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Learn Without Leaving Your Sewing Room

Often I hear comments from some of you that you wish you lived closer and could take advantage of some the classes that I teach. Many of you watch our class calendar and plan your trips to the Washington, DC area so that you can attend my classes. One of the most popular ones I teach is Quiltmaking by Hand. In that class, I cover all of the techniques you would need to know to tackle any hand piecing project. Those techniques include:

Supplies to have on hand
The basic running stitch
Making templates
Joining 4 points
Sewing curves
Joining 3 points
Joining 8 points
Setting in seams
Working with border prints



It occurred to me as I was proofing the DVD containing all of the video lessons for the 2017 Mystery Quilt, Moroccan Mystery, that everything I teach in my Quiltmaking by Hand class can be found in that DVD. The lessons in the DVD include all the techniques described above. You do not need to make the Moroccan Mystery quilt to learn the techniques. The DVD works as a stand-alone product for learning all the basics of hand piecing.



Speaking of a “mystery quilt,” our 2018 Mystery Quilt, Kyoto Mystery, will be launching April 7th. Subscribers to our newsletter will receive the first clue and video lesson on that day. The quilt is rectangular, 59” x 63”, and we are preparing kits in the four colorways shown here. Those kits will be available for purchase starting March 3rd. Keep an eye out for our March newsletter.

Watch this video teaser for more information on our new BOM mystery quilt.

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Quilting Questions

I will be teaching hand quilting at the Studio this weekend. I love teaching this class because I only hand quilt my quilts and I love passing this skill along to others. In preparing for the class, I was reminded of the questions I am frequently asked about the topic. In an earlier blog, I talked about my favorite products but there were a few other areas I didn’t address. What color quilting thread should I use? Do I change the thread color when quilting over different fabrics or do I just use one? And then there is the most frequently asked question at the Studio concerning quilting: how should I quilt my quilt?


hand quilting class


Let’s start with the last question first. My absolute favorite way to quilt and what I use most often is outline quilting which is to quilt a little bit more than a quarter of an inch around every patch. Why “a little more” than a quarter of an inch? That’s because if I try to do exactly a quarter of an inch I would probably be hitting the bulk from the seam allowances which would make my job much more difficult. By quilting a little bit more than a quarter of an inch from the seam line, I will miss those extra layers of fabric. I eyeball the quarter-inch but, if you prefer, you can use a quarter-inch masking tape made for quilters as a guide.

When I get to the borders or in areas with large-scale prints, the design decision is easy.  I let the printed design on the fabric dictate my quilting design.

Now, concerning thread color and whether or not to change thread, I would have to give the very unpopular answer of “it depends.” First of all, I don’t like to use bright colors. I like the look of more muted thread colors. Here are the colors I use most: a grey-blue or teal being my favorite plus ecru, black and rust.


Hand Quilting Thread

I try to use the same thread throughout but I do sometimes change.  An easy decision is using black on black, tan on tan, etc.  When choosing a thread color, I tend to go a little darker than the fabric I will be stitching on.  I pick up the darker lines in the fabric.


Thread on Quilt

For more information, you can refer to my book, Quiltmaking by Hand.  But above all, remember that this is your quilt. There are so many possibilities. Experiment, try new colors and products and find what works best for you.

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Perfecting Hand Quilting Stitches

Periodically we get questions from some of you about various aspects of quilting and we try to answer those questions when we can.

The following came in some time back and I thought it would be a good issue to discuss:

Learning to do hand quilting any suggestions on how to practice my stitches?


Quilt Frame


First and foremost, the tools and materials you use really make a difference.


Use high quality apparel weight 100% cotton fabric. If the fabric is heavy, you will get larger stitches.


I like to use 100% cotton batting. One of my favorites is Quilters’ Dream Cotton. This batting comes in several weights. I like the lightest weight, Request. The thicker the batting, the larger the stitches and the thinner the batting, the easier it is to quilt and get small stitches.


