In December 2022, I entered my quilt space and was so overwhelmed by all my stuff that I didn’t want to make anything. I had bundles of fabric sitting in piles that I hadn’t opened and fabric stuffed in boxes and in containers that I couldn’t identify. At the same time I was listening to books about minimalism and started to wonder how I could apply the idea to my quilting space.
I started by making a donation of 20lbs of scraps to The Social Justice Sew Academy, and then took a stuffed garbage bag worth of teeny scraps to the fabric recycling center and you still can’t see a difference in my sewing space.
I made a rule that I’m not allowed to by any fabric in 2023, and I need to finish with what I have in my stash. This guideline of using what I have and letting go of what I won’t use has lite a creative fire under me. I figured out how to use backing scraps from 6 or 7 years ago to make a new backing for another quilt. It seems like the more I get rid of the more ideas I have. I’ve made 3 quilt tops from fabric just sitting in my sewing space.
Before we get into details, let’s start by defining a few terms. Fussy cutting or meticulous cutting is a catch-all term for being intentional about how you’re cutting the fabric instead of simply putting your ruler down and what you cut is what you get. There are two general and overlapping categories of fussy cutting: motif highlighting and pattern matching.
Motif Highlighting is what happens when you want a particular part of the fabric featured in a specific part of your quilt or block. The block below is an example of motif highlighting. The cameo is centered in the block, pulling focus to the face.
Pattern matching is cutting the fabric and sewing it back together in such a way that reassembles the image you just cut apart. Usually, pattern matching includes motif highlighting (because why else would you bother?), but sometimes the purpose of pattern matching is achieve a kaleidoscope effect rather than recreating the image. The block on the left is an example of pattern matching to achieve a kaleidoscope effect. The block on the right is an example of pattern matching to recreate an image. There are four seams coming together to recreate the trash panda’s (raccoon’s?) face.
First – Gather Your tools
Having the right tools will make this whole process easier. I used starch, hot iron, rotary cutter, a good ruler, and a water soluble glue stick. Maybe a marking tool if your ruler isn’t the just right size for what you’re making. And my sewing machine…does that need to be included or can we just assume? Anyone doing this by hand?
A Quick Break for Math
We are pattern matching quarter square triangles. YOU CANNOT MAKE THOSE TWO AT A TIME. Therefore, with most patterns a math adjustment is required. Pattern writers will often have you use a 2, 4, or 8 at a time method because it goes faster and uses less fabric. When you make half or quarter square triangles one at time the size squares you cut are the sizes you finish with because you are sewing on the diagonal (instead of a 1/4 inch on either side if it). So if you cut two 4.5 inch squares and sew down the diagonal, you have a 4.5 inch square again after you trim and press. Since we’re going to have to sew two seams to get from squares to quarter square triangles, I’m going to add a half inch to give myself some room to trim and square the block when I’m done. Since I want to finish with a 4.5 inch block, I’m going to cut 5 inch squares to give me some wiggle room to make mistakes. Because the great philosopher, Big Bird, says, “Everyone makes mistakes, so why can’t you?”
Pick Your Motif
To make a quarter square triangle block to pattern match, you must have 4 full repeats of the motif in the size you need to cut. For me that, that’s four repeats of the motif that are 5 inches square. This is the part of the process where a ruler made for fussy cutting is a lot of help. I have Marti Michelle’s and one by Riley Blake. What makes these helpful is the x in the middle that let’s you center your block and see where the seams will be. You can see an examples of both rulers over the fabric below. The Marti Michelle ruler (right) has guides for a 1, 2, 3, 4, and 6 inch block, so it’s a lot more versatile than the one on the left. But the one on the left happens to be the perfect size for this project.
DON’T CUT ANYTHING YET!!
This is one of the MOST crucial steps in the process: starch. So much starch. Fabric is floppy and wiggly and shifty. You cannot trust it to stay put, and we have a lot of little lines to match up here. I use Mary Ellen’s Best Press, and I like it a lot. I spray a generous amount of starch to the back and then flip is over to press. A nice hot iron is key here. You should see some steam rising from the fabric. That is the starch setting. I will often apply another round of starch and press again. You want your fabric to have the feel of thin cardstock. You can see below that I pinched the top of both blocks. The block on the left has not been starched. Look at all the movement. The one on the right is nice and still. Once you have your fabric nice and starched, you can start cutting.
