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Wanderlust Quilts: An ending to the hop, but the beginning of a journey



This is the end of the blog tour for Wanderlust Quilts! I hope that you’ve had a chance to acquaint yourself with the other hoppers, because all of them are passionate people who love quilts and quilters, and I admire them all so , so much!

I wanted to share with you today what may have been the unrecognized motivator for my own journey of understanding the world:

Centennial Park

Yep.  That’s the Parthenon alright, but in Nashville, TN, where I grew up.  Originally constructed for the Tennessee’s Centennial Exposition in 1897, they recast it (quite literally, with giant molds) in concrete to make it a permanent structure, while all of the other Wonders at the Expo were removed.  It’s a 1:1 model, with all details intact, and has casts of the sculpture from the pediments inside.  It also has the largest indoor statue in the Western world: Athena stands to the ceiling inside this building, and gives a crazy sense of scale when you consider the original was made out of chryselephantine, i.e. gold and ivory.

Some things stick with us, and for me, in this moment as I look at myself in the daffodils, it’s that we human beings seek ties to the others humans around us, past, present, and future.  We seek to make connections that allow us to fit into a grander scheme, the bigger picture, asserting our independence and our shared experiences at the same time.  It’s like one of those art projects with the string and nails, where we each put our nail in to provide for the shape, but how the string is wound from point to point gives it the form.

I hope that  Wanderlust Quilts gets you excited about these points and that thread in your own life, that you try the techniques and tell your own stories, make your own connections, put that into the world around you. Creating is a gift, and I’d like to give you the chance to win a gift from me: a copy of Wanderlust Quilts and a mini quilt that was the seed for one of the quilts in the book.


There are 3 ways to enter, some that have more weight than others!  Leave a comment below telling me how you choose to tell your story through the work of your hands, and then get 5 more chances to win using the instructions at the following link to the Rafflecopter giveaway.

Thank you, to everyone, who has supported me on this journey, and it is my greatest wish that I can support you, in yours.  Happy quilting!


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Where in the World is Wanderlust Quilts? Hop Tomorrow!

wanderlust quilts
Courtesy of Stash Books. Photo by Nissa Brehmer.

Welcome, friends! I am very proud to announce the blog hop for my book Wanderlust Quilts, which has been in the making since the first QuiltCon.  When it came time to organize things for the hop, I wanted to make sure that it was fun and interesting and eclectic, and covered the wide range of influences and interests that contribute to who I am as a quilter. These hoppers are people I know and love for who they are and the work they do; I hope you enjoy these bloggers and Instagrammers as much as I do, because they’re also good folk in addition to their quilty lives!

So it is with great pleasure that I am giving you the heads up for the blog hop, getting kicked off tomorrow!  Here’s the full list:

November 2: Kickoff with Maddie Kertay at Bad Ass Quilters Society (official link available now!)
My podcast interview with Sandi of Crafty Planner (official link available now!)
November 5: Gen Q
November 6: Casey York Designs
November 7: Bill Volckening
November 8: Angela Walters
November 12: Rose Hughes
November 16: Me! With a final wrap-up and additional giveaway!


I know I said it above, but it bears repeating: I have worked with each of these fantastic people in some capacity, and respect their work and their attitudes.  Show them some love by visiting them, and at each location, you’ll get a chance to enter to win an actual physical copy of the book.  They’re going to run the giveaway their way, so make sure to check out their rules for entering. On the last day, come back by here and I will also be giving away a book and some other fun stuff!



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Congratulations to the Winner for my Wanderlust Quilts mini and book!

If you’re following the original post, Rafflecopter is updated and showing the randomly selected winner! I am happy to announce that the winner is

Kelly Kreft!

Kelly, I will be sending you an email soon.  Thank you, everyone, for participating!

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A story about quilting wobbles, or, why I learned to pay attention to piecing rules

2015-01-21 10.27.35


2015-01-21 10.27.35One of my favorite things about quilting for others, and that I’m most proud of, is helping people finish their quilts in the way they want, so that they look their best. My goal with my quilting is to take the top my customer has worked so hard on and add my quilting as an additional element, not the star of the show (unless specifically asked). There’s another layer to that (get it? layer?  harhar!), though, which is being able to help with quilts that have a couple of problems here and there, to take a top that may have some issues and quilt them in a way those issues largely seem to disappear.

