I am not a follow-the-rules crafter.
I grew up dabbling in many different crafts and spent a little time after college working at a crafts store. Depending on what items were on sale (or what my discount could get me), I would bring home different crafts supplies every week. I made jewelry, knitted scarves, and even binged on cake decorating supplies. I loved experimenting. I loved seeing how a certain item would inspire an idea and eventually become something beautiful to show the world.
I was never a person to buy a book of patterns or read directions. I liked having a spark of an idea and working with the supplies to create the look I wanted on my own terms. I once scrapbooked a year of my life using burlap accents (not a common scrapbooking supply). I crocheted four 3D Star Wars figurines as a Christmas present without a pattern (or any idea how to crochet). And the amount of things I’ve used wallpaper for besides my walls is ridiculous.
When I interviewed for my job as web editor for the Meredith crafts group, my boss asked me if I knew how to sew. Now, sewing was never a craft I dabbled in. I’d done a little embroidery and hand-sewing, but I’d never touched a sewing machine. It worked out perfect! Since I didn’t know how to sew, I made the ideal candidate for helping them start the blog HowToSew.com. Through that project, I’ve not only touched a sewing machine and learned how to work it, but have successfully sewn quite a few projects for my home. But quilting was a different challenge.
Starting in January, our staff began our Passion 48 projects. (Read more about it here.) Every week, we spend an hour making a quilt for ourselves. For someone whose never quilted before, this was an overwhelming project! I chose my project–a small Dresden Plate wall hanging. After a week of working on it, I decided I couldn’t follow the pattern. I started making a bunch of Dresden Plates in different sizes for what was now a throw. I added hand embroidered accents and am now making a scrappy pieced binding. It looks nothing like the original project (you can see the difference below). But it is something that I’m proud of and that fits my personal style.
While making this first quilt, though, I had a million questions. Not surprising for most of you, I’m sure, quilting is not a craft you can start on without knowing the basics. Knowing how to sew was not enough. Quilting has a language of its own and can involve some pretty complicated techniques. I luckily work with an amazing group of quilters who love to share their quilting knowledge, and they were so helpful answering my questions and showing me how to do things. But my questions did get annoying, I’m sure. I asked them to suggest a great book I could bring home to read to help me learn.
In an act of serendipity, we’d just published the Better Homes and Gardens Complete Guide to Quilting: Second Edition. You can buy your own copy here. It’s like learning from a friend. It’s published by my creative and knowledgeable coworkers with the same language and style of the magazines that I work with on a daily basis–it was such a perfect way for me to learn! Plus, the book is filled with beautiful photography and really detailed step-by-step photos, so I can easily see the techniques (great for someone like me who doesn’t necessarily like to read instructions all the time). It even has great diagrams, like the machine quilting diagrams below. I’ll be referencing these soon!
The book is divided into 16 chapters with everything from basic tools to cutting to binding and finishing. It breaks up each step in the quilting process for an easy reference guide. I started going through the book page by page since I had questions about each part of quilting, but the chapters and the index at the end of the book make it easy for me to look up a specific technique quick, so I can get back to sewing. It has loop book binding, so your pages lay flat without flipping, which is nice when I need to set it down next to my cutting board or sewing machine. It even has blank pages at the end of each chapter for me to take my own notes.
One of my favorite features of this book are the handy measurement, yardage, and size charts. I don’t like math very much, so it’s great to have a chart I can scan quick or bring with me to the quilt shop. They have charts for everything you can imagine. I can tell you how many 4″ half-square triangles I can get from 3/4 yard of fabric in two seconds. Or how big my twin bed quilt needs to be to have a 10″ drop and a 10″ tuck. They even have a calculator for determining the yardage you need for a mitered border–no matter what size your quilt is!
This is absolutely my to-go guide for quilting. It’s a book that will live on my shelf my whole life (unless they come out with a Third Edition!). It not only taught me the basics, but I know it will be something that I can keep coming back to learn new techniques for an upcoming project or even to brush up on my basics.
Visit the Moda Fabrics blog to see what other designers are reading right now and what book inspired them to start quilting! Plus, Moda Fabrics is giving away 6 great new books–enter to win on their blog!
I hope you’ve enjoyed our week filled with book reviews! What books have piqued your interest? Let us know in the comments! —Elizabeth Tisinger Beese, senior editor
Flowers, Hearts, & Garlands Quilt ($26.95; American Quilter’s Society, 2011)
When I picked up this book, one of the Appliqué Masterpiece Series, I was hoping it offered advice for improving my satin-stitched appliqué. It does that, but offers so much more. Liz Jones’ technique for free-motion-basting appliqués before satin-stitching around them is a “why didn’t I think of that?” kind of technique that uses paper stabilizer, spray starch, and a light box to guarantee perfect appliqué placement without using any fusible web. Liz shares construction and supply tips, 32 appliqué designs, and 42 quilting motifs to make your own version of her award-winning (and stunning!) Hearts and Garlands appliqué sampler quilt.
A Notion to Celebrate! ($14.95; Leisure Arts, 2011)
Maybe it’s the fond memories I have of my great-grandmother helping me make Christmas ornaments with straight pins, sequins, and foam balls. Or maybe it’s the fact that the cover of this book looks like an incredibly yummy box of chocolates. Either way, I was drawn to Melissa Bickle’s book full of faux confections and other decorations for multiple occasions. How-to photos show you how to use foam shapes along with bits of ribbon, trims, buttons, pipe cleaners, rickrack, ribbon rosettes, pom-poms and more to make 16 projects. My favorites? Cutie Cupcakes, Melissa’s Candy Box, Firecracker Flowerpots, and Gingerbread Goodness. And for Thanksgiving, I’m definitely going to make Melissa’s fool-the-eye pinecones made from chocolate brown grosgrain ribbon.
Simple Graces: Charming Quilts and Companion Projects ($28.99; Martingale & Co., 2010)
At American Patchwork & Quilting, we’re known for our color options, a second version of the original quilt showing how different it can look when made in other fabrics. So I was excited to see acclaimed designer Kim Diehl’s take on this concept. As she says, “…because so many quilts hold the promise of becoming so many different things, why should any of us have to settle upon just one?” Instructions are included for eight quilts plus additional projects created from each quilt’s pieced units or appliqué motifs. All of the quilts and projects (which range from embellished tea towels and eyeglass cases to door hangers, doll quilts, and pincushions) are constructed using fabrics in Kim’s signature warm, homespun, scrappy palette. Don’t skip the general quiltmaking instructions—they’re packed with useful tips and specifics for Kim’s preferred construction techniques.
Quilts Made Modern ($29.95; 160 pages, C&T Publishing, 2010)
Bill Kerr and Weeks Ringle
Authors Bill Kerr and Weeks Ringle of FunQuilts are two of my favorite contemporary quilt designers. What I love most about their work is the thoughtful approach they take to designing. And they articulate their theories of quilt design in the first 45 pages of the book. I find my self reading and re-reading it in order to take it all in. In a word, it’s brilliant! I can’t decide which of the 10 quilt projects I want to make first, but if you find yourself repeating a favorite color combo, don’t miss the page titled “Climbing Out of a Palette Rut.” It’s priceless advice.
Gone to Texas: Quilts From a Pioneer Woman’s Journal ($25.95; 96 pages, Kansas City Star Books, 2009)
Beautiful pictures are a given in many quilt books, but rare is the quilt book that is just as interesting even if all the pictures were covered. Author Betsy Chutchian has created just such a treasure in her book that weaves stories from her great-great-grandmother Lizzie Carpenter’s journal (1857 to 1882) throughout the 12 reproduction projects in the book. The quilts themselves are re-creations of Lizzie’s quilts as inspired by her journal, but it’s the excerpts from the journals themselves that make this a real page-turner. My favorite section is the 1868 memorandum of the work she accomplished in a year including garments made, quilts pieced and quilted, yarn carded an more. Fascinating, from start to finish!
