Advice from the Experts: Amy Gibson & Ann Petersen Offer Their Solutions to Quilting/Sewing Trouble

We recently sat down with the superstar stitchers and Craftsy online class instructors, Amy Gibson and  Ann Petersen to get some words of wisdom. Their quilts have won tremendous accolades, and together, they have nearly 80,000 students enrolled in their online Craftsy classes. Their points are precise, their seams are straight, and their blocks are beautiful. In other words, they know what they’re doing!

In this post, they give their biggest pieces of advice on how to avoid the following five quilting follies:

  • Pleated and wrinkled quilt backs.
  • Blocks that turn out too small.
  • Thread tension-related problems.
  • Distorted and wavy borders.
  • Boring blocks.

1. Pleated/Wrinkled Quilt Backs
When preparing for basting the quilt sandwich, be careful not to stretch that back so tightly that you see pull marks. When you pull that tightly, then release it, you end up with pleated and wrinkled backing. (Tip by Ann Petersen, instructor of the online Craftsy classes Beyond Basic Machine Quilting and Quilting Big Projects on a Small Machine.)

2. Blocks that Turn Out Too Small
Check your seam allowance! This is a hard-learned lesson, especially if you're making a block for a bee and it must turn out a specific size. Better to take the time to make sure your seams are accurate, before having to re-make a block because it came out too small. (Tip by Amy Gibson, instructor of the Craftsy Block of the Month.)

3. Thread Tension-Related Problems.
There are really two things to consider here. The first is how to prevent them in the first place, and the second is to minimize how visible tension inconsistencies are. First of all, consider that our sewing machines are factory set for garment sewing with polyester threads. So don’t hesitate to adjust your tension dial as you sew. (But make a note of where it was in case you want to go back.) Then, use the same color thread in your bobbin as you are quilting with on the top.  It will help minimize those little tension inconsistencies that happen as you change direction.  You can hide the color of thread on the back by picking a busy print, or flaunt it with an almost solid color! (Tip by Ann Petersen, instructor of the online Craftsy classes Beyond Basic Machine Quilting and Quilting Big Projects on a Small Machine.)

4. Distorted and Wavy Borders
Quilt evenly! If you quilt one part of your project very heavily, but then put very little quilting in another section (especially the border), you are absolutely guaranteed to get waves and distortion in your borders. Balance is the key!  (Tip by Ann Petersen, instructor of the online Craftsy classes Beyond Basic Machine Quilting and Quilting Big Projects on a Small Machine.)

5. Boring Blocks
Of the many secrets to making interesting blocks, here are two that---interestingly---might seem at odds with each other. The first is to not limit yourself. Never, ever rule out a pattern or technique just because it looks like it might be too difficult.  Sure, there are some techniques you will just not enjoy once you've given them the old college try, but you never know until you actually try them out. And you might be surprised at what turns out to be a fantastic new addition to your skill arsenal. Secondly, don’t get hung up on originality! No one wants to be unoriginal, of course, but don’t sweat it. The fact is, nearly every modern block has clear roots in an older traditional block.  It's so rare to come out with a pattern that's 100% new and unique (after all, it's only geometry!), so don't let this keep you from being inspiring to create and design what you love.  You can still make a design yours by putting your own spin on it with creative choices in fabric selection, layout, and quilting. (Tip by Amy Gibson, instructor of the Craftsy Block of the Month.)

Your turn, Craftsy members! What are YOUR tips for avoiding sewing/quilting pitfalls? Leave them in the comments!

155 Comments

Wendy

I am making a quilt that has a 2 foot cat made from fun fur, to sew on. The question is does it need stabilizer, and how would you sew it on. Zigzag? Very tight Zigzag? Just a normal stitch/
Any advice?

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Ruth

I think the easiest way to do it would be to treat it like an applique. Just make sure you trim the fur down along the outside edges before sewing it, no matter how you decide to do it, or you’ll be picking the fur out of the stitches to make it lay right.

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Nola

Depending on the details of the cat, it might be possible to sew a lightweight fabric – right sides together with the fur, then turn inside out. When I do this technique, I often sew all the way around, and then cut a slash in the middle of the backing fabric and then turn it inside out. It also helps to snip into the seam allowance toward the stitching line on the curves before turning inside out. When it it completely turned inside out, then sew it to your quilt however you wish.

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Leona

Be sure to trim off some of the fur from the edges so it does not get caught up in the backing fabric at the stitch line. It is not much fur. I ususally trim away a little less than the seam allowance and then be sure to push the fur to the inside of the seam as you go. Clip the corners for good turning and then use a baby brush or soft toothbrush on the seams to loosen up the fur from inside the seam. Be gentle to not disturb the seams. I use this when I make toys for my granddaughter. It is time consuming, but the results are good.

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Leona

Forgot one thing I use a knit stich for stretching and tugging, you won’t have popping stitches. If you dont’t have a knit stich use a long wavy zig zag.

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Melissa

I have used dryer sheets…that have been left in the dryer several times. Sew right sides together then slit the dryer sheet and turn inside out. Not my idea, heard it at Guild meeting.

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Mary Grady

Unless you’re certain you’ve used up all the fabric softener in a sheet, never use these dryer sheets for applique. The softener in the sheet is a little oily (so that it’ll spread over the clothing when warmed.) If there is any softener in a used sheet (and mine have this constantly), it will stain the applique you are trying to create. You really don’t want an applique you’ve worked so hard on to have a stained edge. Instead of using these, I found that a lightweight to mid-weight sew-in interfacing worked better.

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Nancy

I would use an iron on interfacing the same size as the cat. Sew all the way around and then cut a slit in the interfacing and turn right side out. Iron it onto the quilt and stitch around the edge with a blind hem stitch in invisible thread.

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Elizabeth Johnson

If you have problem with breaking thread while sewing sometimes it is as simple as changing brands of thread or a heavier weight.

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Sally

Perhaps the thread is too big for the needle hence it breaks, so changing your needle to a bigger size will stop that.

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Tonia Ward

Watch the age of your thread. As thread ages it can become brittle and will break easily.

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Peggy Toomey

Also, I always start a new project with a new needle. That often solves my breaking thread problem. And I use the same brand of thread with my machine all the time. Seems when I change brands, my machine just doesn’t like it.

