Tip Tuesday: 7 Hand Sewing Tips

When you were a little girl, did your mother or grandmother sit you down and sew alongside you? That’s how I learned how to hand sew. My mom would sit and hand sew any number of paper piecing quilt projects or finish pillows. Of course, her mother taught her how to sew a quilt by hand and, naturally, when I got old enough, she wanted to pass along her skills to me. My first hand sewn project was a t-shirt pillow and I still have it to this day. I was so proud! Because hand sewing was the first exposure for a lot of us, we’ve developed some handy tricks. Below are some hand sewing tips other quilters have developed.

Lighted Needle Threader

Lighted Needle Threader

Tip #1: A Slick Idea
To help keep metallic threads from separating and breaking when hand quilting, draw a length of thread over beeswax.

Tip #2: 35mm Thread Dispenser
Use empty 35mm film canisters to dispense thread for hand sewing. Wind 4 to 5 bobbins with the threads you need, and place them in the canister. Puncture the lid several times, and pull a different thread color through each hole. You can thread needles without the threads tangling.

Tip #3: Get Through It
Use a leftover party balloon as a gripper to help pull your needle through a tough spot when hand quilting.

Tip #4: Bobby Pin Binding
Old-fashioned, cushioned bobby pins make great clips to hold your binding while hand stitching it to the back of your quilt.

Tip #5: Car KitScreen Shot 2015-04-14 at 10.38.53 AM
Put together an emergency kit of hand piecing that you always have in the car. If you get stuck somewhere, you can work on this special project. You may be amazed how soon you complete the take-along project!

Tip #6: Inside Out
If you use a rubber finger stall to help pull stubborn stitches through when hand quilting, turn it inside out. The bumpy surface reduces finger perspiration, and the needle will pull through more easily.

Tip #7: Maintain the Tension
If you are interrupted while hand stitching, wrap the thread around the needle in a figure eight to maintain tension on the thread until you get back to the work.

I know some of you haven’t gotten into quilting until later in your lives. That’s perfectly fine! Catch up on all those hand stitching techniques, or should I say slow down, with Mark Lipinski’s Slow Stitching Movement web seminar. In this hour-long webinar, you’ll slow down your busy life in favor of learning to enjoy the process of sewing and delving into fiber art creation.

As always, feel free to contribute tips of your own in the comments. They don’t have to be only about hand sewing, they can be anything!

Happy Quilting!


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BLOCK Friday: Art Quilts

Bon Echo Rock quilt kitHave you been to an art museum lately? If the answer is no, I highly encourage you take a visit sometime in the near future. You won’t regret it. I know I’ve said it one hundred times before, but as a quilter, you’re an artist. You’ve got an eye for beauty, and creativity comes naturally to you.

Quilting is the way you work out stress at the end of a long week or the way you unwind your thoughts and emotions. Quilting has helped you heal; it helps you stay healthy.

The gorgeous art you’ll find in a museum is great for inspiring new creativity and for finding inspiration. Quilts of all kinds are considered beautiful art pieces, but art quilts, in particular, are a unique type of quilt because often, they’re totally improvised.

Take a strip of blue here and a patch of red there and make a beautiful sunset scene come to life. This quilt, Down by the Dock in the Bay, looks like it could be improvised, but there actually is a pattern to it.

Down by the Dock in the Bay quilt kit

Art quilts themselves can be a seemingly ambigous concept. When the question is asked, “What is art quilting?”, it’s important to first determine whether quilting is an art or a craft. The truth is, it’s a subjective designation.

Some quilters consider themselves crafters – they take big blocks of fabric, chop them up, and “paste” them back together into something that takes shape as a thing of beauty. Other quilters consider themselves artists – they see every quilt they make as a memory of a time, and they captured the essence of their imagination in creating their art quilt. Some quilters see themselves as both and others as neither. Regardless, I think we can all agree, quilters are proud of their work.

The one component of an art quilt is that it is created based on an experience, a memory or an image. That leaves the prospect of what can be considered an art quilt pretty wide open. For example, simply repeating a quilt block can create a stunning themed quilt perfect for drawing on the memory of a holiday or special occasion. The quilt below, Flag of Freedom by Marianne Fons, is a gorgeous patriotic display.

