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Just Ask Deb

Just Ask Deb
  • Frustrated with your quilting?

  • Need answers to a problem?

  • Want information about a quilt or block?...Just Ask Deb! 

Email your questions or issues to and she will post the answer for you. 

Do you have a question about quilting? If you do, there are other quilters who have the same question!


June: Should I join a Swap?

Dear Deb,

I’m thinking of joining a quilt swap but I’m a bit nervous about it. I haven’t been quilting for very long and I’m worried my work won’t be good enough.

JuneI’m thinking of joining a quilt swap but I’m a bit nervous about it. I haven’t been quilting for very long and I’m worried my work won’t be good enough.


Hi June,

Oh, June, you are in for such a treat! I felt just like you the first time I joined a swap, and my first swap was just a swap for fabric!

The fabric and block swaps, the round robins and the challenges (where you use specific fabrics to create something original) are part of what makes quilting such a vibrant hobby that continues to grow rapidly world wide! These different types of swaps are the very activities that push us and challenge us and keep us growing as quilters.

Why not just join a fabric swap to start with? It’s a fun way to grow your stash! The first swap in which I participated was to swap 10 inch blocks of fabric representative of one’s state. FUN! Another fabric swap I did was with some Australian quilters, again with fabric representative of our respective countries.

Just type “fabric swaps” or “quilt block swaps” into your search engine (e.g. Google) and you’ll find loads of swaps going on – just check the date on the site or post about the swap to make sure it is current.

You can also join some of the quilting groups on Yahoo Groups which is where I found some swaps to join. Google Groups is another place to look as is I think you will find most of these swaps and round robins are hosted by experienced quilters and hostesses.

Another place to find a swap is to ask at your local quilt shop or at your quilt guild. If there is not a current swap organized among local quilters, someone may suggest an online group to which they personally belong.

This link at discusses some of the inner workings of a swap. It gets a bit detailed and technical for my tastes. My advice is to just jump in and have fun!

If you join some of the groups, just say, “I’m new to this group, and I’ve never joined a quiting swap…and I’m a bit nervous about it. Could you direct me to some good fabric or block swaps for a beginner like me?” Trust me, June, you will be pleasantly surprised at the warm response you get.

I’ve noticed over the years that many swaps, round robins and challenges start at the first of the year, but the summer is also another time of fresh starts.

June, you are going to find that quilters are, on the whole, generous and happy to share sources and information. Don’t worry about your stitching not being “good enough”. The differences in our stitching is what gives charm to a quilt! Every quilter looks back on her earlier work and notices the progress in her stitching…so we have all been where you are right now!

Please write back and let me know what you decided to join and how it turned out. You are going to wonder why you were ever nervous about joining the world of quilting swaps!

Happy Quilting,

**Do you have a question about quilting? If you do, there are other quilters who have the same question! Simply email it to and she will answer it for you!

"Basting Blues": How do I baste a quilt?

Dear Deb,

I’ve just finished piecing my second quilt and am ready to start basting. I have it all sandwiched together ready but I’m nervous about starting. On my last quilt I made an awful mess when I got to the basting stage, and I don’t want to ruin all my hard work. Fortunately, it was my “practice” and I need to do a better job on this one.

Basting Blues

Dear Basting,
Well, you won’t be the first and you won’t be the last to have this happen. You’re so proud of your creation and then, almost before you know it, its all wrinkled and bumpy looking! All I can do is share my own method with you and hope that helps. I’m sure that others will write in as well, so you’ll end up with a number of methods for this stage of the game.

I pin my layers together with quilters’ safety pins. These are different to regular pins, they have a curve in them, which makes it easier to get the point through the sandwich and back up to the top again. Most quilters recommend laying your quilt out on the floor so that it keeps smooth but I have a secret tip here:

Get your dining chairs and spread them out around the room, with the backs forming a square, then get your cutting boards or some hardboard and lay these acrMachine Quilting with Alex Andersonoss the back of the chairs – in effect you are making a big table. Lay your quilt sandwich on this ‘table’ and pin. You’ll find it much easier pinning at waist height than sprawling around on the floor! Ooh, I almost forgot – it’s really important that you start pinning at the center of the quilt and work your way outwards, that way any potential wrinkles are pushed to the edges!

There are a number of really good books that can help you as well. One that I would recommend is by Alex Anderson titled Machine Quilting with Alex Anderson. In this book, you will learn about the mechanics of the quilting process from basting to quilting and then even to binding. There are some really great projects in this book as well. It would be a great reference for you if you are new at this. You can order it from my website.