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Lynne De Boer

Something to remember when choosing your thread is that the “bargain” threads are no bargain – these are made my milling the scraps left on the floor of the factories into one long line of broken threads. This creates weak spots all along the thread because it isn’t spun or milled from the cotton into a SINGLE STRAND of thread that is immediately put on a spool. Another thing that is important to remember is the thread has a “grain”. Even the best thread has a smooth feel when you hold the end while it is still attached to the spool and run your thumb and forefinger down the length. It is rougher or more course if you run your fingers from the spool down to the free end. Always thread your needed from the free cut end and knotting the other end. This will give you a smooth stitch because you are going WITH the grain rather than against.

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Gail

What is the “free cut end” of the thread? I was told to thread the needle using the end that came off the spool first, not last. I remember it by imagining threading the needle, unwinding the desired length, then cutting it. But I’m not positive whether that’s correct or backwards. Thanks.

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Lauren

righties should thred the (hand-sewing) needle with the end that comes off the spool LAST, lefties thread the bit that came off FIRST. I think of RIGHT against the spool and LEADING with the left. This prevents the thread twisting into lops that knot up wile you sew.

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Bonnie Shepherd

Thank you so much for the tread lesson. Now I know why when treading a strraw needle sometimes it will just not go thru the small eye.

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Ellen Jackson

Please don’t be afraid of not being perfect! When I was learning to quilt my fantastic teacher made me paranoid about perfect blocks. Then I went to the American museum at Bath to see their quilt colection (Amish quilts mostly, and very beautiful ) guess what? They didn’t stitch any better than us! Their stitches are not smaller, neither are they more even. The trick seems to be, do what you enjoy with out regard to other peoples idea of what is right!

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QuiltDude

I agree with you, Ellen. The trick here is to make sure you are enjoying what you’re doing. I beat myself up as well over having a perfect quilt. Now, I just go with the flow, and my quilting has gotten better with practice, but I don’t sweat over minor details that in the end, won’t really show. Thanks for posting this advice. 🙂

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Pat Walling

Just remember that you are your worst critic. When you are working on your quilt, you know exactly what you want it to look like. Nobody else does. They just know they like what they see.

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Shirley in Kansas

My motto is “Better finished than perfect!” I don’t want to have a sloppy mess, but I don’t sweat the minor imperfections. Trying to be too precise and perfect just sucks all the joy out of it for me! My quilts are for family and friends, and they don’t mind if they’re not blue ribbon caliber.

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Brenda

That is my reply!! Better finished than perfect.

Mary Dylke

I totally agree with Ellen’s comments. Relax and have fun. Quilting is a fantastic hobby. You can play with all sorts of fabrics – colours, patterns, themes. All a quilt is is a big rectangle (or some other shape!) waiting for you to create it. It doesn’t have to fit (like clothing) and if it turns out that you’re not completely happy with it, figure out why and then make another one taking into consideration your learning! I seldom use patterns – I either have a theme in mind (e.g., one of my next themes will be rock bands) or the fabric reminds me of something, and design my quilt around that idea. The key thing is to remember this is “play time” and have fun with it.

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Pat Walling

Also Mary, what you don’t like someone else may. I don’t believe that any quilt is unsaveable. Just have fun. Life is too short.

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jo

I totally agree. There are things that we all “pick apart” in our own quilts, but beauty is in the Eye of the Beholder. There is usually someone who either really loves the colors and the design and this person is usually the recieptiant of the quilt who I made it for. Wink wink.

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Ann Thompson

I agree,most of us quilt for ourselves,if we are happy with the result,thats all that matters.

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Marie Kerbrat

When I started quilting my daughter wanted my first quilt. She said that way she would be able to compare it to the ones I made after that. I have made 9 in the last year and the comparison to my first one are unreal – I have gotten so much better. I can’t wait for the next year.

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Lynn

When I first started quilting I was afraid to cut into the fabric for fear that it would not be straight on the grain or however I was suppose to cut it. I went to a class and the instructor said, “don’t worry about it, do you think the pioneer women worried about it”. Since then I have been “full steam ahead”, cutting to the best of my ability. So far (20 years later), I have been happy with my results! Happy cutting and Quilting!

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Peggy Toomey

I’m new to quilting. And since I started out with clothing, I’ve been worried with straight of grain constantly in quilting. Thank you for setting my mind “straight” about that!

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Mary Grady

There are a few (very few) times when the grain is important in quilting. For example, never, never, never put a bias edge along the outside edge(s) of your quilt. Obviously, bias edges stretch (we rely on them to do this) so having any part of the edge of a quilt section (like the design area or as part of the border) will give you wavy areas in your quilt top. The better way is to cut all of your last border strips on the lengthwise grain. It has no stretch and will “secure” those measurements nicely.

On the other hand, grain is “our friend” because if you need a vine or need a binding for a scalloped edge, cut those strings on the bias and they will lay down beautifully. For straight edge binding, a little give is a good thing (for those corners) so cutting the binding along the crosswise grain is perfect. It has a little give, but not enough to make your life difficult.

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jeanne

i really like to hand quilt and am left handed. the ‘normal’ method of hand quilting doesn’t work for me…i use the stab stitch and am much happier and my stitches are more even.

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Christine

Our quilt club has a saying from Eleanor Burns (and I paraphrase) “can you see it from the back of a galloping horse?” when we do our show & tell and the quilter points out the “obvious” (to him/her) defects. Everyone laughs and relaxes!. Another belief is that beauty is in the imperfections.

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Mary

I am of the belief that if I make the perfect quilt, I will have to stop quilting because you can’t get any better than perfection. And who wants to stop quilting? Not me!!

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Nita

Ellen, my great aunt who inspired me to begin quilting taught me an important lesson long before I began quilting. I was watching her quilt one day and saw her make a mistake but keep on going. I commented and she looked at me with a smile and said that all her quilts have a mistake on them. In response to the shock on my face, she smiled and said “Nita, only the work of God’s hands is perfect. So I plan my mistakes!” I have found this to be true in many things in my life.

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Martha

If our quilts were perfect in every way there would be no character in them. Our quilts should sewn with love not perfection. I can’t sew a straight seam 90% of the time and I absolutely spend more than my share of time taking out seams that are to large. So all of my quilts have character and some more than others. So just have fun and who knows one day it will all come together. I have great fun in creating my quilts and seeing peoples faces when I give them one. Makes me happy.

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Cecilia Magor

Another thing I’ve learn about innacurate size blocks is that I must square each block ( don’t like the patterns that do not specify the size of the finished block), then check if the quilt is square again after I’ve put my blocks together before adding any sashing or border :o)

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Sheryl

Yes, you must use stabilizer. Without stabilizer the material stretches out of shape. I use a stretch stitch that is on my mechine, but a zigzag stitch would be fine.

