Guest Post: “(Aspiring) To Be a Modern Quilter” by Pati Fried

From Laura: Our special guest contributor today is Pati Fried. Pati and I belong to the same mini quilting group, and I have enjoyed seeing the range of her talents through her quilts. Not only is she an accomplished quiltmaker, but a passionate gardener as well. Welcome, Pati!

Pati Fried_editQuilting has been my passion for a long time. There are oodles of trends that pass through our beautiful, quilty world. Some trends have created such an impact that they become a new style of quilting. Modern Quilting has definitely made that impact and has found a permanent home in the quilt world, alongside its friends: Traditional, Contemporary, and Art Quilting.

What is this fresh, new energy that is rocking our quilt world?  I was curious. My Pinterest Board started filling up. I found myself hovering over the solids, linens, and shot cottons in my favorite quilt shops. I started following Modern Quilt blogs and the first inspirational resource, Fresh Modern Quilts.

The Modern Quilt Guild writes:

Modern Quilting is inspired by modern design. It has many different characteristics, but often uses bold or solid colors and prints, with high contrast and graphics. It may include improvisational piecing, minimalism, expansive negative space, and alternate grid work.  Modern Traditionalism, or the updating of classic quilt design, is also seen as modern quilting.

That’s a pretty broad description. But ya kinda know it when you see it, right?

romance_1_red on chair_edit

My work never looked quite as traditional as I intended it to. Don’t get me wrong, I LOVE traditional quilting, reproduction fabrics, and the rich history that makes quilting what it is today. It is classic and beautiful. A Baltimore Album quilt or tiny pieced HSTs (half-square triangles) will always make my heart skip a beat. To be able to balance that with what I was feeling from the Modern Quilts seemed like an answer to finding my own voice.

I joined the East Bay Modern Quilt Guild (EBMQG) about a year ago. It was right before their annual event, Stitch Modern, a month-long extravaganza of all things Modern Quilting. I am so glad I did. What I found was friendship, support, and a whole lot of inspiration – young quilters, new quilters, and a few seasoned quilters like me, all looking for a new perspective. I love this guild. It pushes me out of my quilted box. It encourages me to simplify. It reminds me to focus on what I really want to create and minimalize the rest.


So that’s the big question: What do I want to create? Hmmm . . .

quilt detail_editWith traditional quilting, my answer was simple – if I like something, I make it. I joke that it’s my “speak, dance, and sing” process. A fabric or a new technique will speak to me.  Then I do a little dance experimenting with them. The result is to create a quilt that–you got it–sings.

How would I simplify or minimize that? I don’t necessarily want to spend time on a quilt with a limited color palette or fabric selection. I live for prints, design, and color. That’s what drew me to quilting in the first place, that mixing and matching, making the fabric speak to me. I want to enjoy the dance as much as the finished product. I still want my quilt to sing – just in a fresher and simpler voice.Montage_editThe green medallion in the montage above was a Round Robin project in progress. The center block was created by Judy Miller, and I worked on the border. The Four Baskets medallion was also a Round Robin project in progress. I created the center block, and Nancy Paterson designed the border. The other examples are some of my first attempts at Modern Quilting.

This is the challenge I have given myself: to embrace what I have learned in twenty years of traditional quilting while continuing to push my skills by enjoying an eclectic mix of patterns, color, and texture. Oh, and did I mention that I want it to be a finished product that will reside in my home comfortably? Yeah, that too.

romance_stacked quilts_3_edit

Quilting is all about the journey for me.  Maybe I fit into the Modern Traditionalist group, and maybe not. To be honest, I am not sure I care what the label is, as long as I am enjoying the dance.

~Pati Fried

We hope you’ve enjoyed this glimpse into the “quilting journey” of this talented Bay Area quilter.  To learn more about Pati, and to see a gallery of her quilts, visit her website here. For a generous sampling of the Modern Quilts on display at QuiltCon 2013, the first international conference and show presented by The Modern Quilt Guild, check out Darra’s two-part eyewitness post here and here.

‘Til next time, happy stitching!



