Sunday, July 4, 2010

LETTER TO A NEW QUILTER

Bought to you by - ‘Dee Easy Peasy Info For New Quilters’ ©




G’day Newbie Quilter.
Welcome to a wonderful world of Quilters. We are an entity unto our selves you know, and I’ve written this to help you get into the swing of things. As with any new venture, there are going to be words and terms that you will not understand to begin with. I will explain some of them here to get you started. As you come across others, don’t be afraid to ask. Quilters will always help another quilter, especially a beginner. Consider joining a local quilting group or internet quilting list. This way you will always have the knowledge and advice of experienced quilters to help you along the way.
Here’s some terms to get you started. Knowing these will help when you read quilting magazines or books or hear other quilters chatting. Keep them handy until you are familiar with the terms. You will notice that imperial measurements are still used. Ask me to explain that some time. Too long to go into it here.

Patchwork Quilting - this is what the craft/art-form/hobby you are about to embark upon is usually called. Also referred to as ‘patchwork’ or just ‘quilting’. Both commonly used but not strictly correct. You see, in reality, the patchwork part comes at the beginning of the project and the quilting part comes near the end of the process. 

Patches - are the pieces/shapes you cut out according to the directions.

Piecing - stitching all the patches together in a particular order. 

Applique - sewing particularly shaped pieces of fabric on to a bigger piece of background fabric. 

Blocks - the units you’ve made when you have stitched all the patches/pieces together. When you’ve sewn the required number of blocks all together & you have a 

Top or Quilt Top - what you now have when all the blocks are sewn together. 

Backing - the fabric you have chosen to be the underside of the quilt.

Wadding - the material you have chosen to pad-out/stuff the quilt.

Layering - laying the backing & wadding & quilt top, one on top of the other prior to basting. Also referred to as sandwiching.


Basting - securing the backing & wadding & quilt top layers in readiness for quilting. There are a few ways of doing this. Long tacking stitches radiating from the centre or safety-pinning in a grid being the most used at present. Spraying a specialised glue is also growing in popularity but can prove difficult to do on ones own.

Quilting - the ancient art of stitching together three layers of fabric. By machine or by hand, it’s your choice.

Binding - the thin strip of fabric sewn around the edge of your quilt after you have finished quilting it. The binding conceals and strengthens the raw edge of the quilt.

Label - the identifying tag on the back of the quilt. Made of fabric and embellished with pertinent information about the quilt, its maker and its owner. Your choice to include it and your choice of design.
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That’s the formal terms out of the way. Now for the colloquial ones.

Stash - your collection of fabric be they lengths of fabric or small pieces. Give it time - yours will grow. She who has the most fabric wins.

Fat Quarter - A piece of fabric usually 18 inches by 22 inches. To get a FQ, cut off a yard of fabric, cut it in half down the centre and then cut each length in half again forming a square-ish piece of fabric. However, the size can sometimes vary depending on which measuring system the shop is using to cut their fabrics. Always ask a shop if their FQ’s are cut to imperial or metric measurements. If they don’t understand what you are asking, be very wary of them. 

Fat Eighth - usually measuring 9 inches by 22 inches, it’s a Fat Quarter cut in half. You will find both of these ‘fats’ breeding in your cupboard if you are lucky.

S.E.X. - a Stash Enhancement Expedition = going shopping for fabric. Any where, any time, any place - alone, with a special friend or in a group, all quilters enjoy S.E.X. 

H.W.S. - He Who Suffers, also referred to as ‘The Pack Animal’ at craft and quilt shows as we only take them to carry the purchases, usually married to She Who Quilts.

Fudging - manipulating tiny adjustments to get the pieces to fit &/or sit just right. 

U.F.O. - UnFinished Object. W.I.P - Work In Progress. W.D.S. - Wanna Do Someday and PhD = Project Half Done.

Of course there are many more, but you’ll pick them up or make them up as you go along. Half the fun is working them out as you come across them.
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Basic Equipment

You are going to need some equipment to get you started.
In the back of most quilting books and some magazines, you will find a list of equipment and instructions for various techniques used in the book. However, I can recommend ‘Quilts! Quilts!! Quilts!!!’ as a very good book for beginners and I found the best list of equipment and explanations why you need the various tools in ‘Fat Quarter Friendly’. I purchased the first book mentioned for $36:00 about 5 years ago and the other one in April 2001 for $39:83. Most quilting books are fairly expensive, usually because they are imported, but once your stash is about ankle deep ‘Fat Quarter Friendly’ is well worth the money. (No affiliation)
Starting at the beginning of the process, this is a list of what I think you should be spending your money on to get you started.

Fabric - the lengths stipulated in the pattern you have chosen. (Or any thing else that takes your fancy) Save yourself the time and money and start buying 100% cotton straight away instead of polyester/cotton mixes. Mind you, there is nothing to stop you from using polycottons if that’s what you want to do, but in the end, just like many of us before you, you will find they just don’t ‘work’ as well as 100% cottons do & polys hate hot irons. I know from experience.

Thread - It’s best to buy cotton thread if you are sewing cotton fabric. There are some good cotton wrapped poly threads around too. Generally, the more you pay, the better the thread. Matching the thread to the fabric is not necessary if not damned near impossible in quilting. Neutral colours such as off-white, beige, greys, pale-blue, pale pink work with most quilts.