Machine quilting PrimerAnother equally good book is one from Eleanor Burns and Quilt in a Day Machine Quilting Primer. No one makes things easier than Eleanor Burns. Detailed explanations of commonly used tools and methods are followed by samples to practice techniques. I truly love this book although it has been out for many years. It is one of those that you really must have in your library! You can order it here.

Just remember that all of this is a learning experience and the more practice you have the better you get at it!

Until we meet again, may your days be pieceful!

**Do you have a question about quilting? If you do, there are other quilters who have the same question! Simply email it to and she will answer it for you!

"Fabric Marking Fanatic": Marking Fabric

Dear Deb,

I am in need of some helping finding a good way to mark fabric. I like pencils but everyone I have breaks. I don’t sharpen it like I would a writing pencil, so I don’t understand my problem with them.I don’t like marking pens. I am an old smocker and have seen pens that would not come out of fabric….so I stay away from them all together. I’ve been warned not to use a chalk type marker because it is not good for your sewing machine. What pencil would you recommend?

Fabric Marking Fanatic

Dear Fanatic,

Marking of fabric can be a tricky proposition until you find the product you like the best. There are many, many different options on the market and we are happy this is so because we all like different things for different reasons. My goodness, wouldn’t it be a boring place if there were only one kind of fabric or if there was only one kind of quilt shop! But, I do understand your dilemma and I will be most happy to share my favorite markers.

Personally, I do like chalk markers and have never been told I should refrain from Chaco Linerusing them in fear of damaging my sewing machine. I have my machine regularly serviced and this should take care of any chalk residue that might build up. My favorite chalk products are from Clover. The one I have used for years is the Slim Chaco Liner. This product dispenses a thin line of chalk and is available with blue, white, or yellow chalk. This comes in handy when you are working with very light or very dark chalk. There is a refill available as well. Recently Clover came out with a Pen Style Chaco Liner. Pen Style Chaco Liners fine point permits accurate drawing of both straight lines and free hand curves. The fine point makes lines and marks more visible and is easy to use with a straight edge ruler. Allary ChalkThis product is available in white, yellow, blue, silver, and pink. I like it.

Another chalk option is a great product called the Chalk Cartridge by Allery. This set comes with a pen that you can refill with whatever color chalk you desire. There are eight colored and eight white chalks for you to use in the set. These are very nice, present a really good line and do not crumble.Marking Pen

Now, I have to tell you that I also love the EZ Water Soluble Marking Pen. I don’t know why you oppose them but if I follow the instructions I have never had a problem getting the ink out of the fabric. The most common problem with a water soluble pen is the fact that if heat is applied the ink will set in the fabric. Solution? Don’t iron over it or laundry it before it is removed! Remove it before you get an iron anywhere near it and you will be fine. I would encourage you to give them a chance. They are really nice…really!I do hope this answers your question and I wish you much success in finding a pen or pencil that works for you!

Till we meet again, may your days be pieceful!

**Do you have a question about quilting? If you do, there are other quilters who have the same question! Simply email it to and she will answer it for you!

"Starting Out": How do I begin?

Dear Deb,

I want to start quilting! A friend of mine quilts and has been doing so for years but she’s not very good at teaching. Can you point me in the right direction please?

Thank you in advance
Just Starting Out

Dear Starting Out,

Log Cabin BookThanks for writing in – I’m sure we’ll get loads of answers from happy quilters out there! The first thing I would say is – start small! Don’t try a Double Wedding Ring for your first attempt. What about a lap quilt, a small pillow, or even one of the great purses we are seeing everywhere?

The next thing I would say is – use the best quality fabrics you can afford when you start off, and make sure they’re 100% cotton. You will be putting a great deal of time and effort into your quilts so be sure they are going to withstand the test of time by using good quality fabric. The better fabrics are just more beautiful as well.

The other thing to think about is which pattern you’re going to be using. I started with the Log Cabin, which features strips of fabric placed around a center square. In times gone by, the center square used to be red as a reminder that the hearth is the center of the home. I would recommend Eleanor Burns “Log Cabin in a Day” book. No, you will not make this quilt in a day as the name implies but it is an excellent resource when you first start.

One last suggestion is for you to get acquainted with the gals at your local quilt shop. These ladies will become your best friend and can be a valuable asset when you get in a jam and need some help. QuilterThey will surely become the support group you need and will offer you encouragement and an eager audience when you finish your projects! Sign up right away for the next beginning quilting class so you will learn the right way to do it from the start. While there are not many rules in quilting, there are a few that need to be followed very closely when you start out. A quilting class will give you the foundation you need in the beginning.

Try to remember that quilting started as a way of recycling fabric, including grain sacks! Our quilting ancestors didn’t color co-ordinate or spend ages deciding on what fabrics went well together – they used what they had. When you think of quilting in this way, it sort of takes the pressure off!

