Basic Quilting Skills Series · Quilt As Desired · Tips and Tricks · Tutorials

Basic Quilting Skills for Beginners: Quilt as Desired

Hello Quilty Friends!

Happy Thursday to you!

Leaf Background Image by rawpixel.com on Freepik

Here’s hoping we all have a productive autumn season — especially with our quilting.

I don’t know if you’re like me or not, but I tend to quilt less in the summer months. First, of course, it’s summer and I want to be busy doing other summer-y things and going places. Second, my Sewing Dungeon, er….Studio, is not air conditioned, so for a couple of months out of each year, it’s hard to sew with sweat dripping down into my eyes and onto my projects.

Yup, here’s my dungeon! LOL! Cue the creepy music, please!
Image by upklyak on Freepik

Needless to say, I look forward to the cooler fall months when I feel more productive in my studio and I get excited again about new projects.

What the Heck is “Quilt as Desired”???

If you’re new to quilting, you might have seen the phrase “quilt as desired” at the end of some of your quilt patterns. But what does it really mean? It’s a designer’s way to say quilt your quilt any way you want to.

On our Villa Rosa Designs Rose Cards, we take it a step further and say “Quilt and bind as desired.” Gee, that makes all the difference, doesn’t it? NOT!

If you’re a beginner, how are you supposed to know what to quilt or how to quilt your quilt to finish it?

Never fear — I’m here to help!

The first thing you need to consider after you complete the quilt top is what kind of quilting are you going to do? Machine quilting? Hand quilting? Or even tying/tacking?

Next, are you planning to quilt it yourself? Or pay someone to quilt it for you? Depending on your answer here, you may need to prepare your quilt differently. You can see last week’s post “Basic Quilting Skills for Beginners: Batting, Backing, and Preparing a Quilt for Quilting” to help you with your preparation.

Okay, let’s say you want to machine quilt your quilt yourself (sorry, I’m not into hand quilting, so you’re stuck with machine quilting). Here’s a little video I put together a while back about some basic free motion quilting skills and information.

Wiggly lines are just one way you can quilt your project. Here are some of my other free motion quilting favorites.

Straight Lines

If you haven’t tried quilting simple straight lines on a project, it’s way past time you did! To get your lines relatively straight, you will probably want to use a walking foot or an even-feed foot on your sewing machine. A walking foot or even-feed foot moves the top and bottom layers under the needle at the same time so your sewing lines are less likely to pucker and you won’t get those annoying tucks on the back of your quilt.

Here’s a great example of what straight lines can do for your quilt — this is only the backside and it’s unwashed! Cool, huh? Straight lines add a lot of texture. And if you look closely, you’ll see that my lines aren’t really all that straight, but by repeating the lines over and over about the same distance apart, it looks pretty awesome. Now imagine what this table runner will look like after I wash it and it crinkles up beautifully! You’ve just got to try straight lines!

Straight lines look great quilted on anything modern as well as children’s quilts. But I wouldn’t recommend straight lines on your Civil War reproduction quilt. LOL!

Loopy Loops

Loops are probably my all-time go-to design. I usually use this design edge to edge but sometimes I will use loops in the quilt center with something different in the borders. It depends on my mood, how much time I have, and what the quilt needs to be completed. (Yes, quilts talk to me — I am a quilt whisperer…)

As a free motion quilting teacher for a lot of years, I have discovered that loopy loops are more beginner-friendly than stippling/meandering. You have permission to cross over your lines in loopy loops, whereas in stippling/meandering you do not cross lines at all. Loopy loops are less stressful and I find them lots of fun to do.

Below, here’s an example of loopy loops. Neat, huh? See how all the loops are not the same shape or size? That’s what makes this design look easy-breezy. You can also use loopy loops as a jumping off point for A LOT of other variations.

I tend to quilt my loops big and open, which of course uses less thread and takes less time than quilting itty bitty loops. My rule of thumb is to quilt my lines of quilting no closer than a finger’s width. Of course, if I’m quilting a doll quilt, I’m going to quilt this design smaller and closer together than if I am quilting a throw quilt. Adapt the size and density of your quilting to the project you are quilting.

Loopy loops look pretty great on almost any project! Maybe not your Civil War repro quilt, though. (Maybe you should try hand-quilting for that one, just sayin’.)

Stippling/Meandering

All beginner quilters want to learn how to stipple/meander. I have found over the years that a lot of intro to free motion quilting classes start with stippling/meandering. This is not really a true beginner design, in my humble opinion. I think it is better suited for a more advanced machine quilter. Why? Because you cannot cross over your lines and that is hard to do (or not do) while you are trying to get all the other 101 free motion skills and information all at the same time — beginning free motion can be a bit overwhelming, and that’s without having to worry about not crossing over your stitching lines! Ugh!

