This  post is part of my Learn to Quilt series. You can find all related posts {here}.

Quilting is the step where your pieced quilt top turns from fabric into a textile. It really is transformed by the quilting. Quilting adds texture and dimension. It can take a plain or simple quilt and elevate it to a work of art.  Sometimes you will want to quilting to stand out and add a layer of pattern to the patchwork and sometimes you’ll want it to fade away and let your piecing be the star.

Today we’ll go over the various methods of quilting.


Tying quilts is how most beginners seem to start out and the method has kind of a bad name. Most tied quilts I’ve seen tend to be loose, floppy, wrinkled, and are….well, sorta sad looking. The method involves pulling short lengths of yarn through your quilt sandwich at various intervals and tying them in knots. You leave about 2 inches of yarn showing above the knot.

The Purl Bee has a stylish tied quilt {here} and they share a thorough tutorial. I think the key to pulling off a tied quilt is simple piecing and a limited color palette. Try to aim for homespun charm and you just might pull of something boutique-worthy.


For hand quilting, you are going to want to thread baste your quilt sandwich. You’ll need a quilting hoop or a Q-Snap frame. The Amish have the market cornered on amazing hand quilting and they have pretty specific standards:

They use needles called “sharps” or “betweens”  which are both about 1 1/2 inches long (and pretty thin).  The Amish gold standard is 10 stitches per inch. Hand quilting takes practice so start with a small project like a mini or a pillow.

For a different look, try hand quilting with Perle cotton. It’s much heavier than regular quilting thread and makes the stitches stand out. My color pop pillow was hand quilted with Finca Perle cotton,


Tips for hand quilting:

  • Master the quilter’s knot
  • To start quilting, hide your knot at the edge of the quilt in between the layers or bury it in the quilt sandwich. To bury a knot, insert the needle in the quilt top only and pull through (just the needle. Then take a stitch through all three layers. As you’re pulling the thread through the fabric, gently pull the knot through the quilt top so it’s buried between the layers. Do this every time you end and start a new length of thread.


Quilt-as-you-go (QAYG) methods mean you get to skip basting! I just posted about a Crafty class I took about QAYG patchwork bags. That class demonstrates the basic method. Once you make a set of QAYG blocks, there are several methods for joining them to make a completed quilt.

The beautiful and impressive Cathedral Windows blocks are QAYG and you can piece/quilt them by hand or machine, Here’s a little Cathedral Windows sampler I made several years ago:

Cathedral window quilt sampler

(I am teaching this class at Urban Spools.)

Rag quilts are another QAYG method.

Brick Pattern Rag Quilt

(see my rag quilt tutorial here)


Machine quilting is the method you are most likely to tackle so we’ll spend the most time on this topic today. You can quilt on any machine but there are a couple of feet that make it simpler: a walking foot for straight-line quilting and a darning foot for free motion quilting, Both of these feet are machine specific so check your manual for the right one.

Straight-Line Quilting

You’ll need a well-basted quilt for straight-line quilting. When I know the plan is straight-line quilting. I’m more deliberate with the placement and direction of my safety pins while basting. Think about how you’ll move the quilt under the needle and where your stitches will go. It’s nice if you can plan your quilting to fall between the rows of safety pins.

Here is your basic walking foot:

It’s wider than a standard foot and it basically acts as a second set of feed dogs, helping move the fabric along. It’s great for quilting but you’ll also use it when sewing through heavy fabrics or multiple layers so it’s a good investment.

sneak peek

Tips for straight-line quilting:

  • Mark your quilt top before basting – use masking tape as a guide or use traditional marking like Pounce Pad with chalk. I’ve had issues with chalk not washing out so read online reviews before you start marking.
  • Start from one edge of the quilt and go down the middle. Alternate quilting on each side of your first line, using your hands to spread out any fullness.
  • Straight-line quilting is much less forgiving of fullness in your quilt top so piece accurately.
  • For your first quilt, quilt only in one direction. Lumps are more obvious when you go both ways.
  • Start with a widely spaced design and fill in if desired. It’s easier to add quilting than to start with a close design and never finish because you get bored or burned out.

Free-Motion Quilting

Lower your feed dogs and put on a darning foot cause it’s time to free motion! The design possibilities of free motion quilting are endless. Leah Day has a huge amount of info and tutorials for free motion quilting on a domestic machine (versus a long arm). I recommend you start with her website, exploring the basics. There are a couple tools that I recommend for free motion quilting: Machingers gloves and a Supreme Slider . The gloves help you grip the quilt and really will make a difference in tension in your shoulders. The Machingers brand is the third one I’ve tried and it’s the best for grippiness and keeping your hands from getting too hot.

There is absolutely no substitution for the Supreme Slider. It helps your quilt glide over the sewing surface, making your stitches more even and your curves curvier. It’s not large, but when you are doing free motion, you only to to work in about a 10-inch square area at a time.

Free motion quilting tips:

  • Move your quilt slowly while your needle is moving fast. Slow needles get caught and rip your fabric or break. Too fast movements can have the same result and your stitches will look jerky and uneven. Having a machine with speed control is extremely helpful.
  • Use a stitch regulator. My Bernina has one and it’s an incredibly pricey add-on that isn’t available on most machines but if you’re in the market, look for that feature,
  • Practice on small quilt sandwiches. A lot. People always say that they hate wasting fabric to practice quilting – so don’t waste it! Turn your practice sandwiches into a quilt using some of the joining methods I linked to above. Donate it if you don’t like seeing your newbie quilting because someone out there will appreciate it. Even if its a blind dog in the shelter. 😉
  • Start with a fresh needle every time you quilt. This goes for all machine quilting but any little burrs or bends on your needle are even more obvious with free motion,
  • Make your space quilting friendly – set your machine down into a table so its even with the surface. Add a folding table behind the machine to bear the weight of the quilt. The important thing is to get the weight supported so you’re not fighting it. Your set up should allow you to easily swirl and stipple in a 10-inch or so area.
  • Start in the center of the quilt and work your way out to spread any fullness around. Flatten out the quilt top as you’re working to smooth fullness and folds.


