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Houses Quilt Finished!

Houses quilt finished large

Finished! Here’s the Houses quilt I’ve been making for my aunt in bits and pieces for the last month or so. It’s always satisfying to get a quilt done, especially since I’m also rearranging my sewing room at the same time and everything else I’ve been working on is in a state of total upheaval.

In the interest of time, and also because this quilt is pretty large to handle on my home sewing machine, I did the final quilting in a minimalist way. First, I stitched in the ditch along most, but not all, of the seams in the quilt. Then I chose a stylized leaf stitch from the assortment of decorative stitches on my sewing machine and sewed it around the center of the outer border. And that’s it!

For the binding, I picked the second fabric from the left, which I dug up out of my fabric stash.

Houses Binding Fabrics Large

I like the cheeriness of striped binding, so I cut the fabric along the length of grain (parallel to the selvages) to highlight the stripes in it. After I made the binding strips, I sewed the binding on using a machine-sewing-only technique (see tutorial here), and finished it with one of my favorite decorative stitches. In this photo, you can also see the leaf decorative stitch I sewed onto the outer border.

Houses quilt finished binding
And here’s the quilt folded up and ready to go in the shipping box. Finis!

Houses Quilt finished folded


Stitching in the Ditch

Houses quilt 3

On my sewing machine today: a Houses quilt I’m machine quilting to send to my aunt as a thank-you for hosting me and a friend last summer.

This quilt will be used in Vermont, which has a chilly climate, so I backed it with white polyester fleece. I laid the fleece out on my cutting table with the right side down, then put down the quilt top, right side up, and spray basted the whole thing with 505 Spray and Fix temporary glue. I will wash out the glue when I finish quilting  and binding. (Learn more about spray basting and backing a quilt with polyester fleece.)

Then it was on to the machine quilting. For me, the first step in machine quilting is to stitch the quilt “in the ditch,” which means sewing the quilt layers together in the little depressions that run along the seam lines where the quilt top was pieced together. The red arrow in the photo shows one seam line I stitched in a Coins quilt I made last fall.

Stitch in Ditch 2

I start with the major seam lines between blocks. I work my way from the center seams out to one edge, then turn the quilt and work from the center to the other edge. Once the whole quilt is stitched in the ditch, I can add any fancy stitching I decide to do without worrying about getting puckers on the back of the quilt.

To make the job a little easier, I use a special sewing machine foot called a “stitch in the ditch” foot. As you can see, the foot has a little projecting fin that rides right in the depression along the seam line and helps me guide my stitches. Instead of trying to watch where the needle is going, I just watch that little front fin. You can buy this kind of foot for most sewing machines for about $15 U.S.

Houses quilt 1

If you are really good at stitching in the ditch, you can make your quilting lines just about invisible. (I’m not usually that good, but I try to use a thread color that fades into the background and then call it good enough, however my stitching turns out.)

For this quilt, I used a white, 60-weight polyester thread from Superior Threads and Superior’s super-lightweight Bottom Line thread in the bobbin. I like Bottom Line because I can wind so much more of it on my bobbin than I can if I use a heavier bobbin thread. The fewer bobbins I have to change, the better!


Log Cabin Quilt-as-you-go Block

Second BlockDo you ever feel like you’re drowning in fabric scraps? That’s how I felt when I came back to my quilting room after spending most of the holidays away from my sewing machine. Having scrap piles everywhere is very stressful. But I hate to see any piece of fabric go to waste.

So today, I decided to tackle my scraps by making a set of scrappy Log Cabin blocks, using a new (to me) quilt-as-you-go technique from Jera Brandvig’s book, Quilt-As-You-Go Made Modern.

Quilt-as-you-go is a technique that eliminates a couple of steps from the typical way of making a quilt. You sew together the quilt top and attach it to the batting all in one step, instead of putting together the quilt top first and then adding the batting and backing layers. In Jera’s book, you quilt the top and batting together, then add the backing fabric as a separate step at the end.

To make these blocks, you start with a square of batting and a set of scraps whose colors and patterns you like together. The batting block should be an inch or so larger on each side than you want the finished block to be. You will trim it down when you square up the blocks at the end. My batting blocks were 15″ square. I like big blocks because it only takes a few of them to make a whole quilt.

Start by laying a piece of fabric more or less on the center of the batting block. This is an improvised block, which means you don’t have to worry about getting your fabric exactly in the center. I used a leftover Four-Patch block I made for some long-ago project.

Fabric on Batting 2

Stitch the fabric to the batting with a series of parallel seams, like this.

Stitch down first square 2

This is an improvised block, so you don’t have to get the seam lines exactly parallel to each other. Jera recommends setting your stitch length at 3.5. Start and end your stitches on the batting. You don’t need to back stitch or anchor your stitches, since the ends of your seams will be covered by the fabric you add later. After you finish stitching, trim off the loose thread ends. That way, they won’t get caught in your presser foot as you add more sections to the block.