Cut the Scraps! 7 Ways to Quilting Your Way Through Your Stash ($24.95; 202 pages, Taunton Press, 2011)
Who’s got a fabric stash? I do, I do! But how do I keep it from overtaking my sewing room? Author Joan Ford to the rescue with her step-by-step remedy for sorting, cutting, and organizing your fabrics into manageable, useable order. If you love scrappy quilts, this plan to keep fabric mayhem from overwhelming you may be just the ticket. Also included, 20 scrappy patterns to put your newly organized stash to good use.
Playful Patchwork ($19.99; 128 pages, Creative Publishing International, 2011)
I have a not-so-secret obsession with books authored by Japanese quilt designers. I love the graphic nature of the colorful photography. The playful, modern aesthetics of the images are crisp and clean. The step-by-step how-to photographs make it easy to follow along as you’re doing piecework, appliqué, or quilting. Author Suzuko Koseki mixes inspirational photo galleries, block designs, and a bevy of projects including a needle case, patchwork purse, sampler quilt, and more. It’s a book you’ll want to linger over again and again.
Threads: The Basics & Beyond ($27.95; 176 pages, Landauer Publishing, 2010)
Liz Kettle and Debbie Bates
Think thread is only for piecing seams or quilting together layers? Think again. The back cover describes this book as a journey of thread, stitch, and discovery…and that’s exactly what it is. Whether you’re infatuated with or intimidated by the myriad choices of threads available today, authors Liz Kettle and Debbie Bates guide you through not only how to choose the right thread for your projects, but also why, where, and when to use them. Best of all, as you’re learning their uses, you’ll be making a stitch-sample booklet that can be used as a reference for many, many creative projects to come.
Check out what I’m reading right now! —Jody Sanders, assistant editor
The Civil War Sewing Circle ($24.99; Martingale and Co., 2011)
I am drawn to late 19th century-era reproduction fabrics but didn’t know much about the actual events that occurred between 1861-1865. After reading Kathleen Tracy’s fourth book, which combines Civil War-era diary entries, photographs, and historical facts, I feel I have a better glimpse into the lives of those who experienced the American Civil War 150 years
ago. Projects include patterns for throws, small quilts, pincushion, signature quilt, needlecase, and sewing box.
On my “to-make” list: Civil War Scraps Doll Quilt (page 36) and Album Quilt (page 64)
Hatched and Patched’s Some Kind of Wonderful ($26.95; Kansas City Star Quilts, 2011)
I have recently started hand-stitching and experimenting with different embroidery stitches, linens, wools, and threads. When I visited Anni Down’s booth at International Quilt Market, I knew I wanted to learn more about the Australian designer who combines stitchery and patchwork. Her latest book has a variety of smaller projects which will allow me to try new techniques and materials, without the time or investment of larger quilts. One of my favorite features is that the materials list for each project specifies the company name and number for each embroidery floss used, taking the guesswork out of, “Is this the right color brown?”
On my “to-make” list: Sewing Case (page 20) and Needle Book (page 24)
Friendship Strips & Scraps ($27.95; Landauer Publishing, 2010)
Edyta Sitar for Laundry Basket Quilts
One of Edyta Sitar‘s favorite parts of quilting is gathering with family and friends to share fabrics and quilting ideas. In Friendship Strips and Scraps, Edyta gives terrific tips on trading fabric strips and scraps with fellow quilters. The 112-page, full-color book also includes 18 projects that show you how to successfully mix and match a variety of fabric styles.
On my “to-make list”: Tumbling Block Table Runner (page 46)
From contemporary quilts to organization ideas to machine quilting and more, I enjoyed an eclectic roundup of books! —Jill Mead, editor
Fresh Quilting: Fearless color, Design & Inspiration ($26.95; Interweave Press, 2010)
I like quilts with clean, clear colors and simple shapes, so when a friend and co-worker recommended designer Malka Dubrawsky’s new book, I knew it would be a visual delight. I wasn’t disappointed. Fresh Quilting: Fearless Color, Design & Inspiration is refreshing. Malka’s projects have an appealing, I-can-do-it contemporary look and each is designed to fill a purpose: coin purse, trivet, curtain, tote, and quilts, quilts, quilts. If you are new to quilting, you’ll find the basics of the art included with enough detail to get you on your way to success. If you’re more experienced, you’ll probably flip right to the 20 projects and start stitching. Besides step-by-step instructions for each project, Malka has included extras, such as step-by-step instructions for inserting a zipper in a pillow backing, 10 ways to (heart) improvisational piecing, and luscious full-color detail photos that show off quilting and finishing. Not one to shy away from strong color, she also encourages you to stretch your own palette choices by showing out-of-the-ordinary color and print combinations.
