Friday, 18 May 2018

11 Things I Learned from Quilting That Made Me a Better Sewist

Zoë MacDonald is E-Commerce and Social Media Manager at Canada’s largest manufacturer and wholesale distributor of quality sewing, quilting, and knitting supplies. Crafty lady and recent quilting convert, she is keen to share her love for the latest in notions.

11. Pressing makes perfect

I assembled one of my first quilt tops without stopping to press at all. You won’t be surprised to learn that the result was lumpy. I managed to flatten it out retroactively by reducing seam bulk with super sharp snips and opening the seams with a very hot iron on the wrong side. 

Skipping this step cost me time in the end. Now, I’m more than happy to press in pieces and along the way (while it’s easy).

10. Precise cutting is key

If you’re picky about being off by millimetres on your quilt top, this degree of precision should start when you’re cutting.
Now I know that the same thing applies to all sewing projects. If you want to be sure each piece will fit without adjustment and that your seam allowance is just right, the pieces should be as accurate as you can manage.

For absolutely straight strips no matter how long, use a Ruler Cutter to avoid straying. For blocks or bigger pieces, try the True Cut Cutting System. For the most perfect possible circles, learn about the True Cut Circle cutter.

9. Pin now or seam-rip later

I’m actually partial to clipping, but I think we can all relate. Truly understanding this from a quilting point of view has kept me from skipping basting in garment sewing. It’s not time-saving to skip it if you have to sew it twice.

I collect and use all kinds of clips, but my favourites are Unique Quilting clever clips. They grip a little tighter than some others I have tried and come in a large pack that doubles as a clip carrying case.

8. Understanding visual hierarchy tells you what your project will “look like”

Your design as a whole is much more impactful than its parts. Imagine: A floral pixelated print fabric on a wrap shirt with gathered sleeves and a thick braided-fabric collar. Or a multi-layer mullet skirt with sheer black textured and gold-speckled fabric. Or, a mint-coloured chiffon dress with a gathered waist and front ruffle. A bit much, right? All are garments I carefully assembled in my pre-quilting days and promptly distributed to Value Village where I’m sure they’re still hanging.

Quilting taught me to take an overview instead of zooming in on many individual elements. Knowing that the final item will be digested in a quick moment helps to understand what your project will “look like”. Dark pieces adjacent to each other will look connected. A skinny strip and a quilt-back quantity of the same fabric doesn’t give the same impression. If everything is the focus, nothing is the focus.

I make much more wearable clothing now.

Up your design game by keeping your colours from clashing (if you’re into that kind of thing) with a Sew Easy Colour & Tone Guide.

For more detail on how to make the most of these tools, see quilt professional Jennifer Houlden’s post on QuiltSocial.

7. There’s no such thing as cheating

Embrace the tools that allow you to spend more time on the parts you like most. The tools you turn to often should “spark joy” when you pick them up. In my experience, it helps if they are cute, like Clover’s I Sew For Fun collection.

Clover’s Fabric Folding Pen for turning out bow ties or turning back seam allowances for applique is my pick for MVP – Most Valuable new Product! I don’t think I could have made two wedding parties worth of bow ties without it.

6. It pays to utilize sprays!

Before using 505 for quilting, I had not thought to use sprays in sewing. Now, 202 is my go-to for pattern cutting, I use 303 for paper crafts, Fabric Shield to protect my fabric folded by the window from fading, and 606 for lace applique. I wouldn’t have it any other way.

5. Fusibles are your friend!

I’ve said this before, but it’s no less true now. For turning in edges, appliqué, and securing quilt labels, I have come to count on HeatnBond. Because of my familiarity with this product, I also now use it for applying zippers and trims in garment sewing and – of course – quick and easy costumes!

Add Cathy and I made these costumes using HeatnBond SoftStretch from her hotel room ahead of the Creativ Festival. The bones stretched and stayed put for the entire show!

4. Use the right light

For the love of your eyes! Having proper lighting can avoid straining your eyes and even improve your mood. With magnification for finer work and four light temperatures to choose from, you can easily design your ideal environment. For both precise sewing and colour-matching, this is absolutely essential for quilting but helpful in all kinds of sewing.

3. Choosing thread can be just as exciting as choosing fabric

When you are using it primarily for construction, you may go to great lengths to avoid showing it. One of my first garment projects was a canvas jacket with kimono sleeves. Because I wanted to keep topstitching to an absolute minimum, I did a bound buttonhole for the belt. I still love the look of this finishing touch but no longer have the same sense of dread about thread showing.

Not only has quilting made me realize that thread can be a beautiful design feature, but it also built up my topstitching confidence. Now I love to play with thread as a design element.

2. Use quality scissors – of all sizes

It doesn’t take long for sewists or anyone cutting a lot of fabric that you need a quality pair of dressmaker shears. But it really helps to have a variety of sizes of scissor that are equally sharp. They’re just as important to the process - like when you’re in the jam described in lesson 11.

1. Finished is better than perfect

This expression is a cliché for a reason, and yet it can be difficult for perfectionist-minded people to accept. When I realized that obsessing about the details keeps me from finishing projects, or sewing at all, I made this my mantra. Is it worth it to pick and re-stitch that line wandering just outside of the “ditch”? Sometimes yes, often no! Wrapping up one project sooner might give you the opportunity to create even more while staying inspired.

What lessons have you taken away from quilting?

To purchase any of the products mentioned above, visit your local Canadian quilt retailer.

For more inspiration and product education, follow H.A. Kidd and Company Limited on Facebook.

Friday, 27 April 2018

Springtime Scrap-busting: A Trivet and Potholder

Zoë MacDonald is E-Commerce and Social Media Manager at Canada’s largest manufacturer and wholesale distributor of quality sewing, quilting, and knitting supplies. Crafty lady and recent quilting convert, she is keen to share her love for the latest in notions.

Perfect for Springtime scrap-busting!


• 2 x Colours of fabric scraps
• 2 x Fat Quarters (complimentary to scraps)


For sewing projects, my inspiration often comes from imagining the finished result. Like seeing a top with big flouncy sleeves and thinking “I can make that!”. Especially if I think I can make it in an evening. For quilting, I’m more likely to think about how I want to spend my time and which fabrics I want to play with - weighing the experience of making the thing.

In this case I wanted to use up some of precious my scraps and experiment with a more traditional quilt pattern. It also occurred to me that as a sewist, surely I can do better than a folded up tea towel under hot dishes at the table.

Part One: Make a mini quilt top measuring approximately 10” x 10”

Schmetz Microtex Needles are my go-to for piecing - they also come in Chrome!

I wanted a lot of contrast but a similar theme, so I picked two awkward skinny pieces of floral print fabric and starting slicing and sewing until I had a pretty substantial pile of 1 ½” finished half square triangle blocks. I like sewing these up in batches, since I find the repetition meditative. Like knitting, but without my having to worry about wonky tension. I also love that there are endless configurations of these very simple little blocks.

For more elaborate patterns, Unique Quilting Numbered Pins also come in packs numbered from #11 to #20. 

Browsing the CQA Traditional Quilts Board, I noticed that the half-square star was a recurring theme, and this resonated with me as a classic quilty look. I landed on a traditional-feeling pattern that I hadn’t tried before: Hunter’s Star.

Initially, I kept having to check and re-check diagrams to make sure I was arranging my mini blocks properly. Thankfully, I had Unique Quilting Numbered Pins at my disposal so that I could lay out the arrangement once, number it, and then take the entire stack to the sewing machine (without re -re-re-checking!).

When in doubt, press it out!

Once assembled, some blocks were just a tiny bit off, but not quite enough to warrant a re-stitch. So I shimmied the stitches a bit by pinning them in place with Heirloom Glass Head Pins and blasting them with a super-hot iron and steam. Because the Oliso iron is a specialty sewist’s iron, the flat and minimally vented plate gives consistent coverage perfect for this kind of precision pressing.

If there were quilting police, I imagine that would have earned me a citation.

Decisions, decisions.

I thought a few decorative hand stitches would make a nice complement to this pattern, which was easier to do using a Unique Wooden Quilting Hoop. Since the smallest size starts at 10”, I had to add sashing along the outside to fit the mini quilt top inside. Another option would be to use an embroidery hoop instead.

Usually I avoid hand stitching at all costs but have always loved the look. Is there a machine that can do that for me? In the meantime, I did stitch a few accent stitches by hand and enjoyed the process much more than a thought. To this I credit Unique Sewing’s jujube-looking thimbles. Brightly coloured and comfy to wear; Because of their flexibility they double as needle grabbers, which simplifies stitching through multiple layers.

Gütermann Hand Quilting thread helps too! Its glacé finish prevents tangling and glides through multiple layers of fabric.

Now my tiny quilt top was done and ready to be transformed into a circular trivet and potholder. The TrueCut Circle Cutter is my go-to for quick and easy to cut circles, but in this case I used it to cut out a circle in the right dimensions from paper, traced it in chalk, and cut it out with very sharp KAI’s

Part Two: Convert mini quilt into a trivet and potholder

I went back to my scrap bin for the rest of the pot holder fabrics. I chose denim and navy because jeans go with everything! Also, they’re nice and sturdy for the kitchen.

Using the TrueCut Circle cutter, I cut:
                • Two 8 ½” circles from Main Fabric (denim)
                • Two 8 ½” circles from Lining Fabric (navy)
                • One 8” circle from Unique Quilting Therm Fleece

Next, I cut one main fabric circle and one lining circle in half and trimmed flat sides of each half circle by ¼ ”.

I went back and forth about whether the navy should be on the outside pocket or the inside of the pockets and ultimately think I landed on the wrong call. I would have preferred contrasting pockets than contrasting lining, but c’est la vie!

To make the pockets, I placed a pair of half circles (one lining and one main fabric) with right sides together, and sewed along flat side with ¼” seam allowance.

But first! Since I still had a dwindling stack of miniature blocks, I joined them to create a pieced fabric strip and clipped it around some extra piping that wouldn’t be long enough for a larger project.

I wanted to give the quilt top as much space as possible and avoid doing circular binding, so I place right sides together for stitching, and trimmed to reduce bulk before turning it right-side-out. For stitching, the order should be:

Denim Main Fabric (right-side-down)
Half Circle “Pockets” (main-side-down)
Mini Quilt Top (right-side-up)
Unique Quilting Therm Fleece (shiny side up)

I used the clips again to attach all of the layers and be sure the Therm Fleece stayed centered leaving a 3” gap.

Once turned right-side-out, I folded and press edges at gap, then hand stitch opening closed.

And done! I so enjoy making simple things that I get to use often.

What’s your go-to mini quilt project when you want to experiment with a new pattern? Let us know in the comments!

To purchase any of the products mentioned above, visit your local Canadian quilt retailer.
For more inspiration and product education, follow H.A. Kidd and Company Limited on Facebook.