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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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Printing Templates Using Your Home Printer

With the Lucy Boston and Millefiori craze, I have been pleased that so many people are finding the joys of hand piecing, and are exploring more complex designs.

Cosmos redMany designs can be cut using rotary cutting techniques but others such as my 2016 BOM, Cosmos, are template based. We usually make our templates by placing semi-transparent template plastic over a pattern and tracing using a permanent marker. It’s a quick process if you are making only a couple of templates. I demonstrate the process at the beginning of my video Magical Effects with Border Prints.  This is a free video to watch.

Sampler quilts are another story — they might incorporate dozens of templates. Furthermore, some template plastics are very hard to write on. They are usually smooth, so they slip on the fabric and it is hard to get a good mark with pen or pencil. It is also easy to lose a little accuracy as you trace the templates onto the plastic. I wanted to find a faster, easier, more accurate way to make the templates.

After much searching we found the perfect product and have packaged it as Jinny Beyer Template Film. This all-purpose template material is matte on both sides, making it very easy to write on and adheres to the fabric without slipping.  Best of all it is heat resistant and can be run through your home laser printer or copier. If you don’t have a laser printer, most office supply stores have copying facilities and can run it through their machines.

Please note that it will not work on an inkjet printer or copier. The ink will not be dry and will smudge and give uneven lines.

For printing on a laser printer or copier follow these steps:

  1. Print a sample template page on paper and make sure that the size is 100%. If it is not the correct size, adjust your printer until you get it to print at 100%.
  2. Feed the template film into the printer one page at a time. Since both sides have a matte finish it does not matter which side you print on.

Template1Many of my patterns have pieces that are enhanced by “fussy cutting” border prints or other fabrics with mirror image motifs. For instance, a border print square is made by cutting four identical triangles. In order to insure that the triangles are cut exactly the same, I recommend marking some portion of the design onto the template. These registration marks will serve as a guide for cutting the additional pieces. BP1It is amazing to see how many different squares you can get from the same border print.

BP2If you are trying to make all of your squares just a little different, very soon it will be easy to get confused by all the different marks on the template. The nice thing about the Jinny Beyer Template Film is that the marks can be erased. Remove pencil or pen with a standard eraser. Remove permanent pen with rubbing alcohol.

**Tip: Put the registration marks on the side of the template that has not been printed. That way you will not inadvertently erase some of the template information.

Many of my patterns are template based and, in the future, we will be offering pre-printed templates that can be purchased separately from the pattern. We already have these available for the six pages of templates required for the 2016 Block of the Month.

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Working with Silk Thread

applique centerOur annual shop hop “Quilters’ Quest” is coming soon and I have been diligently working on our quilt. Everyone who comes to our shop during the Quest will get a free pattern for this quilt.

If you have been taking part in my Block of the Month classes on Craftsy, you know that I have been enjoying doing a lot of applique lately. I am now working on the applique portion of the Quest quilt and wanted to share with you a few tips.

First and foremost, I love the Apliquick tools for getting the edges turned under neatly and efficiently.

Second, my favorite thread for applique is silk. When silk thread is used the stitches are virtually invisible. There are few things to keep in mind, however.

silk thread blog
You can see the difference between the 50-wt. thread and the silk which seems to just sink into your fabric and disappear.

Since silk thread is so fine, it comes un-threaded very easily. There are a couple of solutions. One is to be sure to hold the tail of the thread as you pull the needle up through the fabric. The second is to actually tie the thread to the eye of the needle. The photos here show the knot that can be used. (We’ve used a very large needle and thick thread to make it easier for you to see.) Don’t worry about the knot having trouble going through the fabric. Silk is so fine that you won’t even notice it.

Thread your needle and with the short end of the thread wrap it once around your finger holding tight to the thread end.
Thread your needle and with the short end of the thread. Wrap it once around your finger holding tight to the thread end.
Now take your needle and feed it between your finger nail and the thread going from your finger toward the tip of your nail (this way you are not likely to poke your finger).
Still holding the end of that thread, draw the needle through
which will create a knot.
Draw it up tight to the eye of the needle. Tie a knot in the other end of your thread and you are ready to stitch without worrying about your thread coming out of the eye.