Sometimes, the quilts I get are sent to me because the quilting technique involved is outside the skill set of the piecer, and I’m not talking freemotion skills, but the ability to manipulate fabric in a way that gives the appearance of a flat top with straight lines.  You’ve probably heard the phrase “that will quilt out”, and if you’re a longarmer, it’s usually said to you with a hope-tinged uplift at the end, more of a question than a statement. The tops I sometimes get may have some wibbles and wobbles that require a bit of extra effort to work with, so that it doesn’t wind up with puckers or pleats.  Quite frequently, there are things we longarmers can do to help with tops that have an issue here or there (within reason, y’all).

And before I get going on this topic, I want to tell you I know how to help with quilts like this because…. I had to quilt my own. And let me tell you, learning how to quilt my own quilts more than prepared me for any wibbles and wobbles I get now! When I first got my longarm a few years ago, I had a pile of tops that I couldn’t wait to quilt.  What I didn’t realize until I put them on the frame was how my piecing technique (or lack, in some cases) resulted in tops that were not square and had crazy wibbles and wobbles.  Until that point, I had blissfully been piecing away thinking I didn’t need to know the rules, and could do what I want, and that’s true, I could! but the flip side was that I would have to also know enough about quilting to be able deal with the resulting top when it came time to quilt.

Still a little ripple even after quilting. I added all these strips on by sewing them on and cutting off the edges, which is exactly the wrong thing to do for what, essentially, is border after border after border. The top was quite... ripply.
Still a little ripple even after quilting (where I had to take pleats, and suck up as much fabric as I could using other techniques. I added all these strips on by sewing them on and cutting off the edges, which is exactly the wrong thing to do for what, essentially, is border after border after border. The top was quite… ripply.

The next quilt I’m sharing today (with full permission!) is one I completed for a friend of mine. It was a gorgeous top and needed a quilting job that would help certain parts of it lie flat.

A Beautiful Quilt with Wobbles

When Jane first sent me her Daybreak quilt, she said she wanted something manly since it was a surprise for her dad.  It’s an interesting quilt to work with, because the edges can be left untrimmed and keep their points, or it can be trimmed square.

2015-01-21 10.23.45


It’s also interesting to work with because the piecing and cutting makes for a great deal of what I think of as “free bias”, where the diamonds are cut so that most, if not all, of the edges are not on grain, in this case, the diamonds used for the stars and also the parallelograms for the secondary points.  The second issue is that the black fabric used for the spaces between the stars *is* cut on grain.  If special care isn’t taken to minimize the bias stretching in the stars, you can (and probably will) wind up with something like this:

I quilted this last Janary (!!) but wanted to wait to talk about it until the recipient got it.

This can (and does) happen to everyone until we learn how to control for it. For a long time, *all* my quilts were like this, until I realized I could do things differently. In this case, the bias edges in the diamonds caused for a great deal of stretch, which is what we in the longarm world call “cups”, like with brassieres, which can and do come in all shapes and sizes.  You can also see how the black fabric is perfectly flat and true, which only makes the stars puff up more.

How to Avoid the Wobbles

This is something we can largely avoid as we’repiecing by using one simple technique: starching our fabric well before cutting and piecing.There are a variety of fabric stiffeners out there, but two of my favorites (because they are scent free) are not necessarily appropriate to use for this.  Best Press and Flatter are both fabric sizing (which is a product developed for synthetic fabrics), not starch (for use on cottons), which makes me a sad kitten. They perform differently with the types of fibers of your fabric, and while they can make it feel stiffer, they do not act so much like a gentle glue that keeps the fibers of the bias in place, as starch does. You can read more about the difference here. For this, I’d go with starch. When I’m ironing, though, and need to get some wrinkles out or “revitalize” the things I’ve already I starched, I reach for the Best Press or Flatter.

How to Quilt Out the Wobbles

Before beginning any type of quilting, whether domestic or longarm, lay that top out flat on the floor and take a good hard look at it.  Any problem areas will show up pretty quickly as humps or ripples in the fabric, that will not lie flat on the floor despite gentle massages or firmer tugs.  Knowing what areas on the top need help will give you a game plan for how to approach it. If the areas are coming up off the floor an inch or more, adding puffy batting such as wool or poly will really help. Puffy battings fill up some of that extra space and suck up the extra fabric in those areas, and when you quilt down the surrounding areas, it looks like you meant for it to have that definition, and looks awesome to boot. For this quilt, I used a wool batt.

At this point, you will want to think about how to make the piecing lines look straight.  On a longarm or domestic, I’d highly recommend stitching in the ditch (otherwise known as SID), to get those lines nice and crisp and straight, so they don’t bow out or wobble.