Introducing Reverse-a-Rulers™, Grrrip-It® and a Giveaway

For the past 2 years, I have had the pleasure of working with Richard Quint of Quint Measuring Systems to develop a new line of rulers for the quilting and sewing industry. Richard’s company has been a leading manufacturer of precision measuring tools since 1995. Since I have always been a stickler for accuracy, this collaboration was a good match for me. When Richard approached me to help with this project, I immediately said that I had pretty high standards and specific requirements for a tool that I would be willing to promote.


I am pleased to say that Richard has provided everything I asked for in this new line of Reverse-a-Rule™ rulers.

1.     Accurate markings with thin and consistent line widths, and clear spaces between the lines for easy placement of the edges of cut strips and shapes assist with accurate cutting.

right cutting

left cutting

2.     All rulers are designed and marked for both right-handed and left-handed cutters.


3.     All rulers are marked with black lines on one side for use with light-colored fabrics, and yellow lines on the opposite side for use with dark-colored fabrics.

2 Black & Yellow together

4.     All corners have a slight curve to prevent nicking rotary-cutting blades while cutting.

5.     Rulers are made from polycarbonate rather than acrylic so they will not break, chip, or crack.

6.     All markings are hot stamped rather than applied with the normal screen-printing process so that markings will not rub or wear off over time.

7. Rulers are made in a variety of useful sizes for both cutting and squaring up finished units and blocks. Squaring rulers include 45-degree-angle markings, and all cutting rulers are marked with both 45- and 60-degree-angle lines.

8. New GRRIP-IT® adhesive attaches to any rulers to prevent slipping. Grrrip-It

I am excited that several of the major distributors have picked up on these rulers, so hopefully you will be able to find them in your local shops very soon. I always encourage you to support your locals first, but if you are not able to find them, I have some available on my website and will be happy to help you.

1-Giveaway IconMy two favorite sizes so far are the 6″ x 14″ cutting ruler and the 6-1/2″ x 6-1/2″ squaring ruler. I would love to offer both of these to one of our readers, along with a package of Grrrip-It®. If you are interested in putting your name in the hat, simply leave a comment by end of day May 15th telling me why you would like these new products, and I will announce the winner in my next post on May 21st.

Happy creating everyone!


Pre-Wash or Not? Quilting’s Perennial Question

So many choices. What's best for my quilt?
So many choices. What’s best for my quilt?

As a teacher of beginning quilters for over 30 years, one of the questions I am asked most often is whether or not I wash my fabrics before using them. My answer is SOMETIMES. I clarify this by explaining that most of my quilts are made for books or patterns and generally travel with me while teaching. I am not using these quilts and washing them regularly in a way that many quilters may do. My hope is that by not pre-washing the fabrics for these quilts, the quilts will maintain their “new” look and resist soiling and fading. So far, I have been happy with this approach.

In the next breath, I tell students that I do, however, pre-wash all fabrics that I plan to use in a quilt that will be washed regularly, especially a quilt that is intended for a child. Not only do I want to remove any chemicals, but I also want to avoid any surprises by having a release of color (often called “bleeding”) from one fabric onto another when the quilt is laundered.

A sad example of what can happen when fabrics are not pre-washed.
A sad example of what can happen when fabrics are not pre-washed.

Pre-washed fabrics are softer to work with and generally fray less than those that have not been washed. Also, I often use flannel on the back of baby quilts. Since flannel shrinks more than other cottons, I wash these 2-3 times before using them.

I always wash flannel fabrics 2-3 times before using them in a quilt.
I always wash flannel fabrics 2-3 times before using them in a quilt.

When I started quilting so many years ago, I was told that full-strength white vinegar could be used to set the dye in any suspicious fabric (e.g., hand-dyes, batik, and deep rich jewel-tones). I would always do a color test first, placing one square of white fabric into a clear glass of warm water along with a swatch of the test fabric. If the white swatch picked up any released color, I knew I needed to treat the fabric that I was testing with vinegar before using it in my quilt. If the fabric continued to release excess dye after a few tests, I  simply avoided using it. Fortunately this was rarely the case.

I asked my blogging sisters for their opinions on this subject. Here are their responses:

Darra: “When I first began quilting (and for many years after), I washed all new fabric as soon as I got it home, to pre-shrink it and to remove any excess dye or chemical residue from the finishing process. This made sense as all the quilts I made at that time were either bed sized or destined for other use—for example as a lap or baby quilts—that would eventually require a trip to the laundry room.

“Nowadays, pretty much everything I make is intended for the wall (or other display) rather than for the bed, so I no longer feel compelled to pre-wash new fabrics. The exception remains the occasional baby quilt: I still pre-wash fabrics that go into those cuddle quilts.”

Jennifer: “I don’t tend to pre-wash, but I’ve been burned once or twice because of that. So, if the quilt is for bed use, then I may pre-wash. Otherwise, I don’t.  However,  if I’m using a backing fabric from an artisanal or imported source, then I do test for color fastness or pre-wash.”

There are valid reasons to ask this important question “should I pre-wash my fabrics?”

The first concern is that of shrinkage. Will the fabric shrink and if so how much? Will all fabrics used in the quilt shrink the same?

The second concern is whether or not you are sensitive to the chemicals found in unwashed fabrics. If so, then pre-washing should be part of your routine.

Finally, there is the issue of excess dyes being transferred onto other fabrics through either abrasion or by washing (aka bleeding). The fabrics I pay closest attention to for this are the deep, rich, saturated colors and especially batiks and hand dyes.

Be aware of deep, rich saturated-colored abrics as they often release excess dye.
Be aware of deep, rich saturated-colored abrics as they often release excess dye.

Here are some of the popular products on the market that claim to take care of our concerns.

Retayne – Retayne is ideal for treating fabric before using it in quilts. It’s also handy for commercially made garments whose dye has not been fixed properly.

Synthrapol –Synthrapol works best with HOT water–yes, HOT water–when washing out excess dye, particularly fiber-reactive dye. You are getting out the excess loose dye molecules that have not been chemically bonded to the fabric. This is a good thing! Then you can rest assured that the dye won’t bleed on you, or the family underwear, the next time you wash it. (Taken from the product manufacturer Dharma Trading Company’s website

Quilt Soap (ORVUS) is one of the most-often recommended quilt soaps for washing quilts. Here is a site which gives some specific information as to the ingredients and use of this product:

Shout Color Catchers – I still like to separate my lights from darks when washing. If you haven’t pre-washed your fabrics, and have used both lights and darks in the quilt, you might try placing one of these catchers in the wash in hope of preventing bleeding. Here is an interesting article from Consumer Reports regarding Color Catchers:

Here are a few thoughts to consider before you decide to wash or not wash your fabrics before cutting into them. I suggest doing some homework in order to make the best choice and avoid any disappointments.

  1. How will the quilt ultimately be used? Will it hang on a wall or be used as a bed quilt?
  2. What type and color of fabrics are you using? Are they good-quality cottons, hand-dyes, batiks, or flannels?
  3. Are you sensitive to the chemicals contained in fabrics purchased off the bolt? If so, it is best to pre-wash.
  4. If you choose not to pre-wash, are you OK if the quilt shrinks up a bit, giving it an antique look after it is washed the first time?

I have found some really wonderful tutorials and videos online that address this subject. If you are interested, I suggest you take a few minutes to listen and read through them. I’m sure you will find them as helpful as I did.

Fiber artist Vicki Welsh shares her experience with Retayne.

Click here for thoughts from well respected quiltmaker, Becky Goldsmith.

Paula Burch’s All About Hand Dyeing website has a wealth of information on both both Retayne and Synthrapol.

Before I go, I am happy to announce that Beth Carver is the winner of Secrets of Digital Quilting: From Camera to Quilts by Lura Schwarz Smith and Kerby C. Smith from the giveaway in my March 26 post.

Happy creating everyone!

What perfect timing. While teaching at my local quilt shop last night, one of my students reached into her bag and brought out this piece of fabric, or so I thought.


She said her friend, and one of our loyal readers and talented machine quilter Elaine Beattie had given it to her to share with the shop. It is a Breezy sheet that was added to her wash to collect the excess dye from a quilt that bled red dye.


My understanding is that she tossed the affected quilt along with other items and the Breezy sheet together into the same wash load. The Breezy sheet came out red while the excess dye was removed from the quilt. Fortunately the quilt shop had some in stock so I purchased my own supply of 30 sheets. I’m hoping Elaine will give us an accurate account in the comments if I have my story wrong. In any event, plan to use it myself on the sad quilt shown above. I’ll keep you posted.



Another Week, Another Quilt, Another Giveaway Winner

Quilt-J: Fat Quarter Quilt
Freshly pieced and now ready for quilting.

Another week, another quilt. Yeah, I’m slowing down and looking for a break from the quilt-making frenzy after this. I’ve got a deadline though, a serious deadline to finish this next quilt. My sister-in-law Laurence is coming from France for her daughter’s bridal shower here in the U.S. and I’m making her a quilt for a milestone birthday she celebrated recently. I was going to take it to Europe for the wedding, but as she’s heading my way . .  . might as well use her arrival as my finishing goal.  I’ll probably have to stitch on the faced binding as we drive to the shower.

Book-J:  Jelly Roll Quilts by Pam and Nicky Lintott

I picked up Jelly Roll Quilts by the Lintotts, an English mother/daughter duo,  at Back Porch Fabric last fall. Gail Abeloe, the shop owner, had a colorful sample quilt from the book in the shop when I visited. Gotta admit, I’m a sucker for quilts with lots of colors paired with white and so, naturally, I succumbed and bought the book. Like Gail, I’m going for a multi-color palette. I’m stash-busting again and pilfering the leftovers from the Kaffe Fassett hexagon quilt I just finished.

Quilt-J:  Fat Quarter QuiltOf course, I like designing my own quilts, but sometimes, following another’s inspiration is liberating, especially when the instructions are so easy to follow.

Quilt-J:  Fat Quarter Quilt DetailWouldn’t you know, I even found leftover strips in my stash from a tenth-anniversary quilt I made for my brother and sister-in-law that I had to drop into this new quilt. See those Hoffman Fabrics butterflies? I loved those butterflies back then and I’m still attached. It’s a great print and I wish I had more, but as we well know, there’s always something out there even more tantalizing.  Just check out my backing and binding options below . . .

Fabric-J: Faced Binding Fabrics for Fat Quarter Quilt

A trip to my local quilt shop Wooden Gate Quilts yielded a trove of new Westminster Fabrics. The paisley is the backing, the zigzag print is the binding, and the green floral will be the corner triangles. Yes, I’m doing a faced binding just like the one in my Tuesday post. If you’re fabric shopping in the Danville, CA, area this weekend, do take advantage of a special at Wooden Gate Quilts on the third Saturdays of the month–a discount for the purchase of backing fabric when you bring in a completed quilt top. Follow the rules–the completed top is essential for the promotion.

Giveaway Winner!

Thanks so much for all the interest in faced bindings. That method (and its iterations) is a wonderful addition to your arsenal of quilt-making techniques. Keep your eyes peeled for the June issue of The Quilt Life and check out the comment from Sally2 who used American Quilter Projects 2007  for how-to’s. The winner is Brita, who would like me to make her a sunshiny quilt–Ha! Congratulations!

It’s been a tough week for the American psyche so I’m going to close with a floral tribute. We quilters celebrate beauty, charity, and goodness–all are defenses against malevolence. Jennifer

One element of a design--a ranunculus blossom.

Infinity Edges in Quilts: The Delights of Faced Binding (Giveaway too!)

My freshly finished version of Kaffe Fasset's "My Fair Lady" quilt from xxx.
My freshly finished version of “My Fair Lady” from “Kaffe Fasset’s Quilt Road.”

1-Giveaway IconJust when you thought you had all the elements of quilt making nailed down, there’s another very cool, fun, and mod finishing detail to explore:  ooh, the delights of faced bindings! Sure, there’s nothing actually all that new “under the sun” in quilt making other than technology, but there are techniques that ebb and flow with fashion. Right now, faced binding is trendy even though it’s been a standard sewing technique forever.

My blogging sister Darra pointed me toward faced bindings several years ago for a stylish finish to an Asian-inspired quilt that I was making. She suggested Kitty Pippen’s Quilting With Japanese Fabrics, a quilting classic published by Martingale & Company, for the instructions. (Giveaway details below!) Of course, I still use a traditional binding, but the faced method has been very suitable to the style of quilts I’ve been making recently. Sometimes, a quilt design is incompatible with the “hard” edge of a traditional binding and requires something expansive. I’d describe a faced binding as akin to an infinity-edged pool–it’s visually limitless.

