Jelly Rolls, Layer Cakes, Fat Quarters, or Plain Old Yardage…How Do I Choose?!

Good afternoon, friendly quilters!   Happy new year and welcome to 2017!

How many of us are feeling a little shut-in from winter and unsure where to jump after finishing Christmas presents for all our loved ones?  With a freshly clean sewing room, ready to take on another year of projects?

Don’t worry, my sewing room isn’t clean either.  😉

But now that the Christmas toll on my checkbook has dissipated (sort of), I can’t help daydreaming about the new quilt fabric that I’m certain is going to enter my life this year.  My “Promotions” inbox is full of offers from quilt shops and websites that I have patronized over the past few years, eager to show me the newest, prettiest lines of quilting cotton to feast my eyes and my creativity on.  I would probably hate them for it if I didn’t love it so much.

With that in mind, I have been trying to decide which fabrics I will just daydream about, and which ones will actually come home with me to sit in my sewing room for the next 5 to 10 years, looking beautiful. (The average shelf life of a fabric bundle in a quilting stash before the quilter gathers up the strength of will to cut into it.)

When it comes to shopping for quilt fabric, there are so many options! You can buy yardage, individual fat quarters, or those delectable bundles of fabrics in a stack from the same line that go great together… But how do I know if I want strips, or squares, or fat quarters?

As you can see, I, too, struggle to resist snapping up adorable precut bundles of fabric.

…..Boy, doesn’t that look like the big, beautiful skyline of a city called “My Work Here Will Never Be Done.”

So, how do I decide which ones to buy, and how do I know what I’m going to do with them?

I often buy bundles simply because I love them, and they’re a good price.  I rarely have a pattern in mind, and then develop an idea based on what I have. For example, this quilt, which I designed and made for my Mom for Christmas 2016.  (Fabric line is Barbara Brackman’s “Morris Apprentice,” made from 4 charm packs, a jelly roll and a little bit of yardage.)  I’m currently writing a pattern for it, (stay tuned!) so if you’d be interested in testing it, please click here for details.  Be sure to scroll all the way down and fill out the email signup form.  This pattern is versatile and you can use your choice of several different kinds of precuts to make the quilt.

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So, if you love a current fabric line and all forms of precuts are available, which are best to buy?

Assuming you have a particular pattern in mind, and that the precuts in question will work in said pattern, the smallest available cut will save you the most work. For example, if you buy a jelly roll, 2.5″strips are already cut for you. If you buy charm packs, you won’t need to subcut 5″ squares from something larger. Anytime you buy yardage, you will be doing more cutting up front, and possibly a LOT more decision-making.  That’s because in precut packages, you usually get 1-3 small pieces of every fabric in a given line. When you buy yardage, only part of that line might be available at your local quilt shop, *or* you may not want to spend the time having small lengths cut from every bolt.  Also, deciding how much of each specific fabric to buy could be difficult and tedious.

Occasionally, I have heard of people buying precut packages and fat quarters that are not cut accurately. For the most part, you can rely on these cuts to be accurate (and perhaps returnable if they’re not)…but not always.

Sometimes fabric price is more of a factor than the amount of cutting you have to do.  In that case, it helps to know the price per yard in a package of precuts.  This information is rarely given in the pricing.

I’d like to introduce you to a magic number that I use frequently:  1,440.  This is, conservatively, the number of square inches per yard of quilting cotton.  It is calculated this way:

40” usable width x 36” in a yard = 1,440

This number is embedded into my psyche and I seem to use it on every trip to my local quilt shop.  The reason is, it helps me equalize the playing field for price comparison between different types of cut fabric products.  If I can convert the contents of any precut package to a number of yards, then I can assess the pricing based on a measure that I am familiar with.


A jelly roll of 4o strips contains 4,000 square inches, or 2.78 yards.

40 strips * 2.5” strip width x 40” usable length of strip = 4,000

4,000 / 1,440 square inches per yard = 2.78 yds


A layer cake of 40 squares contains 4,000 square inches, or 2.78 yards.

40 squares * 10” x 10” dimensions of square = 4,000

4,000 / 1,440 square inches per yard = 2.78 yds

(NOTE: Isn’t it cool that jelly rolls and layer cakes contain the exact same amount of fabric? IKR!?!)

IMG_5534 crop

A charm pack of 40 squares contains 1,000 square inches, or .69 yards of fabric.

40 squares * 5” x 5″ dimensions of square = 1,000

1,000 / 1,440 square inches per yard = 0.69 yds

IMG_5546 (2)

There is really no standard for sizes of fat quarter packs.  They sometimes (but often do not) include a single cut of each fabric in a given line, which could range from 12 to 40, and maybe beyond.  The easiest way to calculate yardage in a fat quarter bundle is to divide the number of fat quarters by 4.

As fabric prices will continue to change (probably rise), here is another rule of thumb.  A charm pack of 40 squares that costs $6.90 (if you can find one) is sold at a price of $10 per yard.  This means that a layer cake or jelly roll sold at $27.60 is also sold at a price of $10 per yard.

Let’s say you’re looking at a layer cake with 42 10″ squares for $39.99.  How much are you paying per yard at this price?

Calculate the total yardage of the pack, as above.

42 squares x 10″ length of square x 10″ width of square / 1,440 square inches in a yard = 2.92 yds

 Then divide the price by the yardage.

$39.99/2.92 = $13.69/yard

Sometimes precuts cost more than yardage in a given fabric line.  This is because the manufacturer has done a lot of the cutting work for you, and you get little pieces of every fabric in the entire line in one easy purchase.

To help understand the costs of a precut pack while you’re at the fabric store, I’ve built a table to help.  Feel free to print this out and carry it in your wallet.

Precut Chart 3 - B

At the end of the day, you don’t need a REASON to buy a precut pack.  If you see it, and love it, and have the money (that’s the accountant in me talking), then take it home with you!   Sources of inspiration abound on the internet, in books and among other quilters.  You’ll find the right use when the time is right.  In the meantime, a few dollars for 40 pieces of beautiful fabric is a pretty cost effective way to dream.  🙂


Dana Jo


The West vs. the East

Tonight my friend started a blog. I went to comment on it and saw that my last post has now been officially OVER A YEAR AGO.

How embarrassing.

Not that it hasn’t been an eventful, busy year. I mean….we did move FIVE STATES AWAY from our previous residence.  (Yes, I got a map out and counted.) This isn’t really a meaningful measure to me, because I moved from the west….to the east. (We love it here, by the way.)

But since it’s on my mind, I’m here to tell you about a few differences between the west and the east, at least in my experience.

1. States in the east are roughly the size of what the west calls “counties.” When you compare my home state to Ohio, you could fit at least 3 of the states over here into one Montana. For this reason, saying you drove across three states in one day to people over there sounds pretty darned impressive. They know how big a “state” is! 🙂

2. Everyone seems to think Ohio and Indiana are “The Midwest.” PSH. Maybe in 1800.

3. The east has no Taco Johns. It has WhiteCastle. This is not a straight-across trade.

4. I planted my garden mid-May in Ohio. On June 20, I harvested a full-grown cucumber. This wouldn’t happen in Montana in a million years. (Also, we’ve grown some prize-winning dandelions this year. To be fair, that could happen anywhere.)

harvest 1

(Look closely for the quarter.)


5.  I realize now that when you hear somebody say, “but it’s a DRY heat…..” it actually means something.  I miss my dry heat….however, in these wet-heat places, central air in a home is pretty much a given.  I do enjoy my around-the-clock AC.

6.  I am in easy driving distance of THREE (or more) JoAnn Fabrics locations.  Knowing there are also 5 Home Depots I could spit to from my backyard makes me feel drunk with power.  The downside is that no two locations are the same.  And that lamp you saw on clearance that you kind of liked….forget about randomly remembering which location had it.  It’s gone forever.

7.  Stuff you never thought you’d see because you didn’t have the vacation time or the money to travel across the country from Montana, suddenly seems possible.  Disney World?  We can do that.  New York City?  Why not…at least once!  Paducah for AQS Quilt Week….sign me up!  A weekend in Nashville?  YESSSSSSSS!  And as it turns out, people over here still fly to Vegas on the cheap.  (But with this much going on….why would ya?)  Not long ago, we made a relatively short drive and saw a Great Lake!   These are all things that don’t seem that novel to the locals, it’s just a function of being in altogether new surroundings.  With the vast, forested mountain ranges and abundance of wildlife on display, Montana has PLENTY of “novel” of its own (complete with high odds of death by stupidity).