For this quilt, I used the secondary shape of the hexies made between the stars as inspiration, and extended the lines of the star arms to create a plaid-like crosshatch. Each hexie shape was different, just as all the plaid lines were different.
For this quilt, I used the secondary shape of the hexies made between the stars as inspiration, and extended the lines of the star arms to create a plaid-like crosshatch. Each hexie shape was different, just as all the plaid lines were different. I also used SID to outline each star

Then it’s time to quilt out the fullness. To do this, you can pretty much pick a style of design that will allow you to smoosh and moosh the fabric around.  I wanted to pick something that was less floral since it was for a guy, and went with a look that said more “sunburst” than “daisy”.the slight openness of the design also allowed space for the fabric to go without creating (too many) puckers; at the end, I only had one or two that I just couldn’t avoid.

Before: all those angles are all on bias, and you can see how the flat top is on grain and just doesn’t have as much fullness.
And after.
And after.

I suppose I want you to know two things: think about using starch “for reals” if you are going to be working with a great deal of bias, and yes, many things can be quilted out in the end, if you’re OK with a couple of puckers or even some pleats.  These issues mostly  can be avoided with a little practice on the piecing and quilting sides, and it is nothing to be afraid of trying for yourself.  Let me know if you have any questions, and I will be happy to answer them as I can! The point of this post was not to scare you away from piecing or quilting, but to share with you some techniques for what to do when it happens. Happy quilting!

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Hoppin’ for Amanda Murphy’s Free-Motion Quilting Idea Book

And so it begins, sometimes: the vast expanse of a quilt beamandamurphyfore us, the anxiety of figuring out where to start and what to do feels overwhelming and freezes us in place. We stare at it, wander away, and get a cup of tea, wander back, stare some more.  Sound familiar?  We’ve all been there. As a teacher of quilting, one of the most frequent questions I get asked is how to get started  and how to make the quilting look cohesive.  While I can help in class, it is often the “homework” where people get stuck.


There’s a new book out by Amanda Murphy that I think can help. I had the good fortune to meet Amanda at Quilt Market this year and talk about the Free-Motion Quilting Idea Book with her, and think this is a good entry for people looking for help as they “go solo”.    Her book (and there’s a Facebook group that is working through the sampler and book together, which you request to join) provides a variety of blocks and a framework of designs that can be adapted and used for them all. After working through it with the sampler add-on, I think it’s a pretty great way to grow in your skills and confidence. The idea is to be able to riff off a core element, like music, growing and adapting that to the quilt blocks before you. I dig it.

The sampler companion quilt, available in addition.
The sampler companion quilt, available in addition.

This is guided quilting in the comfort of your own home, which is a pretty great thing!  The designs can be as simple or complex as you choose, and are easy to find in two different indices in the back of the book. one other nice thing?  It’s spiral bound!

To win a copy, leave a comment below telling me what the scariest quilting project is you’ve tackled (and if you finished it!).  For me, the scariest projects are the ones I care the most about. I’ll pick a winner November 12!  If you want more chances to win, be sure to follow the other hoppers:


Happy quilting, y’all!

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Quilting for Victoria, telling a story

A Thousand Fibers Connect Us, By Victoria Findlay Wolfe, quilted by Mandy Leins, October 2015.
A Thousand Fibers Connect Us, By Victoria Findlay Wolfe, quilted by Mandy Leins, October 2015.

A couple of weeks before Market, my friend Victoria asked me if I could quilt something for a special exhibit featuring her Double Wedding Ring quilts.  She needed some help, and I was glad I could step in. Victoria had originally envisioned this quilt as a marriage between traditional and modern, blending the two together, and I thought that was a perfect lead-in.

The day it arrived, I had plans in my mind for what I’d do: feathers!  frills! something moderny! Victoria loves all quilting! These were vintage blocks that she had recombined to make a new top.  The melons weren’t perfectly melon-like and were a little wonky.


I liked the deconstructed look, with the melons in a  line rather than working as interlocked circles, but didn’t think more about it.  I started quilting with the idea that I’d start off making the bias tape like the edge of a vintage apron, with lace hanging off. At that point, though, my quilting took a turn. That night, two people very close to me, reached a point in their relationship where they were not sure it would go on after many years together. Suddenly, the feathery frilly things I had envisioned became wrong for the design, and the melons, spaced as they were, became symbolic of the rift between these two people I hold dear.

As I quilted, I couldn’t help but think about how there were two stories in this relationship, together for so long, but still seeing things through their own perspectives, together but distinct.  I added a second row representing the other person, angular and contrasting, but still sharing the lacy loops.  Different people, still sharing important elements that link them together.  I wanted the center of the diamonds to have an interior space like the melons, so I quilted that very densely, and it was symbolic of the way I felt this person defended the inner self: hard lines, opaque.

