Categories
Uncategorized

How To Choose the Right Cutting Mat for You

This blog is the last one in the cutting trinity.  We’ve talked about scissors and rotary cutters.  Today we’re looking at the final leg of the cutting tripod – the cutting mat.  Whether you use scissors or a rotary cutter to slice and dice your fabric, chances are you will use a mat with either or both.  A cutting mat is simply a great cutting and measuring surface.  We will examine what makes a good mat and – more specifically – what quilters should look for in a mat.  Then we will talk about the five best cutting mats on the market today.  So, get comfortable and grab a beverage because we’re dissecting cutting mats today.

As quilters, we automatically think we’re the only ones out there in the cutting universe who use cutting mats.  But we’re not.  There are many mats made for sewers and quilters, but there are a lot of other hobbyists who use mats for their passion, also.  It’s important to purchase mat which will work best with your hobby.  So, it stands to reason the first question anyone has to answer is what kind of cutting tool will be used on the mat?  For us, that means a mat which can hold up to a rotary cutter.  For other folks this means a mat which can withstand a knife or straight edge blade.  Most mats come with a description somewhere on the label.  Read it through to make sure it will work for whatever you’re using it for.  Generally, unless you’re simply using it for measuring and not any cutting, a 2-mm mat is too thin for any blade.

This means the second question is how thick is the mat?  You want a mat which is 3-mm thick or more. Anything thinner than 3-mm is not durable and usually has a plastic-y feel to them.  This means they won’t handle a rotary cutter blade.  As a matter of fact, the blade may slice through any mat thinner than 3-mm.  Somewhere on the mat’s label should be the number of plies in the mat, what the plies are made of, and how thick each of the plies are.  Ideally, you want a 3-mm or thicker mat and the inner ply to be fatter than to outer ones.  A thick inner cutting mat ply helps prevent the mat from being cut through and prolongs the life of your rotary blades.  Another attribute you want is for the matt to be self-healing – which means the plies are manufactured from separate tiny pieces of material which are pressed together creating a solid surface to cut on. Whatever type of cutting implement you use on this mat, the blade will go between these tiny pieces. This separates them rather than cutting into the entire unit of the surface.  After cutting, all these little pieces go back together – more or less.  No matter how careful you are with your mat, eventually you must replace even self-healing mats.  But a mat which is self-healing generally lasts longer and doesn’t develop “ruts” in the mat from your rotary cutter for a good while.

What’s the mat’s surface like is the third question you need to ask.  Does the mat have a textured surface?  Does it have a glare?  A glare isn’t good.  When a mat reflects the overhead light, it makes accurate cutting difficult because it’s hard to see the fabric and the grid lines.  You also want the surface to be slightly textured.  If the mat is slick, it’ll be easy for the fabric to slide around, making accurate cutting impossible.  If the mat is too textured, it will dull your rotary blade.  All mats are generally gridded – either in inches or centimeters.  It’s really handy to have the grid numbered on all four sides.  I live in America, so my mats are in one-inch increments.  If the mat is large, it’s super nice to have a measuring line in the middle of the mat as well as at the top or bottom.  If I’m cutting shorter pieces of fabric, this means I have a closer measuring guideline and don’t have to use a long ruler to cut small pieces of fabric.  I also think (at least for quilters), the mat should be marked with 45, 60, and 30 degree angles, and have clearly delineated bias lines for cutting bias strips.  Beginning quilts may not use these so much, but the longer you quilt, the more important these become. 

The last five rotary mat considerations depend entirely on your preference.  These include color, size, markings, quality, and features.

Color – You don’t want a mat which is the same color as most of the fabric you quilt with.  So, when choosing a mat, try to purchase one in a color that will contrast most of your quilts.  For instance, if you love the color green and use green in most of your quilts, you may not want to purchase a green cutting mat.  Invest in a grey, pink, red, or blue one.  When I began quilting in the 1980’s, mats came in two colors – green and gray.  Now there are lots of color options in mats.  Some mats will have different colors on each side, and some are the same color on both sides, but one side may be gridded and the other side plain.  Make sure you can easily see the grid marks no matter what color you decide to buy.

Size – The best size mat for you depends on a couple of factors:  What size quilt do you most often make and what kind of space do you have available in your cutting area?  You don’t want a mat larger than the table it will be placed.  Can you leave your mat out all the time, or will you have to store it between uses?  Do you like to use long rulers and cut lots of yardage needed for large quilts or do you make primarily small projects and use shorter rulers?  Answering this question is important, especially if your space is limited and your budget it tight.  If you can only afford to purchase one mat when you begin to quilt, make sure it’s the right mat for you.

Grid Measurements – Most mats have a measuring grid which covers the surface.  If you live in the United States and purchase most of your patterns in the US, you want to make sure your mat has measurements in inches.  However, if you live outside of the US and purchase most of your patterns in countries other than the US, you may wish to have metric measurements as well as standard measurements on your mat.  The good news is that there are mats which have the standard inches on one side and metric on the other, so you are free to purchase whatever patterns from wherever you want and still be able to do the cutting without any math conversions.  This wasn’t a huge issue until patterns were sold via the internet.  Now we can purchase patterns from anywhere and with the right kind of mat, cut the quilts out without any issues. 

Another item to pay attention to is whether the markings on the mat incorporate the sizes you traditionally use.  For instance, the mat’s description may read “11-inches x 17-inches.”  This may mean the mat’s surface measures 11” x 17” but the grid lines on the it may only be 10-inches x 16-inches.  Look at the mat carefully to make sure it measures how and what you need it to. 

Quality – We’ve already discussed it’s important the mat be self-healing.  Let me also add to this some self-healing mats can have as few as three plies and as many as 15.  The thickness of the mat will impact how you will want to store it, whether it may warp, and how long it will last.  You will also want to check and see if the mat has a warranty.  Most reputable mat producing companies usually provide some kind of warranty to assure you they believe in their product and stand behind it.  You will pay more for this added quality, but it’s worth it to have a product which will stand up to years of use and if anything does go wrong, the manufacturer will make it right. 

Added Features – Considering all this information, it’s easy to see there are literally hundreds of mats to choose from.  However, there are other features you may want to consider before you go mat shopping.  If you’re like me and attend quilt retreats, classes, and workshops or you enjoy taking your quilting on the road with you as you travel, you may want a mat which can do double-duty.  There are mats which have one side that allows you to cut and then you can flip it over and the other side lets you do your pressing. 

There are mats such as these:

That open like a portfolio and one side is for cutting and the other is for pressing.  There are cutting mats that can be taken apart and packed, then reassembled once you’ve reached your destination. 

And there are mats which rotate (these are my favorite).  The rotating mats are really good for those quilters who paper piece or work with tiny piecing units or small applique blocks. 

Now with all of this information, before I leave you, I want to list and describe the five best cutting mats for quilting and sewing in 2021.  These are not my choices but were polled from quilters in Quilters Review.  All of these mats are self-healing.

  1.  Crafty World Professional

This is often called the “best cutting mat” and it comes in three handy-dandy sizes:  9” x 12”, 12” x 18”, and 18” x 24”.  It has blue and green color options and seems to be the best mat for quilters, hobbyists, and crafters.  It’s versatile and flexible can be used for everything from quilting, garment making, and model kit building.  It has a smooth surface and the self-healing capability to ensure it lasts 10 times longer than ordinary mats. Thick and double-sided, it’s easy to use and accurate for cutting quilting fabric.  Clear lines are available in 1/8-inch measurements.  The 3mm thickness protects your work area and has a non-slip base to keep it firmly in place, no matter how much you’re cutting.  It will last for years before it needs to be replaced.

  •  Olfa’s Fabric Cutting Matt

This mat is only 1.5mm thick, so it is on the thinner side of self-healing mats.  However, it is a larger mat – 24” x 36”.  It works great for cutting those long pieces of quilting fabric with your rotary cutter.  The mat has one side which is solid green, and the other side comes printed with grid lines in one-inch increments.  The surface is smooth, but should not be used with fixed-blade knives – it’s made for rotary cutters.  This mat does have the angle markings I mentioned earlier.  And as rotary mats go, the Olfa is pretty easy to clean – a gum eraser can remove anything that gets stuck in the mat.

  •  US Art Supply Self-Healing Cutting Mat

This mat is very similar to the Crafty World Professional, but this one come with a pink and blue color option.  This is an 18” x 24”, and it has five ply construction.  The grid marks are in ½-inch increments with 1/8” marks for accurate cutting and both the 45-degree and 60-degree guides.  The mat is reversible and both sides have the grid markings.  It is 3mm thick, resilient, can be used repeatedly, and has a long-life span (well…a long life span for a mat, anyway).  If you aren’t crazy about pink and blue, there is also a green and black option.

  •  Dahle Vantage 5-Layer Healing Mat

This mat’s five layers means it has maximum self-healing potential, and this one mat covers all the bases from sewing to crafting to cropping.  It comes in three color options:  black, blue and clear.  It also comes in several sizes:  9” x 12”, 12” x 18”, 24” x 36”, and 36” x 48”.  Each of these mats feature a 3mm thickness and has a preprinted ½-inch grid to allow for accurate measurements.  The five-layer PVC construction means this mat has maximum self-healing.  PVC construction protects all of your blades from becoming dull and damaged.  It also has a limited warranty, so if your mat doesn’t meet your expectations, you can return or replace it.

  •  US Art Supply, Self-Healing 5-ply Cutting Mat

This mat measures 36” x 48” and is green and black.  It has 5-ply, self-healing construction as well as ½-inch grid with precise alignment due to the 1/8-inch marks.  It also has 45-degree and 60-degree markings.  The mat is reversable and has the grid on both sides.  This mat can handle rotary cutters, craft tools, sharp blades, and writing instruments. 

Once you’ve decided which mat is the right one for you, it’s important to make sure you place the mat on a hard, flat, solid surface which is at least as big as the mat.  If you try to cut on a soft surface (such as carpet), your cuts won’t be as accurate.  At this point, if you’re like me and don’t like to cut through more than two layers of fabric at a time, you’re good to go.  However, if you like to stack your fabrics and cut multiple layers at once, make sure 1) Your rotary cutter can handle multiple layers and 2) You’re stacking the same type of fabrics together (such as all quilting cottons or all batiks).  Mixing thin and thick fabrics for cutting will make the process difficult and your slicing and dicing inaccurate. 

After you’ve used your mat for a month or so, if possible, turn the mat so you’re cutting from the other side.  This will slow down the wear and tear on the mat and evenly distribute the erosion. 

Cutting mats are an investment, and you will probably want to make them last as long as possible.  You can extend the life of your mat by rotating and flipping them often and avoid cutting in the same place each time.  If you must store your mat between uses, be sure to lay it flat, and never, ever leave it in a warm place, such as the trunk of a car.  The heat will warp it.  Likewise, if you leave it in a cold place (like the trunk of a car in the winter), your mat may become brittle.  If the mat gets dirty, clean the surface with lukewarm water and mild detergent.  However, at some point, your mat will need to be replaced.  If the surface has ruts in it and the grid marks are growing faint, it’s time to go shopping for a new mat. 

Two more items before we wrap up this blog on cutting mats.  When I began my research, I noticed several sites which had information on how to de-warp your warped cutting mat and how to restore the mat’s self-healing properties.  According to several hits via a Google search, you can de-warp your mat by ironing it.  You lay a pressing cloth or towel on your mat and press.  Self-healing properties are said to be restored by soaking your mat in warm water and then laying it flat to dry.  I’ve never tried either of these methods, but if you have and they worked, please let me know. 

I’ve completed a few quilts and am planning on a show and tell blog in the near future.  A couple of these quilts are meant to be gifts, so I can’t show them until I gift them…so….it’ll still be a few weeks.  But until then…

Quilt On!

Love and Stitches,

Sherri and Sam

Categories
Uncategorized

The Cutting Edge…Part Two

Last week we talked about all things scissors…fabric scissors, paper scissors, embroidery scissors, how to take care of your scissors…we covered the field from how much to spend to how to store them.  This week we’re turning our attention to the other cutting instrument in your quilt studio – the rotary cutter.  This cutter is the second most-used tool in quilt studios, with the first being the sewing machine.  Initially rotary cutters were developed in the 1980’s and were used in the garment industry.  It wasn’t long before quilters decided they needed this tool in their lives and it made the leap from the sewing notions aisle to the quilting making aisle.  What did quilters do before this?  Well…they used scissors.  Quilters would spend ours cutting out their quilt patches by hand with sharp scissors.  Each piece of fabric, as well as each completed block, required precision trimming with scissors. 

Once the rotary cutter was introduced, not only did the cutting and trimming become faster, it also became more accurate. Quilters could quickly move through the cutting process.  Before the rotary cutter, cutting could take days (or even weeks) of tedious work.  This change made quilting more exciting – at least for folks like me who would rather get through the slicing and dicing as soon as possible so we can get to the good stuff.  In the blink of an eye, the rotary cutter changed the quilting industry and quilt making forever. 

The choice of rotary cutter is just as important as the one you will make about the scissors you use.  And making that decision can be difficult, because as soon as you hit the rotary cutter aisle in a brick-and-mortar store or a website, the choice seems endless.  Couple that with the fact the price range varies as much for cutters as they do scissors, and it’s easy to feel dazed and confused.  So, the first item we’ll discuss is what to look for in a rotary cutter.  Just like scissors, rotary cutters are an extension of your hand.  You want to make sure the cutter feels comfortable and is controllable.  Safety features are also important.  As you begin your search for your perfect rotary cutter, keep the following in mind:

  1.  There is a wide variety available.  You have to search for the one which best suits your needs.  There are different brands, some use different blades made from different metals and there are narrow ones and wide ones.  Handles can vary from brand to brand and even be different within the same brand.  Some come in kits with fun accessories which will make your cutting experience easier and more enjoyable.  When I began my search for a rotary cutter, I made a list requirements:  It had to be ergonomically friendly for carpel tunnel, blade replacement should be easy, and it had to have a blade cover.  As I shopped, I disregarded any cutters which didn’t meet those requirements.  It took a while, but the I still use my original cutter almost daily. 
  2. There is more than one size blade diameter.  Most blades run from 18 mm to 60 mm in diameter.  Which size do you need?  It depends on your cutting preferences.  If you like cutting multiple layers of fabric, then you need to steer   your shopping towards the 60 mm sized rotary cutters.  However, its important to remember as the size of the blade increases, you may lose accuracy, maneuverability, and ease of cutting.  If you’re creating intricate shapes with your fabric, fussy cutting, cutting around templates, or cutting through no more than two layers of fabric at a time, you will probably want a smaller, more maneuverable blade.  You may want to purchase an 18-mm to 28-mm cutter.  If you want one rotary cutter to cover all your cutting needs, then the middle range cutter (45 mm) is probably your best bet.  With this size, you won’t lose a great deal of precision, but you will still be able to cut through most fabrics easily, including stacks of thinner fabrics.  Personally, I have 45 mm, 28 mm, and a 60 mm rotary cutters.  Bear in mind I didn’t purchase all of them at once, but over a quilting life span of 34 years.  If I had to pick one size rotary cutter to keep and disregard the rest, I’d chose the 28 mm.  As a rule, I cut no more than two layers of fabric at a time (I have accuracy issues if I cut through multiple layers).  For me, the 28 mm is ideal.  However, for cutting through batting, you can’t beat the 60 mm.  I purchased the 45 mm when I started quilting, and still use it for cutting strips.  You will need to weigh your cutting habits against your wallet and decide what is best for you. 
  3. Consider blade safety.  A good safety feature to look for on a new rotary cutter is a button which allows to retract the blade when you’re not using it.  And as a general rule, you want to keep your fingers away from the blade when cutting, as well as push the rotary cutter away from you when slicing through any fabric.  I can hear some of you now, “I don’t have kids in my home.  Why do I need to retract my blade when I’m not using it?”  Allow me to offer up a personal experience. 

For the longest time, I never retracted my blade.  When I began seriously quilting, my kids were older and knew not to touch my rotary cutter.  I’d lay the cutter down on my cutting table, walk away, and not worry about it.  Then one hot, southern summer day, I was cutting out a quilt and needed a potty break.  Let me emphasize it was a hot day and I had on shorts.  And sandals.  Two important points.  I put my rotary cutter down and moved away, and in the process accidentally knocked my cutter off the mat.  It skipped down my bare leg and across my sandaled foot.  I had a total of four gashes which would not stop bleeding.  It took my son, a local fireman, and God only knows how many butterfly band aids to stop the bleeding – all because I didn’t retract the blade when I left the cutting area.

You need a rotary cutter with good safety features.  Trust me. 

  •  Consider the blade material.  A good blade will save you both time, energy, and money.  It will allow you to cut through as many as six layers of fabric at a time.  You won’t have to exert a lot of effort to move the cutter through multiple layers of cloth, either.  You’ll be able to use it through multiple projects without needing to replace it.  You won’t have to re-purchase fabric because your blade had  tiny burrs on it and as a result, it chewed your fabric.  Most of all, a good blade is safer.  With a good, sharp blade, you’re less likely to exert so much force on the cutter you lose control over the blade.  The best rotary cutter blades are made from tungsten or carbon steel – the same material good kitchen knives are made from.  So, when you’re shopping for rotary blade replacements, be sure to read the package carefully to make sure the blades are made from one of these metals.  Olfa’s blades are made from Tungsten steel and Improve Cut blades are comprised of carbon steel.  Titanium blades are a recent addition to the blade family.  I sew with titanium sewing machine needles, but haven’t tried these blades (I tend to purchase rotary blades in bulk and don’t need anymore right now).  However, some of my quilting buddies have used the Titanium blades and have nothing but good things to say about them. 

