Answers from 2012

Mom's Answers 2012

Spring 2012, Prevent Fraying
Dear Mom:
I once read something about a technique for washing and drying your fabric that won’t unravel its threads. Have you heard of this? I need to wash my material for a big project and would love to get that information again.

Dear Joanne:
I must confess I struggled with the issue of tangled threads caused by pre-washing for a long time—until I heard a quilter on a popular quilt TV show say that it was unnecessary to pre-wash your material IF it was purchased at a quilt shop. Her reasoning was that quilt-shop fabric is usually very good quality and when washed, tends to shrink very little.

But in response to your question, I did a little research and spoke with some of our quilt shop employees, customers, and quilting relatives to find some suggestions for you. My daughter, Gretchen, suggests a product called Fray Block by June Tailor. My other daughter, Jenifer, suggests serging or pinking the two cut edges of your fabric or sewing a zigzag stitch along the cut fabric edges. Then place it in a lingerie bag before washing it. Another possible solution is to cut about a ½” or a little less off the four corners of your fabric. I hope these suggestions will be of help.

Happy Quilting,


Scant or Full Seam Allowance?
Dear Mom:
When piecing my quilt, should I sew all my seams with a scant ¼” seam allowance even though the instructions state to sew with a ¼” seam allowance? I’ve heard that you should use a scant ¼” seam allowance when making units like half-square triangles. But should I then complete the rest of the quilt using a full ¼” seam allowance?

Dear Ramona:
Without knowing what quilt you are making, my best advice is to stick with the ¼” seam allowance—unless the instructions specify that you use a scant ¼” seam allowance for particular pieces. If you use a scant ¼” seam allowance for the entire quilt, you run the risk of cutting off your points. Some quilters do suggest using a scant ¼” seam allowance for half-square triangles, but this would likely result in cut-off points. When I make half-square triangle units, I simply cut my squares a smidge larger than specified and then sew with a full ¼"seam allowance. As a result, I have a plenty of room to square up the finished units without cutting off my points.

Happy Quilting!


Summer 2012, Setting Up a Sewing Room
Dear Mom,
I have decided to learn to quilt and have designated a spare bedroom for my sewing room.  Would you please advise me as to what sewing machines I should consider and how I should organize my room? Thank you for your help.

Dear Wilma,

I applaud your decision to learn how to quilt and your plans to start out with an organized sewing room. I’ll address your question in three segments: tips for organizing your sewing room, suggestions for tools you’ll need, and tips for choosing a sewing machine.

Organizing a Sewing Room
There are several books available that give you examples on how to organize your sewing room. One book I read suggested designing your immediate sewing area in a U shape with your sewing machine in the middle and small tables on either side of you—one for ironing and one for cutting and trimming. I’ve found this to be a very handy idea. However, your sewing room should be fine-tuned to suit your own sense of comfort and ease, and that is something that only you can determine. In my sewing room, I like to have areas for cutting, sewing, steam pressing, and designing. The latter is where you lay out your quilt before sewing it together. This design area should be near the sewing machine. Your cutting table can serve as this area, or you can easily create a design wall with fabric-covered foam board.

Must-Have Tools
  1. Pressing area: You can make your own or ask someone handy with wood to make one by crafting a rectangular wood topper for your ironing board and covering it with cotton batting and a silver ironing cloth, which you can find in most fabric stores. My husband made mine. He traced the shape of my ironing board to the underside of the topper, and then screwed little pieces of wood just outside the drawn lines. When I place the square topper over my ironing board, it doesn’t slip around. This kind of pressing station is really handy for ironing your quilt-in-the-making and especially great for the final pressing of your quilt.
  2. Cutting table: This should be a sturdy surface. Tables with sides that drop are popular because they easily fit in any size room, but they tend to bend slightly under the pressure of cutting so that your blade might not cut through all layers of the fabric. You can place cardboard or wood shims under the sides to hold them more securely when cutting.
  3. Cutting mat and rotary cutter: You can find these basics at any fabric store or quilt shop.  Before buying, try them out by holding them in your hand to see which feels best.
  4. Rulers: Several rulers are a must. I recommend you start with a set of the following sizes:  6” x 24” for cutting long lengths of fabric, a 6” x 6” for squaring up your patches and blocks, and a 12” x 12” for squaring up larger patches and blocks and cutting larger size blocks. A 4” x 14” also comes in handy for cutting smaller pieces.
Choosing a Sewing Machine
I cannot tell you which sewing machine to buy as it would be inappropriate to favor one brand over another. I can, however, give you some tips as to what you should look for in a machine.
First, consider how you want to use it. If you are just going to do straight sewing, most machines will be just fine. For piecing, buy a ¼-inch foot for your machine if it does not come with one to ensure your seams are accurate.  If you are going to learn how to machine-quilt on your home machine, you need to look for the following features: the ability to drop the feed dogs so that you can move the fabric in all directions; a needle-up/needle-down position option; and a machine with the longest distance between the housing and needle to make it easier to maneuver your quilt while you’re quilting.

