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| Learn to Quilt Blog

Learn to Quilt Blog

Penny's How to Quilt Blog

QuiltingCoach Penny

Discover what's going on in Penny's Quilting World!

Check in here and you'll get tips, techniques and quilting insights from Penny and quilters around the world.

Monday, Jul 23, 2012
Secrets to Successful Sewing on the Bias
By QuiltingCoach Penny
Monday, Jul 23, 2012 02:29
grain of fabric

The bias of fabric is when you cut across the grain. Usually the cut is a 45 degree angle, but it can be any angle really.



It's amazing how many different tips and shortcuts there are for various steps in making a quilt. But, maybe it shouldn't be so amazing.

After all, most quilters are pretty resourceful and creative. And even though they may have the benefit of having someone show them a technique, we are still always looking for a better way - one that will save time or allow us to create a more perfect quilt.

Whether you are a beginning quilter or an intermediate or advanced quilter, sewing bias edges can be challenging.

It's always a challenge for me. I can't even begin to count the number of seams I have ripped out because when I got to the end of the strip, either the bias strip was longer than the straight edge strip or the whole piece was longer than the rest of the quilt I was going to sew it on to. Akkk!

Then, every time I rip, it stretches even more.

Oh, what to do? So, I started collecting tips, and thought I'd share a few with you:

  • A few years ago, a friend of mine told me that if you sew a straight running stitch on the bias edges BEFORE you do any piecing, it would prevent the bias sides from stretching. I tried it, and it was pretty slick. But I'm pretty lazy and cheap, and all of that extra sewing and thread didn't seem worth it. After all, it wasn't EVERY seam that got messed up!
  • When I have just a few small pieces, I do a lot of pinning - so I don't need to do all of that extra stitching. I pin each end, and several places along the side, lining up the center and all parts between. Then when I sew, I watch pretty carefully and gently pull and line up the fabric between the pins. That method seems to help keep the bias from stretching too much, and making puckers.
  • Just the other day, I ran across another possibility. A quilter in Missouri said that she places the bias fabric on the bottom when she sews, next to the feed dogs. The feed dogs help pull the fabric in and keep it even. I haven't had a chance to try that one yet, but it sounds pretty good.

Then, I got interested in finding all the different ways to keep bias fabric 'in line,' and sure enough, I ran across one more. Freezer paper. Yup, the freezer paper we all use (or at least used to) to wrap meat and other food items in before we pop them into the freezer.

I don't know about you, but quilting is the only reason I have freezer paper in my house. I love it when I can buy quilting stuff at the grocery store. Somehow the expense doesn't get revealed as a quilting expenditure when it's mixed in with all of the groceries.

freezer paper can help keep bias fabric in line

Freezer paper can help keep your bias fabric in line.

In any case, this quilter irons freezer paper on her bias pieces (especially easy if you are using freezer paper as a template for cutting your fabric) and sews the pieces together through the freezer paper.

Works for me. I have actually done that with appliqué pieces, and it didn't really occur to me to do it with bias cuts. But I'm sure that would be cool. Then after the pieces (or strips) are sewn together, just rip the freezer paper off and throw it away. (It's really good for only one time use anyway.)


Monday, Jul 16, 2012
Hanging Your Quilts
By QuiltingCoach Penny
Monday, Jul 16, 2012 03:35

If you want to hang one of your favorite quilts, there are right and wrong ways to do it.

For a small lap quilt, you may be tempted to tack up the corners with thumb tacks. Don't do it! Instead,  add two or three small tabs to the top or back of the quilt.

Depending on the weight of the quilt, you may be able to simply add a few loops of embroidery floss to the back side for hangers. These loops would then be draped over small tacks. Again, this method will only work with wall quilts that are light weight.

Larger quilts need to have a hanging sleeve added to the back side. A hanging sleeve is not hard to make. It is really a simple fabric tube that is whip stitched to the back of the quilt. It also requires a dowel rod or a curtain rod for hanging.

To make a hanging sleeve, measure the top edge of your quilt then add 2 inches to that length. This is how long your hanging sleeve needs to be.