Dream Batting



I use a between, size 11, for all my hand piecing and quilting. It is a sturdy needle and because it is so short it does not bend as readily. There are a number of needle companies and I have experimented with many of them. Unfortunately, as with everything else, many of the manufacturers are now having their needles made in China. Frankly, in my experience, the ones made in China are not the same high quality as those made in England and Japan. I would advise you to check the packaging. If it says “packed in England” and not “made in England,” the needles are probably made in China. My favorite needle of choice at the moment is the Colonial Needle Company, Super Glide, between, size 11. This needle is made in England and has a special coating that allows it to glide more smoothly through the fabric.


I like a pre-waxed thread made specifically for quilting. There are many brands and they now come in a wide range of colors. The one I use most is YLI quilting thread. It is a little more wiry than standard thread and produces a nice quilting stitch.


Tools on Quilt



I can’t quilt without a spoon. You may wonder what that is.  When quilting, you need a hand underneath the quilt frame to receive the tip of the needle and push it back up again. After a while your finger gets really sore. There are various devices to use under the frame that will guide the needle back up. Some thimbles have sharp ridges around the top for just this purpose. Aunt Becky’s Finger Saver is another device.

Once, I encountered a group of older women around a quilting frame. One of them was quilting up a storm and I asked what she used underneath. She proudly held up her thumb where she had a quarter taped. She was using that to guide the needle back up.

I have tried many different things, but my favorite is TJ’s Quick Quilter Spoon. It saves many sore fingers.


When quilting, sometimes if you have stacked four or five stitches on the needle it is difficult to grab the needle and pull it out. I use a small pair of pliers for this purpose. I just keep them on my quilting frame and grab them when needed.

Quilting Frame:

I have saved the most important for last. To get good even stitches you must use some type of frame or hoop.  It is the same as doing embroidery. Without a hoop, the work is either too loose or too tight. I can’t stress enough the importance of this.

My book, Quiltmaking by Hand, has a whole chapter on quilting, designs for quilting, how to put a quilt in a frame or hoop, and so much more. If you have an interest in hand quilting, this book would be useful for you.

And finally…Thimbles:

I never sew without a thimble. I have written two blogs about thimbles and recommend you read, “Put A Thimble on It” and “Thimbles, Part II – My Favorite Thimbles.”  These blogs cover how to choose a thimble and what my choice is.

Now to answer the question above, if you have the right fabric, batting, tools and some sort of frame, the best way to practice your quilting is to put a quilt in a hoop or frame and start quilting. The first stitches will probably not be to your satisfaction, but you will find that you will improve as you keep stitching.

I was very disappointed when I started quilting my first quilt. Here is a close up of how those first stitches looked and another several months later when I was achieving smaller and more even stitches.


First stitches, about 4 stitches per side
My first stitches, there were four stitches per side.
At the edge of the quilt.  After four months, my stitches were better - about seven per side.
At the edge of the quilt. After four months, my stitches were better – about seven per side.
By my third quilt, I felt very comfortable.
By my third quilt, I felt very comfortable.


I am happy to see the renewed interest in hand quilting and hope you will give it a try!


My current project.
My current project.


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Golden Ratio and Proportions for Borders

A comment on one of my recent blog posts asked a question about how to use the Golden Gauge Calipers and the Golden Ratio in choosing borders for quilts.

For those of you not familiar with the Golden Ratio or the Golden Gauge Calipers that I designed see these blog posts. Or just search “Golden Ratio” on the internet and be prepared for a wealth of information.



The Golden Ratio is thought to be the perfect proportion for all sorts of art and even in nature.  The ratio is 1 to 1.618 or 1 to .618. The calipers open exactly to that measurement and save the math. I’ll show you here how I planned the border for Wings.

I wanted the first border to be the same size as the frame around the hexagons. That frame is ¾ inches wide. But how wide should the second border be?

I placed the calipers on the first border with the small opening across the ¾ inch. The wider opening gave me the size that would be a good proportion for the next border.  That measurement was 1.21 inches. I just rounded up to 1 ¼ inches.


