The rail fence block design is one of the first blocks many quilters learn to sew. It is easy to cut (all of the pieces are the same), easy to sew (no matching corners or tricky bias edges) and it looks great! I love the way that the quilter has arranged the blocks to look like a basket weave. I love to help quilters finish their quilts. I chose an allover (edge to edged) design with leaves and swirls which echoed the fabric design and gave the impression of vines growing on the fence.
The quilting group at my church received a donation of a gigantic box filled with plaid flannel triangles–all shapes, colors and designs. We were overwhelmed. However we started to sew the triangles into squares, trimmed them to several different uniform sizes and then sewed them together. For some of us it was a challenge to work without a pattern, but I believe the quilts we produced will provide warmth to those who need it in during the winter months.
Here are some tips for dealing with flannel:
Clean out your machine regularly–flannel produces a lot of lint which can clog up the bobbin area. Every time you change your bobbin, make sure to take a brush to clean out the bobbin case according to your machine’s owner’s manual.
If possible, pre-wash flannel. Doing so will help make it less stretch-y, it will reduce lint, and there will be less fraying (because the fibers have shrunk).
Flannel frays badly. You might want to use a slightly larger seam allowance or finish the fabric edges with a stay stitch. Before sending the quilt to your long arm quilter, stay stitch around the outer edge.
Choose a design which is easy to sew–squares and rectangles are easiest. Bias edges on pieces like the triangles are more challenging because they stretch. Trimming to a uniform size after sewing ensures that blocks can be sewn together accurately.
Blocks with lots of seam intersections should be avoided. Flannel is thicker than quilting cotton, so it is more difficult to avoid bulky seam intersections. Consider pressing seams open. Quilting through bulky seam intersections threw the timing of my long arm off and resulted in several days of frustration as I readjusted it. I am now well versed in the art of adjusting my needle bar height.
Because flannel frays and stretches, allow extra border width so that the quilt can be trimmed square after quilting.
Although flannel can be challenging to work with, don’t despair. Nothing feels better than a flannel quilt and a cup of hot chocolate on a day when the high temperature is -40°. It’s hard to imagine in July, but we know that ‘winter is coming.’
It’s fall here in the Upper Midwest, the trees are all turning magnificent colors and the weather is beginning to cool. It is also quilt show season, before winter driving becomes an issue. Here are my top five reasons to go to quilt shows:
To see amazing quilts, such as this stunning Best of Show, AQS Des Moines 2016 (plus many additional ribbons) quilt by Bethanne Nemesh. It is a whole cloth quilt with an Art Deco inspired peacock design as it’s central motif and beautiful feathers. The quality of the machine quilting was excellent. I particularly noticed that despite the heavy quilting the motifs stood out from the back fill. In addition she used ‘advanced’ edging techniques such as covered beaded piping and tiny scalloped edging.
To discover new gadgets, such as how my Gammill Dealer attaches a tablet to her longarm.
To get inspiration and ideas for my own quilting projects–how to fill up negative space. I liked how Judy Mercer Tescher used block design along with back fills to complete the stars in her quilt Stars and Sparks.
To take classes–I took a class with Judy Woodworth, an amazing quilter, about back fills. I can hardly wait to try some ideas and practice in my studio. I won the class demo with Judy’s stitching. I love those little feather blooms.
To meet old friends and new friends. I always have fun going through a show with friends because they see things I don’t notice. It’s also fun to meet new friends–sit at a table with someone or on a chair next to someone and ask about their quilts.
I look all over for inspiration for my own quilting. I found this amazing piece when visiting the nearby town of Winona, Minnesota. I love the way that the borders and center are different, yet all are related to one another. Notice the graceful curves and organic shapes.
Who is this amazing quiltmaker??
Perhaps this photo will give you a clue:
Yes, it is the embossed tin ceiling of the Winona Art Center. Tin ceilings were popular in buildings beginning in 1880s as an economical way to decorate a room’s ‘fifth’ wall. Many historic buildings still exist with their tin intact. Don’t forget to look up for design inspiration!!
Builders use levels and plumb lines to keep houses ‘square’. A house that is level and plumb is less likely to fall down. Likewise a quilt which is flat and whose angles are intentional is more likely to survive washing, hanging on a wall or in a quilt show. In every step of the quilt making process we introduce a chance of error. I have learned through the years (by painful experience mostly) to reduce some of the errors. My worst quilt ever was a lap quilt made from a brocade fabric, I pieced each block and then had to ease them to fit each other, then because I ‘knew’ that I pieced 12″ blocks, I calculated the ‘theoretical’ length of the borders and quilted it. It had more waves than a surfer’s convention.
I took out the quilting, ripped off the borders, measured the quilt, reattached the borders, and quilted it. It still was wavy–I took out the quilting, blocked the top, quilted it, blocked it and attached the binding. It was as good as it was going to get. My friends labeled it the ‘quilt from h***”. I never wanted to see it again.
