Category Archives: Sew You Wanna Quilt series

Sew You Wanna Quilt? – Stitching and Pressing

Welcome to the seventh installment of the Sew You Wanna Quilt? series

My apologies for the late posting of this edition. Please note that all photos in this post may be enlarged by clicking on them.

Today’s post is all about stitching and pressing – it is time to learn how to piece fabric to make the components of your quilt!

Orienting Yourself to the Machine, Threading the Machine and Winding Bobbins

If you have not ever sewn using a sewing machine, now is the time to pull out your sewing machine instructions and spend a little time orienting yourself to the parts. Most machines have a similar threading procedure, but there may be subtle differences in brands.  Here is an illustration on the top of my machine about threading both the machine and the bobbin:

All machines allow sewers to adjust stitch length (how long each stitch is – 2.2 is the default setting on my machine and it is perfect), and some allow you to adjust your needle position (which can help you achieve a perfect 1/4 inch seam allowance – more about that later).  On my machine, the needle position is set on 3.5 and the stitch length is set on 2.2 in the photo below:

My suggestion for new sewers is to pull out a scrap of fabric and play a little with the settings on your machine. Sew using a 2.2 stitch length, a 1.4 stitch length, etc…in order to see what the differences are as you make adjustments.

I always thread at least two bobbins before I begin to sew, putting one in the machine, and holding the second off to the side. This just saves a little time when one bobbin runs out because I don’t have to change my threading to wind a second bobbin. Some quilters have multiple bobbins ready to go. This is just a personal preference.

The Perfect 1/4 Inch Seam Allowance

Quilters sew seams which are 1/4 inch wide. Accuracy is important as you begin to put the components of your quilt together.

Sandi at Piecemeal Quilts has a terrific post about sewing accurate 1/4 inch seams – you can read her thoughts here. This is probably a good time to mention (again) that Sandi is hosting a Skillbuilder series on her blog (in conjunction with Gray Cat Quilts) which includes all the basics I have been covering AND a whole lot more. Links for the series can be found her on her site.

Before you actually begin piecing your quilt, grab a scrap of fabric and set up your machine for a 1/4 inch seam…then test it. Nowadays, quilters can purchase special sewing machine feet which have a 1/4 inch seam guide. Here is mine:

That said, if you simply line up the guide along your fabric and sew, you will probably not get an accurate seam. This is why I say: “TEST IT.” I have discovered that if I set my needle position to 4.0, that I can then use my special foot and sew a perfect seam.

Pressing Vs. Ironing:

DO NOT iron. Ironing is pushing your iron across the fabric. This technique distorts your seams and fabric. Remember that there is stretch in fabric. We want as little distortion as possible in our blocks so that the seams all match up as we piece our quilt.

Pressing is placing the iron carefully onto the fabric, pressing it down, then lifting it again at frequent intervals. Pressing causes little to no distortion if done correctly. Many quilters emphasize that you should use a dry iron vs. steam when pressing. I have to admit, I use steam…but I am beginning to think I need to try a dry iron.

Before pressing seams to the side or open, you should SET THE SEAM. This means pressing directly over the finished seam on the wrong side of the fabric. This allows for a more crisp seam once it is either pressed open or to the side.

Here is a terrific blog post about pressing – it goes into much more detail than I did here. Here is what she recommends re: pressing:

  • Always press fabric before cutting. A wrinkle-free surface will give you more accurate cuts.
  • Press on the wrong side of the fabric whenever possible.
  • When using unfamiliar or delicate fabrics, test your iron’s heat setting on a scrap first to make sure it doesn’t scorch. You may also want to use a pressing cloth in between delicate fabrics and your iron.
  • Don’t press over pins—pinheads can melt.
  • After pressing, allow your fabric to cool for a few seconds before moving it. This prevents stretching and distortion.
  • I personally don’t use any starch, but I know many quilters who swear by it. So that aspect might be a matter of personal preference.

All great advice with which I agree.

Pressing Seams Open or To the Side

There are many arguments for either of these two techniques. I use both depending on the seams I am stitching. Again, visit this post for a very detailed description of both techniques, including pros and cons.

I am going to show you how to do both. But, suffice it to say that I typically press to the side UNLESS the seams are getting bulky OR when I want better accuracy for a complex block. For example, I always press open when doing half square triangles because I have found that my block is much squarer using this technique. You will have to practice both and decide for yourself what is the best technique for you.

Demonstration of Stitching a Seam and Pressing

Take the two pieces of fabric you are going to stitch, place them right sides together and line up the edges carefully (you may use pins to hold the fabric together which I recommend especially if you are stitching a long seam). Set your needle position, line up your fabric along the edge of your special foot (or, if you don’t have a special 1/4 inch foot, line up your fabric along a line drawn on the machine or along tape you have set on the machine).

Drop your needle just in front of your fabric, and lower your pressure foot. Begin to stitch, keeping the edges of your fabric together and lined up. Go slowly if you are new to this (most machines have a speed function to adjust how fast you sew). DO NOT SEW OVER PINS – this is dangerous and can also cause your sewing machine needle to break.

After completing the seam, raise your needle and the pressure foot and cut the threads. Set the seams with your iron. Then do one of the following:

Press to the side by nudging the completed seam to the side with the front of your iron, then pressing. Slowing work your way down the seam.

Press open by first finger pressing the seam open, then using the front part of your iron, nudge the seam open and press

When you have finished pressing the seam to the side or open, flip the fabric to the right side and press again down the length of the seam to set it.

Some Things To Remember When Stitching Components

1.  Cut out all the components for a block before piecing them – be accurate in your cutting.

2.  Lay out the components of a block before stitching to make sure they are all oriented correctly:

3.  Stitch together the components of each row separately:

4.  Join the rows by matching up seams. When seams are pressed to the side, make sure that the seams are pressed in opposite directions for each succeeding row so that when matched up, they connect like two pieces of a puzzle. Use pins to hold the seams in place.

5.  Be careful to make sure your seams lay flat and in the correct direction as you stitch.

6.  Press after stitching each seam.

7.  Enjoy your finished block!

After you have finished piecing a block, make sure you use your ruler and rotary cutter to square it up (you can see in the above photo how the block is not completely square – but with just a little bit of trimming, this block will be perfect).

A Note About Chain Piecing

Chain piecing is a quick way to piece components without having to lift your needle. Chain piecing saves thread and allows you to speed up the piecing process.

To chain piece, first prepare all your components. Then take the first component and stitch the seam. Then WITHOUT RAISING YOUR NEEDLE, line up the second component and allow the feed dog to pull it under the needle. (Sometimes I lift my pressure foot while chain piecing to get things lined up correctly). Here it is in photos:

That’s it – easy, right?

Please feel free to leave questions or feedback in the comments section of this post.

Previous articles in this series:

Sew You Wanna Quilt? – Delayed posting

Those of you looking for the next installation of the Sew You Wanna Quilt? series will have to wait for another week – my deepest apologies.  This week really got away from me and then yesterday and today I am doing a Quilt Shop hop with a friend (we’re planning to visit five shops today!). With BBAW just around the corner, I have also been pre-writing a lot of posts for that…so, long story short – the next installation of  this series will not post until Saturday, September 17th.

Thank you for your patience!!!