Pins & Needles - The thinner and longer the pin the better. If you don’t mind spending a few dollars, buy fine silk pins. They are so thin most machines will glide over them with out causing a problem. Flower head pins are similar. If you are on a budget, then the glass bead head pins will work just as well. Remember to change the needle in your machine regularly. Save your old needles in a film canister clearly marked and find out how to sharpen them. For machine piecing you will find size 80/12 about right unless you are dealing with thicker than usual quilting fabrics when you should use a 14 or even a 16. For hand piecing &/or applique, use a size 10 or 11 Sharp. For hand quilting, try the bigger sized quilting needles to start with but a 10 or 12 Between is just as good (and usually easier to thread). I learnt at a machine quilting class that Jeans needles are the way to go for machine quilting. They are tougher than usual and take more punishment than the ordinary sewing machine needles. 

Cutting Table - This should be of a comfortable height to you. Shorter than 5 ft 6 in will probably get away with the kitchen table. Taller than that and you will probably find something about 36 inches or higher more suitable. If it’s too low your back is going to hurt so slightly too high is probably better. If you have to use the antique dining room table, always put multiple layers of newspaper under an old sheet on the table so that any ‘over-cuts’ don’t damage the finish on the table and ruin the edge on your blade.

Cutting Mat - Sometimes you can pick up a mat & cutter combination deal. Get the biggest cutting mat you can afford. It should be at least 18 inches by 24 inches. These can be expensive when bought from specialist shops but cheaper ones can be found in major fabric chain stores and even in those ubiquitous cheapie shops. So long as it is a ‘self healing’ mat it will work with a rotary cutter. Don’t worry if it is blank on one side. That’s the side that I use the most. 

Rotary Cutter - To start with buy one with a blade about 2 inches in diameter. You will find this size the best for cutting through multiple layers of fabric. If you can afford it, buy a spare blade now. It is common for Newbies to damage the blade the first day out and it’s frustrating to be learning to cut with a notched &/or blunt blade. Always read, observe and obey the safety directions. These things bite and they are very messy when they do.

Cutting Ruler - Start with a 6 inch by 24 inch ruler. It’s the one you are probably going to use the most. If you have the funds to begin with, also buy a 6 inch by 6 inch. Very handy. Later you will find there are rulers to suit most shapes, and projects designed to be cut only with the ruler invented for the purpose. Buy these specialist rulers later on down the track if you really think you can’t live without them.

Fabric Scissors - Even though you have a fabulous rotary cutter, you are still going to need a good pair of scissors. I recommend Sierra Sharps. (No affils) They are expensive so hide them from hubby and the kids. In fact wear them on a chain around your neck and don’t let no body use ’em for nuffin’. 

Paper Scissors - These are the cheap pair that the others can borrow. Naturally you won’t be able to find them when you need them so buy 2 pair or even more. You’ll use them for cutting templates, plastic or cardboard, and everything else except fabric which they won’t cut anyway once they have been used to cut everything else. 

Thread Clippers - ideal for trimming threads while sewing. Any kind will do and usually the cheaper ones work better and hold their tip edge better. I wear mine around my neck on about a yard of soft elastic so they are always exactly where I want them and it also eliminates the annoying clank as they get put down each time.


Sewing Machine - anything will do. A working Op-shop buy is just as good as one worth more than the family car. You only need a basic straight stitch to piece and machine quilt. The ability to drop the feed-dogs will also come in handy for machine quilting. If you can’t drop the feed-dogs there are ways around this so don’t worry. If it is an Op-shop buy or hand-me-down from great Aunt Agnes, make sure the machine has some presser feet with it. You will eventually work out which one works best for you to achieve a quarter inch seam. If it has a walking foot you’re in luck as it will save you purchasing one later when you see how much easier this makes machine quilting straight lines. If you plan to machine applique you are going to need an adjustable zig-zag stitch &/or a blind-hem stitch. All machines need to be dusted out and oiled regularly and serviced according to the manufacturers instructions.

Iron & Ironing Board - Press as you go is the best way to go. However do not wiggle press as this can distort your block. Instead, dab press. A steam iron is recommended but I never use one and instead have 2 squirt bottles nearby, one with water and one with diluted starch. An adjustable height ironing board can be situated next to your sewing machine so you don’t have to leave your desk to iron. However, an ironing board across the room is good for your health.

That’s it for the equipment - sounds a lot doesn’t it. It’s a big investment but all up it will probably cost you less than golf clubs, bag, cart and membership, or a drill, router and power-saw or a sun-roof, sheepskin seat covers & mag wheels. Keep this in mind when justifying expenditure. 

This whole thing has turned out longer than I expected but there are still
Some Things You Need To Remember

1. NEVER let the Quilt Police faze you. - They are the only ones that ever achieve perfection. 

2. The Fix It or Leave It Rule of Thumb - when you make a mistake - ask yourself, “Can I live with it?” If the answer is ‘no’ then fix it - otherwise leave it. 

3. Learn how to Fudge - it saves frustration and saves asking the question in #2.

4. Treat the rotary cutter with respect. Get in the habit of engaging the safety cover before you put it down - every time - without fail - or you will regret it. It’s a scary piece of equipment in the wrong hands. Never, ever leave a rotary cutter and a child un-attended in the same room, no matter how old the child is.

5. Do not try to make a quilt in a day when you first start out even if the book/pattern says you can. You won’t have the experience or the stamina until your stash is at least somewhere near knee high.

Well, that’s about all I can think of for now. Other questions will arise as you move along your learning curve. If your teacher won’t answer them, asking for your money back should wake them up. If you are learning on your own from books, take the time to find and mix with other quilters, don’t be shy about showing off your handy-work and never be shy about asking questions. But the most important thing of all to remember is to take the time to relax & enjoy yourself. You deserve it.
Trust me, I’m a quilter.
Cheers
Del Soden
Remember
Keep stitching
We can sew our world together
Peace is by Pieces.
D.S.’92.

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