Even though I quilt most things myself but there are occasional projects that need something a bit more special than I can do on my Bernina. You may feel the same way or maybe you don’t want to do any quilting. There are probably several long arm quilters in your area that will be happy to take that quilt top off your hands for a reasonable fee. Your local quilt shop likely has a few business cards and recommendations on long armers. My friend Michelle at Urban Spools has a nice write-up on her site about services she offers and it gives you a good idea of cost and what you can expect when working with a long arm quilter. (If you’re not in DFW, you can mail your quilts to her for finishing). Sending your quilt to a professional adds some cost to your project, but it is worth it. Whether you opt for custom quilting or computer guided, a professional quilter can make your quilt into something really special.

There are a few reasons why I send my quits out:

  • Size – some projects are too big for my domestic. Anything above about 85″ on a side and I’m sending it out.
  • Design – I have a couple of quilts with embroidery on them that really need a professional quilter’s artistic talent to enhance the design.

If you like the idea of a long arm but don’t have the money or the space, you might have room for a mid-arm like Handiquilter’s Sweet Sixteen. They’re around $4,000-$5,000 depending on options added and only take up about 36″ of space. The downfall for me is that you still have to pin baste.

Some companies also make frames for domestic machines or mid-arm machines like the larger Jukis.

See you next Monday for part 9 – Learn to Quilt: Binding..

This  post is part of my Learn to Quilt series. You can find all related posts {here}.

Basting is my least-favorite quilting step. For me, it is the most tedious and least rewarding but you just can’t avoid it. Let’s talk through the different methods and some ways to make the dreaded task a little easier. No matter which method you use, your basic set up is the same: Backing + Batting + Quilt Top = Quilt Sandwich. Yep, that’s what it’s called – a quilt sandwich. I prefer to think of mine as ice cream sandwiches. Mmmm.


There are several different ways to baste – spray adhesive, fusible batting, needle and thread, pin basting, and long-arm basting.


You can actually buy some stuff in a can to baste your quilts. It looks like hair spray and smells much worse. This method is good for smaller things like table runners and mini quilts. My personal experience is that it makes a big mess when used on a quilt larger than crib size. It is handy to have on hand, though – I use it for quilted pillows.


This is batting that you iron onto your quilt back and top. I’ve never used it but several of my friends swear by it. For me, it’s about economical and convenient and this method doesn’t do it. Fusible batting doesn’t come in a bolt and it costs more than regular batting so I don’t see myself converting to a fusible girl. Also beware that this stuff fuses in heat so don’t store it in your attic if you live somewhere that gets hideously hot (like Texas).


It’s just what is sounds like…you use needle and thread to make big running stitches across your quilt sandwich, Sound tedious and crazy, right? Why would you ever do that? It makes sense to baste with needle and thread when you’re going to hand quilt. No pins to get in the way of your frame. Needle and thread basting is actually not as slow as it seems but you do need a decent set-up…it’s easier to do on a table top than on the floor. Use clamps to affix your quilt layers to the table.


Long-arm quilters don’t need to do any basting – they just roll the three layers together on the frame (You can see how that happens here.) Odds are you don’t have a long arm and aren’t going to buy one, so this is good news for you: most long-arm quilters offer basting services They will load your quilt on their frame and run some basting stitches though it for a fee. Then you can do the quilting by hand or machine. Some use dissolving thread so the basting stitches wash away when you wash your finished quilt. My friend Michelle at Urban Spools is basting one of mine as I type.


Blech. It’s still the worst but it has gotten easier since a reader told me about a different way (besides taping to the floor). Here’s what you will need:

    • Your three quilt layers with the backing and batting at least 3 to 4 inches larger than the quilt top on all sides
    • {This video} is immensely helpful for this process.
    • 2 – 1×4 pieces of lumber a good 10 inches longer than your quilt (sand before using)
    • Spray starch
    • Quilter’s Safety Pins (get more than one package)
    • Kwik Klips tool
    • A cute jar to store your safety pins and Kwik Klips. I like these blue mason jars:

1. Stay stitch about a 1/4″ away from the edge of your quilt top, all the way around. This will keep things from going wonky. If you are not familiar with stay stitching, it just means that you do a regular stitch along the edge of fabric to prevent stretching on unfinished edges. Do this even if you send your quilt top to a long arm quilter. I am a bad girl and often skip this, but I’m trying to mend my ways.

2. Liberally starch and press your quilt top and your backing. I mean it. Lots of starch. Don’t be shy. If your background fabric is dark, you can use the no residue starch so you don’t get any white marks (although it all washes out anyway).

3. Put an interesting show on the TV that you don’t mind only listening to because you won’t be see it all that much.

4.  Spread your quilt backing on the floor (or table top if you have one large enough) right side down. Smooth out about a 1 foot high x width of quilt section of the backing and set a 1×4 across the edge. Roll the backing onto the board smoothing as you go.

5. Repeat the above with your quilt top, starting with top right side up. You should now have your backing and your quilt top rolled up square and smooth on the boards.

6. Set the board with your backing on the table/floor so that the rolled part is on top and the loose fabric flap is underneath. (Kinda like the way most men put toilet paper on the holder – WRONG!) You should able to flip the board over and away from you, releasing the backing fabric as you go. Unroll a 1 foot section of your backing and place the batting on top. Smooth it out.

7. Set your quilt top board on top of the backing/batting you’ve exposed, but offset if by 2 or 3 inches. Repeat the same process as the batting, unrolling and smoothing until you can set the quilt board on top of the batting board.

8. Pin or thread paste the smooth area. You can use a third board to weight down the edges if needed. Use your Kwik Klip tool to close the safety pins. Repeat the unrolling and smooothing process until you have the entire quilt basted.

9. When you’re finished, trim any excess batting and/or backing. I trim mine down to about 2 inches from the edge of the quilt top at this point. Use scissors with a spring like these. Save your extra backing fabric for your basket of string scraps! You don’t have to trim and you might not need to if you were careful about measuring your backing/batting, but I have sometimes gotten in a hurry and quilted a bit of extra backing to the back of my quilt. The edges fold under so easily and before you know it you have a foot of quilting to unpick.

That’s it! Come back on Monday for Lesson 9 – Sample Quilt: Quilting.

This post is part of my Learn to Quilt series. You can find all related posts {here}.

Learn to Quilt: Piecing

Today I’m back (finally!) finishing up Part 2 of piecing your quilt top. The pattern we are using has excellent instructions on putting together the rows, but I’d like to add a few tips to get your points perfectly matched. I’ll also go through the steps for adding borders. This post is long so grab a snack and hunker down.