Sew You Wanna Quilt? – Cutting Your Fabric

Welcome to the sixth installment of the Sew You Wanna Quilt? series

Last week I encouraged you to choose a first project and buy your fabric for it – and this week I am going to talk all about cutting fabric. When I first started quilting, this was the scariest part of quilting for me! Today’s post, I hope, will take some of the fear out of cutting into your beautiful fabric. What you need (must have) is:

  • a rotary cutter with a new blade
  • a cutting mat
  • a cutting ruler
  • a flat space large enough to lay your cutting mat out flat

This post will cover the following: Safety, Width of Fabric vs. Length of Fabric, Squaring up your Fabric, Accuracy, The Cutting Process, and Organization.


Rotary cutters use very sharp blades. Having a sharp, new blade in your cutter is a necessity if you want accurate, clean cuts. So, it goes without saying, that there is a little danger using this tool. I wish I could tell you I have never cut myself while cutting fabric…but, I have. Luckily, it was a small cut – but it was deep and bled a lot and had I followed a simple rule, it would not have happened.


Most rotary cutters have a safety shield which can be closed to protect you from inadvertently cutting yourself. Laying the cutter down on a mat with the blade exposed puts you at high risk to bump the blade – and that is all it takes to get a deep cut. When using the blade, stay focused and aware that you are using a sharp tool. Keep your fingers all the way on top of the cutting ruler. Pay attention. If you are distracted, stop cutting.

Width of Fabric vs. Length of Fabric vs. Bias

Instructions for cutting fabric in most quilting tutorials and patterns is for width of fabric (WOF). It is very easy to determine what the width of fabric is on a cut of fabric if the selvages are in place as width of fabric is defined as: the measurement from selvage to selvage. What is the selvage? This is the self-finished edges of fabric which keep the fabric from unraveling or fraying. The selvages are a result of how the fabric is created. In woven fabrics, they are the edges that run parallel to the longitudinal threads that run the entire length of the fabric. Selvages on machine-woven fabric have little holes along their length, through the thick part. Selvages are thicker than the rest of the fabric, and may shrink or “pucker” during laundering, so quilters usually cut off the selvage and discard it (modern quilters are now using the selvages to create unique quilts – see examples on this Flickr group).

The length of fabric refers to the threads in fabric which run the length of the fabric, parallel to the selvedge. Lengthwise grain of fabric has the least amount of stretch, so often patterns will suggest that you cut fabric for quilt borders lengthwise across the fabric.

True bias is defined as the direction at a 45-degree angle to the straight grains, but in quilting we refer to any cut that doesn’t run along a straight grain as a bias cut. Cuts with their edges along the bias are the most stretchy and unstable. Triangle pieces have at least one edge which is cut along the bias, so stitching triangle pieces along their diagonal edge can be tricky sometimes.

Squaring up your Fabric

Before cutting pieces for your quilt, it is important to square up your fabric so that your cutting is accurate. Start by folding your fabric with the selvages together. If you have a small cutting mat, you may have to make a second fold. Position your fabric with selvage edge at the top and the fold at the bottom. Line one of these edges up with a horizontal line on your cutting mat:

The following cutting direction is for RIGHT-HANDED people. If you are left handed, you will need to reverse the directions. Let a small amount of the right side of your fabric overlap one of the vertical lines of your cutting mat. Position your cutting ruler on top of the fabric with the right edge lined up with the vertical line of your cutting mat:

Put your left hand on top of the ruler, palm down. Press down firmly:

With your cutting blade open and in your right hand, put the blade edge up against the cutting ruler edge and on top of the fabric at the bottom edge of the fabric:

Maintain steady, firm downward pressure on the ruler while gliding the rotary cutter up the fabric in one smooth, firm cut:

Some quilters prefer to cut in a top to bottom cut (vs a bottom to top cut). Choose whichever is most comfortable for you.

You now have one edge of your fabric which is a completely straight, square edge:


Cutting fabric for quilt blocks must be accurate or things will not come together correctly when you begin to stitch. Take your time with cutting, making sure that you line your ruler up accurately before making a cut. It is better to be “off” by cutting a piece a little larger than you need, then by cutting it smaller (you can always correct a cut that is too large). Maintain firm pressure on the top of the cutting ruler and once you begin your cut, continue in one smooth motion, keeping the blade up against the edge of the ruler.

The Cutting Process

For most projects, you will be cutting width of fabric strips and then cutting pieces off of those strips. Tutorials and patterns give specific cutting instructions for their project. The instructions I am giving in this post are general cutting guidelines for cutting a basic square of fabric 4″ X 4″. This technique can be used to cut any size square.

Using your squared up fabric, lay the straight, square edge along one of the vertical lines on your cutting mat. Count over four inches from that edge using the pre-measured lines on your mat and place your ruler along the vertical line at that point. Put your left hand on top of the ruler, palm down. Press down firmly:

With your cutting blade open and in your right hand, put the blade edge up against the cutting ruler edge and on top of the fabric at the bottom edge of the fabric. Maintain steady, firm downward pressure on the ruler while gliding the rotary cutter up the fabric in one smooth, firm cut:

You now have a strip of fabric 4″ wide and approximately 42″ long (width of fabric).

Take this strip and fold it in half, selvage to selvage. Lay it lengthwise across your cutting mat, lining up the top edge with a horizontal line on the mat, and allowing the selvage ends to overlap a vertical line on the mat (NOTE: you will be cutting off the selvages at this point – make sure the overlap will remove ALL the selvage…usually about an inch is adequate):

Using the cutting technique described above, cut off the selvages:

At this point, you will begin making 4″ cuts down the length of your strip, moving your ruler to the left as you go. It is fine to cut two squares at a time (often quilters stack their strips and do multiple cuts at once – but, be careful that you have a blade large enough to cut through several layers of fabric). Take your time and make accurate cuts, occasionally repositioning your fabric if needed so that all the edges are even and lined up:


  • Determine if you are going to be cutting width of fabric or length of fabric and position your fabric accordingly.
  • Always square up your fabric before cutting.
  • Make smooth, continuous cuts using steady, firm pressure on the cutter and the ruler.
  • Measure twice, cut once.


If you are cutting all your fabric in one sitting, consider how you will organize your pieces. I like to use sticky notes on my stacks of cut fabric which indicate the size of the piece. Many tutorials and patterns identify components with numbers or letters – and so I also use those naming cues when labeling my cut fabric. I often write directly on the pattern indicating what fabric is going to be used for specific components so that I do not get mixed up when cutting.

Sew You Wanna Quilt?

  • Pull out your pattern or tutorial and all your fabric.
  • Take some time to determine what fabric will be used for each component of the quilt and consider writing this directly on your pattern or tutorial.
  • Follow the instructions for your quilt pattern and cut your fabric as directed, organizing and labeling as you go.
  • If you are nervous about cutting your first project and have never used a rotary cutter before – get some scrap fabric and practice squaring up your fabric and making some cuts.

Previous articles in this series:


Sew You Wanna Quilt? – Choosing a Pattern (or Not) – Your First Project

Welcome to the fifth installment of the Sew You Wanna Quilt? Series

This post is designed to help you understand the mechanics of putting together a quilt and will discuss selecting your first project. Many people I talk to express a desire to make a quilt, but are afraid to start. I commonly hear this:

  • “I can’t sew.”
  • “I’m not creative.”
  • “It looks too hard.”
  • “I wouldn’t know where to start.”

