Tutorial – Pieced Backs

Often times at the quilt store, we have a customer agonizing over having purchased a few inches too much fabric (can there be such a thing?!) and fretting about having to keep it around when it doesn’t match the next idea in the queue. Often times this same customer is one who frets equally over the back of the quilt, having heard a rule somewhere along the line about solid one-fabric-only backs that have to match the fronts.

To which all I can say is horse feathers! Rules about backs? None exist… (regardless of what the crotchety biddies at your guild might say) short of the fact that there must be one.

I usually suggest that the customer makes a pieced back, starting with all the leftovers from the front, and this often gets me a horrified expression or blank stare. I get it… it seems like a lot of work, especially when you can probably buy some yardage and pop just one seam into it. But if you are minding your pennies (to buy new fabrics) and have some stash that could use being moved out (to make room for more new fabrics!), a pieced back is a good way to go. I also think it can be a fun surprise to turn a quilt over and find something interesting lurking back there.

So where do you start? Well… here’s the latest one I made, along with some running commentary about my decision process along the way:

Here’s the quilt top – a smaller version of Dingbats (coming soon!) made from Kona solids and an Alexander Henry “Matchstick” print (wonderfully colorful and whacky – just love it!) I have the top up on my ever handy design wall – I find that I can see so much better when it’s all vertical.

And here’s a pile of what was left over from making the top:

So – first course of action is to fuss that pile into some type of large block or rectangle. I chose to set the strips alternating back and forth, and then ended with the larger pieces at the top and bottom – I do this to frame the leftover section and to make attaching it to other pieces easier. And so this is where I ended up:

Only two little bits left over – not bad! These will go into my “Megan” bag, so named for a friend who likes to work with little scraps. She gets anything that I deem not worth keeping (which is anything under a 2.5″ strip, and odds and ends like these). Yes, I could have fussed these into one more strip somehow, but while I’m willing to burn some time on a pieced back, I’m not willing to burn the whole day at it. Thus, a judicious decision about how far to go with the scraps. Besides, it’s fun to see my fabric reappear in Megan’s projects :-)

Next, I start covering the quilt top with the leftovers, pinning them right on top. I aim to overshoot the quilt top by 2 to 4 inches on all sides – go for at least 4 if you plan to send it out.

The top piece is a full chunk of the Alexander Henry print (minus the binding, already made and put aside) and the bottom is the bits and pieces. Not a bad start, but a good ways to go. And so off to the stash drawers, specifically those with purple or red fabrics.

The purple drawer proved quite fruitful – lots of older but decent purple prints that I no longer love enough to hoard. Several colorways of a spotty design (I must have been on a roll there) and a lucky find of a purple with a wavy red stripe in it. The piece had never been cut so it was obviously waiting for this moment! So take a look at the lower right (above). I need another piece in here, but it could end up skinny, which isn’t an issue unless it puts me at risk for having a seam close to edge (which could interfere with how the binding settles in). So I moved the skinny strip towards the inside, and moved a wider piece to the outer edge. While I was at it, I moved the leftovers to the right too, to make the whole composition look more balanced to my eye.

The last addition is the chunk under the leftovers, a confetti-like print that looks like it belongs on a Miami Vice set. Old and un-hip, to be sure, but funky enough to play well here. And certainly a conversation piece when someone sees the back. “Yes, crazy fabric isn’t it, and to think I thought it was the coolest thing when I bought it back when rocks were soft!”

Next, I assembled the top half and bottom half and re-checked that I have enough space going around the edges (I will be quilting this one myself, so a little bit tight is okay).

If I needed a little more length (which I don’t), I can still add it in the middle. Remember, don’t add little bits at the edges in case the seams get close to the edge.

And here it is – done! It probably took me a little over an hour to make including running back and forth to the camera and trying to be aware of documenting my process for you.  Certainly not as fast two lengths and one seam – but now I have room for a little new fabric shopping!


Sneak peek – new pattern coming!

Hot off the needle! Here’s a sneak peek at the newest pattern – Dingbats! Although a bit more of an intermediate pattern that its predecessors, it is still all straight seams… no curved pieces were mangled or cussed at in the creation of this pattern!

I’ll be heading to the printers with it just as soon as Z Mama comes home from vacation to help with the photography. She is standing behind the quilt in every cover I’ve shot so far – howzat for good friends?!