On my “to-make” list: Nate’s quilt, a 36”-square/ 36 block project for practicing freehand rotary cutting and improvisational piecing. Those two techniques don’t sound (or look) scary now.
Sensational Small Quilts 15 projects from Wall Hangings to Throws ($24.99; Krause Publications, 2010)
Edited by Christine Doyle
Think small, make it scrappy, and use up that stash! The 15 projects in Sensational Small Quilts fill a big order. These best-loved little quilts from Darlene Zimmerman, Maggie Ball, Glenna Hailey, Karen Snyder, and 11 other designers are compiled from other Krause titles for quilters who love to use every last scrap. The eleven projects range in size from table toppers to wall hangings to throws. One of my favorite features is the general instruction section, written by Darlene Zimmerman. It’s filled with the basics as well as tips and tricks. Learning how to twist the seam on a four-patch unit to make it lie flatter, making binding that’s a perfect fit, and binding a scalloped or curved edge are worth the price of the book.
Sew the Perfect Bag: 25 great projects from Sew News ($22.99; Martingale & Co., 2010)
There’s no such thing as too many bags. Just take a look inside your closet (or mine), or in my crafts room, or in my car…you’ll find bags for every reason, every season. This collection of 25 bag patterns could be a guidebook to the bag for every reason. You’ll find a shoulder bag for your I-pad or lap top, a baby bag for all your wee one’s necessities, beach totes, reusable grocery bags, and more. Each comes with step-by-step instructions and tips for successful sewing. I’m eager to try Simply Sashiko, a silk clutch that’s embellished with a stitching pattern that originated in Japan. I’ll learn a new technique while making it and have a lovely gift to give when it’s complete.
Organizing Solutions for Every Quilter: An Illustrated Guide to the Space of Your Dreams ($19.95; C&T Publishing, 2011)
Disclaimer: OK. I was sold on this book the minute I saw the title. I am a sucker for any book that will help me get rid of clutter and organize my studio.
The Skinny: Here you’ll find ideas for identifying what causes clutter, setting goals to deal with it, and organizing what’s left. Oh, did I forget the best part? Here it is: How to maintain the organization. (That’s the part that gets me every time.)
The book is filled with ideas: for what you need (good lighting, temperature, electrical system, and sound control are musts), storing your stash so you can use it, handling all the tools and trappings (books, magazines, UFOs) of quilting, and maintaining your space. There’s a section that deals with quilting-on-the-go (ideas for those who participate in workshops and retreats) and another that talks about storage and display.
Bottom line: I got some great ideas (room design, better lighting, fabric storage, packing for retreats), inspiration (to clean up my space and donate what I’m not using), and (my favorite) maintaining the space in an orderly way.
Free-Motion Machine Quilting ($24.95; C&T Publishing, 2011)
I’d like to be a great machine quilter. But, I don’t want to practice all that much. Silly, I know. After reading Don Linn’s Free-Motion Machine Quilting, I’m thinking there might be hope for me. I may not become e a great machine quilter, but possibly an OK machine quilter and certainly not without practice! The step-by-step photos and straight forward text offering advice such as …“If you do not move the fabric after the machine has taken 3 or 4 stitches, the thread will probably break, and you will have to start over again…” give me hope. Don hands out homework that he calls “Practice Exercise.” He shows you what problems look like (tension problems, stitch length problems) and then tells you how to solve them. His writing style is chatty, as if you have a quilting coach right in the room with you. Don patiently walks you through learning to draw and stitch designs one baby-step at a time, until suddenly you understand how to stitch feathers. You learn how to select designs that are appropriate for your quilt, and how to mark the quilt top. He provides inspiring photos of finished quilts and an eight-page quilting design gallery filled with designs to be enlarged to fit your quilt blocks.