What You Need to Know Before Purchasing Designer Quilt Fabric

Fibers to Fabric

Fabric…my favorite “F” word and one of my favorite things in the world. Should a situation occur that requires the rate of my heart to beat faster all I have to do is walk into a fabric shop! It may even skip a beat or two but there would be nothing to worry about…this is not the precursor to a heart attack. It’s just how a “Fabriholic” responds to quilt fabric – and it only becomes more intense in the presence of designer quilt fabric.


What Exactly is Designer Fabric?

In the world of fabric there are many, many options and correlating price ranges. Bargain fabric often purchased at a chain or big box store is much less expensive but the quality is also much lower. An exception would in an outlet type store that may from time to time include fabric from a high end manufacturer. Usually the fabric offered is what is left of a fabric line (remnant) and your choices are limited to what is available at that time.

Designer fabric, on the other hand is of higher quality. You can hold this fabric up to the light and not be able to see through it. Quilting fabric is also 100% cotton and the manufacturing and dye processes produce fabric a superior product. These higher thread counts – of 70 or so per square inch produce a fabric that is durable and able to hold its shape both during the sewing and quilting process. This translates into less shrinkage and improved longevity and usability of the finished quilt.

Improved colorfastness is another advantage. Fabric of higher color intensities, regardless of the fabric quality, will have some bleeding. This is one reason many quilters will first wash their fabrics before starting any aspect of the quilting process. If you do intend to use quilting fabric to sew a garment or any worn item, then washing the fabric first is a must.

So now that you have some insight into the various attributes of “high end” fabric, here is a very short list of some quilt fabric manufacturers I have personally used: Moda, Art Gallery Fabrics, Robert Kaufman, Andover, Benartex, Henry Glass, Cotton + Steel, Boundless and Kona Cotton. There are many, many more and each manufacturer carries hundreds of individual fabric lines from hundreds of fabric designers.

When you are ready to shop for high quality quilting fabric you will soon learn there is no shortage of options.



What is Good Can also be, Well… Not so Good

Yes, things have been rolling along so well…blue skies, yellow sun, pink daisies and all that’s good and right with designer fabrics until suddenly, from out of nowhere, a less-than-rosey memory surfaces to the forefront of my stream of consciousness.

Believe it or not, there is a downside to using these high end fabrics and that is the limited availability of each and every fabric line.

First, you find a fabric or collection you adore and purchase the amount needed for whatever project you have on your list. Seven or eight months down the line you receive a request to create that same project using that same fabric but guess what? It’s sold out – everywhere.

And when a designer fabric sells out, it is sold. out. forever.

Additional Things to Consider

Thing 1

The high cost of designer fabric. The old, old saying, “You get what you pay for” does apply but is it always necessary to use high end designer fabric every time you make a quilt of other fabric project?

When determining the true value of a quilt, your time and the complexity of the quilt are also factors. Juvenile prints – especially for a baby – come in the most heavenly colors and the fabric hand is equally divine but is it practical to use expensive fabrics for a quilt that will require washing at least once a week? An argument can be made for either side. The higher the quality of fabric the greater the likelihood the quilt will be able to withstand hundreds of washings. The flip side of course, is that babies grow quickly so, is it logical to spend a lot of time and money on an item with limited use?

There is no right or wrong answer – just something to be considered before deciding to use high end / high cost quilting fabric.

Thing 2

Each time I purchase quilting fabric from a manufacturer listed above, it will contain a tag which indicates where it was manufactured. So far I’ve received fabric from Japan, Korea, South Korea, Indonesia and Thailand. ( I can’t help but wonder how this also has an effect on the overall purchase price of the fabric).

For those who are concerned about the outsourcing of these manufacturing jobs and prefer to purchase from American manufacturers this may also be an issue. (Oh no…another interruption in my stream of consciousness – a memory from the not too distant past where most, if not all, designer wall coverings were manufactured in Europe…hmm).

Now I’m curious…has the same thing happened to fabric? Are there any fabric manufacturers in the USA?


With Google as my co-pilot I embarked on a little research and I am happy to report I was able to locate one company in Seattle, WA – American Made Brand. Their logo for their fabric division Clothworks incorporates their philosophy: “Celebrating a Farm to Fabric Movement” in which all aspects of their fiber and fabric manufacturing process occurs onsite.

In conclusion, I am an admitted fabric snob and will prefer designer quilting fabric over lower quality fabric most anytime with this one exception – that is when practicing the beginning sewing basics or learning a complicated pattern or block. Use the cheap stuff for this and other basic techniques described here.

I would love to hear your thoughts on designer quilting fabric. Tell me your favorite manufacturer and do you prefer making your fabric purchases online or in your local fabric shop.

Adding a photo of your latest fabric shopping experience would be fun also!

Top 5 Things to Consider When Buying a Sewing Machine

 

 

 

Is It Cat Friendly?

Answer:  That really shouldn’t be a consideration but for cat lovers out there, I’m throwing in this one for free!

For the rest of us…

Each year the heads of sewing machine industry gather around a large table putting their heads together to generate strategies to lure every sewist from all levels of experience and expertise to purchase the “latest and greatest” sewing machine.

The past 10 years alone have witnessed a consistent and dynamic evolution not only in the manufacturing process but in the way these sewing machines are used. This is a far, far cry from the time when I was a little girl sitting beside my aunt as she made quilts on a treadle Singer sewing machine – one very similar to the image below.