All rotary blades dull over time.   As you use your cutter, notice if you have to put a lot of effort in pushing it through the layers of fabric or if the blade “skips” cutting in places.  If either of these are true, then it’s time to replace the blade.  And I’ll admit, this is not my most favorite task, but replacing the bad blade with a good one really makes cutting easier.  All good cutters will let you remove and replace the blade, allowing you to keep the handle which best suits your hand.  If you’ve tossed the blade replacement directions, YouTube or Google search your particular cutter.  I just about guarantee you can find the directions (and better yet, a video) on how to replace the blade.

I quilt a lot, and as a result I use my cutter several times a week and must replace my blades pretty regularly.  If this is also your scenario, you may want to do what I do – purchase blades in bulk.  I’ve found this very cost-effective.  If you don’t quilt as much as I do, most brands of blades come in packs of five.  However, blades are among the more pricey consumables in a quilt studio (discounting fabric).  The good news is big box fabric/hobby shops stock most of the popular blade brands.  Use their 40 percent off coupon to buy your blades.

  • The blade handle is very, very important.  You will be gripping the hand of your rotary cutter for hours.  It’s very important the handle is comfortable to hold at the angle you’ll use it.  Fiskar’s ergonomic handles are a quilting favorite, but my advice concerning rotary cutter purchase is the same as buying scissors:  if possible, go to a store and purchase it.  Hold it in your hand and imagine pushing it through layers of fabric for hours at a time.  If your hand is comfortable with the initial purchase, any subsequent purchases can be made online.
Comfort Cutter

However, if you can’t purchase your rotary cutter in person, be aware there are some brands made specifically for special needs.  There are some handles specifically designed with arthritis and grip issues in mind.  My Comfort Cutter from The Grace Company allows you to add attachments to your handle, so it can be personalized for your grip, and is designed to allow you to press from overhead, making cutting easier. 

Ruler Track
  •  Your particular brand of cutter may offer accessories.  It’s a given you’ll need rotary cutting mat to go with your cutter, and we will discuss those later in the blog.  However, there are some other accessories you may want to consider.  First, there’s a ruler track.    A ruler track can be carefully placed on your fabric, then your rotary cutter fits into the track on the ruler like a rail car, and you simply follow the line up and down.  This provides a very straight cut.  The only draw back is at some point you’ll run out of “track,” limiting the length of the cut. 

Another accessory which comes with some cutters is extra blades.  This is a nice added bonus, since you will use those blades.

  •  Make sure the cutter fits your handedness.  Like scissors, rotary cutters come made for right-handed people and left-handed people.  And some cutters are ambidextrous and may be used by righties or lefties.  Be sure to read the cutter description to make sure it will work for you.

Now, with all that said, I’d like to list the six best-selling rotary cutters.

Fiskars 45mm Contour Rotary Cutter

This rotary cutter cuts smoothly and precisely, even through as many as six layers of fabric.  It works for either right or left-handed quilters and the ergonomic design prevents hand fatigue, allowing for accurate cutting for extended periods of time.  My favorite thing about this cutter is the thumb control on top of the handle.  One touch with your thumb causes the blade to engage or retract (meaning the blade won’t be exposed when you lay it down).  This cutter comes with steel blades.

Fiskars 60mm Titanium Softgrip Comfort Loop Handle Rotary Cutter

If you’re comfortable cutting multiple layers of fabric, this is your cutter.  It’s ergonomically designed to prevent hand fatigue and provides excellent control.  It’s made for right or left-handed quilters and this design provides great visibility for either.  This cutter comes with a titanium blade so it’s tough enough not only for cutting through multiple layers of fabric, but also wonderful for squaring up quilts or cutting batting.

Olfa 45mm Deluxe Handle Rotary Cutter

This cutter cuts up to six layers of fabric easily and works well for most quilting applications.  The rubber grip contoured handle is easy on the hand, but not as ergonomically friendly as the previous listed rotary cutters. The handle does include a squeeze trigger blade control which allows it to self-retract.  When engaged, the red button keeps the blade open for longer periods of time.  One of the best characteristics about this cutter is the blade can be moved to either side, making it perfect for either right or left-handed cutters.  The Olfa 45mm Deluxe Handle Cutter also has a pinking blade which can be used on loosely woven fabrics (such as homespun) to keep fraying to a minimum.

Olfa 60 mm Deluxe Rotary Cutter

This handy-dandy cutter can slice through 8-layers of fabric at a time.  The handle is ergonomic and includes a squeeze trigger which allows the blade to self-retract.  This cutter is a good choice for anyone who makes tote bags or quilted purses.  It can easily cut through the thin foam used in making those.  Just avoid cutting foam which is thicker than the width of the blade.  It also makes easy work of trimming the quilt sandwich or cutting batting.  Quilters who make rag quilts find the 60mm Deluxe cutter especially useful when cutting through those projects that involve layers of wool.

Martelli Ergo 2000 45 mm Rotary Cutter

Allow me a moment of complete self-plugging of a product:  I love Martelli Cutters because of their ergonomic design.  The cutter puts your hand in perfect alignment for cutting, taking a great deal of strain off the wrist, arm, elbow, and fingers.  And because of the added pressure of correct hand alignment, a quilter can cut up to 15 layers at a time.  Since Martelli’s are built so differently than Fiskars and Olfa, changing their blades is a bit different, but the company puts out handy YouTube videos which explain how to use the blade guards and how to change the blades.  You can’t switch the blades to different sides, so you will have to purchase either a right-handed or left-handed cutter.  The cutter can be refilled with any 45-mm blade on the market.  These cutters are not (at least to my knowledge) sold in fabric or quilt stores.  The company does vend at many, many quilt shows and has a wonderful on-line store.  I can also personally attest their customer service is stellar.  I’ve contacted them before about an issue I was dealing with concerning their 45mm cutter and they simply shipped me a brand-new cutter, no questions asked. 

Olfa 9551 Rty-1/G 28mm Straight Handled Rotary Cutter

This cutter is perfect for small quilting projects.  A quilter can push the tab forward to use the blade and pull it back to retract it.  It’s great for working on small pieces, or cutting out around templates or applique pieces, as this cutter handles curves smoothly.  The blade switches sides for either right or left-handed users.  Keep out of the reach of children as this cutter is pretty simple to figure out.

How to Care for Your Rotary Cutter

Just like scissors, purchasing a rotary cutter is a financial investment.  And with any such pricey purchase, it’s important to take care of the cutter so it will last a long time.  It’s equally important to take as much care of the blades.  While the blades will be replaced, there are some things you can do to prolong their lives.

  1.  Never cut paper or interfacings with your cutter.  This will dull the blade.  If you find yourself reaching for the cutter when your want to cut these, purchase a separate cutter for cutting paper or interfacings.  
  2. Be sure to keep pins away from the cutting area.  If you accidentally hit a pin, it will put a nick in the blade, and it will no longer cut all the way through the fabric.
  3. Old blades are still very sharp.  Find a way to safely dispose of these.  Some folks fold an index card in half and tape the short sides.  They put the blade in the pocket and then tape across the top.  I keep an empty parmesan cheese container in my sewing room.  I put used blades, dull pins and needles, and broken sewing machine needles in this.  When it’s full (and it takes a long time to fill it), I duct tape the top securely and then toss it.  Whatever way you decide to dispose of your used blades, make sure it’s secure enough that the blades won’t injure anyone emptying the trash.
  4. Don’t scissor back and forth with your cutter.  It will make a rough edge along the seam and loosen the threads.  Instead, use the strength in your shoulder to push the blade forward, away from your body in one smooth action.  It takes practice, but eventually you will make steady cuts.
  5. Store the cutter and blades out of the reach of children.   These things are sharp.  Kids are way smarter than we give them credit for.  They can figure out how to use a rotary cutter in a hot second.
  6. Never leave the blade open on your work surface (see personal injury story above).  Get in the habit of closing your blade each time you place it down. 

You want a cutter which will fit your hand and take as much strain off your wrist, elbow, arm, shoulder, and fingers as possible.  My advice is to purchase the cutter which best fulfills your requirements and doesn’t bust your wallet.   Your choice of cutter will depend on what kind of quilter you are.  If you’re primarily a piecer, comfortable with cutting through multiple layers of fabric at a time, you will probably opt for a 45mm or 60 mm cutter.  If you usually are cutting around templates or dealing with applique pieces, a 18mm or 28mm cutter may be just what you need.  If you’re mostly an applique quilter and cut your applique pieces out with scissors, you may opt for the 45mm rotary cutter.  It will still handle layers of fabric, but remain controllable in the event you do decide to use it with your applique.  The choice is a personal one, and eventually (if you quilt long enough) you may decide you need a couple of different rotary cutters in different sizes. 

I had planned to cover rotary mats in this blog, but I’m already well over 3,000 words.  We’ll hit those next week.  So, until then…

Quilt On!

Love and Stitches,

Sherri and Sam

Categories
Uncategorized

The Cutting Edge

You can’t make a quilt if you don’t cut some fabric.

That’s the simple truth.  Once fabric and pattern are in hand, the next step is cutting.  And I’ll admit (and as many of you already know) this part is the one I like least in the entire quilting process.  However, unless you buy a pre-cut quilt kit, you can’t get to the fun stuff until you’ve sliced and diced it all up.  Making sure you have good scissors, rotary cutters, and a good cutting mat will make this process easier, accurate, and if you’re the least bit like me – a little more enjoyable.  So, today’s blog will talk about all those cutting tools, what makes the good ones good and the great ones great, as well as how to take care of them.  Each one of these is an investment in both money and ergonomic ease.  Choose wisely and be prepared to plunk down some cash.

Scissors Verses Shears

Okay…I’ll admit since the introduction of the rotary cutter to the quilting universe, scissors are nearly a second thought now.  Until the 1980’s, quilters traced around templates and then cut their patches out with scissors.  Once rotary cutters showed up on the quilting aisle in fabric shops, the use of scissors to cut quilting fabric declined.  However, even though we cut most of our quilt tops out with a cutter, there still are times when scissors come into play.  It’s important to know what makes up a good pair of scissors and how to take care of them. 

To begin with, there are two types of “scissors.”  There are the scissors and shears.  What’s the difference?  A lot.  To begin with shears are shaped like this:

And scissors are shaped like this:

This is the quickest way to tell them apart.  Now let’s get into specifics.

Shears are primarily used in garment construction.  The bend between the handle and the blades makes shears the perfect cutting instrument for slicing through multiple layers of fabric.  The blade length is longer in shears than in scissors – the beginning length in most shears is 7-inches.  Scissor blades can start as small as an inch.  The handles are different, too.  Shears’ handles have one hole for the thumb at the end of one blade and a larger hole on the other to accommodate four fingers.  Shears were developed for serious fabric cuttage.  Their shape is perfect for cutting several layers of material without putting undue stress on the wrist and fingers. 

At this point, your burning question is “Do they have a place in my quilting world?”  Maybe.  Depends on what kind of cutter you are.  If you’re comfortable cutting multiple layers of fabric with a large rotary cutter, then probably no.  However, I do keep two pairs of shears in my studio and find they’re easier than scissors to use when I need to cut batting. 

Scissors, on the other hand, can run the gamut in blade size and use.  There are specialty scissors out there for nearly every type and kind of crafting.  My aim is to make you understand the differences, what makes a good pair of scissors, give you an overview of the types, and tell you what kind I keep in my studio.

Scissors differ from shears in blade length, handles, and what they’re used for.  Blades on scissors can vary from as small as 1-inch to greater than 8-inches.  And there are some non-scissor scissors (such as snips) which are generally tossed into this category.  The handles have two holes of the same size, which means one can accommodate the thumb and the other one or two fingers.  Other than the shape, the biggest difference between shears and scissors is what they’re used for.  Shears are made for big, heavy-duty cutting jobs.  Scissors aren’t.  They are for small cutting projects. 

With the differences between the two explained, let’s talk about what we need to look for no matter which one we decide to purchase. 

  1.  The blades should move easily.  You shouldn’t have to force them apart or back together.  If they’re difficult to open and close, this will tire your hand quickly.
  2. Look at the pivot point or screw.  This is sometimes called the button.  You should be able to wipe this area clean and it should show no sign of wear or rust.  I personally like my buttons to stick up above the blade instead of being inset.  More on why this is preferable in a bit.
  3. They should feel good and have a comfortable weight in your hand.  You don’t want them too light (this may make accuracy difficult) neither do you want them too heavy (this will tire your hand).  If possible in this internet-purchasing world, go to a store and buy your scissors.  This way you’ll actually be able to hold them and get a good idea of the way they feel in your hand.
  4. Make sure they’re made for your handedness.  Most scissors are made for right-handed people.  If you cut with your left-hand, be sure you purchase a pair made for left handers.  And some scissors are ambidextrous.  The great news is most scissor companies make all three types – left, right, and ambidextrous.

 Scissors and shears are investment purchases.  If you buy quality ones and take care of them, they will last you a lifetime.  My mom still has the shears she used when she made my clothes when I was a little girl.  They’re over 50 years-old and still cut wonderfully.  So, should you purchase one or both?  If you make garments as well as quilts, then you probably want a good pair of each.  If you only quilt, you can make do with only scissors.  New types of specialty scissors are introduced every year. At this point, I’d like to talk about the most popular type of brands and how they rank.

Fiskars

The great thing about this brand is you can find them at both big box stores and many small quilt and fabric shops.  They’re a great all-around brand and run the price range from inexpensive to high-end pairs with all the bells and whistles.  Fiskars offers scissors, shears, and snips and has products which can be used from the kindergarten classroom to the most exclusive sewing studio.  The range in cost tells you about the range in quality, so for this reason quilters, we want to head towards the more expensive end of the Fiskar models (if you can afford it). 

Gingher

For me, when I pick up a pair of Gingher scissors, I’m a kid again, rummaging through my mom’s sewing area.  Gingher Brand has been around since 1947 and by 1965 they were the crème d’ la crème of the sewing world.  Unlike Fiskar, Gingher offers a more limited range of models on the higher end.  This means all quality, all the time – no second guessing needed.  Basically, any Gingher scissor which goes home with you is bound to be wonderful.  These scissors are all metal, although the handles may be gold or silver.

Kai

While this brand may be one of the newer ones to us quilters in the United States, Kai scissors and shears have been made in Japan for over 100 years.  Kai scissors and shears are made with stainless steel and vanadium.  What’s vanadium?  It’s what Kai uses to make their scissors extra strong and helps them stay sharp for way longer than typical sewing scissors.  I’ve test-driven Kai scissors and am impressed.  Most likely the next pair of scissors I purchase will be Kai’s.  Currently, I have a pair of Gingher’s I’ve used for years – since I taught French heirloom sewing in the 1980’s – and they’re still just as great as the day I bought them. 

This scissors I’ve mentioned above are standard sewing scissors.  There are plenty of specialty scissors on the market and now I want to mention those.  Some of these are well-worth the money and others simply depend on what kind of quilter you are.

Karen Kay Buckley’s Perfect Scissors

It’s no secret I love these scissors.  They come in several sizes (my favorites are the 1 ½-inch and the 7-inch ones).  The handles are flexible, so they can be used for long periods of time without rubbing sore places on your thumb and finger.  I think the best feature is the micro-serrated edges.  I’m an avid appliquer and cut my applique pieces with these scissors because the serrated edges help keep the fabric from fraying.  Two warnings about these scissors:  First, if you ever need to sharpen them, make sure the tech knows the blades are micro-serrated, and second, occasionally knock-off brands appear on the internet (especially on social media sites).  Purchase the real thing at Karen’s website.  The imitators aren’t nearly as good as the originals. 

Pinking Shears

Pinking shears have come a long, long way.  Back in the dark ages when I took home ec, they were bulky, heavy, hard to open and close, and cut in zigzags.  Today they come in all colors, are lighter and easier to use, and cut in scallops as well as the traditional zigzag.  Before there were sergers and fray block, pinking shears were the only way (besides a zig-zag stitch on your sewing machine) to finish the edges of your fabric.  The zig-zag stitch on your sewing machine would often leave a raised edge which could be seen from the right side of your sewing project (especially after it was pressed), plus it was an additional step in the construction process.  Lots of sewers just opted to pink everything.  I own a pair of pinking shears.  I purchased them in the 1980’s when I made all of my kids’ clothes and a good chunk of mine.  I still use them when I’m piecing a block with curves.  Pinking the pieces works sometimes works better than clipping the curves.  If you only quilt, you may want to seriously count the cost of pinking shears against the amount of time you would actually use them.  If you make garments as well as quilt, pinking shears are worth the investment. 

