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Should You Monetize Your Quilting?

Why do you quilt?

Valid question with so many answers.  I quilt because I love the creative process, it puts me in contact with other creative people, and it’s a huge stress reliever.  There’s just something about needle, thread, beautiful fabric, and endless possibilities which excites me.  There are probably as many answers to this question as there are quilters.  Now let me ask you another question:  Could you – or would you – consider making money from your art? 

Now there’s a loaded question that could give some explosive answers.  Obviously, some quilters (as well as other fiber artists) make this transition or else we wouldn’t have the myriads of beautiful fabrics, wonderful patterns, and great magazines, web pages, and books.  Afterall, quilting is a multi-million-dollar industry.  There are quilters who are constantly engaged with manufacturers to produce all the quilty things we love.  And if this process wasn’t successful, all those wonderful quilt shows we adore so much wouldn’t be happening.  So, it’s obvious some quilters do bridge the gap between quilter and quilt entrepreneur quite successfully.   Same thing with long arm artists.  Once they feel proficient in their craft, often they will agree to quilt for others. 

And there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that.

When I began sewing in the early eighties, I wasn’t a proficient quilter.  Yes, I made a quilt or two, but I primarily made garments.  More specifically, children’s garments and (believe it or not) equestrian wear, sorority sweatshirts, and square dance costumes (it’s a long story).  I became fluent in children’s garments because I had two kids, although the journey specifically began with my oldest child, my daughter.  I couldn’t afford to dress her like I wanted to, so I learned to sew.  During the eighties, it was still less expensive to make clothing than purchase it (Target didn’t appear in Greensboro until much later).  I learned to smock and make the heirloom children’s dresses.  Word spread.  Soon I had orders from other mothers and (most often) grandmothers.  Then I was asked to teach smocking and heirloom sewing.  Somewhere in this chaos, the wife of one of my husband’s friends asked if I could hem the pants she wore in horse shows.  From there I made her a jacket.  Then the word spread I could make horse show attire – something I had no idea there was even a market for.  In between English Riding clothes and christening gowns, someone else asked me to make them a square dance skirt and word spread again.   Same thing happened with a local university’s sororities and their sweatshirts. 

Soon my sewing was nearly a second full-time job – which in hindsight was a good thing, because my next child, Matt, was born with severe meconium aspiration.  I won’t go into what a wild rollercoaster ride this was, but one of the end results was I could not put him in any type of childcare until he was two.  Colds, respiratory infections, and the like had to be avoided at all costs. 

Suddenly I was home.  I wasn’t working. But my sewing supplied a stable income with flexible hours.  One day I was working on some super cute overalls, but the pattern’s directions were horrible.  By this time, I had five solid years of garment construction under my needle, but the instructions were still confusing me.  So I did what people did in the days before you could Google a pattern:  I picked up the phone and called the pattern company. I asked for clarification.  Somewhere in the process of being transferred for the umpteenth time, I muttered “I could write these directions so much better.”

To which the final customer-service-representative-with-an-attitude told me (quite snippily), “We have professionals who write our pattern instructions.”

“Well, you need to get other, better professionals,” was my reply.  In my defense, I was tired, had two fussy kids, and was behind the eight-ball with this project.  Needless to say, the call ended.  I still had no better clarification, but customer service no longer seemed to be interested nor did they care. 

Long story short, I went to bed that night angry.  The next day, I got up, caffeinated, and made the overalls. 

Then I re-wrote the directions….

And I sent them to pattern company’s head of customer service, along with a long letter about how their customer service was pretty lousy and so were their directions.

Two weeks later, I get a call from the company.  They want me to re-write some pattern instructions.  They would send me some patterns and a check for fabric.  I could make the garments and then re-write the directions.  Afterwards, I could keep the patterns and the garments.  The company would retain the copyright on the directions, but they would pay me for my time and use of my “sewing studio” (which was a corner of my kitchen).  Nothing to lose, I agreed.  A week later, two boxes of patterns show up at my doorstep. 

I wrote all of this to say one thing:  It’s fine to monetize your quilting if given the chance and you want to.  In my situation, I really didn’t have an option but to sew for money because my family needed my income.  Would I have done the same thing if I didn’t have to?  In all honesty, probably not to the extent I did.  I loved making the christening gowns and seeing the delighted faces when I showed my customers the final product.  I reveled in the fact I made a family heirloom.  However, the deadlines were sometimes difficult to deal with and there always was that one customer, who no matter what you did, you couldn’t make happy. 

Would I monetize my quilting?

No.

I know some of you have taken classes with me, and you know I do get paid for teaching, but I consider teaching quilting a joy and lots of fun.  So, yes, this part of my quilting life is monetized.  However, it’s only a small, small part of what occurs in my quilting life.  So why would I decide to make money on my garment sewing, but not my quilting? 

The first obvious reason, of course, is my financial situation at the time.  We had to be super-careful with Matt the first couple years of his life.  I needed to bring in some kind of income, and God, happenstance, Karma – call it whatever you will – worked out a plan for me to do this.  However, I began seriously and exclusively quilting at a later time in my life – around 1998.  Matt had long been declared perfectly healthy and I was working full-time again.  I didn’t need any additional income quilting could contribute to our household budget. 

The second reason is a little more complex.  I didn’t like what all the pressure and deadlines did to my creativity.  When I made garments for my kids, I could choose my own fabric, my own embroidery or smocking plates, and my own pattern.  The only person I had to please was myself (and the kids, once they were old enough to articulate their preferences).  There was freedom in this – I could stretch my creativity as far as I wanted it to go.  However, after a couple of years of sewing for other people, I felt really stifled.  I was making what everyone else wanted, and even if the product was lovely, it wasn’t what I wanted.

I soon lost my joy of sewing and creating.  I dreaded sewing.  I didn’t want to look at my sewing machine.  I had no desire to stitch a stitch.  And this feeling lingered until the time I went back to work on a full-time basis and told my customers I had constructed their last garment.  My sewing machine basically gathered dust as I came to the realization my children were growing faster than I could sew and clothing purchased at Target had less price points than the ones I made.  I was at a crossroads.  There was a fifty-fifty chance I would sell my machine and all but my very basic sewing supplies or find another sewing project easier to manipulate than garments. 

This is when I began quilting in earnest. People won’t outgrow quilts.  I can take as long as I want to make one.  I determine the colors, the fabric, the pattern, any embellishments, the quilting design, and the recipient (if any).  As the freedom of choice returned to me, so did my creativity.

I learned that, at least for me, monetizing my sewing dumbed myself down.  I was so focused on the sole intent of making money with my craft, I was losing a bit of my magic…my sewing mojo…my precious hobby which kept me sane. So, am I telling you I believe no one should make money from quilting?

Absolutely not.  If no one tried their hand a quilting entrepreneurship, we would be at a loss.  No beautiful quilting fabrics.  No wonderful patterns.  No marvelous quilting teachers with awesome workshops. No nifty quilting notions.  What I am saying is this – there must be balance and sometimes finding that balance is tricky.

If you’re the type of quilter who is perfectly fine trading all your creativity off for cash-in-hand, a full-time quilting business will work wonderfully for you.   But if you’re like me and you need at least twenty minutes a day to turn off your “work” brain and engage your “creative” brain in order to feel your best, having all the creative time sucked out of your life could possibly be emotionally crippling.  This is why “professional” quilters/quilt personalities still find time for their own quilting.  They need this creative space in order to be their best. 

Finding this balance boils down to two motivations described by psychologists – extrinsic motivation and intrinsic motivation.  Extrinsic motivation is the drive to make money and gain achievements.  In other words, an extrinsic quilter would make quilts only for financial gain or to compete and win big prizes in quilt shows.  Intrinsic motivation is the drive to do what you love – not for money, fame, the end result, the finished quilt, or the used-up stash.  Intrinsic is internal.  You’re quilting for the love and joy of the process.  Nothing more.  Nothing less.

Every quilter who becomes proficient in the art usually knows what type of quilter they are – extrinsic or intrinsic.  And there may come a time in your quilt journey when you have to cross from one type to the other because things change, and life has plot twists. Sometimes opportunities present themselves to you which are too good to pass up and you find yourself tiptoeing from one camp to the other.  And I’ll be the first person to tell you, switching camps can really make you grow as an artist.  Don’t shy away from the opportunity. 

Now, after nearly 2,000 words of quilty psychology, let’s get down to brass tacks and talk dollars and cents.  Even the most intrinsic of quilters will probably be asked at some point, “How much would you charge to make me a quilt?”

I will tell you what my standard answer is:  My starting (and I put emphasis on the word “starting”) price is $1,000.00.  I have a good reason for flipping this amount out – I figure if the person wanting the quilt doesn’t run for the hills with a $1,000.00 starting price, we could possibly have a serious talk about me constructing the quilt of their dreams. 

This starting price – and your starting price – should be only for your labor and only for a definite amount of time.  Let’s say your hourly rate is $20 an hour (do not sell your quilt know-how short – don’t go for minimum wage).  When we divide $1000 by $20, the result is 50.  A thousand dollars only covers a 40-hour work week, one additional eight-hour day, and two hours of another day.  Knowing what we know about how long making a quilt can actually take, $1000 doesn’t seem too much to charge, does it? 

The customer should also be part of the price equation.  If you’re lucky, the customer will give you a color palate and you can purchase the fabric, backing, and thread.  Should this occasion arise, be sure to mark up what you spend on these as well as other items purchased for use on the quilt (such as specialty rulers you will probably never use again) by 10%.  Just incase you may feel like balking at this, let me reassure you this is broad industry standards.  My husband and I own an environmental company.  If we are undertaking a time and materials project, all materials we purchased are marked up 10%.  The 10% covers your time and fuel.  I would advise, if the customer wants to choose the fabric themselves, ask if you can go with them.  Many non-quilters have no idea about the type or quality of fabric needed to construct a great looking quilt.

The two last items which need to be considered are deadlines and the complexity of the quilt.    In their defense, most non-quilters have no idea how long it takes to make a quilt.  If the needed-by-date is unrealistic, don’t hesitate to turn the project down.  Explain the process of quilt construction, with a rough working timetable for each, as well as how this wouldn’t fit in your schedule.   The complexity of the quilt also needs to be considered.  Some quilts, such as a double wedding ring, can take weeks to construct, even if all the parts go together well.  And if the quilt pattern is beyond what you’re comfortable with in your skill set, don’t be afraid to say no. 

If you do want to sell quilts, it may be a good idea to have some “stock” quilt patterns – those patterns you know exactly how much time and material they take.  Perhaps have a few choices for baby quilts, wedding quilts, and queen-sized quilts (these are the most used sizes).  If you’ve used the pattern several times, you are aware of how much time it takes to make the quilt.  These would be fairly easy to price. If a customer really wants a different quilt, you can either tell them only those choices are available, or the quilt they want would cost more than your “stock” quilts. 

Be clear about the actual “quilting” part of the process.  If you long arm, use a sit-down machine, or your domestic machine, will that be an additional up-charge?  And if you don’t plan on undertaking any of the quilting, be transparent to your customers about it.  Tell them you don’t quilt the quilt – just construct the top – and they will need to find a long armer.  If you have friends who long arm for profit, you may want to recommend them, or have a list of long armers in your area who they can call. 

Above all else, don’t let anyone “guilt” you into making their quilt.  I’ve had friends and family who have attempted this with me.  They believe because quilting is my hobby and passion, I will jump at the chance to make another quilt at no charge if they supply the fabric and other materials.  I have too many quilts I want to make for me to even let theirs be a blip on my radar.  I know that may sound harsh, but it’s a difficult lesson I learned a long time ago when I made heirloom children’s clothing – they won’t stop with just one.  And if you don’t say no the first time, it’s even harder to say no the second. 

Considering how making garments for others almost completely tapped out my creativity, I don’t think I could ever monetize my quilts.  I won’t even long arm for anyone but myself and I have no plans to  monetize my blog.  However, this may be a good option for you.  Just don’t sell yourself or your talent short.  Both are valuable and precious.

Until Next Week, Make Your Quilt Yours!

Sherri

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The Zoom-Zone of Truth

Heads up about this blog, folks…it’s a Zone of Truth today.  I’ve mentioned Zoom in several previous posts.  I’ve explained about how my local guild operates with Zoom, how I’m able to attend guild meetings with a New York guild, how my beloved Applique Society uses Zoom to bring together appliquers from all over the world, and how I meet with quilters for local and international Sit and Sews via Zoom. Through this modern technology, I now have the wonderful opportunity to join other guilds from all the United States as long as I have the app on my computer, a router, modem, and internet. 

Zoom was the modern miracle which kept us all together when the world was falling apart from Covid. 

I guess what I’m surprised at – where this Zone of Truth is – I don’t understand why more quilters don’t take advantage of quilt workshops and classes offered through Zoom.  I’m not talking about monthly guild meetings, but actual, honest-to-goodness quilt classes — the type which once were only taught at quilt shows, large retreats, or in the instructor’s studio.  Trust me, if you’re not taking advantage of all Zoom has to offer concerning quilt workshops and classes, you are seriously shorting yourself.  These have the best of both worlds to offer, and the fees are not outrageous.  The most I have spent in quilt classes was for on-line long arm classes.  The price for these cost me some serious coinage, but the cost included the kit (which contained silks), thread, and two classes a month for six months, and  the class was videotaped.  These tapes are on a teaching platform I can access for the rest of my life.  So the price I paid verses what I received in return was more than a win-win ratio for me.

In many ways (at least in my opinion),  Zoom classes are better than in-person instruction.  First, Zoom has brought quilting teachers from all over the world right to your device.  I’ve taken classes with English, Canadian, Spanish, French, Australian, and New Zealand instructors.  Without Zoom, I would have never been able to do this.  The expenses of travel, lodging, and instruction to six countries would be prohibitive.  But thanks to the internet and PayPal, I can point, click, and then have a front row seat with some of the best quilting teachers in the world.  Which brings me to the second way Zoom classes are awesome…

You literally have a front row seat.  Seriously.  These quilting teachers have pretty much perfected their on-line instruction.  Quite often they work from three or four cameras, switching between them so you’re able to see what they’re doing up close – no crowding around the instructor and her sewing machine, hoping you can get a good view of what’s going on. 

The third reason on-line classes are great is you don’t have to pack up to attend the class or leave it.  I don’t care how careful I am, it seems I always forget something when I have to go to a class.  And it’s just as easy to leave something behind when you pack up to leave.  There’s none of that worry with a Zoom class.  I can’t begin to tell you how wonderful it is to simply walk across my studio and retrieve a tool or a piece of fabric I need.  And once the class is over, I simply put everything away.  There’s no unpacking. 

So how do you find these wonderful on-line instructors?  Most  of the well-known quilting writers/designers/instructors offer Zoom or Zoom-type classes.  Find their website and quite often you’ll come across what they offer and when it’s offered.  Many quilt organizations, such The Applique Society, offer workshops through their organization with well-known and talented instructors.  The Quilt Show offers classes, too.  It may take a bit of searching and some Googling, but there are classes out there for almost every aspect of quilting. 

With all of that said, in some ways an on-line class is no different than an in-person one.  You can’t just show up, turn on your computer, and log-in.  There’s a bit more to it than that.  After you pay your class fee, you are usually given a supply list.  Sometimes this is emailed to you, sometimes it’s on the website where you signed up.  It’s important you have this.  Read through the list and note if there are items on it you don’t have in your studio.  If there are supplies you need, don’t wait until the day before class to get them.  With our supply chain still under stress, it’s not as easy as it was a few years ago to waltz in your LQS or big box store and find everything you need.  Some supplies may have to be ordered, so be sure to allow time for shipping. 

