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Monday, July 2, 2012

If I knew THEN what I know NOW!

Today I would like to talk a little bit about some of the things I've learned along my quilting "career."
I recently redid one of the first quilts I had ever made.  It was for my Dad.  I can't remember if it was for his birthday, or Father's Day or what.  My Father loves golfing, and so for this quilt I chose colors that reminded me of the golf course.  The Green, Fairway, Rough, then there's the sand bunker, the water, sky, etc., were all represented through the fabrics in this quilt.
The quilt was coming apart at the seams, so I decided I needed to take the whole thing apart, and totally redo it.  As I am ripping out stitches I made over 5 years ago, I realize just how many mistakes I had made.  What I would like to do is share with you some of these (BIG) mistakes and explain just how important they are to the overall quilt.   Starting from START, to finish, I want to show you how every little detail effects the outcome, from pressing to cutting, to seam allowances to quilting.
Here is a photo of the quilt after I had first constructed it several years ago.
 As you can see by these close-ups, the seams did not match up.
 I'll go into how to prevent this from happening to YOU in just a bit..

This quilt wasn't actually "quilted" back in the day, I had only 2 lines of stitching going horizontally and vertically across the quilt.   
 Also, I didn't get a photo of the binding before the redo, but it was "self-binding."  This was before I knew exactly HOW to make binding correctly.
Now, I want to go over everything I did incorrectly on this quilt, step-by-step. ;c)

#1)  I IRONED the fabric instead of pressing. - when you are preparing your quilt fabric for a quilt, you should never press down hard and move from side to side as if it were a garment.  For quilt fabric, you straighten it out as much as you can with your hands, and PRESS, in an up-and-down fashion.  Don't press TOO hard or that too, could warp your fabric.  Also, I recommend using plenty of starch.   If you're making a washable quilt, then all of your starch will come out in the wash.

#2) I did not have the proper CUTTING tools for quilting. - I truly feel, that it is absolutely ESSENTIAL for every quilter to have at least an 18" x 24" self-healing cutting mat, a 6" x 24" acrylic ruler, and a good rotary cutter with a sharp blade.   When I made this quilt, I had a too-small cutting mat and used a wooden yardstick. The yardstick is too thick for use with a rotary cutter.  Especially if you're cutting through multiple layers of fabric, also, since the yardstick is not see-through like the acrylic ruler, you can't accurately line up the lines of the ruler with the lines of the cutting mat.
    When cutting a 43" piece of pressed fabric, you line up the folded line along the 1" mark on your cutting mat.  The folded line should be level with the 1" mark on your mat.  Sometimes the folded line is curved a bit.  If this happens, you should look at just the right side of your folded line, line up as much as you can, and cut only as much of the fabric as is level with your 1" line.   Then, reposition your fabric again, lining up as much as you can with the 1" mark, usually this means cutting a bit of scrap off of the piece of fabric on the right so you get a nice 90 degree angle.
   IF, for some reason you can't get access to a 24" cutting mat, you are not going to be able to cut accurate straight lines.  YOu can only have ONE folded line in order to get accurate cuts that aren't warped at the fold.   In this case you are going to have to FIRST cut your piece of fabric AT the fold.  THEN, REfold each  piece separately to cut.

#3)  I did NOT use an accurate seam allowance.  -   When I first began quilting, I honestly just did NOT know how important it was!  < GASP > can you believe that?! LOL  Now, I know it is absolutely CRUCIAL to the overall quilt top.  Having too much or too little seam allowances can affect the way your blocks fit together.  You could lose points on stars, have blocks end "wonky" and that just looks bad.  1/8" here and 1/8" there can really add up too!  One side of your quilt could be shorter than the other end, and if you use too SMALL of a seam allowance, you risk your seams coming apart. If you use to LARGE a seam allowance, you will get what is known as the "D-Cup Bra."   I bow my head in shame because on this particular quilt, I managed to experience all of these problems and more.
   There are many ways to gauge and accurate seam allowance.  Some sewing machines come with guides, which are great. You can also use painters or masking tape to mark the line on your sewing machine's bed to help guide you.  Truly though, it DOES take practice.  If you have a good working sewing machine and use it for years, you will be able to eye-ball it after awhile, and get very good at the accurate 1/4" seam.   BUT, Even the pro is not immune to the occasional slip.  I've noticed my seams are looking a little fat and so I have to measure, rip out stitches, and then remind myself to pay more attention during the rest of the piecing ;c)

#4)  I did not PIN correctly.  - When lining up small blocks, it is essential to pin often.  This quilt uses 2" finished blocks, and if I made this quilt now, I would pin at EVERY intersection.  IF, you have done all the above steps properly, than you MIGHT be able to get away with every OTHER intersection.
  For Trip Around The World quilts, Bargello quilts, and other strip piecing quilts, you are going to be butting the seams together.  I recently worked on another T.A.T.W. and here you can see I labeled the strip sets.  Every other one shows arrows pointing away to show which direction to press the seams.  If you map out how you're going to press everything BEFORE even starting the quilt you will be good to go!

 #5)  I didn't bother to SQUARE-UP the quilt.  - If you've made it this far into a quilt, and have done everything correctly up until this point, your quilt's corners should be nice and square.  At this point is when you take your acrylic ruler, and make sure each of your corners sit at a 90 degree angle.
  This photo is of me trying to square up this HOT MESS of a quilt ;c)
For this quilt I had ALOT of squaring up to do.  Some sides I had to cut off up to 2" just so it would be even! After starching and pressing your quilt top really well, you fold the quilt in half one way, and then fold the quilt in half again.  (Once horizontally and once vertically)  If your quilt is especially LARGE like this one, you can use pins to hold the edges together so they don't slip.  Next you will line up your two folded edges along your two 1" lines on your cutting mat.  If your two folded edges aren't at a 90 degree angle than you have folded it incorrectly.  Next you will move the CUT edges to your cutting mat.  Are they at a 90 degree angle?  If not, you will have to do some trimming until they are.  You will see in the photo that I have used the acrylic ruler to line up the cut edge of one side of the quilt to one horizontal line of the cutting mat.  Once you have that line straight, carefully lift up the ruler and move it to the vertical line.  Cut off any excess of the quilt until you get a 90 degree angle.  Once complete, you will move the now-cut edge up to a horizontal line of your cutting mat and ensure it is straight again with your ruler.  Then you will cut the vertical line. Not much more should need to be cut the 2nd time.  

#6) I didn't even QUILT the stinkin' QUILT! - For this quilt I only did one row of stitches going vertically and horizontally across this quilt.  This is DEFINITELY NOT enough!    Quilting secures the piecing, secures the batting, and adds depth to your quilt.  Check your batting package to see how far apart your quilting can be.  Some cotton battings can be quilting as far apart as 10"
    Here's me quilting my redo ;c)

#7)  I used SELF-BINDING and didn't know what I was doing.  Self-binding is when you take excess fabric from the backing and fold it over to the front of the quilt and stitch.   I feel that the ONLY time this is acceptable is when using fleece as backing.  Fleece and other knits do not ravel like cotton. Self binding ravels in the corners, is bulky, and unsightly!   If you're using cotton backing, you will need to either use straight-grain or bias-cut binding for your quilt.  I prefer bias binding whenever I can.  If it's a small wall-hanging or something that won't be washed very often I sometimes will use just the straight of grain.  But, if I know a quilt is going to be washed and used often, I will make myself some bias binding.  There are many tutorials on how to do this online, AND I think working with bias binding is MUCH easier.  For binding you MUST have a walking foot, and if you're doing your own quilting you MUST have either a walking foot, OR a darning food (for free motion quilting.)   Here's my redone quilt with my nice and neat bias binding in a dark, contrasting color (which I prefer.)

I'm sure there are other things I did wrong with this quilt, and other quilts back-in-the-day, but I have learned SO much since then.  Each quilt teaches me something new, and in essence, is the reason I love quilting and will never tire of it.
Doing any of these steps incorrectly not only messes up the LOOK of your quilt, but also makes it so much harder on yourself!  If I knew THEN what I know NOW. . I would have saved myself aLOT of headache! 

 The finished quilt.  Special thanks to my photography helpers:  DH James, and DDad Keith


  1. Thank you and your quilt is beautiful!!!

  2. I just LOVE the daily puppy. I could take every one of them home. Oh ya, now I gotta go back and read your post. LOL

  3. Yes I believe that you didn't think a quarter inch was that important because I thought the same thing when I started. Miss Carol from Sweet Peas and Possum set me straight. Now my Qbees call me 1/4 inch gladys. I have tape and a 1/4 inch see through foot - much better!