Embroidery Scissors

Yes.  You need a pair.  I use my embroidery scissors every time I sit down to sew.  As a matter of fact, I use embroidery scissors so much, I have three pair – one at Dolly, one in my hand sewing kit, and another pair in my applique kit.  They’re the perfect size to snip threads and trim applique pieces.  While these won’t be used for cutting large chunks of fabric, you do want a pair with good points, feels solid in your hand, and can be sharpened if needed. 

Rag Quilting Snips

If you decide to make a rag quilt, you can certainly use your regular scissors to make the perpendicular clips in the seams.  However, if rag quilts are your thing, you will probably want to invest in these snips.  Once you use the snips, I’m told you will never go back to using regular scissors.  Fingers rest above the handles instead of being slipped into holes in the handles.  This is a good thing, because you make a lot of cuts through multiple layers of fabric in a rag quilt and may get blisters using regular scissors.  The spring action of the handles mean they will pop right back into place for the next cut with no effort from you.  The rounded tips create a bit of a buffer at their ends, just enough to keep you from cutting too deeply into a seam allowance.  I have made one rag quilt and have no desire to make another, so I don’t have a pair of these snips.  However, if I enjoyed making these quilts, I would definitely invest in a pair of Rag Quilting Snips.

Fiskar Soft Touch Titanium Scissors/Shears

Fiskar labels these as scissors, even though they have a bend.  For me, the biggest selling point with the Soft Touch is the titanium nitride which coats the blades and prevents wear.  However, there is another great selling feature about these:  the spring action handles.  These handles prevent hand fatigue and for those of us with arthritis, carpel tunnel, or other aches pains, the spring action takes a lot of stress off the fingers and wrist.  I had a pair of the Soft Touches when I made clothing and loved them. They fall in the mid-range price of Fiskars, so their purchase won’t hurt your wallet too badly.  By the time I wore mine completely out, I was no longer making clothes – just strictly quilting – and chose not to replace them.  However, if I went back to constructing garments on a regular basis, I’d purchase another pair. 

Gingher Knife Edge Applique Scissors

Before I knew these as a type of applique scissors, I was acquainted with them under the alias of “Lace Scissors.”  When I taught French Heirloom Sewing, these scissors were a must for anyone trimming fabric away from lace.  I use them so much I have two pairs of them.  At some point, a quilter realized these chrome over nickel scissors were super-duper handy for applique.  The paddle-like blade (sometimes known as the duckbill –as a matter of fact, as an instructor I referred to these scissors as “the ducks”) keeps one edge of the fabric away from the blade while the pushing edge you want to cut toward the sharp blade.  The offset handles provide a good view of the fabric as you’re cutting.  I applique a lot and use these scissors a great deal.  They are a bit pricey.  If you’re not an avid appliquer, you can live without them.  However, if you’re as smitten with the art as I am, you may want to eventually invest in a pair or ask for them at Christmas or your birthday. 

Gingher 4-inch Safety Scissors

These blunt-tipped scissors remind of the scissor we had to use in elementary school,  but don’t let looks fool you.  Despite the rounded end, the scissors are sharp.  These are great to have around for little clipping tasks and you don’t have to worry about puncturing fabric or skin.  You can safely toss these in your purse or sewing tote.  I don’t have a pair, but my friends who travel via airplane tell me these are great to take on a flight.

I don’t own every pair of scissors I’ve mentioned.  I do have two pairs of Karen Kay Buckley’s Perfect Scissors (the 1 ½-inch and the 7-inch), a pair of 8-inch Gingher scissors, and several pairs of embroidery scissors. I’ve been gifted several others, but these are the ones you’ll find out and in use in my studio.  The Perfect Scissors and Ginghers are used to cut fabric.  However, if you’ve quilted long enough, you know you’ll also end up cutting a fair amount of paper, too.  Which brings us to the next topic…

Do I need to be super-picky about the scissors I use to cut paper?

Maybe. 

It depends on what kind of paper-cutting you’re doing.  If you’re only separating pattern pieces by rough cutting, then pick yourself up a cheap pair of Fiskars.  However, if trimming freezer paper applique patterns and any other type of detail-oriented paper cutting are in your quilty future, you may want to be a bit more discerning in you paper-cutting-only scissors. 

Westcott Titanium Bonded Scissors

These are definitely a “do-it-all” scissor.  The titanium-bonded blades can slice through cardstock, cardboard, and laminate, as well as tissue-paper patterns.  The plastic handles are gently contoured to prevent cramping or any stress to your hand.  These are an investment purchase – they do cost a bit – but if you give them proper care, they should last a lifetime.

Scotch Precision Scissors

These scissors check off all the major boxes.  They come with a rubberized grip which means comfort, no matter if you use them for just a few minutes or long hours at a stretch.  What’s especially appealing is their universal design – left-handed and right-handed folks can use the same pair of scissors.  The thumb holes are shaped to accommodate the natural squeezing action of all users, reducing not only awkwardness, but also pain and swelling when used over and extended amount of time. A quick Amazon search turned up several pairs, all around $5.00.

Canary Small Scissors

These are designed specifically for paper art, but if you’re trimming teeny-tiny freezer paper pieces for applique, you’d love to have a pair of these.  Canary Scissors are handcrafted in Seki City, Japan.  They have a sleek, sharp blade which can navigate small areas and tight turns easily.  These are around 4-inches, are lightweight, and portable.  However, the handles are small, so if you have large hands, they may be uncomfortable for long periods of use. 

At this point, I want to encourage you to keep your paper-cutting scissors in one area and your fabric scissors in another.  Don’t use your fabric cutting scissors to cut paper – it will dull them.  I’ve heard some instructors say as long as you wipe down the blades after using the scissors, it doesn’t matter what you cut.  I haven’t found this to be true for myself.  I developed a system many years ago to not only keep the two types apart, but also how to tell which kind of scissor should be used for what kind of use.  I began seriously sewing when my kids were young, and kids need to cut paper for all kinds of projects.  After they had mistakenly grabbed my good Ginghers one too many times, I came up with this idea.  Every pair of scissors destined to cut paper had red or orange handles.  Fiskars have orange handles and Scott Precision scissors have red ones.  One quick glance at the handles let the kids know if the scissors could be used for their art projects.  I’m using the same system with my grand darlings. 

Of course, there’s always this method:

But then you have to keep up with the key!

Scissors are one quilty tool you’ll use nearly every time you sit down to sew – whether you’re working at your machine or are hand sewing.  Investing in good, quality pairs is the first step in scissor nirvana.  Like just about every other quilting tool, regular care and upkeep will go a long way in extending the life of your scissors for years.  So, now I want to give you my Top 10 Tips for Taking Care of Your Sewing Scissors.

  1.  Avoid Moisture

Moisture is not good for any scissors.  When we think about moisture, we think about water and wetness, and yes, you need to avoid having your scissors around any liquids.  However, you also don’t want to keep your scissors on your ironing board.  The ironing board will retain moisture from steam and if you stash your scissors on it, they come in contact with some dampness.  Make sure your fabric is completely dry before you cut into it, too. 

  • Cut Only Fabric with Your Best Fabric Scissors

We may have several pairs of scissors we use in our studio, and probably one of those pairs is predestined for only cutting paper.  But the other scissors may also cut ribbon, interfacing, fusible webbing, etc.  This is fine, but you may want to keep one pair for fabric only.  True, this tip is more for folks who make quilts and garments, but the first time you pick up your best scissors for a prolonged cutting job and find they’re chewing the fabric more than they’re slicing through the quilting cotton, you’ll thank me for this tip. 

  • Tighten the Pivot Screw and Apply Oil Periodically

Over an extended period of time, you may feel the blades are looser.  It’s fine to take a screw driver and tighten the pivot screw (which is also called a “button”).  You may also want to put a drop of oil on the screw, and wipe down the excess. 

  •  Get Them Sharpened Regularly

One of the things I miss most about Hancock Fabrics is their scissor sharpener.  At least once a year, they would have a couple of guys come into the store to sharpen scissors.  You’d sign up for a time slot and bring in your scissors and the two men would work their magic.  I finally found someone in High Point who sharpens scissors, and recently took six pairs to him – however, it had been nearly three years since they had been sharpened.  Sometimes local quilt shows will have a scissor sharpening tech you can utilize.  If your local fabric or quilt store doesn’t offer these services, Google local knife sharpening shops.  Quite often they will sharpen scissors, too. 

  •  Wipe Them Clean

Some fabrics are abrasive and can damage the metal on your scissors, especially some man-made fabrics.  The best way to prevent this from happening is to wipe down the blades with a clean cloth after each project. Be sure to wipe the area around the screw, too. This is why I like the screw to stand out and not be inset — it makes cleaning this easier.

  •  Avoid Pins

Don’t cut over pins.  And while this tip is more for garment makers than quilters, it’s important to remember.  If you end up cutting through a pin, you’ve probably inflicted serious damage to your scissor’s blades.

  •  Don’t Drop Them

This can damage the alignment of your scissors, nick the blades, and cause the blades to bend or the tips to break.

  •  Keep the Case Closed

Store your scissors in a cool, dry place, preferably in their own sheath, pouch, or case.  Be sure to store them in a place where they won’t be knocked off onto the floor.  And for those of us who travel with our scissors, transport them in their case, pouch, or sheath to protect the blades.  If your scissors didn’t come in one of those, wrap a rubber band around the blades to keep them stable

  •  Spend Your Money Wisely

We’ve already covered this pretty well.  But let me reiterate this:  Scissors are an investment.  A quality pair will cut better, last longer, and can be sharpened over and over again.  They will last you a lifetime.

  •  Cut At the Right Spot

It may come as a surprise, but there is a right place on the blade to cut thin fabrics, small areas, and thicker fabrics.  When cutting layers of fabric or thicker fabric, start at  the part of the blade near the pivot screw and use the entire length of the blade.  If you’re cutting thinner fabrics or smaller areas like notches or small curves, use the tips of the blades.  This sounds like a little detail, but cutting with the wrong area of the scissors can cause them be become misaligned – as well as making your cutting much more difficult.

If all of this information has caused you to pause and take a second look at your scissors, then I have done my job.  Quilters use rotary cutters and mats so much that I don’t think we give our scissors the consideration we need to.  I remember when I began quilting in 1986, the rotary cutter was still a relatively new tool, and it was a long while until we saw rotary cutting directions in quilt patterns. We traced around templates and then cut our patches out with scissors.  Over time, things have changed, but every once in a while a pattern will grab your attention which requires you to trace templates.  And you may find it easier to cut these templates out with scissors rather than your rotary cutter.  A good pair of scissors makes this easier.  Trimming applique pieces is also easier with sharp scissors.  Invest in at least two pairs – one with 7- to 8-inch blades and a smaller pair.  Keep them sharp and take good care of them. 

While we’re on the subject of cutting, next week we’ll cover rotary cutters and mats – two things we all keep in our studio.  So, until next week…

Quilt On!

Love and Stitches,

Sherri and Sam

Categories
Uncategorized

Grandmother’s Flower Garden

I want to talk about the third quilt in the 1920-1930 popular pattern trinity.  We’ve talked about the first two – Sunbonnet Sue and the Double Wedding Ring Quilt.  I mentioned Grandmother’s Flower Garden (hereafter known as GFG) was just as well-known as the other two.   During the 1930’s all three quilts were so popular quilt shows often gave each quilt their own categories at state fairs. You’ll find there are some similarities in the histories of the Double Wedding Ring Quilt and the GFG.  We’ll start with the history first. 

When I see any quilt made of hexagon patches, the first idea which pops into my mind is GFG.  The six-sided shape is so identified with this quilt pattern that it’s difficult to wrap your mind around the concept hexagons are used in lots of other ways in both pieced and appliqued quilts.  However, it’s important to remember this geometric shape wasn’t used in what we recognize as a GFG until much later in its quilty life.  In its beginning – way back in 18th century England – it was known as a “one-patch.”  The term “one-patch” was given to any quilt patch which solely used throughout the piecing process to make the quilt.  So, a hexagon was a one-patch….

But so was this…

And this

because the entire quilt top is made up of only one kind of patch. 

No one knows exactly who came up with the hexagonal one-patch.  Perhaps some quilter was inspired by the mosaic tile work in a floor, wall, or stained-glass window. 

Maybe they took inspiration from a seal.

We don’t know for sure and probably never will be able to pinpoint who took the first scrap of fabric and formed a hexie out of it.  What we do realize is this six-sided patch formed quilt blocks like this:

And the English quilters gave these blocks the names Flower Garden, Mosaic, Honeycomb, Six-Sided Patchwork, French Rose Garden and French Bouquet.  We’ll talk about how all of these names merged into the one single name we recognize – Grandmother’s Flower Garden – a little later in the blog. 

As you’re able to tell, in the outset, the hexagons weren’t used in what we consider the “traditional” GFG.  They were used in a variety of ways and in a variety of settings.  Another characteristic of those early one-patch quilts were the colors.  We’re used a conventional color palette of pastels which must include yellow centers, green, and white.  The earlies hexagonal quilts were made in browns and grays and fabric choices ranged from silk to wool to calicoes.  So, how did all these changes come about? 

Just like Sunbonnet Sue and the Double Wedding Ring, the GFG is an immigrant to this country.  The early renditions of the quilt left England by the 18th century.  As a matter of fact, by 1770, quilt historians can trace  hexie templates to this country.  Many quilt historians believe the hexagon quilt block is one of the oldest quilt patterns.  It’s probably not older than the four-patch, but most likely older than the earliest Double Wedding Ring Quilts (remember, DWR quilts existed long before they were called DWR – that name wasn’t adopted until the 1930’s).  We do know the first  GFG block pattern was printed in 1835 in Godey’s Ladies Book, and it was called Mosaic.  This was the earliest printed quilt pattern of any type in America. 

Unlike the Double Wedding Ring, we really can’t pin down when the Mosaic block was re-branded as Grandmother’s Flower Garden.  With the DWR, we can pin down publications and their dates to come up with a highly reasonable time when the block and quilt became universally known as the Double Wedding Ring.  We can set an acceptable timeline for Sunbonnet Sue’s birth.  Not so with GFG.  We do know that as late as 1929, it was called Honeycomb as well as GFG.  At some point during the 1930’s, quilters settled on one name and just like the DWR, the moniker stuck.  When we look at a quilt like this:

Both quilters and most non-quilters know this is as Grandmother’s Flower Garden Quilt.

The next part of this blog is my speculation, but I do base it on the reading and quilt research I have done – which encompasses what a lot of quilt historians have written about the GFG.  We know during the Depression Era, mid-west publications such as The Kansas City Star, printed quilt pattern advertisements in every publication.  For a very small fee, you could write into the newspaper and receive instructions on how to make the block.  Quite often, you didn’t even have to send off for the pattern.  Lots of newspapers and magazines published the directions in each edition.  It stands to reason it was during this time the name Grandmother’s Flower Garden became so strongly associated with the Mosaic block that all other names fell by the wayside – just like what happed with the Double Wedding Ring.

However, unlike the DWR, a particular color palette became closely linked to the GFG – to the point we nearly wince when we see any GFG which deviates from it. 

The center is nearly always yellow, representing the center of a flower.  The first group of hexies (a total of six) surrounding the center could be any color, but they were usually a solid color and were in the pastel family.  The next grouping consisted of 12 hexagons and these were generally also a pastel solid.  The last group of 20 hexagons were either white (representing a picket fence surrounding the garden) or green (representing the flower bed or garden).  Depending on the pattern, there may also be diamond shaped “joiners” around each block, playing the role of sashing.  These diamonds could vary in color, but most of the time they were green – especially if the last row of hexies was white. 

At this point, we have to ask, “Why was this pattern so popular during the Depression Era?”  A quick glance at the pattern lets you know the quilt would be a scrap-buster.  Quilt patterns such as GFG and the Double Wedding Ring were/are popular because both use up serious scrappage.  And during the Great Depression, people were learning to make do with what they had.  Any leftover bits of fabric from garment construction, etc., weren’t thrown out.  They were carefully saved for projects such as these two quilts.  However, I suspect that like the DWR quilt, the makers were after more than just a pattern which would use up scraps.

If you remember from my blog on DWR quilts, we discovered quilt makers made the DWR quilts for entertainment and a little friendly competition.  Quilters competed to see how many squares they could put in the arches and how small they could make them.  With the GFG, we see quilters competing in a similar way – how small could they make the hexagons and if they could make all the flowers differently.  These quilts were more than just a way to keep your family warm – they entertained the quilt maker during the Depression’s dark days of making do and wondering if your family members would make it home from World War II.  However, like Sunbonnet Sue and the DWR, it’s difficult to pin down exact reasons.  Until the Women’s Movement, quilts and quilting were considered “women’s work”, and no one could see the need for documenting anything much.  Families were fortunate if the best quilts were saved and passed down to the next generation.  You were even luckier if there was a label or accurate oral history given with the quilt. 

Overall, how you construct a GFG hasn’t changed that much.  During the quilt’s heyday, cardboard templates were cut from cereal boxes, newspapers, old mail – anything sturdy enough to make the required sized hexagon.  The template was laid on the fabric and traced, then cut out with enough seam allowance to enable the quilter to baste the fabric to the template.  When enough hexies were made, they were whipped stitched together to form a block.

