As I’m sure you’ve noticed if you’ve followed Right Sides Together for any length of time, I don’t FMQ. Free-motion quilting just isn’t in my wheelhouse, and I’m perfectly okay with that. I’ve never been talented at drawing or doodling, and I’d rather use my quilting time focusing on the techniques I have a shot in hell at improving. So I do digital long-arming most of the time, and straight-line quilting with my walking foot for the rest.
But as Jacquie Gering’s ragingly popular Craftsy class indicates, it’s possible to go beyond just simple straight lines with a walking foot. Curves, waves, squigglies, and spirals are definitely a possibility for even those among us not gifted with any Zen in our Tangles. I recently worked on a baby quilt (that I can’t show here as it hasn’t yet been bestowed) where I used a spiral quilting motif. I was pretty sure how to do it, but I consulted this tutorial first—and I’m glad I did, because Amanda Jean has some pretty fantastic tips.
I marked out the first few turns of my spiral, got the walking foot on, started quilting, and started struggling with feeding and twisting the quilt all at once. Some of the curves were okay, but others just weren’t feeding at the same speed through the machine, resulting in tiny little stitches and a disgraceful-yet-typical number of expletives. And then I thought, HUH.(more…)
Oh, pins. When you’re not stabbing us surreptitiously from the bonds of a seam line or becoming lodged in between floorboards (only to rise from the dead and stab us in the toe months later), you can be very useful. Even those among us who are decidedly anti-pin, if we can help it, find that we can’t help it as much as we’d like. They’re a necessary evil; they make us bleed and break our needles when we forget to take them out in time, but we come to appreciate them when it’s time to inspect our points and seams. They also remind us to stay up-to-date on our tetanus shots.
But anyone who’s bought several different brands of pins knows that they’re not all created equal. There are lots of different pins made for a lot of different sewing uses, and some are better for some uses than others. Wondering how to choose sewing pins? Here’s what you need to know:
Confession: I’m really tempted to write this whole section in the most inappropriate fashion possible. I won’t, because I’m 33 years old, but let me just say this: when it comes to pins, size does matter. Some pins are long to deal with thicker fabrics and wider seam allowances (for garment sewing, say) while quilting pins are generally shorter because you’re only making a 1/4″ seam. And appliqué pins, for example, are shorter still (usually 3/4″) to keep thread from catching as you’re doing handwork.
But in some cases, what’s even more important than a sewing pin’s length is (snicker, snicker) its girth. For real. If you’ve ever bought the 20-gauge hypodermic needles they call “pins” at Walmart, and then tried some really amazing patchwork needles like these, for example, you’ll notice the difference. It’s not just a quality issue, though; a pin’s girth helps dictate what type of material it’s best for. Pins with a thickness of 0.6 mm are really thick; they’re fine for quilting cotton but can leave marks or pulls in delicate fabric like rayon or silk. I also have fine quilting pins that are 0.5 mm, which are nice and thin, and then I have some that are 0.4 mm. They are the thinnest pins out there, and they’re designed to pass effortlessly through delicate fabrics and can even (hypothetically) be sewn over without worrying. At least this is what they say; I’ve dented a few of mine pretty good.
Pinheads: they’re not just for name-calling!
Thought the heads of your pins were just for decoration? Think again. Besides the all-purpose pins with colored balls, which even then are at least easy to see and grab, each of the other pinhead varieties serves a purpose. Dressmaker pins, the kind that have just the tiny metal head and look almost like little nails, are designed to travel through sewing machines without jamming them.* Flat-headed pins (“flower” pins, as they’re sometimes called) are designed to be ironed over, as are glass-headed pins, which are heat-resistant.
In addition to the traditional straight pins, there are other types that are great for special projects. T-pins are ideal for many different layers of thick fabric, such as embroidery. Fork pins have two parallel shafts to hold slippery fabrics like satin and rayon. Ball-point pins, just like jersey sewing needles, have a rounded point for pinning knits. And silk pins are traditionally made from metal guaranteed not to rust and ruin the fabric.
*Incidentally, funny story here. My mother has always adhered to the old wives tale that dressmaker pins, if you step on one, will release shards of metal into your vascular system where they will travel to your heart. Upon arriving, they will stab it and KILL YOU DEAD. I grew up hearing this warning, which now that I have some critical thinking skills I realize is total nonsense, but it’s so richly graphic and horrifying that I wish it were true. Has anyone else heard this ever? I love it; it makes sewing such an extreme and dangerous sport, no?
