​Choosing Purpose Over Perfect: 20 Sage Tips From Our Readers

The word ‘primitive’ lends itself to a number of definitions but has a double meaning to the practitioners of quilting. Most obvious is its relation to appliqué, the age-old decorative stitching highlighted in our publications, and is then followed by its distinct link to preservation—passing down not only the mechanics of the art but the personal secrets of experience from quilters past.

We’ve often wondered about how techniques and histories of quilting are passed along, in addition to sharing our own, and relished the idea of discovering new dyed-in-the-wool techniques that we could only (maybe) discover if living multiple lives were possible.

In the spirit of discovery, we asked you, our readers, to share quilting advice you’ve acquired so that we could then share it with everyone else. So with new and old, anecdotal and general, here are some of our favorite gems.

Why we chose these: We love a good story, don’t you? It takes us back to simpler times and simpler designs.

  1. I grew up with utility quilts made from scraps, recycled fabrics, feed sacks, and muslin. Some were old favorite patterns; a few were meticulous works of art. I was always told to make a quilt to last and to please myself. Nobody I knew worried about technique or how skillful or artful they were. They just wanted warm bedding! So that is what guides me when I make a quilt. I am forever grateful that I have the luxury of choosing beautiful fabrics and notions....and I did not have to pick or process the cotton for the batting. Quilting is truly my act of joy!
  2. I still remember making my new baby sister an embroidery duck bib that my mom taught me how to do..I was in 3rd grade. I was so proud of the process, and had to show my grandma because she herself was an embroiderer, and she turned it over and said..'you need to keep the back as neat as the front so all the strings don't show through and it lays flat, not every piece you make will have a backing'- I still remember being disappointed of the 'scolding', but I know now that it was a good lesson learned in case I would need to rip something out that I didn't like.
  3. From my grandmother, I learned to include a little bit of red in any project because red makes it sparkle. Though many of her quilts were made from feed sacks or scraps from her girls' dresses, her quilts (and now mine) are something special. I love you in heaven, Grandma Ada. Each time I see the hint of red in our quilts it reminds me of you.

As proud thought leaders and advocates of information exchange, it’s encouraging to find specific mentions of women in the space who we’re also huge fans of.

  1. Using a stapler to hold down my wool pieces until I get them stitched. I am working on Gathering of Friends by Rebekah L Smith from the Winter 2015 issue and had all the pieces perfectly placed and did not want to move them. Staples work great; are easy to remove and don't poke!
  2. Judith Baker Montano's Elegant Stitches, it is my go-to reference when I need a special stitch to make a project pop.
  3. Method of stitching bias vines on appliqué quilt: cut bias 3/8 in, sew along marked line with close running stitch. Fold bias over and tuck under edge, sew this side with invisible stitch. You can make very narrow vines using this method, simply trim your bias after sewing first side. It's the Deborah Kemball method.
  4. On needle-turn appliqué, such as Jan Patek and Linda Brannock BOM's done many years ago (through Country Threads) that came with printed instructions for each block—they said, “You don't need to be perfect or follow the appliqué pattern exactly as they did it. They said just relax and do it as it pleases you.” As a beginner and self-taught quilter, it made quilting so much more enjoyable and less intimidating!

Sometimes, the most significant truths are the most straightforward...

  1. I learned how to buttonhole stitch going from left to right. Years later, I took a class and the teacher showed us that if we went from right to left, the thread would not tangle or twist. What a revelation!
  2. Spending time on preparation is important. I use TV time to trace patterns onto freezer paper, cut out templates, iron templates onto wool, cut out appliqués and baste, fuse or staple. All can be done while 'watching' TV. Once several projects are prepped for stitching, I have something ready to work on even if it's only 15 minutes here and there.
  3. You'll laugh, but the best stitching advice I've received is having proper back support and lighting! So basic, but so essential. The more comfortable you are, the more you get done, with no soreness of your back or eye strain.
  4. Mark the slot on a spool of thread with a marking pen. This makes finding the slot to secure the end of the thread much easier. Because you see the slot when cutting your thread, it is very easy to secure the end and you never end up with a tangle, wasting yards of thread.
  5. When I wind bobbins, I wind three or four. Then I always have one to ready to go when the bobbin runs out. I also wipe the lint out of the bobbin case and feed dogs when I change the bobbin. Always ready to sew.
  6. To square up my quilt blocks or parts of quilts blocks as I go, before I try to assemble the quilt. What a nightmare when they are not uniform in size -- and just a little tiny bit of extra seam allowance makes a huge difference.
  7. When doing embroidery or cross stitch, use a longer-than-usual thread length, knot the end and do a long basting stitch for 3 or 4 inches BEFORE the actual first stitch. When finished, clip knot and thread the ends onto your needle and bury it back through many stitches on the back. No hard lumps and keeps back neat. I love not having a bunch of knots on the back especially on thin fabrics.

And last but not least, some short but mighty mantras to keep in mind:

  1. Don’t go cheap on rotary cutter blades! Get a good seam ripper!
  2. Use a high quality needle. It makes all the difference, especially when going through flannel.
  3. When machine piecing cottons, STARCH, STARCH, STARCH. Your piecing will be easier and your points perkier.
  4. Measure twice, cut once.
  5. Slow down and enjoy the process!
  6. Use Heat & Bond Lite to fuse down your wool pieces before stitching! No pins to deal with! 
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