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Thread: Self taught quilter missing the basics

  1. #1
    Senior Member debp33's Avatar
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    I'm a self taught quilter. No mom or grandma showing me, no classes. I don't even know anyone personally who quilts/sews!

    I've watched quilting shows on PBS and have read books, (and use the tutorials on this board :thumbup: ), but that's about it. I've made several quilts, but usually make mistakes and have to redo some part of the process.

    So my question is - are there any basic tips/tricks/secrets that all quilters should know? I know it'll get easier with experience, but I'm afraid I might be making it harder than it should be.

  2. #2
    Super Member donnajean's Avatar
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    I am self taught & started back before Internet & all the tutorials & video's. Many of the books like the Quilt in a Day books take you step by step through the basics. My philosophy for quilting as like anything else, if you read directions & go 1 step at a time, you can do anything.

  3. #3
    Power Poster Sadiemae's Avatar
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    I don't know where in Idaho you live, but if I can ever help PM me.

  4. #4
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    Be consistent with 1/4" seams, square up blocks, measure twice and cut once and most of all-enjoy!

  5. #5
    Super Member greenini's Avatar
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    My first quilt was from Eleanor Burns Log Cabin in a Day. I really liked it and made a ton of blocks and quilts. I just recently finished my first beginners quilt class and that was helpful too even after 10 yrs on my own.

    I buy quilting books when ever I find them at thrift stores, used book stores, online. I read thru them and get a lot of tips that way, some are duplicates, but enough are new so that it's usually worth the $4 or $5 bucks I have paid out. You could try a real basic beginners book like Carol Doaks, too. Robbie Fannings Complete Book of Machine Quilting is good too. I also like Quilting School by Ann Poe and The Careless Quilter by Miller (more a this is ok if you do it). I also like technique books. Hope these are of some help.

  6. #6
    Super Member thepolyparrot's Avatar
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    I learned from books and videos too. :)

    Here are some things that I had to learn the hard way:

    A consistent 1/4" seam is a lot harder than it looks. Murphy's law - if you've hit it perfectly, you will have forgotten to re-set the stitch length from your basting project and you'll have 6 stitches per inch in that seam. Conversely, if it's far enough off 1/4" that you need to remove the seam, you will have sewn it at 30 stitches per inch. :mrgreen:

    Keep little scraps of quilting cottons on your sewing table and check your stitching top and bottom every time you change bobbins, needles or thread. Adjust the bobbin tension for the thread that's in it and balance the needle tension with the bobbin tension. The one time you forget to check your stitching, your needle side will be making beautiful stitches and the bobbin thread will be pulled tight - and therefore, useless - on the underside. Naturally, you will have sewn several miles of this type of seam. ;)

    Change your needle every six or eight hours of sewing, or when the needle starts making a little popping sound as it enters the fabric.

    Don't collect all medium-value, medium-scale prints. Your quilt needs contrast in light and texture to show off the design and your constantly improving piecing skills.

    Stitching in the ditch is hard! If you sew a shallow zig-zag or wavy or serpentine stitch in the general vicinity of the ditch, you won't be pulling your hair out trying to keep the needle IN the ditch and not jumping off to one side and then the other. This can help you disguise little oopsies in the piecing, too - stitch in the ditch emphasizes those oopsies.

    Learn how to "ootch and scootch" or "fudge" seams - when you go to sew two blocks together and one is 1/16" longer than the other, put the bottom block on the bottom, hold the ends aligned with each other and keep a little tension on the fabrics as you sew them together.

    When you're sewing rows, pin the intersections on the side that will go under the needle first. The top block will be a scootch larger sometimes and the bottom block will be a scootch larger at other times. Only pin at the intersections, where you want the blocks to line up. In between intersections, hold the blocks aligned at the pins and put a little tension on them to ease the very slight extra fullness into the shorter block.

    Breathe. ;) Have fun with it - learning is a great joy and I'm glad that I'm still doing a lot of it every day!

  7. #7
    Super Member MrsM's Avatar
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    I bought the book "Quilting for Dummies". I also learned through quilt in a day books, magazine patterns and this board. :wink:
    Good luck and ask questions as often as you need to!