Yep….that’s a whole bunch of water.


I will say that “the east” and “the west” are simplified descriptions when I’m really just comparing central Montana to southwestern Ohio.  To Jordan, this area reminds him a lot of his (even further west) home of Portland, Oregon.

All in all, we are really enjoying our time in this part of the country.  The people we’ve met have been very welcoming to us, and I’m thankful to be surrounded by such kindness.  The workforce picked me back up surprisingly quickly, and I already feel like part of the Dayton quilting community.  We’ve spent time with all of our neighbors and feel blessed to have found such a great place to live, albeit far from both of our families.

While I haven’t posted much lately, I promise I’ve been thinking of posts.  And starting posts.  (Hey, that sounds like my approach to quilting!)  Speaking of which, you can expect more quilting-related pontification soon.  For now, I’m just happy to say hello again!  🙂  I’ve missed y’all.


Disappearing Hourglass


Anything Worth Doing….is Worth Overdoing


“Anything worth doing is worth overdoing.” My family considers this our motto. In fact, I kind of thought it might be ours until I saw Steven Tyler say it one night on a late night talk show. It’s not impossible that it made it from our mouths to his giant Los Angeles ears, but whether it did or didn’t, (doubtful), dude-looks-like-a-lady has a point.

I’ve been pretty fixated on quilting for the last year and a half.  There has been nothing else I wanted to do with my spare time, and getting me to so much as run to the grocery store has almost required legislation at times.  (It’s possible that this is how my husband and I have come to periodically elect each other “President of Dinner.”)  Occasionally, something forces you to break out of your current fixation, with sometimes diabolical results.

Back in December, our local sewing club did this thing, where everybody makes a pincushion and wraps it up and brings it to the Christmas meeting, then we draw numbers and….ok, it’s a Chinese Pincushion Exchange.  It’s an annual tradition that I was partaking in for the first time.  Having always wanted a dress form pincushion for myself, I knew that was what I wanted to try to make.

A few dozen trips to Google, several weeks of procrastination, and one far-too-large bag of walnut shells later, it was complete.  Five minutes before I had to leave for the party.

Unfortunately, this process had created a monster.  I liked that one, but different fabrics would have been prettier.  I could have thought of a better topper.  The pattern wasn’t made to be filled with walnut shells–so the body was kind of slumpy.

I posted a picture of it on Facebook.  My Aunt said, “Oh, that’s lovely!” I said, “Hey, I’ll make you one!” and pretty soon, I was making a few tweaks here and there, and churning out fourteen of them for my aunts.  (Yes, I have fourteen aunts!)  Four more for my mom, sisters, and sister-in-law. Suddenly, I had a living room floor full of pincushion parts and I was no longer using my kitchen for cooking.   The possibilities became endless.  I’m not honestly sure whether my fabric stash endured net growth or shrink…but it definitely went through both.  And, I’m afraid to say, I’m now working with much more than fabric–notions I never dreamed of stockpiling, in the forms of lace, and trims, and buttons, and jewelry parts…I truly wouldn’t recommend it.  For the love of all that is good and sane in your life, stick to quilting, because friends, adding other raw materials will take over your life.

What all of this has come to mean is, I now have a business, making dress form pincushions.

DF Pincushions

I’m gradually getting them up on Etsy, along with a few other fun items, but I have many more than this. They start at $25 plus ship, and go up depending on the details.  I’m also thrilled to do custom work!

DJ’s House of Denim on Etsy
DJ’s House of Denim on Facebook
Inventory Gallery on Facebook

The fun thing about these is they make great gifts, and every one is the only one of its kind.  I will explain the shop name, “DJ’s House of Denim,” another day.  We’ll just say this has been close to twenty years in the works.  Where I want to go with it will probably take another twenty!

In the meantime, if you see anything here you like, please visit the links, and by all means, send a message if there’s something specific you’d like to see.  I would love nothing more than to help one of my signature pincushions into your hands, or the hands of your many beloved sewists.

The last few months have been spent on a major push to build inventory.  I’m doing a lot of custom work now, but it’s also a pleasure to say I’m back to quilting. I’m looking forward to sharing some new work with you as soon as it’s completed.

Stay cool out there, if you can!

Ode To My Girlfriends

It is truly a blessing to be able to share your life, your dreams, thoughts and feelings with a man, to be understood and loved, comforted, and cherished.

Sometimes what a woman really needs, though, is to be understood by another woman.  Only other women know what it’s like to shop for a swimsuit after an overindulgent winter, to crave chocolate like it’s going out of style, or to be cat-called in the parking lot of an Albertson’s.

The years bring us lots of other women.  Some we know for a short time, some we have forever after meeting them once.  Some are acquaintances, some are family, and others might as well be.

Sawyer Brown - Rick Springfield aug 2010 338
These are important women.  They are the women we laugh with, we cry with, and the women we drink wine with.   These are the women we share our sometimes hard-to-come-by spare time with.  They are the women who, after years pass, we still can’t wait to catch up with, even when we’ve been remiss about staying in touch.  With mine, I have shared many an after-work martini, many a rock concert, and many a long dinner after a failed afternoon of shopping for a new outfit.  We can relate to each other about work, relationships, our creative interests, and our families. They’re the ladies who hold your hand when you lose a loved one.  They’re the ones who tell you to follow your dreams, and help you find your way out of a bad situation.  These are the bad-asses who hunt down your ex-boyfriend with a vengeance because they have a thing or two to tell him.

I’ve found over time that the ladies I choose to spend time with consistently possess many of the same qualities.  While we may come from different places, have different occupations, different personalities and marital statuses, there are many things that draw us together, and qualities we share.

These are some of my favorite things about my best girl friends.


They know when to tell me things could be worse, and when to break into a big loud chorus of “This is bullshit!!” with me.

They know when I’m being serious and when I’m using deadpan.

They don’t flirt with my man.  They’ve never tried to get the attention of anyone I expressed interest in.

They know where I am the most sensitive, and they don’t dig at me there.  Other stuff is fair game.

They love and care for their husbands and families.  We can commiserate together, and then go home and be the wives, mothers, daughters, and sisters we have chosen over and over to be.

1909875_58667887931_8668_nThey love to laugh.  And every one of them is hilarious in her own right.

They are hard workers, and they are all passionate about something.

They are opinionated as hell.

They don’t complain about their lot in life, at least not with any regularity.

They love to learn, though not always in the most “traditional” ways.

They are interesting.

They are honest.

They are grounded in reality.


They have strong minds and tender hearts.

They are smart and articulate.

They do things with intention and meaning.

They own their actions.

They recognize their own role in their current circumstances.

They’re not afraid to call it like they see it during those times when bluntness is necessary.

They support my relationships with my husband, my family and other friends, and won’t jeopardize them or anything else that is important to me.

I’ve fallen out of touch with many girl friends over the years, sometimes because of rifts or fallouts, and sometimes due mainly to circumstances and separate interests.  For the latter, in spite of any physical or perceived emotional distance, I still have a true affection, though they may not be aware of it.  The ones who remain on my radar and my speed dial are a beautiful mix of these qualities, and so much more.


So, to my girl friends, you know who you are.  Thank you for everything you are, have been, and will be, and thank you for bringing it all into my life.  Thank you for keeping me there, in spite of the miles, or the years, or whatever may separate us, now or later.  You are appreciated.  You are valued.  You are loved.

(Rest assured, your quilt is coming.)

For God’s Sake, Don’t Turn That Quilt Into A Dog Bed!

Sometimes, I have to remind myself that not everyone is a “maker” of “things.”  Some people are “lovers of life,” and “all living things,” and crap like that.


But me….I’m one to quietly observe what goes on around me, thrive on meaningful conversations (or none at all, thank you) and then take my gathered experiences, obsess over them by myself in a dark room, and eventually make something tangible out of it.  Like a quilt.  (Or a revenge song.)

