Monday, January 25, 2010

Quilt Piecing Tricks of the Trade

Just because a person is born into a Mennonite family, does not mean she comes out of her mother and immediately picks up needle and quilting thread. No, it does not. Just like everything else I do, it has come with a lot of practice.

I mentioned my short little history of quilting here. During those first couple projects, I was winging it. I had a couple quilting books passed down from my grandmother and I kind-of read them. I asked my mom some questions. Then, I just went ahead and stumbled along. On Sam's quilt (the first I actually quilted), you can totally tell at which end I started. The stitches look childlike compared to the ones I stitched at the end. But, you see, this is how we learn.


Another way I've learned is to watch experienced quilters and ask them lots of questions. Much of this has occurred while sitting around a quilt frame at church. Our old church holds a sewing circle during the Sunday School hour. A sewing circle is when a group of women (it's almost always women) come together to quilt for the purpose of donating the quilt (and it's proceeds) to a charitable cause. Sewing circles are great places to get practice and to glean quilting knowledge.

Here is a picture of my great grandmother, second from the left, at a sewing circle. She made the cover of a magazine. I have not.

Let's get some quilting jargon out of the way. To "piece" a quilt is to sew together the pieces of fabric that make up the top or back of the quilt. To "quilt" is to use special quilting thread to make small stitches all the way through the top, "batting" (the fluffy stuff inside) and back, to get that nice puffy effect. "Quilting" also allows you to make designs in the quilt (More about that later).

Here are a few of the things I have learned along the way.

Organization helps. I use a fishing tackle box. It's not an original idea, but it works so well. I've vowed to have no more small quilting supplies than what will fit in this box. So, there. Oh, you'll also need a sewing machine (minor detail), unless you're going to hand piece your quilt top. It can be done, Lord, have mercy. In this photo, you can kind of see my machine, an old Singer we bought for me years ago. I love this machine, but Jamey has been trying to convince me to move on and buy a newer model. It's just come home from the shop. Again.

An iron is a quilt-piecer's best friend. There are a couple reasons for this. First of all, it helps immensely to have your fabric completely flat and smooth when you cut your squares, triangle and trapezoids (Ok, most probably don't use trapezoids. I have trapezoids on the brain. I teach second grade math). The second reason will be evident in a minute.

A rotary cutting tool and mat save much time. This rotary tool can cut through several layers of fabric at once and cuts way straighter than I can even with my best shears.

Iron open your seams. Do you need me to say more? No problem. I didn't get it at first either. I had been complaining to a sewing circle friend about the fact that when I piece (sew) part of my quilt top to another part of my quilt top (both parts being made up of smaller pieces already sewn together), I have so much trouble getting the seams to match up.

Let me try to show you what I mean. Here is a picture where my seams (in the center) have come together pretty well. Imagine that they are, like, a quarter of an inch off target. It wouldn't look so nice, now would it?

Or, here. How would it look if this point, instead of pointing to the seam below, was pointing a half inch off to the side of the seam?

That is what was happening to me. I'd tear out the thread and try and try and try again. I was thoroughly frustrated. Don't cry like I did. Instead, listen to this. The kind, advice-generous quilter told me to iron my seams open. When you sew two squares or pieces together and look on the back, the extra 1/4 inch of material is laying off to one side. The idea is to iron the seam open, like this...

See how I splayed open the back of the seam and ironed it flat? This way, when you lay your two sections of fabric together face to face, you can SEE your seam from the back of the fabric instead of having to guess just where it is. Oh, I do hope this is making sense.

Note in the picture above how I can then fold the top down and line those seams right up. Then, all you need to do is pin it carefully and move on to the next pair of seams that need to be matched. If one of your next set of seams down the line doesn't match perfectly, you can at least SEE that and adjust things further if you need to.

Are you as exhausted as I am? Just take a deep breath, sit back and relax.

I promised to give you a peek at Miriam's quilt. Here are a few.

My iron wasn't so effective on this next fabric square.

The fabric above is actually cut into 10 1/2 inch squares. Since I'm not allowing myself to buy more fabric, I cannot make the back of her quilt all one print. Instead, I am going to try something new (for me). I am going to piece together the same number and size of squares (and borders) for the back as I did the front. The squares in the back will be whole squares of one fabric print while the ones for the front (shown further above) are made of simple designs (squares and triangles). My hope is that if I match them up carefully, as I quilt I will get the same quilting designs on the top and the back, making it a reversible quilt.

Now, if you've read through this entire post, please tell me. That is, after you've woke up from your quilt-talk induced coma or have untwisted your head on your neck.

I'll post more photos as I go along, but wanted to share some things I've learned in case you find yourself with the New Year urge to quilt. Pin It


  1. Very informative...and I'm glad you stressed the whole ironing thing. My iron and I are NOT close. I don't like it. But..I'll use it for the sake of nice corners! Thank you for sharing tips...I do feel the urge to quilt this year. I learned yesterday at the fabric's hard to choose fabric! So...i thought I'd try picking it up at thrift stores and such...and then using what I in the old days. We'll see... It's a nice thought...but I did just start I really have TIME to make a quilt?!!

  2. I confess I skimmed just a bit, but ONLY because I can quilt and I have to take the girls in just a little while to learn to make goat cheese (something I do NOT know how to do). But, your quilting skills are excellent. I totally expect to see you on the cover of a magazine someday!

    Buy a Bernina. You won't be sorry!
    (I got the bottom of the line, less expensive model. It's a work horse and only in the shop for annual cleaning because I chose to do so).

  3. You could always use an old (but in great condition) sheet for the back of the quilt. I have done that before... I think you're a little coo coo for trying to use a pieced together top AND back... That would make me a crazy... but then again I have OCD (self diagnosed of course). I want to see it when it's finished... I LOVE handmade quilts!

  4. Thank you so much for sharing! I'm the type that won't start something until I have it all straight in my head how it's all going to come together. Therefore, I've never made a quilt! -but I'd sure like to! :-)

  5. I'm about to complete a whole cloth comforter to match the one I made for #1 boy. #2 is wondering where his is...
    I need a back for it at this point.
    I'm so inspired watching this post... all the little seams matching up, hearing how wonderful an iron is in quilting.
    ooh. I don't think I'll be able to wait, .must. sigh...

  6. this will be a lovely quilt! good job on those seams! wow!

  7. Great color combinations. You have a lot more patience than I do in trying to match a top and bottom to get the quilting at the exact right place. I'm also curious how you will quilt the open seams? Do you "Stitch in the ditch?.

    Question for Mavis. How do you quilt a sheet? The only time I did that my hand got incredibly tired trying to push the needle through.

    If you do invest in another machine I would recommend a basic electronic PFAFF (not computerized). I have both a BERNINA with a knee lift for the presser foot and a PFAFF with a top feed. Both are great heavy duty machines but the top feed on the PFAFF wins out. Makes matching seams a dream. Both machines are basically maintenance free.

    Aunt V.

  8. Aunt V, I do stitch in the ditch sometimes and yes, it's a layer tougher than avoiding it all together. For me, it's better than getting caught quilting through three layers- I was never able to keep track of which way my seams lie ahead of time:-(.

    Thanks Aunt V and Amy for the advice on Berninas. I know I should really look into getting one. I'm just attached to this old Singer- it's just like my mom's, reminds me of her and I'm all for using what I've got. So far, the repairs have not cost as much as a new machine. I promise, though, I'll be singing a different tune the NEXT time it has trouble:-).


Just a friendly reminder, if you know me personally please try to refrain from using my name. There are those who may try to locate me, break into my pantry and steal my pickled beets. Thanks:-).

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