• Category Archives Tips, Tricks and Techniques
  • Handy little secrets to make quilting easier

  • Let’s Talk Texture – Part 1

    For the most part, as quilters we deal with a fairly two dimensional medium – fabric. Most quilts are fairly flat,  at least that is what we are taught to strive for – a quilt that lies or hangs flat.  It is true that there is a little raised texture from the quilting, a sort of bas relief effect  created by the stitching that can be subtle if thin batting is used and may become more pronounced if a higher loft batting is used or the work enhanced with Trapunto (padding or stuffing individual shapes).  There is even a Faux Trapunto where you use a high loft batting and after stitching the shapes you wish to stand out, you quilt the living daylights out of the background to flatten it and enhance the puffy shapes (see photo below). In both of those methods, care must be used to distribute the puffier shapes consistently throughout the quilt or you risk ending up with a distorted quilt that won’t hang true or lie flat.

    Faux Trapunto stitching on fluffy batting

    Returning to the more subtle relief quilting, the choice of thread color will dictate whether the stitching assumes the role of a graphic design using high contrast thread or an almost invisible design made from thread that matches the fabric closely where the only  observable design is that created by the light and shadow created by the subtle raised and depressed surface of the quilting. Many quilters do not fully appreciate the overall impact that even this subtle texture has on the visual appeal of the quilt.

    Here are some tips to those quilters who have not played much with thread color choices: As a novice quilter, you may be tempted to hide your lack of stitching skills by using a thread that matches your fabric and while it’s true that this may ‘hide’ errors pretty well, the truth is that you are more likely to make errors choosing this option. It is very difficult aligning precise stitching when you can’t see well what you have previously stitched. White/cream thread on white/cream fabric is hard enough but the worst is trying to quilt on black fabric with black thread (believe me – this is the voice of experience talking here); and ripping out mistakes on this no contrast color scheme is a nightmare (been there – done that too).

    At the other (literal) end of the spectrum, quilting with a high contrast thread can create a striking graphic effect whereby the stitching becomes in essence a drawn line on your quilt. This can be gorgeous however, every little mistake or mis-stitch  will be glaringly apparent. See the coparison of the two extremems below.

    Quilting: thread color matching fabric
    Quilting: thread color contrasting fabric










    A good sensible solution is to choose a thread color that varies from the fabric just slightly by a couple of steps – lighter or darker – where your skill (or lack thereof) is not showing like a sore thumb but with a pleasing definition that shows off the stitching pattern or design to good effect.

    Quilting: Thread color close to but not quite matching fabric color

    Often I am asked by students if there is a rule of thumb regarding whether or not a quilt should be quilted in all one color of thread. My answer is that there is no set rule about this; there is no quilting ‘planning commission’ and you will not have your ‘quilting permit’ revoked because you choose to defy traditional quilting decorum.  As a matter of fact, using a variety of thread colors in one project can create a much more effective visual presentation by using higher contrast thread to draw the eye to focal motifs enhancing them and using a lower contrast thread to make the background patterns recede.

    Machine quilted in various colors of thread some matching fabrics, others contrasting fabrics – note the color change effect that the contrasting color stippling creates on the perimeter of the block
    Shell Form – fabric painted with Seta-Color paint then quilted in various colors of thread












    In summary – remember that the subtle texture created by quilting on even a low loft quilt has a major impact on the appearance of your quilt whether someone is examining it up close to see your stitching or viewing it from a distance. Choose your quilting designs and thread colors to work within your skill comfort zone but always with the knowledge that the quilting does indeed “make the quilt”.

    Stay tuned for more on texture in another post to come when I will address visual vs, physical texture.

  • In Celebration of Pencil and Paper

    In this digital age of technology I would like to pause, unplug and contemplate the low-tech pencil. These days, most of the quilters I know are all about the high tech toys. Tools like Electric Quilt and CAD programs, Adobe Illustrator… I admit I am partial to Corel Draw to bring my patterns to their pre-press stage.

    BUT – for the preliminary design stage nothing beats a pencil and paper (and a good eraser). The sheer joy of holding an organic tool that is a natural extension of my fingers and hand. There is a sensory link between my fingers and the pencil, I could swear my nerve endings run right down the wood and minerals down to the paper. I know there are some who would say the same thing about a mouse or a stylus but to me, there is an electronic barrier with those much like the difference between a phone conversation and speaking to a person in the same room or like listening to a recording vs. listening to a live performance. Digital drawing is like trying to caress and feel an object while wearing gloves.