  8. #8
    Moderator kathy's Avatar
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    i think most of us are learning on our own and if we ever quit learning....we're dead! :shock: good luck and hang in there, we're all in this together

  9. #9
    Super Member jljack's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by thepolyparrot
    I learned from books and videos too. :)

    Here are some things that I had to learn the hard way:

    A consistent 1/4" seam is a lot harder than it looks. Murphy's law - if you've hit it perfectly, you will have forgotten to re-set the stitch length from your basting project and you'll have 6 stitches per inch in that seam. Conversely, if it's far enough off 1/4" that you need to remove the seam, you will have sewn it at 30 stitches per inch. :mrgreen:

    Keep little scraps of quilting cottons on your sewing table and check your stitching top and bottom every time you change bobbins, needles or thread. Adjust the bobbin tension for the thread that's in it and balance the needle tension with the bobbin tension. The one time you forget to check your stitching, your needle side will be making beautiful stitches and the bobbin thread will be pulled tight - and therefore, useless - on the underside. Naturally, you will have sewn several miles of this type of seam. ;)

    Change your needle every six or eight hours of sewing, or when the needle starts making a little popping sound as it enters the fabric.

    Don't collect all medium-value, medium-scale prints. Your quilt needs contrast in light and texture to show off the design and your constantly improving piecing skills.

    Stitching in the ditch is hard! If you sew a shallow zig-zag or wavy or serpentine stitch in the general vicinity of the ditch, you won't be pulling your hair out trying to keep the needle IN the ditch and not jumping off to one side and then the other. This can help you disguise little oopsies in the piecing, too - stitch in the ditch emphasizes those oopsies.

    Learn how to "ootch and scootch" or "fudge" seams - when you go to sew two blocks together and one is 1/16" longer than the other, put the bottom block on the bottom, hold the ends aligned with each other and keep a little tension on the fabrics as you sew them together.

    When you're sewing rows, pin the intersections on the side that will go under the needle first. The top block will be a scootch larger sometimes and the bottom block will be a scootch larger at other times. Only pin at the intersections, where you want the blocks to line up. In between intersections, hold the blocks aligned at the pins and put a little tension on them to ease the very slight extra fullness into the shorter block.

    Breathe. ;) Have fun with it - learning is a great joy and I'm glad that I'm still doing a lot of it every day!

    Elizabeth, you gave the greatest "hints & tricks"!! All those are not the standard things to tell a new quilter, but are the real "tricks" that we have learned over years of quilting that make our quilts a success. I couldn't have said it better!! :thumbup: :thumbup:

  10. #10
    Power Poster MadQuilter's Avatar
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    If you spend the time and effort in the prep work, the rest will be easier. Accuracy in cutting, accuracy in a consistent seam allowance, pressing so the blocks can nest, squaring up the blocks.....It is a pain to be sure, but the top will be better for it.

  11. #11
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    Sewing a scant 1/4 inch seam is important. Measure twice, cut once. Use only one ruler when measuring. It's best not to use the markings on your cutting mat. They will wear out sooner if you use them. When buying standard type rulers it's best to use the same brand. Different companies, different measurements. When in doubt, check the measurements with different rulers.

    Change your rotary blades, don't cut with dull blades. A good source for cheap blades for the 45mm is Harbor Freight. They are called carpet cutting blades. They do tend to be sharper IMHO than our regular rotary blades so be aware and be very very careful. Don't cut fabric when you're tired. Quit, then start again after a good night's rest. Ask me how I know!!

    Learn how to prepare your fabric. Wash, dry, iron. Learn when it's good to use starch, spray sizing. Many have switched to a new product for fabric treating when ironing, called Best Press. It's wonderful. Comes in different fragrances, and without. It's definately worth the money. Buy it with discount coupons whenever possible.

    Spend time on You Tube. It seems there is a video for anything you might want to learn about.

    You've done one of the best things by coming here and being a member. We are just one click away from trying to give answers and help in any way.

    Search for guilting groups in your area. Check out any LQS, local quilt shop, for classes and guidance.

    Don't be afraid to ask questions.

    Good luck, enjoy the journey of quilting.

    Pam M

  12. #12
    Senior Member cmw0829's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by greensleeves
    Be consistent with 1/4" seams, square up blocks, measure twice and cut once and most of all-enjoy!
    Definitely the measure twice and cut once - ask me how I know?? :D

    If you can, you might want to see if your LQS (if you have one) offers beginner or skill builder classes. I'm taking these to learn some basis practices.

  13. #13
    Senior Member AnnieF's Avatar
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    I would say....find adult ed or JoAnn's or a quilt shop and take a beginning quilters' class. Yes you are beyond that level as soon as you finished your first quilt, but it's good to learn the basics.