In other words, they were English Paper Pieced.  Nowadays many quilters still make their hexagon patches the same way, however, we’re fortunate enough to have pre-cut card stock which we use to glue-baste the fabric instead of thread-basting it.  Then the hexie patches are whipped stitched together.  Some quilters leave the papers or cardstock in until the quilt is complete and then take them all out at once.  Others don’t.  If you’re fortunate enough to find an old GFG or other hexagon quilt which used newspapers for the templates and those templates are still in the quilt, it may be easy to date your quilt if you can find a template with a year printed on it. 

While I’ve always admired GFG, I have never been a huge fan of English Paper Piecing.  I am constructing my GFG by using Cindy Blackberg’s Hexagon and Connector Stamps.  This method completely alleviates the use of papers of any sort.  I simply stamp my hexies and connectors out on the wrong side of my fabric, cut the out, and then sew along the stamped sewing line.  Cindy retired a few years ago and her stamps are no longer manufactured.  Occasionally you can find them on Ebay.  However, a Google search came up with a few stamp suppliers.  If you own an Accuquilt, this company has several sizes of hexagon templates.  So does Inklingo as well as the Brother Scan and Cut (and I imagine other such cutters have similar templates). 

After the GFG quilt top is made, the next step is quilting it.  This is one of the few quilts which has a traditional quilt pattern.  The hexagons are generally quilted ¼-inch in from the seam.  But while researching the GFG for my blog, I came across this:

And it completely took my breath away.  Obviously, this is machine quilting (I couldn’t find out who did the quilting or if it was done on a domestic machine or long arm).  Finding this picture has made me completely re-think how I want my GFG quilted. 

Before I close out this blog, I want to stop and have us consider the hexagon patch all by itself.  I know we’ve concentrated on one particular quilt pattern it’s used in.  But hexagons lend themselves as much to applique as to piecing:

They’re a perfect patch for flowers.  They can serve as building blocks for walls, trees, and snowmen. 

Fussy cut and strategically placed, they are stunning sitting alone on a background. 

And then there’s this awesome idea (which is not mine, but belongs to Avery Lane Sewing). 

Hexagon cupcakes.

So, besides being the lone patch in one of the most easily recognized quilt patterns ever, the hexie patch has tons of potential when used all by itself.  The sky’s the limit with this little block.  Just think outside the hexagonal box.

Until next week, Quilt On!

Love and Stitches,

Sherri and Sam

Categories
Uncategorized

My Favorite Hand Applique Notions

If I were forced to choose one quilting technique over all the other, I’d pick applique.

I love hand applique.  There’s just something rhythmic and soothing about pulling the needle and thread through fabric.  It’s painting pictures with textiles.  My first quilting instructor taught her beginning quilters how to applique, so unlike many first-time quilters, I was exposed to the art from the start.  I fell in love with the technique, and I’ve only grown more addicted as the years rolled by.  I think it had something to do with the fact it was portable – I could take it with me anywhere – and it was so different from piecing.  I’ve appliqued by hand for 34 years.  Over this time, I’ve amassed quite a few tools.  Some of them I really liked, and others were total duds.  What I want to do with this blog is introduce you to some of my favorite hand applique tools.  I warn you this list is embarrassingly extensive.  I also want to assure you if you decide you want to try hand applique you don’t have to purchase all of these before you begin.  I’ll tell you which ones are necessary and which ones you may want to add to your tool box if you become an applique addict like myself.  And the standard disclaimer applies:  I don’t work for any of these companies nor do I receive any “freebies” when I recommend them.  The following is my unbiased opinion.  What works for me may not be what works for you.  Also, this list is for hand applique, not machine – although some of the tools do work for both techniques.

Freezer Paper

I did an entire blog on how quilters use freezer paper: https://sherriquiltsalot.com/2021/05/12/using-freezer-paper-in-your-quilting.  I won’t re-hash the details again, but I keep the 8 ½ x 11-inch sheets and a roll of freezer paper in my quilt studio. 

I rate freezer paper as necessary.

Glue Sticks

I’m kind of a glue snob simply because I’ve had nightmare situations arise from using the wrong glue or the glue not living up to all the hype the manufacturers advertised.  I keep four kinds of glue sticks in my studio.  The first kind is this: 

This is a pretty tacky glue brand.  I use it with the apliquick (a type of prepped edge applique) as it tends to hold the fabric to the stabilizer really well.  This type of glue pen is re-fillable.  I also use this type of glue pen: 

This glue is not quite as tacky as the yellow kind, but works well in prepped edge applique, too.  It is also refillable.

You’ll also find the standard Elmer’s School Glue Stick in my toolbox.  I have used this in prepped edge applique, but I’m more likely to use it with needle turn applique.  If I’m having trouble getting the points of leaves to play nice, or if my fabric is raveling just a bit too much, I can run my needle over the top of the glue stick and the additional tackiness this gives generally will make the fabric behave in the way I need it to. 

The fourth glue stick is Roxanne’s Glue Stick.  If you’ve been around the quilt block a few times, you are aware any of Roxanne’s products are stellar.  They produce a bottled basting glue which is truly awesome.  However, someone with a great deal of quilting wisdom decided to produce the basting glue in stick form.  This glue stick has the same basting qualities as the bottled adhesive has, but I think it’s easier and more accurate.  I tried one stick and immediately ordered six more.  That’s how much I like it.

You need at least one glue source in your toolbox.  So, a glue stick is necessary.

Lightbox

I’ve mentioned light boxes in a few blogs and wrote a blog on how to make your own: https://sherriquiltsalot.com/2019/10/30/go-towards-the-light/.   Personally, I use a Cutapillar Wafer Light Box and love it.  However, you can plunk down some major bucks for one of these tools.  I would rate a light box of some sort as necessary, but if you’re just beginning to applique, I’d hold off purchasing one until I knew exactly how much I used one.  Make do with a window or one you can make yourself. However, if you decide you want a nice light box, this is a great gift to ask for at Christmas or your birthday.

Quilting Thread

I do not use quilting thread for my hand applique stitches – that type of thread will be discussed a little further down the blog.  But I do find the inexpensive hand quilting thread you can pick up at Walmart or Hobby Lobby is a great item to use if you find you like the types of applique which require basting – such back basting applique.  And I’ll be honest, if I have large applique pieces, I prefer to baste them down instead of using pins or glue.  I use the cheap quilting thread for this. 

Whether you need quilting thread or not depends on which types of applique you enjoy.  So, this item is not necessary until you decide if you need it.

Beeswax

Most hand appliquers find they need something to help keep their thread from tangling.  The first defense is not to use a thread length over 18-inches.  However, sometimes additional thread-help is needed.  There are thread conditioners, such as Thread Heaven which work well.  My personal favorite is beeswax because it’s all-natural and has a track history of not harming either the thread or the fabric.  Synthetic thread conditioners haven’t been around long enough to have a track record, but they are super-tacky and attract dirt.  Try both and see which one works for you.  Beeswax (or any other thread conditioner) is optional.  This is a personal decision.  I know just as many quilters who use at as those who don’t.  It’s whatever works best for you.

Needles

I’ve written an entire blog about hand sewing needles here: https://sherriquiltsalot.com/2020/10/28/hand-sewing-needles-more-than-meets-the-eye/. I won’t repeat what I said there.  I do think you need to know there should be two types of hand applique needles in your toolbox.  The first is the needle you’re most comfortable using for hand applique.  In my applique world, these are the Tulip needles in size 9 or 10.  The two sizes are generally my go-to needles regardless of what brand needle I use.  I prefer the Tulip needs because of the way they’re manufactured – they work with the grain and take stress off the fingers and wrists. 

The second needle is the Clover Black Gold applique needles.  I use a lot of batik fabrics in my applique.  Batiks are tightly woven and are generally difficult to needle.  I’ve found the Clover Black Gold work better than any other needle with batiks.

I also keep embroidery needles in my applique toolbox.  These needles have large eyes and if I am using quilting thread to baste, they tend to handle this thread easily.  If back basting applique is on your to-try list, you may want to pick up a pack of embroidery needles. 

Needles are a necessity. Give yourself time to find which brands and sizes work best for you.

 Thread

As a self-professed thread snob, I could literally write chapters about thread.  So, allow me to be upfront with you about applique thread:

It’s a personal choice.

There are some appliquers who swear by silk thread.  I swear at it.  I’ve never been comfortable using it and it slides out of the eye of my needle no matter how well I knot it.  However, you may try it and absolutely fall in love with it.  Silk thread has the ability to literally melt into your fabric, so your stitches don’t show.  However, I’ve heard horror stories about the thread pulling away from the fabric when the quilt was washed.  I want to tell you my favorite threads for hand applique – and you may agree with me or may decide something else works better for you.  And that’s fine.  That’s why we have so many thread choices.  Thread manufacturers make sure there’s something for everyone and every taste. 

My go-to-always-in-my-applique-toolbox are these:

These bobbins are 50-weight, 2-ply, long-staple Egyptian cotton thread.  You can find these at Superior Threads.  This was the first type of hand applique thread I was introduced to and it has remained my favorite for its durability and its ability to match nearly any fabric I use.

My second favorite is Aurifil 80-weight, 2-ply, long staple cotton thread.  This Aurifil thread comes in an array of colors.  In the thread blog I published a couple of weeks ago, I mentioned Aurifil uses different colored spools for different weights of thread.  Their 80-weight thread is on brown spools, so it’s super easy to keep it separate from the Aurifil you use on your sewing machine. 

I do realize that no matter how carefully you search, there will come a time when none of your thread blends in well with the fabric you’re using.  When this happens to me, there are a few basics I fall back on.  The following thread tends to melt into the fabric and work well no matter what colors are used:

DMC (on the spool) 50 weight #822

Wonderfil 80 weight #EF15 and #EF29

Aurifil 50 weight, 2 ply #2325 and #2900

And if applique push comes to shove, I use Superior Threads Microquilter Thread.  This is a polyester thread, but it’s 100-weight.  It literally disappears no matter if you’re using it for quilting or applique.  However, finally – no matter how tempting it is – don’t use monofilament thread for hand applique.  It doesn’t work well.

The point is this:  Try different threads.   You want your applique thread to match your fabric as closely as it can.  Overall, thread isn’t an expensive item, so check out different brands and different weights until you find something which works best for you.  Thread is necessary.  Discover which brands and weights work best for the project you’re working on.

Magnifiers

These can be reading glasses or items such as this:

Sooner or later, most quilters reach for one or the other.  Whether it’s aging eyes or simply a desire to really see the stitches you’re making, at some point these may find their way into your sewing area.  These are optional.  Who knows?  You may keep your 20/20 eyesight forever. But probably not.

Marking Tools

It’s a given.  With hand applique, you will have to mark patterns and fabric.  The trick is to find the marking tools which work best for you.  I’ll be frank and tell you I have more than one marking tool in my applique kit, because I use different markers for different fabrics and different applications. 

  1.  Number 2 lead pencils – I keep both the mechanical and the standard you-gotta-sharpen-them pencils in my toolbox.  Sometimes I need them to mark up a pattern.  Other times I use pencils if I’m not sure if any of the other markers will work on the fabric I’ve chosen.
  2. Water-soluble markers – If I had to pick only one marking tool to use, this would be the one.  I use them to trace around applique pieces or to mark spots I need to put in some embroidery stitches.  Word of caution here – don’t iron over the marks.  The heat will set the ink, so it won’t wash out.
  3. Frixion Pens – I’ve discussed these before here:  https://sherriquiltsalot.com/2021/04/07/before-you-add-the-first-quilting-stitch/. I use them to trace around templates and other areas where the ink will be hidden or cut away completely.  My personal favorite Frixion pens are Frixion fine liners.
  4. Chalk Pencils/White Charcoal Pencils – While all the above marking tools are great, they don’t work so well on dark fabrics.  This is where these two pencils come in handy. 

And let me throw in this consumer awareness tip:  With the exception of the water-soluble marker, don’t buy any of these at a quilt shop/fabric store.  Most of these can be purchased much more inexpensively in the art department of Amazon or a big box store (ie, Hobby Lobby or Walmart).  Marking tools are necessary but not expensive.  You’ll probably need more than one.

Apliquick Applique Supplies

I realize this applique method doesn’t work for everyone, but I really like it for several reasons.  First, I can turn the edges of my applique pieces under without using an iron (no risk of burning my fingers).  Second, because there is an interfacing under each applique piece, you’ve reduced your risk of “shading” – having one applique piece show through another.  And third, since there is that interfacing, you can use Apliquick prepped pieces on dark background fabrics without lining your applique units.  The interfacing keeps the background from showing through even with white fabric.  These are strictly optional.

Roxanne Basting Glue

I know I mention the Roxanne brand in the glue stick section of this blog.  I also keep a small bottle of the liquid Roxanne Basting Glue with my applique supplies.  Sometimes you just need a small dab of glue in a tight place a glue stick can’t reach.  When this happens, this is the glue I reach for.  It doesn’t dry stiff and is water-soluble.  A bottle of water-soluble basting glue is necessary.

Small Paint Brush

This can be purchased at a dollar store establishment.  I find a small paint brush is needed for starched-edged applique.  I also find it’s a handy thing to have if the tip of my glue bottle is hopelessly clogged.  Simply unscrew the cap and dip the brush in the glue bottle.  For me, a small paint brush is a must-have, but for everyone else I’d throw it in the optional category.

Toothpicks

These everyday items prove to be amazingly versatile applique tools.  I use them to turn under stubborn fabric edges, manipulate points, turn under the snipped edges of concave curves, and when a super-small dab of glue is needed, this is my go-to gadget.  I use toothpicks for these jobs, but other quilters have used awls, stilettoes, and the Purple Thang.  No matter what tool you decide to use, you’ll need something to help you at least manipulate points and curves.  As a result, any of these tools are necessary, but it’s up to you to decide which one you like.  However, I’ve been #teamtoothpick for over 30-years.  A dampened toothpick just grips the fabric better than anything, in my opinion.

Scissors

I have two sizes of fabric scissors in my applique tools.  A small pair:

And one slightly larger. 

The small pair has approximately 1-inch blades and the larger pair has blades which are about 3-inches.  I use Karen Kay Buckley’s Perfect Scissors because I like the serrated edges.  You may like another brand, but I would have a small pair (not snips) and a slightly larger pair available.  If you find you’re trimming smaller pieces, generally the smaller scissors offer more control.  The larger ones are better for cutting larger sections of fabric or larger applique units. 

I also keep a pair of inexpensive scissors in my toolbox.  I use these exclusively for cutting paper – any kind paper.  These three types of scissors are necessary. 

Pins

With this topic, you may be asking if the pins you already have will work.  The answer is, “Yes…. If you’re willing to put up with the hassle of the thread tangling around the head of the pin.”  Quilter use all kinds of pins or at least they shouldMost of us have the long flat head pins in our pincushions.  I also have a stock of glass head pins and silk pins.  And these will work if we use them to hold down an applique unit while we’re stitching around it.  However, what I find aggravating about using these pins with any hand sewing is the thread catches around the head of the pins and you spend a great deal of time untangling it.  There are a couple of different brands of pins which may help make your applique work a little easier.  The first kind are these:

If you notice the heads on the applique pins are smooth and rounded.  The thread slips right over top of them.  The Little House Applique pins are similar but are thinner and sharper. 

And Karen Kay Buckley has her Perfect Pins. 

The Little House and the Perfect Pins are also longer than Clover’s applique Pins.  Regardless of the type of pin you chose to use, pins are necessary.

Thimble

I wrote blog on thimbles, so I won’t repeat it all the information, but if you want to read more about thimbles go here: https://sherriquiltsalot.com/2020/11/18/thimbles/.  I use a thimble and find I sew faster with it than without it.  However, using a thimble is a personal choice.  Some quilters use them, some don’t.  So, a thimble is optional.  However, if you use one, make sure it fits.

Good Lighting

Sewing of any type needs good lighting.  My personal preference is Ott brand, but there are lots of great lighting options out there.  Just make sure you have it because it’s necessary.

Flat Surface

For years I held my applique solely in my hands.  Then one Sunday I was watching Abby Cox’s YouTube channel and she mentioned how hand sewing on a flat surface was easier and faster than bunching it up in your hands.  Now Ms. Cox makes historically accurate costumes by hand – not quilts — but it started the gears turning in my head.  So, I tried hand applique on a table surface and was really astounded by how much easier it was.  And since my hand applique tends to accompany me on vacations and road trips, I purchased this:

From Barnett’s Hoops to take with me.  It has an adjustable surface, you can iron on it, it has a magnet tab for your needles, it’s padded, and it has spool holders.  Hand sewing on a flat surface works for me, but it may not for you.  It’s optional.  If you want to try it, I do recommend using a TV tray or a table first before you purchase a portable flat surface. 

Sandpaper Board

We quilters use all kinds of non-quilty tools and sandpaper is one of them.  This is a handy item to have if you’re working with prepped edge applique and you’re using the glue stick method verses the starch and iron method.  The sandpaper will hold the applique piece in place while you’re using either the Apliquick tools, your fingers, or an orange stick to turn the edges over.  To make a quick, inexpensive sandpaper board, put  a sheet of fine-grit sandpaper on a clipboard.  Recently, I was gifted this:

Which is also nice, but sandpaper and clipboard work just as well.  If you like the glue stick method for prepped edges, this is a really nice tool to have, but it is optional.

