10 Commandments of Quilting
You shall learn a quarter inch seam for most quilting patterns are designed around them. Achieving a quarter inch seam is paramount in quilting. Don't just put a quarter inch seam foot on your machine and think you are ok. You need to test this and make adjustments. The best way to test is to take two pieces of fabric each cut 2 1/4" x 4". Sew them with your quarter inch marker (whether it is a foot or a tool) and press the seam to the right. Your finished block should measure 4" x 4". If it does not, repeat the process until you have achieved perfection. Use this measurement throughout your sewing process and you will be much more successful in your piecing.
You shall not use fabric made from poor griege goods. Most of the time these are the fabrics found in discount stores. Although they may appear to be the same as some of the fabrics found in quilt shops at a greatly reduced price you may be surprised to know that the prints are often reproduced on poor quality muslin. You spend too much time and money on your quilting not to have a product that is of good quality that will hold up to the test of time. Here are a few actual comments from experienced quilters:
Quilter #1: I think the answer regarding the griege goods is right on target. I buy the best fabric I can since my time is valuable and I don't want to waste it on making an inferior quilt. Years ago, a place opened near us and I took advantage of their opening specials. I didn't know anything about griege goods then. I was excited to see they carried some of the same fabrics as my local quilt shop. I spent about $100 on fabric thinking I got a great buy. Unfortunately, I did not use it right away and a few months later when I washed it to use I was very upset. The fabric might have looked the same on the bolt, but when washed, some of it faded but the worst problem was the feel of it. It felt like cheap paper or something and it never got used for quilts. Over the years, it got sent to my kids classes for projects the teachers wanted fabric for and other uses where quality did not count. I love batiks, but I've discovered that JoAnne's line of batiks seem to bleed and bleed and bleed. I believe in supporting quilt shops. We need our quilt shops to keep the quilting tradition going and so there are places to go for not just good fabric, but good advice on quilting.
Quilter #2: You can tell a lot by how the fabric feels to your hand. If it is loosely woven and has a harsh feel, you probably don't want to use it. After all, you're putting many many hours and so much work into a quilt, so you want to use fabric that "deserves" all your talent! Terrific fabric feels rich to the touch and is evenly woven. For an heirloom quilt, that's what you want. You can tell by the way it looks and feels.
Quilter #3: Fabric manufacturers start with different qualities of greige goods. (That's the cloth they print the fabrics on.) The first printing is on lesser quality greige goods. This is the printing to make sure all of the colors are lining up properly and to make sure that there aren't any mistakes in color. If you look on the selvedge of some fabrics and see the line of colored dots they are sometime misaligned - that's what the company is looking for. Anyway that first printing goes to places like Walmart. The next printing is on better quality greige goods and goes to places like Rag Shop, Joannes, House of Fabrics and such. The final printing is on the best quality greige goods and goes to the quilt shops. So for the extra money we are getting the best quality fabric with the best quality printings. Occasionaly good or best quality fabrics will show up at Walmart or The Rag Shop you just have to look for it. You can usually tell by feeling the fabric. High quality fabrics have a wonderful hand, nice and soft and smooth. For more info check out Harriet Hargraves book, "From Fabric to Fiber". Hope this helps!
You shall not start a project without changing your needle. For all quilt piecing you should use either a sharp or a quilting needle in your machine. You should never begin a project without first putting a new needle in your machine. 99% of all machine issues are due to either using the incorrect needle or using a old, dull needle. The sewing machine needle is the least expensive, but most important part of the sewing machine. As soon as the needle starts to show signs of dulling, popping noise, poorly formed stitches, etc, the needle should be changed. Large quilts may require several needles.
Honor your quilt shop by supporting them and keeping them in business. Your local quilt shop is one that has been opened by an individual in an effort to provide you with a nice place to purchase fabric and quilting supplies. They also put a great deal of effort into providing classes, education, and events to help you advance your skills. A good quilt shop will provide you with one-on-one assistance and service which is something not found in chain stores. You will also find finished models that will provide you with inspiration for future projects. All of these features cost money which is one reason the independent quilt store owner has to charge a bit more than the chain stores. The products cannot be purchased in bulk as with the chain stores and often the products are of superior quality as many of the manufacturers are "quilt shop only" and have a policy of not selling to chain stores. Many times if you give your quilt shop owner the opportunity they will occasionally honor coupons from chain stores as a gesture of goodwill. So, consider this the next time you are tempted to purchase a product from a chain store that you can get through your quilt shop. You want to keep them in business and the only way they can keep their doors open is with your support!
Remember to have your sewing machine cleaned often. It is a good rule to have your machine into the shop for an annual check up and cleaning unless you use it heavily every day where a bi-annual visit might be in order. There are many things that can be repaired at home fairly easily:
TENSION: As you change projects and start sewing on different weight materials, you should test stitch on a piece of scrap material of the same weight before beginning the actual project so you can adjust your upper tension to that particular fabric. As an example, if you're changing from a denim type fabric to a silky fabric, you would definitely want to make sure the tension is correct and the stitching looks right before you start to sew the garment.
