Quilter’s Handbook – Basic Reference Section

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I have written a couple of blog posts about getting my craft snug (and stash/materials) organised in the lead up to my latest release – The Quilter’s Handbook. I have gone over the first two sections in the handbook – Inventory Section and Planner/Journal Section. I hope you found those posts to be interesting and helped to encourage you to get more organised with your quilting area. If you didn’t get a chance to read them, please do.

Have you ever had a tension issue while sewing and completely forgot just how to fix the problem? Or maybe you have been stumped on how to cut the correct measurement of fabric pieces needed? You may feel completely confused when confronted with the names of fabric pre-cuts or quilting terminology or even wondered on just how big to make the quilt which is to go onto a particular sized bed, etc.

Well, the next section in the Quilter’s Handbook deals on just those issues. I have complied the most common issues that we all experience at some stage. Now you just need to refer to your handbook for quick reference, instead of having to try and find the answer online and never knowing exactly where to look. Why waste time searching while you could be spending that time quilting?

Basic Reference Section

So, just what is in this section?

I have designed a template that is all about our sewing machine. It has space to fill in all the details of our sewing machine – Brand, model, and the category group of the machine if applicable, along with any extra feet/tools you may have brought for your machine. I have found this handy as I have quite a selection of extra specialised feet for my machine. My machine is also quite a specialised machine, and it is in a certain category which is important for when I am wanting to order extra bobbins or feet for my machine. Without knowing this category, I could purchase the wrong foot/bobbins for my machine. I can assure you I have done exactly that in the past! With these details recorded in my handbook, I can now quickly double check what category I need to search for when purchasing extra parts for my machine. Not all machines will have this, but it is always handy to have that recorded somewhere that it is quick to double check.

I have included a section where you can write in all the extra tools and feet that you have purchased for your machine. I found this quite useful when I went through my pile of feet that came with the machine and that I have purchased along the way. I was now able to identify and write down what the feet where for. My next step is to sew a handy zipped bag to house the feet separately, along with any instructions sheets that came with them, so I can keep them safe and know exactly what they are used for. This is especially true for the feet that I wouldn’t use as often but still need to use on specialised sewing projects. I am still working on the perfect bag to keep them all where I can also label each compartment with the name of the foot!

There is space to record the contact details for the service technician that you may use for servicing/repairing your machine. You no longer need to search frantically for the contact number that you wrote down on a scrap piece of paper or wonder where you placed their business card …..

I have drawn up sections where you can write down the dates of when your machine was serviced, as well as the date when the bobbin area was last cleaned, and the needle changed.

If you hold more than one sewing machine, it is handy to have one for each of your machines. I have done one up for my Pfaff sewing machine but also plan on doing one up for my longarm machine so I can keep a record of all the extra tools and feet that I have purchased for the machine. It just helps for when I may want to purchase anything in the future and I know straight away what I have for the machines, instead of having to go and search through my box of tools or feet for the machines.

My Sewing Machine

How many of us shudder at the mere thought of having tension issues while we are sewing? We can be sewing quite happily only to discover that our sewing is not right, we either have loops on the top or bottom of our fabric and the stitching is not balanced. One pull of one of the threads and the whole stitching comes undone!

I know I really do run scared if the machine has any tension issues and I dread having to touch my tension dial! I seem to inwardly hope that I never have to fix any major tension issues. However, having issues with our stitching where the loops do not meet in the middle of the fabric layers does not instantly mean that we should fiddle with our dials! Before we go anywhere near our tension dials, there is so much more that we should check. The dials are what we check last, after we have go through and checked everything else!

This handy reference goes through what to check when our machine is giving us tension problems and once, we have eliminated all of those other possible issues, we can then start to adjust our tension dials.

However, I have always found it hard to know which way to move the dial – is it up or down the number range depending on if our tension is tight or loose? I also tend to forget how to work out from the way the thread shows on the fabric as to whether the tension is too loose or too tight. I need to have something visible in front of me to remind me.

I really do dread tension issues, and my longarm machine is very sensitive to having the correct tension to ensure that the stitching is perfect with no loops on the bottom or the top of the quilt. The stitching loops need to meet in the middle! I knew that I would have to overcome my fear of tackling and correcting tension and I had gotten to be quite good with ensuring the correct bobbin tension. The slightest things would throw it off, even were the tension would be off if the bobbin was not wound on with the correct tension of the thread going through the tension discs.

It seemed that my longarm decided that I needed to face my fears and conquer the fear of tension. Last August I was quilting a wholecloth quilt which required a lot of stitching as the design was the stitching! I was working to a deadline, and would you believe that my quilting had serious loops underneath! Half a day’s quilting took me over a day to unpick! I really needed to conquer and overcome my fear and be able to tackle and solve tension issues. I went through all the steps prior to attacking the tension dials. I kept on saying out loud ‘Loosey lefty / tighty righty’ – it certainly imbedded into my brain, and I learnt which way to tighten or loosen the tension dials. I must say that those couple of days of pure hell – stitching, unpicking, not so nice words, and going through all the tension steps – really helped me to overcome my fear of tension issues. I can not say that I will not shake with fear the next time I have a major tension issue, but I know that I can always refer back to my tension guide, take a deep breathe, grab Jack, and know that I can overcome my tension issues.

Sewing Machine Tension

When I am teaching workshops, I have often been met with bewildered looks at times when the pattern calls for cutting fabrics which may not be of the more common inch fraction measurements. We will all be familiar with the ¼”, ½” and ¾” measurements and able to find those with ease on the ruler. But there are times when the pattern calls for the less common fraction measurements – the ones that talk about eights or sixteenths. Where do we find those on the rulers?

This guide gives a visual guide to explain the fractions in inches and where to find those measurements on the ruler. More confusingly, those fractions may have several ways to write them. So this guide explains how to read and understand all those lines on the ruler between each inch.

Explanation of Inch Measures

Why is it that our quilting patterns all work in inches for cutting our fabric and yet the material lists are usually in metres and the fabric shops sell the fabric by the metre? I haven’t worked out the reason yet, and I don’t think I ever will.

Coming from New Zealand where everything is in metric – kilometres, kilos, centimetres, metres, etc it was quite alien to come to the UK and instead of driving in kilometres, I was doing it in miles! Yet I brought my meat/vegetables by the kilo or grams and the fabric was by the metre or half a metre.

It then got stranger when I starting to cut my fabric for making a quilt, my rulers were in inches and the cutting instructions talked about inches or parts of an inch! The seams were ¼”. It really was a mixed up world! Then there were times when we downloaded a pattern from the states and the material list was all in yards! Just how did a yard compare to a metre? I know that there is 100cm in a metre, but just how many inches are in a yard?

I have drawn up a couple of visual charts, so it is easy to see at a glance on converting yards to metres and inches to centimetres. Now you don’t have to go and google to find out.

In this reference, I have also included the approximate sizes of UK beds to help give you an idea on what size to make that quilt. It is easy to find quilt sizes online for the American beds, but they are different from the UK. Even New Zealand has different bed sizes from the UK, and I found it strange to learn that the UK does not have a Queen, but rather King or Super King!  

This table makes it easy to give you an approximate guideline on what size to make the quilt if it is to fit a certain bed size.

Conversion charts

When it comes to purchasing fabric for a certain project, it can also be daunting. You can go into a shop and purchase a metre or part of a metre of fabric, but what if you need to get a Fat quarter, or maybe a long quarter? Even worse, you may need to purchase a Layer cake, Honey bun or a jelly roll …. You would be forgiven if you suddenly thought that fabric purchasing just turned into some kind of cake eating spree. If you are new to quilting, all these lovely or weird sounding fabric terms can be daunting! Is a Fat quarter the same as a long quarter? Just what does it all mean?

