On the Straight and Narrow

On the Straight and Narrow

As folks commented on facebook about my last blog post, there are about as many ways to block a quilt as there are quilters. When I spoke with MQU’s Senior Editor, Kit Robinson about blocking, she was quick to chime in. “I hate blocking!” she said. Though blocking can be straightforward (and easier than you think), she regards it as a task she’d rather not do and has graciously  shared her technique for avoiding it.

Kit’s beautiful quilts are generally appliquéd and heavily stitched. So how does she keep her work looking pristine? Non-woven interfacing. Using featherweight to lightweight “sew-in” interfacing keeps her work on the straight and narrow.

4th of July – Terry Lake ©Kit Robinson Adding all those leaves to this quilt could have heavily distorted the top. Since Kit used interfacing, though, it hangs straight and flat.

She constructs her quilt top directly on the interfacing. In addition to whatever appliqué she’s including, she will often add some machine embroidery at this point. Once the top is complete, she layers it with batting and backing. This means that she incorporates four layers in her quilts: the top fabric, interfacing, batting, then backing. Kit goes on to quilt as desired. She says that the top stays true to size and square. Since she leaves a little extra margin all around, she can always trim off some excess to finalize the project.

Many of us find some aspect of completing a quilt unappealing. If that happens to be blocking for you, try Kit’s tip and see if it it helps.

Does She or Doesn’t She?

Does She or Doesn’t She?

When you go to a quilt show and see a heavily quilted piece hanging perfectly flat, there may be more than just expert stitching at work.

From the Bride's Trousseau ©Margaret Solomon Gunn
From the Bride’s Trousseau ©Margaret Solomon Gunn

What’s the secret? Blocking. Not every quilter believes in it (I’ve seen some quilting rock stars on both sides of the question), but it can make a huge difference in the final look of your quilt. In my experience you can “block out” quite a bit of trouble, even sometimes going from a fairly skewed parallelogram to a perfectly squared up rectangle.

Detail from California Dreaming ©Diane Rusin Doran The variation in the density of the stitching on this piece caused it to become very misshapen during quilting. Blocking it saved the day!

Margaret Solomon Gunn wrote a very thorough article on blocking in our May/June 2015 issue. I especially like her tips on using foam insulation board as a blocking surface, and marking it to help square your quilt. I often make quilts that have to be a specific size, and have marked insulation board to help me block a quilt to those dimensions.

Margaret’s article explains how to completely soak and immerse a quilt to block it. She also details what to do if a quilt is bleeding, which was the case for the quilt shown in the photo below.

Immersing a quilt prior to blocking. In this case Margaret is also trying to remove some bleeding that occurred.

But what if you have a quilt with delicate hand stitching or embellishments on it? Or maybe a painted surface or special materials that you don’t want to soak? There are a couple of things you can do instead.

One option is to lightly spray water on the back of your quilt to just dampen it. The damp fibers can provide you with enough give to gently pull and prod your quilt into submission.

Most folks think of blocking as something that is done on a horizontal flat surface, such as a table or clean flooring. However, my favorite method for blocking an art quilt is steaming. The steamer I have can only be used on a vertical surface.

Steaming Intertwined (©Diane Rusin Doran)

It works great to pin my work to my design wall, then steam and smooth the quilt. When it’s nice and flat I pin it in place, then allow it to dry for several hours or overnight.

Not everyone realizes is that you can block your quilts repeatedly. If for some reason a quilt becomes distorted, you can repeat the blocking process and bring it back into shape. Even a favorite bed quilt can be lightly blocked as desired after washing.

Do I recommend blocking every quilt? No. Quilts that are intended for heavy use, such as for babies and children, are not going to benefit dramatically from this process. That said, no matter what style or technique you’ve used, if the quilt is not as flat or square as you’d like you always have the option to block it. Go ahead and give it a try, it’s easier than you think.

Finding Your Path

Finding Your Path

As Father’s Day and summer roadtrips are at hand, I can’t help but think about my father’s approach to travel. Safety was always paramount, and part of that meant that we needed to know where we were going, literally. As in have the entire trip mapped out. And, since there was no internet, we relied on real maps. We may well have been AAA’s best customers, obtaining TripTiks for every occasion.

Sometimes I feel that we were perhaps a little too well prepared, if that’s possible, but I’m grateful for the lesson. And, just as I still use a map (albeit one online) to figure out how to get someplace, it also helps to know where you’re going when you’re quilting. Three of the things I try to bear in mind before I start that sewing machine motor revving are:

  • Knowing where I’m going.
  • Having a plan for how to get there.
  • What I’m going to do if there’s an “emergency”.

By “knowing where I’m going” I mean that I try to figure out ahead of time the path that I’ll be quilting and how I’ll travel from one section of the quilt to another. This goes hand-in-hand with having a plan for how to get there.  When sewing motifs, try to figure out where to stop, where to change directions, and where to go next. When I wrote the “Filler Finesse” column for MQU, I included a diagram for every motif that did just that. Here’s Rose Leaves from the November/December 2012 column.

In this instance I recommended that you start at the bottom, go up to the top of the stem (point 2), turn around and come down to point 3, then stitch each leaf with attached stem before coming back down and starting your next motif. This is a pretty standard approach to sewing motifs. Note that there is some back tracking involved, but I’ve been encouraging you all to brush up on that anyway, and it’s good practice (smile). With a little work you can figure out a path for any motif. Sometimes it helps to draw it with a pencil on some paper, or trace the path you intend to stitch with your finger.

About a year ago I blogged about a basic “order” you could use to systematically approach quilting on a domestic machine. But once you’ve gotten to, say, the filler work, if you think through it first you can streamline your process a little bit. I made the quilt below so long ago that I don’t remember what approach I used to stipple around the motifs. I do know that I could have followed a path like the one indicated by red arrows in the photo.

Detail from Kaleiding Stars ©Diane Rusin Doran

By stippling in a path traveling back and forth between the yellow and gold areas I could reduce the number of stops and starts, and therefore eliminate having to bury some threads. That’s a win in my book.

This last sample has lots of different threads doing lots of different things. It required some forethought to go in and around the fronds in a reasonably graceful fashion. Again, I made this quilt a long time ago, but I can guarantee that I took my time before stitching to visualize where I needed to travel.

Detail from Grotto ©Diane Rusin Doran

So what do you do if there’s an “emergency”? By that I mean that either you get stuck, or maybe the thread breaks unexpectedly. I recommend that you start and stop in as inconspicuous a place as possible. Think about whether stopping and starting at an intersection or on a smooth curve will be less noticeable; it can vary depending on the design you’re stitching. If you get stuck or trapped in an awkward place, try to backtrack to an escape route, or simply stop and tie off your threads. If the thread breaks I will unsew an inch or more of stitching so that enough thread is left to bury the ends.

And how about my dad? He’s still safety conscious, and still likes to know where he’s going.

My dad and my sister last Christmas. We gave my dad an amazing flashlight, because it’s also very helpful to be able to see where you’re going.
Quilters Unlimited 44th Annual Quilt Show

Quilters Unlimited 44th Annual Quilt Show

Northern Virginia is home to a group of avid quilters who belong to a vibrant and very large guild. Quilters Unlimited is comprised of 11 chapters throughout the Northern Virginia region. Each year they have a show in Dulles, and this year I *finally* made it there.

As you would expect from such a large group, there were a wide variety of quilt styles represented. In addition to the approximately 500 quilts made by QU members, there was a fabulous special exhibit, as well as an unexpectedly large and varied vendor mall. It was certainly worth braving the traffic around the Washington Beltway to get there.

Here’s a sampling of the work shown.

One of the first pieces I saw was this gorgeous original design by Judy Ballance.

Dee’s Orchids ©Judy Ballance

Look at the beautifully detailed stitching.

Detail Dee’s Orchids ©Judy Ballance

How about this charming story of a quilt that was started in the 1930’s, then finished much later? Dottie Dane’s description of her quilt tells the story better than I can.

Isn’t that wonderful? Here’s a detail of the finished heirloom.

Eighty Years of Stitches ©Dottie Dane; Made by Lena and Dottie Dane, quilted by Deb Spitz

I was delighted to see that John Trundle took an amazing photograph in 1986 of hot air balloons that was much like those I took a few weeks ago at the Preakness Balloon Festival. He made a fantastic quilt based on the photo, and used nylon to pay homage to the balloons themselves. Love it! (My apologies that this particular photo is not completely sharp, the quilt was hung a little too high for me to get a really good shot.)

Hot Air and Nylon ©John Trundle

Baby clothes hold so much sentiment for many of us. (It was all I could do to part with some of my boys’ clothes!) Bonny Siekman incorporated the pockets of baby clothes in this heart-warming quilt. Wouldn’t it be fun to hide message or trinkets in those pockets?

Larkin’s Quilt ©Bonny Siekman quilted by Marcia McConnell

There were a number of challenge quilts at the show. All QU members were invited to submit quilts to represent this year’s Quilt Show theme of “Wing It”. There were many well done pieces, but these two particularly caught my eye.

A Luna moth with detailed stitching? Yes please. Look at the thread play on Wing It – Luna by Sandy Kretzer.

Detail from Wing It – Luna ©Sandy Kretzer

Owl Moon by Anna Willard demonstrates an exceptional use of textured embellishments.

Owl Moon ©Anna Willard

The rickrack, crochet, and raw edged feathers add lots of dimension.

Owl Moon ©Anna Willard

And speaking of the moon, my friend Susanne Jones was also at the show with the Fly Me to the Moon collection that she curated. As always, it was great to see Susanne and this wonderful group of quilts that she’s assembled.

Susanne Jones with one of the quilts she made for her Fly Me to the Moon exhibit.


Part of the Fly Me to the Moon collection.

As  mentioned previously, the vendor mall was quite impressive. I definitely plan to go back next year! Congratulations and thank you to all the QU folks for putting on such a fine show. I’m looking forward to speaking at the Reston chapter in September and the Arlington chapter in October, as well as getting the opportunity to see more work from these talented quilters.

Glorious Glue

Glorious Glue

How many times have you been pinning something together and felt that really, the pins were in the way? Or perhaps distorting the fabric more than you’d like? Glue to the rescue!

There are quilters who prefer to use no adhesive of any kind on their work, and I totally understand that. However, if you plan to wash your quilt, washable glue can be a real time-saver. The glue I recommend is plain old Elmer’s Washable School Glue as I know it will come out. As for glue sticks, I love that today they come in a smaller diameter than the kinds that kids use for school, and are also specifically made for fabric. I’m sure your local quilting or fabric store carries several varieties.

Remember, just a little bit goes a long way! For liquid glue try using a narrow tip that can replace the cap that comes with the glue, like the one shown below. Purple Daisies has an even newer version that can be found here.

To use Elmer’s glue for basting, apply a very thin line, or a series of small dots. Place the fabrics together, then iron the two pieces together with a hot, dry iron. This dries your glue quickly, and you can get to the stitching right away.

Here are just a few of the ways that washable glue products can be used for quilting:

  • Tacking down appliqué shapes to the background
  • Turning the edges on appliqué
  • Turning the edges on English paper piecing
Turning the edges on these hexagons is even faster with glue than if hand basted.
  • Holding facings or bindings in place for hand stitching (instead of pins or clips)
  • Keeping labels or hanging sleeves in place for hand stitching
  • Put a thin line of glue in seam allowances for difficult to match patchwork pieces. By not using a pin you prevent any last second shifting of the fabrics.
  • Some folks are even brave enough to baste their quilts using glue sparingly!

If you’re a garment sewer you might also find glue handy when sewing zippers or attaching trim. Next time that pins don’t seem to be doing the trick for you, try glue and see if it helps.

Neat Faced Corners for Your Quilt

Neat Faced Corners for Your Quilt

Even after making many quilts, there are still times that my finished corners don’t end up being as neat as I like. And nobody wants “dog eared” corners, do they?

On Friday I was facing a quilt, and realized that maybe a little trick I learned long ago about making collars might work for my faced quilt edge as well. And it did! A little background: I cut my facings 3″ wide, then pressed under 1/2″ on a long edge of each.

Here I’ve marked a 1/2″ and 1″ lines on the edge of a manila folder. The fold provides a sturdy edge to turn and press my facing accurately.

I sewed the top and bottom facings on first, sewing around each corner using a 1/2″ seam. The side facings were then added, but I cut them 2 inches shorter than the entire length and centered them, meaning that they each end 1″ shy of every corner. Not having this extra layer of facing in the corner cuts down on bulk in the end as explained in the video below. I also edge stitch each facing as much as possible to help the sides turn neatly.


Here’s a quick video that shows how to trim the corner and turn it for a nice, neat finish.

Quick Tricks

Quick Tricks

So many deadlines this week! We’re editing the proofs for the next issue of the magazine, my niece is graduating from high school, and the entries for the International Quilt Festival are due by Friday night.

It’s times like these that a little bit of streamlining comes in handy. I strongly believe in good workmanship, but every once in a while I lower my standards ever so slightly for the sake of efficiency.

Example 1: The pink stitching on the flower behind this butterfly’s antennae.

Detail from The Gathering ©Diane Rusin Doran
Detail from The Gathering ©Diane Rusin Doran

Here’s a more close up view:

Note that the pink stitching goes right through those antennae. It would have been very challenging to start and stop each time the lines went through them. Lucky for me, the antennae are black, and are visually above the flower. This made it very easy to simply stitch those pink lines continuously, then come back in with a Pigma Micron marker and color the pink stitching black. (If you look very closely you may even see where I missed a spot or two.) This would work for any instance in which some darker area is above a light area. It should also be noted that the pink threads are rayon, so they easily accepted the color from the pen. Polyester thread might not be so forgiving.

Example 2: Oops! We all end up with a little bit of bobbin yuckiness every once in a while. Here I was using a very heavy thread in the needle, and a much lighter thread in the bobbin.

Normally I would carefully separate the offending threads and either rip out and resew, or bury the untangled ends. However, in this case the stitching is only a quarter of an inch from where I’m going to trim the edge of this quilt. The quilt is going to have a facing, not a binding, so this little mistake can be very easily hidden. Hanging sleeves and labels are also sometimes handy means of covering up small booboos. Just sayin’.

Example 3: Quilting off the edge. Have you ever noticed how many longarm quilters use “Piano Keys” on the edge of quilts they make for hire? It’s a design that allows fast and easy maneuvering and it only requires precision in one direction. I used the same basic concept here.

The dark area at the bottom of this detail is the binding of this quilt. I sewed the feathers and fronds right off of the edge of the quilt, then trimmed my border after everything was said and done. Being able to work with the extra fabric beyond the border, and not trying to fit a motif precisely in a specific area made the quilting much faster, easier, and fun.

I hope one of these tips comes in handy for you the next time you’re in a time crunch. What are some of your favorite time saving tips?


Up, Up and Away

Up, Up and Away

There was no school today, and normally I would have cherished the opportunity to sleep in past the crack of dawn instead of waking up teenage boys. However, the Preakness Balloon Festival is going on just a few minutes from where I live, and a “mass ascension” was scheduled for 6:00 AM. How could I pass that up? So much floating fabric and color!

When I arrived at the fairgrounds at 5:40 AM(yes, you read that correctly) it appeared that perhaps only two balloons were going to be involved. I was a little deflated (haha).

Sunrise at the Howard County Fairgrounds

I didn’t realize how quickly a hot air balloon could be inflated, and by 6:00 more than ten balloons were nearly ready to take off.

I knew that I would not create photos of entire balloons, or even several entire balloons together, that would be in any way unique or memorable to me. Instead, I decided to study the color, line, and construction. After all, part of the fascination of the balloons is their shape, which is definitely related to the stitching used to create them.

Bystanders wait to see the balloons ascend at the 2017 Preakness Balloon Festival ©Diane Rusin Doran
Bystanders wait to see the balloons ascend at the 2017 Preakness Balloon Festival ©Diane Rusin Doran
 2017 Preakness Balloon Festival ©Diane Rusin Doran
The juxtaposition of colors was marvelous
 2017 Preakness Balloon Festival ©Diane Rusin Doran
Look at how the lines of stitching add structure and design elements
 2017 Preakness Balloon Festival ©Diane Rusin Doran
Maybe a little bit Dresden Platish?

