Basic Quilting Skills Series · Tips and Tricks · Tutorials

Basic Quilting Skills for Beginners: Binding 101

Hello Quilty Friends!

Happy Thursday to you!

Again, THANK YOU for following our Basic Quilting Skills for Beginners series. We are all thrilled with your interest to this series of posts. Sadly, this series will come to an end next week with Labeling Your Quilt.

So, I thought I’d ask — are there any other topics you’d like to see here? If so, please leave a comment or you can email your suggestions to me at tricia@villarosadesigns.com. I’d love to have your thoughts and ideas so our blog will continue to be relevant to you, our VRD fans and followers.

Now let’s get to BINDING!

The good news is that once you reach the binding stage, you are totally in the homestretch of having a finished quilt.

Yay you!

This week for our binding tutorial, we’ll use my Halloween Ice Jam table runner again. If you didn’t order the pattern last week, you can order it HERE.

There’s a couple of things we have to go over before we can do our binding.

How wide do I cut my strips?

You could ask a bunch of different quilters this same question and you would get multiple answers, I’m afraid — it’s not a one size fits all situation.

A lot of quilt patterns and quilters prefer to cut binding strips 2 1/2″ wide. As this seems to be the most common size in the quilting world, I too use this width for my patterns, but I personally find 2 1/2″ a bit too floppy, so when I do my own binding, I cut my strips 2 1/4″ wide, which for me makes a nice full binding. Of course, you will have to try both to see which one you prefer.

Yes, I use 2 1/4″ for almost all of my binding, but I must confess that there are a few types of projects I actually cut 2″ wide binding strips for — miniature quilts and any other tiny little quilty projects. Again, you’ll just have to try different widths on different projects to find out what works best for you.

Here’s a little something to consider — I have found that if your 1/4″ seam is a “fat” 1/4″ seam, then you’ll probably like using 2 1/2″ or if you’re like me and you use a “scant” 1/4″ seam, then 2 1/4″ might be a better fit.

As for mini quilts and such, you’ll probably want to use a slightly narrower width than what you use for your regular-sized quilts. You’ll just have to try things out to see what you like better because trial and error is all part of learning, isn’t it?

How do I know how many strips to cut for my binding?

Sometimes you get lucky and your quilt pattern will include the number of strips to cut and it might even suggest a specific width. But, if your pattern doesn’t specify how many strips to cut, read on my friend!

If you don’t know the dimensions of your quilt, you will need to measure the width and the length using your tape measure.

Let’s use my Halloween Ice Jam measurements for this example — it measures 18″ wide x 54″ long, so we need to add together 2 widths and 2 lengths to get the total inches around the outside of the quilt (otherwise known as the circumference).

18+18+54+54=144

Now we are going to divide 144 by 40.

This number will tell us how many strips to cut because we are dividing the total inches by the inches in the width of fabric.

Please understand I didn’t just pull a random number out of the air — ha ha! — 40 is the average width of fabric that I and a lot of other quilt designers use to determine yardage requirements for our patterns. Fabric can vary in width so it helps to use an average number maybe a little smaller than the actual width and 40 does that when fabric generally ranges from 42″ – 45″ wide. Besides, that little extra also helps to make sure you don’t run out of fabric by accident.

So, let’s continue.

144÷40=3.6

Let’s round that number up to 4 — I need 4 strips of fabric for my binding. That little extra is helpful to make room for the corners and joining our binding ends. There’s nothing worse than getting close to the end of sewing on your binding to find you are 3 inches short. When in doubt, add an extra strip.

But what do you do when you get a whole number instead of a fraction for the number of strips needed? Me, I definitely add an extra strip because I don’t want to run out of binding before I get to the end.

Yay! Quilt Math to the rescue again! Three cheers for math! Want to read my post about quilting and math? Check it out HERE.

Moving on……

Cut the required number of strips and then cut off all the selvedges. The selvedges are those tightly woven long sides of the fabric which usually have little holes in them. Off with the selvedges, I say, off with those selvedges!

Now we’re heading back over to the sewing machine.

There are a couple different ways to sew your binding strips together.

The first way is to layer 2 strips right sides together with the ends lined up. Use a 1/4″ seam to sew the strips together, just like in piecing. Press the seam allowance open to reduce bulk in the binding — nobody wants a lumpy binding. LOL!

The second way to join the strips is on the bias or diagonal. Lay a strip right sides up on your flat surface. Place a second strip perpendicular to (NO, not another math word! Horrors!!!) and on top of the first strip with the wrong side up, that way the strips are right sides together. Next, draw a diagonal line from corner to corner.

