A little early for New Year’s resolutions, I know. But I tend to organize my mind pretty rigidly into weeks, months, years… So I’ve already been thinking quite a bit about “2014 quilts.”

When I think about 2014 quilts, I think about how much I don’t want to finish (most of) my WIPs.




(Click the images to go to the posts about these quilts)

I’m trying to figure out why I don’t want to finish these quilts and what to do about it.

2014 will be my 3rd year of intense, obsessive quilting. I can’t believe how far I’ve come, especially this year.  I have learned so much and worked so hard and had so much fun getting here!

But once in a while it’s good to reassess how things are going:

  • Are you making quilts you like?
  • Are you still having fun?

After my reassessment I’ve made 2 decisions about 2014:

I’m going to finish most of my WIPs by making them into baby quilts. I will finish the green and white Christmas quilt as planned because it’s almost done. I’m not going to do the red and white one at all. (Anyone need any 2.5 by 6.5 inch solid red?) I’m definitely not throwing anything away. Some cut pieces will go into my scrap bin. At this point I don’t think I’ll have to scrap anything already sewn together, which is good. I’m just going to scale back the size of some projects and call them finished.

When all (ALL) of my WIPs are off my list, I’m going to try a new 2-part strategy:

  1. I want to try to focus on just one quilt at a time. I’ve realized that I get more and more tired of projects the longer they hang around. Probably you more-experienced quilters have realized this lesson long ago! I won’t be too strict with myself if it’s in my best interest or the quilt’s best interest to have a break. But I definitely think having 5, 6, 7… 10 quilts going at once is making me unhappy. I want the freedom to join quilt-alongs and start exciting new projects without WIP guilt.
  2. I’m going to use the fabric, patterns, and ideas I’m excited about right now because that can change so fast. I want to use my fabrics with reckless abandon, knowing that the next great fabric line is always around the corner. Have you seen this or this?

I’ve also been thinking about quick quilts vs. true modern heirlooms. But I think that probably deserves its own post.

How many WIPs do you? Do they bug you late at night?

Your 1st quilt: binding

Our last step and thus our last tutorial!

Not everyone will agree with me, but I really love this final stage of making a quilt. It feels very relaxing to me after the intensity of some of the previous steps.

The first step is to choose your fabric. I usually don’t make my final fabric choice until the very last minute.

I often like to use binding to create a playful contrast to the rest of the quilt. There wasn’t any orange in this quilt but I used orange binding to make an otherwise serious quilt a little more fun.


On the other hand, for this one I simply picked one of the fabrics from the quilt itself. Choosing the dark fabric created a frame effect.


If you want to avoid the frame effect you should use a fabric that blends into the other background fabrics, like this one did:


Small polka dots and stripes are commonly used for binding and almost always look great. You can also create a scrappy binding of multiple fabrics.

I’m going to use a tiny polka dot navy fabric for this mini. I know it doesn’t really match at all but I like that.


Once you’ve chosen your fabric(s) you have to do a little math. Measure all 4 sides of your quilt. Now add about 15 inches to account for areas where the binding will need to be joined.


My quilt is 14 inches square. 14 x 4 = 56 + 15 = 71.

Cut enough 2 1/2 inch strips to make your binding. I’m cutting from yardage so I know I will need 2 WOF (width of fabric) strips. That will give me a little extra but that’s just fine.

You can join your strips by simply putting them right sides together as always, or you can get a little fancy and use diagonal seams to make your binding lay flatter. If you just join right sides together there will be a little bump at every seam. Not a big deal really but in case you’re a perfectionist I’ll demonstrate a diagonal seam for you.


Line up the 45 degree line of your ruler with the bottom edge of your fabric.


Draw a line with disappearing ink or a mechanical pencil. Pin the pieces together as shown and sew on the line.


Trim and press your fancy diagonal seam. Pressing it open will make it lay even flatter.

Now take your connected strips to the ironing board. Fold the binding in half along the entire length and iron it.


When your binding looks like this you’re ready to sew.

Leaving about 12 inches free, match up the raw edges and start sewing the binding to the quilt with a 1/4 inch seam allowance. If you still have your walking foot attached from quilting that will help feed all the layers evenly. This is one time in quilting that you do want to backstitch at the beginning and end to secure your seam.