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Macy Warr

As an avid sewer of fur hats, scarves and bags, if you can shave the seam allowance, it definitely makes the project easier to finish. I’ve used a regular longer straight stitch for turning accessories inside out, but a zigzag (not too tight) will suffice for applique. Also a comb helps tame those ends.

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Sherry

Regarding the sewing of fur, you said “shave the seam allowance.” What do you use to “shave” the fur? –a special tool? Thanks.

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Carolyn

You can use a little electric shaver – I use the one I use on my husband between trips to the barber works fine. You can also just snip with scissors to take the fur off the backing just on the seam allowance.

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Joyce Ward

I’d rather not shave the fur – it’s messy and time-consuming. I’ve made a lot of (fake) fur animals and I just use straight stitch on the seams. It’s isn’t necessary to turn under on a fur applique – it’s not going to ravel, the backing is knit. I’d rather pick out the seams when I’m done. I use a blunt yarn needle. It’s a good TV watching activity. Don’t sweat it!

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Carolyn Bunch

I do a lot of machine embroidery and I would suggest you use a stablizer and statin stitch. The fun fur will be heavy and needs the stablizer to hold it up.
Carolyn Bunch

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Julie@ The Crafty Quilter

Thanks for the great tips! Another word of advice for avoiding wavy borders is to measure and cut your borders to fit your quilt top before adding them on. Don’t add a long border strip and then lop off the extra overhang. Measure through the middle and both edges of your quilt and then take an average of those three measurements to come up with the cut size for your first two borders. Repeat that process after sewing those on for the remaining two sides. This will help to keep your quilt “square” also.

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Gail Tucker

I try and cut borders along the lengthwise grain but even when I can I still mark the border with registration marks. I use avaerage measurements of my blocks, sashing etc to come up with those numbers. If the edge of my pieced quilt has an 8 in block and a 2 in sashing then that is what I mark along the wrong side of my border line it up with pieceing seams. It is hard to accuratley measure a long edge or middle of a quilt. Even with a small amout of space anyone can accurately measure quilt blocks. If I am attaching an unpieced border to another, I put registrations marks every 6 in on both pieces.

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Patti

On my machine, Viking, I do not have the option of adjusting the lower tension as far as I can tell. But, I have heard for those that do have that kind of machine that purchasing an extra bobbin case that you adjust to your hearts content and leaving the other at the factory setting is a good idea. Makes sense to me. I wish I had the option to adjust!

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Claudette P.

Vikings have extra bobbin cases you can buy… at least mine does (Quilt Designer II.) Talk to your dealer and see if they can find you one.

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Starling

I do not know if the Viking is built like my Baby Lock is, but my drop in bobbin actually goes into a bobbin case that can be taken out of the machine. I used to have a Singer with a drop in bobbin, and never tried to take that bobbin case out for cleaning, but I’ve got this strange feeling it came out too.

Go to your dealer and ask them to show you how to take the bottom of the machine apart (and put it back together again ) so you can thoroughly clean it. If that case comes out, ask where the adjustment is and if they will get you a second one.

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Gail Laub

I have a Viking Designer Diamond and I have bought an extra bobbin case to “experiment” with without worrying about losing the factory setting on the other one. It’s not particularly expensive but gives you peace of mind!

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Peggy Toomey

I also have a Viking. And my dealer always tells us to not touch that bobbin tension. Instead I purchased an extra one to use when I am stitching with decorative cords that I hand wind on the bobbin and and need to adjust the tension to sew it on. Would not want to mess up the regular bobbin tension.

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Karen W

Patti, I would think you CAN adjust your tension (you don’t say which model you have). I have a Viking Designer SE & didn’t realize I could adjust it. Before you go to the expense of buying an extra bobbin case — that you may not really need (I got one for my older Pfaff & rarely use it). Take your machine back to the shop where you bought it & see if they can show you how to do it. Perhaps a couple of lessons would be in order (most shops offer them for free if you purchased the machine from them). I’ve learned something new everytime I take a class & I’ve been sewing for over 50 yrs!

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Debbie Thompson

Even though the Viking Machine is set at the factory, there is a small tension screw on the bobbin case to adjust tension if you wish to do so and in the computer you can adjust the top thread tension as well.. Most of the “bobbin” issues that my students have are usually from the top thread. We usually see the issues in the bobbin or on the back side, but birds nests and sloppy threads are usually because of a top threading error or the threads not being caught into the tension springs through the machine when the top thread is threaded in the machine. This is true of my Mega Quilter as well as my Diamond and has held true when I have worked with other brands of machines as a sewing instructor.

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Laura

Another way to avoid wavy borders is to measure the quilt top to bottom in the center of the quilt, also when measuring side to side, always measure the center of the quilt.

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Cheryl Morris

Prevent wavy borders–you MUST measure the middle of the quilt in several places to get the smallest measurement BEFORE cutting the borders. Then ease in the sides of the quilt center when pinning on the border (edges of center get stretched out by handling & folding, and the rotation of the earth! If you don’t, the border will be almost “ruffled”…won’t look bad at first but very obvious later & have to take it all out. Even quilting 2-3x as much in the border can’t fix it. We’ve tested this out for you 🙁

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Vickie

Great advice to prevent wavy borders, Cheryl. In addition, I’ve learned that even after all the measuring, the back will often be a bit larger than the quilt top. In this case, fold the border in half and in half again, finger pressing the folds. Then pin from the middle first, then the ends, then outwards from the middle at each fold. Then comes the important part. Sew on the border with the border on the bottom. This allows the machine’s feed dogs to do their work and take in the slack. It works every time for me. It was one of the most valuable tips I’ve ever learned from a published quilt author who came to our guild to speak and give a workshop.

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Carroll

If you have problems with tension, etc with your machine and you have done all you can and getting too upset, let a professional help. This happen to me and it was so worth it. Now my machine is working. The last half of the quilt was so much better.

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Cathy

I agree, if you tired rethreading and a new needle but just can’t get the tension right it is porbably time to have your machine professionaly cleaned and adjusted. The money spent on maintenance is worth it to save yourself the aggravation when your machine doesn’t work

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Pat Hitchcock

I always take pictures of my quilts. I just learned this week that by using the “scenery” or “landscape” setting on my digital camera that I get a larger exposure (of course) but that with the telephoto button, the particular pattern shows up very clearly. Hope you can use this tip.