Trust me – anyone can sew. The skills for quilt construction are pretty straight forward. A project does not have to be hard to be beautiful. And with all the fantastic tutorials and patterns available, you don’t even have to be creative…someone else can tell you exactly how to do it. Hopefully, this post will tell you where to start.

Before you pick your first project, it is helpful to understand the basic construction of a quilt top. A quilt top is made up of blocks which are created with components such as squares, rectangles, and triangles. Blocks are joined together to create a row. Quilt blocks may be joined directly together, or may be joined by sashing (strips of fabric). Rows are joined together to create the quilt front. Quilters may then add borders (wide strips of fabric)…or not. Finishing the quilt will be covered in a future post.

It is helpful to think about quilt construction as geometry. The simplest quilts use squares, rectangles and triangles which are joined together to form patterns. Experienced quilters also use hexagons, circles, and other shapes. But, for our purposes, we’re going to stick with simple shapes.

Once a quilter understands how a quilt comes together, it is not necessary to purchase a pattern. Many of my early projects were designed by me without the use of a purchased or downloaded pattern. Here are some examples:

This quilt uses rectangular strips of fabric sewn together to make up each block. I then just turned every other block 90 degrees to create the split rail pattern. This quilt has two borders – a narrow white border, and a wider turquoise border.

This baby quilt uses simple squares of different fabric (those are the blocks) which are sewn together to form rows. I cut a strip of dancing girl fabric to run across the middle and used two borders.

For this baby quilt I again cut simple squares, then “framed” them with strips of fabric to create the block. I used sashing to join the blocks together to make the row. The little squares you see were stitched to the the sashing strips (these are called cornerstones). The border is just rectangles of fabric stitched together into a strip.

You can see how very simple the construction of each of these three quilts were – rectangles and squares. That’s it.

If you decide to piece a quilt without a formal pattern, this is what I suggest:

  • Sketch out your quilt on graph paper or simple white typing paper.
  • Decide how big your quilt will be (I usually pick a size for my blocks like 6″ or 8″ or 12″ and then figure out how many blocks I will make in each row…this will give you your width – if you are planning on a border or sashing, you also have to figure out the width of those strips and add them to the total width).
  • I draw a block with its components, and then figure out how big each component will be to make up the block – then I write that measurement right on my sketch and add a half inch to each one for cutting purposes.
  • Think of constructing all your blocks first, then joining them together.

Remember that when you stitch two pieces of fabric together, you are using a 1/4″ seam on each side of the fabric…this means that when you cut fabric, you need to allow for that 1/2″ of seam. SO, let’s say you are going to make a quilt which will be 40″ wide (finished). You decide it will have four 10″ blocks in each row. Because of the seam allowance, however, you need to add 1/2″ to your blocks. So each block must finish at 10.5 inches. This is really simple if you are just cutting a square of fabric for each block – each square will be cut 10.5 inches, so that when sewn together it will be equal to 10″.

I like to think of quilt patterns the way I think of recipes for cooking – they provide me with inspiration and some guidance, but I am free to tweak them or change them to meet my creative needs. I often see a quilt on line, break it down into its components, then play with it to create a unique quilt of the size I want. It sounds hard, but it is not really all that difficult.

That said, I know that many people will want the security of a pattern, so here are some links to free patterns and tutorials and quilt-alongs you can find on line:

On line Quilting Tutorials

Many quilt bloggers are incredibly generous. There are some who provide free quilting tutorials with patterns on their sites. I have included a sampling of some which I think are appropriate for beginners – but this is really just the tip of the iceberg.

Free Patterns

Free quilting patterns can be found everywhere on line. Many are PDF downloads. A lot of the manufacturers provide free patterns which are designed specifically for a collection of fabric.

Quilt Alongs

The blogs and Flickr are a great resource for inspiration and there is always a quilt-along going on somewhere. I’ve included links to some quilt-alongs which are currently happening, and others which are over, but the instructions and Flickr groups are still up and running.

Another option for your first project is to taking a class at your local quilt shop. The upside is you have someone at your elbow to help you each step of the way and camaraderie with other quilters. Also, many stores give class attendees a discount on the day of the class. The downside is you have to haul your stuff out to the store and it costs money to join a class.

Things to Consider when Choosing Your First Project

  • Pick something simple – look for a quilt that is primarily made up of squares, rectangles and triangles
  • Consider something less than a full sized quilt – lap quilts, baby quilts and table runners are all smaller projects which are easy to finish
  • If you have never sewn before or your sewing experience is limited, consider either an on-line tutorial, a quilt-along (which has the benefit of being able to see what other quilters are doing and to ask questions if you get stuck), or a class at your local shop. Personally, I prefer on line quilt-alongs because you can go at your own speed and sew from the comfort of your own home.

Sew You Wanna Quilt?

  • Visit the links above for tutorials and free patterns.
  • Visit a couple of Flickr quilt-along groups – join one if it “speaks” to you.
  • Blog hop (check out the blog links in the sidebars of some of the blogs I’ve listed above) and check out the blogger tutorials out there. Subscribe to your favorite blogs.
  • Check out the beginner quilting classes at your local quilt store.
  • Choose a project – if you have limited sewing experience, choose something smallish that is made up of primarily squares, rectangles, strips or triangles. Steer clear of circles, or curves for now. Decide what you will make and how big you will make it. Think about the fabrics you have looked at – does a particular fabric lend itself to your project more than another one? Remember, you do not need to do anything fancy. A simple charm quilt (squares stitched together) is beautiful.
  • Make a list of how much fabric you will need for your chosen project – then buy it. Don’t be scared. It is just fabric. Trust your sense of color and design – believe me, you have it even if you don’t know you do!

Previous articles in this series:

Sew You Wanna Quilt? – Books and Inspiration

Welcome to the the fourth installment of the Sew You Wanna Quilt? series.

I am a book lover as you all know, so of course I have to include a post about quilting books! If you love books and you become a quilter, you will most likely begin collecting quilting books. I use my books to inspire me, give me basic information, and provide a guide to my design process (kind of like I use cookbooks). As you begin browsing books about quilting, think of how you will use them. I thought I would give you a glimpse into my growing collection of quilting books and tell you how I use them and why I like a particular book.

Pure Inspiration

The books listed in this section are those I use primarily for artistic inspiration.

My Kaffe Fassett Books:

  • Quilt Road (Book Number 7 – Rowan Yarns 2005)
  • Simple Shapes, Spectacular Quilts (Stewart, Tabori & Chang, 2010)
  • Quilts en Provence (The Taunton Press, 2010)
  • Glorious Patchwork (Potter Craft, 1997)
  • Country Garden Quilts (The Taunton Press, 2008)
  • Patchwork and Quilting (Book Number 2 – Rowan Yarns, 2000)


These books are pure eye candy – wonderful inspirational use of color and pattern. I love Kaffe Fassett’s fabrics. He uses bright, bold colors and is not afraid to combine colors for amazing quilts. There are patterns for all the quilts included in the books – but I find his construction techniques a little confusing for the most part. So instead of using his patterns, I use his images to help inspire my own creative process.

