Extra! Extra! Five Fave (and Fab) Tips For Quilters

This is the first summer in three years that I haven’t spent heavily involved in writing, making quilts for, or preparing to promote a new quilt book. Co-authoring and releasing two books in back-to-back years–A Year in the Life of Sunbonnet Sue in spring 2011 and Cuddle Me Quick: 11 Baby-Quilt Designs in autumn 2012–was a challenge, but it was also lots of fun, especially since I shared the experience with my friend, Christine Porter.

Back-to-back books--whew!
Back-to-back books–whew!

After editing dozens and dozens of quilt books over the years, I’m well aware that quilters love tips, and (encouraged by our publisher, Martingale & Company) Chris and I were determined to add lots of tips to our books. In this post, I share five of my favorites. Some relate to technique, some to design. Hopefully, you’ll find a “little nugget” here to enrich your next quilting experience.

Tip #1: Flip It! Sometimes the “right” side is the “wrong” side. If a fabric you’re considering doesn’t provide the proper degree of contrast, flip it over and consider the reverse side. Often the value (or the blurred motif) on the back of a print is just different enough to make it the perfect choice.

Fabrics in the top row are shown right-side up; fabrics in the bottom row are the same fabrics shown wrong-side up; sometimes the difference is subtle, sometimes dramatic.
Fabrics in the top row are shown right-side up; fabrics in the bottom row are the same fabrics shown wrong-side up; sometimes the difference is subtle, sometimes dramatic.

I know that some quilters worry that showing the “wrong” side of the fabric will be too obvious, but I’ve never found this to be so. I used the wrong sides of many blue prints to achieve the subtle gradation in value essential to the overall design of my quilt, Woodlands. Can you spot them in this photo?

Woodlands, 51" x 51", pieced and hand quilted by Darra Williamson. I made this quilt in 1992, so I've been flipping fabrics for at least 20 years!
Woodlands, 51″ x 51″, pieced and hand quilted by Darra Williamson. I made this quilt in 1992, so I’ve been flipping fabrics for at least 20 years!

Those small pieces of “flipped” fabrics are hard to identify, even with close scrutiny.

Woodlands by Darra Williamson; detail. Even up close, it's difficult to identify the reverse-side fabrics (more than one in this photo).
Woodlands by Darra Williamson; detail. Even up close, it’s difficult to identify the reverse-side fabrics (more than one in this photo).

Does this help?

The front side of the original blue fabric (shown here as two small blue squares) was too dark to continue the value flow I was after. The reverse side (seen in the block itself) worked perfectly.
The front side of the original blue fabric (shown here as two small blue squares) was too dark to continue the value flow I was after. The reverse side (seen in the block itself) worked perfectly.

Tip # 2: Lose the Static! If your quilt is made of repeating blocks that “aim in one direction,” try reversing the direction of a few blocks. By interrupting the expected flow of the pattern, you’ll add movement to what might otherwise be a static design.

Little Sailor, 40" x 50", designed and made by Darra Williamson and machine quilted by Chris Porter, from their book, Cuddle Me Quick. Look closely: three boats sail against the wind.
Little Sailor, 40″ x 50″, designed and made by Darra Williamson and machine quilted by Chris Porter, from their book, Cuddle Me Quick. Look closely: three boats sail against the wind.
Little Sailor, detail; one of three boats going the other way!
Little Sailor, detail; one of three boats going the other way!

I used the same design trick in my quilt, Rubber Duckies, which you can see by clicking here. Fun!

Tip #3: No-Fuss Finishing! You’ll love Chris’s technique for finishing your bindings without the fuss of pins or clips. Sew the binding to the front of the quilt as usual, and then use a medium-hot iron to press the binding away from the quilt center. Turn the quilt over and adhere 1/4″-wide fusible tape (we both favor Lite Steam-A-Seam2 Double Stick fusible tape) within the seam allowance on the back of the quilt. Remove the protective paper from the tape, fold the binding to the back of the quilt, and press, mitering the corners. Finish by hand sewing the binding to the back of the quilt.

Once you've tried it, you'll love Chris's no-pin, no-clip binding trick.
Once you’ve tried it, you’ll love Chris’s no-pin, no-clip binding trick.

Think “Outside the Box!”  Seam lines are arbitrary. Experiment with allowing an applique shape or motif to extend slightly beyond the block or quilt-center boundaries. With just this one simple adjustment, you’ll create unity between adjacent elements and add immediacy and “life” to your quilt.

Sunbonnet Sue at the Beach, 22" x 26", designed and made by Darra Williamson, machine quilted by Chris Porter, from their book, A Year in the Life of Sunbonnet Sue
Sunbonnet Sue at the Beach, 22″ x 26″, designed and made by Darra Williamson, machine quilted by Chris Porter, from their book, A Year in the Life of Sunbonnet Sue
Even such a tiny, but effective,  adjustment can draw the viewer in.
Even such a tiny, but effective, adjustment can draw the viewer in.

Tip #5: Bargain Backings! Check out the sales bins for bargains when visiting your local quilt shop. The remnants of theme and novelty fabrics often turn up there at deeply discounted prices.

Some of the backing fabrics for our Sunbonnet Sue quilts. You can often find these types of prints in bargain bins and on sale tables.
Some of the backing fabrics for our Sunbonnet Sue quilts. You can often find these types of prints in bargain bins and on sale tables.

Here’s one more tip, and this one doesn’t come from any book. It comes, instead, straight from Laura, Jennifer, and me to you . . .

One lucky reader will receive all of the items in this super giveaway!
One lucky reader will receive all of the items in this super giveaway!

Tip #6: Don’t Miss This! If you haven’t already, please take time to check out the very inventive, four-line ditties submitted so far as entries in the Winner-Takes-All mega giveaway in our June 28 post. (You’ll find them by clicking on the link above, scrolling to the bottom of the post, and then clicking on Comments.) Good news: There’s still time to enter! The deadline is Thursday, July 11, noon (PDT), with the winner to be announced on Friday, July 12. Who knows? Your words could be winners!

That’s it for now. Til next time, happy stitching.Darra-signature

Instant Sizzle: The Zigzag–or Streak of Lightning–Set (Part 1)

When I first moved to the North Carolina mountains in the mid-1980s, I came across a vintage quilt in a local antique shop that instantly caught my eye. There was something about that quilt that spoke to me and–of course–that quilt followed me home.

Hovering Hawks, maker unknown, Ohio, c. 1880 - 1900, collection of Darra Williamson
Hovering Hawks, maker unknown, Ohio, c. 1880 – 1900, collection of Darra Williamson

As soon as I got my new “baby” home and up on the wall, I realized the attraction. It was that irresistable, zingy zigzag set, and in bright, bubble-gum pink, no less. (Lesson: If you’re gonna do it, do it with panache!)

While not exactly commonplace, the zigzag–or streak of lightning–set appears in any number of antique and vintage quilts, and it’s come to be one of my favorites. I love the energy that it adds to the overall quilt design.

Six-Patch, maker unknown, probably Virginia, c. 1870 - 1890; from the Ardis and Robert James Collection, International Quilt Study Center & Museum
Six-Patch, maker unknown, probably Virginia, c. 1870 – 1890; from the Ardis and Robert James Collection, International Quilt Study Center & Museum

Over the years, inspired by these vintage beauties, I’ve made my share of quilts using the zigzag or streak of lightning set. I’ve run the zigzags vertically . . .

19th-Century Lullaby, pieced and hand quilted by Darra Williamson, 1994
19th-Century Lullaby, pieced and hand quilted by Darra Williamson, 1994

. . . or horizontally, depending upon the look I wanted to achieve.

Caribbean Taxis, pieced and hand quilted by Darra Williamson, 1992
Caribbean Taxis, pieced and hand quilted by Darra Williamson, 1992

If you’ve wanted to try the zigzag arrangement, but were afraid it might be too difficult, let me reassure you:  if you can sew a straight seam, you can piece this set. Here’s the secret: the blocks are pieced in rows. No set-in seams required! By staggering the blocks–that is, by dropping them a half step–in alternate rows the zigzag effect magically appears.

Rows_4

While the alternate rows in many vintage quilts (and in my quilts, “19th-Century Lullaby” and “Caribbean Taxis”) are finished with pieced half-blocks, I’ve found a much easier way to finish the rows. Instead of pieced blocks, I’ve substituted simple quarter-square setting triangles.

Quarter-square setting triangles; so much easier than piecing half-blocks!
Quarter-square setting triangles; so much easier than piecing half-blocks!

It’s the method that I used to piece the alternate (second and fourth) rows of “A-Tisket, A-Tasket,” which I made for Cuddle Me Quick, co-authored with my friend, Chris Porter.

A-Tisket, A Tasket, designed and made by Darra Williamson, machine appliqued and quilted by Chris Porter
A-Tisket, A Tasket, designed and made by Darra Williamson, machine appliqued and quilted by Chris Porter

Ready to give it a try?  In my Friday post I’ll tell you how to assemble the set, and also give cutting instructions for the 6″ Churn Dash that I used for the in-progress samples above.

6" finished Churn Dash block
6″ finished Churn Dash block

Thanks, as always, to the International Quilt Study Center for use of the Six-Patch quilt image. If you’ve never visited their site, pop on over. You’ll be glad you did.

That’s it for now. ‘Til Friday, happy stitching.

Darra-signature

Friday Photo: A “Duckie” Preview from Darra’s New Quilt Book!

Rubber Duckies, 34 3/4″ x 43 1/4″; designed and made by Darra Williamson,; machine appliqued and quilted by Christine Porter.

Rubber Duckies is one of 11 original baby-quilt designs from my newest book, Cuddle Me Quick, co-authored with my friend, Christine Porter. It’s brand new, published on September 10, 2012 by Martingale & Company. I’ll be signing copies at Quilting in the Garden this weekend, and all 11 quilts will be on display. See you there!

PS: If you can’t make it to QintheG, you can see all the quilts on the Martingale & Company website.