I have drawn up a visual guide showing and explaining what the different fabric cutting terms mean and just how much fabric is involved in each cut. I have also written a guide to all the pre-cuts along with photos for each type. I knew that my personal collection of pre-cuts would come in handy – a photo shoot for the handbook. I am sure they enjoyed being taken out of the boxes that they had been thrown into and having the opportunity to see some daylight for photos. The most attention and handling they have received for quite a while I can assure you.

Pre cut fabric photo shoot

So with having some pre-cut fabrics like a layer cake or charm pack, you may want to create different cuts from the 10” or 5” fabric squares. I have compiled charts so you can see at a quick glance just how many 4”, 2” or how size squares you can get from the different precuts. Maybe you just what to know how many charm packs it takes to make a quilt? These handy charts will give you all the help you need by working the math’s out for you.

Guide to precuts

What if you are just at the start of your quilting or sewing journey. Do you find that there is quite a few strange terms and words that are used? It really does seems as though quilters have this secret language that needs to be used.

So to help de-code those strange sounding terms, I have compiled a list explaining the meanings for the more commonly used terms to help you break down that language and just be able to get down to the more important part – sewing and quilting.

Common quilting terms

What I like most with the Handbook is that you only need to purchase the parts that you would find useful, which is so much better than purchasing a prebound one where you have to have parts that you would never use.

For example, you may know what all the terms are and don’t need to have this reference, so there is no need to include it in your handbook. Maybe you are not interested in inch measurements or machine tension.

Basically you can pick and choose what you need in your basic reference section and make your own personalised handbook.

Handbook

Come back next time when I will discuss and look at the final section – Cheat Sheets Section. The section that gives you step by step instructions on how to make the more popular and commonly used units in quilting, along with a maths cutting chart so you can quickly refer to so you know what size fabric to cut for the finished sized unit that you are wanting …..

Quilter’s Handbook – Journal and Planner section

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As a crafter, I have so many projects on the go, waiting to be started or completed. In the previous 2 blog posts I have discussed about my notions and materials that are stored everywhere and this post is about keeping ourselves organised with planners and journals.

I do try to be organised and keep everything together, especially materials and notions for a particular craft all in one space. However, there are times where it is difficult to keep everything together in one place even though I now have a designated craft area. I seem to get overwhelmed with the amount of craft materials and notions I have collected/accumulated over the years and over the years have aften wished that I had an inventory of everything I have so that I can just go and look at the necessary inventory and know exactly where it is kept.

I am also a crafter that tends to have more than one project on at one time. I seem to get bored if I am on the one project all the time and depending on the way I feel at the time, I need to focus on a particular project – be it quilting/sewing, needlework, knitting, crocheting, or spinning.

I love being organised (but don’t manage to sometimes) and thrive on lists. I have found that there are times when I get overwhelmed by my sewing/quilting projects, the unknown growing mountain of unfinished projects and just what I need to get done. I have regretted making a quilt, gifting it, and not having a record of what it was, any adjustments, nor photos of it.

I have often wished I had a book for each craft that would keep me focused on the projects I have on the go, the projects that I want to start, either as gifts or for myself, any adjustments I have done for the project so I could refer back to it, especially if I started the project so long ago.

I have looked at Quilter’s journals/planners over the years thinking how great these were but there was always something that held me back – the fact that most of them were in book form, which meant that you couldn’t add to it once pages had been filled in. You would also be left with pages in the book that weren’t useful or relevant to you so it would be a waste. I thought on just printing out templates and placing them into a folder, but that just didn’t seem special enough. I was wanting something unique, special, and personalised – something that fitted exactly what I had in mind.

This is the result of months, upon months of thinking, planning, researching, drawing, typing, designing, and coming up with a truly personalised crafter’s handbook.

Quilter’s Handbook

We have discussed all about inventories – pre-cut fabric, tools and notions, patterns and books in the previous posts and ways in which to get ourselves organised and know exactly what we have and more importantly, where it is kept.

Having those inventory lists kept in the Handbook folder made it so easy to look up an item and know where it is kept.

Section Divider pages

I have always wanted to keep a planner, but never found one that suited my needs/wants. I wanted a planner that I could add pages to as needed and rather than a prebound book where I couldn’t add the pages needed or leave out the ones I didn’t need or use. Basically, I was looking for a customised book that would be used and not left part empty due to unusable pages/templates.  I have come up with these templates/pages which best suit my needs/wants, and hopefully yours. We may feel hesitate to use a journal/planner due to not knowing exactly how to make the best of it. A journal is not there to make us feel guilty or accountable of the unfinished projects, but to help keep us focused and motivated to get things done and to extent of our skills, to keep track of what projects we need to make, the projects we have made and gifted, the numerous BOM projects we signed up for. It also has the added benefit of keeping track of the pattern and materials used, writing notes/tips in case you want to make it again.

So just what is in the journal/planner section? And how do we make the most of what is in there?

quilters handbook folder

Firstly there is the ‘Goals’ planner …

It is always good to start fresh each year and set ourselves some goals for the coming year. Maybe there are techniques we want to learn, maybe setting aside time to dedicate to finishing those unfinished projects thrown in the back of the cupboard, or maybe it is nothing quilting/sewing related.

This is where we can write down those goals, the reason why and the steps needed to achieve the goal. Breaking a goal down into smaller steps can make that dream/goal seem more achievable and not as daunting. It is also brilliant when we can tick the goal as achieved.

Just because we have written them down, doesn’t mean they have to be achieved. There is no rule to say we can’t change our mind. Life, needs, and situations change, which means that our goals change along the way. It is also brilliant to have a written record of our goals so we can look back at the end of the year and see what we have achieved over the year.

Goals Planner

Writing down a list of the projects we have started and never completed, helps us to truly realise just how many we have on the go and needs finished. This could be one of your goals for the year – finish a certain amount of the WIP’s on your list. I have also found that my unfinished projects are all stored away in different boxes, drawers, and areas – all waiting patiently to be resumed.

This list helps you to know exactly what you have started (and need to finish). I felt it was best to keep this list simple, with just the stage the project was left at and MOST importantly, where it is stored. Once you get back to the project, start a Project page for it so you can keep track of your progress, keep more detailed notes and tick off each complete stage of the project until it is complete.

Works in Progress planner

I also designed a planner for Future Projects. This planner is just as important as your Works in Progress List. We may have already started (& not finished) so many projects, but we will ALWAYS have a list of the projects we want to start at some stage.

I have all these projects that I want to do (at some future stage), and even an idea of the fabric to use from my stash, but it is all in my head and I tend to forget about them over time. I come across the fabric that I may have set aside, or ear marked for the project, but have forgotten where the pattern is that I wanted to use for it.

So this planner is for those projects, the ones we want to do at some stage in the future, and now it is all written down with all the essential notes like where the pattern is stored, or in what book it was published and whether or not I have the fabric for it in my stash or I need to purchase extra for it.

When I sat down and did an inventory of my quilting books, I also spent time flicking through each book and rediscovered projects that I had mentally told myself that I wanted to make up when I first got the book. It was silly of me to think that my brain would retain all that information and remember the project and where the pattern was. Actually there was one such project – a mantle cover – that I had found in a book/magazine that I had purchased, I mentally stashed that info away and I forgot which book the pattern was in! I searched through my books without success many times over! Would you believe that while doing the inventory, I actually found that pattern and was now able to add the project to my Future Projects planner, along with the pattern name, book title and the page it was on. Now I have it recorded safely in my journal for when I get round to making it up.