Stop when you get 1/4 inch from the first corner, backstitch and remove the quilt from the sewing machine. Rotate the quilt so the next side is in sewing position. Pull the binding straight back and then fold it forward to create a mitered corner.


Now sew straight over the corner and continue around the other corners until you get about 8 inches from where you started. Backstitch and remove the quilt from the sewing machine. Your quilt should look like this:


Now we need to connect the 2 ends of the binding. I’ll admit that I get pretty confused at this step if I try to do a diagonal seam here. I usually allow this to be the quilt’s one seam allowance bump. Someday I’m sure I’ll put my mind to conquering it.

Fold the binding back at the midpoint of your unsewn section. Fold the other side in a similar manner, leaving 1/4 inch space in between. Finger press a crease into the binding at these points.


Put your two loose ends right sides together and stitch along the crease you just made.


Trim the extra off and sew the remaining binding onto the quilt.


Now that the binding is attached to the front of your quilt, you will turn the binding and hand stitch it to the back of the quilt. If you cannot stand the idea of hand sewing, there are some good tutorials on using a machine for this step. I’d try this or this.

Before we can stitch the binding closed we need to trim the edges of our quilt. You should leave just about 1/8 of an inch to fill the binding and make it puffy. Be careful with the edges and especially the corners. The lines you are cutting now will determine the straightness and squareness of your quilt.

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It is a good idea to double your thread to make the binding stitches more durable. When you thread your needle, it’s easier to keep the needle still in one hand and bring the thread through the eye rather than trying to move the eye over the thread. Make a knot.


Take one stitch to hide the knot.


Then come up and take a stitch right where the thread comes up just at the very edge of the binding. The stitches are meant to disappear. This is called a blindstitch.


Be sure to check the front once in a while and make sure your stitches aren’t coming through on the front of the quilt top.

The way you sewed the binding onto your quilt at the corners should automatically create a mitered corner for you. Take a stitch right at the corner and then continue up the edge with a blindstitch as before.

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Bring the needle back through the corner and continue stitching around the rest of the quilt.

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Glory! You finished your 1st quilt. Now it’s time to pick out the pattern for your 2nd…

I very much hope you’ve enjoyed this series and can see how fun and satisfying and not scary quilting can be! Please remember that no one else is going to see the imperfections that you see. Perfection isn’t really the goal. The goal is to relax and enjoy yourself and end up with something beautifully handmade with love.

When I walk by the dining room table at night, after a long day of wiping the same butts and the same spots on the floor as the day before, I get tremendous satisfaction from seeing what I created that day. I hope you will too.

Your 1st quilt: quilting

In today’s lesson our quilt top becomes a real quilt! I love this stage because there is something about the quilting that transforms the pieces into a cohesive whole.

You have a few options for quilting:

  • Quilting straight lines on your home machine – this is the most basic style of quilting and what I’ll be demonstrating in this tutorial.
  • Free motion quilting (FMQ) on your home machine – something I have not tried yet! It is extremely popular right now. If I was going to try this I would probably start with Leah Day’s Craftsy class.
  • Hand quilting – you, a needle and thread, and your quilt. I love hand quilting. You can read my post here about a quilt I hand quilted. I used this tutorial from Sarah Fielke. I’m working on a larger hand-quilted project right now but it’s a secret! I’ll be able to share it after Christmas.


  • Employing a professional long-arm quilter – hiring someone else to quilt your quilt for you. Some quilters never quilt their own quilts. Long-arm machines are mounted on a huge frame that holds the quilt in place while the “arm” of the machine actually moves the needle over the quilt. It’s pretty amazing.

If you are interested in FMQ or hand quilting, it’s not a bad idea to consider practicing these skills sooner than later. It’s nice if your piecing and quilting skills grow together.

My own personal favorite is fairly sparse quilting in straight lines that echo the piecing design. In this case we have square patchwork so I’m going to follow the straight lines 1/4 inch on either side of each seam.

The first step is to attach your walking foot. Usually a sewing machine moves the material only from the bottom. With a walking foot attached, the material is moved from the top and bottom. This helps the 3 layers of your quilt sandwich feed evenly so you don’t get puckering. If you don’t have a walking foot, it’s not strictly necessary if you’re only making a mini like I am. But if you are making a larger quilt, you should really order one before quilting your quilt.