Personally, I always prep for any class a week out  — whether the class is in-person or on-line.  Read through the class instructions.  Some teachers want the fabrics prewashed.  Others may not.  If any prewashing, starching, cutting, or marking needs to be done, do it then.  This allows you to read the directions thoroughly and make sure all the correct steps are taken.  You’ll also find out if there are items you need you didn’t anticipate, such as new rotary blades or thread conditioner.  In addition to this, I make sure I complete a few extra steps normally not listed in class directions.

  1.  If the class involves machine piecing or my long arm, I always wind extra bobbins before the class starts.  Classes don’t move so fast you couldn’t possibly stop and wind a bobbin, but it’s just easier to grab a wound bobbin, drop it in your bobbin case, and keep moving.  Then you don’t feel rushed to try to make up for the time spent winding the bobbin.
  2. Thread your hand sewing needles.  Under normal circumstances, I have no issue getting the thread through the eye of a needle.  But throw the fact I’m in class with this action, and I can’t do it to save my life.  I feel too rushed, the eye of the needle is too small, or I can’t find the needle.  It saves time if you can have your hand sewing needles threaded and ready to go.
  3. Arrange the sewing area into a U-shape, if possible.  Ideally, I like to watch my classes on an iPad.  This is the best way, I think, because there are stands such as this: 

For an iPad.  This can be set directly in front of your sewing machine, at eye level, so you can watch the Zoom class while you sew.  If I can do this for any class I take involving my sewing machine, it keeps me from turning to my left or right to view a laptop.  Then on the left-hand side of my machine, I have my pressing station, and on the right-hand side I have my cutting area.  I don’t have to get up and move to any other part of my studio while the teacher is instructing us.  I set up the same way if I’m taking a hand piecing or a hand applique class. 

  •  Make sure all the standard sewing tools and any specialty tools needed for class are nearby.  Keeping all of those together cuts down on frustration when you can’t find something.
  • If there is a pattern or a book involved with the class, be sure to read through it before the date of the workshop.  If the teacher has written a book on the same topic as your workshop, usually the book is a great investment, even if it’s not required.  The book gives you two advantages:  First, it’s a wonderful way to get to know the instructor.  It gives you an idea about how he or she may pace the class, what will be emphasized, what kind of sense of humor the teacher employs, and what parts he or she is a real stickler about.  Second, it lets you know if any additional tools may be good to have on hand, even if they’re not listed on the supply sheet. 

If a pattern is required for the class, reading through the pattern does the same thing, with one additional caveat:  it allows you to know ahead of time if you want to construct every part of the pattern the same way class calls for it to be made.  If you quilt for a while and try out different techniques for basic block units, I guarantee you this will happen – you’ll discover a construction method you will not compromise on for any class with any instructor.  For me, you cannot beat making four patches via the strip-pieced method.  I’m good at it, I’m fast at it, and I’m extremely accurate with it.  If a pattern calls for four-patches, this is the way I will make them unless there’s a very good reason for me not to.  I have similarly strong feelings about flying geese and half-square triangles. 

  •  Check your rotary blades and your sewing machine needle.  If either or both are dull, change them.  And if the class calls for a particular type of thread which needs a particular type of needle, make sure that sized needle is already in your machine before class starts. 
  • A small design wall comes in handy.  I make sure mine is close by in case I need it for class. 
  • Make sure you have food and drink nearby.  If you’re taking a class which is several hours long, lunch can be a toss up.  Some teachers I’ve had incorporate a designated lunch break for students (around 30 minutes).  Others don’t.  If you don’t see it indicated somewhere in the class information, assume there isn’t a lunch break.  If the class is a morning one, and you need a warm caffeinated beverage to assist you with your alertness, you may want to pour that pot of coffee or tea in a thermos or carafe and have it in your studio.  I make sure I have several bottles of water nearby (stay hydrated!) and some high-protein snacks as well.  If there is a designated lunch, I make a sandwich or fix a salad before class starts and have it ready to go.  I have learned if there is a lunch period, many of the students hang out on the Zoom class and eat together.  It’s a great way to make new friends. 
  • Make SURE your viewing device is fully charged.  Most of the time, a fully charged device is good for a class which is a few hours.  However, as a backup, it’s a good idea to have your chargers nearby and be able to plug them in without disrupting your classroom experience. 
  • Remember to stand and stretch.  Sitting for hours at a time is hard on your body.  If you find your once-comfy sewing chair becoming uncomfortable, a cushion can be helpful, also. 

By now, most of us have used Zoom or at least have more than a passing knowledge about it.  If you need a refresher before your class there are lots of YouTube videos which explain the process.  However, just like at an in-person class, there are some etiquette guidelines to follow – and the first one is how the teacher wants questions asked.  Some teachers are fine with you speaking up and asking while the class is conducted.  Others want you to put your questions in the chat module.  If this isn’t indicated in the class information, ask this question before the teacher begins instruction.  Second, mute yourself (if the instructor doesn’t) when class starts.  No matter how much and how often you’ll tell the people you live with you have class, you’ll get interrupted, and the other folks don’t need to hear those conversations.  Likewise, your cell phone may ring.  And here’s a helpful hint:  if your bandwidth is giving you issues, muting your mic and turning off your camera can sometimes give it a little bit more room and help your viewing situation to run smoothly. 

Fourth – and this one is really important – Don’t try to video tape the class via the Zoom option or with your cell phone.  Doing this had never even filtered through my mind, because I know these workshops and classes are one of the ways our quilt instructors/teachers put food on their tables and pay their bills.  However, not-so-long ago, I took a class from an internationally known long arm artist and she requested we leave our video on at all times.  Being curious, I asked her why.  She told me previously she had allowed students to keep their cameras off if they wanted, but then she found out one of her students turned their laptop camera off, but video taped the entire class on their cell phone and then loaded it all up on YouTube!   Having the students keep their cameras on during class prevented this from happening again.  Unless the instructor has given you express permission, don’t video any of the workshop.

Finally, be forgiving.  In many ways, Zoom classes are no different from in-person classes.  Accidents happen. There are delays.  With Zoom or any internet classes, connections can be faulty, equipment can balk at the worst times, and cameras can fall off their stands.  Most teachers are prepared for this and can quickly get class back on track.  However, none of them have control over the internet providers.  Sometimes connections can get sketchy.  I’ve had classes completely rescheduled because of this.  Just keep in mind all of us are human and there’s only so much we can do.  But I will add this – in my experience, disruptions such as bad internet connections rarely happen.  Overall, I would give all of my Zoom/internet class experience a solid 98.

That’s it.  This is my Zone of Truth for today.  Take a Zoom class or find an internet class which interests you.  Maybe start with a one-day class which only lasts a couple of hours, then take a longer one. If you don’t try one of these wonderful quilting options, you’re missing out on some awesome learning experiences – trust me on this one.

Until Next Week, Make Your Quilt Yours!

Love and Stitches,

Sherri

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How to Handle Your Curves (The Sequel)

I’ve written a blog for a good while now.  I looked at my older blogs (quilteratheart.blogspot.com) and those go back to January 2011.  In short, I’ve blogged about quilts, quilters, and quilting for nearly 12 years. That’s a lot of words, a lot of stitches, and a whole lot of fun.  I’m not about to quit now, but at this point after so many years, I’m bound to repeat myself. And this is one of those blogs. 

In a way, I think this is natural.  Quilting isn’t static.  New tools, new fabrics, and new technologies are always in play in our art form.  Couple those with the fact quilters as a whole are highly innovative and are constantly developing new techniques and you’ve got continuously changing craft.  Which brings me to this week’s topic:  Curves.

I promised a blog on this a few weeks ago and after the marathon two-parter on guilds, I knew I needed to get back to a “how to” blog, as these tend to interest the majority of my faithful readers (of which I am incredibly thankful for).  However, as I was putting in my rough outline, there was this niggling feeling in the back of my mind: Hadn’t I already written a blog on this?  And wasn’t it fairly recent?  Or did I just think I wrote a blog on curves because I felt I needed to write a blog on curves and my subconscious was throwing me a curveball about the whole curvy blog situation?  This was what was running through my over-active brain about 3 a.m.

Seriously.

So, after pouring myself a cup of coffee this morning and grabbing a half of a bagel, I did a Google search on my blog sherriquiltsalot.com and curves.  Sure enough, there it was:  November 25, 2020 – How to Handle Your Curves (https://sherriquiltsalot.com/2020/11/25/how-to-handle-your-curves/).  It’s almost two years old, and everything that I wrote then applies now.  However, I have learned a few more tricks I want to share with you.  I suggest if you haven’t read that blog (or can’t remember it), go and give it a quick read.  It reviews the way I handle curves and my techniques haven’t changed that much.  What I would like to do with this week’s blog is expound on some of those methods and make them easier for you. 

I love quilts with curves.

For me there’s something very soothing in gentle curves.  It allows the eye to freely travel over the quilt top, viewing each block.  Gentle curves are my favorite, not only because they’re easy to piece, but also because I think they’re more attractive. 

The smaller, tighter curves almost demand the eye follow them across the quilt.  They make your line of vision move fairly quickly.  I also think the tighter curves have endless possibilities as far as quilt blocks go.  I’ve used the tighter curves to make birds, entire circles, and all sorts of “joiner” blocks or block units.  In general, I’m talking about this little block:

This block is known as Drunkard’s Path, and my November 2020 blog goes into the history of this little square.  It can be used by itself or as a block unit in a larger block.

Before we jump into what I’ve learned since 2020, let’s review a few of the basic guidelines concerning curves.

  1.  Starch or Best Press #2 is your quilting BFF for this block.  Because both pieces of Drunkard’s Path employ curves, you’re constantly dealing with bias.  To keep the bias stable so it doesn’t stretch hopelessly out of shape, liberally spray your fabric with either starch or Best Press #2 before cutting, no matter if you prewash or not.  I’ve found several applications of either work best.  Lightly spray the fabric, then press in with a hot, dry iron.  Do this several times until the fabric almost feels like paper.  Don’t try to perform this step with one heavy application of starch or Best Press #2.  Soaking the fabric with either and then trying to press it dry only results with lots of flaking. 
  2. You will work with templates.  If you want to trace around your templates and then cut them out with scissors, make sure your marking tool doesn’t drag across the fabric and your scissors are sharp.  If you’re using acrylic templates and a rotary cutter, a smaller cutter (such as a 28 mm) works better than a larger one.  Make sure your blade is sharp and doesn’t drag across the bias.
  3. If traditional piecing is the technique you want to use, be sure to pin, pin, pin.  Judiciously.  Please read my November 2020 blog for more information on this.
  4. When it comes to sewing the two pieces of fabric together, remember two things:  First, speed is not your friend.  Sew slowly.  Sometimes a walking foot works better for Drunkard’s Path than a traditional quarter-inch piecing foot, as it feeds both pieces of fabric evenly over the feed dogs and under the needle. Second, you may find a scant ¼-inch seam allowance is easer to control than the full quarter inch.

With the basics covered, let’s move onto what I’ve learned since the first blog. 

Glue is a viable option for pins.  That’s right.  Basting glue can be substituted for pins.  If you hate stopping and starting during the sewing process (because you shouldn’t sew over pins), you may want to try glue basting the two pieces of the Drunkard’s Path together instead of pinning.  It takes a bit of patience and some good basting glue (such as Roxanne’s Glue Stick), but this works well for curves, especially the gentle ones.  I have used it for tighter, smaller curves, but honestly, it sometimes takes longer to glue baste these tiny curves than it does to pin them.  You have to decide which you detest more – sewing over pins or spending more time on glue basting.

Correct pressing is incredibly important.  Remember in my 2020 blog, I named the two pieces of the Drunkard’s Path.  This is “pie”:

And this is a la Mode:

In nearly every Drunkard’s Path block, you press towards the “a la mode” piece, even if this piece is a lighter colored fabric than the “pie.”  If the curve is super-tight, you may find snipping the curve helps the pressed seam lie flat.  However, there’s also this pressing tool:

This is called a tailor clapper.  If you may remember this semi-obscure sewing tool if you took tailoring or home ec.  Your mother or grandmother may have had one in their sewing or ironing space.  And if you’re thinking, “Hey, that’s just a big block of wood!”  you would be absolutely correct.  A clapper works by quickly dissipating the heat from a freshly pressed seam.  Once the seam is pressed, run the clapper over top of it.  Because the wood rapidly dispels the heat, the seam lies flatter than if you allowed it to cool on its own.    I’ve found using a clapper on a Drunkard’s Path seam results in a smoother, flatter seam without snipping any fabric.

There are options other than templates.

If you have a computerized fabric cutter, such as a Brother Scan and Cut, downloadable templates are available for Drunkard’s Path.  This method requires some additional fabric prep, and you can only cut so many at a time, but the trade-off is both block unit pieces are extremely accurate.  Plus there’s no tracing and cutting on your part or dealing with pushing a rotary cutter around curvy acrylic templates.  Likewise if you have an Accuquilt cutter – it has Drunkard Path dies.

Remember applique – by either hand or machine – is always an alternative.

The Drunkard’s Path block is only two units, but those units are curved.  If you machine piece them, you’re placing a concave curve to a convex curve, pinning or glue basting like crazy, and then sewing them together. This takes time and patience.  And while gently sloping curves aren’t too difficult and neither are large Drunkard’s Path blocks, I find myself using a different technique if the blocks are smaller than 6-inches and/or has a tight curve – applique by machine or by hand.    Truthfully, hand appliqueing the curves takes no longer than machine piecing. I think raw-edge applique may be the quickest way to make Drunkard’s Path blocks and gives the least headaches! 

I hope this additional information for managing your curves is helpful.  The longer you quilt and the more you’re exposed to different technique and tools, the more you find yourself changing up the way you make your blocks and quilts.  I think I may comb through some of my older blogs and give a few updates on them.  There are some older techniques I seldom use any longer.  The quilting field is always changing and evolving.  It always has and always will.  Embrace the change.

I do realize other quilts have curves – such as the Double Wedding Ring.  Even though those curves are a bit different from the curves of Drunkard’s Path, quilters must remember this:  A curve is a curve, regardless of the block.  All curves can be handled the same way (although I don’t think I would applique the rings of the Double Wedding Ring Quilt – that would look a bit odd to me).

For those of you who have sent messages and emails concerning my COVID diagnosis, I do have an update.  The doctor did give me a prescription cough medicine and orders to rest as needed and not push myself.  He also told me to return to his office in two weeks if I was not better.  Thankfully, the cough medicine was a miracle worker and did the trick.  The fatigue is almost all gone, so I think I can safely say I don’t have the Long Haul Covid.  However, this new strain going around is something.  If I did not know I had been exposed, I honestly would have thought for the first couple of days I just had a bad head cold. Ya’ll take care of yourselves!

Love and Stitches,

Sherri

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Quilt Guilds: What’s the Bang for the Buck, What are Your Responsibilities, and How to Form One if Needed (Take Two)

Last week I discussed what quilt guilds were and what they weren’t   We talked a little bit about how they operate and how guilds differ from other quilting groups.  This week, I still want to highlight quilt guilds, but this time I want to tell you how you can benefit from joining a guild.  After all when you join a guild, dues are paid.  It’s important to know what you’ll get out of those dues.  And in the spirit of transparency, these points are subjective – they’re certainly things I’ve received from the guilds I belong to, and I have no reason to doubt other guilds aren’t at least similar.