Sadly, intro free motion classes keep trying. And mostly failing. Then beginners get frustrated and upset when they can’t quickly pick up stippling/meandering in a couple hour class. Then many of them just quit. I’m sorry to tell you, but stippling/meandering takes most people a lot of practice to master. So I recommend that beginner free motion quilters start with straight lines, wiggly lines, and loopy loops before even attempting stippling/meandering. Most of us have to crawl before we walk….

By the way, in case you wondered, stippling and meandering are pretty much interchangeable terms at this point, although once upon a time they were slightly different. I am using both at the same time so as not to cause any confusion for anyone. 🙂

To me, stippling/meandering is a lot like loopy loops except you are not crossing over any lines. That difference can be very daunting to a beginner, however. If the idea of not crossing lines terrifies you, then please do try straight lines, wiggly lines, and loopy loops before moving on to stippling/meandering. I still try to use my rule of thumb of leaving at least a finger’s width between my lines of stitching.

Here’s an example of stippling/meandering. I apologize that it might be hard to see my brown thread on the swirly-printed pink backing fabric on this place mat. Aha! Here’s another one of my tips: Use a busy fabric on the back of your quilt because it helps to hide your quilting stitches — this is particularly helpful when you are a beginner. It will help you to feel more confident about your developing quilting skills!

Probably the most important thing to remember about machine quilting is RELAX and HAVE FUN! Because quilting shouldn’t be like a job or chore, it should be relaxing and fun or else why would we be doing it???

You can check out some of my other favorite quilting tips HERE.

Next week we are going to tackle Binding, so stay tuned!

Until next Thursday —

Sew. Laugh. Repeat.

Always,

Tricia @VRD

Basic Quilting Skills Series · Tips and Tricks · Tutorials

Basic Quilting Skills for Beginners: Batting, Backing, and Preparing a Quilt for Quilting

Hello Quilty Friends!

Happy Thursday to you!

We’re going to jump right into our topic today — batting, backing, and preparing a quilt for quilting. There’s a lot to cover, so grab your cup of coffee and let’s get to it. I apologize in advance, but this post will be text-heavy. Sorry……..

Batting

If you’re new to quilting, you might not know what the filling inside of a quilt is called. Here in the USA, we call it “batting” or you might see it as “batt.” If you are in Europe or Canada, you might hear it called “wadding.” Whatever it’s called, we are talking about the layer between the top of the quilt and the back (or bottom layer) of the quilt.

If you’ve looked at batting options out there, you might be a little overwhelmed. There’s cotton, polyester, cotton/poly blends, wool, recycled, bamboo, natural, bleached, white, black, etc., etc. How do you know what batting is the best?

I’m here to to tell you that there isn’t only 1 “best” batting out there. A lot of what batting you choose depends on your project as well as your personal likes/dislikes or even possibly allergies. Classic favorites include: Warm and Natural, Hobbs, and Mountain Mist, but there are many more companies offering batting today.

Warm and Natural
Hobbs
Mountain Mist

So your best bet is to try some different samples of batting. Do you like the feel of cotton? Or a blend? Or polyester? Or silk? Or…? Which batting is easier to work with? Are there differences/similarities in the same fiber contents but different companies? If you’re going to quilt your own quilt, how does each sample quilt? Hand quilting or machine? Maybe you are tying your quilts?

Eventually, you will find the batting that you prefer and that’s probably the one you’ll use over and over again in your quilts. If you are interested in reading detailed articles about choosing quilt batting, there are LOTS on the Internet, just type “how do I choose quilt batting” into your favorite search engine and go from there.

What if the pattern I’m using doesn’t tell me how much batting to buy for my quilt?

I’m so glad you asked! You can figure out how much batting you will need with a simple formula.

1. You need to know how big the finished quilt will be ( be aware if you are adding or subtracting blocks or borders, your finished size might be different from the size listed on the pattern).

2. You will add 8 inches to both the length of the finished size and the width of the finished size.

Why 8 inches? Most professional quilters ask that your batting and backing be at least 4″ bigger on each side of your quilt top. If you are quilting the quilt yourself, you can sometimes get along with less, but it’s better to have too much batting and backing around the sides than not enough. If you are getting your quilt quilted by someone else, make sure to ask if 8 inches is enough for them, they may want more.

So, let’s do a few examples.

Quilt A is 57″ wide by 75″ long. Let’s add 8″ to each measurement for a total of 62″ x 83″ — this is the minimum batting size you need for your quilt.

Quilt B is 21″ wide by 52″ long. Let’s add 8″ to each measurement for a total of 29″ x 60″ — this is the minimum batting size for this table runner.

Great, but I can’t go to the quilt shop and buy exactly 62″ x 83″ or 29″ x 60″ of batting. So now what?

You can usually purchase batting by the yard or by the package at your favorite retailer. A yard of batting would be 36″ long by whatever width the batting is, which could range from 45″ – 120″!

Batting by the Yard

Okay, for Quilt A we need to buy a piece at least 62″ x 83″. At Quilt Shop X, we can buy batting that is 90″ wide, so that would be long enough if we turn the quilt sideways (83″ wide x 62″ long). Now what would be the closest yardage amount for 62″? 1.75 yards equals 63″. I would probably buy 2 yards of the 90″ wide batting, just to be on the safe side — it would give me 72″ x 90″, which is larger than what I need, so that’s good. Done.

Batting by the Package

Instead of batting by the yard, Quilt Shop Z offers a selection of prepackaged batting in different sizes. Here’s what you might find:

Craft – 34″ x 45″

Crib – 45″ x 60″

Throw – 60″ x 60″

Twin – 72″ x 90″

Full – 81″ x 96″

Queen – 90″ x 108″

King – 120″ x 120

Keep in mind that these measurements might be slightly different depending on the manufacturer.

Okay, for Quilt B our table runner, we need at least 29″ x 60″. Hmmm. A Crib or Throw size might work because they are both 60″, but that might be cutting it a little close, so I would probably go up to the next size, which is a Twin at 72″ x 90″. Of course, I will have leftover batting, but I can save that and use it for another project (or 2 or 3…).

Backing

Getting the correct size of backing for your project is pretty much the same process as I described above for quilt batting — you will want the backing to be at least 4″ bigger than the quilt top all the way around, or just add 8″ to the finished width and length of the quilt. Mostly, you’ll buy backing fabric by the yard, but there are more and more shops that are offering precut pieces of extra wide backing, usually in 2 or 3 yard pieces by the extra wide width, usually 108″, but you might find 120″ as well.

It’s really easy to figure out how much backing you need if you plan to buy the extra wide fabric. Buying extra wide fabric is a huge time and effort saver.

But, some of the time the fabric you want for the backing is the regular width of 42″ – 45″ wide.

How do I figure out how many yards of fabric to buy if the pattern doesn’t tell me?

A great question! Let’s use our Quilt A example from the Batting section.

Quilt A is 57″ wide by 75″ long. Let’s add 8″ to each measurement for a total of 62″ x 83″ — this is the minimum backing size you need for your quilt (we figure this just like the batting).

We know that a yard of fabric is 36″ long. The average width of regular-width quilt fabric on the bolt is about 44″ wide. But because fabric can vary a bit in width, I usually use 40″ as my width measurement.

For Quilt A — I know I need it to be at least 62″ x 83″. There are 2 main ways to piece a backing fabric together: vertical or horizontal, but sometimes one will work better than the other. In Quilt A, we will need to piece the backing vertically because horizontally there wouldn’t be enough fabric as 40″ + 40″ is only 80″ and we need at least 83″).

                                            

A vertically-pieced backing

Using the 40″ width, I would need 2 widths to get at least 62″ wide. I know I need at least 83″ for the length. So that means I would need to sew together 2 pieces of fabric each at least 40″ x 90″ (I chose 90 as it’s greater than 83″ and it’s 2.5 yards). So I would buy 5 yards of regular width fabric. Cut the 5 yards into two 2.5 yard pieces (90″) and sew them together down the middle using a 1/2″ seam (instead of a 1/4″ seam) to add some durability. Then press the seams open and press out the wrinkles and creases. DONE!

Here are my favorite tips for selecting backing fabric:

  1. Use quilting weight fabric, just like what you used for your quilt top. Backing a quilt with a sheet may result in a stiff quilt that does not drape well.
  2. Choose a backing fabric that compliments the front of your quilt.
  3. Make sure the fabric for your backing is big enough.
  4. Use a busy printed backing fabric as it will not only look really good on the back of your quilt, it also can hide the quilting stitches — this is particularly great when you are just starting out either hand or machine quilting.

In the first example, the black thread really sticks out like a sore thumb on the grey backing fabric. The thread and backing look fine together, but if you flipped over your quilt to the back, any mistakes or wobbles in the quilting would really jump out at you!

In the second example, the grey thread blends in more with the multicolored argyle backing fabric, which would help to hide or at least make less noticeable any mistakes or wobbles in your quilting.

5. One of my favorite places to find fabric for backing is in the discounted or clearance section, where you’re sure to find a selection of great quilting fabrics that are older and are being sold at a discount to make room for newer fabrics.