Cutting Your Block
I’ve starched my fabric into the stiffness of a Victorian Aristocrat, so now it’s time to make some cuts. Remember how I said I was adding a .5 inch to the finished block to give myself some wiggle room? This means I have to do some marking before I cut because I don’t have a pretty 5 inch ruler. So I set my 4.5 inch ruler over my fabric and line it up over the part of the motif I wanted centered on the finished block. Then I mark four reference point. Next, I use a different ruler to cut a 5 inch square. I get that’s not pretty/fancy, but I cannot afford to buy a new ruler for each project. Which means, there’s often some creativity/flexibility happening.
Now I have one pretty 5 inch block, but I need three more. So next I take the block I just cut and line it up on top of the next fabric I want to cut. This next fabric I’m cutting has already been starched. Did I mention how important the starch is? Just checking. I’m trying to get as many points of the motif on the top fabric to match the bottom. After you place your reference fabric on top of the one your cutting, using your fingers to gently slide the top fabric so as much of the pattern matches as possible. IT WON’T BE PERFECT. Fabric moves and stretches as you press and cut. No one will ever look at it as closely as you are now. This is why starch is so important, but it still won’t be perfect. When it’s lined up as best as can be, make your cut.
Preparing to Sew
I can only get half and quarter square triangles to pattern match when I sew from the top left corner to the bottom right corner. I’m sure someone smarter than me can explain why that is. I’ve just accepted it as fact and don’t fuss with it. Also, this was the point in my tutorial making process where I noticed that my other two fabrics were not big enough to cut my motif at 5 inches. I’m going to have cheat the skull block and that doesn’t make a good example. Thus, with a bit of magic, we’re now making a bee block. Ta dah! What’s fun about the bee block is we only have three color variations, so we’ll also have to pay attention to color placement. We don’t want the two blue fabrics side by side.
Divide your four fabrics into pairs. If you have any fabric that is the same or similar, put them in separate groups. This separation prevents them from being next to each other in the final block.
Since I have two of the same colorways in each group, I need to make sure they don’t end up touching. So in group one, I’ll pick the blue as the top fabric and in group two, I’ll pick it as the bottom. Which ever fabric you’ve picked for your top, fold it in half, wrong sides together, and lay it on the fabric you’ve chosen for the bottom. This lets you see if you’ve folded the top fabric the correct way. Once you have the fold correct, take it back to your ironing board and press it along the diagonal.
I also like to do a quick check of how it’s going to look finished. Before sewing anything I fold one of the blocks a second time and put them all together to get a feel for the finished product. Feel free to rearrange your fabric until you like what you see. This part can feel it bit confusing. It takes some practice to fold the fabric in such a way that it matches. Give yourself some space to play and practice. It’s the only way to learn. It’s also helpful to take a pictures of your arrangement so you don’t get turned around on the last step.
Here’s where we get to the actual pattern matching. Take the triangle you’ve made by pressing the square along the diagonal and put some water soluble glue on the side that will become the seam allowance (check out the picture if this seems confusing). Place the piece with the glue on top of your bottom square. Using the same process as you did when you cut, slide the top fabric until it matches the bottom as best it can. I learned about glue basing from Bobbi who you can find on Instagram @geekybobbin or you can check out her blog here.
Repeat the process of pressing the top fabric in your second group along the diagonal and gluing.
Time For Sewing
There are some masters of sewing who can fold back their top block, sew right on the fold, and get a delightfully matched block each time. I am not that master. So I need extra help. To do that I picked a sewing foot that shows me right where my needle is going to hit. Then, I set my machine to it’s biggest stich and baste the pieces together. Why yes, that’s right, I baste with glue AND thread when I’m pattern matching half and quarter square triangles. Sewing on the bias is tricky and some patterns have more lines to match than others. Using a basting stich first makes the need to rip and redo feel like a normal part of my process rather than a failure. (Remember what Big Bird said?) I learned about using a basting stitch from Lou who is on Instagram as @sand_salt_sew
If things line up, I do happy dance and move on. If they don’t, I scowl at no one and try again. This is also when I remind myself that finished is better than perfect. I’m not making a show quilt, and likely no one will every look this closely at the block ever again. Sometimes I need to look at it from a distance to reassure myself that the match is enough. If I’m keeping it, it reset my stitch length and sew over the basted line. Then I repeat the sewing processing with the second block. For this block, I didn’t like my first attempt, so I redid it. You can see both blocks
When I have two block sewn together that I am satisfied with, I check a zillon times to make sure it’s right and then trim off the excess and press the block open. BE GENTLE WHEN YOU PRESS. The starch reduces the amount of shifting, but you’re still on the bias and have one seam to go.
Time to repeat: fold, press, glue baste, thread baste, check, sew the seam, check x 100 and trim. When I reach the glue basting step, I check to make sure my seams are nesting and that the pattern matches in the center where the seams are nesting together. You can see on the block below I did not check and the center is a bit off. Being a bit off isn’t the end of the world, and I like to try my best where I can.
I didn’t take as many pictures of this step when I was making the bee, so I took some when I went back and finished the skull block. Here they are:
You did it! Congratulations! If yours is anything like mine, the edges are a little wonky. Time to square it up. Here is where I love my little 4.5 ruler because is has pretty lines I can use to keep my motif centered. If you don’t have that, you can use the diagonal line on any square ruler and use whatever half of your block is (in this case 2.25 inches) as a center line. Then trim to 4.5 inches.
TA-DAH! You did it! Great job!
PS I’ve been actively practicing my pattern matching skills for about five years now. If this is your first time, give yourself permission to be a beginner. This is advanced sewing. Also, these techniques cannot be applied to sewing together rectangles and squares without making some adjustments. When you sew triangles, you want two squares that are exactly the same because you’re sewing on the diagonal. When you’re sewing straight pieces together, you need to adjust what you consider seam allowance to allow the patterns to match correctly. I made tutorial for that years ago…you can see my growth because I didn’t even start by having you starch your fabric. Rookie move.
PPS I hate the waste that comes from sewing half and quarter square triangles one at a time so I sew together the bits I trim off. Sometimes my seams are so good I end up with two bonus 4.5 inch blocks and a 3.5 inch block. On this block my seams were wonky so I ended up with two 4 inch blocks and 3 inch block. Happy Sewing!
Bobbi of @geekybobbin is one of my favorite Instagrammers! She recently posted about #ufovember, a time to go through the pile of incomplete or set aside projects to decide if they need to be restarted, reworked, or rehomed. I’ve been working my way through my pile already, but I thought I’d take her up on the challenge to go through all the places I keep UFOs (unfinished objects) to see if there were any missing and to decide what I want to do with them. These are listed in the order I found them.
Lone Star Quilt
I’ve wanted to make this style of quilt for awhile now, and I decided to do it using English Paper Piecing instead of machine piecing. I am very pleased with how it has turned out so far, but I’m stuck on how to finish. Right now it’s about 63 inches x 63 inches and I don’t like those dimensions. I want it to be bigger and less square, but I’m not sure how to make that happen. I also saw someone who did a colored stripe in the border, and I thought it would be interesting to mix some of the colors into borders. The problem is that I am almost completely out of the fabric I used for the star, and I don’t want to buy cuts of fabric when what I need is scraps.
WHAT I NEED TO FINISH: Solve the borders problem and then buy backing/binding
My sister bought me the background fabric for this quilt as a birthday gift and I made the letters from leftovers from my Nebula and Tattoo Quilt blocks of the month. It’s only been on the UFO pile for about a month. It’s mostly waiting in in to be quilted because I haven’t picked and purchased a backing fabric for it yet and there are other quilts that are ready to go.
WHAT I NEED TO FINISH: Select and buy backing and binding fabric
Tula Pink Butterfly Quilt
I made this quilt in 2018 as part of a sew-a-long, and I am just coming to terms with how much I don’t like it. Picking fabric is hard for me, which is why I rarely mix fabric designers. I do not like the outcome of this quilt, so I have decided to rehome it. Sometime in the next week, I will post this quilt to my Instagram feed and offer it and the binding to anyone who wants to finish it. I feel sad about letting it go, but I also think it’s the right thing to do. I’ve put off finishing it for YEARS. It’s time to let it go.
WHAT I NEED TO FINISH: Post of Insta and mail it off.
