So by now, you’ve dusted off or unpacked your sewing machine, bought lots of sharp and pointy tools, and have a pile of pretty fabric sitting around. So how in the world are we going to turn that stack of fabric into a quilt?!
Truuuuuuust me. You can do it! And remember – you can always unpick stitches. Nothing is permanent in quilting!
Except stains. Anyone have a good oil removing trick? Asking for a friend…
Now would be a good time to plug in your iron, thread your machine and an extra bobbin, attach the 1/4″ presser foot, and double check your sewing machine manual to make sure you did it all right. I sew with a stitch length of around 2.5, but it’s a matter of preference. (Keep in mind tiny, short stitches are harder to unpick if – when – you goof up!)
Make a few stitches on a small piece of fabric – you may need to adjust your tension. Read your sewing machine manual for help and if you have trouble, don’t be afraid to take your machine to a local repair shop. A shop near me was able to fix my tension and didn’t even charge me!
Depending on your comfort level, you can start cutting and piecing your quilt as we go this week. (Lingo alert – piecing just means sewing quilt pieces together) If you just want to practice on scrap fabric, that’s okay too! For those of you who want a head start or just want to take a look at the nuts and bolts, you can download the free pattern we will be using here.
If you choose to pre-wash your fabric, do it before cutting! Personally, I do not pre-wash, though you may choose to do so if you’re concerned about shrinkage or bleeding. Do not wash pre-cut fabric (charm squares, fat quarters, etc.) or they won’t be the right size when they come out!
Also, if you choose to starch fabric, do it before cutting! I rarely use starch and won’t be using it for this quilt because a) there’s no itty bitty pieces and b) I don’t pre-wash fabric, which removes some of the stiffness. Remember, starch and no-starch don’t play nice, so if you starch you need to starch all your fabric. Or just skip it. 🙂
Moving on. Rotary cutting!
I have three rules –
Quilting rulers measure right to left – it’s weird at first, but you’ll get the hang of it. Here I have a strip of fabric I’m about to cut 5″ wide – the 5″ mark is on the left, and the rotary cutter will slice along the right side of the ruler.
And it will slice anything in the way. Did I mention to watch your fingers?
Note: I am not a videographer, nor an actor. Bear with me. 🙂
If you want to go ahead and cut all your background squares needed for the quilt, you’ll cut 13 strips 5″ wide, and sub cut into 100 5″ squares. Keep an eye on the straight edges and square your yardage back up if you’re getting wonky. (I square up again every 5-6 strips.)
If you’re cutting fat quarters, the idea is exactly the same: square up an edge, cut 5″ strips, and then sub cut into squares!
Ah…here’s where I make good on my promise that quilting really isn’t as hard as it looks! At the end of the day, an accurate seam is the magic pixie dust.
What I love about this pattern is it’s very forgiving, but the more accurate you can be with your cutting and piecing the easier it gets! It can takes some practice to feel comfortable with your sewing machine, so go nice and slow at first. If your machine feels like it’s trying to drag race down your fabric, slow down until you feel back in control again.
Another golden rule in quilting: fabric is sewn RIGHT SIDES TOGETHER. This means put your fabric pieces together with the fronts facing each other. The “front” = “right” side. The “back” = “wrong” side. RIGHT SIDES TOGETHER – don’t worry, when you forget – as we all inevitably do at the beginning – you can unpick the stitches and fix it!
(My white is the same on both sides, so it doesn’t matter which side faces the print.)
Example of the “right side” of my print – when I flip this square down, it will be right sides together with my background.
If you’re looking at the pattern, I’m starting step 1. We will first sew a background square to three squares of print:
Now take your fresh seam(s) to the ironing board!
In my opinion, pressing accurately is one of more difficult skills to master. As you’ll see, I do a lot of finger pressing to try to flatten the seam before applying heat, and I use steam. I find I distort my blocks too much if I don’t finger press, but you’ll find what’s comfortable for you. Just remember that cotton stretches, especially when hot, so handle your blocks carefully!
In my patterns, I press to the side as opposed to pressing my seams open. It’s a matter of preference, but as a beginner you’ll find pressing to the side makes it easier to line up blocks and take advantage of nested seams. You’ll see patterns often give directions on which way to press.