If you’ve never changed the foot on your machine before, do not be afraid. I am the world’s least handy person and I have no trouble with this job. Just unscrew the screw, line up the walking foot and screw it on. Put your normal foot somewhere safe! I usually put mine in the little jar I keep my bobbins in.


Make sure the little claw goes around the bar.


If you want to use special thread this is the time to load it onto your machine. You can use the same thread you always use, or you can use quilting thread. This thread is a little thicker and shinier. You can either match the thread to your fabric or contrast it if you want it to show. I frequently just use white Aurifil thread to piece and quilt. I would like to experiment with a heavier weight thread (and longer stitch length) that would show more but I have not done so yet. Generally speaking you should use the same thread weight in your bobbin that you are using on top.

Ok now let’s quilt. Just like when we were putting in the basting pins, you usually want to start in the middle. This is to minimize any shifting that may occur, or at least spread the shifting around evenly so it isn’t too noticeable. On our mini this doesn’t matter because the middle is the same as the edge.

If you are quilting a large quilt you will need to roll both edges of your quilt so you can fit it into your machine. Hold up the two rolls with each hand and gently guide it. Don’t push or pull. Your job is to keep the line straight and make sure the weight of the quilt isn’t slowing the feed. The goal is nice even, straight stitches.

Sew a line approximately 1/4 inch from your seam. Use the edge of your foot as your guide.


Now go back and sew on the other side of the same seam. Continue this, working out to one side of the quilt and then starting in the middle again to do the other side. Then rotate the quilt and do the perpendicular seams.


Lovely! A quilted quilt. You can see I removed the pins after quilting. Unless one gets in your way, you should leave them in on the entire quilt until you are done quilting.

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Just one more step to go. We’ll tackle binding next, and then stand back and admire our work.

Putting the “penny” in penny sampler

I’ve been working hard on these tiny beauties:


They finish 3.5 inches! They broke my back but I love them. I think I like the pink Anna Maria Horner rose one best, along with the similar Amy Butler blue rose on the top row. We hesitate to use large scale prints in these situations but it can work!

Here they are with a few other recent penny sampler blocks:


The 4-patch block is called a “4-penny patch.” That is how the quilt got its name. I keep saying this, but I am definitely going to make a whole quilt of those in the future. I think they’d make a great bee block.

You can see this post here to remember my previous penny sampler blocks. I love this quilt. It is making me feel very contemplative about what kind of quilts I love to make and how. I’ll write more about that soon.

In the meantime, I am teaching my beginner’s class this Saturday! It is going to be so much fun. I’m also finishing up my last two Your 1st Quilt tutorials and I hope to have them posted before Saturday.

Your 1st quilt: backing and basting

We’ve covered basics, cutting, and piecing and we’ve completed our 1st quilt top! But we still haven’t made a “quilt.” To make this quilt top a quilt, we first need to construct a “quilt sandwich” by attaching batting and backing to our quilt top.


First you need a backing for your quilt. I like to create quilt backs that are simpler and faster than my quilt tops but are still attractive enough to make the quilt reversible. Here are a couple of common ways to achieve this:

  • use a large scale print that you love (Amy Butler and Anna Maria Horner both design fabrics that are perfect for this)
  • add a couple of simple stripes
  • use up orphan blocks from this quilt or other projects

I also always consider purchasing yardage to have in stock for quilt backs whenever I find a particularly good deal ($5/yd or so).

For this project I chose two fabrics from the front design and made a couple of stripes.


If you are feeling overwhelmed at this point in the process, definitely feel free to use a plain backing! If you made a small quilt like this one a fat quarter is perfect. If you made a bigger quilt there are extra wide solid fabrics available for this very purpose.

Your quilt back needs to be bigger than your front because there will inevitably be some shifting of the layers during quilting. Usually you would add a total of 8 inches (4 per side) to the length and width of your quilt when you make a backing for a larger quilt. For this small project you really only need an inch or 2.

A quick anecdote to help you remember to make your quilt back bigger than your top. When I made my 3rd quilt I decided I was too good for directions and tried to work from memory. I made my quilt back and top the exact same size. Some shifting occurred during quilting (it always does) and the backing was about a half inch too small in a couple of spots. You already know that I tend to live with my mistakes rather than spend hours fixing them. I just had to pull my binding reeeeally tight to get it to close the gap. I wish I had a picture to illustrate this but I gave the quilt as a gift. Don’t worry, a non-quilter would never notice the difference! And now I really never will forget to make my backings nice and oversized.