You establish friendships with people who have the same passion as you do. 

If you join a quilt guild, you will not only be amongst folks who love quilting as much as you do, you will also find quilters at all different levels – beginning, intermediate, advanced, and a special group I call “The Grand Dames of Quilting” – those quilters who have quilted long enough they can look at a quilt and not only tell you how to make it, but also have expert skill in every area needed to make the quilt. 

Also in complete transparency, I can tell you my fellow guild members are some of my closest friends.   As you talk about your shared passion of quilts and quilting, you get to know each other on other levels, too.  And these friendships – across all levels and types of quilters – are priceless.

Belonging to a guild makes you a better quilter.

Remember how I discussed in my first blog that the show and tells are phenomenal?  Yes, they are inspiring and breath taking and encouraging (I’ve never heard a quilter criticize another quilter’s quilt at show and tell — it’s all remarkably supporting), but viewing those quilts somehow makes you want to become a better quilter. 

Likewise the educational programs push you in directions you may have never thought about undertaking as a quilter.  Not once did I ever think I would make an art quilt, but after a couple of guild programs on that genre, I tried one.  I found out I not only love looking at art quilts, but I have a great time making them.  They are so creative, and you can use just about any technique.  If my guild had not offered educational programs on art quilts, I may not ever had attempted one. 

There’s access to swaps, raffles, and free tables.

In my opinion, one of the best things about guild meetings is the free table.  Each month, members can bring sewing related items they no longer use, want, or need: fabric, patterns, thread, books, magazines, etc.  These are put on the free table and guild members (and their guests) can shop the table and take anything they want for free.  Those items left over at the end of the meeting are donated to Good Will or another charity. 

This is great!  It keeps items out of the landfill and allows folks to clean out unwanted items.  And what you may no longer need may be the exact item someone else does!

Swaps are a little different and generally involve fat quarters, fabric squares, blocks, or 2 ½-inch strips.  The best way I can define this for you is to give an example.  Let’s say the guild announces it will have a fat quarter swap.  Those members who want to participate sign up.  For the sake of example, let’s say 10 guild members sign up, including you.  At the next guild meeting you bring 10 identical fat quarters. Every other member also brings 10 fat quarters. These can be pulled from your stash or purchased.  Each of the other nine participates receive one of your fat quarters and you keep one for yourself.  At the end of the meeting, you leave with nine fat quarters (one from each of the other folks), as well as the one of your own you kept for yourself.  My favorite swaps are quilt block swaps.  A quilt block (such as a nine-patch) in a designated size would be announced.  Each member would make enough blocks for their swap.  It’s amazing the variations you can get, and it’s so much fun figuring out how to use them.

Raffles are a great way to have a chance at winning some quilt related items at a very low cost.  Someone in the guild will put together a basket with quilting supplies, or perhaps offer a nice gift certificate to a local quilt shop.  You can purchase tickets (usually at $1 per ticket) for a chance to win the item.  If you’re ticket’s drawn, it’s yours!  If not, you’re out very little cash.  Usually all monetary proceeds from the raffle go into the guild’s general fund to support programs. 

You have opportunities to participate in challenges and contests.

Once in a while, the guild president or executive board will issue a challenge.  Sometimes this challenge can be as simple as incorporating the guild logo into a quilt.  Other times, it’s a bit more difficult.  For example, the High Point Quilt Guild just had an ugly fabric challenge.  A fabric store gave our guild several yards of…well…not-so-attractive fabric.  Unsure of what exactly to do with this…gift… the executive board issued an Ugly Fabric Challenge.  The yardage was divided into fat quarters and given to those members who wanted to participate.  The fabric had to be incorporated into a quilt or quilted item.  However, to make this challenge more challenging, there were rules:

  1. It must be a “traditional” quilt – it should have a top, middle and back.
  2. At least 30 percent of the quilt must use the fabric given out for the challenge. 
  3. The challenge fabric cannot be used as the binding or backing.
  4. The quilt can be no larger than 42-inches by 42-inches and no smaller than 24-inches x 24-inches. The measurements can fall anywhere in these parameters (in other words, it could measure something like 30-inches x 24-inches). 

Challenges are great and they force you out of your quilting comfort zone.  They are fun and make you a better quilter.  And this was the winning quilt constructed by my good friend, Karen. The ugly fabric was the material used to make the purple flowers (imagine yards of this…Oy-vey).

Sometimes guild will hold contests.  These work like challenges.  The president or board gives a theme for quilts and a deadline.  Quilts are turned in, judged (usually by the guild members casting votes) and prizes are given.

There’s lots of inspiration and quilt education.

I’ve mentioned before the show and tells at guild meetings are so inspirational.  This really helps keep your creative juices flowing.  Guild meetings are also educational.  Sometimes there are speakers who will discuss their area of expertise – color theory, accurate piecing, applique – the list of topics is endless, and with Zoom now firmly in place with most guilds and teachers, guilds can book speakers from literally all over the world. 

A guild membership may also net you a percentage off at your local LQS.

Many LQS’s offer a percentage off to shoppers who show a valid guild membership card.  Usually this is 10 percent.  Local quilt shops do this to build good will with local guilds.

If there’s a quilt retreat involved, it’s worth the membership.

In my previous blog about guilds, I mentioned how wonderful these events are.  Seriously.  Trust me.  If you find a local guild who offers a yearly quilt retreat, take advantage of it.  You won’t be disappointed.

Realize guild meetings have changed.

Zoom has changed the way guilds meet.  Some guilds have gone to Zoom only meetings, and then break out into smaller groups to meet in person for sit and sews.  Some guilds have their major monthly meeting on Zoom and then hold their business meeting in person.  Some guilds have a hybrid meeting – you can meet in person, but it’s also broadcast via Zoom.  And some guilds are like my local guild – during daylight savings time we meet in person, but when the time changes we revert to Zoom.  This is helpful to our older members who don’t like to drive at night.

And while Zoom is great for guild meetings, it’s also great for quilters who would like to join a guild but either don’t have a local one or the guild they would like to join is too far away to drive to.  Now instead of guild membership being comprised of only locals, folks from all over the world have the potential to join your guild. 

No spouses, no kids.

I do realize there are exceptions to this.  My High Point Guild has a lovely couple who quilt together.  But for the most part, a guild meeting is a couple of hours where you’re with people who share your passion, and the spouse and kids are at home.  This option, for a lot of people, is a great reason to join a guild

So, you ponder what I have written and decide to join a guild.  You’ve paid your dues, and you’ve received your membership card.  Now what?  As a founding president and past president of a guild, I can tell you membership has its rewards, but it also has some responsibilities:

  • Remember dues are paid annually. 
  • Be there for guild meetings – either online or in person.  Don’t just attend when the speaker is interesting.  There is a lot of work on the part of the executive board to produce interesting meetings which are also a lot of fun.  Support your guild and your executive board by showing up.
  • Volunteer to serve on committees.  This is a great way to show support for the entire guild and a great way for you to learn how things operate –which you should.  You’ve paid dues to join, it’s only prudent you understand how and why the guild operates the way it does.  Believe me when I tell you the guild officers are always looking for folks to serve on committees.  They will welcome you with open arms.
  • Hold an office.  Not right away, of course, but plan at some point in the future to hold an office.  One of the biggest gripes I heard when I was president of the High Point Guild was this: “The same group of people are always in charge!”  Know what?  It was the same group of people who always volunteered.  After you attended meetings for a while and worked on a committee, run for office.  It doesn’t have to be the presidency.  There are other elected offices.   
  • Plan to participate.  I realize folks can’t be at every guild event.  Life happens.  Sometimes there are vacations and sickness and other events beyond your control.  However, as much as you are able, plug into workshops, charity sews, retreats, etc.  You’ll learn a lot about guild members you don’t know, as well as show your support.
  • If you’re in a position of leadership, plug new people in.  The longer new guild members just sit in a chair at a meeting, the harder it will be to get them active.  Ask them to serve on a committee or help with some event.  This will make them feel wanted (as they should be, because they are) and this encourages them to keep coming back to meetings and participating.
  • BE FRIENDLY.  I cannot emphasize this enough. It’s easy to “group off” at guild meetings.  You see your friends and you want to get caught up.  This is natural and it should happen.  But greet other members and especially speak to new people.  This is so important.  I can personally relate to this.  Back in the early nineties I was a new quilter.  The school secretary where my kids attended found out.  It happened this woman was an avid quilter and belonged to (at that time) the only guild in Guilford County.  She invited me to attend.  I did so eagerly, thinking I would have a chance to meet other quilters and learn new things.  Know what happened?  No one – not one person – at that meeting spoke to me.

I never went back.  It left such a bad taste in my mouth that I rarely even attend this guild’s quilt shows. 

  • Be encouraging.  When show and tell is presented, compliment the quilter.  Thank the speaker.  Support the executive board and president.
  • If you have an idea, have a follow through.  It’s great to have ideas, and believe me, your guild’s board wants to hear them.  However, what will make your idea become reality is to have a rough plan on how to make it work.  It will help the other guild members “see” what your plan is and how it will be successful.  The guild certainly won’t expect you to handle everything yourself, but it will help them see the resources the guild will need to make it happen.  Plus, it will get members excited about your idea.

Okay, so what if there’s no local quilt guild near you and you would really like to have one?

Form one!

It’s not too difficult and you don’t need a large group of quilters to start.  I had a hand in starting the High Point Quilt Guild, so I would like to walk you through the steps we took to form our guild.

Our guild began from a group of quilters who met at a Tuesday night sit and sew.  We had enough interest to form a guild within this group, but before we called our first organizational meeting, this group did some leg work.

We started by contacting some existing guilds and asked them for a copy of their bylaws, amendments, and newsletters.  Once they understood what we were undertaking, the older guilds were happy to share their knowledge and experience.  Most guilds have a webpage, and often these items are on it.  We also talked to other guild members about how much they charged for dues, how they handled their finances, what kind of charity work they undertook, and how they found speakers. 

While some of us were taking care of this, another group was looking for a meeting place and placing notices in local quilt shops, fabric stores, community centers, hobby shops, and churches.  We also established a social media presence.  Once we had most of this nailed down, we called a community meeting to establish the guild.  I was hopeful we would have a dozen or so folks attend.

The room was packed.

Because the initial group was well-prepared by this point, we adopted bylaws and elected officers that same night.  From there, we began meeting monthly.  After the first few months, we established our charity program and before long we had our first quilt show.  This was over ten years ago.  Our guild has changed – our current membership doesn’t look much like the initial membership – but our commitment to our charity quilt program and educational outreach remains strong.  We learned to bend with circumstances (like introducing Zoom when Covid hit).  We’re committed to each other and work hard to make our guild a success. 

So if you’re thinking about forming a guild, this may be the plan you want to follow.  However, there are also some additional questions and ideas your group will need to ponder.

  1.  Will guild file to be a 510C3?
  2. Will the guild be opened to everyone, or will we limit membership? 
  3. Will the guild operate under a primary purpose (such as charity quilts) or will it have several areas of purpose?
  4. Where will your meetings be held?  It works best if you can find a central location
  5. How many times a month will you meet?  Once a month and have the business meeting part of the guild incorporated into the regular meeting or have the business meeting separately?  Will you hold one meeting during the day and another at night? 
  6. What time will meetings be held?
  7. What types of programs will interest members?  It’s a good idea to know if your members are primarily beginners or intermediate at this point.  Block-of-the-month, secret sister, challenge blocks, row-by-rows, round robins are all programs most skill levels enjoy. 
  8. It’s a good idea to have some outside speakers come in, but also know and utilize the talent in your group.
  9. Plan to adapt the bylaws and amendments in a speedy manner, as well as elect officers early on.  If the membership votes to become a 510C3, begin the filing process.  You must register with the state you form in first before you can begin filing with the IRS.  Once you’ve registered with your state, you have over a year to file with the IRS (which gives you time to fund raise for the fee the government charges). 
  10. Decide on what the annual dues will be and what they will cover.  Will dues cover speakers and administrative only, or will the charity quilt program also have a line item in the budget?  Will workshops and retreats be paid for by additional fees charged to members or will the guild absorb some of this expense? 
  11. There are other guild officers besides the president, vice-president, secretary, and treasurer.  Other positions which should be considered are program director, librarian, newsletter editor, historian, charity quilt coordinator, community education outreach director, and membership.  Not all of these have to be elected positions.  Your guild may decide to set some of these positions up as committees and the elected board can ask people to serve on them.  I do like the way our guild has set up the president/vice president offices.  The vice president automatically succeeds the president, which gives our guild some continuity. 
  12. Always remember Zoom has opened up a lot of doors for guilds.  Make it work for you, too.

If you’re not a member of a guild, I hope these two blogs have given you some ideas about how guilds operate and why they’re really good organizations to belong to.  Quilt guilds work hard to be a bright spot in their community and in the lives of area quilters.  If there’s a guild near you, I encourage you to check them out and join.  And once you join, plan to contribute.  And if there’s no guild near you, but you want to form one, I hope I’ve given you enough direction to begin the process. 

Until next week, Make Your Quilt Yours!

Love and Stitches,

Sherri

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Quilt Guilds — What They Are, What They Aren’t, and Why They’re Important (Take One)

Today I want to go back and explore a sub-topic introduced in my blog on 1970 quilts (https://sherriquiltsalot.com/2022/06/18/those-groovy-1970-quilts/).  Towards the end of it, I mentioned the folks who became quilters during this decade formed our quilt guilds.  It’s this group – the guilds – I want to focus on this week:  What is a quilt guild, what’s not a quilt guild, and why these guilds are beneficial to quilters. 

Let’s start by taking a look at the history of quilt guilds.  Historically, guilds have been around for hundreds of years.  Guilds were groups of craftsmen and artisans who met together for the purpose of safeguarding their craft or trade.  Each group had certain standards for their members and if you hired one of these craftsmen to do a job, the project was completed thoroughly and accurately.  A craft guild guaranteed a certain quality of work.  Sometimes these guilds even had uniforms or “dress codes” for their members, which meant you knew who belonged to what guild on sight. 

 Each occupation had its own guilds.  There were guilds for masons, brick layers, stone cutters, butchers, etc.  These groups weren’t like our modern labor unions, but they did protect their craft and their membership.  Quilt guilds – or at least quilt guilds as we know them – really didn’t form until the late 1970’s.  You must understand where these seventies quilters were historically.  Quilting took a hit in popularity from 1940-ish until the mid to late sixties.  As more and more women entered the workplace, they had less and less time for quilting.  The 1970’s ushered in a renewed interest in all handcrafts and the Bicentennial’s emphasis on early American arts such as quilting, pushed our craft back into America’s consciousness.  An entirely new group of people became interested in quilting, and by the end of the decade they had become extremely proficient in the art.  As a result, the seventies transformed quilting almost as much as the 1930’s.  New tools, new fabrics, and new quilting standards were embraced.   As the eighties dawned, these now-proficient quilters realized two things.  First, they had to teach the next generation of quilters, and second, these beginning quilters needed time to meet with the advanced quilters to learn the art, be supported, and have the same type of fellowship the 1970’s quilters had.  As a matter of fact, two of the larger quilt guilds in my area were formed in 1981 and 1982, directly as a result of the 1970’s quilt revival. 

The outcome of the 1970’s quilt revival was two different types of quilt groups.  There were bees and sit and sews, and then there were quilt guilds. Both types of these groups are beneficial to quilters in many ways, but quilt guilds are different from sit and sews and quilt bees in at least seven different areas.

Guilds have a democratic system of teaching, sharing, and community service, although most of the teaching is very informal.

Everyone is welcome to share information, offer tips and tricks, and become involved in the guild’s community service projects.  This usually also occurs in other non-guild quilt groups to varying degrees.

There are by laws, elected officers, and dues are collected.

A guild is not guided by an individual’s or group’s preferences.  When a guild forms, they write their own “rules” called by laws.  If changes to the by laws need to be made, amendments can be issued by the elected officers and voted on by the guild.  The guild also charges dues to become a member.  The funds collected from the dues are used for speakers and other fun stuff the guild wants to do.  The amount charged for dues is suggested by elected officers and voted on by the members.  These are usually only paid once a year.

There’s less of a social aspect in a guild than in a sewing group. 

Here me out, because I know a lot of you guild members are thinking, “No…I have a great time with my friends at guild meeting!”  I hear you…I feel the same.  However, think about this:  At a sit and sew or bee you can chat with your friends, conversation trends from one topic to another, there is no agenda, no goals, no real schedule other than you have to leave by a certain time.  With a guild, there’s generally an agenda.   You have a social time, a speaker or program, a business meeting, show and tell, and announcements.  There’s limited time for chit chat. While a great time is had by all, a guild meeting is different than a sewing group.

Guilds have an active charity program.

Bees and other quilt groups may decide, from time to time, to undertake charity sewing.  The biggest example of this is the recent COVID pandemic.  When the virus first reared its ugly head and there was a shortage of masks, it seemed everyone jumped in and sewed masks.  Masks were made by the thousands by individuals, quilt groups, and quilt guilds.  When supply met up with demand, sewers backed off on the mask making.  Some quilt groups will make quilts or other needed items as asked or when they see a need they can meet, but it may not be an organized, consistent effort. 

Quilt guilds are a little different.  Within the mission statement or in the by laws, generally you’ll find a statement about their charity program.  The guild is plugged into one or more organizations they supply quilts or quilted items.  The charity quilt program has its own committee, its own chair, and (at least in my local guild) has its own line item in our budget.  It’s an on-going guild project which never stops and starts.

Guilds promote quilting, pass on the tradition, and embrace and encourage the new.

Personally, I think no other group of folks promote the art of quilting more than guilds.  If presented with an opportunity to educate anyone about what quilts are, their place in history, and how to make quilts, a guild will jump on it.  Like most crafters, we are acutely aware we’re one generation from losing the art to history.  We love seeing our guild numbers grow because the increase in membership means we’ve gotten more people excited about quilts and quilters. 

Not only that, but as the field of quilting changes, quilters tend to embrace that change.  An example which comes to mind is Modern Quilting.  For years pieced and appliqued quilts were very traditional, even if new fabric lines were used.  Along came Modern Quilting and gave traditional quilting a shot in the arm.  Blocks were deconstructed, negative space was celebrated, brash solid colors like orange dominated the palate, and straight-line quilting was the star of the show.  I remember reading the quilt magazines at the time.  They would explain the movement and how it was changing quilting.  The art world, at least for a while, didn’t know what to make of it.

You know what group did embrace it?  The guilds.  They listened to the quilters tell their story about the quilt – why they made it, what appealed to them about the quilt.  They examined the quilts..  Ohh’ed and ahhh’d over them.  Encouraged these quilters and welcomed them to the wonderful world of quilting. 

For us, it wasn’t a lot to understand.  It was a group of folks who loved making quilts.  They may make them differently than we did, but they were quilters.  That’s all that mattered. 

Show and Tells are PHENOMINAL.

Usually with every guild program, there’s a “Show and Tell” segment.  During this time quilters bring finished quilts, quilts in the middle of construction, or simply some blocks.  They stand up in front of the guild (it’s not as scary as it sounds), and briefly talk about their project. 

This is wonderful for two reasons.  If you’re the person showing your project, and you need some suggestions on anything (such as how to quilt it, does this color work with the palate, etc.,) you will get honest answers with a great deal of quilty wisdom behind them.  Second, these show and tells are incredibly inspiring.  It’s really so motivating to see other quilters’ quilts.  I know we can go online and look at some beautiful quilts, but to see gorgeous quilts up close and personal, made by folks we know just ramps up the inspiration.

Guilds offer libraries, workshops, retreats, and quilt shows.

Some guilds have lending library.  In this library are books, magazines, quilting tools, stamps, patterns, and other items you can check out just like at a “regular” library and return at the next monthly meeting.  This is a wonderful system and is helpful to quilters at all quilting levels. 

From time to time, guilds will offer workshops.  These are usually day-long or half-day classes with a quilting teacher.  Sometimes a pattern or quilt is taught, sometimes techniques are.  Usually the guild charges a separate fee for the workshops, as this fee must cover the teacher’s mileage, meals, and hotel (if needed).  One of the good byproducts of COVID is Zoom classes and workshops.  When the virus shut us all down, quilting teachers were still booked for classes.  With a little ingenuity and practice, most of those instructors moved their workshops to the Zoom platform, meaning guild members could take the workshop from the comfort of their own studio and the quilt teacher didn’t have to pack everything in her studio up and spend the weekend out of town.  Guilds didn’t have to pay for mileage, meals, or hotels, so the workshop fees remained at a reasonable rate.

Guilds also may offer quilting retreats.  I will be completely transparent at this point:  A quilt retreat is good enough reason to join a guild.  Seriously.  My local guild has two a year.  The one in the spring is a day retreat.  We meet somewhere locally, sew all day long, go back home and sleep, get up the next day and do it all over again.  This goes on for three or four days.  In the fall we have an overnight quilt retreat at Haw River State Park in Brown Summit, NC.  I’m throwing out the park’s name because they are used to quilters and will set up the rooms especially for them.  For four days, we sew.  Meals are provided at this retreat, so we literally don’t have to lift a finger.  We sew, eat breakfast.  Then we sew and eat lunch.  Then we sew and eat dinner.  Then we sew until we’re too tired to stitch another stitch and go to our rooms there at the park and sleep until the next morning so we can get up and do it all again.  The park fees are extremely affordable. 

I get so much accomplished at these retreats.  And what’s even better, we have such good, quilting fellowship.  We teach each other and encourage one another.  I come away refreshed and renewed. 

Quilt shows are another event guilds participate in.  Sometimes a guild is large enough to hold their own quilt show, and if your guild does, plan to participate.  For most guilds, their quilt show is the major fund-raising event for two years.  Attending other guilds’ shows is something nearly all guilds do. If there’s a guild quilt show that’s fairly local, it’s nothing for members to load up and all attend the show.  They’ll shop the vendor mall, gaze at the quilts, and then generally a meal is involved.

The same goes with shop hops.  This may be an organized effort between quilt shops which are located within an hour or less of each other or it may be an “unorganized” effort between guild members who want to visit several LQS’s together.  Either way, a lot of fun is had (and a lot of fabric is purchased).  Again, there’s usually at least one meal involved. 

In other words, a guild will offer lots of opportunities for fun and quilty fellowship for their members, as well as educational opportunities.  You don’t always get that in a quilt bee.

The guild is conducted like a business.

Besides the facts there are by laws and elected officers, guilds do operate like a business, because in many aspects they are – or more specifically, a nonprofit.  Dues are collected.  Additional fees may be charged.  Fund raising is performed.  What matters is each and every member of the guild has “skin in the game” – their dollars and their work.  For this reason, the guild treasurer should present financials to the guild on a monthly basis and to the executive board as needed. These financials should detail income and payables, and let members know what is in the bank account at the beginning of each month. 

The executive board puts forth a budget which the membership will vote on for the beginning of each fiscal year.  Ideally, the treasurer should supply a budget v. actual worksheet for the membership on at least a quarterly basis.  If special fund-raising events occur (such as a quilt show or raffle quilt) the membership may request additional profit and loss statements on those. 

The guild secretary takes minutes at each meeting and those minutes are made available to the membership either through email, the guild’s website, or they’re published in the newsletter.  Everything is all very business-like and probably differs a lot from most bees and other sewing groups. 

There is one point where quilt guilds may specifically differ from quilt bees and even other guilds, and this is their nonprofit status (501C3).  Truthfully there is some disagreement whether a guild needs to obtain this status.  To become a nonprofit, there’s quite a bit of hurdle-jumping and a whole lot of paperwork and a substantial fee must be paid to the Internal Revenue Service.  This is a decision each individual guild must decide and vote on for itself. I will offer two pieces of advice at this point (since I filled out the papers and did the filing for the High Point Quilt Guild).  First, if your guild wants to ask for donations – either monetary or goods-in-kind (such as batting for charity quilts), having a legal 501C3 status allows the donations to be tax deductible, which may help generate donations.  Second, it’s much, much easier to get the nonprofit status when your guild is just starting out.  There are more hurdles to jump over when the guild’s been established for a number of years. 

One more thing about the 501C3 status – you don’t need a lawyer or accountant to do this for the guild if the guild is new and establishing itself.  Yes, it takes time and a good bit of patience.  Yes, the IRS will ask you for clarification and additional information.  However, if I could successfully undertake this task for my guild, I think most people could, too.  I was happy to save my guild the money an attorney or accountant would charge – especially since we filed for nonprofit status the first year we began meeting and funds were low. 

All of the above details what a guild is.  And from these, it’s easy to see how a quilt guild is different from a quilt group.  However, there is one bit misconception about guilds, and I’ve seen folks confused about this misunderstanding.  Unlike a quilt bee, where quilters bring their work to sew on, you don’t actually quilt or learn to quilt at guild meetings.  I’ve seen this misunderstanding work against guilds in a couple of ways.  Trying to find a meeting place can be difficult for a guild unless you specifically tell your landlord there will be no sewing machines or irons or any sewing at all during meetings.  The folks who own a building or church may worry they don’t have enough electrical outlets or room for machines or the floor will be left covered in fabric scraps and thread.  Let them know pretty quickly in the initial conversations, the group only needs a place to meet and listen to speakers.

Second, people who want to learn to quilt are often disappointed no actual quilting takes place during meetings.  Guild meetings consist of speakers or demonstrations about quilts, tools, etc.  Guild meetings cover that type of education.  However, I also want to add I think it’s super important guilds have meetings for these beginner quilters.  The membership of guilds has changed drastically since Covid.  Let me use my own local guild as an example.  When we had our last meeting before the virus shut us down, the majority of our members were past the beginning quilter stage.  Enter Covid, which closed our doors until November 2020.  During this time stores sold out of sewing machines as folks either wanted to return to sewing so they could have something to do or make masks.  When we re-grouped as a guild, about a third of our members (primarily our new ones) identified as beginners and were requesting beginning quilting classes on our annual survey. 

This is way too many folks to leave floundering in the waters of “How do I do this?”  If a guild has members who want to learn the basics, it’s a great idea to teach them.  Workshops can be offered, perhaps taught by older members who have been around the quilt block more than a few times.  If the guild breaks out into bees, a beginners quilting bee could be formed.  If those two options don’t work, try starting a mentor program, pairing up a newbie quilter with a seasoned veteran.  Bottom line:  Don’t let the beginners walk away in frustration.  Find a way to teach them.

We’ve spent a good amount of time and a lot of words explaining what a quilt guild is and how they’re different from bees and sit and sews.  I’ve explained how guilds operate, what they are, and what they aren’t.  Next week I want to give you all the reasons you should join a guild.  And if there isn’t a guild near you, I’ll give you some ideas about starting one. 

Until next week, Make Your Quilt Yours!

Love and Stitches,

Sherri

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Welcome to My Studio

I don’t talk a great deal about the quilts I create in my studio.  I do this for a couple of reasons.  First of all, I’m a teacher. I enjoy writing blogs about techniques and quilting tips which help my readers.  If I can show you something to help you make the quilt you want to make or make your quilting life a bit easier, this makes my day.  Copywrite issues are the second reason I don’t show a lot of what I make. Some of what I work on is based on quilt patterns by other designers and some of the creations are solely mine.  In the past 10 or so years, quilt designers have dealt with the horrible issue of their ideas, tools, and patterns getting “ripped off” by quilting ne’erdowells.  We weren’t given the credit we deserved, or someone took a tool, pattern, or technique which duly went through the copywrite process and claimed it as their own.  And social media has exacerbated the situation more than I can tell you.

However, today I’d like to show you what I’ve accomplished so far this year.  And let me start off with this disclaimer: 2022 has been a weird year.   This should explain a lot considering we’re still dealing with the aftermath of 2020.  I have not finished or started anything I planned to this year.  As far as my “lifers” are concerned, A Day in Grandmother’s Flower Garden and Language of Flowers haven’t been touched.  Horn of Plenty for a New Generation is a different story.  I only have two more blocks to applique before I make a firm decision on how to construct and piece the quilt top. 

Usually I have completed more of the projects on my yearly quilting goals list, but not this year.  It’s not that I’m necessarily in a quilting “funk,” but I’ve had a couple of quilting challenges thrown in my path.  Allow me to explain. 

During the Covid lockdowns, many quilt guilds began to have virtual meetings.  The Warwick Valley Quilt Guild was one of them.  One of my good quilting buddies, Eileen, is a member of this New York Guild.  She encouraged me to check her guild out, and I did.  The speakers were fabulous, the women were awesome, so I joined. 

Now let me explain a little bit about how I view quilt guilds – or any other group I join.  Yes, I pay a yearly fee which allows me to enjoy meetings and fellowship with others who share the same passions I do.  However, there is a price to this membership and most of the time, the annual fee does not (by a long shot) cover all the group’s expenses.  This is why it’s important to help out in fund raising opportunities.  And this gets a little tricky because from where I live in Jamestown, North Carolina and to Warwick, New York is 583.2 miles.

So it’s not like I can show up to help with a quilt show or anything…

However, there will be a mini-quilt auction at their quilt show in the fall, so I made two quilts for the sale:

I used this quilt in this blog: https://sherriquiltsalot.com/2022/07/06/half-square-triangles-the-work-horse-of-quilt-blocks/

It’s a great example of how versatile half-square triangles are.  This is a sweet, little Christmas wreath which can be used as a table topper or a wall hanging.  It went together quickly and easily, and I had enough HSTs left over to make an “after quilt” (quilt back).  If push comes to shove, the back of the Christmas quilt could be used for St. Patrick’s Day.  It’s a two-fer as far as I’m concerned.

This is the second quilt I made:

This quilt was a ton of fun from beginning to end.  I used some fabric from an old Judy Rothermel quilt kit.  I machine appliqued it and then quilted it on Dolly, my New Horizon M7.  I used the walking foot for the straight-line quilting; however, you may remember one of the reasons I upgraded from Big Red to Dolly was the M7’s quilting ability.  Despite having my new machine for over a year (it was a year in April 2022), I had not had a chance to drop the feed dogs and try her out.

Well, let me tell you I am more than impressed with this machine.  To begin with, dropping the feed dogs is a breeze.  One touch of a button and they’re dropped.  Now, look at this tight, mini-meander and loopy quilting:

I had sooooooo much fun!  The machine handled free-style quilting as good if not better than my long arm. No buyer’s regrets on this machine.  So much fun!  I looked forward to working on this quilt every night. 

Despite the fact these were small quilts, they did eat into my quilting schedule.  Well, those two quilts along with the fact I was asked to design the High Point Quilt Guild’s 2023 Raffle Quilt, I lost some serious “Me” quilting time.  Fortunately, my BFF Janet working on the majority of the applique has helped out tremendously.  I farmed out the block units and have sewn the pieced blocks together.  I’ve simply resigned myself to the fact 2022 was the year of “Quilt Happenstance.”  There’s always 2023.

