Tag Archives: Tips

Ideas You Can Use

I love having friends come for dinner. This evening we’ll host another couple, share some good laughs, a few good rants, dinner, and a bottle of wine.

I also love old-fashioned cakes, made from scratch. I think of them as “homely,” as they aren’t highly decorated. I wouldn’t win the Great British Baking Show with my skills, but we’ll enjoy this applesauce bundt cake with brown sugar glaze, with a little ice cream for dessert!

I’m also trying to finish quilting my urn-with-flowers project. It’s been on the frame for several days, and I get a bit done at a time. Each day I think “it might be done today!”

It’s worth mentioning my take on quilting medallion-format quilts. For machine-quilting, you can choose to do an all-over design; quilting that is custom, or different in each segment or border; or some combination. Usually I do an all-over design.

I’ve custom-quilted a few for which, after the fact, it seemed like a waste of effort. There was so much going on with the piecing that the quilting didn’t add much, and I could have done something much simpler. And there are others for which I simply couldn’t have chosen an all-over design. Because this one has a fair amount of appliqué, I decided to do custom. That makes it a much slower process, but it’s coming along and will be done soon!

While I waited for the longarm to warm up this morning, I took a few photos in my studio. They have some ideas you might find useful.

  • I usually sew (piece) with So Fine 50wt. polyester thread on cones. The cones don’t fit my domestic machine, so I keep the cone in a cup next to the machine, and run the thread through the loop of a safety pin.
  • I have a lot of storage in my studio. (Click any picture to open the gallery and see detail.) My fabric stash is in the TV armoire. Almost all of it is in the plastic bins in the top. Other things (scraps, current projects, bags, etc.) are stored under my cutting table in rolling drawer sets. The table is a basic folding table, available at any big box store. It is on “stilts” made of PVC pipes cut to length. The third picture is of an open cabinet we got at a garage sale 100 years ago. The new addition is the wire under-shelf bin that holds my overflow of thread cones. On top of the cabinet is my bobbin winder for the longarm.
  • For a few years I’ve used Fiskars blunt-tipped school scissors when I quilt. They will keep me from punching a hole in a quilt top by accidentally dropping pointy scissors on it. But I never had a good place to put them and found reaching for them (where are they now??) awkward. For Christmas Santa brought me a package of lightweight 3M Command hooks. I applied one to the side of my longarm and now I know exactly where the scissors will be. Next I’ll put one on the side of my domestic machine for the small scissors I use there.

  • At the back of my cutting table is a rack to hold my cutting rulers. Yes, that’s all of them! I had a plastic letter holder for years, foraged from work during a long-ago closet-cleaning. Last summer I purchased a prettier one, and every time I see it, I’m glad I bought it. I also keep a yogurt cup with lid on the table. In it go all my dead needles, bent pins, and dull rotary blades. I’ve used the same one for years. If it ever fills up, I’ll tape it shut with duct tape before putting it in the trash. The other item you see is my pin magnet, for long pins I use on the longarm. It sits in a paper bowl. The bowl keeps the pins corralled just a bit better than the magnet by itself. I keep another bowl-and-magnet of fine straight pins next to my domestic machine for piecing duty.

  • Last but not least is a photo of some of my studio lighting. On either side of the room I have a LED utility light. This one can be removed from the wall above the window, and used for extra light when we photograph finished quilts. The LED strips are inexpensive and give great quality of light.

I hope the start of your new year has been happy and productive, or at least happy. 🙂

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Binding a Quilt for the VA Hospital

Over the last few years, I’ve made several quilts to donate to the local VA (Veteran’s Administration) Hospital. This year I’ve made two so far, and likely I’ll make at least one more.

Though I finished the tops and had them quilted before the end of March, I didn’t get the bindings attached. I plan to turn them in at my guild meeting next week, so it’s time to get them bound.

I’ve written about binding before. If you need a primer, you might find it useful to review here. I’ll also add a few tips right here about machine finishing.

For this particular quilt, I chose to finish the binding by machine rather than by hand. I attached it to the back of the quilt and then used a warm iron to press the strip toward the front, across its seam allowance. That makes it easier to bend around the edge.