Pre-made Applique Mylar Templates

Yes, if you like the template applique method, you can purchase heat resistant mylar and make your own templates.  However, for basic shapes such as leaves, stems, and flower petals, some companies offer the heat-resistant mylar templates which have been cut with a laser.  This not only speeds up the work process, but these templates are super smooth and super accurate.  Karen Kay Buckley has a series of stems, leaves, circles, and ovals.  Piecing the Past Quilts has a large stock of heat-resistant mylar shapes – everything from vases to stems to flowers to birds.  I’ll be honest at this point and tell you the laser cut templates are a little on the pricey side.  Most of the shapes are optional.  If you’re an applique enthusiast, I do recommend you get Karen Kay Buckley’s Perfect Circles in both the large and small sizes. 

Those are necessary in my opinion because you use circles in sooooooo many applique patterns.  I realize there is a new circle system called Applipops, but I haven’t tried those yet. 

Bias Tape Makes/Bias Bars

Many, many applique patterns incorporate stems and/or vines.  Some quilters use the needle turn method to produce the vines – and I will use that technique if my stems and vines are narrow – my rule of thumb is if they’re less than a ¼-inch, I make them via needle turn.  However, for anything ¼-inch or larger, I use either the bias tape makers or bias bars. 

I use both methods for making stems and vines pretty equally – it all depends on the look I want.  If I want them to stand off the background a bit, I’ll opt for the bias tape bars.  If I want them flat against the fabric or I have to make yards and yards of bias tape, I grab the bias tape makers. I prefer the Clover Bias Tape Makers because the instructions are clear, and they have a handle to grab so you don’t burn your fingers when making the tape.  It does seem to me the tape makers are faster than the bias bars, but you may find the opposite to be true for you.  Anyway you look at it, one of these bias tape making systems is necessary.

Starch and a Small Iron

An iron is needed for any prepped edge applique that uses starch or the freezer paper method which requires you to press the edges of the fabric to the plastic-coated side of the freezer paper.  I know some appliquers use a regular iron for this, but I always burned my fingers badly and didn’t feel like I had control over the fabric.  A small iron works better for me.  Small quilting irons come in an array of shapes, sizes, and types.

And some quilters use portable irons for this.  The one you use is a personal matter – whatever feels best in your hand. 

With most prepped edge applique, starch or a starch substitute is needed.  Again, this is a personal preference.  I use regular starch, but a lot of my quilting buddies prefer Best Press.  I have a split verdict on these two items.  Starch or a starch substitute is necessary.  We use both for so much more than just applique.  However, a small iron is an investment.  They can run the price gamut from $50 to $30.  Normally I steer quilters – especially beginning quilters – towards the lower-price end of things whenever I can.  However, since an iron is necessary, I want to change this up a bit.  If I were a beginning quilter, I would go for the small iron verses the mini-Clover applique iron.  The Clover iron is less expensive, but the small iron has a lot more options.  It can be used for a small ironing station near your sewing machine, and it’s easily packed up to take to workshops, classes, and retreats.  It’s also good to take on trips to hit those wrinkles in your clothes – so even if you decide applique isn’t for you, this iron can still be used when a mini-iron would set idle.  

Scrap Stash

All quilters produce stash.  It’s a byproduct of what we love.  Applique enthusiasts look at stash differently than strictly-piecers.  That left-over piece of green?  Stems and leaves.  Swatches of yellow or pink?  Flower petals.  Unlike a pieced quilt where we purchase so many yards of each color, an applique quilt can use hundreds of shades, tints, tones, and hues of the colors we want.  All the leaves don’t have to be the same color.  Each cherry can be a different red.  If you like to applique, keep your scrap stash, but manage it.  Realize you can’t keep every scrap, so have some rules for yourself. With me, I don’t keep any scrap less than 8-inches square.  I sort it into bins (purchased from Dollar Tree) according to color.  I applique a lot, so I don’t have much trouble keeping the scrappage to a manageable amount.  Regardless of how much you have and how you organize it, scrap stash is necessary if you applique.

There you have it!  Those are my favorite applique tools.  Keep in mind, I’ve appliqued over 30-years and I amassed these over a period of years, not weeks.  When I began appliqueing, all I used was a couple of marking tools, quilting thread, beeswax, good needles, applique thread and a pattern.  Don’t stress out about the tools.  Depending on which method you learn, purchase what you need and then add to it as you decide what works for you.  The first method I learned was needle turn, which in my opinion, is the purist version of hand applique.  It requires the fewest tools, is extremely portable, and works for nearly every applique pattern.  If you decide to try this method, I recommend Back-Basting Applique Step by Step by Barbara J. Eikmeier. 

I don’t often mention quilt groups by name (other than the local guild I belong to), but if you really are curious about applique or enjoy it, I do recommend you consider joining The Applique Society (theappliquesociety.org).  The membership is $25 per year, and there are monthly meetings via Zoom.  These meetings have the best of the best applique teachers presenting their methods, their journey, and their quilts.  There are also Zoom workshops which are simply outstanding.  Honestly, it’s one of the BEST  $25 expenditures I make.  There are applique bees which meet monthly via Zoom.  There may even be a local chapter near you for in-person meetings.  This is an international group (we have members from all over the world), so if you don’t live in the US, no worries!

Until next Week, Quilt On!

Love and Stitches,

Sherri and Sam

Categories
Uncategorized

Post-COVID Quilting

One year from now,

Five years from now…

One generation from now…

How will you tell your story?

For the most part, it’s over.  The CDC has changed the mask rules.   According to some statistics, approximately 64 percent of Americans have received one of the vaccines, and there’s plenty of vaccines left for everyone who still wants to be immunized. 

In short, we’ve made it through the COVID-19 pandemic.  And just like our ancestors who lived through the Spanish Flu, 2020-2021 altered our lives in more ways than one.  Most of us still keep one mask in our car, bag, or pocket.  Hospitalization numbers are still reported.  This recent pandemic will continue to cast a shadow on our lives for some time – and for some of us, permanently.

Quilters (primarily women) have a long record of recording history in their quilts.  Elections, assassinations, AIDs, 9/11 – all of these earth-altering events have been immortalized in needle, fabric, and thread.  COVID-19 was no different.  A 14 year-old woman name Madeline Fugate was determined to remember those who died in the pandemic.  She is a young textile artist in her own right.  Madeline put out a call for blocks made in memory of loved ones who passed away from COVID.  She and a few others are turning these blocks into quilts.  Where did she get this idea?  Her mother worked on the AIDs quilt. 

As quilters recording events, we create context.  Much of this context incorporates our own feelings and thoughts, but doesn’t make our quilts less valid than any other essay, news report, blog or vlog.  Our quilts are real and raw and necessary to create calm during chaos.  I had so many quilters tell me they couldn’t have made it through the isolation and fear of early 2020 without their fabric and sewing machine.  I attest to this.  Sewing kept me sane.  Making masks made me feel as if I was making some kind of difference and helping out in some way.   Other quilters chose to record their feelings in a quilt.  There’s Disappearing Act by Linda Colsh.

Home by Maggie Vanderweit

And What’s Your Excuse? By Wendy Starn.

Lots of other quilters incorporated the spikey virus into their quilting.  Some pieced or appliqued it into their quilt.  Every quilt I completed during COVID had some mention of the pandemic.

But COVID changed so much more than just our quilts themselves.  It changed our quilting world.  There were no quilt shows.  I watched as shows ground to a halt in late 2019 and by the Spring 2020 they completely stopped.  In-person classes ceased.  My guild had no retreat.  There were no quilt groups (such as bees), either.  My local guild met in March 2020 and didn’t meet again until January 2021. 

All of our personal universes were upended.  I watched my son-in-law homeschool my two granddarlings (and he’s done a terrific job).  I worried about my daughter who in the midst of the pandemic took a new job which required some travel, long hours, and contact with lots of people.  I saw my 80-something mother at Christmas 2019 and then not again unless I was wearing a mask and the visit was brief. We didn’t get to spend significant time with each other until I was fully vaccinated – May 14-16, 2021.  I watched my son and daughter-in-law spend hours searching (and finally finding) disposable diapers for a friend who is a single mom.  I worked from home, ordered groceries and food delivery online, and like everyone else, hunted down toilet paper and hand sanitizer until supply finally met demand.

And as much as COVID is a horrible sickness and as much as 2020 flipped us on our emotional and mental rear ends, some truly good things came out of a very dark time.  Great things…amazing things.  We learned we could meet by Zoom.  My local Sit and Sew meets via Zoom on the same night we met in person.  I was able to join two guilds in two different states because of Zoom.  I was able to take classes from internationally known teachers because the instructors decided if we couldn’t come to them, they would come to us via the internet.  Under normal circumstances, I would never had the opportunity to take classes with these teachers due to distance issues.  However, with the aid of cameras, software, and the world-wide web, I had a front row seat to instructors in Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Wales, Arizona, California … and a few more places I’ve forgotten.  I was able to join an applique group for monthly online meetings via The Applique Society.  Suddenly a host of women whose names I knew became “real” because I could see them at least once a month.  Friendships which at one time were linked only by a newsletter became steadfast because of Zoom. 

We learned to make masks.  Lots of masks.  We learned what we could use to make nose clips and how to scrounge elastic out of the least likely places.  All of the stash we were hopelessly and endlessly teased about became worth its weight in gold.  It seemed as if everyone wanted to learn to sew.  For the first time in my lifetime, I walked into a Walmart and there was no fabric, no elastic, and no sewing machines.  I understand at some point during the pandemic, the wait time to have a machine shipped to you was over eight weeks.  Manufacturers couldn’t keep up.  And neither could fabric stores and quilt shops.  After years of declining in-store sales, brick-and-mortar establishments reported an uptick in transactions and foot traffic.  I hope our LQS’s are now in a better place financially and the number of closings stop or at least slow down. 

We worked hard at ways to keep in touch.  Until COVID, I was the type of person who thrived on the personal interaction with other people.  I needed it to be creative and to flourish as a person.  The pandemic squashed most in-person meet-ups for a while.  I mentioned my mother and my guild.  I didn’t get to see much of my brother, either.  However…necessity is the mother of invention.  We all had to get creative and work to keep in touch.  I went from calling my mom three times a week to a daily 20-minute or so conversation.  I think I learned more about her during COVID than I ever have.  I found I looked forward to those conversations, and even though we’re now post-pandemic and can see each other, you know what?  We still talk every day.  I feel lost if I don’t hear the sound of her voice. 

My quilty friends and I texted and Zoomed.  We had two guild members who offered their house as a pick-up and drop off point.  We were in the middle of the guild’s BOM.  Susan generously offered her front porch as a place we could pick up our blocks.  Karen offered her front porch for everything else.  As so many of us took advantage of the isolation, we cleaned out our sewing areas.  Texts flew back and forth. ”Do you need this?”  “I’m looking for…”  Karen’s front porch bench served as the “post office” for everyone.  Drop it off…pick it up… And somewhere along this, we learned her mother needed Cream of Celery Soup but couldn’t find it at the grocery store.  I think three of us made sure she had plenty.  And while Eric and I only rarely saw each other, we texted several times a week.  Mostly puns or really bad jokes or memes.  We talked, too.  Worried about our mother.  Kept up with his blood counts. 

So, despite all the isolation, I am happy to report my relationships thrived.  We all had to get creative (as I know you did, too), but we came out of this okay.  But I found my quilting changed.  The first aspect I made sure changed was my quilt labels.  I’ve been called the quilt label queen, not because my labels are outstandingly beautiful, but because I’m fanatical about making sure my quilts have labels.  I still did this during COVID, but I added one more line on my label to put the quilt in historical perspective – “Made during the COVID 19 Pandemic.” 

Every quilt I gifted in 2020 had this line added to the label.  As a matter of fact, I only stopped adding it to my label when the CDC announced the change in the mask mandate for fully vaccinated people.  I was vaccinated.  In my mind, the pandemic is over for me.

I found my quilting evolved in 2020.  There were no in-person classes and my Zoom classes dealt more with technique than another project.  For the first time in years, I felt free to make the quilts I wanted to make because I wasn’t hindered by class deadlines.  I not only made these quilts, I made a lot of them.  I finished six quilts during the pandemic – I mean from start to the last binding stitch.  This was a record for me.  And I used whatever techniques I wanted to in order to finish them.  Instead of fawning over the pattern’s preferred technique or construction method, I just made the quilt the way I wanted.  I regained some quilty courage – the kind I had when I first started quilting and didn’t know any better.  And that feeling is amazing. 

I don’t think any of us have come out of COVID the same person we were when the pandemic started.  I’m certainly not.  I have never been a particularly anxious person, but I find myself doing battle with it daily now.  I don’t take in-person moments for granted.  I relish every second.  I have also developed a low-tolerance for politicians, news, and so-called medical experts.  BS tolerance level has reached an all-time low.  My creativity has re-evolved and I’ve engaged with so many other quilters all over the world.  It’s hard to look at any of that as negative.

Maybe COVID-19 has served as a sort of chrysalis or cocoon.  Maybe after hunkering down for nearly an entire year, we’re all emerging as different people and different artists.  If you find this is so about yourself, then this is your story.  This is the tale you will tell in a year…five years….and to the next generation.  We will tell it in words.  It will outlive us in our quilts.  We survived.  We’re loved and we love others.  We’re valuable.  On so many, many levels, we’re all brave.  Now we have a new normal to conquer.

Don’t let anyone else tell you otherwise.

Until next week, Quilt on!

Love and Stitches,

Sherri and Sam

Categories
Uncategorized

Thread — The Stuff Which Holds It All Together

This would be me….

Whether you hand piece or machine piece, whether you prefer machine applique or hand applique, or whether you hand quilt or machine quilt, you must have thread.  Thread is the common denominator which ties all of quilting together. And after thirty-something years of quilting, I admit I’m a self-professed thread snob.  When I started sewing, there were only three thread brands available in my area – Dual Duty, Coats and Clarke, and Mettler.  Mettler was the best of the three. It was more expensive, and was only available at the one quilt  store in my area.  Time and experience taught me the Mettler was worth the extra pennies and the drive clear across town. 

As more fabric stores opened near me and with the upstart of internet sales, I became aware of additional thread brands and suddenly terms like thread weight, denier, and staple became important.  The more I learned, the pickier I became.  As a result, there are some brands I absolutely won’t purchase for machine or hand use.  With this blog, I want to discuss some general characteristics of all thread, and why I prefer certain brands for certain uses, and how I categorize the thread in my quilt studio.  For my long-time readers, I realize I wrote a blog on thread a few years ago, but one of the great characteristics of thread manufacturing is it’s always changing and improving.

First, let’s look into some general construction methods.  It’s worth remembering the higher the quality of thread the less special handing is needed.  Overall, thread is made from natural fibers (wool, silk, cotton, or linen) or from synthetic fibers (rayon, polyester, or nylon).  While there are literally dozens of fibers and fiber combinations which can be made, there are several common fibers used in quilting/sewing.

Spun Thread – Cotton or polyester staple fibers spun into single yarns and then twisted together.

Corespun Thread – Spun cotton or polyester staple fibers wrapped around filament polyester fibers.

Textured Thread – Polyester or nylon which has been mechanically textured to make thread fuzzy, stretchy, or woolly.  Texturing is a procedure and is used to increase the volume and elasticity of a filament yarn.  Textured yarns and those goods made from them are soft, have fullness, a high degree of elasticity, thermal insulation, and moisture-transporting properties. 

Filament Thread – Shiny thread made of polyester, rayon, or nylon strands.

Monofilament Thread – A single nylon or polyester filament.  Polyester is preferred over nylon.

Bonded Thread – A strength-enhancing resin is coated on the outside of the thread.  This increases the tensile strength and helps reduces friction.  Bonded threads are usually meant for upholstery and heavy-duty sewing.

Those are the common thread construction methods.  Now let’s talk about the common thread types.

Cotton Thread…sooooo many beautiful colors!

Cotton – This is the thread most used by quilters.  Cotton threads are made by twisting the fine staples (fibers) from the cotton boll to make a thread.  It’s important to understand there are different degrees of cotton quality.  There’s regular staple, long staple, and extra-long staple cotton.  The regular staples (fibers pulled from the cotton boll) are 1 1/8-inch in length.  Long staples are 1 ¼-inch long and extra-long staple is 1 3/8-inches in length.  The longer the staple, the stronger the thread and the less lint it produces.  That’s the great attribute about long-staple thread.  The downside is long staple thread costs more than the regular staple thread.  Overall advantages of cotton thread are:  strength, medium sheen, and the natural fibers help grab the fabric to create a tight seam.  There are a few disadvantages.  It’s difficult to tell high quality from low quality sometimes (I’ll give you a few pointers further down the blog).  The lint factor can also be problematic, however the longer the staple the less the lint. Cost can also be turn-off – quality cotton thread is more expensive. 