Till we meet again, may your days be pieceful!

**Do you have a question about quilting? If you do, there are other quilters who have the same question! Simply email it to and she will answer it for you!

Too Blue

Dear Deb,

What do you suggest - we marked a quilt with the blue water erasable pens - two Fine Point Mark B-Gone Pens. Now some of the marking comes off very easily but some is very difficult. It seems that one pen was different somehow. Hope someone has a suggestion as we do not want to scrub too hard and damage the material.

Too Blue

Dear Too Blue,

Is it possible that you heat set your work by accident? If you did, your markings are now permanent, unfortunately. But, assuming you did not heat set your markings here is what I suggest:

1). Wash the top in clear warm water. It is likely this will remove the blue residue. Fill up your washing machine with tepid (room temperature) or cold water, toss the quilt in, leave the lid up (so it won't agitate), and let the quilt soak for several hours. Go see a movie. Drain the water and, if you need to wash the quilt, re-fill the washer with clean water and a mild soap. Swish the water if you must, but don't agitate. That's too rough a treatment for a hand-made quilt.

2). Marking PenBe very careful with the detergent you use when you wash a quilt that has been marked with these pens. The pens are wonderful but if you are not careful you will end up with brown marks where the blue ones used to be. The laundry detergent has sodium carbonate in it, that is the 'fixer' for the color in the dye. This sodium carbonate, otherwise known as soda ash, can be found in its purest form in Arm & Hammer or any other detergent with whiteners and brighteners. Mountain Mist Ensure (not the vitamin supplement) or Orvis (you don't need to buy a horse to go along with it) are nice choices.

3). In the future, be sure and keep a spritz bottle of plain water beside your workspace and dampen your project right away so you don't take the chance of pressing it prematurely! Another good idea is to keep a small bowl of water nearby and use a small, soft watercolor brush to go over the lines as you finish wit them

4). Also, be sure and check the back of the block to be sure the ink has not migrated with the water and shows up on the back!

Scrubbing hard will most likely not impact how much of this ink will come out. Hopefully, a gentle wash in the machine will solve your problems!

Till we meet again, may your days be pieceful!


**Do you have a question about quilting? If you do, there are other quilters who have the same question! Simply email it to and she will answer it for you!

Wondering About Baltimore

Dear Deb,

Can you tell me what a Baltimore Album quilt is and a bit about how they originated?


Wondering about Baltimore

Dear Baltimore,

You’ve hit on one of my own favorites here! Baltimore quilts are thought to have started in an attempt to emulate the autograph albums that were very popular at the beginning of the 19th Century. In about 1840 inks were developed that could be used on fabric without damaging them, so it was a short step from collecting signatures in albums to collecting them on quilts! These simple quilts became known as friendship quilts, each block the same except for the signature or poetry written on it by a friend. Eventually, friendship quilts developed into sampler quilts, with each block being different. They featured beautiful appliqué motifs.

At this time in history, Baltimore was very wealthy and the home of a growing textile industry, and the appliqué sampler quilts became all the rage. Because there was a large German community in Baltimore, German folk art motifs and symbols became a standard part of the designs. Mostly, the fabrics used were crisp and new, which made for marvelous appliqué techniques.

Baltimore are not thick or heavy because only a thin batting was used and, generally, they were used for show rather than to keep folk warm at night! Making a Baltimore quilt is a long-term project because they are heirloom pieces but they are tremendously satisfying to make and you can incorporate loads of memories, or perhaps incorporate symbols that are special to the recipient of the quilt.

The Shade Garden SamplerBecause these quilts are made block by block, in the hand, they make for very portable projects. I have never completed a Baltimore Album quilt although I love to see them and to admire the work that goes into designing and making them. We have a couple of great Baltimore Album style Block of the Month projects that will be starting soon in the shop. One is called "The Shade Garden Sampler" and was a quiltdesigned by Susan McCord and is rich in history.

If you are really interested in this type of quilt, look out for books by Elly Sienkiewicz, where you will find instructions for making your own blocks and quilts. One such book is "Baltimore Elegance" and can be found on our website. A from Elly is Fancy Applique which is more of a technique book that includes 2 unique Fancy Sampler Quilts + 50 different blocks + All the techniques you need including: - cutaway and reverse cutaway appliqué - needleturn - non-decorative appliqué stitches - Stumpwork - Scenery blocks - Methods for perfect points, inside corners, and smooth curves ...not to mention that it is just a beautiful book.

Hope that helps – a word of warning though Baltimore Quilts can be addictive!

Until we meet again, may your days be pieceful!


**Do you have a question about quilting? If you do, there are other quilters who have the same question! Simply email it to and she will answer it for you!