Thursday, January 27, 2011

Quilting Tips: Things I Wish I'd Known Pt I

I can't remember why I started quilting. I probably leafed through a book or two and thought to myself, "Hey, I should start doing that." my first quilt was outside the box from the modern quilt workshop. i made the crib size. it took me six months to finish it. i'm pretty sure that there weren't as good a variety of beginner quilting books back in '07 (boy i sound like a faux pioneer). my second quilt was even worse. it took me about a year to finish.

i picked up a bit more speed after that but all this is to confess that as a beginner i had no idea what i was doing, and i made a lot of stupid mistakes. probably more advanced quilters along with savvy and patient beginners would not make the same boneheaded errors and will look at this post as laughably lame. but there are things that i really think would have made quilting more enjoyable for me if i had known them 4 years ago and if i can save anyone else from my idiocy, i figure it's worth writing down.

Caveat: this has been my experience but i'm still learning. i'm definitely not an expert so experiment and see what feels right for you.


quilt sketchesquilt sketches
I like to use Illustrator to make a mock-up of what I want my quilt to look like. I realize that most people probably don't have Illustrator, but you could use Paint and i'm pretty sure google has a free drawing program. I stink at sketching and the ability to make basic shapes on a grid shape helps me to figure out not only how I want it to look, but also the dimensions of the pieces I need to cut. the first image became my wonky log cabin quilt minus the rounded edges. The second is a sketch I made for my brother's quilt. I have since decided to go in a completely different direction but I can reuse it in the future. once you've built the shapes in illustrator you can use them over and over again with changes in the colors and layout.

I like to come up with a set of rules for each quilt regarding the use of color and print scale and then break them every once in awhile. i find that it feels more interesting, both to look at and to make if there are some unexpected colors or patterns thrown into the mix.

i don't like to use color wheels or any tools that are too rigid when choosing fabrics or colors. i like to go with my gut. my gut might be aesthetically off to the general eye but it feels right to me most of the time.


I remember reading Oh, Fransson's mod sampler quiltalong (currently unavailable) and trying her method of organizer cards to keep all the pieces together and it just does not work for me. clearly she either has more space to spread things out than i do, or her cats are not nearly as rambunctious as mine and do not drag her quilts in progress all over the dining room table.

when chain-piecing, i put a pin or two directionally upright in the first piece so i can keep track of the beginning and end of a row. when i'm laying out blocks and want to keep them in a particular order, i use a mechanical pencil and number them on the back in the top-left corner (to preserve orientation as well as order) and then i draw up a similarly numbered "map" on scrap paper to consult. it's not as nice as the stacking cards thing but handy if you walk away from your neatly stacked blocks for a moment or two and come back to them strewn all over the floor (thanks, Wyatt!).
I think the key is just to come up with a system that makes sense to you and apply it consistently. I've found that other people's systems don't work with my off-kilter brain but i've found a way that makes logical sense to me and i stick with it.


i don't prewash my quilting fabrics. i used to but i find that removing the sizing makes the fabric softer and more flexible and therefore more slippy and difficult to cut and piece. i use a Shout Color Catcher with each quilt that i wash and i haven't been burned yet.

I wash and dry all of my quilts before i use them or give them away.

I'll be back tomorrow with more.


  1. Very no nonsense info.Thanks, been thinking about learning to quilt.

  2. Good tips. Don't worry, I KNOW I've made just as dumb, if not dumber newbie mistakes. Can't wait to get my new machine so I can start dabbling again!

  3. I sketched out for my first quilt (which is a binding away from being done!) to get the overall design and measurements. But I laid out the different fabrics on the floor and moved them around until it seemed right. Then I cut the squares and layered them out (the preview pic on my blog) on my cutting mat until I was ready to sew. But then again, I don't have cats. ;)

    I washed the fabrics to avoid shrinkage issues. Is that never an issue? If not, I'd love to skip that step - and the subsequent pressing!

  4. I wash my fabrics because I've been burned a time or two at the fabric store with fabrics that not only bleed onto other fabrics but the fabric that bled was left with washed out streaks. If I'd put that in a quilt and then it happened, I'd be devastated. I use the color catchers too. So the other fabrics don't get ruined. But some that have bled were themselves ruined. I put the sizing right back in by ironing and using either homemade spray starch or commercial starch or sizing. Not all fabric shrink the same amount. So if you use fabrics from the same line, you may not have a problem. If you don't who knows what you'll get.



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