Guest Blog

How to Find More Time to Sew August 08 2019

As a hobby, sewing does require a fair amount of time and that means that it's almost impossible for you to practice it on a daily basis, when you're not on a vacation. Or is it? Read more.

Quilting With Denim Jeans September 26 2018

Denim Tutorial

Quilting With Denim Jeans by Charlotte Noll

I’ve been saving old denim jeans since high school.  In 2017, Sherri Lynn Wood came to the Broward Quilt Expo to teach her Improv and Make-Do style of quilting.  She put out a Make-Do challenge to construct a quilt with what you already have.  The South Florida Modern Quilt Guild joined in and it gave me a great reason to finally make a blue jean quilt.

I unboxed the jeans I had been saving, sorted by color and weight and made my first denim quilt called Blue Jean Butterflies.  I choose light weight jeans so the seams wouldn’t be so bulky to sew.  Using Ombre fabric scraps from the Tessellation quilt that I made for Red Thread Studio to improv piece the butterflies, I then big stitch hand quilted with hand dyed variegated #5 perle cotton thread I had for many years.  I was very happy with the resulting quilt and so glad that I had kept those lightweight denim jeans I wore in college combined with my son’s high school skinny jeans in several different colors.  I entered Blue Jean Butterflies in 2018 QuiltCon and was excited to have it juried into the show.   I was then over the moon happy when it received a Judge’s Choice Award Ribbon, and I was able to attend the show in Pasadena.      

I have many jeans, and I wanted to make more quilts. Along came a challenge from another local quilt shop to use the provided fabric to create something to be judged/exhibited in their shop. The challenge fabric was blue/white and looks like water.  I was swimming when it started raining - raindrops in the seams instead of butterflies - voilà another denim quilt!

Denim Tutorial

Jen asked me to write about my denim sewing experiences so I took lots of pictures to describe my process for you if you wish to make your own.  You don’t have to have lots of saved jeans.  You can purchase them at thrift shops like Goodwill, Salvation Army, etc. Just Google “thrift stores” and you’ll see them in your area.  Or you can purchase denim fabric.

Materials you will need:

  • Sharp Scissors - the  large Clover Serrated scissors are easier on your hands and Karen Kay Buckley's Perfect Scissors work as well
  • Rotary Cutter and mat - use a new blade. The 60mm is great for cutting thick layers
  • Rulers - for this quilt I used long, medium and square rulers
  • Iron - love my vintage dry heavy iron to press those seams flat
  • Used ⅛” masking tape to mark quilting lines. Performance masking tape sticks better than regular.
  • Love Sue Spargo Eleganza Perle Cotton threads and these Denim speciality packs are perfect.
  • Needles and Thimble


  • Wash and dry jeans - hang or fold flat so no big wrinkles
  • I start by using the large scissors to cut off the inseam seam
  • Cut and save the nicely stitched side seams leaving @½” on each side for a possible future project
  • If the hems are damaged trim them off. Sometimes I like to use patched/damaged parts for interest
  • Cut off the top section saving pockets you like and zippers

Denim Tutorial

Cutting Patchwork

  • The legs of the jeans are perfect to make the long diagonal strips using the long ruler
  • Used the square ruler with the 45 degree diagonal line to cut the seams. Save leftovers to make HSTs.
  • Or cut into pieces according to your desired design. Search for denim jean quilt images for ideas.
  • See how many 4” and 3” strips I got from that one pair of jeans
  • Cut up all the jeans the same way and organize by color and value

Denim TutorialQuilt Design

  • Using my design wall, I placed the strips on a 45 degree diagonal with the dark towards the top left and getting lighter towards the bottom right
  • I created a simple raindrop pattern on freezer paper for the diagonal seams of the 3” and 4” strips
  • Arranged the strips so the seams were in places where I wanted the raindrops to be - not perfectly even but in a pleasing arrangement
  • Sewed and pressed the seams then needle turn appliqued the raindrops over them using the freezer paper as a turning guide

 Denim Tutorial Denim Tutorial

Big Stitch Hand Quilting 

  • Before you start big stitch hand quilting you might want to read my tutorial
  • I wanted to stitch ghost raindrops with diagonal rain like wild Florida rain storms
  • Cut more freezer paper raindrops and places them around the fabric raindrops
  • Using ⅛” masking tape I marked the sideways rain and ghost raindrops
Denim Tutorial

  • These are the threads I choose to use and stitched around both sides of the masking tape.

