Back To Basics
Make the Cut! Accuracy is the most important thing when cutting patches for a quilt. Cutting even just a sixteenth of an inch off can make huge difference in a quilt with many pieces! Having the right tools can make all the difference. The rotary cutter, acrylic ruler and self healing cutting mat have made it much easier to be accurate (not to mention fast!) These three items will be some of your best quilting investments. Be sure to replace your ruler if the markings are worn off or edges are nicked or rough. Change the blade in your rotary cutter often - a dull blade makes cutting hard and the cutter may catch or drag. A dull blade may also damage your mat.
Measure twice - cut once! It's much better to double check before you cut rather than make a mistake! Carefully line up the markings on the ruler with the markings on the mat. Cut away from yourself, holding the ruler down firmly with the non cutting hand. Slowly walking that hand up the ruler as you cut will keep the ruler from sliding to the side (and keep your cut accurate!)
Accurate Stitching is the key! Quilt patterns generally call for a ¼ inch seam. Sewing that ¼ inch consistently is a feat you will want to master! Just a small variation can make a real difference in the finished size of the quilt, how patches fit together in a block,and especially in the sharpness of those oh-so-important star points! Here are some ways to improve your stitching accuracy:
1. If your machine doesn't have a ¼ inch marking on the bed, place a piece of masking tape exactly ¼ inch from your machine needle and use it as a guide.
2. Practice! Stitch 2½" scrap squares together.If your seams are accurate, you should end up with a pair of squares that is 4½" wide.Unpick and redo until you are satisfied with the results! (Note: You can save the resulting units to make four patches for small projects!)
Pressing Matters! It really does! Pressing after every seam is important for accuracy (there's that word again!) and for making your work look finished. Use a dry ironand press the seam as stitched- lift and press down- do not move the iron side to side! (steam and movement can distort the grain) This sets the stitches into the cloth. Then either press the seam to one side or open as instructed in your pattern. Press consistently and you will notice a marked difference in the quality of your piecing!
It's hip to be square....yes it is! Squaring each block will ensure that your finished quilt top will behave when being quilted (especially if it is to be machine quilted!) and that it will lay or hang flat to be admired! Squaring is a simple thing to do. It takes a little time but the results are really worth it - so don't skip this step! Use a square ruler with a diagonal line (larger than the desired block size), cutting mat and rotary cutter for this task. Place the block on the mat. Place the ruler over the block, aligning the diagonal line at top right and bottom left corner and making sure the part of the block under the mat is aligned on the markings for the block size. For example, if this is a 6½" block, the side and bottom of the block are aligned on the 6½" marking. Carefully trim the top and sides that extend beyond the ruler. Rotate the block, realign the edges and trim the remaining sides (previously under the ruler) if necessary.
It is worth the time it takes to neatly layer and baste a quilt before quilting. Performing this step with care makes a huge difference in the final appearance of your quilt. If the quilt is large, it is helpful to enlist the aid of a friend! First, all layers must be prepared. Square up and press the quilt top and backing. Unfold the batting and let it "rest" overnight so any folds will relax. Find a space or table large enough to work on (a clean floor will do if there is no table available) and lay out the backing tautly, smoothing any folds. It can be helpful to tape the edges with painters tape or some other low tack tape. Place the batting over the backing, again taking care that no folds form. Finally, center the quilt top over batting and backing (batting and backing will extend beyond the quilt top).
Basting can be accomplished with safety pins or with needle and thread. Regardless of the basting tools used, the method is the same. Begin at the center of the quilt and work outward, in a grid pattern. Work carefully, the goal is to secure the layers evenly, so that no puckers occur during quilting. Topin baste, choose size one or two rustproof safety pins. Begin at the center of the quilt, working outward place pins about 4-5 inches apart (use the width of your hand as a guide). To thread baste, choose a long needle (to easily penetrate all layers) and preferably, white thread (colored thread can crock, leaving unwanted color on your quilt). Baste a line of long (2-3") stitches across the center, down the center, and then from corner to corner of the quilt in an X. Baste additional horizontal and vertical lines as necessary to secure the layers for quilting. Basting method is a matter of preference, although some quilters prefer pins when machine quilting as stitches tend to get caught up in the presser foot of the machine.
Before choosing a quilting method, it's best to consider how the quilt will be used. Is this a child's quilt that must withstand a lot of hard use and laundering? A wall hanging that will not be handled? Choose machine quilting ot tying for those quilts that will see a lot of service and reserve intricate hand quilting or fancy threads for quilts that will serve a decorative purpose.
Tying is the easiest and quickest way to secure the quilt sandwich. It consists of knots tied through all 3 layers,placed at regular intervals across the quilt. See out Tips and Hints section for a great tip on tying quilts.
Stitching in the ditch is an easy machine method and great for beginners. Start at the center of the quilt and work outwards, stitching along the seam between patches. The stitches will "melt" into the seam. Use a matching thread and the stitches will be virtually invisible yet the quilt will have dimension. Plan the stitching to accent pieced motifs such as stars for more impact!
Machine quilting can be accomplished on any home sewing machine. For easy freestyle quilting, just lower the feeddogs, set a steady pace and move the quilt along as you create loops, stipples, etc. Practice this method on orphan blocks before starting on the quilt. Standard quilting motifs may also be machine quilted, just mark the quilting design with chalk or washable pencil before beginning. Just stitch along the marked motif.
Hand quilting takes longer but is a very satisfying method. Using a special quilting needle called a 'between" and quilting thread, stitch along the marked motif using small regular stitches. Bury all knots in the batting for a smooth surface.
For more information and instruction on quilting methods, visit your local shop.