In the Spring of this year my sister hinted that she wanted a quilt. I like my sister, so I thought, “Why not?” We made a deal, she bought the supplies, and I put it together. Holy crap, does my sister know color. How amazing is this project?!?! Today, I started to get the fabric together to piece the backing. I am hoping to have it ready to start quilting…or to actually start the quilting by the end of the week.
WHAT I NEED TO FINISH: Sister needs to give me an idea of how she wanted this project quilted and she’ll need to pick out the binding fabric.
I’ll be honest, I forgot I had this quilt top hanging in the closet of our spare bedroom. I finished this one (I think) in 2019 and I haven’t finished it because I am loathed to use the Tula Pink Trash Panda (aka racoon) fabric I set aside of the backing. It’s so cute! And out of print! What if I want it for something else?!?!?! Okay, you’re right. Let it go and get the quilt done. Good talk.
WHAT I NEED TO FINISH: Suck it up buttercup…..use the fabric and get quilting
Ice Cream Soda Quilt
This quilt is a good example of why it is important to make sure what you believe is true matches reality. I’ve been thinking for months that I have to sew borders on this quilt. I checked …turns out it’s ready for quilting. This one joins the BadAss quilt in the needs a backing and binding in order to finish. Also, I was too lazy to take a new picture. So imagine a border that matches the joining pieces.
WHAT I NEED TO FINISH: Time to go fabric shopping!!!!!!!!
Tattoo Block of the Month
All of my blocks are sewn and ready for joining. BUT, I’m using three of them for the art show I have up at work, so the soonest I’ll be able to put this top together would be after the show ends in January.
WHAT I NEED TO FINISH: I need all my blocks at home. Courage, Grace, and Wisdom are on loan. I figure there’s no point in putting the rest together until they’re back. They take up less space that way.
Nebula Block of the Month
I may have put this one so far toward the bottom so that you don’t notice that I’m avoiding it. I have the main blocks done, but I have to cut about a million pieces for the background and then sew them together. I feels a bit daunting, so I’m rationalizing my avoidance by focusing on all the projects I’m finishing.
Okay, even I don’t buy that excuse. If I am nagging my Insta-pal Laura like crazy for avoiding a project, than I shouldn’t do it either. So, no other piecing work until I at least start on this one.
WHAT I NEED TO FINISH: I have to finish the background so I can put this baby together.
I almost left these next two off the list because English Paper Piecing projects are slow work. However, I decided it’s still good to check in. I have about 16 of the blocks done for this quilt, and I think that’s close to half way. This is another quilt that I used some of the unfinished blocks for my art show. So I will keep chugging along on this project.
This is another one that I almost didn’t own up to. I work on this quilt in fits and starts. I suspect I will still be working on it five years from now. But in the meantime, the blocks are cool looking.
And that’s all of it! I wonder if this is a bit like what going to confession feels like. Time to get back to work piecing the backing for my sister’s Interwoven quilt and composing a post to give away the butterfly top. Happy UFOVEMBER!!!!!
Back in August I made a list of all of my unfinished quilt projects. I got myself all psyched up to do some serious quilting….and then my machine spent about a month in the shop because it got cranky. She’s back and working again, so I am started working on this list again. Here is the update:
Pineapple Baby Quilt✔
Pineapple pillows x 3 ✔
Tula Butterfly Quilt
Ice Cream Soda Quilt (technically I still need to put the borders on)
There is a well established connection in my life with feeling stress and wanting to buy something. Obviously, this pattern is rather problematic. Back in 2018, I went on a fabric fast and stopped buying fabric and quilting supplies for about nine months. The experience was painfully amazing. Which is to stay I had many moments of feeling uncomfortable mixed in with increased peace and connection. And I need a repeat.
My work in progress pile is piling up and I am flitting between projects with no real purpose. I need to stop starting and accumulating and working through what I have. Thus, it’s time for a do-over. Starting July 1, 2021, no more fabric, quilting notations, patterns, thread, or that-cool-thing-I-saw-on-Instagram/Estsy/wherever. For this to work, I need rules. So here we go:
No new fabric, notions, books, patterns, blocks of month, cool thing-a-ma-jigs before 2022
No starting new projects until I’ve finished three of my outstanding projects
I am allowed to buy fabric to complete outstanding projects…but bonus to me if I can use what is in my stash
When/if I get to start new project, I have to use what I have.