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Margaret M

Pat is right, always take pictures, but I even use it in the design phase. Sometimes I am just using the viewer to see contrast. I had random scraps coming for an autograph/get well quilt for my sister with no clue as to color or value. I used my design board and view finder of my phone camera to judge and adjust. Very pleasing end.

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Vickie

Thanks for that great tip, Pat. I also take pictures of my quilts. Now I will take a telephoto shot as well. I put the photos in my quilt journal with a few words about the experience itself, for whom the quilt was made, the name of the pattern, and what was going on at the time. I made a quilt of valor last year while I was watching/listening to Kansas play in the NCAA tournament. Not only did I note this in my journal next to its photo, I also noted it on the label itself just as a piece of personal trivia for the quilt and for the brave man or woman who received it.

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Janet North

As a quilting instructor, I have seen many problems with quilt blocks being different sizes when different rulers are used in cutting out block pieces. Although the rulers should have identical calibrations, when side-by-side, some are significantly different. When you have several seams in a block, even the slightest inconsistencies will soon add up and make a noticeable difference in the overall block size.

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Glenna Williams

Ever pieced the backing for a quilt and it is full of ripples and not even close to hanging straight?
When sewing scraps together, make sure all of the pieces’ length-wise fabric grain is going the same direction, either all up & down or all side to side. It is easy to see the length-wise of fabric by slightly stretching the fabric. It will not stretch, while the width-wise grain will be fairly stretchy.

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nancy breitkopf

i wish i had read this a few months ago…to use up numerous scraps i decided to randomly piece them together for a backing now while hand quilting it some of the area’s are all wrinkly and i couldn’t figure out why …i had pin basted it together when sandwiching and pulled tought and smooth when putting it in my quilt frame …so now i know what the problem is and will remember this if i make another backing in this manner…thank you for the info… i am 74 yrs young and have een quilting “for some time” never too old to learn …..

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Silverlining

I totally agree with Janet about using the same ruler to have identical calibrations. Not all rulers are the same. I really appreciate her tip. Also, I am new to quilting. That being said I have found that if I want points to match up, etc.; then I baste the seam first and check it – take it out and adjust if necessary. This keeps me from ripping out seams, wasting fabric and time. I also found that if sewing a straight seam exactly 1/4″ or a “Scant 1/4” inch – I can place a piece of painters tape on the sewing machine as a guideline beside the needle. This helps me practice if my eyes aren’t right on track. Also, one tip given to me that really helps is that some beginners look at their needle when sewing….No! not me. I look at the presser foot to guide my stitch. Hope this helps.

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Debbie Thompson

Believe it or not I had this same problem, but not with the rulers themselves, but the calibrations by using two different sewing machines. I learned that once I start, I must use the same machine to finish or the lines on the machines may not be equal either.
It isn’t often that I use two different machines, but I carry a small portable to classes and use a heavier machine at home.

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Frankie

I am making my first quilt — all by hand — for a new granddaughter. I love the whole process! I am very happy with the way the stitches look on the top, but not so much on the back side of the quilt! How do I get the stitches uniform in front and back?

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Milly

Make sure you are inserting the needle absolutely straight down. For me, that was the reason the back stitch didn’t please me. I find that I get careless as I go along but the more you quilt the better you get.

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MarianneBrownPanama

To keep block size the same. Best advice from much trial and error–

Check your seam allowances often even if using a sewing guide. Make a sample block as a reference point that is correct and use it.
Use the same copier for all the patterns if it is foundation-pieced and check the output product against the original before beginning.
Cut with the same ruler and mat, All pieces, strips, etc.
Sew with the same 1/4 inch piecing foot each time. I have one very expensive 1/4 Inch foot that is just a tad bigger than 1/4 inch and the 1/32 or whatever it is, shows up as the quilt progresses
If you can change your needle position, note which one your are using and stick with it.
Use the same machine for the whole top.
Do not re-sew a seam without ripping out and removing the original thread, the added thickness to the seam will distort the block if you do it a lot.
If possible have the same person piece it from start to finish
Iron your seams correctly and don’t over do it. Pressing is a more accurate term than ironing.

We have done a lot of quilts where everyone is working on a block or two, and the final assembly is sort of like putting a jigsaw puzzle together that doesn’t have all the pieces. Takes patience, imagination, lots of trimming and head scratching. They all came out fine but we learned a lot and spent a lot of time trying to figure out how to correct sewn in errors or just differences.

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Linda Leath

Avoiding wavy borders- be sure to measure the middle of the quilt to fit your border to the edge. Too many times we just slap a border on and then cut it off. This can distort the quilt. Ask me how I know? A lesson learned…..

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Jo Johansson

I’ve found that often my thread problems are the result of using old thread (I’ve been sewing more than 50 years, some of my thread is really old). Just like fabric, thread can deteriorate over time, especially if stored exposed to sunlight, dust and even fluctuations in humidity. Save the old stuff for less important projects. Believe it or not, relaxing while quilting is very important because the more tense you are, the more tension is translated into your work. So, don’t keep looking over your shoulder for the “quilt police”; enjoy the process and be proud of your work, even if the points aren’t always perfect.

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Diana

I have lots of old threads, mostly from my grandma’s sewing box. I use them for hand sewing like mending and repairing plus replacing missing buttons. I also use them to baste.

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Pamela Wynfield

I have been piecing pre-cut strips from jelly rolls, and have had a problem with wavy strips, unevenly cut strips, and strips not cut the same ‘2 1/2 inch’ width. Naturally, the end result is problematic. For example, I sewed 6 strips together and the end result bends and curves. The second 6 strips are not as wide as the 1st 6. I am paying very special attention to the width of the 1/4 inch seam, but each set of 6 strips did not end up the same width. What can I do to compensate for these pre-cut strips that are not a consistent 2 1/2 inch width, and how can I improve my piecing skills to end up with really consistent 1/4 inch, straight seams? I keep seeing the term scant 1/4 inch–what does this mean?

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Robin

To help keep strip sets from curving, you can try alternating ends; sew from one end, then sew the next strip on from the opposite end and alternate ends with each strip. A scant 1/4 inch is one or two threads (fabric threads) narrower than 1/4 inch. Hope this helps.

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McKenzie Quilt

yes, this is great method, starting from alternating ends. It works!

