Tag Archives: Bonnie Hunter

Do You Use Solids In Your Quilts?

Do you quilt with solid fabrics? If so, do you create quilts from all solids, or do you mix them in with other fabrics?

The question arises from a comment on my recent post about quilting rules. The comment (from my sister) said one of her rules is no solids. Huh.

I don’t use solids a lot, and in truth prefer tone-on-tone prints. I think they offer more depth and interest, while solids can read rather flat. But solids have a long history with quilting, from the classic red, white, and green quilts of the early 1800s, to the Amish, to contemporary quilting.

When I do use them, it’s typically as one more source of color in a quilt with many types of prints. However, I have made a couple of quilts that were of only solid fabrics.

Daughter’s medallion in solids. 2014.

Branching Out. 2015. Photo by Jim Ruebush.

A question often comes up about solid fabrics sold at chain stores, like JoAnn Fabrics. JoAnn’s sells solids under two or three different labels. One label (brand) is Kona Cotton Solids. Are Kona solids at JoAnn’s the same as Kona solids at a quilt shop? If you buy something called “Kona” at the quilt shop, it also will show the maker as Robert Kaufman. JoAnn’s doesn’t say that.

Who makes JoAnn’s Kona solids? Are they made by Robert Kaufman or some other manufacturer? Are they Robert Kaufman second-quality goods?

Bonnie Hunter’s Quiltville blog addressed this question in 2014. Bonnie and Robert Kaufman answered definitively. I encourage you to read the whole answer provided by Robert Kaufman. However, I’ll summarize here:

  1. Robert Kaufman makes ALL Kona Cotton Solids, regardless of retailer.
  2. ALL Robert Kaufman Kona Cotton fabrics distributed are first quality. Seconds are destroyed.
  3. If you find fabric labeled as Kona Cotton Solids that appears to be of lower quality, the company would like you to mail them a sample.

Where should you buy your Kona Cotton Solids? Many of us like to patronize our local quilt shops, ensuring their success to keep them in our communities. Many of us like the coupons and sales offered by JoAnn Fabrics, or the convenience of shopping various vendors online. As with most of the rest of my fabric purchases, I will continue to buy at JoAnn’s now and then, and make sure I support my local shops, as well.

Lessons: Unpieced Borders (aka “Strip” or “Slab” Borders)

One of the biggest stumbling blocks making medallion quilts is getting borders to fit. Pieced borders provide their own special challenges. But plenty of quilters, of any kind of quilt, have trouble with unpieced borders.

When I started quilting, almost every block quilt or strip quilt had an unpieced border, or perhaps two. Books on quilting gave recommendations to make the width proportionally pleasing to the center of the top. Too wide and it would look like you’re trying to make the quilt bigger. Too narrow and it wouldn’t have enough visual impact.

Quilt police chimed in with edicts to join lengths together at an angle, or with a perpendicular seam, depending on their own preferences.

Patterns continually called for cutting border strips across the width of fabric.

Most sources recommended measuring the quilt center in three places (the same direction) and averaging those three. Somehow, that would magically make your border fit.

And occasionally I saw instructions to mark the center of the border strip, the center of the top, and perhaps at the quarters, and pin those marks. Usually it was recommended to pin every few inches in between.

Whatever these instructions did, they did not, generally, make borders fit better. I’m in a longarm quilting group in Facebook, and badly fitting borders might be the number one complaint quilters have about their customers’ work. They share photos of the worst cases. Once a top is loaded on the frame, it’s easy to see the ripples and waves of excess border fabric. That will not quilt out!

How does this happen? A lot of ways. The most common, I expect, is that people cut a long strip of fabric, probably across the grain, lay it on without measuring or pinning, and sew. As they sew, they smooth the border out, continuing to stretch it farther and farther as compared to the quilt piece below it. The feed dogs pull slightly more against that bottom layer, making the problem even worse. It’s almost like gathering a skirt by having more fabric on one layer than on another, and easing it in. Do you do this? I have!! What a mess!

Medallion quilts often use unpieced strips in the interior, as well as outer borders. Rippling inner borders make it nearly impossible to correctly fit the next borders to them. You can sew it on, but the distortions will make a flat, squared top impossible. The flatter the top, the more easily it can be quilted and the better it will look finished.

There are easy ways to make borders fit better. Here are a few tips.