You will need to determine the width of your hanging sleeve by considering the width of the rod on which it will hang. A fabric strip 6 inches wide will usually fit rods that are 2 inches or smaller in diameter. For larger rods, cut the width of the fabric strip to be 8 to 10 inches. You will actually fold this strip over and sew together to make the hanging sleeve.

Once you have determined the size of the fabric strip and it has been cut, you need to fold each of the short ends under about 1 ½ inches and stitch them down. This hems the sides of the sleeve.

Then, fold the tube in half lengthwise and stitch together along the raw ends. When you sew the sides together, do so with the wrong sides together. The seam on the back side of the tube will not be visible anyway.

Once you have created a tube from the fabric piece, you will need to sew it to the back side of the quilt. Start by placing the tube on the back side of the quilt about ¼ to ½ inch down from the top. You can pin it into place if you like.

Sewing the fabric tube to the must be done by hand. Whip stitch the tube to the back side of the top of the quilt. Be sure you don't go all the way through the quilt, though. Only sew through the fabric tube, the backing and the batting of the quilt.

If you sew all the way through, you will ruin the front of the quilt. Don't worry if the whip stitches are a little visible on the back of your quilt. They won't be seen when you hang the quilt to display.

Whip stitch along both sides of the fabric tube lengthwise. Be sure to leave the ends of the tube open. This is where the rod will be inserted later.

Once the tube is completely stitched down, you have completed your hanging sleeve. To display your quilt, slip the rod through the sleeve then mount on your hanging hardware.

You don't have to spend a fortune for hanging hardware. Usually, a typical curtain rod will do. Get a complete curtain set -- one that has the mounting brackets included. Instead of hanging over a window, simply position the brackets on the wall of your choice.

Once the rod has been run through the hanging sleeve, just pop the rod into place on the brackets.

hanging sleeve on quilt
Hanging sleeve on the back of a wall hanging. The fabric matches the backing.

Wednesday, Jul 11, 2012
Add the Perfect Borders to Your Quilt
By QuiltingCoach Penny
Wednesday, Jul 11, 2012 12:17

Once you have measured and cut your border strips, Fold each strip in half length-wise and place a pin at the fold.

Mark the center of each side of your quilt top.  I usually use the same technique as determining the center of the strips – fold the quilt in half, and place a pin in the center fold.  I have the pin head sticking out far enough to see, and match pin heads on the border strip and the quilt.

fold the border strip in half

Pin the border onto the quilt matching:

  • Each end of the border strip with each end (corner) of the quilt top

  • The center of the border strip with the center of the side of the quilt top

Ease in each section between the pins as you pin the border to the quilt top.  Pin frequently.  You may find that it fits perfectly, or you may find that you need to stretch a bit on one side and let up on the other. 

Keeping the middle of the quilt and the middle of the border strip lined up helps even out the border. 

If it is not working and you find you are stretching a lot on one side and will end up with tucks or gathers on the other side of center (because that side is too long), you may want to re-measure, or just line up the ends and ease in the whole border.

You may also discover that your measurement is off, and you need to cut a new strip for your border.  It’s a common occurrence in my house!


pin the border strip onto the quilt top
sew the border strip onto the quilt

Once the two border strips are pinned on, you’re ready to sew. 

Stretch or lighten up when you need to, Don’t worry about backstitching, and sew on! 

Watch your seam allowances on the bottom of your quilt top and try to prevent “cross-overs” in your seam allowances.


You may find that you can attach the border by placing it on the bottom next to your machine, and having the quilt on the top.  This will reduce the likelihood of creating those miserable cross-overs. 

The one thing you want to be sure of is that the edge of your border strip matches the edge of your quilt top.  I find it easier to sew the border on with the quilt on the bottom so I can keep track of the smaller piece of fabric.  I check often to make sure that the seam allowances are straight.

Remove the pins before you sew over them.  This will prevent bent pins and stitches out of line.

Once the two side borders are attached, open the seams and press.