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Carlene Foster

I read a suggestion that you put a piece of tape on the mcahine bed that is what the width of the strip is supposed to be from the needle. Then, you sew on the left side of the piece instead of the right to assure that you are getting the correct width. A lot of the precuts I have gotten aren’t consistant, especially the batik cuts. Sometimes, you just have to make them the right size by how you sew them together. Once the quilt is quilted, no one will know if the seam allowances were exactly 1/4 inch or not.

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Karen

to sew a straight edge on precuts, put a piece of tape exactly 2 1/4″ away from your needle on the LEFT side of the machine. run the strip along that guide and don’t worry about your seam allowance. It will be more or less 1/4″ wide, but it will be straight. the results will be 2 1/4″ NOT stitched so your next step will be straight. If the strip isn’t wide enough to give you at least a 1/8″ SA, then throw it out or cut off the bad section. Not all strips are created equal.

Also, let your machine do the pulling – don’t put pressure on the fabric, it will feed properly (or clean out your feed dogs!)

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Pamela Wynfield

Thanks so much for this solution. I was contemplating marking a 2″ width down the middle of the strip, ignoring the edges which aren’t cut evenly, but this is so much easier!

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Sharon

Instead of tape, I learned at a quilting class to use molefoam padding from Dr. Scholl’s. I cut a piece with my rotary cutter and place it to insure that I get 1/4 inch seam. I’m sure it could be used for this too.

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Melanie

One of my instructors recommended sewing in alternating directions for adjacent strips (if you are sewing more than 2 strips together). Worked for me.

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susan coburn

I have several old quilt tops from the 1930’s that need quilting. I’m wondering if using a very lightweight fusible interfacing might be the best way to stabilize them so they won’t shred with dry rot. Several elderly folks relatives have pieced these and they have given them to me in hopes that I will finish them and use them. Any other ideas?

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Karen

If they are indeed suffering from dry rot, nothing will stop it from falling apart. Have them appraised if you think they are fine specimins as doing anything to them will destroy the “antique value” – they are only as old as the last stitch.

If they have piecing issues, you may just want to use them strategically draped so no one notices the puckers.

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Milly

I’m going to tell you a story.
Years ago I bought an old quilt top on Ebay. I was thrilled when I got it because the fabric was definitely very old. I put it in the washing machine on gentle and cleaned it. My reasoning was if I was going to put hours of work into it I didn’t want my time to be wasted.
Some of the fabric came out in shreds. Not too many. I took a whole row off one side and used the good squares to replace the other squares that didn’t make it. The end reasult is a sturdy, beautiful quilt.
I really don’t thing it’s worth your while to use fusible. Just go with what you’d use on another quilt.

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Janet North

I have used lightweight interfacing on the backs of old, old quilts and it worked great for me!!

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betty edwards

It is good to measure down the middle of a quilt top and for large tops, again at the quarter points on each side of the middle, to get the measurements for the binding. It is also a good idea to fold the cut length of binding in half, press on the fold with an iron on the edge to be sewn, fold in half again, press the fold on the edge that will be sewn. Then, do the same for the edge of the quilt, fold in half, half again, making a press on each fold. Pin those pressed folds on the quilt and the binding right sides together, then sew and ease in where necessary.

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Maryanne

That is execellent advice! Also Amy told us “block of the mont club students”, “don’t over-think your ability to do a simple block, just do it! I find that advice is also execellent. I remembered what she said and I used her advice to do another project on her web page ( iPad covers)

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Maryanne Melchiorre

Thanks everyone for the advices you posted, especially the ruffle borders and the block sizes too small! Who would have thought to pay attention to the measurements of the different rulers!

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Bev

What counts as a stabilizer, just the kind of stitch like zig-zag? I, too, am having a lot of trouble getting perfect, or at least good enough pieces, quarter-inch piecing seams and blocks. What are the tips for measuring out and cutting correct pieces and for making the quarter-inch seams for building the blocks? It should be straight forward, right?

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Karen

Put your hard ruler under your presser foot so the needle rests exactly on the 1/4″ mark. Gently lower the foot, and see where the edge of the foot comes. Even with a “1/4 inch foot” it may not be at the edge. Mark the space in front of the foot with tape at that 1/4″ mark. Then make sure you can see all the tape when you sew.

Cut 3 strips (6″ or so long) exactly 1 1/2″ wide. Sew them together, press and measure. they should measure exactly 3 1/2″ wide. If not, check your pressing and check the center strip – it should be exactly 1″ wide. Using a different weight (thick) thread will also change where your seam allowance should be.

As for cutting accurately, the fewer times you fold the fabric before cutting, the more accurate and straight the cut.

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Michele

I’m doing a LOT of hand-quilting on a piece. All the quilted lines are evenly spaced, but the more I quilt the wavier the entire piece gets. I don’t know if this is just the nature of densely handquilted pieces, or if I’m doing something wrong. Any advice?

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cecilia

Lots of good advice about rulers, tension on sewing machine, etc. Both the kind of thread and the needles used are important to tension. There are sewing machine sites, like for instance Bernine, that will tell you what size needle and thread to use for the kind of fabric you are using. From experience, I have found important to know these and you will never know everything but it sure helps. I do agree you should just enjoy the process and learn from all the mistakes. Just keep going on making quilts they only get better as your confidence grows. I love quilting.

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Terry Reisz

I’ve learned that frustration lessens when I take out mistakes and redo. This is easier in fashion sewing than in quilting, but it’s better to nip a seaming problem sooner than later. Like measuring strips after each cut. It wasn’t a quilting project, but I recently had as much as a 2″ variation on some wide strips, even though I was measuring carefully, because the fabric was an unruly seersucker. My straight cuts actually turned into sweeping curves.

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audrey browning

Thanks for all the tips and advice, its good to know that all quilter have some problems, some where, special thanks to Ellen for her comments, I live in South Africa, and near the Kruger National Park so as you can imagine do not have the privilege of seeing many quilt collections, you are right in saying relax and enjoy your quilt, after all practice makes improvement .

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Sharon Betts

When sewing strata strips, I use my walking foot and press each seam before adding another strip of fabric. Since I started using this method, the results have been great, minimal or no distortion. Remember, press, don’t iron the seams.

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Diane Lockie

Pamela Wynfield. I have been taught when sewing multiple strips together, to avoid bending & twisting, they should be sewn into pairs first. So for 6 strips – sew 3 sets of 2 – then sew the pairs together. If using more than 6 strips, sew in pairs, then sew two pairs into four, then sew two sets of four into eight etc etc. Hope this helps.