  • Square the center’s corners before attaching a border. Splayed corners will multiply if they aren’t fixed. (The “center” is everything that is already assembled into something that will be bordered. If you are adding multiple borders, each new border becomes part of the center once it is attached.) Use your largest square ruler to check the center’s corners. If the center’s edges don’t align to the square, you can either trim them to square, or adjust seam allowances perpendicular to the edge to improve the shape. OR if the problem is minor, attach the strip border and then trim it to square.
  • Cut border lengths along the selvage if possible. The grain is more stable than on width-of-fabric, meaning you’ll get less stretch and distortion.
  • If you need to join lengths, use a perpendicular seam. It is easier to align the pieces correctly this way. You won’t have a bias seam to stretch. And the seam is shorter than if joined on the diagonal, so any mismatch in the print extends for a smaller length.
  • Determine the correct length of the strip border and cut it to size. (More on that below.)
  • Pin. A lot. A lot of pins. Smooth the center its full length and find the middle of its edge. Mark that point with a pin. Find the middle of the border strip and mark that point with a pin. Match the middle-point pins. Remove the pins (each through only one layer) and pin the two layers, center and border, together at that point. Smooth the border strip along the center’s edge until it reaches each corner. Pin the corners. I pin near each corner twice, about a half inch apart. It keeps the layers from shifting at the start and end of sewing. If you’ve measured and cut your border correctly, and if your center isn’t too out of square, the two pieces should fit well together. Pin about every 2″, easing with more pins where needed. (Why pin so much? The pins allow you to ease the layers together where they don’t fit exactly. And they help support the weight of the layers so they don’t shift, which makes sure your seam allowance maintains its width. The bigger the center is, the more weight and the more closely you need to pin.)
  • If you have corner blocks, they will be on the third and fourth strips of the border set. Begin your pinning by matching the seams of the corner blocks to the first and second strips of the border set. Continue to pin as above.
  • Secure your long seams by backstitching at both ends.
  • Use your walking foot (even-feed foot) if it helps keep the layers from shifting, giving a smoother seam.

How to determine the correct length of the strip border
When I began quilting, I relied heavily on a few online sources of information (and back then, there were only a few!) One of them was Bonnie Hunter of Quiltville.com. (She still has great stuff on her site. Take a look around, especially at her Tips & Techniques.) Bonnie has a whole page just on border hints, and this is where I learned to cut and attach border strips.

According to Bonnie, the best way to assure your border will fit and your quilt top will lie flat is to use one measure (for each direction) across the center of the quilt top. She says:

Some people take several measurements across the quilt and average that measurement for borders. (hear me gasping in fright here!) I *NEVER* “average” when measuring for borders because they can still flare, and where they are going to flare the worst is at the center of the quilt sides…That’s why the CENTER measurement is the one to go for. If the ‘averaged’ measurement is longer than the quilt CENTER measurement, you are GOING to have a flared border. If the ‘averaged’ measurement is smaller than quilt  center measurement, you are going to have borders that are too tight for your quilt center, and the center of your quilt is going to balloon out. Just use the center measurement and your quilt will lie flat!

How to get that centerline measurement? Should you hold the quilt top in your lap and move the measuring tape across it a few inches at a time? (Can you see my eyes rolling?!?) No.

  1. Lay the quilt top out flat, preferably on the floor. If you don’t have enough room to spread it out, you can bunch up or fold in the sides. But the center must be spread out flat in a straight line, without twisting. Smooth it out without stretching, just to flatten it to the floor.
  2. Cut two border strips for that direction and stack them on top of each other. Cut one end perpendicular to the length.
  3. Lay them across the center. Start with the cut end flush with the edge of the quilt top. Smooth the strips out so they are flat against the center. Don’t stretch them!
  4. Mark the other end of the top strip using a straight edge and pen or pencil.
  5. Cut the strips on the marked line.
  6. If you will have corner blocks, repeat with the other two strips in the other direction prior to sewing the first two strips on. If you won’t have corner blocks, sew the first two strips on, and then repeat.

Click on any photo below to open the gallery.

I’ve applied hundreds, maybe thousands of borders using this method. My quilt tops are almost always square and flat. Thanks to Bonnie Hunter for the lesson!

Kona Cotton Solids

I’m working on a small quilt made of solid fabrics — no prints. I don’t mind mixing prints and solids, but this one is intended to have an old-fashioned Amish feel. Some of the fabrics were purchased at JoAnn’s, and some were from local quilt shops.

JoAnn’s sells solids under two or three different labels. One label (brand) is Kona Cotton Solids. The question comes up regularly about the maker of JoAnn’s Kona solids. If you buy something called “Kona” at the quilt shop, it also will show the maker as Robert Kaufman. JoAnn’s doesn’t say that.