Now, I had two choices for the last border. First I could put the smaller opening of the calipers on the red and the larger opening would give me the size for the final border.  Or, if I wanted a wider border I could put the small opening of the calipers on both of the first two borders and the outer border would be wider.



Here is the image of both variations of the border. I felt that the design was so bold that the wider one looked better. But in either case, there is a pleasing proportion between the widths of the borders, no matter which one you use.

Give it a try!

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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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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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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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Ox Cart Wheels

blog photo 1Last week I told you about my trip to Costa Rica and showed some photos of the decorative ox cart wheels that are an important part of the culture. It might be difficult, at first glance, to look at these awesome designs and figure out how to adapt them for use in a quilt. This week I want to show you images of more wheels and tell you how you can create your own design using some of the techniques that the artisans of Costa Rica use.

Each wheel is divided into 16 wedges. The design is painted onto the wedge and that motif is repeated 15 more times to complete the decorative wheel. Each artist makes their own design, all similar in style but unique to the artist. Notice the wheel shown here. The white lines indicate one of the 16 wedges.

blog photo 21. This particular design has six circles. Other designs might have more or less. The distance between the circles is arbitrary, according to the artist’s whim. Start with 32 spokes and draw the first part of the design.

illustration 12. Increase the spokes to 64 and draw the remaining portions of the design.

illustration 23. Make 16 identical wedges to complete the design.

illustration 3Look at these additional photos of ox cart wheels and see if you can find the “wedge”

blog photo 3blog ox cart 2blog ox cart 3

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Put a thimble on it!

Hand quilting tumbling blocks.
Hand piecing tumbling blocks.

The thimble has become an indispensable sewing tool to me through the years although that wasn’t always so.  I never remember learning to sew.  I’ve been doing it all my life.  As a child, I never used a thimble.  In fact, as an adult, I pieced my first quilt top without one.  That all changed one day when the eye end of a needle went through my finger.  (If you have ever done this, you know how much it hurts.)  Ever since then, I have worn a thimble to protect my finger from the eye-end of the needle.  Wearing one has become so natural to me that I often don’t realize I have it on.  I will never forget finding a “lost” thimble in the freezer.  I must have forgotten I was wearing it and it fell off when I was preparing dinner.

Finding the perfect thimble is like finding the perfect pair of shoes.  What fits for one may not be right for another.  Sometimes the hunt is brief but sometimes it seems to take forever to find a good fit.  Here, then, are some things to consider when you are on the hunt for your perfect thimble.

Which finger do you use?  Most use the middle finger of their dominant hand.  Others use their thumb which requires a totally different type of thimble.  The motion of your finger and whether you are piecing or quilting also affects your choice.  Do you push with the tip of your finger or the side?

Closed & Open Thimble
Closed & Open Thimble

Are your fingernails long?  If so, you will probably opt for an open thimble over a closed one.

Thimbles are made with a wide variety of materials.  Metal, plastic, leather, rubber and even porcelain are popular. Some cause fingers to sweat and some wear out quickly.  There are even pads which stick on your finger. Of course, different materials have different costs which is also a consideration.

Various thimblesHow do you find the right fit?  It’s a little like the story of Goldilocks and the Three Bears.  You want a thimble which is not too tight, not too loose.  Put the thimble on your finger, hold your hand down at your side, move your hand around a little.  The tip of your finger should rest gently at the top and the base should fit comfortably on the sides of the finger with no pinching. The thimble should stay on but be comfortable enough that you don’t really notice it is there. (Remember the freezer story?)

Also, at different times of the year you may need to change sizes. We have many customers who use two different sizes of thimbles—a larger in summer when fingers swell and a smaller size for cold winter months.

It seems like a lot of fuss over a humble little thimble, doesn’t it?  But if you wear one for hours and hours, you will soon realize how important it is. As with so many of our quilting tools, it may take a lot of trial and error before you find what works for you. Next time, I’ll talk about the thimble I use and love.