Helpful Hints From a Pinhead, Part 2

by melissa on January 10, 2013

By Vicki Tymczyszyn

In our last Pinhead post, we talked about ways to get organized in the sewing room and maximize the time you actually have available for pushing projects under the needle. Today, we’re coming at the issue of “arrested production” from another direction. In a phrase, you are your own worst problem.

When we’re under pressure, even self-imposed, all of us will get stuck at one stage or another in the quilting process, whether it’s when we pick fabric, cut, sew, baste, quilt or bind. What I do when I’m stuck is grab different ideas or suggestions for every stage of the process (everyone has an opinion, don’t they?) and then start trying those ideas. Figure out what works for you on a certain problem area, and then you’ve solved your problem.

For example, I used to hate the actual quilting stage, hence the pile-up of UFOs in my sewing room. It didn’t matter how I felt about quilting; the pile had to be conquered. So I bought a midarm machine to help wrassle the bulk, and that helped quite a bit. But my stitches still weren’t great. So, I learned to longarm quilt at a local shop that rents time on a longarm, and I now quilt all of my own quilts. The longarm practice has actually improved my quilting on my home machine, and my UFO pile is nearly gone. Instead of avoiding quilting and just starting a new top, I’m actually finishing projects because I tried something new.

Now, my absolutely most favorite part of quilting is buying fabric. Hey! It’s not fattening, immoral or illegal! So, I have NO PROBLEM picking out 20-50 fabrics for a quilt. But three fabrics? Oh no, just shoot me now! And I know from your comments on our recent Resolutions post that I’m not alone.

There are some tricks to fabric selection, and I am actually designing a quilt for GenQ to help explain it, but for now, if this is your problem, just ask for help. If picking fabric freezes you, there are plenty of quilters willing to offer their opinion, especially those lovely creatures in your favorite fabric shop. Give them a starting point and let them loose. We tend to be comfortable with certain color palettes–it’s in our nature, don’t try to fight it–but if you’re trying to make something for someone else, you may want some help.

Now the fabric is in hand, but what the heck are you going to do with it? (Okay, of course it’s okay to just buy something because you like it and you’ll figure it out later, but if you want to make something, just get started.) Here’s my number one fix for this problem: Make your own kit. Literally. Take the fabric home, along with the pattern/book/design and cut it out, NOW!

(This is a good time to confess that I prewash everything I buy because back when I started sewing and the earth was still cooling, fabrics had that awful rotten egg stench from all of those volcanoes still erupting. Washing, drying and ironing the fabric just extends that orgasmic first phase for me. I love the touch, the feel, the fabric of our lives. Once I started this practice, it was just easier to keep it up. Almost none of my friends share this proclivity, so please don’t worry if you don’t prewash. I’m definitely the exception, not the rule.)

For most quilters, the worst part of making a quilt is cutting the dang thing out! If you find this odious, then it’s best to just get it over with. Until you do, your fabric will just sit on the shelf and that quilt will only exist in your mind. If your cutting skills are holding you back, then practice more or find a way around it. There are some great cutting tools on the market, from mats with cutting lines already etched into them to die cutting machines. Go to a shop, quilt show or the Internet and look around. There’s something out there that will work for you.











After you cut your project, put the pieces and pattern, if possible, into a Ziploc bag, tote bag, project box or whatever works for your sewing space. Label it clearly and you’re ready to go. If your chosen pattern is in a book, write the full pattern name, book title and page number on a piece of paper and slip it into the bag with the cut pieces.

If this custom kit is the next project you will work on, arrange the blocks at your machine (as I described our first post on this topic, Helpful Hints From a Pinhead, Part 1.) Be sure to read through the instructions carefully so every piece is where it ought to be.

If you’re saving this project for a free weekend, quilt retreat, or snow day, store it where you can grab it quickly. You don’t want to lose it in the back of a closet. ( But if this project will help you learn some new technique, give yourself permission to pass on it if you’re not on friendly terms at that moment. This is supposed to be fun, after all.)

So you’ve pieced your blocks, sashing and borders and you’re ready to baste. This is where many a project gets benched because some quilters hate to baste. There’s no way around this step unless you send it out to be quilted. But consider this: many local quilt shops will let you use their classroom space to baste. Check it out. They may have restrictions, such as no spray baste, only pins; or a busy class schedule requires you to be flexible, but most are willing to work with you. They want you in their stores. Who can resist that new line of fabric that just happened to show up the day you are there to baste?

Another thought is to get together with your quilting friends and use someone’s garage, basement or backyard. If you don’t have 6-foot tables, maybe your guild or church will let you use their’s. If not, Costco and other warehouse stores sell large tables at inexpensive prices. Stash your tables in a garage when not in use, or at a q-friend’s house. Remember, basting’s more fun with a friend anyway.

Our point? A jammed-up sewing room is often caused by a bottleneck in the quilting process, defined as part of the process you hate or feel ill-equipped to tackle. There’s always a solution. To get there, be open. Let your creativity help you find the right path. Be that Quilt Warrior.

Leave a Comment

{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

Sarah Craig Identicon Icon Sarah Craig January 10, 2013 at 9:03 am

Great article!! Thanks for sharing all these tips!


Marcy Identicon Icon Marcy January 10, 2013 at 10:33 am

Hey Vicki–I love the way your mind works. I’m definitely going to flag this one and come back to it when I feel stuck.


quiltzyx/sue Identicon Icon quiltzyx/sue January 11, 2013 at 12:11 am

I like the idea of making my own kits! I will remember that…


Jukie Zerbe Identicon Icon Jukie Zerbe January 13, 2013 at 4:33 pm

You are not abnormal for prewashing your fabrics, and you are not alone. In fact you are smart for doing so. Fabrics come with all types of finishes on them and if you are making a quilt for a baby they could be harmful to their skin. Also if the quilt or sewing project needs to be washed in the future you will have prevented it from shrinking by having already prewashed and dried the fabric.
I enjoyed your article!


Linda H. Identicon Icon Linda H. January 16, 2013 at 3:48 am

I’m glad to know I’m “exceptional.” I prewash all my fabrics too!


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