They are practice pieces for skills I want to have one day. That’s why they’re not perfect. There are colors that shouldn’t be touching, and doubled stitches and tucks in the backing. There might be a red thread shadowing through behind a white block. But, those things don’t detract from your enjoyment of a quilt, or my enjoyment of the process. My quilts (now yours) are an adventure I took with colors and textures, all the while with you in mind. Sure, they were expensive sometimes and time-consuming to make, but I chose to do that. You didn’t ask me to. You have no obligations to me arising from the fact that I made it for you. To the contrary–they are my expression of appreciation to you, either for something you did, or usually more often than that, for just being you. 😃
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 junk 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.
People 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.
If you’re unable to release your work into the world to let it meet its destined fate in the care of someone else, it might be time to hold on to your quilts for a while. As you see them stack up, you may later decide they would be doing more good wrapped around somebody–while you’re still alive to see it.
If your loved one is a pet lover and you still can’t bear the idea of your quilts being pet-loved, 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? 😉
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.
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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 http://sandyquilts.blogspot.com/2008/05/elmers-washable-school-glue-and-quilts.html – 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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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 Blastostich.com, 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.
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.
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.
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. 🙂
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.
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.
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
If you’re like me, you have more fabric than you will ever be able to use, perhaps more than your grandchildren will be able to use. How do you tame this beastly hoard without driving yourself to drink?
(Good news—you can totally drink while you do this. You won’t be driving anywhere for a while.)
Everyone’s situation is going to be different. But I’m going to address this as if we all have a completely disorganized truckload of fabric tucked into corners of our houses, invisible to the naked eye. (Like the picture–ha!)
If we were to approach this like a home organization show, we’d be laying three tarps out in the yard and throwing every piece of fabric we find into one of three piles: KEEP, DONATE, TRASH. But like you, I don’t want my fabric on my lawn, susceptible to sun exposure and available to be swiped by the neighbor-lady closet quilter who thinks (probably correctly) that I’ll never miss it.
So, I’ll just tell you what I did.
What we all so endearingly refer to as a “stash,” (something you hide from others in shame) is really more of a “collection,” isn’t it? For many of us, it is begun, cultivated, grown, and curated over years, partly out of love, partly out of unhealthy obsession. How many hundreds of quilt shop trips, and hours spent online searching for the perfect yardage of the perfect print, in the perfect color, how many impulse buys, wonder-whys, and “I-love-it-too-much-to-cut-into-its” are lurking in the corners of your sewing room? We hide them away, to be discovered once again in a later year–by us, if we’re lucky! Why should we deprive ourselves of the joy we felt the first time we brought that remnant home from the fabric store? The visual and tactile pleasures given us by our fabric are renewable–if we were to only partake of the fabric we already have.
This inner monologue led me to realize that I need to see my fabric….and preferably not in a giant heap.
I saw a picture shared on the Sewing Center of Cheyenne’s Facebook page of a bookshelf full of large and small fabric bolts. It was well-organized, color-coordinated, and as much fun to look at as all the fabric lined up in a fabric store. (That’s how they get you, you know!) This requires each piece of fabric to be folded or stored in a somewhat uniform presentation, which differs a lot from having a big bin full of…some rolled remnants, some fat quarters, some huge folded yardages that I just couldn’t pass up….
By the way, fat quarters are a whole other story. So let’s start with taming those yardages.
I kind of consider anything that is WOF x 1/3 yd or larger to be “yardage.” Even if the dimensions are a little weird, as long as they’re not a “fat” anything, this system will work.
After seeing that fabric could look just as lovely arranged on a shelf in my home as it does at that sneaky fabric store, I started to research fabric bolts. I found that fabric stores are happy to give you the empties, free of charge, because they are just going to throw them away anyway. But there were some problems with this.
- Most of my fabric was in smaller cuts than would fit on a bolt
- Bolts are big and bulky and take up a lot of room
- Fabric bolts are not acid-free and can eventually cause your fabric to discolor. They’re meant for short-term storage.
- I would need, like, 45 million bolts if I wanted to display each fabric separately. And I still have decades of quilting and accumulation ahead of me. Sooooo……..
As alternatives to space-hogging, fabric-rotting bolts (which are a perfectly acceptable solution if they work for you, by the way,) I found these options. They are both rigid plastic “bolts” of uniform size.
Bulk prices: 10” x 14” = $1.75/ea, 5” x 14” = $1.12/ea, 7” x 10 ½” = $1.30/ea
11 ¾” x 7 ½” $1.36/ea, 6 3/8” x 4” $0.98/ea
These types of bolts are nice for a few reasons. They are stiff, like a regular fabric bolt, and hold their shape on the shelf. Because they are molded plastic, they often also have built-in clips of some kind to hold the ends of your fabric, so no pins are needed to secure. They do look lovely when stacked on end on a bookshelf.
These, however, were not a good solution for me, due to budgetary constraints. So as I was pondering this, a third, much less expensive option was presented to me. Acid free comic book boards. They are made for archiving and protecting comic books, and are meant to be used with plastic bags for that purpose. They come in several very specific sizes. They are the weight of heavy tagboard, and are admittedly flimsier than the solid plastic options offered above. They come in packages of 100 for an average of $20. (Smaller sizes are cheaper.)