Liberated Quiltmaking II by Gwen Marston

I love this book. Gwen Marston believes quilting should be like play – fun, stress-free, and full of artistic self-expression. She encourages quilters to quilt without patterns, designing as they go. Run out of fabric? No worries – simply substitute from your stash. Mistakes? Sometimes they are the best part of the quilt. I think all new quilters should have this book. When I started quilting, I got a lot of advice from seasoned quilters. There seemed to be a lot of rules. I have never liked following rules, and rules in a creative venture somehow feel counter-productive. Liberated Quiltmaking gave me a whole new way of viewing the creative process. Plus there are some amazing quilts included in this book!

Freddy Moran and Gwen Marston’s Collaborative Quilting Books:

  • Collaborative Quilting (Sterling Publishing Co., 2006)
  • Collaborate Again (Lark Books, 2009)

These are fun, very inspirational books about making quilts with other quilters – a collaborative effort. The originality of Gwen and Freddy’s quilts is wonderful. They talk about color and combining shapes. These books have inspired my sister and I to try the process – watch for more about that sometime this fall!

Organization and Reference

The books in this section are used for reference and to help with my organization.

The Singer Complete Photo Guide to Sewing (Creative Publishing International, 2009)

This book has everything in it you could ever want to know about sewing. This is not a quilting book, but a general knowledge book about sewing and includes chapters on The Sewing Machine, Patterns, Classic Fabric Textures and Designs, Seams and more. There really are no tips on quilting – but I still think this is one of those essential reference books to have in the sewing room!

The Quilters Ultimate Visual Guide: From A to Z – Hundreds of Tips and Techniques for Successful Quiltmaking (Rodale Press, Inc., 1997)

This is a really fantastic quilters reference guide – and yes, it is organized from A to Z beginning with Album Quilts and ending with ZigZag Stitch. There is a wealth of information in this book and I think it is wonderful to have on hand…especially as you get more adventuresome with your quilting.

Cut the Scraps! by Joan Ford (The Taunton Press, 2011)

I just bought this book and I am totally loving it! You may not need this one right now if you are just starting out, but eventually (if you keep quilting) you will begin to wonder what the heck to do with all those scraps you are saving. I had no idea how to organize my scraps. They’ve been piling up and making me feel guilty because I know there is enough fabric there to make a quilt, but I had no idea how to deal with it. Joan Ford has a terrific system for cutting up scraps and organizing them by value (light, medium and dark). I’ve started the process, and I can’t wait to fill up my little plastic bins with my organized cuts of scraps. One of these days they will make a terrific scrappy quilt!

5500 Qulit Block Designs by Maggie Malone (Sterling Publishing Co., 2004)

This book is amazing. Maggie Malone has compiled thousands of block designs and organized them by patch pattern. There are no instructions on how to make the designs (which is why I did not put this book under “Pattern”), but once you learn quilt construction, many can be figured out independently. Either way, there is plenty of information about how to construct a block on the Internet…so this just makes a wonderful reference book as to what you can do with a simple block.


I purchased books in this section primarily for their patterns and designs.

Building Blocks for Classic Quilts by Leisure Arts (2010)

This is a wonderful book with a focus on vintage quilts and patterns. I love the vintage blocks in some quilts and I like to use them with modern fabrics. This book is a terrific reference book to some of the traditional, basic block patterns. Most of the quilts featured are full size and larger – but it is very simple to cut down a pattern and make a smaller quilt, or to use different blocks to make a sampler.

City Quilts by Cherri House (Stash Books, 2010)

Those quilters who love to work with solids and modern designs will love Cherri House’s patterns. Inspired by city scapes, she has designed and given patterns for twelve dramatic projects. I actually bought one of the City Quilt kits that, one of these days, I will stitch. But, in this book there are several projects which drew me in. The forward of this book reads: “The quilts in this book, inspired by the patterns and textures of the city, are simple, graphic, and geometric – glorified utility quilts, if you will.”

Denyse Schmidt Quilts by Denyse Schmidt (Chronicle Books, 2005)

I adore Denyse Schmidt’s fabrics and so when I saw this book, I ordered it. Be aware, however, that despite its title, this book contains patterns for more than just quilts. In fact, the author provides some basic quilting information as well as patterns for a pillow, a bag, a muff, an apron, an oven mitt, and several more non-quilting projects…and instructions for ten quilts. All the patterns are very straight forward and simple for a novice quilter. They are also very modern. Schmidt writes in her forward: “I essentially taught myself to quilt by reading books and by making more than a few mistakes. I suppose that’s where I learned that there is beauty in imperfection.” I love that sentiment.

Scrap Quilt Sensation by Katharine Guerrier (David & Charles, 2007)

This book is chock full of scrappy quilts. Some of them look pretty involved, but most are simple construction using squares, rectangles and triangles. This is a book which I will, at some point, use for its patterns once I get enough scraps saved up. Some of the designs are just amazing. The book is set up for novice quilters at the beginning, and moves towards those with more experience as it progresses to more complex patterns.

I have a couple of other quilting books on my shelves…but these are my favorites. I encourage new quilters to browse the library, quilt stores or bookstores and look at quilt books. There is so much inspiration to be found there!

Before I close out this post, I also wanted to mention that I routinely print off patterns and tutorials I find on line and file them in clear, plastic sleeves inside a pretty loose-leaf notebook. In this way, I am making my own book of sorts. I also bought a couple of cardboard magazine holders in vibrant colors to store quilting magazines I have picked up and want to keep.

Sew You Wanna Quilt?

  • Visit a bookstore, quilt store or library and browse through the quilting books. What styles appeal to you? Do you find yourself drawn to a particular designer or author?
  • Think about picking up some plastic sleeves and a pretty loose-leaf notebook to store some of the patterns, inspirations and tutorials you may find on line or when browsing the quilting blogs.

Previous articles in this series:

Sew You Wanna Quilt? – Fabric Obsession

For this edition of Sew You Wanna Quilt? I am going to be talking about fabric – where to find it, how to select it, how much to buy, how to store it, and color and value.

Readers are addicted to books and quilters are addicted to fabric. I don’t know one quilter who doesn’t have a generous stash of fabric hoarded away and waiting for the next project. Honestly, my love of fabric and color is what initially drew me to quilting…and it is still largely what fuels my passion.

Quilting is, essentially, the art of cutting up fabric and then sewing it back together in pleasing patterns. The fabric industry is huge. Your choices of fabric are endless. Today’s modern quilters are not just buying quilting cottons…they are also using satins, silks, voiles, wools, corduroys, and other specialty fabrics to add depth, interest and texture to their quilts. My recommendation is that new quilters or those who have little to no sewing experience use 100%, high quality (high thread count) fabric for their first projects. Why? Because it is economical and (even more importantly) easy to handle and stitch. It doesn’t fray like silk, it doesn’t slip and slide like voile and satin, it is easy to get a flat seam when you press, and you will find many, many choices in quilting cottons.