 Denim Tutorial


I’ve started making my bindings ½” and big stitching them closed.  I love how solid the binding feels, how it looks and how easy it is to do.  I considered the washability at first, but I made a few charity/baby quilts and washed them with no problems!

  • Cut 3” binding strips for the whole perimeter of your quilt. I matched the dark and light areas
  • Press in half and sew a standard mitered binding but with ½” seam
  • Roll the binding over the ½” seam and make sure it goes past the seam line so the big stitching from the front will catch the back. I iron ¼” Steam-A-Seam fusible to keep it in place while I stitch but some people use clips or pins
  • Miter the corners in the standard way but they will be ½” also
  • Don’t forget the label. I named this quilt “Walking in the Pouring Rain”

 Denim Tutorial

Denim Tutorial

Denim Tutorial

Hope you enjoyed this tutorial and find it useful. Feel free to leave a comment or question.

About Charlotte Noll

Charlotte Noll

Charlotte has been sewing since she was a young girl and made all her own clothes.  She made her first quilt when she moved to Florida in 1980 and needed something for her king-size waterbed.  She's been hooked since!  Charlotte loves fabric, thread, buttons, and beads!  She can't pass up a challenge or call for entry.  Charlotte has made many traditional and art quilts but now her eye is tracking the modern style.

Find Charlotte on Instagram, and Facebook.

Charlotte Noll Quilts

Sew Felt Christmas Ornaments Tutorial December 17 2017

Sew Felt Christmas Ornaments

Sew Felt Christmas Ornaments by Annabelle Short

Do you know what I LOVE about Christmas? Creating Christmas ornaments for my kids.

When my little girl was three, I made my first Christmas ornaments for them. Then I went on and created a bunch of these decorations with my playgroup.

And today, I will show you exactly how I did it, step-by-step.

 Here's what you'll need:

    Once you have all these items, you are now ready to go.

    Note: In this post, we'll make three different Sew Felt Christmas ornaments. Although they're almost similar in design, I'll explain how to create each of these designs.

    So let’s begin with the first, shall we?

    First Sew Felt Christmas Ornament

    First Sew Felt Christmas Ornament 

    1. Cutting Felt Sheet To Make Christmas Tree Shapes.

    You can easily make Christmas tree shapes by using a tree template such as a cookie cutter or maybe even a drawing from a coloring book. All you have to remember is to cut two felt pieces of the same shape for each ornament.

    Also, do not use cheap or soft fabrics for your felt sheets. It won't last too long. Instead, use quality felt sheet that is not too soft and thick.

    2. Stitching Felt Pieces Together.

    Using the sewing needle and a thread, begin stitching two mirror felt sheets together (see above) using a whip stitch or a blanket stitch.

    3. Padding The Ornament.

    Stop stitching when you are almost half the way of stitching the ornament body. You’ll need an opening to stuff something inside the felt tree to create padding.

    You can use polyfill from your local craft store. But since I didn’t want to go outside, I used what I already had around the house as an alternative - cotton balls.

    4. Completing Stitching.

    Once you have stuffed cotton into the Christmas tree body, and you are happy about how it looks, go ahead and finish stitching the base of the tree. To hide the tied ends, you can double knot the thread and trim the ends with a scissor.

    5. Adding Jingle Bells for Decorations.

    Finally, add some jingles bells from last year's Christmas day to decorate your newly created hand-made piece of art. Attach those jingle bells using glue and let it dry.

    6. Adding A Loop of Ribbon For Hanging.

    To make a hangar for your Christmas ornament, cut a ribbon about 7 inches in length and fold in half and glue it on top of your Christmas ornament and let it dry for few seconds.

    7. Decorate And Enjoy!

    Finally, hang your newly created Christmas ornament around your home and enjoy!

    Hey, before you go, let me also show you how to make this fantastic Christmas ornament (see below). It's super simple because it's similar to what we did earlier, with only a slight difference in decoration.