If you want to get you hands on it (and any other patterns) for a deal, please consider kicking in to my Kickstarter campaign – we’re 30% funded (YAY!) and would love to get to the finish line. Cheers!



Kicking up my heels!

It’s alive!

Short version of the story: I’m heading to Long Beach Quilt Festival in July. I launched a Kickstarter campaign to help with getting there.

Slightly longer version of the story:

If you are willing and able, this is where I could use your help. In order to raise the capital I need to get to Long Beach with a trunk full of patterns – the trunk of a friend’s SUV I might add, not my ever trusty Miata – I have launched a Kickstarter campaign. Kickstarter is a web-based company that helps people raise funds for creative projects through micro-finance – essentially the 21st century version of people pitching in at the kitchen table beginnings of a small business venture. Creative types like me tell you about our projects and offer cool rewards in exchange for your pledges of financial support. It’s an all or nothing thing – if all my pledges meet or exceed my goal, I get funded at the end of the campaign. If I miss the goal, no money exchanges hands.

One of the great things about Kickstarter is that for every pledge made, I offer a reward (okay… bribe) as a thank you. I’m offering all sorts of groovy fabric goodies, from the patterns themselves to hand-dyed fabrics, sassy buttons, tote bags and quilts – all hand-made by me. You can choose to not take a reward, but hopefully there is something in the mix that will tickle your fancy. Pledges are made through Amazon’s Marketplace – you can pledge as little or as much as you want and it’s only taken once the deadline AND my goal are reached.

With the help of friends, I made a short little video to share about the pattern company and the Kickstarter campaign. This link will take you there:


I’d like to kick this project far and wide, and so would be thrilled if you would forward it to the creative folks in your circle that would enjoy a fabric reward.

OK, I’m heading back to the kitchen table! Hope to see you there!

Thank you!

Review: Modern Quilts Illustrated

Modern Quilts Illustrated is a new magazine from Weeks Ringle and Bill Kerr, owners of the Modern Quilt Studio, and the dynamic duo of the modern quilt movement. It is available from them in single copies of $15 (correction) $14 which includes mailing, or in a subscription of three issues a year for $30.

Thus far, I’ve received two issues, and they are really a feast for the eyes. “Illustrated” in the title is no teaser here: the issues are full of wonderful drawings and photos that illustrate every aspect that the accompanying words describe. Both issues have three quilt patterns apiece (two pieced and one appliqued), a welcome letter that frames the concept for the issue, a Cutting Table section of info and tip snippets, a delightful travel-themed color palette discussion, and a last page that thoughtfully answers a reader’s question in some depth. Also – no advertising. The writing style is refreshingly devoid of the excess of exclamation marks that would indicate a lightweight product – instead, it is sophisticated and accessible, delivering a lot of information without being overwhelming. It’s very much like having a private lesson from a pair of pretty cool teachers.

It is obvious from the writing that Weeks and Bill really care about teaching. Each pattern starts with a discussion of the design and how to approach it in more than one color idea, which from my teaching experience is the anxiety point for many, many quilters, especially our up-and-comers. The quilt is shown made in one color way (available as a kit too) and then illustrated in three more. The cutting and construction techniques are clearly described AND illustrated, with the obvious understanding that both methods will speak to most learning styles. While I’m a fan of the gorgeous lifestyle photography, I find that the now ubiquitous “quilt on a chair” shot leaves me frustrated at not being able to see enough of the fabric in action (and this is my only grumble, and small one at that). The additional illustrations take care of helping me see the overall design, but I find myself wishing for a full frontal of the quilt, even if it is done as a small inset. (Update – my desired full frontal is in the table of contents!)

And so to the designs – they are sweet, clear and modern. They can look good in simple solids, or take advantage of the large scale prints that are beginning to fill our quilt shops. Best of all, they are presented in combinations from different fabric lines, which in my opinion ups the visual interest and complexity. Yes, lines are designed to work well with each other, but sometimes using just the line can leave things looking a little too “done”in a Martha-matchy-matchy kind of way.

At this point I have to confess that I’m a design and font junkie. Had I known I could have been a font designer in my teens I would have gone there in a heartbeat and never looked back – but I didn’t know and so have had different adventures instead, and incidentally, many of them font related! And so, I must gush a little more about the design here. Bad design sticks out like a sore thumb, but good design doesn’t always shout. It just works. It delivers its content in a way that eliminates frustrated leapfrogging about the page. It visualizes its words. It adds personality to its content, and strengthens its concept – without getting in the way. Good design is no small feat when there is a lot of information to deliver in a prescribed area of space. And the design of these mags is GOOD.

And lastly, a few words about value. With three or four patterns each in them, these magazines are a good deal. Even at the single issue price, it means each pattern is $5, a veritable bargain in a field of patterns that are beginning to head north of $10. There is no advertising at all which is refreshing as I’m sure, like me, you are getting your RDA of it (and then some) elsewhere. It is printed on a lovely heavy stock that makes it a keeper, not to mention resilient to being handled at your cutting table. Is it one of those pattern mags that delivers 40 patterns for $15? Not even close, but I’m sure you’ve figured out by now that most of those patterns are pretty unsophisticated… the pictures are pretty but you end up having to rewrite the dang things to make anything of decent quality. No, Modern Quilts Illustrated is something far above and beyond. And well worth your investment.

Performance Anxiety

OK, I admit it. I spend too much time on Facebook. I don’t stalk former loves – I’m not one to look back much, and come to think of it, don’t consider any of them to be the “the one that got away” – I leave them to what I hope is their good life and get on with mine. But I do take a pass through the musings of my pals with feverish regularity some days, especially on days where I have something far more important to do that I’m desperately avoiding doing. What? Procrastinate? Moi? But of course!!

And so, I’ve noticed the recent spate of “100 Somethings You Need To Do Before You Croak” lists and apps. They all seem to be designed to make you count what you’ve done and what you haven’t, and then assess your performance. Oh dear… I only got 38% of those… crap, I read all that Dickens and Chaucer but I guess that didn’t count (ah well…. like I remember them)… and I haven’t been to Outer Amazingly Exotic Island… probably don’t want to go if they have big bugs there anyway… and egad… do I have any idea where the heck it is?? No… dang, should have paid attention in class on that one. Or is it one of those things like Pluto, where sometimes it’s important? Maybe it wasn’t important when I was in school. Maybe, just maybe, I really was paying attention. Or maybe my brain isn’t as dodgy as it seems. No… it’s dodgy… I left the iron on yesterday to prove it…

I read these lists and am filled with performance anxiety. Books I should read. Places I need to visit in the US. Places I need to visit outside the US. Countries I should be able to locate on a map. Fear Factor level foods I should have tried. Movies I should revere (and probably snoozed through if they didn’t have a car chase or Hugh Jackman involved). Dog breeds I should be able to identify – and according to dog aficionados (one of whom I am plainly not), should have owned and allowed to sleep on my bed… you know the one that *I* sleep in that is covered in my precious quilts! Riiiiiight.

Who thinks these up? Who gets to decide that this city is worth it, but that one is not? That this Gothic cathedral outshines that one? That some obscure but undoubtedly important Serious Film is more worthy than Hugh Jackman’s nekkid torso in terms of celluloid joy? Which sadist decided that I need to eat both crickets and Hostess Pies in order to feel that my foodie cred is well rounded? WHO ARE THESE PEOPLE?


I think I want to be one of them. But I’m going to do it backwards…. gonna make a list that makes me feel accomplished. A list that I can actually do, check them all off, score 100%. I don’t care that the list is manipulated – like every other one isn’t… I mean really… everyone should own a tea cup chihuahua? Be real… we’d all have to have prescription anxiety meds to deal with the nervousness by proxy.

And so here it is. The List of Quilts I Will NEVER Make:

1. Baltimore Album – it’s the A word and besides… there just aren’t enough hours left in my life.

2. Sunbonnet Sue  – unless I can do one like I saw years ago that was a dozen ways to kill her… she had an axe coming out of her head in one block!

3. Feathered Star – shiver.

4. Another Stack ‘n’ Whack – unless some of that Alexander Henry Hunks fabric tempts me on a day that I have nothing better to do.

5. A watercolor landscape – I’m just not a florals girl

6. Grandmother’s Flower Garden – see #1.

7. Anything with a tea-dyed/country/prairie colored palette – GIVE ME COLOR or GIVE ME DEATH.

8. A Dear Jane – I really admire these, and love the recent bright interpretations, but nope, not gonna make one.

9. One of those raw edged, shreddy, raggy flannel things.

10. Anything involving minky.

11. And so on…..

Please feel free to tell me yours in the comments…. I will pick a random commenter on Sunday and get a free pattern to you! And if you make me snort my tea out of my nose, I will send you some Sew Sassy Buttons!

(D Minus image found here)