The one quilt on my list of goals which has received a great deal of love and attention is the Horn of Plenty for a New Generation.  I love this fruity applique quilt, and I’m happy to say I only have two remaining blocks to applique and then I can begin piecing it together.  Here are the blocks I’ve completed since the last time I posted about it.

You’ll notice the blocks are pre-quilted. This works for some quilts, and Horn of Plenty for a New Generation is one of those quilts. However, if you decide to do this, you will need to use a technique such as Apliquick or plan on interfacing or lining your applique pieces so the pre-quilting will not shadow through.
These are cranberries, not cherries, so yes, the block is positioned correctly.
These are logan berries. In the orginal pattern, tiny slits of black fabric were reversed appliqued to give the appearance of clusters of round berry parts –kind of like blackberries. There was no way I would put myself through this since I was using the Apliquick method. I found a couple of pieces of batik fabrics which gave the illustion of berry clusters and let that fabric do the work for me.
These odd-shaped fruits are paw-paws. When I altered the layout of Kathy Delaney’s pattern, I went from needing 18 blocks to 20. This meant I had to design two of my own. Wanting to reflect my Southern heritage, I chose the paw-paw (sometime called the Appalachian banana) and the persimmon. I haven’t started the persimmon block yet.
To show you how blocks can change as you’re designing and making your quilt your own, take a look at part of the original paw-paw block. You can tell from some of the left-over Frixion marks on my block, quilt of few of the leaves were seriously altered. And the original paw-paws were much greener than the final ones. I had this wonderful piece of green ombre fabric and I thought it could take care of everything except the brown stems. Once I laid everything out, it looked too flat. Thus, I changed out the paw-paws to the block above this one. Never be afraid to design “on the fly.” If you’re gut is telling you something doesn’t look right, go with your gut.

Lastly, it’s confession time.  I feel as if the last several blogs I’ve posted haven’t been as good as I normally like them to be.  I contacted Covid last month and have really had a difficult time getting over it.  Despite the fact I am double vaccinated and boosted, I have struggled in my recovery and am still not well.  There is a possibility I may have what’s called “Long Haul Covid” – I’m negative but will feel the symptoms for a long time.   I still cough a great deal, especially at night and the fatigue is devastating.  Everyday about 2 p.m., I’m faced with the choice of making another pot of coffee and powering through the rest of my day or giving up and taking a nap.  The days I can nap work better than the days I caffeinate and keep going, but my schedule does not always allow for a nap.  I see the doctor next week (which in real time is the end of July) to see what he thinks.

My blog will continue because it’s one of the highlights of my life, but there may be times when it’s shorter than normal.  Keep me in your thoughts and prayers!

Love and Stitches,

Sherri

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Care and Feeding of Power Tools and Other Assorted Expensive Quilting Notions

It dawned on me that we’re halfway through the calendar year now.

Wow…where did the time go? 

We’ve spent a good deal of time discussing tips and techniques about how to make each quilt you construct your very own – how to change blocks, add details, and swap out negative space.  All of these little details enable you to take a pattern or a picture of a quilt, keep what you like, change what you don’t, and make that quilt uniquely your creation.  I hope all these ideas have kept your sewing machine humming and your rotary cutter cutting and your iron hot.  However, since I’m writing this blog on July 17, 2022, I think it’s time we give our equipment a thorough look over to keep it in great working order.  In this blog, I will talk about some of the more expensive, non-consumable sewing notions and tools and how to take care of them. 

The Sewing Machine

I think I can safely say, your sewing machine is the one item in your quilt studio which holds the most investment – both in time and money.  Most of us don’t purchase machines every year or so, but only when our present machine dies from overuse, or the newer models have features we simply can’t live without.  Some of my really long-time readers remember when I purchased Big Red.

I bought her in 2008, and she was only the third machine in my quilting career.  I didn’t purchase Dolly (my New Horizon M7 Continental) until April 2021. 

I wasn’t dissatisfied with Big Red, it’s just the M7 had so many new features she didn’t – such as multiple choices for quilting with rulers and a larger harp.  Big Red, despite the thousands of hours sewing and millions of stitches stitched, still runs like a top, because I take care of her. 

If you perform basic maintenance on your sewing machine, there’s no reason it won’t sew for years on end.  Your first point of reference on machine care should be your sewing machine manual.  Each brand of sewing machine is different, even if they’re made by the same manufacturer.  If you’ve misplaced your manual, don’t fret.  Google your machine’s brand, make, and model.  More than likely, your sewing machine’s manual is online and all you need to do is download it.  In your manual, you need to find a section on Care and Maintenance.

All the instructions about what to clean and how to clean or if to clean are here.  Some of the new models request you do no cleaning or maintenance, but bring the machine into the dealer once a year.  Be sure to read this section before you perform any cleaning or maintenance on your machine.

Generally there are a few things each sewing machine needs in order to keep it in tip-top working order (again, read your manual first).  And be sure to unplug the machine before doing anything.

  1.  The needle plate and bobbin area – Remove the needle plate according to your manual’s directions and gently brush the lint off the backside.  Remove the bobbin and brush the lint from the bobbin case (either the drop in bobbin case or the front-loading kind).  I have found cotton swabs, a soft toothbrush, or a clean mascara wand work super-well here.  These allow you to get in the tight spaces to remove the lint.  Be sure to clean the teeth on your feed dogs, too.  Please, whatever you do, don’t use canned air.  I caution you on this for two reasons.  First, instead of blowing the gook in your machine out, it can actually force it into some tighter spaces, which may require a sewing machine tech to remove.  Second, most canned air has some kind of moisture content which can be equally harmful to sewing machines – especially today’s computerized ones. Likewise, I don’t recommend any type of vacuum cleaner, either.  The suction may be too strong and can damage your machine.
  2. Oil your machine if required — Again, this is a consult-your-sewing-machine-manual thing.  Many modern machines (like my M7) do not require me to oil it.  All the areas which need oil are inside the machine, so my sewing machine tech must do any necessary oiling.  If your machine requires oiling, oil those areas highlighted in your manual.  However, there is one area every sewing machine can use a drop of oil, and it’s here:

On the needle bar.  A drop of oil on the needle bar helps everything run smoothly.  Apply one drop, then sew out several inches of stitches on some scrap fabric to help distribute the oil. 

Lastly, only use oil specifically designated for sewing machines.  If your machine requires oil, most of the time a small bottle will be included with your notions when you purchase your machine.  However, when this runs dry, or you misplace it purchase only sewing machine oil.  Other types of oil can harm your machine. 

3. Clean the exterior – I try to do this weekly, but sometimes I don’t, especially if I’ve got a project under my needle with a firm deadline.  Again, don’t use canned air, because it can harm your machine.  If your machine is dusty enough it requires a damp cloth, make sure to dry it down afterwards and avoid any mechanics or points where moisture can enter.  Usually, a dry, soft cloth is all that is needed. 

It’s important to clean your machine on a regular basis.  If you’re sewing several times a week, and all you’re putting through your machines are quilting cottons, a once-a-month cleaning may be all you need.  If you’re working with fleece, paper piecing, fur, wool, flannel, or are quilting all three layers of your quilt, you will want to clean your machine as soon as you’re through.  These are notoriously lint-producing and can clog up your machine.  Your manual may give you a general guideline on how and when to clean your machine.  However, the more time you spend sewing on your machine, the better you’ll become at discerning the different sounds your machine makes – like the ”thunk” mine makes when it needs a cleaning. 

A few final ideas before we move away from sewing machine care.  If there will be several days between sewing sessions, cover your machine.  Most sewing machines come with either a hard cover or a soft one (some have both).  Covering your machine helps keep it clean inside and out.  Second, no matter how diligent you are about cleaning your machine, plan on having it serviced every 12 to 18 months.  A sewing machine tech will clean and oil all the areas you can’t get to, as well as troubleshoot any potential problems.  If you purchased your machine from a local store, chances are they have a tech you can use.  If your machine was some sort of an on-line purchase, Google the brand and find a local dealer.  They also will probably have a tech you can use.  If push comes to shove, or you’re unhappy with your present sewing machine tech, consult a local quilt guild.  Most quilt guilds have a website or Facebook page.  Shoot them an email or post the tech question on their page.  If the name of the same tech keeps appearing, this is more than likely a good person to take your machine to for some in-depth maintenance. 

Third, be careful about the type of cotton thread you use.  I realize some machines aren’t picky about thread – they will sew with any brand, from the cheapest to the most expensive without a hiccup.  However, this doesn’t mean you should sew with all of them.  Some cotton thread brands are notorious for producing lint around the bobbin and needle plate area.  Look for long staple cotton thread.  The long staple thread generally is not as linty as the other types of cotton thread.

Rotary Mat and Rotary Cutters

Most quilters have a couple of rotary mats – usually one to take to classes, bees, and workshops and one to use at home– as well as several different sizes of rotary cutters.  These were introduced to the quilt world in the 1980’s and completely flipped quilt patterns on their heads.  We went from having quilt instructions given with templates to directions with templates and rotary cutting.  Finally at some point in the late eighties, templates just disappeared, and all quilt instructions took for granted you were using a rotary cutter and mat.  The rotary cutter not only changed quilt patterns, but also reduced quilters’ reliance on scissors.  As a result, scissors became less expensive.  Use of the rotary cutter took off like lightning, but the cutter never had quite the same price points as scissors. 

On average, the quilter reaches for her 45 mm cutter the most.  This is the medium-sized cutter and can glide through a few layers of fabric without a lot of fuss.  The second most-used rotary cutter is the 60 mm.  This cutter can cut through multiple layers of fabric with one stroke.  Then there are the 28 mm and smaller cutters.  My favorite – if you’re asking – is the 28 mm cutter.  It’s small and can be easily controlled.  It can zip around plastic templates and small rulers.  It makes trimming dog ears off  half-square triangles a breeze.  There are also 18 mm rotary cutters, which I also like, but finding blades that small can be challenging. 

Rotary cutters can vary in price from around $4 to $20, depending on the size and brand.  And while this isn’t a great deal of money for a cutter, most quilters have several of them (I have eight) in total, so the possibility of having over $100 invested in rotary cutters is a very real one.   To protect that investment, you need to know how to take care of your cutters.

  1.  Change your blades regularly – If you have to push down unnecessarily hard or re-cut several areas the blade didn’t slice cleanly through, it’s time to change the blade.  The blade may be dull or nicked.  Rotary cutter blades are one of those things I like to buy in bulk, because you always need them.  Each cutter works a little differently when it comes to changing the blades. I always lay down the parts in the order I take them off the cutter.  When I need to put everything back together, I begin with the last thing I took off and work backwards.  Most cutters do have YouTube instructions if you get hopelessly lost.  While the blade is off, take the time to wipe down the handle and inside cavity of the cutter.  More likely than not, these may be pretty linty. After the new blade is installed correctly, put a drop of sewing machine oil on the center.

Most rotary cutter blade brands are interchangeable – in other words you can use Fiskar blades on an Olfa cutter.  The only cutter brand I’m aware of which may not have interchangeable blades is Martelli.  The holes are a bit different.  However, I have three Martelli Rotary cutters and they are my favorite.  I like the ergonomic shape of the cutter – it takes a lot of strain off the wrist. 

2. Wipe down your cutter and blade after use – Most of us don’t use our cutters a lot on a day-to-day basis.  We may use them to trim squares or cut off dog ears, but we don’t cut out quilts every day.  Those days when you put your rotary cutter through the paces – such as you cut out a quilt or trim lots of squares – take the time to wipe the lint off the blade afterwards.  Remember the blades have oil on the surface to keep the lubricated and you don’t want to remove all the oil.  You simply want to remove the lint.  If you have some canned air and are dying to use it, this would be a good place to employ it.  Afterwards, add a drop of sewing machine oil to the center. 

3. Keep the surface of your cutting mat clean.  Don’t roll the cutter blade over any pins, needles, or anything else other than fabric and your mat.  Items with a hard surface (such as needles and pins) can put a nick in the blade.  Also be careful not to use the rotary cutter on a worn mat with lots of grooves and never use the cutter on anything but a cutting mat — which brings us to taking care of your rotary mat.

Rotary mats can run the price point gamut of $10 to over $100.  The cost depends on the size, brand, and if the mat is self-healing or a regular hard surface.  Most quilters have a couple of these mats – one to use outside their quilt studio and one to use in the studio. My personal preference is the self-healing type.  If taken proper care of and stored correctly, these mats can last several years before needing to be replaced. 

  1.  If you must store your mat – even for a short time – store it flat and in an area away from heat and cold.  Keep them out of direct sunlight. 
  2. Clean your mat regularly —   Since you’re cutting fabric, you’ll find threads on the surface of the mat.  If you’re mat is still fairly new, it’s easy to use a soft cloth and wipe these off the surface.

However, the more you use your mat, the better the chances you’ll get grooves in it, even if it’s self-healing.  These grooves appear in the most-used cutting segments – such as in 2 ½-inch, 3 ½-inch, and 4 ½-inch increments.  This is just a fact.  You can delay groove-making by using a sharp rotary blade, but eventually, just like those crow’s feet by your eyes, they’re gonna show up.  When they do, threads and small bits of fabric inevitably find their way into the grooves.  I’ve found using a white eraser (the other kinds seem to leave a residue) or a bit of tulle over the surface will dislodge anything in the grooves. 

3. Wash your mat – Some warm water and mild dish soap really help extend your rotary mat’s life.  Besides thoroughly cleaning it, if the mat is self-healing, the warm water will help the grooves fade away.  It’s best is you have some where (such as a bath tub or shower stall) where the mat can be laid flat to soak in warm water.  No matter how the mat is washed, lay flat to dry.

4. Flip the mat – Some mats are marked in 1-inch increments on both sides.  Every few weeks, flip the mat over so both sides wear equally.  If you have a large mat which covers a cutting table like this:

Rotate your mat every month so that what was the top of the mat becomes the bottom.  This will also help the mat wear evenly. 

Irons

In this category, I’m only discussing this kind of iron:

Not any of the smaller irons or mini-irons used in applique.

I have my own take on the irons I use to press seams, quilt tops, and borders:  I use the cheapest I can find.  This is because I am notoriously hard on them.  They get knocked off my pressing station, ironing board, and any other surface I press on.  They generally die an ignominious death and I simply make another Target, Walmart, or Thrift Store run and purchase yet another cheapest-in-the-store iron.  I rarely…rarely…spend more than $20 on an iron…except for this:

My Panasonic Cordless Iron with the Dual Pointy Ends.  I cannot tell you what a great iron this is when you have to press your quilt top, borders, or any other large fabric surface.  There is no cord to get in the way, it stays hot for several minutes, and when returned to the base, reheats quickly.  This is the only iron I will pay top dollar for and treat with newborn-baby-care.  Needless to say, I want to take the very best care of it I can.

Other quilters I know invest good money in their iron and have all kinds of bells and whistles on them.  No matter what kind of iron-consumer you are, it’s good to know how to take care of them. 

  1.  To steam, or not to steam, that is the question – By this, I mean do you put water in your iron?  Personally, I don’t put water in my iron because I feel it shortens its life (even if it doesn’t die a cruel death by being launched from your pressing station).  If I need steam, I spritz the fabric with some water from a spray bottle and hit it with the hot iron.  However, there are quilters who like to use the steam feature on their iron.  If you’re one of them, be sure to read the manual which comes with your iron to find out what kind of water should be used.  Some irons are fine with tap water, but others will use distilled.  Be sure to use the type of water your iron requires.  Tap water can have heavy metals in them which will affect the way your iron heats and steams. 
  2. Do not over fill your iron.  The water reservoir generally has a “fill to” line.  We usually pour water in our iron when it’s sitting vertically.  Quite often, we think this fill line is too shallow, and the iron can hold and ounce or two more water.  However, when the iron is using steam, it’s not in the vertical position, but the horizontal one.  If the iron is over-full, it can sputter and spit out the extra water.  Just fill to the line marked on the reservoir.  It’s there for a reason. 
  3. After every use, unplug the iron (even if it has an automatic turn-off feature).  If you’ve used the steam feature, empty the water reservoir.
  4. Clean your iron frequently as needed.  When the iron is unplugged and cool, rinse out the water reservoir with hot water.  Wipe the entire iron down, including the cord, with a damp, clean cloth.  Use a second clean cloth to dry the iron.
  5. Clean the water reservoir to help avoid hard water build up.  Pour white vinegar into the water chamber, turn the iron on high, and let it sit for about five minutes.  Turn off the iron and unplug it, then empty the vinegar out of the reservoir.  Rinse the reservoir with clean water. 
  6. Clean any residual starch or dirt on the soleplate with a clean cloth dampened with white vinegar.  For stubborn residue, mix baking soda with warm water and give it a good scrub.  Wipe the paste away with a clean, damp cloth and air dry before using.
  7. Be sure to check the holes on the soleplate.  Sometimes if the iron isn’t steaming correctly, it’s because these holes are plugged.  Use a thin piece of wire (such as a straightened paper clip) and clean the ports by poking the wire in the holes.
  8. Fusibles require they’re own special treatment—When you’re working with heat sensitive fusibles, it’s easy to accidentally touch the wrong side of the fusible to the hot surface of the iron.  And when this happens, you’ve got a sticky mess.  The trick is to work quickly, while the iron is still hot.  Once the iron is cooled, the fusible is harder to remove.  While the iron is warm, try rubbing the surface over a dryer sheet.  Sometimes this is all you need to do.  If that doesn’t work, try dampening a piece of fabric and pressing with the still hot iron. 

If neither of those work, or if the fusible covers most of the soleplate, try Goo Be Gone or a Magic Eraser.  Usually one of those works pretty well.  If you do use either one of these (or both), be sure the soleplate is clean before returning to pressing and fusing. 

Wool Pressing Mats

I love my wool pressing mat.  It retains heat and makes pressing wrinkles out of fabric, seams to the side, or pressing fusible webbing onto applique pieces a breeze.

I have a couple of these mats.  One lives on my ironing board, the other on the pressing station near my sewing machine and the tiny one in the box with my applique supplies.  This one is my go-to when I use my small applique iron in classes. 

Wool mats can range in price from $15 to nearly $80, making it a pricey pressing notion.  And in my opinion, these are worth every penny, but they’re certainly not an expense you want to deal with frequently.  It’s good to know how to take care of these mats in order to make them last as long as possible.

  1.  It’s best to store them flat – Just because they can curl up, doesn’t mean they should.  Storing them flat keeps the fibers intact and the corners down.
  2. Be cautious about using steam with them – If you have a wool mat, you’re more than aware of the slight odor they give off when used.  Steam amplifies this smell just a bit.  However, steam also does something else.  Wool mats retain heat very, very well, which means they also will retain the hot steam.  And this means the surface under your wool pressing mat can get wet due to the steam.  If you use steam with a wool mat, just be sure there’s a towel beneath it to absorb any residual water. 
  3. Starch can discolor the mat – Starch will leave brown-ish residue on the mat.  A starch substitute (such as Best Press) will not.  The residue doesn’t hurt anything, but it does discolor your mat. 
  4. A clean mat is a happy mat – A lint roller can be used to pick up strings and small pieces of fabric left on the mat’s surface.  If the mat is super-dirty, it can be washed.  Fill the kitchen sink or bathtub with warm water and add soap.  Soak the mat flat, and lightly scrub the surface on both sides.  Rinse well and hang to dry or lay flat. 
  5. For stubborn stains, such as built-up starch residue or fusible webbing, I’ve found this little tool is a great thing to have:

This tool has rows of tiny teeth.  When you run this over badly stained areas of the mat, it gently picks up the stained fibers, making it look like new. 

I hope the information in this blog helps you to take the best care possible of your more expensive power tools and notions.  While, yes, even in the best of circumstances these are all consumables, most of us don’t switch them out for several years (unless you’re like me with irons, and then heaven help you).  Remember to consult your manuals for specific instructions before using any of these instructions.

Until Next Week, Make Your Quilt Yours!

Love and Stitches,

Sherri

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Hindsight is Always 20/20 (or if I Knew Then What I Know Now)

There’s an old saying many of us turn to when we have to reflect on a past situation  we wish would have played out differently:  Hindsight is 20/20. 

Which means, looking back at what happened then, in the light of present circumstances, we would have made different choices.  At least we think we would.  However, we also have to realize different choices may not have yielded any better results than we got.

I decided to apply this little hindsight exercise to quilting.  For years, I was largely a self-taught quilter.  It was me, my sewing machine, and a few library books.  I learned what works (that whole ¼-inch seam allowance turned out to be pretty darned important) and what didn’t (you can’t always get pencil marks out of fabric).  And as opportunities arose for me to teach beginner quilters, I tried to let them in on all the “secrets” new quilters should know, but may not always find readily available in books or on the internet.  And that’s what my blog is about this week.  Some of you seasoned quilters may quickly scan through this, nod in agreement, and get on with your week.  Others of you who may not have been around the quilt block as long as I have may want to make a few notes.  So, without further ado, here’s my list of quilty things you really need to know now.

  •  Change your needle.  I know I’ve beat this topic to death, but it’s important.  I remember when brought home my very first sewing machine.  I read the manual through the first few pages to learn how to thread the thing and wind a bobbin.

Then promptly tossed it somewhere.  In my newbie mind, I had the information I needed and the rest I could pick up as I went along.  About a month later, my machine started making a weird popping sound.  A trip to the sewing machine tech yielded three important pieces of information:  You need to change the needle after approximately 8-hours of sewing time, there are different needles for different types of fabric, and from time to time, you need to clean your machine.  All of this information was in the manual, if I had taken the time to read the thing. Which I didn’t, which meant I had to fork over $50 (this was 1981) for the tech’s knowledge and cleaning ability. 

After you’ve accumulated about 8 hours of sewing time, change your needle.  Some people change their needle every time they complete a project.  Some roughly track their time.  I know the sounds my machine makes pretty well.  As soon as I hear an odd “pop”, it means I need to switch out the old needle for a new one.  If you sew with titanium needles, you can double your stitch time to 16 hours. 

Also be aware different types of fabric take different types of needles, and  different types of thread take different types of needles.  The very best resource for needles is Superiorthreads.com.  This site does sell thread and needles, but it also has an education tab.  Underneath this tab is tons of great information about what thread and needle to use with different fabric, as well as what kind of needle to use with different types of thread.  Whether you’re a beginner or a seasoned quilting veteran like myself, time spent on this website is truly time well spent.  You may also find some quilting thread will offer needle suggestions on the spool.

  •  Don’t be afraid to cut the fabric.  Quilter come across some really beautiful fabric.  Our shopping habits run the gamut from on-line sales, to shop hops, to frequent visits to our LQS.  Keepsake Quilting and Pineapple Fabrics are literally within a few miles from my house.  When on vacation or other out-of-town excursions, visiting that location’s LQS generally gets written in the itinerary. 

Long story short, we have fabric.  And once in a while we purchase a piece of fabric we just love.  As a matter of fact, we love it so much, we don’t want to cut it.  I’ve had these types of fabric in my stash.  They made me happy just looking at them.  However, those few yards of fabric aren’t doing anyone a favor by just remaining in our stash.  Don’t be afraid to cut that piece of fabric and put it in a quilt.  I guarantee two outcomes from this.  First, you’ll have a quilt you will really love and use and will make you happy every time you look at it.  Second, you’ll always find another piece of fabric you’ll love just as much – I promise.

  •  Don’t be afraid to make mistakes.  Honestly, there are very few mistakes you can make in quilting which can’t be rectified in some way.  As a matter of fact, don’t even call them “mistakes.”  Call them design choices.  Have a difficult time with keeping the beaks intact on your flying geese blocks?  Cut off all the tips.  If they’re all cut off, it looks as if this is the way the quilt was designed. 

Mistakes can be fixed, and we can learn from them.  Don’t let fear of messing up stop you from cutting a favorite piece of fabric or trying out a new pattern. 

  •  Realize it’s not a race.  Probably the biggest issue I have with YouTube quilting videos is that they’re sped up.  We see quilters and designers zipping through blocks and the quilting process at breakneck speeds.  And from our observation, we think this is the way we should be sewing – fast and perfect.  Allow me to let you in a little secret:  Most of the time, these videos are sped up during post-production.  Sew at a pace you’re comfortable with.  Be sure you can stop on a dime if you need to and you’re able to sew a (mostly) straight line.  I am not a fast sewer.  Sewing fast makes me uncomfortable – I feel I can’t control my fabric. 
  • It’s okay to toss the pattern.  Seriously. It’s fine to throw the pattern in the circular file if you want – part of the pattern or the entire kit and kaboodle.  Think about what the pattern tells you.  It lets you know how much fabric you need.  It makes you aware of any special notions.  It tells you how many squares, rectangles, triangles, and/or circles to cut out.  The pattern gives you a pretty good backbone to go by, but you’re not obligated to follow the whole pattern if you don’t want to.  You can always make the quilt larger or smaller than the instructions tell you.  It’s fine to take a block such as this:

And piece the center. 

Certainly read the pattern thoroughly and decide what you will have to change to alter the pattern (more fabric, less fabric, enlarge the blocks, or shrink them), but no one is obligated to follow the directions down to the very last detail.  The instructions didn’t come down from a mountain, written in stone, to be completely and utterly obeyed. 

  •  Remember to hydrate and take a break.  It’s easy to get caught up in anything you love to do and lose track of time.  Hours can click away and it’s often not until we get a twinge in the back or realize we have a dull headache we grasp how long we’ve sat at a sewing machine.  This type of behavior isn’t good for our mind or body.  It’s a good idea to stand up after an hour and move around.  Get a glass of water.  Stretch.  By taking this time to give our bodies a break, we’ll be able to stay at our task longer. 
  • Realize quilting is so much more than the machine.  Don’t get me wrong, sewing machines are great!  I have the new Janome Horizon M7 Continental.  I love that machine.  However, it’s important to understand using a sewing machine is just part of the quilting journey.  And technically, the only stitches a machine really needs to perform for quilting are a straight stitch and a zigzag stitch.  All the bells and whistles on the new machines aren’t even necessary.  Quilting involves accurate measuring and cutting.  It plays with color choice and texture.    It requires attention to detail and creativity.  A sewing machine – state of the art or otherwise – is only a small part of the process. 
  • You need to pin.  Seriously.  Personally, I don’t trust quilters who say they don’t pin.  Either they don’t care what their work looks like or they’re lying through their teeth.  Using pins and knowing the correct way to pin seams, corners, and intersections keeps tips intact, seams meeting perfectly, and maintains the ¼-seam allowance.  With this said, know there are dozens of different types of pins on any sewing notions aisle.  Understanding what each type of pin is used for is important.  Generally, quilters use glass head pins, the long pins with flat, plastic heads, and applique pins.  Pins aren’t one of those super-expensive sewing notions so please purchase good quality pins which don’t feel like small nails and ones that won’t rust.  And for the love of your sewing machine, don’t sew over them.  If your needle hits one, the pin can break your needle.  The pin can become lodged in your feed dogs, or if the pin is hit hard enough, it can throw the timing off on your machine.  Sew right up to the pin, slowing down as you approach it, stop sewing with the needle down, remove the pin, and then resume sewing.  This takes a bit longer than simply zooming down the seam sans pins, but your patience and attention to detail will show in the end.
  • Test everything.  This hint comes from an experienced, former chemistry teacher who has taught more beginning chemistry labs than she will ever admit to.  Test everything to make sure it works exactly the way you need it to.  Thread your machine and stitch out a few stitches on some scrap fabric.  Make a test block out of scrap fabric to be sure it will come out the correct size.  If any of your tools are new (such as the iron, pressing mat, or a new starch or starch substitute), test those, too.  Trust me – this is time well spent and can save you so much possible future frustration. 

  • Pressing with an iron is important.  I realize part of that sentence seems redundant – “with an iron.”  I mean, what else do you press with?  Well, when it comes to quilting there are a couple of tools which can sometimes be substituted for an iron.  If the idea is to move the seam allowance over and out of the way, quilters have been known to use a tool such as this:

When the flat, wooden part is rubbed over the seam allowance, the fabric will lay to one side.  Then there is this:

Which does the same thing.

However, neither of these tools work as well as a regular, hot iron.  Pressing with an iron ensures seam and stitches stay put and greatly improves the look of the block. 

  •  Grainlines are important.  There are three grainlines in all fabric – the crosswise grain (from selvedge to selvedge), the lengthwise grain (from cut end to cut end), and the bias, which is a 45-degree cut across both the lengthwise and crosswise grains.  Most patches which are sewn into block units are cut on the crosswise grain.  Borders work really well when cut on the lengthwise grain.  Bias cuts are great for applique pieces or when true bias binding is needed.  Usually quilt block pieces are so small that that if some grainlines are compromised in block construction, you can get away with it.  However, if the block units are large (such as the background blocks for applique) you want to make sure all of the blocks are cut on the crosswise grain.  Don’t mix them and have part of the blocks cut on the lengthwise and part cut on the crosswise – the quilt will hang cattywampus.  Likewise, cut all the borders on the same grain.  Don’t mix the grainlines or the borders will not lie flat. 

  •   Don’t expect the sewing machine to do all the work for you.  I know this sounds kind of obvious.  The machine can’t cut out the quilt or pick out the fabric or chose the pattern.  However, this isn’t what I’m getting out.  Realize, as much as you perhaps dislike handwork, some parts of quilting require some hand stitching.  I have close quilting friends who despise any hand sewing and have figured out how to do 99 percent of quilt construction via sewing machine.  However, there’s still the one percent which needs a bit of hand work.  It may be sewing the binding closed on the miters at the corners on the front of the quilt, or adding beads, or stitching a label.  Learn how to hand stitch well, keep good hand sewing needles in your stash (they’re not expensive, so buy some good ones), and have some beeswax around to keep the thread from tangling.  If you know how to hand stitch and have the right tools, the process will at least go quickly and then you can return to your machine.
  •  Learn the best way for you to sew a curve.  Generally, when we think about quilts, pictures of blocks, columns, and rows come to mind.  All of these are on the square-ish side of things.  However, it’s important to realize quilts do have their fair share of curves – whether it’s applique pieces such as circles…

Or curves in the blocks themselves. 

At some point, you may face the dilemma of sewing curves.  The great – no, wonderful thing – about quilting is there is more than one way to accomplish a task and the internet is FULL of different techniques you can try in order to find which method works best for you.  I promise I will have a blog on curves up before very long so you can try the techniques I use and see if those work for you or if you need to view other methods.

  •  As you’re sewing, focus on the seam allowance, points, and intersections.  I’ll be the first quilter to admit to you there are some parts about quilting which are boring.  Those long seams around borders are one of the less interesting parts of the process.  However, if you’re mind doesn’t stay in the game, it’s easy for the seam to be sewn crooked, or the fabric to slip out of place and suddenly the borders aren’t attached correctly at all. Which inevitably leads to quality time with your seam ripper (which is really no fun at all).  Pin long seams, focus on keeping both pieces of fabric together as you sew a consistent seam allowance, sew as fast or slow as you feel comfortable with, and take out the pins before you sew over them.  When you come to a point, make sure the seam intersects correctly so the points won’t get cut off.  Make sure the intersections stay nested as you sew over them, so the seams won’t be off.  In other words, even though Netflix may be blaring in the background with the latest true-crime drama, pay attention to what’s literally under the needle.

I hope my “hindsight” glasses are definitely 20/20 for you.  I think these 14 items are good to keep in mind no matter how long you’ve been quilting. 

Until next week, Make Your Quilt Yours!

Love and Stitches,

Sherri

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Regular Stems and Skinny Stems

It’s a fact of life. If you like to applique, at some point, you’ll have to deal with stems and vines.  In a world of thousands of applique patterns, it’s overwhelming floral.  And flowers denote the use of stems and sometimes vines.  Even some pieced blocks such as the Carolina Lily have appliqued stems. 

Quilt, pieced, Carolina Lily pattern, detail view.

Stems can stand straight and tall, while others are curvy.  Depending on the type of applique quilt under construction, stems may even form a circle – especially if you’re undertaking a Rose of Sharon type of quilt.  They vary in width, with some stems being wider than an inch and others as narrow as an eighth of an inch.  So, in an applique world where flowers seem to rule, how to you handle all these stems?

Like circles, there are multitudes of ways to make stems.  This blog deals with finished edged stems – raw edged ones can be cut to size and stitched down.  Finished-edged stems take a little more work.  And the way I construct them depends on the width of the stem and in some cases, the type of applique block.  But before we undertake stem construction, let’s talk fabric, bias, crosswise grain, straight-of-grain, starch, and non-starch.

Fabric

In my opinion, stems (even more so than circles) go through some pretty rough prep work.  For this reason, tightly woven cotton fabrics or batiks work best.  Loosely woven fabrics such as Homespun or Peppered Cottons could fray extensively during the process. If I find myself in a situation where I absolutely must use a loosely woven fabric for stems, I pre-shrink the material in a hot water bath (do this by hand and not in the washing machine – you’ll have a ton of fraying to deal with if you throw it in a washing machine) and allow to air dry.  This process seems to pull the threads closer together and stop some of the fraying.  After the fabric is dry, I also press it with some starch, which adds an additional layer of fray prevention. 

Stretchy fabrics may also give you issues if used for stems.  They can stretch hopelessly out of shape during construction.  I avoid any type of knit, jersey, or fabric with rayon and/or spandex for use in stems, and this includes today’s quilting flannels.  If I am constructing a flannel applique quilt and the pattern calls for stems, I’ve found pressing some starch or starch substitute into the wrong side of the fabric before stem construction helps tremendously. 

Bias, Crosswise Grain, or Length of Grain

Those of you who are long-time readers of my blog may remember this little graph:

This illustration shows where the straight-of-grain, bias, and crosswise grain (also known as width of fabric) are located.  Most  of the time we cut material across the width of fabric on the crosswise grain – we fold the fabric in half length-wise, making sure the selvedges meet at the top, and then cut.  Fabric cut across the width of fabric has some stretch, but not a lot. 

Sometimes we cut along the length of the fabric, and this is called “straight -of-grain cuts.” Straight-of-grain cuts mean you are cutting parallel with selvedges and this type of cut has virtually no stretch at all. Hint: if the center of one of your quilts turns out a little wonky, try stabilizing the outer edges by cutting your binding along the straight-of-grain. Sometimes this will help a bit.

A bias cut is one made on the 45-degree angle across the width of the fabric.  Fabric which is cut on the bias has the most stretch and the least amount of fraying.  Bias cuts are frequently used in garment construction and also in quilting — both in quilt blocks and in some binding.

The individual attributes of each cut are important to keep in mind as you make stems and vines.  If the stems I need are straight, I have no problem cutting them on the length of the fabric.  Admittedly, length of fabric is my least favorite cut to make stems out of, but if I need a lot of straight stems and I have a piece of fabric which is longer than it is wide, I’ll cut them on the length of grain.  The ability to curve the stem isn’t needed, so the straight-of-grain works just fine.

If I need stems which curve just a bit, such as these:

I can cut my fabric on the crosswise grain.  This cut will give you some stretch, so you have the ability to curve your stems.  However, if the stems look something like this:

A bias cut is exactly what you need.  Cutting on the bias gives you the maximum amount of stretch needed to curve and twist the stem exactly how you need it.  Bias cuts also fray the least.  This is another important attribute to keep in mind if you’re constructing skinny stems.  Those stems can actually take the most needle-abuse, and if the fabric doesn’t fray, it will make your appliqueing life much easier.

Starch, Non-starch, and a Hot Iron

Two of these three items are vital to have on hand when constructing stems.  Starch or a starch substitute is needed in many of the stem techniques.  A hot iron is needed for all of them.  Steam is optional – whether you use a spray bottle or the steam mechanism on your iron. 

Let’s move onto making our stems.  I will go over six ways I make my stems, and the first two are the most common.

  1.  Bias Tape Makers

Bias tape makers look like this:

And depending on the bias tape maker used, can produce ¼-inch, 3/8-inch, ½-inch, ¾-inch, or 1-inch bias tape (and you have no idea how badly I wish they had an 1/8-inch bias tape maker).  These are relatively inexpensive and can be purchased individually or as a set.  You’ll see all kinds of fancy-smanzy kits of these available for purchase which will include pins and an awl and all kinds of other doo-dads, but seriously, the bias tape maker is all you need.  Everything else you have in your sewing studio.  Personally, I use the ¼-inch and 3/8-inch makers the most, but did find in my research it’s cheaper in the long run to purchase the entire set (Amazon had the set for $6.99 at the time of this blog’s publication).  Individually, they can sell from nearly $5.00 to over $7.00 apiece.

The bias tape makers include a small (oh, so small and so easy to lose) piece of paper with instructions on how wide to cut your fabric strips to feed through the maker.  Despite all my good intentions and attempts at organization, I always lose misplace my directions.  The rule of thumb is to cut your fabric strips twice as wide as the size needed.  So, if you need ¼-inch bias tape for stems, you will cut your fabric strips ½-inch wide, no matter if you’re cutting on the bias, crosswise grain, or lengthwise grain. 

There are a few guidelines to keep in mind during bias tape production.

  • Lightly starching the fabric before cutting out the strips really helps – especially if you’re a pre-washer.
  • Cut accurately.  I can’t emphasize this enough.  Try to stay as true to the width needed as possible.  Otherwise, your fabric will “bobble” when it’s fed through the bias tape maker. 
  • There are two schools of thought when making bias tape.  One is to sew the strips together (the same way you do your quilting binding) and make one long piece of bias tape.  This way you can cut off  the lengths of stems you need as they are needed.  The other is not to sew the fabric together and make several strips of bias tape.  I fall somewhere between the two.  You have to keep in mind that if the strips are sewn together, there’s a seam.  The seam allowance can be trimmed away, and the seam pressed open, but this is still extra bulk which must be fed through the tape maker.  This can be problematic if you’re making the ¼-inch or 3/8-inch tape – the tape maker is narrow, and you may have issues with the seam feeding through smoothly.  If I’m making the narrower bias tape, generally I don’t sew the strips together.  However, if I’m constructing the ½-inch or larger strip, and I need a lot of the same color of stem, I’ll sew the strips together.  The larger sized makers seem to deal with the bulk of the seam better. 

Bias tape makers are easy to use.  The first step is to cut your strips twice the width needed.  For our example, I’m using the 1-inch bias tape maker because it’s easier for you to see.  Since I am making 1-inch bias tape, and my fabric strips need to be twice this width, I’ll cut my fabric strip at 2-inches.

Then I lightly spray the strip with starch and press.

The strip is much easier to feed through the wide end of the bias tape maker if you cut one of the fabric at an angle like this:

Insert the angled end into the back of the tape maker.  If you notice the top of the maker, you’ll see a slit:

Sometimes you’ll need to insert pin or stiletto here to help guide the fabric through the maker until the tip of the angle comes out.  Once I have about ¼-inch or so of the fabric exiting the narrow end of the maker, I pin it to the pressing surface.

My apologies….I didn’t take the time to clean off my wool mat before shooting pictures….

This holds the fabric in place while I take the handle on top of the maker and begin to guide it down the length of the fabric strip.  Don’t rush too fast and as more bias tape exits the narrow end of the maker, press it. 

After making a few inches of the bias tape, stop and take a good look at it.  The outer edges should be meeting in the middle and overall, the strip should look pretty straight and even.  If you find fabric sides which meet the in middle are not as flat as you’d like, lightly spray the strip with some additional starch (don’t soak it – mist it) before it’s fed through the wide end of the bias tape maker.  It will emerge from the narrow end of the maker still damp.  Once the moist fabric is hit with a hot iron, the edges should flatten out nicely. 

  •  Bias Bars/Perfect Stems

Bias bars (also known as Celtic Fabric Bias Bars) and Karen Kay Buckley’s Perfect Stems are another way to make stems.  These little gadgets are my preferred way of making stems.  This method is not as fast as the bias tape makers, but I think they make a prettier stem.  I also think it’s a little more forgiving – your cutting doesn’t have to be quite as accurate. 

Bias bars are made from heat resistant plastic or mylar or metal.  I prefer the metal ones because the heat from an iron is conducted better and the bars stay hotter longer, resulting in crisp edges.   

Normally fabric strips for the bias bars are cut either on the crosswise or bias grains.  If you need really curvy stems, cut on the bias.  To determine the width of the fabric strip, take the width of the bias bar, multiply it by 2, and add ½-inch (you can add a little more than ½-inch if needed).  So, if I were making stems from this ½-inch bias bar, my fabric strip width would be estimated like this:

(2 x ½ ) + ½ = 1 ½-inches.  I would cut my fabric strips 1 ½-inches wide.

After these are cut, lightly starch and press.

Then fold the fabric in half, wrong sides together and press again.

Insert the bias bar between the wrong sides of the fabric.

Zipper foot for my M7 Continrntal. Of all the zipper feet I’ve used in my sewing career, this is the best one.

Now using a zipper foot or edge foot, sew down open edge of the fabric strip, right along the side of the bias bar.  Since most bias bars are only a foot long, you’ll have to stop sewing (with the needle down) and gently push the bias bar further down the fabric strip.  Continue sewing and moving the bar until you get to the end of the strip. 

Once this process is complete, remove the bar and trim the seam allowance close to the stitching. 

Then roll the bias tape until the seam is at the back of the stem and press.  If I have difficulties getting the seam to lie as flat as I like, I starch and press the stem again. 

Bias tape makers and bias bars are the two most frequently used methods of stem-making.  Since the stems made from the bars have a seam allowance on the back, those add a little more dimension to your applique, as they stand up a bit off the background.  Which means they’re a welcome addition to almost any type of applique quilt except Baltimore Albums.  Traditionally, the applique on those blocks is completely flat.   

I use the next four types of stem construction for super-skinny stems.  While I would pay good money for Clover to produce a 1/8-inch bias tape maker or for a 1/8-inch bias bar, I don’t think they’re in the works any time soon.  Until then, I had to discover other ways to make super-skinny stems.  Disclaimer here before I get comments that Simplicity had a 1/8-inch bias tape maker.  Yes, years ago Simplicity did come out with a 1/8-inch bias tape maker.  However, this was a single-fold maker and it worked on their bias tape maker machine. And while this machine is still available in some places, the smallest tip it now has is ¼-inch.

Simplicity’s Bias Tape Maker. If you find yourself making miles of bias tape, you may want to invest in one of these.

Before we move into the methods of skinny stem applique, there are a couple of items to keep in mind before you start.  First, both the background and the stem fabric will be handled quite a bit.  For this reason, make sure your background fabric isn’t loosely woven, but a good quality quilting cotton.  For the skinny stems, in all honesty, batiks work best.  This fabric is firmly woven and doesn’t fray much at all.  Second, all skinny stems should be cut on the bias.  This minimizes fraying, and the fabric is much easier to manipulate when it’s a bias cut. 

  •  Needle Turn

The great thing about needle turned stems is you can cut the fabric strip a bit wider than needed and then trim it down as you sew.  Please also note, this is the way I handle needle turned skinny stems.  There are lots of other ways, so if my way doesn’t work for you, search YouTube and Google to find a method you’re comfortable with.

My first step is to lightly draw a line where the stem is supposed to be.  This mark will be covered by fabric, so a #2 pencil, water soluble pen, or a Frixion pen works just fine.

Next, from your stem fabric, cut a true bias strip roughly twice the needed width.  Finger press one length of the fabric so it folds over ¼-inch. 

Line up the fold of the stem fabric with the line drawn on the background fabric and pin in place.

At this point, a decision must be made.  You will need to stitch the stem fabric to the background fabric along the fold line.  This can be done by either hand or machine.  With me, this decision is made by the curve of the stem.  If the stem is straight or slightly curved, I’ll use my sewing machine to stitch along the fold.  I shorten my stitch length a little and sew it down.  If the stem has a lot of sharp curves or loops, I’ll hand stitch down the fold – it’s just easier and faster this way.

After the stem has been stitched down in the fold, finger press the remaining free edge ¼-inch.  Flip the stem over and begin to needle turn the stem.  If the ¼-inch seam allowance on the flipped over side is too bulky and makes it difficult to make the stem the width needed, trim it as you sew.

  •  Split Bias Tape

Admittedly, this is kind of like the needle turn technique, but the use of bias tape makers speeds up the process a little.  For this method, you’ll need the ¼-inch bias tape maker or 3/8-inch bias tape maker (depends on how “skinny” your stems need to be).

The first step is to make a strip of bias tape. 

This is 3/8-inch bias tape.

After the bias tape is constructed, using your rotary cutter or scissors, carefully trim off one folded side.

I find scissors work best for cutting off one of the folded sides.

Fold the remaining trimmed edge over to meet the other side in the middle, so it looks like normal bias tape made from a tape maker.

At this point, I use my glue stick and a hot iron.  I will run my glue stick along the trimmed edge and then fold it over to meet the other side in the middle.  Then I hit it with a hot iron.  Since the stem has been cut on the bias and glue and heat are used to set it, the fabric should cooperate fully with the process.  Always remember, you are the boss of the fabric – it is not the boss of you. Make it do what you want it to do!

After the stem has cooled and the glue has set, applique as normal.

  •   Apliquick

Skinny stems can be produced by the Apliquick method pretty quickly and easily.  Trace the stem shape onto the Apliquick interfacing (remember to reverse your pattern on the light box if needed). 

Cut out the stem along the drawn lines.

Press the interfacing to the wrong side of the stem fabric, remembering to place it on the bias.

Cut out, leaving ¼-inch margin.

Then using orange sticks or the Apliquick tools and a glue stick, turn the fabric edges over the interfacing.  Clipping the inner curves helps the fabric to hug the curves of the stem.  Helpful hint:  Apply the glue to the fabric first, then carefully clip. 

Helpful hint two:  A sheet of fine grit sandpaper on a clip board or a sandpaper applique board really comes in handy to hold the stem in place as you’re turning the fabric over the edge of the interfacing.