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Pamela Wynfield

Thank you for this solution! I’m amazed at how these little tips are so important, but not obvious!

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Leona

I too sew strips into sets of two then sets of four. I also press in between even though the pattern says you can wait until you finish the top. When I did this my quilt listed really bad. It was not square at all unless your bed or wall whatever the case may be is shaped in an angle!!! Be sure to press not iron each strip. Pressing will stretch and deform the fabric strip sets.
Again ask me how I know!!!!

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Elise Dee Beraru

Using safety pins to baste quilts used to tear up my thumb and I couldn’t get the hang of using a tool to close the pins. The solution? Before I start pinning, I use an adhesive bandage, putting the cloth pad over the top of the thumb pad. (Those fingertip/knuckle bandages are better, but plain straight bandages work just fine.) I lose virtually no flexibility in the thumb, I can pin a bed sized quilt with one or two bandages at the most, and my thumb doesn’t get torn up by the pins.

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Kim

My Freind told me to use a grapefruit spoon with the edges and it works great, you put the pins in the places you need them to be then after that go thru and start using the spoon to close them.

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Jane

You can also use a nut pick. Cut off the sharp end. Use the handle end for closing the pins.

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Leona

Try using a fusible strip roll. Just place a small craft iron on a small piece and tear it off. Do the same for the top and the back and fuse to the batting. Place the strips in the same manner as pins. You can then machine quilt to your hearts content.
I learned this from Nancy Zieman.

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Shirley in Kansas

Could you explain this in a little more detail? I’m not sure which quilting challenge you’re referring to! Thanks.

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Kathy Castillo

I recently bought a Jelly Roll and the strips were cut with a zig zagged edge. Now I am reluctant to use it because I don’t know whether the edge of the fabric starts at the outside or inside of the zig zag.

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cecilia

If it has been with zigzag edge, all you have to do is start from the inside of the zigzag. I had the same problem until I realized when it is cut the inside edge is the what is along the edge of the ruler. Hope that helps you.

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Vickie

That’s good information about the zig zag edge of the jelly roll strips. I too wondered about this very same thing when I first began using those strips and soon shied away from using them. My fabric store has an accu cut machine and they will cut strips for you for a slight charge. I should think that the fabric companies would note the measurement with regard to the zig zags but they don’t. Some of those jelly rolls get frayed from being handled so often. I am grateful to those companies that have begun shrink wrapping theirs.

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Margaret M

Quilting/Designing on a budget? My sister suggested this to me (I am sure she got it from another quilter). I use a large piece of green foam insulation board … denser and stronger than just styrofoam …and cover with a sheet of cheap double sided fleece. Clings to the board and fabric clings to it. Can’t leave it up and too big to store? Split in half and tape halves together with duck tape on the back to create a “hinge” you can then take down, fold and more easily store away.

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Margee Burke

I have enjoyed the article by the instructors about the five follies most often encountered. I have the class tapes but it is great to list them in a tutorial way. Keep it coming, I don’t seem to get enough hints or instruction to satisfy my want to learn. I wish I had someone living next door so I could run and ask a question when the situation arises. Your classes and notes come as close as a teacher living next door.

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Betty Foley

On another subject, has anyone ever made a double wedding quilt with a border? The only thing I have found on line is to applique the rings to a border of the background fabric. Any help appreciated.

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Renee

Sharon Schamber’s website has great info on putting a curved binding

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Lisa Y.

I have found that squaring up individual units as you make your blocks can also help your accuracy quite a bit. Piecing by machine is less precise than hand piecing, and correcting as you go, particularly when you’re making blocks with many pieces, can save a lot of trouble down the road.

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GiaMarie

I live by the following words from Brenda Papadakis who made the Dear Jane quilt famous:
“Finished is better than perfect! I do try to ensure seams match up but I don’t obsess anymore. And guess what, more projects get done, perfect or not. And I’m having more fun.

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Nancy Bonnette

I made a quilt to memorize my grand-daughter’s dog, and from a picture of the dog one side was him in applique. I did a turn under method to be sure the hair di not come apart and used a small ziz zag rather close in a color match. Awesome we started it when the dog was sick (she was 7) and he lived another two years she is still using the quilt we made together!!!
You can see it at Quilt show under dollaremylife Happy Quilting

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Patti Liles

From my experience as a long-arm quilter, correct measuring is very important to avoid wavy borders. Wavy borders many times are caused by just cutting a piece for the border, laying it on the outside edge, sewing it on and cutting off the excess at the end. It is important to measure your quilt down the middle and cut the border piece that length.You may have to do some adjusting as you put it on but it works in the end!

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Robbie Brewington

I’m new to quilting but notice that things have improved considerably since I purchased (and USE) a 1/4″ piecing foot. It makes life so much easier. BTW, I had never considered that rulers might not be consistent! Thanks for that great information!

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Lana

Wavy Borders! Yuck! Quilting balance is very important but starting out with measured borders will help too. Measure your top, middle and bottom edges. Take an average of those three numbers….add them together and divide by 3. Cut top and bottom borders to that number. Pin border to quilt matching at the outer edge and at the middle, continue pinning, always pinning in the middle between pins until you have pins 4-6″ apart. I know pinning is a pain but humor me. Sew the border on easing the border and quilt fabric. Do the same for your side borders. Using this method for all borders that you have will help insure better borders. Then keep your quilting balanced. Happy Quilting.

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Rynetta Coetzee

If you live in an area where there is a quilt guild, please join, it is really worth it. Some shops have beginning quilting classes which I would highly reccommend! Buy the best notions you can afford and buy different rulers of the same brand. I’m giving you this advice from experience because I’m fairly new to quilting and I’m now disposing of some of my rulers because of inconsistencies! One lesseon I learnt recently is to rather overcut your farbic slightly than to undercut because you can always trim down some of the simpler blocks, but I’ve had to discard many blocks that just turned out too small. If you can’t attend classes, try online classes and enjoy it! I’ve become addicted to quilting. Another tip – when you buy fabric for a quilt you want to last… buy the same quality of all the fabric that you are going to use. You can start off with a fabric that is less expensive until you are confident about what you’re doing. BEST ADVICE, – take the bull by the horns, buy a beginning quilting book, notions and fabric and go for a simple design – if it’s a mess try again!! It gets better with practice…

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Suzanne Carrigg

I hope you have not actually thrown out all those discarded blocks that were too small? Down the road sometime, you can sash them all to a matching size, and use them all together to make a sampler quilt – this will also show off some of the patterns you’ve tried, since many of those quilts probably were given away and now you have nothing to show for it but the pictures and the memories. I have a stack of blocks that I intend to do this with one day. Good luck.

