basic quilting skills · quilting tools

Go Wooley—My New Favorite Quilting Tool

Gee, I just woke up to the fact that I have not posted to this blog in almost a year! Yikes. Where have I been, you ask. Truth is, I don’t really know. I’ve just been elsewhere. But I have been making quilts However, I hope to make it up to you by posting on this snowy day in Eastern Pennsylvania.

I’ve been wanting to write about my new favorite quilting tool—a wooly pressing mat. I had been seeing them around at various shows but no one I knew had bought one. But finally last summer at Quilt Odyssey in Hershey, PA I broke down and bought one from Gail Kessler of Lady fingers Sewing Studio.

So what is a wooly pressing mat? It is a 12” x 12” square of compressed wool that serves as a pressing surface for your piecing. Here’s a picture of what mine looks like.

wooly lamb mat1ed

Pretty unimpressive looking, maybe. But once you start using it….WOWIE…you will love it. What I love about it is that you don’t have to use steam.  Because the wool absorbs moisture, it sends it back into whatever you’re pressing and helps it become wonderfully flat. Just the way we quilters like our blocks to be. And it is easy-peasy…no struggling with anything at all. It just—works!

As I said, mine is 12” x 12”. However they come in larger sizes as well: 12” x 18”, 18” x 24”, 22” x 58”. I personally find that the small size is the most versatile for taking to retreats and keeping beside my machine as I’m sewing. Another nice thing is that you can put your pins into it as you sew. They don’t damage the mat and stay put until you’re ready to put them away.

One thing about the wooly mats is that they do smell—well, like wool.  So if you hate that, then don’t buy one. But I kind of like it.

Here’s a picture of a block that I pressed with no steam. Hope you can tell how nicely it pressed out….

block on mat1ed

So if you’ve been thinking about trying one of these critters, or if you’ve been wrestling with getting your blocks pressed nice and flat…go for it.  Should be easy enough to find one if you search under wooly pressing mats on the internet. Or better yet, see if your local quilt shop has them…buy local if you’d like to see your stores survive!

Until next time (hopefully not a whole year)…

basic quilting skills · quilt design

How to Prep Your Quilt for Long Arm Quilting

100_0360Have you been afraid to take your quilt to a long arm quilter because you weren’t sure what you need to do to prep it? Dither no longer. Read this post for everything you need to know to prepare your quilt.

So here goes:

  • Secure any seams that extend out to the edge of the quilt. If you don’t, these seams often release after they are mounted on the long arm frame. At this point, it’s unlikely that your longarmer is going to take it off to remedy that problem. If she does then she will probably be charging you to do that. I personally charge $25 an hour to do any extra work of that sort.
  • Press, press, press. Make sure that you have taken the time to press your seams so that the quilt top is as flat as you can get it. This pressing should be done as you are constructing the quilt rather than waiting until the entire top is finished. On the other hand, don’t stress if a few fold lines appear in the quilt because once it gets mounted on the quilting rollers most quilt fold lines will disappear.
  • Cut all threads….Let me repeat, cut all threads. If you have loose threads on the quilt back,  (not to be confused with the quilt backing which is a separate piece) they should be removed because they can show through to the quilt top. This can be especially true if you have a light/white background on your quilt. And once it’s quilted, it’s just not possible to remove them without ripping out the quilting–not a pretty picture. The same goes for the front of the quilt—these will show and distract from the beauty. I have been at quilt shows where it has been all I can do not to reach over and pull an errant thread.  Your quilter will probably cut threads but as you may know, it takes a long time to get them all. And if she charges by the hour as I do, you are paying for her to do something you could easily do yourself. Even if she charges by the inch, this means that it will just take longer to get your quilt completed….so cut the darn threads.


  • Add 4 inches on all sides to your backing and batting (if you are supplying).Some longarmers can do with less, but 4 inches is the safest choice. Practically speaking that means you will add 8 inches to the quilt length number and 8 inches to the quilt width number.  If you need to sew your backing together to make it large enough, be sure to cut off the selvedges before seaming it together. The selvedge does not stretch and this can cause problems with puckering and wrinkling on your backing.
  • Attach your borders properly. Don’t just slap them on and whack off the excess. The reason? Your quilt may not be 100% square—in fact it’s usually not. We are human beings not computers so there is often variance in our seaming. Google how to correctly add a border—there are lots of YouTube videos and blog posts on that topic. Here’s one that I like Attaching Borders
  • Relax…I know when I first thought about taking a quilt to a longarmer, I was worried that my work would be judged and found lacking. Just remember that no one is perfect and that your quilter is used to seeing variations in quilting and knows how to deal with them—it’s her job. Just do your best at getting your quilt prepped and let her work her magic. It’ll be ok….I promise. J

Making Bias Tape With a Bias Tape Maker

If you’ve done a bit of applique you know that stems are often a big part of an applique pattern. And they can be a bit trying to make if you don’t know how. Well, let’s learn how!

First of all, if those stems are going to curve like the ones in my latest quilt,(pictured below) they are going to have to be cut on the bias. That’s because fabric cut on the bias is a lot more amenable to curving than fabric cut on the straight of grain. (The name should be a dead giveaway. Straight means straight, not curvy.) So there’s my major tip of the day. A bargain at twice the price…But you are in  for even more. Stay tuned.



When I saw all of those curvy stems in this pattern I knew I had to master the bias tape maker I’ve had sitting in my studio for oh-so-many years. So I did. And now I’ll share it with you. Oh, did I mention that I had to do 1400” of bias tape for this little creation? Well, I did and may mention it a time or two again before the end of this post.

So here goes.

First, I identified the size that I needed for the aforementioned 1400” of bias tape. (See!) The tape needed to be 3/8” so that’s the size bias tape maker I used. I used Clover brand but there are others out there as well.  I have pictured some of the sizes that I have. The one I used is the lavender one. Pretty.


The next task is to figure out how wide to cut the bias strips. The instructions tell you to double the width that you want to end up with. However, I decided to add a little to that.  I doubled the width  (3/8”) which gave me 6/8 “ and then added another 1/8” for a little wiggle room. That gave me 7/8” which is what I cut the bias strips.

Once that was decided I got out my fabric and ironed it with some Best Press to give it a little more body. You can use sizing or starch if you like. I use both but Best Press is so pretty in that lavender color. (for the photo shoot, don’t you know)

bestpress (2)

Next I took the fabric to my cutting mat and made a  beginning 45 degree cut. Use your ruler’s 45 degree line on the selvage edge to get started.  So here is my first cut. Nice 45 degree angle. Then start measuring 7/8” and go to town. Just want to mention that I am left-handed but did this right-handed since you guys outnumber us lefties.—just this once.  You’re welcome. You lefties know the drill to reverse it—lots of practice.


Here is my first 7/8” strip.  I had to cut a bunch of these for my 1400” inches of bias stems.  I used a green fabric which will I will show in a later picture. IMG_0544

Once you have all your strips cut, you’ll need to seam them together.  I sew them on the bias and then press open the seams. It’s a bit tedious but you will see why once I start feeding the strips through the tape maker.  If you don’t press them open it’s bulkier and harder to get through the maker.  I like to mark the seam I’m going to sew in order to stay accurate but you can do it your way.IMG_0546IMG_0547

Once I have all the strips sewn together it’s time to start feeding them into the maker. Very important tip!! Spray the end you’ll be feeding in with starch or Best Press and press it dry. This gives it some body for feeding into the very narrow end of the bias tape maker. Otherwise it is cussing-time.


Now start feeding the end you just starched right-side down into the tape maker. Because you have stiffened the end it should slide through pretty easily. I tried it without starching it first and it was not pretty…


If it gets hung up, use a pin on the reverse side to urge it along. Notice that if you turn over the tape maker there is an opening which you can use to push it along.  I have drawn an arrow to show where my pin is.


Once you’ve gotten your tape feeding through the maker, you can start pressing it as it comes out. Go slowly to give the tape time to get a good press.


You can also add fusible tape to the underside of your tape by feeding it through and pulling it out at the same time. I used Steam-A-Seam 2 for my project.


The Clover Bias Maker has a channel for feeding through the tape at you pull out the fabric. Pretty slick, huh?


And here is what it looks like after you’ve completed it. To adhere it to your project, just pull the paper off the tape and press it. This is the aforementioned green bias tape that I made 1400” of…


And here is the reason you do bias tape. It curves!IMG_0557

So there you have it.  An easy way to make those applique stems. Hope you have fun with it!


Make Your Circle Appliques Perfect

I have recently gotten addicted to raw edge applique.  For the first 5 years or so of my quilting career I avoided applique like the plague. But then I saw a wonderful pattern by J. Michelle Watts called ‘Fiesta de Talavera’ that I fell in love with. I am a big fan of Santa Fe, New Mexico, and I love the Southwest tiles and textiles I see there when I visit. So when I saw this pattern I just had to do it. And I did. Here’s link for Michelle’s pattern if you’re interested. Talavera Tile quilt. And here is a picture of my quilt.

IMG_0382 (3)

Once I started raw edge applique I really go hooked and couldn’t wait to do the next one.  I’m just starting a new project based on a quilt that is in the International Quilt Study Center and Museum in Lincoln, Nebraska. It’s a 1930’s quilt made from a pattern printed on the paper wrapping inside Mountain Mist batting packages. The pattern was featured in the July/August 2015 issue of Love of Quilting  Magazine.  It’s rated as ‘Challenging’ and that’s all I needed to get going on it.  One little problem though, it has 96, count ‘em , 96 cherry appliques. You know—circles….yikes. If you’ve ever tried to do a perfect circle applique then you know how difficult it can be to get PERFECT circles. Here’s a picture of the quilt. I’m doing almost the same colors because I like them so much and think that they are historically accurate.


A Helpful Tool for Making Perfect Circles

Enter a wonderful tool called Perfect Circles by Karen Kay Buckley. (I have no connection to this product—I just like it.) Perfect Circles are a set of various sizes of heat-resistant templates that you use both to trace the circles as well as to shape them. These circles will not be raw edge as the edges are turned under and pressed but the rest of the quilt will be.

Here’s How to Do It

1. Select the size you need and pull out the templates you’ll use. She has several of each size so you can do a kind of assembly line to speed things up. Of course, if you know anything at all about quilting you know that ‘speed’ is relative when it comes to  quilt-making. IMG_0518


2.  Start tracing your circles onto the fabric you’ll be using.  In my case that was 96—oh yes, I did mention that, didn’t I? One more time and that will qualify as whining…


3. Cut out each circle, leaving about 1/4 inch around the traced circle, as I show below. Don’t stress about getting the circle perfectly shaped at this point. All will be revealed shortly. Or as my quilting friends like to say, “It’ll quilt out.”  Ha!



4. Next grab a needle and matching thread and start taking small stitches around the edge of the circle. And make them small stitches ‘cause that matters. I tried bigger ones hoping to put on some speed (you know that relative construct in quilting), but sadly, it works best when stitches are teeny-tiny. This is a little like making yo-yo’s  if yo have ever done that.


5. Once you’ve finished going around the circle, place your template back into the center of the circle and pull the circumference of the circle up to snuggle around the template. Remove your needle and cut some of the thread but leave a thread tail.


6. Go over to your ironing board with the whole assembly and grab some spray starch and a Q-tip…oops, I mean cotton swab…who calls them that? Spray some of the starch into a small container. I used the top of the starch container. You can also use sizing which is what the directions call for…or Best Press.


7. Now dab the starch all around the edge of the circle until it’s damp.


8. Then take your iron and place it on top of the circle and template. Press it until it’s dry.  Now’s the time for the BIG REVEAL. Pull out the template and cut your thread.


9. TA-DA! You have a perfect circle to applique onto your soon-to-be-perfect quilt.  Pretty great, huh?


I hope you’ve found this post helpful. Please visit my Facebook page for more information.  Facebook page

basic quilting skills · color for quilts · quilt design

4 Ways to Choose Colors for a Drop-Dead Gorgeous Quilt


Quilt by Mary Vallere

One of the most common concerns I hear from new or wanna-be quilters is: How the heck do I pick the colors for my quilt?  I am terrified I will make the wrong choice.

