase a pattern or two from their site or one of their preferred retailers.  You can mention the name of the pattern, the designer, and the designer’s website on social media.  This will go a long way to help them out.

It is true one measly copy of a quilt pattern does little harm.  However, if enough people do this, it can really hurt quilt designers.  I even heard – firsthand, by the way, from a very popular quilt designer and teacher – she had to stop her students from turning off their cameras in Zoom classes.  If you’ve taken Zoom classes, you know turning off your mic and camera can broaden your band width and keep your computer from freezing during Zoom.  During the time she was allowing students to turn their camera off, it seems someone videotaped the workshop with their phone and then loaded it up to YouTube.  This allowed hundreds of people to access her classes for free.  It wasn’t fair to the students who paid for the workshop, and it certainly wasn’t fair to the designer who makes part of her living from paid classes.  Some copyright issues deal with gray areas.  Others are clearly black and white.

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

Love and Stitches,