Since I’m a self-taught quilter, there are a lot of things that I learned the “hard way” (i.e., doing it wrong a million times, then finally sitting down to learn the right way to do it). I thought it would be fun to share a few of those things with you so that hopefully, you won’t make the same mistakes that I have.
3 Tips for Beginning Quilters
I’ve narrowed it down to 3, but there are probably more things I’ve done wrong in the past. For the sake of time, we’ll just talk about 3 today. If you’re new to quilting or even if you’re not, maybe I can help you avoid some simple mistakes.
Table of Contents
Tip One: Check your seam allowance
The majority of quilting patterns are based on a ¼” seam allowance. If this is off by even a 1/16″ of an inch, it can mess up your quilt. Quilts fit together like puzzles; think of what would happen if just one puzzle piece in a puzzle was the wrong size.. the same thing happens with a quilt. Every sewing machine is different in how it handles sewing a ¼” seam allowance. (btw, a seam allowance is a space between the stitching line and the edge of the fabric).
My older machine had a ¼″ needle position setting that I used a standard foot. My current machine has a ¼″ foot with a guide; I noticed, though, even with the ¼″ foot, it’s off a smidge.
I use my ¼″ foot and adjust the needle one step to the right. I figured out it was off by testing my seam with a seam gauge. Get a seam gauge and test yours. Learn the best setting for your machine and use it consistently. PICK UP A SEAM GAUGE HERE
Tip Two: Learn the correct way to press
(FYI: This is my favorite Iron)
I messed up BIG TIME with this one when I first started. You do NOT iron a quilt. You press it. Don’t make large back and forth motions like you do when ironing clothes. Lift the iron up and down and press the seams of the quilt.
Move the iron back and forth as little as possible. I can’t tell you how many seams I distorted when I first started.
To press a quilt. Start on the wrong side and press the seam once. This sets the stitches.
Flip the quilt to the right side and use the nose of your iron to wiggle into the seam to get it flat (A tip I learned from Amy!). Keeping thinking in your head “flat,” you want your seams to be straight and flat.
Press all of your seams to one side. Then alternate to the other side for the next row. This will allow your rows to fit together nicely. I press even rows towards me and odd rows away from me.
Tip Three: Use a design wall
(I picked up mine here, and I LOVE IT)
(Large Hexagon Quilt blogged here) When I first started quilting, I just thought, “I just want a random mix, and it will all work out.”
However, I would finish a quilt and realize that I had too much dark in one section of the quilt or too much of a certain color in another part. A design wall allows you to layout your quilt before you sew it to check for the balance in your design. It’s crazy what you WON’T pick up on until you see it all laid out (or photographed).
(This quilt is being pieced together after first having the layout worked on my design wall)
About the Fabulously Fast Quilts Book
I am so excited to be participating in the Fabulously Fast Quilts Book Tour! Amy Smart, from Diary of a Quilter, is one of the VERY FIRST bloggers I met many years ago. Since then, I’ve had the privilege to spend a lot of time with her and can truly call her one of my friends. She is just as creative and nice in “real life” as she seems on her blog. I am so excited for her and her fabulous book!!! I love it when wonderful things happen for my friends.
Now let’s talk about Amy’s fantastic book, Fabulously Fast Quilts. The book is all quilts that piece together quickly but don’t look like they were pieced quickly. I did a couple of double takes with how clever she is with her piecing strategies. I could have sworn some of the quilts would be much more complicated to piece. Amy shares tips for piecing in bulk and some great ways to use your quilt ruler that I had never thought of before.
The first chapter is all “how to’s” she shares lots of great quilting tips and tricks (like how to piece long strips together and keep your seams straight). Then she moves onto the quilt patterns which are all fabulous.
I think this is my favorite quilt in the book. I love the quick and clever way that Amy’s pieces these blocks, plus I think it looks so good in the monochromatic solids.
