Borders Can Make or Break the Quilt – Do It Right

Quilters often take a lot of time piecing their blocks and square them up before assembly.  The body of the quilt looks wonderful, color choices are excellent, and the quilt has the potential to be beautiful.  That is, until the borders are added.  As a professional Longarm quilter, the borders are where I often see many problems.  Incorrectly applied borders often lead to puckers, pleats, wavy borders and dog-eared quilts.  All of this can be avoided.

Although you may not realize it, one of the functions of borders is to stabilize and square up a quilt.  Throughout the body of the quilt are cut (unstable) edges around the outside of each of the blocks  Even though the patches may be cut on grain, the cut edges can stretch easily.  When borders are added correctly to a quilt top, the edges of the body of the quilt are contained and restricted within the new measurement.  The key word here is, applied or added correctly to achieve this.

problem quilt

A quilt that could use borders to stabilize and square it up.  Notice distorted sides and wavy bottom on this quilt.

Incorrect method for adding borders

Cut or make a long strip, stitch to one of the sides of the quilt and cut off the extra.  Because no measuring is done with this method, you have no idea how long one side of the quilt is compared with the opposite side of the quilt.  If one side stretches out a little more when the border is stitched on, that side will be longer leading to a dog-eared quilt.  Do not use this method to add borders to any quilt.

quilt by Sally Mowers

Quilt with correctly applied borders hangs straight.
Dresden Plate, designed, made and quilted by Sally Mowers

Correct method for adding borders

Even though it takes a little longer, the correct method for adding borders involves measuring, using a little math, and perhaps easing in fullness.

  1. Measure across the area in three places, near the top and near the bottom, but never along the edge, and across the middle.
  2. Average the three measurements and use the average as the measurement to cut the length of both borders.
  3. Quarter the quilt top marking with pins. Quarter the border strip marking with pins.  Align the quarter marks and pin the border to the quilt.  Pin between the quarter marks distributing any fullness evenly.
  4. Placing the fullest side down, stitch together. When the fullest side is down, the feed dogs on the machine gently pull the bottom through a little faster than the top.  There are no puckers or pleats on the top or bottom.
  5. Press the border seam outward toward the border.
  6. Measure across the quilt and borders in three places, similar to #1, average the measurements as in #2.
  7. Follow steps #3-5 to add the other border.

For a visual of this technique, see the video below by Dee Christopher.  Video also demonstrates a bonus no math method for determining size of a pieced border.

Whether you quilt your quilts yourself or have them quilted professionally, by taking the extra time to add borders correctly, your quilts will look much better with square corners and straight sides.

Your email:

 

Safety in the Quilting Studio

Nothing can put your life on hold like an injury.  It is unexpected and unplanned.  Depending on the severity of the injury you can have daily activities and hobbies upset for a few hours, a few days, or even weeks.

After my husband sliced the skin off the tip of his finger yesterday with a box knife, I wasinjury clipart reminded even more of the need to be careful in the sewing room.  In the sewing room we work with rotary cutters that are equally as sharp as the box knife.  It doesn’t take much for an injury to happen, a careless (or not so careless) placement of the ruler, not thinking about where we place our hand and fingers, or even not thinking and leaving the safety off and the rotary cutter blade exposed for “just a second.”  There are even other hazards, such as pins and needles, sharp scissors, and electric cords running in different directions.  Although you may feel you have everything under control, if you have young children, grandchildren, or pets that roam through your quilting space, rotary cutters, pins and needles and stray cords are tempting, hazardous, and potentially deadly.  Pets are even attracted to things that adults and children would ignore.  For example, one of my Longarm customers needed a switch replaced on her Longarm because the cat, who liked to jump up on the frame and lay on the quilt, chewed the cap off the machine switch.  Fortunately for the cat, the machine was unplugged.

think safety first posterAlways think “Safety First.”  Whether you are cutting, sewing, pressing, or any other task, always think about your safety and the safety of others, including your pets.