Then — you guessed it! — sew on the line. Does this sound familiar? It should because quilters use this technique for making triangles (HSTs) and flippy corners.

The next thing you need to do is find the end of the strip that is on top. Turn the strip over so it is now facing right side up. This is really important or else your binding will not have all the seams on the back of the strip. Take another strip and place it perpendicular to the second strip with the right side down, again making them right sides together. Draw a diagonal line and sew on the line again. Repeat this until you’ve sewn all the strips into one long binding strip.

Clip the threads in between the strips if you chain-piece and then cut off the waste triangles where the strips meet, leaving a 1/4″ seam allowance.

Time to press our binding strips. Let’s head back to the ironing board.

Place your binding strip right side down on your ironing board. Using your iron on a cotton or hot setting, fold the strip in half with the wrong sides together, pressing as you go. Remember, you are pressing, not ironing here. We just want to make sure the strip gets folded and creased.

When you come to a seam, press the seam allowance open like we did when we joined our strips into one long binding strip. Then fold, press, and keep going.

Almost done now. Just keep folding and pressing until you get to the end of the very long strip. Keep in mind the bigger the quilt you are working on, the longer the strip and the more time it will take to do this step.

Let’s head back to the sewing machine once again because it’s time to sew the binding onto your quilt. I know this seems like a lot of steps, but writing/reading about it takes longer than actually doing it. After some practice, it will become second-nature and you won’t even have to think about it, you’ll just do it.

Lay your binding on top of the right side of your quilt with the raw edges lined up. I usually start my binding somewhere towards the middle of a long side. Be careful here because you want to avoid placing binding seams at your corners because the added bulk can make your corner turn out weird. Trust me on this. Been there, done that. It’s okay if you want to pin your binding all the way around your quilt, but with a little practice, you’ll have a fairly good idea how to avoid the dreaded seam allowance at the corner issue.

Pin the layers together about 10-12 inches from where the binding strip starts. Then place a pin through the quilt right before the binging begins, but not through the binding, only the quilt. This second pin right before the binding starts is a marker you will need later.

Start sewing at the pin 10-12 inches from the beginning of the binding strip. Backstitch a few stitches, and….GO.

Most people use a 1/4″ seam for sewing on their binding, but I personally use about a 3/8″ seam because I like a nice full binding. Try both ways to see which one works best for you.

Sew until you get to about 1/4″ from the corner.

When you get to 1/4″ from the corner — STOP and backstitch to secure the stitching. Cut your thread and pull your quilt out from under the needle.

GULP! Here comes the scary part — making a French fold mitered corner. Cue the scary music….

Fold your binding strip at a 45 degree angle towards the right.

Now fold the binding strip back over itself to the left. Place a pin if you need to. This little fold here makes you able to overlap the binding into a nice miter on the back which will give you a really nice square corner.

Turn your quilt and start sewing at the corner, backstitch a couple stitches and sew until you get to 1/4″ from the next corner. Not scary, easy peasy!

Repeat the mitered corner fold, turn your quilt again, and keep going. When you finish the fourth corner, keep your eye out for the pin marking the place where the binding strip began. Stop sewing 3-4 inches before that pin and backstitch to secure the stitching. Once you’ve backstitched, cut your threads and pull your quilt out from under the needle.

Here’s a helpful little video from Alex Anderson and Ricky Tims about mitering corners.

Now we’re going to sew the ends of our binding strip together. This next part is really a leap of faith, but it does work, I promise you. Just stick with me, I won’t steer you wrong.

Smooth your binding strip over and beyond where the marker pin is (move the loose beginning binding tail out of your way). Use a ruler and measure from the marker pin the length of how wide you cut your binding strip. For a lot of you, that would probably be 2 1/2″ but for me and some others, that will be 2 1/4″. Draw a line with a fabric pen at that measurement from the marker pin and cut on the line.

Next open both ends of the binding, overlap them with the the ends right sides together at an angle, and then pin the binding layers together. Draw a diagonal line if you like or just eyeball it.

Please note that this technique isn’t the only one out there. If you want to learn other ways of doing binding, you can do an Internet search.

Sew on your drawn line and trim away the waste triangles 1/4″ beyond your sewing line.

Finger press the seam open to reduce the bulk and refold the binding with wrong sides together again.

Your binding strip should now lay nice and snug against your quilt. Yay! Next pull out the pins and use them to keep the rest of the binding lined up with the quilt.

Now it’s time to finish sewing the binding on. Start where you stopped before we sewed the ends of the binding together until you overlap where you originally started sewing the binding on. Backstitch at the both the beginning and the end of your stitching line.

