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New You Tube Video

How to Piece Perfect QuiltsI’ve just gotten a new You Tube Video uploaded.  This video is special because it’s actually a sample video from my new Ebook and Video set “Stitch it Up a Notch: How To Piece Perfect Quilts.

This set is devoted to all things piecing!  I pieced 15 blue and white 9 patch quilts, over 100 9 patch blocks for the making of this project.  I don’t think I will ever look at a 9 patch block the same way again.

But making all of those quilts was necessary.  I really wanted to show not just how to piece, but how to plan and design a quilt from start to finish.  I focus on sashing, or the space between your quilt blocks, as an excellent area to create designs in the quilting process by widening this area and leaving more space between your blocks.

Quilting Beyond the DitchThe great thing about having 15 quilts, is that now I have to quilt them all!  My next ebook and video series will be “Stitch it Up a Notch: Quilting Beyond the Ditch.”  It should be finished by November 2009.

So here’s the newest video:  This is a sample video on Paper Piecing.


Leah Day


Chain Piecing with Accuracy

I know, I know – every article on piecing has something to do with accuracy and precision. Stop yawning! Sewing each piece together perfectly is the only way to achieve superior quilt tops.

Perfection takes time and can get a bit tedious. I don’t like the idea of spending years on one quilt just to get it perfect.

Now, chain piecing is so speedy, it really cuts piecing time in half. Unfortunately, the time you gain is sometimes spent struggling with pieces that aren’t very accurate. Let’s see if we can’t combine the best of both worlds to achieve accurate seams in a speedy fashion.

Here’s a couple tips for chain piecing with accuracy:

  • 1/4″ Piecing Foot – Whether you choose to invest in a piecing foot or not, make sure your machine stitches a very accurate 1/4″ seam. Take two 3″ squares and stitch them together, then measure the seam allowance. Put the 1/4″ mark of an invisible ruler right on top of the stitching line. If there is any fabric extending past the edge of the ruler then your machine is not stitching accurately enough. Even 1/16″ can make a huge difference over the surface of a quilt! Try moving your needle, changing feet, or taping a guide to your machine. Once you have an exact 1/4″ seam then automatically your pieces will start coming out more accurate.
  • Go slow – yes, chain piecing is fast, but that doesn’t mean you have to be Speedy Gonzales. Take your time and your pieces will definitely benefit from it.
  • Use a scrap charger – Take a scrap of fabric (about 2.5” x 2.5” works great) and fold it in half. This will be your charger before every chain. First, sew through the scrap to one stitch past the edge, stopping with your needle down. Take the first pieces of your chain and using your knee lifter, lift the presser foot very slightly to slip the piecing in as close to the needle as possible. Now sew through your first chain set, stopping again one stitch past the fabric edge. Lift and position your next piece, then sew. Using the charger as the first piece you sew through makes starting the chain easier and more accurate.
  • Inspect your work – Look over your work and double check your seams. Is the stitching straight and accurate? Set a ruler over the seam and check that it is exactly ¼”. If it’s crooked or inaccurate, rip it out and sew it again. Doing this small amount of quality control over your pieces will ensure the greatest accuracy for every seam within every block.

Chain piecing should be fast and fun, not a sacrifice! Don’t waste your time fighting with quilts that aren’t pieced accurately! Don’t spend three years piecing something really complicated either. Find a balance and always strive to do your best.

Happy Quilting,

Leah Day

Fabric Cutting Tools

So we are ready to start cutting! I really love the beginning of every project. I just like that time of pulling out all my new (or old) fabric, setting up the design, and of course ironing and cutting the material into shape.

Now fabric cutting has come a long way in a very short space of time. Fifty years ago we would still be using scissors and paper templates and accuracy was pretty much wishful thinking. Not that you can’t be accurate with those methods, I’m sure with healthy overdose of practice and patience you could produce good results.

The wonderful thing is that accurate fabric cutting is much easier now than ever before. With the use of rotary cutters, transparent rulers, and self-healing cutting mats our fabric stash won’t stand a chance. Unfortunately picking which tools to go with can be tricky. I detail my purchasing tips below so you know what to look for what you’re ready to go shopping.

Consider Purchasing a Kit – I go back and forth on this point actually. I personally started rotary cutting with a small fabric kit from Walmart. It came with the basic materials to get started, but it was not really for long term use. The ruler and rotary cutter were great, but the mat was an odd shape (6″ x 12″) and very soon I had to replace it. I also replaced the ruler very soon too because I couldn’t find any other ruler sizes in that brand (more on that later). I did keep the rotary cutter and still use it now two years later. It was a cheap off brand so I can use pretty much any brand blade in it. So basically I would purchase a kit if you are really unsure about getting into quilting, but if you are ready to get started with tools you won’t have to replace later then I would suggest purchasing each item separately.