    Second Sew Felt Christmas Ornament

    Second Sew Felt Christmas Ornament

    Here’s how to make this amazing Christmas ornament:

    1. Get a white felt sheet.
    2. Cut a tree shape that looks similar to what you see in this image. You can do so quickly by using a tree template.
    3. Next, stitch the felt sheet together using a red thread this time. Don't sew the whole body. We'll stuff the body with some cotton balls or polyfill to create padding.
    4. Stuff the body with cotton or polyfill.
    5. Continue stitching until you reach the starting point.
    6. Cut a piece of thread around 7 inches long, fold it, and attach it at the end of the tree top. Do this for each ornament.
    7. Finally attach a flake-patterned object (see above) on top of each felt tree with glue.

    And that's it. Hang it on your tree and enjoy your newly created Christmas ornament.

    But, hey wait, there's one more design I wanted to share. I promise you’ll LOVE it.

    Third Sew Felt Christmas Ornament

    Third Sew Felt Christmas Ornament

    To make this easy Christmas ornament, you only have to:

    1. Create a different tree shape (as shown in the image) using a tree template.
    2. Like before, create two mirror images of felt sheets for each ornament.
    3. Stitch the two mirror felt sheets together using a white thread.
    4. Stuff the body with cotton balls or polyfill.
    5. Complete the stitching.
    6. Attach pearl-like jingles on the body with glue.
    7. Finally, cut a 7-inch ribbon and fold in half. Sew the ends of the ribbon on the top of each Christmas shape to make a hangar.

    That’s all there is to it!

    I hope you enjoyed following this quick Sew Felt Christmas ornament tutorial. Go and browse through all the other awesome tutorials posted by my lovely friends at Red Thread Studio.

    About Annabelle Short

    Annabelle Short

    Annabelle Short is a writer and a seamstress of more than 5 years. She splits her time between London and Los Angeles and writes for Wunderlabel. You can visit her blog to learn more about her and her work. Annabelle is a mother and she loves making crafts with her two children, Leo (age 9) and Michelle (age 11). 


    Wool Appliqué Tutorial August 11 2017 6 Comments

    Wool Appliqué Fast and Easy by Marya Kissinger Amig of

    It’s hard to imagine that a needle art that evolved at the time of the Civil War is surging in popularity today.  But if you’ve ever stitched wool appliqué, you know why. Whether primitive or modern in design, wool appliqué is portable, tactile, and easy and quick to stitch! Since the wool is felted, it doesn’t fray, so you don’t have to turn under the edges of your appliqué pieces.  Plus, it’s so easy to stitch using the scads of beautiful threads on the market today.

    Felted wool can be sourced from your local quilt stores, online, or you can upcycle wool from garments.  You can even dye and over-dye felted wool yourself.  And stitching is just so easy!  All you need to do is trace your appliqué shapes onto freezer paper or a lightweight fusible web, iron the tracings onto your wool, cut them out, place your shapes on your background, and stitch!

    But face it, we all want to spend as much time stitching as possible, so here are some tips that will make your wool appliqué stitching easier, allowing you to stitch more!

    Precise cutting is essential.  Whether you trace your patterns onto freezer paper or onto a lightweight fusible adhesive web, like Soft Fuse, you need good, sharp scissors to cut felted wool accurately.  You also want a pair of scissors that feels good in your hand and that has a sharp point for cutting in tight spots.  I like to use small to medium-sized scissors because it’s easier to control than large shears.  Karen Kay Buckley’s six-inch Perfect Scissors – the blue one – is perfect for cutting out wool appliqué pattern pieces.  One of its blades is serrated, so it grips the wool, preventing slipping and allowing you to make accurate cuts.  The soft-grip handle is easy on your fingers, and a plastic cover protects the very-sharp tip between uses.

    Perfect Scissors

    It’s critical to position your pattern pieces accurately.  Some stitchers use fusible web, such as Soft Fuse, or glues, like Roxanne’s Glue-Baste-It, to help them place their pattern pieces.  Roxanne’s needle-nose tip allows you to place a tiny drop of this temporary basting glue on the smallest of wool pieces – just enough to hold it in place to ensure accurate stitching.

