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

Quilts such as this:

And this:

And this:

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

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

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

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

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

Can’t be paper pieced. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Until next week, Make Your Quilt Yours!

Love and Stitches,

Sherri and Sam

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

I was lucky enough to be born in North Carolina.

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

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

North Carolina Star

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

A Brief History Lesson

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

And you’re wrong.

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

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

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

North Carolina rivers, streams, lakes, and inlets

Water, Water Everywhere

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

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

Fine Thread and Fine Fabric

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

Early water powered textile mill in North Carolina

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

North Carolina Double Wedding Ring Quilt made from feedsacks

What You Won’t Find In Our Quilts

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

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

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

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

What Our Quilts Are Known For

Now for what did become apparent with North Carolina quilts.

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

Textiles Are the Link to Our Quilts and Our History

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

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

Henry Lawson Wyatt

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

How the Great Depression Affected North Carolina Quilts

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

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

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

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

Uncle Eli’s Quilting Party

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

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

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

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

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

The last thought I want to leave you concerns this:

Quilt constructed from Alamance Plaids

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

Greensboro Female College, NC

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

My small collection of Alamance Plaids

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

My mom quilted…

My grandmother quilted…

I have an aunt who quilts…

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

I quilt, too….

Warms my heart and thrills my soul.

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

Until Next Week, Make Your Quilt Yours!

Love and Stitches,

Sherri and Sam

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

Most quilters have seen things like this:

And this:

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

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

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

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

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

Good Things About Quilt Kits

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

Not-So-Good Things About Quilt Kits

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So, the next time you see one of these:

Don’t think lots of these:

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

Until next week, Make Your Quilt Yours!

Love and Stitches,

Sherri and Sam

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Sewing with Batiks

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

Or this:

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

And this would be wrong.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

First, there’s this product:

Retayne. 

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

Second, there’s Synthrapol.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Love and Stitches,

Sherri and Sam

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This is not the Enemy

This:

Is not your enemy.

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

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

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

These are yarn bobbins used in fabric manufacturing. 

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

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

Class 15 Bobbin

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

L-Style Bobbin

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

M-Style Bobbin

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

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

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

Singer 163131

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

Singer 8228

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

Class 15 J

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

Class 66

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

Bernina 0115367000

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

Juki 270010

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

Viking Specific 4125615-45

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

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

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

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

Which loads the bobbin in one of these:

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

Then there’s the top-loading machine:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Until next week, Make Your Quilt Yours!

Love and  Stitches,

Sherri and Sam

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Here’s to 2022!

It’s that time of year again.

The time when I review the quilty predictions I had for 2021, give you my forecast for 2022, and announce next year’s theme.  First, let’s look at what I thought would happen in 2021 and see how right or wrong I was.

  1. More brick-and-mortar quilt stores would close in 2021.  I’m rating myself at 50 percent with this one.  I believed at the beginning of the pandemic, quite a few quilt stores would fumble the ball and close.  With no non-essential businesses allowed to function, I honestly thought by 2021, a large number of them would just decide to shutter.  What I didn’t allow for…and had no idea would happen…was the huge number of folks who purchased a machine and taught themselves how to sew.  This, coupled with the fact quilt stores sold fabric, and fabric was needed to make masks, made the shops flex and many updated their websites or offered curbside pickups until customers could once again return to their shop.  As a result of new sewers/quilters, a good number of retail quilt shops not only survived but have thrived.  Those that did close didn’t try to meet customers’ needs and demands, or the owners were ready to retire.  So overall, I’m rating myself a solid 50 on this prediction.
  2.  There would be few in-person quilt shows.  I was correct on this one.  There were very few in-person shows during 2021.  Most guilds cancelled their show, or hung their quilts outdoors for people to drop by and look at.  Houston still went on, but without the vendor market.  Still wary of Covid or any of its variants, everyone erred on the side of caution.  Some quilt show organizers put on virtual shows, but according to statistics, most quilters weren’t impressed.  We like to see the quilts in person and touch what we want to purchase.  I do believe 2022 will be better.
  3. Zoom is here to stay.  And boy is it.  Once quilters, quilt teachers, and quilt guilds learned how to navigate this user-friendly software, we didn’t miss a beat.  Guilds, bees, and sit and sews met virtually.  Quilt teachers and program presenters quickly picked up on how to share the screen and drop in Power Point presentations.  Virtual quilt workshops filled quickly – and honestly what’s not to love about taking a workshop from the comfort of your own quilting space?  I love hearing how guilds are making this work for their membership – from spectacular speakers to having the ability to garner members from all over the world.  Per usual, hand us quilters lemons and we make lemonade.  I rate a solid 100 on this prediction
  4. Quilt groups will grow and have new members.  I was right.  Zoom gave groups and guilds the opportunity to engage new members from literally anywhere in the world.  The need for masks pushed many people to thread a sewing machine for the first time in a long time or the first time ever.  A good percentage of these “newbies” were bit hard by the sewing bug and have joined quilt groups.  Now we must foster their love of the art and their need for the knowledge of all things quilty. 

