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Sewing to Dots

Quiltmaking by HandIt has been exciting to see the recurrence of interest in hand piecing. At the turn of the century with everything geared to machine piecing I was determined to try and keep hand sewing alive into the new millennium. My Quiltmaking by Hand book was the result and I am happy to say it has even more popularity today than when it was published.

However, there are often questions people have and one appeared on Facebook recently that I thought would be a good subject to address in a blog post. Here is the question:

“Cosmos is my first ever hand piecing project, and I’m so enjoying it. I am looking for an answer I haven’t been able to find, either in your tips, videos or last year’s Craftsy BOM. I understand sewing dot to dot, but some template points don’t include dots and I’m wondering if in these cases I should sew to the fabric edge? E.g. Block 5 step a and b, or where the final edge of the block is.”

This is a very good question. First of all I’d like to address dots on the templates. Some fabric pieces are cut with templates, some are cut with measurements for rotary cutting. Some templates have dots, some do not. “Dots” are often placed at the intersection of seam allowances on templates. These are guides for sewing pieces together. The pieces should be pinned so that the dots meet when the pieces are sewn together.

Let’s take template “N” in the Cosmos block 5. The dotted line is the sewing line and you can see that a dot is placed where those lines meet. These dots should be transferred to the wrong side of the cut pieces to act as a guide for getting the pieces matched up for sewing.template nDots can be marked on the fabric in a few different ways:

  1. Use a 16th inch hole punch and punch out holes in the template at the dots. Then place the template on the cut piece and mark the dots with a mechanical chalk or lead pencil.
  2. Perfect piecerThe Perfect Piecer is a tool I developed to aid in marking onto the pieces. It has all the common angles used in piecing along with holes where the seam allowances intersect. Use it to transfer the dots to the cut piece.
  3. Using the Perfect Piecer or a ruler with ¼ inch marked on it, draw the quarter inch sewing line on the back side of the pieces.

The next question is, do you stop at the dots or sew through the dots to the edge of the fabric? What if there are no dots? The answer depends on the pieces you are sewing. If the pieces you are sewing result in an inward angle that will require a set-in seam, then you must start and stop at the the dots or, if there are no dots, at the place where the seam allowances intersect. My preference is to sew to the edge. Using block 5 from Cosmos is a good illustration and we can take it step by step.Block 5 CosmosIn Step a, there is no inward angle created when sewing the pieces together, so you can sew to the edge. In Steps b, c and d, once again there are no inward angles created, only outward angles, so you can sew to the edges.

However Step e is different. When the N/Nr pieces are sewn you must stop at the dots to leave the “y” seam for adding the Fabric 9 square. The same is true for Step f. You must stop at the dots in order to add the P patches in Step g.

Thank you to Coleen who sent us that question and, hopefully, like Coleen, many of you are giving hand piecing a try. If you are unfamiliar with Cosmos, it is our free block of the month. A new block pattern is available in our newsletter each month. You can sign up at

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Shop Hop Planning

snow 2 (1)We have had an amazingly warm November, December and January so far, but it looks like winter is finally going to catch up with us as weathermen are predicting a blizzard with up to two feet of snow this weekend. Many of you will be affected as well, so I hope you have a nice quilting project to keep you busy.

As it is the middle of winter, it is hard for many of you to imagine that we are already in the throws of planning for our two shop hop events this coming year. Row by Row has been a lot of fun and we have already signed up for 2016 and have designed our row. The theme this year is “Home Sweet Home.” Once we finish the row and send the image to the organizers, we will share it with you.

Row by Row 2016Many of you may be new to quilting and may not know what Row by Row is.  The event runs from June 21 through September 6. It is a very different shop hop with stores in all 50 states and parts of Canada taking part. Each shop designs a “row” quilt design that finishes 36” wide and up to 9” tall. All you have to do is go into one of the participating shops and collect a free pattern for that shop’s “row”. Then make a quilt with at least eight different rows from 2016 and be the first to bring it to one of the shops and win 25 fat quarters! People have planned their whole vacations to allow them a route that will take them to participating shops. We look forward to the event as it brings a lot of new faces from all over the US and Canada. Check it out and come see us this summer!

Quest logoJust this week we had the organizational meeting for our annual Quilters’ Quest shop hop. The ten participating shops (all in Maryland and Northern Virginia) meet once a month to plan the event. We have already started planning the shop hop fabric design, the Scavenger Hunt quilt and the Block of the Month quilt which will be free to Newsletter subscribers.

In addition to those projects, each year we plan a color scheme for the Quest. Each shop prepares a set of swatches made up of some of the colors and participants either buy the swatches or get them free with a purchase of a certain amount. The shops get together and trade so each one has a complete set (the same as what the participants will have). Then the fun begins. Each shop designs a quilt using the swatches and then writes a pattern for the design. The pattern is free to anyone coming into the shop during Quest. That is 10 quilt designs to choose from using the quest swatches.

Questers fun1

Questers fun2Many people enjoy the Quest by letting us do the driving and most shops already have the dates for their bus trips. We have many people from all over the US sign up for these buses, so we hope those of you from far away will want to join us for this great event. calliope Palette quilt final sm

Last year our quilt and free pattern was for Calliope. I was working on it when my granddaughter was visiting and she fell in love with it and asked if she could have it. How can I resist? I plan to baste it and put it in the frame so I have something to do during the upcoming blizzard. It has been a long time since I had a quilt in my frame and I am looking forward to getting started.

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Simple Lines….Dynamic Effects

We often get phone calls here at the Studio asking us for advice on how to quilt a just-finished top. That’s a tough one to answer. There are so many possibilities! Whether you are a beginner or an experienced quilter, sometimes the phrase “quilt as desired” can lead to frustration when not a single idea pops into your head.

