Archive for the ‘How To’ Category

Philippians 4:6-7

I always keep my eyes open while shopping outside of quilt stores for things that can be implemented for quilting purposes.  One day I found these ultra thin metal circles called “eyelet charms” in the scrapbooking section of a craft store.

Eyelet Charms

There are twelve charms in the pack, measuring from ¾” to 1 ¾”.  I knew immediately they’d be the perfect template for appliqué circles.

Here is how I use them.  First, rough cut a circle of fabric about 1/2” larger than the circle template you are using.

Rough Cut Around Template

Thread a needle with sewing thread, using both strands, and sew a running stitch around the edge of the fabric circle as shown.  Do not cut the thread.

Sew Running Stitch Around Edge

Place your metal template in the center of the wrong side of your fabric circle.

Place Template in Center

Pull the thread taut, allowing the fabric to envelop the sides of the template.  Even out the pleats a little if necessary.  I usually take a few more running stitches, holding the thread tightly, and then tie the thread off with a few repeated back stitches.  The fabric should be quite snug.

Pull Stitches Tightly

Take your fabric-covered template to the ironing board.  With a strong solution of starch (mine is 50-50 starch to water), saturate the fabric on both sides.

Saturate Fabric with Starch

Heat your iron to a cotton setting and begin pressing from the outside edge inward, slowly working your way around the circle.  When the pleated side is crisp and dry, turn the circle over and press the other side until dry.  Metal can get hot so use caution before picking the circle up with your hand.  (Personally, I’ve never found the metal to be a heat problem because it is so thin, which means it cools quickly.)

Press Until Crisp and Dry

With your super-crisp circle in hand, apply some temporary basting glue to the back side.  The key here is to make sure it’s applied to the outer edges of the circle.

Apply Basting Glue

Place your circle in position on a quilt block and gently press down with your fingers.  Then turn the block over and press around the edges of the circle.  Allow to dry for about 15-20 minutes.

With a pair of appliqué or craft scissors, cut a small hole into the back side of your quilt block at the center of the circle template.  Carefully cut away the backing a quarter-inch from the edge of the metal template.  You should see most of the metal template at this point, with only a quarter-inch of its edge being hidden by fabric.

Cut Away Backing

Since the glue isn’t fully dried, the fabric will be flexible.  Gently lift the edges of the fabric around the template.  Now wiggle the metal template until it comes free.  Finger press the edges back into position.  Don’t worry about ruining your perfect circle as you work this step.  The fabric will immediately go back in place once the template is removed.  If the template will not come out, it’s probably because you haven’t cut away enough of the backing.  A quarter-inch always works for me.

Remove Metal Template

On the surface of your quilt block you now have a perfectly round circle.  However, it hasn’t been stitched in any way.  Sometimes I use invisible thread with a slight zig-zag stitch to tack the circle down.  Other times I simply wait and incorporate any circles into my quilting design.  The choice is yours.

Perfect Applique Circle

Perfectly Round Circle Applique

If you can’t find these metal charms, there are heat-resistant template plastic circles available in quilt shops and online.  These cannot take the heat that metal templates can, so you must handle them differently or they will warp.

I hope this tutorial will encourage you to add some circles to a future quilt project.  I think you will find the process rewarding.

Happy quilting,


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Proverbs 3:13-15

My quilt project this week, Nightlites, had lots of matching star points.  Timid quilters often avoid patterns that involve so much matching, sensing the frustration that lies ahead.  It’s a love-hate relationship, I admit, but for me a relationship worth pursuing.

Completed Quilt


When I decide to make a more complex quilt design, I take a few extra steps to insure that my points are sharp, crisp, and matched up.  Here is the method that works for me.

If I’m sewing a point that doesn’t have to match up with another point on the underside, I stitch 2-3 threads to the right of the X intersection of the seam allowance.  This takes into account the rollover effect and keeps the point sharp.

Quilt Block Intersection

Quilt Block X Intersection

Matching two points from the back side of a block can be a challenge since you can’t always see the intersection.  Additionally, the second point is under the top block so it’s impossible to know whether it will be in position or not even if you have pinned the seam.