This brings us to 2022.  What do I think will happen to quilting this year?  Working on the assumption 2022 returns to some kind of normal existence again, here’s what I believe is on the horizon. 

  1.  Zoom will still be a major player in our quilting world.  The Zoom genie is out of the bottle and most quilters seem to be pretty comfortable with it.  From having monthly guild meetings to workshops to quilt groups, I think on many, many levels, Zoom isn’t going anywhere.  I believe small quilt groups may still meet in person, but there are too many positive qualities about Zoom for us to just toss it by the wayside.
  2. In-person quilt shows will return.  I think they have to, in order to survive.  Best case scenario, local guilds may have gone two years without a show.  Quilt shows generally fund the broadest part of their base budget.  They need to have a show if at all possible.  Large quilt organizations, such as AQS, also want to get back into the show business as soon as possible.  With vaccinations and masks, I’m pretty confident we will see an uptick in real-life shows (versus virtual ones) and if these are successful, I expect shows to return to their normal schedule.
  3.  Brighter colors, but more expensive fabric.  The pandemic was a tough time, but the fall out afterwards isn’t any easier.  And like quilters of the past, today’s quilter will want brighter colors of fabric to lighten their surroundings.  Whether it’s the modern colors and prints or the brightly colored feedsack reproductions, I think our color palettes will be lighter, sunnier, and clearer than last year.  However, I think fabric, like everything else, will be more expensive and maybe even harder to find.  I’m lucky I live near Pineapple Fabrics and their huge fabric warehouse.  However, if the cargo ship juggernaut remains floating off the coast of California, we may find some fabric difficult to obtain.  Cotton supplies are already at an all time global low and was trading in November at levels not seen since 2011.  The United States is the third largest producer of cotton, so our prices may not be as high as some European countries.  You may be glad you’ve cultivated an extensive stash.
  4. Get used to “organic quilting.”  By this, I mean almost improve quilting.  I think with many new quilters entering our playing field, we will experience a time of new innovation.  While they may understand the basics (consistent seam allowance, accurate cutting, etc.), they may very well throw out the rulebook on slavishly following patterns.  They may not see the need.  If they enjoy the creative construction part, with fabric they love, they will opt to make the quilt they want to make the way they want to make it.  Not a bad idea at all.
  5. T-Shirt quilts will get an upgrade.  And to top this, I think they may lose the name “T-Shirt Quilt” and be re-invented as “Memory Quilt.”  These quilts will include more than just t-shirts.  Fronts of ball caps, baby clothes, scraps of important clothing (think christening gowns, prom dresses, graduation gowns), scouting patches and the like will also be front and center as well as important T-shirts.  I think everything from quilt layouts to quilting will change.  Forget nice, neat, predictable rows of t-shirt fronts and backs.  I’ve already seen changes in this type of quilting and those changes have been well-received.  I expect to see more, and this may very well be one of the most creative quilting trends in 2022.
  6. Comfort will be key.  One of the most interesting changes the pandemic brought was the whole persona of “working from home.”  Most of us, at least some of the time in 2020 and 2021 had to work from home.  This brought a whole slew of changes in itself, but the biggest perk was you didn’t have to get dressed up and go into the office.  We quickly learned Zoom calls only showed you from your waist up.  Dress shirt and sweatpants?  Yes!  Blouse and pajama bottoms?  I’m in for that.  This idea of comfort has carried over into quilting.  I think quilts will continue to have soft backings such as minkie or flannel. 

In this line of thinking, I also believe quilting clothing may be making a comeback.  What leads me to this assumption?  A few days ago I was doing some online window shopping and came across this:

This pretty, little quilted jacket sells for $355 at Saks Fifth Avenue.  Well, it definitely caught my eye and I did some more online research only to discover several retail establishments are carrying several quilted clothing options.  Our quilts may not only be dressing our beds, but we may also very well be dressing in our quilts before the year is out.

Six predictions for 2022.  It will be interesting to see how right and wrong I am in about 365 days.

And now, as we get ready to flip our calendars over to the New Year, let me introduce you to the 2022 Sherriquiltsalot blog theme.  For 2021, I was all over the quilty map.  We were pulling out of the pandemic, some of us faster than others, but the overall sense of feeling I had was just to survive this year.  When 2021 began, the vaccines had just rolled out.  I was anxious for my 80-something mother to get hers.  My brother was diagnosed with Multiple Myeloma, and both kids were moving away.  There was a lot of upheaval in my life and everyone else’s I couldn’t help but think if we all could just get through 2021, 2022 had to be better.

Maybe.  Maybe not.

Either way, we’ve learned a lot in 2021 – about each other and quilting.  So, the theme for 2022 is

Make It Yours.  We’ll take a deep dive into some more advanced techniques, and I’ll detail how to take ideas and patterns and change them to help you make the quilt you want to make.  There will still be blogs on quilt history (I’m currently researching Baltimore Album Quilts) and hopefully some interviews.  The pod casts are done, but there is a general consensus we may need to by-pass these and go straight to video.  Quilting is more of a visual thing than a spoken medium.  We’ll see how it goes.