Some of the balloons flew right over head, giving an entirely different perspective, and revealing more of the construction details.

 2017 Preakness Balloon Festival ©Diane Rusin Doran
I didn’t take a photo of this balloon in its entirety as it had teddy bears on the side that were not to my taste. However, look how interesting it looks from this angle.
2017 Preakness Balloon Festival ©Diane Rusin Doran
Notice how the triangular basket echoes the chevron design on the balloon ©Diane Rusin Doran
2017 Preakness Balloon Festival ©Diane Rusin Doran
The transparency of the fabric created beautiful designs.

I came away with all kinds of inspiration. It’s remarkable that the unique nature of fabric, and it’s ability to be sculpted by stitch, can result in such beautiful creations. Kind of like quilts, hmmm?

And, of course, it was lovely when the balloons took off and flew towards the sunrise.


Quilting Vintage Linens

Quilting Vintage Linens

Have you inherited, or acquired, some vintage linens? Margaret Solomon Gunn has, and she’s put her considerable machine quilting skills to good use while incorporating them into her work. Recycling, or upcycling, linens in this way has become increasingly popular in the last few years.

In our May/June 2017 issue, Margaret shares great tips and techniques on how to work with these older and sometimes fragile treasures.

Vintage Linen quilted by Margaret Solomon Gunn
Vintage Linen quilted by Margaret Solomon Gunn

She covers cleaning the linens, stabilizing them if necessary, quilt design considerations, how to handle embroidered or crocheted edges, and much more.

Vintage Linen quilted by Margaret Solomon Gunn
Vintage Linen quilted by Margaret Solomon Gunn

I found her edge finishing techniques particularly helpful. Sound fun? Then be sure to check out our latest issue of the magazine!

Eco Dyeing Adventure

Eco Dyeing Adventure

Many quilters have a variety of other artistic or crafty interests. Sometimes it’s fun to explore other mediums, and you never know what might inspire you and end up being used in your quilting.

I’ve dabbled in paper arts for many years, and incorporated paintings I’ve created in some of my work. Recently the opportunity arose for me to go on a retreat to learn eco dyeing on paper and fabric, so of course I jumped at it.

Eco Dyed art book ©Leslie Marsh
Eco Dyed art book ©Leslie Marsh (one of the class samples)

That’s how last weekend I ended up meandering over to a retreat center near Harper’s Ferry, West Virginia for a Red Thread Retreat coordinated by Lesley Riley. Our instructor for the weekend was the amazing Leslie Marsh, a book artist who incorporates eco dyed paper and fabric in her work. We collected plant matter from around the property and combined it with materials that Leslie and other class member brought to share. Then we started the amazing chemical process by stacking plant materials and paper or fabric together, and creating bundles that were submerged or steamed to create the prints.

Here I combined black cherry leaves, casuarina (shared by a classmate), and a weed that ended up not creating much of an image

Eco dyeing is not an exact science. The success of your prints depends on a wide variety of factors, from time of year to age of the plant matter to amount of mordant. However, that’s part of the fun, as opening each bundle is like getting a present. There was a lot of squealing when we were all opening up our finished bundles.  Here are two of my favorite prints on fabric:

Eucalyptus leaves reliably create great prints, as seen in the orangey areas here.

You can tell we had a very productive day by the looks of the studio at the end of Saturday.

To my delight we also did some leaf printing.

You can bet that something like that will end up in a quilt in the future.

But, the very best part of the weekend was the many new friends I made. They are an amazing group of women and I already have tentative plans to meet up again with some of them for more arty fun.

I’m so glad I took the plunge and “branched out” (pun intended) to try this fun technique to add to my artistic skills. How have you branched out recently?

Kathryn Harmer Fox

Kathryn Harmer Fox

Last fall my first glimpse of Kathryn Harmer Fox‘s award winning The Three Watchers stopped me in my tracks.

Detail The Three Watchers copyright Kathryn Harmer Fox
Detail The Three Watchers copyright Kathryn Harmer Fox

Her arresting and exceptional work is unique in the world of quilting. We were delighted to have her as our cover artist for our January/February issue of the magazine.

Ilse's Eyes ©Kathryn Harmer Fox
Ilse’s Eyes ©Kathryn Harmer Fox  

In our latest issue (May/June 2017)  we’re pleased to include an article that details more about her process.

Hailing from South Africa, she combines detailed drawings with a variety of sewing and quilting techniques to create her work.  As she says “I am a figurative rather than a landscape artist. The figure can be human or animal, bird, fish, or flower; creatures big and small entice me to render them in paint, fabric, and thread.”

This is Me in process; ©Kathryn Harmer Fox
This is Me in process; ©Kathryn Harmer Fox

Her process incorporates embedding tiny snippets of fabric through thread work, along with creating detail through free motion machine embroidery. As you can see, the results are amazing!

This is Me ©Kathryn Harmer Fox
This is Me ©Kathryn Harmer Fox. Kathryn used a photograph of her own hands in creating this piece, as well as her impressions of finches seen through her window.

Intrigued? Then be sure to check our more about Kathryn and her work in our January/February and May/June 2017 issues.


Fusible Machine Appliqué

Fusible Machine Appliqué

Fusible machine appliqué is surprisingly easy, and fun to boot! Page through almost any issue of Machine Quilting Unlimited and you’ll find loads of examples of this great technique.

A few weeks ago I was creating a sample for an upcoming class on machine appliqué, and it reminded me that it all comes down to two key elements: fusible web, and stabilizer. Combine these two and you’re golden.

Rose of Sharon, ©Diane Rusin Doran
Rose of Sharon sample by Diane Rusin Doran

I’d love to recommend a single product that is the secret sauce for all of your appliqué needs, but there is no one perfect solution for everyone. The perfect solution for you is what you find works best. I have friends who are die hard users of Lite Steam-A-Seam 2, others who are Misty Fusers for life, and then, of course, there’s the Wonder-Under crowd. These are just a few of the fusible choices available. If you’re not familiar with using fusible web, I’d recommend getting a small amount of several kinds (maybe share with friends?) and creating a few test or practice appliqués. Not a whole block or quilt, just a few shapes to see what look and feel you prefer. Different products yield varying degrees of stiffness and hold. Be sure to refer to the manufacturer’s pressing directions for the specific product you’re using.

As for stabilizers, once again there are many choices. When I first began to machine appliqué (which pre-dated when I began quilting!) I didn’t know about stabilizers. They make all the difference in your stitch quality! Even putting something as simple as copy paper or freezer paper under your work can improve the look of your project. I no longer use paper as a stabilizer, since removing it can be tiresome, but instead rely on some of the easier to manage tear-away or wash-away products that are readily available at any quilt or fabric store. Again, doing a little test will help you determine which stabilizer best suits your needs.

Part of the fun of fusible appliqué is that you can easily vary the look of your design by using different stitches. Some folks don’t stitch down their edges at all, but instead rely on how they quilt their work to hold the appliqué in place. This works great for pieces you don’t intend to wash.

For quilted items that you would like to wash, try using a small zigzag, satin stitching, a blanket stitch, or even straight stitching (though if washed this may fray a little).

©Diane Rusin Doran Rose of Sharon sample
Note the different edge treatments on the various parts of this simple appliqué .

In the sample above the leaves and the lavender stars are finished with a tiny zigzag, the rose colored portion of the flower is blanket stitched, the deep orange has satin stitching, and the lightest orange is straight stitched. It’s fun to combine a variety of edge treatments like this, and it also adds a little visual interest.

For more details on incorporating satin stitching into your work,  check out part one of  a great two part series about satin stitching that Beth Schillig wrote for our  November/December 2014 issue. (Part two was in the January/February 2015 issue.) I love Beth’s great tips on thread selection, achieving the right tension, and especially her explanation of the proper needle placement.

Wishing you smooth stitching and happy appliquéing!

A Modern Day Sewing Machine King

A Modern Day Sewing Machine King

Though our latest issue (May/June 2017) is barely off the presses, we’ve already received numerous comments from our readers who have enjoyed part one of Alex Askaroff’s two part series, The Sewing Machine Kings.