  14. #14
    Super Member DogHouseMom's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by debp33
    I'm a self taught quilter. No mom or grandma showing me, no classes. I don't even know anyone personally who quilts/sews!

    I've watched quilting shows on PBS and have read books, (and use the tutorials on this board :thumbup: ), but that's about it. I've made several quilts, but usually make mistakes and have to redo some part of the process.

    So my question is - are there any basic tips/tricks/secrets that all quilters should know? I know it'll get easier with experience, but I'm afraid I might be making it harder than it should be.
    Same here - except I never watched any shows on TV. I just jumped in cause I knew how to sew so figured - can't be much different. It didn't take long to figure out that there were differences, but more important I knew that there were short-cuts/better methods that I didn't know about and there were probably some bad habits that I developed without knowing it.

    I bought "Quilting For Dummies" after I had been quilting for about 2 years. Honestly. And I did indeed pick up quite a few tips, short cuts, and just plain stuff I didn't know about.

    Learing a LOT of stuff here as well. Such as the benefits of starch.

  15. #15
    Senior Member yonnikka's Avatar
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    After years of quilting on my own, I found the Rodale Successful Quilting Series the best, chock full of useful information. Multiple ways to accomplish tasks such as binding. Or Sets. You might want to try one volume at a time, such as Perfect Piecing. You won't be disappointed. Illustrations are very useful and informative and fits well with the written instructions. Special terms are defined well, so you won't feel like they are talking foreign language.

  16. #16
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    Loved it Elizabeth...saved and printed. Of course, Word did not like the words ootch and scootch..but I know exactly what you mean. Good tips.

  17. #17
    Junior Member mrsk's Avatar
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    Can't agree with all the previous comments enough. Just keep learning any way you like best (reading, TV, this board, U-tube etc..) and if you see a tip or trick try it right away, it might save you hours of time in the long run! Always keep yourself open for new ideas, but love what you are doing at the moment too. Don't feel the Quilt Police are breathing down your neck at every stitch. HAVE FUN!

  18. #18
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    One thing I never picked up on when I started to hand quilt was using a single thread. I had a double thread, pulled like heck to bury the knot (and yes, I did pull threads in the fabric doing it!) It wasn't till I showed one of my wallhangings to a new friend and she asked me why I used a double thread. I didn't pick up that in the how to pictures!
    Don't be afraid to ask ANY questions - one of us probably found out the hard way!

  19. #19
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    Been doing it 38 years and I still learn something everyday. And yeah, have to redo things. Don't be afraid to rip it out and do it over.

  20. #20
    Super Member 0tis's Avatar
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    Well, I am self taught also - had family members that quilted but I did not learn from them. I think the 1/4" seam is very important - but also pressing is equally important - sometimes I square up a block other times I don't just depends on what I am doing. Like I always say, There is more than one way to skin a cat" (an awful saying but gets the point across) so even if we don't do it like the experts perhaps our way works just as well or better.

  21. #21
    Power Poster MadQuilter's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by 0tis
    There is more than one way to skin a cat" (an awful saying but gets the point across) so even if we don't do it like the experts perhaps our way works just as well or better.
    That actually refers to the Catfish. Makes it a bit easier to digest than poor little kitty.

    I have learned an enormous amount about shortcuts, techniques, inspiration, motivation on this board. Amazing group! And no quilt police.

  22. #22
    Senior Member kclausing's Avatar
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    I too am self taught. I have no quilting friends. No quilting family - except some distant relation I see once a year.

    Most of the critical basics I have learned on this forum and from the 'basics' sections in magazines and books. For years I overlooked these sections, but recently I actually read them and found some great tips. Also watching episodes of Sewing with Nancy and Fons and Porter have helped a great bit.

    Good luck!!!

  23. #23
    Super Member Kappy's Avatar
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    Also check for books at your local library. I learn in Home Ec. class so many years ago I really can't remember how I learn the basics, but pressing not ironing is also important. Pressing is just putting your iron down and do moving it, then lifting and repeating. This prevents stretching of your blocks that can happen if you iron (moving it back and forth). I do know the first quilts I made did not stress the scant 1/4", I'm not exactly when that sneaked into the quilting scene. LOL

  24. #24
    Senior Member debp33's Avatar
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    I REALLY appreciate all your advice! I love to quilt, and am encouraged by your tips to keep going. And I'm glad I'm not alone in this learning curve.

    Thank you everyone! :)

  25. #25
    Senior Member debp33's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Sadiemae
    I don't know where in Idaho you live, but if I can ever help PM me.
    I'm west of Boise.

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