Category Archives: Quilting as a Business

Spinning Star

Some projects turn out roughly the way one expects, and others? Not so much. My Spinning Star is one of those.

Earlier this year I was invited to facilitate a three-day workshop at an art center. I was honored! And excited! And I started planning a quilt project that could convey many lessons of medallion quilts, while allowing the students to create designs unique to their own tastes.

When I teach my Medallion Improv! class, I offer a common blueprint so the students can focus on some design principles and elements, but not all of them. With given sizes for the center block and border widths, for example, they don’t need to worry much about proportion.

For the three-day workshop, I planned to use a 16″ center block. Each student would bring their own to the first class day, to set the foundation for their own design. The first order of business in class would be to demonstrate setting that block on point. The on-point setting expands the center block both physically and visually. The 16″ space, with exactly sized setting corners, suddenly becomes 22 5/8″. It’s an efficient and dramatic way to increase the size of the project. (To see how to set a block on point, check this out.)

In order to provide an example for promotional materials, I got to work and made a 16″ block of my own. The setting triangles are slightly oversized to take the new center to 23″. Using oversized corners helps with two aspects. One, it doesn’t require perfection in placing those corners, making it an easier task. Two, it allows the quilter to trim the center to a size that is simpler to use. Using 23″ finished means I can add 2.5″ (finished) borders on each side, taking the top to 28″. That is an easy size to use.

You can see more information about how I started this in my post Medallion Process — A New Center Block for Class.

And then … the invitation was rescinded because the art center decided they needed a bigger name. (Yes, I am a bit disappointed by how that all went, but you don’t need to worry or comment on that. There are challenges and opportunities in how we deal with disappointments, too.) Immediately it was apparent that this project would not go roughly as I imagined.

At about the same time, I was working on the slide show for my guild’s quilt festival. You can find the video of A Quilt Is More Than A Blanket in this post. Though I was deep in the midst of making my red and white quilts, I realized that to show the process of making a quilt, I needed to take pix of a quilt in process! For various reasons, I didn’t think the red and white ones were good candidates for that. So onward and upward! The spinning star became a priority again.

Spinning Star. 50″ x 50″. Finished June 2017. Photo by Jim Ruebush.

The center block is made with paper piecing. The first framing border (not setting triangles) is unpieced strips. The fabric of the border repeats the dark blue, red, and black that came earlier. It also adds some lighter chalky blue for value contrast and relief. The print is supposedly an Australian Aboriginal design. The border takes the center (everything in the center so far, including the border once added,) to 28″.

This really is an easy size to use, if one is making a pieced border of square blocks. You can divide 28″ a lot of different ways, including into 7 blocks at 4″, 8 blocks at 3.5″, 14 blocks at 2″, and so on.

My original plan for the workshop blueprint was to use 3.5″ half-square triangles. There are a lot of lessons to learn with HST, and there are fun ways to demonstrate them. (Here are a few ways to look at HST.) But once plans changed, and I wanted to increase the size more quickly in order to finish more quickly, I decided to use a wider border.

I looked for inspiration in a number of places and ultimately saw a round robin quilt in Instagram I liked. It had a middle border of light bars and darker bars, arranged in a staggered way. I think the proportions of the bars were different from mine, but the idea is the same. One advantage to this design is I could make it as wide as I wanted. (“Wide” means the dimension perpendicular to the edge of the center. The two lines in this symbol ⊥ are perpendicular to each other. “Length” is the dimension along the edge.) The width is 6″, taking the top to 40″.

Running the blue bars through the middle creates a stable line, and makes the V-pattern of the staggered darks a little more subtle.

I also knew I wanted the corner blocks to echo the center shapes. Using the same blue and red fabrics from the very center, as well as one of the orange fabrics, gives a direct repeat. And using the economy block gives a less direct repeat of the center with setting triangles. (For directions on making the economy block, see my most-viewed post ever.)

With the center then at 40″, I had another easy length to divide into square blocks. I chose a 5″ wide border, this time of the HST I didn’t use before. Well, sort of. My plan was to use HST, simply made from a solid orange and the same blue Aboriginal print from before. I made 8 of the 36 required blocks (8 on each side and 4 in the corners,) and they were awful. The orange was much too much, too orange, too much orange. (NOT articulate, huh? I wish I’d taken pictures to let you see exactly what I mean.)

I still liked the idea of using the HST to make Vs around the edge, but the orange wouldn’t work. I tried other ideas and other fabrics. I flipped the orange underneath to reveal less of it, and put that against another blue. Ah. Much better. However, the solid orange still didn’t work for me. Instead I cut strips of the squiggly orange stripe from the center setting triangles, and added pieces of the blue that looks like it has finger-painting smears on it. One benefit of this is I could still use all the blue Aboriginal print I’d already cut!

The completed top is 50″ square. I quilted it very simply with a large double meander in a marigold-colored thread. (The double meander is done with one very large stipple or meander across the surface of the quilt, followed by another pass back, winding and ribboning through the first pass. It’s simple and fast and looks great on a lot of quilts.)

The binding is made from the African fabric used for the red and black stripes of the setting triangles. Though the red and black were fussy cut from it, the design also includes dark blue, so it was suitable across its pattern.

This quilt did not go roughly how I expected. It didn’t go much as planned at all. But I was pleased to use it for the video, and I like how it turned out. I think it will have a special owner some day, but right now I don’t know who that will be.



I ordered longarm needles the other day. It was so easy to do that I could take for granted the availability of sewing needles. But needles have not always been so common.


Last summer a needle was found in a cave in Siberia. It was a little more than 7 centimeters long (about 3″,) made of bird bone. It is the oldest complete needle found and was made some 50,000 years ago. The maker was not homo sapiens, or even Neanderthal. It was Denisovan, a contemporary species of hominid! Other ancient needles have been found in places ranging from southern Africa to China to eastern Europe.


Elias Howe, an inventor of the sewing machine, developed the needle with the thread hole at the pointed tip. According to legend, “He had the idea of a machine with a needle which would go through a piece of cloth but he couldn’t figure out exactly how it would work. In his dream, cannibals were preparing to cook him and they were dancing around the fire waving their spears. Howe noticed at the head of each spear there was a small hole through the shaft and the up-and-down motion of the spears and the hole remained with him when he woke.” This dream led to his contributions to the modern sewing machine, circa 1845.


By 1847 with the introduction of specialty machinery, more than 50 million needles were made each week in the Redditch district of England. These needles were for hand-sewing tasks, and Redditch still specializes in them. (I’ve been looking for information about needle production in the US during the 1800s, but so far haven’t found any.) During the US Civil War, sewing needles became hard to acquire by Southern civilians. The North’s blockade kept most imported supplies from reaching southern ports. Soldiers’ uniforms and bedding took priority for the supplies that could be purchased or made. The lack of needles for civilians meant that repairing old clothing and bedding was difficult, if not impossible.


On the American frontier, settlers faced deprivations of many kinds. In 1855 the community of Pass Creek Canyon in Wyoming was visited by a peddler named Aaron Meier. He brought his wares to the remote settlers, including fabrics, tools, and candies. But the item they needed most was darning needles, as it had been months since the last one broke. With Christmas coming, the Jewish peddler made a gift of all the needles he had to the women of the community. Aaron Meier later founded Meier and Frank department stores in Portland, OR.


While England still dominates the production of hand-sewing needles, Germany makes the majority of machine sewing needles. Groz-Beckert and Schmetz are two brands you may know. Here is a fascinating video by Schmetz showing how needles are made.


Needles are not scarce anymore in the US. There is no reason not to replace them when they’re due. When a needle is dull, it needs to punch its way through fabric layers, making a popping sound. When it is sharp, it doesn’t make that noise. In addition, your machine motor needs to work a little harder with a dull needle, and you may hear the machine laboring.

Experts recommend changing the needle every 8-10 hours of sewing (machine time, not cutting, pressing, and pondering time). That may not sound like a lot, but if your machine stitches 1,000 stitches per minute, that’s actually about a HALF MILLION stitches! While you’re stitching, you may sew through several layers of fabric and batting, and occasionally hit pins. (I do!) Your needle takes a lot of abuse.

Take a look at some great photos by Schmetz Needles USA of a needle that looks sharp. Once magnified with increasing power, you can see the burr on the tip. A dull needle doesn’t do your machine or your project any good.

And please dispose of your needles carefully. I use an empty yogurt cup with a hole poked through the lid. When I get rid of needles, bent pins, and dead rotary cutter blades, they go in there. And the cup is always safely out of reach of children!

The Future of Quilting, Part 2.5

After I posted Part 2, Abby Glassenberg of While She Naps followed up on the impending closure of Quilters Newsletter. In particular, she presented more information on how advertising supports the production of magazines. For most magazines, ads pay for a much greater portion than subscriptions.

However, print ads are expensive, and it can be hard for advertisers to justify given the benefit. One example given in Abby’s post was of a quilt shop spending thousands of dollars for ads that attracted six new customers. In comments, a similar example was given. Internet ads are less expensive and more flexible.

I no longer subscribe to any quilting magazines. When I did, I often spent as much time looking at the ads as at the articles. They provided much inspiration for quilt styles, color combinations, and block settings. I still receive a couple of catalogs and find the same thing. I don’t order from these catalogs, so I expect the day will come that they will cease, too.

There are a couple of quilting/crafting magazines that are not supported with advertising. UPPERCASE is one. Its subscription price is for four issues a year and costs $80 CAD, or approximately $61 US. That’s pretty pricey. In general I’d rather spend 60 bucks on quilting books that I choose individually than on an unknown combination of information on quilting and other crafts.

Now it’s time for more questions for you. What media do you prefer for providing information on your craft, and why? Do you use those media primarily for inspiration or instruction or patterns, or for something else? How much money do you spend yearly for new books, magazines, online subscriptions or classes? Do you think of classes (online or in person) as a separate category of learning, somehow different from the others? Any clue how much time you spend in a week searching online for these types of information or inspiration? How about time reading blogs about your craft?

And what about advertising? How do you feel about advertising in paper magazines as compared to ads online? Do you use many sites that are heavily ad-sponsored, or do you avoid them? What about Facebook pages that are sponsored pages? How many email notifications do you receive from vendors about specials or sales they are running? Do you buy based on them?

If you’re interested in reading my two earlier posts on the future of quilting, you can find them here and here.




The Future of Quilting, Part 2

I’m overwhelmed by what wonderful comments were contributed to my Part 1 post. Based on those responses, quilting is alive and well, at least with those who read here. (If you’d like to chime in, please do. I think we’ve all had fun reading these.) 

Quilting is a living craft, with a long history dating to ancient Egypt, and a long future stretching out far beyond our imagination. Like many crafts, especially those primarily engaged for self-expression, quilting’s popularity ebbs and flows. Influences include other parts of popular culture, resources available (including time,) and alternative means of self-expression. Only after printed fabric became readily and economically available in the early 1800s did quilting blossom as a pastime in the US. Prior to that, it was a rich woman’s hobby to create decorative objects, not primarily a means to create warm bed coverings, or to use up scraps.

Quilting’s current popularity has been, on average, growing since the 1970s. The ’60s ecology movement and the US bicentennial in 1976 helped spur interest that had waned throughout the middle of the century. From double-knits (who quilted with these?) to cotton-poly blends to twee calicoes to today’s wide variety of colors and prints, the options expanded. In 1979 the first rotary cutter was introduced, and gradually acceptance was granted for machine stitching, and even machine-quilting!

Today we live in a sweet spot for quilting. What other options could there be for cutting or stitching or quilting than those already available? These tasks can be done by machine or by hand, with sophisticated tools or those used for centuries. Either way, it is still a matter of layering three materials and stitching through them. What new could be done to attract more to the hobby?

in the last post I mentioned a couple of events that set me thinking about this subject. The first was the announcement last week of the demise of Quilters Newsletter. It will cease publication after the October issue. The magazine, around for 47 years, was a big part of the bicentennial revival of quilting. QN is known for its wide-ranging look at the quilting field, including interviews and reviews, information on shows, reader submissions, historical features, and patterns. I list patterns last because it is not a pattern magazine, unlike most others out there. In fact, it is the third magazine to shutter recently that didn’t focus on patterns. (There may be more — list them if you think of others.) The Quilt Life, featuring Alex Anderson and Ricky Tims, ceased publication in 2014. Quilter’s Home, published by the same company as Quilters Newsletter, ended in 2011.

When Quilter’s Home announced its closure, the editor’s blog said, “Effective with the August/September issue, Quilter’s Home will cease publication. Why? It seems more of you are turning to the web for quilting lifestyle information rather than the newsstand.” The internet killed the magazine.

The cause of Quilters Newsletter‘s closure wasn’t announced, though it apparently was accompanied by a series of layoffs by the parent company. In her post about it, Abby Glassenberg of While She Naps added more in comments:

In talking with several magazine publishers this week I’ve come to learn that it often isn’t subscriptions that keep a magazine afloat, it’s advertisers. It seems that the big companies that used to pay for print ads in sewing magazines (the sewing machine companies, fabric, thread, and notions companies) are now allocating their ad dollars differently (paying for Facebook ads, paying for Google search) and are reaching their audience directly through social media. Without their ad dollars it’s very difficult for magazines to stay afloat.

It might be that the future of publishing and the future of quilting are unrelated, but I don’t think so. Magazine publishers depend on advertisers; advertisers must find the viewers/readers/clicks where they can, and apparently it isn’t on the printed page. Or if it is, it must be on the pages of pattern magazines, which seem created simply to sell us lines of fabric.

What do we, as quilters, want from quilting periodicals? And why do we want it? Do you want your quilting magazines on paper or online, or both? Do you want to find both articles and patterns? Do you want articles focused on technique, or on personalities within the industry, or on industry trends, or on … what? Please feel free to comment below.

The other event that spurred my questions about the future of quilting was my local 4-H county fair. (4-H is a US organization for kids. It is delivered by university extension services to every county and parish in the country.) On Sunday I volunteered to judge this year’s quilt projects for my local guild. Though the fair has separate judging, my guild also reviews the entries and provides a prize for each of the three age groups. It is intended as motivation to continue in the craft. This was my fourth time judging and had the fewest entries by far. The intermediate age group (I think 7th – 9th grade) had only one entry, while the junior and senior categories had four each.

Who teaches kids to quilt? And how can we get more of them excited about trying? Are there ways to engage young adults?

I do not worry about quilting’s death. Barring catastrophe (widespread cotton blight, world war, worldwide economic depression…) I believe quilting will continue. As noted above, the popularity will ebb and flow over time for numerous reasons. But the craft and the industry continue to change through time. Individually most of us have little to no impact on either. Collectively there may be more impact. It might be fun to take a look at trends in quilting next…

What do you think about the health of quilting as a craft, and as an industry? I’d love to hear your comments below. 

The Future of Quilting, Part 1

Some recent events have me wondering about the future of quilting. I’ll get to those in the next post.

First I want to ask some questions: will you still be quilting in five years? Do you see your involvement as temporary, or as a permanent part of your life, until you’re truly unable to continue? And if you expect to still be quilting, how do you think your quilting life might change? Will the type of project change, perhaps from large quilts to smaller ones? From “traditional” to “modern” or “art”? Will your purchases change, to much less fabric or books or notions? Or perhaps to more? Or to more quilting services like someone to longarm for you? Or will you buy a dye cutter to reduce stress on arthritic parts?

Another question: do you actively help new quilters learn the craft? Do you teach, or donate fabric to 4H groups, or participate in other nurturing activities? Is that something you would do if presented with the opportunity?

Another: are there areas of quilting you’d like to learn? Are you interested in becoming an appraiser, or learning and/or teaching quilting history? Or are there particular skills you long to try?

One more: do you think that most “new” quilters (those who’ve been quilting less than five years, or have made fewer than five quilts) will still be quilting five years from now? Why or why not?

I’ll start, but please join in with comments. Don’t hesitate to respond to others’ comments, as well.

I expect I’ll still be quilting in five years. Truly I have no idea how many quilts I’ve made in the last decade, but surely it is well over 100. Likely it’s more than twice that, especially if you include all the quilts I’ve helped with but wasn’t the sole maker. So from the standpoint of production, I’m in this. It’s part of my life. On the other hand, it’s possible for me to imagine not quilting anymore. In particular, it’s imaginable that I stop quilting my own projects and pay someone else to longarm quilt for me.

I prefer making big quilts, or at least biggish. But we’ve discussed the issue of having a “market” or audience for our work, and mine is pretty depleted. It might be time to shift to smaller items. Though as I’ve said to someone else, my heart would die if I had to make coasters and pot holders. I did have a lot of fun making my Iowa In My Mind quilt. Perhaps other types of art or story quilts are in my future.

My purchases over the last couple of years have changed some. I am not a big fabric buyer. I never buy all new for a specific quilt, and I almost never buy even partially new before starting a specific quilt.  I prefer to work from stash, but that means having things that are interesting and useful. Recently the ratio of “interesting” to “useful” has increased. Even so, I fill in with tone-on-tones or blenders regularly.

I’ve kicked around the idea of becoming an appraiser, but in truth I don’t want to work that hard anymore. Between my college degrees and professional certification, I’ve taken all the tests I ever want to take. I do enjoy teaching and want to continue to find opportunities to do so.

As for newer quilters, most of the younger modern quilters probably won’t be quilting five years from now. There will be a core of those who’ve found their niche, but the rest will fall away with the busyness of their lives and other interests. Even so, the richness and enthusiasm they’ve added will help to enliven the craft for years to come.

Now it’s your turn. Thoughts to share?