Some Basics About Fabric Designers, Manufacturers and Collections

Designers: These are the artists who envision the patterns and colors of a line of fabric. Many designers have blogs you can follow to see what they are working on. Certain designers will appeal to you more than others. This is like finding a favorite author – you like their style, their presentation and their vision. These are some of my favorite designers:

Manufacturers: These are the big companies which produce the fabric. Manufacturers are a bit like book publishers and you will see that their fabric lines have a signature appearance or style. Don’t be surprised if you find yourself consistently attracted to fabric lines produced by one or two manufacturers. Here are some of my favorite manufacturers of fabric:

Collections: A fabric collection is a group of different fabrics which are designed to go with each other. Often a designer will produce several different prints  in two or three different color palettes. Here is an example of a collection by Joel Dewberry. This collection is called Heirloom and consists of thirteen different prints in three different colorways (Citrine, Ruby and Sapphire).

Sources for Fabric

Quilting is a very old art form. Your grandmother probably used left over scraps of fabric, feed sacks, and whatever she could find to make the beautiful quilts you remember from childhood. Here is a quilt that my husband’s grandmother made which is made up of largely scraps – and it is gorgeous:

Many of today’s quilters shop for vintage fabrics to create their quilts…and there is nothing wrong with that. BUT, older fabric or inexpensive fabric will not hold up to multiple machine washings like today’s high thread count fabrics. Anyone who has purchased an 800 thread count sheet for their bed will instantly see the difference from the 150 count sheets – the quality is softer, silkier, and becomes more wonderful with use. This is the same with quilting cottons. Go to your local quilt shop and feel the fabrics – you will immediately realize the difference between these and cheaper fabrics.

So my recommendation: spend the extra money to purchase high quality fabric. You are going to put many hours of effort and creative energy into making your quilt. It is worth it to use the best fabric you can afford.

  • Local Quilt Stores

I believe strongly in supporting local businesses. Most towns or cities have at least one quilting store – check your yellow pages or ask around. My area has four different stores all within 20 minutes of each other. Each quilting shop is unique – they carry different lines of fabric, or celebrate different styles of quilting (ie: modern vs. traditional). There is nothing like being able to actually feel the fabric and see it “in person.” Even if you decide to shop online for your fabrics, visiting your local store to see the collections available is a good idea. Start to get a feeling for the colors you are drawn to and the designs which make you feel good. When you see a fabric you love, check the selvage of the fabric where the designer and manufacturer’s name will be printed (also the name of the collection if it is part of a collection). My guess is that you will start to see a pattern – certain designers will appeal to you and certain manufacturer names will start popping up. Carry a little notebook with you and jot down the names of designers, manufacturers and collections which you are drawn to. If you start to develop a working knowledge of your favorite designers and manufacturers, shopping for fabric will get easier!

A Note About Joann’s:

Almost every reasonably sized city in America has a Joann’s Fabric and Craft Store. I love Joann’s for buying notions, tools and books – but I rarely buy fabric there because, in general, their fabrics are not of the high thread count which I can find on line or in my local quilting stores. The one exception: I buy my Kona solids at Joann’s when I have a coupon. Joann’s carries basic colors of Kona Cotton Solids – a high quality fabric. I use a lot of white Kona Cotton in sashing (plain or pieced strips of fabric that are used between quilt blocks) for my quilts (more about sashing in a later post), so I stock up on it. The Joann’s coupons (which come in my email) give me 40- 50% off on a single cut of fabric…a great deal. To sign up for Joann’s account and receive updates and sale coupons, go here.

  • On-Line Quilting Stores

There are many, many wonderful on-line quilting shops (some have a physical store and also sell on line, others are completely on line). It seems that almost every week I am finding a new one. But, I do have my favorites which I will share with you in a minute. First, let me talk about the benefits and drawbacks of online shopping:


  • Ease of shopping
  • Often great prices (if you sign up for some shops’ newsletters, you will get advance notice of sales and coupon codes) and it is easy to cost-compare with other shops
  • Variety of fabrics (many of the more “modern” fabrics and designers cannot be found in local stores, or the store is stocking limited prints from a collection – on line shopping allows you to find and purchase exactly what you want)


  • It is sometimes hard to gauge color from on-line photos
  • It is difficult to color-match fabrics if you are mixing lines and collections
  • There is typically a shipping cost (although many shops offer low shipping rates or specials where they ship for free or at half cost)
  • You can not physically touch the fabric which may take away from your shopping experience
  • Depending on where your fabric is shipping from, there can be a little bit of a wait to get the fabric you want for a project

I liberally use the on line stores for fabrics I cannot find in my local stores, or when there is a fabric collection I want and see it on line on sale. Here is a small sampling of the stores I use most often:

Hawthorne Threads – This is a terrific shop with a wide variety of modern, high quality quilting fabrics. One benefit of shopping here is their color matching program. Not only can you search for fabrics using the color grid, but you can also select a fabric and then ask to see fabrics which match a specific color within the fabric. For example, check out this print – scroll to the bottom and try the color matching by selecting a color within the print you would like to match. The other thing I love about Hawthorne Threads is their tiered pricing – the more you buy, the deeper the discount, and they give a nice break to their loyal customers (*note: you must register an account with them and be logged in for discounts to take effect). Their shipping rates are also very reasonable.

The Quilted B – I love this shop which I only recently discovered. The owner, Barb, is very customer service oriented (she always packages fabric beautifully and writes a personal note on the invoice). The Quilted B carries a lot of Moda fabrics and what I like to refer to as “sweet” fabrics – small prints, shabby chic look, soft colors. Barb offers deep discounts during customer appreciation sales (make sure you sign up for her newsletter to take full advantage), and shipping is reasonable.

The Fabric Shack – The motto of this shop is “Where everything is on sale all the time.”  If you are looking for Kona Cotton Solids, this is the place to go. They have pretty much every color of that line that is made. In addition to solids, they carry a huge variety of other fabrics as well. And right now they are offering half price shipping (if you purchase any fabric up to $75 the rate is a mere $2.50 – which is exceptional).

The Fat Quarter Shop – Another shop with a huge variety of fabrics and a very easy to navigate site (especially if you like to shop by designer or manufacturer). You can also take advantage of a ton of free patterns through their links to manufacturers. Here is an example of a free pattern for a table warmer using charm squares. This is another store where you should sign up for newsletters – they offer sales often. Shipping prices are average to reasonable depending on the quantity of fabric you are purchasing.

Above All Fabric – I really like the cozy feel of this shop. Shipping is always a flat rate $5.00, there are frequent sales, and registered customers are rewarded through a rewards program. This is a great place to buy pre-cuts – there is not a lot of variety, but what is there is discounted (for example, most shops sell a charm pace for $10, but at Above All Fabric right now, charm packs are selling from $8 to $9.50.

Pink Chalk Fabrics – I love Kathy’s store. She carries lots of the designers I adore and her pricing is competitive. Make sure you sign up for her newsletter to get the latest information about new fabric and sales. The shop’s site is one of the easier sites to navigate and you can shop by color, style, designer, and fiber content. When I’ve ordered from this shop, my fabric has arrived quickly and beautifully packaged.

Etsy – Etsy is a wonderful place to browse. All kinds of things are sold there and if you don’t watch out, you can spend hours clicking around. To find fabric on Etsy, do a search under the category “supplies” for quilting fabric. Over 69,000 “hits” pop up! You can narrow your search by putting in a designer’s name or the name of a collection. When I first started quilting, I shopped from Etsy a lot. Often the shops will “bundle” fabrics in either quarter yard or half yard cuts and you can purchase fabric by the bundle. The benefit to this is that a person is physically combining fabrics for you which blend with each other. Be aware that if you shop from more than one store, you pay shipping at each shop. Before ordering, make sure to read the comments/recommendations for shops (I never had any issues with getting what I ordered). I also recommend shopping with Paypal while on Etsy – I think it is more secure.