- Regular – 6 7/8” x 10 ½”
- Current – 6.8” x 10.5”
- Silver – 7” x 10 ½”
- Golden Age – 7 ½” x 10 ½”
- Magazine – 8.5” x 11”
- Life Magazine – 10 7/8” x 14 7/8”
Depending on which bolt option you choose, you will roll your fabric differently. I use the Current comic book boards for anything 2 yds down to 1/3 yard, and the Life Magazine size for greater yardages.
To do this, I use a cleared-off end of my dining room table and do a few at a time as I have time during the day. It goes pretty fast. Before I started this, my fabric was stored in piles, bins and boxes, where I couldn’t see it or remember what I had. But fair warning—now that I can see it, so can my husband. But that’s probably a good thing. (It’s much easier to explain a purple deficiency in my stash when it’s all out in the open and blatantly obvious.) (Like that would ever happen….)
These instructions assume that your fabric is already folded lengthwise in half, like it came off the bolt at the fabric store.
For 1/3-3/4 yard cuts:
Fold fabric crosswise twice (with the selvage edge toward you, fold from the right and left) into a strip about 8” wide. Roll from selvage edge onto small comic book board. Secure with paper clips.
For 3/4-2 yard cuts:
Fold the lengthwise into thirds. Roll onto the smaller comic book board, tucking the end under to create a folded end. Secure with paper clips.
For 2-yard cuts and greater:
Fold fabric lengthwise in half. Roll onto Life Magazine board and secure with paper clips.
Comic Boards are nice because you can also write on them. Suggested information to keep track of:
- Yardage on the bolt
- Fabric manufacturer
- Year purchased (if you start doing this as you buy fabric)
- Fabric collection name
- Fabric number
Some online sellers will ship your fabric with a label attached containing some of this information. In those cases, you can just transfer the label right to the board. Talk about easy!
Another favorite method, if you don’t want to store the fabrics on-end, like they are on bolts, is to flat-fold them around a 6” quilting ruler. If you already have the ruler, this idea has the bonus of being free! This system would work well if you have wire shelving, as you can stack the flat folds, rather than turning them on edge like you can on the bolts. When your fabrics are stacked, you can insert a long quilting ruler above the piece you’d like to retreive, then lift the fabrics above it away, so you can pull it out without messing up your nicely folded fabrics.
If you choose to roll your fabric using one of these methods, you can decide as you go what to do with the pieces you come across. You can make the “Toss” and “Donate” piles now, and roll only the fabrics you like and want to keep.
If you’re so ambitious as to roll your entire stash as a first step, it makes weeding things out later easier as well. Once you can see it all, you get some idea which fabrics you really love, and which you’re willing to part with. You can then:
- Organize a fabric swap among friends
- Sell your less-desirable pieces on eBay
- Set up a craft supply garage sale, and the merchandising is a breeze.
Also, it’s totally ok to throw out thin, worn or ugly fabric. If it’s low-quality and you can’t bring yourself to put your time into it, maybe no one else should either. These fabrics can also be used by animal shelters to stuff dog beds, if you just can’t bear the thought of throwing it away.
Managing fat quarters and quarter-yards:
If you like the “fabric bolt” approach, you can flat-fold your fat quarters with similar results.
I fold them in sixteenths—always folding the short edges to meet in the center. When you’re done, you have a rectangle that is about 4 ½” x 5 ½”, with one long, solid, folded edge. Many quilt shops already fold fat quarters this way, which was part of the reason I chose this method.
If you have the budget for it, fat quarters display nicely in a media tower meant for CDs and DVDs, though the tower may not come with as many shelves as you could use for this purpose. If this happens, the bottom of the tower is a great place to store full-line fat quarter bundles.
For fabric of other dimensions, like regular quarter-yards, you can fold them into similar-sized rectangles that will display right next to your fat quarters. They can also be stored on separate shelves if you prefer to know that the cuts are different without unfolding them.
On completion of a project, I evaluate my remaining fabric and do the following:
- Store yardage of 1/3 yd or greater on a “bolt”
- Put remaining scraps in a pile or bag and give them to a scrap quilter, OR
- Cut scraps into manageable sizes—choose a size palette that “plays well together” and works for you. I use the following, but some people like to be consistent with available store-bought precuts of 5” and 10” squares, and 2 ½” strips
- 2 ½” strips
- Other-width strips, depending on the scrap (3”, 2”, or 1 ½”, usually)
- 10 ½” squares (alternative to keeping narrow yardage)
- 8 ½” squares, 6 ½” squares, 4 ½” squares, 2 ½” squares
- You can then either make a variety of scrap quilts, or sell groups of strips or squares on eBay or Etsy.
- And, believe it or not, it’s not illegal to just toss them. Don’t hang onto them if you’re not going to use them. Some fabrics from the 70s should have stayed there…because they’re just not coming back.
That said, some hideous, dated, strangely-colored fabrics from the toss pile might look great in a scrap quilt!