In the case of matching two points, I pin and pre-sew across the intersections (about two inches) with a 4.0mm stitch length.  I then check the front side to see whether the points are matched and sharp.  Sullivan’s Glue Pins can also be used to accomplish the same thing.  If all the points match, I sew my regular seam allowance and stitch length, simply sewing over the pre-stitched areas which now serve as guides.

Pre-Sewn Quilt Block Intersection

Approaching a Pre-Sewn Intersection

If the points don’t match, I pull the top thread out and start over again.  When sewing long rows of stars and other design points, this can take some patience.  In the end, however, I’m rewarded with sharp points and perfectly matched stars—a good feeling.

Sharp Points on Quilt Block

Checking Points for Sharpness

I can always choose not to invest the effort and have mismatched points.  The problem is my eyes will go immediately to the errors and drive me a little crazy each time I view the quilt—not a good feeling.

This may explain why wonky blocks are so popular.  Who wants to spend all their quilting time matching points?  But occasionally exercises in precision quilting can benefit the overall experience.

Lots of Points to Match

I hope you find these quilting tips helpful.


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Psalm 147:3-5When you only need a few flying geese blocks or you prefer the traditional appearance over the dimensional look, this method will serve you well.  I also like the accuracy it provides, leaving little if any squaring up to be done.

Here’s the formula:

Sky squares = Finished height  +  ½”
Geese rectangle = Finished height  +  ½”  x  Twice the finished height  +  ½”

For example, if my finished flying geese unit is 2” x 4”, I will cut my sky squares 2 ½” and my geese rectangle 2 ½”  x  4 ½”.

Cut two (2) sky units and one (1) geese unit.

Cut Two Sky Squares and One Geese Rectangle

Place one sky square on the left side of the geese unit, right sides together.  The square should line up evenly at top, side, and bottom.  Draw a diagonal line from bottom left corner to top right corner.

Draw Diagonal Sewing Line

Starting at the outer corner, sew 1-2 threads to the right of the drawn line until you reach the opposite corner.  By stitching a thread or two beyond the line you allow for the rollover effect.

Sew Sky to Geese

Trim away excess, leaving a quarter-inch seam allowance.  Press open.

Trim Excess

Place the remaining sky square on the right side of the geese unit, right sides together, lining up top, side, and bottom.  Draw a diagonal line from corner to corner as shown.

Draw Second Diagonal Sewing Line

Starting at the outer corner, sew 1-2 threads to the left of the drawn line.

Sew Second Sky Unit

Trim away excess and press open.

Trim Away Excess

Your flying geese block is complete.

Completed Flying Geese Block

If you don’t like the idea of the excess triangles being wasted, draw a second diagonal line 1/2″ away from the first and sew it as well.  Then cut between the two sewn lines and you will have a small half-square triangle block to use in a future project.


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James 1:17

This has to be the most enjoyable method for making a flying geese unit.  There’s something about opening the little sandwich and seeing the center take shape.  I love it!

Here’s the formula:

Sky Squares = Finished height  +  ½”

Geese = Finished height + ½”  x  Sum of two (raw edge) height squares – ½”

For example, my finished flying geese unit is 3 ½” x 7 ½”.  I cut my sky squares 4”  ( 3 ½” + ½” = 4”) and my geese rectangle 4” x 7 ½” (3 ½” + ½” = 4” height and 4” + 4” = 8” – ½” = 7 ½” length).

Cut two sky squares and one geese rectangle.

Flying Geese Unit Pieces

Cut Flying Geese

Fold your geese unit in half as shown, wrong sides together.  Keep both of your sky units right sides up.

Fold Geese Rectangle

Place your folded geese unit on top of one of the sky units, right sides together.  The fold should be a quarter-inch from the top of the sky unit.  The raw edges at the bottom should be even with the raw edge of the sky unit.