I realize this isn’t every quilter’s process.  Not every quilter is as introverted as I am, and not every project is cathartic or meaningful, or….pretty.


Puppies on quiltPeople who make things love to feel pride in their work.  And art, well, it’s very subjective.  Even you aren’t going to love everything you make.  That doesn’t mean it didn’t come from the heart, teach you something of value, or take a lot of damn work.

People who don’t make things, I’m beginning to conclude, don’t really know about the experience-processing, dark room brooding, and accidental needle finger-stabbing (or the equivalent) that goes into every creative work.  And as a result, they sometimes take art for granted…because they think it only deserves respect if they like it.

Which leads me to a surprisingly common occurrence when you get a group of quilters together talking.  Inevitably, someone will tell a story about a gift they made that ultimately met some sort of unthinkable use within a very short period of time.  I’m not talking about an emergency tourniquet after a freak logging accident, here–I’m talking about a dog bed.

I expect with this statement, I have now divided the room.  Quilters, this probably happens a lot more than we’d like to think.  Pet owners, I’m sorry….but we don’t all understand.

I read a group post the other day where this exact thing had happened–and the quilter actually witnessed it, with her own two eyes.  Now, I will tell you–it’s a hard thing to feel as though your work isn’t appreciated, but to see (what you believe to be) clear evidence that what you’ve made has become not just unloved–but trivial–to the receiver….well, it’s heartbreaking.  And this quilter was heartbroken, to the point of wondering whether she should stop making quilted gifts altogether.  Dozens of other quilters confirmed that in the same situation, they would be heartbroken as well.

I’ll be the first to admit, I am by no means a pet person.  I have no general disdain for animals, but having been raised on a farm, and having a lifelong mindset of an accountant, I tend to look at them as delicious sources of income.  (Or protein.)  Otherwise, they are virtually useless to me.  (Sorry.)  I had pets growing up, and I loved them, and I was sad when they died.  But I never formed what I would consider a special bond with them.  I hated when they’d get into the house and jump on me in my sleep, I was never fond of muddy paws on my school clothes, and I dreaded cleaning up their misplaced bodily fluids…especially from my 4-H sewing projects I hadn’t yet taken to the fair.  Though I remember fondly every pet I had as a kid, I have never once wished for another as an adult.

In contrast, my best friend loves animals more than anyone else I’ve ever known.  I’ve known her to have as many as seven pets at one time.  She sacrifices everything for these animals, and she is happy to do it.  They are family to her–commonly referred to as her “fur kids.”   I have given her two quilts so far, and I have no doubt in my mind that they are loved and enjoyed by her, two dogs, and three cats.  And I feel like if I can’t be alright with that, I should be giving them to someone else.  (With this in mind, I also made the first one out of denim–not a bad strategy.)

So, to some extent, I can’t help but think hurt feelings we quilters experience over things like this are caused more by a lack of understanding than a lack of respect.  And that is a two-way street.  To be sure, occasionally the son of a quilter will marry a woman who doesn’t even know her CLOTHES are made of fabric, much less understand a thing about fiber arts and homespun gifts of love….in which case, I’d buy the couple a nice, top-of-the-line….toaster.   But you have to assume the recipient of any gift will find the highest and best use for it, within the context of his or her own life–NOT the maker’s.  For my friend to share the gifts I’ve given her with her pets is something I feel honored by–because I know that her living black and white menagerie get as royal a treatment as she can possibly give them.  I wouldn’t be able to see it this way if I wasn’t close to someone like her, but I also don’t think she would use either quilt to line a kennel.  (Thank you, Erin. :-))

Seeing animals as I do, I could easily be appalled to see any handmade quilt well-worn into a pet nest in a living room corner, or the back of a car.  My logical side believes it is unlikely for a dog or cat, with limited perception of color and fiber, and a possible inability or refusal to control bladder function, would have the ability to discern the real difference between my 50-hour creation and an 8-dollar Wal-Mart blanket made in China.  I’m all for making puppies comfortable.  But maybe not with a family heirloom hand-quilted by Great Aunt Liza during her final days on this earth.

I get that stuff is stuff and for some, dogs are people, but some stuff represents as much to me as your dog does to you.  (Time, attention, unconditional love….you get the picture, even if you find this statement horrifying.  I find the litter box smell kind of horrifying, so we’re even.)  For you to use something I’ve spent hours to make for a purpose that could easily be served by some other more…replaceable…item, could indeed lead me to assume you don’t care for my gift and are perhaps undeserving.  I know that with many pet lovers, this isn’t the case at all.  They’re among the most loving and selfless individuals on the planet, and the efforts they direct to pet care, rescue and even legislation are nothing short of heroic.

So, here is the solution I offer.  Pet owners, please don’t repurpose your quilted gifts this way.  Certainly, once you receive a gift, it belongs to you and it is your choice how you wish to use it.  However, you may know not the hours that were spent creating this for you–the human–and how it may make the quilter feel to see it tossed into a pile in the corner, covered in dog hair.  Quilters, if your friend is a pet lover, maybe making a dog (or cat) bed is a great idea. They take less fabric and time, and may be even more appreciated.  You can personalize it just for little Kiki, and show your friend you appreciate her fur family as well. An added bonus–no need to pay a longarmer, pin baste, or stipple.  You can sit on the couch and stuff it full of poly-fil and rainbows, drinking a glass of wine and watching a Gilmore Girls marathon on Netflix. And isn’t that the best part of quilting anyway? 😉

Um, Yeah….

I’m Worth More Than Two Bucks an Hour

There is a delicate balance for quilters, between doing what we love because we love it, and doing what we love because we are obligated.

It all starts out innocently enough.  We see a pretty pattern or a soft, beautiful piece of fabric, and we start to dream about what we could make with it.  We shop, buy, measure, cut, arrange, stitch, rip, rearrange, restitch, press, rip, stitch, press, turn, pin-baste, heft, quilt, pick, requilt, bind, press, label, photograph, and ultimately fold up in satisfaction.  Perhaps at this point, we show the quilt in a fair, or maybe we give it to a lucky, beloved friend.  And then we start another one.  Even if we’re fast, the process is slow.  We savor it, we curse it, we finish it, we love it.


It doesn’t take too many rotations of this, even if you don’t feel like a stellar quilter, before people start to take notice.  Sometimes we are constantly posting our progress on social media.  Sometimes a friend who has received a gift shows it to everyone he knows.  (We LOVE this, by the way.  There is nothing like the feeling that a gift we’ve made you is cherished.)  The eventuality for most quilters is almost identical….someone inevitably wants to know if you would make one for them.

This ranges in different levels of commitment.  Some people want to pay you to make one, and wonder what you charge.  Some ask, “If I buy the fabric, will you do the sewing?”  (“For free” being the implication.)  And some people, though this thankfully has never happened to me, just outright ask you if you’ll make them a gift.  Because they see you making gifts for so many other people, of course.  “You were eventually planning to make me one anyway, right?”

Well, these are all tough questions, that as quilters, we aren’t always sure how to answer.  Yes, it looks like we’re getting a lot done quickly.  Yes, it seems like we’re making gifts for everyone we know except you.  Yes, we have hundreds of yards of fabric on hand, waiting to be made into something beautiful.  But so often….no, we don’t want to make your quilt.

The best way I know how to communicate this, being both introverted *and* an accountant, is through my first language….the spreadsheet.

I sat down one day and crunched the numbers.  I’m talking….A LOT of numbers.  I calculated yardage for quilts of several standard sizes, made of different-sized squares, including backing, estimated hours per square foot and dollars’ worth of fabric, and I came to the conclusion….that quilts aren’t just expensive, they are DAMN expensive.


And when you think about what goes into them, you can hardly be surprised.  Really.  Aside from fabric, there is also thread, batting, tools, equipment, utilities, pattern and design….but the most expensive element of the project is, by far, your time.  The part people are asking you to give them for free.  As flattering as it is that people think you are superhuman and can just whip up a quilt (of any size) in one afternoon, that scenario is far from the truth.

Yet, people price their work sometimes like quilting takes them no time at all.  Someone on a quilt board mentioned the other day that her custom quilt pricing was $150 for a twin size, $250/full, $350/queen, and $450/king.  She said at these prices, she stays pretty busy and always has a project to work on.  At first, it sounds kind of astounding–all of those figures are, in some context–a LOT of money.  Someone who offers to pay these numbers isn’t necessarily being cheap if they really don’t know what goes into it.  So I don’t say these things to insult anyone–in fact, I would bet this is a fairly common pricing structure among quilters who always kind of like to have a paid project going.  You probably can go to Bed, Bath & Beyond and get a fairly nice bed-in-a-bag at around or under this pricing.  But what we forget is that chain store prices include a profit–and the labor costs are very, very low.  What we forget is that we no longer live in an era where it’s cheaper to make a textile item than to buy it at the store.  At these prices, her quilts are literally a steal.  When people jumped on the thread (myself included) insisting that her time is worth more, she responded, “Yes, but I could never sell one for that.”

And I don’t, for a moment, doubt that to be true.  The perception of value for time put into creating something by hand just doesn’t exist in the everyday.  We have to remember that enjoying it doesn’t make it worthless–it may be a labor of love sometimes, but it’s still labor!  I don’t fault anyone for charging what they can actually “get” for their work, but I do fault a market that fails that seriously to recognize value.

To that end, today, I do have a freebie–and it’s for quilters and quilt lovers, alike.  If you’ve ever wondered what you might charge to make a quilt for hire, or what it would be reasonable to offer to have one made, this Excel spreadsheet is the tool for you.

The first time anyone really thinks about a quilt in terms of costs of inputs, it can be pretty jarring.  So, you may want to brace yourself.

The spreadsheet has spaces on the cover sheet where you can enter your minimum and maximum fabric costs per yard, your hourly rate, your desired profit margin, and your hours per square foot of a given type of quilt.  From there, it will tell you what you would ultimately charge a customer for a given quilt, to cover your costs and a reasonable wage for yourself.  It’s meant to be used as an estimate, but you certainly have permission to tweak it for any specifics you’d like. This sheet only includes basic squares. The more complicated the design, the more fancy techniques desired (machine embroidery, for example), the more costs you’re likely looking at.

If you’re good with spreadsheets, you can even do a goal seek on one of the “Total Costs” cells to see how low labor costs would have to be in order for you to meet a certain price point.

I invite you to download this sheet, fill in the green cells on page 1 with your own numbers, and see how the chips fall.  And I highly encourage you to see how far you have to drop your hourly rate to quilt in the price ranges listed above.

And with that, I will also attach my personal price list.  My rote answer, when I’m asked what I would charge to do a quilt for hire, is that I simply don’t make quilts for hire.  That is a topic I may expand upon at a later time, but in the meantime….if I *were* to make custom quilts, this would be my current price sheet.  I charge $20 per hour, because my skills (and willingness to spend the time making someone else’s project) place me well above minimum wage.  If you as a customer are in these price ranges, and I have the time, I might actually consider it.  However–I realize that most people don’t have this kind of budget, my work is beautiful but far from perfect, and no one is going to be beating down my door as a result.  I’m okay with that.  On the other hand….if you’re interested in learning to quilt….let’s talk.  😉

191 Sewing and Quilting Hacks (Or So)

Several weeks ago, I saw a thread on a Facebook group called Just Us Quilters, where a member had asked for “a few quilting hacks” (tips or tricks) that she could take to a club meeting in her hometown to share with other quilters.

The response was overwhelming.  The thread was full of great ideas, and several people commented that they wished an all-inclusive list could be posted on the internet somewhere they could find it repeatedly.  So, the whole list is here.  In future installations, I will probably repost much of this content, broken up by topic, to make it a little easier to take in.  In the meantime, this will serve as the original, master list.  I will watch for other “hacks” over the next few months and beef up each section a bit.

It took a little longer than expected to edit and format the answers, but the list is attached!  I may have missed a few, but  I tried to get the bulk of them.  I hope this will be helpful.  If you have others, please feel free to leave them in the comments section.

-Dana Jo


Applique Hacks:

Buy coloring books and use stencils for walls as ideas for applique projects. – Mary Watters

Dryer sheets can be reused for applique backing. After they come out of the dryer, press them lightly. Then place them over any shape or design you want to create an applique shape for.  Then place the dryer sheet with the traced design onto the right side of a piece of fabric and sew around the entire shape with a very short stitch.   Cut out the shape leaving a little 1/8″ inch allowance. Then with a s small slit in the used dryer sheet you can turn the shape inside out.  The dryer sheet adds virtually no bulk. It ensures a nice smooth edge for you to either machine or hand applique. It is really good for unusual shapes or ones with complex edges such as a ruffled flower. – Melissa Dawson

Use straws for turning appliqued pieces. – Jeannette Cyr

Using baking paper as a pressing cloth when doing applique stops the ironing board and iron from getting mucky. – Nicole Anderson


Quilt Basting Hacks:

A “shooter” marble can be used under the layers of a quilt when hand basting. It holds the quilt up just enough to baste comfortably. – Kathleen Frosch

Cover and use washers for weights to hold quilt taut while pin basting. – Teresa Golden

For those expensive Pinmoors, round insulation can be purchased from the hardward store and cut it into 1/2″ chunks. Get about 300 of them for less than 5 bucks! – Laurie Keep

Use a grapefruit spoon to help close quilting pins when basting a quilt sandwich… –  Cindy Barrell Brown

Use carpenter’s clamps to secure the three layers to the table to help stretch taut and then pin before quilting. – Barbara Colbourne


Binding Hacks:

A spring loaded curtain rod between the sides of book cases can be used to store rolled up bindings. – Pauline Torres

Girls hair clips the snappy ones go on the edges of quilts to hold binding down as u sew it!! – Margaret Miller

Old aluminum foil cardboard tubes work well to hold binding fabric – Eileen Moriarty

Place prepared binding in a gallon storage bag with the name of the quilt on it and leave it open a little so it gets air,then hang on a rod in your closet with the clip from a pants hanger until you’re ready to use it. – Helen Guffey

Use binder clips from an office supply store to hold quilt bindings as they’re sewn on – Ann Fleck

Use the hair clips that snap closed for holding binding in place instead of pins. (They’re cheapest at the dollar store.)  – Clara Arvizu, Cindy Barrell Brown, Teresa Golden

When finishing binding corners, you can use a pair of hemo-stats to pinch the corner just so and hold it in place while stitching. – Jeanne Handley


Cleaning Hacks:

A flat metal cake spatula can be run between seams to open them just before pressing.  – Karen McGallian  A long flexible metal drain is great for turning things right side out.    – Karen McGallian

A magnetic wand can be used to sweep the floors for pins. – Lisa Lynn Vanzant , Sandra Fulton,  Lynne Bumstead Tolway

A washable lint roller works well to pick up threads from your ironing board and cutting mat. – Liz Gegenheimer LeSaicherre

Antique crystal ice buckets are nice for throwing waste scraps, threads, etc in… – Freda Littleton

Attach leftover batting to the Swiffer broom (or other dust mop) and use to collect loose threads from the floor. – Betty Blair Hunter

Dispose of used needles in an empty Sew Easy glue tube. – Julie Quilter

Take a coffee stirring stick, and insert a little piece of chenille. It is great for cleaning lint out of your sewing machine. – Laura Cooper

Use a professional fingernail cleaner to pick out small bits of paper in the tighter spots of paper pieced projects.  The flat angled edge works great.  – Lynne Bumstead Tolway

Irish Spring soap can help to reduce smell of older sewing machine in case. – Teresa Golden

Make up brushes and pipe cleaners work well to clean out the hard-to-reach bobbin area in your sewing machine. – Barbara Schultz

Tape a brown paper bag to the table to catch threads while you’re sewing. – Sherida Risner

To remove fusible residue from your iron, pour a layer of salt in a big 9 x 13 pan and iron the salt. The gunk will come off and it will not hurt your iron! – Jane Maddin

Use a (new, clean) toilet brush on your floor around the cutting table and machine, and label it for this use. It will pick up all the loose threads.  – Teresa Wavra,  Karen McGallian

Use a sink scrubby to clean your cutting mats.  -Pauline Torres

Use empty square kleenex boxes for trash next to your sewing machine. – Connie Olive

Use left over cotton batting for removing nail polish instead of cotton balls. Works great. – Brenda Gardner

You can clean your iron with wax paper crumbled up in a ball and Goo be gone if you get adhesive on it.  – Della Camire


Cutting Hacks:

A cereal box will make a sturdy cutting template – Clara Arvizu

A T-Square is 2 1/2 inches–great for cutting strips – Pam Olds

Belt hangers work great for hanging quilting rulers. – Pat Castonguay

Clips that were made to keep fabric on a bolt work well to keep one’s place in a quilt book when you’re cutting out from directions. – Lois Shugart Klepper

Flexible tape on the back of your rulers keeps them from slipping when you cut fabric. – Kay Hord Nexcare

Foam shelf liner on your ruler will help to keep it from slipping. – Kellie Presley

If your scissors don’t cut well, layer a few sheets of wax paper and cut thru them, makes the blades glide smoothly. – Freda Littleton

piece of self stick tile makes a nice rotary friendly template – Rebecca Smith

Plexiglass cut to size at the hardware store makes for great squaring-up rulers. – Cheryl Hammond

Put blue painters tape across ruler when cutting so as not to lose marking while cutting.  It comes off easily when you’re done. – Theresa Mattia Murro

Several layers of painter’s tape can be used to mark an edge on your cutting ruler so you don’t have to keep looking for multiple strips.  – Carol Hartman

The handle bars that have suction on them can be used to hold the rulers in place so you can use your rotary cutter. ( They are the ones that suction on to the bathtub to steady yourself while getting into the tub.) – Marilyn Masker-Allen

Use a carpenters’ t-square to square up quilts and cut batting. It is 48 ” long and can make one cut on rolled batting. – Phylis Steelman

Use bath handles with suction cups from the hardware store to hold your quilt rulers in place while cutting–much cheaper than the quilters’ version and just as effective – Donna Pauling, Kellie Presley

Use bed risers under your cutting table and sewing table legs to raise them to a comfortable height. – Pat Castonguay, Freda Littleton, Barbara Schultz

Use foil to sharpen your rotary blades.  Just stack a few layers then cut with your cutter–works great. – Terri Springfield Jungmann

When using a pattern, copy the yardage and picture of the pattern to take to buy fabric. Also copy the cutting directions and mark off as you get pieces cut. – Louise Stevens Stegall


General Gadget Hacks:

Wet the needle instead of the thread to make threading easier. – Clara Arvizu

A kid’s toy called a Bug/Insect lens. lets you see multiples of a single quilt block to see what the top might look like put together. – Melissa Dawson

A picnic utensil holder works well for storing gadgets – Carol Hartman

Best advice. You don’t have to buy everything under the sun. – Brenda Gardner

Blue tape is a must! Use it for holding cutting boards, marking rows, putting names on electrical cords. – Pam Olds

Chop sticks to poke out corners  – Eileen Moriarty

Cuticle sticks (the wooden kind) – useful for points. – Ann Baker

Surgical forceps or hemostats work like a third hand.  They come in different lengths and are sometimes curved. They’re also great for threading a serger. You can find them at flea markets and tackle shops. – Onalee Pallas

Tape a pen cap to the side of your sewing machine. If you have a larger seam ripper, an old medicine bottle works. – Ellen Swistock

The magnetic nut..bolt bowl is so much cheaper at the auto or wholesale store than the quilt shops and they come in several sizes. – Dottie McLain

Tupperware orange peelers make great corner pokers/stilettos that you use when you turn the handles of tote pockets and handles. – Nancy Chaffee Parker

Use a manicure stick for a stiletto or point turning – Mary Thomas Royer

Use bamboo skewers to turn corners and to turn tubes for applique quilts. Works great. – Cindy Barrell Brown

Use mailing labels to mark all parts of sewing machine, iron etc! – Pam Olds

Use wooden chopsticks to push out corners when turning things (pillowcases, etc) or as an emergency stiletto. – Paula Durkin


Hand-sewing/quilting Hacks:

Go to the parts store and buy a hand held LED mechanics light.  They are great for checking under quilts when they are on the frame.  – Nicole Anderson

If you have acrylic nails, you don’t need to use a thimble for hand quilting! – Amy Hallen Blicher  (May not be manicurist-recommended 😉 )

Myrle Lee use extra long chain to make necklace to put scissors on when hand quilting .

Use an eye bolt with a washer and nut, and nylon cording to hang a spool of thread around your neck when doing a lot of hand sewing.   – Pauline M Moll

Use extra long chain to make necklace to put scissors on when hand quilting. – Myrle Lee

Use rubber “banker” fingers as thimbles. – Pat Castonguay


Marking Hacks:

Blue tape to mark lines to sew. Hand grips things to hold a quilt together and Tupperware lid to make curve.  – Pam Oller

Crayola washable markers work well to mark your quilt for quilting. When done quilting just throw it in the wash and they disappear. Painter’s tape is a is also great for this purpose. – Carol Hartman

Dinner plates are a great template to make the curved corners on a baby quilt or on fleece blankets. – Jeannette Cyr

Painter’s tape for marking diagonal lines to quilt. – Teresa Golden

Use a 6′ metal carpenters’ ruler for marking your quilt top. – Judi Svendsen

Use carbon paper to transfer words or designs for hand embroidering to fabric. – Angie Pearson

Use colored chalk to mark your quilts. – Jennifer Farrow

Use cookie cutters for marking designs for hand quilting.  Dip the edge in flour or cinnamon depending on the fabric color for contrast – press firmly onto the space you want the motif to be then hand quilt the design. The flour will brush off when done – Melissa Dawson

Use dollar store flexible cutting mats for quilting templates (for appliques). –  Cindy Barrell Brown

You can use a few old cardboard oven pizza rounds to mark circles or half circles for quilting my tops- Krista Florent Gilday


Odds and Ends Hacks:

A flannel backed table cover works well as a design wall. – Barbara Schultz, Kathie LD Banks

A galvanized pail will contain a current project. Its handle makes it mobile.  And bankers’ clips used within will keep fabric pieces organized. – Nancy Christensen

An over the door shoe rack works great for keeping projects/patterns/fabric together – Linda Day

Instead of buying gift wrapping paper, use fabrics in your stash to cover gifts and the recipients always give it back afterwards! Sometimes you can use scrap fabric strips for ribbon too. People love it. – Caryl Dobbe

Keep a stack of 4×6 notecards by your machine….you can use them to mark diagonal lines and for scratch notes.  – Jennifer Farrow

Make a sturdy template by tracing it on a cereal box and cutting it out.  Use kids’ scissors to cut threads so you aren’t as likely to cut your quilt, – Clara Arvizu

One must always keep a box of band aides near by! – Freda Littleton

Skewers taped to your cutting table are good for marking the center for basting…and large binder clips clamp the fabric in place. -Kathie LD Banks

To get a distant view of your quilt in a small space before sewing blocks together, use binoculars backwards, or the peephole from a door. –  Clara Arvizu, Melissa Dawson

Use a Glad Press n Seal empty box to store and tear my stabilizer or my adhesive paper. No more cutting with scissors and always a straight cut. – Lisa Mullen

Use binder clips to keep fabric pieces organized.  – Nancy Christensen

Use woodworkers clamps to hold quilt backing to table for basting quilt layers – Debra Foster Miller

Washable school glue can be used for lots of things.  See – Sandy Wright Deem


Quilt Piecing Hacks:

Clothes pins, large and small, work well to ID rows in patterns – Brenda Gardner

Make marker tabs to label your quilt pieces. – Jann Cox

Use a bench scraper (dough cutter) when paper piecing.  It doesn’t get soft like a piece of card stock does, but it only works on smaller piecing units. – Lynda Hansen

Use alphabet beads on safety pins to mark quilt rows. A bag can be bought at any craft store and usually with a coupon very inexpensive. Several sets can be made out of just one bag. – Carol Chambers Grady

When you cut several blocks at one time, you can keep track of them by placing the block pieces for each on their own paper plate. They stack and can go to quilt class and stay together. – Laurie Shoebridge


Pressing Hacks:

A round cork trivet can be used to set a hot iron upon when pressing in a class. – Teresa Golden

Attach a spray bottle head to a glass vinegar bottle to use at your ironing board, and it won’t melt when the iron touches it  – Dana Johnson Harr

Put an ugly bracelet on when you turn the iron on, and take it off when you turn the iron off.  You won’t forget to turn the iron off.   – Lisa Lynn Vanzant

Use an icing spatula while pressing seams.  It has a bent shank and it won’t melt – Bobbie N Andy Conner

Use parchment paper when doing fusible projects.  It will keep the iron goo-free! – Jan Donley

Use scrap strips sewn onto an old ironing board cover and then just run a new piece of elastic around the edge. – Nicole Anderson

Used t-shirts can be cut up and used as pressing cloths.  – Freda Littleton



Machine-quilting Hacks:

Cheap foam flip flops from Joann’s help grip your fabric while quilting with your domestic machine. – Dana Jo Forseth Tabayoyon

Crayola washable markers are great to mark your quilt for quilting. When done quilting just throw it in the wash and they disappear. – Carol Hartman

Fingertip grips are great for machine quilting. – Cheryl Hammond

Rubber kitchen gloves are perfect for guiding your quilt during free motion quilting. – Linda LaBrot

Use mason/canning or baby food jars to hold your spool of thread when hand or machine quilting.  You can punch a hole in the lid and keep up with the thread that way, and the spool never flies out of the jar.  – Willene Kill, Freda Combs

Wearing rubberized garden gloves while machine quilting will help you guide the quilt under the needle. – Kellie Presley


Seam-Ripping Hacks:

In beauty supply stores they sell small plastic disposable razors wrapped with wire used to groom eyebrows. It’s a terrific seam ripper. – Catherine MacLaine

My standby is battery operated men’s beard trimmer as a seam ripper! Less than $10.00 in Wal-Mart or Dollar General. Quick and Easy, great for Around the World – Kathryn Kelley Cliborne

Old blunt (ish) rotary cutters make great quick unpicks especially if you have shortened the stitching like you do in foundation piecing. – Nicole Anderson

Use a safety razor as a seam ripper – Barbara Caine Romano

Using a small battery operated mustache trimmer as seam ripper takes only seconds for long seams.  – Nona Humphreys, Sharon Mck Mason


Machine-sewing Hacks:

A magnet on a stick from the automotive store is good for not having to bend over to pick up pins on the floor. They are usually telescoping too. – Carol Hartman

A mouse pad or rubber shelf mat under your sewing machine foot pedal will keep it from sliding – Sallie Ruff Marcil, Clara Arvizu

A thermal beverage glass with straw can be used as a cone thread holder.  Thread goes through the straw….and it stays clean.  – Deb Urschel Heath

Ask your dentist for used cleaning instruments.  You can use them for keeping seams flat just as they go through the feed dogs.  (These can also be found at dollar stores) – Ramona Mattix, Melody Brewer

Attach a soap dish with suction cups to the side of your machine to hold small tools. – Liz Gegenheimer LeSaicherre

Attach self sticking Velcro to the back of your machine to hold threads whenstarting to sew.  Then you always know where your threads are and they don’t bunch up when you start. – Pauline M Moll

Crack filler or foam ear plugs can be put on the sharp ends of pins to hold them in place..  Kellie Presley

Create your own spool/cone holder from a twisted coat hanger wrapped around a coffee cup, putting the cone in the cup  – Julie Quilter

Cut threads with kids’ scissors so you aren’t as likely to cut your project by accident – Clara Arvizu

Flex guard tubing will protect sewing machines cords from being chewed on by pets. – Laura Ax-Fultz

Hang your small scissors from a lanyard to keep from losing them. Then they are always at hand when you need to snip a thread.- Connie Quaile-Mantey

Painter’s tape is a staple. You can use several layers to make a sewing gauge on your sewing machine.

Put velcro on the bottom of your sewing machine foot to keep it from sliding. (Works on rug. Not sure about wood.) – Sheila McDonald Woofter

Sand paperor rubbery shelf liner attached to the bottom of your machine control foot keeps it from sliding. – Lisa Lynn Vanzant, Teresa Golden

Use a CD-R support spindle to hold a sewing thread cone when machine sewing. – Aceoni Silveira

Use chair foot pads or rubber door stops to elevate the back of your sewing machine. It really helps you to see the fabric that you’re sewing and reduces fatigue. – Roxanne White, Nancy Adamson, Dottie McLain, Ann Harcourt

Use kabob sticks to feed material through sewing machine – Pam Olds

Use orange sticks from the beauty supply store to lay seams down while sewing. – Charisse Hamilton

Use the old cotton reel up the inside of a thread cone so that it doesn’t wobble and cause tension problems. Use cling wrap around my thread reels to keep them from unraveling – Nicole Anderson

Wet the needle instead of the thread to make threading easier. – Clara Arvizu

You can make a seam guide for your machine out of painter’s tape.  Cut into the roll of tape, 10+ layers deep.  Then make a second cut 10+ layers deep about four inches from the first cut. You can then adhere it to your machine as a seam guide, with a nice thick edge to help guide your fabric. – Cindy Wynn


Storage Hacks:

A large daily medicine dispenser or a three-ring binder designed to hold baseball cards can be used to store your sewing needles. – Lisa Lynn Vanzant

A men’s belt hanger is great for rulers, and a cutlery tray is great for rotary cutters, pens, chalk etc.  A plastic tool chest is great for misc. sewing or quilting items (i.e., seam rippers, tape, safety pins, scissors, hair clips for binding, needles and thread, etc.) It’s great for taking to classes. – Della Camire

A rolling toolbox from Harbor Freight only costs 16.00 and is wonderful to hold your sewing machine when going to a retreat. Some pretty BIG pockets are also in there to help. – Lisa Lynn Vanzant

A silverware tray can be used to.hold needles, marking tools,.pens pencils,.etc. – Dawn Thrift

A tool bag with multiple compartments and/or toolboxes are far cheaper than any similar carrying devices made for quilters. – Laura Ax-Fultz

Add dividers to the top drawer of rolling plastic drawer units to separate tools. They are handy and easy to grab and put back instead of laying them down to be lost or covered up. – Ann Harcourt Silverware

Altoids cases work well to hold hair clips for securing binding.- Teresa Golden

An acrylic makeup organizer with many compartments can sit directly to the right of your sewing machine to hold things you might need as you’re sewing, such as tweezers, seam rippers, chopsticks, and other gadgets.  – Freda Littleton

An armchair remote pocket can be used to hold pens, rotary cutters, seam ripper etc. – Rose M Andrade

Baby food jars for buttons, Ikea utensil rod and hooks to hang rulers, peg board and hooks to organize supplies. – Sharon Nadeau Short

Can’t live without my magnetic dish for pins AND seam ripper sticks there,never gets lost. – Catherine MacLaine

Carry a small tool box with you when you go to retreats to hold scissors, pins, seam rippers and other gadgets. – Lisa Lynn Vanzant

Clear plastic drawer organizers from office supply stores are great for cut fabric strips.  You can sort by lengths or colors. –  Dottie McLain

Clear plastic tubing from the hardware store cut into small sections and slit down the side will keep bobbins from unthreading – Kellie Presley

craft pins come in from the store to hold a tiny sew on the go kit. Needles in one of my antique needle cases. – Ann Harcourt Container

Foam pedicure toe separators make great holders for bobbin storage – Ardis Mistak

Golf tees to hold matching bobbins in the center hole of the thread spool. – Ann Harcourt

Golf tees will hold matching bobbins on top of spools of thread – Kellie Presley

Hang quilt blocks on skirt/pants hangers.  – Cherry Price Potter

Hang rulers on pants hangers on over the door hook for lack of space.   – Theresa Mattia Murro

Hull an empty cd case can be used to wrap binding around. close one end of binding inside and then wrap around the case. – JoAnne Crowder

Larger cardboard tubes – press fabrics and then roll round the tube to save creasing again by folding. – Ann Baker

Metal automotive bowl that is magnetic can hold pins so they won’t tip.  – Lisa Lynn Vanzant

Old filing cabinets with the metal frames for files make great hangers for fabric. – Cheryl Hammond

Old medicine bottles for used rotary blades – Eileen Moriarty

Pipe cleaners keep your thread together with matching colored bobbin. – Sue Walker