Lay a second piece of fabric on your central piece, right side down. A strip is the perfect shape, but your strips don’t have to be perfectly straight to work.

The new piece should be about the same length as one side of the original piece. If your piece is too long, fold it up at the edge of the center piece and finger press, then use scissors to trim it to the right length.

Fold and trim extra strips

Stitch the new strip to the edge of the original piece, using a 1/4″ seam. Your seam doesn’t have to be perfect, either, but you do want to make sure you stitch through both layers the whole length of the seam.

Add strips with quarter inch seam

Finger press the new piece to the side, then quilt it to the batting the same way you did the first piece. Sew the strip along its length so your stitches start and end on the batting.

Keep adding new strips, working your way around the outside of the section you have already quilted. Try to arrange your strips so your quilting alternates between vertical stitching and horizontal stitching.

When you are finished quilting, lay the block on your cutting board with the right side down. Trim any extra fabric from the outside edges of the block.

Here’s the first block I finished:

Quilt as you Go Log Cabin Block Large

And here’s the second block:

Second Block

Once I got the hang of quilting each strip immediately after I sewed it on, the blocks went together very quickly. I like the modern look the grid quilting gives the blocks. And I love using up scraps! Did I make any impact on the size of my scrap pile? No. But it still felt satisfying to work from my stash instead of buying new fabric.

In a future post, I’ll show you how I put the blocks together into a quilt.

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New Rag Quilt in Action

Here’s a sight every quilter likes to see: a brand new quilt that is already hard at work, keeping someone cozy and warm. This quilt is a rag quilt with Christmas-themed fabrics that I finished right before the storm of holiday visiting, cooking, and parties burst over my head.

Did you quilt for the holidays, or give someone a quilt as a gift? I have given lots of quilts as presents. After all the designing, cutting, piecing, and machine quilting, each of which is fun in its own way, my favorite part is hearing from the recipient that they love, love, love snuggling up in their new gift.


Really? That was my reaction when I saw the color Pantone chose as the trend-setting color for 2015.  It’s called “Marsala,” and it’s a subdued (all right, drab) wine color. I guess you can tell from my tone that I’m not exactly feeling Marsala for quilting. For winter coats, purses, and shoes, yes. But quilts? Not so sure. I like rich colors, and I also like the white-and-bright combinations I see in a lot of the quilts being made by young quilters today. Here’s an example of “white and bright” from Angela on Flickr.com:

White and bright 7711418978_6f8b454746_bNo Marsala there!

You know where Marsala would have felt right at home? Back in Victorian days, when the first (mostly) colorfast red dyes were just coming on the market. Quilters just snapped them up. Reds and browns were all the rage then. They were also great at hiding dirt in a time when all washing had to be done by hand.

If Marsala appeals to you, you can find it and lots of Victorian reproduction fabrics online at stores like ReproductionFabrics.com, or at quilt shops that specialize in helping quilters produce authentic-looking reproductions of historic patterns.

How about you? Have you found a color palette for quilting that feels like your natural combination of colors? I’d love to see what kind of quilts you’re making and which colors you prefer.



Easiest Little Rag Quilt Ever

Rag quilts are the simplest kind of quilt-as-you-go quilt — which means just about the simplest and easiest of all quilts you can make. Learn how to make one here. I like making them because they are really easy to cut and sew, forgiving of mistakes, and are often made of flannel, which makes the end result wonderfully soft and cozy. Have a few extra fabric squares or strips lying around? Throw them in! Bad at cutting or sewing straight lines? No problem! Crooked lines look just fine.

With technical specifications as relaxed as these, Christine and I have made quite a a number of rag quilts over the years. You can see a few here, here, and here.

Most of my earlier rag quilts were made from fabric squares. The little rag quilt featured in this post is the first one I’ve made from flannel strips. I cut the strips the full width of the fabric, machine quilted each strip to a backing strip of polyester fleece, sewed the strip sets together with straight-line seams, and then clipped the seam allowances and outer borders. Quilt done in just a few hours.

Here are the fabrics I started with:

Baby Rag Quilt Fabrics

I cut them more or less at random into 2-1/2″, 5″, 7-1/2″, and 10″ strips. Then I laid out the strips into a pattern I liked. I cut strips of pink-and-orange polyester fleece the same width as each of the flannel strips in the top, then used a wavy decorative stitch to quilt each flannel strip to its matching backing strip. Here’s what the backing fabric looks like:

Baby Rag Quilt 7After all the strips were quilted, I sewed the flannel/fleece strip sets together with a 3/4″ seam allowance. The deep seam allowance gives the seams their fluffy ragged edges. I took a couple of extra strips of flannel and sewed them to the top and bottom edges of the quilt to make the ragged edges thicker and more luxurious. And here’s the end result:

Baby Rag Quilt 8

Baby Rag Quilt 6

Baby Rag Quilt 5

Baby Rag Quilt 2

Baby Rag Quilt 1

Baby Rag Quilt 4

Learn to Make Rag Quilts:

RagQuilting3dCover 400 pixels wide



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