Cutting Safety:

  • Replace mats that have grooves and marks that have not “healed.”
  • Replace the blade in the rotary cutter regularly. Dull blades do not cut well, need more pressure to cut, and may slip out of the fabric causing a wrong cut, damaging the ruler or hurting you.
  • Purchase rulers that have a non-slip surface, such as Creative Grids rulers,
    non-slip cutting rulers

    Creative Grids non-slip rulers and InvisiGrip non-slip static cling sheets.

    including the Stripology Ruler, or place InvisiGrip™ on the bottom of rulers. This clear static cling film provides a non-slipping surface on the bottom of the ruler.  Slipping or sliding rulers not only result in poor cuts, but can contribute to damage to the ruler from the blade and possible danger to the quilter from a cut from the rotary cutter.  After testing InvisiGrip™ on my 24” cutting ruler I have decided to put it on all of my clear rulers.  I have been very impressed that is really does provide a non-slip surface.

  • Use an elevated cutting table to work at a comfortable (and safe) height. A cutting table can easily and inexpensively be made from a short folding banquet table and lengths of PVC pipe cut 10-12” long and put under each leg.
  • Make sure the cutting area has good lighting and is clear of stray pins.
  • Keep your non-cutting hand behind and away from the direction and angle of the rotary cutter.
  • Always close the cutter after every use.

Quilting Room or Studio Safety:

Think "Safety First"

Think “Safety First”

  • Work in a well-lighted space.
  • Always use a pin cushion or magnetic pincushion to keep pins and needles secure. Invest in a magnetic wand to swipe across the floor to pick up any stray pins that have fallen.
  • If children or pets frequent the area, make sure dangerous items like pins and needles, scissors, and rotary cutters are put away. It isn’t a matter of organization, although that helps, it is a matter of “safety first.”
  • Never use an extension cord with the iron. Most extension cords are not heavy enough for the wattage draw and it could cause a fire.
  • Even if unplugged, a dangling electric cord from the iron can be a temptation to children and pets that might pull on it causing the iron to fall off the ironing board and onto the pet or child causing injury.  Always place the unused iron in a safe location.
  • Avoid running cords across traffic lanes. Tripping and falls are the number one cause of injury in adults ages 65 and over.  Even if you are younger, it is still dangerous to have cords across the path.
  • Always unplug the iron and sewing and/or quilting machines when not in use. Who knows what else could happen, but most have sensitive electronics in them that could be damaged by power surges or lightning strikes.  This type of damage is never covered under the product warranty.
  • Pets are attracted to dangling thread, thread spools and cones. They are wonderful toys!  But, they can be dangerous and deadly to your pet.  Make sure thread is put away and not a temptation.
  • Longarm owners with pets – the dangling quilt top and batting seems to be a wonderful place to play hide and seek, a great place to sleep, or claw. Dogs seem to especially like to chew the batting.  Cats also seem to like to jump up onto the frame and sleep on the quilt, like a hammock.  The Longarm is such a temptation.  You could close the door to the studio, put a shower curtain (plastic) over the quilt, or use strips of aluminum foil to reduce the temptation.  If you have other great solutions, please post them below in comments.

injury prevention planSafety first is a habit.  Take a critical look at your quilting area, make provision for safe, but convenient, storage for dangerous items, develop a procedure for putting things out of harm’s way and shutting things off when you leave your space. Get into the habit of always thinking about and doing the “safe” thing.  It may take a few seconds longer, but a careless unsafe move can cost hours, days, weeks or more of pain and the inconvenience of not being able to enjoy your time sewing and quilting.

Your email:

 

 

Bleeding Fabric – Saving Quilts from Disaster

img_8712resize

Patriotic color quilts for Veteran Quilt Project

The last few weeks I have been completing and quilting three 48×60 inch quilts for a veteran project for our local quilt club.  A few years ago the club decided to honor each veteran in the town with a quilt.  Although a small town, there are a couple of hundred veterans from WWII, Korea, Vietnam, through recent deployments to the Middle East.  The club has already given quilts to WWII veterans and the goal now is about 120 quilts for Korean, Vietnam, and other veterans.  Did I mention the club only has about 25 members?

After making and quilting the quilt, we wash the quilt and stitch on the label which will include the name of the recipient and that it is given by the club to honor them for their service to our country.  All of the quilts in any pattern are shades of red, white, and blue.  The club has a block of the month activity which supports our quilt efforts.  Each month those participating make a r/w/b block or blocks.  Whoever “wins” the drawing gets to take the blocks home, assemble and quilt the quilt. In addition, we have a couple of sit and sew days during the year to work on more quilts.  Members are always welcome to make quilts on their own, too.

Today I washed the three quilts that I had been working on, two quilts made from a Jenny Doan pattern (info below) and one from block of the month blocks I had won several months ago.  Since the quilt fabrics were not pre-washed before making the quilt, I decided it might be a

Color Catcher sheets to catch fugitive dyes.

Color Catcher sheets to catch fugitive dyes.  White sheet shown below the box.

good idea to put a “Color Catcher” sheet ($5.29 for box of 24) in the washing machine with the quilts.  The color catcher sheets pick up fugitive dyes released from the fabrics that would otherwise migrate to other fabrics in the quilts.  A red to blue, or blue to red migration might not be very noticeable, but certainly either of those colors to white would show up.  I am very glad that I put the color catcher sheets (2) in the washer as they both captured red dye and some blue.  The quilts look fabulous with no evidence of any dye migration.

What happens if you do not use color catchers in the washing machine and the dye

Center color catcher with red and blue dye captured. Right color catcher before. Left color catcher with little dye as it got caught in the washer drum.

Center color catcher with red and blue dye captured. Right color catcher before. Left color catcher with little dye as it got caught in the washer drum.

migrates?  Is the quilt ruined, or is there hope?   Because the dyes migrated once, they may still be unstable and able to be released from the fabric and “caught.”  I found additional help from another  blog post that offers several solutions and shows testing of several methods that can be used to try and capture the fugitive dyes from fabrics.

Although there might be hope to capture the fugitive dyes after the fact, using color catcher sheets the first time fabric is washed is probably better.  When I pre-wash my quilting fabrics (before making the quilt), I always toss in a couple of color catcher sheets.  Because my two quilts were made with strips, they were not pre-washed.  As a result, it was very important to capture any fugitive dyes during the wash using the color catcher sheets.  If little or no dye was released during the wash, great!  At least I was taking preventative measures just in case there were fugitive dyes.

quilts

Pattern: Jack and Jill by Jenny Doan

Quilt pattern called Jack and Jill by Jenny Doan.  Pattern directions using jelly rolls make a quilt 73″ x 83.”

 

 

 

 

 

Your email:

 

How Cotton Fabric Is Made Ready for Your Quilt Shop

We all use it, cotton fabric.  In fact, most quilts are made of cotton fabric.  Years ago fabricfabric was manufactured in the United States from cotton grown in the US.  Today, although the US grows cotton, nearly all fabric is manufactured outside of the US.

After the cotton is harvested and woven into the fabric called greig (pronounced gray) goods (unprocessed woven fabric), there are many steps that it must go through before it is ready to be dyed and shipped to your local quilt shop.   This video, filmed in a fabric plant in Hong Kong and Zhejiang, China takes you through the many steps needed to prepare the fabric, then dye, set the dyes with chemicals and heat, and finally wash and prepare the fabric for shipping.  I think you will find it interesting to see all that goes into making the beautiful and colorful quilting fabrics that we enjoy using in our quilts.

As you watch the video, remember that this was filmed in China.  China does not have the same standards of safety and cleanliness in their factories that are required by OSHAH here in the US.  For example, wet floors, the haze in the air from the chemicals and dryers, and even allowing long hair on workers would all be violations, each occurence of each violation with a $5,000 fine here in the US.  Our OSHAH inspectors would have a heyday writing up violations in a factory like this one.  However, because the labor is cheap and there are few, if any, work safety standards to worry about, we benefit by being able to purchase a huge variety of fabrics at a relatively low cost.  If fabric were manufactured in the US with our much higher labor costs and cost of compliance to regulations, we would be paying much, much more.

So, please take the video at face value and appreciate all of the work that goes into creating our wonderful quilting fabrics.

Your email:

 

What’s Special About Egyptian Cotton Thread?

Perhaps in quilting circles you have heard that the best quilting thread on the market is made of Egyptian cotton.  But what makes it better than cotton grown in the US, China, India, or other countries and why should quilters look for Egyptian cotton thread?

“Dr Bob” of Superior Threads explained more about Egyptian cotton in a September 17, 2017 educational post.  There is also a short video below where “Dr Bob” explains and demonstrates more about cotton thread and answers questions about the differences between short, long and extra long staple thread, coated thread and thread “memory.”

Dr Bob writes, “Last week both Walmart and Target announced that they were pulling sheets branded as Egyptian cotton from their shelves because they “suddenly discovered” that they are not Egyptian cotton. We’ve been fighting the Egyptian cotton mislabel battle for years, knowing that Egypt does not grow enough cotton to make all the Egyptian cotton sheets, towels, clothing, and thread that is sold. Our cotton threads really are made from Egyptian-grown extra-long staple cotton.

Here are some interesting cotton facts from a recent year:
A standard bale of cotton weighs 480 lbs.
In one year, the world produced 114 million bales.
The top five cotton-producing countries:
1. China (26% of total)
2. India (23% of total)
3. United States (16% of total)
4. Pakistan (8% of total)
5. Brazil (7% of total)
Egypt ranks number 15 among cotton-producing countries and produces only .0005% of the total amount. That is one-twentieth of one percent. If Egypt is such a tiny dot on the cotton-growing map, why is Egyptian cotton so prevalent? Why is there so much Egyptian cotton clothing, bed sheets, towels, and thread? The truth is, there isn’t. The label may say Egyptian Cotton but the contents are not. Whether it is due to false advertising, misunderstanding, or ignorance on the part of seller, the fact remains that it is incorrect. There is not enough Egyptian cotton in existence to produce all the products labeled as Egyptian Cotton. It would be safe to say that there is 10,000 times more Egyptian cotton sold than is grown.
Does it really matter? Those who know cotton quality obviously understand that it does matter. Otherwise, many companies would not be falsely claiming that their cotton is ‘Egyptian Cotton’ when in fact, it is not. There is something about the climate, soil, water, and minerals in Egypt that is ideal to grow the highest-grade cotton. It is not possible to tell the origin of cotton fibers by examining them. But you and your machine will know the difference. A high-grade cotton with advanced processing will be clean, smooth, and consistent.
What about Superior’s MasterPiece and King Tut cotton thread? As far as I can tell, we are the only thread company that can honestly say this: 100% extra-long staple Egyptian-grown cotton. Our factory buys cotton from Egypt, transports it by ship to Japan for spinning, twisting, gassing, finishing, mercerizing, dyeing, and winding, and then ships it to us in Utah, USA. And it is guaranteed to work in your machine.”   From Superior Threads.

From personal experience, I use both Master Piece for all of my piecing and King Tut for longarm quilting.  I have found they are excellent, low lint cotton threads that are strong and perform to my highest expectations.  There are many colors available to blend with any quilt.  Although they are more expensive, they are higher quality than regular cotton thread and I know they will last and I won’t have problems with breakage, knotting, or bird nests.  Inexpensive thread is never worth the aggravation.  For the few pennies extra per project, I find using top quality thread is always the best decision.

Your email:

 

Practice Quilting Without Wasting Fabric and Batting

Yes, we all know that practice makes perfect.  Practice develops muscle memory which is used to repeat the movements needed to free motion quilt (both on the home sewing machine and longarm) or to follow a panto smoothly with a longarm.  But, how can we practice without feeling like we will spoil a nice quilt or charity quilt, or without wasting fabric and batting?