    Roxanne Glue

    However, purists want their wool projects to be 100% natural and shun fusibles and glue products.  In that case, you can use a stapler to attach your shapes to the background.  An investment in a long-reach stapler with a 12-inch throat depth will allow you to attach pieces in the center of even your larger projects.  However, take care not to leave the staples in your project too long as they will rust eventually.

    Basting with a stapler

    If you’re a stitcher who fears the staples will leave holes in your project or you want the ability to reposition shapes at the last minute, Clover glass head appliqué pins are a good option.  Their small size and glass heads help prevent your thread from catching on the pins.

    Basting with applique pins

    You want to use a sharp, strong needle when stitching wool.  Felted wool can vary in thickness, so you need a needle with a sharp point to pierce the wool.  You also want a large, long eye to accommodate thicker threads.  Tulip Chenille Needles have both a sharp point and a large eye so you can use whatever cotton or wool thread you choose.  I prefer a size #22 or #24 chenille needle, depending on the thickness of the wool and thread that I’m using.  Tulip uses special surface treatments that allow it to manufacture a needle that is strong yet flexible and rust resistant.  Remember needle sizes run the opposite of thread sizes – the higher the number the smaller the needle diameter. 

    Tulip chenille needle for wool applique

    Your thread choices are nearly limitless.  A variety of thread can be used in wool appliqué depending on the “look” you desire in your project.  Perle cotton is frequently used, but you can opt for linen, wool, rayon, or even a few strands of embroidery floss.  If I’m whip stitching an appliqué piece where I don’t want the stitching to show, I prefer Sue Spargo’s Ellana wool/acrylic blend thread. Created in collaboration with Wonderfil Specialty Threads, the fray-resistant Ellana threads blend and bury nicely in wool and are not fuzzy.  Sue Spargo suggests you use a #24 chenille needle when working with Ellana.

    Ellana Thread

    When I use a blanket stitch, I prefer size 8 or 12 Perle cotton.  Many brands of Perle cotton are currently available, including Valdani, Finca, Thread Art, and DMC, among others, and I’ve used all of them.  But I especially like the Sue Spargo Collection’s Eleganza Perle Cotton size 8.  Also created in collaboration with Wonderfil, this 100% Egyptian cotton thread is tightly wound with an extra twist that adds sheen and creates firm stitches that accent all your stitchery.  Solids and variegates are available.  The variegates are fun to use as Sue designed them so you get a rapid color change on smaller designs.

     Eleganza Thread

    But no matter which thread you choose to use, please don’t obsess over the quality of your stitches.  You’re creating a one-of-a-kind handmade piece.  Embrace your personal style of stitching. It’s yours alone.

    If you want to add detail to your wool appliqué, use Clover’s iron-off white marking pen to draw embroidery lines for letters, words, or stitching details like swirls, French knots, and stems.  It even works on dark colors.  The ball-point tip won’t crush or need sharpening, and it allows you to make precise markings on your project.  Don’t worry if the marks seem too light when drawn, they will darken as the ink dries and won’t rub off.  Just press your project with an iron and the ink will disappear.  The ink also disappears when sprayed with water, so you also can use this pen on your other quilting, embroidery, or craft projects.

    Clover White Marking Pen

    Wool appliqué projects are easily portable. Because you’ll want to take them with you wherever you go, it’s important to have small scissors that you can stash in your needle case.  Kelmscott Designs’ cute, red 2.5-inch pair of Putford scissors is perfect for traveling. Although the one-inch blades are short, they are very sharp and cut threads and yarn with ease.  Made from stainless steel, the Putford’s finger holes are the same size as a normal-size scissors, making them comfortable to use.

    Putford Scissors

    If you’re new to wool appliqué, it’s time to get started.  Find a small project that you’ll be able to finish quickly – a mug rug, needle case, or candle mat are perfect.  Choose a project with pieces that are easy to cut and simple to stitch.  And you don’t have to start with blanket stitch – use a quick whip stitch instead.  If you choose a project that will allow you to be successful the first time, I know you’ll be back for more.

    Spoolproof Wool Applique Project

    About Marya Kissinger Amig

    Marya Kissinger Amig, who has spent more than four decades creating art with textiles, fell in love with wool appliqué many years ago. She now has a blog at and is designing a line of wool appliqué patterns to be released shortly.  Marya also is a member of the Studio Art Quilts Association, focusing her work on contemporary and modern quilting.  She worked for many years as a sewing and craft book editor for Rodale Inc. and as an editor for a daily international business newspaper.

    Fussy Cutting Tutorial July 01 2017

     Fussy Cutting Tutorial Close Up

    Fussy Cutting Complex Designs for EPP by Carolyn Pytlik

    Fussy cutting fabric for English Paper Piecing (EPP) can simply be cutting pretty motifs or can involve creating whole new designs with adjoining pieces. This article outlines my method for the latter.

    There are numerous methods and hints for English Paper Piecing. My methods are not fast, but I believe they can give you magnificent results. Maybe this article will send you on a whole new adventure or maybe you will simply gain a hint or two to help you along the way. Always remember to have fun!

    First, Basic Supplies:

    • An acrylic cutting template with a 3/8" seam allowance. The 3/8" seam gives you a little wiggle room.
    • A fussy cut viewer, available in a variety of products. I cut mine from plain white cardstock by tracing the paper piece to be used onto the cardstock and carefully cutting it out.
    • Paper pieces.
    • A marking tool. My favorite is a Sewline fine mechanical pencil. 
    • A sandpaper board behind the fabric will keep it from shifting.
    • Small wonder clips for holding the fabric to the paper pieces when basting.
    • Needle and thread for basting fabric to the paper pieces and later for adjoining pieces. Glue basting is an option; it is quicker. To get the results I am seeking, I may reposition my fabric numerous times; thread basting makes this easy for me. And, I really enjoy the basting process.
    • Sharp scissors. I prefer Karen Kay Buckley light blue six-inch scissors for the serrated edge which grabs the fabric and her small green scissors for snipping threads.
    • A Magic Mirror is a great help for viewing. It is important to remember that a mirror gives you a reverse image.

     Fussy Cutting Notions

    The next picture reveals 6-pointed stars, each with a complex fussy cutting motif creating an adjoining design. This is easiest to do when the motif is symmetrical.

     Two Fussy Cut Stars

    When making my first cut for a complex design, I place my fussy cutting viewer in position and make tiny registration marks at two or three points. I remove the viewer and line up my acrylic cutting template to those marks. I trace around the template, then cut exactly on the tracing line. For additional identical cuts, I line up my first cut fabric shape in an identical position on the fabric, both right sides up. I place the acrylic template on top and draw around that shape, then cut. I continue using the first cut piece as a guide. I cut every piece individually.

     Fabric with viewer

    When basting, I like to make light pencil marks on the back of my paper pieces to line up my fabric. Wonder clips will hold the fabric in place before basting. At this point, you can turn the piece to the front to see if the placement is exact. Don't be surprised if this takes a few attempts. I baste with my long stitches on the back for two reasons. First, for photographing so that the threads don't show on the front. Second, the long stretch of thread on the back holds the folded edge of the fabric in place better.

     Basting process

    Once all pieces are basted to my satisfaction, I use thin milliners needles and a strong cotton thread to whip stitch pieces together with very small close stitches. I often start my stitching at a critical matching point, even though this requires knotting off more than once in a seam. I have a pair of very fine pointed embroidery scissors to pick out threads when I'm not satisfied, and I use those quite often.

    With a little practice and patience, you can achieve magnificent results. And when you go to the fabric store or sort through your stash, you will look at fabric with a whole new perspective.

    About Carolyn Pytlik

     Visible Light Pattern by Melissa Peda

    (Pictured above blocks made by Carolyn from Visible Light by Melissa Peda)

    Carolyn Pytlik has been sewing since she was a child.  In addition to English Paper Piecing, she likes needle turn appliqué, embroidery, counted cross stitch, fabric and cats.  You can see some of her projects in progress on Instagram @cheshire_cat_quilts

    Hand Piecing Tutorial April 15 2017 1 Comment

    Hand Piecing Tutorial

    The Joy of Hand Piecing by Donna Fitzpatrick

    Why would anyone want to hand piece?  When I was learning to make quilts, one of my first projects was a sampler quilt that could be either hand pieced or machine pieced. After making a couple of blocks by hand, I came to the conclusion that hand pieced blocks weren’t as durable and took too long to make.  Since then, I have learned to love this technique for a few reasons:

    Hand pieced blocks are more precise. It is easy to allow pieces to shift when you are machine piecing, but you are holding everything in place when you piece by hand.