Attach the top and bottom borders using the same procedure.

Discover more creative ideas for borders:

Use Flying Geese for Borders
Try Broken Geese for Borders
Measure your Borders Accurately
Use Blocks as Borders
Use Simple Strips as Borders
Change the Colors of Your Blocks for Border

Monday, Jul 02, 2012
Easy Quilt Blocks Using Square Patches
By QuiltingCoach Penny
Monday, Jul 02, 2012 10:18
Remember sitting through that geometry class and lamenting that you'd never use any of that information? Now, you are a quilter, working with some of the same shapes that vexed you in school. Somehow, now, it doesn't seem so bad!

If you are new to quilting and if geometry still scares you, you will be happy to know that there are literally hundreds of beautiful quilt blocks you can make using only simple squares. Some that come to mind are Irish Chain and the nine patch.

If you are making your first quilt, there are a few tips that will help make cutting squares much easier.

First of all, work with square patches larger than four inches in your first few quilts. Four inch squares give the beginner room to practice and perfect seam allowance skills. Any square smaller than four inches could end up quite distorted with even the smallest variance in seam allowance.

There are two ways to cut squares. You can use a template or you can use a straight edge and rotary cutter.

If you choose a template, you will lay your square template (usually made from a lightweight, yet sturdy plastic) on the fabric's grain. There are lots of complicated ways to explain this step. Since you are working with squares, the simple explanation is to lie your template so that it is lined up (on one side) with the threads in the fabric.

Using a marking pencil, trace around the template. Keep tracing until you have marked the desired number of squares. To save fabric and cutting time, bump your template right up to the edge of the previous square.

At this point, you are ready to cut. You can use scissors, but note that if you have a lot of cutting to do, your hands might get uncomfortable. You can use a mat and rotary cutter to zip right through the trace marks. If you don't have a lot of experience with a rotary cutter, practice before starting to cut your squares.

The other method skips the template and relies on the rotary cutter and ruler or ruler mat. Simply line up the edge of your fabric with the markings on your mat. This should place the squares on the grain. Measure a strip four inches wide and cut it as long as possible. Now, from that long strip, use the ruler or mat to measure cuts at four inch intervals and cut. This completes your four inch square.

When working with a rotary cutter, always keep it against the straight edge that you use for guidance. Remember to keep your fingers out of the way while holding your straight edge cutting guide in place. Also, it is best to cut away from you.

How do you know which cutting method works best for you? Well, you just have to try them. If you are working with scraps, however, the template tracing method is probably the easiest. If working with a large piece of fabric, the rotary cutting method will save you a lot of time.

Don't think that your first quilt must be full of elaborate designs. Simple squares can be gorgeous. Vary your colors and prints and you can get a very elaborate look without a lot of advanced quilting skill.

Take some time to examine quilt block patterns. A great place to start is You can look through many block patterns there. Make note of those made solely from squares. You might be surprised at just how many you find. Pick one and start your new quilting project!

Here are a few quilt blocks made from squares that are available at

squares within squares quilt block squares and square quilt block rocky road quilt block
Squares within Squares Quilt Block Squares and Square Quilt Block Rocky Road Quilt Block

Tuesday, Jun 26, 2012
Cutting Stack 'n' Whack Fabric
Tuesday, Jun 26, 2012 10:13

broken rainbows patch
One section in the Broken Rainbows Quilt Block


The idea with a Stack'n'Whack project is that you can easily cut your fabric without using templates.

For this Stack-n-Whack quilt, I decided to use the Broken Rainbows quilt block. Since I am using a Layer Cake fabric bundle which has 10 inch squares of fabric, I decided to make each section of the block 10 inches square. That makes cutting the fabric easier.

The other option is to cut your Layer Cake fabric into quarters and then cut each 5 inch square into 4 sections. Because there are more seams, your quilt will be slightly smaller.

Since each of the patches in the Broken Rainbows quilt block are cut into 4 sections, the easiest way to mark where to cut them is to mark the rotary cutting mat.

This is easily done using masking tape and a ruler.