The “Strokes” of Free Motion Quilting

Although cursive writing is no longer being taught in schools, back in the day when it was, students took a class called penmanship.  In that class they traced the letters and repeated the strokes needed to create beautiful hand writing, or at least legible writing.  This usually started in late 2nd or in 3rd grade.  Learning to free motion quilt is very similar to penmanship class.  There are only five strokes you need to practice which are the arc, “s,” loop, hook or point, and straight line.  Unlike penmanship class, however, these strokes (movements) need to be practiced and mastered working in all directions, not just left to right.  Like penmanship, mastering the strokes first before applying them to a design is helpful and actually shortens the learning curve of free motion quilting.

Practicing Free Motion Strokes

Practicing Free Motion Strokes

One quick look at a panto will confirm that all free motion quilting designs are a combination of two or more of these strokes (movements).  So, how or where does a quilter practice to become proficient and confident?

Practice Without Wasting Fabric and Batting

The good news is that it is not totally necessary to practice at the machine or longarm.  Simply moving the hand and arm through the strokes builds muscle memory.  As a result, the quilter can create a series of exercises making these strokes on a whiteboard with a dry erasable marker, using a pencil on paper, or even following a panto pattern with your finger.  Remember that these strokes must be made in all directions, R to L, L to R, top to bottom, bottom to top, diagonally, etc.  Although these exercises are a wonderful place to start and practice to remain proficient, at some point it is necessary to work at the machine.

Practice At The Machine

For longarm quilters, pantos are a great place to start.  The design is already there, the strokes pre- planned, and the results should look very nice.  And remember, no one knows whether your laser was on the line or not.

If you feel you are not ready to tackle one of your quilts, or even a charity quilt, the next

Cat Crate Pads from Practice Quilts

Cat Crate Pads from Practice Quilts

best option is to purchase inexpensive fabric and batting (neither recommended for quilts you cherish or give) and simply practice the strokes over and over again.  Then begin to build the strokes into simpler designs at first, progressing to more complicated designs.  If you are feeling wasteful in doing this, know that veterinary offices usually welcome things that can be used as mats in the pet crates.  Our local vet has crates that are 14″ x 18″ for the cats.  Because I use a lot of practice fabric and batting on the frame at quilt shows (about 5-7 yards per show), I always “recycle” or re-purpose the “quilt” into cat crate mats.  I cut them to size and either zig-zag or serge around the edges before giving them to the vet.  They do appreciate them, use them, may even wash them a number of times until they are no longer usable.

If you want to learn a new design, learn feathers, or improve the designs you already do, practice them before you start quilting on the quilt.  Use the whiteboard, paper/pencil, trace with your finger, or trace the design with the machine not running, or keep a practice “quilt” ready.  Even when I free motion quilt a small project at my home machine, I always have a practice piece ready to get warmed up on.  For larger projects I plan to longarm, I always have a large practice “quilt” ready to zip onto the longarm.  Practice is never a waste of time or materials.  It is the best, and only way, to improve your quilting skills.

Your email:

 

Squaring Up Flying Geese Units

Regardless of the technique we use or how carefully we work with fabric patches, there are bound to be slight irregularities in seam allowance or minor distortion in the fabrics.  To correct these problems, it is a good idea to start with slightly oversize patches and square up the subunit to the correct measurement.  I usually start with 1/8th to 1/4th inch oversize patches.  Once constructed, there is a little to trim off when squaring to the correct measurement for the subunit.

Flying geese units often have more issues with construction than other units, especially if made with the traditional method using triangles.  Newer techniques help minimize the problems, but it is still a good idea to square up the subunits.  (See “The Best Flying Geese Technique I Know!)

There are several rulers on the market designed to easily square up flying geese units.  All will help preserve the ¼” seam allowance and keep the points from being trimmed off.  Some, however, only work with one or two sizes of flying geese.  Studio 180 Design, however, has, what I think, is the best flying geese ruler on the market.  It is called Wing Clipper.  With it you can square up flying geese units from 1”x1 ½” to 5 ½” x 10 ½” in half inch increments.  There is also Wing Clipper II for squaring in ¼” and ¾” measurements.

