Learn to Quilt Series: Long-arm vs. home quilting and basting tutorial

I don’t know about you guys, but I’m grateful for a week of words and not sewing! I have enjoyed this quilt-along immensely, though the hardest part is getting ahead and staying ahead of the tutorials! I have seen such beautiful quilts coming together, and seeing how much a new quilter enjoys sewing makes it all worth it. My favorite part of quilting is the community I’ve discovered in the process – one that reaches back generations and generations and as long as people still sew squares together, will reach far into the future.

So about those lovely quilt tops – what’s next?! I bet you’re feeling pretty accomplished right now – and you should! But upon closer inspection, your quilt top doesn’t resemble a usable blanket quite yet. More work to do…and a few ways you can go about it.

I like choices.


I’ll just be talking about long-arm services vs. machine quilting at home, because that’s what I have experience with. If you’re thinking about hand-quilting or tying the quilt, you can find a wealth of tutorials on the Internet, Knower of Things and Tutor of All. Hand-quilting is a beautiful way to finish your quilt – don’t be scared of it! Someday I’ll get around to hand-quilting a project, but today is not that day.

I have sent most of my quilts to a long-arm quilter – a long-arm is a giant quilting contraption with a frame that can quilt amazingly complex designs with the help of a computer. These folks are pros – and because piecing the top is my favorite part, I love the convenience of just finishing the top and mailing it off for the quilter to work her magic.

I always quilt baby quilts myself, though I recently started quilting a few large quilts at home as well. I enjoy being able to say I finished a project 100% myself, and sometimes all I want for a quilt is a simple design I can manage on my home machine. Other times I just plain want to save some cash or challenge myself. It feels like it takes forever, but I’m always pleased with myself in the end.

There are pros and cons to both – pick what’s best for you! If you choose to quilt at home, read all the way to the end for a basting tutorial!

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Long-arm services

I’ll try to be as objective as possible, but some of the pros/cons are simply my opinions! Choose what’s best for you!

Upsides:

  • Convenience long-arm quilters can take anywhere from 1-8 weeks to finish a quilt, but in this time you can be working on your next project! Often times you can purchase your batting and even backing from the quilter, so the ease of simply sending in a top and being mailed back a nearly-finished quilt is just wonderful.
  • Ability – like I said, these folks are pros. They can’t be perfect, but after my failed attempt to use minky backing at home I’ve decided to leave certain things to the professionals for now. Be sure to check with each quilter, but many can quilt backings that may be difficult to manage for a new quilter at home.
  • Complexity – quilting software allows for really complex or custom quilting designs. Depending on your budget, you can end up with some really stunning designs! Even simple long-arm quilting is more complex than I will currently attempt at home.

Downsides: 

  • Cost – this is the biggest downside to long-arm services…they are expensive, relative to quilting yourself. For an edge-to-edge design on a throw sized quilt, expect to pay upwards of $50-100 for quilting, plus batting and/or backing, and shipping costs if applicable. Very complex or custom services go up from there. For many, it’s just not in the budget, and that’s okay!
  • Availability – you may not have a long-arm quilter nearby, and will need to ship a quilt to have it quilted. I ship mine without a second thought, but for many, this is an uncomfortable process. If you do ship it, be sure you track and insure it!
  • Timing – all quilter’s have different turn-around times, so it’s best to ask to make sure they can finish your quilt in time if you have a deadline. I’ve waiting anywhere from 2 – 8 weeks for a quilt – just be sure to communicate with each other so everyone’s on the same page regarding the timeline!

In the end, sometimes it’s a matter of personal preference. For those who find they really hate to quilt and love to piece, long-arm quilters are a blessing. For others, they enjoy quilting just as much and would rather work on their own quilts.

Be sure to search for local quilters in your area, but if you are interested in a recommendation for mail-in quilters, contact me!

Some of my quilts I’ve had long-arm quilted:

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P1016282
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Domestic quilting

When I first started piecing quilts, I worried so much about quilting. After finishing a top, I couldn’t bear the thought of “ruining” it by trying to quilt it myself. I’ve since learned that quilting is actually very forgiving, and just like piecing, you can rip stitches if you have to. I’ve ripped half a baby quilt because I didn’t like the quilting stitches…it wasn’t fun…but I didn’t ruin my quilt either. So don’t be afraid of quilting – it’s not as bad as it looks!