Alex Askaroff
Alex Askaroff with his latest book

Alex is a man of many talents, including but not limited to being an author, a sewing machine engineer, and a photographer. His fascinating retelling of the history behind what is arguable my favorite type of machine is quite the page turner. Who knew??

The beautiful Wheeler & Wilson Model 8, photo by Alex Askaroff
The beautiful Wheeler & Wilson Model 8, photo by Alex Askaroff

While we all wait for the second installment of Alex’s history of The Sewing Machine Kings, I asked him a few questions about the machines he is so expert at restoring and repairing.

Diane: What do you find to be the most challenging aspect of restoring and or repairing sewing machines?
Alex: The most challenging aspect of restoring a sewing machine usually in my ‘man cave’ is that with sewing machines there is no 99%. If a machine is not perfect it will always be a problem for its operator. It is one of the reasons why it took so long to invent the sewing machine. The tolerances that you are working to are about 1000th of an inch (the thickness of a human hair). It is also one of the reasons that there are not many sewing machine engineers around.
Alex in his man cave
Alex in his man cave
Diane: What is your most treasured machine?
Alex: My most treasured machine is a Dolly Varden, made in America during the 19th Century and named after a character created by Charles Dickens. It’s not worth a fortune but the story behind it is priceless (see my blog for more info and pictures).

Diane: What is, in your opinion, the most beautiful machine you’ve encountered?
Alex: By far the most beautiful sewing machine I have encountered is which ever one my wife is holding. Failing that I would have to go for the Agenoria (see my blog on it for more info and pictures).

Diane: And finally, is there a machine that you’ve always wanted to have but is “the one that got away”?
Alex: I have always yearned after the French made Hurtu sewing machine called L’Abeille (the bee). They are super rare but oh so beautiful. When they come up for auction they always shoot way above what I have in the bank at the time. Still one day I may win the lottery and then it will be at the top of my shopping list after our trip to Venice.

Alex resides in beautiful Eastbourne on the South Coast of England, and frequently shares photos of the lovely countryside.
Eastbourne Promenade ©Alex Askaroff
Eastbourne Promenade ©Alex Askaroff
Glynde with Mount Caburn ©Alex Askaroff
Glynde with Mount Caburn ©Alex Askaroff
Alex has certainly inspired me to a new found interest in vintage sewing machines. It never occurred to me what an impact the advent of the sewing machine had on so many aspects of our daily lives. Stay tuned, part two of Alex’s article will be in our next issue!
Take Your Best Shot

Take Your Best Shot

My grandmother was a professional artist who worked in oils and watercolors. Her work was widely exhibited and sold. Though she took many photos, I would have to say that she was not a gifted photographer (despite her many other fine qualities!). The truth is that the technical quality of the photograph was not important to her. She was simply trying to capture the moment, whether the joy in a family gathering or an eye catching composition.

I’ll never forget sitting at our kitchen counter together one day drawing simple houses, flowers, and trees with markers. As she demonstrated the magic that happens when you paint a little water on the lines, I told her that I envied her ability to draw anything. Nana looked at me in surprise. She said that not only had it required a tremendous amount of practice, but she couldn’t draw much of anything simply from memory. She relied on sketches and photographs to reliably produce work with the correct proportions, scale, and lines. Wow! That was truly a light bulb moment for me.

We are lucky today that many of us have a camera, in the form of a phone, with us everywhere. We can easily use the photos we take as a reference for many aspects of quilt design, no matter what style we prefer. Whether we want to replicate a photograph as closely as possible, or simply use it as a reference or guide, the sky’s the limit.

This month’s cover artist, Cynthia England, used a photograph she took in Capetown, South Africa as the inspiration for her award winning piece Reflections of Capetown.

Cynthia England's original photograph
Cynthia England’s original photograph used to create the design for Reflections of Capetown
Reflections of Capetown ©Cynthia England
Reflections of Capetown ©Cynthia England

As you can see, Cynthia recreated her original photograph in great detail with her picture piecing technique. (You can see more info about how Cynthia creates her work in our May/June 2017 issue of the magazine.)

But what if you just want to create an appliqué that is reasonably accurate and recognizable as, say, a bird? Just take a photo and work from there. It doesn’t have to be pin sharp or perfectly composed to do the job.

Here’s a not so great photo I took through the dining room window. What is great is how the bird is posed. (And I do realize that some of you don’t like grackles, sorry!)

©Diane Rusin Doran
A quick shot of a grackle, taken through a window. (©Diane Rusin Doran)

If you enlarge this photo you’ll see that’s it’s grainy, and it has some extra birds that detract from the subject. However, if I’m using it for reference I can just ignore those extra bits. Here I’ve traced the outline of the main bird and the bird feeder. I simply printed the photo on an 8.5″ x 11″ sheet of paper, placed a transparency on top, and used a marker.

A simple tracing of the photo above.

Voila! By just outlining some key parts of the photo, I have a reasonably shaped bird that’s well proportioned relative to the bird feeder. The beauty is that I can take what I want from one photo, and combine it with bits from others, or draw designs that are uniquely my own.

Here’s one of my favorite tricks, photographing or scanning a leaf or other flat object on a plain piece of paper.

Locust Leaf

The stark contrast makes it super easy to outline the leaf and create a design, whether appliquéd or stitched.

And, of course, you can also take pictures simply to remember a color combination or shape that you love. (See the blog posts here and here for more on that.)

I’ll always be grateful that Nana shared her artistic “secret” with me. We can’t all be world class photographers, but it’s not a necessary skill for creating pleasing and successful designs. Next time you’re having a bit of difficulty creating the right shape, line, proportions, or colors, just “take your best shot” and work from there.

Choosing Colors

Choosing Colors

Most quilters learn sooner or later that multicolored fabrics have a handy dandy tool on the edge of the selvedge.

The selvedge of four different fabrics

The manufacturers have kindly printed the separate colors used in the design right there on the edge of the fabric. How convenient! This allows us to easily select coordinating fabrics. (Of course, if you stay within one fabric collection you’ll find fabrics designed to coordinate with each other.)

But, what if you’re designing a quilt of your own, and don’t feel entirely confident about choosing the colors? Or, you’re completely smitten with the colors in a photograph or other image? Luckily for us there are online tools that will quickly help us to separate out the colors of an image we love.

Here’s one of my favorite images, a photo I took years ago at Brookside Gardens here in Maryland.

Waterlilies, ©Diane Rusin Doran
Waterlilies, ©Diane Rusin Doran

Let’s look at the results from three different online tools that can help us create a color palette based on this photo. There’s nothing particularly special about any of these, I just searched for “color picker from photographs” and used three that were some of the first to pop up. Each has a very simple interface that allows you to select a photo to upload. Be careful about your image size, some of programs have a size limit for the photos.

First, the aptly named Color Code Picker.

You can see that it provides an array of colors that are contained in the image, as well as color codes that can be used in a variety of image programs like Photoshop or Corel.

Now how about Pictaculous?

Hmmm, very interesting. They provide a smaller, and completely different range of colors. Hexadecimal codes are also given for these colors (again, good for precise color matching in various image programs). I do like the other palettes that they provide, though they seem kind of random.

How about one more? Here’s the result from Colors Pallete Generator.

The complete color palette shows a much wider range of colors than the other two. They also show light, medium, and dark palettes. The little boxes at the bottom indicate that you can save the palette for use in Photoshop or to create a stylesheet for webdesign (the CSS stylesheet). Though I didn’t do it in this example, you can select a color from one of the palettes and the program will provide you with the Hexadecimal code that is assigned to that color.

I think it’s interesting that the pickers gave such varied results, yet each has value. (No pun intended.) So, next time you’re stymied about a color palette for your latest creation, consider choosing colors from a favorite photo or image. Use one of the many online tools available, print out the results, and you’ll have a reference to use as you choose your fabrics in a color scheme that is uniquely yours.


Fabulous Freezer Paper

Fabulous Freezer Paper

Prior to becoming a quilter, I never gave freezer paper a second thought. It wasn’t my storage solution of choice, and it never occurred to me that it might have other uses.

Due to its unique nature of having a paper side and a plasticized backing, it’s actually one of the most versatile supplies any quilter could have. It’s easy to apply the freezer paper to fabric by ironing the shiny side of the freezer paper to the fabric using a hot, dry iron. Here are just a few ways it can be used by quilters:

To stabilize fabric. Handwriting a label on fabric or creating a memory quilt with signatures? Iron some freezer paper to the back of your fabric first and it will be much easier to write on it. Running some fabric through a printer to create a label or design your own fabric? Again, iron the shiny side of the freezer paper on the back. Encase the leading edge of the paper/fabric sandwich with tape, and your fabric should run through your printer like a charm.

You can see the freezer paper through this light colored fabric. When ironed to the back, it really keeps the fabric from shifting when you write on it.

Creating templates for piecing. Draw your design on the paper side of the freezer paper, cut it apart on the design lines, then iron the plastic side of the freezer paper to your fabric and cut away. Be sure to add seam allowances as necessary. The paper is somewhat transparent, making it easy to trace designs as well.

Turned edge appliqué. Cut out the shape you want to create, such as a heart or leaf. Iron the freezer paper to the back of your fabric, cut out leaving a scant 1/4″ seam allowance. The crisp edge of the freezer paper makes it easy to turn under the raw edges, which can then be lightly glued or basted in place. Conversely, you can lightly glue the dull side of the paper to the back of your appliqué , then turn the edges over and iron them to the shiny side. Now you’re ready to appliqué by either hand or machine.

Left hand heart has the shiny side of the freezer paper ironed to the back of the fabric, then the edge is being glued down. The right hand heart has the dull side of the freezer paper against the back of the fabric, and the edges are being ironed down as they are turned. Choose what works best for you!

Sewing inset circles. This is an amazing technique that creates a perfect circle very easily. There are many great online tutorials for how to do this, just search for “freezer paper inset circle technique” and many will pop up.

Stabilizing simple machine embroidery or appliqué. There are a number of fine commercial products available for stabilizing your machine embroidery or applique, but in a pinch you can use good old freezer paper. Try it first on a sample to make sure that your tension is OK.

As a stencil. By applying freezer to the right side of your fabric you can draw or sew around the shape. It’s easy to follow the crisp edge.

Here I printed a design directly onto freezer paper from my computer, then cut it out. Once ironed to the quilt sandwich it was easy to follow the crisp outline of the shape to produce a neatly sewn motif.

Freezer paper can also be cut and used as a stencil to add a bit of painting to your work.

After the butterflies were cut from the freezer paper, it was ironed onto the front of the lavender fabric. A few dabs with a sponge brush and some gold ink, and some fast and easy surface design has been added to the fabric.

It’s readily available (at least in the U.S.) at grocery stores and most quilt shops. I like to keep it on hand as I never know when it might come in handy. What other uses have you found for freezer paper?

AQS Lancaster Part III

AQS Lancaster Part III

Well, there were so many great quilts at Lancaster that I just can’t resist sharing amazing detail shots of a few last pieces.

Here’s a detail from Marilyn Badger’s Pinball Wizard. It’s not the first time she’s made me believe in magic. Fabulous piecing, beading, and of course the quilting.

Detail Pinball Wizard ©Marilyn Badger
Detail Pinball Wizard ©Marilyn Badger as seen at AQS Lancaster 2017

Speaking of beading, check out the workmanship on Somewhere My Love by Kay Donges. The dimension that the beading, as well as the fabric selection, creates is remarkable.

Somewhere My Love ©Kay Donges
Detail, Somewhere My Love ©Kay Donges seen at AQS Lancaster 2017

How about this incredible flower from The Flower Over the Beads Curtain by Mikyung Jang?

Detail, The Flower Over the Beads curtain ©Mikyung Jang
Detail, The Flower Over the Beads Curtain ©Mikyung Jang seen at AQS Lancaster 2017

And finally, My Little Enchanted Compass by Cristina Arcenegui Bono (Design Source: Enchanted Forest by Johanna Basford). This piece truly is enchanting.

My Little Enchanted Compass by Cristina Arcenegui Bono
My Little Enchanted Compass by Cristina Arcenegui Bono (Design Source: Enchanted Forest by Johanna Basford)
My Little Enchanted Compass by Cristina Arcenegui Bono (Design Source: Enchanted Forest by Johanna Basford)
Detail, My Little Enchanted Compass by Cristina Arcenegui Bono (Design Source: Enchanted Forest by Johanna Basford)

Hat’s off to all the fine artists who had work in the show, as well as the AQS crew for putting together such a wonderful collection of quits.

AQS Lancaster Part II

AQS Lancaster Part II

Today it’s all about the details. Whether accomplished by hand or machine, all of these beauties seen at the 2017 AQS show in Lancaster certainly deserve a closer look.

First off, Roses by Judith Craddock. Yes, completely handmade, these roses are simply lovely. And look at the tiny bees!

Detail from Roses ©Judith Craddock
Detail from Roses ©Judith Craddock seen at AQS Lancaster 2017
Detail from Roses ©Judith Craddock
Detail from Roses ©Judith Craddock seen at AQS Lancaster 2017

Next, Fun and Fancy by Zena Thorpe. Has she ever made a quilt that wasn’t stunning? I think not.

Fun and Fancy ©Zena Thorpe
Detail from Fun and Fancy ©Zena Thorpe seen at AQS Lancaster 2017

Claudia Pfeil’s Woven Journey is, like all of her quilts, truly original. She certainly pays attention to the details when she creates her quilts.

Detail Woven Journey ©Claudia Pfeil
Detail Woven Journey ©Claudia Pfeil seen at AQS Lancaster 2017

Finally, Shiva Nataraja by Rebecca Prior and Jackie Brown. The entire quilt was lovely, but the light colored quilting on the black background was what really caught my eye. Amazing!

Detail from Shiva Nataraja ©Rebecca Prior and Jackie Brown
Detail from Shiva Nataraja ©Rebecca Prior and Jackie Brown seen at AQS Lancaster 2017
AQS Lancaster Part I

AQS Lancaster Part I

The spring quilt shows are in full swing! Last Friday I braved the rain and drove up to the Lancaster show and it did not disappoint. This year the lighting was *very* improved, affording a much better view of the quilts. Here are some that caught my eye.

First off, Snow Bird by Charleen M. Van Steenberg. I love pointy piecing, and the way she quilted feathers in the outer rays was very effective. It’s based on the Glacier Star pattern and Mariner’s Compass pattern by Judy and Bradley Niemeyer.

Snow Bird ©Charleen M. Steenberg shown at AQS Lancaster 2017
Snow Bird ©Charleen M. Steenberg
Detail, Snow Bird ©Charleen M. Steenberg
Detail, Snow Bird ©Charleen M. Steenberg

Look at this gorgeous array of Mariner’s Compasses! It’s called Barbara’s Circle and was made by Beth Nufer and Clem Buzick. Note how the pebble quilting is varied in size and some of the pebbles have a tiny grid in them, adding extra interest.

Barbara's Circle ©Beth Nufer and Clem Buzick shown at AQS Lancaster 2017
Barbara’s Circle ©Beth Nufer and Clem Buzick
Detail, Barbara's Circle ©Beth Nufer and Clem Buzick
Detail, Barbara’s Circle ©Beth Nufer and Clem Buzick

I already gushed about Red December on a facebook live video. It was made by Gail H. Smith and Angela McCorkle and is based on the Red December pattern by Esther Aliu. The quilting is suits the design to a T.

Red December made by Gail H. Smith and Angela McCorkle based on the Red December pattern by Esther Aliu
Red December made by Gail H. Smith and Angela McCorkle based on the Red December pattern by Esther Aliu
Red December made by Gail H. Smith and Angela McCorkle based on the Red December pattern by Esther Aliu
Detail, Red December made by Gail H. Smith and Angela McCorkle based on the Red December pattern by Esther Aliu

I’ll end today’s post with a bang, or, more accurately, The Big Bang by Kathie Beltz and Mara Novak. What a great use of color and super quilting!

The Big Bang ©Kathie Beltz and Mara Novak
The Big Bang ©Kathie Beltz and Mara Novak
The Big Bang ©Kathie Beltz and Mara Novak
Detail, The Big Bang ©Kathie Beltz and Mara Novak

Stay tuned, as I’ll share some more photos later this week.


Spring Things

Spring Things

Spring!! I do believe it’s finally here. I don’t know about you, but we’ve certainly had a rocky start to spring here in Maryland. First unseasonably warm weather, then a period of freezing temperatures and snow that wreaked havoc on many plants that were blooming a little too early. Things are more normal now, and I’m happy to report that our biggest cherry tree seems to be blooming unscathed.

This season of rebirth and warmer temperatures is a cause for celebration. Here are just a few examples of quilts we’ve featured over the years that have been inspired by spring.

Kate Themel truly captured the essence of a gorgeous Tulip Magnolia in her lovely Fresh Magnolias.

 Fresh Magnolias ©Kate Themel Machine Quilting Unlimited July August 2013
Fresh Magnolias ©Kate Themel shown in Machine Quilting Unlimited July/August 2013
 Fresh Magnolias ©Kate Themel Machine Quilting Unlimited July August 2013
Detail Fresh Magnolias ©Kate Themel shown in Machine Quilting Unlimited July/August 2013

Here’s another magnolia quilt, aptly named Magnolia. I’m not exaggerating when I say this is one of my all time favorite quilts. It was made by Sylvia Gegaregian of Portola Valley, California.

Magnolia ©Sylvia Gegaregian Machine Quilting Unlimited January Feb 2014
Magnolia ©Sylvia Gegaregian shown in Machine Quilting Unlimited January/February 2014
Detail Magnolia ©Sylvia Gegaregian Machine Quilting Unlimited January Feb 2014
Detail Magnolia ©Sylvia Gegaregian Machine Quilting Unlimited January/February 2014

And how about Margaret Solomon Gunn’s masterful Springtime in the Geisha’s Garden? I love the variety of pink blossoms and, of course, the incredible quilting.

Springtime in the Geisha's Garden ©Margaret Solomon Gunn shown in Machine Quilting Unlimited July/August 2014
Springtime in the Geisha’s Garden ©Margaret Solomon Gunn shown in Machine Quilting Unlimited July/August 2014

This small piece by Neroli Henderson, Cherry Blossom, has such a wonderful sense of movement and great composition.

Cherry Blossom ©Neroli Henderson shown in Machine Quilting Unlimited November/December 2016
Cherry Blossom ©Neroli Henderson shown in Machine Quilting Unlimited November/December 2016

Finally, here’s one of my quilts, inspired by the cherry tree I mentioned in the beginning of the post. I love to stand beneath the branches and admire the back lit blossoms.

Blossoming ©Diane Rusin Doran shown in Machine Quilting Unlimited September/October 2016
Blossoming ©Diane Rusin Doran shown in Machine Quilting Unlimited September/October 2016

Wishing you a season full of inspiration!

Ready to start using rulers?

Ready to start using rulers?

Last May I mentioned the wonderful three part series that Patsy Thompson was writing about ruler work on a domestic machine for MQU. Since then I’ve taken the plunge and am loving working with rulers on my own machine. It’s really fun!

I am in no way as expert as Patsy is, but, as a relative newcomer to this type of work would like to share a few tips that have really helped me.

  • As always, having a large flat surface to support your quilt makes the job easier.
  • Consider making a practice quilt to improve your skills.
  • A little marking can help a lot. Most rulers have a variety of marks etched on them to help guide you as you quilt, but I’ve found that especially for circular designs having additional marks to follow is very helpful.
Machine Quilting Unlimited Blog
My first try at this design. I used the seamline as a vertical mark, and only drew one reference line, the horizontal one. As you can see my center flower is not symmetric.
Machine Quilting Unlimited Blog
The third time is almost the charm. This time I marked the 45 degree angle as well, and my flower is not perfect, but better. I’m sure that practicing it didn’t hurt either.
  • Most of my errors have occurred when I finished a line of stitching (or a circle) and moved the ruler. It’s important to be sure that you gently snug up the ruler right to the foot to create an accurate design.
Machine Quilting Unlimited Blog
More than one oops! is visible here. Some of the errors are due to misplacement of the ruler, the error in the coral section is due to not nestling the ruler foot up to the ruler.
  • Be sure to add some type of grippy material to the back of your rulers. Handigrip is one popular brand. Some of my Westalee rulers came with a grip that reminds me of shelf liner with adhesive on the back. Either way it helps to keep your ruler in place as you manipulate your quilt under the machine.
  • If you hold your ruler in place it’s relatively easy to backtrack over previous lines to maneuver. However, remember that if your design requires backtracking that a thinner thread that matches the color of your fabric will produce less noticeable thread buildup.
Machine Quilting Unlimited Blog
You can see some thread buildup in the areas where I traveled from circle to circle. It’s primarily apparent because of the contrast between the thread color and the fabric colors.
Machine Quilting Unlimited Blog
These circles are much smaller than the others in real life, nonetheless the backtracking is much less apparent since the thread and fabric colors match so closely. One unexpected benefit of the backtracking here is that I can rip out that one really apparent mistake since the circle will still be complete.
  • People who make rulers want to sell them, so most of them have great videos that demonstrate how to use rulers on a domestic machine. Just search for “domestic machine ruler work videos” , or go directly to a manufacturer’s website, and you’ll find plenty of demos.

Remember to breathe, take regular breaks, and have fun! I certainly can’t wait to keep playing with this new-to-me technique.

Happy National Quilting Day!

Happy National Quilting Day!

Today is National Quilting Day, and it’s not too late to celebrate! I haven’t managed to actually quilt yet today, but have spent a bit of time reading and reviewing books for our May/June 2017 issue. (Spoiler alert: there’s quite a crop of good quilting books out there just now.) I’m hoping to get a little piecing in, but first am swinging by here to share a great WebExtra! on how to join strips for any type of binding.

In Faced Binding the Easy Way in our July/August 2014 issue, Cristy Fincher refers to Sharon Schamber’s technique to join the strips, which works well for all types of bindings. Click here to access a pdf of this great tutorial. I love that Cristy and Sharon glue baste in a variety of situations. In her article Cristy says that glue basting “keeps the strips stable and accurate, and they do not shift as they are being sewn. Also, time is not spent putting in or taking out pins. Rest assured, the glue will wash out, and because the glue is heat set, it is perfectly safe for your sewing machine and needle.” So fast and easy!


Today and everyday I wish you Happy Quilting!!

Batting Basics

Batting Basics

Batting is often an afterthought, especially for newer quilters. But since batting can dramatically change the look and feel of your work it’s really quite important. Here are a few things to consider when selecting the right batting for your project.

How will you use the finished quilt? Will it hang on the wall, be a competition quilt, or be frequently used and washed? Cotton batting tends to hold its wrinkles, which is great for creating an “old-timey” look, but maybe not so great for competition. Wool is known for its ability to spring back into shape, making it the choose of many competitive quilters. Silk and bamboo batts can be wonderful for creating quilted garments. Washability varies by batt variety, so be sure to check the label to see what the manufacturer recommends for the specific batting you are considering.

Discovering the Hidden Perks of a Truckload of Dung ©Judy Coates Perez, shown in MQU March/April 2016 issue. Art quilter Judy Coates Perez uses wool batting to beautiful effect in her gorgeous quilts.
Discovering the Hidden Perks of a Truckload of Dung ©Judy Coates Perez, shown in MQU March/April 2016 issue. Art quilter Judy Coates Perez uses wool batting to beautiful effect in her gorgeous quilts.

Do you want to heavily quilt the piece, or stitch it just enough to get the job done? The label on each type of batting generally indicates how far apart you can quilt it and still produce reasonable results. Some cotton and bamboo battings can be quilted up to 8″ apart, while polyester and wool generally require somewhat closer quilting (2″ to 3″ or 4″). No matter what type of batting you choose, there usually isn’t a limit as to how closely you can quilt it. Bear in mind that the more closely you quilt the stiffer the final product will be. This means that for a quilt you’re going to use you might want to not quilt the entire thing in tight fills if you want to ensure drapeability.

Are you planning on personally quilting it on your domestic machine, using a longarm, or hiring out the quilting? Many longarm quilters have specific battings that they prefer to use, and usually have batting on hand that they will sell to you. Domestic machine quilters might prefer wool or polyester as they are easier to “scrunch” to fit through the machine. Some show quilters, especially those who use longarms, use a double batt of wool over cotton or a blend to create more dimension in their quilting.

Detail from Super Nova ©The Cohorts (for the Evening Star Quilt Guild of Davison, Michigan) This raffle quilt incorporates a Dream Poly Cotton batt. It was quilted by Lois Walker on a Gammill Classic. Shown in the January/February 2014 issue of MQU
Detail from Super Nova ©The Cohorts (for the Evening Star Quilt Guild of Davison, Michigan) This raffle quilt incorporates a Dream Poly Cotton batt. It was quilted by Lois Walker on a Gammill Classic. Shown in the January/February 2014 issue of MQU

Is loft a consideration? Some quilters prefer a very flat finished look, others want lots of dimension.

Dazzling Dahlia ©Andrea Brokenshire from MQU September/October 2014 Andrea used Warm and Natural Cotton batting
Dazzling Dahlia ©Andrea Brokenshire from MQU September/October 2014 Andrea used Warm and Natural Cotton batting for this piece. Her painting alone creates tremendous dimension in her work, while the stitching adds lovely detail.

Does your quilt top have lots of white or light fabrics in it, or is it mostly medium to dark? Sometimes light fabrics reveal the color of the batting underneath. If your quilt is white, consider getting a batting that is truly white as opposed to cream colored. For a mostly dark quilt, black batting can prevent any possibility of bearding creating an issue.

What price are you willing to pay for batting? Polyester is generally the least expensive, followed by cotton and then wool.

If you are making a bed quilt, how heavy and or warm do you want the finished product to be? Wool is usually considered to be the warmest batting, followed by polyester and then cotton. Remember, though, natural fibers breath better than synthetic ones.

In addition to the basic fibers that are used to create battings – cotton, wool, polyester, silk, bamboo, and soy – blends are also available in many different combinations. I also have friends who use felt as a batting for wall quilts.

Detail Floating Down the River ©Mary Ann Van Soest. Mary Ann used two layers of Pellon Thermolam in her stunning 5 panel quilt measuring 16 feet wide by 6 feet tall! Shown in the September/October 2014 issue of MQU.
Detail Floating Down the River ©Mary Ann Van Soest. Mary Ann used two layers of Pellon Thermolam in her stunning 5 panel quilt measuring 16 feet wide by 6 feet tall! Shown in the September/October 2014 issue of MQU.

So many of these options are subjective, so remember that there’s no one right batting, the best batting is the one that produces the look and feel that you prefer. Consider buying a variety of samples or crib sized battings to test and determine what batting is best for your needs, or maybe split a few batts between friends to test them. You may now be scratching your head in confusion with so many different options. Don’t despair, ask a friend or quilter whose work you admire what batting they use, then start from there. And remember, don’t be afraid to try a new batting if you think it might work for you.



Fusible Appliqué

Fusible Appliqué

Appliqué is such an incredibly versatile technique. Quilters of all levels can successfully incorporate it into their work whether they prefer traditional, modern, art, or innovative styles. We’ve frequently featured artists who use fusible appliqué since it’s fast, easy, and precise.

In our January/February 2017 issue Jane Zillmer shared some great information on how she uses raw edge fused appliqué in her work. Here’s a beautiful example of one of her appliquéd quilts, Happy.

Happy ©Jane Zillmer, quilted by Ann Becker
Happy ©Jane Zillmer, quilted by Ann Becker

Once you’ve drawn your design here are the basic steps Jane follows to prepare the appliqué pieces (motifs):

  1. Each drawn piece or template is traced onto the paper side of fusible web. Jane’s favorite brand is HeatnBond Lite™ but there are many brands from which to choose. Note that any piece that is not symmetrical will need to be reversed when tracing it to the fusible web since it will be fused to the wrong side of fabric.
  1. Next, cut a ‘donut hole’ in the fusible web to avoid a flat fused motif. To accomplish this, cut out each piece you have traced to the fusible web outside the drawn line, leaving about ¼” margin around the outer edges. Now cut out the inner portion of the fusible web, inside the traced lines, leaving about ⅛” inner margin. Cut a donut hole on all pieces except for the tiniest circles, leaves or stems. 
  1. Following the fusible web manufacturer’s instructions, iron each piece web side down and paper side up to the wrong side of the fabric. 
  1. Cut out the pieces (now fused to fabric) on the traced lines. Do not peel the paper backing off individual pieces until you are ready to fuse them to the background.

Now you’re ready to fuse following the manufacturer’s directions. It helps to pin the pieces to your background fabric  to be sure of your placement before ironing the pieces down. Some quilters leave their appliqué with raw edges and no stitching. If you’d like to stitch the edges, here are more tips from Jane:

  • Set your machine at a narrow short zigzag stitch. On her BERNINA, it is 1.3 stitch width and 1.0 stitch length.
  • The needle position should be at the center.
  • Thread your bobbin thread through the ‘eye’ on your bobbin casing, if yours has this feature. This will aid in achieving perfect tension.
  • Before starting to stitch, bring your bobbin thread to the top and pull the top and bottom threads aside.
  • Start by using a locking stitch if you have one, and then cut off your top and bottom threads before proceeding.
  • As you stitch, the needle should take one stitch into the appliqué motif and one stitch into the background just beyond the motif. Do not let the needle hit the motif edge because this will cause fraying.
  • Stitch slowly and carefully, especially around curves.
  • When you reach a point such as a leaf tip, stop with the needle in the down position at the tip (in the background fabric), take a stitch straight down onto the motif, pivot your work, and then continue.
  • Use a locking stitch when you are finished and clip top and bottom threads.

Beautifully detailed appliqués can be created using this technique. Look at how precise this little hummingbird is.

Detail from Happy ©Jane Zillmer Machine Quilting Unlimited January February 2017
Detail from Happy ©Jane Zillmer

Try adding some fusible appliqué to your next quilt and I bet you’ll be hooked on this fun technique!


It’s Electric!

It’s Electric!

I don’t know about you, but I’ve always had a love/hate relationship with hand cutting appliqué shapes or stencils for quilting. Hand cutting designs with scissors (or an Exacto knife) has its benefits, but sometimes you might want more speed or accuracy, especially when cutting multiples of the same shape. Electronic cutters to the rescue!

Sizzix eclips2 is representative of today’s generation of electronic cutters

Electronic cutters have been around for a number of years in various guises. Many of the original versions required that you buy cartridges of pre-designed motifs that could then be resized and arranged at will. Paper crafters were some of the first artisans to embrace this technology.

Pillow created using a Brother ScanNCut

Now, the sky’s the limit. Vicki Anderson explored the capabilities of quite a few electronic cutters in her article Cut It Out! in our March/April 2015 issue of MQU . Today’s cutters allow quilters to use pre-designed imagery, or create their own artistic vision to cut. What are some of the things that a quilter might want to use an electronic cutter for? Here are just a few ideas:

  • Appliqué motifs – Try cutting shapes from fabric backed with a stabilizer (either paper-backed adhesive or lightweight, iron-on interfacing), or synthetic materials that won’t fray, such as non-woven interfacings.
  • Quilting Stencils – Transparencies can be easily cut with these machines to create any stencil you can imagine.
  • Stencils for painting – Transparency material or freezer paper could be used to create stencils for painting your own designs.
  • Freezer paper motifs to quilt around – Rather than marking with a pen or pencil, try cutting out freezer paper shapes, iron to your fabric, then quilt around the perimeter for an accurate line.
  • Freezer paper appliqué motifs – if you enjoy using freezer paper appliqué techniques this is an ideal way to use these machines.

Every cutter is a little bit different. The key to success, no matter what you want to cut, is testing in order to determine the right knife depth and speed to use for your combination of fabric and stabilizer or paper.

Caladium ©Betty Busby March/April 2017 issue of Machine Quilting Unlimited
Caladium ©Betty Busby. Betty created this gorgeous quilt using an electronic cutting machine to cut the purple veined areas of the leaves from non-woven material backed with fusible web.

