April 2013

Forest Quilt-Along, Block 3 – Aspen Grove

I have been participating in the Forest Quilt-Along, which is being hosted by two very talented paper-piecing artists in Poland. I am about a month behind the group so I am playing catch up. This is block 3 – Aspen Grove.



This block was designed by Carolyn of Trillium Designs. As its name suggests, this is an abstract of a grove of aspen trees. I didn’t have enough of the text fabric to do all the trees, so I used a black and white stripe for some of the aspens. This is a straight forward design with lots of straight lines, but I had to rip a number of seams until I got all the strips sewn in the right order. I think it is a fun and interesting addition to the forest, and I am looking forward to moving on to the next block, which is adorable.

If you would like to try this block for yourself, the pattern and instructions can be found at Forest Quilt-Along. While you are there, check out the photo stream of the other blocks. 

Until next time,


Forest Quilt-Along, Block #2 – Feathers




This is the second block in the Forest Quilt-Along being hosted by Polish quilters, Joann at Shape Moth, and Julianna at Sewing Under Rainbow. This particular block was drawn by Joann. Both of these artists do an amazing job of figuring out how to draw complicated paper-pieced blocks. Joann has an interest in birds, as well as a deep interest in Native American culture, so this block is a natural extension of those interests. If you would be interested in giving this block a try, the tutorial can be found at Shape Moth. Visit the Forest Quilt-Along Flickr group to see photos of the amazing blocks being made.

Until next time,


Where to Find Quilting Calculators


If the fabric calculations for your next quilt look like this, you might benefit from a quilting calculator! The good news is there are a number of free, easy-to-use calculators available, specifically designed for quilters.

Quilter’s Paradise offers a calculator that will make a number of calculations for you, and it’s free. It will calculate how much fabric is needed if you want to cut a given number of fixed sized pieces, how much fabric will be needed for each border, as well as calculations for batting, backing and binding. It will also provide measurement conversions. This calculator does it all.



The Quilter’s Little Helper  is a free iTunes App for smart phones and iPads. This App is extremely handy, as it lets you do the calculations while you are on the go. If you are in the quilt shop and need to figure out the amount of yardage you need to buy, you will have the tool to do it. I use this App on my iPad all the time and I love it!

The Vrya website offers two versions of their calculator, which you can use for free online. You are also able to purchase a version for off-line use for $3.50, which is very affordable. This is a nice option if you want to make the conversions without needing to go online. The classic calculator offers yardage estimates based on the shapes used in each block: squares, triangles, half-square triangles, half-rectangle triangles, quarter-square triangles, trapezoids, and parallelograms. The flash calculator makes the same calculations, but you can simply click on the shapes you want to use, enter the number needed and it instantly makes the yardage calculation for you.


If you would prefer a more portable method of calculation, you might consider the Quilter’s FabriCalc, a hand-held calculator. Not only does it perform all of the functions provided by the internet calculators, it also offers the ability to do a reverse calculation to find the number of shapes that can be cut from a piece of fabric, will calculate the cost of the yardage, and will store fabric yardage solutions for six individual types of fabric. The $22.00 price tag seems worth the money.

These easy-to-use calculators eliminate the need for pencil and paper calculations and provide yardage estimates that makes it possible to buy all the fabric you will need for your project without the fear of running out of a particular fabric part way through the project. Put these calculators in your quilting tool box.

Until next time,




How to Get an Accurate Quarter-Inch Seam

When I first started quilting, one of my biggest frustrations was finishing a quilt block that was supposed to be 12 1/2 inches square, but I would frequently end up with something closer to 12 1/4 inches. Why? I used the quarter-inch mark on the stitch plate on my machine. I dutifully went out and bought a quarter-inch piecing foot. My blocks were still finishing less than 12 1/2 inches. Dozens and dozens of blocks later, I have the answer!


#1. Thread matters.

Yes. The thicker the thread, the more space it takes up in the seam. You would not think the tiny circumference of a strand of thread would make a difference, but it does. For piecing, use a 50 weight thread both in the bobbin and for the top thread. A much heavier and thicker 30 weight will take up more space in the stitched seam. When you add up all the seams in the block, this loss makes a difference. Most threads marked “Quilting Thread” are 30 weight. They are meant for quilting the top, not for piecing.



#2. Use a scant quarter-inch seam.

After you have sewn your seam and folded it over to press it, a tiny amount of fabric will be lost in the turn of the fabric. Just like the thread issue, if you add the tiny fabric loss across all the seams in the block, it matters. Add the loss of space from thread plus the loss of fabric in the fold, and this can account for as much as a quarter-inch loss in overall block size. That is why your 12 ½ inch block turned out to be 12 1/4 inches. This is where the scant quarter-inch seam saves the day. The scant quarter-inch seam is sewn just shy of the seam line by a couple of threads. To do this, we need to know where the quarter-inch seam line is.


#3. Measure the scant quarter-inch mark on your machine and mark it!

The truth is the quarter-inch mark on your seam plate is, most likely, inaccurate. Your quarter-inch foot may be inaccurate, too. Measure where the quarter-inch mark is for your machine, using your favorite machine needle. There are a couple of ways to do this. One is shown above. This quilter has placed her clear rotary ruler under her presser foot and has lowered her needle until it is pressing down on the quarter-inch mark on the ruler. She will then place a piece of masking tape exactly along the edge of the ruler to mark the true quarter-inch mark on her machine. In the future, when she places the edge of her fabric against the tape, she know she is at a quarter-inch. But wait, that doesn’t mark the scant quarter-inch.