Now we have a top and back but we still need the middle: the batting. I haven’t experimented much with different types of batting. I would like to, but that’s another tutorial for another day. For now, I can tell you that I usually use Warm & Natural cotton batting. I like it but I’d like to experiment with some other options. In particular, I’ve heard that batting with a little polyester in it causes less “crinkle” after washing. I like a nice crisp quilt so for me that’s intriguing. I’ll be sure to update this when I test that theory.

You should cut your batting bigger than your quilt top but smaller than your backing, maybe about half way between.

Now we need to get these layers attached to each other. I always use basting pins for this. Some people have good results with spray basting but for whatever reason that has never appealed to me.

Lay your backing on a flat surface wrong side up. Tape it at the corners and every 6-8 inches in between. Pull the backing taught (but not tight) as you go.


Now lay out your batting on top of that and smooth it out.  Lay your quilt top right side up on top of that.


Now pin the 3 layers together, placing the pins about 3-4 inches apart. When you’re placing your pins, you should be mindful of how you’re going to quilt the top so they don’t get in the way. In general I try to keep the pins in during the quilting process because it keeps the layers more stable. Plus it’s annoying to constantly be stopping to remove pins.

Start in the middle and work out to the edges.



For this quilt I’m planning to quilt 1/4 inch on either side of all seams. When placing my pins I’ve tried to avoid those areas.

I’ve assumed in this tutorial that you will be quilting your quilt on your home sewing machine. If you plan to have it professionally quilted, do not pin it! Hand quilting also requires a different basting process (thread basting). We’ll talk more about that in the next tutorial.

Bonus tip: save your batting scraps. You can make Frankenstein batting by abutting 2 straight edges and using a zig zag stitch. Perfect for small projects like this!


There you have it! We’ve got a basted quilt sandwich all ready for quilting. That will be our next lesson.

Your 1st quilt: piecing and pressing

We’ve learned some basics and cut our fabric. Let’s sew, shall we?

In quilting we sew with a 1/4-inch seam. Sounds simple but it can actually be a little tricky. Depending on your machine, you may want to purchase a 1/4-inch foot. The generic foot that came with my Juki sews a 1/4-inch seam if I line up my fabric at the edge of it. The generic foot that came with my old Singer sewed a 3/8-inch seam. You will not know what your machine sews until you try it.


Let me show you why this is important. I made this quilt for my own bed using the generic foot on my Singer, not realizing that I was sewing with a 3/8-inch seam. I used a pattern from Quilty magazine. Look at this:


Oops. The problem is that the pattern math was done for a 1/4-inch seam. Once I realized the problem I quickly ordered a 1/4-inch foot and the rest of the quilt lines up nicely. No, I did not take the quilt apart where it was wrong. I generally believe in leaving mistakes in if they don’t ruin the quilt. I don’t mind seeing small mistakes like this one. It reminds me what I learned when I was working on that quilt. This will always be “the quilt where I learned that I needed to buy a 1/4-inch foot.” It’s still pretty though and I absolutely never lose any sleep over it. Or under it.


You will sometimes hear quilters talk about a “scant 1/4-inch seam” so I want to address that. A scant 1/4-inch seam means something just less than 1/4 inch. It’s an attempt to take into account that tiny fold of fabric you lose when you sew a seam and then fold it over and press it. If you are following a pattern and finding that your blocks are turning out just a hair smaller than they are supposed to, try sewing a scant 1/4-inch seam instead of a true 1/4-inch seam. I have found this to be most necessary when I sew triangles and flying geese or any time a block has a lot of seams. You really won’t need to worry about this for this project but I wanted you to be aware of this concept for the future.  For simple square patchwork a true 1/4-inch seam is fine.

All right, let’s sew.

Lay out your blocks in the layout of your choosing. I chose to put my favorite fabric in the middle and then alternate the reds and greens.


Place your squares right sides together and sew them together with  a 1/4-inch seam. Don’t worry about backstitching at the beginning and end. We almost never do that in quilting because all of our seams overlap each other and then a lot of them get sewn back over in quilting. It’s just not necessary.


Let’s check your seam and see how it measures. First measure it before pressing.