To determine whether the upper tension is too tight or too loose for the fabric you're wanting to use, try the following test. Take a small scrap of the fabric, fold it, and stitch a line ON THE BIAS of the fabric, using different colors of thread in the bobbin and on top. Grasp the bias line of stitching between the thumb and the index finger. Space the hands about 3 inches apart and pull with an even, quick force until one thread breaks. If the broken thread is the color of the thread in the needle, it means that the upper tension is too tight. If the broken thread is the color of the bobbin thread, the upper tension is too loose. If both threads break together and take more force to break, it means that the tensions are balanced.
BOBBIN: The most probable cause of the lower thread breaking is an improperly wound bobbin. Regardless of where you wind the bobbin, inside the machine, on the top of the hand wheel or on the front side near the hand wheel, the basic "bobbin" rules apply.
** Always start with an empty bobbin. Never wind one color over another color.
** Don't wind the bobbin so full that it would be tight and hard to insert into the bobbin case. Most machines have an automatic "shut off" when the bobbin gets full, but if yours does not, be careful not to fill it too full.
** Wind the bobbin evenly across and in level layers.
** Never mix different sizes of thread in the bobbin and on the spool, unless you're doing sewing machine embroidery or some specialty type of sewing. Using different weights of thread on the spool and in the bobbin for general sewing will cause ragged stitches as well as other stitching problems.
NEEDLE: Probably 25% of machine repair jobs I go out on, the only problem was that the needle was put in backwards. I know you're probably saying "I've been sewing most of my life and I know how to put the needle in the machine"; however many times a seamstress will get in a hurry and not give the needle a second thought when putting a new one in the machine. If your machine will not pick up the bottom thread or skips stitches badly, in most cases it's because the needle is in wrong.
Each sewing machine requires that the "flat" side of the needle be put in a specific way - facing the front, the back, etc., depending on your particular make and model. If you have a sewing machine that takes a needle that doesn't have a flat side, you'll notice that each needle has a groove in it where the thread lays as it penetrates the fabric. Depending on whether your machine shuttle system faces to the front or to the left, the groove of the needle will also face front or left.
MACHINE THREADING: An additional area to check for stitching problems is whether the sewing machine is threaded properly. Each machine has a certain sequence for threading, and it only takes one missed step in the sequence to cause your machine to skip stitches. If you're in doubt, take the top thread completely out and start all over again.
Many times it's the small things that cause frustration and loss of sewing time. Taking just a few minutes before starting a project to make sure everything is in order can save hours of "down" time, not to mention frayed nerves and the possibility of having to take the machine to the repair shop unnecessarily.
You shall not copy from books or patterns and give the copies to your friends. This is called copyright infringement and it is serious. A copyright is intended to protect the livelihood and income of persons who create by preventing others from reproducing that art or image and profiting by it or by denying the original creator income from sales and licenses of that product. In other words, if you copy something and sell it, you violate the law. If you copy something and don't sell it, but do deny the author an income from it, you are still in violation. Remember that those who design quilt patterns deserve to be reimbursed for their time and creative talent and don't be tempted to deny them this due reward for their hard work!
You shall not do your cutting with a dull rotary blade. For goodness sake, when you are at the quilt shop and the lady who checks you out says "Do you need rotary blades?" say "YES!". Before you begin a project be sure and change your blade. You might need to change it again before you are finished depending on the size of your project. Not changing your blade does not only impact the accuracy of your cutting but it also can seriously damage the muscle and cartilage in your wrist.
You shall not select your fabrics without considering contrast and value. These two things are often more important than color. Contrast and value are the elements in fabric selection that will make your quilt interesting. When making fabric selections, focus mainly on getting the right proportions of value and then select your colors. Recommended reading: Designing Quilts: The Value of Value.
You shall not iron. Pressing is what you do in quilting. From the book Press with Success: "With ironing, you're out to conquer - grab that iron, throw it down on the fabric, wriggle it back and forth, and force those creases into submission. Pressing is more persuasive. With gentle, firm movements, you use the iron to direct the crease and correctly position the seams." This is a wonderful book that demonstrates many pressing scenarios and how to develop and use pressing plans. Pressing plans can make piecing your quilt tops quicker and easier.
You shall not resist taking classes to learn more about quilting. This is such a fun hobby partly because we never learn it all. Just when we are comfortable with machine piecing someone comes up with a new idea. There is hand appliqué, machine appliqué, paper piecing, embellishing, quilted garments and bags, hand piecing, folded fabric, dimensional designs, and on and on. Have a goal to take at least one quilting class each month. Your independent quilt shop will put a great deal of effort into providing you with a selection of topics from which you can choose. If you do not have a quilt shop within driving distance (you poor dear!) there are places on the Internet where you can take classes on-line as a part of the cyber-community.