I am allowed to accept gifts.
None of this applies to someone commissioning me to make them a quilt since they will be doing all the buying/spending anyway.
Anyone else ever feel like they need a cleanse every once in awhile? I find that sometimes I have too many choices and by giving myself some limits it helps me direct my focus. In this case, I want to focus on finishing and practicing my quilting skills. I won’t ever do that if I keep getting distracted by that shiny thing I saw…
I love a good sew-a-long. I enjoy the community and structure that comes from making the same quilt as other and being told what to make when. It’s easier to be creative when there are less choices to make.
I joined Berne of @happysewlucky on Instagram to make her Tattoo Quilt using fabric from Tula Pink’s True Colors line. The result is pretty awesome.
Sew-a-longs are a great opportunity to build/practice some skills. I’ve been stretching my foundation paper piecing skills. This pattern has some fiddly seams to match and there are even Y-seams.
Here are the blocks I’ve made so far. Also, one of my 2021 goals is to figure out what my camera is focusing properly.
The Courage and Love blocks taught my I can sew y-seams without dying.
I made a quilt awhile a go and when I finished I was so disgusted and frustrated with it I put it away somewhere I wouldn’t have to see it. Months later I pulled the quilt out and I couldn’t remember what was wrong with it. I was actually really impressed with my work.
What was my problem?
I find that when I make I spend most of my time inches away from what I’m making. I see my creation up close. Up close is where we see all the flaws and imperfections. Those seams that didn’t nest or the quilting where the stitch length is all over the place. I become to familiar with the imperfections I convince myself the imperfections are all anyone sees. Then when I show people my work and they celebrate it, I have a hard time believing them. Didn’t they notice all the imprecations and mistakes?
I made a discovery that totally changed how I look at my projects.
More than 10 years ago, the community college I was working at as a summer job in college hosted a quilt show. My mom worked at the college too and she and I walked through the show together. She bought me a beautiful purple mini quilt which I have treasured since that day.
As I became a more experienced quilter I approached that mini quilt again from a different perspective. I understood the process of quilting and I was curious. How was the quilt pieced? Was the quilt hand or machine quilted? Was the binding hand or machine sewn?
I made a discovery that shocked me. The maker machine quilted the mini using both staring line and free motion quilting. AND the thread tension on the free motion quilting is a way off.
Guess what? I owned that mini quilt for 10 years and never noticed.
Guess what else? I see that quilt every time I go to make, and I cannot see the tension problem from where I work. I enjoy that mini quilt even though it is not perfect. I enjoy that mini quilt even though it has an obvious mistake.
What is so special about me and what I make that I will not extend the same grace and acceptance to myself that I extend to others?
There is nothing so special about me that excludes me from from the kindness and generosity I extend to other.
Whenever I am tempted to label my work as not good enough, I look at that mini quilt and I remember the purpose of a quilt. To give warmth. To add beauty to the world. To allow myself creative expression.
I put off starting a blog for years because I wasn’t sure if what I had to say mattered. I wanted to try blogging, and I was afraid. Was what I was going to say any different than what every other blogger online was already saying? Also, I was pretty sure other people were already saying it better. So I’ve been on a journey of finding my voice.
As previously mentioned I have two brothers and a sister and there are five and half short years between the oldest and the youngest. There was another family we knew growing up who referred to my family as “the loud family,” and it wasn’t an affectionate label. Growing up it felt like we were constantly yelling over each other. Each of us landed with our own strategy for getting what we wanted. I learned to work the system in my favor. My big brother would call that being manipulative, and I would remind him I got into trouble way less than he did.
The point is, I did not grow up feeling like there was space for me and my voice because I was growing up with three other big personalities all trying to do the same thing. What I am learning today is that there is enough space for me to be me as long as I’m being me. Which is to say if I try to be another Shauna Niequist then there will not be enough space for me because Shauna is occupying that space (and rightly so. Shauna is an amazing writer. I highly recommend her blog and her books).
I’m started to see the difference between admiring and imitating. I admire the works of other quilters, bloggers, parents, and therapist. I can learn from them. I can be challenged by them. I cannot be them.
There is an amazing therapist I work with named Margaret. She taught me the neurons in a person can pattern in 10 to the millionth power different ways…that’s a 10 with ONE MILLION zeros after it. When you take into account your personality, natural skills/gifts/talents, life experience, hard work and neural patterning, there is absolutely NO ONE like you. You are utterly unique. You are irreplaceable. No one can do what you do in the way you do it.
I’m loving scrolling through the #100Days100Blocks2018 hashtag on Instagram because I love to see how each person takes the same raw pattern makes it a unique expression of who they are. I enjoy looking at all those wonderful blocks the most when I am focused on celebrating another making being themselves rather than wondering if them being who they are takes away from me being me.
One of my favorite moments in the musical Hamilton is when Aaron Burr sings the line, “I should have known the world was wide enough for both Hamilton and me.” It reminds me that there is space in the world. There is space for you to be your amazing and me to be my amazing. .Friends, there is enough room for you to be you because you are the only one who can fill that role in the play with call this life. If you try to be someone else you will find the process suffocating.
I’ll be here learning to be only me. You do you. No one else can, and we are incomplete without you.
Sometimes you have to rip things to pieces and start over.
When I first started quilting I was obsessed with the Missouri Star Quilt Company video tutorials. I loved watching them…I still do.
The first tutorial I watch that had me thinking, “I wanna try that!” was the jelly roll race tutorial. Basically you sew a bunch of 2.5 inch strips together end to end, and then you sew the strips together over and over until you have a quilt top.
As a new quilter, I thought all 2.5 inch strip rolls were the same. I went to JoAnn Fabric and bought their version of a roll of 2.5 inch strips. I was aware enough to notice there were only 20 strips in the package so I bought two. I did not know that a Jelly Roll is a trademarked product by Moda Fabric and contains 40-42 2.5 inch strips from a fabric line. Other design houses have variations of the same things: Roll Ups, Pixie Stripes, Rolie Polie, etc. I believed that two of the JoAnn’s versions would be the same as buying one of the others. I was wrong.
The result was a disaster. All the fabric strips ended up grouped by value in the final quilt. All the lights, mediums and darks were together. It looked awful.
I was so discouraged. I loved the fabric, and I hated the result. I also hated that I hated the result. I wasted by little bit of quilting money on something I could not stand to look at. It was misery.
So like any (un)healthy person, I put it away somewhere I would not have to look at it and pretended it wasn’t a thing. I denied that quilt top’s existence. I moved on to other projects, improving my skills along the way.
About six months later, this quilt top started coming to mind a lot. I started to question if it really was as bad as I remember. I took it out and looked at it, concluding it was worse. The more I knew about quilting, the more I didn’t like it. However, I had come to appreciate the power of a good seam ripper.
A seam ripper is the ultimate permission to declare, “This isn’t working. I’m trying something else!”
I ripped off the borders. And then I remembered ANOTHER Missouri Star Quilt tutorial featuring a technique by 3 Dogs quilting that used three 2.5 inch strips sewn together and then cut into 6.5 inch squares.
So I ripped the quilt into sets of three strips, cutting those strips into 6.5 inch squares. I decided to keep them scrappy and random, so I threw the squares into a laundry basket.
I sewed them back together as per the pattern, ending up with blocks that looked like this:
This quilt also started the habit of my youngest of wanting to play on any quilting related object I had laid out on the floor. No blocks in a layout, quilt top to be basted, or quilting in progress is safe.
There was a time that a seam ripper represented failure to me. Only novice, unskilled, lousy quilters need a seam ripper. Excellent quilters don’t make mistakes.
Now my the seam ripper represents freedom. It’s an opportunity for a do-over or a change of a plan. It gives me the opportunity to try something new or a different way of doing. And try again if that doesn’t work.
What I love about this quilt is that the materials and essence of the quilt stayed the same. I didn’t buy new fabric or materials. The only thing that changed was how the fabric was arranged.
I am an in-progress quilter. I am an in-progress person. I have not yet arrived a mastery level skill. I am on a learning journey. Part of learning is having the courage to declare that something isn’t working, rip it to pieces and reassemble it into something that does.
The road to mastery is paved with the lint of ripped seams…so at least it’s a fluffy road.