Pizza boxes (unused) to store your quilt squares as you finish them. Stores them great after being pressed. You can also use them to store your cut pieces to take to class or just to keep them all together until you sew them together. – Rita Hergott Luongo

Plastic, zipper bags that bed sheets come in can be used for odds and ends for sewing. – Patricia J Ward

RX bottles to hold spool of thread and matching bobbin. – Teresa Golden

Scotch tape is great for keeping embroidery thread from unraveling. – Marilyn Masker-Allen

small elastic pony tail holders over bobbins keeps thread from unraveling. –  Barbara Schultz

Store your spools of thread on dishwasher racks on the wall – Sarah Craigen

The empty round containers that ICE BREAKERS mints come in make great storage for used rotary cutter blades until disposal. – Jan Collins

The golf tee is used to hold your bobbin on top of coordinating thread! – Doris Magiera

The thingy you put between your toes can hold filled bobbins so they won’t roll around. – Lisa Lynn Vanzant

Thread spools and bobbins are kept on a peg board with a dowel through the holes to hold them. – Pauline M Moll

Toilet paper rolls will organize all your sewing machine cords just just fold cords and push through rolls keeps everything neet and tidy LOL – Karen McGallian

Use a empty bubble gum container to hold a 120″ tape measure.  – Pat Wade’s

Use a mechanic’s magnetized bowl to hold pins at your quilting machine. They usually stay in it and it stays on the table.  – Lois Shugart Klepper, Sheila Chaisson, Lisa Lynn Vanzant, Dottie McLain

Use a new clean pizza box to store finished quilt blocks in. – Amy Hallen Blicher

Use a Pampered Chef’s rotating utensil holder on your sewing table to hold cutters, small rulers, pencils etc. – Kris Webb

Use a short glass jar to gather used rotary blades for disposal. It’s perfectly sized at about 3″ high, stores out of the way and holds so many blades it’s unreal. – Jackie Sayre

Use a wall CD/DVD holder for your fat quarters – Oldbrickhome Quilts

Use an old prescription bottle for old needles. You can drill a tiny hole in the lid, superglue the lid on, and then just put them in the trash once they’re full. – Laurie Keep

Use clay pots to organize larger tools. – Dawn Thrift

Use empty paper towel and toilette rolls to keep cords from getting tangled on your iron, lamps and sewing machines when not in use.  – Sharon Nadeau Short

Use fishing tackle boxes (the plastic ones) to sort beads and embroidery floss. – Amanda Rae Downey

Use mason jars for buttons, pins, etc. – Barbara Woods Dison

Use old Tide Pod containers to hold buttons, ric-rac, and other small trims. With some black paint, you can repaint the labels and use like a chalkboard to label them.  – Amanda Rae Downey

Use plain metal shower curtain rings to put through the holes in your rulers to hang up on slat board hooks.  Slat board and hooks or pegboard and hooks are great for hanging spare rotary tools and stencils, etc. – Mary Watters

Use the toe separators that you buy for painting your toe nails. It holds 4 bobbin spools with no threads hanging out, and it’s  easy to see what thread your have on the bobbin.  They’re also easy to pack and stack.  – Lynne Bumstead Tolway

When traveling and stitching like waiting in a doctor’s office, carry a small cream cheese container for threads etc. – Sherida Risner

When traveling with several bobbins, you can put them in a small prescription bottle and to throw in a long cosmetic bag with threads and rotary cutter, etc. – Theresa Mattia Murro

Why The Hell Did Somebody Make Me A Quilt?!?

Zebra monster quilt 2 large

It seemed like just an ordinary day.  Ok, maybe it’s your birthday.  Heck, maybe it’s only Thursday.  In any case, this unexpected….package…shows up at your door.  You didn’t order anything.

You suspiciously eye the layer of packing tape that has encrusted what you’re pretty sure was once a cardboard box.  Being ever so careful, you saw through it with the nearest razor blade, and little by little, the mystery–and the gift–starts to unfold.

It’s something made of fabric.

Hot pink and zebra print fabric, to be exact.  It’s not awful–at least, it wouldn’t be if you were a 12-year-old girl….other than, perhaps, yourself at twelve years old…

As you pull it out of the packaging, you realize….someone has given you a quilt.

You don’t understand.  How did this happen?  WHY did this happen?  And what could possibly be an appropriate response?

Chances are, you are the loved one of a creative person.  Many people might receive such a gift from an aunt or grandmother, or in some cases a distant cousin or friend.  (If the gifter was your Mother, I certainly hope this doesn’t need to be explained to you.)

In any case, what you have received, whether it is spot-on, or a million miles away from being, exactly, “you,” is a gift of love.  It may not feel like it right now, but allow me to explain.

Today, quilting is big–among quilters.  Everyone else is in varying strata around the quilters, ranging in levels of understanding from “I totally get it!” to….”So….why on earth would you cut fabric apart and….and…and….sew it back together?”   Like many creative endeavors, but maybe in some ways, more so–quilting quickly becomes an obsession.  Almost an addiction.  It’s visual, it’s tactile, and it’s a way to create things–lots of them–all different, all with your own personal stamp, and all over the country and world.  It’s hard to explain if you’re not involved.  But, once you’re a quilter, it’s all you want to do.

So, let’s tie this affront to your eyeballs back to where it came from.

First, the quilter has an innate desire–a NEED–to create, and spends plenty of time doing it.  She also does not have unlimited storage space where she can hang onto her work for the rest of her natural life.  That said, a quilt takes a good amount of time and monetary investment to create.  You were chosen as a recipient NOT because you “didn’t have one yet.”  If you have received a handmade gift from its maker, you are very special to that person, and are considered worthy of such an investment of time.  Most quilters know and love a lot more people than they ever have the resources to make a gift for–even in their lifetimes.  Often, they do this kind of work for hire, which limits their “recreational quilting” even further.

“Seriously though….can you at least explain the zebra print?!?”

When someone sets out to make you a quilt, they do it with you in mind, start to finish.  A lime green scrap in the border might remind her of the dress you wore to prom in high school.  The zebra print was included because it kind of looks like that fuzzy thing hanging from the rearview mirror in your car.  The violet section in the middle is there because she remembers how much you love purple, and while she was stitching it, she thought about how Halloween is your favorite holiday, and wonders which haunted houses you’ll be hitting this year–if she doesn’t already know.

She remembers the decor in your living room, and thinks of how well the chosen color scheme will go with it.  She added that wine bottle print to the backing knowing how much you love a good Cabernet, and thinking about how much this gift will lift your spirits to receive while your new husband is overseas.  While she’s sprawled out on the floor, pinning the top, batting, and backing together, she is thinking about that four-hour dinner you had at Chili’s when you first became friends.

Making a quilt for someone is not just work of the hands, but of the mind.  Whether or not it actually shows in the piecing or fabric choices, this was a journey for the quilter, and one she took with you.  She is now handing it over into your care, and hoping that you’ll understand this is the best way she can give herself to you in her physical absence.

Quilting sometimes becomes the language at which the creator is her most articulate.  It isn’t meant to create any sort of obligation for you, (if you boiled it down to dollars and cents, it could be the most “expensive” gift you’ll ever receive), but more an expression of gratitude.  A quilt made especially for you may just be the quilter’s way of thanking you for your presence in her life, and letting you know that who you are, and what you are or have been to her is valued…nothing more or less complicated than that.

So, this piece of loving art before you…you don’t have to put it on your bed, or display it proudly in a prominent place if you really aren’t fond of how it looks.  But it wouldn’t kill you to use it to curl up under when you’re watching a movie in the dark.  Snuggle under it with your fur babies.  Take it to a football game to warm up a cold seat on the bleachers, and wrap yourself in it when you’re having a bad day and need to feel loved.  Then give it another gaze.  Think about your quilter friend or relative and the you-focused energy required.  If somehow it wasn’t before…isn’t it suddenly beautiful?


Machine Embroidery for Mom

Today is the birthday of Caroline Forseth, who is one of my favorite people on the planet and also happens to be my mother, among many other things to other people, including auntie, cousin, daughter, wife, and (maybe her favorite), Grandma.

This summer, after learning that my “new” sewing machine also did embroidery, she brought me a favorite purple striped long-sleeved shirt.  It had embroidered appliques on it, which were holding on for dear life with a little glue and a few hand stitches.  She asked if I could replace them with something that had a little more “zing.”  (I’m paraphrasing.)