With the ruler lined up right at the edge of the fabric, you can see my seam is just a tiny hair under 1/4 inch- just barely scant. I’m satisfied with that. You can decide for yourself whether yours is close enough. If not, think about whether your seam is too big or too small and adjust accordingly. It’s totally fine if it takes a few tries to get a good result. Just be sure that you stay consistent throughout the project. By the way, I used black thread so you could see it, but under normal circumstances I use white.

Now we’ll measure again after pressing. We’ll discuss pressing more in a minute but for now just press the seam to one side or the other, whichever direction it appears to prefer to go. Don’t forget that we are using our iron with a pressing down motion and not a pushing across motion. Also make sure that the fold at the front opens all the way and doesn’t “pleat.”


The blocks as sewn should measure exactly 9 1/2 inches because the seam allowance ate a 1/4 inch from each square. If your block is bigger or smaller you have 2 options. You can continue on and just be sure to be consistent with how you sew each seam. Or you can get out your handy seam ripper and work on achieving an accurate 1/4-inch seam. If you plan to try anything more complex than square patchwork be sure to revisit this issue!


Now, let’s dive into some controversy again and talk about pressing to the side vs. pressing open.

I’m pretty sure pressing to the side is the more traditional method. There are 2 advantages to this method:

  • the seams are stronger because there is a double layer of fabric under every seam
  • the seams can be locked together to ensure that they line up

But there are advantages to pressing open as well:

  • the seams lay really nice and flat
  • the seams can be lined up without any elaborate pre-planning
  • undersized blocks seem to happen less frequently, probably because the seams lay flatter


I think it’s good to understand the advantages of both methods and give them a try. Perhaps one method might be the ideal method for one project but not another. This is similar to my stance on sewing a scant 1/4-inch seam: you need to experiment a bit in order to understand different methods of doing things and when to use them.

Another thing you’ll hear quilters say is “press toward the dark.” The idea is that your seam underneath will show less if you press away from the lighter fabric. This might matter if you’re doing a really high contrast quilt (i.e. a black and white checkerboard) but most of the time it’s not worth worrying about.

The important thing to remember is that your quilt does not need to be perfect to be beautiful! Try to keep it fun and just improve slowly over time. I definitely allow myself to do things incorrectly at certain times if it seems too overwhelming to tackle so many new things at once. Sewing with a 3/8-inch seam wasn’t the end of the world for a quilt or 3. But by the time I got to my 4th quilt I was ready to start working toward better accuracy.

Let’s get back to sewing. So far we just have 2 blocks sewn together. Next we’ll sew the blocks into three rows. If you lay out your blocks next to your machine you can employ something quilters call “chain piecing.” This just means sewing multiple pieces in a row without cutting your thread. It’s not that important with a project this small but it can be a real time saver if you are working on a big project.

If I was going to chain piece this project I would grab the small green dot and big red polka dot and sew them together, and then grab the 2 floral fabrics and sew them together and then grab the green bias stripe and red hash marks and sew them. Then I’d take them off the machine and cut the threads. I’d do the same thing to attach the bottom three fabrics.


Sew your blocks into three rows of three. Now press the seams of each row in opposite directions. I pressed my middle row seams out toward the edges and the other 2 rows I pressed toward the middle. That’s about to get important.


We are going to very carefully line up these interlocking seam allowances. Place a pin on either side of each interlocking seam.



Now sew the rows together. Press the seams in whatever direction seems natural.


Ta dah! A finished quilt top.


Ok, full disclosure here: one of my seams could have been better:


I could have fixed it and you never would have known. I chose to leave it in because #1 I think it’s a good lesson of how small imperfections can disappear in the overall picture and #2 I just didn’t really want to do it again. Every quilter has to decide which mistakes they can live with and which they can’t. Some quilters would definitely fix this. I think it’s not fun anymore if I have to sew things twice.

In the next lesson we’ll prepare the quilt back and batting and baste them together. We’re getting close to finishing Your 1st quilt!

Your 1st quilt: starching & cutting

Today our goal is to cut 9 perfect 5-inch squares that we can sew together in the next tutorial. I chose a modern, Christmasy vibe for my quilt so I can use it as a decoration when the time comes!



Before we can even begin, I’m forced to acknowledge a major quilting controversy: pre-washing vs. not. (I know! Controversy already. And this isn’t the end of it. Just wait until we get to the great “pressing to the side vs. pressing open” debate. That one’s bound to get a little heated.)