Until next week, make your quilt yours!

Love and Stitches,

Sherri and Sam

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Merry Christmas

My Christmas blog is never long because I know everyone is busy baking, wrapping presents, and putting the last stitches in quilted gifts.  This year – and the one before – have been unprecedented in social and political strife.  Increased inflation, higher prices on everything from soup to nuts, and the cargo stranglehold which may have some of our Christmas held hostage, doesn’t make for “days merry and bright.”  As a matter of fact, on the face of it, there doesn’t seem to be a lot of “happy” ahead in the New Year. 

However, this year and every year, I remember another time and another place.  Where a young woman and her husband traveled for miles to return to Bethlehem.  And in the cold, still night a baby’s newborn cry announced the promised Messiah had come.  A star hovered over His birthplace and angels proclaimed His coming to a group of shepherds and their sleeping sheep. Wisemen began a long trek to find the Christ-child and in his palace, King Herod stirred with an unease he couldn’t explain.

This Christmas, I wish for you a peace that passes all understanding and a joy which comes from knowing this time of crisis will pass.  Things were rough in Bethlehem, too.  Joseph and Mary weren’t traveling to see family for the holidays.  They returned to Joseph’s hometown to pay taxes.  The little family didn’t have a warm bed adorned with quilts, but a stable, some clean hay, a few swaddling cloths, and a manger.  And they rejoiced when the angel choir split the quiet of the dark night with their refrain, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth, peace and goodwill to all men.”  Not too shabby of a birth announcement, if you ask me.

And that is my Christmas wish for everyone.  May His peace keep you and may we all love each other a little more and a little harder next year – Glory to God in the Highest and on earth, peace and good will to us all.

Merry Christmas!

Love to all, from My Quilt Studio to Yours,

Sherri and Sam

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Making a Quilt Without a Pattern

It’s almost 2022…

We’ve covered quite a few topics this year, and with this blog, I’d like to tie a few of the concepts together and show you how some of the formulas work together to help you make the quilt you want to make.

To begin with, let’s take a look at this quilt:

And let’s decide, for whatever reason, you just have to make this quilt.  But there’s no pattern, you have no way to get in touch with the designer, but you really, really, want to make this quilt.  Where do you even start?  This is what I want to cover in my blog. I’ll also be upfront with you:  This is the way I work.  Other quilters may work through the process differently and still come up with the same results I will.  As with nearly all things quilty, there’s more than one way to do things, and you have to find out (mostly by trial and error) which method works best for you.  So, let’s take my process step by step. 

Step One – Check Your Resources

If you know the name of the quilt, you can use Google or Duck, Duck Go to see if you can find the pattern.  If you are viewing the quilt at a quilt show, sometimes the maker will list the designer or pattern on the label of the quilt, or it may be printed in the quilt catalogue or the information which is sometimes posted beside the quilt.  With this information in hand, quite often you can track down the quilt pattern on the internet.  If this is possible, go ahead and purchase the pattern from the designer.  I realize with some quilts it’s fairly easy to determine how to make them without pattern in hand, but keep in mind quilt designers make their livelihood from their patterns.  Help them keep their expenses covered by buying the pattern.  This will allow them to continue to design patterns for us.

Step Two – Where to Start

If you can’t find the pattern anywhere, now you have to decide whether to proceed or not.  If possible, take pictures of the quilt, or make screen shot of it on a tablet, phone, or laptop.  However you grab the image, it’s helpful to have the ability to enlarge the entire quilt and/or certain parts of it.  Once the image is procured, look closely at two areas:  The largest quilt block and the block which you believe will give you the biggest challenge when constructing it.  Sometimes this will be the same block.  For me with this quilt, the most difficult blocks are those pieced cornerstones.  These are small and I will need to be careful with accurate cutting and handling the bias.  The largest blocks aren’t complicated at all.  They are a nine patch, which I can make without any problems.  So, why do we look at the largest square? 

They take up the most quilt space and the smaller blocks and sashing play off of it.  It’s important to know exactly how big to make it.  If you’re copying a quilt you can actually get your hands on, this is easy. You can measure the block and keep moving.  However, if all you have is an image, an estimated guess will have to work.  With the quilt above, I know the largest block is 14 1/8-inch finished.  Now I must add a half-inch seam allowance.  So, 14 1/8 + ½ = 14 5/8-inches.  Once the nine-patch blocks are constructed, they should measure 14 5/8-inches, unfinished.

Next the measurements of the block unit must be determined.  Since I have this quilt in my possession, I can actually measure the units and add ½-inch seam allowance.  If you’re making an educated guess with a block, I suggest graphing the block out on paper or with a computer program to get your unit measurements.  With my 14 5/8-inch unfinished block, I know the small squares 3 ½-inches, finished.  Adding the ½-inch seam allowance makes my cutting directions to read 4-inch squares.  I will cut four 4-inch squares.  The large center square measures 7-inches square, so I simply need to add the ½-inch seam allowance and cut these squares at 7 ½-inches. The side rectangles measure 7-inches by 3 ½-inches. I will need to a half inch to each of these measurements to have the seam allowances.  They will be cut at 7 ½ by 4-inches.