Place Geese on Sky Unit, Right Sides Together

Flip the other sky unit over on top of the geese/sky units, forming a sandwich.  The outside of your sandwich will be the wrong sides of the sky units.

Flying Geese Sandwich

Sandwich the Geese Unit Between the Sky Units

Sew one seam down the side of the sandwich, using a scant quarter-inch seam allowance.

Sew One Side of Flying Geese Sandwich

Sew One Side

Make sure you are sewing a side that is perpendicular to the fold of the inner geese unit.

Flying Geese Seam

Sew Side Perpendicular to Geese Fold

Open your sandwich and finger press.

Finger Press

Finger Press Open

Now put your finger inside the geese unit and move the corner of the fabric to the outer bottom edge.

Form Center Geese

It’s like magic every time!

Dimensional Flying Geese

Dimensional Flying Geese Block

I credit this method to Ricky Tims at The Quilt Show, who credits it to some quilters across the pond.  I hope you’ll take a few minutes to Google his demonstration–it’s really worth watching.


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There are many ways to make a flying geese unit, but when I need four units for a quilt block, which is often the case, I usually choose this method of constructing them.  Although it appears to be complicated, it’s actually quite easy and repetitive.  Try the method once, and I think you’ll have it down in no time.

First, there are two parts to a flying geese block unit:  the sky and the geese.

Flying Geese Block

Parts of a Flying Geese Block

You will need one (1) large square for the geese and four (4) small squares for the sky.

Here’s the formula:

Width of finished (sewn) geese  +  1 ¼”
Height of finished (sewn) sky  +  7/8”

For example, a  finished (sewn) 2” x 4” flying geese block would be cut 2 7/8” square for the sky units and 5 ¼” square for the geese unit.

Here we go.  Cut one square geese block your finished width requirement plus 1 ¼”.  Cut four square sky units your finished height requirement plus 7/8”.

Cut Geese and Sky Squares

Take two of your sky units and place them in opposite corners of the geese square, right sides together, as shown.  They should overlap in the center.

Position Two Sky Units on Geese Square

With a quilting ruler, draw a diagonal line from corner to corner.  Pin the sky units in place.

Draw Diagonal Line

Sew on both sides of your drawn line, using a scant quarter-inch seam allowance.  It’s helpful to begin sewing at the corner of the square that does the overlapping.

Sew on Both Sides of Diagonal Line

Place your ruler on the drawn diagonal line and cut the unit in half.

Cut Along Drawn Diagonal Line

Press both units open.  This is what they should look like.

Press Units Open

Place the remaining two sky units in the corners opposite the two sewn sky triangles, right sides together.

Place Remaining Sky Units in Corners

Draw a diagonal line from corner to corner on the sky units.  Pin in place.

Draw Diagonal Line on Sky Unit

Beginning at the outer corner, sew on both sides of the drawn line, using a scant quarter-inch seam allowance.  (A scant quarter-inch is especially important here because you are creating a ¼” seam allowance at the top of the unit as you sew the inner corner.  If you were to use a generous quarter-inch seam allowance, you would soon be ripping seams, which I know you don’t enjoy.)

Begin Sewing at Outer Corner

Place your ruler on the drawn diagonal line and cut the unit in half.

Cut Along Drawn Diagonal Line

Press your four units open and enjoy the moment.

Four Completed Flying Geese Blocks

Some squaring up is usually necessary with this method.  Be careful to keep the quarter-inch seam allowance at the top of your units as you trim away any excess.

I hope you find this tutorial helpful.

Happy piecing,


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I applied double-fold bias binding to finish the edges of my quilt.  I really don’t have a binding preference on square or rectangular quilts.  Bias cut or straight of grain both work well.  If my corners were rounded or edges scalloped, I would definitely use bias binding.

Quilt Binding

Applying Double-Fold Binding to Quilt

The final step before I could call the project complete involved embroidering a quilt label.  I wanted something a little smaller for this quilt so I chose a simple bunny design.  As you can see, I used some of the leftover binding to frame the label.