Simply put, I don’t pre-wash while others do. The concern those “others” have is that the fabric might bleed and destroy your work of art. To me it seems like an unnecessary extra step. It’s also sort of impossible to pre-wash the smaller precuts because it causes too much fraying. I address the fabric bleeding concern as follows:

  • I only use high-quality fabrics and thread for my quilts
  • I wash my quilts in cold water
  • I use Scotch color catchers in the laundry

With those precautions in place I haven’t had any trouble with bleeding. But if you decide that you are going to be a pre-washer, this is the time to do it!

Ok, I’m glad we got that controversy out of the way.

Unless you purchased precuts for this project, your fabric probably looks something like this:


It’s hard to cut creased fabric accurately so the first step will be to iron it. I like to starch my fabric at this point because the starch removes the stubborn creases. Some people use steam for the same reason. I prefer starch because the starch causes the fabric to hold its shape at later stages of the quilting process.

If you use starch or steam, be gentle! When the fabric is wet it’s fragile and easily stretches out of shape. Quilters often like to say that we “press” our fabric, we don’t “iron” it: its a pressing down motion rather than a pushing across motion.

Now that we have nicely starched and ironed fabric, we need to understand a few things before we start cutting.

A few quick terms:

  • Selvedge means the tough 1/2 inch ends of the fabric (sometimes printed with information about the fabric).DSC05884
  • Raw or cut edge means the edge of the fabric where the fabric is cut off the bolt.
  • Bias means at an angle. When you cut across fabric at any angle except exactly 90 or 180 degrees to the selvedge, you create a bias edge. Bias edges are despised in quilting because they are stretchy and lose their shape from being handled or sewn. We work hard to avoid them if possible.
  • Straight of grain means horizontal or vertical to the selvedge edge of the fabric (NOT at an angle). If you cut your fabric perfectly on the straight of grain your edges will hold their shape better. To get our perfect 5 inch squares, we are going to carefully avoid creating any bias edges by cutting on the straight of grain.
  • WOF (width of fabric) is the distance from selvedge to selvedge, which is usually about 44 inches for quilting fabric.

Cutting is a little different depending on the size and shape of the fabric. I will demonstrate cutting from a fat quarter first.DSC05900

Lay your fat quarter on your mat, lining up the selvedge with one of the horizontal lines. We are always going to cut either at a 90 degree angle or parallel to that selvedge, thereby avoiding creating any bias edges.

But first we need a nice, straight edge to work from. Fat quarters and yardage rarely have straight edges when they come to you. You have to create one.


Place the ruler on top of the fabric and line up the lines on the ruler with the lines on the mat. Your goal is to create a straight edge without wasting any more fabric than necessary.


Firmly press down on the ruler with your hand and cut the edge of the fabric with the rotary cutter.

(It goes without saying that a rotary cutter is sharp and dangerous right? Be extremely careful.)


Now we have a nice, straight edge to work from.


Flip the fabric so that the selvedge is now at the top of the mat and position the ruler so that the 5-inch line is exactly straight against the line we just cut. Now you can cut your 5 inch strip.


Next we lay our strip horizontally on the mat and trim off the selvedge, carefully aligning the top and bottom of the strip with 2 lines of the ruler.


Rotate the strip again so that the freshly cut edge is to the left.


Place the rule 5 inches over the fabric and cut your square.


Keep in mind that a shape could have four perfectly 5-inch sides without actually being truly square (if you remember your geometry, that would be a parallelogram). To avoid this, always watch the corners of your shape on the ruler to be sure they are 90 degrees.


Hey! Look at that – a perfect 5-inch square.

Cutting from a shape bigger than your cutting mat is just a little different.

The first thing you’ll do is fold the fabric selvedge to selvedge, making sure that the folded edge hangs straight. If it hangs like this you need to slide the selvedges an inch or two until the fabric hangs correctly and that bubble goes away:


Now put the fabric down on your mat and line up the folded edge with one of the horizontal lines on your mat.


Now line up the ruler with the folded edge and the lines of the mat and make your first cut. Just like with the fat quarter, you are only trying to get a straight edge. Don’t cut more fabric than you need to.

Next, flip the fabric so the freshly cut side is to the left and cut your 5-inch strip.