Finishing Binding by Hand or Machine?

While doing this series about beginning skills, I have discovered that I am an “old school” quilter. It pains me that I am starting to show my age, but I know these tried and true methods work. Feel free to explore different methods to do any of these skills, but keep in mind that it’s important to know the old skills before you can learn the new skills — you have to have somewhere to start. So, maybe I’m not as antiquated as it sometimes feels these days. LOL! But that’s okay, those old skills serve me well and keep me making quilt after quilt with excellent results.

That being said, there are 2 ways to finish your binding on your quilt — by hand or by machine.

I finish all my binding by hand. After writing multiple books and making oodles of samples for magazines and patterns, I know I’ve probably hand-sewn miles and miles and miles of binding. But that’s okay. I like how a hand-stitched binding looks.

If you are interested in learning to finish your binding by machine, here’s a nice video from Jenny at Missouri Star Quilting. It’s actually a complete binding tutorial and shows you how you can sewn it down by machine.

If you prefer finishing your binding by hand, you can check out this video by Quilting in the Rain as she shows you how to sew a hidden blind stitch.

You might wonder why I’m giving you videos here, but I learned a long time ago that as a lefty, there are just some things I can’t teach to righties and sewing down binding is one of them!

BIG SHOUT OUT to my pal, Cathey Laird of Cathey Marie Designs, the inventor of the Y Block Ruler.

Long long ago, I tried to teach Cathey how to do mitered corners like I did, she found out hours later that a lefty can’t teach a righty how to do that because we fold our corners in different directions. Oops, sorry, Cathey!

Anyway, I don’t want to confuse anyone, so here’s a righty doing the hidden blind stitch for you. If you are a lefty and need a little help from a lefty, just shoot me a message and I’d be glad help you.

Here is my cute little Halloween Ice Jam table runner! Now all I have to do is sew the binding down and put a label on it.

Whew! I’m totally worn out now! I guess that’s about it for binding, folks. I can’t think of anything else to add.

If you have any questions, though, just ask. Did you know you can send us a message on the blog? You can go to our Contact Us page and scroll down to the bottom to find a form to fill out.

Stay tuned for next week’s post about labeling your quilt.

Happy binding!

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: Squaring Up Your Quilt

Hello Quilty Friends!

Happy Thursday to you!

First, I want to give each of you a great big THANK YOU hug!

Thank you for reading our Villa Rosa Designs quilt blog, Villa Rosa Quilts. This past week, the number of views has exploded and we’ve added new followers, too. And it’s all because of you, our VRD fans and followers. We are thrilled that you find our blog to be informative, fun, and worthwhile.

Did you know you can follow our blog and never miss a Thursday Post? All you need to do is type in your email address and click the subscribe button just to the right of the blog post towards the top and you’ll get each new post delivered right to your email inbox every Thursday!

Now let’s hop right into this week’s Basic Quilting Skills for Beginners post — Squaring Up.

You cut, you sewed, you quilted, and now it’s time to square up your quilt. I was planning to do both Squaring Up and Binding in this post, but I decided it would probably be better to separate the two topics, otherwise the post was going to be too long, too wordy, and probably too boring and we can’t have that.

Forgive me, but you’ll have to wait until next week for Binding.

Squaring Up

Before you can do the binding, you first must square up your quilt.

Why should I square up my quilt? Can’t I just slap on the binding and be done?

That’s a good question — sure, you could just slap on the binding, but you probably wouldn’t be satisfied with the results. Things can get distorted as you handle your quilt, press (or maybe you iron), quilt it, tug, pull, crumple it up and throw it on the floor — well, you get the picture. Think of squaring up like pre-binding.

My quilt “volunteer” today is a new Halloween version of my Ice Jam VRD pattern. I made this runner a couple months ago as a sample project in my 2022 Villa Rosa Rose Card Table Runner a Month class, but never finished it.

BIG SHOUT OUT to all my awesome class buddies — Mary Lee, Sherry, Missi, Debbie, Anita, Robin, Kim, Gaynel, Jean, Donna and Gayle (the owner of my local shop, Homespun Treasures, where my class meets). Homespun Treasures, of course, has lots of Rose Card patterns in stock. Just sayin’….

Here’s the Ice Jam Rose Card pattern. It’s a super fast and fun table runner which measures 18″ x 54″ and uses 5″ charm squares. It’s a very versatile pattern and will look great in any style or theme. So, try it out.

Here’s the pattern cover with the original wintery blues.