What to look for in a mat – Look for a mat that is larger than the typical blocks you wish to make. If you like to stick with 12″ blocks maybe go for a 18″ x 24″ mat. Try also to buy a mat that is as large as the table you will be cutting on. This way when you cut you aren’t in danger of running off the mat or having to reposition your fabric. Look for a mat in the colors you don’t typically use. I personally use a lot of dark green so those dark green Olfa mats are pretty much useless for me as the mat color is blending in with my fabric color. You want a sharp contrast between your fabric and the mat so that finding the edges of the fabric will be very easy. Also I don’t see that expensive is better with self-healing mats. I like the cheap ones better because the colors are usually uglier (and therefore a better contrast) and they don’t seem to collect lint as bad.

What to look for in rulers – Picking your rulers is a very personal thing. You want to find a set that are easy for you to read, come in a wide range of sizes and shapes, and are easy to find. I don’t know why, but I cannot use the yellow marked rulers. I cannot see the yellow marks and spend half my time staring at the thing hoping for divine intervention. I use Optima rulers because they have a black marked side (and a yellow marked side for you freaks that like it!). They come in a good range of sizes and are fairly easy to find. Now you should actually pick a brand with rulers and stick with just that brand. Each brand marks their rulers differently and you can find discrepancies between them. Going with one brand also makes it easier for you to quickly and accurately make your cuts as you aren’t spending any time double checking that you’re reading the ruler right. You will develop a relationship with your rulers so really look and find a set you like and can get close to.

What to look for in a rotary cutter – This is also a very personal choice. Mostly it depends on how much you want to spend. If you go with a name brand look to see how much the blades are. You will want to change your blade with every project (and sometimes more often than that!) and some brands like to charge more for replacement blades. They get away with it because they fashion their cutters to only fit their brand blades. I’m not all that into all the bells and whistles companies try to put on cutters either. Yes, a self-retracting blade will help with safety, but I think that having to grip a button might throw off my accuracy. I really hate the ergonomic blades too because you can’t really see the actual blade for all the safety junk on the handle. You will pretty much be out of luck if you want to do any free form cutting where you need to see the blade. Personally, I like a cheap, durable, and simple design. Again, you will develop a relationship with this tool so make sure it fits in your hand nice too.

With these tips I’m sure you can brave the quilting section with confidence. Plan to spend anywhere from $20 to $100 on your basic cutting tools. I know this can seem expensive, but these materials should last you for many years and may never have to be replaced. Starting out with the right tools now will also set you off on the right track to becoming an excellent quilter!

Leah Day

Basic Piecing for Your First Quilt

So you’re ready to start your first quilt? Picked out a pattern and cut everything out all pretty? Great! It’s time to sew it all together and make something pretty!

Even though this is your first quilting project, there are some rules you should always follow when piecing fabric together. The quicker you learn these rules and how to apply them, the quicker you will piece quilts and the less time you will spend agonizing over mistakes. Some basic rules of the game are:

  • You should always piece with an accurate 1/4″ seam – I know this sounds real simple and easy, but it’s not. If you are so much as a 1/16″ off you can throw your whole quilt off, resulting in puckering, uneven seams, unmatched corners, lopped off triangles, and every other quilting disaster you can think of. You need to actually set up your machine to stitch a 1/4″ seam accurately with either tape, a special foot, or moving the needle. Check and double check that it’s accurate with a ruler.
  • Right sides together – Unless you are piecing some inside out wonder, you should always have your fabric right sides together. This way when you open up the fabric the seam is on the wrong side.
  • Make blocks one at a time – I know you will hate me for saying this, but I do believe that blocks should be pieced one at a time. I’m not a fan of mile long chains of half square triangles. I just don’t think they’re going to be accurate. Focus on your work block by block and you will be much happier with the results.
  • Don’t drive drunk – Okay, I’m not suggesting you have a problem or anything, but when your piecing, make sure you’ve got a good head on your shoulders. If you find yourself weaving around, unable to focus, or just staring off into space you probably ought to quit.
  • Develop a lasting friendship – It’s time you were introduced with my best friend. Her name is Seam Ripper and she’s small, sharp, and likes to correct my mistakes. She doesn’t even hold late night visits against me. I don’t know what I’d do without her!

My philosophy is patience, consistency, and practice, or PCP for short. Go slow, be patient. I know it’s so overwhelming, the idea of all those quilts waiting to be made, but you can’t build Rome in a day or even stitch it in an hour.

Consistency is very important too. Once you sew a straight, 1/4″ seam on each piece within maybe four or five quilts you will have the technique ingrained into your soul. Up until that time you just need to be as consistent as possible, and hang out with your friend Seam Ripper when necessary. Most important of all is practice. The more you do this, the more you piece, the more you quilt in general, the better you will be. I promise!

Leah Day