Pros: 

  • Savings – quilting at home won’t cost you a single extra penny in labor! Domestic quilting is a very cost effective way to finish a project.
  • Satisfaction – it’s very satisfying to complete a project start to finish on your own. Never feel guilty for send your quilt to a long-arm quilter, but you should also be very proud of yourself if you quilt at home. It’s okay to pat yourself on the back after you wrestle around a project you probably got sick of looking at somewhere along the way!
  • Timing – if you’re fast, you may be able to finish before a long-arm quilter can! I’m incredibly slow at quilting, but in reality it doesn’t have to take more than a weekend!
  • Control – you have full creative reign! We’ll just talk about simple quilting, but if you want to dive down the rabbit hole of free-motion quilting, the world is your oyster!

Cons:

  • Time – for me, quilting at home is time consuming! Mostly due to my own procrastination though, I’ll readily admit.
  • Size – wrestling a throw size or larger quilt through a home machine can be a huge pain. It definitely can be done, and a pair of quilting gloves helps a lot, but for some it can be a real thorn.
  • Simplicity – for most people, quilting at home entails simpler designs. This can be a pro or a con, depending on your style.
  • Intimidation – I get it, quilting at home can be intimidating! But seriously, don’t worry about “ruining” your quilt – quilting is easier than it looks!

Some quilts I’ve done myself – you can see I prefer to quilt in variants of straight lines:

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P1016414
P1016478

Basting – for those quilting at home

So you’ve decided to quilt at home! Yay! You’ve pieced your backing already and have your batting and top ready to go. Maybe you’ve even already googled “how to baste a quilt” and came across four hundred thousand different tutorials that are all basically the same, yet swear that their way is the easiest way.

Don’t worry, I’ve got one more.

But first, you have one more choice to make – will you pin-baste, or spray-baste?!

Ok – back up. Basting means taking your batting and sandwiching it between your back and top, then securing it in place so you can quilt it. The quilting stitches hold the layers together in the end, but if you didn’t secure the layers through basting the whole mess would bunch, tuck, and shift as you’re stitching.


Pin-basting

I’ve actually never basted with pins…I bought them once. But after I discovered spray basting I never took them out of the plastic. Some people prefer pinning though, so I’ll give you a basic run-down and direct you back to the Knower of All Things (the Interwebs) for better instructions and pictures.

First, you’ll lay your backing on the floor, right side down. Use tape to keep the backing secured to the floor, smooth and taut (but not stretched!). Lay your batting on top, smoothing it out, and then your top over your batting.

Using safety pins, or better yet, invest in a couple of $5 packs of curved basting pins and pin every 4″ throughout your quilt top, keeping everything smooth and taut.

Yes. I said pin every 4″. This is why I don’t like to do it.

The rule of thumb is if you lay your hand flat on your quilt, you should be touching two pins. As you quilt, you’ll remove the pins as you go and everything will be happily secured in place. That’s really a really basic tutorial – but like I said, I’ve never voluntarily placed that many pins in a quilt top before.


Spray-basting

I prefer to spray baste, though you’ll find just as many tutorials of people who HATE spray basting. Quilters are rather opinionated folks, and we all have our tried and true methods. If you keep quilting, you’ll develop your own flavor of favorites as well!

I’ll be quilting a different quilt that I’ve had sitting around basted since DECEMBER for this part of the quilt-along. (I told you it takes me forever!!) Since it’s already basted, I’ll refer you to an earlier tutorial I posted on how I spray baste using my wall. The tutorial is for a baby quilt, but I’ve basted three large quilts the exact same way…with a stool handy.

Wall basting tutorial


Lastly, I’ll re-post this list for those still gathering supplies for quilting at home! (Or those needing batting to send with your quilt top to a long-arm.)

Quilting supplies

Batting: Twin size should be fine for either layout – you’ll want at least 8″ longer and 8″ wider than your finished quilt. Double check measurements before ordering. I prefer lightweight cotton batting – my favorite is Quilter’s Dream Request, in white. Best part, you can find it on Amazon

Marking pen: I like the iron off pens by Frixion – you can find them on Amazon or Fat Quarter Shop. JoAnn’s, Walmart, and your local quilt shop will also have lots of different types of fabric-safe markers. You’ll need something to mark your quilting lines unless you’re free-forming it. (Which is totally ok too!)

Walking foot: A walking foot is hugely important for quilting. A regular sewing machine foot relies on the feed dogs on the machine to pull the fabric through. (Feed dogs: those little toothy bits that go up and down under your fabric.) When you have a thick quilt to manage, even when really well basted, it will shift and pucker beneath a normal quilting foot. A walking foot has extra feed dogs on the top that evenly feed all the layers nice and smoothly through your machine. Just like presser feet, they are machine specific. Ask the internet, your local quilt store, JoAnn’s, or even me if you have trouble finding the right one for your machine. They might run upwards of $30-40, but you’re still saving money compared to paying a long-arm quilter.

Quilting needles: Yep, there’s a needle for every job. You might get by with your regular piecing needles for quilting, but I found far too many skipped stitches and have to use larger needles. I have the best results with either a “jeans/denim” needle, size 100/16 (larger than 100 will punch an unnecessarily huge hole), or a “top-stitch” needle of similar size. Both are made for going through thick layers, and have large grooves to protect the thread from shredding. Available here and here, and I generally can find them at Walmart as well.

Basting spray or basting pins: I legitimately have no idea how many pins it takes for a throw size quilt. Buy a few packages? (Advice in the comments welcome!) One can of basting spray is enough for this project.

As always, feel free to contact me with any questions – I know wrestling around huge amounts of fabric can get overwhelming and confusing. We really are getting close to done!

Happy sewing!

Rebecca


Learn to Quilt Series: Tutorial links

  1. Notions Part 1 – Sewing machine and basic supplies
  2. Notions Part 2 – Cutting and pressing supplies
  3. All about fabric!
  4. Basic cutting, sewing, and pressing
  5. Making your blocks!
  6. Tips for staying organized and sewing blocks into a quilt top
  7. How to attach borders and piece backing
  8. To quilt or not to quilt – professional long-arm services vs. quilting at home, plus a basting tutorial
  9. Quilt at home – machine quilting yourself
  10. Binding your finished quilt and quilt care
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Learn to Quilt Series: Attach borders and piece backing

Where did we leave off last week? Oh yes…with all our blocks sewn together and the quilt top draped across a banister that needs the trim painted to match the baseboards.

Quilting kinda took priority over all the house projects. Oopsie.

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This week we will put a border on the quilt and piece the backing for quilting! Like I said last week, the border is optional but it 1) adds some inches, which may be helpful (ahem..I’m tall) and 2) gives you some much appreciated wiggle room when quilting. After quilting, the edges of your top will be shifted somewhat, and it’s incredibly helpful to have a few extra inches to be able to trim the wavy sides square again. Even if you’re sending your quilt to a long-arm, having some trimming room is nice.

I will be writing this assuming you’re using 42″ wide cotton backing – if your backing width is different, measure and adjust accordingly.


Borders

So tonight I started cutting the borders, taking pictures along the way as bloggers do. Then I realized my camera didn’t have a card in it. Aaaaand then the battery died. And the replacement battery was dead.

Such is life sometimes, right?

But it’s okay – I staged some extra pictures and you’ll pretend like you can’t tell. We’re resourceful over here like that. You can follow along in the pattern if you’d like – instructions for making borders are found on the last page!

First, cut 7 strips 3″ x WOF (width of fabric) from your background fabric. Leaving them folded in half, cut the selvage off both ends.

Stack all strips up, leaving them folded in half, and take them to your sewing machine. Peel the first layer of fabric out of the way. (If you were using printed fabric, it’s easier to see – the strips are all right-sides-together after peeling back the top layer.) Pick up the second and third layers and sew together with a 1/4″ seam. Continue picking up two layers and sewing seams all the way through your stack – you’ll have one layer left at the end without a mate.

Wonder if I remembered to do what was written on my hand?

Take your tassel of strips to the ironing board, and clip the threads. Set your seams, and though it doesn’t matter what direction you press your strips, I like to peel them up and press.

After you press them all, you want to double check that all your strips are actually sewn into one long strip – and that your seams are all on the same side. Wouldn’t be the first time I’ve accidentally twisted a long border strip!

Now measure the length of your quilt along both sides and down the middle – theoretically the should be the same, but quilts are rarely textbook perfect in length! To square up your quilt, take the average if your measurements are not all roughly the same. Cut two border strips from your long strip that length.

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Find the center of your quilt and mark it by folding it in half and either placing a pin there or pinching the fabric to crease it. Do the same for the border piece. Line up the center of the quilt with the center of the border – right sides together!! – and pin in place. Next pin both corners – you can stretch your border or quilt a bit if you need to. Finally, pin every 4-5″ in between.

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Take the mess to your sewing machine and carefully – you’ve got a lot of sharp pointy sticks in your lap – sew the border strip on with a 1/4″ seam. Press towards the border and repeat with the other side.

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Once both side borders are attached and pressed, repeat your measurements across the top, bottom and middle. You’ll cut two more border strips and sew them on and press the same way.

Guess what?! You’re done with the top! Congratulations!

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Piecing Backing

To ready the backing fabric for quilting, we need to make it one piece of fabric that’s 4″ inches larger on all sides to accommodate most long-arm quilters’ requirements. Piecing backing can feel overwhelming and is a lot of fabric to wrestle – just go slowly and pay close attention. Use your selvages as landmarks and measure thrice, cut once!

If you recall when we talked about fabric sizing – a yard of quilting cotton is actually 42″ x 36″. Now for a little math (double check all my measurements against your own quilt!):

5 x 5 layout + border = 70.5″ square + 4″ overage on all sides = 74.5″ x 74.5″ backing

4 x 6 layout + border = 57.5″ x 83.5″ + 4″ overage on all sides = 91.5″ x 65.5″ backing

Next you’ll need to decide how to piece the backing into the most efficient layout – I rarely use directional fabric (like text) for backings, to make this as easy as possible. I also struggle between make it super convenient vs. saving money on backing fabric. I’ve gone the frugal route with this pattern – we will use every bit of the four yards you bought!

Assuming you have one 4 yard strip of fabric, follow the directions for the layout you chose:

4 x 6 layout:

  • Cut your 4 yard piece into equal 2 yard pieces
  • Place the two yards right sides together, and trim the selvage off one side.
  • Keeping the pieces right sides together, take to your machine and sew 1/4″ seam all the way down the selvage side you just trimmed. You’ll now have a large piece of fabric 72″ x 84″
    4 by 6 backing step 1
  • Press the seam to either side. Now fold at the seam, fold once more, and cut 7″ off the side.
    4 by 6 backing step 2
  • Trim the selvage off the bottom and sew the 7″ strip to the end – making a backing piece approximately 91″ x 65″. Iron well to get out all the wrinkles.
    4 by 6 backing step 3

5 x 5 layout:

  • Cut one piece 75″ long from your 4 yard strip – set aside. From the remaining 69″, cut 6 inches off – parallel to the selvage.
    5 by 5 step 1 and 2
  • Sew the 6″ strip to the end of your 69″ strip, press, and trim the edges flush – now you’ll have two strips 75″ long.
    5 by 5 step 3
  • Place the two 75″ pieces right sides together, and trim the selvage off one side.
  • Keeping the pieces right sides together, sew 1/4″ seam all the way down the side you just trimmed.
  • Press the seam to either side – the backing piece will measure approximately 76″ x 75″. Iron well to get out all the wrinkles.
5 by 5 final step

We will talk next week in more detail about long-arm services vs. quilting at home – pros/cons, costs, supplies, and designs. To give you more time to browse for supplies if you know for sure you’ll be quilting at home, see last week’s post for a brief list. (I forgot to add a marking pen and basting spray/pins for those that read it last week!)


Thank you to everyone who has shared their photos with me! I have loved seeing your quilts come together – it’s so much more fun than just sewing alone and writing up these tutorials! You can always tag me on Facebook or Instagram @RebaLeighHandmade – it really makes my day to see others making beautiful things. 🙂

Have a great weekend and happy sewing!

Rebecca

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Learn to Quilt Series: Tutorial links

  1. Notions Part 1 – Sewing machine and basic supplies
  2. Notions Part 2 – Cutting and pressing supplies
  3. All about fabric!
  4. Basic cutting, sewing, and pressing
  5. Making your blocks!
  6. Tips for staying organized and sewing blocks into a quilt top
  7. How to attach borders and piece backing
  8. To quilt or not to quilt – professional long-arm services vs. quilting at home, plus a basting tutorial
  9. Quilt at home – machine quilting yourself
  10. Binding your finished quilt and quilt care
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Learn to Quilt Series: Sewing blocks into a quilt top

Well – I’ve been so good about getting posts up by Friday morning…but this week has been BUSY. Like oops-we-have-to-eat-pizza-for-dinner-again busy. Better-give-those-socks-a-sniff busy. Sorry-now-it’s-Saturday-afternoon-and-I’m-just-now-typing-the-next-post busy.

But I’m here and I have a quilt top to show! Maybe you’ve got blocks anxiously awaiting the same fate. Or maybe you’re still cutting fabric. Or maybe you’re just following along waiting for your sewing machine to migrate to California. (Herro!) At any rate, let’s do this! Literally or figuratively.


Sewing blocks together

Remember how we chain-pieced our blocks a couple of weeks ago? Well, I hope you loved it, because the concept is the same for sewing blocks into a quilt top. At one point, you’re going to have heaps and gobs of fabric in your lap, but don’t you worry – it’ll at least be pretty to look at!

The first step – the absolute BEST part – is to commandeer a large swatch of floor space and lay out your blocks. The pattern includes two different options – a 67.5″ x 67.5″ square quilt in a 5 x 5 layout, or a 54.5″ x 80.5″ rectangle quilt in a 4 x 6 layout with one block leftover. (Matching pillow anyone?!) I chose the 5 x 5 layout.

As you’re laying your blocks out, pay attention to the seams. All the seams will nest nicely, but you have to have the blocks turned the right direction. Twist the blocks 180 degrees until you have each horizontal and vertical seam going the opposite direction from it’s neighbors.