If you’re a regular reader, you know adding the seam allowances follows the information I gave you in this blog:  https://sherriquiltsalot.com/2021/10/20/running-all-the-numbers/ Which you may want to keep handy as we work through this quilt. 

Step Three – Construct the Remaining Blocks

With this quilt, that means the pieced cornerstones.  And if you look at the quilt, you will observe it has not only square pieced cornerstones, but also triangular pieced cornerstones.  We’ll work with the square ones first.

There are four 4-patches, a center square and four rectangles.  All of the squares – from the one in the middle to every one of the squares in the four-patch – are ¾-inch finished.  When the ½-inch seam allowance is tacked on, this means the squares will be cut out at 1 ¼-inches.  The finished rectangle is 1 5/8-inches x ¾-inches.  When the ½-inch seam allowance is added, they will be cut out at 2 1/8-inches x 1 ¼-inches.  After they’re assembled, the pieced cornerstones should measure 6 1/8-inches, unfinished and 5 2/3-inches finished.

The triangular pieced cornerstones work differently.  If you’re like me, my first inclination is to make a square pieced cornerstone and then slice it on the diagonal.  This can work, if on the diagonal cut, you allow for the ¼-inch seam allowance (in other words, don’t cut it directly on the diagonal, but slightly off center).  However, this wastes fabric and if you don’t get that diagonal cut exact, you may have a difficult time getting the pieced triangle to fit exactly the way it should in the sashing.  It’s easier (and more accurate) to piece this cornerstone in a triangle.  Some of the initial measurements are the same as the square pieced corner stones, but you’ll cut fewer.  You’ll need six 1 ¼-inch squares plus two 2 1/8-inch x 1 ¼-inch rectangles.  However, if you look along the long, diagonal side of the rectangle, you can see we need five triangles.  Here’s where the HST formula comes into play.  We know by looking at the whole pieced cornerstone and the triangular pieced cornerstone that they are symmetrical – in other words, we could take two of the triangular cornerstones and join them along the diagonal and it would be a perfect matched for the pieced square.  So, from this, we can safely assume the triangles at the edge would be half of the finished ¾-inch square.  Knowing this, we can use the HST formula I introduced in my blog :  We take the finished size of the square, add a 7/8-inch and this gives us the measurement of the square needed to cut in half – ¾-inch + 7/8-inch = 1 5/8-inch.  We need to cut three 1 5/8-inch squares and then cut them in half on the diagonal. 

The solid cornerstone squares and triangles are next.  These are easy.  They need to be the same unfinished size as the pieced cornerstones – 6 1/8-inches.  To determine the size of the solid triangle cornerstones, take the finished square measurement and use the HST formula again – 5 2/3-inches + 7/8-inches = 6 ½-inches.  Cut these squares once on the diagonal. 

Step Four – Sashing

If per chance the quilt you’re copying doesn’t have sashing, you can skip this step.  However, the quilt used for this blog has some really nice, stripped sashing.  And despite the fact this strip-pieced sashing looks complicated, it’s really not.  To get the length of the sashing, you normally would measure the largest blocks and cut the sashing the same length of the block.  However, this quilt has cornerstones, and you must allow for them.  When we measure the sashing on the quilt, it’s 9 7/8-inches in length.  We know the sashing must be the same height as the cornerstones, so it must measure 5 2/3-inches.  There are five strips all the same width, which means we must divide 5 2/3-inches by 5, and this gives us 1 1/8-inches.  For both the length and width of the strips, we have to add 1/2-inch seam allowance:

9 7/8-inches + ½-inches = 10 3/8-inches long

1 1/8-inches + ½-inch = 1 5/8-inches wide

Step Five – Corner Triangles and Setting Triangles

Here we bring in one of my favorite formulas – Quilting Cake or 1.414.  Let’s work with the four corner triangles first.  These are the smaller of the two types of triangles.  To determine the measurements of the square which will be cut in half on the diagonal, take the size of the largest finished square, divide by 1.414, and 7/8-inch for the seam allowance.  Our largest square is 14 1/8-inches finished.

14 1/8 divided by 1.414 = 10

10 + 7/8 = 10 7/8

We cut two 10 7/8-inch squares and cut each once on the diagonal.

Now for the setting triangles.  Still using the largest block’s measurements, we multiply by Quilter’s Cake and add 1 ¼-inches for the seam allowance.

14 1/8 x 1.414 = 20-inches

20-inches + 1 ¼-inches = 21 ¼-inches.

There are eight setting triangles, and we can get four triangles per square.  We’ll cut two 21 ¼-inch squares and then cut them twice on the diagonal. 