Who makes JoAnn’s Kona solids? Are they made by Robert Kaufman or some other manufacturer? Are they Robert Kaufman second-quality goods?

This morning in the Stashbusters Yahoo site (group forum), someone posted a link to Bonnie Hunter’s Quiltville blog. Bonnie and Robert Kaufman answered this question definitively. I encourage you to read the whole answer provided by Robert Kaufman. However, I’ll summarize here:

  1. Robert Kaufman makes ALL Kona Cotton Solids, regardless of retailer.
  2. ALL Robert Kaufman Kona Cotton fabrics distributed are first quality. Seconds are destroyed.
  3. If you find fabric labeled as Kona Cotton Solids that appears to be of lower quality, the company would like you to mail them a sample.

Where should you buy your Kona Cotton Solids? Many of us like to patronize our local quilt shops, ensuring their success to keep them in our communities. Many of us like the coupons and sales offered by JoAnn Fabrics. Hobby Lobby also has carried Kona solids, but I don’t shop there anymore. So as with most of the rest of my fabric purchases, I will continue to buy at JoAnn’s and make sure I support my local shops, as well.

Do You Chain Piece?

Chain piecing… not a method of making jewelry, but an efficient way to stitch fabric pieces together.

The other day I read a post by a new quilter. She commented about hesitating to try a quilt made of triangles, because of all those threads tangled underneath! Extra piecing — triangles rather than squares — would mean extra threads to trim.

I’m a thread picker, myself. If there are ends of threads protruding from seam lines, I diligently pick or snip them off. So I understand her concern about having even more threads to wrangle! But there’s an easy way to reduce that, and it’s chain piecing.

Simply put, chain piecing is sewing multiple pairs of patches without cutting threads between. The “chain” comes from the few stitches between patches.

A few stitches chain the patches together.

Why would you want to do this? I can think of five reasons.
1) It reduces the tangling or knotting of thread at the beginning of stitching.
2) It decreases the amount of thread used.
3) It keeps your patches in order, making it easier to move to the next step.
4) It reduces time involved, compared to the stitch-cut-stitch-cut.
5) It reduces the thread ends on the underside of your quilt block or top.

While most helpful tips can have some downside, depending on your methods and preferences, I can’t think of any negative to chain piecing.

Here’s a description from the thread company Coats & Clark:

How does it work? Stack up the pieces for whatever you’re making in quantity. If it’s quilt blocks, place the adjacent pieces right sides together in a pile for easy retrieval. Pick up the first pair of pieces and put it under your presser foot. Stitch the seam, stopping at the edge of the pieces. NOW, don’t cut the threads or remove the stitched piece from the machine…simply feed in the next pair and continue seaming.

Leave just a bit of space (the thread chain) between the pieces, and keep going through your entire stack. But, there’s no need to stop there—pick up another stack of pieces that need seaming and keep going. You’ll see a chain of pieces exiting the sewing machine behind the presser foot.

See the whole post with some great photos to illustrate the process, too.

You can continue chaining throughout the piecing process.

And now they are 4-patches.

Thread bunnies… like the “rabbit” in a long-distance race, it leads the pack.

Even with chain piecing, some piece of fabric has to go under the needle first. Some people call that piece a thread bunny. The long tails of leading thread collect here, though I trim mine off. Once the crossing threads are thick, I throw it out and start another. Usually I use small trimmings from bindings, which give just enough surface to ensure the threads are not bunching and knotting underneath.

Besides using them at the beginning of a chain, I also end a chain with one. When I snip the last quilt patch unit from behind the needle, a bunny remains, ready to start the next chain.

Leaders and enders… not the rest of the runners in the race.

Some people use leaders and enders, rather than thread bunnies. This might sound mysterious. All it means is having another set of patches from another quilt ready to stitch, to use at the beginning and end of a series of your primary project. It works best if you have fairly uncomplicated piecing. Also scrappy designs work well, so you aren’t switching concentration from your primary project to the leader-ender project.

Bonnie Hunter explains the process at her Quiltville site.

Then a lightbulb went off. I took a bin of scrap 2″ squares that had been accumulating from trimming scraps down, and started using those as leaders/enders instead of a wadded up thread covered scrap. I would sew a light square to a dark square, trim off behind it…..and eventually have a stack of these little “two squares” that I would also use as leader/enders to sew into 4 patches….

She has great pictures on this page, too, of beautiful quilts made just this way.

So if you aren’t already a chain piecer, you may find it an efficient way to speed up and organize your piecing. And while you’re at it, give leaders and enders a try.