There’s no getting around it: if you quilt, you definitely need a good collection of cotton solids. If you sew bags or clothes or home decor projects, you probably do too. But as far as solids go, there are so many choices. Some quilters and sewists swear by a specific manufacturer, while others only pick solids based on the prints they need to match. Each of the major fabric companies has its own line of 100% cotton solids, ranging from less than 70 colors to the now-famous 303 (ALL HAIL ROBERT KAUFMAN), but there’s a healthy assortment of smaller companies that offer high-quality fabric solids as well.
With all the choices out there, I thought, why not consolidate the major companies into a cheat sheet? So I did. It’s sometimes hard to keep them all straight and remember which manufacturer makes the thinner fabrics and which have a slight sheen. Here’s a list of the top eight most popular solids—well, okay, seven plus one I really like—and some defining characteristics of each. (Note: I share some opinions here. YMMV.)
Number of colors: 303 Color card: $30, widely available Ease of matching with coordinating prints: 7/10. The sheer number of Kona colors available makes it unlikely that you’ll be able to find a match. However, Robert Kaufman does not publish (at least not on their website) which solids coordinate with each print collection. It seems like it would be easy, and it’s one of my big pet peeves for many of the fabric companies. Some RK designers, like Carolyn Friedlander, do publish solid coordinates for their collections on their own websites, which is nice. Hand: Medium weight and thickness, with a moderately soft hand. Kona’s not the smoothest choice out there, but it washes up well and is perhaps the best quality of all the options on this list. It’s easy to see why these solids are likely the most popular brand.
Number of colors: 66 Color card: $10, widely available Ease of matching: 8/10. One on hand, it’s easy to match Art Gallery prints with solids, because the color palettes of the prints all make up one big mega-collection. With only 66 colors, if a Pure Elements solid looks like it will coordinate with an AG print, it probably will. On the other hand, 66 colors isn’t a lot; it can be hard to match AG solids with prints from other manufacturers. Hand: You either love the feel of Art Gallery fabric or you hate it. It’s very crisp and feels thin between the fingers, with a slickness to it. It’s almost like sewing on paper (which makes it great for rotary cutting). Great for razor-sharp seam lines, not so great for draping.
Number of colors: 197 Color card: $20. I had difficulty finding them easily, but Missouri Star Quilt Co. does carry them. Ease of matching: 6/10. Meh. The RJR website is not particularly helpful in determining which solids go with RJR prints (though Cotton + Steel provides the ones that match their collections). The printable online color card is a cute idea, but doesn’t work very well; printers and screens can’t match colors exactly, so it sort of defeats the purpose. Hand: I have not personally tried RJR solids, but everyone I know who has raves about them. They are known to have a medium weight, very soft hand, and lustery finish. (Can anyone else speak to this?)
Number of colors: 178 Color card: $20, theoretically, though I have not had success in finding one lately. You? Ease of matching: 8/10. Like the other manufacturers, Moda does not just up and tell you which solids coordinate perfectly with their prints. Why? I DON’T KNOW. They do, however, have the Palette Builder on their website, which allows you to upload a photo (or, conceivably, use one of their stock images of Moda prints) to determine which solids will coordinate. The accuracy of the match, however, depends on the computer algorithm rather than the Moda people just telling you what goes. I’m as yet unconvinced, but maybe it works? Has anyone had luck with this? Hand: Moda is more lightweight and a bit smoother than Kona. Some quilters have reported a slight stretchiness to the fabric.
Number of colors: 150 Color card: $25, widely available Ease of matching: 10/10. FINALLY. The names of the colorways of each Michael Miller print collection match the names of the solids for perfect coordination. THIS IS HOW IT’S DONE, PEOPLE. Hand: My personal favorite solid, Cotton Couture is a medium-weight, high-density cotton. It has an extremely soft and luxurious hand without being too slick or stiff.
Number of colors: 100 Color card: Free Spirit used to make a color card, but it does not appear that they still do. Ease of matching: 3/10. [Sad trombone.] Without a color card, it’s really hard to tell which solids match other Westminster fabrics. And with only 100 colors, one might think matching would be easier. Unfortunately, the Designer Solids don’t accurately correspond with all Free Spirit prints. This seems like a lost opportunity here. Hand: Free Spirit solids have a nice medium weight and a pretty drape. Curiously, there is definitely a discernible “right” and “wrong” side to the fabric; one side has a pronounced luster and crisper feel than the other side, making it like two fabrics in one. Depending on your needs, this can be a blessing or a curse.
Number of colors: 62 Color card: $10, widely available Ease of matching: N/A. While American Made is part of the fabric manufacturer Clothworks, they are pretty much their own thang. Clothworks has their own organic solid line that likely corresponds with their fabric, and American Made is marketed toward a crowd more modern than Clothworks’ target, so I wouldn’t have much expectation for coordination. Hand: American Made Brand solids have a thinner weight and rougher hand than most designer solids on the market. I’ve felt them but haven’t had a chance to sew them up yet, so my comments here are limited.