Step Six – Borders and Cornerstones

This is the easiest part.  Even if you’ve copied this quilt down to the closest 1/8-inch you can, the process of putting on borders should be done correctly so you won’t have wavy borders.  It’s not hard.

  1.  Square up the center of your quilt and measure it lengthwise at the edges and middle of the quilt.  Add these three numbers together and divide by three.  Cut your lengthwise borders this measurement.  With this quilt, the side borders are 59 3/8-inches x 4-inches, finished.  When ½-inch seam allowance is added, this brings the cutting measurements to roughly 60-inches x 4 ½-inches.  Pin, sew, and press the seam allowance towards the border.
  2. For the top and bottom border, you measure across the width of the quilt three times:  at either edge and the middle.  Add the three measurements and divide by three.  With this quilt, you should come with 67 3/8.  However, there are cornerstones at all four corners, and these measure 4-inches.  Since there are two on either end of the top and bottom border, we subtract 8-inches (for both 4-inch cornerstones) and we cut the top and bottom borders the same as the side ones – roughly 60-inches (technically, it’s 59 7/8, but I really dislike 1/8-inch measurements).  Cut four 4 ½-inch border cornerstones (4-inches + ½-inch seam allowance), sew to each border end and attach to the quilt center.

Annnndddd you’re done…well, all except for quilting, binding, and putting on a label.  All the measurements I’ve given you can be plugged into almost any quilt you want to copy or any quilt you design yourself.  Even the most complicated ones.  However, before I end this number-heavy blog, let me throw in a few “Sherri-isms” I go through when I copy an antique quilt or work through designing my own. 

  •  Copying antique quilts or quilts made from blocks which have no copyright (because they’ve been around for hundreds of years), is fine.  Copying a designer’s pattern that’s still under copyright is wrong.  As a matter of fact, it’s illegal.  I give myself permission to research the quilt for several days before I commit to copying it.  Yes, I feel this strongly about it.  Designers sell their patterns in order to pay their bills and put food on their table.  If I find the pattern, I buy it.
  •  I do the math, set it aside, then re-do the math a few days later.  If I come up with the same results, I get to cutting the fabric.
  • If the desired look is one which falls into a particular time frame, I use Reproduction Fabrics that fit the era.
  • While these directions are literally step-by-step instructions, if I were making the quilt, there are a few of them I’d change:
  • I would strip set the four patches and sashing.
  • I would definitely use a focus fabric or a fussy cut print for the center squares in the large block.
  • This quilt offers several opportunities for chain piecing.  I’d use that technique as many times as I could.

One last thought before I leave you.  When you’re copying an antique quilt or developing your own design, remember the differences between assembling an on-point quilt (which is what is illustrated in this blog) and a rows-and-columns quilt like this one:

With a rows-and-columns quilt, you sew the sashing on the right side of the block, sew the blocks into rows and sew the rows into the quilt center. 

An on-point quilt is sewn together like this:

I always told my students to tilt their heads to the left when dealing with an on-point quilt.  That small change in your perspective allows you to see how the quilt is put together.

Until next week, Quilt On!

Love and Stitches,

Sherri and Sam

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Quilters in 2021

Quilters are an interesting group of people.  When I first started quilting in the mid-eighties, we were primarily women, and the average age was around 52.  Most of us were mid-level professionals, our children were older, and if there was a local guild, most quilters had at least some passing knowledge of it and/or were members.  About 10 years ago, Premier Needle Arts began tracking quilters.  As the internet encroached more and more on our everyday quilting lives and shopping habits, PNA wanted to know what was motivating quilters, how much were we using the internet, how was our shopping habits changing, and how much we were spending on our craft.  They devised a survey and sent it out to hundreds of quilters.  I began receiving this survey in my email box about seven years ago.  It’s my understanding PNA works in cooperation with various brands in the quilting industry to collect the names and email addresses of the quilters who are sent the survey.  It’s a fairly detailed and generally takes about 45 minutes to an hour to complete. 

This year the survey was sent to a random portion of the email lists from Handi Quilter, Connecting Threads, Superior Threads, Craftsy, National Sewing Circle, and National Quilters Circle.  All-in-all, over 1 million quilters received the survey in February and of that number, 30,000 filled it out and returned it.  Eighty-nine percent of the respondents were from North America.  Demographic data, such as race and geographic location, were optional portions and many quilters chose not to answer those questions.  According to  PNA CEO Mark Hyland, of the demographic data which was collected, there was no significant differences between groups.  Now for the down-and-dirty about what this survey and other data tell us.