1. Square up your blocks (in this case, rectangle up your blocks!) before you start piecing the top. Blocks should measure 12 1/2″ x 8 1/2″ with seams. Normally I’d use a quilting square that measures the same size (or close to) the size of my unfinished block. Since these blocks are rectangular, I used my 6″x24″ ruler to square them up. To do this, use the seam as your measuring point…our 2.5″ strips are now 2.25″ wide since we’ve sewn one seam:


Set your ruler so that the 2 1/4″ mark falls on the seam. The right edge of the ruler should be just about even with the edge of your block. Trim off any excess.


Flip your block clockwise to the next seam and repeat. Do this for all four sides.

Squaring up is tedious and it can be a major PITA. But don’t skip it. It can make a big difference in the final product. Make it a part of your process to square up at every step of piecing – smaller block units and the final block.

2. When joining blocks or block segments where your seams will meet up, PIN! Use Clover fork pins and make those seams match. Sometimes you will have to gently stretch the fabric to make your points match. In the photo below, you can see my two blocks pinned together, with the seams pressed in opposite directions.

Learn to Quilt: Piecing

3. Thoroughly press every seam. I press from the top because I get a flatter seam that way, but if pressing from the back works for you, do that. Use a bit of starch and a HOT iron.


Borders are the red-headed step child of the modern quilting world. Dated, grandma-ish…they are just uncool to most modern quilters. I don’t often add borders, but sometimes they’re nice to frame the piecing. I also add borders in a situation like this quilt top where the points on my blocks would be covered by the binding if I went border-less. To modernize the borders on this quilt, I’m using the same color for both and it’s meant to act more as a background than a frame. The piecing will look like it’s floating.

Now that we’ve covered Quilt Border Philosophy 101, let’s talk about how you add them. You could just cut fabric a little bit longer than the side of your quilt and lop off the extra. The quilt police will come and arrest you for that, though, so watch out. Our quilt top has two borders – an inner one pieced like a block and the outer one that is a typical border. Piece your inner border according to the pattern instructions and then come back here for your outer border.

The proper method for adding borders is:

1. Get out that calculator and do some math. The formulas are simple:

Finished Block Height x No. of Vertical Blocks + Inner Border Width = Quilt Top Height
8″ x 8 + 2 1/4″ = 66 1/4″ (Note that at this stage our inner border still has one unfinished seams so we need to keep that measurement at 2 1/4″ instead of the finished size of 2″.)

Finished Block Width x No. of Vertical Blocks + Inner Border Width = Quilt Top Width
12″ x 5 + 2 1/4″ = 62 1/4″ (Again, we are keeping that unfinished 1/4″ seam in the calculation)

(Quilt Top Height x 2) + (Quilt Top Width x 2)  + (Semi-Finished Border Width x 4) = Total Border Length
(66 1/4″ x 2) + (62 1/4″ x 2) + (6.25″ x 4) = 282 inches

If this makes your head explode, use a quilting calculator. They’ll do all of that math for you, but you’ll still have to measure/calculate the height and width of your quilt top. Calculations are more accurate than measuring, but if you’d rather get out the yard stick, measure from the center of the quilt top, not the edges.

2. Prep your border fabric. Cut WOF x width of your desired border. Our border is 6 1/2″ wide and we need 282 total inches + seams. Let’s do one more calculation:

Total Border Length/Useable Fabric Width = Number of Strips to Cut + Overage for Seams
282/43 = 6.55

Round up and cut 7 strips WOF x 6.5″.

3. Trim off the selvedges (you can do this before you cut the strips) and sew your border strips end-to-end. You’ll have a total length of about 301 inches.

4. Cut your side border strips to your calculated quilt height from step 1 – 66 1/4″. Sew these on to your quilt top sides.

5. Cut your top and bottom border strips to calculated quilt width from step 1 (62 1/4″) plus border width we just added (6 1/4″) times two – 74 3/4″.

Why all the fuss about borders? You can add a lot of bulk to your quilt top if you attach borders using the “lop off” method (Exihibit A, B, and C). Notice that all of those examples are on long arms….wavy/bulky/bacon-y borders are at their worst on a long arm. The rollers on the long arm pull the fabric taut so any flaws are magnified. A good long arm quilter can work in the fullness but they will probably say ugly cuss words about you while they’re doing it.

Border bulk is not as bad when you are basting the old-fashioned way at home because you can smooth and stretch the fullness out as you baste. But proceed with caution, because that stretching and smoothing may show up in the final quilt as wonky edges or a quilt that you have to trim down excessively to hide the imperfections. As my Mamaw (and probably lots of people’s mamaws) would say, you can’t make a silk purse out of a pig’s ear.  It’s easier to do it properly than to fix a wonky, wavy mess.

See you next Monday for part 8 – Learn to Quilt: Basting.

This  post is part of my Learn to Quilt series. You can find all related posts {here}.

Now the fun starts! We’ve learned all about the basics of quilting, and now we are ready to move on to actual sewing. I’ve chosen a free pattern from Moda for this project (shown at left).. You can find the pattern {here}. The sample uses traditional fabrics (Civil War repros) but as soon as I saw it, I knew it would be perfect for more modern fabrics, too. I love the shape of the blocks and the illusion of curves that the piecing creates. The piecing is relatively simple so it’s a great starting point, but it’s also challenging enough that it’s a fun project for a more experienced quilter, too. I was being overly ambitious in trying to work this into two posts so constructing the quilt top will be in two parts – today is cutting and piecing blocks and next Monday I will cover assembling the quilt top and adding borders.

I’m going to use pre-cuts for my version. You have the option of following the pattern exactly as written or going with my changes. To use pre-cuts like me, your fabric requirements are:

1 jelly roll (with 40 strips cut 2.5″ x WOF)
5 fat quarters
1 yd for borders
1/2 yd binding
4 3/8 yds backing

This will yield a 68.5″ x 72.5″ quilt. My quilt will have 40 blocks instead of 45 like the pattern. I’m also going to use the same fabric for both borders. My fabric placement won’t be as rigid as the pattern sample, either. This is partly because I like a more scrappy look, but it also allows us to use fat quarters instead of yardage. My centers will all be solids. Here are the fabrics I’ve chosen:

Marmalade Stack

Notice that I have more fat quarters than necessary. This is because I want a wide range of colors for my block centers (plus I had the yardage on hand! Stash-busting is always a good thing.)


From each jelly roll strip, cut:

2 – 2.5″ x 12.5″ strips
2 – 2.5″ x 4.5″ strips
3 – 2.5″ squares*

*Theoretically, there should be exactly enough width in the jelly roll strip for you to get all of the above cuts. Cut your longer strips first and your 2.5″ squares last. You should easily be able to get 120 squares from your jelly roll strips; cut the rest from your fat quarters. You need a total of 160 2.5″ squares for the quilt.

From eight fat quarters, cut:

6 – 4.5″x8.5″ rectangles
2 – 2.5″ x 18″ strip: subcut into 2.5″ squares for block corners

You will have 8 extra rectangles and 10 extra squares.


Tips for cutting:

  • Use the measurements on your rulers as cutting guides, not the marks on your cutting mat. Rulers are more accurate.
  • Put in a fresh blade if your rotary cutter is catching on the fabric or not cutting all the way through on the first pass. If your blade is relatively new, then make sure you are using firm and even pressure.
  • To prep your fat quarters for cutting, lightly starch and press them. This will make your piecing go smoothly and ensure accuracy.
  • Keep a small bin or bucket on your cutting surface for scraps to toss in the garbage. Keep a separate one for scraps you want to save. Your surface will be neat and you can empty out the buckets when you’re finished exactly where they need to go.
  • Stack your block units together – in order – as you go. For this project, you will have four stacks:Fabric-Stacks


Follow the original pattern to piece your 40 rectangular blocks. The instructions are on page two and three of the PDF file. They are excellent instructions that even include pressing directions. As you are piecing your blocks, keep in mind that your triangle corners won’t match the centers of your blocks like the sample. Here are a few blocks I’ve made:

Marmalade Jubilee

Tips for piecing:

  • Instead of drawing a line from corner to corner on each 2.5″ square, use a paper guide as a stitch line. You line the guide up between the corners and sew next to it, making sure your seam is centered diagonally across your square.
  • Work with an assembly line set up with the block components in tidy stacks next to your machine as shown above. This will allow you to chain piece.
  • Trim your thread ends as you sew to keep things tidy.
  • Lightly starch each finished block and press it.
  • No pinning is required until you assemble the quilt top.

See you next Monday for the continuation of Lesson 7 – Learn to Quilt: Piecing Part 2. We will assemble the quilt top and cut and sew our borders.

Marmalade Jubilee
Little Hands & Toes


This  post is part of my Learn to Quilt series. You can find all related posts {here}. Start {here} if you’d like to cover the lessons in order.

I was initially going to write about the quilting community today, but I think I covered that pretty well in Lesson 2: Quilting Definitions and Resources so instead I’ll go over Scrap Management. The more you quilt, the more you will have to deal with scraps so it’s good to have a method in mind. This lesson outlines what I do with my scraps and this may be too much or too little for you given how often you sew. Some people literally save every scrap, and while I do save a lot, I must have order above all else so itty bitty pieces go in the garbage. Be forewarned that there are a lot of steps/processes/tasks in my scrap management system. I’m kind of obsessive that way but don’t let it dissuade you from quilting. You don’t have to be this level of quilting ka-razy.


Most of my scraps come from leftovers from a quilt project. I sort these scraps as a I go:

  • Fat Quarters – When working with yardage, I cut my fabric so that I will have a fat quarter leftover whenever possible.
  • Small, regular scraps | pieces with mostly straight edges that can be used in a project without additional cutting –  I have a bin dedicated to these. Here is a quilt I made with this type of scrap:

Giant Scrappy Blocks | Detail

    • Small, irregular scraps | odd-shaped pieces that would need to be cut for most quilt blocks – These go straight into the bin for my scrappy stars project. They’re perfect to piece together for something like this:Tutorial: Scrapp Stars
    • Strings | long, narrow pieces at least 1″ wide but less than 2.5″ – These go into a big basket under my desk. Strings are usually foundation pieced and string quilts look like this one I recently finished:Red & Aqua | Detail
    • Binding ends | 2.5″ wide by various lengths – I’m working on a scrappy trip around the world quilt (tutorial here) so these are perfect. You could also save these to make scrappy binding.First scrappy trip around block #quilting #scrappytripalong #vintagemodernquilts #retreat
    • Big scraps | smaller than a fat quarter – These go into a bin under my cutting table. It’s easy to sweep them in there while I go. The really big pieces get cut into 2.5″ and 5″ squares at some point (with scraps then going into the different piles listed above). The smaller bits go into a set of Deep ArtBin Containers, sorted by color.
ArtBin 6990AB Super Satchel Double Deep Box with Removable Dividers


There are lots of reasons why you might end up with orphan blocks. Sometimes a block just doesn’t work out. Or you make too many. Or you overdo it when you’re squaring up and that dang thing is too, too small.  You can save them up for projects like potholders, pillows, sampler quilts or you can donate them to the charity committee of your quilt guild like me. Or if you are supremely talented like Anna Maria Horner, you could whip up a series of amazingly beautiful quilts using your orphan blocks. (I was in her Composing a Quilt workshop at QuiltCon and it is hard to believe what that woman can do with leftovers. Imagine what she does with all that turkey that’s left after Thanksgiving?!)


There are usually a handful of charm squares, jelly roll strips, layer cakes, etc. leftover from a project. I throw all of my orphans into my various scrap bins by size. What are they good for? Well, some of the quilts I’ve shown above plus any project that uses those cuts. Don’t be afraid to sew with stuff that doesn’t “match.” We’ll talk about fabric selections in the next lesson.

Scrappy quilts are some of my favorites. Check out my Pinterest board for scrappy quilt ideas. (Looking at scrappy quilts is a great way to help you start thinking about your own scrap management plan.) Do any of you have scrap management tips? How small is too small to keep? Share with us in the comments!

See you next Monday for Lesson 7 – Learn to Quilt: Piecing. We are starting our project! The pace will slow down a bit to just once a week for our last four lessons as we make a quilt from start to finish.

This  post is part of my Learn to Quilt series. You can find all related posts {here}.

quilting economics

Welcome back to my Learn to Quilt series. Today we are talking about a subject where I am definitely an expert – building a fabric stash! The main thing to remember is to buy what you love, even if you don’t have a plan for it. That may not always work if you’re quilting on a budget, but we covered some tips on that in our previous lesson. For this post, I’m assuming that you have some cash to spend and you’re looking to invest in quilting fabrics. 😉


Quality is not something that concerned me when I first started quilting as I thought fabric was pretty much all the same. I was incorrect. There is wide spectrum of quality in commercial quilting fabrics, but you’ll mostly be purchasing from one of two places: Your Local Big Box Retailer or an Independent Quilt Shop (brick and mortar or online).

Fabrics from big box stores tend to be on the lower end of the quality spectrum. You can find nice/decent quality quilting fabric at big-box stores, though so don’t count them out completely. Some top quilting fabrics manufacturers actually sell to these big box stores and many of these stores also carry higher quality lines (let the price per yard be your guide on that). Low-end quilting fabrics are rough, thin, and fray easily. You might even see errors in the printing process.

Fabrics from Independent Retailers/Quilt Shops are on the high end of the spectrum. These are the fabrics I recommend that you work with, even if you are on a budget. Here’s the reason…quilts take many hours to make and they are a piece of art. Use the best materials you can afford and you will have a more beautiful and longer-lasting finished product.

Moda Pre-Cuts | My Studio


Pre-cuts are a great addition to any quilting stash.  For a full list of the different pre-cuts and a description of each, check out this printable from Moda. Note that pre-cuts vary by manufacturer (in number per package, types offered, etc.). so don’t expect them in every fabric line you fall in love with. Pre-cuts can seem expensive at first glance, but when you consider the number of prints offered compared to buying yardage, they’re actually a great deal. Plus the fact that you have so much less cutting to do is a time-saver that is hard to put a price on.

For a new quilter, there are a few pre-cuts I recommend over others. Start with the Layer Cake. They are 10″ square and super versatile for all kinds of projects. The size also means that you get a good chunk of each fabric so you can really see the design. Check out layer cake patterns from the Moda Bake Shop {here}.

How many to buy? Just one layer cake plus some yardage will make a good-sized quilt top – even up to a twin or full size depending on the pattern.

Moda Pre-Cut Goodness

Strip piecing with jelly rolls is also one of my favorite kinds of sewing, but you’re working with long pieces (44″) and they’re relatively narrow (2.5″) so I’d wait until your 1/4″ seam is perfect before tackling a jelly roll project. You’ll be happier with the end results that way. I know this from experience because my first quilt was made with a jelly roll. I didn’t even own a 1/4″ foot and I struggled piecing those strips. Nothing matched up because I didn’t have a consistent seam allowance.

Check out jelly roll patterns from the Moda Bake Shop {here}.

How many to buy? Just one jelly roll will make a lap quilt. I recommend the Jelly Roll Race pattern as a way to get started sewing with Jelly Rolls. Really fast and really easy.


And last, charm packs and mini charm packs are both useful and cute.  These cuts are a nice way to get a sampling of a fabric line without committing a lot of your budget to it. Charm squares measure 5″ and mini charms are 2.5.”

plume charms.

How many to buy? Charm packs and minis are a small amount of fabric.  To get the coverage of a layer cake, you will need 4 charm packs or 8 mini charms, but you can make a quilt top with just one charm pack and yardage (see photo above). Unless you are working with a pattern that tells you a specific number of charms, I would say buy just one of each .The point with these pre-cuts for me is to have the full fabric line, even if its in small pieces.


When it comes to bundles, these are usually fat quarters or sometimes fat eighths. These bundles usually include the whole line or just one colorway from the line but be sure to read the details so you know what you’re getting. The bundles can be made up of different cuts, as well: 1 yard, 1/2 yard, fat quarters, and fat eighths. Bundles like these can be a great way to build your stash. Instead of going for bundles that contain fabric from just one line, I’d say go for mixed bundles. You can find a lot of these on Etsy and there are some shop owners who are great about mixing different collections. I recommend Westwood Acres, Stash Modern Fabric, Fabric Shoppe, and Fresh Modern Fabric. A fat eighth or fat quarter bundle is plenty of fabric for any quilting project, but if you are buying basics like stripes, polka dots, or solids that you can use in multiple projects then 1 yard or half yard bundles are the way to go.


I used to buy a ton of yardage. I would cruise those sale bins on my favorite Etsy shops and just rack up. But the problem is that online shops typically sell their sale items in one yard cuts, which is way too much for quilting, Unless we are talking one of the three Bs (background, backings, and bindings), half yard pieces are the biggest size you should buy. I would even go so far to say stick to fat quarters.

When it comes to the three Bs, you will need yardage and sometimes lots of it. Look for versatile prints like polka dots and stripes, small scale prints and dark neutrals like navy and gray. All of these are good choices for the three Bs. Here are some guidelines for buying yardage:


All of these estimates are based on standard 45″ wide quilting fabric, but if you’re making Queen or King size quilts USE WIDE QUILT BACKINGS. They make 108″ wide fabric just for this purpose.


I’ve given you a few tips on where and how much to buy, and now let’s talk about what to buy. If you have no stash at all, this should get you on the right track for building one.

Color. I like to have the full ROY G BIV rainbow array. My challenge colors are yellow (because there don’t seem to be that many nice yellows out there) and purple (because it’s my least favorite color). I especially try to look for yellow when I’m shopping, but purple can suck it because I’m not going to make a quilt with a color I don’t like. Again, this goes back to buying what you love. If you only love warm colors, just build your stash on those. The only color I think you must buy is white because nothing pops like colorful blocks on a field of white. There are other neutrals that you might use, too (gray, brown, navy) but those are taste-specific. Quilts with white backgrounds are universally appealing.

Value Value is the relative lightness or darkness of your fabric. Relative to what? Well, to the other fabrics you’re working with. If you read a lot of blogs, you’ve probably been seeing lots of “low volume” quilts/fabric stacks. What they’re really referring to is the value of the fabrics. Here are two rainbow bundles I pulled from my stash:


It’s pretty easy to see the value difference between the two. The balance of light and dark is what gives your quilt interest or allows you to add depth. Most patterns and most quilting teachers will tell you to select a balance of light and dark fabrics, but low-value quilts can be incredibly beautiful, too. Be sure to add a wide range of values to your stash.

Scale. This refers to the size of the print on your fabric. When buying quilting fabric, it’s a pretty safe bet that the prints will be appropriately size for quilting. Scale is something you will have to consider when you are actually selecting prints for a project, but for stash-building, go crazy.