Another problem that you can have with silk thread is that it seems to fray more easily and eventually breaks. I discovered that the thimble makes all the difference.  One of my favorite thimbles is an antique Dorcas that is silver with a steel core. It is quite strong and durable, but this ended up being a problem, because the fraying of the thread occurred right where my thimble touched the eye of the needle causing the thread to actually be “cut”. When I switched to my Tommie Jane Lane all sterling thimble there was much less fraying. Some people also use a leather thimble which also is more gentle on the silk thread.

The other thing that I do is bring the tail of the thread almost all the way down to the fabric. Then each time I pull the needle through, I let the tail slip through the eye just a little. When the tail is short, then I bring it back down to my work and continue the process. In this way, one portion of the thread is not always between my thimble and the eye of the needle.

The color of thread does not have to exactly match the fabric. I like to select a thread that is slightly darker or that blends with one of the darker colors in the print. These are the six colors I am using for the seven fabrics in the applique motif. I’m using black on the dark purple, since the purple fabric has black lines in it. I selected a bronze for the orange fabric, a burgundy to use for both the fuchsia and the darker red, a gold for the gold fabric, red for the bright red and dark tealish green for the green print.

silk threadIf you have never used silk thread for applique, give it a try. I’m sure you will love it as much as I do.

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Binding with Border Prints

StaffJinny is just back from vacation so while she’s unpacking and getting back into the swing of things the staff has decided to take over her blog just this once. (Well, we’ll probably do it again because this is kind of fun!)

We’re the ones you see every day when you stop by the Studio or talk to on the phone. While Jinny is busy designing beautiful quilts and fabrics and teaching fabulous classes, we get to answer your everyday questions and help you through problems you may be having with your projects.

There is one little thing we see every now and then, one of those things that when we explain an easier way to do it, the reaction we get is, “Duh…why didn’t I think of that!” SGS from SuYou’ve finished quilting your quilt, ready to put on the binding. You’re in the home stretch and your beautiful quilt is almost done. You line up the cut edges of your binding to the front of your quilt and sew away. Then you turn the binding to the back and stitch it down. This is normally what you would do on any quilt but what about if you bordered your quilt with one of Jinny’s gorgeous border print fabrics?

People report of problems getting the binding to line up with the lines on the border print. They’ve ripped out stitches, resewn, become very frustrated.  What’s the easy way to do this? Sew the binding on to the back then turn it to the front. Yes, this is the “duh” moment.

Binding in machineWith the binding on the back, you sew from the front using one of the lines from the border print as a guide. In the image above, notice that the line of stitching is just outside of the outer black line in the border print.

Binding hand stitchingWhen you turn the binding to the front, cover your stitches and just touch the line in the border print. Most of us here in the Studio like to do this step by hand with a small blind stitch. It comes out great every time!

Binding a cornerCheck out “Adding Binding to Quilted Projects” under our Tips & Lessons tab for easy-to-follow instructions and videos.

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Where Did Those Stems Come From?

Craftsy BOM final quiltI hope you have been following my Craftsy Block of the Month. This has been a new endeavor for me. While you’ve been learning different techniques for making this quilt, I’ve been learning about how online classes work. You may be surprised to hear that I don’t know how the classes will look after the editing process until they are each released at the beginning of the month.

This month’s installment contains several lessons, the final being adding the appliqué. In your online lesson this month, I pull out these lovely appliqué flowers connected by stems and talk about how to place them.  But wait…what happened to the lesson on making those stems with bias bars?  Not everything we taped can be shown and making the stems uses the same technique as we used earlier in lesson 4 making the appliquéd basket handles for the cherry basket. Here, then, is a quick review. If you made the basket handles, you’ll remember that they are easier to make than they look.

I once again use the aluminum bias bars from Celtic Design Company. Making stems with bias bars is a very precise method and you do not have to turn your stems after sewing which is next to impossible with such skinny pieces.

Let’s start by cutting your fabric. Make sure your fabric has been squared up and use the 45-degree line on your ruler to position it diagonally across the fabric. Make your first cut along this diagonal edge. From there, cut bias strips at 1 1/8”.

Take your first strip and fold it WRONG sides together. Machine stitch 1/4” from the raw edge. Trim the seam allowance to a scant 1/8”.

Insert your 1/4” bias bar into the tube of fabric. Remember that you are dealing with bias so handle it gently. Rotate the seam to the center of the bar. Press the seam to the side.  Pull out the bar but be careful if it hasn’t cooled down.  You are now ready to add these to the appliquéd flowers.

Remember that if appliqué isn’t for you, these blocks still look lovely without it. It is, though, fun to try.

bias bars blog

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Craftsy BOM Progress

Craftsy BOM final quiltIn my Studio newsletter for June, I asked those participating in the Craftsy Block of the Month to send photos of their progress. I just wanted to take a moment to say what a beautiful job you are doing!

You can tell by the smile on Marion’s face that she’s enjoying the Block of the Month.

I am thrilled with the number of you who have tried hand piecing and are really enjoying it. There have been many comments like this one from Marianne: “I would never have considered hand piecing were it not for this class. It’s far more relaxing and accurate than I anticipated—and I can work on blocks at times and in locations where I don’t have access to my sewing machine.”

Becky A. loves needle-turned appliqué so she appliquéd the flowers and then even the basket handles making templates from the paper pieced pattern.

A few of you have been concerned that your blocks are not turning out to be the exact size. Remember all of the tips like making sure you are printing out templates the correct size. If your blocks are not exactly 9 ½” including seam allowances, don’t worry. We will be adding strips around the outside of all the blocks so that they “float” on the background. I will show you how to adjust the size of those strips  so that all the blocks will finish the same size.

Catherine from Bordeaux, France is enjoying making her BOM blocks.

In the next lesson (which is almost here!), we will be working on the stems for the appliquéd flowers, doing slightly more complex foundation piecing and a more complex block. Just a hint: except for the foundation parts, the next block is best cut using templates and hand piecing. Don’t be daunted!  It is not as difficult as it looks and I think you will find that the effort is worth it.

block 11 basket of daffodils blue
Basket of Lilies
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Red Fort

The Taj Mahal is one of the most popular tourist attractions in India. But I think, equally compelling is the amazing Red Fort which is only a mile and a half away. The Red Fort as it is today was built by Akbar the Great (1542-1605) at the site of an older fort dating back to the 11th century. More than 4000 builders worked on it daily until its completion in 1573. This remarkable structure was a walled city built by Akbar in 1654 and used as a military strategic point as well as the royal residence.


Red fort courtesy of AGRA


Built of red sandstone, it has incredible designs throughout.  Whether we examine the edging on top of the building, latticework in windows, or decorations on the walls, patterns are everywhere.



I was inspired to make this quilt from one of those patterns which repeats throughout the fort. While modern day quilters call this design “Dutch Tile,” it has been around for centuries.

You can design one of these quilts yourself without a pattern. Check out “Designing with Diamonds” on my “Tips and Lessons” page. I’ve given you the “formula” I used when designing my “Red Fort” quilt. I would love to see what you create.

These photos of inside the Red Fort were taken on the tour to India with Sew Many Places last October. I began quilting while living in India years ago and every time I go back I am inspired anew by the color and design that surrounds this incredible country. I’ll be going there again on another tour next March. If you have ever wanted to go to India, this is a perfect way to be pampered and inspired.


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The Perfect Piecer is Perfect for Machine Piecers Too!

Perfect piecerIn Jinny’s class for Craftsy’s 2015 Block of the Month quilt, some of her students have questioned whether or not the Perfect Piecer is useful for those who prefer to piece by machine. Since Jinny does all of her quilts by hand, she decided to let one of us on staff address this.