Preparing Your Quilt for Quilting

Now that we have our quilt top completed, we have batting that is 8″ wider and 8″ longer than our quilt top, and we have a busy backing fabric that is also 8″ wider and 8″ longer than our quilt top, it’s time to get it ready for quilting.

First you have to make some decisions before you go any further:

  1. Hand quilting or machine quilting? (or perhaps tying the quilt?)
  2. If hand quilting, are you doing it yourself?
  3. If machine quilting, are you doing it yourself?

So, let’s say we have decided to send our Quilt A to Sally who is a reputable long arm machine quilter in the area.

You should ask the long arm quilter how to prepare your quilt for quilting, but here are some general suggestions:

  1. Carefully press the top of the quilt and the backing of the quilt
  2. Turn the quilt top so that the underside is up and trim any and all strings and threads
  3. If your batting was folded or wadded up in a package, you may need to lay out the batting so the creases can relax. You can speed this up by tossing the batting into the dryer on low or air fluff (so it doesn’t shrink)
  4. It wouldn’t hurt to press the quilt top and backing one more time, but be careful not to distort or stretch the quilt top

Sally the long arm quilter will load the backing, batting, and quilt top onto her frame and will quilt the layers together using whatever design the two of you decided upon. You may also be able to select the thread color you want used on your quilt. White, ecru, or grey are always safe choices, but colors like red, orange, pink, blue, or purple can really give your quilt that little extra something-something.

If you are going to quilt your quilt yourself, you will need to layer your backing, batting, and quilt top.

  1. Lay your wrinkle-free backing fabric wrong side up on a flat surface. Tape the edges of the backing fabric down to the table, making adjustments until the backing fabric is perfectly smooth and flat without any wrinkles or bumps. You will need to stretch the backing gently to make it nice and flat, but be careful not to overstretch the backing as this can skew the fabric.
  2. Center your batting on top of your backing and smooth it out until it is wrinkle-free.
  3. Now center your quilt top right sides up on top of the batting. You should see at least 4″ of batting and backing around all the edges of the quilt top. Smooth your quilt top so it is perfectly flat with no bumps or wrinkles.
  4. Using pins, a basting tool, or needle and thread, baste the 3 layers together. If pinning, place pins about every 4-5 inches (some quilters like their pins closer together and some like them farther apart). I like to pin across the center horizontally and vertically and then pin in diagonal lines from the center out to the corners. If needed, I add extra pins here and there. You can check out http://www.AllPeopleQuilt.com HERE for a good article about different ways to layer and baste your quilt.
Photo from AllPeopleQuilt.com

WHEW! I know this was a lot of information to absorb. You may need to read it more than once. LOL!

There are also lots of great resources about this topic online, in quilting books, and in the back of your favorite quilting magazines.

Next week, we’ll talk address Quilt as Desired.

Until next Thursday —

Sew. Laugh. Repeat.

Always,

Tricia @VRD

Basic Quilting Skills Series · Rose Cards · Tips and Tricks · villa rosa designs

NEW September 2022 Villa Rosa Designs Rose Card Quilt Patterns and Basic Quilting Skills for Beginners: Pressing Techniques 101

Hello Quilty Friends!

Happy Thursday to you!

I am thrilled to show you our NEW September Rose Card patterns! I can’t wait until the first Fry-Day (Friday) of each month when the new set of patterns is released — it’s always great to see what our awesome VRD designers have come up with. You can see the new patterns first if you have joined the email list to receive our VRD email newsletters.

What??!! You don’t get our newsletter??? You can sign up for our newsletter HERE.

Of course, I follow up with the newest patterns on the next Thursday after the patterns are released each month here on the blog in case you missed them in the newsletter.

Well, here they are! Cue the trumpets! Throw the confetti! Applause!

September’s NEW Rose Cards

You can order all 5 cards HERE for the low low price of $8.95.

But WAIT…….there’s MORE! (Sorry, not sorry — you know how much I love saying this.)

Here’s my September table runner, Maple Grove!

Maple Grove

You can buy the Maple Grove pattern HERE.

There are also kits for some of the September Rose Cards — did someone say KITS??? Each kit comes with the fabric for the top and binding as well as the pattern. You can find kits below, for as long as they last.

Berry Smoothie

Mazed

Pumpkin Pie

Of course, our website, www.villarosadesigns.com, is always stocked with great kits. You can see our current kit offerings HERE. You’re sure to find one…..or maybe a hundred that you can’t live without.

Pressing Techniques

Let’s dive right back into our Basic Quilting Skills for Beginners with Pressing Techniques 101.