So, shall we look more closely at the application of the technique with a couple of quilts?

Faced Binding With Prairie Point Accents:

Background detail shot of faced binding with prairie points. My version of "The Seasons" from Doughty/Fielke's Material Obsession 2.
Detail shot of the back side of a quilt with faced binding and prairie points.
Detail view of quilt back with faced binding and prairie points.
Detail view of the front side of a quilt with faced binding and prairie points.

Here’s the completed quilt–you may remember my post about a group quilt that took a major effort to complete.

My version of "The Seasons" from Doughty/Fielke's Material Obsession 2--love, love, love the addition of the prairie points.
My version of “The Seasons” from Doughty/Fielke’s “Material Obsession 2.”
I love, love, love the addition of the prairie points!

Invisible Faced Binding:

Here’s a clever binding approach from my friend Kim Butterworth.  She had enough backing fabric left over from trimming her quilt to create “invisible” faced binding. Look closely: she matched her quilt backing and faced binding perfectly.

Invisible faced binding on Kim Butterworth's quilt.
Invisible faced binding on Kim Butterworth’s quilt.

Classic Faced Binding:

If you’ve been following my recent quilt-making adventures here and here, you’ll know I’ve been tackling a Kaffe Fassett quilt that’s been languishing in my UFO pile. I’m happy to tell you that I’m minutes away from finishing that quilt. It simply lacks a label, but I’m alternating working on that little detail and this blog post. Deb McPartland, one of my very fave long-armers, quilted the top in a classic “Orange Peel” design with variegated yellow thread. I don’t like high-contrast quilting on white fabric, and so the light, sunny colors of the thread were perfect for adding texture without diminishing the impact of the wildly colored hexagons. I wish my photos could capture Deb’s wonderful craftsmanship, but alas, I can only show you fragmented views for the details. Thank you Deb!

My quilt is destined for my dear Floridian friend from high school days (mentioned in a prior group post as needing a quilted hug), and thus my slightly eyeball-burning choices of backing and batting to suit sunshiny climes.

Backing fabric shown on left, faced binding is the umbrella fabric and the accent triangle in green/blue polka dot.
Backing fabric shown on left, faced binding is the umbrella fabric and the accent triangles in green/blue polka dot.

I’m not going to detail the faced binding technique in this post because, if you wait just a short time, the June issue of The Quilt Life will feature a excellent how-to from Ricky Tims along with an added embellishment of triangle corners, a technique I picked up from a friend who picked it up from another friend, etc. It’s a fabulous design twist, but I haven’t a clue where it started.

Here’s the finished binding:

Completed faced binding with accent triangle.
Completed faced binding with accent triangle.

And here, a partial view of the front, back, and faced binding in one photo:

The many design elements of "My Fair Lady" in view:  finished quilt with completed faced binding and machine-quilting in "Orange Peel" by Deb McPartland.
The many design elements of “My Fair Lady” in view: finished quilt with completed faced binding and machine-quilting in “Orange Peel” by Deb McPartland.

Here’s the quilt in its entirety (sadly, not a great photo, but you get the idea):

Quilt-J:  "My Fair Lady" from Kaffe Fasset's Quilt Road

Time to add that last, critical detail, the label:

Quilt-J:  Quilt label

Giveaway Details Here!

Here’s something wonderful:  Martingale & Company is offering Kitty Pippen’s classic Quilting With Japanese Fabric as a giveaway. (Remember, she’s got a great technique for faced bindings described in the book.) The title is now being offered as an eBook so if you’ve got the technology, you’re in good shape. You know the giveaway drill:  comment by Thursday, April 18, for the drawing and I’ll announce a winner in my Friday post.  Here’s your question: Have you or will you finish a quilt with faced binding?

Later, gators! JenniferInspiration-J: Boston



Putting It Together: Assembling the Zigzag–or Streak of Lightning–Set (Part 2)

Unknown, quilter. Variable Star. 1870. From Rutgers Special Collections and University Archives, The Heritage Quilt Project of New Jersey, Inc.. Published in The Quilt Index, Accessed: 04/15/2013.
Unknown, quilter. Variable Star. 1870. From Rutgers Special Collections and University Archives, The Heritage Quilt Project of New Jersey, Inc.. Published in The Quilt Index, Accessed: 04/15/2013.

As I promised in my Tuesday post, today I’ll show you how easy it is to assemble the rows for the zigzag (or streak of lightning) set. A couple of things to keep in mind before you begin:

You can make either an odd or even number of rows for this set. I typically prefer an odd number, but I’ve been known to make an exception.

To stabilize the rows–that is, to avoid stretching and distorting as you stitch and press them–you’ll want the straight-grain edges of the setting triangles to fall on the row’s outer edges. For this reason, you’ll use quarter-square triangles to fill in the side, top, and bottom edges of the even-numbered rows, and also to fill in the side edges of the odd-numbered rows.

Quarter-Square Triangles_Cutting

You’ll use half-square triangles to fill in the top and bottom edges of the odd-numbered rows.

Half-Square Triangles_Cutting

Because the alternating rows are staggered, and also because of the way you’ll cut the pieces, you’ll want to avoid stripes, plaids, and other directional prints for the setting triangles in the zigzag set. Although I love the fabrics on the left in the photo below, they’re not the ones I would choose here. The subtle, random, and tone-on-tone prints on the right are much better choices.

Fabrics on the left - not the best choices for the zigzag setting triangles; fabrics on the right - good choices!
Fabrics on the left – not the best choices for the zigzag setting triangles; fabrics on the right – good choices!

If you like the 6″ (finished) Churn Dash block that I’ve used for the samples in this post, you’ll find a bonus tutorial  in the Pattern Library. This “bonus” includes the cutting and assembly instructions for the block, as well as the size squares you’ll need to cut for the quarter- and half-square triangles that will finish the rows for this or any 6″ pattern. If you’re really curious, the tutorial also tells you how I figured the sizes of those squares so you can set any size block in a zigzag set. 

Now for the row assembly!

Even-numbered rows:

1. Turn the blocks on point with corners touching to make a vertical row. Fill in the sides, top, and bottom with quarter-square setting triangles.

Churn Dash_layout_Q square_3

2. Sew each block between two setting triangles as shown; press the seams toward the triangles. Repeat for all the blocks in the row.

Make sure those triangles are turned the right way!
Make sure those triangles are turned the right way!

3. Sew the units together; press.

Churn Dash Q Square sides sewn

4. Sew 2 quarter-square triangles together along their short edges as shown; press. Make 2 and sew them to first and last blocks to finish the row; press.

Churn Dash Q square top sewn

Odd-numbered rows:

1. Turn the blocks on point with corners touching to make a vertical row. Fill in the sides with quarter-square setting triangles. Fill in the top and bottom edges with half-square setting triangles.

Churn Dash H Square layout

2. Sew each block between two setting triangles; press the seams toward the triangles. Repeat for all the blocks in the row. (Note: For first and last blocks you’ll be sewing one half- and one quarter-setting triangle to the block.)

3. Sew the units together; press. Sew the remaining half-square triangles to the first and last blocks to finish the row; press.

Churn Dash H Square sides sewn

Once you’ve made the desired number of rows, it’s time to sew them together.

Joining the Rows:

1. Use an erasable marker or pin to mark the midpoint of each (side) quarter-square triangle.

Churn Dash rows pinned close

2. With right sides together, carefully pin rows 1 and 2 together. Start by matching the ends, and then the corners of the blocks with the marks or pins that you placed in the adjacent row. Add more pins as desired.

3. Sew the rows together. (I like to sew this long seam using a machine-basting stitch; once I’m sure that I’ve made all my matches and haven’t lost any points, I restitch using my regular stitch length of approximately 12 – 14 stitches per inch.) Press the seams open between the rows to distribute bulk.

OK, you caught me! if you look closely, you'll see that I haven't really stitched these rows together yet. See the note at the end of the post for an update.
OK, you caught me! if you look closely, you’ll see that I haven’t really stitched these rows together yet. See the note at the end of the post for an update.

4. Repeat steps 2 and 3 to sew the remaining odd- and even-numbered rows together in pairs; press.

5. Sew the pairs together; press. If applicable, add the last odd-numbered row; press.

Yippee! You’ve done it!

Note: I have big plans for the Churn Dash quilt you see in progress here. Later next month, I’ll be heading to the foothills with my friends, Alex Anderson and Joen Wolfrom, for our annual getaway. I plan to bring the rows along, assemble them, and add a nice, scrappy, pieced border. I promise to show you a photo of the finished top when I return.

Getaway coming: It won't be long now!
Getaway coming: It won’t be long now!

My thanks to The Quilt Index  for their assistance in securing the image that opens this post. That’s it for now. ‘Til next time, happy stitching!


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.


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.


Clip, Snip, Slice–Seam Rippers in the Spotlight

Tool-J:  Seam Ripper from WikiCommons
An exemplar seam ripper–it bears an uncanny resemblance to my mother’s snapped-off, 1970s-era model because hers is exactly that short. I would’ve bought a new one, but she seems to like hers stubby. Oh well.

Today the subject is Seam Rippers—in my head I hear Shirley Bassey singing seeeeam rippah ala the Goldfinger soundtrack as I type this post . . . perhaps I spent too much time at work today database mining?

After a none-too-rigorous Google research effort, I’ve discovered very little about the roots of our errant-stitch eradicators, and much more on their many weird manifestations. Origins? They’ve been around forever. As long as we’ve used sharp, pointy tools and stringy stuff, we’ve needed to snip stitched mistakes.

Artsy view of my favorite seam ripper--a slim, sharp blade and a comfortable handle.
Artsy view of my favorite seam ripper–a slim, sharp blade and a comfortable handle.

Do you know you can find seam rippers with attached LED lighting or magnifying glasses to mitigate declining vision? Seems like a good idea, but the word on the street is that the disability needs to outweigh the inconvenience of awkward or bulky attachments. Other models promise stitch-snipping ease with medical-grade blades. While I see the potential for spilt blood from my use, the more dexterous swear by the efficacy of these epic cutters.

My absolute fave for a giggle is a battery-operated, seam-ripping clipper. Hey, I think it’s a fabulous idea, and boy does it mow down the stitches in a YouTube video. I just can’t help remembering how my husband used dog clippers to give our eldest child a buzz cut when he was eleven. Not one of my honey’s better cost-saving schemes because we had to dash to the barbershop afterward. (Where did he put those dog clippers? I’m sure I can repurpose them for quilting.)

As for online seam-ripper lore, did you know that many sewers weren’t allowed to use seam rippers in Home Economics classes back in the day? I don’t remember that prohibition, but I think my Baby Boomer cohort had more forgiving teachers. I also came across a blogger with a whimsical take on seam rippers who let her tools author a very funny and insightful post.

My trio of seam rippers--only one has a top . . . where do the lids disappear?
My trio of seam rippers–only one has a top . . . where do the lids disappear?

If you’re looking for your best seam-ripping option, look no further than to see the best-selling models. (I own 2 of the top 3–wow!) Now, if your prefer the latest variation on a seam-ripper theme, take in Seam-Fix™, which promises to erase stubborn thread detritus after you clip your stitches. Marby Bennett at Wooden Gate Quilts in Danville, CA says the Seam-Fix™ models are running out of her store as fast as she stocks them. Lucky for our SHWS readers, she’s given us one to add to those Ginghers for our anniversary giveaway. What a nice way to sweeten the pot!

Darra, Laura, and I want you to know how much we enjoyed reading all the comments for the Ginghers/Seam-Fix™ giveaway. We laughed, we cried, and we are so very blessed with your continued interest and support of See How We Sew.  Thank you! And the winner is Rosemary!


From the Three of Us: Running with Scissors (+ a Special Anniversary Giveaway)

Giveaway-GoldTechnology has changed our lives in many places,  the sewing room among them. We 21st-century stitchers are beneficiaries of so many advances: computerized sewing machines; accurate and sturdy rulers for every conceivable use;  instruction available 24/7 via the ‘net. In the cutting department, we have rotary cutters in all sizes, perfect for cleanly cutting straight or scalloped edges, and cutting systems such as AccuQuilt, capable of quickly cutting dozens of identical shapes. Yet, despite the options, sometimes nothing will do but a good, old-fashioned pair of scissors.

Darra's 3" x 5" collage, Snip-It!, with a pair of her (well-used) favorites, a gift from friend Chris Porter
Darra’s 3″ x 5″ collage, Snip-It!, with a pair of her (well-used) favorites, a gift from friend Chris Porter

No one knows for certain exactly when scissors made the scene, or even how they got their name, but there are some pretty well-acknowledged guesses. A single-bladed, scissor-like implement was evident in Egypt, circa 1500 B.C. The cross-bladed, pivoted configuration more familiar to us today likely dates to the early-2nd-century Romans. As for the name: according to Merriam-Webster, the Middle English word cisours (or sisoures) was in use by the mid-14th century, tracing its roots to the Latin caedare (“to cut”).

In honor of this venerable and versatile tool, we thought it would be fun to share a snippet or two of our own history with scissors: memories, favorites, even a tip–you’ll find it here!

Jennifer’s Ode to Her Scissors

Even as a child, when I was a novice sewer, I realized scissors were imbued with mythic power. Those shiny, big shears were strictly off limits except for cutting fabric. Honestly, I was a little afraid of them. Not so much now. What with rotary cutters and such, we’ve got scads of choices when it comes to our cutting ways. As for scissors, I favor a sporty model that Diana McClun gave me a few years ago—it was the designated giveaway for the Empty Spools sessions at Asilomar (CA) that year. I love them because they are the racy sports car version of scissors: they are sharp, corner well, snip cleanly right up to the tip of the blade, and they are also exotically international—they are Japanese by birth.

Jennifer's go tos, artfully displayed
Jennifer’s go tos, artfully displayed

Laura Checks In

I have always enjoyed having a pair of scissors in my hands. Sometimes the cuts did not produce the outcome I had hoped for; for example, at around age 4, I clearly recall cutting the beautiful, long curls from my best friend’s new bride doll . . . sorry Patty! (Perhaps this experience softened me when, at around the same age, my younger daughter gave her best friend a haircut.)

Betsy McCall first appeared in McCall's in 1951.
Betsy McCall first appeared in McCall’s in 1951.

Soon after, I was given my own pair of safety scissors. I remember patiently awaiting the arrival of the monthly McCalls Magazine  just to be able to flip to the last page and cut out the newest version of the Betsy McCall paper doll that appeared in each issue. For me, it was always about the cutting and much less about playing with the dolls.

When I started dressmaking, a pair of beautiful Gingher shears were my new treasured tool. When I want accurate cutting for large or multiple fabric shapes, these are my scissors of choice. I have a variety of small, embroidery-type scissors and use them for all my appliqué and embroidery projects. Like Jennifer, I also was gifted with a pair of Kai scissors. They have become my new favorite pair.

Some of Laura's favorites
Some of Laura’s favorites

A Tip From Darra

Funny how our memories overlap. I have similar recollections of the forbidden fabric scissors: I learned about the distinction when I was discovered trimming my bangs with Mom’s precious Wiss dressmaking shears. I also remember waiting impatiently for her to finish with McCall’s so I could get at those paper dolls. (Heavenly were the months when the reverse page contained no stories, just ads. Instant green light!)

Like Laura and Jennifer, I’ve accumulated quite a collection of sewing scissors over the years, and I have my favorites; however, I’ve got one special pair among my “essentials”
that you might find unusual: a pair of small, sharp, curved-bladed manicuring scissors. They are perfect for cutting out small (or otherwise) curvy shapes from template material. If they’re sharp enough, you can use them for cutting out curved applique shapes from fused fabric as well. I wouldn’t be without them!

Curved manicuring scissors--perfect for cutting small curved templates and pieces, like the pockets and such in April Showers for Sunbonnet Sue by Chris Porter
Curved manicuring scissors–perfect for cutting small curved templates and pieces, like the pockets and such in April Showers for Sunbonnet Sue by Chris Porter

Leave a comment telling us about your favorite scissors by noon Thursday, April 4, and you’ll be eligible to win a pair of shiny new 8″ Gingher knife-edge dressmaking shears . . . and a secret bonus that we’ll reveal when we announce the winner in our Friday, April 5 post. It’s a special, double giveaway to mark a very special milestone: the 2nd anniversary of See How We Sew!


We hope your week includes some time for stitching.