I have to admit it was a fun way to spend a day, going through all my books while doing the inventory. It was a great excuse to be able to revisit all my wonderful quilting books. I do have to admit that my pages grew quite without shame or hesitation. I now have quite a lengthy list of future projects planned. But I am not worried, there is no expiry date for starting or completing these projects. I do, however, now have a list written with all the projects I would like to do and know I will not lose that piece of paper with the details or forget the info stored in my head, as it is safe in my handbook. There is also space if I want to list down any fabric I may want to use for the project.

Future Projects Planner

Something that fits in well with future projects is gifts that we may want or need to make.

Every year I say that I am going to make gifts for family and friends at Christmas. I have several that I planned to make for a special occasion, but they are still unmade as they tend to get forgotten about. Definitely one task for my goal list.

This list is to help us stay focused on making gifts, giving a deadline so we can make time to get them made and gifted. It also gives a great record of what we made, who it was for and when it was finished and gifted.

Gifts to Make Planner

I am sure we have all subscribed to Block of the Month projects at some stage and even lost track of what we are subscribed to or when they are due out. If you are on Facebook, there are numerous designers from around the world that are running BOM projects through a designated Facebook Group and share each monthly pattern for free for a limited time. How many times have we joined up, started the project only to realise that we have missed the deadline to download the free monthly pattern and we are faced for with the choice of missing that monthly pattern or having to pay for it. Paying for a great pattern is no issue, but it can be when the designer is overseas and the only way to purchase the missing pattern is via a printed pattern and the postage is high or the designer doesn’t post internationally. I have been caught on several occasions and I always vow that I will keep better track of release dates and the BOMs, usually on a scrap of paper by my computer or in my diary.

This tracker solves all these issues. Here you can note down the name of the BOM, the designer and what Facebook group it is connected to (if relevant) along with where you have stored the pattern, either as a PDF in a designated folder in documents on your computer or as a printed pattern in one of your storage folders.

There is also room to note the start/end dates of the BOM, number of individual parts, price and any BOM rules that you need to remember, like the release date each month and if the pattern is a free download for a limited time.

Once you have started the BOM project, you can then start an individual project template so you can keep more detailed notes. I know that this BOM tracker will be invaluable as I subscribe to numerous Facebook BOM groups that run several free mystery projects each year. Now I can keep a written record of them and know that I have kept up to date with release dates and saved the pattern to my computer until I can get round to making the BOM.

Block of the Month BOM Planner

Keeping a journal for your current projects is brilliant. This is where you record everything you need about the project you are creating. The one place where you can keep a note of the more technical details of your project, like the fabrics and notions used, pattern name, piecing basics, notes of any adjustments or modifications you may have made. There is space for you to include fabric swatches (if you want) or written notes on the fabrics used along with photos of the finished project is also a checklist provided so you can tick off each step/process in the project which helps to break it down and gives you a visual note of how much you have done or what still needs to be done.

There is also a checklist provided so you can tick off each step/process in the project which helps to break it down and gives you a visual note of how much you have done or what still needs to be done.

With this tracker, you have everything you need to complete your project all in one spot, so you know exactly where to go if you have had a break in the project and just need a reminder of what needs to be done or the technical requirements like the thread colour, stitch length and so forth.

The best thing, you have a detailed written and visual record of something you have made and gifted to someone. If you every want to remake the project, you have all the information you need to complete another.

What I love about this, is that it is also a future keepsake of projects you have done. In years to come, you may go through your journal, and you will have a reminder of the projects you have made over the years. What memories and a true keepsake to pass down to future generations.

I know that I have made quilts in the past and never kept a journal on any details, nor took photos. These quilts have since gone, maybe gifted to others, or just misplaced. They are quilts that can not be shared with others, they only exist in my memories and over time those memories will no longer exist like the quilts themselves. I truly wish that I had the journal then, especially when I was first on my journey in creating quilts. What memories and stories would I have been able to share with my daughters’ if I had records of those first quilts? The ones that I had started when I was young, where I gathered the fabrics from, the mistakes (redesigning) I had created with those quilts, the skills and knowledge I had gained with those quilts but more importantly, the memories and stories I could recall with making each and every one of those quilts.

Project Journal

The journal and planner will help you in so many ways – like planning your future projects, helping you keep track on the projects that are in progress and need to be finished (the ones that needed to go on holiday for a while), any gifts you need to make for someone.

Planner and Journal Section

Come back next time when I will discuss and look at the Basic Reference section. The section that we all can do with referring back to, no matter how long we have been sewing or quilting for ….

However, why not go to the website and check out the Quilter’s Handbook and maybe start to build your very own personalised Handbook to help you with all your quilting and sewing needs ….

How do you store your fabric stash?

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This question is something that I get asked time and time again. For some of us, it really isn’t an issue and are so disciplined, that there is NO fabric stash, as you only buy what you need for your current project. What category would you put yourself into – A fabric stasher or A ‘buy as I need to’ person?

It is strange thinking back on when I first started to sew and quilt, many decades ago. I remember there being a time when I would have put myself into the last category – I brought what fabric I needed for the project I was planning on making. It got hard at times, as I would buy the fabric at the regular price and it could get quite expensive. Even though there was a couple of dressmaking fabric shops in the town I lived, there were NO quilting fabric shops! In fact, the nearest quilting fabric shop was about 7 hours drive away in Auckland! It was the time BEFORE online shopping! It was only a few years before I moved to Northern Ireland, that my local town got a large craft store (Australian chain – Spotlight) and it was a treasure haven of all things crafting!!

Spotlight Stores

I also found that I would get the sudden urge to start creating (often at weird hours) and just not be able to, due to not having the fabric on hand. It was frustrating. I started searching in the local charity shops for fabric lengths and clothing made from cotton fabric that could be repurposed into quilts. That was the start of my fabric stash but it was manageable and I stored it on shelves in my ‘sewing’ room.

In moving to Ireland, I had to start my fabric stashing again. For a number of years after I moved, I had no such thing as a fabric stash and really didn’t do much sewing or crafting. I had to find the quilting shops which is hard to do when you are new in an area and don’t know of other such minded people. However, the internet has made shopping so much easier and maybe abit too easy for emptying our wallets.

I started to buy fabrics that were on sale, mostly fat quarters, and these I started to store in plastic containers. I remember I had a good size one (or so I thought) that would be perfect to store my fabric stash and make it easier to create when I got the sudden urge. That storage system worked well for a short period, but my buying of fabric started to grow when I saw fabric on special.

I had to rethink a good way to store my stash so I could easily see what I had before I started on a project. It is hard when you suddenly decided that you have to create that quilt on a Sunday and then realise you don’t have the fabric and there are no shops open.

I have become a shopper of quilting fabric, mostly when it is on special. I have also come to the conclusion that Fabric buying and storing is a separate hobby from sewing. I would always buy Fat quarters which were great for small projects or scrappy quilts. But as I progressed (& especially when I started to design) I realised that sometimes fat quarters just don’t fit the bill so I would buy half metre or over metre lengths.

So this brought about the issue of how to store your fabric (which is the purpose of this blog). I thought that it would be useful to share my ideas and resolutions on how to store that fabric stash.

I wanted something that stored my fat quarter fabrics in a way that it was easy to see what they were and kept them protected. I found the best storage solution was the Really useful containers – 6.5 litre size that are meant to store CD’s into. These are just the right height to keep the folded fat quarters in so they stand upright. I sorted the fabric into categories – Christmas fabric and then into the colours – a box for each. It is a great way to see exactly what colours, prints and fabrics you have. I also keep my half metre lengths in these containers which works well.

The next issue that needed to be sorted was how to store my fabrics that are a metre or more in length. The real issue I had with these fabric lengths, was how they would come folded from the shops. They are usually folded in such a way that makes it awkward to cut the fabric into the required cuts on the cutting mat. This is especially true if you have a length of 3 metres or more. Basically you would have to unfold the length and then fold in half along the length so the cutting length is manageable and fits onto the cutting board. I found that having to do this really took away the joy of preparing and starting a new project, as all you want to do is to get struck into cutting and begin sewing, and not having to wrestle with fabric lengths.