Corespun Polyester/Poly-Wrapped/Poly Core – These three names are used interchangeably for the same thread.  This thread has a filament polyester core which is wrapped in spun polyester.  This thread is strong, reduces puckering, and has excellent stitchability.  It produces low-to-moderate lint.

Filament Polyester – This thread is made from long, thin strands of polyester fibers which are twisted together.  The advantages of filament polyester are elongation (the fibers can stretch and recover) and smooth stitches with no lint.  However, the thread is not as strong as corespun (when considering the same size of thread) and finer filament polyester may require some tension adjustment on your machine.

Monofilament Polyester – Monofilament polyester is kind of like fishing line made for sewing.  It’s simply a single strand of polyester thread.  This is a very fine thread, blends well, and can be ironed on medium heat.  However, since it is so very fine, you’ll probably have to adjust the tension on your machine.

Spun Polyester – Spun polyester is made in a way remarkably similar to the way cotton thread is made – small polyester fibers are twisted together to make a long strand of thread.  This thread is less expensive to produce, so it will affect you less in the wallet than cotton thread.  Disadvantages to spun polyester are moderate-to-high levels of lint build up and it’s not as strong as filament or corespun polyester.

How Rayon is Produced

Rayon – This is definitely a thread of a different color.  Instead of twisting fibers together, rayon is created by pressing cellulose acetate (usually made from wood pulp) through small holes and solidifying it in the form of filaments. Rayon has several advantages:  high-sheen colors, softness, and it’s inexpensive.  However, it also has some real disadvantages, too.  It’s not always colorfast (it can bleed onto your fabric when washed, under UV lights, or when it’s exposed to bleach), it’s not as strong as trilobal polyester, and it’s not as durable as polyester. 

Nylon – Nylon threads are synthetic, just like polyester.  It’s often used in the form of a monofilament clear thread or a textured thread.  To be bluntly honest, this thread can give anyone a lot of problems. So much so that it’s not recommended for sewing of any kind.  The most-used version of nylon is a bonded version used in upholstery and other heavy-duty sewing.  This thread is made from a different type of nylon than nylon sewing thread. 

Metallic Thread

Metallic – Metallic threads are created from multiple layers of materials wrapped and twisted together.  The quality of this thread can range from very high to very low.  A good metallic thread does not require a lubricant.  A quality metallic thread leaves a beautiful sheen and has an excellent stitch no matter if you’re embroidering, quilting, or just sewing.  Usually there has to be some tension adjustments made when you’re using metallic thread and you may need to sew slower than normal.

Mylar Thread

Glitter or Mylar – Mylar threads are created by bonding thin layers of flat mylar material.  This thread can produce a holographic effect and can be used in embroidery, quilting, or sewing.  The disadvantages are the same as metallic thread – you may have to adjust your machine’s tension and you will probably need to slow down as you sew. 

Now that we’ve covered thread construction and the types of thread, we need to talk about thread processing.  All thread goes through much of the same processing:  twisting, lubricating, winding, etc.  However, cotton thread may have additional procedures done to it.  These extra processing methods will change how the thread is used as well as how it stitches. 

Mercerized – This is the process of immersing the cotton fibers in a caustic solution which will cause the fibers to swell.  Mercerization allows the dye to better penetrate the fibers and increase the thread’s luster.  Mercerized thread is also stronger than non-mercerized.  In today’s thread market, we can take for granted our cotton thread has been through this process, because nearly all of it is, even if it’s not stated on the label.

Gassed – When the label states a thread has been gassed, it means it’s been passed through a flame at high speed to burn off the longest pieces of lint.  This results in a smother thread with low-to-no lint, and it has a brighter sheen than its non-gassed counterpart.  Gassing is also called silk finish or polished cotton. 

Glazed or Coated – Glazed thread is coated with a coat of wax, resin, or starch and then polished to create luster.  The glaze makes the thread stronger than even mercerized thread.  This type of thread is not recommended for sewing machine use because the glaze can rub off in the tension discs and contact points as well as collect lint, fuzz, and dust which can cause a buildup in the thread path.  However, glazed thread is great for hand quilting.  I also use it in back basting applique. 

I realize this is a lot of information – I’ve written nearly 2,000 words at this point and I haven’t told you why any of this is important and where you can find it.  So right now, I want you to pause reading this blog and go grab a spool of thread with a label on it.  Go ahead…I’ll wait.

Got that spool of thread?  Okay.  Now look at the label.  Just like the labels on machine and hand sewing needles, there’s a lot of information packed onto the label of a spool of thread.  Keep that spool of thread nearby while you finish reading this blog. 

SONY DSC
SONY DSC
SONY DSC

I’m using Superior Thread King Tut, Aurifil, and Mettler as examples.  These three brands are the ones I use most consistently in my machine piecing.  Hand sewing thread is a completely different animal and we will hit that hard in my upcoming blogs on hand applique.  On any label, you should be able to identify the thread manufacturer and the color of the thread.  The color is usually identified by a number.  With my King Tut, the number is 918.   The Aurifil is 2605, and the Mettler is 623.  The number is important – especially if you’re using the thread for topstitching or decorative stitching.  If you run out of thread and need to re-order or pick some up at the LQS, you know exactly what you’re looking for and it will match up wonderfully. 

The next item which should be readily available is the type of thread it is.  With these three, it’s plain to see they’re all cotton – but remember, I mentioned earlier most quilters piece with all cotton.  So, let’s take a look at some thread I use on my embroidery machine so you can see the difference. 

SONY DSC

On the tiny label on the top of the thread, we see it’s 100 percent polyester and it even states it’s an embroidery thread.  However, even if the label had fallen off the spool of embroidery thread, I could tell it’s not a cotton thread because of the sheen.  We know from the definitions of the types of thread that polyester threads are brighter and shinier than cotton threads. 

The blue polyester embroidery thread has more sheen than a cotton thread

Another piece of information on the label is any additional process the thread has been put through.  Remember the additional finishing processes only apply to cotton thread.  So, if you’re using cotton thread, you will need to see if it is gassed, glazed, or coated.  A quick run-though of my thread inventory turned up no gassed thread, but a Google search found that Wonderfil Thread is gassed, which is plainly listed on the label. 

Gassed Thread

If you look at this label on a spool of Coats hand quilting thread, we fine the tern Glace’, which means glazed – so this is clearly thread we won’t use in our sewing machines. 

What you don’t see on any of these is the term mercerized because nearly all cotton thread is put through this process – so much so that most cotton thread manufacturers simply don’t put the term on the label.  You will still find mercerized on older spools of Coats and Clark Dual Duty, though.

In addition to these terms, you’ll find numbers, and just as with needles, these numbers are important. Some numbers are included on all spools of thread, and others aren’t.  The first crucial number is weight.  If you don’t remember anything else in this blog, commit this to memory:  The smaller the weight number, the heavier the thread.  A size 30-weight (30 wt) is larger than a 50 weight (50 wt) thread.  I could get into a lot of details on how thread manufacturers come up with weight, but it deals with a lot of metric measurements and would probably bore you.  Just keep in mind the smaller the weight, the heavier the thread.  The weight of thread you pick out will have a lot to do with the finished look of your quilt.  For instance, if you’re raw-edge machine appliqueing, you will want your thread to cover the edges of the fabric as much as possible to prevent fraying.  For this reason, you would probably want to pick a 40-weight or even 30-weight thread.  If you’re machine quilting and you want your stitches to really shine, again, you may decide to use a heavier weight quilting thread.  However, you wouldn’t want to use a heavier thread when you piece.  It’s important to keep the ¼-inch seam allowance as true as possible for accurate piecing.  You want to go with a higher number weight thread – such as a 50 or even 60 weight (60 wt. is my preferred weight thread for piecing).  Thread labels aren’t uniform, so you may have to look around for the weight.  And if the spool has labels on the top and the bottom, part of the information may be on each label. 

Another number which may be on the label is the denier number.  This is the weight in grams of 9,000 meters of thread.  If 9,000 meters of a thread weighs 120-grams, it’s a 120-denier thread.  Larger denier numbers are heavier threads.

Tex is an additional number which deals with the weight of the thread.  This is the weight in grams of 1,000 meters of thread.  If 1,000 meters of thread weighs 25 grams, it has a tex number of 25.  Larger tex numbers indicate it’s a heavier thread. 

The last set of numbers can be confusing, so I will try to explain them as clearly as I can.  These numbers are used on thinner threads, and they’re often mistaken as the weight, but it’s not.  The Number System or Number Standard was developed in Japan and is also known as the Gunze Count System.  For instance, if you see No. 50 or #50 on a spool, it doesn’t mean it’s 50-weight (50 wt) thread.  However, just like most of the other numbers on a spool of thread, the lower the number, the heavier the thread. It’s important to remember all the numbers don’t mean the same thing.  You may have a spool of thread stamped with 50 wt., No. 50, and 50/3.  All three numbers mean something a little different.  Don’t get too anxious about all of the figures and fractions.  Further down the blog I’ll tell you what I think are the important ones to remember. 

Finally, on most thread labels, you’ll see something like this:  30/3 (or 30/1×3) or 50/3 (or 50/1×3).  These are called composition numbers.  The first number is from the number system and tells us if it’s a heavier thread or a thinner one.  With these two examples we know the 30 is heavier than the 50.  The second number tells how many plies – threads twisted together – are in a strand of the thread.  Each of the examples has three plies.  As a general rule, the heavier threads have more plies than the thin ones.  For me, this is more important in hand sewing than machine sewing because the eyes of hand sewing needles are smaller than the ones on sewing machine needles and thus harder to thread.  It’s a whole lot easier to get 2-ply thread through the eye of a needle than 3-ply. 

Really good thread companies will also supply you with one more piece of information:  what size needle to use with the thread.  For instance, if you take another look at the label on my spool of King Tut thread:

SONY DSC

You’ll notice it clearly states, “Use Topstitch #90/14.”  I know exactly what needle to have inserted in my needle mount before I make the first stitch.  However, if this information isn’t on your spool, the rule of thumb is you need to use a needle whose eye is 40% larger than the diameter of your thread.  To keep it simple, remember this – a 50 weight thread uses a 75/11 or 80/12.  A 40 weight uses 90/14, and a 30 weight needs a 100/16.  These are the three most used thread weights in quilting.  If you find your machine is skipping stitches or shredding the thread, go up a needle size. 

Okay.  I realize I just gave you a lot of information about thread – maybe more than you ever wanted to know.  What I’d like to do now is distill it down to what I believe are the most important items to consider on a thread label, where I purchase most of my thread, how I classify my threads, and the brands I prefer for different uses.  Again, let me reiterate, I do not work for any of these companies, nor do I receive any “freebies” for recommending them.

For me, the most important number on a thread label (beside the number which references the color) is the weight because the weight affects everything about the appearance of my quilt.  I want my ¼ seams to be as accurate as possible, therefore I don’t want the thread taking up a lot of room.  This means I will use a 50-weight or better yet, a 60-weight thread to piece with because they’re thinner and take up practically no room in a seam.  If I’m making a quilt which has raw-edge applique, I’ll use a thicker thread (30 wt or 40 wt depending on how I want the applique to look) to make sure the edges of the fabric are completely encased.  If I want my quilting stitches to melt into the background of my quilt, I’ll reach for an 80 or even 100 weight thread.  The desired appearance of any aspect of my quilt has the ultimate bearing on which weight thread I use. 

The second-most important number is the thread ply.  For this reason, I love labels which have fractions, such as 50/2 or 50/3.  For piecing, I want the thinnest, yet strongest, thread I can get.  If there is a 50/2 or 60/2 available, I’ll use it.  Same for hand applique – the thinner the thread, the easier it is to get it through the eye of the needle.  I use 2-ply or even 1-ply if I can find it. 

However, all my cotton thread has one thing in common:  it’s all long-staple.  Long staple thread is stronger and produces less lint.  If you’ve ever been in a situation where you have to go through the aggravation of re-threading your machine time and time again because your thread is breaking – you’ll learn to love and value long-staple thread.  And if you have a computerized machine, spare it the lint and don’t use cheap thread.  Plunk down the extra pennies for the long-staple thread.  Your machine will thank you in the long run.

Most of the time, my studio is humming with the long arm and at least one sewing machine.  I have multiple projects under my needle and multiple deadlines (even if they’re self-imposed).  Because of this, I don’t break down my thread by brand, ply, or weight.  I categorize it into three broad labels:  piecing thread, quilting thread, and machine applique thread. I have an area which houses all my piecing thread.  Since I favor 50- or 60-weight for this, all of the thread in that cabinet is one of those weights.  They’re also all either beige, light gray, dark gray, white, or black.  Piecing neutrals work with just about any quilt or color combination and keep you from having to change the thread to match the fabric.  My quilting thread is a little more complicated, but like my piecing thread, it’s all kept in one area.  My quilting thread ranges from 30-weight to the 100-weight Micro-Stippling thread from Superior Threads (one of my very favorites).  I use my quilting thread on both my domestic and long arm and it’s not hard to tell the higher weight from the lower weight.  What really comes into play with my quilting thread is appearance – how do I want my quilt to look after it’s quilted?  Do I want my stitches to really show (this calls for heavier thread) or melt into the background (the thinner the thread the better)? 

However, the one type of thread which is all over the thread-map is my machine applique thread.  Since I love both raw-edge and finished-edge machine applique, I have a lot of weights and colors. It’s difficult to keep them straight!  For this reason, I tend to keep them sorted by color and then by weight.  For instance, all my blues are together, and they will be put in a row from lightest to darkest and within that range, they will be grouped by weight.  For instance, my light blues will be together, and they start at 30-weight and go down the line to 80-weight (for finished edge applique). 

As I’ve mentioned before, after 30 some years of quilting, I am a self-professed thread snob.  Through trial and error, I’ve learned what brands work best for me.  At this point, I will mention which thread brands I consistently use and why.  Again, let me remind you, I receive no freebies and I’m not employed by any of names I’m about to mention.

Aurifil – This is my go-to piecing brand.  I can purchase it in 50- or 60-weight, and one of the best things about it is the spools are different colors for different weights.  A green spool is 40/2.  An orange spool is 50/2 and a white one is 60/2.  You don’t even have to read the label to know what weight you have.  It’s also 2-ply, which means it’s a great, thin piecing thread.  They also have a wonderful  brand of hand applique thread, and it’s on brown spools.

Superior Threads – Any type of thread, any color of thread, any weight, ply, or specialty thread is housed at Superior Thread.  They have great pre-wound bobbins and a wonderful piecing thread called Bottom Line – technically, this thread is for bobbins, but I’ve used it in piecing if I’m out of Aurifil.  Superior Threads have wonderful hand applique thread and equally fantastic quilting thread.  Almost any of their thread can be purchased in cones or spools.

Both Aurifil and Superior Threads are made from long-staple cotton.

If you want to purchase Superior Thread, you can go directly to their website:  https://www.superiorthreads.com/sewing-threads.

You will find not only a seemingly endless array of thread and pre-wound bobbins, you’ll find needles, thread notions, and a terrific educational section.  Let me throw this in here – if you’re ever able to attend a workshop with Superior Threads, it’s well-worth your time.  Their customer service is second-to-none and I’ve never had to wait more than a day or two to receive my thread.

Aurifil is made in Italy, and it has a website, but individuals cannot purchase from the site.  The website has good information about their product, but for actual purchase, I love Red Rock Thread:  https://redrockthreads.com/. This site is all things thread.  The selection is outstanding, and the customer service is stellar.  It also houses needles (both hand and machine in lots of different brands) and other thread notions. 

I hope this blog has at the very least given you a good overview about thread.  At the most, I hope it has explained my thread snobbery and maybe has produced a few coverts to join me.  Somewhere in the middle, I can only hope it gives you the information you need to make the right thread choices.  Thread is truly the factor which does more than hold and bind our quilts together and it just makes good sense to use quality thread to finish our projects.

Until next week, Quilt On!

Love and Stitches,

Sherri and Sam

Categories
Uncategorized

My Favorite Quilting Notions

I’ve written blogs for a pretty long time now.  And in these blogs, I’ve discussed different quilting notions, what works for me and what doesn’t, as well as those which are worth the money and those that are more hype than substance.  As a result of these blogs, I’ve been asked (several times by several different people) what are my favorite quilting notions.   A few months ago, I started making a list of those items I used regularly.  And by regularly, I mean every time I sit down to quilt.  These tools are the subjects of this week’s blog, but before we take a deep dive into Sherri’s Favorite Notions and Gadgets, let me throw in two disclaimers:  First, these are the notions which work best for me.  They may not work for you.  However, I’ve quilted a long time over thirty years, but who’s counting and I think my opinions are worth some consideration.  Two, I am not nor have I ever been employed by any of these companies, nor do I receive any “freebies” from them as a result of my endorsements.  The quilting tools which made this list are here because in my unadulterated opinion, they are simply great notions to have in your quilt studio.

One final item to remember – these items are used primarily for piecing, not applique, although some may be used in both quilting techniques.  I am planning a blog on my favorite applique tools which is getting so long it’s embarrassing. 