First of all, let me assure you that this is not rocket science…really. Don’t make more of it than it deserves. You can do this!You can’t make the wrong choice. If you like the colors and think they look great together then you’re good to go. Ignore the ‘quilt police’ in your world and do what you like. And yes, I know that is easier said than done. So here are some ideas about how to choose colors for a knock-your-socks-off quilt.

Strategy #1

First—and the easiest. Use the colors that the quilt designer used in her quilt pattern picture. Easy-peasy…you can’t go wrong. And chances are you’ll make little changes as you create your own version of her illustration.   You can also purchase a kit that is already put together for you. No fuss—no muss…Then you can concentrate on your sewing skills and go ahead and make a beautiful quilt.

Strategy #2

But let’s say that you want to be a little bit more adventurous. One of my favorite strategies is to choose a so-called ‘focus fabric’ that features colors that you love together. You then take that fabric to the quilt shop (or your quilting stash) and start pulling fabric. Let’s take a look at the fabric below….It’s a doozey, isn’t it?  I got it as part of a challenge a number of years ago. Never got around to doing the challenge but it’s still in my studio because I love the colors and the craziness of the design elements.DSC_0097

As you start looking at the fabric you see a yummy purple, a nice teal, a rosy red, black , tan, and white. Now you don’t have to use all of these colors but you could choose, say purple and teal as your main colors with and black and/or tan as your ‘eye-resting’ colors. And if you’re feeling really daring, use some red with that purple and teal! Or not… I would.

Here’s a photo of the fabrics that I pulled based on my focus fabric.

DSC_0005 (2)

As you can see, I didn’t try to match the colors exactly but pulled some fabrics based on colors in the focus fabric. From here I can pick and choose what I like.  And I do like this palette…hmmm, I may be starting a new quilt with these fabrics soon. Besides color, you should also consider the print or pattern on the fabrics as well. But that is another blog post…for now let’s just love on these colors. ❤  And while I’m handing out helpful hints, notice the little tape pieces on the two fabrics on the left?  I use 3M Post-It labels on a roll and I write the yardage on my fabric so I don’t have to unfold and measure it before I decide if I can use it.  You’re welcome.

Oh, and one more thing, just because you selected a focus fabric, that doesn’t mean it has to appear in your quilt. You might just want to use the great colors for inspiration. On the other hand, if you have a yen for a geisha girl with a skull perched over her shoulder and a pet snake fawning at her feet….GO FOR IT!

Strategy #3

Now onto strategy #3. Use a color wheel.  Below you see a picture of my color wheel. I also noticed how crappy my cutting mat looks but let’s call that a badge of honor. I use it a lot.

If you want to select colors that have the stamp of approval from ‘those who know’ about color theory, then this is the method for you.

DSC_0090 (2)

To choose colors, just follow the arrows on the face of the color wheel. The wheel also has directions on the back if you get confused.If you look at my color wheel you see that there is a starred triangle at the top. If you want to know what colors would look good with that goldy, yellow color, simply follow the arrows to the bottom triangle with a star. That arrow points to a deep blue shade. If you want some coordinating colors just look to the other pointers on the wheel face. You can’t go wrong. These color wheels are easy to find at craft or art stores. I have a small one as well.

Strategy #4

Now strategy #4 is a really fun one. There is a wonderful design site called Colour Lovers. I love to go to that site and play around. I have created palettes, original colors, and designs. One of my favorite creations is a palette called ‘Armand.’ Here’s a picture:


I just love these colors together. So if I wanted to get creative with some new color combos I would use this palette as a basis for a quilt. Wouldn’t that be cool? In fact I may do that…just not this month. Too many other projects.  If you’d like to try your hand at some creating, here’s the link: And if you’d like to see my creations, search under “AmaraAnn”

Feeling reassured and inspired yet? I hope so.

And once you get all of those quilt tops ready for quilting, think of little old me and my longarm-in-the-basement. Her name is Gertrude after my grandmother though the name sounds ever so much better when said in Italian…but I digress.

If you don’t live in Pennsylvania, don’t worry. The US mail works just fine. Go to my Facebook page to set up an appointment to talk.

Get quilting!