I found this way a few years ago on the internet and it works for me, so I thought I would share this with you. It means that when I want to use the fabric and start cutting… the fabric is all ready to cut into. The fabric is folded in such a way, that the fabric width is ideal for the cutting board and you don’t need to spend the time trying to wrestle and fold the fabric when all you want to do is start cutting and sewing. All the hard work is done when you store your fabric. Its brilliant, especially when you have lengths of 3 metres….

  • Fold the fabric lengthways- selvedge towards the fabric fold, ensuring it lies straight with the grain n no major creases. You may need to iron the length of fabric.
  • I then take a comic book backing board (A4 size) and fold in half lengthways as shown in the photo. The boards are from Amazon – comic book backing boards- 100 for around £10. I also reuse them when I have used all of the fabric.
  • Place the fabric end into the board so the fabric end sits in between the board touching the board fold as shown in the photo.
  • Start folding the board along the fabric length ensuring the fabric remains smooth n flat as you fold the board.
  • Fabric length folded onto the board- easy to keep tidy in storage and ready for cutting when required. All you need to do when you want to cut, is to unfold some of the fabric so you can cut the required size. The fabric on the board stays tidy and out of the way.
  • The fabric boards are now ready to be stored upright on a shelf which makes it easy to see the fabric. I store my fabric lengths in an Ikea box on a shelf away from direct sunlight. The fabric bolts are placed in a box according to their colours. I have a box for plain fabrics as well as Christmas fabrics.

As well as collecting fabric lengths and Fat quarters, I seem to have succumb to the habit of collecting pre-cuts. You know, the ones with pretty sounding names – Jelly rolls, layer cakes, honey buns, charm packs and so forth. You could be mistaken in thinking that I am referring to a sweet shop …. But these lovely names refer to pre-cut fabric bundles for quilting.

Pre-cut fabrics

I remember years back, I vowed never to collect these…. But times change and sometimes we succumb …. To the point … where I had acquired several items in the range and placed them randomly about my sewing snug to only lost them in the abyss of the dark corners ….. I no longer knew exactly what I had brought over time with all good intentions to actually use them. YES, buying fabric and ACTUALLY using it …. Are TWO separate hobbies!

So…. With the Quilter’s handbook in the planning …. I strongly felt that a space was needed in the book to have a pre-cut inventory! I spent a lovely afternoon, quietly locating ALL of my pre-cuts (though I do fear that the ODD one or two still remains lost!) and I dutifully recorded ALL of the pre-cuts into my inventory. I was shocked with what I actually had on hand, and it quickly filled up several pages! However, at the end of the exercise, I was able to know exactly what I had, how many of each and exactly where it was now located. Yes, I designated several drawers and plastic containers for the different types of pre-cuts. I can now look at my inventory sheet, know exactly what I have and in what designer collection and where it is located. One of my goals this year is to use up those pre-cuts to create some quilts.

It really was the most satisfying afternoon I had spent in a while. There was such a sense of achievement in the end with it all recorded in a safe place where I can quickly refer to and know exactly where to find a particular pre-cut.

With starting on my pre-cut inventory journey, it seemed natural to continue with compiling inventories of my other notions and tools. You just never know what item you will reacquaint yourself with …. There is always bound to be that notion or tool that you have forgotten about or mislaid…..

A Lady NEVER ……. Discusses the size of her Fabric Stash!!!!

Come back next week and we will discuss the other inventories in the Quilter’s Handbook and how to use them ….

Organising your Sewing Space / Introduction …

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As a crafter of many different craft interests, it can be so hard to know where and how to keep yourself organised (and tidy). If you are lucky enough to have a designated craft room (no matter what size) it is brilliant to be able to have/store everything in the room, go in there to create and when you are finished, just close the door behind you. However, not all of us are lucky enough to have that separate space to store, organise or just to shut ourselves way to be able to sew or craft.

I have always been interested in crafts; in fact it was a way of life when I was growing up. My mother was a sewer who helped to supplement the family income by doing dressmaking for people. I often remember ladies coming to the house for fittings and so forth to have that outfit sewn up. Even back then (50 odd years ago) she didn’t have a designated sewing room. Thinking back now I have no idea where she stored all her sewing/crafting notions and equipment. With a young child’s eye, they always seemed to magically appear when she needed them and magically disappear when they were no longer needed! She sewed from the kitchen table, did the fittings there as well (when my father was not at home) and would draft out the paper pattern for the outfit from a magazine on the floor of the sitting room under the watchful eye of my sister and I (both very young) but even at that young age, we learnt by watching and taking everything in.

It was just the routine of our family and from a very young age, we learnt the skills of understanding the strange language of the lines (with different colours and patterns) that represented the different outfits in the magazine. Those magazines were sent out a couple of times a year to New Zealand by her mother in Holland and over the years they grew into quite a large pile, and they were used by several generations of sewers. She never threw any of the magazines out and you knew at some stage the outfits would eventually come back into fashion. The magazines were in Dutch, so we could never understand the written instructions on how to make up those wonderful outfits that were photographed in the magazines. However, we were taught how to locate the lines that were for the particular outfit, locate them on the pattern sheets, use the roll of newsprint and the tracing wheel to draft out our very own patterns.

Pattern Drafting sheets

My sisters and I learnt to sew by watching and participation. I was sewing outfits for myself when I was 7/9 years, and those early years gave me a firm foundation into dressmaking. It wasn’t just sewing that my mother gave us a lasting love for. She was also kept herself busy with several other crafts – knitting, crocheting, painting, cross stitch, needlework and spinning. Her passions in those crafts were passed down to myself, and my sisters.

So, how does this relate to craft organisation? Well … my mother never had the luxury of a designated sewing room. She did her sewing on the kitchen table and her other crafts were done in the evening. Looking backon how long I have been sewing and crafting for, I can also honestly say that I never had a designated craft room to store all my crafty notions and materials. Moving from childhood into young adult and then into my own home, I still did not have a designated craft area where I could store everything.

It is hard to think of just where did I store everything. My Dad acquired an old Singer sewing machine treadle table (minus the machine) when I was a teenager. He restored it for me, and it was my own small, designated sewing area. I could keep my machine on the table and sew there. There was space inside (where the machine once was stored) where I could keep all of my dressmaking patterns and the drawers were just perfect for keeping my scissors, pins, and other essential notions in. Maybe I just didn’t have as much as I thought I did. When I was sewing all my own outfits (as well as my girls) I would generally go out and buy the fabric needed, there was no fabric stash. Could I also be right in thinking that maybe now, we are needing so much more in the way of ‘essential’ equipment?

Singer sewing machine table

I kept my other craft materials in cupboards around the house and when I wanted to work on them, I would carry them together and take them where I wanted to work. It was generally in the lounge or the kitchen table. The latter was a bit more of a nuisance as I would have to tidy everything away at every mealtime due to the table being needed.

I remember one house I lived in, I was overjoyed to find there was a space in the laundry (Utility) room with a wooden bench by the window with some shelving on each side. I finally had my own sewing room. However, it was not ideal, the utility room was out through the back door and was basically a concrete floor outbuilding which I had to share with the freezer, washing machine and dryer. There was barely any room in which to work in. I definitely could not lay anything on the floor, it was uneven as well. There was no room to have an iron or to cut everything out. The bench was narrow and not that long, so just large enough for the sewing machine to sit. It was nice when the weather was dry and warm, but during the winter, it was cold and dismal. I think I generally ended up taking my machine and sewing on the kitchen table. The shelves were great to store my odd bits of fabric onto. I was just starting to get into patchwork at this stage and was slowly buying pieces of cotton fabric. There was also a disused toilet and shower room off this area, so it had become a place where I could store my surplus craft materials in boxes, along with fleeces I had acquired for spinning. I guess we make do at the time with what we have. But we all need to have it organised.

