As long as we quilt, we make mistakes but fortunately, we learn best from mistakes. But some mistakes can be avoided, that’s why I thought to share with you some of mine! Some of them are from my first months of quilting, so if you are a beginning quilter, I hope you will find something helpful.
1. Not pre-washing, starching and pressing fabric before starting a project.
It looks like an additional step that takes a lot of time, but it actually saves you time and a lot of trouble. I find starching fabric especially helpful when piecing patchwork blocks. A stiff fabric that do not distort easily increases the accuracy of the piecing.
2. Squaring up blocks before assembling them into the quilt top
Trimming blocks to size, if the pattern does not specifically request this, is a mistake.
When sewing patchwork blocks, chances are that you will end up with blocks in different sizes.
If you follow a pattern that says you should square up the blocks and make them a specific size, do this. Otherwise, think twice before proceeding to chop off your blocks.
It the difference is not too big (maybe not bigger than 1/4” or 3/8”), it is OK to have blocks of different sizes!
If there are intersection points at the outside edges of the block, squaring up will alter the seam allowances of the blocks and when you will piece the blocks together, you will end up with chopped off points.
Here is how to join block of different sizes: use lots of pins. Match the corners first, then any intersection points, and then space evenly the extra length.
3. Wavy borders!
When adding borders to a quilt top, I know it is tempting to just cut a long strip of fabric (longer than your top) and sew it to your quilt top then adjust its size to the size of the top. It is fast but not the most accurate way to add borders.
While you will may not notice the problem before quilting, after quilting, when it is time to square up your quilt, chances are that your quilt will end up with wavy borders, bigger than the center of your quilt.
There are ways to minimize this (after you wash the quilt), but I think it is best to avoid this mistake.
The best way to calculate the length of the borders is this:
Measure the top vertically, the left and right edges and through the center. Average the measurements and use that size to cut the vertical borders. Add them to the quilt top.
Then measure the top horizontally, the top and bottom edges and through the center. Use the average size and cut the horizontal borders.
4. Straight grain versus cross grain
Whenever it is possible, cut borders/binding/sashing on the straight grain. The fabric stretches less than when cutting on the cross grain.
When cutting pieces for a patchwork block, pay attention to the outside edges of the block. It is best to cut pieces so that those edges are cut on the straight grain.
5. Finger pressing versus pressing
Pressing after each seam of a block has advantages and disadvantages. Pressing may distort the blocks. If a block requires many steps (and many seams and lots of pressing), you will end up with pieces that don’t fit! The fix? Don’t press, finger-press!
And if you press, try not to touch with the iron the edges that still need to be sewn. This is especially helpful when you have edges cut on the bias.
Do not IRON, PRESS! Don’t make large back and forth motions like you do when ironing clothes. Press, lift the iron up and move to the next area, let the iron down and press.
Usually I press only when the block is finished.
6. Quality of thread for piecing
I used to think that for piecing any thread works (especially in the bobbin)! Well, after years of using cheap thread (keeping my best thread for free motion quilting) I started using Aurifil for piecing, both in the the needle and in the bobbin. What a difference – the seam is smoother and of a better quality, the thread does not break and I don’t need to clean so often the lint from the bobbin area.
7. Type of needles for quilting
If I run out of Jeans needles, I don’t even think to start free motion quilting! The Topstitch needle makes a huge difference when free motion quilting, but the Jeans needle is even better!
8. Piecing binding strips with straight seam instead of diagonal seam.
Not really the worst mistake; I am guilty of this many times.
But when I take the time to piece the strips with diagonal seams, the result is worth the effort. The edge of the quilt is smoother, the binding lays flat and it looks better.
Imagine the binding below stitched with straight seams!
9. The biggest enemy? The seam ripper!
I used to get frustrated when I noticed something wrong and needed to unpick my stitches. I don’t like wasting time undoing things! But my perception changed a few years ago when I made a quilt for my book and then a quilt for a show. After some uninspired choices, I just had to unpick free motion quilting stitches.
For one quilt, it took me 4 hours to unpick what I stitched in half hour and that wasn’t the worst experience! A few years later I had to unpick for 4 days what I quilted in 4 hours! I had to do this, because the quilts were important. And these experiences taught me a few lessons, about patience and work well done.
Now I am not afraid to use the seam ripper. I know it is an opportunity to improve my work and many times, it makes my work easier, because a mistake that you don’t fix will attract another mistake, even more serious than the first one.
As a beginner, with no one near me to give me even the smallest advice, I had to guess how PERFECT anything related to quilting should be done. I tried to do the best I could and still I was not happy, because I did not know if it is “ACCEPTABLE”. I think this is how perfectionism entered into my quilting world!
Here are the questions I had in my head in my first months of quilting:
How perfect should these points match? 1/8” off is too much? How about 1/16”?
What imperfections are allowed?
What if I can’t free motion quilt with even stitches?
How balanced the free motion stitching should be?
I questioned so much what I did that it was not fun!
If you could find a friend who could teach you and ENCOURAGE you, that’s great. It will save you a lot of time and frustration. What you really don’t need is a friend that criticizes excessively your work – it is such discouraging and unproductive. Stay away from those friends!! Your own criticism is enough!!
You know the saying: FINISHED IS BETTER THAN PERFECT!
I hope these thoughts help some of you!
PIN THIS FOR LATER!