I bet you never really thought about the concept that there are different kinds of pressing techniques for different types of projects. Well, I’m here to tell you that how you use an iron for quilting is different than how you use an iron to iron your shirts or pants.

There’s ironing. And then there’s pressing.

According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary:

(to) iron

1a : to smooth with or as if with a heated iron iron a shirt

1b : to remove (something, such as wrinkles) by ironing

(to) press

5 : to exert pressure (this is the closest definition for pressing with an iron I could find)

You can see a little difference between the two definitions, can’t you? Ironing requires moving the iron around while pressing is more of an up and down motion.

I found this pretty decent YouTube video from Hobby Lobby about the difference between pressing and ironing along with some tips. You can check out the video HERE.

Over the years, I’ve tried a lot of different irons from cheap travel models to expensive specialty irons. Some irons are hotter than others. Some have more weight so you don’t have to press down as hard. Some have longer cords or are larger models. Some have continuous steam or bursts of steam. So many choices, but it all depends on what you want out of your iron and what your budget is. So look around, test out different models and brands. Find the one you like the best, for what you want to do, don’t just go for the most expensive or the least expensive.

Pink Oliso Iron

One of the coolest irons in my opinion is the Oliso iron. It lifts up after so many seconds so there’s no chance that you will burn your fabric or project by pressing too long or forgetting about the iron in the down position. AND they come in a bunch of really pretty colors! You can usually find Oliso irons at your local quilt shop or your favorite online vendor.

Here’s a great YouTube video by SewVeryEasy about what to look for in an iron as well as lots of tips and tricks. You can check out the video HERE.

Some quilters swear by using the steam function of their iron for pressing. Me, I like a dry hot iron for quilting AND I love to use Mary Ellen’s Best Press Starch Alternative. A long time ago, I used spray starch in the can, but got tired of the little flakes and the shiny spots on my fabrics, so when I found Best Press, it was a total game changer for me.

Mary Ellen’s Best Press Spray

A little spritz is all you need. Best Press helps me to get crisper flatter seams without having to work very hard, which then helps my quilt fabrics to stay square and not to stretch out of shape. An added bonus is that Best Press comes in many fun scents and also comes in unscented, too. My personal favorite scent is Peaches and Cream. You can find Best Press at your local quilt shop or favorite online vendor.

I hope these pressing techniques and tips are helpful! Stay tuned for next week’s post all about batting, backing, and preparing a quilt for quilting.

Until next Thursday —

Sew. Laugh. Repeat.

Always,

Tricia @VRD

Basic Quilting Skills Series · Rose Cards · Tips and Tricks · Tutorials · villa rosa designs

Basic Quilting Skills for Beginners: Rotary Cutting 101

Hello Quilty Friends!

Happy Thursday to you!

I hope you had a chance to read our first post in a multi-part series called “Basic Quilting Skills for Beginners.” Last week’s post was all about the quilter’s 1/4″ seam allowance. Did you miss it? You can find it HERE. This week we’re going to talk about the Basics of Rotary Cutting.

First, let’s talk a little about the history of rotary cutting — YES! There is a history of rotary cutting (there is a history of everything, if you’re interested enough to find it). The rotary cutter was invented in 1979. Originally it was used in the garment industry, but once quilters saw its potential to speed up cutting and increase accuracy, they stole it and by the early 1980’s. the rotary cutter was all the rage. Before the rotary cutter, quilters made templates for each piece of a quilt, traced around the shape over and over, and then cut the shapes out using scissors. With rotary cutters came acrylic rulers and templates and of course self-healing cutting mats.

Here’s a cardboard triangle that was used by a friend of mine to cut out hundreds if not thousands of triangles.

Rotary Cutting Tools

When I first started quilting back in 1996, I started with a beginner’s quilting set which included an 18″ x 24″ mat, a 45mm rotary cutter, and a 6″ x 24″ acrylic ruler. These tools worked great for me until I started working part-time in a quilt shop and had the opportunity to try out different cutters and rulers. When I discovered the yellow Olfa ergonomic cutter, below, I was in love (believe it or not, but this is actually my original Olfa and I’ve been using it for around 20 years)!

Keep in mind you might need to try out different rotary cutters until you find the one that fits you and is the most comfortable. What works for a right-handed quilter might not be the best choice for a lefty and vice versa. You want it to be comfortable because you’ll be spending a lot of quality time with your rotary cutter (and don’t forget, you will need to change your rotary cutting blade regularly, just like your sewing machine needle).