I have another quilt, a pleated log cabin with a heavily embellished border, hand appliqued with dimensional flowers. It also does not lie flat, it hangs ‘pregnant’ (with the center bulging out). I took out the quilting twice, measured and reattached the borders 3 times–it still does not hang straight. I gave up, it is finished and resides in a very comfortable place in the closet. Both of these quilts were finished several years ago and they inspired me to improve my technical skills so that I would not ever have to take out quilting stitches again.
Here are some techniques I learned to improve my accuracy:
Fabric matters: The ‘gold’ standard for quilts is 100% Cotton fabric made for quilting. Yes, you can quilt with fleece, silk, wool, fur, pleather, leather, satin, jersey, polyester, brocade….But if you choose another fabric choice you will have to change some of the techniques and perhaps add some steps in order to achieve accuracy. For example, the brocade in the quilt above should have had a stabilizer, such as French Fuse or Shape Flex 101, fused onto it. Then the fabric would not have stretched to create waves. I also should have stay stitched with a walking foot around the quilt top before quilting it. 100% Quilting Cotton has minimal stretch, creates a defined crease when pressed, and can be washed.
Double starch: Before cutting cotton fabric I starch it, press it dry, starch it again, and press it dry again. I use regular grocery store Niagara spray starch, if my grocery store gives me a choice, I purchase the heavy duty, professional, super-duper spray starch. I don’t mind the smell, of the ordinary starch but I avoid any floral scented starches. Most of my quilts are made to be used, washed and loved and the starch will be gone after the quilt gets it’s first ‘bath.’
Cut accurately: Know where to place the lines of your ruler, use sharp blades in your rotary cutter, use accurate templates. Make sure that the fabric is folded parallel to the selvages and only layer your fabric thick enough so that your rotary cutter will cut through it easily.
Use an accurate 1/4″ seam allowance: Even if you have been using a machine ‘forever’ and you ‘know’ it has an accurate 1/4″ seam allowance, test it before starting a new project. I sewed all day without realizing that somehow my needle position had been changed. aargh!
Measure frequently: Before putting on sashing or piecing blocks together, measure your blocks. Fabric moves and small errors can add up quickly. I measure and fix things as I go along. It may slow me down, but I don’t have to ‘frog’ (rip it, rip it) as often.
Before putting on borders measure your quilt top 6 times in 6 different places.
Add the horizontal measurements together then divide by 3: this is the horizontal measurement of the quilt (note: If the measurements differ more than an inch, I would double check the measurements, then I would double check the construction of the top).
Add the vertical measurements together then divide by 3: this is the vertical measurement of the quilt. (see note above)
Use these measurements to determine the length of your border cuts of fabric.
Be a Quilt Engineer: None of the above techniques would have helped my heavily embellished and appliqued pleated log cabin. The combined weight of the pleated log cabin blocks sewn to a muslin foundation and the weight of the applique was too much for the borders. I should have stabilized the borders with a heavy stabilizer. I think that sometime in the future I might add a heavy stabilizer to the back of the quilt or frame it.
Every quilt has it’s own unique challenges, I problem solve through out each step of the process in order to get the results I want. At the same time I leave myself open to creative opportunities. Some times there are happy accidents along the way which require me to change my plan.
One of the best times of the year for me is coming just a few short months from now–Christmas. I love to give gifts, to make gifts and to decorate my house with special things which are made by ‘makers’ or ‘artisans’ such as the tree skirt above. The tree skirt, which can also be made as a round table topper, was made on my longarm, then I assembled and bound it. It is beautiful in this pure white Kona cotton, but it would also be beautiful in a variety of different fabrics. I’m thinking of making another version in silk.
In addition to tree skirts, I plan to quilt pillows, placemats and table runners for the Christmas season. . . I need to get started today, to get everything done in time. Last Christmas everyone received a UFO under the tree (not my finest moment). We did have some laughs over that and I’m sure my family won’t let me forget it. I plan to pace myself this year and manage my time time better. My goal is to have everything done by Thanksgiving, so I will be posting ideas and finished projects until then.
Today I finished this beautiful fall quilt sampler with a wonderful oak leaf pattern by Kim Diamond. Th!e autumn colors make me want to snuggle into this quilt with a warm cup of tea (at least for a minute or two–it’s in the 90s and humid). I know that soon the trees will be losing their leaves and temperatures will drop. This quilt is big! 120″x 122″!! The quiltmaker did a beautiful job keeping the points in the quilt pointy and the seams matching where they were supposed to match.
I chose an edge to edge design which reflected the season of the color palette, which would allow the piecing to be the ‘star’ of the show and which would give the quilt a soft and cuddly texture.
You can see the oak leaves and meander on the back of the quilt. On the front of the quilt the quilting only shows in the borders where it adds texture and movement to the piece.
Are you ready for fall? I’m sending my youngest son off to college in the next couple of weeks–I’m not sure I’m old enough for that to happen yet! (lol.) Enjoy your quilting adventure!!