Sunday, 31 May 2015

Dear Angela

Dear Angela

I hear you are interested in quilting so I thought I would put a bit of info together for you along with the bits I sent you.

First – welcome to the fabric side. I hope you find as much pleasure in it as I do. I was interested for years, but only threw myself into it in earnest about 7 years ago. It has inspired my creative juices, challenged my skills, expanded my friendship groups beyond my wildest dreams, and been therapy in dark times and a drain on my bank account. I love it.

What is quilting?

From a technical point of view Patchwork is sewing bits of fabric together into a design. Then that piece of fabric is layered on top of some sort of wadding and another piece of fabric is underneath. Stitching the 3 together is the quilting and then the finished product can be used as a quilt, but also other things, a bag, a wall hanging or even clothing.

All of the patchwork and quilting parts can be done by hand or with a sewing machine and you will in time find what you prefer. Starting by hand gives you some time to explore designs and fabric without investing in a machine.

The basics

You need some way to cut up fabric, a design and some way to sew it together into a pleasing pattern.

I prefer cutting using a self healing mat, a rotary cutter and a ruler. I’m rubbish at cutting with scissors and this is the quickest for me and the most accurate. It’s not cheap so try a few bits with scissors first being investing but they do last a long time. An example of a package deal is here.

For hand piecing, you can either sew freehand pieces together or use what is known as English Paper Piecing (EPP) which means you cut out paper templates first, baste the fabric around them and then sew them together with a topstitch. There are loads of tutorials and designs online so it can be hard to know where to start so this is a useful one from Jo.

I haven’t used a glue stick and tend to baste with any old thread. But this leads to the thread question.

What sort of Thread?

I am a fan of a brand called Aurifil and I’ve sent you a spool. Thread has a weight measurement and the thickest threads are the lowest numbers. Aurifil 50wt is a nice fine but strong cotton thread and it works well for me both hand piecing and in the machine. However over time you might experiment and find other brands work better for you, there is no right and wrong, just personal preference.


Quilting weight fabric is cotton but it tends to be little bit thicker than some you would use for clothes. It’s intended for bedding after all and to last for a long time. There are all sorts to choose from and new prints come out all the time. It’s a massive industry and so the big designers put out a couple of ranges a year for a limited edition. Again, in time you will find what you like but it is this area that is particularly addictive.

I like working with prints but also solids. It’s my personal choice. I am a sucker for some designers and others don’t do anything for me. Some of my favs are Tula Pink, Anna Maria Horner and Pat Bravo.

If you go to one of the big American fabric shops you will get a feel for just how big a market it is, the Fat Quarter Shop has nearly everything! Oh, but the way if that sounds an odd name for a shop there is a really good reason. Quilting cotton tends to be sold in Fat Quarters. If you take a yard in the US or a Metre here and cut it into half and half again each piece is a called a fat quarter.

They usually sell for around £3-£3.50. If you spot some for more than that it may be that they were wider than the usual before the cuts so you are getting a lot more fabric, they are made from something more than cotton or it’s a rip off! You will find cheaper as well. Some will be great value, especially for quilt backs. Ikea has a good reputation for basic fabrics that work brilliantly well as backs.

I tend to buy online although John Lewis can be good as well. My two fav shops are ones I know the owners for and they are all lovely. The Village Haberdashery and Simply Solids.

I've drifted off on a bit of a tangent I think.

What sort of Design?

For EPP you can anything although the smaller and more complex obviously the harder. The two basic designs I love best are very traditional. The 9 patch is just squares but depending on how you colour it all sorts of secondary designs can be seen.

The log cabin is featured in one of the books I send you. It gives you a taste of the variety you can get with just rectangles.

If I was only allowed to use one block for the rest of my life I would go for the log cabin as I wouldn't get bored with the variety.

What to put in the middle?

I now use cotton wadding and I've sent you enough to do a small cot quilt or cushion. I buy by the bolt but for a long time I used Polyester because that was the easiest for me to get. It’s sold in John Lewis and Hobbycraft but the cotton I order online. Again, if you read a lot you will see lots of views about what is best but what is most convenient for you is a good starting point. Don’t worry about getting sucked into things being done a certain way.

Its also possible to skip this layer completely, a lot of people use fleece for the backing which provides a lot of warmth and means you don't need wadding.

By the way, the US call wadding batting in case you get confused.


I've mentioned a couple of times different views and opinions so let’s expand a bit more. There are a lot of really experience people in this community who have tried everything and they know what works for them best and have really valid reasons for it. Most of them are happy to share their experience in a genuine and open way. But, like any group of people there are always those who are more dogmatic. We refer to them as “the quilt police”. They appear to find safety in only doing things in an “approved” way and will be very quick to tell you how you “should” do something even if you weren't asking. Thankfully they are few and far between and if you encounter one just smile say thanks and move on.

The vast majority of the community as I said in the beginning are lovely, generous, funny and welcoming. Well, that has been my experience anyway.

There are guilds you can join formally with the Quilters Guild in the UK the biggest or the new kid on the block is the Modern Quilt Guild which is an international group that has developed out of social media in the last few years. I’m the President of the London Modern Quilt Guild and getting to know so many fabulous quilters in real life is a joy.

There are also groups that meet up locally that aren't part of a wider guild. Google your area and you might find something.

Social media is a big thing. I started with this blog which is very neglected lately. I also am on Twitter, Instagram, Flickr and Pinterest as ShevvyLondon although I hardly ever use Pinterest. There are quilters on all of these although Flickr has messed around so much with its format it’s not as popular.
You will find lots of free tutorials, giveaways and swaps as you get further into social media so I highly recommend it.

An example of the generosity of this community is the books I've sent you. These are a small sample of an enormous amount of books that were donated to our guild from the estate of a quilter who passed away if the hope they could be of use to new quilters.


The last thing to cover briefly is the quilting part itself. This can be as simple or complex as you want. Done by hand it can use find thread but also thicker to give a different look.

By machine you can use the basic straight stitch to straight line or make different designs. Older books talked a lot about stitch in the ditch which was putting the quilting line in the point where the patchwork seams met on the top so the quilting line wasn’t visible. You can do this or deliberately make the quilting visible.

There is also something called Free Motion Quilting which is a method of using your sewing machine with the feed dogs dropped so you free draw the design.

The Machine
Which leads me to a machine, a quilter has different requirements to a dressmaker when it comes to a sewing machine so give yourself a bit of time before making that investment.

However, there are a few things I think are must haves to make life easier:

· Needle down – this means that when you stop you can have the needle stay in the fabric
· Needle threader – just makes life easier
· Thread cutter – when you stop stitching there will be a button that cuts the threads
· Feed dogs can be lowered – if you want to Free Motion in time
· Throat space – this is the empty space in the middle of the machine to the right of the needle. When machine quilting the bigger the better as the size of quilt you make will be limited by how much you can get through this space.
· Drop in bobbin – very personal preference. The bobbins in some machines go in the top which I find easier, I can also see when the thread is running out.

Again, I have a brand I like but then I haven’t tried many. You will need to try if possible before buying but the brand that works for me is Janome.

All of this is just a starting point – have fun with it and any questions, feel free to ask. Come and visit our guild if you want and also in August there is the Festival of Quilts at the NEC.

I’m going on the Sat and Sun so if you want to come along let me know and we can arrange to meet.

I could say loads more, but that probably enough for now. Have fun.