Quilting 101- 7 things I learned

I have wanted to learn how to quilt for as long as I can remember. Earlier this year I attempted to teach myself this time-honored craft…if you saw those posts you would know that while it was not a complete failure it certainly was not a resounding success. I pulled out the big guns and signed up for a class at JoAnn Fabrics. Unfortunately there were not enough people enrolled and they postponed the class a month. Slowly the time ticked away. No matter how many times I checked my calendar the class did not seem to move any closer until suddenly it was the morning of and I was scrambling to get all of my quilting gear in the car before I left for work.

Quilting 101 is a pretty basic class. We had 2 1/2 hours in the classroom to cut, press and sew one quilted block. Our challenge was to make the pattern known as Jacob’s Ladder. I felt like every few minutes I was learning something new that blew my mind wide open. Here are the takeaways that will make me a better quilter.

1) Before you cut, square your fabric. In the class we worked with fat quarters, those square fabrics you see in the fabric store. A fat quarter is short for a 1/4 yard piece of fabric that has already been cut for you. Not everyone packaging fat quarters cares about how straight the edges are or if the bias is left in the piece. This makes cutting clean lines hard so before you cut put the fabric on your board, cut the bias off and cut the two raw edges so they are straight. This way you can be sure that every cut you make is precisely how you want it.

2) Don’t back-stitch. The sewer in me cringed a little but after trying this on my entire square I realized the beauty of this simple change. Without back-stitching my corners were flatter and mistakes were easier to fix (read seams were easier to rip out).

Constructing Squares3) Make strips instead of small squares. This one changed my life. The clouds parted, the sun shone down and little voices sang calming music in my ears. Most patterns I have seen call for many  2 1/2″ squares that are cut individually and sewn together in repeating patterns. To reduce the number of seams you need just sew two long strips with right sides together and then cut 2 1/2″ segments off the strip. This way you already have one seam done on all of your squares in a small fraction of the time. The picture on the left is an example of this. I cut strips out of my fat quarter using my light and dark fabrics. Each strip was 2 1/2″ wide by the length of the fat quarter. Once I had sewn these together and pressed the seams I cut the strips into 2 1/2″ segments. After that I could just place the segments together and sew one seam to make my squares.

4) Press to the dark side. Or as our instructor says “Come to the Dark Side”. Earlier in my quilting adventure I learned that you press the entire seam to one side, not open like you do when sewing garments. To make it easier to ensure your seams are alternating directions always press to the dark side. When you sew your pieces together you never put dark to dark so your seams will be going different directions. Brilliant!Quick Quarter

5) Invest in a quick quarter. This is a ruler 1/2″ wide that makes triangle blocks so much easier. With a quick quarter you take two square pieces, put them right sides together, line the quick quarter up to the corner making sure the center line runs through the opposite corner. Trace both sides of the ruler,  sew the two pieces together along the lines, press to set the seam and cut down the middle. Viola! Two perfect triangle blocks with a 1/4″ seam.

Chaining Seams6) Chain your seams. With so many little pieces to put together there are a lot of seams to sew on quilts. To make it easier you can “chain” your pieces together. This means that when you get to the end of one piece leave your presser foot down and feed in the next piece. It reduces the amount of thread you waste at the beginning and ends of the pieces as well as speeding up the process. On the picture to the left you can see the pieces I chained together while sewing over the lines I made with the quick quarter. Since I had two seams on every piece I chained all my pieces going in on direction, and then chained them again going back the other way. When I was done I just clipped the threads and had all of my triangle blocks completed.

Completed Squares7) Don’t rush it. Brilliant advice I am now giving to myself! As I mentioned above we were doing the pattern “Jacob’s Ladder”. As the class was coming to an end I was so close to being done, I had three strips each made up of three blocks. I just needed to sew those together and I’d be all done. Time was ticking away and I quickly threw them together and sewed my seams. When I opened it up I realized I had placed them together wrong and ruined the ladder. Oh no! The top and bottom strips are reversed since the dark orange fabric should have been facing the inside instead of the outside. Since we had run out of time and I was not making a whole quilt out of this block I left it instead of ripping it out. However, if I had made an entire quilt out of this the ladders in the pattern would not have come out correctly. Take the time to check your pattern before you stitch it and this will not be a problem!

Since I had surgery on my wrist a few weeks back I won’t be able to crochet much in the near future. Quilting will probably be my new addiction and I hope I’ll have some new tips to share as I continue to learn.

Do you have any advice for a new quilter? Please add it to the comments, any help is graciously accepted!

2 Responses to “Quilting 101- 7 things I learned”
  1. Sarah says:

    Hey, the way I see it, you just invented a new block! It looks nice and square to me and that is half the battle. Well done. Also, if you want some good advice as a new quilter, go over to sarahquilts.com (not me) and check out her series of tutorials on making your first quilt. She did a good job on them.

    • EverydayPam says:

      I like the way you think, it’s only a mistake if you admit to it. 🙂

      I will definitely check out that website. I am sure I will find it very helpful during this new project. Thanks Sarah!

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