We will be pressing towards the print in this quilt – shown in arrows in the pattern. Here’s an example of what that means:
Some other pressing tips:
If you want to finish up step 1 of the pattern:
Lastly – you’ll see me tell you to “nest seams” in the pattern. Nesting seams simply means pressing the seams in opposite directions so when they are nestled together, they snug tight and almost “lock” in place. It reduces bulk, makes your sewing machine happy, and makes it easier to get your squares to line up perfectly.
Here’s a happy nested seam:
You’re gonna do it – sew something upside down, backwards, forget to put your squares right sides together…it happens to everyone. I have a seam ripper next to my sewing machine at all times, and I’ve had to replace them after they get dull. So better learn how to do it!
If you need to rip stitches, simply place the pointy end of the seam ripper under a stitch and push it forward until it cuts the stitch. Repeat every 4-5 stitches or so, all the way down the length of the seam you need to remove. Turn your fabric over and grab the bottom piece of thread and pull – it should come right out. Clean up the little bits of thread left and you’re good to go!
Guys….that’s it!! If you want a weekend to practice, have at it and we will dive head first into making our blocks next week. If you want to get a head start and start your nine patches, look over the pattern and shoot me any questions you have. Next week we’ll talk more about reading the pattern, chain piecing, and how to slice your nine patches before letting you loose to get your quilt underway!
I’m so excited! I hope you are too!
I wasn’t sure how to start this post – well – I started it with a tiny squeal and a happy dance, because it’s my favorite part. So I guess you can just picture that, and we’ll move on.
I. Love. Fabric. I’m a very neutral decorator, so our home only has plants and quilts to add color and life to the place…the quilts being my favorite!
Look at it this way – quilts don’t die if you overwater them. Which is apparently a thing.
But before we dive down the fabric rabbit hole – let’s catch up.
In this tutorial series, we’ll be learning how to sew a throw-sized disappearing nine patch quilt start to finish, from my free pattern First Crush Charm. And in case you didn’t catch my enthusiasm earlier, it’s going to be really stinking fun. Here’s some colorful inspiration if you need it. 🙂
Let’s start with the difference in “quilting cotton” vs. “other cotton”. Cotton fabric is everywhere – apparel, bedding, home decor – and at all different prices. So why do I recommend quilting cotton, especially when it costs anywhere from $6-10/yard?!
Disclaimer: I am not a textile expert. But I’ll do my best.
Quilting cotton is made specifically for quilting…yes, duh, but this is important. Meaning it cuts well, is typically thicker than apparel cotton – making it easy to work with – yet with enough softness and drape to make a nice blanket. It will withstand lots of handling during sewing without unraveling and will wash without fading or bleeding. Using the right tool makes the job easier, and while lots of folks have sewn quilts with all sorts of materials, high-quality quilting cotton is a beginner’s best friend.
Your next question should be: “Is there a difference in $2.99/yard fabric from Hobby Lobby, Walmart, or JoAnn’s and the $10/yard fabric you’re about to recommend?”
And the honest answer is – I don’t know.
I have read and heard that chain-store fabric is of lesser quality than the premium cotton sold in quilt stores. It (may) bleed and shrink in the wash, have a coarser “hand” (the softness, drape, and overall feel of the fabric), and (may) not hold up well to years and years of use. I say *may* because I haven’t used it before, and can’t refute or validate any of these claims.
I never want to turn off a person to quilting with snobby and disparaging remarks about fabric. I use what I use because I can afford it, I like it, it doesn’t cause me any trouble, and it makes wonderful quilts. I recommend it for that reason. I can’t possibly try every fabric out there, so use what you like and don’t think for a second I (or anyone else) will care where it came from. 🙂
This quilt will use approximately $80-100 of fabric at $6-10/yard. If chain-store fabric is what you can afford, or if you have experience with it and it’s worked great for you – buy it! I would much rather you enjoy this experience and not back out simply because the fabric I use is too expensive. You can also mix premium designer prints with inexpensive background and backings to bring the designer fabric cost down to ~$30.
Fair enough? Fabric quality can be a sticky subject. So you do you! Let’s move on and dive into the world of designer fabric, precuts, and my favorite stores!
Remember kingdom-phylum-class-order-family-genus-species? …..no? It’s ok, I had to google it to get it right. But the idea is the same in the fabric world.
It goes like this: manufacturer – designer – collection. This was really confusing to me when I first started, so I’ll assume you’re as lost as I was.
Check out the pictures below:
In this photo, the cotton manufacturer is Art Gallery Fabrics. Maureen Crackness is the fabric designer. The name of the collection is “Sunkissed” – a bundle of summer-inspired fabrics designed to coordinate with one another!
Similarly, here the manufacturer is Moda. Bonnie and Camille is the design duo behind the collection named “Vintage Picnic”. (Adorbs.)
This is actually super awesome for beginner and experienced quilters alike – if you’re like me and have trouble matching your socks, you can let the artists do all the work! Using all or part of a collection is an easy way to get a cohesive look and coordinate prints. Collections are only available for a limited time before they stop production, so I tend to stock up on my favorites.
Hoarder status: Semi-professional.
Remember when I said rotary cutters were the best thing since sliced bread? Well, pre-cut fabric (simply called “precuts”) is the sliced bread.
Trust me on this one. Let me explain.
A bolt of quilting cotton is 40-42″ wide. This measurement is abbreviated as “WOF”, or width of fabric from selvage to selvage (edge to edge). We then cut fabric off the bolt by the yard – so a yard of fabric measure 36″ x WOF. Quilts typically only require 2-3 yards of fabric – so to get more pattern variety, many quilters don’t buy by the yard. You can get half yard cuts (18″ x WOF) or quarter yard cuts (9″ x WOF). Problem is, while quarter yard cuts are ideal, it’s just a long skinny piece of fabric that isn’t terribly useful.
And then someone thought of fat quarters. Bless them. And their children, and their children’s children. Because the idea was that good. A fat quarter is still a quarter yard, but it measures 18″ x 21″ rather than 9″ x 42″. It’s a more versatile cut for dicing up into all sorts of shapes and sizes.
However, a full collection fat quarter bundle of 20-40 prints can cost upwards of $100! Good news – there are other precuts that contain entire collections. Moda offers the most precuts, with 42 prints in each and a bakery-themed name. Commonly used precuts:
10″ x 10″ squares (layer cake)
5″ x 5″ squares (charm pack)
2.5″ x 42″ strips (jelly roll)
9″ x 21″ rectangles (fat eighth bundle)
If you have a pattern that uses precuts, you can cut down on the amount of fabric you need to buy. It’s also nice when you don’t have a plan for a collection you like! Just stash a jelly roll or a layer cake and save it for a rainy day.
Our quilt is designed to use either 11 fat quarters, or 3 charm packs. Best part – if you choose charm packs, you don’t have to sub-cut the print! It can save some time in addition to reducing fabric waste, so precuts are handy.
Every pattern will tell you exactly what you need to buy in order to make the entire quilt. Let’s look at our pattern:
So you’re going to need fat quarters or charm packs, and some yardage for binding, background, and backing. Now what.
I am not lucky enough to have a modern quilt shop within reasonable driving distance, so I do all my fabric shopping online. If you’re ready to just stay in your pajamas all weekend, check out my favorite shops!
Fat Quarter Shop – won’t have the best prices in town, but they have a huge selection of yardage and precuts, and you may save money on shipping by getting everything you need here. Excellent place to browse if nothing else! Half-yard minimum on yardage cuts.
Southern Fabric – sells a lot of fat quarter bundles and precuts. Half-yard minimum on yardage cuts.
Hawthorne Threads – manufactures their own fabric as well as carries other quilting cotton. Great for fat quarter bundles and often offers 1/2 collections, but doesn’t have a ton of other precuts. Half-yard minimum on yardage cuts.
Etsy – you’ll find a ton of fabric shops on Etsy! With their low overhead, many Etsy stores offer great prices, although inventory can be small. Many offer fat quarter cuts of yardage. You can search the site, or browse my favorites:
Catching Stitches – great store for precuts, and offers 5-yard backing cuts at a steep discount!
StitchesNGiggles4U – Excellent prices, carries a lot of Moda
Bobbie Lou Fabric – priced a bit steep for fat quarters, but has a huge selection. Carries a lot of Art Gallery Fabrics.
Stash Modern Fabrics – carries a ton of collections and curated bundles of modern fabric.
Fresh Modern Fabric – also carries a lot of Art Gallery Fabrics.
Brewstitched – offers curated bundles of 7-10 fat quarters
If you’re in a browsing mood –
Browse Art Gallery Fabrics collections here. (I live on this website…#AGFfangirl)
Browse Cotton and Steele collections here.
Some of my fabric pulls for this quilt are below – I’m having trouble deciding! Once you pick your fabric, I’d love to see your choices shared with me on Facebook or Instagram! (@rebaleighhandmade) Use the hashtag #rebaleighLearntoQuilt to see what others are making!
*A note on backing – this is assuming you’ll be using cotton backing that is 40-42″ wide. If you plan to quilt at home, I HIGHLY recommend cotton. It’s the easiest for new quilters to work with. If you plan to send your quilt to a long-arm service, you can consider using flannel, minky, or other fabric substrates on the back and will need to double-check measurements before ordering. Contact your quilter ahead of time to make sure they are able and comfortable with what you’re considering. I exclusively use cotton at home because that’s what I’m comfortable with, and I like to have my long-arm quilter put minky on the back!
I’ll use a white background for both options, and I haven’t decided on backing fabric yet. I’ll be quilting it at home, so I’ll use a bold cotton print on the back for interest.
Option 1: A woodsy pull from various Art Gallery Fabrics designers
Option 2: Using charm packs from Bonnie and Camille’s most recent collection The Good Life
Ready for another installment of “allthethingsquilting”?! If you’re just joining, welcome! It’s not too late to sew your first quilt – we are just getting started! You can find the previous tutorials linked at the bottom of each blog post.
Now lets add just a couple more items to that shopping list and turn you loose to gather supplies!
Rotary cutters are basically the best thing since sliced bread. They allow you to make fast, perfectly accurate cuts that set you up to sew accurate blocks. Accuracy is the key to quilting, so a rotary cutting setup is a must. For this quilt, we’ll start with a basic package. If you keep quilting, you’ll find yourself using this setup all the time, and probably adding more rulers to your stash!
I recommend the Fiskars 3-piece rotary cutter/mat/ruler set – it contains all three items. I have this exact set and use each piece on a daily basis when I’m sewing. I change my rotary cutting blade with each quilt, so the blade that comes with the package is enough for now.
Don’t forget to download the JoAnn’s app and take advantage of 20% off a full price item!
On a tight budget:
If you need to skimp on an item, skimp on the rotary cutting mat. You can get by with a really cheap plastic cutting mat and upgrade later to the self-healing mats if you decide to keep quilting. The plastic mats won’t hold up nearly as long, but will cover you for now!
Don’t forget to browse other brands for deals! I use Fiskars because it’s affordable, performs well, and is available at Walmart. However, any rotary cutter/mat/ruler for sale at Walmart, JoAnn’s, or another other sewing supply store will work just fine! Be careful ordering off-brand rotary cutters online – I’ve bought some too-cheap-to-be-good blades on Amazon. But feel free to shop around and get the best deal you can and save your money for fabric and thread.
Hint – in the quilting world, we press fabric, not iron. More about that later. 🙂
Short and sweet – any old iron will do. As long as it gets hot, you’re good to go! I use steam when pressing quilt blocks, but if your iron doesn’t steam just get a spray bottle and fill it water. Misting the fabric lightly before pressing will do the trick.
Likewise, any ironing surface will work as well. Quilt blocks press best on a firm surface, so even though you’ve ironed your interview suit on a towel in a pinch, I don’t recommend it for quilting. I made my own pressing surface from a scrap piece of plywood and some batting, but many quilters use a regular ironing board. You’ll thank yourself later for getting the largest surface you can manage.
I use and love this T-fal iron, available at Walmart.
I started with a $100 Rowenta iron…worked great until it leaked water everywhere and was in the trash six months later. (Grrrr….) This $40 Walmart iron is lighter, doesn’t leak, and performs just as well. I highly recommend it!
