Friday, May 27, 2011

Quilting Advice from a Beginner

It's been a year since I finished my first quilt.

In honor of this anniversary, I'm going to share with you photos of some of the quilts I've made in the last 12 months and what I've learned along the way. Who doesn't love a good list, right? Especially one that might save you some frustration!

1. Contrast is your friend
If you want to see the details in the blocks, you'll need some color or value contrast. I thought my Mod Sampler Quilt Along would be a home run by virtue of selecting all Amy Butler prints, but I was wrong. Some blocks had enough contrast to pack a punch, but others just blended into nothing.

2. Read the entire pattern before you start sewing
This one makes me laugh. I mean, duh! My mom told me this a hundred times when she was teaching me to sew.

Addyson's quilt
In this case, I used a pattern I found online (seems funny that I would have used a pattern for this given how simple it is, but this was only my second quilt). I didn't bother to read the sewing directions because the pattern was so simple. I did, however, follow the cutting instructions. I was surprised when my finished quilt was kinda big for a baby quilt. That's because the pattern called for a larger seam allowance than the standard 1/4", but I had no idea since I didn't read the pattern all the way through.  It also called for a VERY wide binding (5"!), which isn't my style. I had already cut out all the binding before I realized I could have used half the fabric. Lesson learned. Read the pattern and make any necessary changes before you start cutting and sewing!

3. Square up your blocks
4. Get advice from seasoned quilters
5. Be flexible and find other solutions
 It's easy to get caught up in the euphoria of quilting. You're desperate to see the final product so you speed through the process. My dears, this can lead to serious problems.

Hello Betty Retro Square in a Square quilt

Take the time to square up your blocks.
Please! When I made this quilt I thought, "well, I cut all the pieces and I know I'm really precise, so I'm sure all the blocks are the same size." WRONG!

In the original pattern, all the blocks line up in perfect columns and rows. But in order for this to happen, the blocks must be the same size.

My blocks were not the same size. Sadly, I didn't figure that out until I had already sewn all the vertical sashing on all seven rows. The columns didn't line up at all when I laid out the quilt with the horizontal sashing.

I wanted to cry. The option was to rip out massive amounts of sewing or make the best of the situation. My friend and quilting doula, Clemma, suggested that I offset the rows to hide my mistake. It took some ripping and recalculating, but it turned out fine. Three cheers for making lemonade out of lemons!

 6. Make small projects
Small projects are a great way to unwind after a monster quilt. You get immediate gratification as well as a chance to learn and experiment. Make a mug rug or a wall hanging. You'll love it!

Wall hanging made with one Kona charm pack

some of my Quilt-a-Day minis

6. Have no fear of large prints
Have a beautiful piece of fabric that you just can't bear to cut up? Then don't. Make a whole cloth quilt, instead. 

Sorry about the wrinkles - another lesson is to buy really good batting!
 I bought this Kokka matryoshka fabric at Crafty Planet and just couldn't bear to cut it. It was spendy, so I didn't want to waste an inch. I decided to make a whole cloth quilt. I'll admit I felt like I was cheating since I didn't piece anything, but it was a great opportunity to work with color and practice my straight line quilting.

Quilting doesn't have to be a competition. Not every quilt needs to be made up of a million teeny tiny pieces. Large prints are great fun to work with and they turn themselves into quilt tops mighty fast!

Inspired by windows panes

7. Invest in the tools of the trade
Buy a walking foot if you're planning to do straight line quilting.
I quilted this one without a walking foot. I was pleased with the results, but I must admit my walking foot (or even feed foot) makes quilting much easier and less "puckery." Also, I can't recommend painters' tape enough for marking the sewing lines, but steer clear of generic brands as they won't stick to your fabric.

Planning to free motion quilt? You absolutely, positively must have quilting gloves (lotion alone will not give you enough grip) and an extension table for your sewing machine or a table specially designed for quilting. You'll also need a way to sit up higher in your chair.  Sit on pillows or a phone book (what's that??) if your chair isn't adjustable.

One tool I've discovered I don't need is binding clips. They slowed me down as I hand sewed and they compressed and distorted the fabric, making the binding look uneven. Save your money for something else.

8. Plan ahead
If you like the look of improvised quilts, hooray! You're home free. If you like your quilts neat and matchy-matchy (that would be me), then you need to plan ahead. Select your backing and binding fabrics before you start piecing your top. Do all the fabrics looks nice together? Does the backing fabric make sense with the overall intention of the quilt? This situation has bitten me in the butt three times now. Will I ever learn??

I came up with the pattern for this quilt months ago and jumped in with both feet. I didn't select my backing fabric until I had finished the top, at which point I really wished I had used an ivory solid in the gingham that would have coordinated with the backing fabric rather than white.

Here's another one. I didn't have any backing for a top I just pieced, so I headed to my local quilt shop, Glad Creations Quilt Block, and found a suitable fabric for the backing on the 50% off rack. Hooray for a sale, but directional prints can be such a hassle to match up when piecing a back. I didn't have to match up the print, but it would have been really obvious if I hadn't. 

See my seams? Not perfect, but good enough.
Here's one of my in-progress quilts. I thought it would make a lovely picnic quilt, but then I realized the fabric I chose for the backing is mostly white. Not suitable for using on the dirty ground unless one really loves stain remover. Bummer.

9. Do the math
The quilt top above will get a double border before it's done, but it's still pretty small. I used two charm packs of Moda's Charlevoix plus a couple of American Jane Pindot charms. What was I expecting from two charm packs? A king size quilt?? Look how much backing fabric I bought. FOUR YARDS for a quilt that will be a small throw at best. Good grief!!

Draw out your quilt design. Make your calculations and figure out your fabric requirements ahead of time. What's worse than buying too much of the same fabric (and cutting into your stash fund)? Not having enough! Take the time to figure out what you need.

10.Try it!
I never thought I would like quilting. No way, no how. I grew up sewing clothes and doing home dec stuff. But man, quilting is so fun and the possibilities are endless. Even if you're a die hard garment maker, try it. You might just love it.

That's enough from me today. What's your favorite tip for a quilting newbie?


  1. Awww, I'm your quilting doula? I am honored. My tip is to take a beginner quilting class. Even for experienced sewers, you will learn lots of tips specific to quilting that will save you pain from things like not squaring your blocks. ;)

  2. What a great blog post!
    Since I'm Norwegian, and we use metric measurements, I always tell new quilters to buy tools with INCHES, not centimetres. There is not many patterns made with metric measurements, and to convert from metric to inches will never be good. And inches are just so much better to work with!

  3. I just took a beg quilting class. Learned a lot of great stuff. The BEST tool was the Shape Cut Plus. It shaves SOOO much time of cutting your fabric!! AND measurements are EXACT!

  4. Great advice! I was told to always quilt from the centre outwards :-)

  5. You don't have to do fancy quilting to complete a quilt. Most of my quilting is based on straight lines, squares, diamonds, rectangles, grids and etc. On occasion, I will use simple curves. None of my quilt recipients have complained. Watching a lot of the tv shows and videos online, the instructors seem to think that fancy feathers and "O"s are the only way to go. Only if you are into competitions. Just let yourself enjoy the process and many finished quilts.

  6. A seasoned quilter once told me done is better than perfect. I have made all the same mistakes but I think who will the quilt go to and will they really care? I correct what I can and make do with the rest.

  7. Best advice I ever got: be gentle with yourself! Non-quilters won't even notice the imperfections, and other quilters will totally understand:)

  8. I have one question and one thought. 1st: we were coming home from our son's boot camp and my DH found a quilt store in Missouri for me to have fun in. He looked and looked at this quilt hung proudly from behind the cash register. He asked me if I saw "it", yes its beautiful. Then he asked the store owner and quilter of this quilt if that was her humble block. What? Your humble block, like the Amish nothing is perfect but God so they always make a mistake in their quilts called a humble block. No why would you say such a thing, being assured he was just being a jerk. He pointed out the top right corner block was turned a 1/4 turn wrong. She said I have taught that class so many times, and its hung here for years and no one has ever told me about it. I wonder if she ever fixed it, and I was so surprised about what my DH actually knew about quilting. LOl 2nd: when doing half square triangles do you have to back tack? I just got a Brother SE400 my DH surprised me with and it sews like a dream until I try to back tack. So I was just curious if I had to on HST so I could get going on them.
    Vicki R

    1. That's a great story :)

      I don't back tack my HST blocks and I've never had any problems. I always set me seams, though.

      Congrats on your new sewing machine. Your DH sounds like a great guy!

  9. Been sewing for years but just watched a video on how to thread your machine correctly. I might have done it correctly about half the time and it was probably some of the reason for some snarls and tangles I've had to pick out.

  10. Great post. Thanks for sharing your mistakes, most people only show their "perfect" quilts. I also think it's awesome your hubby bought you a new sewing machine. Is he interested in learning to quilt too? Turned out my husband was, and he's made 4 quilts so far. He prefers rag quilts, thinks he'll make too many mistakes on a regular quilts. I tell him to just go for it!

    1. There are so many men out there who are showing their artistic side with quilting. We have had several in the shop that I frequent and they are very serious about what they are doing.
      I say QUILT ON DUDE