As a confirmed machine piecer, I made the mistake one day of saying to Jinny, “I think I can be more accurate piecing by machine than by hand.” Jinny, of course, disagreed and I decided to give hand piecing a try. I cut 60-degree diamonds from border print fat quarters and scraps. The Border Blocks quilt became my carry around project for the next year. Loaded with inset seams, I soon found that marking the seam intersection with a ruler to be quite cumbersome. I bought my first Perfect Piecer (after working for Jinny for 4 years!) and couldn’t believe how easy it was to mark the intersections and sewing lines.

Border Blocks 2014And the result…my quilt turned out to be EXACTLY the correct size and, I discovered I missed having that hand piecing project to carry around.

Jack's Chain VintageMy next hand project came along while on a trip to New York City with fellow staffers to see the famous “Infinite Variety” exhibit of red and white quilts. In addition to being wowed by the display of red and white quilts, we fell in love with this humble Jack’s Chain quilt at the American Folk Art Museum. We soon planned to do our interpretations of this quilt starting with an exchange of red and white nine patches.

With all of the inset seams, it did make a great hand project but I soon found I wanted to work on it at home on my machine. My Perfect Piecer helped me with both.

Check out Jinny’s video of Sewing Inset or Y-Seams here.

Piecer marksHere are the 3 components of the Jack’s Chain quilt. Each needs to be set in so all stitching lines need to stop at the seam intersections. When hand piecing, I mark my sewing lines. For machine piecing, I only need to mark the intersections which can be done very quickly with the Perfect Piecer.

PP-closeup Jack's ChainWhat do you think about how it came out? No points were lost; no fudging had to be done. The top went together like a dream and lies smooth and flat. And I found another use for my Perfect Piecer.

Since I have four sewing machines, I like to make sure I give each attention. Going from one machine to another can wreak havoc on your “perfect” quarter-inch seam allowance. Here’s what I do to be consistent.

Piecer with machineThe Perfect Piecer makes a great seam guide for finding that perfect quarter-inch on your machine. By hand, lower your needle through one of the holes that run along the 1/4″ mark. Mark your exact 1/4″ along the edge of the Piecer with tape, post-it notes, removable adhesive strips, etc. The will give you the same quarter-inch on each machine.

Check out Jinny’s video and guide on using the Perfect Piecer here.

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Thimbles Part II – My Favorite Thimbles

Jinny's Thimble CollectionA few weeks ago, my blog focused on choosing a thimble. I had planned to do a follow-up the following week but other topics captured my attention.  Let me talk about, finally, my favorite thimbles.

I’ve used a variety of thimbles over the years.  I used to use one type for quilting and another for piecing but now use the same for both.  My favorites are sterling silver thimbles by Tommie Jane Lane which provide air circulation and accommodate long fingernails.

TJ ThimbleTJ Lane makes exquisite handmade thimbles which are little works of art.  For me, the rims on her thimbles are the perfect midpoint between too straight and too round which makes it just right for both quilting and piecing. They don’t have a rolled edge which will dig into my adjacent finger. The “dimples” go all the way down to the bottom and they are just the right weight without being bulky.

Tommie Jane’s thimbles and sewing tools are made from sterling silver or 18K gold sometimes in combination with special steel components such as needle threader wires, cutter blades and stilettos.  While sterling silver is soft and with much use will show wear, TJ does a wonderful job repairing her work, for just the cost of shipping, making it look like new.

If you have been in any of my classes or been into the Studio, you will notice that many of us wear our thimbles and sewing tools as jewelry. Did you know that in the nineteen century it was common to give a thimble instead of an engagement ring? While none of ours were given as betrothal gifts, they are beautiful and can be worn hanging from chatelaines.

Chatelaine-1I am a digitabulist which means I collect thimbles. (It sounds a little scary but is a wonderful trivia question.) I’ve collected antique thimbles for years and often use them.  I am especially fond of Dorcus thimbles. They were created by Charles Horner in 1884 to solve the problem of steel needles piercing soft silver thimbles. Horner used a steel core covered by silver inside and out. The result was a thimble as pretty as the traditional silver thimble but more durable.

Thimble1As I look at my antique thimbles, I love to think of the many quilters and sewers who collected and cherished them before me.  However, for the most part, generations of quilters made do with simple, inexpensive supplies yet created wonderful works of art with them.

clover-opensided-1While sterling silver and antique thimbles can be costly, there are also many good, very affordable ones on the market.  Clover makes a very nice open-sided adjustable thimble with a comfortable smooth edge and is made of brass.

As I have said before, what is most important is to find the one which is just right for you.

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To Wash or Not to Wash….That is the Question

Wash or Not SwatchesThe quilting world is definitely made up of the washers and non-washers with very few feeling “wishy-washy” on the topic.  We recently posed the do wash/don’t wash question to our Facebook followers and here are the results when we finally stopped counting: 291 don’t wash while 210 do wash with more comments still coming in.  Most have definitely chosen one or the other but there were quite a few who only wash certain fabrics.

Let me start by saying there is no right or wrong method.  It is a personal choice. So what are the issues?

Those who wash tend to do so for three main reasons.  First, they want to find out if any of their fabrics will run and they wish to remove any residual dyes or other chemicals such as formaldehyde.  In the 1970’s, new environmental codes put restrictions on the amount of formaldehyde allowed to be added during the dying process but some is still present. This is important to those who could be sensitive to these products.  Another reason some wash is that fabric shrinks and they wish to do this before using the fabric.

For the non-washers out there, our favorite reason not to wash is that they can’t wait to use the fabric. Most of today’s quilt manufacturers recognize that the number of quilters who do not prewash is a large number and therefore, make sure that their products do not run or bleed. There is minimal shrinkage when washing and many quilters like the sizing found in fabric which lends a certain “crispness.”  Also, many of today’s quilters are making pieces which will be washed little or not at all after completion.

I do not wash my fabrics.  Of course, I use only my own fabrics and I know how they will behave.  I especially like the feel of fabric right off the bolt.  I’m more concerned about the damaging effects of exposure to light, but then, that would be a topic for another blog.

For many of you, though, washing is important.  Many years ago, I visited a mill where my fabric was produced.  Here are the tips I received from the quality control manager along with my own findings for what I think is the best method to wash your new fabrics and finished quilts:

  1. Unfold all newly purchased fabrics and put them through a cold water rinse.  If not unfolded, the color can actually rub off along that crisp fold during the washing process.
  2. Wash the fabrics with a phosphate-free detergent in a short, cold-water cycle. Phosphates can contribute to the bleeding of fabrics.
  3. Watch the wash and rinse waters to see how much color comes out.  Dye catchers (such as those under the brand name “Shout”) are a good indicator.
  4. If you notice a lot of color in the water, wash the fabrics again in cold water along with small samples of the light fabrics you plan to use in the quilt.  Chances are the second wash will produce no bleeding. If there is bleeding but it has not contaminated the other fabrics, it is safe to use those fabrics together.  If the light-colored fabrics have changed color, then I would recommend not using the fabrics together.
  5. For washing quilts, use short cycles in cold water.  First put them through a cold water rinse (delicate cycle), then wash them in cold water (delicate cycle) with a phosphate-free detergent.  Put them through a cold water rinse and spin out all excess water.  Lay down several layers of towels and spread the quilts flat to dry.  I want to emphasize that I do not recommend this method for antique quilts where fabric can be extremely fragile.  Contact a textile conservationist for instructions for cleaning antique quilts.
Color catchers can be used in the wash to help collect any leftover dye from the fabric.

Note: It is difficult to find a good quality fabric today which will run or bleed. Our tester tried many different reds before she found a hand-dyed one purchased at a quilt show several years ago.