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Fay Quanstrom

There are a number of options. If you like to work alone look for how-to quilting books and magazines like Quilter’s Newsletter at your local library and teach yourself. If you like one-on-one connections ask around, maybe in your own neighborhood, to find a quilter and enjoys sharing. If you prefer the buzz of a group visit a quilt group/club to find a teacher, or inquire at a quilt shop about classes and teachers. Very soon you’ll be loving your new hobby!

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Vickie

Welcome to the world of quilting. The best thing I ever did for myself in the beginning was to take a class for beginners from my local quilt shop. I hope you can take this opportunity. It was the best $30 I’ve ever spent. The woman taught me so many things, even about needle size and how needles look when they’re overused. The class ran for 3 weeks, 2 hours each class. It was the most valuable learning experience I’ve ever had. I hope you get to attend. If not, see if you can join a nearby guild. Guilds often sponsor beginner workshops.

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Linda Stone

Hooray, Frankie! A new hand-quilter! You get nice stitches on the back the same way you get to Carnegie Hall . . . practice, practice, practice. Plus I recommend “That Perfect Stitch” by Roxanne McElroy (or the updated one by her daughter, Dierdre). Good luck.

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Kim

I had taken a quilt to be quilted and when I got it back there are like 20 some puckers why would this do that also I have talked to others and they had theres quilted at the same shop and theres had puckers also. I was really disappointed after you pay for all the materials then for this to happen and the many hours I spent in making the quilt top.

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cecilia

That happened to me and I started asking different quilters who they used and what the finished work looked like. I have found someone who was recommened by a shop owner who happened to use this person and she did a great job. She also took the time to show some of her work which was beautiful. You have to look around and ask lots of questions and ask for them to show you their work. Good Luck!

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Melanie

Oh, Kim how awful! Did you talk to the quilter about it? I would expect a professional quilter to call me if there were problems with my top so I could fix it. So far, I have only machine quilted small projects on my regular machine and found problems when I tried to force the feed a bid (I found them while quilting and did a lot of stitch removal). I am working on my first big quilt and now I’m a little skeptical about taking it out for quilting. Guess I will go to the local shop and talk with the experts.

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Vickie

Sit down and discuss the puckers with the quilter. Perhaps others are not doing this either. It would behoove that quilter to correct problems like puckers since this is probably their livelihood. Perhaps he or she is not pulling the back taut enough or placing the quilt top and batting onto the rollers properly to begin with.

I’m sorry to say that since quilting has become so widely popular in recent years, that some people have tried to cash in on the craze and are not necessarily performing the best service. Keep those people honest by calling them on their errors. In the least, he or she owes you a partial refund. They will try to blame the top, but that is simply not true. If it was the top, they should know it as soon as they put it on the roller. Then they should contact you BEFORE they begin to quilt. Shoddy workmanship is a problem for ALL OF US to solve. Don’t let it go without a fuss.

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P.J.

If you want to learn to quilt, take a beginner’s class at a quilt shop. You will learn the basic dos and don’ts, but also to trust what you like. My first 4 week class lasted 6 months! We learned from each other as well as from our questions. I love quilting and my local quilt shops are still my mentors. I take them my problems and come away with answers (and fabrics). P.S. when I am in a traffic jam, I pull into a fabric shop until it clears up. Always carry a spare $20 tucked away for such an emergency.

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lorna holley

to Lisa: If you have a quilt store nearby, go there first. Just tell them you want to learn to quilt and I’ll bet they will have classes in beginning quilting that you can take. They will also help you with the basic tools you will need. If you already have some experience with regular sewing, there are books available and of course online sites –like Craftsy!! Just jump in and try something–you’ll love it

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Karma

We always put a tape mark on our sewing machines. I discovered that putting a tape mark on my ruler is such an excellent idea. I use painters tape it doesn’t leave glue. It’s great when making the same size cut repeatedly. Say I am cutting 2.5″ strips over and over I put a tape mark along that line. Then when cutting I don’t have to stop and think where that 2.5″ mark is. Especially when talking we sometimes get distracted. I know I do. Then we cut a 2″ strip and we have to add it to the stash. We can’t throw it away. The tape can be your brain.

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Patty Brown

These tips are WONDERFUL. I love reading tips “straight from the horse’s mouth” so to speak…from those of you who have been quilting for a long time. I’m relatively new to it but I’m have a really good time and machine applique is my favorite thing to do and I’ve gotten pretty good at it. The avoiding-wavy-borders tips are priceless. As a new quilter, I often wondered why all the measuring the middle, top and bottom….and now it know and will not make the border mistake again. Thanks again, ladies.

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Elaine

Best advice I ever had when I was disappointed with a mistake in my work was:
“If you can’t see the mistake from a galloping horse no one else will either!”
Just enjoy your quilting – It’s great fun!

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Penny Dalton

This is a tip for pieced borders. I was having trouble with my pieced borders “growing” before putting them on to the main part of my quilt top. Sometimes the growing was at different rates. I could ease them in when joining them to the top, but it left the outer edge too big. To solve this, I started to use a light weight inner facing to stabilize the sections as I was connecting them. I used the pre-marked (in 1 inch increments) for “piano key” and similar borders, and the plain for more complicated piecing. It is easy to mark the inner facing with wash out or disappearing ink. A bonus with this, if you send your quilt to a “quilter”, is that it also stabilizes the quilt when it is stretched onto the machine. For home quilting, the stabilizer is easy to stitch through, and binding is a breeze. On thing, I definitely do not recommend using “wash-out” stabilizer. If you send out you quilt, you don’t know what preparations are used for your top for connecting to the machine. Sometimes the top may be pressed with steam, or sprayed with water to make the seams lay flat, and the result is a partial melt away of the stabilize, and a lot of gathers. I haven’t repeated that mistake.

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Pat Buls

To avoid puckers in the back of the quilt– be sure to lay it on a flat firm surface (a table or even the kitchen linoleum floor if it is big enough!) when you pin it. Some folks even tape the backing to the floor to hold it but dont stretch it overly much. Start pinning it from the center on out– this really helps. I also use a grapefruit spoon or the quilting tool designed for closing the pins. Then measure the middle and both sides of the quilt to find the right border lengths. I also pin the border from the middle (match middle of border to middle of quilt). And YES use the SAME ruler and quarter inch foot for the whole quilt because they can be different!!
Last of all — RELAX and HAPPY QUILTING!!