  •  Just Pretend There’s a Bias Bar in There

This method using the same steps as outlined in the section about Bias Bars, except you don’t use a bias bar.  First cut a strip of fabric twice as wide +  ½-inch.  For example, if you needed an 1/8-inch stem, your math would look like this: (1/8 x 2) + ½ = ¾.  Fold the strip in half, wrong sides together and lightly press.  Sew a ¼-inch seam along the long side, and trim off the seam allowance.  Roll the seam allowance to the back of the stem and press.

Now that you’ve made your stems, and you’re ready to applique them down, I’d like to share with you some of the techniques I use to curve and twist them as needed.

Because I taught Heirloom French Sewing, I am familiar with lace shaping, which looks a little like this:

All of this lace is shaped before it’s sewn into the garment.  A lace guide

Is placed on an ironing board, and the cotton lace is pinned in place on the guide.  The lace is then starched and pressed until it takes the needed shape.

I hadn’t appliqued very long until I began to wonder why couldn’t I handle my stems the same way?  I hypothesized I could draw the shape out, and then follow the same procedures I took with lace shaping, only just apply it to stems.

And it worked beautifully.  It worked with everything very well, even the bias strips I planned to needle turn.  I draw the curve needed on a piece of paper (use a pencil, the heat from the iron can transfer ink to your fabric), pin the stem into place, spray it with starch, and press it into the needed shape.

This process even works for stems with tight curves.

Before we end this rather lengthy blog on stems, I want to leave you with a few additional tips, which you may find helpful, especially if you applique a lot.

  •  If you decide you want to shape your stems “off the block” by starching them into the needed shape, you’ll need exactly that – starch or The “Other” Best Press Starch and Sizing Alternative (not the “regular” Best Press).  Either of these make the stems retain the desired shape in a way regular Best Press doesn’t. 
  •  All curvy stems – no matter how gradual or tight the curve is – work best if cut from a bias strip of fabric.
  • In my opinion, batiks make the best stems, followed distantly by firmly woven quilting cottons.
  • Store your shaped stems flat. 
  • If you are a fervent appliquer, don’t throw away left-over stems.  If you have five inches or more of stem length left, wrap it around a section of foam pool noodle and pin in place.  Don’t have a pool noodle?  An empty paper towel roll wrapped in a batting scrap works just as well.  I can’t tell you how handy it is to have some pre-made stems at your fingertips as you plan a project.  You immediately feel as if you’re halfway through your prep time.
  • I’m a quilt prepper – I like to have everything prepped before I start any quilt, either pieced or appliqued.  Which means I prep all my stems before I start.  Stems take a bit of time and care to make and make well.  However, once everything is prepped, the applique can be stitched down without having to stop and make more stems. 
  • If you are shaping your stems off the block, or pinning them to the background and ironing them down, be sure to use glass head pins.  Glass head pins are entirely heat resistant and unlike pins with plastic heads, they won’t melt and leave a sticky mess on your those stems you just spent hours making learned this the hard way with French Heirloom Sewing.
  • The narrowest stem I can successfully make is between 1/16 and 1/8-inch.  If I need anything narrower than this, I embroider it.
  • Always applique the inner curve first and then the outer curve.  Your stems will life flat and not pucker.
  • And finally – always, always remember – You’re the boss of the fabric.  The fabric is not the boss of you.  It may take a little coaxing and even some coercion, but eventually it will cooperate and do what you want it to do.  It just takes patience and good technique.

I hope you come away from this blog understanding how to make good stems and feel no intimidation about constructing skinny stems.   Try several of the methods to determine what works best in your quilting world.

Until Next Week, Make Your Quilt Yours!

Love and Stitches,

Sherri

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It’s Sew Time (or Finding Time to Quilt in an Increasingly Fast-Paced World)

I’ve quilted well over thirty years now.  Blogged about it for at least 12 years.  And as much as I’ve written about color choice, technique, and hints, there’s one question I get asked consistently:

How do you make time to sew?

Believe it or not, this is a difficult question to answer, because I’ve quilted throughout lots of stages in my life.  I began when my children were babies, continued through teaching and grad school, kept it up when I was running a school, and now as CFO of a company.  I’ve hardly missed a stitch no matter what stage of life I was at.  I’ve mentioned before quilting calms and centers me better than almost anything else, so I’ve always made time for it.

Someone else asked me this question again over the Fourth of July holiday week, and I kind of half-heartedly answered it:  I make time, it’s a priority, yada yada yada…  However, I really begin seriously considering this topic.  And I came to the conclusion no matter what stage of life I was in, there were always a few tricks I had up my sleeve which helped me  carve out a few minutes to sew.  I want to share these tips with you, because life seems to get busier and busier, and it’s easy to think a hobby such as quilting can be delayed or postponed – that in the long run of everything-else-is-more-important, it can wait.  However, if you’re passionate about the art, you know as well as I do, you gotta make time for it in order to keep your sanity.  So here are my tried-and-true ways to carve out some time to quilt.

  • Block out some time

This is way easier said than done, I know.  And since I don’t live your life, I can only offer suggestions via the way I do this, and you have to take these ideas and make them work for you.  I have made a commitment to myself to quilt a minimum of 20 minutes a day.  Twenty minutes is a workable amount of time and you’d be surprised how much you can get done in those few minutes.  When my kids were at home and I was “Mom’s Savings and Loan and Taxi Service,” I’d get up about a half an hour early, shower, and quilt.  Then I’d rouse the kids, pack the lunches, throw something in the crockpot for dinner, and herd everyone out the door for school.  This was a sure-fire way to get in my quilt time and it made me a much more pleasant person to live with the rest of the day.  Once everyone got home from school, we’d do homework, eat dinner, and then read and hang out as a family until time for bed.  At this point, the only person literally losing sleep over my quilting was me. 

And it was amazing how much I got done in those 20-30 minutes. 

Now, with my kids all grown up and gone, I’m more flexible.  I certainly don’t get up earlier now, but I do look at my day and plan when would be the best time.  If my mornings are super-busy with meetings and work, then I shoot for the afternoon or evening.  The first part of my week is always much busier than the later part of the week.  Weekends are really flexible.  Somedays I can get the entire 20 minutes or more in at one sitting.  Other days, I have to break it into several sessions. 

The important take-away is this:  Commit to a time block for your sewing.  Realize this isn’t written in stone – you may get sick or a loved one may be ill; you may have out-of-town company – and you can’t keep the commitment every day.  But carve out some time to put needle to thread.  Write it down.  Put it in your iPhone reminders.  And stick to it as much as you can. 

  • Turn off distractions

For those few minutes, ignore texts, Facebook messages, phone calls, emails, and anything else which may grab your attention.  Focus solely on your project.  I admit this is difficult for me, because I am of that generation who was raised to answer the phone, answer the mail, and do it as promptly as possible.  I learned to give myself permission not to do this – chances are, unless it’s a real emergency, these folks can wait for twenty minutes.  Another helpful hint here is to be choosy about what you watch while you quilt.  YouTube can be a big culprit.  This social medial platform has “snippets” of videos and often one of these “snips” can be shorter than your committed sewing time.  When this happens with me, I find myself searching for something else to watch, and wasting valuable sewing time.  If you’re YouTubing, make sure the video is long enough or bleeds into another video you’re interested in.  Personally, I’m Team Audible.  Recorded books can go on uninterrupted for hours

  • Organize your space

Most quilt studios are simply pictures of beautiful, colorful chaos.  We have two or three or more projects under construction and it’s near impossible for the untrained eye to understand that yes, we do know where everything is! And we do.  Most of the time. 

It does save a lot of time if you have a resting place for all the tools you use regularly:  Scissors, seam ripper, stiletto, needles (hand and machine), pins, thread, etc.  Always return these to your storage spot at the end of every sewing session so there won’t be a mad hunt for them during your next sewing session. 

Those of you who are long-time readers of my blog know I am a big proponent of project boxes.  I keep my cut-out quilts, thread, and any specialty notions in them.  This keeps everything together, so I don’t have to hunt them down.  If you’re not into boxes, or don’t have room for them, keep everything you need for a project in a bag or somewhere in your studio can access them.  This saves so much time!

  • Take advantage of margins

Remember this?

Notebook paper.  It comes in regular ruled and college ruled.  We use the center of it for lots of things – take notes, work equations, write letters – the list is endless, including making lists.  There are two red lines on the right and left side of the paper to denote left and right margins.  The left margin has the hole punches, and the right margins are blank.  In school, we were instructed not to write in the margins.  This empty space hung on either side of the center for teachers to write in or us to doodle in. 

Our lives are like notebook paper.  In the center are all the things we have to get done.  Work, chores, shopping, cooking.  But there are little snippets of time along the way which are completely blank – our time margins.  A few minutes while you’re waiting on a return call, a couple extra minutes  before dinner is done. Take advantage of those to put in a few stitches here and there.  I always keep handwork out and available.  It’s super-easy to grab this if I’m on a phone call or have a few minutes here or there.  A couple of minutes isn’t a lot of time, but you’ll be surprised how much you can get done in that space. 

  • Determine if you’re a morning person or evening person

Some people are “springers” and others are “creepers.”  Some are early birds, and some are night owls.  If you bounce out of bed at daylight like Tigger, chances are you’re a morning person.  If your disposition is more like Eeyore, more than likely you’re a night owl. 

I’m at my best in the morning (especially after a hot shower and a cup of hot coffee).  Anything which requires accuracy or is pretty complicated, I need to undertake it before lunch.  So, if I need to cut out a quilt, construct some Y-seams, or fussy cut, I am much better and more accurate with it in the mornings.  I save my “mindless” tasks, such as chain piecing or hand applique for the evenings. 

Examine what time of day you have the most clarity and plan your harder, more complicated quilting tasks then.  You’ll breeze through them with more accuracy and in less time than if you put them off and try to do them during a more low-focus period.

  • Breakdown projects into like tasks and groups of tasks

For me, this is the step which saves me the most time.  When I start a quilt, the first step I take is to read through all the directions.  Then I mark the directions up according to tasks – this is strip piecing, this is half-square triangles, this quilt needs so many circles, etc.  Since I’m not the type of quilter who only works on one quilt a time until it’s completed, it’s feasible I may have a couple of quilts which needs half-square triangles or strip piecing or circles. 

Then I decide which step will take the most time – in this instance, it’s the circles because I’ll either use Applipops or Perfect Circles. Now I look at my calendar.  The one night I have the most time is Monday.  Unless I have an executive board meeting with my guild, most Monday nights are wide open.  That would be the best time to work on all the circles, not just those for a specific quilt.  The next step which takes some time is half-square triangles.  Friday nights are generally always open, so I’ll schedule all of those for Friday.  The strip piecing takes the least time, and it’s something I can do at my Zoom and Sew on Tuesday night.  Wednesdays and Thursdays are held open for class work (I’m taking three classes right now) or quilting on Dolly or LeAnne. 

It may take a bit of time to organize your quilt week (this is something I do on the weekends), but I can’t tell you how effective this is.  If you come away with nothing from my blog but this step, you will save yourself massive amounts of time.

  • Use a timer

A timer was my best friend when I had little ones at home.  If they needed to read 30 minutes a night, I’d set the timer.  This eliminated being asked fiftyhundredmillionity times if reading time was over.  When the timer dinged, they were done.  Dentist said to brush your teeth for five minutes each night?  Timer employed.  Cake in the oven and I needed to pull weeds?  Timer in the apron pocket saved dessert from becoming a burnt offering. 

I also have discovered a timer is a good friend to keep in your quilt studio.  Of course, now most of us have Siri on our phones (or some other app) which will set a timer for us if we ask.  I generally set a timer for 15 minutes and during that time, I straighten and throw away.  When I begin my 20 minutes of concentrated, undisturbed sewing, I sometimes use a timer for this, too.  If I have a lot on my mind or there are other tasks which are stealing my attention, the timer helps me focus for 20 solid minutes.  If you’re easily distracted or are pulled in a thousand different directions, the timer may be a huge help.

  • If possible, make parts of your project portable

If you’re strictly a piecer (unless you’re piecing by hand), this may not be possible.  However, if you like hand applique or have a small-ish quilt to bind, try keeping those parts of your quilt together in a bag you can pick up and take with you.  My hand applique is always kept portable in a tote with all my supplies.  If I’m heading to my QBFF to sew, this bag is grabbed.  Likewise, if we’re heading out for a trip (I can sew while the hubs drives). 

When my children were younger, I kept handwork in the car.  I would work on it while waiting for them to get out of dance class, music lessons, or ball practice.  It was amazing how much I could get done in during this time. 

  • Be smart when it comes to your stash and supplies

In many ways, quilters have it easier than other sewing enthusiasts.  We tend to use beige, gray, black, or white thread.  We always need a neutral fabric.  And we don’t have to worry about someone outgrowing what’s under our needle before we get it done.  These characteristics of quilting allow us the awesome opportunity to keep standard supplies on hand in bulk, which means if we break a sewing machine needle at 8 p.m. on a Friday evening, we don’t have to wait for the LQS or a big box store to open the next morning.  We simply reach into our bulk supplies, pull out another needle, and keep sewing – saving time and in the long run, money (because it’s always cheaper to buy in bulk).

I think it’s good to purchase the following supplies bulk:

Thread (dark gray, light gray, white, ecru, and black)

Sewing machine needles

Rotary cutter blades

Marking pens/pencils

Pre-wound bobbins (if you use them)

Your favorite fusible

Starch and/or starch substitute

It’s always great to have these extra supplies on hand, and none of them take up a whole lot of room, even if they’re purchased in bulk. As a matter of fact, you could fit most of them into one drawer. 

Fabric stash is entirely personal and subjective.  I try to keep the basic neutrals (white, black, beige, and gray) on hand in three-yard cuts.  These may be tone-on-tone or low-volume prints. And three-yard cuts don’t take up a great deal of space.  However, those neutrals may be a great jumping off point for a quilt. 

The last item I keep on hand is a spare iron.  At this point, allow me to explain my iron issues.  I am hard on irons.  They invariably get knocked around or knocked off my pressing area.  For this reason, I don’t purchase expensive irons.  I make a Target, Walmart, or Goodwill/Thrift Store run and purchase two of the cheapest irons available.  I use one and store the other because invariably at some point, the iron I’m using will die an ignominious death and I will need another.  It’s so much easier just to pull out the spare iron and keep working.  I also don’t keep water in my iron.  This can cut down on the iron’s life span (even if it doesn’t get knocked off the ironing board).  If I need steam, I use a spray bottle and water. 

  • The freezer and a slow cooker or insta-pot are your BFF.

I still do most of the cooking around my house, which can seriously cut into my sewing time.  I try – to the best of my ability anyway – to have a few frozen meals stuck back in my freezer or have the supplies to make a crockpot or insta-pot dinner.  If there’s a day when I really have pull some serious time on a quilt, either a frozen lasagna or spaghetti comes out of the freezer, or I find some boneless chicken breasts and throw them in the slow cooker with a can of cream-of-something soup, a packet of onion soup mix or ranch dressing mix, and a half-a-cup of white wine.  Six hours later, dinner is done, and you have uninterrupted sewing time.

These are a few of the ways I make time to get in some stitching time.  Some days I feel like I’m constantly pulled in so many different directions, I never get anything substantive done.  However, a few stitches here and there really add up.  I hope you can use my suggestions in your own quilt studio!

Until next week, Make Your Quilt Yours!

Love and Stitches,

Sherri