Or don’t. You can pin and muscle over un-nested seams. But this little detail will make sewing your rows together much easier later.

Once you have your final layout, stick a pin in the upper left-hand corner of each block in the first column.

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Do yourself a favor – snap a quick picture here. It’s not a huge issue with this pattern, but I can’t tell you how many times I’ve managed to get myself all out of order with nothing but a picture on my phone to re-orient me. If you get in the habit of snapping a photo of your final layout, I promise you it will come in handy someday.


Next step is to take the second block in each row (column 2) and flip it over right-sides-together with it’s mate in column 1. Take care not to twist the blocks – just flip it like a page in a book.

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Now stack all the columns – I started at the top and stacked down, so the first row of blocks was at the top of my stacks. To be super safe, you can stick a pin in the upper left-hand corner of the top block in each stack. You have to be very careful to always keep the stacks oriented as they are now – if you twist them, you’ll sew the wrong sides together. A pin will help orient you if that happens in the transfer from floor to sewing machine.

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You’ll be sewing column 1/2 (already placed RST and ready to go!) first, followed by columns 3-5, in that order. I placed my stacks within arm’s reach next to my sewing machine in order.  (3-4-5 pictured) Remember, upper left is STILL the same upper left, just like it was when they were on the floor.

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Don’t forget your pins, in case you get lost:

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Step 0: Make sure you have thread in your bobbin, and that your machine is threaded correctly. Move your coffee a little further from the action. Trust me on that one.

Place your sewing machine as far to the right on your table as you can manage. Give yourself a nice, big work space on the left. You’ll need it.

Now chain piece all the blocks in columns 1 and 2 that you already have right-sides-together. Once blocks are RST, you’ll ALWAYS sew down the right-hand side of the squares.

Here’s where the magic happens, as well as the gobs of fabric in your lap. When you’ve sewn the last block, cut your thread at the end but DO NOT cut threads between blocks. You can drop the entire project on the floor and pick it back up, and all the blocks will still be in order and you’ll have a pin to tell you the top from the bottom. That half inch of thread between all the blocks is your safety line.

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Pile all the blocks in your lap, and at starting with the top row open the blocks up like a book and place the top block in your column 3 stack right-sides-together with the column 2 block. Sew down the right-hand side of the square, and continue chain piecing through your column 3 stack until you get to the end.

In pictures – open book:

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Place RST and sew:

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Wash, rinse, repeat:

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PS, are your middle seams nesting? If so – yay! If not, consider pinning them so they don’t shift when your foot runs over them.

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When you’re finished with column 3, pull the whole mess back to your lap. You’ll have two safety lines now. Again, you can walk away, drop in on the floor, throw it in the air…but you’ll still have all the blocks you’ve sewn thus far in order. Don’t snip the threads yet!

Repeat the whole dance with column 4, and 5 if you have it.

Yes, you will have an absurdly large amount of fabric sitting in your lap, and behind your sewing machine. Yes, you’ll be adjusting and shifting the blocks as you go to keep them from pulling on each other. A small TV tray on your left can help hold some of the weight if you’re having trouble. Go ahead and (gently) shove and pile however you need to – everything is still connected.

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When you finish – you’ll have all the blocks sewn into rows!

No, you still cannot cut the threads.

Patience, my dear.

Place the quilt somewhere it can live stationary for a bit. I have a handy quilt-draping banister, but a bed or floor space works well too.

Now go heat up your iron!

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Sewing rows together

If you didn’t already, place a pin in the upper left corner of the first block in each row. Trust me, as soon as you clip those threads and take the row to the ironing board, you’ll get all mixed up.

Clipping the threads as you go, press each row in opposite directions so the seams will nest as you sew them together. (One row pressed towards the pin, next row pressed away from pin…and so on.) Place the row back on your bed/floor/banister after it’s pressed, keeping everything together and in order.

Once all the rows are pressed, flip row 1 down right-sides-together with row 2. (Remove the pin from the corner of row 2, but leave it in place in row 1. This helps orient you to the top of the quilt.) I always pin my seams when sewing rows together – it helps keep everything in place while you sew such a long strip.

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Sew and press! It doesn’t matter which direction you press the rows. (Don’t forget to “set the seam” by quickly pressing the iron to the seam while it’s still right-sides-together!)

I actually found pressing from the back worked best – experiment a little to find what works for you. My seams were being ornery and didn’t want to lay flat, so I turned my quilt over and smoothed it down from the back.

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Very awkward to take a picture while holding a hot iron to my fabric with my left hand.

“Quick quick, before you burn the fabric or your fingers! Did the camera focus? Is the picture good? Doesn’t matter, just don’t burn your fabric!!” – Self.