Once I moved into the rabbit hole of quilting, my essential notions and tools seemed to explode at an alarming rate. At the start (over 20 years ago) it seemed that only essential tools needed were the cutting mat, ruler, and cutter. Now there is so much more on offer and all claiming to make our quilting so much easier. I am not disputing that, as I have acquired so many tools that I just wouldn’t be without as they have made quilting/sewing so much easier and enjoyable. But when you invest in these needed tools, you really need to keep them safe and more importantly, know where they are so you can grab them when you need them.

We all need to have that one area, that we can go to and know that we can find exactly what we need, where it is kept and more importantly …. To know exactly what we have. Have you ever purchased a tool and then realised that you have exactly the same at home, but had forgotten about it, or maybe mislaid it due to not being organised?

I know I am guilty of that over the years. If you don’t have a designated craft/sewing room, it can be hard to know where everything is kept. Thankfully, I can now say, after 50 years of sewing, I now have my very own designated sewing/craft snug! However, like many crafters I am a messy crafter, and it can be so difficult to keep my craft snug tidy and organised, especially after a day of sewing and pulling things out when I have needed them. I am good at getting out what I need, but just not that great at putting it back after I have finished with it!

Once tidy craft snug

I love my craft snug and after a few trials and errors I am making it into what I need and require in a sewing area. I have my table in the middle, so I am not facing a wall. The window is far too high to have my machine there and there is a radiator directly under the window. It is not an ideal room as there really isn’t any wall space available, it is basically an open area off the kitchen and next to the stairs. So it is making the best of what I have to work with and using it to its best ability. The Ikea storage shelves are brilliant, and I have found the fabric bins and plastic tubs really make for great storage containers. There is built in shelves and cupboards which are still a work in progress. I have purchased several types of plastic drawers which are put to great use – for storing all my spinning tools and blending fibres as well as the different types of needlework thread.

I have found that I am ‘a list’ person. I like to work to lists. It gives me something tangible to work from and to look at when I need to refocus myself and know exactly what I have. I like order, I just find it hard to maintain that order all the time. I tend to be a messy sewer …. I will leave that there ….

I also found that my craft snug can tend to become a dumping ground. When in a rush, things get dumped in there with the intention of ‘sorting that out later on’ and it just never does. I am also a crafter that needs to have several projects on the go at the same time. To the point where I have numerous (too many to count) Unfinished Projects. There are times when I tend to forget about them and stumble across them many years later. It shouldn’t be like this, but it is. My creative mind seems to jump about from one idea to another, especially when it comes to coming up with new designs.

During the first COVID lockdown I used the time to think over my craft projects and different crafts. I was in desperate need to know exactly what projects I had, be it partially finished or yet to be started. What tools and equipment I had and just exactly where it was all stored? To find a suitable method in which to store my fabric. The list was endless.

Fabric storage

I know I could just tidy and organise my sewing snug again, but how long would it stay in that state, and it still didn’t solve the need to know what equipment I actually had. I had purchased an Accuquilt machine several years ago and had been slowly adding to my collection of dies. When I found a good sale for them online, I struggled to know what I already had without having to go through them all and write them down. This was the first step in starting to organise my tools. I had complied an Inventory for my Accuquilt dies. I found this so handy, and it was brilliant to be able to transfer that inventory idea to the other expensive equipment I had acquired over the years – books, patterns, free motion rulers, quilting rulers and other handy specialised notions.

Inventory pages

There is such an achievement when you have gone through all your notions, tools, patterns, etc sorted them and compiled an inventory of them all. It gives you a sense of being in control and knowing exactly what you have. It is even better if you know exactly where that particular notion is kept. I decided that this was the year that I would truly get myself organised.

So with inventories all completed, it got me thinking of the projects started but never finished and even the ones planned but never started. In sorting through my craft snug, I pulled out containers of long forgotten fabric bundles, obviously placed together for a particular project but having no idea which one due to no pattern or note placed in the container. This is when I decided to expand on my inventories. I discovered several containers of pre-cut fabric bundles – jelly rolls, charm packs, layer cakes …. I had no idea of just exactly what I had and NEEDED to know so I could use them!

Pre-cut fabrics

I wanted to create some organisation with my sewing so I would not get overwhelmed with what I had to get done or even to forget about the special quilt I wanted to make but never got round to. I started thinking on the project folders/books that many quilters spoke about. The concept interested me, but I never found exactly what I wanted or needed in such a book. I like to work from lists. I am terrible for roughly scribbling lists/notes on scraps of paper and then losing them as I had nowhere to keep them safe. I guess I searched and thought about the concept for quite a number of years, but never did anything about it. I just couldn’t find one that fitted all my needs. I wanted something that I could add to if I ran out of space – so a book wouldn’t work as it would not allow me to add to the pages when I ran out. It would also have pages that I wouldn’t use so it would be a waste of a book. I didn’t want to print off templates and put them into a folder – it just wouldn’t be special enough. I thought of placing the paper sheets into plastic pockets – but that wasn’t suitable – as it meant that each time, I wanted to write something down, I would have to take the paper out of the plastic pocket. I really needed to put my thinking cap on.

So, the Quilter’s Handbook was conceived…. I started to put down ideas of what I wanted in my book to keep me on track…. Somewhere I could write down all the projects I wanted to start, those I needed to finish, as well as the projects I was currently on where I could add in notes for any adjustments. Somewhere that the notes would be safe, and I could refer back to them if I ever needed to make that particular project again. It also gave me a record of what I had made, something to go back over in years to come. I also needed a place where I could keep a record of all the patterns, books, tools, and notions that I have and where they are kept. The handbook was designed so that you could decide just what pages/sections you needed for your own use, so there was no wasted or unnecessary pages.

Front cover of the Quilter’s Handbook

I had so much fun deciding on what to put into this folder. I am excited about sharing it with you over the next few weeks. It is the result of many months of research, ideas, trials, and errors in putting together the perfect quilters handbook to help keep you organised and on track. I also felt it was important to add in a section of the basics when it comes to quilting and using your machine. How often have we had tension issues and just not quite sure on how to adjust the tension dial or even to check through all the tension issues before touching that dial? What about how to accurately cut fabric when we are directed in the pattern to cut fabric with a 16th fraction? Maybe all the quilting terms are confusing? What about the common sizes of UK beds if we want to make a quilt for a particular sized bed? I have complied all that to go into this Handbook. Now you just need to grab the handbook and look it up instead of spending hours searching online for answers. There is so much more to this book….

Back cover of the Quilter’s Handbook

Over the next few weeks, I will do blog posts on helping you to organise your sewing area. We will discuss storing your tools, notions and fabrics and using the inventory sheets and making them work for you. We will also look further into the Quilters Handbook and how to make the most of it.

I hope you will enjoy accompanying on this journey while, together, we will organise our designated sewing space…… and move this area ….

One very messy craft snug in desparate need of organising and sorting

Into an improved, tidy and VERY organised sewing space ….

Squaring up your Quilt top and Backing fabric

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Are you ready for post two of our Quilting Finishing Techniques for both the longarm and domestic machine finishing?

So with the backing fabric the correct size and the quilt top finished, there is still abit more preparation needed before the quilt can be taken to be quilted on the longarm.