I wonder where her inspiration comes from. Perhaps Jasper Johns’ masterpiece Three Flags?

Flag of Freedom digital pattern

Similarly, this quilt, Strawberries, is made up of one simple quilt block whose construction takes it one step further from the patchwork we commonly associated with a quilt to a little strawberry garden. Imagine hanging just one of these quilt blocks on your wall. It would be simply delicious!

I wonder if the inspiration for this quilt came from a work of art, perhaps found in a museum. I’m seeing a striking resemblence between this quilt and the Personalised Paper Strawberry Artwork by SWEET DIMPLE.

Strawberries quilt kit

So, again, I say, if you haven’t been to a museum lately, make a visit soon. A lot of quilters get their quilting inspiration from home decor or from nature, but occasionally it’s good to be intentional about seeking quilting inspiration.

Have you ever done improv quilting before? I want to see pictures of your art quilts. Post them in the comments.

Happy Quilting!

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Tip Tuesday: Sewing Needle Tips

Threading needles, dropping needles, finding needles, storing needles. When it comes to those pesky needles, it can be nice to have a little help working out the details. Thank you to many other quilters who were willing to share their favorite sewing machine needle tips with other quilters. The quilting community continues to grow!

Tip #1: A Handy Household Tip
Used sewing machine needlesSN1709C make great “nails” to hang picture frames on the wall. The needles are strong and make only a small hole.

Tip #2: Needle Threading Help
To simplify threading needles, cut the thread at an angle so it easily slips through the eye.

Tip #3: Changing Needles
When changing the needle in my sewing machine, I insert a piece of paper or cloth over the throat plate before I loosen the needle. This keeps the needle from falling down into the machine through the hole in the throat plate.

Tip #4: Curved Needles
Try a curved needle for tying quilts. The curve in the needle brings the point of the needle back to your hand easily and save strain on your fingers.

Needles at Shop Fons & PorterTip #5: Divided Needle Storage
A small embroidery floss container is perfect for storing sewing machine needles. You can store a different size in each compartment so it’s easy to find the one you need.

Tip #6: Finding a Needle
I hand quilt so, sometimes, my needle gets lost. I use free advertising magnets & thread up to 6 needles at a time and stick them on the magnet.

Tip #7: Heavy Duty Needle Threader
I use dental floss threaders to thread needles when I’m working with pearl cotton or embroidery floss.

I hope you found these sewing needle tips as helpful as I did. Do you ever use any of these? Leave comment of a tip of your own and I’ll use it in the future!

Happy Quilting!

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BLOCK Friday: Disappearing Nine Patch

This morning on my drive to work, I was listening to ghost stories. I have a work commute that can be a little boring, so I listen to podcasts. I like the storytelling shows, and the subject this morning was the eerie, ghostly happenings that leave you feeling just a little bit uneasy.

So, when I came in this morning, I was thinking, what’s the spookiest quilt block we have? Hands down, it’s the Disappearing Four Patch quilt block. I mean, one minute it’s your average Nine Patch quilt block and the next, POOF, it’s disappearing!

When I first saw the Disappearing Nine Patch block, I was puzzled by its construction. I couldn’t figure how to turn a simple Nine Patch block – perhaps one of the simplest quilt blocks in quilting – to the all-elusive Disappearing Nine Patch block. Depending on the direction you turn the four quadrants of the split Nine Patch, you can create a number of different resulting Disappearing Nine Patch quilt patterns.

This quilt, Cut to the Quick, is a pretty batik quilt made using the Disappearing Nine Patch block. Can you see each quadrant of the Nine Patch?

Cut to the Quick digital pattern

Making the Disappearing Nine Patch is pretty easy. However, I would like to start with a fair warning to anyone trying it for the first time: it doesn’t feel right cutting into your perfectly, freshly sewn Nine Patch block. You’ve gotta trust the process on this one.

First, you’ll make the Nine Patch block. Next, you’ll cut the entire block across its horizontal axis, and without shifting the pieces at all, carefully lift your ruler and place it over the block’s vertical axis and cut again. What you’re left with is four quadrants of the once complete Nine Patch, which are now free to turn and rotate until you have a whole new quilt block pattern.