Flying Geese units trimmed with Studio 180 Design's Wing Clipper ruler.

Flying Geese units trimmed with Studio 180 Design’s Wing Clipper ruler.

I have used Wing Clipper for a number of projects and really appreciate how easy it is to use and how beautiful the flying geese units looks when squared up correctly with this ruler.  Click to see a video demonstrating the Wing Clipper.  If you can’t find this ruler at your quilt store, you can order it on line from Studio 180 Design.  The ruler comes with excellent directions for both left hand and right hand cutting and a chart with cutting instructions for all of the sizes you can trim using the ruler.

 

The Best Flying Geese Technique I Know!

I love making blocks that use flying geese now that I learned this construction technique.  I no longer am sewing bias edge triangles together.  The technique is easy to do and with each construction you are making four flying geese units which are enough for a block.

Below is a short video from Fons and Porter showing this construction technique.  From 5 pieces of fabric you will have 4 flying geese units.  I recommend cutting the patches a little over size so that the final flying geese unit can be squared up to size.

Once you try this technique, don’t hesitate to tackle any block that has flying geese units.

Your email:

 

Easy Flying Geese

Flying geese subunits are the mainstay of many star blocks.  The challenge with the flying geese subunit is maintaining the points and the distortion because of bias stitching.  All of this results in subunits that are not quite rectangular.  If you try to square them up, another challenge is the math and trimming (squaring the subunit) to keep the ¼” accurate so that the points are nice and sharp.  As a result, many quilters simply avoid making anything with these flying geese.

The good news is that there are several methods and techniques that, when used separately, or combined, result in perfect flying geese.  Not only are these methods and techniques easy, but fun.  In the next several posts I will cover techniques and methods for piecing perfect flying geese.

One Seam Flying Geese

Nothing could be easier than stitching only one seam.  Sounds impossible, but it is true.  Following are two videos that illustrate this technique, one with Ricky Tims and the other with Jenny Doan.  After you see this technique, you will want to run to your stash and start making these easy flying geese by the hundreds.

 

 

 

Your email:

 

 

Avoiding Fold Marks in Quilts

Fold marks on a quilt distract from the beauty of the quilt and over time can damage and weaken the fabric.  Whenever possible use a method that does not involve folding.  Here are a few possibilities for storing quilts to minimize or avoid fold marks.

Storage Methods Without Folding

  1. Small wall hangings can be hung on pants hangers. The area under the clip can be padded with extra batting.
  2. Larger wall hangings can be layered on top of each other and rolled. For support when rolling, use a pool noodle.  These are inexpensive and can be purchased at a “dollar” store.
  3. If you have an extra bedroom, lay the large wall hangings and bed quilts out flat on top of each other on top of a bed. Lay a sheet on top of the pile to protect from dust and especially if there is a lot of sunlight in the room.

Biggest Challenge – Avoiding Fold Marks When Storing

At the end of a workshop I took from Joe Cunningham last fall Joe started packing up his quilts to put into the large suitcase for the trip back to his home in California.  As he was talking to us he casually flopped one corner over, then another, and another, then part of the quilt, and so on.  Thinking this was just a “guy” thing I asked what he was doing.  He stopped and talked to the class about his method of folding and that it helped avoid fold marks.  This was especially important for his quilts that often lived in the suitcase traveling from workshop to workshop and back to his studio.

Folding the quilt on the diagonal places the folds across the bias of the fabrics.  Start by folding in one corner on the diagonal, move around the quilt folding in corners.  Each does not need to be exactly the same.  Then fold across on a diagonal, and so on until the quilt is small enough for storage.  The key is to use a different fold pattern the next time to reduce the stress on the fabric.

Alex Anderson recently discovered this method from a friend.  She shares her experience and the technique in the following video.

Your email: