Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Beginners Unite! Sewing a scant quarter inch

We've covered accurate cutting and the next step for blocks that come together smoothly is sewing that scant 1/4" seam. 

For those that have a quarter inch foot for your sewing machine, it is still important to find that sweet spot. To show what a difference the seam allowance makes in your accuracy, I have sewn two units using a scant quarter inch and using just my quarter inch foot. (I will address finding a scant 1/4" if you don't have a quarter inch foot as well.)

To start, I raided my 1 1/2" scrap bin. If you are looking for that perfect seam allowance I recommend cutting up quite a few strips at 1 1/2" x 4 1/2" or a bit longer. This is a nice, manageable size for easy piecing. 

First, the scant quarter inch.

I know that there are many who want exact measurements for what a "scant" 1/4" means. I am not going to give you that. 1) I have no idea what teeny tiny measurement that is. 2) I truly believe the perfect scant 1/4" for your machine is something you need to take the time to find. Once you find it, you will never go back. On my machine (it's hard to see in the picture) the sweet spot is with the fabric just inside the 1/4" foot. 

If I line the fabric up with the foot, I consider this a 1/4" seam. (If you look closely you can see the fabric in the second picture is a little further to the right.)

So what is the difference?

Can you see it? The top is the scant 1/4" seam. 

Here I have pressed the seam to the dark side. If you look closely at the 2 1/2" marks on the ruler you can see they are on the fabric. 

Here, the 2 1/2" marks on the ruler line up along the outside of the fabric. Does this really make a difference?

Ignoring the fact that I did *not* cut accurately and my pieces don't match up, you can see that the 4 1/2" marks are still on the fabric.

Look at the difference on this one, though. My ruler marks were just on the outside of the fabric after the first seam, now however I've lost almost 1/8" of an inch after just three seams. Imagine what this would mean in a block that has 18 seams, or a top with hundreds.

What if you don't have a quarter inch foot? 

First, grab your ruler. Carefully, and by hand, put your needle down until it is on the 1/4" mark on your ruler. Place a piece of tape along the ruler. This is not the scant 1/4" seam mark, this is your starting point. Once you have your mark you will want to do the same thing as above. Sew 1 1/2" strips together, press towards one side, measure. 

The goal is to have the ruler marks along the inside of the fabric edge. If the marks are on the fabric, but there is fabric showing between the ruler marks and edge of the fabric, your seam allowance is small. If the marks line up along the outside of the fabric edge, your seam allowance is too large.

To help keep the seam allowance correct, line up your ruler along the new, correct line, and either place tape along the edge, or draw a line with a permanent marker.  Eventually you won't need this reminder, you will be able to mark it just by looking at it, but to start you want something to line up your fabric with. If/when you get a new machine, or a quarter foot, you will want to go through the process again to find that sweet spot. 

Happy accurate stitching!

1) Intro - May 2
5) That crazy scant 1/4 inch seam allowance - You are here
7) HST - Half Square Triangles (My one true love) - June 13
8) Flying Geese - June 20
12) Adding Borders - July 18
13) Sandwich that top - July 25
14) Quilting - August 1
15) Binding - August 8
16) Labels  - August 15

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Beginners Unite! Side Trip - Cutting large yardage

Side trip number two is going to take us to those large pieces of fabric that we need to cut down into much smaller pieces. 

How often does a pattern call for you to get 3 or more yards of one fabric? That is a lot of fabric, and it's heavy! How do you deal with the heavy fabric without it pulling and stretching and throwing off your accuracy? 

Let me start by sharing what I usually do. In my patterns I instruct quilters to cut a certain amount of strips by the width of fabric. Ex. Cut ten strips 2 1/2" x WOF. If these cuts are coming from a large amount of yardage I will cut off a 27" piece. This gives me a more manageable piece to work with as well as 2" leeway for squaring it up. I only do this if I know I have extra fabric, though, because there is a lot of waste. As always, there are more ways to do this.  


Pressing a large amount of fabric can be frustrating. It's no wonder quilts are warm, that fabric can get hard to lift, shift and move! If I am unsure of the amount of fabric I have, I will keep the yardage in one piece,  but then to press it for cutting requires a little more work.

Here I have brought over a chair to hold the extra fabric. This keeps it off the floor as well as keeps the fabric from pulling and stretching. As I press the fabric I lay it over the sewing desk to keep it from wrinkling and getting dusty. When I am working with a lot of fabric I do not press it all at once. There is no way it will stay nice and crisp. I, once again, figure out how much I will be cutting, this depends on how many strips you need as well as the size of your cutting mat, and just press that much fabric.


Here is my trick for keeping the fabric from pulling and shifting on my cutting mat; my wrapping paper holder. Side note: have you ever noticed they rarely make cute wrapping paper in the size short enough so the lid fits? 

My cutting table is 3 ft high (I'm 5' 10 1/2" tall on a good day) and this wrapping paper storage works really well to hold the extra fabric. It's not about fancy, it's about using what you have to make your life easier, right?! 

The fabric just lays on top. Without falling away as you get closer to the edge. Don't forget to square up your fabric, even with large pieces of fabric you need to get the grain straight. To see how I do this read the previous post here

Ready and waiting for those first cuts. Once I have my strips cut I will move the wrapping holder out of the way so I can do my sub-cuts without moving the strips. Then it's back to the ironing board to press another section.

The key here is to find a way that your fabric just lays nice and flat without pulling or shifting. It should be relaxed. A relaxed fabric makes for a relaxed quilter. 

Share your tips for working with large amounts of yardage in the comments!

Happy Stitching!

1) Intro - May 2
4) Accurate cutting - May 23
4a) Side Trip ~ Cutting Large Yardage - You are here
7) HST - Half Square Triangles (My one true love) - June 13
8) Flying Geese - June 20
12) Adding Borders - July 18
13) Sandwich that top - July 25
14) Quilting - August 1
15) Binding - August 8
16) Labels  - August 15

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Beginners Unite! Accurate cutting

"Accurate Cutting" is a very important part of quilting and has a direct effect on your joy in quilting. 

Here is a quick little video on how to square up your fabric, make that first cut to get a straight edge, and how to line up the ruler for more accurate cuts. 

Hopefully, I can keep the first cut as small as possible, but sometimes that isn't the case and you have to cut off what seems like a big chunk of fabric. Ouch. Do not decide to skip this part! You will regret it in the end. When you don't get the fabric grain straight you end up with pulled and wacky fabric and your stitching accuracy goes way down. This directly effects how your units, blocks and quilt tops go together. 

Once you have your straight edge you can start to cut out your pieces. All of my patterns call to cut pieces a certain width x the width of fabric. Ex: Cut five strips 2 1/2" x WOF. That's what I will demonstrate here.

The first picture shows where I line up the 2 1/2" mark on the ruler and the edge of the fabric. Note: I'm right handed and I have no idea how to show left handed. My deepest apologies. :(  If anyone has good links for those who are left handed, please share in the comments!!

Once I make that first cut I once again line up the 2 1/2" mark on the cut fabric line. If I am using dark fabrics, then I move the strip I just cut, but otherwise I like to keep them where they are at until I am done cutting the pieces I need. If you look closely you can see that the ruler is lined up so that the cut line is actually visible to the left of the ruler mark.

Once I have my strips cut I usually cut off the selvage. There is no reason for this, I just usually forget to cut it off beforehand. You can certainly trim it first. No judging here!!  

Next, I start cutting the individual pieces. In my patterns after I have you cut the strips, I then tell you how many units to cut. Ex. Sub-cut into forty-two 2 1/2" x 4 1/2". Without moving the strips, I cut the units, again lining up the ruler just inside of the fabric.

If you have tips for accurate cutting, please leave them in the comments. If you just want to comment on how terribly uncomfortable I look on camera, you can do that, too! Enjoy these outtakes, free for your enjoyment.

Happy Stitching!

1) Intro ~ May 2
4) Accurate cutting - You are here
4a) Side Trip ~ Cutting Large Yardage - May 25
7) HST - Half Square Triangles (My one true love) - June 13
8) Flying Geese - June 20
12) Adding Borders - July 18
13) Sandwich that top - July 25
14) Quilting - Aug 1
15) Binding - August 8

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Beginners Unite! Choosing Fabrics and Color

For our second stop in the Beginners Unite! A beginner's quilting series, we are going to talk "Choosing fabrics and colors."

I have two previous posts on color here and here. It's a topic that comes up all of the time in quilting, because it's important and because we all question our choices at one time or another, or in my case every time. The color combination you choose can make or break a quilt. We've all done it. Picked out a pattern, picked out fabrics and started on the quilt. Then, we can barely finish it, because though the colors were pretty together in the shop, once cut up and stitched together they've become a whole other monster. So. How do we combat this? I'm no expert (I will show you my most recent fail), but I will share a few tips, and hopefully you will find them useful.

Print size

 When choosing fabrics with large or small prints, keep in mind the size of the pieces you will be cutting. Fabrics will read differently depending on the size of the print. A large print in a small unit could read light or dark, it will depend on where the print falls. I like to take the fabrics I am choosing and frame off the size my unit will be. If you do this, make sure to do this to different areas of the fabric, you won't always get the same value from each piece.


This is an important word in choosing your fabrics. Many of my patterns call for Light, Medium and Dark fabrics, and are even broken down further to Light A, Light B, Medium A, Medium B, etc. It is very important to make sure you are getting these values right, which isn't always easy.

To me this looks medium.

Here it looks light.

 Until I took this picture, I thought the large purple fabric was the lighter.

A fabric next to one fabric looks medium, but next to this one looks dark. How do you choose correctly. From this class I learned to make a chart for all the colors and get their different values.

Another trick I use a lot is to take a picture on my cell phone, and turn it to black and white. Now this piece that I thought was medium, definitely looks light. I highly recommend doing this whenever you are picking out fabrics.


I think we can learn a lot from studying collections that have already been produced. What types of fabrics do they include? Usually there are a few large prints and then some smaller prints, maybe some stripes and/or dots. There are multiple color options in each collection, and there are usually some value options as well. Mixing up your print selection can be a good thing, but again, pay attention to the size and the value of each piece you choose. You don't have to have a solid for each quilt either, some of those small prints read as a solid when placed next to others.


Have you ever noticed the little dots along the selvage of your fabric? Those little dots contain each color and value in the fabric piece. This is so handy for shopping! Use those pieces to help choose more fabrics. You can use the whole piece of fabric, but many times our eyes don't see that little bit of blue in the middle of the flower, or how the molted red gives us a beautiful shade of brick red.

I love these little flowers.

My Frayed Edges OOPS!

Here are a couple of not-so-great fabric choices I made when picking fabrics for the cover of my Frayed Edges pattern.

Now, I'm from Minnesota, so Go Gophs! However, this might have been too Golden Gopher-y for me. I loved these colors in the shop, I was thinking fall color, but once I started piecing then together, it was no longer love. In face, it's still sitting in pieces in a tub in my sewing room.

The sad part is, I made all of the half square triangles first and didn't realize until I started making the squares that I didn't like what was happening. Lots and lots of half square triangles.

The good part? I ended up with this beautiful blue and white thing of beauty.

In this version, I have this awesome green. Love this green, but can you imagine this with eight more blocks? Blindingly beautiful, and not necessarily in a good way. I think I will finish this one as a pillow.

The red was a little calmer, still a little busy in my mind, but better.

Do you have any tips to share, please add them in the comments! What about a color catastrophe? I think it's good for others to see, we all have one once in a while. :)

Happy Stitching!

1) Intro - May 2 
2) Quilting supplies ~ What makes the process easier - May 9
2a) Side Trip ~ Maintenance - May 11
3) Choosing fabric and color - You are here  
7) HST - Half Square Triangles (My one true love) - June 13
8) Flying Geese - June 20
12) Adding Borders - July 18
13) Sandwich that top - July 25
14) Quilting - August 1
15) Binding - August 8
16) Labels  - August 15

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Beginners Unite! Side Trip ~ Maintenance

Let's take a side trip, shall we? 

As I started to talk about the rotary cutters in this post, I began to talk about how to change the blade. However, I was trying not to stray off on tangents like that. Instead I think we will do some Side Trips during this series to delve a little deeper into portions of the topic. I don't know that it will happen every week, but we will see. This one will be devoted to the maintenance of our supplies. 

Self healing mat

There are many different opinions about cleaning/hydrating/caring for your self healing mat. Here is a link to videos of what OLFA says about the care and use of their mats.

Rotary Cutters

I find it very easy to get my pieces all messed up when taking my rotary cutter apart to replace the blade. Here's my trick: 

As I remove each piece, starting with the nut, I place the part that faces the blade face down on my mat. (I've photographed it on the white background to make it easy to see, but I always do this on my cleared cutting mat.) The bolt and blade I place to the left of the rotary cutter, with the side that faces the blade up.

Make sure you check the new blade that you are using just one, they can stick together from the oil that is on them. I've had this happen before and the fabric seems to just shred as you cut, so if you are having that kind of issue, check your blade.

I keep an empty blade container marked USED to put my old blades in. When it is full I tape it shut really well and then toss. However, someone brought up getting a Sharps container, available at the pharmacy, and I think I will pick one of those up. I will still keep them in the old container, but then put that container in the Sharps container. (I need a new word for container, yikes.)


This is a tricky subject. You will most likely get different answers from almost everyone. Some will go by how many hours of sewing you have done, some say every project. I don't know if there is a right or wrong answer to this, but here are some signs that you need to change your needle. If you hear "thudding" every time your needle enters the fabric, if you are getting skipped stitches, if you are getting knots and/or bunches of thread, or your top thread is shredding and/or breaking, these are sure signs your needle is dull or has a burr somewhere.

I know I don't change my needle as often as some probably think I should, but I tend to change the needle when I clean the machine, which is usually twice a week. 

A note about replacing your needles. When you replace your needle, make sure the flat side of the shaft is facing the back of the sewing machine, or away from you. If you are struggling with stitches, it never hurts to double check that you put your needle in correctly. As mentioned in the Quilting Supplies post, I put my old needles in an old prescription bottle marked Sharp. 


Having your machine professionally cleaned is a good idea. Especially if you use it a lot. However there are a few things you can do on your own to help it run  smoothly. Rule one though, is don't use canned air. The moisture can mess with your machine. They do have parts you can attach to your vacuum that are small enough to get in and suck out the fuzz.

These are my favorite, go to every time tools. A pipe cleaner and a tweezers. My experience is only with my Husqvarna Lily 555, but I will share what I do. 

Take off your throat plate and bobbin case, as well as the needle and presser foot. Using your pipe cleaner do a quick swipe of the bobbin case and gather up all the little fuzzies. I like to turn my bobbin case all the way around and dig out extra fuzz from there, the tweezers comes in handy here. 

That's it. I replace everything, making sure the flat part of the needle shaft is facing away from me, and continue on my merry sewing way.

Do you have other maintenance tips? Please share in the comments. Did I miss something you would like me to talk about? Ask in the comments or send me a direct email

Happy Stitching!

We get back on track next week Tuesday. Here's the schedule:

1) Intro  - May 2 
2) Quilting supplies ~ What makes the process easier - May 9
2a) Side Trip ~ Maintenance - You are here
3) Choosing fabric and color - May 16
7) HST - Half Square Triangles (My one true love) - June 13
8) Flying Geese - June 20
12) Adding Borders - July 18
13) Sandwich that top - July 25
14) Quilting - August 1
15) Binding - August 8
16) Labels  - August 15

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Beginners Unite! Quilting Supplies

Let's get this party started! First up in the Beginners Unite! A beginner's quilting series, is "Quilting Supplies - what makes the process easier."

I'm going to try and link up the supplies I use, just a reminder that there is no affiliation to any of these and while most of the links will go to Amazon, please support your local quilt shop as much as possible. 

This is what I use and what I know works. There are a lot of gadgets out there, so experienced quilters, please share your must haves in the comments.

Prep and cutting supplies first. You've chosen your pattern and your fabrics, it's time to start! I always get so excited to start a new pattern. I love those first cuts when the fabric is straight and perfect... and I haven't messed it up with my stitching. 


I like to use baggies or paper plates (usually paper plate, but they didn't really work with the white background) to keep my pieces organized. I don't know about you, but I get distracted easily (kids, cats, dog, husband, sleep) and I need to keep it all marked and organized.


Best Press Spray Starch is my go to. There are recipes out there to make your own and there are cheaper versions, too. However, for me, it's worth it to just go buy it and use it. It's quicker, and that makes it worth it. I use it on every piece of fabric and I do feel it makes a difference in my accuracy.
** A note about the scented options: I am very sensitive to aromas and have found the best option for me is the Unscented Best Press. If you are sensitive like I am you might want to keep that in mind.


I have a couple of rotary cutters. 1) I lose misplace them momentarily (see list of distractions under organization). 2) I'm a lazy quilter. The longer I can put off changing to a new blade the happier I am. A sharp blade in your rotary cutter makes your life so much easier, though, so when you start needing to go over the cut twice, do yourself a favor and change the blade. 
 3) I like that smaller size for cutting patterns out, like the stockings I made last year or some clothing pieces.

A self healing mat is pretty much essential when using rotary cutters. I currently have a large mat, but you can make a small one work, too. 

I really like Creative Grids rulers. They don't slip and they are easy to read. There are different brands of rulers and rotary cutters. I think it's perfectly fine to use what you like and what you can afford. However, it is important to use the same brand ruler. It effects the accuracy of your pieces.

If I am cutting a lot of the same strips (something like forty 2 1/2" x width of fabric) I will mark the 2 1/2" line on the ruler with some tape. I don't tape over the line, but next to it, to bring my eye to it and make sure I'm using the right measurement.


Once you start this awesome craft, you will be told to mark something. Usually it's the diagonal on the back of a cut pieces. I prefer mechanical pencils. The line is easy to see and nice and thin. I think a thicker line messes with the seam allowance. In the case of having to mark something on dark fabric, I currently use a chalk line, simply because it's what I was told to use back when I first started. I keep thinking I need to look into something that will give me a thinner line, but this works just fine.

It's important to get to know your machine, whether it has all the bells and whistles, or is a good ol fashioned workhorse. When you know how it runs, what thread it likes (some are picky, who knew) and how fast you can accurately sew, you will enjoy the experience more. *Side note* Slow down! My machine has 3 speeds, though I can also slow down with the amount of pressure I put on the foot, but I always have it at the medium speed. 


Good needles are a must. There are choices, of course. I started using Universal and have recently switched to Quilting. In all honesty, I don't notice a difference, unless I am working with batiks, then you want a finer needle. I usually do 70/10 for batiks. The larger number is the European size, the smaller is American.


You will want to have a scissors next to your machine. For some reason I put the picture of my little one in the photo with the quilting/basting items.  Apparently I got distracted. A regular scissors is fine, but when you are able to get a smaller one, you will enjoy how much easier it is to use around the sewing machine.

One thing I don't have, but really want to try is the Gypsy Cutting Gizmo. I've heard good things about this little tool, and because I am a fan of chain piecing I really should try it.


Pins are one of the most important tools I use. Many don't like to pin, some like the clips. When I am piecing though, I prefer pins to keep my pieces together and for accurate stitching and seams. The sharper the better.

See that prescription bottle marked SHARP? That is where I put any bent/broken/old needs and pins.

Presser foot

If you have a 1/4" foot, use it. If not, there are many tutorials out there to help you find an accurate 1/4" seam allowance. This is so important in your piecing. It is worth the time it takes to figure it out. Then, mark it. Use tape, use a marker, whatever it is, mark it. Eventually you will know exactly where the fabric needs to line up, but to start with, to keep the frustration level down, mark it. 


Thread could probably use it's own post. Just like the "wash or don't wash fabric" question, the thread question can bring strong opinions. I use Gutermann for piecing and quilting. Simply because that is what my local quilt shop (LQS) has on hand and I want to support them as much as possible. 

My go to piecing color is grey. It shows up on light fabrics and dark fabrics for easy ripping should I make a mistake (which I do fairly often), but is a neutral enough color that it blends well with them, too. When quilting or appliqueing, I tend to match the color of the thread with the colors of the fabric, because I am not very proficient at either, and matching hides that... to a point. This is another reason I use what my LQS has on hand, because I can match it easily. 

For piecing I use polyester, for quilting/appliqueing I use either polyester or cotton, it depends on which one has the color I need. I have not found that either is better or worse than the other.


I love Bobbin Buddies for keeping my bobbins with their matching thread spool. I think it's important for two reasons. 1) Sometimes colors are close and I like my colors to match, not be close. I'm anal that way. 2) I use both cotton and polyester and I want to make sure I'm not mixing those up. I don't have any reason, it's just what I do.

To keep those bobbins from unraveling, I like the Tulip Bobbin Clamps. I use them for the bobbins that go on spools, as well as the bobbins I wind for piecing. Since I piece everything with the same color I can wind a bunch of bobbins and not have to stop to wind a bobbin all the time. I usually wind 8 bobbins, secure them with the Tulip Bobbin Clamps and stitch away. 

I love a good thread catcher, you can see the one I made here. Having something to put my threads and little pieces in, right next to my sewing machine, is handy and keeps my sewing area clear for creating.

I swear I had a picture of my seam rippers. Yes, that is plural. You will find they tend to run away right when you need them. I have a Clover brand and a Seam Fix. You will eventually have to replace your seam ripper, as they do dull over time. To remove those little threads left after ripping use an eraser or the rubber end on the Seam Fix.

Time for basting, quilting and binding. You're almost there! P.S. However long you think a project will take you, double it. It always takes longer than planned. Always.


If you are quilting your own top you will need to baste it to the batting and quilt back. You can use pins or basting spray. I am not a fan of the spray, that's just personal, but I know others love it. I use pins, and you definitely want the curved quilting pins. I also highly recommend the Kwik Klip when using pins. It saves your fingers/nails and makes the work go quickly.


When you are ready to quilt, you are going to want a pair of quilting gloves. There are many out there, and I have some that are made for quilting, but then I also use the pink ones pictured. They are simple gardening gloves with rubber fingers. 

I use either my walking foot (pictured) or a free motion quilting foot to quilt my pieces. When quilting, slower is better, but we'll touch on that more in another post. 


I hand bind, meaning I sew the binding to the front of the quilt by machine, then flip and hand stitch the binding to the back. I struggle with machine binding, so when we reach this subject I will be showing you how to hand bind.

A good, sharp needle is important for this part as well as a thimble. I use a metal thimble, but there are many different thimbles out there, and there are different sizes, so take some time to look into them. I have multiples, one that sits with my machine's presser feet and one that is in my take along. 

Whew! That is a lot of information!!  Please ask questions if you have them, please share your favorites if you didn't see it here. 

Happy Stitching!

Up next: Choosing fabrics and color (this has been added to the original plan).

1) Intro - May 2 
2) Quilting supplies ~ What makes the process easier - (You are here)
2a) Side Trip ~ Maintenance - May 11
3) Choosing fabrics and color - May 16
7) HST - Half Square Triangles (My one true love) - June 13
8) Flying Geese - June 20
12) Adding Borders - July 18
13) Sandwich that top - July 25
14) Quilting - August 1
15) Binding - August 8
16) Labels  - August 15