You should be able to try out the machine before you buy. A quilt shop or a dedicated sewing machine store with a knowledgeable salesperson will let you “test drive” the machines. If you are really new to sewing, the store will give you lessons on how to operate your new sewing machine for several different purposes. Good luck with your purchase!

Happy Quilting,


Fall 2012, Hemming Corners of Binding

Dear Readers:
You are not going to believe this, but the other night I got a phone call from my daughter, Judy, the publisher of Primitive Quilts and Projects, asking me how to hem the binding corners on the back of her quilt to create the miter. She was able to sew the binding to the front of the quilt but when she blind-stitched it to back, she had the hardest time making the corners look nice and mitered. I told her that sounded like an Ask Mom question!

Here is my answer:

Begin stitching the binding to your quilt in the middle of one of the sides (I’ll call this side 1). When you get close to the first corner, stop two inches away from it and take an extra stitch there to secure it. Fold up and smooth the binding at the corner, then place a pin through the binding at the corner where your stitches come together and where sides 1 and 2 meet in a backwards L. Turn your quilt around so that side 2 is facing you. Place a pin about two inches away from the pin you placed in the corner. Using a pin, and/or your finger, carefully smooth down the fabric from side 1 as though you were wrapping a gift package. Hold it down while you bring up the fabric from side 2 and match it up with the corner pin. Take two stitches into the corner. Now you have a mitered corner! Continue stitching the binding down to side 2 and the rest of the quilt. As I stitch, I move the pin two inches away every time I reach it; this keeps the binding straight and even.

Happy Quilting,


Low-Vision Sewing Tips
I recently received a wonderful new light from its inventor for my sewing machine. As most of you know, I have macular degeneration and as a result, I have lost my central vision, however, my peripheral vision is great. Since I have installed the new LED light, I have been able to see much more of the needle, presser foot, and bobbin cover. It provides good light on the work surface and no bothersome shadows from my hands. Even when I could see well, I remember complaining about how the light on the sewing machine did nothing but cast a shadow of my hands onto my workspace. Whether or not you have difficulty seeing, this light is a huge help, and I highly recommend it. You can find this wonderful invention at Here’s another handy tip for those with low vision: To make your sewing line easier to see, mark it with masking tape.

Winter 2012, Wool Appliqué

Dear Mom,
I am new to wool appliqué and would like to know how to determine how much space to leave between stitches. When making small circles for pieces such as holly berries, how can I get perfect circles, and should I stitch them the same way I do larger pieces?

Dear Dotti,
It depends on the size of the appliqué piece. For small pieces, you should use shorter stitches and a shorter distance between the stitches. For holly berries, a good general rule is to use a short stitch—about 1⁄8” long and 1⁄8” wide—between the stitches. You may even vary the stitch that bites into the fabric by alternating its length; for example, sew a short stitch, then a long stitch, then a short stitch, and so forth, while keeping the amount of space between the stitches even at 1⁄8”. If you are working with a larger piece, you might use a ¼” length and width between stitches.

For cutting perfect small circles, I use pennies, dimes, and nickels, and for larger ones, I use jar lids. My daughter Jeni, who often works with wool appliqué, says you can also use a hole punch to accurately cut very small (1⁄4”) circles, but the hole punch must be a very good quality for this method to work.

The summer 2012 edition of my Ask Mom column covered tips for marking wool pieces for appliqué. We are reprinting it on the next page for those of you who would like a refresher course on working with wool appliqué.

Happy Quilting,


Marking Wool Pieces
Dear Mom,
I have been a quilter for more than 30 years and love cotton and the challenge of making a quilt, but I have never worked with wool and am trying to figure out how to mark the wool pieces so I can cut accurately. The wool is thick and the pieces small and I hate using a permanent marking pen to mark my pieces.

Dear Diane,
Since I typically work with traditional quilting cottons, I consulted the expertise of my daughter Jeni, who does beautiful wool appliqué, to help answer your question. She suggests the following tips for marking your pieces.
First, draw or trace the piece you want onto freezer paper, then cut out the piece about ¼” larger than the drawn line. Press it onto the wool, and then cut it out on the line. This seems to hold everything together so that you can cut accurately while cutting some excess paper in the process. Jeni uses pins or fabric glue to attach the wool pieces to the background. For appliquéing, simply use your favorite stitch. Jeni likes the whipstitch, but some prefer a blanket stitch.

To mark your wool appliqué, you can also use a chalk pencil or a sliver of soap. Available at most quilt shops and fabric stores, chalk wheels come in three colors—yellow, white, and blue (We carry the Clover Chaco Liner in our shop, The Woolen Willow). Chalk wheels work best when drawing long lines, such as vines. You can also trace your pattern pieces with them, although they can catch on your freezer-paper pattern. Another option is to trace your patterns onto Heat’n Bond iron-on adhesive before pressing them to the wool, cutting out the shapes, peeling off the paper, ironing the pieces to the appliqué background, then stitching them down.  However, Jeni doesn’t care for the papery feel that this method leaves on the project afterward.

Good luck with your new wool appliqué venture!

Happy Quilting,