 

 

Keeping It Simple

No doubt, back in that day (late 1890s to the early 1900″s) the decision-making process was quite simple. Aside from availability, price was likely the only factor. The basic requirement for a sewing machine was also quite simple – the only thing needed was a threaded needle to go up and down through the fabric to catch the bobbin thread from underneath.

These machines sewed only 1 stitch – a straight stitch, and each stitch was the same length. Period. The power was provided by placing your foot (or both feet) on the rectangular shaped metal platform near the floor and bending your ankles up and down. When your feet stopped moving, so did the machine.

These machines were heavy – made of steel with a wooden cabinet and they were made to last. This was well before the day of planned obsolescence and the luxury of tossing it (or anything else, for that matter) in the dumpster (or back alley) and buying a new one after 2-3 years was unthinkable.

Other features of this vintage sewing machine are depicted in the diagram below taken from the manufacturer’s user’s manual:

 

 

 

 

Choices, Choices

Today, choosing a sewing machine is not so simple. In the interest of time I will not even attempt to describe even a fraction of machines available and their respective attributes however, you can click on a picture or manufacturer’s name below each machine and it will take you to the respective website – each site is guaranteed to provide enough eye candy to put you in a sugar coma! I should note here also, this is a very small sampling and the images only represent the top of the line models from each manufacturer.

 

                                                                                     Janome

 

Viking by Husquavarna

 

Bernina

 

Now that you’ve done a little window shopping let’s return to reality and discuss what you came here for – the top five items to consider when purchasing a sewing machine.

 

To begin with here are my Top Two Recommendations:

 

     1) BUY THE MOST EXPENSIVE MACHINE YOU CAN AFFORD.

     2) BUY FROM A REPUTABLE, LOCAL DEALER.

Do this and the remainder of the list will pretty well take care of itself.

Buying a sewing machine is, in my opinion, a major purchase and…you do get what you pay for. However, if you took a look at the high end models and even a few mid-range models you also see it not necessary to go straight to the top. Man of these newer machines may do everything but bake bread and wash windows but there is no need spending money for features you do not want or need or may never use.

On the other hand, buying as much machine as you can comfortably afford saves you the hassle of having upgrade later on down the road or ending up with a machine that lacks the workmanship and durability to perform your desired tasks.

Regarding using a local dealer – when you machine needs servicing or a repair you know exactly where to go. It also helps local businesses. These business owners and employees can offer you advice and instruction that you will not get from an online review.

 

     3) Decide what exactly you want to do with your sewing machine.

If a straight stitch or maybe a zigzag stitch or making a button hole now and then is all you are looking for then your best bet is to find a machine with as few options as possible.

 

If you plan do any decorative stitching or embroidery then it is best to look into a model that accommodates an embroidery hoop.

For creating embroidery on a large scale, i.e., a business, then you need to look into a computerized machine with a few bells and whistles. Many models have the option to purchase or download patterns and will practically do the work for you – all you have to do is set it up.

On the subject of running a business such as a quilting business, you may want to invest in a machine that not only sews a variety of stitches and stitch lengths but on that also incorporates quilting software. This takes the process to another level that allows you first design your own quilt before piecing and sewing it together!

 

     4) Determine if your machine needs to be portable.

Most of the time a sewing machine will be set up in a designated room or area of your home and stay there. However, there may come a time when you will want to join a quilt guild or attend a retreat or special class and will need to be able to bring your own machine. If these activities occur frequently I would check the overall weight specification.

 

Typically, the heavier the machine the higher the quality. It also usually means less noise, less vibration and increased durability. However, for frequent traveling you may want to consider a lower end of the mid-range models. If it becomes damaged in transit the cost for repairs is minimal compared to the costs of repairs or replacement of a high end computerized machine.

     5) Decide who will be using the machine

It seems there is a growing number of teens, tweens (and according to Pinterest, cats) are becoming interested in sewing. If you have younger individuals in your home who may be using the same machine you should consider purchasing a machine that won’t feel too intimidating to use. Returning to the business model, if your interests extend into teaching others to sew or quilt, a machine that is well-built but with a lower learning curve is your best bet.

 

Final Thoughts and Other Useful Information

Considering today’s shopping trends it goes without saying, it is always a good idea to first do a little online research. However, before making a final decision, grab some fabric swatches and head down to your local sewing machine dealer and take a “test drive”. They will have a variety of floor models available for you to try as this is really the best way for you to make this type of purchase. The result? A sewing machine that fits the way you sew and the establishment of a relationship with a local merchant who can quickly and easily provide the service and repairs when you need them.

 

 

 

 

 

How to Learn to Quilt – The Log Cabin Block in 10 Easy Steps

What? Make a log cabin quilt block in just 10 easy steps? Why not? If you have been following along, in previous posts where I concentrated on the very basics of cutting and sewing fabric and discussed the benefits of using pre-cuts as a quick and easy way to learn how to piece together your first quilt top, then you are ready for this.

You have mastered the skills of cutting accurate fabric dimensions and sewing a consistent seam ( typically 1/4″ ) and in all likelihood you are tired of those cute 5″ squares and have begun to ask what other patterns or fabric cuts could I successfully attempt next?

I know this because I had the same question after making my 10th or 12th lap quilt using 5″ precut squares or charm packs.

Digging through my stash of fabrics and downloaded block patterns I came up with this one: a super simple, quick and easy log cabin. This is a classic design and a favorite of just about everyone – quilters and non-quilter’s alike.

The distinct pattern is perfect for using scraps of fabric in contrasting colors – this is what makes the design pop and stand out from many other block designs. I also think it is the gradation in “log” sizes that gives the overall design movement – it visually carries your eye in a comfortable circular motion that adds to its visual appeal.

The images below show how the same fabric using the log cabin pattern pieces but sewn into two different configurations can give the appearance of two distinctly different blocks:

 

 

 

 

 

These are just two of probably 200 or more different variations!

Both log cabin blocks shown above were made from a jelly roll from the fabric line “Sweet Cherry Wine” by Blackbird Fabrics. As you can see, this fabric line utilizes a wide range of color contrasts and interesting prints. This particular pattern is from a hand drawn grid using (1) 2″ square and 8 strips with a beginning measurement of 2″ x 1″. Each strip is then cut 1″ longer than each previous (2×2, 2×3, 2×4 etc.).

 

 

If you need further proof of the versatility of the log cabin pattern take a look at the image below from Quilter’s Digest:

 

At first glance it looks incredibly complicated but one you break down the individual blocks and begin to see the pattern repeat, you then begin to think, “sure, I can do that!”

 

Now that you know a little more about the log cabin design let’s dive in go through the process, step by step.

Take a look in your stash and see if you happen to have a jelly roll on hand. The 2 1/2″ wide by 40″ – 42″ cut lengths are the perfect pre-cut to use for a log cabin quilt top. And if the prints are too busy or the colors fall too close together on the color wheel you can always pair that fabric with a coordinating or contrasting solid.

For those of you making a log cabin for the first time I am going to use a different pattern than the one from my example above. It is a simpler pattern and appears to be a little easier to piece and sew.

What I have chosen to use is a free pattern download entitled “Valentine Heart Coaster” from Craftsy. It is designed by Allie Hartom of Allie – oops Designs – you can also visit her blog here. This is a super cute fabric coaster that incorporates both applique and log cabin piecing and measures 6″ square when finished.

This particular pattern is new to me so I’m going to sew this block together as I write up this tutorial. The pattern calls for a heart applique in the middle of the 3″ square but since it is almost fall I’m going to choose an apple, pumpkin or leaf applique instead.

 

 

So Let’s begin!

Step 1 – Choose fabric for both the log cabin strips and at least an 8″ square for the backing.

Step 2 – Choose applique design

Step 3 – Cut fabric into the following dimensions:

Square: 3″ x 3″

Strip #1 : 1 1/2″ x 3″ Strips #2 & #3: 1 1/2″ x 4″ Strips #4 & #5: 1 1/2″ x 5″

Strips # 6 & #7: 1 1/2″ x 6″ Strip #8: 1 1/2″ x 7″.

Step 4 – Applique design onto middle 3″ square

Step 5 – Sew the 1 1/2″ x 3″ strip to the bottom of the 3″ square (right sides together) then press the seam open.

Step 6 – Continue in a clock wise fashion attaching a strip (in the order given) then ironing the seam open, attach a strip, iron open etc., until all 8 strips are in place forming a square.

 

A diagram of the process and the numerical order in which each strip is attached is shown below:

 

 

 

Step 7 – Cut an 8″ or so square of batting material and sandwich between the pieced top and backing making sure the wrong sides of the fabric are facing outward.

Step 8 – Stitch around the quilt sandwich leaving a 3″ or so opening then turn inside out. With the right sides of the fabric showing fold the edges of the opening inward and pin.

Step 9 – Top stitch around the entire square 1/4″ from the edge

Step 10 – Press and admire your handiwork!

 

Below is my block using the pattern by Allie-Oop:

This is the front

 

 

Here is the back

 

As discussed earlier, this pattern has so many possibilities. Fabric choices are endless but when the dimensions of the squares and fabric strips are cut a bit wider or longer the result is a block that is larger and a larger block has many other possibilities:

1) Mug Rug

2) Placemat

3) Mini quilt

4) Doll quilt

5) Pieced together with other large blocks to make a quick and easy full sized quilt.

 

Once you have finished your log cabin block leave a comment below and include a link where we can locate and admire your handiwork! Be sure and include if this was your first log cabin block as well!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Quilting and Social Media

What do quilting and social media have to do with each other?

This is no doubt a question you didn’t know needed to be answered until it was asked.

The answer has to do with productivity, time management and automation – concepts common in both elements – quilting and managing / leveraging social media.  It is through our ability to utilize all tools available (automated or not) that will allow us to manage our time and be as productive as possible.  And we all know how time is money.

Yesterday I found myself in Google-land in search of the when, where, how and why of social media. After a few minutes of scrolling through several sites I began to notice a pattern – each one was promoting a strategy or program for harnessing the powers and analyzing the effects of social media for your business.

The duration of time it took me to do this research led me to this conclusion – managing these accounts ( like piecing and sewing together hundreds of tiny squares and rectangles) can become quite time intensive as well.

 

Necessity is Forever the Mother of Invention

To solve the time intensive task of knowing when to post what content and to which platform, “social media management tools” were developed. Such a time saver, this tool. If you have more than one account across several platforms, these tools that provide automated content posting are the only way to leverage social media to your benefit.

BSMMT (Before Social Media Management Tools) existed, one had to: 1. Create their own schedule or calendar, 2) remember to use the calendar and, 3) physically post an instance of content to your website and then to each of your social media accounts.

In the world of quilting the use of a sewing machine is still considered by many as an “automated” task. In generations past all stitching and quilting was done by hand. By today’s standards machine piecing and sewing is not so much an automated process but it is certainly a time saver.

On the subject of quilting – that is a different matter. Long arm quilting has automated the whole process and the results are breathtaking. The machines used for this type of machine quilting range from a1) sit-down model with hand grips to a 2) stand up model with hand grips and for the ultimate professional a completely automated 3) computerized model.

 

1. 2.

 

3.

 

 

I have an entire Pinterest board dedicated to long arm quilting – as soon as you get a chance feel free to take a look at some very swoon-worthy pins! Below is just one example:

 

Without automation – specifically the use of one a long arm quilting machine there is no way this quilted design could have become a reality…no way this could be done by one person, by hand and in less than a decade.

 

More from the Invention Convention

Another advancement in the world of all-things-to-be cut (fabric/paper/leather/vinyl) are the cutting machines. These go by various brands – Cricut, Silhouette, and AccuQuilt to name a few. I have not used any of these personally but I do have a couple of friends (one a scrapbooker and the other a quilter) who have a Cricut and they both love it!

 

 

 

At a distance, any of these appear to be a very worthwhile investment and I label each an investment – each option carries a price tag). Whatever the price, the ROI is also quite high. Time saved anywhere usually always equals money in the bank.

Say what you will about automation. When technology serves multiple purposes and the primary being accuracy – whether it is an accurate fabric cut or a perfectly timed content posting it becomes easy to conclude automation is our best friend.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Woodland Critters – Climbing a Mountain

 

To the Summit and Beyond

The past weeks have been a series of many starts and stops.  Like climbing a mountain – taking a break now and then to survey the landscape, catch my breath, plan my next move then climb some more.   Reaching the mountain’s summit and feeling like the descent back to sea level would be smooth sailing – or so I thought!

What could be quicker and easier than sewing a series of squares and rectangles?  The short answer: automation.

It seems anytime I become involved in a tedious, time-consuming task my mind begins to wander into the realms of “how can I make this easier”. Nothing like lining up and nesting seams of little squares and rectangles to provide fuel to turn the wheels of innovation.

Earlier I was reading on social media management tools = strategies to automate the posting process of content into social media accounts. There also needs to be a way to automate aligning and nesting seams so it is not only less time intensive but more accurate than my seams are turning out to be.

Its a Fine Line Between Here and There

 

On the topic of nesting seams I should mention there are MANY of these to line up. For the seasoned quilter this is no cause for concern – not a source of stress but for a beginner or an intermediate beginner, like me, it is a different story.

To be exact, 5 rows each contain 13 seams to be perfectly aligned and nested = 65. Of the remaining 4 rows, 2 rows each have 9 seams and 2 rows have 6 seams = 18 + 12 = 30 which gives us a running total of 95 seams to be perfectly (or near perfectly) aligned so when sewn together the seams form a straight line.

 

 

We haven’t yet considered the number of seams we’ll have to match up when putting all the rows together. Once the top is pieced and all rows are sewn together the remainder of the process, if using a sewing machine to quilt and bind, goes rather fast.

The image below shows in greater detail the individual rows as well how the sashing is attached. (The narrow strips that run horizontally between the wide rows as well as between the larger blocks is called the sashing).

 

If You Can’t Automate, Simplify!

Until this tedious process is automated (and I feel somehow in the future it probably will be – if it hasn’t already) I have identified at least three ways this entire process could be simplified.

1) Create one continuous 2″ strip between the rows of blocks. This would eliminate the need to nest so many seams. In fact, the only seams to worry about are the (6) large four-patch blocks.

2) If greater visual interest is desired, sew one continuous rectangle of the print fabric between each of the smaller four-patch cornerstones as instructed in the original pattern.

3) The four-patch corner stone could be replaced with a single square of contrasting or background fabric.

 

Pieced and Quiet

Once the quilt top is pieced it is now time to turn my attention squaring the top and pinning the top to the batting and backing.  This makes the quilt sandwich.

To get a better idea of this process I’m including a few pictures:

Using a large cutting mat, 6″ x 24″ quilt ruler and rotary cutter:

  1. The top is squared
  2. Safety pins are used to “baste” or attach all three layers (top, batting and backing) together.
  3. The outer edge is stitched 1/4″ from the edge of the top – all the way around leaving a 5″ opening.  The ruler is used again and placed on the 1/4″ stitch line as a guide for trimming.

 

The Fun Begins

Twist and Turn

This brings the inside out

To reveal this!

The opening at the bottom is closed with quilt clips and ready to be top stitched around the perimeter of the entire quilt.  This not only closes the opening but creates a nice smooth edge.

 

You will also notice a couple of other techniques I used to simplify the finishing process.

The First:  Rather than adding a separate binding to the edge I elected to create the quilt sandwich which allowed the edges to be sewn then turned outside in.  The top stitching creates a binding effect and takes much less time.

Second:  The actual “quilting” is done by tying knots using embroidery thread at 6″ intervals.  I’m not sure this is easier or quicker than machine quilting but to me, it looks so much better – the overall effect is a softer, smoother appearance.

Originally, I did a few rows of machine stitching – 1) In the ditch and 2) In a diagonal pattern but didn’t like any of them.  All that stitching created too much visual competition with the appliques and the fabric pattern.

 

Ready for the Recipient!

 

 

Have you ever changed you mind like this when quilting?  I would love to hear your thoughts on your own personal quilting process and how you decide on a machine quilting pattern and how do you decide to machine quilt vs hand quilt vs tying.

 

 

 

Top 5 Reasons You Need a Design Wall

 

I’m going to continue to use my Woodland Critters Baby Quilt to demonstrate the necessity of using a design wall with all – or at least most – of your quilting projects.

Right now, I have each of the 12 blocks and bazillion pieces for sashing in place, in sequential order and ready for sewing. I do not think I could have done this without using my large design wall. For anyone interested in using this pattern I would highly suggest using a design wall as there really is no better way to accurately visualize how each block or color relates to another than to have it placed in a vertical position and at eye level.

Our eyes are made to work together – each eye perceives an image independently but it is our brain that fuses these images into one. Now think about where your eyes are located – side by side along a horizontal plane. Leaning your head even slightly to one side alters the perception of the object you are viewing. It may be too subtle to notice however, if you think about the difference in the comfort level of your eyes when watching a TV program lying on your side then sit up and notice the difference. When our head is in an upright, mid line position we are able to more accurately perceive objects that fall within our line of sight. Your perception or point of view changes and things just look more “normal”. We are able to focus our attention on how things look as opposed to trying to make things look “right”.

Before I invested in a design wall or even knew such an animal existed a table-top or floor was the only surfaces I used to organize and layout a fabric design. Thinking back I realize I used a considerable amount of time trying to get things to “look right”. Sometimes, I never got things to “look right” because I was not allowing my eyes and my brain to naturally work together. A design wall would have solved that!

Design Wall #1

In my sewing room I actually use two different sized design walls. For the large one I first attached a wooden screen (that I’ve had for over 20 years and have never actually used) to one wall in my sewing room making sure the top of the design wall would not be higher than my range of reach. On this I measured the distance between the grommets on the commercially available “design wall” and screwed in small hooks. Next, I simply hung this fabric from the hooks.

This “temporary” design wall has been up about 2 years now. My thinking: see if I am able to live with something like this on my wall and if so, change out the re purposed screen for a proper wooden border. This temporary installation gives me the freedom to remove it from the frame, fold it up and take it with me to another room or out-of-town quilt retreat.

 

 

In the image above you can see this design wall is simply vinyl backed felt (same thing as a vinyl table cloth) with 7 or 8 grommets placed across the top. The vinyl back also has a grid to help with accurate fabric placement. At first sight this appears to be a great idea however, I have to admit I don’t use the grid at all and here is why. The grid is marked in 2″ squares. Most quilt pieces, in order to accommodate a 1/4″ seam allowance, are not cut into whole number dimensions – they will be 4 1/4″ or 5 7/8″ . Additionally, many quilts I make use fabric dimension of more than one size, throwing off the grid system making it basically useless.

You can see how my pieces look on this design wall – they don’t correlate with any grid line and because of the varying dimensions between the sashing, squares and blocks, some pieces overlap while a gap is seen between others.

It looks messy but that’s no problem. The felt-type fabric used on the wall allows the quilt fabric to “stick” and temporarily position and re position until you have everything lined up the way you want. Having all fabric pieces easily accessible and in correct order when ready to sew is both a time saver and stress reducer.

Design Wall #2

My large design wall works great but there are times when I really don’t need that much area to work with. Then there are times when I’d rather do my cutting downstairs on my kitchen island. I have all the light and space I need and plenty of good spots to hang a smaller design wall.

Next question, where is this smaller design wall going to come from? I sense another DIY project brewing. Sure enough, a trip to the basement yielded a piece of canvas “art” leaning against a wall and serving no other purpose than to collect dust. All that was needed was some “sticky” fabric and I have LOTS of batting scraps that fit that bill and a staple gun.

The image below shows how I covered this canvas with batting (I zigzag stitched three remnants together) then wrapped it to the back and stapled it all the way around. Now I have a smaller design board for use with all my smaller quilts or to organize fabric pieces of a larger individual block. It’s extremely lightweight, easily moves from room to room and can be stored out of sight by sliding under a bed, behind a tall cabinet or in a closet.

 

 

 

In summary, here are the top 5 reasons you need a Design Wall:

1) Helps to accurately visualize the overall effect of colors and shapes and their relation to one another.

2) Vertical placement on a wall takes up very little space – a portable wall is easily stored out of sight.

3) It can easily be a permanently (semi-permanently) mounted on a wall and always available when you need it

4) Can be portable – there are many other variations, I have only shown two options.

5) Allows you to use and re purpose unused items sitting in your basement or closet collecting dust.

 

I hope you find the above information helpful if not somewhat enlightening.

 

As I wrote this I had a question – has anyone used a design wall for other sewing projects? For sewing garments for example?

If you use a design wall please share your thoughts and images in the comments section below!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Woodland Critters Baby Quilt – Part 2

It’s Critter Time!

Finally, things are beginning to come together – on all levels. I have finished the applique process for all six “Critters” and here is what they look like up on my design wall each patiently waiting to be squared into 10″ blocks.

You can review my applique process here or use Erin’s technique used in the original pattern here.

 

 

The image above was not taken using a light box or proper lighting of any kind making the colors appear very washed out so I’ve added a slightly better image below to show the fabric’s truer colors.

 

I don’t recall my thought process (over 2 month’s ago) when I first began to choose colors for the applique critters but I’m now I am noticing I didn’t use any of the yellow background fabric at all. However, it will be used to piece the disappearing 4-patch blocks. Let’s hope (fingers crossed) when it’s all put together it still looks OK!

Tools of the Trade

This particular pattern calls for only four basic fabric cuts: 10″ squares, 5 1/4″ squares and strips: 1 1/2″ x 25″ and 2 1/2″ x 25″. A large cutting mat is helpful if you happen to use cuts of fabric larger than a fat quarter. I found using my 12″ rotary cutting mat, a 12.5″ x 2.5″ ruler and rotary cutter to be the only tools I needed.

Each of the 12 fat quarter pieces of fabric is just the right size to yield the exact number of squares (2) and strips (2) needed of each pattern. There won’t be much fabric left over but it will be more than enough for use in the appliques.

When to Deviate From the Original Pattern

1) The original pattern indicates cutting each 1 1/2″ and 2 1/2″ strip 20″ long. I cut mine 25″ in length. Doing a little math I noticed the 20″ length may not be long enough to cut all the segments. If (4) separate segments are to be cut 5 1/4″ long – those four segments alone equal 21″ and you still need another 3″ in length to be able to cut the (2) 1 1/2″ segments.

2) The original pattern also calls for white strips to be used for the sashing. This would be a perfect color choice if paired with fabrics of a bright or primary colored hue. The Hushabye Hollow fabric line is softer with an undertone of yellow so I chose to use fabric solid from my stash – Boundless Fabric in Porcelain.

Have you ever deviated from a pattern’s original instructions? When and why did you feel this was necessary?

Note: Any time I run across a sale on solid fabric in white, off-white, gray or black I buy up a generous amount. Pairing these neutrals with fun prints or using them as a background, in my opinion, makes a huge impact in the appearance of a finished quilt. These are colors that will be used – sooner or later – so it’s never money wasted!

What fabrics can you not resist the urge to pass up?

The fabric squares and strips needed to begin the disappearing four patch blocks are shown below:

 

 

Keeping Focus on the Process

Once again, we are at a point where things begin to take off. To make the process even speedier I use a technique called “chain piecing”. I pair a solid strip with a print strip – right sides together and sew a 1/4″ seam along the full length. Reaching near the end of that strip I begin to feed the second pair under the edge of the presser foot. This is done without cutting any thread between the paired strips.

This is how these strips look about half-way through the process. Looking to the far right of this image you can see how each succeeding strip is fed under the foot immediately after the one preceding as part of the “chain piecing” technique.

 

Below is a close-up of the threads creating the chain:

 

More Cutting and Sewing Fabric Back Together

Once all strips are sewn and the seams pressed open time to once again bring out the rotary cutting board and cut each strip set into (4) 5 1/4″ and (2) 1 1/2″ segments. The image below shows one of each segment:

 

 

On the subject of cutting I would like to end Part 2 to review a few basic techniques to keep in mind when using a rotary cutter and mat.

If you have never used or have little experience with this type of cutting first off, it is mandatory that you have these three items:

1) A Cutting Mat designed for use with a rotary cutter.

Cutting on any other surface than one designed for use with a rotary cutter will ruin that surface. It is up to you whether to use a mat is self-healing or not. A self-healing mat will allow the marks made with a rotary cutter to “heal” or smooth over giving the appearance of having never been cut. These will cost more but will last so much longer.

2) A Rotary Cutter

There are many rotary cutters on the market with metal blades of varying diameter.

The smaller 18mm and 28 mm diameter blade is small enough to easily cut wavy lines and small circles.

The medium (most popular) 45mm diameter blade is suitable for cutting larger sized curves as well as cutting 1-4 layers of fabric in a straight line.

A larger 60mm diameter blade is great for cutting thicker fabrics or additional layers of fabric at once.

EVERY time you use a rotary cutter always cut in direction only. Start at a point closest you and cut away and if a couple of threads were missed do not roll the cutter backward. This causes the edge of the fabric to fray and shred making it impossible to line up the edges of fabric to trim or sew.

3) Quilt ruler

A straight edged ruler with grid lines is essential. There is no other way (by hand) to get an accurate or near accurate cut of fabric without using a ruler as a guide. A nice middle of the road size is 3″ x 18″ and bigger is better. There is nothing more frustrating or impossible than trying to use a ruler 12″ in length when you need 18″.

While I return to my quilt project – cutting and sewing together more pieces of fabric, I’d love to hear your thoughts! What is your favorite sized ruler and why? Do you feel self-healing cutting mats are necessary or is a regular mat just as good?

If anyone has used this fabric line – Hushabye Hollow by Lydia Nelson for Moda Fabrics or made a quilt using the pattern Woodland Critters by Avery Lane please post a link for us all to see!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What is a Superior Thread Holder Handy Stand?

 

 

And Do I Need One?

In my last post I discussed my “Dream Quilting / Sewing machine” and thought I had covered all its positive elements and functions. However, I did omit one important item – the thread holder. The Juki TL2000Qi is designed to hold the larger spools and cones of thread that are wound onto the spool in a crosswise fashion. In fact, it will hold not just one but two spools at once. The machine I now use will only hold one standard spool (where the thread is wound in a straight, linear fashion). Thread that is wound onto a cone using the cross winding technique must be unwound from a vertical position. This prevents the thread from becoming too twisted and eventually breaking while sewing – the very last thing you want to have happen when doing the actual quilting. When you use this type of high end quilting thread with a low end sewing machine (as I have been doing) then the Superior Thread Holder Handy Stand is a must.

The main advantage is its size. Small enough to use with most any machine yet large enough to hold varying sizes of thread spools and cones up to 3.5″ diameter.

Another is in the design itself. A movable “pin” allows for several configurations. See the images below for a better explanation. In each illustration, no matter the thread spool orientation, the thread is unwinding vertically (straight up).

 



 

I tried other alternatives thinking I could make a better mouse trap and save a little money and I may have succeeded if I had all the right tools at my disposal. My first idea was to simply place the cone or spool in a tall, narrow cup or glass. This led to my second idea – use a cup and dowel stick inserted in the middle of the spool. The purpose being to stabilize the spool so it doesn’t wobble hopelessly off balance. That didn’t work so well either. My last idea (and the one I used for quite some time) was to take a plastic cup with a screw on lid plastic with a hole and removable straw. I removed the straw and threaded the thread up through the top. However, after a while this whole set up was becoming annoying. The cup I was using was a little too big, too unwieldy and too top-heavy.

It was time to do this right. A new sewing machine is not yet in the cards but a Superior Thread Holder Handy Stand is.

I’ve been using it for almost a year and have very few complaints. But to continue with subject – complaints. My main issue was the lack of instructions. I had a general idea of how it was supposed to work but I had to do a little research on quilting thread to fully appreciate why cross-wound thread had to be unwound vertically.

Next question: which position should I place the spool of thread; which is best and why. The tension wire is also adjustable but how do I determine its best position?

The answer: Trial and Error.

Referring back to the images above, I found it best to position the back of the holder firmly against the back of the sewing machine. My machine rests on top of a table and it is easy to adjust the tension wire so it is positioned in approximately the same level as the machine’s integrated spool holder. This mimics the same feed direction as if the thread were coming off a standard, horizontally positioned spool.

 

If your machine is set into the table-top or cabinet where the machine bed is flush with the table you can still position the Superior Thread Holder Handy Stand in back of your machine but you may need to move it out a couple of inches. This will allow plenty of space to lower the tension wire to it remains at the level of the machines integrated spool holder.

Another option would be to mount it on a wooden block if the entire holder needs to be higher. This will also provide additional stability – something that isn’t necessary but would make the overall product feel more substantial.

To save you time and prevent unnecessary frustration I’ve offered these suggestions based on what works for me and hope this will work for you as well.

If anyone reads this has a better or more authoritative answer regarding the best way to use the Superior Thread Holder Handy Stand please leave a comment below!

 

 

My Dream Machine – The Juki TL 2000 Qi Quilting / Sewing Machine

 

 

Yes, this is it…I think. This is THE machine I’ve had my eye on for a few months. It’s not the fanciest or the most expensive. No flashy lights or bells or whistles. No fancy stitches or a computerized interface to connect to the internet. The Juki TL2000Qi sews a straight stitch forward and backward and does so in varying lengths. Period.

This isn’t the newest model either. In fact, there appears to be an updated version of this same machine available with a re-designed speed control. It is, of course, more expensive and I intend to include that model in my research.

Research You Say?

That’s right, the purpose of this article is one of research – not a product review. This is an information gathering quest combined with an opinion seeking forum with the intent to help me and others like me in the same quandary make a decision. Is this THE quilting machine I should buy? Is there one I should consider that is as durable but of better value? Do I limit my options to the Juki brand or should I consider another?

I’m proceeding forward very cautiously with this one because in the past I had my eye on the Juki 2010Q (and 2 or 3 others) and thought THEY were the one. However, several weeks of research and a few conversations later I realized neither of those were exactly what I was looking for. What I am certain of is this – I am in the market for a Juki…at least I am today.

The sewing machine I’m now using is a Janome 2010. Not a bad machine but the paces I’m putting it through is beginning to take it’s toll. Every few days I notice a new noise, a strange rattling, increased vibration and foot pedal that clearly did not get the message that I am the one in control. It has recently decided to rebel (against overuse?) and sends power to the machine when it wants to and stops the power when it decides it wants to stop!

When it comes to making any major purchase I spend a great deal of time reading, researching, ask questions, do more research, ask more questions, take a “test drive” or two and change my mind at least a half dozen times before offering my card to be swiped to make that purchase.

Price Matters

My original budget was set at at $1,200.00 to $1,5000.00 and I felt confident I could find exactly what I want in that price range afterall, I’m only looking for a very good, semi-industrial machine that sews an accurate straight stitch. My primary tasks are piecing, binding and quilting – that’s all.

The quilting machine I’m looking for is one that is solid, durable and capable of effortlessly sewing layers of varying thicknesses, even leather. I don’t want or need any aspect of a computer on this machine. A majority (approximately 75%) of my sewing consists of straight stitching with the remaining 25% free motion quilting. There are machines out there that can do everthing just shy of washing windows and serving breakfast in bed. (IF I were to locate a quilting / sewing machine that at least washed windows – no matter the price – the ranking of that machine would immediately move to the top of the list)!

For a while I have had my eye on the Juki TL 2000Qi but felt it was too pricey and then a couple of weeks ago I made a most wonderous discovery. It was as if the quilt gods reached down and did a price adjustment – a 57% price drop! What! Does this mean I may actually be able to purchase this Dream Machine?!? And if so, is this the Dream Machine I’m looking for? Continue below and let’s see what dreams are made of.

.

What Dreams Are Made Of

To begin with, the Juki TL 2000Qi, like all other Juki products, is made of all metal parts. Most every other domestic machine on the market is made largly from plastic. Plastic gears, plastic casing,
plastic everything except maybe the needle holder. They vibrate, they make all kinds of annoying
noises and do not have the durability to withstand the rigorous paces a sewing
machine is put through when in the hands of a quilting enthusiast like myself.

Why the Juki TL 2000Qi is So Special

Choosing the sewing / quilting machine that is right for you – where functionality and price nicely meet up – is no easy task. There are as many factors to consider as there are machines on the market. Over the 40+ years I have been sewing I’ve sewn on many different brands – Singer, Brother and Janome to name a few. These machines do the job but from what I’ve read and researched, they don’t compare to the Juki brand.

This particular machine, though marketed for domestic use, is of industrial grade and workmanship and is decribed by the company as a “semi-industrial”. The base, arm and gears are all metal. This provides overall stability and less vibration. The metal gears may create a little more noise but they do no wear out like those made from plastic. Typically, a sewing machine of this caliber would be quite heavy however, the Juki TL2000Qiis surprisingly light weight (25#) which translates into portability. I don’t intend to carry this one from place to place although I could with relative ease – it only weighs 2# more than the Janome I’m now using that I take with me everywhere.

 

 

Tell Me More!

Features that are not just convenient but are time savers:

1. Both needle and bobbin threads can be automatically cut using the foot pedal or push of a button on the front panel.

2. Integrated LED light

3. An Even-feed and Quilting foot attachment

4. Larger work area that includes a wide bed and 9″ Mid-arm to allow quilting of larger projects that otherwise would require a long arm machine.

5. High sewing speeds up to 1,500 s.p.m. (Stitches per minute)

6. Arm and bed are made of die cast aluminum.

7. Dimensions: 17.8 x 8.6 x 13.8 inches

 

Additional information can be located on the Juki website as well as here.

 

A girl needs more than dreams. Dreams won’t sew all those pieces of fabric together. What I do need is your honest opinion.

Do you have a Juki?  A TL 2000Qi?  What are your experiences with it.

If you own another brand how does it compare to the Juki TL 2000Qi?

 

Feel free to leave a comment below and help me decide!

 

Bibliography

“Just How Heavy Duty Are Today’s Sewing Machines?” Temecula Valley Sewing Center, 31 Dec. 2011, tv-sewingcenter.com/janome/just-how-heavy-duty-are-todays-sewing-machines.

“Plastic vs Metal: Dissecting the Popular Brother CS-6000i Sewing Machine Sewing Discussion Topic @ PatternReview.com.” Sewing Patterns, Pattern Reviews and Online Sewing Classes, sewing.patternreview.com/SewingDiscussions/topic/79315.

Olfa 12″ Rotating Self-Healing Rotary Mat – Is It Worth the Money?

 


 


Product:    Olfa 12″ Rotating Self-Healing Rotary Mat

Pricing:     List Price: $43.99

           Amazon Price: $28.80

My Rating:
4 / 5


Why I Love This Rotating Mat

In a previous post I listed the top 5 tools and techniques necessary to successfully piece your first quilt top. One of those items listed was an Olfa Rotating Cutting Mat. In that post I briefly described it’s use but after reading a few other reviews I discovered this particular mat received mixed reviews. My intent here is to provide additional information to help prospective buyers decide whether or not this product is right for them.

The basic design is, in my opinion, genius. Rotating the cutting mat versus moving the fabric to be cut significantly increases the accuracy of those cut pieces of fabric. And, we all know accuracy is the key to a perfect or a near perfectly pieced quilt top.

My own quilting and sewing space is very small and much of my furniture has to do double duty. The size of this mat fits perfectly on my small cutting table (which was originally a folding TV table). It’s size – just over 12” square makes it easy to move from room to room and stores easily for travel to quilt retreats and festivals.

In addition to its specialty feature, the overall design and size enables this mat to serve as a general-purpose mat for cutting, trimming and squaring up square, rectangle and triangle shapes.

Most of my quilt projects incorporate a half- triangle square of half-square triangle in to block or a block design that is a 10” square or less. Being able to place my fabric on the rotating mat – using the grid lines for accuracy, make a cut, rotate, cut, etc., until all four sides are trimmed is also a significant time saver.

 


 

Room for Improvement

There are however, a couple of aspects of this product I’d like to see improved.

Number 1 – the Odor. I have other cutting mats from Olfa as well as other brands and nothing has the odor of this mat. I’ve taken it outside foe several hours, put it out in the garage, the basement – the odor persisted. I removed the rotating bottom and covered the entire board in baking soda even soaked it in a warm water and baking soda mixture. Still, no change. The upside: through all this abuse the cutting board never lost any of its other properties – it’s definitely colorfast and retains its shape, texture and self-healing properties – no matter what you do it. I’m sure there are limitations and extreme situations that would test this mat’s durability for normal day-to-day use this mat will provide a reliable cutting surface for years to come.

Number 2 – the Rotating Base. While it is this aspect that makes this board so indispensable the ease and smoothness of rotation needs to be improved. Often when I try to turn the board it will stick to the base and I have use one hand to hold the base while turning the board with the other. A flaw that is probably inherent in the design however, when this does happen it sometimes causes the fabric to move or shift slightly, defeating the sole purpose of using this over a stationary cutting mat.

 

 

 

Here is a quick summary of my review:

Pros:

1. Ensures accuracy

2. Saves space

3. Portable

4. Easy to use

5. Multi-purpose

6. Durable

Cons:

1. An ODOR that can linger for over a year

2. “Sticky” base that at times prevents a consistent smooth rotation

 

My Opinion After 3 Years

1. I still can’t live without my Olfa 12″ rotating cutting mat.
I use it practically every day

2. The odor has finally dissipated. I would say it took well over 2 years – however, after 1 year I was able to bring and keep it inside the house in my sewing room and no longer had to store it in the basement or garage.

3. I’ve learned to live with the occasional stickiness of the rotating base that can be alleviated with a little baby powder (which by the way slightly helps to improve the scent).

4. The list of “Pros” far outweigh the “Cons” therefore, I’m giving this a rating of 4/5. Had the odor not been an issue I would have given it another 1/2 star.

 

What Do You Think?

I’d love to hear your opinion! Tell me about your experience with the Olfa 12″ Rotating Rotary Mat.

Feel free to pass along a useful tip or just share your thoughts on the use of this or any other rotating cutting mat you currently use or have used in the past !