Before you look at the title and tell me that you don’t mind if your quilts aren’t perfect . . they’re made to be loved, I know what you’re saying. But, sometimes, especially if you’re wanting to use a pieced border, you have to strive to get the blocks the right size so that it comes out correct when it’s time to add those pieced border. The Road to Llano quilt is a good example of having the top nice and correct before you get to the borders. There are a lot of bias edges on the outer edge of the quilt and if the blocks are off much, it’s going to be a struggle. Yes, there are plenty of pretty and well loved quilts that don’t have pieced borders and it doesn’t matter a whole lot in the end if everything matches up. But, if you have a bit of trouble and if you want to do a little better, this series of posts is for you!
My quilts are far from perfect. I do know how to make a perfect quilt, but I don’t always do it. When I was traveling and teaching, folks often asked me if I was nervous when speaking. I wasn’t . . but it did make me nervous to have people looking closely at my piecing! It isn’t always perfect but knowing a few tips that can make it close to perfect can surely make those blocks and rows go together easier.
When cooking, sometimes it’s hard to create a perfect dish. For example, how do you perfectly time the cooking of potatoes. Some potatoes are done just right after a certain amount of time, while others, even from the same bag may take a bit longer or shorter cooking time to be perfect. And steak . . it can look fantastic in the package and not be so tender or tasty. So, you see, it’s much easier to have a perfect quilt than to produce a perfect dinner!
In my opinion, a quilt does not necessarily have to be perfect to be a lovely quilt and it certainly doesn’t have to be perfect to be loved and cherished. Very few quilts will be show quilts.
This post is probably more about making the piecing process easier on yourself than it is about having a quilt that can get past the quilt police without at least one citation. 🙂
These are tips that have worked well for me through the years. There’s really no right or wrong way to do so many thing so if you’re doing something completely different and are getting good results .. that’s great — this is for the folks who are not happy with their results.
- Washing the fabric before using it – some folks do not wash it. If you don’t, that’s fine. I do. First, that fabric has been sitting around . . look at where it was made! It’s been on a boat, in a warehouse, on a UPS truck, in a shop. I just plain don’t like the feel of unwashed fabric. It seems a bit “creepy” to me. Not creepy as in spiders and scorpion creepy but it wants to wiggle and slide and not stay where I put it. Also, there’s the issue of color fastness. I’ve had name brand fabrics bleed even after washing. And, there’s the shrinkage factor. I use a cotton batting so my quilts are going to shrink some but if using all different fabrics, without getting into the different greige goods aspect of fabrics, you’ve experienced that fabrics, even by the same manufacturer, feel differently. Take Moda for example. I love Sandy’s Solids. They’re a bit thicker and “less wiggly” than Moda Marbles, which I find thin and crawly. Different fabrics are going to shrink at different rates. Do you want all the ecru fabric in your top to shrink a different amount from all the navy fabric in your quilt, and then the batting shrink also, along with the backing? I do not! So, for cleanliness, color fastness, feel and shrinkage, I wash all my fabrics.
- Pressing – Before cutting fabric, I give it a good spritzing with starch. Vicki Welsh has a homemade liquid starch recipe here that she loves and I use also. Through the years, I’ve heard that start (cornstarch) will attract bugs that eat fabric. Since we certainly have our share of bugs here in Texas, and I don’t want them eating my fabric, I only use this when I’m working on the quilt and I plan to finish it and wash it fairly soon. I do not use starch on the fabric I’m pressing if I’m ironing stash fabric. If I’m working off a big piece of fabric, I only starch the end where I’ll be cutting. Mary Ellen’s Best Press is great. I use it when I don’t have a batch of Vicki’s starch made up. It’s expensive though, and I go through a lot of starch. Having the fabric fairly crispy when cutting helps me get more accurate cuts.
- Cutting – Over time, the edges of most rulers will wear down. I noticed this when I looked at the edge of one of my favorite rulers and saw that it had a bit of a curved edge instead of a straight edge. Cutting against that edge for years and years had worn it down a bit. Check your rulers to be sure they’re very accurate. If you’re using an old, heavily used ruler, it may be time to replace it.
- Rotary Blades – This is where the quilt police would get me for sure. There’s no need to have your cutter gnawing through fabric! Change the blade when it gets dull. I never realize how dull my blade has gotten til I put a new one in. When I’ve talked about this before, I’ve been surprised at how often some folks change their blades. Honestly, if I don’t run over a pin or worse, my blades are usually good for about 6 months and I do a lot of cutting. Definitely if you’re having to go over an edge a couple of times, please change that blade.
- Cutting Mats – Even these get worn and can result in the fabric being mashed down into a cutting line and not being cut evenly. Look at your mat for gouges or cuts. It may be time to invest in a new mat. I have a big mat on my big cutting table. It’s expensive so I use a smaller mat for cutting, since most of my cuts are smaller. I use the big mat for trimming quilts and measuring.
Later we’ll talk about other and equally important steps to creating perfect quilt tops but these are a few that most of us know and practice but some newer or self-taught quilters might find helpful.