I increased the stitch length a touch. I also set the machine speed to medium, so the process wouldn’t accidentally get away from me! Using a thread that matches my binding color and a straight stitch, away I went! (Sometimes I use a zig-zag. I think it’s sturdier, but it doesn’t look as neat.)

I rarely use pins or clips when I machine-finish a quilt. When I do use them, I NEVER clip or pin all the way around, whether I’m doing hand-stitching or machine-stitching. That just makes a lot of protrusions that get in the way. I only clip a few inches at a time, and move them as I go.

This border has a stripe that made it easy to wrap the binding consistently all the way around. I think the finish looks neat and clean on the front

and pretty good on the back.

The quilt is finished now. I have three others in the queue for their bindings.

Do you attach your quilt bindings right away? Or do you wait and do them some time later? What’s your favorite thing about binding a quilt? Your least favorite? 

Best Tips For Newer Quilters

Em’s baby quilt, before being rebuilt and enlarged. December 2003. This was the first quilt I ever made.

When I made my first quilt fourteen years ago, there weren’t many online resources for quilters. There were no blogs, only a few message boards, and a small handful of sites that, at the time, weren’t interactive with reader comments. But those few websites provided me with a vast amount of help as I learned to quilt.

I thought it would be fun to offer some “best” tips for quilters, especially tips that could help newer quilters. AND I’d like YOU to join in! In comments below, give a recommendation or two (or ten!) of things you wish you’d known as a new quilter. Or if you’re moved to write your own blog post with tips, give us the link in comments.

Here are a few of mine, in no particular order:

1. Have some basic equipment that will make your efforts easier, like a sharp rotary cutter with mat and rulers, a sewing machine that will make a good-quality stitch, and an iron. These don’t need to be fancy.

2. Buying is often a substitute for making. Either one is okay (assuming you can afford it!) but they are not the same thing. Decide which is more important to you.

3. Learn to make a decent 1/4″ seam allowance. If you do, it will save you lots of hassle, including trimming blocks, making parts fit, and making your quilt look the way it should. Here are some tips on improving your seam allowance.

4. Don’t get hung up on particular designers for your fabric choices. Your quilts will have a more timeless quality if you mix and match designers and lines.

5. When choosing color palettes, audition a broad range of colors including some you think couldn’t work. Unless you’re deliberately using a muted color scheme, err on the side of too bold rather than too meek.

6. The same idea works with value contrast: unless you’re deliberately going for a “low-volume” (low value contrast) look, have a range of value from very dark to very light. This means your purchases need to include that range.

7. If possible, take some classes in person. A good teacher can make your learning curve easier.

8. Work on improvement, but ignore the quilt police! If you like it, that’s the most important criteria.

9. If you get stuck within a project, ask for help. Often the solution is pretty simple if you only know what it is.

10. Starting projects is exciting, but finishing is deeply rewarding. Make sure you finish some of your projects so you understand the benefits of both.

Alrighty, now, it’s your turn! What advice do you have for less-experienced quilters? 

 

My Best Advice on Using Half-Square Triangles in Borders

I could call this a rule, but that would be silly, wouldn’t it? 🙂

Here’s the advice: when using half-square triangles as your border blocks, try them multiple ways before choosing.

Why? Because setting them with different line and value orientation changes the appearance significantly. It’s worth taking the few minutes to audition variations. This simple illustration gives 4 different ways to arrange them.

Here are some examples from a little quilt I made in 2014. They aren’t sewn together yet, hence the wonky look on some of the pictures.

There are still other ways to try these, too. Other than the first one, they all have the dark value close to the center. Try them with the light side against the center for a different look. Also, they aren’t shown with changing orientation, similar to the right side of the illustration at the top of the page. In other words, there are at least eight ways to use them, and that assumes that you pattern them the same on all four sides.

Here are some examples from my quilts. First, Marquetry. Note that two of the borders use HST, but with different arrangement.

Another one is Bird On Point. Closest to the center, the HST run around in one direction. In the middle blue-and-blue border, they’re positioned differently to create movement in the other direction.

And one more, Black Sheep Manor. This also has HST in two borders. In the one around the center block, the triangles “spray” outward symmetrically. In the middle border, they have changing orientation for value and line.

I could go on, but I’ll bet you get the point. 🙂

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!