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Quilts are Better with Cheddar

This color:

And this color:

And the orange in this print:

Is known as “cheddar.”  And today’s blog will examine exactly what this color is, how it came about, and what is its place in our quilting universe.  A non-quilter may call this color “orange.”  And it is.  Through the years it’s been classed as orange, gold, and occasionally, rust.  This one color has carried many names until one day it hired a full-time agent and the first thing the agent said was, “Honey, you gotta change your name.  Lots of people don’t like orange.”  Thus, the moniker “cheddar” was born.  And you have to admit, cheddar sounds homier and more appealing than orange, gold, or rust (which makes this child of the sixties think about the psychedelic colors of the seventies). 

Cheddar was birthed in the mid 1800’s – about the same time as synthetic dyes were developed for green, indigo, and Turkey red.  Then it was known as chrome orange because of the minerals used to produce the color (more on this later).  This color was directly influenced by the by the Moravian potters from Pennsylvania and North Carolina, who used an orange glaze on some of their pottery.  It also received a popularity boost from the Germanic furniture of the period which also used orange, gold, and rust in the painted design work.  In many ways, cheddar was an easy dye to work with – cloth could just as readily be dyed at home as at a manufacturing plant.  The dye came in powder form and when mixed correctly, would produce enough orange dye for several yards of fabric. 

However, also like many of the other synthetic dyes of this period, cheddar has a dark history.  It had a high lead and antimony content – both of which are poisonous over a period of time.  So much chrome antimony was used, the color was often called simply “antimony,” or “chrome orange.”  Of course, the folks using this dye then had no idea it could be lethal.  All they knew was they really liked that cheddar color – liked it so much that literally hundreds of yards of it were produced.  There was so much of it, quilters began to consider it a neutral

When quilt historians, collectors, and appraisers look at these older, cheddar-infused quilts, it can be noted the chrome orange can go one of two ways.  If the quilt has been carefully kept and only seldom washed, the color will remain a beautiful cheddar.  The old chrome orange dyes were color fast and resisted fading, even in direct light.  However, if the quilt was frequently washed, and depending on the acid or alkali balance in the soap, the orange would be drawn out of the fabric, leaving behind a pale yellow-green color. 

Another aspect of all of this orange-ness is that it helps historians, appraisers, and collectors date the quilt and form good hypotheses on where the quilt originated.  The majority of cheddar quilts were made from 1860 to 1880 and came primarily from Pennsylvania.  However, post-civil war, the South produced a lot of orange quilts, too. Besides being readily available, the orange dye was inexpensive, and for a part of the country in financial distress, cheddar helped to brighten up fabric quite a bit.  This orange found its way into a regional type of color:

Southern Cheddar

And was used in solid and plaid fabric.

Post-Civil War Orange Plaid

If I had to give this cheddar fabric another name, I’d call it “The Come Back Kid.”  For years its popularity waned and peaked. During the Depression Era, it was tinted with white and became a pastel – almost an orange sherbet color – and was frequently paired with lavender.

1930’s Orange
Child’s Feedsack Dress with Oranges and Lavenders

In the 1970’s, it was everywhere – from clothing to cars to interior design.  It fit the psychedelic and flower power fashion well.  As for quilts… I can tell you what I remember.  When I first started quilting seriously in the late 1990’s we were warned to use yellows and oranges sparingly.  These colors were only used to add a little “sparkle” to your quilt top but weren’t supposed to be utilized as one of the main fabrics – it would detract from the entire quilt top by drawing the viewer’s eyes to the color. 

But back then, I don’t think we had any idea what lovely shades, tints, and hues of orange the fabric manufacturers would produce.  Reproduction quilts gained popularity, and with increasing interest in this field, fabric houses had to produce cheddars, because this color was used in Civil War quilts.  When the Modern Quilt Movement emerged in the 2000’s, they embraced the color orange and soon it was showing up in large numbers of their quilts.  As a matter of fact, orange was so popular with this movement that the Modern Quilt Guild chose orange as one of the show colors for Quilt Con 2013 (the very first Quilt Con).

Modern Oranges

However, no one has done more to promote the color orange than Sandra Mitchell.  Sandra Mitchell ran the Midwest Quilt Exchange in Ohio.  Among quilt collectors, Sandra was known as a dealer’s dealer.  Her ability to spot a quilt which held not only superb workmanship, but also historical significance was amazing.  When she suddenly passed away in 2000, her huge estate was liquidated, including her hoard of orange/cheddar quilts.  The collection was extensive, and the last quilt wasn’t sold until 2002.  But from that time to the present, anytime a cheddar quilt is seen in a book or exhibition, chances are it came from the Sandra Mitchell Collection. 

So, where does cheddar play in our quilt field today?  If you’re a Modern Quilter, you may have used this orange in a number of your quilts or seen it in quilts displayed within your guild.  If you’re a Reproduction Quilt fan and your time period is the Civil War or Feedsacks, you’re also probably well-acquainted with the color in different shades and tints.  If you’re an applique fanatic like me, I know you keep oranges tucked away for flower centers, buds, blooms, sunflowers, fruit, and pumpkins.  But what about the “traditional” quilter?  Since the color cheddar shows up in prints and batiks, many times it works its way into a quilt without much thought. 

But the solid oranges out there…

Are gorgeous.  Paired with gray, blue, black, olive, or white, they’re a sumptuous quilting lot.  I’ve even seen it used with bright pinks when it was offset by white.  As you’re pondering possible future cheddar use, let me remind you one more time …

There are no quilt police.

I honestly believe quilting has moved well past any possible list of do’s and don’ts as far as color is concerned.  If you like color use it.  If it makes you happy, put it in every quilt you make.  If you look at the quilts in our quilting lineage, you’ll note our foremothers used what they had, what they could get, and what they wanted.  As a result, you’ll find quilts like this:

Faded Cheddar Quilt Circa 1860

And this:

They abundantly used orange without a second thought.  I love the colors orange and purple together. Those colors work well in flowers and in Halloween quilts.  So the next time you find some fabric with orange in it, or better yet a gorgeous solid orange that reminds you of sherbet, go for it.  Put it in your next quilt.  Remember, everything’s better with some cheddar.

Love and Stitches,

Sherri and Sam

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The Evolution of a Quilt

Evolution is defined two ways:  the process by which different kinds of living organisms are thought to have developed and diversified from earlier forms during the history of the earth; or the gradual development of something, especially from a simple to a more complex form.

For the sake of this blog, I’m talking about the second definition – how to take a quilt from its bare basic, apply creativity and techniques, and develop it into something it wasn’t.  This blog is a personal one because it tracks the way I work, which is probably different from the way you do.  However, the thought process can be similar, and I hope it creates a spark in you to think outside the box concerning your own quilts and creativity.

Everyone’s path to creativity is a bit different.  But after years of teaching high school kids and then quilters, I think creative people fall into two groups – those who passionately throw themselves into making and those who almost freeze up from fear of failure. 

Believe it or not, I fall into the second group. I cannot find the adequate vocabulary to express how terrified I was to not follow a pattern’s directions.  For years, the quilts I made looked exactly like the picture on the pattern.  The color way might have been different, but it was the only difference between my quilt and the pattern.  Looking back, I think I was completely frightened of making a mistake so unfixable the quilt would be ruined. The thought of deviating from a pattern nearly caused anxiety attacks.

Yet, I quilted with a group of quilters who were perfectly fine with tossing the pattern out the window entirely.  The directions, for the most part, were simply suggestions and they freely substituted blocks and techniques. Their end result was often so far from the pattern, most people had no idea the pattern was involved at all.  At some point – probably around 15 years ago – I decided I wanted to do that.  Throw the pattern to the wind and see where the fabric would take me.  I wasn’t able to do this overnight.  It was a process.  Sometimes I made baby steps and at other times I felt my creativity take flight and soar.  I had to start somewhere, and knowing my proclivity for patterns, it only made sense I began with those.

These were the days before I owned any Electric Quilt program.  As a matter of fact, I’m not sure I even knew EQ existed.  I came to EQ entirely by accident.  My quilt teacher was selling her EQ 4 program and I bought it.  It was clumsy and difficult to use, and I think I finally just deleted it off my computer (it was a far, far cry from today’s EQ 8).  But patterns?  I had patterns and was very comfortable with those. 

For many of us, this is the starting point of any quilt.  It may the picture of a pattern on Pinterest, Facebook, or Instagram.  It may be found during a Google search or purchased off a website or in a quilt store.  However, this picture or pattern is the springboard to change.  It’s the starting lineup for creative expression.  It’s your Genesis 1:1 or your “Once Upon a Time.” 

It’s where most of us start.  Sometimes we will alter the pattern only so much, so the bare bones of the original quilt can still be seen.  At other times, we may be inspired by the blocks or the applique or the colors and then completely deviate from the pattern for the rest of the quilting process. It varies and with me, it’s really never the same process twice.   And I’ll be honest – sometimes I know immediately what I want to change and sometimes the quilt or the fabric tells me as I journey through the process of making it.  I’m working on one of those quilts now.  As soon as I saw the pattern, I wasn’t sure what I would change, if anything. 

I loved the quilt – all the swags and quilting were simply beautiful.  Added plus – the designer was teaching the class on how to make the quilt. 

I get asked fairly frequently why I still take classes (mainly by my husband who wonders how any group can sit and talk about a quilt for hours on end…I tell him it’s the same thing as guys talking about the fish that got away).  I take classes to learn something.  I firmly believe you can come away from any class knowing something new.  In this case, the designer – Kathy Delaney– was teaching some needle turn applique tricks I didn’t know.  But the other thing which immediately drew my attention was the applique.  It was fruit.  My applique quilts are overwhelmingly floral in their subject matter.  This quilt was different.  I wanted to make it, and in the beginning, I assumed I would follow the pattern closely.  But let me show you what happened long before I put needle to fabric.  This is one of those times where the quilt evolved more and more as I made each block.  The changes began as soon as I chose my background fabric.

Let me go on the record here as saying I don’t like solid backgrounds for applique. Those are dull, uninteresting, and don’t do anything to enhance the applique pieces.  So, I knew going into the project, my background would be some kind of print – either a low-volume white or a tone-on-tone.  Let me also  tell you, I am a big fan of P&B Textiles.  Big fan.  Huuuggggeee fan. They are generally my go-to fabric house when I’m searching for a background fabric for either piecing or applique.  They did not disappoint me.  I found this:

At my very favorite quilt shop, Pineapple Fabrics.  This is actually quilt backing fabric.  But for me, the color was warm and inviting and the undulating pattern would not overwhelm the applique.  I thought it would simply enhance it.  The backing fabric also made another fabric decision for me.  When compared with a light background fabric:

This background fabric shows up as a medium.   I immediately knew whatever fabric I chose to make my fruit with, it needed to be saturated with color in order to contrast fully against the background.  I raided my batiks and super-saturated quilting cottons to pull for my produce applique.

And the process began.

The pattern suggested cutting the unfinished squares at 13 ½-inches, and even though I was still uncertain exactly how I would construct the quilt top, I thought this was a great place to start.  After the fruit was centered in the middle of each square, I still had plenty of “breathing” room around it to either leave it as is or trim the square down a little.  However, this brought me to the next decision.  Kathy had beautiful crosshatching behind her fruit.  I could either deviate from that type of quilting and quilt small pebbles or tight meandering around the fruit or go with the crosshatch – which I really liked.  The only problem is, I hate to quilt crosshatching.  No matter if I am working with my longarm or my Janome M7, I am really not a fan of the actual work involved with crosshatching.  It’s a stop and start, circle around, backtrack, and go forward process. 

Still, I really wanted the fruit to be star of the quilt – not so much the quilting.  So… I made another creative decision.

I would pre-quilt my squares before I appliqued them.  Word of warning, this will not work for every applique quilt you want crosshatched, but I can make it work for this one.  The process is pretty simple, and I’ve explained it before.  I marked the 1-inch interval crosshatching on my square of fabric and then traced the fruit layout.  I backed the square with a thin layer of 80/20 silky blend batting, and using my M7, stitched the crosshatching.  Added bonus:  I found the pre-cut batting squares online at the Fat Quarter Shop.

Next, I had to consider the applique.  At this point in my quilting journey, I’ve used needle turn, back basting, freezer paper, reverse applique, and Apliquick.  Whenever I undertake an applique quilt, one of the first decisions I make is what type of applique technique will I use.  And often that’s not the same  technique the pattern designer calls for.  For me, the fabric, my timetable, and personal preference usually dictates which procedure I use. The original pattern used needle turn.  This would be difficult now.  The added bulk of the pre-quilted squares would make needle turn harder. Back basting wouldn’t be any easier.  I finally decided on Apliquick.  This was as much personal preference — this is my favorite applique technique – as it was practicality.  The Apliquick interface would effectively prevent any of the background fabric from shadowing through to the fruit.  It also would play nicely with the added bulk from the pre-quilted fabric.

With those decisions made, I began the applique process.  I tend to “assembly line” my work.  I traced the pattern and graphed out the crosshatching, quilted the background square, and prepped all the applique.  I worked through the first three squares following the directions (for the most part).  Then all of that changed when I found this fabric:

Which, in my opinion, happens to be the very thing I needed to pull my quilt together.  Now I had to make some more decisions – do I use the fruit fabric for the swags, or do I want to make some changes to the construction?  And believe it or not, this took some time, some contemplation, a few glasses of wine, some quality time on EQ, and some research.