Rotary cutting basic set

Some different examples of rotary cutters

These basic tools worked for me for a quite a while, but over time as my skills grew, I began adding more rulers. And I upgraded to a larger mat — I really like my 24″ x 36″, which fits the top of my antique Hoosier cabinet bottom beautifully (and the storage is outstanding, of course). I also have a rotating mat as well as some smaller mats for working with smaller cutting projects or projects on the go. Even though I’ve tried out lots of different tools and made some changes, I’m still just as in love with my Olfa cutter (above, left) as I was the first time I used it.

Here’s my stash of rulers — well, some of my stash of rulers, anyway…….

Nowadays there are so many ruler choices. Two of my favorites are the 6″ x 12″ ruler and the 12 1/2″ square ruler. A 6″ x 12″ ruler is a great companion to the 6″ x 24″ because sometimes you just don’t want to mess with that full 24″ length, especially if you’re working in a tight space or cutting small pieces. The 12 1/2″ ruler just makes sense — it will square up blocks and cut squares up to 12 1/2″ square.

As you go along and your skills increase, you’ll probably add lots of rulers and acrylic templates, too. Some of those rulers will do a lot of different things (why they can’t do the dishes, though, is beyond me….) while others will do one thing and do it well.

There are lots of different companies out there making rulers today. Keep in mind, though, that not all rulers are created equal. Measurements might be slightly different between different manufacturers. The markings of one ruler might be easier to see on light fabrics while another might show up better on dark fabrics. Some rulers have textured bottoms so they don’t slide while others are as slippery as a Slip and Slide (you might need to add some textured dots to the back of a slippery ruler to help hold it in place while you cut — see the third photo, above). You will need to try different rulers to find the ones you like the best. And once you find a manufacturer you like, stick with that one.

Rule of Thumb: Finish a project with the same ruler(s) you started the project with.

Why? Because as I stated earlier, not all rulers are created equal. Switching rulers midstream could affect the accuracy of your project. Imagine this — you’re making a quilt that has thirty-five 12″ (finished) blocks with 5 blocks across by 7 blocks down. You cut out part of the quilt with one ruler and then switch to a different ruler made by a different manufacturer and you keep cutting out your squares and triangles. Then you go to sew them together and suddenly not everything fits together exactly right — you’re cutting off some triangle points while others are perfect. You check your 1/4″ seam allowance. Huh…..that’s not it. Then you check a few of your cut pieces. Depending on which ruler you are using ( the first one, the second one, or even an altogether different ruler), your pieces might be exactly the right size, too big, or too small. You can see how this snowball is rolling downhill and getting bigger and bigger, can’t you?

Here’s our beautiful quilt, which won’t be so beautiful if we don’t figure out what is happening and find a way to fix it ASAP. If you keep plowing ahead without figuring things out, your blocks might end up being different sizes, which will then make it hard to sew the blocks together into rows and the rows together into the finished quilt top. If your blocks are only 1/8″ different, that will add up across and down your quilt. By the time you sew all the rows together, your quilt is off across the width by 5/8″, which is more than a half inch while the length is now off by 7/8″, which is nearly an inch! And if you’re adding borders — well, I don’t even want to think about how those borders might stand up and wave back at you….

Accuracy……Accuracy…..Accuracy.

Consistency…….Consistency………Consistency.

There is so much to remember when you are a beginner! But I promise you, if you take the time to learn the basics, they will become part of you. Like the Force.

How do you actually cut with a rotary cutter???

Since I am not physically by your side to guide you in rotary cutting skills, I am not going to try to teach you how to actually cut with your rotary cutter. Instead, I will give you some tips that I have learned over the years.