Themes There are lots of different categories for the prints on quilting fabrics. At the most basic level, you have reproduction prints and contemporary prints. Reproductions are referred to by era (Civil War or 1930s, but people who are really into those fabrics break it down even further). Other themes are geometric, stripes, florals, shirtings (very small scale prints), calicoes, text, polka dots, and novelty/conversational prints. A wide variety of themes will make for an interesting stash so be open-minded. At the same time, though, be balanced in your choices. Don’t always go for the bold print because that bright floral will lose its boldness next to ten other bright florals. And don’t forget about solids! Every stash needs a good selection of solids.


For me, being able to fondle and gaze at my fabric stash is a big part of the enjoyment factor. It’s important to me to have a pretty space to sew in, and fabric is the perfect decorative item. Keeping that in mind, most of my organizing tips are also display-friendly.

Wall storage units like this vintage shelf are  perfect in a sewing room:

studio: Aug 2012

You can see what you have and it’s easy to access it. Use plain jars for storing notions and even smaller pre-cuts. I hide less attractive items in my closet:

studio: Aug 2012

I love ArtBin containers for storage. The slim ones are good for my in-progress projects because they’re large enough to fit finished blocks as well as fabric and patterns (or even a book with your pattern). I use deeper ArtBin containers for storing some of my scraps (I have a scrap storage system that I’ll cover in a later post).

Slim ArtBin Container
Deep ArtBin Container

My favorite storage solution is this CD shelf from Pottery Barn:

fat quarter storage

If you fold fat quarters just the right way, they fit perfectly into CD-sized containers so search your house for those or your favorite organization store.

I used to store my fat quarters in CD bins from Target but I didn’t like not being able to see them. These were a good solution. though, and may work for you if you have deep shelves.

Fat Quarters/Half Yard Bundles

I hope you’ve gotten some good information from this lesson. I could talk about fabric and organization all day. I love both!

See you on Thursday for Lesson 6 – Learn to Quilt: Scrap Management.

This  post is part of my Learn to Quilt series. You can find all related posts {here}.

Quilting can be an incredibly expensive hobby. A mid-range sewing machine easily runs $1500 and top-of-the-line ones go for closer to $5000 (or higher!). Notions and tools can take a huge chunk out of your disposable income. And let’s not even get into fabric! That’s the worst part. But there are ways to quilt on a budget so don’t be discouraged if you want to quilt but don’t have lots of cash to spend.


You can get a deal on a used or even vintage sewing machine. Older machines work just as well as new ones without some of the bells and whistles (which are like leather, a sunroof, and butt warmers in a car. Nice but not necessary). I would actually recommend buying an older machine rather than a cheap new one. Trust me. I wore out a cheap new  machine in a few months after I started quilting. You can find an older solid metal machine (perhaps even built into a cute table!) for around $100-$150 (I’ve seen them for as low as $25 at the thrift store). You will easily spend $100 on a brand-new low-end machine that is lower quality. It’s like with furniture – unless you are going above the mid-range in pricing, you are better off buying vintage. When Grandpa says they just don’t make things like they used to, he is so so right.

Vintage stores and thrift shops can also be a good resource for fabric. Vintage sheet quilts are very popular right now and you can find the sheets everywhere for just a few dollars each.  If you live somewhere devoid of thrift shops, look for vintage textiles on Etsy. They are always lower priced than new quilting cottons.

Vintage Sheet Quilt Top
My Vintage Sheet Quilt


This is an obvious way to save money in any kind of shopping you do. Stalk your favorite shops for sales. Sign up on their email lists so you know when the sale is happening. This goes for your notions, tools, and batting, too!


Use patterns that give you specific fabric requirements so that you can shop sales and use coupons where you can. If you like to create your own designs, plan ahead so you know what you will need. It’s like making a list before going grocery shopping – you’re definitely going to spend less money that way.


You may already have some fabric on hand. Take an honest assessment of your current stash and use what you have. Anything looks good if you cut it up into small enough pieces. You can even experiment with dyeing or bleaching your fabric.


Blogs are a fun and inspirational part of the online quilting community, but if you are on a budget or a fabric diet, stay away. There’s a lot of temptation out there.


Working on one project at a time is an easy way to save money. Put your focus and resources (cash and time) into that one project. Even if you only make one quilt a year, you are still a quilter!


If you want to quilt and are not concerned about keeping the projects, join the charity committee of your local guild. The fabric is provided via donations and you are often given a pattern. The quilts go to a good cause and it allows you to quilt and hone your skills without spending any money.


Instead of taking your old clothes to the thrift shop to donate, why not cut them up for quilts? Every single quilt my grandmother made was from old clothing that the family had worn out. Stick with cotton (avoid blends with stretchy things like lycra and spandex) and even old t-shirts can be used to make quilt with interfacing.


We talked about quilting tools in Lesson 3, but which ones are essential? These are the necessities to get started quilting. You probably already have several of these items.

See you next Monday for Lesson 5 – Learn to Quilt: Building a Fabric Stash.

This  post is part of my Learn to Quilt series. You can find all related posts {here}.

If you’ve ever been inside a quilt shop, you will see that there are endless supplies, notions, and tools used for quilting. Fabric is just the tip of the iceberg.

Sewing Machine. The most important thing to look for in a sewing machine is one that works well and almost any machine will do as long as you take care of it.  Sewing machines are classified as mechanical, computerized, or electronic. Mechanical sewing machines have basic functionality all controlled by simple push buttons. Computerized machines have an electronic interface and may be able to hook up to a computer for embroidery. I am not a fan of electronic machines where all of the sewing functions are controlled through a touch-screen interface. I find them slow to operate (scrolling through screens) and the electronics will go bad long before the mechanical parts do. My Bernina is computerized and I LOVE IT, but I would like to have a mechanical machine as a back up or for other tasks like quilting (Jukis are a good option for this).

Sewing Machine Feet. Your machine will come with basic feet. You will also need a 1/4″ foot, a walking foot (for quilting but also useful for sewing heavy home dec items, and a darning foot  (used for free-motion quilting). There are several varieties of darning feet so ask for a demo if you can so you can choose the appropriate one for your uses.

Sewing Table. If you don’t have a dedicated sewing room, this may be your dining room table. If you have a space dedicated to sewing, go for a drop-in table where the sewing surface of your machine is even with the table surface.  Sewing tables can be shockingly expensive but there are some DIYs on the web that will show you how to make your own. I don’t have a drop-in table and that is a must for me in my next sewing space.