Those straight lines in the yellow are basting stitches, to hold the panels perfectly in place. I knew I wasn’t going to be stitching in the ditch, and needed them to stay put anyway!

For the interior of the melons, I chose a different tack: I left the center empty, as if it was a moment of clarity and space.  The lines around it though, swirling and almost but not quite chaotic, tell a different story.

The lace began to look like tears after a while.

I had originally thought about nice, neat crosshatching, but the diamonds on the fabric were variable in size and location, and my feelings about the turmoil were too intense to allow for it. Instead, I started off on the outer edges of the quilt, putting in random plaid-like diagonal lines at a 30 degree angle.  As I worked my way towards the very center panel, I made them more and more to where they were almost 45 degrees, almost.  The look of “good enough”, but subtly off kilter. When is it close enough to be OK?

That’s my story for this quilt: the story of two people I love dearly, who are looking for a way to be true to themselves and still be true to each other. Its quilting is full of heartache and hope. I am proud of it, and hope that, in some way, it tells that story even without me explaining it.

Quilted on my BERNINA Q24, using feet #96 and #24.

Do make sure you check out the other quilts from her post! There are some amazing things there!

ETA: m You can also see a slide show made available by the Quilt Show of all the quits and the wedding gowns, as well as the descriptions for each quilt.


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“Your exciting and attractive self”

Wow, I really got sucked into this vintage movie by Simplicity.  THAT’S RIGHT, BETTY, LET THE PATTERN TELL YOU. Cringeworthy and hilarious, especially the shame spiral at the beginning, but there is still seriously useful information once you get further in.


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Educating Your Quilty Self

Bill Volckening String Quilt
Crazy String Block, c. 1970, unknown maker, US. Image courtesy of Bill Volckening.

I am back from a wild and crazy few months!  Quilt Market marked the end of last-minute stress-inducing projects and now that I am back home I realized that I missed writing my blog posts.  I don’t always have great pictures but I do think I have moderately interesting thoughts to share, and I really miss writing. So whether or not you read this, I need to write things and share them, because not doing so makes me feel lonely and sad, like a kitten caught in the rain. Gotta save the kittens.

My first thought upon coming back from Houston was that it seems weirdly hard for people to think outside of the genre they identify with.  In particular, I was struck by how closely tied we Modern quilters are to the aesthetic, and overlook the stellar techniques that come from quilters who are either older than the expected Modern quilter demographic or whose style doesn’t align with ours (this also works in reverse, and also with Art quilters).

Album with Lyre, c. 1850, Mary Couchman Small.  Image courtesy of Bill Volckening.
Album with Lyre, c. 1850, Mary Couchman Small. Image courtesy of Bill Volckening.

This really bothers me.  Really really.  REALLY. bothers me. It bothers me to know that people won’t take classes or avoid classes that present solid techniques just because they have pigeon-holed the teacher as not fitting their aesthetic.  My typical criteria for evaluating a class are these:

  1. Do you have a better/simpler/quicker/sharper technique to share than what I am using now?
  2. Will this technique give me greater opportunities to improve my own work, or evaluate and add to it in a way that is new to me?
  3. Do they know how to teach?
  4. Have they explored anything else besides the one technique they offer?  This may sound like an odd question, but the last thing I want to feel in a class is that I know more than the teacher does because I took the time to google it first.

I’m probably missing something, but I really feel that not being able to see the delicious nut of knowledge for the hard candy shell around it means people miss potentially life-changing classes and techniques. And that makes me feel sad-kitten for them. Do I have to make something like the teacher’s? No.  But if I can learn from them to then grow as a quilter, then no way will I avoid it because of something that, at the end of the day, is more or less superficial.*

The opinions I have about this and how I present them are really a holdover from my university days: approach things that are difficult and uncomfortable with an open mind; be intellectually honest as it is possible to be; analyze and evaluate trying to see around and through my own bias (and we all have biases). I like to present my arguments out loud because that helps me control for some of that bias, and allows for honest intellectual engagement about the issues I find interesting and/or important.  Feel free to disagree.  I always encouraged my students (5th grade through college and beyond) to do just that, but to have well reasoned arguments as to why.  I am open to changing my mind With the caveat that they must be convincing.  This doesn’t mean I am asking you to change your opinions, either, unless you are swayed. This is not an aggressive thing, because I really want to know what you think and really want to know if what I’m thinking is correct upon evaluation from all angles.

