New to Quilting?

If you are brand new to quilting and don't know where to begin, start with the posts in September 2011 (look in the blog archive). The first four posts cover basics such as choosing equipment, choosing colors, how to sew 1/4" seams, how to use a rotary cutter, and how to press (not iron) your block during construction.

Friday, September 30, 2011

Perfect 1/4" Seams And Chain Sewing

It is as important to have an exact 1/4" seam as it is to cut your fabric accurately.

It may seem like a waste of time to check your machine and make sure that you can sew an accurate 1/4" seam (or scant 1/4" seam depending on your thread, fabric, and sewing machine) but it is well worth the time it takes to have your block turn out as close to the finished measurement as possible. Not only will your block look nicer when it is finished, it will be the right size and your quilt will go together much more easily.

Here are a few videos showing how to get a perfect 1/4" seam.

Here's a video explaining chain sewing blocks as well as pressing (versus ironing) blocks:

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Monday, September 26, 2011

Choosing Colors

Choosing colors is really hard! And I am not an expert!

When I first started quilting I picked one fabric that I loved (I call that my main fabric, feature fabric, or theme fabric), and then choose a background fabric as the 'canvas'. I brought my my main fabric with me to the fabric store so I could pick other fabrics that use either the same color(s) or coordinate with that fabric. I always used the background fabric in each block, and I often used the main fabric in each block.

Now I often have a background fabric or a background color, and then work with color families.

In each block you need a light (or background) fabric, a medium fabric, and dark fabric to provide contrast in your block and your quilt. You can often use the same color with different hues (light, medium and dark) or you can use a color family to represent the light, medium, and dark.

Yes, I know, very confusing! And I am NOT an expert! Feel free to post a comment if you have any suggestions.

It is easiest to pick one fabric that you love and a background fabric. Then pick two other fabrics that you think look nice next to your main fabric.

Crystal's quilt is going to be blue and white, so I gathered up all the blue scraps of fabric that I have. We are using a background of Kona 98 (slightly off white) and lots of blue scraps of fabrics.

Clockwise from left to right: dark blues, medium blues, light blues, white (background fabric which will be used in all the blocks)
In the photo above you can see that I have lots of dark blues. We'll have to add more medium and light blues to our stash as we go along. We can take her favorite dark, medium, and light to the store with us and find other blues that look good with the ones that she already has picked out.

Leftover scraps from Tim's quilt. Clockwise from top left: black (background used in all the blocks), red, orange, yellows, purples, and blues. The red, blue, and purple were often the dark fabric in the block, the orange and yellows were the mediums and/or lights. There was also a teal that I ran out of that worked well as a medium or light fabric.
Easy color choices would be red, white and blue. The white-ish on the left is the light (or background) color, the red provides the medium, and the blue provides the dark. Christmas is another easy color combination: white (background) green as the dark, and red as the medium.
This line of fabric was created so that they all match. Not much value difference in these, the top left is definitely a dark color, but much of the rest is medium color values.
Clockwise from the left: all different off-whites for the background colors (they are all very similar in color but all have a bit of printed pattern to provide visual texture), yellow provides a good medium tone, brown, green and red (depending on what color it is combined with in the block the red can either be a medium or a dark)
The blue provides the dark value, the yellow is a medium tone, and the white is the light. In this block the yellow is used as the background fabric and the white is the light.

In this block the white is the background, the green is the dark fabric, and the yellow is the light .
In these blocks the basket part of the block is dark and the flower part of the block is medium or light.
The block on the left has a definite dark, medium, and light as well as the background color white. The block on the right is all mediums as well as the background color white. The block on the left is much nicer to look at because the pattern is very clear and visually pleasing, while the block on the right just doesn't look quite as nice.
If it seems confusing, that's normal! Make it easy on yourself and realize that not every block is going to turn out perfectly, not every quilt is going to be perfect, and you are going to learn alot along the quilting journey. Quilters almost always learn something new with each quilt they make. I know I do!

If you don't want to 'mess up' or 'waste fabric' then take a deep breath and realize that there are no mistakes--only unwanted results. If you learned something from the block you just made then it was a success and worth the time spent.

Here's something to make you feel better: I just tossed one completed block into the garbage because I measured wrong and it turned out too small!

Here's a link with a tutorial about color theory for quilters:
Color Basics for Quilters

Here's a video on making your own color wheel with your own colors:

A video describing color value ("You know what you love, you know what colors make you happy, go with those colors"):

Choosing a theme fabric:


My list of essential equipment if you are quilting at home. If I have left anything out, please leave a comment below!
First on the list is a sewing machine. My machine has a 1/4" foot that makes it much easier to sew 1/4" seams for quilt blocks. I also have a walking foot, not necessary, but it helps keep the top and bottom fabric aligned. Use a NEW needle! I generally use a size 10 needle. A dull needle will push your fabric into the hole on your machine and get it caught in the bobbin case!
If you don't have a 1/4" foot, you can line up a ruler under your sewing machine needle and measure out 1/4" to find where to align your fabric when you are sewing.
I also have a good, bright light near my sewing machine since the machine light itself isn't bright enough for me.
Rulers, scissors (some to snip threads with at least), a rotary cutter, and thin pins.
Rulers: If you are only going to get one ruler, I would suggest a 6" x 24" ruler. It's a bit long, but it allows you to cut strips easily. 

Scissors: I have some fancy Ginghers scissors, but they are stashed in a drawer. For quilting I usually only need a pair of scissors to cut threads.

Pins: I have headless pins, they really do have a small head on them, but it is up to you whether you like heads on pins or not. It is very important to get sharp, thin pins. You can't sew over thick pins, but you can sew over thin pins. If you can sew over your pins, your blocks sew together much more accurately.

My assortment of rulers. There are more in a drawer. If there was a Rulers Anonymous group, I would probably have to go! (Yes, I use them ALL!) 
Another essential if you are quilting at home, a cutting mat. I have a variety, but I usually use the yellow one in the background. 
Cutting Mat: I have an old kitchen table in my sewing room so I really like a large cutting mat. Mine is a Fiskars Brand because I like having two colors (mine is yellow on the front and light green on the back). It doesn't matter what color I am cutting, I can always see the fabric depending on the mat side I am using.

In the photo above, the green mat on the left is a Clover brand mat. For me that was a much better color than the dark green Olfa mat on the right. Both the Clover and the Olfa mats have cutting lines on one side and are plain on the other. 

To tell how far off your cutting mat lines are, line up a large ruler with the mat's cutting lines.
This is where my large ruler lines up at one edge of the cutting mat.

This is where the ruler lines up with the bottom edge of the cutting mat. My mat is 1/16" short over 24" however, the lines are exactly perpendicular, so I can use the mat lines as a square.
Some people don't like to use the lines on their cutting mat so they use the reverse (un-lined) side. I use the lines to line up the edges of my fabric (like using a carpenter's square), but I use the ruler for measuring.

Ironing surface, iron, and Magic Sizing.
You can use a towel folded up to iron on, or a small table top ironing board. Fiskars or Clover used to sell a padded ironing surface that had a cutting mat on the other side. I have a very large, wide ironing board because when I am ironing yards of fabric I want to iron as much as possible at one time. My ironing board has a 12 1/2" square that I drew on the center. I use that to stretch my blocks if they end up just a tiny bit small.

Any iron will do, I've used the cheap $10 irons before, and they work fine. You need an iron that has a setting for no steam.

Magic Sizing is on my essential list because if I am ironing fabric, especially after it has been washed, I like to add a little bit of body back into the fabric to make it easier to cut and sew. Magic Sizing also makes it easier to get out wrinkles. I don't use starch because it gunk's up the bottom of the iron. There are also some very nice (very expensive) ironing aids that smell really nice! Google "ironing spray" or "ironing aids".)

Non-essentials: Scotch tape, chenille needle, and a "hairy".
Scotch tape: For taping together rulers to make a bigger, longer, or otherwise more usable ruler. I use it especially if I am making a block that is more than 12 1/2".

Chenille Needle: I use a chenille (blunt pointed needle) because I don't have a stiletto. It is used to push seam allowances under your presser foot as you sew. You can also use a bamboo skewer or a small awl.

"Hairy": Some sewing machines can't 'catch' the end of the block cleanly without pushing the fabric down the needle hole. If you start sewing from the middle of a piece of scrap fabric, then put your block under the foot, you always have a nice edge at the top of your block. It's also called a "Starty-Stoppy" or a "Leader".

Pencil: I also use a pencil for drawing diagonal lines on fabric usually when I am sewing triangle pieces.

Good cotton thread
Thread: I use Aurifil. Gutermann also makes a good cotton thread. It is really important to use cotton thread when you are sewing on cotton fabric. Aurifil and Gutermann are both thin, long staple cotton threads that are very strong and shed very little lint. 

Your bobbin case will stay cleaner if the thread doesn't shed lint, which means your machine will have less wear and tear. 

A thin thread means that your 1/4" seam will be more accurate because the thread won't take up much (if any) of the seam allowance. 

Long staple means that it is a very strong thread which will hold up as long as your quilt. 

Don't use a poly-cotton thread if you are sewing on cotton fabric. Once in a while the lower quality thread will rip through the fabric and there will be almost no way to repair the block. It generally happens after the quilt is finished and has been washed a few times.