Sharpen Your Sewing Skills with Designer Tips
- Kathleen Berlew
- Felicia T. Brenoe
- Minki Kim
- Jenn Nevitt
- Denise Russell of Pieced Brain
- Jen Shaffer
- Stephanie Soebbing of Quilt Addicts Anonymous
- Stacy West of Buttermilk Basin
- Corey Yoder
How do you keep your 1/4" seams consistent and accurate?
Using the right sewing machine foot helps. Most of time I use the 1/4" foot. If there are three layers of fabric, I use a walking foot. It really helps! -- Minki Kim
I have two sewing machines that I work on regularly and they both have 1/4" stitch settings that I use to keep an accurate seam. But since one machine's 1/4" seam can be slightly different than another's, when I bought the second one I got a different model from the same brand so all of the feet are interchangeable. That way, when I select a 1/4" stitch setting on either machine, my seam will be consistent no matter which machine I am working on. -- Stephanie Soebbing
I use the edge of my presser foot to sew a scant 1/4" seam allowance when desired. -- Jenn Nevitt
I love my quarter inch foot for my Husqvarna, but I don't have one for my old Kenmore. When I found that "sweet spot" on the Kemore, I marked it with a line drawn in permanent marker. It's easy to see and follow. -- Jen Shaffer
What are some of your favorite tips for cutting and fussy-cutting?
I am very impatient so I often fussy cut by eyeballing. When I design raw-edge applique, I find the unplanned, freely cut lines often lead to good results! -- Minki Kim
Fussy cutting works best when I use a clear template of the final block or English paper piecing shape to audition the fabric sections I plan to cut. I make sure to fussy-cut with small, sharp straight-edge scissors. -- Denise Russell
Place your entire palm on the ruler, not just your fingertips. By having more contact with the ruler, it is easier to hold it in place (and it uses less pressure, which will keep your arms from getting sore). Finally, there is no rule that says you have to cut the entire strip at once. If your ruler is constantly slipping at the beginning or end, try placing your hand around the 6" mark of the ruler, cutting until the 12" mark, and pausing to reposition your hand to the 18" mark without moving your ruler or rotary cutter. Then cut the rest of the strip. You'll be able to keep the ruler steady all the way up and have perfect strips. -- Stephanie Soebbing
How do you like to press your pieces?
I often work with fabrics that are not traditional quilting cottons, such as lawns, voiles, and shirting weaves. I always use starch, especially traditional heavy spray starch. Aside from starching, I think the best advice I have for pressing is to always set your seams, and be gentle when pressing so you don't distort your fabric. -- Felicia T. Brenoe
I don't use starch or steam when pressing. I get my iron (a beloved old Rowenta) very hot and work slowly, pressing carefully in the desired direction. -- Jenn Nevitt
The first thing I do to get my fabric ready for cutting is to spritz it with water and press (I never use steam). Then I go back and hit it with Mary Ellen's Best Press. If I'm excited to get started on a project, I'll skip the water step and go for the starch. -- Jen Shaffer
If I am sewing smaller pieces, I always starch the fabric before cutting. When sewing larger pieces, starching isn't as necessary. -- Stacy West
When joining units with points, such as triangle units or Flying Geese, how do you keep the points sharp?
If it is a complicated block with lots of sharp points, I paper piece it. If I can't paper piece it, I always pin and mark as I go. I love making Lone Star quilts with lots of points that need to match up, and I find that if I take the time to press carefully, use starch, mark, and pin, I can get really accurate results. -- Felicia T. Brenoe
I insert a pin through the points I want to "marry," and pin 1/4" away from this pin on both sides to ensure the fabrics will not move. I remove the middle pin before I sew over it to decrease any bulk. -- Denise Russell
I keep the unit that has the point on top when I place the piece on my sewing machine. That way if I need to wiggle it a bit to keep from sewing off the point, I can see where I'm going. -- Jen Shaffer
What are your favorite appliqué tips?
When I'm working with wool felt appliqués, I vary my stitching methods to create different effects. If I want an appliqué to lay flat on its background, I use blanket stitch, running stitch, or backstitch. To make an appliqué pop up from the background and have more dimension, I sew it in place with tiny whipstitches worked close to the edge. -- Kathleen Berlew
I am a raw-edge appliqué girl. I cut fabric elements differently depends on their size. If it's a big motif, I cut directly on the design. If it is composed of tiny elements, I cut it a bit bigger than the design to help prevent any fraying. -- Minki Kim
For machine appliqué, I use a blanket stitch (my favorite!). I use a presser foot with a transparent base and a red line on it to help me see where the needle should land. When working with 40 wt. thread, the presser foot's red line should be one thread away from the edge of the shape. If working with 28 or 12 wt. thread, it should be two threads away. I also reduce the speed of the machine to ensure the stitch lays next to the shape's edge. -- Denise Russell
For heirloom projects, I prefer the spray starch method. I make a template from heat-proof template material that is the exact size of my finished appliqué piece. I cut my fabric about a 1/4" larger on all sides. With the wrong side up, I lay the appliqué on my ironing board and brush liquid spray starch around its edges. Then you place the heat-proof template in the center and carefully iron the edges of the fabric around it. When all the spray starch has dried and the fabric is set, remove the template. This is a great way to create smooth edges that stay in place while you stitch the piece down. I always use silk thread when doing hand appliqué because of how it disappears into the appliqué. -- Stephanie Soebbing
What is your favorite foundation piecing tip?
Paper piecing is my go-to technique for anything that needs to be really accurate. I don't worry about seam allowances much when I paper piece because I find a precise 1/4" seam allowance doesn't affect the final look of the project when paper piecing, nor does it affect the structural integrity of the quilt. When I paper piece, I keep a pair of sharp small scissors near me and cut off excess fabric in the seam allowances off as I go. It saves time and can make the whole process more relaxing. -- Felicia T. Brenoe
I label and group the fabric pieces for each section, and sew one block at a time. All supplies are on a small table left of my sewing machine: a small trash bin and cutting board, the Add-A-Quarter ruler, a credit card to help when trimming the seams, and the rotary cutter. This way, I sew each section, finger press it, then turn left and do the cutting on the little table without having to get up. -- Denise Russell
Remove the paper from your seam allowances after you have sew the blocks into rows, but before you sew the rows together. That will make it much easier to join your blocks because there is less bulk and you won't have hundreds of tiny squares to pull out with tweezers when you are finished. -- Stephanie Soebbing
What are your best tips for quilting?
I often hand quilt my utility quilts. If you take the time to sit down and hand-quilt the quilts you are planning to use on beds and sofas, you will get more comfortable quilts with more drape. Heavy machine quilting can make a quilt stiff and less cuddly. Don't worry about even and tiny stitches when you start hand-quilting. As you find your rhythm, stitches will become the length that is natural to you. I find that if I am really good about basting with the safety pins relatively close together, I can hand quilt without a hoop. (I can just imagine how the quilting police are gasping in shock at this!) -- Felicia T. Brenoe
I use my domestic machine to quilt all my quilts. I love to quilt straight lines, especially when they're close together or in a cross-hatch pattern. I try to think about the "motion" of the quilt pattern and use simple loops or straight lines when quilting to add a finishing touch. Overall, I want the pattern to be the star. -- Jenn Nevitt
I do the majority of my quilting on a longarm these days. My biggest tip is to plan your path. You need to know where you are going to start, where you are going to stop, and how you can get from the start to the stop with the fewest thread breaks as possible. The other big tip I have to to focus on mastering three free motion designs. You don't have to be an expert on every single stitch! Do a few stitches really well, and make those stitches look different enough from quilt to quilt to keep things interesting. -- Stephanie Soebbing
When I machine quilt a smaller project like a pillow top, I like to use temporary spray adhesive to baste everything in place. That way, I don't have any safety pins to work around and my layers are still kept perfectly in place. Make sure to smooth your quilt sandwich on both the front and back after spray basting to ensure a smooth finish. -- Corey Yoder
What are some of your favorite products?
Besides wool felt, fabric, and embroidery floss, my favorite product is freezer paper. For me, it's the best method for transferring patterns to felt and cutting pieces with clean lines. Freezer paper has the added benefits of being easy to find and extremely economical. The roll in my sewing room cost just a few dollars and has lasted for more than a year. -- Kathleen Berlew
I love gold needles for all my hand sewing. I went through about 10 different needle brands but Clover Black Gold is the only hand-sewing needle I have ever loved. They are incredibly sharp and the shaft is microserrated so the needle glides through fabric easily. I do a lot of hand sewing, and these needles keep my hands from getting tired and make the process more enjoyable. I use size 9 and 10 the most for regular hand-sewing, but will sometimes go down to a size 11 for hand appliqué if I'm using silk thread. -- Felicia T. Brenoe
OLFA rotary cutters and rulers are my favorite. -- Minki Kim
I always work with Heat'n Bond Light, even when working with wool. It stays in place, is repositionable, and is easy to use. I buy it by the bolt! Heavy Duty Plastic Templates by Dritz is my favorite template material for its perfect thickness, transparency, and hand. For pressing, I use odorless Mary Ellen's Best Press. Finally, I use Carol Doak's foundation paper for paper piecing as it's strong but easy to remove. -- Denise Russell
I love using the rulers from Deb Tucker's Studio 180 Design. The Tucker Trimmer is by far my most used ruler. It's great for triangle-squares, but I really love it for hourglass units. The Wing Clipper is a strong second. -- Jen Shaffer
I have June Tailor Cut 'N Press mats in different sizes-I have a small sewing space and it gets even tighter if I set up my ironing board, so unless I am assembling a quilt top, I use the mat for pretty much everything else. Lately, I have really been digging the Violet Craft Seam Roller. This is a new old tool; our grandmothers had them and used them to press seams flat without needing an iron. It is great for paper piecing because you don't have to iron at all if you don't want to, and I use it for regular piecing when I am sewing with my 4-year-old because she can press the seams and be really involved without me worrying about her safety around a hot iron. -- Stephanie Soebbing
Some of my favorite products are Soft Fuse, hand dyed floss (particularly 12 weight) and Dovo scissors. Soft Fuse does not gum your needle when stitching; hand dyed floss adds dimension and variation to your piece; and Dovo scissors cut through wool very nicely, come in various sizes, and stay sharp the longest. -- Stacy West
A tool that I almost always have on my machine is the Clearly Perfect Angles static guide by New Leaf Studios. This tool clings to my sewing machine bed and allows me to sew half-square triangles, Flying Geese, and stitch/flip corners without having to mark any diagonal lines. This is such a timesaver for me! -- Corey Yoder