Answers from 2013

Mom's Answers 2013

Why Square?
A customer called my daughters’ quilt shop, The Woolen Willow, the other day and asked a question that I have pondered myself ever since I made my first large quilt: Why are so many quilts made square when beds are rectangular?

This relates to the story of the first bed quilt I made. It was a beautiful appliquéd quilt featuring a clematis block. I even hand-quilted it, which took a number of years to complete. After I completed the quilting, I laid the quilt on my bed and looked with horror to see that it did not extend over the sides as I had intended. I had planned to use a bed skirt and have the quilt come down just over that. What could I do? Well, I simply made three more borders to make it the right size.

But I was in store for one more unpleasant surprise! When I put the finished quilt on the bed and tried to cover the pillows, I discovered that some of the beautiful quilting was not in the middle of my bed as I envisioned but instead a quarter of the way under my pillows! A trip to visit my daughter, Judy, at her cabin near Canaan Valley, West Virginia, revealed the solution to this dilemma. We visited a wonderful shop called MountainMade in nearby Thomas, West Virginia, where we saw many beautiful quilts made by West Virginia women. One with a dahlia caught my eye. As I looked at it, I wondered why the dahlia was not centered on the quilt. Suddenly, it occurred to me that the extra background fabric above the dahlia accounted for the part of the quilt that you would tuck under your pillows!

So you see, it took my feeble brain many years to actually realize the solution to my problem! Of course, it is too late for my clematis quilt, but at least I know how to rectify the problem in the future. I hope this story will help those of you who might have been wondering the same thing!

Happy quilting,

Working with Wool
Dear Mom,
I’ve never used wool before for quilting. When working with wool versus regular quilting cotton, are there any major differences to consider with stitch length, presser foot, shrinkage, or thread?
Thank you, Kay

Dear Kay,
Here are some helpful tips on stitch length, presser foot, shrinkage, and thread to keep in mind when working with wool:
  1. Stitch length—Use a little bit longer stitch length, probably a 2.4 or 2.6, depending on the thickness of the wool. The stitches sink in more, and if you have to rip any out, it will be much easier than if you used a tight stitch.
  2. Presser foot—Using a walking foot works like a charm because it helps both layers of fabric feed evenly through your sewing machine. Be careful to ensure your seam allowance is an accurate ¼.” To reduce bulk, it is best to press your seams open when sewing wool to wool or wool to cotton.
  3. Shrinkage—If you are using felted or hand-dyed wool, it should have already been shrunk. As always, take special care when washing a quilt by using cool water, gentle soap, and a color catcher, just in case the color was not set in the wool. Air-dry the quilt or dry it on a very cool setting in the dryer. You may need to gently steam the wool afterward if it is bunched up.
  4. Thread—You can use cotton or wool thread. Wool thread is best used only for embellishing or appliqué. To prevent thread breakage, use a top-stitching needle or a wool needle with a round eye.

Happy quilting with wool,

Mitre Borders All at Once
My sister, Martha, asked me if it is possible to sew your borders together and miter them all at once. I was unable to find anything on that topic while researching it, so I decided to try it myself to see if it works.

To figure the length to cut each border, measure your quilt side, add the border width twice, plus a ¼" seam allowance, then add 4 inches (2 inches for each end for good measure). For example, if your quilt is 40" x 60", and your border is 4"-wide, your formula would be:

40" + 9" + 4" = 53" (length to cut top and bottom borders) 60" + 9" + 4" = 73" (length to cut side borders)

Now, do your math again to add a 6"-wide border and an 8"-wide border. If you have done it correctly, you now have cut lengths for three borders (Be sure to label them as such for easy reference):

4"-wide border: 53" (top and bottom borders) x 73" (side borders) 6"-wide border: 66" (top and bottom borders) x 86" (side borders) 8"-wide border: 73" (top and bottom borders) x 103" (side borders)

To assemble the borders, first fold each of them in half and crease or pin the crease to mark  the center of each cut length. Then sew together the top and bottom borders and side borders, making sure the center creases or pins match up. Steam-press all seams open (When mitering, it is simpler to steam-press the seams open). Fold your quilt in half lengthwise and crosswise, creasing or pinning the center of all sides of your quilt. Matching the center of the quilt top and center of the matching border, sew the border to the quilt, starting ¼" from the beginning and stopping ¼" short of the end of the quilt. Leave the rest of the borders loose at both ends of the quilt for mitering. Repeat this with all four sides of your quilt.

There are different ways to miter the borders but I find the easiest is to simply diagonally fold one side across, matching the ends of the borders with the ends of the other borders, and making sure the border seams match up with the other seams. Pin them together. Lay your ruler with the 45-degree line over the seam line (quilt to border) and you will see that the end of the ruler matches up in a straight line through the borders. You may now cut off the border ends, or pin and sew first, then cut.

I hope this helps those of you who have not tried this technique. I used a mock quilt for this border-mitering experiment. For the quilt center, I used a 16" square I had left over from a quilt and 1", 2", and 4" widths for my sample borders. This was certainly easier than trying it with a 40" x 60" quilt! When you try this for the first time, I suggest you also work with a mock quilt or small quilt.

Happy quilting,

Sewing Backing to Penny Rug
Dear Mom,
When sewing a backing to a penny rug, do you also sew a backing to the pennies surrounding the rug?
Judy G.

Dear Judy,
You do not need to back the tongues surrounding the penny rug. It’s really a matter of personal preference. I tend to like them loose without a backing.

Happy penny-rug making,

Mom’s Helpful Hints
  • If you’re visually impaired, use ¼"-wide masking tape to mark a ¼ inch from the needle as a sewing guide.
  • When marking stencil designs on medium to dark fabrics for hand-quilting, use a soap sliver.
  • Accuracy is critical when cutting and sewing. If your block doesn’t measure the correct size, rip it out and do it again so that your finished quilt will be square. When constructing your blocks, measure each time you add a piece to catch mistakes before you finish the block!

Wool Appliqué
Dear Mom,
I am new to wool appliqué and have just started a block-of-the- month quilt made with wool and velvets. Do I need to use freezer paper to cut my appliqué pieces, or can I simply stitch the wool pieces to the background with a whipstitch?

Dear Natalia,
You may use the freezer paper to cut out your wool pieces but remember to remove it before appliquéing the pieces to your background fabric. Alternatively, you can use a bit of fabric glue or a glue stick to keep the pieces in place as you whipstitch them.

Happy quilting,