  •  Faultless Niagara Spray Starch

I’ve said it before many times, but it bears repeating:  I like spray starch better than Best Press.  Yes, I have Best Press in my studio and use it on occasion, however, I like the crisp, sharp, flat edge which regular starch gives.  Best Press doesn’t equal starch in appearance.  And before anyone complains about the “all those flakes starch leaves behind when you press fabric,” if the starch leaves a white residue, you’re not using it correctly.  Spray lightly, let the starch sink in the fabric, and then press.  You don’t want to soak the material.  If you need your fabric a bit stiffer, starch it twice.  One additional tidbit of starchy information – purchase your spray starch at a grocery or drug store.  The cans sold at dollar establishments are second runs and have a higher water content.

  •  Clover Seam Ripper

All seam rippers are not created equal.  The Clover Seam Ripper is easy to hold onto and the “hook” part is thinner, allowing you to get it under stitches easily and cleanly.

  •  Wooden Clapper

This is one of those tools left over from the days when I made most of my clothes and all of my children’s.  After you press the seam, you run the Clapper firmly over it.  This forces the heat to dispel quickly and flattens bulky seams out nicely.  So, if you’re making a quilt block which has a lot of seams which join together at one point (such as in a Pinwheel Block), using a clapper will help tamp down all the bulk.

  •  Karen Kay Buckley Scissors

I’ve mentioned these scissors quite a few times in my blogs.  These wonderful tools have tiny, serrated edges.  When you must use scissors to cut quilting templates, these are great!  The serrated edges act like tiny pinking shears, which means your quilting cotton fabrics won’t fray badly.  I have a pair of small KKB scissors in my on-the-go quilting bag, and a larger pair which stay near my sewing machine.  Two words of caution:  First, when you take these scissors to be sharpened, make sure the person doing the sharpening is aware the of the serrated edges (the teeth are so tiny).  Second, occasionally there will be a copycat pair advertised on social media.  Don’t be fooled by the knockoffs.  They’re nowhere near as good as the real thing.  

  •  A Round Rotary Mat

I love these round mats for two reasons.  First, they sit on a base, which makes it super easy to get to the area you need to trim or cut – just rotate the mat until it’s right in front of you.  Second, the mat comes off the base and they both are easily packed up to take with you on a retreat or vacation.  Standard rules apply for these mat as for other mats – store flat and keep away from heat.

  •  Wool Mat

I’m always a little skeptical when a new quilting tool hits the market and proclaims itself as the “best quilting tool ever!”  Maybe I’m just old-school or maybe I’ve quilted so long, and I’ve heard this line so many times I have a hard time believing any new product is just that good.  Let me tell you, wool mats proved me wrong.  While a bit on the pricey side, they are well worth the money.  Seams lie flat, and they’re wonderful for freezer paper applique.  If they made a wool mat large enough to fit my entire ironing board surface, I would save my pennies and purchase one.  I have a small one for my hand sewing kit and a medium-sized one next to my sewing machine for quick presses.  I’ve even given them as gifts to my closest and bestest quilting friends.

  •  Pincushion/Thread Catcher Combo

This may be one notion you have to make yourself or purchase at a quilt show.  Either way, this tool has a thread catcher with a pin cushion on top.  The pincushion on mine is attached with Velcro, so I can remove it and move it to my long arm if I need to.  I just think it’s super-handy to have them both together right by my machine – I don’t have to reach very far for pins or to dispose of small snips of fabric or thread.

  •  Ott Light

Good lighting is essential with any type of crafting.  I’ve tried many brands, but I keep coming back to Ott.  The light is clear and bright, and Ott has designed their lamps in nearly anyway imaginable.  They have everything from the large floor lights to the tiny ones with clips you can attach to a book for reading or your sewing machine.  Their customer service is stellar, and the bulbs last a long time.

  •  Glass Head and/or Silk Pins

Many quilters use the long, thin pins with a flat head.  I have a couple hundred of these, but primarily use them to pin my quilt backs to my leaders on my long arm.  I also use them to hold stacks of block units together.  However, for pinning my pieces together before putting them under my needle, I prefer silk or glass head pins.  They’re sharper and thinner than the other kinds, and the glass head pins hold up to the heat of an iron without melting. 

  • Cordless Iron

I was a little skeptical of cordless irons when they hit the quilting market a few years ago.  I had owned cordless vacuums and sweepers and it seemed after a period of time, they lost their power and didn’t perform as well as their counterparts with a cord.  However, after a couple of my friends brought this cordless iron to quilt retreat and allowed me to test drive it, I changed my mind pretty quickly.  This iron is great for ironing rows or tops – there’s no cord to get in the way.  It holds it heat well for several minutes before you have to put it back on the charger.  It reheats super-quick, so there’s no time lost.  And the fact it has points on both ends means you can use it in either hand. 

  •  Creative Grids Rulers

I’ve sung the praises of Creative Grids Rulers for years.  This company has any ruler, in any width or length, you could possibly want.  They also have an impressive line of specialty rulers as well as the acrylic templates for ruler work on a long arm or domestic machine.  What makes them wonderful to me are the grippers built in the rulers and the fact they’re reasonably priced. 

  •  Frixion Pens

Remember what I said in my blog about freezer paper:  Quilters are known for using items in their quilting which aren’t technically made for quilting.  Frixion Pens are in that group of nonquilting quilting tools.  These pens are made for writing and the heat from the friction of an eraser makes the ink go away.  Quilters were quick to pick up on this and use the heat of an iron to make the ink disappear.  The downside to this is the ink technically never permanently disappears.  It fades, but if the object is subjected to cold temperatures, the ink reappears.  For that reason, I wouldn’t mark a quilt top with it, but as far as marking dots for Y-seams or tracing templates, I love these pens.  They have fine points and work well for marking the parts of the quilt which will be covered by other fabric or trimmed off.

  • Good Thread

I admit it, I am a self-professed thread-snob.  But in my opinion, I have never seen the value in plunking down a lot of cash for fabric, notions, and a pattern and then skimp on the thread.  Cheap thread can be bad for your quilt and equally bad for your machine.  I like the long-staple, cotton thread in a 50-to-60 weight for piecing.  I do have a new blog in the works dealing with thread.  It will publish in a few weeks.

  •  Quilter’s FabriCalc

This handy-dandy fabric calculator is simply wonderful.  I love it mainly for two reasons.  I do a great deal of math when I design my own quilts – even though I have EQ 8.  When I work with Quilter’s Cake or the Golden Ratio, I always work with decimals (chalk it up to teaching chemistry and physics for too many years).  However, I have to convert the decimals to fractions, inches, and yardage when dealing with fabric.  The FabriCalc performs this conversion with a click of a button.  It also gives you quilt yardage, block yardage, square yardage, border yardage, drop, and about a hundred other measurements quilters need at one time or another.  I know there are phone apps out there which tout they can do the same thing.  And I’ve tried quite a few of those.  However, they fall short of the FabriCalc and all it can do.  This is one of those tools I use literally every week.

  •  My iPad

I have a great laptop and my EQ 8 lives there.  However, my iPad lives right next to my sewing machine so I can binge watch Netflix, Disney, Hulu, YouTube, or PureFlix while I burn the midnight oil quilting.  During the COVID pandemic, I developed a new appreciation for the device.  I took so many great Zoom classes and it was so wonderful to have the iPad right by my sewing machine.  I didn’t have to keep standing up from my machine to walk over to my laptop.  I could stay right there with Big Red and keep working while I listened to my teachers. 

  • A Quilt Planner

I have to write things down.  I don’t think my memory is that bad, I just have a lot to remember! Before I go to bed, I write down what I need to get done the next day.  I’ve learned that this list takes a lot of pressure off of me.  I don’t have to try to remember what I need to do; I just have to consult the list.  A quilt planner works in a similar way.  I list the quilts currently under my needle and then check off what stage they’re in, if I have a deadline, and who (if anyone) it will be gifted to.  It’s nice way to make sure everything gets done and it gives me a feeling of accomplishment and makes me feel that progress is really being made.

  •  Quilting Clips

These little items are worth their weight in gold.  They can hold all the units of a block together until you can sew them, or they can hold long edges together (like the border to the side of the quilt).  They’re primarily used to hold binding down as it’s sewn to the quilt, but they have so many more uses.  I’m teaching my grand darlings how to sew and put these in their sewing kit instead of pins.  Almost anything you can use a pin for, you can substitute a clip for instead.  And dropped clips are so much easier to find than dropped pins.

  •  Small Rotary Cutter

My favorite brand of rotary cutter is the Martelli line, because they are so ergonomically outfitted for your hand, wrist, and arm.  Since the handle is on the side of the blade, it takes a lot of stress off the wrist – which is important if you’re like me and have some Carpel Tunnel in your wrist.  I have the large, medium, and small cutter and out of those three I use and love the smallest one the most.  The 28 mm blade allows for accurate cutting of block units and gives you the ability to cut around templates.  I like the control I have with the small cutter.  I use the larger ones to cut multiple layers of fabric, but for everything else, I reach for the small one.  If I can take only one cutter to class or retreat, this is the one which goes in my travel bag.

  •  Design Area

This area can either be large or small, depending on what you need and the room you have. If you have a wall with nothing on it, this will make a great design area.  Purchase a vinyl tablecloth with a flannel back. Hang it on the  wall with the flannel side out.  The flannel will hold your blocks in place as you decide how you want to lay out your quilt.  LeeAnne the Long Arm takes up too much room in my studio for me to have a design wall, but I do have this:

Which really comes in handy.  If I have a complicated block, I can use this to lay out the units in the correct order and then sew them together.

  • Eleanor Burns Triangle Square-Up Ruler

In this blog I’m taking for granted everyone has their favorite rulers they use for cutting squares, rectangles, and strips.  And I want to add it’s extremely rare I get attached to a specialty ruler.  However, I make an exception for the Triangle Square-Up Ruler.  I’ve sung the praises of this ruler before, so I won’t go into a lot of detail here.  But let’s just say half-square triangles make their way into a lot of quilts – and they can get wonky because of bias.  With this ruler, you square up your HST while it’s still in triangle form.  It’s quick.  It’s oh-so-accurate.  It’s easy.  I don’t care if I’m only making one HST – this ruler comes out.  It stays on my cutting mat at all times, so I don’t have to go looking for it.  It’s just that good.

  •  My Sewing Machine

At this point, let me remind you I’m not employed by any company, nor do I receive any type of “freebies” for mentioning brands and names.  I have sewed on several brands of machines (including Bernina), but my favorite is Janome.  You can’t beat them.  They’re work horses.  While some of the models are heavily computerized, they won’t drain your bank account like other brands.  They’re user friendly.  My first “serious” sewing machine was a Janome and I really haven’t strayed too much from the brand.  For me, having a dependable sewing machine in my studio is the best quilting tool available.  If the machine is fussy or finicky, all the joy can be sucked right out of quilting.  Yes, I’ve had minor issues with them, but I can say with complete candor those are issues I’ve been able to resolve myself.  Aside from basic cleaning and oiling, none of my Janomes have been in the repair shop for a major overhaul.

And now it’s time to introduce you to the newest Janome in my studio – the M7 Continental. 

Her name is Dolly (as in Hello Dolly….I saved my pennies for a couple of years to bring you home).  She’s amazing and has a prettier straight stitch than Marilyn, my Featherweight.  We’re still getting acquainted, but man, does she come loaded with a lot of great stuff – including an even  bigger harp than Big Red.

For those of you wondering if I’ve given Big Red the boot, I have not.  She’s now in semi-retirement.  We plan to purchase a vacation home in the very near future, and she will go to live there, waiting for me to spend time with her then.  This means I’ll have a great machine at both houses and won’t have to drag one back and forth.  But for right now, she’s still in my studio and I still sew on her every few days to make sure she and I keep our established relationship going strong. 

These are my favorite piecing notions.  Please remember, I’ve quilted a long time and acquired all of these over a period of years, which means I not only spread out the cost, but also (through trial and error) discovered what worked for me and what did not.  If you’re a beginner quilter, you’ll go through a similar process.  If you’ve quilted longer than I have, I’m sure I’ve missed some items which you may really love.  No matter what, I’m sure my list is probably a little different than yours.

Now a bit of a housekeeping issue.  Several of you have asked how my brother, Eric, is progressing with his Multiple Myeloma treatments.  He began chemotherapy on April 27.  He has the treatments on Tuesdays, which involves a steroid, an infusion of a bone-strengthening medication, an injection in the abdomen of the chemo, and a pill.  All of this is done in the pharmacy – he doesn’t have to go into the chemo unit at the hospital at all.  And while he has ample drugs to combat any nausea, so far, he hasn’t had to use them.  I’m thankful the doctors caught this disease early and it’s treatable – even curable.  Continue to keep him in your thoughts and prayers and I’ll keep you up to date with what’s happening.  Depending on his blood counts, he’s looking at stem cell replacement in the fall.  If the chemo works faster than expected, late summer.  Thanks to everyone who’s told me they’re praying for us.  I appreciate your concern – I appreciate your prayers even more.

Until next week, Quilt On!

Love and Stitches,

Sherri and Sam

Categories
Uncategorized

Using Freezer Paper in Your Quilting

Quilters are famous for using items in their quilting which really aren’t quilting tools at all.  Bicycle clips are great to use for keeping quilts rolled up.  The magnetic dishes used by mechanics to keep screws in are great storage places for pins.  A clear, plastic shower curtain is a wonderful tool to use as you plan your quilting designs — lay it on top of the quilt and use a dry erase marker to draw your quilting pattern.  If you don’t like it, use a dry paper towel to remove the marks.  One kitchen item which seems to find its way into all quilt studios is freezer paper.  Whether you applique or not, freezer paper is a great addition to any quilter’s notion box.

For anyone who may not know, freezer paper is a heavy-duty paper with a plastic coating on one side only.  Years ago, before things like freezer bags, aluminum foil, and plastic wrap found their way into our pantries, freezer paper and butcher paper ruled the food-storage world.  Freezer paper was used to wrap cuts of meat or fish in, with the plastic side of the paper against the meat or fish.  This would allow the shopper to continue their grocery store trek without the meat or fish leaking all over the other food and household items.  The butcher or fishmonger would write what was inside the wrapped bundle on the plain paper side.  Even today when you get a special cut from your grocery store’s meat or seafood counter, chances are it’s wrapped in a type of freezer paper before it’s placed in a plastic bag. 

Today, we’re much more accustomed to using freezer bags than freezer paper – to the point, it’s sometimes difficult to find freezer paper such as this:

In the local grocery store.  I’ve found it primarily in Food Lions, but I’ve also had to order it from Amazon.  This boxed freezer paper is the most common type, but as soon as the quilt world caught sight of how versatile freezer paper can be in the studio, quilt notion companies came out with their own freezer paper.  An internet search for quilting freezer paper can yield these:

8 1/2 x 11 inches
Large Freezer Paper Sheets
Extra-large Freezer Paper Sheet

The extra-large kind can be used for planning borders.  The big sheets may be used for large applique pieces, such as those in Blackbird Designs Country Inn quilts.  My personal favorite is the 8 ½ x 11-inch size because those can be run through an ink jet printer.  More on why this is important a bit later down in the blog.  Right now, you may be asking yourself, “Is there any difference between the Reynold’s brand freezer paper and the other freezer paper?”  That’s a great question and it really deserves a two-fold answer.  First, let’s compare price.

According to a Google search, most stores which have Reynolds Freezer paper sell the kind that is 75 feet long by 18 inches tall.  When we convert the feet to inches (75 x 12), we have 900 lengthwise inches of freezer paper.  Multiply 900 by 18 and we know we have 16,200 square inches of freezer paper.  Another search told me the average price in retail establishments is $3.69 per 75 feet roll (consumer awareness bulletin here – Reynolds freezer paper was much higher on Amazon than in stores).  When we divide the square inches by cost per roll, we literally get fractions of cents.

Now let’s look at the freezer paper which is sold in sheets.  I want to shop on my own turf here.  Let’s look at the 8 ½ by 11-inch sheets produced by C. Jenkins.  I’ve used other brands of freezer paper sheets, but always come back to these.  In my opinion, they’re the best.  Each sheet in these packs is 8 ½ x 11. This means each sheet has 93 ½ square inches (8 ½ x 11).  Each pack has 50 sheets, so we have a total of 4,675 square inches (50 sheets x 93 ½-square inches per sheet).  Comparing Reynolds Freezer Paper against C. Jenkins product shows the Reynold paper has 11,525 more square inches than its competitor. 

The average price for C. Jenkins sheets is $9.94 (consumer awareness bulletin #2 – this freezer paper is less expensive on Amazon than in most quilt stores). This means we’re paying roughly 20 cents per sheet ($9.94/50) for the C. Jenkins 8 ½ x 11-inch freezer paper sheets. 

So yes, price per inch, you’ll pay less by purchasing the roll of freezer paper verses the freezer paper sheets.  However, there are a few details you may want to consider before you run to Target or Food Lion to grab that roll of Reynolds Freezer Paper. 