  1.  There are currently 85 million active crafters in North America – meaning people who have worked on at least one creative project in the last year. 
  2. Crafts and crafters generate $35 billion in sales annually.
  3. There are currently 10-12 million quilters, and the quilting market is expected to approach $5 billion by 2026-2027.  In 2020, there was more than a 12% increase in the number of new quilters. 
  4. Quilters are spending more time quilting (maybe this is still the quilting hang-over from Covid?).  The survey discovered 51 percent of quilters are spending more time quilting than in previous years. Thirty-three percent said they were spending the same amount of time quilting and 16 percent stated they were actually quilting less.
  5. Shopping habits (and this one surprised me) – the survey found out 65 percent of quilters would rather purchase all their quilting supplies from a local, independent quilt store.  This is the preference.  However, of that sample, the same percentage actually followed through with the preference – they shopped local before they went online and purchased what they couldn’t find in a quilt shop.  I assumed – wrongly – after Covid locked us all down, everyone would continue to go online to purchase supplies.  I am so delighted I was wrong.  Local quilt shops are treasures and need to be supported.  However, beginner quilters were more likely to shop Big Box Stores rather than a LQS.
  6. What does the average quilter look like?  The average quilter is female.  She is retired and approximately 65 years-old with an average household income of $60,000.  Despite being of retirement age, 17.5% have full-time jobs.  She’s quilted more than 10 years and spends more than six hours each week working on quilting projects.  She owns an average of four sewing machines.  Another surprising fact:  Fewer than 30% pay someone else to quilt their quilt.  They prefer to do it themselves.  She is online every day.  What’s she doing on the internet?  Well, despite preferring the LQS, 30% more quilters are shopping online than they were last year.  And YouTube is now the go-to option to learn new techniques and obtain patterns (25.4% in 2021 as opposed to 13.0% in 2020), versus websites and blogs, which were number one last year.  Research is also another big online task for quilters.    
  7. Sewing is the gateway drug to quilting.  New quilters report sewing is their main hobby besides quilting.  There are now 33 million active sewists, more than a 10% increase over last year.
  8. “Availability” trumped price this year.  Because of out-of-inventory issues brought about by the Pandemic, quilters were quicker to purchase supplies based on availability, even if those supplies were a little more expensive than normal (I believe that…just ask me what I paid for ¼-inch elastic at the beginning of the Pandemic to make face masks….).
  9. Despite lockdowns and shipping disruptions, nearly all quilters spent the same or more money than they did three years ago.
  10. Sixty-three percent of quilters still buy and read magazines, but overall, magazine subscriptions have decreased over 15% in the last five years.
  11.  Fourteen percent of quilters report they attended at least one virtual quilt show this year.  However, their overall experiences with online quilt shows were disappointing and subpar.  Eighty percent say they wouldn’t attend such a show in 2022.  And here I have to agree with these quilters.  While the Zoom/Online classes, meetings, lectures, and workshops I attended were excellent, I was overall disappointed with online quilt shows.

So, what does all this mean for us?  I mean, all these numbers are great…even eye opening, but how do we apply them to our quilting world?  Let’s skip the dollars spent (because we all know we spend money on our craft) and go right to the number of folks quilting.  Currently we stand at 10 – 12 million quilters, with a 12% increase in 2020.  This is a seriously large demographic.  If you belong to a guild, and it’s not paying attention to these numbers, perhaps you need to bring them to your executive board’s attention.  If you noticed during the Pandemic, it was really difficult to find a sewing machine at some of these Big Box stores.  I vividly remember walking into a local Walmart in February 2020, cruising over to the fabric and craft department, and discovered no fabric (except for a few stray fat quarters), no elastic, no interfacing,  and no sewing machines.  People had to stay home, so many of them learned to sew in order to make masks.  According to the survey, sewing is the gateway drug to quilting.  If these new sewists are quilting, then our guilds should reach out to these folks, welcome them with open arms, and assist them in learning more about quilting.  This is important not only for them, but for us as guild members.  We’re aging out.  We need new ideas and fresh enthusiasm.  We need to accommodate them by arranging Zoom meetings if necessary and maybe even mentoring programs.  Guilds are seriously negligible if they don’t tap into these numbers. 

Internet and computer technology are other areas both quilt stores and guilds should be observant about.  While the majority of quilters still love their local quilt shops, we are becoming tremendously savvy about online options.  If the LQS has a website where customers can pre-order items, it should be user friendly and kept up-to-date.  Likewise with guild websites.  These should be kept current and easy to navigate.  However, the biggest change by far with quilters is the availability of online classes and meetings via Zoom.  Frankly, I had never heard of Zoom before the pandemic.  I was keenly aware of FaceTime on my iPhone, but this Zoom-thing was nowhere near my internet consciousness until 2020.  I know some quilters like it, others don’t, and some have no opinion, but it’s a tool we can no longer ignore.  It’s nearly the end of 2021, and after a couple of years of Zooming, we’re all pretty familiar with the program.  For guilds, Zoom has opened up the potential of acquiring speakers from all over the world and is allowing guild members the freedom to meet regardless of weather or pandemic numbers.  It also allows people from all nations and states the opportunity to join our local guild. 

I think what guilds (and perhaps other sewing groups) need to remember is we’re aging.  The average quilter is now 65.  Sometimes it’s difficult to drive – especially if the guild meeting is at night or it’s miles away.  Zoom is a great alternative during the winter when it gets dark earlier.  It allows home-bound members the opportunity to still meet with their guild-friends and participate, instead of being shunted aside.  I realize Covid changed the way we do a lot of thing, but it’s also allowed us opportunities to expand our horizons and keep quilting.  The one great quality about quilters is we do adapt to change.  And more often than not, we take this change and make it work positives in the field of quilting. 