In the quilt below, It’s Easy Being Green, the two diagonal quadrants were turned 180° to make the quilt pattern, and a solid background color was added to the corners of each finished block to create a zig zag pattern between Disappearing Nine Patch blocks.

It's Easy Being Green digital pattern

The Disappearing Nine Patch in Off My Back below is constructed in the same fashion as the quilt above, but changing up the color scheme and adding a thin sashing with a cornerstone changes the whole look of the quilt. Here’s a quick tutorial on how to make the blocks in this quilt.

Off My Back digital pattern

As an experienced quilter, you know that if you can do it with a Nine Patch block, you can probably do it with a Four Patch, too. This is what a Disappearing Four Patch quilt pattern looks like. Do you ever wonder what it would look like with a 16-patch? I might just have to try it out for fun!

Disappearing Four Patch digital pattern

I know many of you have made Disappearing Nine and Four Patch quilts, and some have even posted to Fons & Porter’s Facebook page. If you want to show off your quilt projects, feel free comment here or post on our Facebook page. We should all be proud of our projects, and there’s nothing scary about that.

Happy Quilting!

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Tip Tuesday: 7 Paper Piecing Tips

Whether you’re making a Grandmother’s Flower Garden quilt or you’re making a New York Beauty quilt, you’re going to be using paper piecing techniques. Paper piecing quilts is a difficult technique to pick up initially and certainly can be time-consuming. This week, we have a few helpful tips for making paper piecing an enjoyable pastime.

Tip #1: English Paper Piecing
I use plastic folders to make patterns for English Paper Piecing. Instead oDP130231f making piles of patterns out of card stock, I only need to make a few of these and use them over and over again. Trace the pattern, cut it out, and punch a hole in the center. Then fold the fabric over the plastic template, and take a stitch at each corner. To remove the template, insert an orange stick or small dowel into the hole, and pull up until the plastic piece comes loose.

Tip #2: Hexagon Template
I cut a hexagon out of a square of template plastic to use for a Grandmother’s Flower Garden template. It’s easier to trace inside the shape than around the outside.

Tip #3: Creative Foundation Paper
The examining table paper from the doctor’s office is great for paper foundation piecing or to use as a stabilizer for machine appliqué or decorative stitching.

Tip #4: Foundation Paper
When paper foundation piecing, do you worry that you will accidentally use your original pattern? To prevent this, sew a fabric scrap to the edge of the original so it is easily recognizable.

Tip #5: Foundation Piecing
Dress pattern paper works well for foundation piecing. It’s thinner than other papers, so you must be careful, buScreen Shot 2015-03-30 at 4.46.07 PMt the advantage is that it tears away easily when the block is done.

Tip #6: Master Copy
To make foundations for paper piecing, make a master copy of the design. Stack the master copy on top of a stack of blank paper. Machine stitch through all the layers using an unthreaded needle. Use the perforated lines to guide your stitching as you add pieces. The perforations will make the paper easier to remove when the block is completed.

Tip #7: My Memory Quilt
I use fabrics from each quilt I finish and give away to make a heart block from one of my favorite paper piecing patterns.

Paper piecing can often be the bane of a quilter’s existence. Many are intimidated to try it at first and once tried, this intimidation can quickly give way to frustration because of fabric choices, size or shape of fabrics used, or inaccurate block construction. Penny Layman is teaching a live web seminar on Paper Piecing Made Easy.

Have you ever done paper piecing before? Learn how to do English paper piecing or foundation paper piecing on QNN.

Happy Quilting!

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National Craft Month Dedication – Maureen

My great-grandparents were original homesteaders. My grandmother learned to sew out of necessity and would make dresses for her sisters based on pictures from order catalogues. She taught me to sew (and crochet) and I had been sewing most of my life; I would always have a project or two in the machine – up to the moment when my kids didn’t want “clothes made by Mom” anymore. The sewing machine then gathered dust for many, many years.

I missed sewing, and in October, I decided it was time to revisit my old passion. I had always made clothes, but decided to try my hand at a quilt. I actually had made one quilt previously for my daughter when she was a baby (25 years ago), so I decided it was my son’s turn. When I started, I thought I should have made something smaller, more manageable for my first project in more years than I care to count – but I don’t know, go big or go home? No guts no glory? I picked colours and a pattern that I hoped would be manly enough for my 27 year old son. I think the last item I made for him was a horse Halloween costume.