If you are reading this article and have a favorite shop on line to buy fabric, please leave a link in the Mr. Linky. To to this, click on the button below, enter the shop name in the “your name” box and the direct link the “your URL” box.

How Much to Buy?

If you have a pattern you have downloaded or purchased, it will tell you exactly how much yardage you need. But, if you are like me and are creating a stash of fabrics for use in a later project, you will not know exactly how much fabric to buy. Don’t let this deter you. I generally buy half yard cuts of fabrics I love. I like shopping collections. So I might buy 6 different prints in half yard cuts for a total of 3 yards – I can always pull fabrics from other lines to go with this collection to make a good sized lap quilt or throw. If a fabric I love is on sale, I might buy a yard of it, or I might even buy 3 or 4 yards of a single fabric to use in backing a quilt. Remember I mentioned you will be drawn to certain colorways? You will find that many of your fabric purchases will blend with each other without even trying.

A word about fat quarters: When I first started quilting I used to buy a lot of fat quarters – they always looked so pretty rolled up and tied with a piece of yarn…and they seemed like an inexpensive way to create a stash. BUT, I find that I hardly ever use them because there is not really enough fabric in a fat quarter unless I am doing a small project. Yes, if you have enough of them, you can make a scrappy, full-size quilt…but I actually prefer purchasing larger cuts of fabric. You will have to make your own decision on that one!

A word about pre-cuts: Pre-cuts are exactly what they sound like – they are pre-cut squares or strips of fabric, usually of every print in a specific collection.

  • Layer Cakes are collections of 10″ x 10″ squares of fabric which were originally by Moda Fabrics. Layer Cakes are available by collection and typically include 42 pieces of fabric, though the number may vary.
  • Charm Packs are collections of 5″ x 5″ squares of fabric. They are affordable, easy to use, and the size is commonly used in quilting. They are also often referred to as Charm Squares.
  • Jelly Rolls are collections of 2.5″ x 44″ strips of fabric. Jelly Rolls typically include 40 strips of fabric but can vary.

Layer Cakes, Charm Packs and Jelly Rolls are the most common types of pre-cuts and are wonderful because you save time in the cutting part of the quilting process. There are many patterns available which use these pre-cuts. The Moda Bake Shop is a great place to get quilt ideas using pre-cut fabrics – and they provide free tutorials for their patterns. The quilt in the button for this series is made up of a Layer Cake of Kaffe Fassett prints – these squares of fabrics were just simply stitched together – easy peasy! And it demonstrates how simple construction can be just a gorgeous as something more complex:

Color and Value

There is a ton of information on the Internet about coordination of color – warm vs. cool, color wheels, etc… I know a lot of people who stress about this part of the process. Personally, I find this the best part of quilting. Most of us know instinctively what looks good in terms of color combinations. But, if you are nervous about choosing colors for a quilt, you only have to look in nature to see what looks right. I found a terrific site that helps with color inspiration. Design Seeds uses photographs and then breaks down the predominant colors in them to give you a palette which works together.

Another great source of color inspiration is Flickr. If you join Flickr (it is free to join and is part of Yahoo), you only need to do a search for quilts to find thousands of images. Here are my favorites which not only help me with design, but help inspire me with color.

And finally, Pinterest is a terrific site that will give you more inspiration about color than you will know what to do with – joining is free and very addictive! If you are interested, here are my boards.

One thing to keep in mind – quilts are a combination of light, medium and dark fabrics which help highlight or form the design of the quilt. Value is another way of talking about the use of light, medium and dark colors. Here is a fantastic article which explains the idea of value and color much better than I can (this is part of a larger series of posts which is called the “Skill Builder Series”). One thing that this quilter explains about value really hit home for me:

Not only does value change create movement in the quilt, you can create all sorts of designs just by watching your value placement. The color of the fabric literally does not matter.

If you don’t consider value in a quilt, it will become very apparent, very quickly. Here is a block I made recently which does not have change in value. The colors work great together, but there is not adequate change in light and dark fabrics:

Do you see how the upper right part of the star just disappears into the background? The value on the left upper side is much better. But overall, this block does not work. Here is a photo of another block I made for the same quilt where I got the value perfect:

So, when you are purchasing fabric, remember to consider value – don’t just buy all dark toned fabrics. Make sure that you also get light and medium toned fabrics. The other consideration is print size – you will see fabrics with very tiny prints, and ones with large scale prints. Consider having a mix of both small and large scale prints on hand. The star block above uses a large scale print in the center and a small scale print for the points which makes this an interesting block. When using large scale prints you have to consider what the fabric will look like when it is cut – you do not want to lose an essential element of the print by cutting it into components that are too tiny. Makes sense, right?

One final word about color – pick what you love, lay the fabrics together and see how they look when placed side by side. And TRUST yourself!! Really, I believe we know what we like, so don’t be scared!

Pre-wash or Not?

I do not pre-wash my fabrics because I hate how they lose their crispness and how the edges fray when washed. Why do people pre-wash? Because they are worried about shrinkage, and they worry about colors bleeding. Here’s the thing – if you buy high quality fabric, shrinkage should be minimal and all the fabric should shrink at the same rate. I have never experienced a problem with shrinkage.

Color bleeding can be a problem. Again, buying high quality fabric should reduce this risk. I also swear by Color Catchers by Shout which I put in every time I wash a quilt. They absolutely work (often I remove the Color Catcher sheet and it is crimson…and yet, there has been no bleeding of color into my quilt).

Pre-washing is a personal choice. Do it if you want, but don’t stress about it.

Storing Fabric

Trust me – this will become an issue if you grow to love the art of quilting. Stashing fabric is addictive! There are many ways to store fabric, but there are two things you must remember:

  • Your fabric needs to be easily accessible so you can see what you have
  • Your fabric needs to be protected from dirt and dust

Thanks to my wonderful husband, I now have two large wall cabinets and a base cabinet with drawers to store my fabric…but early on, I used large, wheeled, plastic tubs from Target. They are stackable, slide easily under a bed, and have secure lids which keep out the dirt. They are also the right depth for storing fabric so that I was able to see all my fabrics.

Here are my wall cabinets. On the left, I store my quilting books and small cuts of fabric (quarter yards or smaller), as well as specialty fabrics; on the right bottom shelf are half yard cuts of fabric which do not belong to any collection – they are sorted by color. On the second shelf of the right cabinet are my large (yard or bigger) cuts and all my solid fabrics. And on the top shelf are quilt kits I’ve purchased.

Folding all your fabrics uniformly makes it much, much easier to store. Because I mostly have half yard and yard cuts, it is easy to fold them the same way. I use small bins for my scraps (more about scraps in a future post) and they are on the very top shelf of my left wall cabinet. This next photo shows how uniformity helps. These are my collections, stored by designer and collection, uniformly folded (they are mostly half yard cuts) and arranged in one of my base cabinet drawers. Before I had drawers, this was how I stored fabric within the plastic tubs under the bed. All the fabric is easily seen and accessed…and it stays clean.