Kathy Delaney’s Horn of Plenty for a New Generation

If you look back at Kathy Delaney’s original Horn of Plenty for a New Generation   pattern, you note it’s a square quilt, comprised of 18 appliqued blocks and 17 alternate blocks.  The applique blocks are trimmed to 12 ½-inches and in between the applique blocks are 9 ½ x 12 ½-inch alternate blocks which are quilted with a cornucopia design.  The border is scalloped.  I could complete my quilt this way except for two things:

  1.  Kathy’s quilt was quilted by hand, making the cornucopia easy to trace and quilt. I plan on long arming my quilt, which means I would have to digitize the cornucopia and let the long arm’s computer do the work.
  2. I really wanted more room to show off my fruity fabric.

So…the answer to these two predicaments was to add sashing to the quilt.  While this would definitely show off my wonderful material, it did propose its own set of issues.  It would leave me with only the 18 applique blocks.  While 18 is an even number, making it a bit easier to work with, the math would show that:

I could have two rows of nine blocks

Nine rows of two blocks

Three rows of six blocks or

Six rows of three blocks

And none of these make for an attractive layout.  I didn’t necessarily want the alternative blocks with the cornucopia, so I threw everything into EQ8 and came up with this:

Five rows, with four blocks in each row.  Which meant I needed 20 applique blocks and the pattern only produced 18…

Which meant I would have to come up with two more fruity blocks on my own.

After poking around the produce aisle at Publix, trying to seek inspiration and groceries, I decided to limit my search to fruits native to North Carolina.  This would definitely add a creative twist to my quilt and make it a bit unique.  I came up with this:

The persimmon.  I know it grows in other states, and there are wild persimmon trees (which used to be so abundant here) as well as cultivated ones.  As a child I remember my paternal grandmother would get these and make the best persimmon pudding.  This “pudding” wasn’t a pudding like you may be thinking – it looked nothing like a Jello pudding cup.  It was more like a really moist brownie in texture, but it had a cinnamon-y, ginger-y taste and went excellently with a dab of whipped cream.  The internet yielded lots of pictures of persimmons, making my search quick and easy.

The next fruit I decided to add was the paw-paw.  I don’t mean this kind of paw-paw…

I mean this kind of paw-paw.

This fruit is also called the Appalachian banana.  It grew wild here for years until development and deforestation made the tree scarce.  The fruit is green, small, and pear-shaped.  It’s sweet and has a creamy texture kind of like a banana.  Fortunately, biologists and botanists and all different kinds of plant lovers have come to the paw-paw’s rescue. Now we have cultivated the plants to the point you can purchase paw-paw trees and have your own personal crop.  This fruit was a little more elusive in the internet searches.  The world-wide web kept giving me pictures of papayas – which are also a wonderful fruit, but not native to North Carolina.

Let me drop in a helpful hint at this point.  If you a searching for a picture of something for an applique project on the internet, you can get hundreds of color images.  But for applique, we need a picture which isn’t as detailed. Let’s use the persimmon as an example.  When I asked Google to show me an image of persimmons, I was inundated with photos and drawings.  But what I really wanted was a simple line drawing of the fruit to make my applique pattern from. 

If you ask Google for a coloring book image of whatever you’re looking for, it will return line drawings.  In this case, I Googled “persimmons coloring book images” and this is what I got:

Which allowed me to easily create the persimmon applique block.

Likewise, there is an app for your phone called Adobe Capture.  This allows you to use a picture from your phone and create a line drawing.  You can load the picture to Capture and it will turn it into a black and white sketch.  So, all those pretty pictures you have in your phone?  Now they all have the possibility of becoming an applique quilt. 

My Pomegranates
Kathy’s Pomegranates
My Plums
Kathy’s Plums
My Apricots
Kathy’s Apricots
My Oranges
Kathy’s Oranges
My Lemons
Kathy’s Lemons
My Grapes
Kathy’s Grapes
My blueberries…not exactly what Kathy had. She had currants
Kathy’s Currants
My Cherries
Kathy’s Cherries — look at her skinny stems….
My Bananas
Kathy’s bananas
My Apples
Kathy’s Apples

These are some of the applique blocks I have completed, next to the pictures of the originals.  As you can see, I stayed true to the pattern for the first several blocks, and then began to stray.  The block with the blue berries was originally currants.  I looked at all the blocks and decided the quilt needed some additional blues, since there was only one other block with that hue.  The pattern has some yellow apples, but I will make these green. Yellow really fights to be seen on this background.  I struggled with the bananas (which pretty much must be yellow) and am still not happy with the contrast.  I didn’t want to go through the same struggle again, so I changed the Golden Delicious to Granny Apple.  Another block contained Logan Berries, which to be honest, I had never heard of until this quilt.  The pattern called for reverse applique with tiny slits in it for black fabric to peek through to give the illusion of berries.  While I can perform reverse applique with Apliquick, those tiny, tiny slits weren’t anything I wanted to deal with no matter what technique I used.  I nearly completely disregarded this block altogether and began to earnestly look for substitutes.  Then I found this fabric…

Which did all the work for me.  The print gives the illusion of circles, which when placed with a vine and leaves makes you immediately believe they are berries.  So, the Logan Berries stayed put. 

This quilt is not complete.  There is sashing to be dealt with and I’m still unsure of the borders.  However, every time I work on this quilt, it tells me something new to do.  It lets me know where to go and what to use.  I realize this sounds like some kind of mystical experience, but most quilters who have worked their art for a number of years will tell you, “The quilt wants what it wants…and it will tell you what it wants. Just give it time.”

How do you begin this process for yourself?  It varies from quilter to quilter.  Some quilters jump in with both feet and do things like this from day one.  Others, like me, will stick a toe in the water and take their time before approaching the deep end of completely tossing the pattern.  I can give you a few helpful hints, but your quilt journey is your own.  You know your own comfort level.  Go as slowly or as quickly as you want.

  1.  Take a picture of the pattern with your phone.  With the editing tools, change the picture to black and white.  Toss the colored picture of the quilt and use the black and white image to find your lights, darks, and medium fabrics.  This is often the first step towards individual creativity quilters make.  Believe it or not, it’s hard to mess up a quilt with fabric choices. 
  2. With this, make some not-so-obvious fabric choices.  I think this is easier to do in applique quilts.  Just like the fabric I found for my Logan Berries, sometimes odd fabric prints work great for grass or flower petals.  This is a bit more challenging for pieced quilts.  One of the first suggestions I would offer is to make a quilt which is not in your normal comfortable color range.  For instance, brown isn’t my “go-to” in pieced quilts.  However, I made a brown and blue quilt a few years ago and it did open my eyes to all the brown options available.  While it still isn’t my favorite color, I do use it more liberally. 
  3. Think outside the box.  If you can, don’t even be in the same room with box.  By this, I mean forego the obvious. For instance, let’s think about a floral applique block, such as this:

It’s easy to just to go for all the greens in your stash when making the leaves.  But what would happen if you threw in some blues?  Or pinks and reds in those leaves?  The block would change character.  Those blue, red, and pink leaves could be interpreted as either leaves or buds. 

What if you wanted to make a classic red and green quilt? 

That particular color combination can mentally set your teeth on edge because within those two colors there is a lot of shades, tones, and tints.  Sometimes they clash.  So, ponder this question – does it really matter if it clashes?  Sticking with two absolute colors in a two-color quilt can be kind of, well… flat.  Look what happens when you open the fabric field up to lots of greens and reds.

Remember, the pattern and its directions are just a starting point.  Unless you’re in a situation where the fabric is limited (such as a kit), this is just the beginning.  If the pattern calls for two different kinds of 10-inch blocks, this doesn’t mean you have to make their suggested blocks.  Use the blocks you love.  The only caveat is they need to finish at 10-inches. 

Finding your creative quilt voice takes time and patience.  Some quilters are like free-flowing rivers.  They seem to easily grasp what works for them and a quilt and move along with the process.  Other quilters are like me.  It takes longer to become more self-assured in your process and your journey.  Whichever type you are, it’s important to for you to go as fast or as slowly as you feel comfortable with.  There is no right or wrong.  Let the quilt speak to you and use this voice in the process.  In doing this, the quilt and the quilter will evolve.

Until Next Week, Make Your Quilt Yours!

Love and Stitches,

Sherri and Sam

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Risk Taking and Making…

Opportunity does not come giftwrapped.  You must take risks.

As quilters, it’s easy to ride the flow.  We find a pattern we want to make.  We purchase the fabric or raid our stash.  We cut according to directions and construct according to instructions.  A few weeks stitching at our machines produces a quilt top we either quilt ourselves or farm out to a quilting artist.  It’s returned to us, we put the binding and the label on, and tada!  We have a quilt.  The process – for the most part – has been controlled and “user-friendly.”  There were no odd surprises or difficult challenges or scary moments.  It was relaxing and fun.

But…

What would happen if we changed some things about the quilt we’re making?  I mean obviously, the quilt would transform into something it wasn’t.  It would no longer look like the quilt in the pattern.  We could substitute blocks or put applique where there wasn’t any before.  We could change sizes of blocks or the quilt itself.  We could alter borders and add embellishments.  The quilt which arrives out from under our needle would look different than the one on the pattern.  All of that is a given.

But what about us?  What happens to us as a quilter when we take risks?  What occurs when we dare to toss aside the pattern and simply see where the quilt takes us?  First let’s look at what risk taking does to people in general, and then let’s home in quilters. 

Broadly, there are two types of risks.  There are those which are calculated.  These are the ones where the pros and cons of the decision are carefully considered.  The risks are weighed against possible losses and gains.  These are the risks associated with such things as investing and in some cases, medical decisions.  A lot of thought, research, and discussion goes into these risks.  And overall, if the risk is taken, the outcome is generally favorable. 

Then there are those risks where we throw caution to the wind and go for it.  Decisions are made on a whim or a dare.  Whether the end result will be favorable or not varies as much as a coin toss.  Sometimes these risks are as stomach-dropping as a roller coaster and others are as serious as an “I do” at the end of an altar. 

Both kinds shape us as individuals.

For quilters, I think taking some risks is vital to your creativity.  While using a pattern or a kit is great and both can certainly help us along on our quilt journey, there is something to be said about turning a pattern on its ear or throwing it out the window entirely.  It does something to your mind.  It’s very freeing, but also a tad scary.  Most of us, from the beginning, have been taught to quilt by patterns.  We were coached step-by-step through blocks and then rows.  We are comfortable with this.  Patterns are our oldest friend and closest quilting confidant.  They are what we know best.  However, risk is easier when you take what you know – what you’re the most comfortable with – and make a few changes here and there.  Sure, taking a chance with those can still be a little scary, but we know we always can return to the pattern for guidance.  And risk taking is easier with patterns you’re the most familiar with.  Don’t think so?  Then take a look at this quilt:

Which is made from this quilt block:

Which was originally this quilt block:

A nine-patch.  The quilt referenced is called a Disappearing Nine Patch, and it may not have ever been made if someone hadn’t taken a few risks with a regular nine-patch block.  The nine-patch is a familiar quilt block – probably one of the first beginner quilters learn to make.  Since the block is so familiar, taking risks with it was easy. 

Changing things … taking risks … can result in creative break throughs for you as a quilter.  Quilters are artists.  No matter if you are most comfortable religiously following a pattern, like to mix things up a little, or you are adept at stirring the creative pot – you are an artist, a creative soul, a maker.   Taking chances will free your mind.  It will allow you to think on a different level.  The barriers are gone, and anything is possible.  It fills you and gives you energy.

And sometimes it’s a bit intimidating.  Let me throw in a personal example.  I am taking a quilting class.  And I mean a “quilting” quilting class – the kind where you’re working with your long arm or stationary machine and quilting the top, batting, and back together.  I signed up, was given access to the teaching platform and dutifully began to download the lessons, instructions, and assignments.  Part of the class preparation is to make some small tops to quilt before moving onto the big assignment which involves quilting all kinds of yummy fabric, including silks.  I had several small quilt tops I hoped would work so I could dodge a few of the assignments.

Nope.

Part of this quilting journey is learning to think creatively and “on your feet.”  It’s allowing your creativity to drive the process.  The first small quilt I had to make involved this block:

Drunkard’s Path

Which is not my favorite.  All those concave and convex curves and bias…just not my thing.  I read through the pattern, and to my surprise, there were no hard, fast directions.  No pattern.  No solid dimensions of what your blocks needed to finish at.  Cut eight blocks of one fabric somewhere between 9 and 10-inches.  Cut eight more blocks from another fabric the same size as the first blocks.  Put one block of fabric A on top of fabric B, with both blocks right sides up.  With your rotary cutter cut a gentle curve.

What?  No ruler?  No template? 

Nope.

I can’t tell you what a mind-hurdle I had.  Nor can I explain the fun I had, either.  Suddenly I was gifted with permission to make that curve as gentle or as tight as I wanted.  Gentle curves.  Wavy curves.  Almost-straight curves were produced with sheer random.  Sewing them together was fun and easy.  At the end I had four large pinwheel-ish blocks.

But getting over the mind-hurdle of no concrete finished sizes (just trim them all to one size), no template, no pattern…it pushed me out of my comfort-zone box.  It was freeing and fun…and I realized I’d do it again in a hot minute.  Then I asked myself why I wasn’t already doing it more often?

Because I’m afraid of making a mistake.  But honestly, once you get to the point where you understand it’s just a quilt and most things can be fixed, suddenly you find your “comfort zone” has evaporated and anything can happen because by removing those barriers, you’ve given yourself permission to make mistakes.  And this is a good thing. Why?  Because great things can come from making mistakes.  Edison didn’t come up with the lightbulb on the first try.  He made lots of mistakes.  In the end, all those mistakes paid off.  Each one let him know what didn’t work and pointed him to what would. 

Same with quilters.  There are few “mistakes” which are totally unfixable in quilting, so give yourself permission to make some errors.  Great quilts can come from knowing what didn’t work so well and how we “fixed” the mistakes.  Breathe.  Trust yourself through the process.  And   if you get completely frustrated with the quilt, just walk away for a while – not forever, but for a few days. 