Quilt Label

Little Bunny Quilt Label

I want to mention one more thing regarding free motion quilting.  An even rhythm (hand movement in sync with machine speed) produces even stitches.  If you move your quilt too slowly, your stitches will be too small and possibly bunch up.  Conversely, if you move your quilt too quickly, your stitches will be too large.  Both practice and warm up really help you to find the right balance.

Free Motion Quilting Stitches

Work Toward Even Free Motion Stitches

In the planning stage, try to find designs that flow nicely without too many starts and stops.  Sometimes it’s fun to take traditional quilting designs and convert them for free motion quilting.  As you draw them out on paper, it’s helpful to use numbers for the starting point, direction, and stopping point, simplifying them as much as possible.

I have lots of quilts floating around in my head and look forward to sharing the adventure with you.

Completed Quilt

A Happy Ending


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1 Peter 5

Whenever I machine quilt, I remove the general throat plate and replace it with a straight stitch plate.  I know these aren’t available for all machines, but if one is available for your brand of sewing machine, I do recommend purchasing it.

With the feed dogs lowered and the straight stitch throat plate in place, I then cover the bed with a Sewslip.  The Sewslip and Super Slider are non-stick surfaces with holes under your machine needle.  They have a tacky backing that keeps them in position.  Anything that will eliminate drag on your quilt while it’s under the needle is helpful.  I’ve been using one for years, and I do think they make machine quilting a little easier.


Next, I turn on my sewing machine and lessen the presser foot pressure.  Every machine does this differently so read your manual for instructions.

Pressure Foot Pressure

Lower Presser Foot Pressure

With my machine set, I now take a little time to warm up by using a sample quilt sandwich made for this purpose.  You don’t want to skip this step.  It allows you to test your stitches to make sure they are balanced.  Also, your head and hands get a chance to change into quilting mode before you actually beginning stitching your quilt.

Free Motion Quilting

Free Motion Warm Up

The last thing I do before beginning to machine quilt is apply Tri-Flow to my machine needle using a Q-Tip.  Since I use 505 Adhesive Spray to “baste” my quilt sandwich, I don’t want any skipped stitches.  This brand of spray is pretty good at not gumming up your needle, but I still like some extra insurance.  Tri-Flow puts a Teflon coating on the needle and insures against the build-up of gummy residue.

Apply Tri-Flow to Needle with Q-Tip

I position my quilt somewhere in the middle section and pull my bobbin thread to the quilt surface, leaving enough thread tails to pop back into my quilt later.

Bobbin Thread

Pull Bobbin Thread to Surface of Quilt

I know that most people make a few securing stitches at their starts and stops; I’m just not one of those people.  It goes back to my hand quilting days.  I don’t like the look of thread buildup, so I use self-threading hand needles, form a single knot, and feed the thread into the batting until it pops.  Yes, it takes an extra minute here and there, but it’s worth it to me.

Knot Thread and Pop Back into Quilt

For easier maneuverability, I roll the side of my quilt that falls to the right of the needle.

Roll Quilt

Roll Quilt to Right of Needle

I also keep the front and back of the quilt loosely bunched to prevent drag as I’m stitching.  The bed of my machine is even with the sewing table so this is most helpful in the area between me and the machine.

I mentioned in a previous post that music can be an aide to machine quilting.  I believe it relaxes you and helps you to form a smooth rhythm with your quilt as you move it under the needle.

And speaking of the quilt being under the needle, I focus my attention on a small area as I quilt.  Sometimes I make a taut “U” shape with my two hands; other times I might use a quilting hoop made for machine quilting.  My eyes are always looking ahead to where my needle is going next.  And this brings me  back to free motion presser feet.  Some are better than others when it comes to vision, so give them a test drive before making a purchase.

I hope you find something helpful to take away from this post.  But the one thing I can’t help you with is practice.  Practice is the key to successful free motion quilting. Practice makes progress.  Maybe someday practice will be the cure to my butterflies.  Maybe.

Free Motion Quilting

Free Motion Quilting Completed

Happy quilting!


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