I also have an old dresser which I use to store my ongoing projects. There is not room in my sewing room for this dresser, but it sits behind the couch in the living room and I stack books on the top of it. You can pick up an old dresser or bureau at a yard sale, put a fresh coat of pain on it, and have the perfect fabric storage unit.

A lot of quilters store their fabric on open shelving. I don’t like that idea because of dust and dirt. I don’t know how they keep their fabrics clean, but I see that type of open storage all over the blogs.

This post is a lot longer than I intended and I still did not cover everything there is to know about fabric! So, here are some links to articles and sites which talk about fabric which you may find useful:

Have you found other articles about fabric that you think would be helpful to quilters? Please leave me a link in the comments of this post and I’ll add it to the list above!

Sew You Wanna Quilt?

  • Visit a local quilt shop (or two or three) and browse their fabrics. See what draws your eye. Make notes in a small notebook about the colors, designers, and manufacturers you love. Pay attention to “value”and print sizes. Start to get a feel of what looks good together and what doesn’t. Look at the quilts hanging on the walls of the store – what do you like? What doesn’t work for you?
  • Join Flickr and start a “favorites” collection of quilts you love. Pay special attention to color and value.
  • Join Pinterest and start a board (or two) of color inspirations.
  • Browse on-line quilt stores and Etsy – bookmark your favorite sites. Some of these stores allow you to create wishlists of fabrics you love – consider doing this! Later when it is time to buy fabric for a project, it will be nice to have some sources bookmarked.
  • If you haven’t already done so, start thinking about how you will store fabric – will you use furniture or plastic bins?

Stay tuned for the next article in this series which will post tomorrow on August 20th: Books and Inspiration

Previous article(s) in this series:


Sew You Wanna Quilt? – Creating a Quilting Space

Welcome to Sew You Wanna Quilt? This is the second installment in the series.

Quilting requires a little dedicated space. It does not have to be fancy. It can be an underused guest room in your home, a nook in your living room, a corner in your bedroom, or the dining room table. I spent the first two years cutting fabric on my kitchen island, sewing at my dining room table, and storing fabric and supplies under my guest bed. It was a little clumsy, but it worked. I now have a nice, dedicated space in my guest room which I will share with you at the end of this post. But first, I want to help you create your own space.

Necessities of a quilting space

  • A flat area where you can put your cutting mat and cut fabric – the bigger the better, but even more important than size is height. If you are tall, like me, you will want a space which is at least the height of a kitchen counter. If you don’t have that (let’s say your kitchen table is the only space you have), then think about your back when you are cutting. Dragging a short stool over and putting one foot on the stool to “set” your lumbar curve of your back will help with back strain. If you don’t have a stool, try a really thick book (like a dictionary).
  • A small table with a comfy chair where you can set up your sewing machine. You need to be close to an electrical outlet.
  • A small space for your ironing board and iron – again, it should be close to an outlet.
  • Storage for cutters, rulers, thread, fabric, etc… Plastic tubs work great. I like stackable ones because it is easier to store them. If you’ve taken over the dining room table, you can stack your supplies right there. Otherwise, you may have to pack up and put things away at the end of each sewing session.
  • A trash can close to your machine for snipped threads, itty bitty scraps of fabric you want to toss away, etc…
  • Good lighting – if you can set up your space close to a window that gets natural light, that is best. But, if not, then make sure you have a good overhead light or a lamp that can illuminate what you are doing. I like natural light because colors are more true in that kind of light. Be aware that florescent lighting makes color look different than incandescent lighting. It is just something to think about.

That’s it.

Well, sort of.

There is one more pointer I can give you that will make your life easier…

  • Use the idea of a working triangle if possible.You remember what this is right? Most people think about kitchens when they think about working triangles:

For a sewing room, think of the cutting table being where the sink is in this picture…and your sewing machine is the refrigerator, and the ironing board is the stove. See how that works?

If you don’t have the set up for a perfect triangle, at least have your sewing machine and ironing board close to each other. I like to stitch, press, stitch…if your ironing board is across the room, you are going to be doing a lot of walking back and forth. Not fun.

So now, I want to show you my space. It is not completely finished…this is what still needs to be done:

  • There will be another counter installed eventually (on the left side of the room under the wall cabinet) which I plan to use for design
  • I have not yet installed my under cabinet lighting
  • My design wall has not yet been hung – it will go on that blank wall on the right side of the room
  • We are planning on putting in a new window which will be wrapped with white trim
  • The base boards and crown molding need to be installed

BUT, even with all the things that still need doing, this space is quite functional as it is. It took several months to design what I wanted and my husband put in some can lights for extra lighting. I don’t have the perfect triangle, but I have something close to it:


Can you see how easy it is to move from cutting to sewing to pressing? The drawers in that base cabinet hold fabric and supplies:

The wall cabinets also house fabric (I plan to break this down in my next post in the series about fabric). And the wall cabinet on the left side of the room stores quilting books as well.

This space is also a guest room as you can see in this larger photo:

This is not a huge room, but with some planning, it has everything I need. I like the large window over my sewing machine – lots of natural light. My cutting table folds down and is on wheels so it can be pushed up against the wall when not in use. Although I now have loads of wall and base cabinet storage, I still use some rolling plastic bins under the bed to store batting and huge cuts of bulky fabric.

Here are some other fantastic sewing spaces which I have pinned on Pinterest (which, by the way, is an amazing site full of inspiration – you can see all my boards here). Kathy at Pink Chalk Fabrics did a series in July about sewing spaces and it was wonderful (I love seeing what other people do creatively). Kathy also sells fabric…check her out!

I hope you have enjoyed this post about setting up your space for quilting!

Sew You Wanna Quilt?

  • Scope out a space in your home where you can cut, piece and quilt.
  • Start setting it up, or at least sketch out in your head or on paper how you are going to set it up when the time comes to sew. It does NOT need to be fancy – it just needs to be practical. You may need to store supplies in a different place than you are quilting. Think about using plastic tubs from Target, or an old dresser. Use your imagination – be creative!
  • Do you have all your supplies yet? Now’s the time to get them!

Watch for the next post in this series which will post on August 19th: Fabric Obsession

The first installment in the series: Tools of the Trade


Sew You Wanna Quilt? – Tools of the Trade

Welcome to Sew You Wanna Quilt? – a series of posts which I hope will help empower those individuals who long to make a quilt. Since this is the first post in the series, let me take a minute to explain my “vision.” I plan on posting once a week on Fridays (the exception is the second installment about Creating a Space which will post tomorrow). Right now it looks like there will be at least seven posts…maybe eight. Each post will address a different aspect of quilting with the intent to take you right up to stitching your first project. At the end of every post will be some activities you can do that relates to the particular post. Sound like fun? I hope it will be educational, fun and motivating. I welcome comments, questions, and suggestions I might have missed!

Click on ANY photo in this post to enjoy a larger view.

The most obvious place to start is a look at the tools you will need to make your first quilt (or wall hanging or table runner). As with any art form, quilting requires some basic tools to make it all possible. I have listed those tools which I think are essential. There are plenty of gadgets and advanced tools that experienced quilters keep handy. Everyone has their favorites. But, to get started, you really only need a few things.

A Space of Your Own

When I first started quilting, I spread out on my kitchen island and took over a corner of my dining room. You really just need a flat surface to cut fabric, a space for an ironing board and iron, and a small area to set up your sewing machine. I am going to talk more about creating a sewing space tomorrow, but for now, just pick a place in your home and stake it out!


Sewing Machine

Lots of quilters sew on their old Singers from high school.  The new machines have lots of bells and whistles, they are really gorgeous and fun, but you do not need to run out and buy an expensive machine right away. I sewed on my old machine until the engine burned out, then I dug into my savings and splurged on a high end machine which I love. If you are planning to use an older machine, do yourself a favor and take it in for a little tune up before you start sewing.


I like 100% cotton threads. Many people use polyester threads, but beware: they can melt under a hot iron. I like cotton for its durability and weight. Any sewing store will have a wide variety of threads in 100% cotton. Choose a quilting weight thread. I have several spools of white, some neutrals, and also threads in my favorite color palettes. Have at least two spools of thread of one color. If you’re not sure what to buy, white is always a safe bet. Make sure you have at least two empty bobbins for your sewing machine, too.

Iron and Ironing Board

Again, you don’t need a spanking new iron…but, you do want to make sure it is clean and won’t spew black water onto your beautiful fabrics. I use only distilled water in my iron which helps preserve its life and keeps minerals from building up inside it. Just make sure your iron can give you some steam and gets nice and hot. A full size ironing board is not necessary – my favorite board is actually a table top one which is just the right size when I am piecing a quilt.

Sharp Scissors

Ideally you want a pair of scissors which have only been used to cut fabric (cutting paper dulls the blades). For the longest time I made do with an old pair of scissors. Then one day I used a 50% off coupon for Joann’s Fabric and splurged on a high end pair of scissors which are spring loaded. I love them and they were well worth the money. Good scissors are something you will never regret buying.

Cutting Mat

The size cutting mat you choose will largely depend on the size of your cutting area. They come in all sizes. Just make sure you purchase a self-healing mat which will last a long time. I love both Omnigrid and Fiskars brands because the surfaces are not slick and my fabric doesn’t slide all over the place. This is one item which you will spend a little money on if you go with a large size (and I do recommend the largest size you have space for because it makes it much, much easier to cut from large pieces of fabric). But, trust me, this is one tool you cannot do without and it will be worth every penny you spend. A word to the wise: store your mat FLAT and in a cool place. Heat and propping the mat on its edge causes distortion. If you have to prop it on its edge, make sure it is stuck between two flat surfaces that don’t allow sagging. For a long time, I hung mine on the wall using big clips.

Rotary Cutter and Blades

There are several sizes of rotary cutters. I recommend the 45 mm size, but if you can afford it, having two cutters is perfect – one which is 45 mm and one which is 60 mm. The larger size can be used to cut through several layers of fabric at a time and makes cutting fabric faster.  Make sure you also buy extra blades for your cutter. It is amazing how quickly the blades go dull…and sharpness is key to making good, clean, accurate cuts. One thing I do NOT recommend are the self-sharpeners you can buy at some sewing stores. I bought one and it was very disappointing – I could never get the cutting blades sharp and actually created some “nicks” in the blade which caused uneven cutting quality. Replacement blades are expensive – but if you subscribe to you will get 40 and 50 percent coupons in your email regularly and can stock up at a savings.

Cutting Ruler

Cutting rulers should be nonskid and see through. You only need one – but having a couple of different sizes can make life easier. If you only buy one, choose one which will span the entire width of your cutting mat. Trust me – smaller rulers will frustrate you. If you can afford more than one, I suggest (in addition to the large one which spans the width of your cutting mat), a 6.5″ square and a shorter rectangle one.

Seam Ripper

These are cheap and very necessary, unless you never make a mistake!

Straight Pins

I like the flat head pins because they lay flat and a cutting ruler can be laid right on top of them. But any good quilting pins are fine.

Fabric with Some Type of Storage System

You cannot make a quilt without the fabric! I am planning an entire post about fabric – selection, quality, quantity, etc… For now, just know you need it – and if you are like me, that will be the most interesting and fun part of the process! If you are only going to buy enough fabric for one project, storage is not an issue. BUT, if you become quilt-addicted, you will definitely need storage for your stash. In my post about fabric, I’ll give you some ideas re: this.

Optional Tools

  • Kwik Klip – only needed if you are going to quilt your project yourself (vs. sending it out to be quilted) – this tool is used to pin a quilt (more about that in a later post)
  • Painters Tape – only needed if you are going to quilt your project yourself and plan to do straight line quilting (more about that later)
  • Safety Pins – again only needed if you are going to quilt your project yourself
  • Design Wall – a place to help you with design layout (more about this in a future post). My design wall is a felt backed table cloth mounted on a piece of hard board. Inexpensive and very useful! The fabric sticks easily to the felt back and you can move your blocks around to determine the best placement. You may see design walls out there on the Internet or in the stores for purchase. They tend to be pricey, and really, a tablecloth works great!
  • Quilter’s Calculator –  a necessity if you are planning to either design your own quilts OR if you are going to change the size of quilt pattern. I got mine at Joann’s in one of their sales and I love it.
  • Quilting Gloves – only necessary if you are doing free motion quilting (more about that later)

Sew You Wanna Quilt?

  • Become a member of and start taking advantage of their sales to stock up on essential supplies.
  • Begin purchasing and gathering up your essential tools.
  • If you have an old sewing machine you have not used in awhile, dust it off, and take it into a dealer or service place to have it tuned up, oiled, cleaned, etc… This may cost a little money, but it will save you some headaches when you actually start to stitch.
  • Consider throwing your name into the hat over at Wantobe Quilter (they are doing international giveaways of quilting tools and supplies through the end of October).

August 13th: Watch for the next article in this series – Creating a Quilting Space.

Happy Sewing!

Sew You Wanna Quilt?

Those of you who have been reading my blog for awhile have probably noticed more and more posts about quilting these days. It has become a passion for me – something that relaxes me, but also something that frees that creative part of myself.

Many people have left comments that they wish they could make a quilt – and I have always said, “Go for it. It is not that hard.”

Well, I’ve decided to promote this craft over the next few weeks (maybe months) by offering a series of posts about beginning quilting. I am not an expert. I am largely self taught. I haunt the quilting blogs, the Flickr groups and my local quilt stores. What I have learned is that you do not need to be intimidated by this art. You just need the desire to jump in with both feet and not be fearful. You need to be willing to take a few risks because that is how you learn. You need to let go of perfection and realize that mistakes often make a simple quilt more beautiful. You need to trust your creative process.

You also need to have some basic information which is what this series, I hope, will give you.

My hope is that I can inspire you to make a quilt, or a table runner, or a simple wall hanging. Quilting is not hard (really!). Anyone who wants to do it, can do it. I promise!

So, in the next few weeks watch for the Sew You Wanna Quilt series where I will be posting about the Tools of the Trade, Creating a Space, Fabric Selection (and hoarding!), Cutting Tips, Piecing and Sewing Skills, Quilting from Patterns (or not), Inspiration (including my favorite quilting books), Sewing your First Quilt, the process of Quilting a Quilt, and Finishing a Quilt.