What!?! You don’t have the pattern? You can order it HERE.

Just a quick note about the machine quilting. If you missed our Quilt As Desired post last week, you can find it HERE. I added my wiggly lines free motion quilting video to last week’s post and I just wanted to point out my fun wiggly squiggly lines on this table runner.

Okay, okay……let’s get back to squaring up.

You might want to press your quilt before squaring it up. Pressing your quilt will help everything lay nice and flat.

Next lay your quilt out on your cutting mat, centering one corner of the quilt on the mat because we will square up the corners before cutting the sides. If you are working on a large quilt, it helps to support the weight of the quilt on a table or chair. The problem with larger quilts is that if the quilt is hanging off your cutting mat/table and down to the floor, the weight of the quilt can pull things out of whack . Oops! Gravity works. Now if you lived on the moon, you wouldn’t have to worry about this issue…. (wink, wink)

Use the biggest square ruler you have for cutting your quilt corners, the bigger the ruler, the easier it is to square up your corners. I personally love my 12 1/2″ square for working with table runners and smaller quilts, but I also have 15″ and 18″ square rulers to use for larger quilts.

Once you’ve smoothed your quilt out flat, lay your square ruler down on a corner of your quilt. Adjust the square as needed to make the corner 90 degrees, sliding a little this way and that way until it’s square.

Don’t worry if batting, backing, and even slivers of your top are beyond the edges of the ruler. If you see too much of the front of the quilt beyond your ruler edge, though, wiggle the ruler around some more until there is very little of the quilt top showing beyond the ruler. You don’t want to cut much from your quilt edges, especially if you have triangles all the way to the edge of the quilt because you will probably cut off your triangle points and that will not make you very happy.

Take your time here because once you cut, you can’t go back. Hold the ruler down with one hand using good solid pressure — be careful not to shift the ruler – and cut on the 2 outer sides of the ruler, thus making this corner square.

Let’s move on to the next corner. Line up the ruler, adjust it gently for another nice square corner, then cut. Repeat for corners 3 and 4. Yep — you’re going to have weird strips of batting/backing hanging off your quilt. That’s okay. We’ll take care of that in the next step. In the meantime, think of it like quilt spaghetti.

Now it’s time to position the quilt on the cutting mat so we can cut the long edges and remove all that quilt spaghetti. I use my 6″ x 24″ ruler for this part. Again, if you’re working on a big quilt, support the weight so the quilt doesn’t slide off your mat/table or skew your cutting.

Please be patient and take your time with your squaring up (I know it’s hard but trust me — I have the attention span of a four year old, so if I can do it, you can do it) because if you don’t square up properly during this step, your quilt will never be square, no matter how much you tug and pull later down the road. Wonky quilts don’t lay well on tables or beds nor do they look nice hung up on walls.

Start at one nicely squared up corner and line up the long ruler. Again, don’t worry if you see bits of your quilt top sticking out beyond the ruler edge as that is completely okay and to be expected. Once things are lined up to your satisfaction, cut with your rotary cutter along the ruler edge, stopping before you reach the end of the ruler so you don’t accidentally cut into your quilt. Gently slide the ruler across the quilt edge so you don’t distort your nice straight edge or your square corner. Make sure that the ruler is still lined up with your fresh cut quilt edge. Cut again. Continue doing this until you can line up your ruler from your freshly cut edge to your next squared up corner and cut. Yay you! Only 3 more sides to go.

Go ahead and repeat for the other 3 sides. Luckily with a table runner, I usually only have to cut the 2 long sides this way as the short sides get squared up when I use my 12 1/2″ square ruler for the corners. Not so lucky with big quilts — sometimes it’s like wrestling an octopus, but keep at it, you will be the winner.

Here it is! My squared up quilt. Yay!

Ice Jam runner in Halloween fabrics

Let’s do a quick check to make sure things are all square before we move on.

Fold your quilt in half, lining up the edges and corners as best as you can, use a few straight pins if you need to. If things are nice and square, everything should line up pretty well (there really is no such thing as perfect, so if things aren’t 100% exact, that’s okay). If corners or edges are not lined up, then you need to check the squareness of your corners with your large square ruler again and make any necessary minute adjustments to square up those corners. Then check the long sides again using your long ruler to make sure things are nice and straight, only cutting away slivers of quilt to make things more square and straight.

Fold your quilt again, lining up corners and edges, to check your squareness. Repeat until things are as square and straight as you can get them.

Well, I think that’s it for today. Next week I promise we will attack the Binding in our Basic Quilting Skills for Beginners series.

Quilt on, my friends, quilt on.

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