At this point, I’d like to leave you with a couple of thoughts.  First, let’s talk about the quilt which seems unfixable.  You’re in the middle of quilt construction and you’ve made some changes.  Maybe you’ve altered some blocks, changed some block sizes, or re-designed the borders – but whatever you’re doing isn’t working.  You’ve put the quilt in time out for a few days, thinking by the time you get back to it, you will have come up with a solution.  But a solution doesn’t happen and now you’re left with a quilt you’re not sure what to do with.  When this happens to me, the first thing I do is consult my quilting friends.

I regularly quilt with a group of women I’ve known since 2010.  We met in person for years, but now because of Covid and all those minion variants, we meet via Zoom.  These women are some of the best quilters (and friends) I’ve been blessed to know.  I can send a picture of my quilt via text or Zoom and within a half an hour, I have options.   These options happen because my friends have space between themselves and the quilt.  I’ve been up close and personal to it for days.  They’re looking at it for the first time.  Their minds see the quilt differently and as a result they can offer me solutions I haven’t thought of.  Quilting friends are invaluable for many things, and their creative minds and quilting talent are two of them.  If you have quilters who are near you, develop relationships with them (this is why bees and guilds are so important).  If you don’t have nearby quilty friends, let me encourage you to join an online or Facebook quilt group.  Most of these groups are carefully monitored and unkind comments and unsolicited advertising aren’t allowed. 

If all else fails and you can’t find a workable quilting solution, you can give the quilt away.  Leave it on a free table at a guild meeting (along with your leftover fabric and any directions).  Drop it off at Goodwill.  Or….simply trash it. Before you hyperventilate by gasping in horror, let me remind you:  It’s. Just. A. Quilt.  It’s fabric and stitches.  It’s plans and designs.  Designs which didn’t work out as planned.  Salvage anything you can (such as fabric and notions), and to borrow a phrase from Frozen’s Elsa – Let it go. 

Now you’ll be singing this in your head the rest of the day…

And remember the quilt wasn’t a total waste.  It taught you lessons.  It showed you what didn’t work.  You took a risk and it didn’t go as planned.  Take what you’ve learned and move on. 

So, as we move through this year’s theme of Making Your Quilt Yours, I want you to try something for me.  I want you to take some risks.  I want you to change somethings in your patterns.  Big or small, it doesn’t matter. I deeply desire you learn to get comfortable taking some risks and changing a few things here and there.  Then send me pictures.  My email is Sherriquiltsalot@gmail.com.  Show and tell me what you changed.  I’ve shown you folks plenty of quilts I’ve made and have given you specifics (often in nauseating detail) of what I altered, how I altered it, and why.  Please return the favor.  And if you give me permission to do so, I’d like to share it on my blog.

Nothing ventured, nothing gained.

Until next week, Make Your Quilt Yours (and pretty please share it with me),

Love and Stitches,

Sherri and Sam

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The Intersection of Reality and Expectations

You will read this blog sometime in February 2022.  However, I’m writing this blog on January 26, 2022.  For the record, I always keep at least four weeks of blogs “in the can” just in case something happens.  I don’t write well under stress.

With this time frame in mind, this blog is about Expectations Verses Reality.  Most of my regular readers know I have a process I muddle through at the beginning of every year.  I make a list of the quilts completed the previous year, a list of quilts I want to finish during the current year, and a list of quilts I want to start.  Each list has its own purpose.  The list of finished quilts is for encouragement.  Every time I look at it, it says, “See?  See what you can do when you focus and kick your determination into high gear?”  In 2021, I completed four quilts – Twinkling Twinkle, All Roads Lead Home, Sunflower Dance, and the T-shirt quilt I made for my brother, Eric.  Four quilts pieced, quilted, appliqued, bound, and labeled.  Not too shabby, if I do say so myself.

I find myself in the middle of three quilts I began in 2021 and am working to finish in 2022:  My guild’s 2021 BOM, a chemo quilt for a good friend, and the alphabet quilt I blogged about in September 2021.  More on all three of these later.  Lastly, there are two quilts I want to start this year – Garden Party Down Under and Windblown Tulips.  I’ll also talk about these in a bit.  Of course, my “Lifers” are still there, but good progress has been made on two of them.  A Day in Grandmother’s Flower Garden is nearly completely assembled.  I’m sewing the columns together. 

Remember, this quilt is pieced entirely by hand.  It’s taking some time, but truthfully, it’s coming along faster than I expected.  I have found I can work on this one for a few weeks at a time and then the quilt and I both need a break.  The columns are long.  I worked out a plan to manage the bulk.  I sew two columns together and then attach those to the quilt top.  This limits the amount of time I’m dealing with all the bulk in my lap or on a table.  The challenge will be the borders, but those are still in the distant future.  I’m really not thinking about them too much right now.

A Horn of Plenty for a New Generation is moving right along.  Over Christmas, I finished prepping all the Apliquick applique pieces, bagged and tagged those, and pre-quilted the remainder of my quilt squares.  This quilt has undergone some serious changes – so much so, it has its own upcoming blog where I will walk you through my design process and explained the decisions I made.  The Language of the Flowers got put in time out.  I think this quilt will remain there at least until I get the last few fruity blocks appliqued in my Horn of Plenty quilt.  I do have the next block prepped, though….so there is that.

Garden Party Down Under is a quilt designed by Irene Blanck.  This quilt is offered as a block of the month through The Quilt Show.  You must be a member of The Quilt Show in order to receive the patterns.  There are two reasons I love this quilt.  First is the designer, Irene.  I’ve met Irene through some sit and sews with The Applique Society via Zoom.  She’s amazing, gracious, positive, and funny.  She also is a very, very talented designer.  She created this quilt during the Pandemic – a time when she couldn’t receive outside shipments of fabric (she lives in Australia).  She pulled her quilt from her stash and it’s bright and beautiful.  She used fabric I would have never dreamed of using.  I’m making this quilt with that kind of fabric – fabric I would look at in a quilt shop but wouldn’t have any idea how to incorporate it into one of my quilts.  Currently the project box holding the material for this quilt looks like a box of 64-count Crayola crayons threw up in it. 

I’m having such a blast collecting the fabric, I can’t wait to start the applique, but I promised myself I would have to complete one of the projects currently under my needle before I make the first cut. 

Windblown Tulips Pieced Background

Windblown Tulips  is a small applique wall hanging.  I’ve pieced the background and have the templates cut out, but this is as far as I’ve gotten with this one.  This project is portable, so I have a feeling it will go with me on the next Florida trip to see my son. As far as my color palette goes with this one, it’s very “me.”  A pop of unexpected, but primarily traditional fabrics. I decided to use freezer paper applique with this project.  All the applique I’ve worked over the past two years has been either Apliquick or raw-edge applique.  I decided I need to re-visit this technique, so I don’t forget how to do it.

Now we get to the part where reality crashes into expectations.  I’m in the middle of three projects.  The first one is this:

You may remember this little quilt top.  This is my guild’s 2020 BOM no judgement – no one said it had to be finished in 2020 and in my defense, I was making hundreds of masks.  For this quilt, all we got were the patterns and a requested colorway.  There were no finishing directions.  We had to come up with our own layout.  Since I love all things on-point, that’s the direction I went.  And I’m really pleased with the layout and the borders – which allowed me to use up some leftover half-square triangles.  I only need to quilt this and get it bound and labeled.  Then I’ll send it to a good friend who’s battling through her second round of cancer.  I’ve had the quilting marked out for weeks, but still am feeling a bit unsettled about it.  I need a weekend where I’m snowed in (with power), a bottle of good wine, and some uninterrupted quilting time.  I’ll anchor the quilt and let it talk to me.  Or I need a weekend when the hubs is fishing or golfing and I have a couple of days to myself.  Either way, my plan is to have this mailed out no later than Easter.  There.  I’ve set a date.  Hold me to it, ya’ll.

HPQG 2021 Mystery Quilt. I promise there is a quilt in there somewhere.

I don’t think I introduced the High Point Quilt Guild’s 2021 Mystery Quilt … and that’s because short of buying the required fabric, I hadn’t touched it until recently.  This was designed to be a two-color quilt, which was something I’ve never undertaken.  I’m still in the middle of making block units, which will soon be sewn into blocks.  This pattern introduced me to a new way of making four-patches and I must admit, I didn’t like it.  It did, however, use my favorite technique for flying geese – the No Waste Method.  I’ll be putting this thing together in a few weeks.  I purchased enough fabric for borders, but I’m debating about taking some of the border material and sashing the blocks.  I’ll see how everything pans out once I get the blocks sewn together and lay them out.

The third quilt I began in 2021 and will finish this year is the alphabet quilt I discussed in this blog: https://sherriquiltsalot.com/2021/09/01/a-b-c-d-e-f-g-s/.  I’m very happy with this quilt.  If you remember, I had to redraft this quilt from a whole cloth quilt to one with squares so that it would be easier to raw-edge applique.  I completed my squares, cut them down to 10 ½-inches and have sewn them together.  The original pattern had the center of the quilt at 34 ½ -inches x 44 ½ -inches, unfinished.  My center is 47-inches x 58-inches. 

This means I may need to redraft my borders, too.  The original borders were 8 ½-inches wide.  However, once I did the math (10-inch finished block x 1.618 divided by 4) I get about 4-inches.  Since the borders will hold a multitude of appliqued flowers, I decided to leave them at 8 ½.  As a matter of fact, I plan to draw a layout of the borders with the flowers on them at 8 ½-inches and see if perhaps they may even need a bit more breathing room.  The applique pieces are large, and I don’t want them to appear too crowded.  This quilt will have a follow up blog in the near future. 

Do I think I can finish all three of my works in progress this year?  Yes.  I just need to stay focused.  I do this by making not only this list

And keeping it somewhere I can easily see it, but I also make weekly lists of what I want to get done. 

On this list I make sure I have specific goals.  I don’t necessarily tell myself  to spend a certain amount of time each night quilting.  If there’s a sure-fire way to set myself up for failure, it’s that.  My days can vary as much as yours does.  Somedays I have more time to spend in my studio and somedays I have significantly less.  I know I have fewer hours Monday through Wednesday due to the nature of my job.  From Thursday on, my schedule is more flexible.  Each week I make sure I have some goals which can be accomplished quickly and a few which will take more time.  The lighter tasks are taken care of earlier in the week and I hold off on the lengthier tasks until the weekend. 

So this is where I’m at – the intersection of Reality and Expectations.  I think I’ll get through most of my goals this year just fine and safely travel until I get to 2023’s intersection of Reality and Expectations.  Lists work for me.  If you find yourself aimlessly wandering around your quilt studio or wondering what project to tackle next, you may find a list like mine works for you.  It sure feels good crossing things off you’ve completed!

Until next week, Make Your Quilt Yours!

Love and Stitches,

Sherri and Sam

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Sticky Situations

Today I’d like to discuss a subject which is entirely subjective:  fusible webbing.

The choice of a fusible can be as personal and biased as your favorite batting brand or fabric designer.  And on the surface, fusibles may even seem like an afterthought compared to all the other quilting decisions you have to make.  I mean, you need to hold some fabric patches in place while you stitch around them – why does this need to be a huge decision?  Can’t you just grab whatever you have laying around and use it?

The answers to these questions are just like most of those in quilting…yes…and no.  To begin with, let’s talk about the difference between fusible webbing and fusible interfacing.  Both are fusibles (can be adhered by the heat of an iron) and both can be used in quilts, but they are different, and each has its own separate purpose.

Fusible interfacing is actually a fabric which gives shape and stability to whatever cloth item you’re making.  Fusible webbing is a fiber.  I use both in my quilting.  I use fusible webbing primarily in machine applique, although there are a few other areas I may use it.  While the term fusible interfacing is usually thought of in the context of garment construction, I have also found it super-handy in some quilting techniques.  For instance, if a quilt I’m making has large blocks which are set on point, such as this one:

I will use a type of soft, thin tricot fusible interfacing to stabilize the bias and keep it from stretching. 

This type of interfacing is easy to piece with and so thin it doesn’t interfere with the quilting process.  I have also used this interfacing on the backs of blocks which have a lot of bias-cut pieces  to stabilize those before sewing the blocks together in rows. I cut the interfacing the exact size of what the unfinished block should be, center it on the back of the block and press.  If I need to (because the block may be uneven), I can use the edge of the interfacing as the sewing edge.  For T-shirt quilts, it’s indispensable as a stabilizer for the knit fabric. 

Featherweight and even medium-weight fusible interfacing are found in my studio.  I use these on the backs of my quilt labels to give them a bit of shape before sewing them onto the back of my quilt.  And if you’re a quilter who also makes bags, you probably have several other different types of interfacing in your quilting space. 

Fusible webbing is different – and from here on out, when I mention fusible, I’m talking about fusible webbing, not interfacing.  One of the advanced techniques I plan on highlighting this year is raw-edge machine applique, and some kind of fusible is needed for this method.  This webbing reacts to the heat of an iron, and it melts onto the back of your fabric and its paper backing is removed– unlike a fusible interfacing.  A fusible interfacing’s bonding agent will melt onto the wrong side of your fabric, but the interfacing itself will remain intact.  There are a couple of great things about fusible webbing and fusible interfacing.  First, neither are too pricey.  Second, both can be found in big box stores such as Joann’s, Hobby Lobby, and Walmart.  And third, fusible is a US term.  In the United Kingdom and some other countries, it’s known as Bondaweb. 

However, before we start discussing the different types, weights, and brands of fusibles, I would like to offer a few tips for using any fusible. 