I made this quilt as a Christmas gift. Every row was made with love, every row made with my son in mind. I wasn’t sure about colours once I got them home, wasn’t sure I was up to the task after such a hiatus, wasn’t sure he would like it, wondered what the heck I was thinking; I only had two months before Christmas! However, as I sewed, as each block came together, I knew he would love it. In fact, I couldn’t believe how much I loved it. When he opened his present on Christmas and said “WOW!!” that was all the thanks I needed.

As it had been so long since I had done any major sewing projects, I picked a log cabin pattern for the straight lines. Ruler, mat, sewing machine, batiks, pattern, a hope and a prayer. I made each strip at once so I could chain-stitch, but wished I had made one block first, just to get a feel of how it would come together and what considerations needed to be made.

I took my time pressing each section, focusing on seams going the right direction, reading tips, but still material shifted here and there and not all the points were perfect. This annoyed me to no end in the beginning. Having sewn only clothes in the past, where perfect points and seams were everything, these little deviations bothered me. Then I read some sage advice, about not sweating the little shifts – consider an imperfection part of the signature of the quilter. I loved this advice – I owned it – reminded me that quilting is for fun. Not to say I didn’t attempt to improve on seams for my next quilt, but I forgave myself for not having all perfect corners and took joy in my finished project.

I have since sewn another quilt, and have material ready for the next, but this one makes me the most proud because after so many years from sewing I took a leap of faith that I could make a quilt worthy of a gift. It was. My son loves it, and for me it is all the more special that my first project after all this time was for a special person for the most special time of the year.

Maureen from Edmonton, Alberta, Canada



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National Craft Month Dedication – Karen from Bowling Green, KY

“The quilt I decided to submit is one that I made for my husband’s Air Firce Retirement. I love this one because it reflects all his hard work during his 19 years of service. The fabric used are uniforms he wore during his time of active duty. I also used civil war repro fabric (cream, red, and blue with stars). I thought this was a perfect way to memorialize his service and sacrifice.

I loved how the blocks made one big star and I thought the points were perfect for adding his patches and ranks. As mentioned before, the blues are from his service dress uniforms and the camo is for his ABUs (BDUs to some). I didn’t use any templates to make this. Just my square rulers. The quilt is 24″x 24″.”

Thank you,
Karen from Bowling Green, KY


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BLOCK Friday: Dresden Plate quilt block

This week’s quilt block is reminiscent of a wheel, or a flower or perhaps a pretty oriental fan. The Dresden Plate quilt block has a unique quality about it. I’ve always thought they look like the gears in a machine.

Do you see what I mean in the quilt below? The Dresden quilt blocks in Dresden Botanica are pretty flowers, but they also have a rigidity to them that almost gives them an industrial look. The floral border softens the look of the whole quilt.

Dresden Botanica digital pattern

The Dresden quilt block is made up of “petal” quilt blocks radiating from a center circle.  The tips of the dresden plates are seen as either rounded, pointed or flush with the body of each plate. You can change up the look of this block by varying the sizes of the petals, the center circle of alternating the points between rounded and pointed, which is often done.

This pretty, spring table topper, Hard Candy, has a simple design.

Hard Candy digital pattern

You can make a lot of fun projects with the Dresden Plate quilt block. It can hold its own as a pincushion.

Dresden Plate pincushion

You can decorate your sunroom with a handful of these pretty quick-stitch Dresden Plate pillows.

Dresden Plate pillows digital pattern

Or you can make your kitchen endeavors a vintage and stylish walk in the park. These Sweet n’ Simple Aprons come in several different designs, the Dresden Plate included. These aprons are great for using up your fabric scraps! Mary and designer Erika Mulvenna show off her vintage aprons in this fun trunk show.

Sweet n' Simple Aprons digital pattern

There are a lot of qualities about the Dresden Plate quilt block that make it a fun project. Change up your fabrics, the size of the block, applique it to your quilt or make a pillow. Whatever you do with the Dresden Plate block, you’ll be proud of yourself for your work and pleased with the results.