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Sharon T.

Can someone give me some advice regarding “nesting” of my bobbin thread. I am a new sewer/quilter and have been experiencing problems with the bobbin feed…the thread either accumulates around the bobbin or attaches in “bunches” to the bottom of my sewing project.
I am assuming it’s “operator error” and I would like to know what I might be doing wrong. Thanks so much.

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Ellen Zurn

Enjoyed all the comments, learned some new stuff and realized I have come a long way in quilting. I have been quilting since 2001 and made 9 quilts and quilting them in 6 months. Best thing I did was take a class from a quilt shop to get started. I have made two wedding ring quilts and have the fabrics for a third one. Hope to quilt this one myself. Happy Quilting

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Carol

FYI : One of the first things a judge looks for is wavy borders. If they are, that’s as far as the judge goes. They are on to another quilt!

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Jeanie Mellon

Lots of good advise. I’ve been quilting for a long time and most always learn something new from other quilters. It Big thing that is most important to me is to enjoy the process. Consistent seam allowance count! Check your block for size as you go. I am now a long arm quilter and have used this opportunity to give tips to help – especially with Measured borders. If the quilt is no very square to start with I cannot make is square by magic. One gal especially I invited her over and helped her remove the border, measure and had her put it back on. What a difference and she appreciated the hands on help.

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Julia

l always have problem with quarter inc measurement and sewing.Cos the end block is always smaller than it Should be. Help !

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Vickie

Julia, make sure you use the same brand of rulers for all your measuring because each company may be off just slightly from another.

Earlier in this blog, Karen gives good advice for this. She says, “Cut 3 strips (6″ or so long) exactly 1 1/2″ wide. Sew them together, press and measure. they should measure exactly 3 1/2″ wide. If not, check your pressing and check the center strip – it should be exactly 1″ wide. Using a different weight (thick) thread will also change where your seam allowance should be.”

I also use a quarter inch foot on my machine. But Karen’s advice is spot on.

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Barb Dorry

In planning a pillow border I made color copies on paper of the fabric patterns so I could experiment with width and layout without sacrificing the fabric (I was running short). By laying it out this way the pattern leapt out when I tried a corner block vs. border of all the same fabric.

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Marty Mason

Love all these tips….I was pointing out some imperfections in my quilt-making just the other day and one lady said I shouldn’t be doing that…no one would know the difference. But my response to her was that I wanted people to know that there is very seldom a perfect quilt. My approach is to step back from the mistake if it cannot be ‘fixed’, take a deep breath, move on and enyoy the freedom to enjoy the process.

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Vickie

The wonderful lady I took my beginner quilting lessons from years ago said that little imperfections are called “the quilter’s humility.” Since then, if I see a small error, I just celebrate her wisdom. Gladly, I have fewer and fewer of those little humility places as time has gone by. Sometimes it can be as little as a print being used in the wrong spot on a block, for example. I spotted one on a sample quilt that was hanging on the quilt shop wall not long ago. It was otherwise perfect, but I thought, we all have a bit of humility, don’t we?

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Carol

On one of my quilts my long arm had mechanical problems. We had to take the machine off. When it was fixed, I had a hard time lining it up. There were stitches that had to be taken out and I was afraid it was ruined. I finished it and had a hard time finding the mess. So never fear, we are our worst critics!

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Dolores

Great tips, I have always thought I had to have the backing really tight when sandwiching my quilts. I will try this tip next time! Thanks

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Becky

I was almenting once over mistakes on a project and my friend very gracioiusly told me, those were NOT mistakes, I was just giving my quilt “character”. So, I have learned that there is more character in some things than others…

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Jean Wiseheart

When I get thread nests in the bobbin area, I find I’ve threaded machine wrong or thread slipped out of its proper placement.

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Linda Fletcher

Don’t give up on those blocks with set in seams! Try hand piecing. Jinny Beyer’s book on hand piecing is great. I have used hand piecing instead of paper piecing also. I have made 3 or 4 quilts entirely by hand, and loved every minute! It is a great take along project and very relaxing! I am currently hand piecing Piece of Cake’s Spring Wheels, and it’s a blast!

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ShylaSkillens

I have been told by an instructor that I can no longer say I am a beginner quilter. In the past year I have completed 4 queen sized tops. When I decided to machine quilt them myself on my home sewing machine experienced quilters told me they wouldn’t do it. So I took the bull by the horns and started using books and the internet for guidence. I am now more than half way through with the first quilt and I am thrilled with the outcome. It started out hard and I have figured out better ways and I will be happy to say I did it myself. I say, if it makes you afraid to do a thing then that is the thing you have to do.

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Debbie Thompson

I have discovered that pressing blocks completely flat will also help make sure that blocks are the right size. Many times we finger press or skip the pressing step and this step makes all the difference in the world. Those little 16th’s of an inch here and there add up after awhile.

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silverseamer

I always tell my students that if they need a quilt that is flawless they should go to the domestics department at the store and buy one that a computer printed and stitched. YOU are the artist, go ahead and “art” something. But always strive to make it look handmade, not homemade.

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Mary Lou Van Earwage

I loved all the tips! I’ve been sewing since I was 10 yrs old and joined 4-H, but mostly garmet sewing. I’ve been quilting for about 20 yrs and haven’t finished one yet, so all the comments really heip. I have really been involved with too many projects, sewing for grandkids, and repairs for friends and relatives. Now it’s time for ME ! Thank you everyone.

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Danielle Hudson

If your don’t have a 1/4 in. foot, or a seam guide for your sewing machine, You can use a thin pkg. of sticky post-it notes. Just measure out the distance from the point of your needle to the right a 1/4 of an inch and voila. Instant seam guide. Everybody has post-it notes, right?

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Donna

Our church quilting group is having trouble loading quilts onto the frame. Our “expert” oldest quilter died suddenly and evidently we aren’t doing something correctly. We use antique old-fashioned, homemade, wooden frames resting on sawhorses. Our problem is that we invariably have wrinkles in the backing. We attach both ends to the frames and start quilting from one end, rolling both ends under. We enjoy having up to 8 quilters working from both sides at one time. How can we prevent wrinkles in the backing?

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