Your Quick Quilting Tips and Techniques

I became a quilter because of my favorite quick quilting tool--the rotary cutter! It made it possible for me, with two children and a husband, a full-time job, a house to look after, and several cats, to actually finish a quilt that looked good. That was seventeen years ago; I now have five children and still quilt almost daily.

I have designed over 100 quilts for magazines, books, and clients. Although I find that my magazine and book quilts can sometimes be a bit complex (because I really like a challenge), most of my personal projects fall into the "quick and easy" category. The quick quilting tips and techniques I am sharing are the same ones I use everyday.

 Quick quilting starts before the first cut is made in the fabric. It starts with the design. Here are some things to think about:

Tip #1: Consider the size of your blocks. A bed quilt made with twenty 15" blocks will be usually be quicker to make than a similar-sized quilt of the same pattern with forty-eight 10" blocks.

Tip #2: Look at how the block is sewn. Are there set in seams? Lots of triangles? Many points to match? Each point adds a few minutes of pinning and fussing. Set in seams can sometimes be circumvented by using a different piecing technique. Seek an easier way to sew the block, or try a different block.

Tip #3: Gotta love that sashing! It is easier and quicker in most cases to add bars of sashing between blocks because there are less points to match up. Sashing also "stretches" the quilt a bit (four bars of 3" sashing add 12" to the width of a quilt).

Tip #4: On the other hand, instead of sashing, why not use unpieced blocks between your pieced blocks? This is an old technique which allowed quilters to work faster and provided a space for "fancy quilting." If you don't want to do special quilting in the solid blocks, try a print fabric.

Tip #5:  Consider using one large block within several wide, simple borders, medallion style. This gives you a chance to highlight one complex block, yet still make a project that is large enough to use as a throw or lap quilt.

Medallion Quilt

18" center block

6" and 3" borders

54" square finished quilt

Tip #6: Take advantage of your fabric. Is there an interesting stripe or vine in the print? Using this special print in sashing, borders, and within blocks will make your quick quilting look like it is much more complicated than it really is.

As I said earlier, the rotary cutter is my favorite quick quilting tool. It has shaved hours off my work time. When you use a rotary cutter:

Tip #7: Keep your cutting tools sharp! Not only will you have to go back and cut twice (big time waster!), but you also risk injury with dull blades because you will press harder.

Tip #8: Cut through up to 4 layers of fabric at a time. More layers may shift and you may have to go back and re-cut pieces, using up both precious time and materials.

The way you set up your machine and sewing space is important:

Tip #9: Set up a "work triangle." I like having my machine in front of me and a small pressing area to my right. It lets me quickly press open small seams with less movement. Occasionally, I will set up a small cutting/clipping area to my left. My pressing area consists of two plastic drawer units topped by a table-top ironing board. My cutting surface is a rolling cart with small mat and cutter. Do be sure to get up and move around once in a while! When I find that I am sitting too much, I will move the cutting area a few steps away from the machine so I am forced to get up and stretch a little.

Tip #10: Wind up several bobbins at one time so that you don't have to unthread your machine mid-seam when the old bobbin runs out.

Tip #11: Use a neutral thread color. I use white, black, taupe, and gray for most of my piecing. There is generally no need to match fabrics exactly if you piece and press carefully.

Tip #12: Keep a little basket near your machine with a sharp seam ripper. It can be used for its obvious purpose, but I also use mine as a stilleto to hold down stray bits of fabric when I don't want to get my hand too close to the sewing machine needle.

There are some things you can do as you sew to speed up your patchwork and quilting:

Tip #13: Chain piecing is your friend! When you sew several pairs of pieces together without lifting the presser foot, you save time and thread.

Tip #14: You may want to cut and sew a sample block to make sure you like the pattern and that all the pieces fit together. After that, try to complete all of one task on a group of blocks before going on to the next task. If your quilt requires 50 sets of half-square triangles, try to sew all 50 sets, then press and snip all 50 sets, then trim or square up all 50 sets. A little less exciting than completing one block at a time, but a lot faster.

Tip #15: Use speedy methods for making half-square and quarter-square triangles. There are many ways to make these; your choice will depend on the number of pieces you need and your sewing preferences. I will be explaining how I make these segments in the future.

These are a few of my favorite quick quilting tips. I will be adding many more in the next few months.

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