    The process of drawing with a pencil is a meditative Zen experience – just me the pencil and the paper – no electricity, no digital translation of my motions through a filter of circuitry. Anyone who has explored tone drawing will know exactly what I am talking about; it’s like controlling your breath to evoke musical notes from a flute or the pressure of your fingers teasing ethereal sounds from a violin.

    I know it is more painstaking to work with graphite on paper, mistakes are harder to change or remove and for many processes such as duplicating a repetitive pattern, drawing by hand is more labor intensive and time consuming. I do it purely for the pleasure, the delight of seeing line and form emerge from the pencil like my life blood running down this  appendage that once had a life of its own as a part of a living tree.

    Here is an example of a contemplation in pencil, trying to work out a border design for one of my Totem quilts.

    Playing with border designs
    Playing with border designs

    And a final observation of the humble pencil – I have heard it said that NASA spent millions of dollars on research and development of a pen that would work in zero gravity; the Russians bypassed the expense and hassle by using – A PENCIL!

  • Recycle Those Greeting Cards Into – Gift Tags!

    As much as I love to quilt, it isn’t the only crafty thing I do; Paper craft is my other big love (though it definitely takes a backseat to quilting and embroidery). xmastag1

    Since childhood, I’ve been a born recycler though that term did not exist back then, it’s actually what got me interested in quilting – using up leftover scraps of fabric my mother considered trash from her garment sewing. I love making things out of paper – origami, cut paper, and paper sculpture… I also save interesting printed pieces of paper and recycle bows and ribbons for gift wrapping as long as they are in good shape. One of the other things I started to do years ago is making gift tags from this year’s Christmas cards for next year’s gift wrapping – one less holiday item to buy and it gives a second life to the cards before going into a recycling bin.

    To make these you will need:

    • A cutting mat, rotary cutter and 6” square (or thereabouts) cutting ruler. The cutter blade should be sharp but it xmastag3will probably be useless for fabric after this project so an older blade that needs replacing anyway is a good option.
    • A ‘bone’ paper folding knife or similar tool (I use the blunt backside of a seam ripper)
    • Small craft hole-punch (optional) – Fiskars makes one that makes a ⅛” hole.
    • Craft glue stick (optional); make sure it is a permanent adhesive
    • Holiday Greeting cards


    1. Any card can be turned into a gift tag but I like to select cards with design elements that will fit well into the small xmastag4tag format; in many cases I can get several tags from one card. The tags can be any size or shape you want as long as they are not too large.
    2. If the card is free of personal writing on the backside of the cover, you can simply cut out a square/rectangle that it twice as wide (or tall if using a top fold) as the finished size you want for the image selected. TIP: in some cases you might even be able to cut the tag near enough to the original fold in the card to use it as your fold; otherwise, you will need to score a folding crease. The crease can be horizontal or vertical depending on where you want the fold in relation to the front image (the tag can fold along the left side like a book or along the top edge). Make the crease on the ‘inside’ of the tag using your ruler to measure precisely where it should go and the bone knife or other tool to score a fold line.xmastag6
    3. Fold the tag along the crease line and burnish the fold with the smooth edge of the tool (or your thumbnail) to set the crease. Depending on how accurately you placed the crease line, you may need to trim and neaten the tag edges with the rotary cutter and ruler. The resulting tag can be fixed to the gift with scotch tape or you can punch a hole in the top left-hand corner if you want to attach the tag with a loop of ribbon or string – helpful if you are attaching a tag to an odd shaped object like a gift basket.
    4. if there is writing on the backside of the cover but you like and want to use the image, you can still cut out a square or rectangle with the part of the image you want and glue it to the ‘front’ of a piece of folded cardstock. TIP: I often salvage the blank parts of the cards to make these folded tag blanks and then trim the images to fit on them.xmastag7b
    5. Other tips: In some cases, you might be able to salvage the commercially printed ‘sentiment’ inside the card so your tag might read ‘Season’s Greetings’ or ‘Peace and Joy be with you’ on the tag cover. Cutting the tags from the cards with a rotary cutter is fast and accurate but you can add decorative edges to the tags by cutting with the contoured paper craft scissors available at craft stores. In cases where I remember who sent me the card, I often use a tag made from their card on a gift for the sender the following year (not that I’m certain they might remember it was their card but it’s fun anyway).

    I know some of you will think this is a lot of fussy work (I had one cynical person tell me to ‘get a life’ when I showed xmastag8these to a craft group) but I love the fact that I am giving a second ‘life’ to something that would otherwise go straight into a recycling bin or a landfill if the card material is not recyclable plus I’m not having to buy premade gift tags along with the other wrapping paraphernalia; so save those greeting cards and give them a little more life before discarding (pun intended) them.