There you have it: my feelings on quilty education.  Many thanks to my friend Bill Volckening for sharing his quilts for this article.  He has such a huge depth of knowledge for quilt history, including Modern quilts, that I really think you should see his collections and read his thoughts.

*The etymology of “superficial” comes from the Latin “superficies“, which literally means “an outward face or appearance”. Technique, to me, is like the stuff on the inside that makes up a person’s body, giving it structure and making it live a healthy life.  The look of a quilt, it’s overall aesthetic, is the face they wear and the mannerisms they present.

Thanks, once again, to Bill for this mashup. You can see these two beautiful and different examples of New York Beauties in his book New York Beauty: Quilts from the Volckening Collection, published by QUILTMania


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Back to School: Guaranteed accurate 1/4″ seams between machines!

My two favorites right now
My two favorites right now

I’ve had quite a few opportunities to sew on a variety of machines this summer, whether teaching or traveling, and I got to thinking about quilting accuracy. The usual rule of thumb* is that once you start sewing a project on one machine–especially a project you really *really* care about–then you need to stick with that machine.

“But self!”  I thought to myself, “Would it not be so great to just call ahead to where you were going and say “Hey, dearest MIL/Aunt/Gramma/boyfriend/Uncle, can I borrow your machine while I’m there?” What about if one of my machines ends up in the shop, or I need to embroider a hanky or something and I still need to sew? What’s a body to do? Getting the right seam allowance is critical for a number of things, and I don’t want to wait!

Thankfully, there is a way to figure out how to make sure your seam allowances are the same, and it’s not hard.

First, find a note card or grid paper that has a perfect 1/4″, using your gridded ruler to double check. Line up the cutting edge so that it is perfectly over the line and cut using a rotary cutter, exactly on the line. Not to the right of the line, not to the left of the line, exactly on it.


It may take a couple cuts to get it just right. In this one, the one on the right was to the left of the blue line, but the one in the middle is exactly on it, and juuuuust right.
It may take a couple cuts to get it just right. In this one, the one on the right was to the left of the blue line, but the one in the middle is exactly on it, and juuuuust right.

Next, place this under the 1/4″ piecing foot of the machine that you primarily use, which in my case is the B790, so that the cut edge is on the right edge of your foot, just as if it were fabric.  Drop your needle so that it punches through the paper.

Adjust so that your paper is perfectly straight, using whatever guides are available. In this case, I used the vertical lines at the base. Tweak as necessary.
This is what it looked like after I dropped my needle. Note that the hole is a hair or two to the right of the line, which is what makes a "scant" 1/4".
This is what it looked like after I dropped my needle. Note that the hole is a hair or two to the right of the line, which is what makes a “scant” 1/4″.

Raise the needle and remove the paper, and take it with you to the machine you will be using next, which in my case, is my Featherweight.  Lower the needle carefully using the handwheel so that the needle enters the same hole exactly. Check to see where the edge of the paper is relative to the guide on the foot and the registration lines on the machine bed.

I have the foot raised and have carefully inserted the needle into the hole so I wouldn't tear it accidentally. I've also lined it up with the guides on the bed so it's nice and straight. This 1/4" is nice and accurate!
I have the foot raised and have carefully inserted the needle into the hole so I wouldn’t tear it accidentally. I’ve also lined it up with the guides on the bed so it’s nice and straight. This 1/4″ is nice and accurate!

If necessary, you can easily establish guides using stuff you have around the house, such as sticky notes or blue masking tape.  Heck, use washi tape since it’s much prettier.  It is very important, though, that it be perfectly straight according to the sewing guides on your machine.  Even being off a little could cause some funky seams.

Mmmmmmm washi tape
Mmmmmmm washi tape

I hope this gives you some more freedom as you take quilting classes or as you travel around next summer!  I think I’m going to make a couple of these using index cards and have them in my wallet, so I can just toss my projects in the car and not worry about it. Let me know if you have any other questions, and make sure to check out the other amazing tutorials!

* SO I became curious (can’t help it.  It’s a blessing and a curse.) and just looked up the origin of “rule of thumb”. Note to self:  maybe find a new phrase.

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Your chance for a giveaway!



One of my favorite bloggers and online shop owners, Patricia Belyea, is having a giveaway over at her Okan Arts blog. For the first two weeks of September, you can enter for a chance to win one of FOUR copies of my book,  Wanderlust Quilts. I also recommend checking on her blog frequently.  She has incredible giveaways every month!

You really should check out her shop while you’re there, and you’ll see why when you see the amazing vintage yukata cotton I bought a few weeks back:


So good.