  • If you are new to rotary cutting and do not have an experienced quilter to help you learn how to use it, sign up for a class on rotary cutting. Maybe it’s at your local quilt shop or maybe it’s online. But sign up and learn how to be safe and how to cut accurately.
  • KEEP YOUR FINGERS OUT OF THE WAY OF THE BLADE! This means, you have to pay attention to what you are doing. ALWAYS. Keep your fingers of your non-cutting hand back away from the edge of the ruler as you cut. There are rulers out there with special raised edges to keep your fingers safe. There are special gloves you can get to put on your non cutting hand to keep your hand safe. Use them if needed, there is no shame in keeping yourself safe. Ask my Mom about rotary cutting safety and she’ll tell you how she spent Mother’s Day one year in the emergency room with me when I had a bit of a rotary cutting accident……Don’t worry, I was okay……
  • DO NOT GET DISTRACTED WHEN YOU ARE HOLDING A ROTARY CUTTER IN YOUR HAND. Do not look up to watch an exciting part of the TV program or movie. In fact, it’s safer not to have the distraction of the TV while you are cutting. Ignore the telephone or dings and pings that tells you there is a new email or text message or whatever.
  • If you get a drop of blood on your fabric, spit on the spot and rub it. Spit and rub. Trust me. The blood will come out. Gross, I know, but it works. Your saliva will break down your blood on fabric. Your saliva will not break down someone else’s blood, though, only your own.
  • If you do cut yourself, apply pressure to the wound. Hold the wound above the level of your heart. Seek medical help immediately if needed.
  • Hold your rotary cutter straight up and down on the cutting mat and snug up against the edge of your ruler. Press down with enough force to move the blade, but keep it upright.
  • If you are pressing too hard and your cuts are not clean, it’s probably time to change your rotary blade.
  • Always keep extra blades on hand — store them safely. You never know when you will need to change your blade — they nick easily.
  • Change your blade regularly — a dull blade is more dangerous. If you are struggling to get through the layers cleanly, you might slip and cut yourself.
  • Dispose of your blades responsibly — do not just throw them in the trash. You could wrap it in cardboard and tape it up before throwing it away. You could use a large pill bottle or small container to collect used blades as well as broken and bent pins. It will take you a long time to fill it up. Then you can find a safe place to discard it.
  • Keep children and pets away when you are using your rotary cutter. Store your rotary cutter away from children and pets.
  • Keep the blade locked or in the down position when you are not using it.
  • DO NOT lay your rotary cutter down with the blade open or exposed, always close or cover your blade when you lay it down. An unattended exposed blade is an accident waiting to happen.
  • I find that I cut more easily and more accurately when I am standing versus when I am sitting.
  • Always cut on a rotary cutting mat. Otherwise, whatever you are cutting on top of will be damaged and most likely ruined.
  • If your table is too low for comfortable rotary cutting, raise it up on bed risers, PVC pipes, or whatever works safely.

I know this post is just the tip of the iceberg concerning the basics of rotary cutting. There is an entire body of information out there, you just have to look for it. Check out your favorite quilting books and magazines, your local quilt shops and quilt guilds/organizations, as well as online tutorials, blogs, posts, videos, and more.

Next week, we will talk about Pressing Techniques and the new September Rose Cards. So, stay tuned.

May the Force — the Rotary Cutting Force, that is — be with you.

Until next Thursday —

Sew. Laugh. Repeat.

Always,

Tricia @VRD

Basic Quilting Skills Series · Tips and Tricks · Tutorials · villa rosa designs

Basic Quilting Skills for Beginners: How to Find a Quilter’s 1/4″ Seam Allowance

Hello Quilty Friends!

Happy Thursday to you!

Recently, we received a message from a quilter who purchased a couple kits featuring Villa Rosa Rose Card patterns at a quilt shop while traveling. She asked for instructions for the kits she purchased. Oh no! I thought, did the kits not include the Rose Cards?

After further communication back and forth, I found out the cards were in the kits, but the quilter, being unfamiliar with Rose Cards, wondered why the pattern was so small and on the back of a postcard– there must surely be more to the instructions than that, she thought. So, she contacted us.

Brick Wall Photo by Joe Woods on Unsplash

This message got me thinking about how our Rose Card patterns really are very beginner friendly, but beginner quilters are expected to have some basic quilting skills.

So, what skills does a beginner quilter need to know in order to successfully make a Rose Card quilt pattern?

Haven’t gotten your August 2022 Rose Cards yet? You can buy them HERE.

Several things came to mind right way, so I thought — why not write some posts about beginning quilting skills? That way if we get beginner questions, we actually have somewhere to send them for answers besides a vague reference to the Internet or YouTube.

The first one I thought of — and possibly THE most important beginner quilting skill — is knowing how to sew an accurate 1/4″ seam.

An accurate 1/4″ Seam Allowance

Most if not all quilting patterns use a 1/4″ seam allowance. Pattern designers build that seam allowance into their cutting measurements so the pieces will fit together properly when you sew them together. YAY MATH! (You can check out my post about quilting and math HERE.) In the past, way before rotary cutters, quilters had to draw seam allowances around patches, cut them out of cardboard or heavy paper, and then cut the patches out with scissors using the cardboard patterns. HORRORS! Please note that applique can be a little different, though, as you might have to add a seam allowance around the shapes — but this is a topic for another day. For our purposes here, we will refer to pieced quilting patterns.

Seriously, though — a 1/4″ seam doesn’t just happen by magic — you need to make friends with your sewing machine so you are both on the same page. One of the best things you can do to make friends with your sewing machine is to keep your sewing machine manual nearby and to actually use it! If you’ve lost your sewing machine manual, you can check the manufacturer’s website because they might have your manual available for download. Sometimes you can find reprints of manuals on Amazon, too.