To mark the scant quarter-inch mark, cut a strip of four-squares-to-the-inch graph paper. Each square will be an accurate quarter-inch. Trim it evenly along one of the vertical lines. Place the graph paper under the presser foot, and using your hand wheel, lower the needle until it pierces the paper just shy (by a couple of thread widths) of the first line in from the edge. Take a piece of masking tape and place it along the edge of the strip of paper, mark the exact scant quarter-inch mark. (You can do this using the ruler method too, but this technique is a little easier to see and you can visually check the results by looking at the hole in the paper made by your needle.)

When sewing your next seam, line your fabric up with the line marked by the masking tape and you will be ensured of sewing an accurate scant quarter-inch seam.

There is one last thing you can do to help achieve an accurate seam.


#4. Sit in the same chair, at the same height, when you sew.

After starting a new project, always try to sit in the same chair, at the same height, when you sew. Sewing while sitting in a different position can make a significant difference in the quality of your seams. It is very easy to get a different measurement when you are viewing your project from a different angle.

Using these four tricks have helped me produce blocks that are the correct size. So, if you are frustrated with inaccurate seam widths, try these ideas and see if your accuracy improves.

Until next time,


Forest Quilt-Along – Block #1 – Woodpecker

My paper-piecing skills were put to the test today when I started the first block in a Quilt-Along I saw on the internet last week. This is the first block – a Woodpecker.
The Quilt-Along is called “Forest,” and is organized and designed by Julianna at Sewing Under Rainbow and Joanna from Shape Moth. These two quilt designers live in Poland and occasionally host paper-pieced Quilt-Alongs. They are both very talented, and are able to draw these shapes geometrically so they can be pieced using straight lines.  I have tried my hand at drawing a couple of blocks of this style, and it is ridiculously difficult.  The project started four weeks ago, so I need to do some catching up, as a new block is posted each Monday.  There will be 12 blocks in total, and all the designs will be forest-related. Thankfully, the instructions have an English translation. If you love paper-piecing, then you might want to challenge yourself to join this group. Here is a  link to the Flickr group, which has all the links for the patterns and instructions in PDF files. http://www.flickr.com/groups/2147488@N24/

Until next time,


Heart and Soul, and a Folded Star!

I did some catch-up this week on two projects that have been sitting on the work table. The first is the April block for Aurifil’s Designer Block of the Month. This month’s designer is Katy Jones. If you are active on Flickr, you know Katy as I’m a Ginger Monkey, and her blog is www.iamagingermonkey.blogspot.com. In this Block of the Month, the designers are required to make a block inspired by a rock music song. Katy’s block is inspired by the song “Heart and Soul” by the 80’s British rock band T’Pau. This is my rendition of her block, “Heart and Soul”:




If you would like to make this block, here is the link to the pattern: http://auribuzz.files.wordpress.com/2013/03/heart-and-soul_.pdf, and if you want to be inspired while sewing it, here is the link to the music: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SwrYMWoqg5w. It never fails to amaze me how many uses there are for half-square triangles.  This is a very simple, but fun block.

Here are the first four blocks together:


These blocks are so different in design, which makes this project fun and will produce an interesting quilt.

My next project was making a block for Leona (OneyGirl at Flickr) in the Quilt Around the World Bee. Leona asked us to make her a 12 inch block using modern Christmas themed fabrics. The block I chose for her is called “Folded Star.” It looks a little like a snowflake to me. Okay, a square snowflake. It has a few in-set seams but went together easily. I hope she will like it.

Leona (2)

It’s nice to get these done, because I have a new project that just hit the table!

Hope all is well with you and your family,

Until next time,


How to Sew with Metallic Thread



Do you know why we buy this thread? It’s pretty. We gaze at the shimmery colors and imagine all the wonderful embellishments we can make on our next quilt using this beautiful thread. We take it home, thread it through the sewing machine, and then the trouble starts. The thread frays. The thread breaks. It gets snagged in the thread path of the machine. So what is the secret to making this thread behave?


When you find a metallic thread you like, unroll approximately 12 inches of the thread from the spool and let it dangle. Does it hang fairly straight, with just the slightest bend in it? That’s a good sign.


Does it hang in coils and will not relax? That’s a bad sign. Metallic threads that are wound on tiny spools tend to coil and will not relax. This means the thread is going to twist while it runs through the thread path of the machine and will likely break before it gets to the needle. Look for metallic thread that is wound on larger spools and that hangs fairly straight when unrolled from the spool.


The best needle for metallic threads is a size 90/14 Topstitch Needle. These needles are easy to find and fit almost any sewing machine. They have a larger, elongated eye and have an extra deep groove in the needle shaft that allows the thread to travel down and through the needle more easily, preventing fraying and breaking.


When you are using a metallic thread on the top of the machine, use a 60-weight thread in the bobbin. This thread is slightly thinner than a standard 50-weight piecing thread so it will be less bulky when catching the metallic thread and holding it to the surface of the stitch.

Decrease your top tension. When you decrease the top tension, you are widening the space between the two tension plates in the sewing machine. This allows more space for the thread to travel through and puts less tension on the thread itself. Metallic threads are made by wrapping microscopically thin sheets of aluminum around a cotton core. If too much tension is placed on the metal, it will start to unwrap from the core and fray, and then break.

If you have tried all of the above steps and the thread still appears to be too tight going through the needle, skip the last thread guide (the one closest to the needle). This will frequently take just enough tension off the thread for it to relax and run through the needle successfully.

Avoid the frustrations that can occur when using metallic threads by making some simple adjustments to your sewing machine, using the right needle and the right thread in your bobbin.

Until next time,