Cutter technology is changing all the time, so be sure and do a little research if you’re thinking about taking the plunge with one of these versatile tools.

Appliqué motifs of all shapes and sizes can be easily created with electronic cutting machines.

Walking Foot Quilting

Walking Foot Quilting

A walking foot has long been a staple of many quilters’ toolboxes. The beauty of a walking foot is that it helps to feed the fabric evenly through a domestic sewing machine by working in concert with the feed dogs. This makes them extremely useful for accomplishing long rows of stitches to stabilize your quilt sandwich when you first begin quilting a new project. They also are a wonderful aid for stabilizing the edges of a quilt sandwich, and sewing on binding.

Marianne Haak, who wrote two articles for us about quilt-as-you-go techniques (in our March/April and May/June 2013 issues), recommends using a walking foot for that process as well to keep the layers from shifting as you sew. Her quilt Colour Shot is a beautiful example:

Colour Shot ©Marianne Haak
Colour Shot ©Marianne Haak

Walking foot quilting has recently found a new prominence. It seems that every day I see a new quilt, or books like Walking Foot Quilting Designs by Melissa Marginet or Modern Machine Quilting by Catherine Redford, that features quilting done with the aid of these wonderful accessories. We were lucky to have walking foot expert Jacquie Gering write a two-part series on this type of quilting in our September/October 2015 and November/December 2015 issues of MQU. One of her best tips is to use the markings found on your walking foot to help guide you as you stitch.  As Jacquie says “The markings on the top of the foot allow the quilter to make turns when quilting ¼” or ½” intervals without marking. For example, to turn with a ½” interval, stop when the ½” mark hits the approaching quilting line, drop the needle, turn and the edge of the foot will be ½” from the line you just stitched, so you can continue quilting at a ½” interval. The mark on the outside of the foot will allow the quilter to easily align the foot when echoing curved lines. ”

A BERNINA walking foot is shown below. Your foot may have different markings, but don’t hesitate to add additional markings to your own foot for reference as necessary.

BERNINA Walking Foot
BERNINA Walking Foot

A walking foot is most frequently used to accomplish accurate straight stitching, as in the matchstick quilting shown below.

Deconstructed Nine Patch ©Jacquie Gering from November/December 2015 Machine Quilting Unlimited
Deconstructed Nine Patch ©Jacquie Gering from November/December 2015 Machine Quilting Unlimited

But with practice, it can be used to create a variety of other designs including easy curves and even spirals. I’ve even seen quilters create grid work and orange peel designs this way.

Tipsy City ©Jacquie Gering MQU November/December 2015
Tipsy City ©Jacquie Gering MQU November/December 2015

The gentle curves in Tipsy City help create movement.

Swirling Medallion ©Jacquie Gering
Swirling Medallion ©Jacquie Gering Look at the flow created by these quilting lines!

I love that quilters who might be hesitant to try their hand at free motion quilting can achieve beautiful, professional results with a walking foot. Go ahead, give it a try!




Piece Out

Piece Out

Stressed out? I sure am! Last week was a real doozy so I grabbed some fat quarters, sliced them up, then started piecing. It’s one of the things that relaxes me the most and yet I haven’t done it in a long while.

With no real plan in mind, I just tried to pair a slightly less busy fabric together with a busy one. I love using a quarter inch foot, it really keeps me on track for these long seams.

I ended up with a lot more strips than I anticipated. The first design that occurred to me was a simple coin quilt, like this.

Machine Quilting Unlimited blog

Then the wheels started turning, and I began to think of more ways to use the strips. Here are a few digital “sketches” to show some of the ideas I’m considering. All of them include plenty of wide open space so I can practice a new-to-me skill, ruler work on a domestic machine!

I don’t know why, but I’m very attracted to “X” quilts.

Machine Quilting Unlimited blog

I think I like this version, with smaller X’s, even better. I’m not sure about the grey, but the shades of turquoise are definite keepers.

Machine Quilting Unlimited blog

Here’s a design that uses the strips in a more dense fashion that emulates a woven look.

Machine Quilting Unlimited blog

With a wealth of ideas, and a wealth of strips, it’s possible that I’ll end up with more than one quilt. Since I love all of the fabrics I used I wouldn’t mind that at all. What’s your favorite design to use when you’ve pieced lots of strips?

Detail Oriented

Detail Oriented

Our March/April 2017 cover artist, Bethanne Nemesh, is well know for her attention to detail and expert workmanship. Combine that with her beautiful design sense and you end up with a winning combination! In fact, her cover quilt, Into the Westward Sun, has only been exhibited in the last few months and  has already won major awards at Machine Quilters Exposition Midwest, 2016, Road to California Quilt Show, 2017, and the 2017 Mid-Atlantic Quilt Festival. Congratulations Bethanne!

Here are a few detail shots from her stunning quilts.

First, a graceful butterfly from Gilding the Arbor. Note the delicate insert by the binding.

Detail from <em>Gilding the Arbor</em> ©2012 Bethanne Nemesh as shown in March/April 2017 MQU
Detail from Gilding the Arbor ©2012 Bethanne Nemesh as shown in March/April 2017 MQU

How about a closer look at Into the Westward Sun? Bethanne’s “pictographic” quilting is simply amazing. Again, not only is her quilting highly detailed, but she included highly effective (and time consuming) details like beaded piping and prairie points.

Detail Into the Westward Sun, ©2016 Bethanne Nemesh
Detail Into the Westward Sun, ©2016 Bethanne Nemesh
Detail Into the Westward Sun, ©2016 Bethanne Nemesh
Detail Into the Westward Sun, ©2016 Bethanne Nemesh
Detail Into the Westward Sun, ©2016 Bethanne Nemesh
Detail Into the Westward Sun, ©2016 Bethanne Nemesh

Intrigued? Learn more about Bethanne’s quilting journey and design process, and much more, in our March/April 2017 issue of MQU.


Stitching Ground Foliage

Stitching Ground Foliage

Kit Robinson continues her popular series on landscape quilts in our March/April 2017 issue. It features a variety of lovely quilts including REGENERATION – Halls Gap (Australia) by Linden Lancaster, shown below.

Halls Gap (Australia) ©Linden Lancaster from MQU March/April 2017
REGENERATION – Halls Gap (Australia) ©Linden Lancaster from MQU March/April 2017

Kit found herself in the enviable position of having more quilts to share than would fit in the article, so she wrote a WebExtra! which can be found here. Every issue of MQU includes links to several WebExtras! that provide extra information relating articles within that issue.  The Stitching Ground Foliage WebExtra! includes quilts like these two beauties, Mid Summer’s Day Dream by Melody Randol, and Spring Runoff by Leslie Rego.

Mid Summer's Day Dream ©Melody Randol
Mid Summer’s Day Dream ©Melody Randol
Spring Runoff ©Leslie Rego
Spring Runoff ©Leslie Rego

We hope you enjoy our our latest issue of MQU as well as our WebExtras! articles!

Last But Not Least – Labels!

Last But Not Least – Labels!

We recently received an email from one of our readers, Vivian Burrus, with a great suggestion. Vivian said

“I was recently going through my back issues of MQU and “rediscovered” Maria Elkins great article “Last But Not Least — Label Your Quilt” in the Nov/Dec 2013 issue. With the Quilt Alliance’s Labeling Pledge (http://quiltalliance.org/labelingpledge/) still in fill swing, would you consider offering the article as a Web Extra on the site or doing a blog post referencing it?

I participated in the pledge at the start of the year by labeling my quilts that didn’t have labels. I’ve updated one of my posts with a reference to the article since she provided such great tips both on making labels and the information to include.

MQU is a resource for more than just quilting your quilts — but you already know that!”

What a wonderful idea, Vivian, we’re happy to share it. Thanks so much for the suggestion! Without further ado, here’s the link to a pdf of the article. Enjoy!

MQU 13-11 Nov p14-18 Labels Maria Elkin

Label ©Maria Elkins from Last But Not Least -- Label Your Quilt MQU November/December 2013
Label ©Maria Elkins from Last But Not Least — Label Your Quilt MQU November/December 2013