In closing, I’d like to leave you with a binding tip.  I know that’s kind of a random topic after writing over a thousand words about the PNA survey, but this idea isn’t long enough for a blog, but it’s kind of a handy idea to tuck away if you ever deal with this situation.

I am in the middle of making my son and daughter-in-love a quilt as part of their Christmas.  The binding is white, and there is no right and wrong side to the fabric.  When I have fabric that has no right or wrong side, or the sides are so close in color it’s difficult to differentiate, it’s easy to sew the binding wrong.  You’ll think you’ve sewn it right sides together, only to find as you’re sewing on the binding, you didn’t.  This can lead to quality time with a seam ripper, as well as some colorful language.  To avoid this situation, this is what I do.

 After I cut my binding strips, I fold each strip wrong sides together and press it.

  •  Then I unfold it, so I can see the crease I just pressed into the fabric.  The side that has the crease is considered the right side of the binding strip.
  • Join the strips with the creases facing each other and sew as usual.
  • Fold in half again, wrong sides together, and re-press before sewing to the quilt.

This is a great system if there is no right or wrong side to the fabric (like my current situation), or the right and wrong sides are so close in color, they’re difficult to distinguish (like batiks).

Now for the very last word. For those of you who have prayed for my brother, Eric, I need to give you a very joyous update. On November 30, he underwent some follow up tests (including another bone biopsy) to see if the stem cell transplant worked effectively. We found out on December 2, the test results came back as “No Cancer Present.” The doctor told us he was in remission! Thank you so much for keeping Eric and the rest of my family in your thoughts and prayers. This will be a joyous holiday season, indeed!

Until next week, Quilt On!

Love and Stitches,

Sherri and Sam

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Hand Sewing Kits — What’s Needed and What Isn’t (and it totally depends on who owns it)

I almost decided not to make this topic into a blog.  All of this came about from one of my many online Sit and Sews when the topic of “What should go into a hand sewing kit” came up.  I was busy trying to determine why my Grandmother’s Flower Garden was giving me such grief (which I’m hand sewing – and I had used a full diamond joiner when I needed only a half-diamond) and was only just a tad tuned into the discussion at the time.  I was surprised to find out the opinions on this topic of hand sewing kits were varied – they went from the bare basics to “What are you sewing?  A wedding dress?” 

Instantly, I was intrigued.  So many opinions over a hand sewing kit? Who knew?

I’ve made at least three hand sewing kits in my life.  And let me add at this point, a hand sewing kit is different than a hand applique kit.  I have a hand sewing kit and at two different points in their “leaving home” years, I’ve made each of my kids one.  I think it goes without saying my children’s kits are different from mine:

I sew.

They mend.

I thought it might be helpful to go over the differences.  The following are the basics for any sewing kit.

  1.  Needles.  The sewing enthusiast needs more variety, but both kits need several different sizes.  And needles aren’t expensive.  Buy the good kind.
  2. Pin Cushion.  This doesn’t have to be fancy, but a place to park needles and pins is helpful.  If you’re making a sewing kit for a non-sewer, make sure it’s big enough they can see it and won’t lose it.
  3. Pins.  Some good straight pins are needed.  The enthusiast may want an assortment from applique pins to the flower head pins.  For everyone else, some nice silk pins or glass head pins are great.  Pins aren’t expensive.  Don’t get the super cheap ones which leave large holes behind or rust if they get damp.
  4. Scissors.  These should be small-ish.  Most quilters like nice scissors.  I keep a pair of Karen Kay Buckley’s in mine.  If the kit is for some else, get a decent pair of scissors and caution the person not to use them to cut paper.  And be sure to put their name on the handles.  Scissors have a way of walking off.
  5. Needle Threader.  Some folks’ eyes are still good enough they don’t need assistance pushing the thread through the eye of a needle, but if they’re in a hurry, a threader is one of the most helpful tools to have in your kit.  Threaders run the gamut.  They can be simple, like this:

Word of caution here…if this is the kind you go with, put two or three in the kit.  My experience with these is they break easily.

A little more complex:

The light is a nice thing to have.

Or this:

Which a lot of quilters tend of favor.

  •  Some kind of fabric marker.  It can be a Frixion, a blue water-soluble pen, or a number 2 pencil.  Non-sewing people will at least need to mark hems and where to place a button.  Quilters need fabric markers for all kinds of reasons.
  • Small Ruler.  This doesn’t have to extend the entire 12-inches or beyond, but something along the size of a sewing gauge is needed to measure hem length and draw straight lines.  Quilters may want something longer and wider, depending on the project currently under their needle.
  • Thread.  Remember a hand sewing kit is different than a hand applique kit, so you won’t need silk thread or a variety of colors.  Stick to the basics, especially for the non-quilter.  White, cream, black, gray, brown, and navy tend to work nicely for everyone.
  • Buttons and Fasteners.  This is definitely for the non-quilter.  I quilt.  Please don’t ask me to mend.  It’s a good idea to have a variety of buttons in different sizes and in some neutral colors.  A small card of hooks and eyes and one with snaps are also nice to have.

For me, these nine items are necessary in the basic sewing kit.  I know some of you are thinking, “Hey, I can find most of these items in those little sewing kits they sell at the dollar establishment.” 

Yes, you can.  I purchased one of these for my daughter before she left for college, and I think the scissors fell apart after one use and the thread was pretty bad quality.  Meg doesn’t sew, and even she knew the thread was awful.  Plus, it was so tiny it got lost.  By purchasing you own tools (for you or your kids…or whoever), you can control the quality and make sure the kit is big enough it doesn’t accidentally get tossed in the trash. 

These last items are for the hand sewing enthusiast – someone who’s will be spending serious time with needle, fabric, and thread.

  1.  Thread Conditioner or Beeswax.  Nothing is more aggravating than fighting knots in your thread.  Either one of these helps keep the knots at bay and makes your whole sewing experience much easier.
  2. Magnifier.  There will be times when you need to see your marked lines or stitches up close.  A magnifier or a pair of reading glasses are super handy.  And the reading glasses aren’t expensive.  I’ve found you can purchase a case of 12 pairs on Amazon which costs less per pair than those at the dollar stores or elsewhere.  And they come with cases.  You could feasibly have a pair in every sewing kit/project box in your studio.
  3. Basting Glue.  Sometimes you just need a dab or a dot.  A small bottle or a glue pen is a wonderful thing to have in your kit. An aside here…as far as I know basting glue wasn’t a “thing” when Meg trotted off to college.  I wish you could have seen her face when she saw me using some on vacation.  “My hems could have been fixed in two seconds,” she said, “instead of running you down to get you to hem my pants or spending my time doing it.”  Maybe it does belong in a “regular” sewing kit?
  4. A Thimble.  I know some of you would have put this little sewing tool with the first nine items.  However, I think the person who is only using a sewing kit for an occasional mend won’t go through the trouble of putting on a thimble – much less learn how to use it.  They want to mend whatever it is that needs mending as quickly as possible and move on with their day.  It will more than likely be the sewing enthusiast who spends hours hand sewing who will use the thimble. 
  5. Clips.  These little gadgets:

Are great to have in your kit.  You can keep block pieces or units together.  They can corral templates.  And you can get them in cute little containers like this:

Which will snuggle right in your sewing kit and keep the clips securely in one place.

  1.  Small Iron/Pressing Mat.  Even though you’re hand sewing, there will come a time when you need to press the units or the block.  If you’re away from home, having ready access to an iron and pressing mat is a great thing.  These may not need to stay in your kit all the time, but if you’re taking your hand sewing project on vacation or to a retreat, definitely make sure you’ve packed these in your kit.
  2. Small Rotary Cutter/Small Cutting Mat.  Like the small iron and pressing mat, these are tools you will want if you’re sewing away from home.  They’ll come in handy if you need to cut out additional pieces or true up a block. 

Sewing Kit Containers

This is kind of a personal decision.  If the sewing kit is for someone else, you may want to find a container which fits the person’s personality or likes.  The only cautionary statement I’d add is make sure the container is big enough it won’t get lost and make sure it fastens securely.  I’d also put their name on it – especially if the person is living in a group setting such as a dorm or shared apartment.  And I’d put their name on as many tools as I could. 

When I began hand sewing in earnest, I had dreams of finding the perfect container which could handle all my needs.  I had fond memories of my paternal grandmother’s kit, which was an old cigar box.  Grandma Moore hemmed and mended. She didn’t hand sew quilts, so the cigar box worked fine for her.  All she needed was a place for scissors, thread, needles, and a sewing gauge.  My hand sewing kit needed to be a little more extensive. I have several packets of different sized needles, scissors – all the tools listed above and probably a few more I didn’t think about to add to this blog.  I looked at bags and boxes on quilting websites.  I looked at containers at office supply places.  I finally found the perfect hand sewing kit here:

A small tackle box. 

It has moveable partitions and two “shelves”, plus a large bottom with enough height I can add an iron and mat with no problems.  Added bonus:  A tackle box was much less expensive than bags and boxes sold at quilt stores.  And if you think tackle boxes are all green and camouflage-y, think again.  Evidently there are as many women fishing as there are men. 

Christmas shopping season is upon us and if you have someone in your life heading off to college or living on their own, a sewing kit may be a welcome gift.  I can’t say any hand sewing skills taught will stick (I just finished sewing a button on my daughter’s shorts), but it’s certainly a great thing to have in a pinch.  I’ve gotten so I put mine in the car every time I head to a wedding or some such event.  And most of the time someone there is glad I did. 

Until Next Week, Quilt On!

Love and Stitches,

Sherri and Sam