  1.  Rolls of freezer paper destined for food use is food-grade paper.  While this may sound completely obvious, what must be taken into consideration is this paper is not meant to last through multiple ironings, starched edges, and sewing (either by hand or machine).  This paper was produced to wrap food in, be stored for a short while in the freezer and then tossed in a garbage can.  So, it’s not as sturdy as freezer paper made with quilters in mind.
  2. Reynolds Freezer paper can’t easily be fed through an ink-jet printer.  The key word here is easily.  It can be used in a printer, but I’ve found it finicky and difficult – which means I gave up after about the 10th unsuccessful try feed it through. 
  3. I’ve found I can use Reynold Freezer paper for most quilting applications, but I have to iron two pieces of it together in order for it to be sturdy enough to stand up to the abuse quilters put it through – which means I’ve now halved the useable square inches in a roll to 8,100.  However, the roll is still a better buy even with the reduction in square inches. 
  4. This last detail is also pretty obvious – one type of freezer paper is a roll, and the other type comes in sheets.  This means the rolled paper wants to curl and this can make tracing difficult.  The sheets are flat, so they’re easier to work with. 

The second detail which must be considered is purpose.  Although Reynolds Freezer paper plainly touts it can be used for quilting, that isn’t what it’s constructed for.  It’s made for kitchen freezers.  Quilters put freezer paper through some serious abuse, and quilting freezer paper is made to withstand it.  This freezer paper is thicker, and the plastic coating can withstand multiple ironings before it will no longer adhere to fabric.  Personally, I’ve found even if I iron two sheets of the Reynolds Freezer Paper together so I have the needed thickness, the plastic coating will not stick to fabric for more than a couple of pressings before I have to toss it.

For me, the quilter’s freezer paper sold in sheets just works better and I use it far more often than the freezer paper sold in grocery stores.  Let’s look at some ways quilters use freezer paper.  I’m sure you know some of these, but others may be new.

Using freezer paper as a quilting stencil
  1.  Applique – Freezer paper has been used for applique templates for a long time.    Some quilters like to use the templates on the right side of their fabric and others on the wrong side – it just depends on which applique method used.  I definitely use the freezer paper sheets for applique because I can reuse the templates several times before the plastic side is completely gone.  Add the fact this paper holds up well to the starch-and-iron method, and the freezer paper sheets are just better.   Another reason I generally use the sheets for applique is their ability to be run through a printer or copier.  If you have an ink jet printer (please….don’t run freezer paper through a laser printer…it’s not pretty), you can make use the 8 1/2 x 11-inch paper to make accurate copies of your templates.  Be sure to consult your printer’s manual to determine if you should load your freezer paper shiny side up or down (the shiny side is considered the wrong side of the paper with most printers).
  2. Labels – Before I purchased my embroidery machine, I made all my labels using freezer paper, my laptop, and my ink jet printer.  It’s really super easy.  With your word processing or graphics program, design your quilt label.  You can play with fonts and graphics (even photos) until you get it exactly the way you want it – just make sure it fits on an 8 ½ x 11-inch layout.  Cut a piece of light-colored fabric which is also 8 ½ x 11-inches and press it onto an 8 ½ x 11-inch piece of freezer paper (the freezer paper sheets seem to work best for this).  Make sure the fabric has no air bubbles and it’s firmly pressed to the freezer paper all around the edges.  Load this into your ink jet printer and print as normal.  Once the ink has dried, remove the fabric label from the freezer paper and press the label with a hot, dry iron to set the ink.  Easy-peasy.  I still use this method if I want to personalize my label with a lot of detail. 
  3. Stencils for Quilting – This idea has been a lifesaver for me both on the long arm and my domestic machine.  Sometimes you find a drawing you simply love and want to quilt it in your quilt.  But either you can’t find it in a pantograph (for your long arm) or the design may be a little more complicated than your free motion quilting skills can undertake.  This is where freezer paper (either in roll or sheet form) can come in handy.  Trace the design on the freezer paper and cut it out.   Then press it onto the area you want to quilt.  Quilt around the freezer paper template and then remove it.  You’ll have to quilt the inside of the area as you desire, but the outline of the design has been made with the help of a freezer paper template.  I find freezer paper templates especially helpful when quilting on my domestic machine.
  4. Paper Piecing – I was only made aware of freezer paper’s paper piecing potential a few years ago when one of my friends made a quilt which was roughly 12-inches square.  It was paper pieced, and I swear I think that small square had a million paper pieced pieces.  My friend used freezer paper in her small quilt.  I wrote a blog about it:    https://sherriquiltsalot.com/2020/01/15/paper-piecing-with-freezer-paper/.   While I wouldn’t use the freezer paper piecing method for all my paper piecing, (I still love the paper you can see through best) it does have potential.  Depending on how the pattern is drawn, you could use either the sheets or the roll. 
  5. Extending Your Fabric – Okay, I’ll be completely up front here:  This trick is not going to work if you need a large chunk of fabric.  If that’s the case, you need to go back to the quilt shop or the website and simply purchase another yard or two.  This little stunt works if you only need a small amount of fabric – like a few inches or so.  You’ll need a piece of your fabric, the freezer paper sheets, an 8 ½ x 11-inch piece of white or light cream-colored fabric, and an ink jet printer capable of producing a good, quality photograph.  Prepare your freezer paper and piece of white or light-cream colored fabric in the same manner you do for labels.  Place it the printer tray.  Place the fabric you need more of face-down on the copier bed (just like you’re preparing to make a copy), and simply proceed to make a copy.  Removed the copied fabric from the freezer paper and heat-set with an iron.  Please note there will be slight color discrepancies between the copier fabric and the original.  However, if you only need a few inches and can place it in an area where the copied fabric won’t stand out so much, this little trick can be a sanity saver. 
  6. Taming Fussy Fabric – Most of the time – probably somewhere around 99 percent – I sew with quilter’s cotton, batiks, or some other type of cotton fabric when I’m piecing.  But when I applique, all bets are off concerning the type of material I’ll use because I’m after effect and appearance, which means I may use any type of fabric.  Need something that looks like ice?  I may opt for a see-through, shimmery material.  Is there a fancy dress or stars in the applique pattern?  I’ve been known to use lame’.  While piecing quilt blocks may lend itself solely to 100 percent cotton fabrics, applique fabric can run the full fabric spectrum.  Usually, I’ll still opt for cotton fabrics in my applique, but if there’s another type of fabric which will give me the appearance I want, more often than not, I’ll use the non-cotton material.  Usually, I can sew these alternate fabrics by hand or machine with only a few minor changes (such as don’t use a hot iron or use a pressing cloth).   However, sometimes the non-cotton fabric may be loosely woven and fray easily.  To help the fabrics keep their shape, I may back them with freezer paper.  After the material is stabilized with the paper, I can cut out the shapes.  I keep the freezer paper on the applique pieces until I’m ready to stitch them down.  This doesn’t prevent all fraying, but it does help.  I have also found this freezer paper technique handy when sewing homespun – which can be both super-stretchy and loosely woven.
  7. Squaring up My Quilt Squares – I know, I know – we square up our quilt squares with rulers.  This is true.  However, freezer paper can be used in emergencies.  Let me set the stage for this great, little trick.  You’ve made all your squares and are in the process of trimming them down to the needed unfinished size.  However…there’s this one quilt square which is giving you real grief.  All the block units are the correct size except this one unit on the edge and it’s somewhere between 1/8 to ¼-inch too short.  At this point, if you’re like me especially if you’re like me, you don’t feel like taking the block apart to fix your mistake (because you’re almost through) or you don’t have enough left-over fabric to re-make the block.  Here’s where a handy-dandy roll of freezer paper will save your sanity.  Cut a piece of freezer paper the same the size as the unfinished quilt block is supposed to be.  Center and press this to the right side of your wonky quilt block.  The sides of the freezer paper should match up with everything except the area where your units are a bit too short.  Proceed to sew the block into the row or setting triangles as normal, but when you get to the area where the block unit is too short, use the freezer paper edge as the edge of your fabric.  This will work if the unit which is too small is less than ¼-inch too short. 
  8. Templates – There are two different ways I use freezer paper as quilting templates.  The first concerns English Paper Piecing (EPP).  On the rare occasion I EPP (remember, I use and adore Cindy Blackburg’s quilting template stamps), I use freezer paper instead of the cardboard for templates.  For this, I use the freezer paper sheets, since they are sturdier than the freezer paper on rolls.  I iron two sheets together (plastic coating sides facing) and then cut my templates from this.  These are sturdy and will stand up to the wear and tear of EPP.  The other way I use freezer paper templates are for really odd-shaped block units.  I came across this method when I was working with my first Dear Jane.  This quilt has some unusually shaped block units.  To use freezer paper to help me piece these blocks, I printed the block out on the freezer paper sheets and then cut the units apart.  I ironed each unit to the wrong side of the fabric and then cut the units out, allowing for a ¼-inch seam allowance (an Add-a-Seam ruler comes in super-handy here).  I would line up the edges of the fabric, making sure the lines of the freezer paper, as well as the points, matched and then stitch.  Most of the time this method worked exceptionally well – however, with Dear Jane, there’s always a unit or two which drove me nearly completely crazy.  I used traditional paper piecing with those blocks.
  9. Pattern Stabilizer – This use for freezer paper isn’t remotely related to quilting, but since some quilters also make garments, I thought I’d throw it in.  Years ago, when I made most of my clothing and all of my kids’ clothes, I had a hefty amount of money invested in patterns – those brown, tissue patterns which would tear easily if you weren’t too careful.  We were definitely living on a budget back in those days, so I wanted to take care of those patterns and make them last as long as I could.  I discovered if I pressed those pattern pieces onto freezer paper and then cut them out, they would last longer and stay in pristine condition for a long time.  I used Reynolds Freezer Paper for this.  Once I had finished with the pattern, I’d clip it to a clothes hanger with safety or clothes pins and store it in a closet.  I’d put the guide sheet and pattern envelope in a freezer bag and pin those to the pattern as well.

I keep both kinds of freezer paper in my quilt studio and use both kinds regularly.  Freezer paper is one of those non-quilty tools I don’t think I could live without.  It’s versatile and not too expensive.  Applique is the most common use, but it lends itself to a lot of other tasks, too. 

Until next week, Quilt on!

Love and Stitches,

Sherri and Sam

Categories
Uncategorized

Chasing Roots

Most of the time, this blog is about quilting.  But not today.  Not exactly, anyway.  Today it’s about family.

Several years ago, I wrote about chasing my Dad’s family tree in South Carolina.  But today…today, Eric, Mom, and I chased hers.  I knew a little about Mom’s family. Her mother, (my grandmother, Cora Alberta Perry Forbes) was born in McDowell County, West Virginia.

By  1930, she moved to Leaksville, North Carolina. 

Leaksville was a sleepy little town nestled next to the Dan River, whose financial life blood was textiles.  In 1967 Leaksville, Spray, and Draper were incorporated into Eden, NC.  Grandma married George T. Forbes and had five children – Garland (Denny), Donald, Mom, Elizabeth (Beth), and Herman.  Grandpa went off to fight in World War II, and when he came home, he decided the family life wasn’t for him.  He took off to who-knows-where, leaving Grandma a single mother with five mouths to feed.

Single motherhood wasn’t a popular title back then.  Grandma had her mother (Annie Elizabeth Wolfe Perry) and her dad (Felix Gaither Perry) to fall back on, but she knew she needed more than Leaksville could give her.  You see, back then in North Carolina, tobacco and textiles were kings.  And while tobacco still holds value in my state’s economic system, thanks to NAFTA and a short-sighted former President, textiles have pretty much come to a stop here.  And even back while her children were in elementary school, Grandma Forbes knew she and her children needed stability which textiles didn’t offer.  She applied and was accepted into nursing school…

In Alamance County.

Which is not really close to Rockingham County where most of Grandma’s family lived.  It’s strange how you accept some events as a child.  When I was growing up, I knew Grandma was a nurse.  She always had held that position.  It wasn’t until I was an adult with my own kids, did I realize what a monumental thing this was.  A single mother with five growing children, uproots herself and her family from everything and everyone familiar, divesting herself of her support system, to move her family to a town about an hour away, and put herself through nursing school, because she knew – even though it was tough at the time – this move meant better job stability for both her and her children in the long run. 

She was a strong woman, who raised a strong woman, who in turn raised me to be tough, and I’m pretty sure my daughter would say this end of the DNA rubbed off on her (remember Meg went back to school to earn another degree while both of her kids were toddlers, obtained a management position, all while she fought her own cancer battle).  We girls don’t whine…we deliver. 

But today was about more than that.  Today allowed the three of us to have some uninterrupted time together before Eric begins his chemo treatments and Mom has the nerve block put in her back.  Today was about remembering where Mom grew up and letting her have control of the narrative.  Today was about reminiscing, remembering the good times, and not forgetting the ones she loved.  This is the house Mom grew up in…

SONY DSC

It’s a little bigger and better than what it was back in the 40’s.  There’s a two-car garage in back and it now has indoor plumbing. 

SONY DSC

And this is her grandparent’s house.  There was little distance between the house Mom grew up in and her grandparent’s home.  Burton Grove Elementary School (no longer standing) was down the street from Grandma and Grandpa Perry’s. 

The ballfield was across the road from their house. 

SONY DSC

Mom and her brothers and her sister would walk home from school each day, passing their grandparent’s home.  On Sundays after church, they’d play ball across the street. 

Mom attended church at King Memorial Baptist Church, and was baptized there.

SONY DSC

I heard so many stories I had never heard before.  There was a two-story YMCA.  The gym was on the top floor.  Every summer the health department took over the basketball court and inoculated the folks.  Mom couldn’t remember exactly what these shots were for, but she hated the beginning of summer because she knew her mom would walk all the kids down to the Y for vaccinations.  Mom has an intense dislike for needles.  Given her options, she told me, she’d try to run and hide somewhere.  However, Grandma Forbes held steady, and all her kids got the inoculations.  After that, Mom said summer was pretty cool.  She learned to swim in the Dan River, which flowed behind their house.

There was a beauty queen who lived down the street from them.  This lady came all the way to Burlington to see Grandma once.  When World War II was over, lots of people gathered in the town and sang hymns.  There were skinned knees and childhood friends.  Aunts and uncles and cousins.  There was this boy across the street from her grandparent’s house who threw a rock and hit Mom in the back of her head.  I understand Great-grandpa Perry dressed that kid down pretty hard. 

And like with all families, there was loss.  Great-grandpa passed first from a heart attack, before Mom ever married Dad.

Then Uncle Donald, who was a long-distance truck driver.  He hit a bridge in New Jersey in 1970.  He was only 30.

Great-Grandma fell ill with pneumonia and died in 1971.  Aunt Beth died in 1975.  My heart ached for Grandma and Mom who lost three family members in the span of five years.  Let me also throw this fact in:  My Aunt Beth died of kidney failure.  Once she was diagnosed with kidney problems, it was my grandmother the nurse who went back to school to learn how to put Aunt Beth on and off the kidney dialysis machine.  My mother would take the blood samples to the lab to so they could check and make sure the toxins were no longer present. 

We rounded out the day with coffee from The Roasted Bean, a trip to Stitch Party Studio Quilt Shop (where I always have a good time and the folks are oh-so nice), and dinner at Ronni’s in Reidsville.  It was a good day.  I learned a lot about the people I had found on Ancestry.com.  Seeing where they lived and how they grew up not only put names with faces and locations, but also allowed me to see how close the family ties were.  I was especially glad to see where my Great-grandmother, Annie Perry, lived.  Remember, it was her quilt which started me on my quilting journey. 

Great-grandma Perry’s Quilt. It’s plainly a utility quilt. I really appreciate how she made do with the scraps she had.
It’s quilted in the Baptist Fan pattern. Large stitches from a heavy, white thread.
A heavy blanket serves as both batting and backing. More than likely the blanket is a cast-off from the Fieldcrest Textile Mill in Eden. Notice the quilting stitches are smaller on the back. From what I can tell, the quilt is machine pieced and hand quilted.

It’s not a particularly skillful quilt.  The quilting stitches are large, and a heavy blanket serves as both the batting and the backing.  However, it’s irreplaceable to me, and cherished every day.  According to Mom, Great grandma would piece the quilts and then sometimes her sisters and daughters would come over to help with the quilting. 

By the time I had tucked away a great baked ham dinner from Ronni’s and shared a slice of chocolate cake with Mom, I was tired.  I knew she was, too, as well as Eric.  As I caught sight of the last of Rockingham County in the rearview mirror, I couldn’t help but puzzle over the relationship of DNA and location.  I understand DNA and what it means.  This is what makes you male or female.  Decides if you have blue eyes or brown, if you’re short or tall, or have curly or straight hair.  DNA is the chemical sequence which makes you…you.  Unless you have an identical twin, no two people have the exact same DNA sequence.  Your DNA is a combination of the DNA of your biological parents.  But when you consider location…that makes your DNA even more unique.  What if Grandma had never left Leaksville?  Would Mom had ever met Dad?  Would I have ever existed?  Where would I be (or would I be at all) in this trip around the sun? 

I have no answers. 

However, I wanted to share my Ancestry.com adventure with you, especially since I learned a little more about the women who do make me…me.  It’s not all about DNA.  Sometimes it’s about nurture.

And sometimes it just comes from being raised by really strong women.

Until next Week, Quilt On!

Love and Stitches,

Sherri and Sam