Here are a few more shots of the quilts in the book:
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Mimi @Luvly says
Some great tips there! Especially using a design wall (tip 3) is one that I will definitely try out.
Kathleen O'Grady says
This really is a great book to have. Thanks for the fabulous tips. I always forget to just press and not iron the fabric, I need to work on that one. I love the looks of those triangles your sewing!
Jo Ann Rust says
Awesome website. Great tips and ideas. So fresh.
Sigi G says
I’m really enjoying all the ‘tips’. Thank you for sharing yours. I’ve ordered Amy’s book – how could I not – can’t wait to receive it!!
Great tips! Can you tell us where to purchase that really cool seam measuring tool? I have never seen one like that and I’d love to purchase one. Thanks!
Cathy Darrow says
They are in the sewing gadget aisles (by the needles and scissors and quilting rulers) at most fabric stores. I think I got the two I have at JoAnn’s and Hancock Fabrics. Amazon might have them too. search for seam gauge or fabric measuring gauge. hope that helps you out.
I would also like to know where to get the measuring tool. Also how did you make the wall hanger for the quilts?
Lori Morton says
Wonderful Tips….think I have one of those measuring thingys (lol) in sewing stuff!! Knew the ironing/press one,,,,& don’t have a design wall…yet! Usually lay things out on bed, or floor.
Thanks for these! Is there a trick to getting your corners to match up so perfectly on the triangles you show? Mine always end up with a piece shifted over!
Question for you- when quilting triangle pieces, is it better to pin them all together in the row and go through and sew a strip at a time? or should I pin (or even not pin) and do them one at a time?
I’m working on my first quilt (since 6th grade home-economics) and the pinning on triangles seems a little haphazard.
Melissa Mortenson says
I don’t pin them and I do work one row at a time. I stack them on top of each other in the order that they will be sewn together. I then pin them one at a time as I sew. Good luck! Triangles are great shapes for beginners!
Thank you 🙂
Amanda K says
Hi there, thanks for the tips!
What is this line of fabric? I must have it!!
where is this adorable fabric from???
Can you please tell me who makes the shoe fabric and the cute sailor fabric that you used for the girly nautical quilt? I know most of those are from Michael Miller, but I can’t find those other 2. SO cute! Super helpful tips! Thank you!
Melissa Mortenson says
AHHH.. the shoe fabric I’m stumped sorry! I bought it a long time ago. The nautical is from Sarah Jane for Michael Miller.
Lila Moon says
Love this post, your photos are wonderful!
Thanks for the tips 🙂
I agree, pressing correctly was the #1 thing that made the biggest difference for my accuracy. I also like to starch and press the fabric before I even cut it, particularly when a lot of edges will be on the bias.
Lee M. says
It is important that people know not to press your seems *open* as this can distort your seems, as well as causing undo wear on the seems, over time the seem can open up. Always press to the darker side so it will not show on the ‘face’ of the lighter side. Might I suggest to press as you go. You can also finger press if you are someplace where an iron is not available… what I learned while a member of a quilters guild.
Melissa Mortenson says
I just discovered finger pressing myself. Makes a huge difference!
This goes along with the design board…photograph the quilt all laid out. For some reason, it always looks different when I see a photo of it.
Sharon Taylor says
When making the farmers wife block how much fabric of each fabric will I need for a king size quilt.
Donna Russell says
Where did you get your iron, what’s the brand?
Melissa Mortenson says
It’s an Olisio – you can get them online (amazon) and most sewing and craft stores
Sammie Sue Andersen says
I’ve learned a lot from reading this thanks. I am a beginner beginner and know absolutely nothing! My ultimate goal is to make a memory quilt of my mother’s and daughter’s clothes.
Barbara D Teter says
Melissa what great tips. The only thing that I do different is that I open up my seams an press them. I tried doing it your way any when I had the quilt quilted it was not laying flat like when the seam are opened. I guess it is up to the individual the way they want to do it. Again thanks for sharing. Love your polkadotchair.com. you have so many beautiful things.