    Curves and Y-seams are a lot easier to do by hand.

    Handwork is relaxing!  Like the slow food movement, I am seeing a resurgence of slow quilting. Getting a quilt completed in a day may be fine when you are a beginning quilter, but it gets expensive and you end up with a pretty big stockpile of quilts if all of your projects are quick strip quilts and you are turning one out every few days.

    Handwork is portable.  Watching TV, waiting in a doctor’s office, long trips in a car, boat, or plane are all places you can easily work on a handwork project when you can’t piece by machine.

    My opinion of the durability of hand pieced blocks has changed as I have practiced it more, especially if I am quilting the finished project densely by machine, so here is how I do it.

    Materials you will need

    Tracing and Cutting

    Although tracing templates is time consuming, fussy cutting can give you a great look and can be very addictive.  Once you have done this for a while, you never look at fabric the same again.  Templates may be made by tracing from a book or pattern onto template plastic or purchased as a set.  Just be mindful whether the edge of the template is the sewing line or the cutting line.

    Trace the template onto the wrong side of the fabric.  I like to use a mechanical pencil for this.  The right side of the fabric should be face down on a piece of sand board or medium sandpaper to keep it from slipping while you trace.  If you are using a template with an edge that is the sewing line, you may just 'eyeball' the quarter inch seam allowance when you cut, or use Jen Kingwell’s “Simple Seam Wheel” to add a quarter inch for the cutting line.

    Hint: Take care to use the thickest template plastic you can find and press down firmly. I have trouble with my template shifting or the wheel sliding under the template if the plastic is not thick enough.

    When using purchased templates, I add several sticky dots of non-slip grips, (Figure 1) and place them on both sides if the template needs to be flipped for mirror image pieces.

    Hand Piecing Tutorial - Figure 1

    If you are using a template in which the outer edge is the cutting edge, you will need to draw the sewing line.

    Hint: For straight edges, I like to turn the template around (Figure 2) so that the seam line of the template is on the cutting line of the fabric to get a perfect seam allowance.

    Hand Piecing Tutorial - Figure 2

    If the piece is curved, I mark the dots of the seam allowance corners and move the template into the seam allowance to connect the dots (Figures 3 and 4).

    Hand Piecing Tutorial - Figure 3 Hand Piecing Tutorial - Figure 4

    When fussy cutting multiple identical pieces for a kaleidoscope effect, I trace a design element from the fabric onto the template to assure I align it the same for all the pieces. Pay attention to the grain of the fabric when tracing your pieces, as pieces cut on the bias will stretch more, which may be desirable for curves and undesirable for edges.

    Once you have your pieces traced, cut on the inside edge of the cutting line to cut off your marking.


    I prefer to piece with a straw needle, as it glides through the fabric more easily with multiple stitches on the needle. I use a 50 weight Aurifil thread because the seam lies flatter than a heavier thread, but this is a personal preference and some prefer a heavier thread depending on the end use of the quilt and how it will be quilted.

    To begin piecing, I pin two pieces right sides together, sticking a pin through the sewing line to make sure it lines up with the sewing line on the bottom piece. I do this with the corner dots and several places along the seam line. I use a piece of thread about eighteen inches long, and I like to coat it with a thread conditioner such as Thread Heaven. This makes it glide more easily and reduces tangling.

    The stitch used for hand piecing is a simple running stitch (Figure 5).

    Hand Piecing Tutorial - Figure 5

    I start with a quilter’s knot at the edge of a seam, but I try not to put a know where several pieces will meet. I use a rocking motion to get four small stitches onto the needle, then push through with the thimble on the middle finger of my right hand.

    The trick is to now take a single back stitch before continuing on to the next set of four running stitches. This locks the running stitch in place and adds strength, and if the thread breaks it keeps the seam from undoing itself.

    When I reach a seam in one of the pieces, rather than sewing the seam allowances down, I pass the needle through the seam and then continue sewing on the other side (Figure 6).

    Hand Piecing Tutorial - Figure 6

    When I get to the end of a seam, I take a few small stitches and a back stitch, but then add the next piece without knotting off if I can, so that the junction of several pieces will not have several knots or be a point of weakness. When I reach the end of my thread, I make a loop that I pass the needle through twice (Figure 7). I like to finger press as I go with a stylus, then press the block using Flatter spray fabric relaxant.

    Hand Piecing Tutorial - Figure 7

    I hope you enjoy making precise hand pieced blocks. Happy sewing!

    About Donna Fitzpatrick

    Donna Fitzpatrick

    Donna has been sewing since she earned her sewing badge in Girl Scouts.  She made her first quilt in 1986, but most of her sewing for the next twenty years consisted of counted cross stitch, smocking, and garment making.  She picked quilting up again when her youngest child went away to college in 2007, and has enjoyed all forms of quiltmaking since then.  In 2016, she started Forest Beach Cottage Quilts, making custom quilts, binding, and teaching sewing and dyeing lessons.

    Follow Donna at

    Big Stitch Quilting Tutorial February 01 2017 12 Comments

    Big Stitch Quilting by Charlotte Noll

    I have been machine quilting for many years.  My first quilts were hand quilted.  When I had children, it was too time consuming so I purchased a sewing machine with free motion capabilities and never looked back.

    As a member of the South Florida Modern Quilt Guild I have learned some new to me techniques.  Several of my modern quilting friends were big stitch hand quilting using thicker threads. The guild had presentations on this technique, and I decided to add some big stitching to machine quilted modern quilts. It looked nice...very easy, forgiving and fun to do.

    Then, Jen asked me to make a sample from her Mark Maker kit and to big stitch the entire 54 inch by 90 inch quilt. The supplies included lovely Sue Spargo Eleganza Perle Cotton threads and plain cream fabric for the backing. That made me nervous because my stitches on the back were never very even, but I decided to work on this issue and do my best. Happy to say I found an easy way to make the back stitches look almost as good as the front - keep reading and I will share what I have learned with you.

    Mark Maker Quilt

    Materials you will need:

    • Basted quilt ready for quilting - start small but don’t be afraid to go big!
    • Quilting thread
    • Needles
    • Thimble if desired
    • Marking tools
    • Small scissors to cut thread

    My Current Project

    While attending a Heather Jones Design workshop, I created a quilt pattern from an inspiration picture I took of stacked chairs. I pieced it as a mini and will big stitch it with Sashiko inspired stitches in a grid format.

    1) Thread
      • Choose thread color(s) to blend or contrast. Sometimes I do both. The thicker the thread the more it will be seen but too thick can be hard to stitch.
      • My favorite is the Sue Spargo Collection - Eleganza Perle Cotton Size 8 - Solid and Variegated.  Very smooth to stitch with and a beautiful presentation.
      2) Needles
      • Sturdy needle with a sharp tip is the best.  My favorite is Big Stitch Quilting Needle Pack.
      • Eye Size : Use the smallest eye of the needle that the thread will go through smoothly so that it doesn’t unthread easily or shred the thread as you stitch. For Perle Cotton 8, I use the smallest needle in the Big Stitch Quilting Needle Pack.  This needle pack has 3 different sizes so you can find the best fit for the thread you are using.
      3) Thimble
      • Personally, I need to use a  thimble on my right middle finger to push the needle.  I don’t care for a big thimble so I love this small sticky metal dimpled Thimble Crown. You can also use the Thimble-It sticky ovals.
      4) Quilting Design
        • Create an outline drawing of your quilt and sketch the quilting design if desired.
        • For no marking, pick a design and direction then stitch  for free hand stitching designs.  Echo stitching around patchwork or baptist fans are perfect for this method.
        • Or use your favorite marking tool to create your design on your quilt top.  Don’t mark the entire quilt at once - do a section you are comfortable with.
        • I only use marking tools that I’m positive will not remain on the quilt top. Hera marker (makes an indent on the fabric to follow), chalk or masking tape (my favorite).

        For Mark Maker I quilted interlocking triangles and diamonds. I used masking tape around shapes and then stitched inside the tape. To quilt interlocking circles I used a plate as the template.

        For Stacked Chairs, I used masking tape to outline the grid sections and stitch lines inside each grid according to my sketch outline.

          5) Stitching
          • To hoop or not to hoop?  Some hoop the area they are working on.  Others lay the quilt on their lap. I don’t use a hoop.  If it is a large quilt, I spread it out on my sewing table to support the weight.
          • Thread length. Cut a piece of thread that is enough for one shape such as the circle above.  If there are no distinct shapes then approximately 20 inches is a good length - hand to shoulder if you don’t have a ruler handy.
          • Starting Knot (quilter’s knot).  Make a small tight knot by wrapping the thread once around the needle and guiding it down to the end of the thread and pulling tight.  Bury the knot by entering the back up through the batting and a seam (if possible) so the knot is held firm.  Pull the knot through the back fabric into the batting listening for a little pop.  You might need to put your fingernail on the fabric near the knot to open the threads.  Trim the thread tail.

          • One Stitch at a Time

          This is where I had a hard time...wanting consistent stitches on top and back without requiring the tedious work of separately stabbing down and then up.  And by consistent, I don’t mean perfect.  If a few are smaller or bigger that’s fine as those slight variations give your quilt a true artisan look.  I usually piece the backs and want it to look almost as nice as the front.

          Starting with the knot buried and threaded needle up through the top:

          • Stab straight down into the quilt your desired stitch length. About 1/4 inch is good, but you will get a feel for the length you are happy with.
          • This is the trick: with your other hand under the quilt, extend the needle much further out than the desired length of the back stitch. Then using your underhand forefinger and thumb drag the needle tip back along the backing fabric and bring it up though the top at the spot you desire.  This will position the needle point exactly where you want it to create the stitch on the back.  Pull the thread and look at the back to admire your work!
          • Make one stitch like this at a time, but you can pull the thread every 3 or 4 stitches.  I tried loading several stitches on the needle at the same time but never liked the results.
          • There are times when you might need to stab down then up separately, especially if you are stitching through bulky seam intersections.  I use the Wacker hammer to help flatten those seams if possible.

          • Ending Knot
          When you get close to the end of the shape or thread you need to prepare to knot.
            • Space out the last few stitches of a shape to be as consistent as possible.
            • Stop with the threaded needle at the back with room for one more stitch.
            • Make a small tight knot by wrapping the thread once around needle and guiding it down close to the fabric the length of the last stitch and pulling tight.  Put the tip of the needle in the loop to help guide the thread into a knot at the desired place.
            • Take the last stitch to even out the design and pop that knot into the fabric.  Just to be sure it’s secure, take another very small invisible stitch at the end of that stitch and bury 1/2 inch of the tail in the batting trimming close to fabric.
            • Repeat step #5 until the quilt is evenly quilted throughout.

            Once you get the rhythm, big stitch quilting is relaxing and sometimes much easier compared to maneuvering a big quilt under a standard sewing machine.  It may take more time depending on your quilting design, but it’s time well spent.  Read the batting instructions for maximum distance between the lines of stitching for washing purposes.  I washed and dried a big stitched full size bed quilt on the delicate cycle without a problem.

            Still stitching Stacked Chairs at this writing.  You can see progress and my other work on Instagram if you wish:

            Hope you enjoyed this tutorial and find it useful.  Do you have any big stitch quilting tips to share?

            About Charlotte Noll

            Charlotte Noll

            Charlotte has been sewing since she was a young girl and made all her own clothes.  She made her first quilt when she moved to Florida in 1980 and needed something for her king-size waterbed.  She's been hooked since!  Charlotte loves fabric, thread, buttons, and beads!  She can't pass up a challenge or call for entry.  Charlotte has made many traditional and art quilts but now her eye is tracking the modern style.

            Find Charlotte on Instagram and Facebook.

            Charlotte Noll Quilts