If you’ve never made a Dresden Plate block before and you’re not sure where to start, QNN has a number of tutorials to help you get started. In the Merry Merry free video tutorial, the Quiltmaker staff makes a mini dresden flower quilt block with the mini dresden plate template. She chain pieces the tiny dresden pieces and shows you how to open them up to make a clean point.

Happy Quilting!


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National Craft Month Dedication – Marla

“This is my 3rd quilt of about 37. I found the pattern (loosely based) in an old magazine of my mother’s. I made this in 2007 specifically for my kitty, Toya, who was 16 at the time and 23 when she died in 2014.

My piecing had come a long way, and I’m most proud of the fact that I am a hand quilter, and stitched it all with love. I’ve washed this quilt many, many times, and it’s a testament to my hand piecing skills that it’s looking about the same as it did when I finished it. Toya loved it and always slept on it. Log cabins are my favorite block. I enjoy your magazines and always look for log cabin patterns.”

Marla Brown, Sparta WI


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Inspire Your Quilting in Tuscany, Italy

This past December, I went on the most relaxing, beautiful and refreshing trip of my life to beautiful, sunny southern Thailand. If you can imagine it, there were white sand beaches as far as the eye could see, gorgeous cliffs in the distance across the clearest, blue waters I’d ever seen. It was paradise.

And the best part of the trip? The people. This was a spontaneous trip, and I met up with interesting people from all over the world – from South Africa, Australia, Germany, and the United Kingdom. So while I learned all about Thailand, I also learned all about the places from where my friends came, and made some (seriously) lifelong friends.


That’s the experience in store for you on Sept 22 – 29, 2015 with the Treasures of Tuscany tour with Fons & Porter editor Jean Nolte, except with so much more! You haven’t experienced quilting until you’re looking at the most breathtaking art, landscape and architecture you’ve ever seen while surrounded by other women who are looking for quilting inspiration in everything too.

You’ll be in the company of other quilters who truly love what they do. Think of it like vacationing with all your best friends. In fact, you could actually travel with your best friends if you invite your guild.

Jean says, “It has been my experience that quilters are a really fun bunch to travel with. I predict you will meet some new quilting friends that you will stay in touch with long after the tour is over.”

You’ll be traveling all over Tuscany. Some of the highlights include:

tuscany-montecatiniMontecatini Terme is an Italian district of 21,095 inhabitants within the province of Pistoia in Tuscany, Italy.  This charming resort town is what you’ll call home during your tour and is one of the most attractive resort spa towns in all of Italy!

San Gimignano is a small-walled medieval hill town in the province of tuscany_07Siena, Tuscany, north-central Italy. Known as the Town of Fine Towers, San Gimignano is famous for its medieval architecture, unique in the preservation of about a dozen of its tower houses, which, with its hilltop setting and encircling walls form “an unforgettable skyline”. It’s here where you’ll have free time to shop in one of the many shops along the main thoroughfare, visit the beautiful basilica, have a gelato in the charming piazza, and enjoy the views of the Tuscany Valley. Later in the day, you’ll board your coach for a short drive to visit a lovely family-owned winery.

tuscany_06The Cinque Terre is a rugged portion of coast on the Italian Riviera, and one of the most picturesque places in all of Italy. There will be plenty of time to enjoy lunch on your own, shopping, and photograph opportunities available. Then, you’ll board the train again for our next stop. In the evening, you’ll visit the hilltop town of Montecatini Alto and enjoy a delicious dinner.

tuscany-florenceFlorence is the capital city of the Italian region of Tuscany and of the province of Florence. You’ll travel into the central part of the city, where you will meet a local expert guide and take a leisurely walking tour, pointing out many highlights of the city’s priceless treasures.

You can watch a video of all the places you’ll visit under the Trip-At-A-Glance tab, and get a complete itinerary of your trip at the Sew Many Places website.

This tour will undoubtedly be an experience to remember! The unique beauty of Tuscany is sure to inspire you and fill you with the wonder of its alluring countryside. There’s so much in store on this trip. If you’re already packing bags, Jean has a couple of suggestions for things you’re definitely going to want to bring:

“Comfortable shoes! Pictures of quilts you’ve made to share with the others in the group.”

And there you have it. Make the Treasures of Tuscany tour part of your memory box, and a story to share for a lifetime. Learn more about this trip and register at the Sew Many Places website.

Happy Touring!

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