Makower UK is a British subsidiary of Andover and they produce some lovely solids. I accidentally bought some Spectrum one time, LOVED IT, started a project, and then needed more. Enter a months-long goose chase that took me over the pond to the UK! (And special thanks to Drygoods Design, who helped me finally ID my mystery fabric.)
Number of colors: 63 Color card: Not available, as far as I know. Ease of matching: N/A. Swatch colors available on the website. Hand: OMG, y’all. The Spectrum quilting cottons are divine. It’s a slightly looser/larger weave (so more like Kona than Art Gallery, say) but incredibly soft and fray-resistant. It has a lovely sheen but isn’t stiff or crisp. I really enjoyed sewing with these solids and would love to see them have more of a presence stateside. (Andover stockists: GET ON IT!)
My quilty friends and guild members are, no doubt, laughing their thread-covered asses off reading the title of this post. Lauren?! I hear them say? Old Noodle-Needle, writing a post about piecing accuracy? HA! I have good instincts as a quilter, okay? I have an eye for fabrics and colors, and I love playing with scale and dreaming up creative ways to quilt my projects. I just mostly suck at the execution. I TRY to cut accurately, but my rulers tend to slip and slide more than the average bear’s. I TRY for the perfect 1/4″ seam, but it turns out that there is a break in the space/time continuum right where my presser foot goes. And like a lot of other modern quilters, I have kids; this means that I have memorized the saying, “The perfect is the enemy of the good,” and I’ve broadly interpreted that to go with the good enough.
You likely already know the well-circulated tricks to more accurate piecing (glue basting, positioning pins, and the like). The little hack I’ve learned is nowhere as universally applicable or as good as these techniques, if you’re already using them. But it takes literally no time at all and is better than the default setting. So in order to be useful, your project must involve the following:
One piece with points at the seam line
One solid piece to attach to it
The pattern I used for this technique was Jaybird’s “Night Sky” quilt. This block has a ton of diamonds and triangles, and there are lots of opportunities for points to go wonky. After I pieced together the star itself, each block had a strip of background fabric as the border. Make the seam allowance too wide, and it would cut the corner off the star:
Make it too narrow, and the star points would be too short (or at inconsistent lengths):
So what should we do here? Here’s what I have done in the past, which is likely what a lot of new quilters do: slap the solid strip on top of the pieced strip, run it through the machine at 1/4″, and pray for the best! It’s easy, right? You just send that puppy on through at full speed, and if you’ve done your work right and crossed your fingers and eyeballs it should all turn out beautifully. But when you’re Lauren Lang, or someone else with my degree of Lauren Luck™, your points will look like crap. Why? Because you can’t see what you’re doing.
So here’s what you need to do when you’re creating points: turn your fabric over. Put the solid fabric on the back as you’re stitching. Doing this will allow you to see and very slightly adjust your seam line so that you can hit your fabric “intersections” at just the right spot. Behold:
You will, lazy bones, have to feed your open seams carefully through the machine so as not to stitch them down the wrong way, but it’s a small price to pay for better points overall. And you don’t even need any glue or pins, which is a huge time-saver. Happy stitching!
It might be that you read this and determine that the last three minutes has been a complete waste of your time. Doesn’t everyone already sew like this ANYWAY? The answer is no. In fact, most of the time people like myself are taught that it doesn’t matter which side of the fabric is up, and so we probably choose the path of least resistance [don’t sew right over open seams] when making the decision. And even if we don’t and it’s completely arbitrary, there’s still statistically 50% of us who are sewing seam-side down.
Somehow, in my sewing and quilting life, I’ve never gotten very far with hand stitching. (This is funny, right? Isn’t this all how we learn to sew in the first place? I remember my very first cross-stitch project, with acrylic yarn and a pink “needle” the size of a ballpoint pen. Ah, memories.) Like many of us, I returned to sewing after childhood with a machine and a pedal. It’s what all the cool kids were doing, and I liked it. Technology and efficiency and household appliances I can understand. Embroidery scares the bejeezus out of me.
But as quilters, it’s actually pretty important to know several hand stitches and what they’re good for. Hand quilting is now de rigeur in the modern quilt world, but there are so many other uses for a simple needle and thread. I don’t claim to be good at hand-stitching myself, but I do a fair amount of it out of necessity and aesthetics; I’ve started English paper piecing now, I hand-bind my quilts, and I’m getting into appliqué.
It’s been a while since I’ve offered up an infographic, so I thought this might be a good one. For more on how to create these stitches, I really recommend the following tutorials: