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Friday, September 18, 2009

Fussy-cutting (not stack n cut)

Sorry for the missing posts. Things get pretty hectic for me before Quilt Market and I have deadlines to meet. I thought I'd start by giving you a sneak preview of a couple of the blocks of a quilt that will be in McCalls Quilting magazine in the spring of next year. The fabric collection is Paula Nadelstern's Nuance by Benartex ( It is made with one of my favorite blocks, New York Beauty. Both the center quarter circle and the background fabrics are fussy-cut. For those that do not know what that term means, it is cutting a fabric in the same place for each similar section to create a kaleidoscope look. You can also get this from a popular technique called "Stack 'n Whack" but I like to use templates and a set of mirrors to plan what it will look like. 

I prefer to fussy-cut the matching sections using templates instead of stack n cut because I am very particular about how the blocks should look. I don't like the randomness (if that is a word) of what you get when you stack the fabric. I use a set of mirrors by Marti Michell and my own acrylic templates to get the effect I want. Of course you can make your own set of templates with template plastic.

I like using fabrics that are symmetrical like this one because when I place the mirror on the center of the fabric pattern, I see exactly what effect I will get when I sew the sections together. Symmetrical means that if you draw a line down the center of a pattern, the left and right sides are exactly the same. The background fabric was a stripe so I had to cut a left and right orientation of the design to get the mirror effect. So, how do I get a perfect match each time? I've tried drawing registration marks on my templates but that didn't work for me.

There are a couple tricks. One reason most people do not like templates is because they never stay in place when you are trying to cut out the fabric. The first trick is to place some rolled up scotch tape on the back of the template. This holds onto the fabric well. Cut your first repeat with your rotary cutter. I use the 18mm size because it does not cut into areas that I might use for another block.

Now here is the second trick and the way each cut is a perfect replica of the original; leave the first cut on the template! Take the template with the fabric on it, find the next repeat, place the template and move it around the fabric until it disappears and is exactly on the original design. I check all the way around the template to check the edges. I continue doing this with the original cut until all of the repeats are cut out.

The background of the block was created from a stripe and I wanted to create a mirror image with the two sections (left and right) so after cutting out the first repeat, I had to turn the template upside down and cut the mirror image by matching the design on the back of the fabric to the front of the fabric. Because I cut the same place on all of the background pieces, I kept the left and right sections on the template, so I had a guide for both cuts, until all of my background pieces were cut.

If you have never tried fussy-cutting you should try this method. You can use it for squares, triangles, or eight point stars. If you really want to experiment, try other shapes. There are no rules. Once you try it you might get hooked on it like me. I specifically purchase fabrics so that I can see what kaleidoscope effects I can make. 

For more information regarding choosing fabrics, making templates, and fussy-cutting along with 9 wonderful quilts, check out my book, St. Louis Stars, published by Kansas City Star Quilts, available on my website, Templates and Marti Michell's mirrors for this block are also available.

Everyday, do what you love and love what you do. 'Til next time, Toby

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Fabric choice for beginners or those who hate picking colors

To continue with yesterday's theme about fabric selection, I thought I would talk about picking fabrics. This seems to be the most difficult thing for most beginner quilters (and even some veteran quilters) to do. Quilt kits are great for those not wanting to bother trying to pick colors (or for a quick project), but I think the thrill of making a quilt is to make it personal. I'm always flattered that quilters want to buy my kits, (which I have to admit is a good chunk of my income) and make a quilt that looks just like the original. But I think it is also important to be able to pick your own fabrics and colors to say that this quilt is "mine" and not just a replica of the pattern cover.

I have never taken any art classes or classes on colors theory. I just know what I like. I think that just like there are people that are tone deaf when it comes to music, there are quilters that are color blind. Not that they can't see the colors, it's that they can't see the slight variations in the tones of the colors. A person that is tone deaf can't hear the different music tones to know if someone is off-key. Their ears are not fine-tuned to hear the small differences in the musical notes. I took music lessons (piano, flute, and oboe) when I was in school and I knew when my instrument was off-key. Now I don't know if it was something I learned when playing or it was innate (I was born with it). With colors the effect is similar. There are slight variations in reds, blues, and yellows. Red is a wonderful example to show the different variations in color and the hardest to match. Some reds have more yellow, making them look orangish, some have more blue, making them look purplish. (The photo doesn't show that real well, so find some reds in your stash and look at them). These slight variations are hard to detect unless one has a sharp eye for color. If you have problems seeing that, rely on a good friend or your local quilt shop employee to help with it. Maybe from working with customers and expanding my color choices I have developed the skill or maybe I was born with it, who knows. But that is not important to you. We all have different skills and abilities and have to work with what we have.

How important is that ability? Well it depends on how particular you are. For most quilters if it matches close enough they are happy with it. You are making a quilt to please yourself or the person you are giving the quilt to. Because I do competition work, I want the colors to blend and work together perfectly. Those slight variations, to me, are blaring. But if it is pleasing to the eye to you, the maker, then you are the only one that matters. When I am teaching quilting I am asked if I'm happy with their results. More important is are "they" happy, not me. It is their quilt and they have to be pleased with the results.

So what should the average or beginner quilter do? My first suggestion is to start with a quilt pattern with no more than five or six fabrics. The more fabrics you have to pick the harder it is. Begin with a print that you love. The more colors in the print the easier it is to find fabrics to match. Remember yesterday when I said I was so proud to pick light, medium and dark prints that went together; I still pick fabrics based on that principal. After picking your print, start with the lightest and darkest colors in the print.

After that, pick two or three contrasting colors in the print. Fabric companies purposely make collections to make this selection easier because they are purposely made to go together. This is a skill that anyone can pick up. Some quilters are so afraid of picking colors they freeze up and feel that they can't do it. If you start simple it gets easier each time. So next time you are shopping for your next quilt project, take that first step. you might surprise yourself!
Just an aside: Feel free to share my tips with your friends but be sure to mention where you read it and tell them about my website and blog. It would be greatly appreciated. No images may be copied from my blog.

Everyday do what you love and love what you do. 'Til tomorrow, Toby