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When you’ve pressed your seam, attach the next row. Press. Next row. Press. And then before you know it, you’ve ran out of bobbin thread.

You thought I was going to say done? You can’t ever finish a project before running out of bobbin thread. It’s like the quilter’s curse.

Just keep sewing, just keep sewing…now you’re done! Whoo-hoo! Snap some pictures and congratulate yourself. Next week will be a catch up week for those still making blocks, and we’ll go over attaching borders and piecing your backing.


This is somewhat embarrassing for a self-proclaimed competent quilter, but I wanted to include this picture. I sewed my blocks super fast and wasn’t paying much attention to accuracy, and this reminds me of the seams on my first few quilts. If your seams also look like this, don’t worry. If the seam allowance (the amount of fabric on the raw side of the seam) is too skinny it can weaken the seam. Pick it out and re-sew it if it’s < 1/8″ or you’ll have a hole someday. But if your seams get wonky like this, I promise you won’t notice it from the front.  Move on and keep going!

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Briefly – quilting supplies

We will talk much more in detail about quilting, but if you know for sure you want to quilt yourself there are a few more supplies you’ll want to gather:

Batting: Twin size should be fine for either layout – you’ll want at least 8″ longer and 8″ wider than your finished quilt. Double check measurements before ordering. I prefer lightweight cotton batting – my favorite is Quilter’s Dream Request, in white. Best part, you can find it on Amazon

Marking pen: I like the iron off pens by Frixion – you can find them on Amazon or Fat Quarter Shop. JoAnn’s, Walmart, and your local quilt shop will also have lots of different types of fabric-safe markers. You’ll need something to mark your quilting lines unless you’re free-forming it. (Which is totally ok too!)

Walking foot: A walking foot is hugely important for quilting. A regular sewing machine foot relies on the feed dogs on the machine to pull the fabric through. (Feed dogs: those little toothy bits that go up and down under your fabric.) When you have a thick quilt to manage, even when really well basted, it will shift and pucker beneath a normal quilting foot. A walking foot has extra feed dogs on the top that evenly feed all the layers nice and smoothly through your machine. Just like presser feet, they are machine specific. Ask the internet, your local quilt store, JoAnn’s, or even me if you have trouble finding the right one for your machine. They might run upwards of $30-40, but you’re still saving money compared to paying a long-arm quilter.

Quilting needles: Yep, there’s a needle for every job. You might get by with your regular piecing needles for quilting, but I found far too many skipped stitches and have to use larger needles. I have the best results with either a “jeans/denim” needle, size 100/16 (larger than 100 will punch an unnecessarily huge hole), or a “top-stitch” needle of similar size. Both are made for going through thick layers, and have large grooves to protect the thread from shredding. Available here and here, and I generally can find them at Walmart as well.

Basting spray or basting pins: I legitimately have no idea how many pins it takes for a throw size quilt. Buy a few packages? (Advice in the comments welcome!) One can of basting spray is enough for this project.

Happy sewing!

Rebecca


Learn to Quilt Series: Tutorial links

  1. Notions Part 1 – Sewing machine and basic supplies
  2. Notions Part 2 – Cutting and pressing supplies
  3. All about fabric!
  4. Basic cutting, sewing, and pressing
  5. Making your blocks!
  6. Tips for staying organized and sewing blocks into a quilt top
  7. How to attach borders and piece backing
  8. To quilt or not to quilt – professional long-arm services vs. quilting at home, plus a basting tutorial
  9. Quilt at home – machine quilting yourself
  10. Binding your finished quilt and quilt care
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She Spoke charity pattern release!

 ‘Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed, citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.’ –  Margaret Mead

She did not receive justice.

Those she was speaking to may not have listened.

But she still spoke – and her voice carried farther than she could have ever imagined.

It carried into the hearts of women just like her, and gave them courage to speak. It carried into the minds of parents, trying to teach their sons and daughters how to navigate a messy world . It carried into work environments that desperately needed a change. Her voice was amplified on the national stage and her voice was carried home to those close to her.

She spoke – and I listened.

Now it’s my turn to speak – to tell her she’s not alone. To tell her there is hope. To tell her justice is not the only validation and her voice can still do great things. May she, whoever she is to you, be a beacon of truth and hope for a better future.

She Spoke is a quilt designed in collaboration with my friend Becky Hoss (@beckyjoquilts) to benefit Men Can Stop Rape, an organization dedicated to preventing violence against women by giving men a vital role to play in supporting equality, building healthy relationships, and demonstrating healthy masculine attitudes and behaviors. Read more about their mission and core values at www.mencanstoprape.org, or at the bottom of this post.