These days, when in search of ideas, we often head to the internet and there are some awesome examples of quilting out there both by hand and machine. It can be a little intimidating. Sometimes, I think we overlook the beauty in simplicity.

Day Lilies

My quilt “Day Lilies” has the illusion of a lot of curves but it is all straight line quilting. More elaborate quilting was unnecessary and might have detracted from the quilt’s design. The same is true of my “Rhapsody” quilt.


My new table runner design, “Turning Point,” has a dramatic diamond design. Instead of following the exact lines of the piecing, machine quilter Su Gardner did triple lines of quilting perpendicular to the pattern. It has quite a striking effect, don’t you think?

Turning Point
Turning Point

Straight-line quilting is often what we start out with as new quilters. Grids and outline stitching are wonderful for beginners, no doubt, but their “unfussiness” may be just what you are looking for.

SLQ4One of our Australian customers, David S., made this “Amish Waves” quilt as a memorial to a friend he lost to cancer a few months ago. Using 50 of my Palette fabrics, the bold colors and geometric pattern along with straight-line stitching help recreate the Amish feel in this lovely quilt.

SLQ5When my staff member, Nancy, made this quilt many years ago, she was looking for the feel of an old scrap utility quilt. The big stitch in a simple grid pattern was a perfect fit.

SLQ6For hand quilting, if I am doing straight lines in open areas, I lay down masking tape. I use regular size and also quarter inch tape which is perfect for outline quilting.  Masking tape can also be used when machine quilting but don’t accidentally sew over it! Many machine quilters use their favorite marking tool, a hera marker or just “eyeball” it along with a walking foot on their machines.

So next time you read “quilt as desired” don’t overlook the basic straight line.

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How Stained Glass Star Was Created

SGS Composite copyMy Stained Glass Star quilt has served as the logo for the Studio for many years and continues to be one of our best-selling kits. It did not start out, though, to be an actual quilt. It came about in a rather interesting way.

In 1990, my son, Darren, had a business setting up websites.  He said that I needed a website and asked for two things: a credit card and a logo.  Well, it was (somewhat) easy to hand over a credit card but I didn’t have a logo. He told me that I did so many “neat shaded things” that I should do something like that to use as a logo on the website. So Stained Glass Star was created.

Our shop sample pieced by Diane Kirkhart and quilted by Su Gardner.
Our shop sample pieced by Diane Kirkhart and quilted by Su Gardner.

It was all digital at the time using scanned images of the fabrics.  Once the website was launched, hundreds of people were requesting a kit of the design. Of course, one did not exist so then I had to create one…quickly.  The kit has been going strong ever since the website went live way back when.

Recently, in honor of the 25th anniversary of my Palette collection, I have been updating the Studio’s Palette quilts. The first is my Stained Glass Star.  What do you think?

SGS Quilting copy
The intricate quilting as seen on the front and back of the quilt.



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Quilt As Desired

Jinny Quilting-wThese three words–quilt as desired–often leave a quiltmaker in a quandary as to what to do next. They’ve faithfully followed a pattern and now they are left with a quilt top and wishing for guidance. One of the most common questions we get is, “How do I quilt my quilt?” There is never one right answer to this question and there are so many possibilities.

Your first decision is whether to hand or machine quilt.  It is no secret that I do everything by hand and that includes the quilting. Today, I will address hand quilting and in a future blog I will let my staff talk about machine quilting.

If you have decided to hand quilt, you need to think about the look you want and the amount of quilting you want to do. If you are willing to take a little extra time, the result will be well worth it. Let me show you three of my quilts which include my favorite quilting designs.

Daylilies QuiltedDay Lilies is a tessellation quilt found in my book, Quiltmaking by Hand. Seven thin strips of fabric make up each flower petal. For most of the patches, I used my go-to style of quilting known as “outline quilting.” Outline quilting is often used for quilts that are made up of multiple pieces of patchwork because it emphasizes the shapes of the pieces. I usually quilt about ¼” from the seams in each of the pieces sewing just beyond the seam allowance so I don’t have to sew through the extra thickness of the seams. For the pieces which were just too skinny, I did one line of stitching up the middle.

Cathedral WindowDespite the popularity of Windows, I think few ever stop to look at the way this quilt was quilted. (Editor’s note: Click here to read the story behind Windows.) Elaborate quilting would have been lost on this quilt so, once again, I outline quilted each of the pieces, 1/4″ in from the seams.

closeup of windowsThe narrow border strip is actually made up of three different pieces—two narrow strips sewn to either side of a wider strip. I quilted right next to the seam line of each of the narrow strips. This is referred to as “quilting in the ditch.” I don’t use this method often but use it when I’ve incorporated very narrow strips—1/2” wide or less—of border prints in my quilts. The border pieces would have looked puffy without the extra quilting.

closeup of windows borderTo complete the quilting on Windows, I let the border print dictate the quilting design. For border prints and other areas that are filled with large-scale fabrics, your quilting can simply follow the fabric designs. This type of quilting emphasizes the fabric’s unique design and gives your quilt that one-of-a-kind look. In Olde World Star, below, you will find this type of quilting not only in the borders but also in the octagons which use mirror images of the border print fabric.

Olde World StarWith my Olde World Star quilt, in addition to following the fabric design and outline quilting, there are some significant open spaces of background. Areas such as this allow you to shine with your quilting.

closeup of olde world starThere are many designs, such as feathers, which can be used to fill in a background. In the image above, I used a scroll-like design and made it stand out with stippling, close, wavy rows of tiny stitches. Echo quilting was used around the appliquéd broderie perse flowers.

All over designs, simple cross hatching, the possibilities are endless. Whatever you choose to do with your completed quilt top, remember that a carefully thought out quilting pattern is an important component in the creation of a beautiful quilt.