  • You may want to prewash your fabric before applying any fusible.  Sometimes the finishing chemicals on the fabric prevent the interfacing or webbing from adhering the way it should to the wrong side of your fabric.  Prewashing will remove all finishes.
  • Make sure you use the correct weight for the fabric and object under construction.
  • Keep in mind the webbing fuses two pieces of fabric together and makes them stiffer.
  • Keep fusible tape or strips in your sewing kit.  They’re great for mending – especially quick hem fixes.
  • Always, always, always remember the webbing is not a permanent bond (as neither are glues, basting sprays, or the bonding powder).  It will dissolve with washing or use over time.  It’s always necessary to stitch around the fused piece of cloth to ensure it stays in place.

How Fusibles Work

Unlike fusible interfacing which only has the bonding agent on one side, webbing has adhesive on both sides.  That’s important to keep in mind as your iron is the tool which adds the heat and activates the adhesive.  As long as the paper backing is on the webbing, it’s easy to tell which fabrics have fusible on them and which don’t.  Once the backing is removed, it’s harder.  If an iron directly touches the webbing, be prepared for a sticky mess on your iron.  This is why you may want to keep a tube of this:

In your sewing space or something else which will clean your iron in case of a fusible accident.  Word of caution here…you only need a dab of the cleaner.  One time I used too much on the surface of a hot iron and this produced a lot of smoke…which made the smoke detector go off…which prompted a visit from the local fire department – who were not amused.  And looked nothing like those hot firemen in the calendar, much to my disappointment.

The first step when working with fusibles for any type of applique is to look at your pattern.  Using fusibles for machine applique is a bit like working with freezer paper applique on the wrong side of the fabric – the applique pattern pieces need to be reversed.  Usually, if the applique pieces are reversed in the pattern, it will state this somewhere in the instructions or directly on the applique pattern pieces. If you can’t find this information anywhere, assume the pieces are not reversed. 

To reverse pattern pieces, I use my light box (if you don’t have one of these, go here https://sherriquiltsalot.com/2019/10/30/go-towards-the-light/and I tell you how to make your own).  I flip the pattern over, so the printed side is against the surface of my light box.  I then position my fusible over the pattern with the paper side facing up and trace the pattern.  This will reverse all the applique pieces.  If the pattern is reversed, put it on the light box with the printed side up, position the fusible with the paper side facing up and trace. 

After all the pieces are traced onto the paper side of the fusible, use a sharp pair of paper scissors to cut the applique pieces out, leaving about 1/8 to ¼-inch margin around the drawn lines.  Position the applique pieces on the wrong side of the fabric and press. 

A few words of caution at this point.  First, be sure to read the directions for the type of fusible used.  Somewhere in the directions, it should be stated what heat setting to have your iron set on and how long to hold the iron on the fusible.  Too much heat, too much time, too little heat, or too little time will affect the bonding agent.  Second, I avoid using mechanical pencils to trace my applique pattern onto the fusible.  I know that sounds kind of picky, but here’s why:  the wrong side of the fusible – the side with the webbing on it – is bumpy.  I can’t get a smooth line when I trace with a mechanical pencil.  I think the lead is too thin.  I like these pencils:

To trace just about anything in my studio.  The lead is soft enough to give me a smooth line and dark enough I can see my marking, but not so dark it gives me any issues on my fabric. Added plus, they’re inexpensive and can be found in just about any grocery or drug store. 

Then cut the applique pieces out on the pencil lines.  If the pieces won’t be used immediately, leave the paper on.  If not, position them on the background fabric before removing the paper.  Once you’re happy with the block, remove the paper backing, reposition, and press.  This is generally the way I handle my raw-edge applique blocks.  Once the paper is removed from the webbing, the back of the fabric is tacky from the webbing and can be difficult to maneuver.  If my block only has a few applique pieces, I may opt to remove the paper, position them, and then press.  However, if the block is like this:

And has a lot of pieces, I’ll wait and remove the backing until I’m happy with the arrangement.  If you’re still a little unsure of the process, there are a couple of upcoming blogs on raw-edge applique.

Now that we’ve discussed the difference between fusible interfacing and fusible webbing, and know (in a very broad, general way) how to use the webbing, let’s take a look at some of the major players in the fusible world and a couple of minor ones I really like.

Thermoweb – While you may not be familiar with this name, if you’re any kind of crafter, I bet you know the name Heat and Bond.  Thermoweb is the parent company.  They produce iron on adhesive, Heat and Bond, Heat and Bond Light, Heat and Bond Featherweight, and fusible webbings sheets which can be run through an ink jet printer or a cutting system such as the Brother Scan and Cut.  There are a lot of great things about these products.  Thermoweb has  merchandise for just about any fusible need you have.  They are reasonably priced and can found in most big box stores which has a sewing or crafting section.  Years ago, I appliqued a lot of sweatshirts (I did hundreds of sorority sweatshirts for a local college). I tried several different fusibles, but found I preferred Heat and Bond because it left the applique pieces stiff and could stand up to the abuse of a thick, satin stitch.  The downside to Thermoweb is just this – I find even the Featherweight leaves a bit of a stiff hand. However, there are ways to work around this and we’ll talk about them later.

Steam-A-Seam/Steam-A-Seam 2 – Like Thermoweb, this product is readily available in big box stores with a sewing section as well as quilt shops.  The biggest difference between Steam-A-Seam and Thermoweb is the packaging.  With Heat and Bond, the fusible is backed on one side with paper.  With Steam-A-Seam, both sides have paper.  On one side, the paper can be easily pulled away from the fusible.  On the other side, it can’t.  Trace on the side which stays attached to the webbing.  The paper from the other side can double as a pressing sheet or tear away stabilizer (sometimes needed with machine applique).  Like Thermoweb, Steam-A-Seam also has the 8 ½ x 11 sheets which can be run through an inkjet printer. 

Right now, you may be asking “Why two pieces of paper protecting the fusible webbing?  Isn’t one enough?”  Technically, yes.  And while the extra piece of paper can be used as a pressing sheet (and why this is kind of handy will come in later) or a stabilizer, the second piece of paper really serves to protect the webbing if it is stored for a while.  I have found if the fusible not used for a while, eventually the webbing will separate from the paper.  This additional piece of paper helps the fusible to keep its integrity. 

Wonder Under by Pellon – Pellon has given us quilters a lot of great products through the years and Wonder Under is one of them.  Like Thermoweb and Steam-A-Seam products, Wonder Under is available in lots of big box stores and quilt shops.  The biggest difference between Wonder Under and the other two fusibles is Wonder Under is acid-free.  This is something to keep in mind if you’re construction a quilt for the ages – the fusible won’t damage the fabric since it’s ph-balanced. It comes in various weights and types, but it’s important to keep in mind Wonder Under’s fusible bond is permanent. If you’ve fused a piece of applique in the wrong spot, you may be able to move it, but the adhesive will remain behind.

Misty Fuse – Compared to Wonder Under, Heat and Bond, and Steam-A-Seam, this may be a name you’re not familiar with.  I just recently discovered this wonderful fusible.  Misty Fuse has no paper backing, which makes working with it a little tricky.  It is great for use in sheer fabrics, so if you’re using super lightweight fabrics in your applique for things like insect or fairy wings or icicles, Misty Fuse can take care of your machine applique needs without compromising the fabric’s appearance. 

Because Misty Fuse is lightweight, it’s wonderful for applique quilts with multiple layers – such as art quilts or landscape quilts.  These types of applique quilts may have lots and lots of fabric fused on top of each other and a “regular” fusible can add to the bulk of the quilt, making it difficult to get a needle through in the quilting process.  Misty Fuse literally disappears after ironing and doesn’t change the hand of the fabric.  It comes in white, black and ultraviolet – which works great on sheer fabrics. 

Since it has no paper backing, you have to change how you use this fusible.  Lay the Misty Fuse on the wrong side of the fabric, and cover with a silicone sheet (a silicone baking sheet works well), a Goddess Sheet (more on these in a bit), or parchment paper.  Press according to directions. 

Couple of things to keep in mind as you use Misty Fuse.  First, save your scraps.  I keep mine in a Ziploc baggie.  Since there is no paper backing, even the smallest pieces can be used in your applique.  Second, if you have fabric scraps with Misty Fuse on the wrong side and you want to save them, be sure to store them separately from your regularly scrappage.  Misty Fuse is so lightweight, it’s difficult to tell it’s even on the wrong side of any fabric. You could run into some pressing issues if you accidently used some of the scraps with Misty Fuse on them in a pieced block.  Ask me how I know.

Soft Fuse ­ — My relationship with Soft Fuse goes back several years.  I had never heard of this fusible until Dragonfly Quilt Shop opened its brick-and-mortar store in High Point around 2009.  Up to this point, I used whatever fusible Hancock Fabrics had marked down – which meant either Steam-A-Seam, Wonder Under, or Heat and Bond.  I took an applique class at Dragonfly and had the chance to use Soft Fuse.   I was instantly hooked.  It allowed the fabric to maintain a soft hand (not as soft as Misty Fuse, though) and I didn’t have to “window cut” (more on this technique later) any of my applique pieces unless they were really big. 

Like most of the other fusible webbing, Soft Fuse comes in rolls or sheets.  It has a paper backing and bonds well with everything except super heavy fabric.  And it preps just like the major three fusibles.  To tell you how much I like this product, when Dragonfly closed its brick-and-mortar shop, I purchased every roll they had.  The only complaint I have about the product is it doesn’t age well.  I’ve found the longer the product sits opened on a shelf, the more the webbing pulls away from the paper. 

Vliesofix – This fusible is produced by the Czech Bead Company and is available more readily in Europe than in the US.  There are a few quilt websites which carry it, and if you’re curious enough, order some and try it for yourself.  I’ll have to be upfront and tell you I never heard of it until I began researching this blog and have never tried it, either.  It does get good reviews (five out of five stars on Amazon) and it is similar to Wonder Under.  It comes in varying weights and sizes and is used in everything from quilts and other fabric crafts to hat making. 

Tools You Need to Get Started

Fortunately, most of these tools you already have in your quilting toolbox.  There are a one or two you may want to purchase, but in those cases there are inexpensive alternatives you can use until you make your mind up about raw-edge applique. 

  • Sharp paper scissors.  Fusible webbing is paper backed, so a good pair of paper-cutting scissors is needed.  I use my large Fiscars for big pieces and a pair of small embroidery scissors for small pieces and tight curves.
  • Regular pencils.  I know this one seems kind of picky, but I don’t think you get a smooth tracing line with a mechanical pencil.  The lead is too thin.  My favorite soft lead, #2 pencils are Ticonderoga.  In the fall, you can get these for a steal in the back-to-school sales. 
Cutterpillar Wafer Light Box
  • Light Box.  These simply make life easier for tracing.  I’ve blown through three light boxes in my 35-year quilting adventure and am currently using a Cutterpillar.  This has become my all-time favorite due to its versatility and ability to transport.  It’s not bulky and it’s easy to carry to classes and retreats.  If investing in a light box is not in your budget at this time, remember you can make your own.  Just know some kind of light box will make your applique life so much easier.
  • A Goddess Sheet or the equivalent.  Raw edge machine applique is no different from other types of applique in many ways.  Like other techniques, you will want to assemble your piece as much as you can off the block.  This way you only have to move one large piece onto your applique block instead of hundreds of small pieces.  This is easy with hand applique, but it gets trickier with raw-edge machine applique because the fusible is on the back of the fabric.  If you try to press all the pieces together on your ironing board, you may end up fusing that piece to your ironing board cover or pressing mat.  A Goddess Sheet is a Teflon coated sheet which allows you to press your fusible applique pieces to each other, but then it lifts cleanly off the sheet.  A silicone baking sheet or a piece of parchment paper does the same thing. 
  • Learn how to “window cut.”  This applique technique is not used all the time.  As a matter of fact, if you’re working with a pattern that has lots of small applique pieces, you won’t need this technique.  Likewise, if you’re using a fusible which doesn’t leave the fabric stiff.  This technique comes in handy if your applique pieces are large and you don’t want the fabric to be tough from a lot of fusible.  You trace the applique pieces on the paper side of the fusible, and then cut it out about ¼-inch away from the drawn line.  Then you move to the inside of the applique piece and cut the inside of the fusible away about ¼ to ½-inch from the drawn line, leaving just a “fusible outline” of your image.  Press to the wrong side of the fabric and cut out on the drawn pencil line.  Window cutting (or windowpane cutting as it’s sometimes referred to) keeps the fabric from becoming stiff from a large area of fusible.  And the fusible which is cut away can be used for smaller applique pieces.

In closing, I want to caution you there is no “universal” fusible.  In other words, there is no one-and-only fusible you need to keep in your quilt studio which will cover all your fusing needs.  The fusible webbing used depends on what you’re making and your fabric choice.  Bags can require several different types of fusibles as well as interfacings.  The effect desired also depends on the type of fusible used.  If a winter quilt has lots of icicles, you may want to make them out of sheer blue fabric and use the ultraviolet Misty Fuse to keep them looking transparent.  Heavy fabrics such as denim need a fusible made for thick fabrics. 

The brand you like best is personal and subjective.  Just like anything else in quilting, the longer you keep sewing, the more products you’ll use.  What I may really like, you may not.  Like batting, the choices are your own and what works best for you.  My advice is to try several.  Fusible webbing isn’t expensive.  Fuse several shapes using different fusibles to a background.  Stitch around them.  Toss them in the washer and then the dryer – do this several times.  After about the third round, decide which one still looks good to you.  That just may be the brand you’ll want to stick with.

Until Next Week, Make Your Quilt Yours!

Love and Stitches,

Sherri and Sam

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How to Tame Those Tiny Fabric Pieces (Without Losing Your Mind or Your Patience)

Quilts such as this:

And this:

And this:

Are beautiful.  They’re eye candy, and a lot of quilters are immediately drawn to them, not only because they’re beautiful, but also because they’re challenging.  What’s so difficult about these quilts?  The size of the blocks. 

Ranging anywhere from 4-inches to 6-inches (finished), the blocks in these quilts are on the smallish side of things.  Are these the smallest blocks in any quilt? No.  Not when you consider a quilt such as this:

A postage stamp quilt, where the blocks can measure about 1-inch (maybe less) when finished.  However, the blocks in a postage stamp quilt aren’t pieced.  Then there’s always that random hexie project out there with super-small pieced hexies. 

The more you research quilts with small blocks, the more options pop up.  I was introduced to small blocks when I constructed my Dear Jane quilt a few years ago.  This project pushed me from my usual 10-inch blocks to something considerably smaller.  Smaller quilt blocks caused me to “up my game.”  For me the smaller size meant I had to be particularly precise and accurate, as any mistake seemed to be magnified despite the block’s tiny dimensions. And after a few of the blocks were under my belt, I had found my favorite construction technique for them – paper piecing.  

I like to paper piece.  It took me a while to learn how to do it correctly, but once I did, I fell in love with it.  However, this blog isn’t about paper piecing.  It’s about how to sew small blocks.  I’m writing this from a non-paper piecing perspective because some quilters don’t like paper piecing or know how to do it, and some small blocks such as this one:

Can’t be paper pieced. 

To start, let’s talk about some quilting notions you’ll need to have on hand.  Most of these supplies can already be found in your sewing space.

  •  Spray Starch.  This will be your BFF when working with small blocks.  And here I’m talking about straight-up, real spray starch.  In one way, cutting out the pieces for a 6-inch block is no different from cutting out the pieces for a 12-inch block – accuracy is important for both.  However, with larger blocks there is a bit more “wiggle” room which isn’t there with small blocks.  From my own personal experience, I’ve found starching the fabric until it feels like paper makes cutting small pieces a lot easier.  Shake the can of starch well, then working from the backside of the fabric, spray the fabric lightly and then press with a hot, dry iron.  Repeat the process until the fabric feels like paper.  Don’t think you can do this with one pass by saturating the fabric and then pressing it.  You’ll get a lot of starch flakes this way and a damp fabric which the iron won’t dry completely.  One more bit of wisdom at this point:  If the quilt with small blocks won’t ever be washed (such as a wall hanging), I don’t prewash my fabric.  The extra layer of fabric finish plus the starch makes the material extra-stiff. 
  • Downsize Your Rotary Cutter.   Most quilters use a 45-mm rotary cutter.  This size falls in the middle and usually handles everything but the thickest of layers with ease.  However, when rotary cutting small pieces, a smaller cutter may give you more control and accuracy.  I began using a 6-mm rotary cutter when I worked on Dear Jane.  It really felt small in my hand after cutting with a 45-mm or 60-mm, but now I find I prefer the 6-mm to almost any other size.  I have petite hands and this size just works better for me.  I also have this:

Which I purchased some years ago from Missouri Star.  It also works super-well when cutting small pieces, or prepping pieces for reverse applique.

  •  Thinner Thread.  While the block and its units may be small, this means everything used will seem to be amplified – including thread.  Reducing bulk is one of the goals for any quilt block, and it’s really important for small ones.  Thinner thread is one way to reduce bulk and increase accuracy.  I typically use #50 in either two or three-ply (depending on the brand).  For small blocks, I will go up to #60 or#80 in two or three ply.  In a pinch, or if I’m out of the #60 or #80, I’ll still use #50, but make sure it’s only two-ply. 
  • Be Careful About the Scale of Print Fabrics. Under normal circumstances, I would consider this:

To be a small-scale print.  I’ve placed a dime next to the print to give you some idea of how small the print is.  However, if I cut this into a 1-inch square

You can see how the print can lose its integrity.  When working with small block units in small blocks, be conscious of how the print will look once it’s cut down, and then has a seam allowance taken in.  With super-small block units, you may want to stick to solids, small dots, or tiny stripes.  With others, you may find yourself fussy-cutting small prints to show off in the middle of a tiny star or snowball block.  If there’s any doubt about your prints, it’s a good idea to audition your fabric through a cut-out template.

  •  A Stiletto Will Come in Handy. Even though I have small hands, I find they get in the way when feeding tiny block pieces over my feed dogs or holding the fabric steady.  A stiletto can do this for you, and still allow you to have control over the material.  Your choice of stiletto is a personal one.  These great tools are not expensive, so if you don’t like your first choice, try another.  I have several

But this one is my favorite.  The pointy end is long enough to control the fabric without the risk of being hit by the sewing machine needle.

  • Pins.  I pin a lot.  I know some quilters simply nest seams and keep moving, but I’ve always found pinning helps everything match up better.  And I think it’s even more important to pin when sewing small pieces.  I’ve also found small, thin pins work best with small blocks and block units.  My go-to pins are these:

Glass head pins.  They are thin and sharp.  Added bonus, because the pin head is made of glass, they won’t melt if you accidently iron over them. 

Now that you know what tools you’ll need to begin working on small blocks, let’s talk techniques.  Overall, cutting and sewing small blocks isn’t any different from other sized blocks.  However, the one concept I quickly grasped with tiny blocks is this:   whatever “normal” sewing technique I used with average-sized blocks, I had to be doubly careful with when working with small blocks.  It just seems any  mistake you make with a small block just looks bigger than it does on a larger block. 

Accurate Cutting:  Accurate cutting is important regardless of the size of the quilt block.  Be sure to read and re-read the needed measurements before cutting.  If templates are used, quite often with small blocks, it’s more accurate (and easy) to trace around the templates with a pencil or fabric marker and cut out the units with scissors.  If rotary cutting, make sure your blade is sharp.  The drag of a dull blade can distort your cutting.  And with accurate cutting in mind…

It may be easier to make the block units slightly larger and then cut them to fit:  My regular readers know this is how I make my half-square triangles – I make them about a quarter inch larger than needed then cut them down to the exact unfinished measurement required.  This allows for complete unit accuracy.  I’ve found this technique even more useful when dealing with small blocks.

Use smaller seam allowances or trim the seam allowances down a bit:  It’s important to reduce bulk as much as you can with any quilt block.  This makes pressing, sewing, and quilting easier.  With small blocks, reducing bulk is even more important.  Let’s say you’re constructing this block, which is three inches finished:

The center block unit is 1 ½-inches, finished.  If all the ¼-inch seams surrounding this block are pressed towards the center square, this means one-inch of the center square will be covered by two additional layers of fabric from the seam allowances.  All of this bulk concentrated into such a small space can make pressing difficult (the block won’t lie flat) and make quilting – even by machine – difficult.  So, there’s two ways to approach this bulky issue.  You can re-draft the block using smaller seam allowances or, after you’ve sewn the seam, you can trim away a bit of the seam allowances with a sharp pair of scissors.  And while we’re discussing bulk reduction, here are a few more ways you can reduce it even more:

  1.  Clip or blunt the additional fabric at corners (such as in half-square triangles).
  2. Press the seams open.  I know I normally don’t advise this, but small blocks are different.  If you can, press the seams open.

Use leaders and enders:  If you’re not familiar with these terms, let me explain.  Fabric is fed over the feed dogs, under your needle, a stitch is formed, and then the fabric is fed off the back side of the feed dogs and off your needle plate.  When “normal” size block units are used, the feed dogs can engage when they touch the fabric, and the material is evenly fed over the feed dogs. However, with small block units, the dogs may begin to move before the fabric is on them and this results in a hole being chewed in your fabric.  And if your block units are super-small, they may get completely “eaten” by your feed dogs and this produces frustrating minutes of removing the entire needle plate and digging the fabric out of the dogs and anywhere else they may have lodged (usually very tightly in a very hard place to reach).  To avoid this happening, use a leader and an ender.

What are these?  They are simply small pieces of cloth you begin your stitching on and when you’re finished with a seam, you sew off on another piece of fabric (thus the names, “leader” and “ender).  I use scraps for these, folded in half.  My favorite thing to make leaders and enders out of is leftover pieces of binding.  Those work really well.  The leader engages the feed dogs and gets them moving so when you line your block units up as the leader feeds off, the dogs keep moving and your fabric glides over them instead of being chewed.   The ender will allow the fabric to smoothly feed off the dogs and keep the seam allowance consistent as the stitching ends.  And leaders and enders bring me to the next point…

Chain piece and strip piece whenever you can:  This makes life easier for you and speeds up the sewing.  You can get into a rhythm sewing like units or strips together and this will also help with accuracy.  And while you’re sewing, you may want to try this…

Reduce your stitch length:  Your regular stitch length may be too long for small pieces.  There may be too few stitches in the seam to hold the pieces together well.  Try shortening your stitch length if you feel this is the case.  I know short stitches are harder to take out if you make a mistake, but you want your block to stay together. 

Be careful when you press your block:  Be sure to press (up and down motion) and not iron (back and forth motion).  Ironing can stretch any bias, and this makes any block wonky. 

Always square the blocks up:  Just because the blocks are small, they don’t get a pass on normal follow up.  Make sure they come out to the correct unfinished size. 

Armed with correct quilting notions and techniques, constructing small blocks isn’t any harder than constructing larger blocks.  And if you think you may never have to deal with small block units because they look as if they would fray your last nerve, think about blocks such as this: 

Which has 64 pieces in an 10-inch block.  Small quilt block units don’t necessarily always stay in small quilt blocks.  Sometimes they can live in larger blocks, too.  It’s important to know how to handle these well and without fear.

Until next week, Make Your Quilt Yours!

Love and Stitches,

Sherri and Sam

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North Carolina Quilts – How We Went from Waterpower to the Grandaddy of All Quilt Bees to the New Home of Keepsake Quilting

I was lucky enough to be born in North Carolina.

North Carolina born, raised, and educated.  I am as much of a product of our red clay fields as the cotton and tobacco grown here.  While I love to travel and see new places, there is a part of my heart which still sings when it’s time to go home.  I mean, what’s not to love about a state bookended by the Smokey Mountains and the Crystal Coast?

In past blogs I’ve discussed some regional quilts and their specifics.  This week I want to introduce you to North Carolina quilts and what makes them different from others.  Usually when I mention North Carolina quilts to anyone, a few stereotypical blocks come to mind:  Carolina Lily (which was first noted in 1890 and it was called the Cleveland Lily, probably after Grover Cleveland and had nothing to do with my state), Coastal Lily, and the Carolina Star (which is the official quilt block of North Carolina and was originally only made from blue and white fabrics). 

North Carolina Star

Other blocks containing cardinals, lighthouses, and magnolias are also frequently mentioned when discussing North Carolina quilts. 

A Brief History Lesson

But these just scratch the surface of a deep and abiding quilt history.  However, to understand our quilts, you must first understand our state.  A brief history, first.  We are one of the 13 original colonies, composed of a land grant from King Charles I.  For some of you, being part of the 13 colonies may denote a fired-up, signing-The Declaration of Independence-fighting those British Redcoats group of folks….

And you’re wrong.

The Carolina Colony was large and at that time encompassed North and South Carolina, and part of Georgia and Florida.

If North Carolina is nothing else, we are a deliberate group of citizens who take our time to think things through.  We were the eleventh colony to declare our independence (Halifax Resolves), but the Battle of Alamance is considered to be the first Revolutionary War skirmish.  We were one of the very last Southern states to secede from the Union – but being last threw us into a precarious predicament and more on that later, because yes, it concerns quilts and quilters.

Besides having an overall population of deliberate thinkers, we’re kind of an odd state politically.  It’s nothing new for us to have a governor of one political party and a lieutenant governor of another political persuasion.  College basketball playoffs are jokingly referred to as “Holy Season” and I’ve seen near fist fights break out over barbeque and I’m talking about sliced or chopped pork barbeque, slow cooked over a wood fire, and then treated with your preferred sauce – not hamburgers, hot dogs, and the like cooked on a grill.  That’s a cookout, not barbeque.  Seriously. 

North Carolina rivers, streams, lakes, and inlets

Water, Water Everywhere

All of those wonderful peculiarities aside, to understand our quilts, there are a few characteristics which must be kept in mind.  First, we have the Atlantic Ocean to the east, which enables our state to have world-class ports.  And that means we have served as an import/export destination for hundreds of years (and pirates…and hurricanes).  We could import fine fabric while we were a colony and export our textiles later.  To the west lie the Smokey Mountains with their rich Scotch-Irish heritage both in song, dance, language, and home textiles.  And in the middle is the Piedmont, where I live.  We have the Research Triangle and wonderful quilt shops.  The item which ties these three areas together are our waterways – which means not only transportation, but back years ago, it gave us the ability to get goods to and from one destination to another.  Items such as thread, needles, and fabric.  What’s equally important is the waterpower these rivers, streams, and creeks provided for mills.  Early on, this meant nearly every settlement of some size had easy access to a grain mill where wheat, corn, and oats could be ground for animal feed or flour, cereal, and cornmeal.  Later, after the Civil War ravaged the South, the waterways were used to power textile mills, which allowed North Carolina to recover from the war at a faster pace than some other Southern states.

Early North Carolina quilts were no different from most other quilts constructed in other states…but I love the pinwheels this North Carolina quilter added to hers.

Fine Thread and Fine Fabric

We had something to sell which everyone needed:  thread and fabric.  And this is really where North Carolina’s quilting cultures differs from other states.  Our quilts were first documented at the turn of the 19th century through diaries, wills, and newspaper articles.  At this time, our quilts were no different than any other state’s.  They were decorative with fine applique or trapunto, white work, or Broderie Perse.  Plus, quilting in itself was a highly social event.  There are numerous accounts of quilting bees and socials.  However, all of this begin to change about 1850.

Early water powered textile mill in North Carolina

If you’ve read this blog:  https://sherriquiltsalot.com/2021/11/24/is-it-reproduction-or-authentic/ you know this is about the time man-made, commercial dyes became readily available.  No longer did cloth manufacturers have to undergo the laborious process to get a red, blue, or green piece of fabric.  Man-made dyes hit the market with a bang, and along with them came the need for fine cloth and thread.  North Carolina, with its plethora of textile mills, filled this need.  As a matter of fact, the mills produced such fine thread, that when it was used on the home weaving loom, quite often no difference could be found between the homespun and the mill manufactured cloth.  After the Civil War was over, men with the last names of Cone and Holt rebuilt the textile mills and North Carolina became a leader of textile production for years.  All of these factors came into play with North Carolina quilters and their quilts.  We had access to plenty of fabric, in a variety of colors and prints, and fine thread to sew them with.  Since these were overwhelmingly locally produced, the price was reasonable and most quilters could afford them. As a result, what you don’t see in North Carolina quilts is a re-use of old clothing or other household textiles in the quilts.  There really wasn’t a reason to “up cycle” until the Great Depression. 

North Carolina Double Wedding Ring Quilt made from feedsacks

What You Won’t Find In Our Quilts

Now that you have a bit of history about how the production of textiles shaped our economy and our quilting world, let’s take a deep dive into what makes North Carolina quilts unique.  To begin with, let’s examine what you won’t see in most of our quilts. 

  •  English paper piecing.  I’m not saying there aren’t any North Carolina quilts with English paper piecing, but overall, North Carolina quilters historically haven’t been fans of this technique.  And I’m no different than my North Carolina ancestors.  I can execute this skill, but I would rather not.
  • Pictorial quilts.  This means quilts such as this:
Pictorial Quilt

For whatever reason, this type of quilt never caught on with my state’s quilters as a whole.

  •  Political quilts.  If you remember this blog:  https://sherriquiltsalot.com/2021/07/14/a-rose-by-any-other-name/ you know some quilts got really political.  North Carolina quilters did produce some rose quilts, but these were not to make a political statements.  In general, our quilters were fairly apolitical and made the rose quilts for their beauty, not for the candidate the blocks endorsed.   

What Our Quilts Are Known For

Now for what did become apparent with North Carolina quilts.

Crazy Quilt constructed in Rockingham County
One of the last original buildings from the time period when Burlington, NC was known as The Company Shops. This building now serves as the Amtrak terminal.
  •  Crazy Quilts.  We produced a lot of crazy quilts.  Pieces of wool, satin, silk, and other assorted fabrics were sewn together and embellished with embroidery.  The abundance of these quilts is probably due to the railroads crisscrossing our state.  The railroads were in direct competition with waterway transportation, not only in my state, but up and down the east coast and heading further west.  This was especially true in my home county of Alamance, where the town of Burlington was once called Company Shops – the place where trains which ran North to South were repaired, turned around, and attended to.  The influx of trains and the goods on them meant women had the opportunity to acquire all kinds of fabric – not just quilting cottons.  As a result, North Carolina quilters were well-equipped when the Crazy Quilt fad hit the quilting world. 
  •  Sashing and Borders.  Around 1875, North Carolina quilts almost did a complete 180.  Fine handwork and applique virtually disappeared as the quilts began to show nearly all pieced work with sashing and borders.  If you notice the date – 1875 – you may realize this is a full decade after the Civil War ended.  The Reconstruction Era ran roughly from 1863 through 1877, and even longer in some places where General Sherman completely devastated large swaths of states.  But before the “official end” of Reconstruction, here we have quilters who were able to not only obtain new fabric, but also could afford to purchase “extra” fabric for sashing and borders.  This is a direct testament to North Carolina’s commitment to the textile industry.  Our workers could not only supply the material needed for these quilt “extravagances,” but the mills were paying a good enough wage their employees and families could afford to purchase it.  At this point, it’s important to also remember two concepts.  First, even though the quilts were largely pieced, the workmanship was still fine.  The quilts which survived this period show good workmanship, design, and color balance.  Second, there is evidence that quilt patterns were exchanged, loaned, or taken from publications, as quilt historians have noted duplicate quilts during this period.
Circa 1875 NC Quilt
Another North Carolina Quilt, circa 1875

Textiles Are the Link to Our Quilts and Our History

There is literally no way to separate the production of North Carolina textiles from North Carolina quilts.  The two are inextricably linked, with Massachusetts perhaps being the only state which out produced us at any given time.  I mentioned before that North Carolina was one of the last states to secede from the United States during the Civil War.  We did not join the Confederacy until May 20, 1861.  And unlike many of the other southern states, our economy wasn’t driven as much by slave labor, so this wasn’t the primary reason we entered the war.  A quick study of North Carolina military regiments at the beginning of the war shows a pretty evenly divided army.  We had as many men fighting for the Union as we did the Confederacy.  And while the state desperately tried to remain neutral overall, it wasn’t until Union forces told our soldiers to fire on South Carolina (our sister state), that things immediately went from bad to worse.

You see, the Union wanted our men, but even more than them, they wanted our textiles.  The same with the Confederate Army.  Both had regiments of soldiers they needed to clothe and keep warm.  North Carolina had the thread, the looms, and the textile mills. We could both clothe soldiers and make quilts and blankets.  The pressure was on from both sides to join their cause, but in the end, we agreed to secede.  It is worth noting the first Confederate casualty in the Civil War came from North Carolina – Henry Lawson Wyatt. 

Henry Lawson Wyatt

Originally born in Virginia, Wyatt’s family moved when he was young and settled in Pitt County.  We, along with Virginia, lost the most men.  Each state lost 31,000 soldiers.  Per population, North Carolina also supplied the most men – 129,000.  The exact number of uniforms, bedrolls, quilts, etc., is more difficult to pin down.  Each solider was responsible for his own uniform and there are dozens of diary entries from women discussing how to make the uniforms, etc.  It is safe to say that since North Carolina supplied the most men, it’s reasonable to assume we also supplied the most uniforms and bedding.

How the Great Depression Affected North Carolina Quilts

I can’t write a blog on North Carolina quilts without mentioning the Great Depression.  As I talked about in previous blogs, this time in our national history spurred a quilt revival which has really not been duplicated.  Our bicentennial came close, but the Great Depression’s quilt resurgence was bigger.  However, there are few occurrences which began during this time which still affects North Carolina quilters today. 

The North Carolina Quilt Project (organized in 1985) notes our state’s quilters had some favorite blocks during this time. Dresden Plate, Little Dutch Girl (basically Sunbonnet Sue), Double Wedding Ring, Trip Around the World, and Grandmother’s Flower Garden quilts were made in abundance here – just like they were in almost every other state. 

North Carolina Twin Dresden Plate Quilts. Look at those borders…..

So, the quilts constructed in North Carolina during this time were no different than those made in other states.  What is different are the events which developed from all this quilting.

Uncle Eli’s Quilting Party

The first noteworthy event which stemmed from the Great Depression Quilt Revival is Uncle Eli’s Quilting Party.  In North Carolina, this is the granddaddy of all quilt bees.  Held at the Eli Whitney Recreation Center, it started in 1931 and is still going strong today.  If you decide you’d like to join the party, it’s usually the first Thursday in April.  You’ll need to take North Carolina Highway 87 to the point where it intersects Greensboro-Chapel Hill Road.  That’s where you’ll find the unincorporated community of Eli Whitney (if you reach Mandale or Snow Camp, you’ve gone too far).  This quilting party is part quilt show, part quilt bee.  Bring your quilts and plenty of folks will want to look at them and you’ll have plenty of quilts to look at, too.  Bring something to work on, and don’t forget a covered dish – lunch is potluck.

The second noteworthy events are the number of quilting groups which formed in the Great Depression.  The backdrop of these groups was the need for churches to generate some kind of income to keep their doors open, assist missionaries, and help the needy of the community.  The quilters in the churches put their heads and needles together and began to meet.  They made signature quilts and sold spaces for signatures for a few cents each.  They made raffle quilts and sold tickets for a chance to win those.  These groups met in church basements and Sunday School rooms for years.  As more women entered the workforce, the numbers dwindled, but many of these bees are still going strong (there are five not very far from my home).  This means if some these groups started around the same time as Uncle Eli’s Quilting Party, a few of these bees are at least 90 years old.

The natural sequence from bees is the formation of quilt guilds.  North Carolina currently has 101 guilds.  Presently, these are all local guilds, with some counties having several (Guilford County has three – Piedmont Quilt Guild, Gate City Quilt Guild, and High Point Quilt Guild.  Even my tiny home county of Alamance has two quilt guilds).

There also is an intangible admiration which came from the 1930’s quilt revival – an appreciation of the art and the artists.  Part of this stems from the historical importance of the textile industry.  However, some of this also is a result from the recognized part quilts have played in North Carolina history.  In most local historical museums, there will be quilts. The North Carolina Museum of Natural History houses a large collection of textiles, including quilts.  There is a quilt exhibit in Western North Carolina Heritage Center.  And if you’re visiting Western North Carolina, be sure to check out our quilt trail. 

The North Carolina counties which have quilt trails are highlighted in yellow.

The last thought I want to leave you concerns this:

Quilt constructed from Alamance Plaids

Some of you may have seen this type of fabric in quilts dating from the Civil War Period.  Usually, it’s found on the back of North Carolina quilts, but over the span of between 1853 to 1865-ish, it can also be found on the front of quilts.  This fabric is known as Alamance Plaids, and it hails from my home county of Alamance (I was born in Burlington and grew up in Graham).  Edwin Holt and his son, Thomas, developed this plaid material at the Holt’s Alamance Factory.  This was the first plaid cloth woven in the south.  When a blockade of North Carolina ports took place in the Civil War, this was the fabric that clothed our citizens – from their underwear to their Sunday best.  As a matter of fact, the 1863 graduating class of the Greensboro Female College (now Greensboro College) made their commencement dresses from Alamance Plaids. 

Greensboro Female College, NC

There was enough of this fabric woven to allow us to not only make sure our soldiers had adequate clothing, but we also supplied other states with the material, so their solders were taken care of, too.

My small collection of Alamance Plaids

In summary, it’s easy to say North Carolina quilts are similar to quilts found in other regions.  The characteristic which makes them exceptional is their link to our state’s textile industry.  We had access to fabric and thread and weaving technology other states did not (with Massachusetts probably being the exception).  This allowed our quilters to have the fabric to create wonderful quilts even during hard times and to have the resources to pass the art down to the next generation… and the next … and the next.  I can mention I quilt to nearly anyone in my state and the responses are immediate…

My mom quilted…

My grandmother quilted…

I have an aunt who quilts…

There’s a quilt shop in my town.  I’ve always wanted to learn…

I quilt, too….

Warms my heart and thrills my soul.

Come to North Carolina.  We’ll show you some quilts…we’ll visit Pineapple Fabric and Keepsake Quilting…we’ll go to a guild meeting.  And in between we may catch a college basketball game and eat some good barbeque.

Until Next Week, Make Your Quilt Yours!

Love and Stitches,

Sherri and Sam

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Quilt Kits. Do You Need One and How to Tame Them.

Most quilters have seen things like this:

And this:

For the uninformed (or very new quilter), these are quilt kits.  A quilt kit is a complete or almost-complete quilt in one package.  Most quilt shops – both on-line and brick-and-mortar – offer these for sale, at varying price ranges and at varying “completeness” ranges (and more about this “completeness” in a bit).

When I began quilting in the early mid-eighties, I used quilt kits nearly exclusively.   The biggest quilting hurdle I had to get conquer was choosing my fabric.  For a woman pretty well-versed in the arts, standing in the middle of Hancock’s or Piece Goods (remember them?) and having to decide what fabrics to put in a quilt was daunting, overwhelming, and downright scary.  Quilt kits removed the fabric choice from the quilting equation and allowed me to quickly get to the part I like most – sewing. 

Like me, some quilters prefer having fabric decisions removed from their quilting equations.  Other quilters like the convenience quilt kits offer.  For the most part, everything is in the kit.  You may have to pick up some notions, such as embellishments, backing, and batting, but 95 percent of the quilt is in the package the kit comes in. 

Eventually, as most quilters gain experience and get a few quilts under their belt, fabric decisions aren’t as difficult, and most of the time you’ll have nearly everything you need for a quilt in your studio (sometimes you don’t even have to purchase any additional fabric!).  However, if you’re beginning to quilt and quilting is just a hobby and not a lifestyle, quilt kits may be just what you need.  When you consider most of what is needed for a quilt is in the kit, the price is reasonable.  If your fabric storage has limits, it’s great to know a kit contains only the fabric needed for that project. 

Since most quilters have worked with kits at sometime or another, today’s blog is focusing on quilt kits – the pros and cons of kits as well as how to handle them. 

Good Things About Quilt Kits

  1.  You don’t need to make any fabric choices.  Colors, textures, weaves, and fabric decisions are already made for you.  If you’re a newbie, you can begin to pick up tips about colors and fabric by noting the fabric used in the kit.
  2. For the most part, they can save you money.  I know some quilters (including myself) have suffered from sticker shock on some kits.  Keep in mind you’re also paying for the labor of cutting the fabric and stocking the kit.  Sometimes this can be balanced against the time it would take you to pick out the pattern and the fabric as well as gas and mileage used to purchase them, or the postage paid to have the those shipped to you.
  3. They save you time.  Next to removing fabric decisions from my quilting equation, this was the second reason I loved kits when I began quilting. In the mid-eighties I was working, had just become a mom, and my husband worked out of town.  It was so much easier to run into the fabric store and grab a kit than it was to deal with a young baby, car seat, diaper bag, etc., etc.  And when you think where I was at that point in my life, I only had time for one quilt a year anyway, so a kit worked just great then. 

Not-So-Good Things About Quilt Kits

  1.  They may be short on fabric.  Let me hasten to add for the most part, quilt kits tend to have a little more extra fabric than needed, but once in a while, a kit may come up short on fabric.  More on how to deal with this a little further down in my blog.
  2. They aren’t unique.  No matter how lovely the quilts from these kits are, it can’t be forgotten manufacturers produce these quilt kits to make money.  Therefore, they make a lot of these kits so they can make a lot of money on them.  More quilt kits equal more sales, which equals more quilts which will look exactly like yours.  Several years ago, this became a bit issue in quilt shows (primarily local ones), as multiple entries of the same quilt kept popping up.  For a while, many local shows didn’t accept entries from quilt kits, but this stance has softened recently.  Now there may be a category just for quilts made from kits.  These quilts are usually judged on technique and quilting only, as originality and color choice are eliminated in quilts made from kits.  If you are able to enter a quilt made from kit in a non-kit category, expect to perhaps be dinged on originality and color choice.
  3.     Most kits are not complete.  While the kits will have the fabric needed to make      the top, most kits do not include backing, batting, and sometimes binding fabric.  Usually, you can find a coordinating backing for sale along side the quilt, as well as additional fabric for binding, etc.  If special embellishments are used, sometimes these are offered as a separate purchase.  The exception to all of this may be a kit for a small quilt.  Sometimes they are all inclusive.  Be sure to read the label on the kit to determine what exactly is included and what will need to be purchased separately. 

I have a routine I go through whenever I use a quilt kit.  Once I get the kit in my studio, I immediately open it up to make sure all the fabric is there and in the measurements indicated on the package.  If one fabric is cut wrong or I’m missing a fabric, it’s always best to call the store or website then.  At this point, they either will have additional fabric they can send me or simply replace the entire kit.  If I wait six months or a year, the kit and the fabric may be long gone.  And let me throw this in here:  I don’t prewash the fabric in a kit.  As much as I am a confirmed pre-washer, I give the kits a pass.  Only so much material is included in a kit, and if I pre-wash it, it may shrink too much to be useable. 

The next thing I do is read through the directions a couple of times, mark them up to indicate important instructions, and then sub-cut the fabric if necessary.  Sometimes kits come completely precut, and other times they will give you pieces of fabric you must sub-cut.  As I sub-cut, I make sure to retain the selvages.  If you look closely at a selvage:

You can get a lot of information.  The dots indicate what dyes were used in the fabric, but what’s even more important is the selvage has the information about the manufacturer and the name of the line of fabric.  If something happens and you can’t complete the quilt right away, or the kit is an older one perhaps purchased off Ebay or at an estate sale, this information makes it easier to find coordinating fabric for the kit.  A quick Google search with the manufacturer and line of fabric plugged in will let you know if any additional fabric is available.  I also never throw away any of the scraps left over from cutting until my quilt is complete.  An inch or two of fabric here and there can rectify a cutting mistake without any additional fabric purchases.  After the last stitch is put in the binding and label, I toss the scrappage (unless I have pieces large enough to go in my applique scrap fabric bins). 

So, after all this information, should you purchase a quilt kit or fabric and pattern?  Honestly, it’s a personal choice.  There are a few questions you may want to answer before sinking your hard-earned cash in a kit:

  1.  Do I already own a lot of fabric?  If the answer is yes, then a kit may not be needed.  You may have enough of your own fabric to make the quilt without purchasing any (or at least not much) additional fabric.  And quite often you don’t have to purchase the kit just to get the pattern.  Many times, a shop or website will sell the pattern by itself. However, if the quilt kit is simply beautiful and tugs at your heartstrings, go ahead and buy the kit while it’s available.  Once the kits sell out, fabric manufacturers rarely re-print the fabric for the kits.
  2. Is time a real issue for you?  For a while in my quilting journey, time was one of the largest obstacles I had to work around.  Kits cut down the amount of time I spent looking at fabric, trying to find exactly what I needed.  I could purchase the kit, get it home, and begin sewing pretty quickly.  If you’re the position where time is a precious commodity, a kit will trim down the hours spent searching for fabric – even if that time is spent in your pajamas perusing fabric websites.
  3. Does it bother you to put together someone else’s creation?  It’s one thing to use a designer’s pattern, it’s another thing entirely to use someone else’s pattern and their fabric choices.  Choosing your own fabric is one easy way to make the quilt look like you – your favorite colors, favorite designers, favorite lines.  With enough of your own fabric, you can alter blocks and applique, enlarge or shrink them, or substitute blocks.  You can’t do this with a quilt kit.  Fabric is limited. 
  4. Do you hate cutting fabric?  I’ve readily admitted this is my least favorite quilting task, but I’ve learned how to deal with it so it’s not as onerous any longer.  However, if this is the one aspect of quilting you really, truly would rather live without, a kit eliminates most of the cutting.  There are some kits out there with every piece cut exactly the way you need it – all the squares, all the triangles, etc. However, with most kits, you get smaller chunks of fabric which need to be sub-cut into the units needed.  So, you’ll still cut fabric, but you won’t have to handle a lot of yardage. 

At this point, you may want to know if, after nearly 35 years of quilting, do I still purchase and/or use kits.

There are occasions when I will buy a kit and dive right into it.  I live near Pineapple Fabric and Keepsake Quilting.  Both of these stores are well-stocked with lovely kits.  Several times a year, Pineapple has huge warehouse sales, and these kits are marked down significantly.  If there’s a kit I want and it’s on sale, I’ll buy it.  I also will purchase a kit if I like a particular designer.  Some designers offer beautiful kits with their fabrics in them.  If one grabs my attention, I’ve been known to plunk down my debit card for it.  I will also buy a kit if it’s particularly unique.  When you’ve quilted as long as I have, it’s easy to look at a kit and know what you would change if you made it.  However, on occasion, if there is truly a unique kit available, I’ll buy it. 

This quilt kit falls into the unique category. All the critters on the quilt are native to my home state of North Carolina. Big plus? It’s raw-edge, machine applique. Bigger plus? The applique pieces are laser cut, with the webbing already on them. Biggest plus? It was on sale.

The following reasons are the major motives behind any kit purchase I make:

  1.  I want (or need) something mindless to sew.  Sometimes if life is stressful or I have a pretty complicated quilt project under my needle, I need an easy project to clear my head and help me focus.  Quilt kits are great for this – especially those which are pre-cut.  My favorite line of pre-cut kits is from Laundry Basket Quilts.  They use lasers to precut the fabric, so the edges are sealed – meaning no fraying or raveling – as well as being extremely accurate. 
  2. I’m learning a new technique.  This reason deals primarily with kits sold by quilt teachers.  While many quilt teachers will allow you to supply your own fabrics, some will offer the option of purchasing a quilt kit.  If I am taking a class from a teacher who offers a kit, I’ll purchase it.  I do this because it’s simply easier to follow the instructor as he/she goes through the class.  I don’t have to try to remember what fabric I picked out to substitute for the fabric the instructor is using.  However, I will use my own background fabric – and let me tell you why.  If you take several classes, you’ll end up with several quilt blocks which may be beautiful, but you have no idea what to do with.  If these blocks have the same background fabric, it’s easy to make a quilt out of them (this tip courtesy of Katie McMullen, a friend of mine from The Applique Society). 
  3. It’s on sale and I want the fabric.  I’ll be completely honest here.  If a kit is on sale and it has lots of pretty fabric at a dirt-cheap price, I’ll purchase the kit for the material and toss the pattern if I don’t like it.  Often quilt stores or websites need to sell kits to get them off their inventory.  If this occurs, they sometimes will offer the quilt kits at insanely low prices.  If you see this happening and like the fabric offered, sometimes the sale price literally means pennies for the yardage.  When Craftsy sold out to Blueprint several years ago, all of their kits were on sale.  I purchased two Jinny Byer kits and a few others with batiks and Reproduction fabric simply because I liked the material.  I spent less than $200 and came away with enough fabric for four quilts. 

So, the next time you see one of these:

Don’t think lots of these:

Consider the options the quilt kits offer you.  Maybe it’s mastering a new technique. Perhaps it’s some mindless, relaxing sewing.  Or it could be lots of fabric for very little cash.  Whatever reason a quilt kit grabs your attention, just remember these little packages are here to stay, and what we do once we have them in the privacy of our own quilt studio is our business!

Until next week, Make Your Quilt Yours!

Love and Stitches,

Sherri and Sam

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Sewing with Batiks

I know most of you have seen fabric such as this:

Or this:

This lovely, undulating fabric is called batiks.  Batiks hit the quilting market in the mid-eighties when Bali Fabrics introduced them at quilt markets.  They gained momentum and hit a popularity peak in the nineties.  However, they’re still a mainstay in quilts and quilt shops all over the world.  With this fabric addition a “late comer” to the quilting world, it’s easy to think this is a fairly recent fabric invention. 

And this would be wrong.

Batiks have been around for thousands of years, beginning in Indonesia.  The term comes from the Indonesian word “ambatik” which means “dotted piece of fabric.”  This fabric is made by the “resist” method.  Wax is spread over the cloth, creating the desired design, and then the fabric is saturated with dye.  During the dying process, the wax can crack, which adds more interest in the dye design work.  Once the fabric has dried, the wax is scraped off, leaving undyed areas.  If desired, more wax designs can be added and the cloth dipped in another dye color.  This process is time consuming, but it produces a beautiful fabric. 

Once batiks hit the quilting world, we quilters puzzled over them for a while.  I instantly fell in love with them, but was left wondering, “Do I use them with other quilting cottons, or do they need to be in a quilt by themselves?”  I also loved the way all batiks appeared to easily go together.  Most quilters were like me.  When batiks hit the quilt shops in the mid-eighties, we all wondered how to use them.  For a while, they appeared in quilts all by themselves.  After a few years, we realized this fabric could be great blenders or even a focus fabric.  We embraced them and in no time at all, we had zero issues throwing batiks in with our standard quilting cottons.

However, batiks are not like our standard quilting cottons.  Quilting cottons tend to go through far fewer dying processes than batiks.  As a result, quilting cottons have a much softer hand than batiks.  Batiks can feel stiff because they generally have undergone several rounds of dying and they have a higher thread count than regular quilting fabric.  This doesn’t make them any better or any worse than quilting cottons, but it does make them different and as a result, if we tweak how we handle this fabric, it plays much nicer with our other material and works well in any quilt. 

The first thing to keep in mind is the shrinkage factor.  By now, my regular readers know I prewash all my fabrics.  If you’re making a quilt and plan to use both quilting cottons and batiks in it, this is one of those times you may want to prewash everything, but especially the quilting cottons.  Batiks are put through the dyeing process several times, so as a result, they do not shrink much – if at all.  However, quilting cottons are different.  They have a higher shrinkage ratio than batiks because they don’t undergo the same sort of wet dyeing procedure.  If you sew non prewashed quilting cotton to batiks and then toss the quilt in the washer, there’s more than a good chance the cotton fabric will shrink more than the batiks, which will cause puckers around the piecing and/or applique. 

There’s another reason you may want to prewash everything, including the batiks.  And that reason is the fading factor.  Again, this ties back into the dyeing process.  Overall, because the dyes and dyeing process has been nearly perfected over the last 10 years, quilting cottons generally don’t fade on each other when they’re washed – especially if you toss a Color Catcher in the washing machine.  Batiks are usually not this color stable.  They’ve been known to crock/fade/run onto adjacent fabric.  If you absolutely abhor prewashing, there’s a simple test you can do to see if the batik will fade. 

  1.  Cut a 3-inch square of the batik fabric and a 3-inch square of a white fabric.  Fill a container with cool water – somewhere in the 80 – 85 degree range.  Add about an 1/8-teaspoon Orvis soap and stir to distribute.  Add the two squares of fabric and stir again.  Let sit for thirty minutes, occasionally stirring to redistribute the soap and the fabric. 
  2. After 30 minutes, if there is no dye in the container, you’re good to go.
  3. If there is dye in the container, repeat the process.  When thirty minutes are up, lay the white fabric square right next to the batik fabric square and allow to dry.  If none of the dye from the batik fades onto the white, you’re probably okay to use the batik in the quilt without prewashing. 

If the batik fails the test, don’t despair.  You need to prewash it, but there are some additional prewashing steps you may want to make to assure the batik doesn’t fade onto a lighter fabric. 

First, there’s this product:

Retayne. 

This is a color fixative, and it can be found in most big box stores or Amazon.  It’s super important to follow the directions exactly, and that you use hot – really hot – water in order for the product to work correctly.  Issues which have cropped up after using this product are generally due to the fact the user didn’t have the water hot enough.  The water temperature needs to be 140-degrees and the fabric should be agitated in this hot water for 20 minutes.  When I use this product, I use the “hot” option for all my wash cycles and turn off the cold-water line which runs into my washing machine.  Treat the batik fabric before putting it into the quilt, and after the quilt’s finished, only wash in cold water.

Second, there’s Synthrapol.

This is a cool product and the chemistry teacher in me still geeks out when I use it. Synthrapol is a surfactant.  It’s predominantly used in the hand dying process, but it can be used in prewashing.  The product suspends the dye molecules in the water, so they don’t settle on the fabric.  If you use the blue Dawn Dish Detergent, you have already used a surfactant – it doesn’t let the grease in the water settle back on the dishes or your hands.  It holds them suspended in the water.  Can you use the blue Dawn instead of Synthrapol?  Yes.  It works just fine on small pieces of fabric.  For anything larger than a couple of yards, I recommend using the Synthrapol in your washing machine. And like the Retayne, follow directions carefully. 

If I plan on using batiks and quilting cottons in a quilt which will probably never be washed (such as a wall hanging or a miniature), I don’t bother prewashing at all.  In this case, it doesn’t matter.

The last two items which must be considered when sewing batiks are the needles and the thread used.  Let’s talk needles first.

If you’re machine piecing with batiks, you have to remember batiks have a higher thread count and are more tightly woven than standard quilting cottons.  You’ll want a finer needle which is still strong.  My preferred sewing machine needle to use with batiks is a 70/10.  This size needle will glide through the fabric, but won’t punch holes in it.

Hand applique/finished edged machine applique requires a little more planning.  To begin with, I love batiks for hand and machine applique.  The tighter weave guarantees little to no fraying, which means it’s perfect for raw-edge machine applique.  However, there must be a little more pre-planning for finished machine edge and hand applique.  This tighter weave also means the fabric is stiff.  And stiff fabric is more difficult to manipulate around curves, corners, and prepared edges.  It’s important (at least to me) to remove some of the stiffness, so the batik fabric is a bit more manageable.  The easiest way I’ve found to remove the toughness is with hot, hot water – hotter than even the required temperature for Retayne.

I came across this by accident when I was deep into the mask making of 2020.  I used batiks as the mask lining because of the tighter weave, but didn’t want the folks wearing my masks to inhale all the chemicals of the finished, unwashed fabric.  I was rinsing both the batiks and my quilting cottons in boiling water (212 degrees Fahrenheit) to make sure all the chemical finishes were removed.  I would heat water in my electric kettle, put the fabric in my clean kitchen sink, and then pour the boiling water over them.  After the water and the fabric cooled, I’d hang them both to air dry.  The quilting cottons shrank a bit, but the transformation of the batiks was amazing.  The boiling water made them feel like silk.  They were soft and easy to handle.  This is now the way I treat all the batiks I plan to use for any type of hand applique or finished-edged machine applique. 

While this boiling water treatment does give the batiks softer hand, the fabric still has a tight weave.  As a result, you may find yourself struggling with your preferred hand applique needle.  There are two different hand applique needles designed specifically for this process. 

The first is Clover Black Gold Applique Needles.  I’ve found this brand works wonderfully with batik fabrics – both prewashed and non-prewashed. 

The second type is  John James Gold n’ Glide applique needle

Both brands come in several different sizes, so you should be able to find your preferred size needle in either brand. 

When considering thread for machine piecing batiks, I’ve found a 50 to 60 weight thread works best.  This weight keeps the stitches from showing too much.  For machine applique, I’ve found I’ve been able to use the monofilament fine with the finished edge applique.  For raw edge (or finished edge, if monofilament thread drives you up a wall), I still prefer a finer thread, such as a 50 weight. If the 50 weight seems a bit “thick,” change from a 3-ply thread to a 2-ply or to a 60-weight.  I do shorten the stitch length to about 1.8.  If using the buttonhole stitch, I will shorten the “bite” (inward needle swing) to 1.9.  As always, audition your stitch length and width on a scrap piece of fabric before committing it to your project. 

In my 30-plus years of applique experience, I still find there’s a wealth of opportunity in every batik.  The range of color, shades, tones, and tints of every piece (even if it’s in the same color family), make the batik a wonderful tool for the applique artist.  Every yard has the awesome potential for every inch to be used, making it worth every cent you paid for it.  Batiks can hold up against the blackest of black backgrounds and yet still work beautifully in pastel-oriented quilts.  Their thread count allows them to hold up to the toughest machine work, yet when treated with hot water, can have a hand comparative to silk.  What’s not to love about a batik?

Until Next Week, Make Your Quilt Yours – with Batiks!

Love and Stitches,

Sherri and Sam

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This is not the Enemy

This:

Is not your enemy.

I know there are days…days when you can’t seem to sew a single stitch without puckers, or seams that are too loose, or your thread constantly breaks.  You check your machine, thread it, and re-thread it.  You situate your spool so the thread runs horizontally…then vertically…

And nothing works.  After you’ve checked and re-checked everything, it’s easy to blame all your sewing machine’s bad behavior on a little metal or plastic disk.  However, most of the time, the poor bobbin is truly an innocent bystander and it’s something else giving you thread issues.

To start, let’s take a look at what a bobbin is and its function in the sewing machine.  By definition, a bobbin is “A spindle or cylinder, with or without flanges, on which wire, yarn, thread, or film is wound. Bobbins are typically found in sewing machines, cameras, and within electronic equipment. In non-electrical applications the bobbin is used for tidy storage without tangles. Typically, as quilters, when we throw the term “bobbin” around we’re talking about the plastic or metal disks which are used in the bobbin case of our machines and allows us to make a lockstitch.  However, from this definition, bobbins are also used in other types of machinery.  Remember when we actually used film in cameras?  The film was wound around a plastic or metal cylinder called the film bobbin.  And if you are like me and are from an area where textile manufacturing was prominent before NAFTA, you may have seen some of these around:

These are yarn bobbins used in fabric manufacturing. 

Those large, wooden spool-like things on the back of this truck?  Also bobbins.  These bobbins are used to store cable, wire, hoses, etc., as it’s transported and warehoused. 

As avid sewists, it’s important to know the kind of bobbin your machine takes and why the correct size is crucial.  There are 10 different types of them:

Class 15 Bobbin

Class 15 or A Style – This bobbin is about the size of a nickel and the top and bottom are completely flat.  It comes in both plastic and metal.

L-Style Bobbin

L-Style – This bobbin is also about the size of a nickel.  It’s flat and narrow and available in plastic, metal, aluminum, and as a magna-glide core.

M-Style Bobbin

M-Style – This bobbin is about the size of a quarter.  It is large and flat and available in metal, aluminum, plastic, and as a magna-glide core. 

Two asides at this point.  First, you’re probably wondering what a magna-glide core is.  This is the term used for a pre-wound bobbin which has a magnet in it to help it stay anchored in the metal bobbin case used in front loading machines (more about these in a bit).  Second, the majority of household sewing machines use one of these three bobbins.  It’s also worth noting that L-Style bobbins are the same width as Class 15 bobbins.  This means you can use a L-Style bobbin in your Class 15 machines.  However, a Class 15 bobbin is too tall to fit in an L-Style sewing machine.

The next seven bobbins are less common, but it’s nice to know about them.

Singer 163131

Singer 163131 – This is about the size of a quarter and can be disassembled by unscrewing the bottom to quickly remove unwanted thread.  This bobbin is only available in plastic.

Singer 8228

Singer 8228 – This is the bobbin used in most treadle machines.  It’s available only in metal.

Class 15 J

Class 15J – About the size of a nickel, this bobbin looks similar to a Class 15, but has just a slight curve on the top and bottom.  It’s available in metal, plastic, and aluminum.

Class 66

Class 66 – This bobbin is also about the size of a nickel and has a curved top and bottom.  It comes in plastic, metal, and aluminum.

Bernina 0115367000

Bernina 0115367000 – This bobbin is commonly used in the older Bernina machines.  It’s also about the size of a nickel and is available only in metal. 

Juki 270010

Juki 270010 – These are the most common Juki specific bobbins and are very similar to the L-Style bobbins.  These are also the size of a nickel.

Viking Specific 4125615-45

Viking Specific 4125615-45 – This bobbin is a Husqvarna Viking specific, nickel-sized bobbin.  It fits all machines in groups 5, 6, and 7 – mostly the newer machines.

If you truly think it’s the bobbin which is giving you problems, make sure you’re using the right bobbin for your machine.  Consult your manual or use Google to find out what kind of bobbin your machine takes and use that size.  Some machines, such as the Viking Specific 4125615-45 above, is brand-specific – it only works in a particular group of Husqvarna Vikings.  If your machine is one of those which must have brand-specific bobbins, be sure to use them.  And here’s a little extra tidbit about bobbins – there really is no difference between plastic and metal bobbins.  Years ago, there was a big difference between the two because the plastic was inferior and would crack or become brittle as the bobbins aged.  Today’s plastic is much better, and these bobbins work just as well as their metal counterparts. 

Many times, it’s not the bobbin itself giving you issues, but the way the bobbin was threaded.  Be sure the thread is wound evenly and there are no bulges.  The bobbin thread shouldn’t be spongy feeling, either.  If you wind a bobbin and the tension isn’t even or it has more in one area than another, the best piece of advice I can give you is unwind it and start over. 

And honestly, the correct bobbin and a correctly wound bobbin are the two biggest bobbin issues.  Most sewing/thread problems don’t involve the bobbin, but the bobbin case.  To understand those issues, it’s important to recognize the two types of bobbin cases.  There’s the front-loading machine:

Which loads the bobbin in one of these:

A metal bobbin case, which is inserted in the front of the machine.

Then there’s the top-loading machine:

In these machines, the bobbin case is plastic and lies horizontally beneath the feed dogs. 

These bobbin cases tend to stay in the machine, and only the bobbin itself goes in and out.

Each of these types of bobbin cases can have their own unique issues; however, there are some common problems with the two.

  1.  The Bobbin Case Won’t Turn – There could be two reasons for this.  First, your tension may be too tight.  Simply readjust your tension and keep checking the bobbin case.  A slight tweak of the tension may be all that’s needed.  Second, the bobbin may be unevenly threaded.  If this is the case, just wind another bobbin.  It’s important to remember winding a bobbin is not a race.  A slow wind, at an even pace, usually assures even winding.
  2. Bobbin Case Stuck in the Machine – Sometimes this is an easy fix and sometimes it’s not.  The first step is to carefully examine the bobbin case and see if it needs cleaning.  With the case for a front-loading machine, this is pretty easy.  The metal case itself can be looked over quickly as well as the place where the bobbin case rests.  Top-loading machines take a bit more time, as the metal plate beneath the presser foot has to be removed before you can get at the bobbin case.  With both types, examine the case to see if there is any stray threads or lint build up which may prevent the bobbin case from moving.  After you’ve cleaned the area, if the bobbin case still won’t move, then it’s time to call the machine tech.  At this point, they need to figure out what’s wrong. 
  3. Loose Bobbin Case – Call a tech.  Don’t try to take care of this problem yourself. 
  4. Bobbin Case/Bobbin Thread Jams – Both of these problems are the result of the same issues.  First, you may need to oil your machine (if it requires oiling – some of the new models do not).  Second, you may need to clean your machine.  Third, it’s not threaded correctly, and fourth the tension is wonky.  Taking care of any or all of these may solve the jamming issue.  If not, make sure you’re using the right bobbin for your sewing machine.  It’s easy for those of us with multiple machines to get the bobbins mixed up.   One final reason for the jamming may be that you started sewing on the edge of your fabric and knots have already formed, jamming your machine. 
  5. Bobbin Tension Repair – This is way easier to fix than it sounds, but it only works with those machines which use a metal bobbin case like this: 

On the side of the case should be a tiny screw.  In quarter-turn increments, turn the screw counterclockwise to loosen the tension and clockwise to tighten it.  Sometimes you can also help the tension issue out by adjusting the tension on your needle thread.  If your bobbin needs to work a little more, lessen the needle tension up a tad.  Tighten it if the bobbin needs to work less.

  •  Make Sure The Bobbin is Inserted Correctly – Most bobbins have a top and bottom and need to be inserted according to the directions in your sewing machine’s manual 
  •  Make Sure You’ve Disengaged the Machine’s Bobbin Winding Mechanism – With many machines, there’s some type of lever you have to move to get the sewing machine out of bobbin winding mode and back into the regular sewing mode.  New machines may do this automatically once the bobbin is filled (my M7 Continental does) 

One last word about the bobbin and the bobbin case.  Over a period of time and use, the case and bobbin may develop burrs.  To check, run your pinkie finger over them.  If you feel any rough spots, it’s time for a new case or a new bobbin or both. 

But what if you’re pretty certain your issues aren’t with the bobbin or the bobbin case?  If you’re still experiencing stitch issues, there is a standard checklist you can run down.

  1.  Clean your machine.  I think I’ve mentioned this three or four times in today’s blog.  Just remember a clean machine is a happy machine which performs well, runs smoothly, and doesn’t make weird sounds.  You should clean your machine according to your manual regularly and at least once a year take it into a tech for a deep clean and oiling in all those places you can’t reach. 
  2. Rethread the machine.  Honestly, this is my first line of defense.  Most of the time – I’d safely say 80 percent – this is my problem. 
  3. Change the needle.  Needles have a usage life.  Even if they seem to be sewing fine, after about eight hours of sewing, a regular sewing needle should be tossed.  If you’re using titanium, you can double the amount of time.  Even if the needle appears just hunky-dory, eight hours of steady sewing can cause slight bows in the needle.  And don’t forget this picture:

The needle on the left is a new needle.  The picture on the right is the same needle after eight hours of sewing.  You can see how the needle degrades over time and use until the sharp tip has been worn smooth.  Instead of penetrating the fabric, it pokes holes in it. 

I can’t emphasize this enough:  MAINTENANCE IS YOUR MACHINE’S BEST FRIEND.  It solves most of your sewing issues and prolongs the life of your machine. 

I really hope this helps you with any machine problems which may crop up.  Nothing is more disheartening than sitting down to sew (especially after you may have looked forward to it all day) and have your machine develop an attitude.  Most of the time it’s something small, but anytime you feel daunted by a problem, call your sewing machine tech.  They can either re-affirm what you think is wrong and walk you through the fix or make an appointment for you to bring it in. 

Until next week, Make Your Quilt Yours!

Love and  Stitches,

Sherri and Sam