This is such a special quilt – not only because of the inspiration and mission behind it’s design, but also because we sewed it together. It’s not really the finish-in-a-day type of quilt…but we did! She turbo sewed while I snipped and trimmed and did iron curls all day long. I was legit sore afterward, guys. But it was a fun day, especially when we added her two littles and giant St. Bernard to the mix!

I managed to keep pressing blocks with a three year old clutched to my ankle. I don’t know how parents do it.

Through the charity block drive and quilt auction prior to the pattern release, we raised nearly $1000 for MCSR! 20% of the pattern sales will continue to be donated always. Supporting charities that combat rape and domestic violence are not feel-good causes, nor are they easy conversations to have. There is no cure to find if only organization had enough funding – it’s only through sweeping culture change can progress be made. The She Spoke quilt is not only about financially supporting a charity committed to culture change, but primarily let all the Shes that spoke to know we hear you, we believe you, and we support you. May her story prevent another, and may all our sons and daughters grow up in a safer world.

Love, Rebecca and Becky


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She spoke up. She spoke true. And she was heard.

Learn about Men Can Stop Rape and their mission


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Learn to Quilt Series: Reading patterns and making your blocks

By now we’ve spent a lot of time talking about supplies and fabric. Maybe you’ve even sewn a few nine patches – hopefully you all are feeling pretty comfortable with your sewing machines and your practice seams are looking slightly straighter than a drunken sparrow’s flight.

I don’t know, I feel like I spent a lot of time in the drunken sparrow phase.

If everyone made it out last weekend without sliced fingers or nursing a steam blister, I’d say it was a success! This week we will get fully underway – if you haven’t already, go ahead and download the pattern.


Let’s first briefly talk about quilt patterns – because after all, when you’re finished with this quilt hopefully ALL of you will have the bug and want to sew more. That’s a reasonable goal, right? To convert as many people as possible to fellow fabric hoarders and obsessive quilt makers?

One can only hope.

But if you do want to make another quilt, it’s helpful to know a little about how patterns are written. Most patterns assume you already have some knowledge – but good news! After this quilt, you’ll be in good shape to try another pattern. There’s always new skills to learn, but you’ll know the lingo!

Things you’ll find in patterns:

  1. Finished size of quilt
  2. Fabric requirements
  3. Cutting instructions – if you’re lucky, patterns will include cutting diagrams!
  4. Basic organization – this is very pattern-specific, but you may need to group your fabric into blocks, stacks, or otherwise. Read carefully!
  5. Block assembly – you’ll find step by step instructions for all the block types used. Patterns will often assume you know to put the pieces right sides together (RST) and sew with a 1/4″ seam.
  6. Pressing directions – many patterns indicate which direction to press in order to nest seams. In our pattern, pressing directions are indicated with arrows.
  7. Quilt assembly – how to arrange all the blocks into a quilt top.
  8. Finishing – the details varies from pattern to pattern. Many patterns assume you have some knowledge on how to baste, quilt, and bind your finished top.

Things you likely won’t find, because it’s highly variable or personal preference:

  1. How to organize blocks for efficient chain piecing.
  2. How to baste (layer) your backing, batting, and pieced top together.
  3. How to quilt.  (Quilt (verb): stitch the three layers together)
  4. How to bind the finished quilt. (Some patterns include it, some do not.)

But no worries, we will touch on all of that. So let’s start with chain piecing – that’s what makes this quilt go so fast!

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Organizing your blocks for chain piecing

If you watched the sewing video from last week, you saw me chain piecing three squares. All chain piecing means is you sew without cutting thread in between, and it’s a huge time and thread saver. However, it’s easy to get disorganized! Eventually, you’ll find what works for you – but here’s how I keep all my squares organized for this quilt:

First, sort all your squares into the color combinations you want for each block – five squares of print. Group your background squares into four stacks of 25 squares each.

Next, lay one block out in a giant nine patch – remember, the middle square is the color that is chopped and becomes the tiny squares. I like to put my darker fabrics in the middle, but it’s totally up to you! (Save time and stack all 25 background squares at once.)

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Lay another block right over top. Continue until all your squares are laid out in stacks. (There should be 25 squares in each stack.) Place a pin in the upper left-hand corner of each square in column 1. These pins will help orient you later.

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Take the top stack of print column 1 and the top stack of background squares from column 2 to your sewing machine. Pair the top square of print (leave the pin in place) with a background square, right sides together, and sew a 1/4″ seam on the right-hand side of the square. Without breaking thread in between, continue pairing and sewing the entire stack.

*A word of advice – if you get in the habit of handling your blocks exactly the same way every time you move them, it will help prevent you from getting  your blocks twisted around. For example – I always set my squares down with my seams (sewn, or to-be sewn) on the right-hand side. In the picture below, I’ll flip my white squares (from column 2) on top of my green squares (from column 1) and then my seam will be sewn down the right-hand side of the squares.

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Chain piecing video – I tried SO HARD to edit this so it was fast-forward. I downloaded editing software and tried and tried, and in the end everything I tried was just going to cost an insane amount of money for the ONE THING I wanted to do. Sigh. So, here’s an example of chain piecing in real time sewing mode – watch as much as you need to get the idea. : )

At the end, you will have a long, connected strand of flapping, dangling squares. Let’s call your pinned square the top – start from the bottom and press each pair towards the print, stacking the pressed pairs as you go. (The easiest way to do this is take the whole mess to your ironing board, snip the bottom pair off, press, stack, and snip the next pair.) When you’re finished, place your stack back in place on your nine patch. The pinned pair should be back on top!

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Remember to press towards the print!

Repeat the entire process with the second stacks in columns 1 and 2, then lastly with the third squares. At the end, you should have rows with two blocks sewn together and stacks that look like this:

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Now you’ll start over! Take the stack of sewn squares and the stack of single squares in row 1 to your sewing machine. Place the print square right side together with the background square. Sew, snip, press, stack, and repeat with rows 2 and 3. You’ll now have all the rows done for your nine patches!

If you ever lose your place, just look for the pins. They will always show you which set of squares is your top block.

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Remember to sew the prints on right side together with the background/print combo!
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Remove the pins from row 2 and 3. Take row 1 and 2 to your sewing machine. Flip row 1 down so it’s right sides together with row 2. Your seams should nest, and I highly suggest sticking a pin where they nest to keep them from shifting.

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Sew, snip, press, and place the stack back in the nine patch – once again, your pin should be back on top. This is going to get repetitive.

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I bet you can guess what happens next. Row 3! Flip, pin, stack, sew, snip, press, stack.

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YOU’RE FINISHED WITH ALL 25 NINE PATCHES! 

Pat yourself on your back. You’re over halfway done!


Slice and dice

This is why these blocks are called “disappearing” nine patches. It’s time to take all those blocks you pieced…and slice them into quarters, making the traditional nine patch pattern disappear.

Gulp.

Just go slow and be careful – when I made this quilt the first time my rotary cutter slipped and I butchered a block. Sad day.

But you totally won’t do that. Don’t worry…just go slow.

Start by measuring your nine patch – it should measure 14″ square. (Hopefully close to it!) You’ll be cutting in into quarters, as shown in step 2 of the pattern:

Nine patch step 2

You can measure and lightly mark the middle with a pencil or fabric marker, or you can square up the block on your cutting table and use the lines on your mat to mark the middle points. Either way, place your ruler in the middle of your block and make the first cut. Try not to disturb the block too much – if it shifted, place it back together and make the second cut.

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Swap the upper left and lower right quarters, and set the block aside all laid out – we are going to make stacks again just like we did the nine patches.

(For a super scrappy quilt, you can mix and match the quarters from other blocks! Just make sure you get them back in this orientation!) 

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Continue slicing, dicing, and stack until you have four stacks of 25 quarters. Place a pin in the upper left hand corners of both stacks on the left.

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And now we resume chain piecing! Take both stacks in row 1 to your sewing machine, and flip the squares in the right-hand stack onto the squares in the left-hand stack (right sides together) and sew down the right-hand side, just like we did in the nine patches. Press towards the LEFT. (Don’t forget to double check your pattern for pressing directions!)

Repeat with row 2 – only press these squares towards the RIGHT.

Now flip row 1 down so it’s right sides together with row 2, and pin the nested seam. (Psst – this is your last set of seams for your blocks! Get excited!) Do the thing with the sewing machine, then the thing with the iron. The pattern says to press towards row 2, but as long as you go the same direction with all the blocks it doesn’t matter.

Ta-da!!

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Guys.

You did it!

Take a break, kick your feet up, and reward yourself. That was a lot of sewing!


In two weeks, we’ll meet back up to talk about how to sew all your blocks into a finished quilt top. (Hint – more chain piecing!) If you don’t get all 25 blocks finished in two weeks, don’t worry – there will be plenty of time to catch up!

Happy sewing!

Rebecca

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Learn to Quilt Series: Tutorial links

  1. Notions Part 1 – Sewing machine and basic supplies
  2. Notions Part 2 – Cutting and pressing supplies
  3. All about fabric!
  4. Basic cutting, sewing, and pressing
  5. Making your blocks!
  6. Tips for staying organized and sewing blocks into a quilt top
  7. How to attach borders and piece backing
  8. To quilt or not to quilt – professional long-arm services vs. quilting at home, plus a basting tutorial
  9. Quilt at home – machine quilting yourself
  10. Binding your finished quilt and quilt care
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