Note that at this point, since I know the edge I just cut is nice and straight and square, I’m not even using the lines on my mat. I’m simply measuring 5 inches from the edge with my ruler to make my cut. However, any time you are cutting a shape that is larger than your ruler you will not be able to use the ruler as your source of measure. In that case you have to be extra careful to line the fabric up using the mat only.


As before, cut the squares from the strip.


This time you end up with 2 squares because the fabric is folded over. I don’t actually need 2 for this project but in most projects you’d need at least 2 if not many, many more!

Some people layer their fabric up and cut several layers at once. I don’t do that very often because I haven’t had accurate results. Accuracy is incredibly important at this stage. You will be depending on these cut lines to show you where to sew. If your cut line is not accurate, your sewing line will not be accurate either.

One final comment about cutting from yardage: I always try to preserve the WOF as long as possible. For instance, when I was cutting the 5 inch strip above, I intentionally didn’t cut parallel to the folded edge because I wanted to preserve the WOF. In the photographs I’m working with a half yard, which measures 18 by 44. After I cut a 5-inch strip the fabric measures 13 by 44. This is preferable to a piece of fabric measuring 18 by 39 because long pieces come in handy for borders and binding.

Ok, now get cutting because it’s almost time to actually sew something!

(In case you haven’t noticed, I added a “Your 1st quilt” tab at the top of my blog so you can always find these tutorials quickly in the future).

Your 1st quilt: introduction

Welcome to the first post of the Your 1st quilt series!

Here is what you can expect in the next few weeks:

  • Tutorial 1 – Introduction & supplies
  • Tutorial 2 – Starching & cutting
  • Tutorial 3 – Piecing & pressing
  • Tutorial 4 – Backing & basting
  • Tutorial 5 –  Quilting
  • Tutorial 6 – Binding

Today’s post will include definitions, costs, and supplies. I’m going to try really hard in this series to assume nothing about your knowledge of quilting. Feel free to skip ahead if you already know something or if you get bored.

Also, it should go without saying that these are all just my opinions. This is how I do it. I absolutely encourage you to utilize as many sources of knowledge as there are available: youtube, other blogs, magazines and books, craftsy, etc.

What is a quilt?


Generally a quilt is a blanket made of small pieces of fabric sewn together into a larger piece. That process is called patchwork. The patchwork quilt top is then sandwiched with batting and backing and these layers and then sewn together and bound on the edges. The sewing of the layers is called quilting. Even if the quilt top is not patchwork (i.e. if it’s all one fabric), it can still be a quilt. This is called a whole-cloth quilt.

The distinguishing feature of a quilt is that it is made of layers of material sandwiched together and sewn repeatedly in the pattern of your choosing. Sometimes a quilt might be smaller than a blanket and used as a wall hanging, pot holder, coaster, etc.


Modernly there are many different styles of quilts. A lot of people still make super traditional quilts with civil-war era reproduction fabrics or 30’s prints. Some people are totally rejecting tradition and using all solid fabrics with a very sparse or minimalist aesthetic.


Most of us fall somewhere in the middle and embrace the freedom to dabble in multiple styles or create our own unique style. Part of what makes quilting so exciting is the ability to make something different every time and try new things.

How long does it take?

Some quilts take many, many hours. When I made my first quilt I was honestly a little floored by how long it took. Have you seen a magazine or book promise you a “quilt in a day” or a “fast quilt”? Yeah, that’s not gonna happen. But do not be discouraged because there are many moments of satisfaction along the way to keep you going. And then at the end, the incredible feeling of finishing a quilt will make you want to start another one right away!

So my answer is this: it takes a long time but it’s worth it.

How much does it cost?

You have some choices to make that will determine the cost.

High quality quilting cotton costs $10/yd at my local quilt shop and at my favorite online shops. The good quality quilting cotton at JoAnn’s costs a bit less if you’re a good coupon user, maybe around $8/yd. The lower quality stuff is even cheaper, maybe $4/yd.

If you wanted to make a 72 x 88 inch quilt, the quilt top would require at least 4 yards (but probably more depending on the design). Let’s say 5 yards to allow for seam allowances and cutting waste. That’s $20 to $50 for the quilt top, depending on the price per yard that you paid for your fabric.

If you watch the sales, batting might cost between $10 (polyester) and $25 (cotton).

If your quilt back is another 5 yards, that’s a total of $50 to $125 for a large quilt.