DIY pressing board: Pressing boards lack the squishy foam layer and are firmer than standard ironing boards, so blocks press nice and crisp. If you have the supplies and time, they are great! Mine measures approximately 24″ x 36″ and works well for pressing blocks and ironing whole quilt backs.
Cover the top of the plywood with two layers of cotton batting and secure to the back with staples. Cover the batting with your fabric and secure to the back with staples. Ta-da!
Here’s a similar tutorial with pictures from Samelia’s Mum.
On a tight budget:
Chances are someone you know has an old dusty iron! If you can’t borrow one, get an inexpensive iron and test it out on a cotton t-shirt. If you can fold it over and put a crease in it by pressing the iron to the fold, it’ll work!
Making your own pressing board may or may not be cheaper than a store bought ironing board. If you have the room and budget for a simple stand-up board, it will be easier to iron the quilt on the large surface later, but a small table-top ironing board can work with enough patience.
Ok guys….that’s all the notions!! Make your shopping list and head out! Or, if you’re like me, make some popcorn and lounge on the couch while Amazon Prime does all the work for you…
Next week, we talk fabric. I can’t wait, it’s my favorite part! I’ll share what kind of fabric I use, where I get it, and how much you need for your quilt. I’ll also share photos of my fabric choices and some ideas for your quilt!
Have a wonderful weekend filled with cute little scissors and sharp pointy pins!
I’m so happy and excited to host this tutorial series! I hope to convert at least a few more people into professional fabric hoarders! Over the next couple of months, we will be sewing this disappearing nine patch quilt together, starting from square one. As in – what do you need to sew a quilt?! What is sewing even?! (Jokes…they don’t get any better.)
Best part – the tutorials will be around for.ev.er. So if you can’t join the quilt-along this spring, these tutorials will live right here for you to visit later. A never ending virtual sew-along!
Now – let’s talk about what you need to get started. There is an overwhelming amount of tools and supplies (called notions) at every price point you can imagine. In two posts, we will go through what you need to make this quilt, where to get it, and if you’re on a shoestring budget – what you should prioritize. A $10 spool of thread will make a nicer quilt than a $30 cutting mat. Most of my notions come from Walmart or Amazon, but don’t forget to browse your local quilt shop if you’re lucky enough to have one!
Part 1 of this week will cover sewing machines and thread. Part 2 will cover cutting and pressing supplies. Not the most exciting, but my goal is to give you enough time to shop around for your supplies before diving into fabric selection. (The best part!) A full schedule is located at the end of the post.
Alright – take a deep breath…
Let’s do this!!
This is the thing I get asked about the most, by far. I’m going to assume most of you don’t have one and have already googled “best sewing machine for beginners” and want to gouge your eyes out in frustration.
Oh, believe me. I’ve been there.
I’ve owned four sewing machines, and have pieced quilts on three of them. There is an overwhelming amount of options and a huge price spread on machines, and you’ll find everything from basic mechanical machines to crazy fancy computerized gadgets with 100,388,232,398 types of stitches that embroider and free motion quilt and do your laundry for you.
One thing to remember – to make a quilt, you only need to sew a straight line. That’s all. Nothing fancy required. In general – you get what you pay for and the cheapest machines will not perform as well as a pricier machine, regardless of the feature list.
Here’s how I found my dream machine, and what I recommend to others: borrow if you can, or buy an inexpensive machine, until you know a) that you’re going to keep sewing and b) what you want in a machine. There’s no good substitute for personal experience, and you’ll find 20 different quilters that happily sew on 20 different machines.
If you’re curious – here’s a list of sewing machines I’ve used with approximate prices:
Let me know if you have specific questions – I can’t possibly know everything about every machine, but I will try to help out as much as I can!
The cast of characters in my sewing room – Jukester and Ms. Janome.
Okay, once you’ve secured a machine to use for a couple of months you’ll need a few miscellaneous “sewing” supplies to go with it. Most importantly – a 1/4″ quilting foot. Also called a 1/4″ piecing foot. Or simply a 1/4″ presser foot. It measures just shy of 1/4″ from the needle to the edge of the foot – quilting patterns use a 1/4″ seam, so this is a must-have to sew accurate blocks!