It is important to check if both the backing fabric and quilt top are ‘squared’ off (especially the TOP & BOTTOM EDGES), as it is necessary for the longarm quilting process. If the quilt is being quilted on the longarm, it is the top and bottom edges which will be attached to the rollers on the frame and need to be straight and parallel with each other. If these two ends are not straight, then the backing fabric will NOT lie flat and square on the frame.

Quilting does not correct issues if the backing and quilt top are NOT square. If the quilt is not square, has fullness through the centre, or has wavy borders you may end up with pleats quilted in to try and flatten your work. Both top and backing should be carefully pressed. If you can’t press it flat, the quilter can’t quilt it flat without a lot of extra work and maybe putting in some tucks or pleats.

So, with knowing why how backing fabric and quilt tops need to be square, the next question that comes up is, … How do I square up my backing fabric?

I can remember from my dressmaking days, my mother (who was a professional dressmaker) taught me that if you required a straight cut to your fabric, the best way was to snip a little pass the selvedge, and rip the fabric, all the way across to the other side. This ensured that you had ‘cut’ your fabric along the straight of the grain. This method can work most of the time. However, what happens if the grain is slightly off which can happen if the fabric has been sitting folded on a bolt for a while and the grain gets slightly distorted. It can take quite a bit of pulling the fabric piece at some weird and wonderful angles to encourage the fabric grain to come back in a straight line. Usually this method does bring back the correct lay of the fabric grain. So, if you want to use this method to square off your fabric, ENSURE the grain is straight by lining up your selvedges and check that the ‘ripped’ edges lay straight.

I have used another method for many years to find the straight grain of my quilting fabrics and even use this method to get my fabric to lie flat when I store the fabric on boards. I will go into this in more depth when doing my blog series on organisation.

So, to square the fabric you first need to press the fabric to get out any creases or tucks. If it is a long length of fabric (more than 2 metres) I usually skip this first step and do it after the next step which is where I bring the two selvedges together of the fabric length so I am technically folding the fabric in half lengthways. However, I am NOT going by the cut edges of the fabric length and using them as a guide. I ignore those edges and focus on bringing the two selvedges together with my fingers as though it is hanging from a clothesline. 

With looking at the fold line that is hanging down, I check to see how it is hanging. Is it wavy, gathered or curving? If it is, use your fingers to slightly adjust the selvedge edges to the left or right until the bottom edge fold hangs straight and flat. You do NOT want to see any puckers.

Once I have the fold line nicely matching the selvedges and the fabric fold is lying flat, I then give the length a good press. Once it is pressed and the fold line is lying smooth and flat, I then lay the fabric length on my cutting mat so I can straighten up the cut edges of the fabric. Carefully smooth the fabric, keeping the fold line flat and bump free. At this stage the fabric (folded in half) will still be too big to be cut on the cutting board.

So, you now need to bring the folded edge to the selvedge edge and you have created four layers of fabric. The fabric length is folded into quarters. Check that the fold line and the selvedge edge is still pucker free and lying flat as well as the middle section of the fabric length is smooth. Check the second fold of the fabric to make sure that all 4 layers are in the fold and that there are no hidden wrinkles or lumps.

The four folds should now mean that your fabric length can be cut comfortably within the cutting mat guidelines. If you are working with extra wide fabric, it is the same principle, but you will need to keep folding the fabric until it is small enough to fit comfortable on your cutting mat. Just be sure that you smooth out any wrinkles and the fold line is lying straight.

Carefully line up the folded edge of the fabric length with a horizontal inch line on your cutting mat, ensuring that the selvedges edge is still on your cutting mat and NOT extending pass the mat onto your table.

Smooth fold and selvedges

Place the ruler near the edge of fabric that is to be straightened, with the body of the ruler placed on the actual fabric. Ensure the ruler extends past the fabric width by a couple of inches at each edge. Line up the ruler by matching the lines on the cutting mat with your ruler to ensure you are cutting a straight line.

Using a rotary cutter, glide along the ruler, applying enough pressure to cut through all layers of the fabric. Make sure you have placed your hand correctly on the ruler to apply enough pressure to prevent the ruler from slipping as you cut.

To ‘square’ the other edge of the fabric length, you turn the fabric along and repeat the steps.

You now should have a perfectly ‘squared’ backing fabric that is ready to be loaded onto the long arm.

So how do we ensure our quilt top is squared and ready to be quilted?

It is not just the backing fabric that needs to be square. The quilt top also needs to lie flat and square to ensure it goes onto the quilting frame correctly and not cause issues with quilting lines.

Sometimes a border that is not cut or sewn on correctly can cause Wavy Border Syndrome (W.B.S). Proper preparation and techniques can prevent WBS.

There are several types of borders. The quilt may have a pieced border that is designed to be pieced, as with our quilt – Exploding Squares. The pieced border makes it easy to ensure the borders are lying flat due to the pieces being pre-cut to exact measurements and there are ‘guideline’ marks along the quilt edge where each section connects. Basically, all that is needed is to pin where each matching seam is to meet as shown in the photo. If everything is cut and sewn together correctly, then there should not be any need to square off your quilt.

Exploding Squares
Exploding Squares quilt

Other quilts may just have a ‘plain’ border as with our Bookcase Quilt Tutorial, 12 Days of Christmas Quilt, The Hen Party Quilt and 4-Patch Quilt – where the borders are from ONE fabric and may be in one section or have a seam to create the exact length needed to fit along the edge of the quilt.

Borders should (where possible) be cut parallel to the selvedge of the fabric as this has less stretch to the fabric and lessens the chances of the border being over stretched while sewing and causes it to pucker, or under stretched which will cause the border to be wavy. Both of these issues will cause the quilt/border to NOT lie flat.

It would be ideal to be able to cut the border in one piece, so it is the EXACT length needed to be sewn to the quilt edge, but sometimes this is not possible. If you need to have seams in the border length, ensure that the overall length of the border piece is the same measurement as the quilt edge it is being attached to. It is recommended to pin each end of the border piece to the ends of the quilt top that you are sewing. I also attach several pins along the side – ideally in the middle and a couple in each half section, this helps to ‘ease’ in your border piece to ensure it lies flat.

Another type of border is where you have pieced borders, using left over fabrics from the quilt centre design. The pieces can be all different lengths (but the same border width) to create a ‘scrappy’ border as in our BOM quilts – Autumn Beckons and Down by the Seaside quilts. These borders have several seams in the border to achieve the exact length of the required border and attached to the quilt edge. With having the quilt loaded onto the long arm frame and stretched, it can cause the border seams to come unstitched. A way to lessen this possibility, is to stitch the border seams with a smaller stitch length (I usually use a 2mm length) and to also ‘stay stitch’ the edge of the quilt top.

It is also important to have BOTH opposite border sections the same length. All four border pieces are prepared and sewn in the same manner. If you have prepared and attached your border sections correctly, then it is pretty much certain that your quilt top is square.

Checking how square your quilt top is the same method as for squaring your quilt back. Bring together BOTH side edges of the quilt top, ensuring the fold line of the quilt top lies flat and pucker free. If needed, you can then cut the top/bottom edges to ensure they are straight and square. The method is then repeated by bringing the top and bottom edges together to check on the side edges.

If you wish to keep a copy of this technique for future reference, you can download the PDF – How to square off your Backing fabric/Quilt top – here.

So with explaining How to ‘square’ off our backing fabric and quilt top, it now leads into the question of – ‘What fabric can be used to back a quilt?’

Come back next week to find out about –

Backing fabric options – Extra wide fabric / Sheeting / Pieced backs

And the following posts –

  • Binding          – How much binding / How to prepare binding / Attaching binding to quilt front / Finishing the binding
  • Quilt Labels – Why quilt labels? / What to put on a label / How to create a label / How to attach a label

Size of Backing Fabrics/wadding for the longarm

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Are you ready for post one of our Quilting Finishing Techniques for both the longarm and domestic machine finishing?

Our first post is about the size of backing fabric and wadding that is needed if you are getting your quilt finished on a longarm.

Over the years, I have always quilted my quilts either by machine or by hand (when I had the time, which is usually never).

I seriously dread the layering of the three fabrics to create the ‘quilt sandwich’. I have to admit that larger quilt tops could hibernate in the ‘to be quilted’ box for a number of months …. or years! Not sure why, but I think it is more the dreaded thought that I could end up being short of either the wadding or backing fabric. I can honestly say that I ‘always’ ensure that my wadding and backing fabric is roughly 2-3” larger than the quilt top, around ALL 4 sides. However, I have had, on at least one occasion where I have miscalculated and have run short of either the wadding or the backing fabric and had to re-do the layering process. Tough lesson to have when it is a huge quilt.

Layering quilt on the table with only about a inch or so extra of the wadding and backing fabric – tight squeeze, but ok for quilting on domestic sewing machine

So, what if the quilt is being sent to be long armed quilted? Is the rule of 2-3” larger than the quilt top? I never thought it would be different and was surprised that it wasn’t the same. I am guessing that I wouldn’t be the only one who thought it would be the same principle if you were quilting it on your own machine. Reading that both the backing fabric and the wadding needed to be at least 8” larger than the quilt top (at least 4” larger on ALL four sides) really surprised me.

It got me doing some research to find out why. Strangely enough, I like to know the reasoning behind rules and techniques and why it is so. In finding the answers I thought it would be a great opportunity to explain the ‘why’ in a blog post so you can understand the reasoning why so much extra is needed on the long arm frame.

So, the 8” isn’t to allow for the longarm quilter to compensate for any layering errors she may have. The three layers are loaded onto the frame separately to ensure that each layer is wrinkle free and taut on the frame. The backing fabric and top have the centre top marked so that the centre point on both fabrics can be matched to the centre point on the take up rollers on the frame. This helps to ensure that the quilt top is placed centrally on the frame. The wadding is laid between the two with the wadding and backing fabric side edges matching. The quilt top lies on these two with 4-6” clearance all the way round.

clearance of wadding and backing fabric on a longarm frame ready for quilting

So why is size important?

The quilt back is loaded onto the quilting frame and two rollers – one at the top and the other at the bottom. This gives a flat surface, free of wrinkles with a tension that enables you to quilt.

quilt on the longarm frame

However, to be able to quilt well, you need good tension on both sides, not just at the top and bottom. The side tension is achieved with the side clamps that are attached to the frame. This now gives a 4-way tension on the quilt which prevents any puckers or tucks. This still doesn’t really explain why the extra fabric is needed on the backing fabric and wadding.

side clamp to ensure correct side tension

Well, if the quilt top was the same size as the wadding and backing fabric or if not much clearance has been allowed, then the clamp would be too close to the quilt top. This causes a big issue when the quilt is being quilted and the need to quilt (or baste) up to the side edges of the quilt top. The machine needs clearance to ensure the needle can go over the quilt edge. If the clamps are too close to the edge of the quilt top, the machine will bump against the clamp, causing the quilting stitches to be off.

side clearance of wadding and backing fabric – only about 1″ of wadding and 2″ for backing fabric. It meant that extra care needed to be taken to ensure the wadding and backing fabric cleared the top quilt and quilting had to be worked around the side clamp to prevent being knocked.

If rulers are being used for quilting, then it really is essential to have clearance as the ruler base extends on each side of the machine. If that base hits the side clamps, then it could mess up the ruler work.

Another important reason for having that extra clearance is that the tension needs to be checked with each new quilt loaded to ensure that both the top and bobbin thread are stitching correctly. This also needs to be done after each bobbin change. The tension test needs to be done using the backing fabric and wadding with a small piece of extra fabric (usually the backing fabric) as this is what is being quilted so will give the actual quilt stitching. If there is no extra allowance, then there is no room to test the tension.

suitable clearance from the quilt top to provide room for being able to do a tension test before commencing to quilt and enough clearance so the side clamps would not get in the way when quilting.

This would also apply if you were stitching free motion on your quilt with your domestic sewing machine.

So with explaining about the size of the backing fabric, it now leads into the question of – ‘what can I use for my backing fabric?’

Come back next week to find out about –

Backing fabric options – Extra wide fabric; Sheeting; Pieced backs

And the following posts –

  • “Squaring” off backing fabric and quilt tops
  • Binding          – How much binding; How to prepare binding; Attaching binding to quilt front; Finishing the binding
  • Quilt Labels – Why quilt labels?; What to put on a label; How to create a label; How to attach a label

Start of the Longarm Journey

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With introducing Longarm Quilting Services to Nifty Needles, I thought it was a great opportunity to write a blog post on what is involved in getting your quilt quilted on the longarm.

I am so excited to be finally offering this service. For many (many) years it has been my dream to own a longarm quilting machine. It was something I thought I could only dream about. However, thanks to COVID, I needed to rethink Nifty Needles and the longarm was one of the long term goals (wishes) I set down for Nifty Needles and I can now proudly announce that this goal has been achieved!

the Moxie

I am loving being able to get creative with the machine and testing my creative skills. I can truthfully say that it no longer scares me senseless as it did when it first arrived or even when I thought of getting one. I still have lots to experiment with as there are some features on the machine that I haven’t tried out yet.

I purchased the Moxie Handi Quilter which is able to stitch pantographs, groovy boards and ruler work in addition to the hand guided free motion quilting. The Moxi sits on a 10foot frame which means that it can quilt up to a width of 105” with ease and any length.

When the machine arrived on a pallet with so many different boxes, it was mind blowing. Realisation sunk in about WHAT I had actually purchased! The mere thought that it was now up to us (Latisha and myself) to actually unpack the boxes and build the frame up from the ground, so to speak, was so scary! I think at one stage; I was secretly panicking that it may not fit into the log cabin. We did actually build the frame, the wrong way round and only for the fact that the cabin had a 10ft pitched roof, were we able to turn it round by standing it on its end in the middle. It definitely was not able to turn round!! If it wasn’t for the high peak, the frame would have had to be taken apart …. I definitely did not want to even think about that option. With the help of some little helpers we got the Moxi set up.

Building the frame with help

After I got the machine set up, I needed to write down all the information and services for the website which was more involved than I thought possible. I sourced some excellent reference books on longarm quilting machines, spent some lengthy evenings doing some ‘bedtime’ reading just to get myself familiar with the longarm, designs and what it is actually capable of. Reading and researching is a great help when trying to get used to a new piece of machinery. But, honestly, nothing beats diving right in and doing the practical stuff.

With the research and reading I also found that there was so much more to the longarm. I also have to confess that I have never had a quilt finished on a longarm. The few I had seen that had been quilted on a longarm were so densely quilted that they were stiff. To me, a quilt should be cosy and soft, not stiff. Since getting the longarm I have discovered that quilts are quilted in the way you prefer – gently quilted to retain the cosiness with an all-over simple design or custom quilted for a more unique quilt.

allover free motion quilting

I also found it was interesting to find out and understand what is exactly required when getting a quilt quilted on the longarm. When I am told that things need to be done a certain way, I like to understand why it is needed or done in that particular way. So with this in mind, it got me thinking that it would be a great opportunity to do a series of blog posts with supporting PDF tutorials to explain about preparing a quilt for a longarm or even when we are quilting and finishing it ourselves on our domestic machines at home.

So over the next month or so I will post supporting blog posts with the techniques and ‘whys’. The subjects will be as follows –

  1. Size of backing fabrics/waddings
  2. Backing fabric options – Extra wide fabric / Sheeting / Pieced backs
  3. “Squaring” off backing fabric and quilt tops
  4. Binding  – How much binding / How to prepare binding / Attaching binding to quilt front / Finishing the binding
  5. Quilt Labels – Why quilt labels? / What to put on a label / How to create a label / How to attach a label

To support the blogs, I will create a PDF of the technique so you can download the information for your own reference.

I know that when I was at the start of my quilting journey I truly wish I had such information to help me progress. My journey was marked with trial and error. But I have learnt by my mistakes. In fact, we all need to make mistakes. It is how we learn and develop our skills. But there are times when you wish that you had that extra bit of advice so you don’t feel as though you are foundering around.

I hope you will find the blog posts and PDF tutorials of some interest and support on your quilting journey. If there are any other techniques relating to quilting, let me know and I can look at doing up more tutorials relating to the technique.

But, tutorials aside, this blog started with the long arm and what role it will be doing within Nifty Needles. Have a read of the website pages on our longarm services. But more importantly, click on our Introductory offer voucher to download your voucher which will give you a discounted offer on our edge to edge quilting service for your first two quilts. You could save up from £30 to £70 depending on the size of your quilt. To prevail of the discount, you DO need to bring in the voucher, so click on the link to download and print off your voucher. We will also be permanently offering a customer loyalty scheme where you can get 15% discount on every 5th quilt you bring to be quilted. Your first two discounted quilts go towards the loyalty scheme as well.

If you would like more information or to book an initial consultation appointment for one of our longarm services, please contact us either by phone (078 6018 6261) or email ([email protected]). Nifty Needles is NOT a shop and is open ONLY by appointment, so please do not just arrive on the off chance.

When you come for your pre-booked initial consultation, please bring your quilt top with you and we can have a cuppa while we discuss your requirements such as wadding, backing, quilting services, design options and thread colour choice. These will all be written down in detail on your order form.

We look forward to working with you in quilting or finishing your treasured quilts.

Don’t forget to come back next week when we start our series of Quilting Techniques. The first one being, all about the size of backing fabrics and waddings.

Happy quilting

Going Solo

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So, today was the day that I decided that I was going solo on Moxie, my new toy.

I thought it was about time that I grabbed a quilt top that needed to be layered and quilted, and just see exactly how much I had remembered from the trial piece a week or so ago. Strange how subconsciously you seem to put things off, because you are scared that you have forgotten or just won’t be good enough. Well …. The thing with a long arm quilter …. Is …. That you just won’t improve your skills if you don’t get onto the machine and use it!!!

However, I was just slightly scared to jump right in with one of my large quilt tops …. I wasn’t that brave!! So armed with a (very large) table runner top, wadding and backing fabric and of course the essential cuppa, I headed up to the cabin. The sun was out and it was a nice morning. I opened the door of the cabin and let in the fresh air, turned on the lights and put on a CD to give me some great music to keep me company. Of course, I also had Holly and Nora come out to keep me company on the decking outside enjoying the sunshine …. You can’t be without animals.

Bracing myself to start loading onto the frame

So, after a few deep breaths and pulling up my ‘Big Girl panties’ I went to start loading the layers on to the frame. That certainly is a lesson in itself, but I am pleased to say that I had retained how to load on the layers and get them all centred and straight on the frame. Mind you, I do have to admit that it takes forever! Or maybe, I am just slow and nervous about getting it all on to the frame…. Maybe it had something to do with the fact that once the piece was loaded onto the frame, it meant that I would actually have to start up the machine and actually do some quilting.

Loading the backing fabric on
Loading the top

Once the layers were on the frame, it was now time to turn the machine on! That took me a few moments to brace myself up to that fact! But I did it, and was slightly amazed that it did turn on. I then had to mentally prepare myself to changing the thread colour on the machine and rethreading the whole thing! Thank heavens for the manual! It certainly is worthwhile to have the manual handy so you can check things when you are unsure – it is what I always told my students when they were learning to sew. Have your manual handy and read it! It definitely was a case of ‘DO what I say’. So after rethreading it, I was now ready to start basting the top to the wadding/backing. I even remembered to place the locking ring onto the machine wheels so it would stitch straight across, though, I think I didn’t place it on correctly, as the ring went flying off part way across and I stitched some rather wonky lines after that.

Preparing to baste the wadding to the backing fabric

I also found that it was not stitching correctly! It was that dreaded tension thing… the tension issue that I can never fully understand and hate! So out came the manual again and sitting down with a (now cold) cuppa to have a proper read of everything tension wise. AND, heedless to say – I forgot the most important issue in using a long arm – DO A tension check at every bobbin and thread change! Truly failed that lesson!! So did the bobbin test – YES – that needed slight adjustment …. Issue sorted. Then the top tension which was the issue, so I adjusted the top tension dial. And started to get sewing again. This time, the stitching was just right!

I was trying to decide what to stitch onto the runner. I wanted something just a bit more than wriggly lines, don’t get me wrong, wriggly lines are great when you find it hard to stitch in straight lines! But I wanted to add something else in it. I finally settled on doing some curls and stars with the wriggly lines and stitching a complete line of stitching across the length of the runner without breaking the stitching. That in itself is a mission. I had practised the stars on the practice piece as I thought they would be so easy as they were something that I would doodle on paper when bored (or for no reason at all). I could draw out those stars using a single pen line and not lifting off the paper in my sleep. But for some reason, when I practised on the first fabric, I could not seem to get those stars right! But I did a few practices on paper and found I could do them if I did not think about doing them.

So, those Big Girl panties were pulled higher and the music turned down so I could concentrate on the first pass of stitching. I started at the left hand side and wriggled, curled and managed stars all the way to the other end. I managed to do the first pass without too many errors – my stars even resembled stars (if we don’t look too closely). I was ready to come back, roll the runner up on the frame and start the second pass.

Managing to stitch stars, curls and wriggles

The start of the second pass wasn’t going to work! Moxie was being nice this morning to start with, she was being gentle with me. However, I spoke too soon!!! Moxie decided to play up and really give me a crash course in trouble shooting and how to get to know how to sort out all those minor issues! I have to be honest, it was hard for me to stay calm and not panic. I really wanted to walk away and cry. I then reminded myself that I had put on my ‘Big Gil panties’ and I needed to know how to deal and sort out minor issues. So it was like having my very own lesson and not knowing what I was meant to be learning.

The trusty manual, came into play again. But it really didn’t tell me why it was refusing to stitch. Thank goodness, for the internet and Facebook. I am part of a few long arm groups and specifically a Moxie group and I recalled someone saying that they had an issue with the machine not stitching even though everything was on. So, recalling the suggestions, I checked all plugs that connect to the machine as apparently they are sensitive and need to be pushed fully in. Found one was not in fully, so sorted that out. Got it stitching but it was now skipping stitches and not wanting to do curves, so again, it was reading the manual and they recommended changing the needle. My lesson also included How to change a needle! I got it working properly now and it was ready to start doing wriggles, curls and stars again.

This time, I put ABBA on, turned the volume up and I was ready to go. Good loud music that you can sing to is a great motivation to get struck in and just zone out. I completed the second pass without any issues. The test was if it would do the third without issue. And it did!

second pass complete

So going solo this morning was the best thing ever. I learnt all the troubleshooting issues and how to fix them …. Fingers crossed. The downside …. I finished quilting far too soon! I was really getting into it and thoroughly enjoying being creative with the machine and listening to ABBA up loud and the door open, letting in the sunshine and Holly lying outside the door on the decking. There really is nothing better than zoning out and being creative.

All over quilting, now binding …..

I am really looking forward to taking my next flight with Moxie and getting creative. Next time I will upgrade to a quilt! I look forward to sharing my journey with you and being allowed to get creative with your quilts …. If you trust me ……