I used 1/4 inch wide masking tape, although it really doesn't matter how wide the tape is.

mark cutting lines with masking tape I began by laying down a strip of masking tape that was about 10 inches long. I placed it along a grid line on my rotary cutting mat, so it would be easy to mark the cutting lines.
Then I placed the 3 other sides of the 10 inch square, making sure that the tape was on the outside of the gridlines, allowing the 10 inch fabric squares to fit inside the masking tape box.
Since there are two different patch designs, I made two masking tape boxes and placed a piece of tape above each one, marking it with the patch number -- so I could keep them straight.

The next step is to mark the masking tape with lines showing where you want to cut.        
Each masking tape box will have 4 marks. For a 10 inch square, the marks should be placed at:
place masking tape on rotary cutting mat


Patch 1

Patch 2


3 1/2 inches

7 1/2 inches

Right Side

4 1/2 inches

3 1/2 inches


7 1/2 inches

6 inches

Left Side

6 inches

4 1/2 inches

If you haven't already, separate your stacks of fabric. For this block, I made stacks of 4 squares. Each stack had a light fabric, 2 mediums, and a dark. In some cases I had to replace a light with a medium fabric.

Then I sorted them into Patch 1 and Patch 2 stacks. There wasn't any particular method to this sorting, but you will need to know which cutting pattern you will use for each stack of fabric.

stack the layer cake fabric

Once your marks are placed on your rotary cutting mat, take one stack of fabric and place it inside the box.

I began with the Patch 1 box, and placed a stack of 4 pieces of fabric inside the box.

By making certain that the squares are lined up with each other and the edges of the masking tape, you will ensure that your cuts will be lined up for each square.

Once you have everything lined up, you are ready to place your ruler on the marks on your masking tape and whack the stack.

Place your ruler at the marks closest to the fabric on the opposite sides of the squares.

Then simply cut across, using the ruler as your guide. Before you move your ruler, be sure that the cutter has cut through all layers of the fabric.

line up rotary cutting ruler to cut fabric
fabric cut for broken rainbows patch After you cut one side, move your ruler to the other side (perpendicular to the cut you just made), and cut across the fabric squares going the other way.

Once you are sure that all layers of the fabric have been cut into 4 sections, you are ready to move the patches to your sewing machine.


Here you have an option -- you could cut all of the fabric and then sew the pieces together, or you could sew one set at a time.

Once at your sewing machine, comes the fun -- shifting the fabric around to make more interesting blocks/patches.

On my first try, I simply moved one layer of fabric which changed my top layer, but none of the remaining layers.

switch the layers of fabric for stach-n-whack

After experimenting, I discovered that by shifting multiple layers in each corner, you can get a variety of fabrics in each layer easily.

The way that works is that you take one piece of fabric from the top and move it to the bottom in one corner section.

In the second corner section, take two layers of fabric from the top and place them on the bottom.

And in the third section, take 3 layers of fabric from the top and place them on the bottom. The fourth section stays the way it was cut.

Once you have shifted the fabrics around, you are ready to sew them together.

All of the step-by-step instructions for a Stack-n-Whack quilt are available in as an e-course. It includes video as well as written instruction.

Download the Broken Rainbows quilt block pattern.

broken rainbows quilt blocks
Broken Rainbows quilt blocks using a Stack'n'Whack quilt technique.
Tuesday, Jun 19, 2012
June Trivia
By QuiltingCoach Penny
Tuesday, Jun 19, 2012 06:40
New in the print newsletter this month is our Trivia Corner. Much like the Crossword Puzzle, the Trivia Corner is presented in the spirit of keeping our brains active and sharp.

I don't want to make it too challenging, though - so here are both the questions and the answers:

1) Which well-known movie star has a son named Sage Moonblood?

Answer: Sylvester Stallone

2) Which of the following spiders devours its male partner after they are finished mating?

Answer: Black Widow

3) In the traditional poem "Tuesdays Child", what is Monday's child?

Answer: Fair of Face

Questions and answers brought to you by:

Happy Quilting! Penny