Mom shirt-before

So, I jumped on the Internet and searched high and low for the perfect floral design that would look pretty in purple.  (After all, what doesn’t?)  I found this great embroidery pack from that fit the bill perfectly.

Mom shirt right zoom

Mom shirt left zoom



There are 15 coordinating designs in the collection, in a range of sizes and general shapes, all sold together for under $20 and emailed to you within 24 hours.  Each design is only 3 thread colors, limiting the (sometimes) onerous task of hovering over your machine, waiting for the next thread change.

My mom sent me a text this weekend to let me know she had received the shirt, loved the designs, and was glad to have it in time for the fall chill.  I’m thrilled that the design was just right.  Happy birthday, Mom!

My 2014 Montana State Fair Quilts

This year, I bought a new (used) sewing machine fancier than anything I’ve ever run fabric through.  It embroiders, it does a bunch of fancy stitches, and it has an extended arm to help with quilting.  It’s been on the dining room table ever since, always with some sort of project hanging from it.  I’ve done more sewing this year than probably in the whole rest of my life combined, though it’s a hobby I started before I even turned 10.

So, I thought I’d show you a few pictures of projects I’ve completed this year.  These are all quilts that I entered in the Montana State Fair in Great Falls, July 2014.  There is nothing ground-breaking or unusual here, just a few things I managed to accomplish in the months prior.  And I am proud of the work I did, especially for not having quilted much in the past ten years or so.  The first is a baby quilt for a little boy who is expected in November.


Despite having an embroidery machine for months, I haven’t spent a lot of time perfecting my machine embroidery skills.  This is actually my first completed machine embroidery project.  The Viking patterns are available on, and come in various sizes.  The striped fabric is available at both Hobby Lobby and JoAnn’s (though it is $5.00 cheaper by the yard at Hobby Lobby), and the other fabrics were from my stash.  The quilt design is my own.


Dresden Quilt at Fair


This quilt is 90″x 90″ and is, as of yet, untitled, but was my longest-running project of the year, by far. From start to finish, it took me about five weeks. In fact, toward the end I got antsy to finish it, knowing I was running out of time to finish other projects for the fair. This was inspired by a couple of fat eighth bundles I bought at Wooden Spools in Englewood, Colorado, which I later supplemented with Thimbleberries fabrics from The Quilted Corner in Cheyenne, Wyoming and some Kona Cotton solid from the local Hobby Lobby.

In making this quilt, I fell in love with Dresden plates, and their versatility.  This is also the first project I quilted using a quilting template.  The feather design comes from an Electric Quilt design pack, and could be resized to any dimensions desired.  I printed the templates on wide-format printer paper (using a wide-format Epson WF-7620 Inkjet Printer), and pinned them onto the quilt.  I used my domestic machine to free-motion quilt through the paper, and tore them off when I was done.  I typically print quilting patterns on 13″ x 19″ newsprint for ease in tearing.  The design and setting are my own, though there is no particular complexity to the layout.

Wallhanging at fair

This was displayed with the large Dresden quilt, and is a wall-hanging made from the one block I had left over. The border was originally made for the large quilt, but when I laid it out, I thought it was too overwhelming to the original design. It was more pleasing to the eye surrounding the single block, so I used parts of it there and incorporated a few new prints. This went together pretty quickly, and was my first attempt at binding around an octagon instead of a square. Both quilts won second place in their respective divisions at the fair.

Jess Quilt at Fair
It’s a bit hard to tell, but this quilt has directional fabric in the diamond centers and was hung sideways at the fair, by someone who obviously didn’t notice. 🙂 It’s a novelty print from JoAnn’s, with long-haired cats getting into mischief in a sewing room. Playing in the yarn, hanging from the curtains, perched on top of a dress form….

When I saw the fabric, I knew immediately it had to go into a special quilt for my friend Jess. After the fair, I delivered it to her at work, and she was thrilled. I don’t know the name of the pattern, but I saw it originally on Pinterest, set square (instead of on-point), and drew it up quickly in my Electric Quilt software to calculate yardage. Other fabrics for this quilt top came from Big Sky Quilts in Great Falls, MT, and my personal stash. The backing was brown, one piece, and came from Backside Fabrics, a website to which I have become a little addicted. 😉



This quilt was made especially for my friend Erin. I had to make a trip to Great Falls back in March, as I’d been working from home, and they had hired a replacement for me in Ohio. I traveled back to the main office to train him, and was there for an admittedly sad week. The night before I left to come back to Cheyenne, Erin came over to my hotel room, and we talked about quilts she liked. It stuck in my mind that she wanted a “fluffy” quilt (which meant using polyester batting), she loved 30s prints, and among the designs she liked was a triangle pattern, again seen on Pinterest.

A couple weeks later, I was at a quilt shop in Craig, Colorado, called Quilter’s Quest.  What a find!  This was a great little quilt shop, with lots and lots of eye candy!  They had a couple of fat quarter bundles of these fun 30s prints….which I realized much later were better suited to children (DOH!!!), and I was drawn in.  With my FQs and a little extra yardage, I made her this fluffy triangle quilt.  And once again, The Quilter’s Corner came to my rescue when it was time to find backing, which unfortunately isn’t shown in this picture.  I’ll admit, the polyester batting shifted a lot on me, and is better used in hand quilting.  Given my impatience with handwork, the next time I decide to make a fluffy quilt, I think I’ll just layer up the cotton batting.  Lesson learned.  🙂


Jed quilt for blog


This quilt, I call “Cowboy Logic” after a Michael Martin Murphy song from the 80s. It was inspired by a snowball quilt I saw on Pinterest using sashed snowball blocks with small squares in each corner. The fabrics I chose shared a cowboy theme, except the blue tie print, which came from JoAnn’s.  The red cowboy hat print was from Hobby Lobby, and the Tan boot and hat print was from JoAnn’s.  The blue bandana and red barn wall prints were from Hobby Lobby, and the tan bandana print was found at Wooden Spools.  This quilt won first place in its division, and was one of six first-place winners that scored their creators a free queen-sized quilt batting.  It was made for my former supervisor at my last job in Great Falls, in appreciation for all the years of good employment I enjoyed there.

And finally…..


This is the quilt I finished most recently, after learning so much on the first Dresden plate project. The background is made up of several black and white prints (purchased in 2010 from Equilter), that were left over from another project.
IMG_4247 header image Dresden Flower 1

When I started this project, I had no plan. Once all the strips were together, I knew it needed more color, and I knew I wanted to use applique. I also knew I had really enjoyed sewing Dresden plates, and that I had a lot of batik fat quarters lying around….and the Dresden flower idea was born. I had seen similar things on Pinterest, but not just prior to the project. Many of those were more involved than this, involving green centers and stems, suns, clouds…in comparison, this one was simple. I made several Dresden plates in several sizes, without much planning ahead. I stacked and layered them by trial and error until I got a layout I liked, then machine-appliqued them down with a blanket stitch.

I used a variegated jewel-tone quilting thread by Signature, purchased at The Quilted Corner, (I buy most of my quilting thread there, as Brenda keeps a great selection in stock) and quilted each flower petal uniquely. I then printed several nested twelve-pointed stars on my wide format printer, and used those as quilting templates. I filled in sections of each star with different free-motion fill designs.

The wide backing is a mottled magenta and shows the quilting off nicely (I know we need a photo here). It also came from Backside Fabrics.

In general, as far as my projects were concerned, at least, the judges at the fair saw all the same foibles that I saw and have not yet learned to entirely fix–problems with knotting, places I had forgotten to trim threads, but at the end of the day they were still very generous with their ribbons.






I didn’t make it to see the results of my work until the quilts had been on display at the fair for five days, but there were some nice surprises.  This was the best one, though, as I took home top honors for “Machine Quilting Excellence” in the non-professional category.  While there was lots of room for improvement, boy, did that feel great!

In true quilting-addict fashion, I am in the middle of several new projects, and haven’t actually quilted and finished anything since before the fair.  When there is more, I’ll share again!

And until next time….

“Write it. Shoot it. Publish it. Crochet it, sauté it, whatever. MAKE.”
Joss Whedon