In my early quilting days I experimented with lower quality fabrics in the interest of saving $$$. But somewhere in the middle of my second quilt it dawned on me that the time investment is the real price of a quilt. In my own opinion, if at all possible, it’s better to use the good stuff, even if it means you make fewer quilts. With all the time you’re going to spend on it, it’s worth it to have good quality materials so that the end product is durable and soft.

That said, it will be beautiful either way and I am still very fond of my JoAnn’s discount rack creations.

The pricing above is based on the assumption that you are purchasing fabric by the yard off a bolt. There are other options. Quilt shops sell fabric in cute little fat quarters and other precut shapes. A fat quarter is 18 by 22 inches. This size is extremely convenient because it fits comfortably on most cutting mats. It’s also easier to iron than yardage.


Other precuts are available as well: 5 inch squares, 10 inch squares, 2 1/2 inch strips, etc. Generally speaking precuts are more expensive per yard because the manufacturer is saving you cutting time. A lot of precuts also eliminate the need to iron. You can just proceed right to your sewing machine!


Although modernly most quilts are made with cotton specifically designed and manufactured for making quilts, you can also make quilts with other materials. You should do so with some caution and always do your research first. For more on this you can read my posts about using men’s shirts or linen and voile.

What supplies do I need to make a quilt?

To make a quilt you will need the basic sewing supplies (sewing machine, thread, pins, scissors, seam ripper, starch) as well as a few specialty quilting supplies.

The primary supply a non-quilter will need to acquire is a rotary cutting set. My first set was the $30 Fiskars starter set from Joann’s. I have since upgraded to an Olfa cutter and Omnigrip ruler and I will tell you that I definitely noticed a difference right away. The Olfa cutter is sharper and the Omnigrip rulers are easier to keep straight and steady.


Another supply that you probably wouldn’t own as a non-quilter is a set of basting pins. These are specialty pins with a curved edge. You use these to temporarily attach the quilt to the batting and backing during the quilting stage. The number of pins needed depends on the size of the quilt. The largest quilt I’ve made (95 by 95 inches) required three packs of pins.


Once you get going, you may or may not get a little crazy about the rulers and templates and other fun tools you buy. For our purposes you can consider this list to be sufficient to get you through a first quilt of the size and type I will be demonstrating:

  • sewing machine
  • thread
  • seam ripper
  • scissors
  • spray starch
  • rotary cutter, ruler, and mat
  • 1 set of basting pins
  • 9 squares of cotton fabric 5 by 5 inches each (a charm pack would work)
  • a piece of batting at least 16 inches square
  • backing material measuring at least 18 inches square  (a fat quarter would be perfect)
  • a walking foot attachment for your sewing machine
  • a 2 1/2 inch strip 72 inches long for binding
  • hand sewing needle to stitch down the binding

The project I will be making in these tutorials is a 13.5 inch square quilt made of nine 5-inch squares. I think it’s nice to try things out on a small scale like this but you could definitely use these tutorials to tackle something bigger if you’re ambitious like that. Just adjust your fabric and batting requirements accordingly.

In the next tutorial we will start by starching and cutting our fabric!

Penny progress

We are almost done with the appliqué portion of the Penny Sampler class!

Here are my blocks to date:

DSC05819 DSC05820

These are the new ones from this week:

DSC05866 DSC05864

DSC05835 DSC05826

My style tends to vacillate between “pretty” and “funky.” The quilt was feeling more on the funky side so I purposely did 2 things this week to start to soften it a bit: I chose floral fabrics for my sunflowers and I forced myself not to sketch stitch them. I think it was the right choice. When we add some of the large sections of borders I plan to use large scale florals and that will do a lot to prettify things as well.

I am going to love the heck out of this quilt.

Houston, we have a winner

Mr. picked you, comment 98:

Sarah from milaandcuatro

on September 8, 2013 at 3:55 pm Edit

I follow you already on BlogLovin’. Reply

Yay Sarah! I’ll email you for your address and get that charm pack off ASAP! I can’t wait to see what you do with it.

Thanks so much to everyone who participated! We had 187 entries, including over 50 new followers. I even hit the big 1-0-0 on Bloglovin! I can’t tell you guys how much it means to me to have people who are willing to listen to my obsessive quilting ramblings. My husband thanks you.

I hope to be back tomorrow with my penny sampler progress!