You can buy one with a guide or without – personally I found the guide to be a nuisance. Presser feet are machine specific and a 1/4″ foot rarely comes supplied with a new machine. Your best bet? Google “<your machine make/model> 1/4 inch presser foot” or go into a quilting store and ask for help finding one that fits your machine.
I found my 1/4″ Juki foot at www.sewingpartsonline.com and the Janome and Singer feet on Amazon.
You’ll also need:
Talk to those same 20 quilters, and chances are you’ll find varying opinions on thread choices. I exclusively use Aurifil 50 wt. cotton thread to thread my machines. Why? Because that’s what my mentor uses and recommended, and it’s always worked beautifully for me.
I prefer to use cotton thread with cotton fabric – you’ll find folks adamant that using polyester thread will eventually wear holes in your cotton fabric due to differences in fiber strength. I haven’t had a quilt long enough to tell – but just in case, I use cotton.
If you’re on a budget:
I haven’t quilted with a budget brand of thread and therefore can’t recommend any. Aurifil will be $10 well spent but if you can’t afford it, ask your local quilt store for recommendations!
Whew – that was a lot of shop talk! If you’re still hanging on, take a couple of days to digest it and shop around if you need a sewing machine. Shoot me your questions or comments – next up will be cutting and pressing (ironing) and then we talk fabric while you gather supplies!
Aaaah – it’s here!!
Late Friday night, I finished up binding my Wild Soul quilt in preparation to take it with us to Leadville to see a friend ride in a skijoring competition.
It’s okay, I’ll wait while you google it.
Anyway, it was such a fun day! I asked my husband if he wouldn’t mind holding up my quilt for a few pictures in front of the mountains on the way home. The views were stunning – I couldn’t take a quilt named “Wild Soul” into the heart of Colorado and NOT take a landscape photo, right?!
Except it’s March in the high country – the first place we stopped we both sank up to our THIGHS in snow! I was laughing too hard to take a decent photo – Ryan wasn’t tall enough to hold the quilt with half of his body buried! The rest of the ride back to the interstate was spent going – “There!! Quick, pull over!! No – there!! Aww, you missed it – there!! Stop stop stop! That looks good!!” But we managed to get some fun pictures, I double checked some math, and without further ado – I’d like to introduce Wild Soul!
I began designing quilt patterns because I wanted to gift a quilt to someone so special, I felt like anything less just wouldn’t do. To design a quilt for another person is my ultimate labor of love – my whole heart, creativity, and lots of time go into selecting the right design. All the while, I’m thinking of this person – what makes them special, things they enjoy, time spent with them – every stitch in the quilt is a memory brought to life.
Naming the quilt is the final nod to those memories.
Wild Soul was a pattern I designed for myself – for the first time, I wasn’t designing for another person or with specific constraints. It was so liberating, honestly, and I enjoyed every bit of letting my creative side just play.
All the while, though, I was still thinking about someone special.
In between the initial sketches and the final seam, my mother and I went on a trip together to Ely, Minnesota. For thirty years, Mom has wanted to go dog sledding – and I was the only person crazy enough to go with her! You see, my mom and I share what my family affectionately calls our “adventure shoes”. They’ve taken us all over the US and beyond, sharing a inner desire to see and do – never rest, never sit down – always planning the next adventure.
Our adventures look very different nowadays – Mom likes to travel in her Volkswagen bus and visit historic places. I like to be on top of mountains and canyons and sleep outside. Not to mention, we are different people! She’s a kind, conservative, rural woman who raised her babies and retired, now running the family business. I’m a young suburban wife now, living 1000 miles away from the rest of my family with no children, and the “bleeding liberal” of the bunch! Sometimes, I feel as different as oil and water.
But as I sewed this quilt – this quilt I love – I reflected on our time together in the Northwoods. As we mushed our dog teams together with the biggest smiles on our cold faces I remembered that I am her daughter, and she is my mother. We aren’t as different as it seems at times. Among so many other things, we share a bond deeper than any other I’ve known.
But my favorite thing we share…is our wild souls.
I hope you love this quilt as much as I do!
Fabric: Indie Folk by Pat Bravo for Art Gallery Fabrics
Quilted by: Abby Latimer of Latimer Lane Quilting