Sewing Chair.  Look for something comfy like an office chair. There are some cute ones on the market with built-in storage or you could find a vintage one to make over. I like one with wheels for piecing but I switch to a stationary chair when quilting because I find I can’t get the right leverage when I’m working on a big quilt.

Rotary Cutter. Start with your basic 45 mm rotary cutter. It’s a useful size for lots of applications. I use my 60 mm cutter most often, though, just because I like the larger cutting surface. It seems faster and more accurate to cut with a bigger blade. A 28 mm rotary cutter is useful for small blocks or for use with curved templates.

Cutting Mat. Get the biggest mat that you can (budget-wise and space-wise).  18×24 is the smallest that you should go for everyday use. Anything smaller and you better be making quilts with tiny blocks! (The typical quilt block is 12.5 inches for reference). You need a mat made for use with rotary cutters so buy one from the quilting section at your store (online or brick and mortar). I’ve used an Olfa mat for ages and they are fine, but when my large one is worn out, I’m going to replace it with an Elan Miracle Mat. I use a 24×36 mat for everyday use in my sewing room and I have a couple of smaller mats for retreats/classes.

Pins. They make special pins for quilting that are very fine and have glass heads. They even make cute ones with buttons and flowers as the pin heads. But I think all you really need are Clover Fork Pins. These are unmatched in awesomeness for matching points on your blocks and your quilt top.

Here is  a stack of 4-patch blocks that I pinned using the Clover Fork Pins:

Still going... #quilting #vintagemodernquilts

Iron. I have two irons that I use regularly and neither one is expensive. There are a couple of brands that you’ll read about on quilting blogs (Oliso and Rowenta) and they are both big bucks. I use an el cheapo Toastmaster iron that was $6.99 at Target (they don’t seem to have any quite that cheap anymore). I love it because it gets super hot and never shuts off. I also use a Black & Decker Classic Iron. This one frustrated me for a long time because the ridges on the sole plate tend to get stuck on fabric edges and make wrinkles, but I love the weight of it for pressing a block or finished quilt top.

Fabric. We’ll talk a lot about fabric in Lesson 5 so just know that you need it…and lots of it. 🙂

Batting. Batting is the stuff that goes between the quilt backing and quilt top. There are endless varieties and my brand of choice is the one I can purchase economically in bulk. I buy Warm & White Cotton Batting in a queen-size roll from JoAnn. I use a 40% or 50% off coupon and wait until they have free shipping over $200. My first roll made about 20 quilts, and I’m four or five quilts into my second roll. If you can’t store that much or don’t want to spend so much upfront, buy it by the yard at a big box store like JoAnn with a coupon. Get your specialty kind (fusible, wool, etc) at a quilt shop.

Templates and Rulers. There are so many special rulers for quilting on the market that it can be overwhelming. I’m going to list the ones that I find essential:

There are many different brands of quilting rulers for your basic ones (the squares and a 6×24)…Test them out before you buy. You may not be able to actually use them to cut in the store, but hold some fabric underneath the ruler and see how easy it is the see the edge of the fabric. You should also check for “grippy-ness.” Some quilting rulers are made with sandpaper-like gripping points on the back to help keep the ruler in place while you cut.

Cutting Table. This should be at least as big as your cutting mat, but larger is even better. I use a Martha Stewart cutting table with lots of storage and I love it.

studio: Aug 2012

Other useful sewing items:

  • a bin or basket to set next to your machine for pins, scissors, etc.
  • small, sharp snips to have near your while piecing
  • a small bin on your cutting table for fabric scraps (the really small ones that will end up in the garbage)

What are your sewing must-haves? Let us know in the comments!

See you on Thursday for Lesson 4 – Learn to Quilt: Quilting on a Budget.

This  post is part of my Learn to Quilt series. You can find all related posts {here}.

Welcome to Lesson 2 in the Learn to Quilt series. This series is aimed at the beginner quilter so we are starting with the absolute basics, like “Basting? Isn’t that for turkeys?” Here is a list of definitions that you will come across in the quilting world.


Scant 1/4” – We talked about the scant 1/4′ seam in Lesson 1 and I’ve included the photo below as a refresher. A scant 1/4′ seam is slightly less than a true 1/4″.


Basting – This is not just for turkeys! Basting is the process of adhering your quilt backing to your batting and your  quilt top so you can quilt it. Basting can be done a variety of ways: by hand with a needle and thread, with quilter’s safety pins, with basting spray adhesive, with fusible batting, and the easiest way – by rolling the three layers onto a longarm frame. There are different reasons for using each method of basting, which I will cover in Lesson 8.

Basting with Safety Pins

Quilt Sandwich – Mmm. Lots of food talk in this lesson. A quilt sandwich is the term for your layers of backing, batting, and quilt top. The fabric is the bread and the batting is the filling.

Binding – This is the finishing touch on your quilt. The binding is the fabric that is sewn around the raw edges of the quilt to hold everything together and make it look finished (and pretty!). It’s like a frame for your quilt.

Quilt with Red + Aqua Checked Binding
Quilt with Red + Aqua Checked Binding

Piecing – The simple act of sewing pieces of fabric together. All of the sewing you do to put your quilt top together is called piecing.

Quilting – This is the decorative sewing that holds your three layers together (backing, batting, and quilt top).

Block – A block is the basic unit that makes up the quilt. There are endless varieties of block designs.

test block - Evangeline at Versailles
Quilt Block

Quilt back – This is very simply the fabric that goes on the back of your quilt.

Batting – Batting is the filler layer between your quilt top and your backing. There are many different kinds of batting, but the most often used is cotton or a cotton/poly blend.

Rotary Cutter – A rotary cutter is like a pizza slicer for fabric. It has an extremely sharp blade and is the only cutting tool you will need for quilting.

Points – Points are the spots where your quilt blocks meet up. Matching points is a skill you will want to master.

New Moda Honeycombs with Basic Grey PB&J #modafabrics #vintagemodernquilts
Easy to See Points in a Hexagon Quilt Top

Feed Dogs – These are the things that move your fabric under the foot.

Feed Dogs

Free Motion – When you lower your feed dogs so that they no longer move the fabric for you, you have the freedom to move your fabric any direction you wish. This is called free motion, and is used for thread painting and quilting.

Selvedge – The edges of your fabric. One selvedge is typically printed with the manufacturer’s info and the other is a continuation of the fabric print.

Cute little selvedge #modafabrics #americanjane #quilting


There are endless resources for quilting so I’ve limited the list below to the ones that I personally use.

Moda Bake Shop – A website run by Moda Fabrics with hundreds of free, step-by-step tutorials.

Quiltville – Bonnie Hunter is a master of using fabric scraps and her website is full of tips and patterns.

Quilter’s Cache – Marcia Hohn has compiled a huge range of quilt block patterns (all free!).

Public library – Your local library branch will have a few basic sewing books and depending on the size of your town, maybe even some recent quilting books. It’s definitely worth checking out.

Half Price Books – This store is a great place to browse quilting books and buy them for a reasonable price. Even older books with dated fabrics can be an invaluable resource for patterns so don’t judge a book by its cover.

Flickr – Flickr is a photo sharing website with a huge quilting community. Start an account and share your projects. You can join groups and find online quilting bees and swaps on Flickr.

Etsy – Etsy is an online marketplace with lots of small shops selling every imaginable handmade item, vintage goods, and crafting/sewing supplies. Create an account and browse shops to find ones that carry fabric you like. Even if you don’t buy right away, add the shop to your list of favorites so you can keep up with their inventory.

Pinterest – Pinterest is the ultimate inspiration website. If you are online and reading blogs, the odds are very good that you already have a Pinterest account. If not, go create one ASAP. Check out my boards for inspiration.

Instagram – This is an iPhone app that is growing into my favorite place to chat and socialize “online” with other quilters. I describe it as Twitter for photos. You can see my Instagram feed here to get an idea of what it’s all about.

True Up – This website is the ultimate resource for all things fabric-related.

Your local quilt shop – This is the place to really get started. Go in and check out their class schedule, browse the fabric, meet the staff. Even if you do most of your fabric shopping online, your local shop is the place for notions and tools.

This is really just a drop in the bucket in terms of inspiration and resources. If you have any favorites, please share them in the comments.

See you next Monday for Lesson 3 – Learn to Quilt: Tools of the Trade.

This  post is part of my Learn to Quilt series. You can find all related posts {here}.

VMQ-Learn-To-Quilt_250x250Welcome to Lesson 1 of learning to quilt! We already covered the reasons why you should start quilting. Let me tell you how. Baby steps! At this point, we are just talking about this stuff, In later lessons, I will show you step by step how put this information into action and actually make a quilt.

To become a quilter, you will need to know a few basic skills:

1. Basic sewing machine operation | Threading the needle, winding a bobbin, changing feet, cleaning out the lint. You can probably learn all of those things from your machine manual, YouTube, or at a basic sewing class in your town. (in Dallas, I recommend Urban Spools).  These steps vary by machine but I’ll show you the one that I didn’t learn until I got my second sewing machine. No lie…How to Thread the Needle (with an auto threader). I always thought my first machine didn’t have a needle threader but when I went to test new machines, the sales lady demonstrated the needle threader and I realized…”duh. That’s what that thing is.”

2. Sewing a straight line | At it’s most basic, quilting is easier than any other type of sewing. It’s is all straight lines (except when it’s curved lines, but we will get to that much later). Seriously. There is only one trick to sewing straight lines…use your presser foot as a guide.

3. Using a rotary cutter | Sharp and dangerous, rotary cutters are the James Bond of the craft world. I used to work in a corporate environment where every meeting started with a safety minute. Think that way when working with the rotary cutter. They are sharp and they will slice your fingertip off like nobody’s business. And then you’ll bleed all over your pretty fabric and that will be a tragedy. Olfa has a section on their website dedicated to safety and I recommend you read it. My personal rules of rotary cutting are:

  • Always cover the blade with the built-in cover when I’m not cutting. Even if I just set it down for a second, it is second nature to me to cover the blade. This is a MUST when you have little ones at home. Imagine this scenario – you are cutting fabric and get distracted by {fill in the blank}. Your cutting surface is covered with fabrics hanging over the edge where little hands can reach them. Little one pulls the fabric and the open rotary blade on himself. Don’t let this happen at your house.
  • Never cut towards yourself. Always cut away from your body. This may seem awkward at first, but it’s important. A woman my sister worked with was cutting design board stuff with an x-acto blade and stabbed herself in the stomach with it. Embarrassing, yes, but more importantly, painful and pretty bad for your health (She was fine, FYI.)
  • Replace your blade when it stops cutting well. Rotary blades are expensive but working with damaged ones causes you to cut in an unsafe manner. You’ll find yourself using excess pressure to cut through your fabric and that’s a recipe for disaster.


4. Maintaining an accurate scant 1/4″ seam (that sounds intimidating with scant and a fraction thrown in there, but it’s not difficult.)  | All patchwork is pieced (sewn together) with a 1/4″ seam, but you will sometimes read patterns that specify a scant 1/4″ and that is what you should strive for. in all of your piecing. So what’s the difference? All modern sewing machines have markings on them indicating various seams allowances (5/8″, 1/2″ etc). The photo below shows two pieces of patchwork I pieced on my machine:


For the top set, I used my regular foot and lined the edges up with the 1/4″ mark on my machine, For the bottom set, I used my 1/4″ foot and lined the edges up with the edge of the foot. That slight difference you see between the two seams is what will make a world of difference when piecing an entire quilt top.  That fraction of a difference will add up with each seam you piece in your quilt. If you don’t’ start with scant 1/4″ seams, you will have a tough time getting your points to match and your quilt blocks will always be undersized. So my first piece of advice to a potential quilter is this: buy a 1/4″ foot for your machine.

5. Pressing Seams |  This is not the same as forcing wrinkles out of khaki pants. Crank your iron up to the highest setting and press from the top of the seam, not the back. Use starch if desired (I do desire and use lots of starch). Press the light fabrics towards the darker fabrics. That’s the general rule of quilting + pressing. Sometimes you will probably have to break this rule but make it your habit to press light to dark.

6. Squaring Up | Squaring up means you take your pieced block and use a rotary cutter and a ruler to trim it down to the correct size. This can be a tedious step, but don’t skip it because you will see a huge difference in your finished project if you don’t square up.

Questions? Fire away in the comments.

See you Thursday for Lesson 2 | Learn to Quilt: Quilting Definitions & Resources