One of my all-time favorite sewing machine accessories is my 1/4″ guide foot. It’s a typical 1/4″ foot for quilting but it also has a nice little metal guide on the right (see below) that I can bump my fabric right up against while sewing, which helps me to sew a more accurate 1/4″.

Janome 1/4″ foot with guide

Don’t panic — if you don’t have a special 1/4″ foot for your sewing machine, there are other ways to get a accurate 1/4″ seam allowance.

The technique I was first taught as a beginner was to cut 3 strips of fabric 1 1/2″ wide by say 5″ long (the length is not as important as the 1 1/2″ width). Sew the 3 strips together side by side into a mini Rail Fence block. Measure the width of the center strip. If your center strip measures exactly 1″ wide, then you are already sewing an accurate 1/4″ seam so don’t change a thing!

If the center strip measures more than 1″ wide, then your seam is narrower than 1/4″, so you need to make an adjustment to sew a wider seam. Make the adjustment, then sew 3 more strips together and measure the center strip. If it’s still not right, keep making minute adjustments, sewing mini Rail Fence blocks, and measuring the width of the center strip until it is exactly 1″ wide. Note what adjustments you made so if you need to change the width of your seam allowance, you will be able to find your way back to your 1/4″. When in doubt, sew 3 strips together into a mini Rail Fence block and test the width of the center strip.

If the center strip measures less than 1″, then your seam is wider than 1/4″, so you need to make an adjustment to sew a narrower seam. Like above, keep making adjustments, sewing mini Rail Fence blocks, and measuring the width of the center strip until it is exactly 1″ wide. Note what adjustments you made so if you need to change the width of your seam allowance, you will be able to find your way back to your 1/4″. When in doubt, sew 3 strips together into a mini Rail Fence block and test the width of the center strip.

What adjustments can you make with your sewing machine to perfect your 1/4″ seam?
  • Your machine might have the option to move your presser foot either right or left, depending on whether your seam is too narrow or too wide.
  • You might need to place a strip of tape on your machine to mark where to line up the edge of your fabric to get your 1/4″ — you might try painter’s tape or washi tape, which would both be re-positionable as you make your adjustments to get your 1/4″.
  • Speaking of tape, you can actually stack up layers of tape to get the “bumper” effect of the guide on my 1/4″ foot.

If these ideas don’t work for you, you might want to consider purchasing a 1/4″ guide foot that will fit your sewing machine. To do this, you might have to know whether your machine is a low shank, a high shank, or rarely (mostly older Singers) a slant shank. How do you determine what kind of shank you have??? Why, refer to your sewing machine manual, of course!

Sew, what do you do with all of your little (and possibly wonky) Rail Fence blocks? Make a cute pin cushion, of course!

Here's how:

Press your Rail Fence block flat.  Make a tiny quilt sandwich with a piece of fabric for backing, a scrap of batting, and the Rail Fence block on top.  Press or pin in place.  Quilt by hand or by machine.  Square up your little Rail Fence sandwich.  Now place the Rail Fence sandwich right sides together with a piece of fabric you want for the back of your pin cushion.  Pin the layers together.  Sew 1/4" away from the outside edge of the Rail Fence block, leaving a couple inch opening on one of the long sides.  Trim the backing and Rail Fence block to the same size if needed.  Turn the pin cushion right sides out through the opening.  Push out the corners carefully.  Fill your pin cushion with stuffing or crushed walnut shells (mine is filled with crushed walnut shells).  Stuff or fill it firmly, making sure to fill the corners.  Leave a little bit of space at the long edge with the opening.  Turn the backing fabric and Rail Fence block raw edges to the inside of the opening.  Pin in place.  Now hand sew the opening closed using matching thread.  DONE!

I do want to point out that a consistent seam allowance is just as important as an accurate 1/4″ seam allowance. That being said, not all 1/4″ seam allowances are exactly the same. You would think so, but in truth there really is no one PERFECT EXACT 1/4″ seam allowance.

SHHHHHHHH. Don’t pass this around — you’re sure to offend someone who thinks their seam allowance is THE perfect 1/4″. We ALL know a quilter like this. LOL!

But alas, as hard as you try to find that elusive perfect 1/4″ seam allowance, there are always going to be things that make tiny differences — like the machine you use, the thickness of your fabric, you, how accurate your cutting is, possibly even the environment, and a host of other little things.

My advice to you is to find YOUR very best 1/4″ seam allowance and stick with it. Your pieces will still fit together as long as you’re consistent.

Our next topic will be Rotary Cutting Basics. Sew……Stay tuned!

Until next Thursday —

Sew. Laugh. Repeat.

Always,

Tricia @VRD