LaRueSew-Quilting-Design, You Can Do It!

Sometimes we quilters and ME's want to do what we want to do. We buy books with patterns made by somebody whose tastes are similar to ours, but we want to do it our way. How can I arrange my favorite quilt blocks in a new and different way without taking hours with graph paper, a ruler and colored pencils? If you are new to quilting, you may not have a complete understanding of how to put different fabrics, colors and blocks together in a way that will make you stand back and say "WOW!"

I've been quilting for a long time, but I still don't have a "designer's brain." I just don't have the imagination that a real quilt designer has. Color can be a real bugaboo for quilters, new and old. It takes a whole lot of confidence to put colors together that won't fight each other. You can make a few test blocks to see if colors work. But then you put 30 or 40 blocks together in a quilt, your imagination explodes in a disastrous pile of scraps. Shucks, what do I do now?



Enter Quilt Design Wizard, by Electric Quilt. It's a very easy quilt design program.  I'll keep you posted on what I'm learning with this neat program that is available at our very own AnnTheGran store. Click the link to view it in a new window.

Now I'll give you a "scrap" of my knowledge about fabrics. Hmmm, what do I say on the subject, because the selection of fabrics is such an individual subject. I'll try to give you a few tips I've learned along the way. My main thing to tell you is . . . buy the best quality fabrics you can afford. I know, I know, I've said that before. But it's important for you to remember that the quality of your finished product (quilt) depends most on the quality of the fabrics that go into it. The quality of the finished product (quilt) may/will become an heirloom. (That is if your son-in-law, brother, son, whatever) doesn't think it will make a great throw/blanket to work on his car or use as a saddle blanket. That makes me cringe, but I've heard of it happening.

Second, it's also important not to mix 100% cotton fabric with cotton/poly blends. Cotton fabrics just perform differently than blends. There is a small amount of horizontal (selvage to selvage) stretch to cotton fabrics. There is practically no stretch to blends. It's OK to use either one together, just don't mix them. I have seen the result of a beginning quilter who tried to mix the two, just because she found fabric she liked, but didn't realize that it would give her a big problem, trying to sew them together. She never completed the project, and became so frustrated that as far as I know she never tried to piece a quilt again.

Avoid fabric that is stiff. That's a common sign that there is a lot of sizing (similar to spray starch) in the fabric to make it look good. (Kinda like they wax apples to make them look pretty in the produce department) Fabrics should feel comfortable enough to wear. I make a lot of shirts for myself. My favorite kind of fabric for a shirt is a fabric from a quality quilt shop. They feel wonderful when they are finished and they come out of the wash like permanent press, even though they are all cotton.

You’ll find a list of fabric terms at the end of this post.

How much do I buy? If you think you will be a fabric collector, keep two things in mind: your budget and your storage space. When I moved out of my old house, I had about sixteen rubbermaid bins, of various sizes, loaded with fabric. That's the reason my husband built those FINE shelves that are pictured in my first post in this blog.

The amount of fabric depends on several things. Do I like this fabric so much that it calls, "Take me home with you?!" That kind of fabric . . . you buy at least three yards, no matter whether you know what to do with it or not. Wink Really, if you like a fabric well enough to use it as the focal point of a quilt, buy plenty, at least three yards or what a pattern calls for. Then use it as the main fabric and find other fabrics that coordinate for the other pieces of your quilt. Also, buy three yards if you think you want it for sashing or a border. If you want it for the backing of a quilt, buy six yards or more, depending on the size of the quilt. I have often bought only one yard and later wish I had a lot more of it. When you have a pattern in mind, carefully choose fabrics by the yardage chart on the pattern. THEN, buy 1/4 yard more at least, just in case you need more, or make a mistake/miscut. Fabrics come and go. It seems to be a law of the universe that if you run out of a fabric, and try to buy more, it HAS been discontinued. I speak from experience. My advice is, be safe and buy ½ yard more. In the picture below, you'll see a group of fabrics that would go well together in a quilt.

Quilt Blocks

Also, here is a group of fabrics by the same designer. There are twenty-two fabrics that are designed to go together in any way. It’s nice to choose a whole line of fabric from one designer, because you don’t have to worry so much about matching.

More Fabric

Fabric preparation: There are varying opinions of whether to prewash or not to prewash. I personally, don't prewash unless the fabrics are dark of vivid colors that I really expect to run or bleed. (purples, reds, blues and blacks) If you do prewash, use a good gentle detergent, like Orvus paste soap. This is a soap that was originally made as soap for washing livestock. It is gentle and quilters discovered it and began using it for quilts. It rinses out well and is gentle on any fine washables. It is available in bulk at livestock supply stores and quilt shops in smaller containers. I once bought a gallon of Orvus at a livestock supply and divided it among quilting friends. It is very reasonably priced that way. I use it for any hand washables.

One little hint about fat quarters, they are half-yard cuts of fabric that are cut down the center, making a fabric rectangle. It is about 22" x 18", approximately the same size of a regular quarter yard of fabric, but in a much more usable piece, since it is longer in length. (18 inches long as opposed to 9 inches long.)

Question, questions, anyone? Feel free to ask anything. If I don't know the answer, I'll find the answer for you. I promise not to ask my husband. He'd give me an answer, whether it's right or not, and say it's the truth. Actually, he's been around my sewing so long, he offered to describe how I straighten fabrics for making clothes. He could do it, but for quilting the fabrics are cut up into small pieces and it doesn't make a difference. Wink

Hanging Quilt

Someone always comments about my quilts, so here is a fix for this time.  This quilt hangs on a wall hanger that my husband made for it.


New Applique

By the way, I have taken the plunge and decided to begin another really big applique quilt. This one may take a thousand years, too, but I just gotta do SOMETHING with my hands. As a matter of fact, I think I'll sign off for this time and go watch some TV while I start that new thousand year quilt.


Stitches to you, - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -(very even hand quilted stitches)


Quilter's Jargon:

Bias: The diagonal of woven fabrics. The true bias is the 45-degree angle of a piece of fabric. When cut on the bias, fabric has more stretch than a piece cut on the straight grain. Bias strips are good to use for curves in applique designs, and for a scalloped binding.

Grain: A woven fabric is composed of threads woven horizontally and vertically. The grain refers to the way the straight threads are woven together. On a sewing pattern, the grain is often shown with a long arrow printed on the fabric. That arrow shows the direction that a pattern should be lying on the fabric.

Right and wrong side: Printed fabrics have a right and wrong side. The shinier, more defined print is the right side of the fabric. The dull side is the wrong side. Pay close attention when laying pattern pieces so as not to waste fabric by cutting is out wrong.

Selvage: The cross grain of the fabric goes back and forth across the lengthwise threads, and wraps over the edge. That edge is the selvage. The selvage is nearly always cut off the fabric before cutting patterns or strips.

Orvus paste soap: A gentle soap that was originally made as soap for washing livestock. Quilters discovered it and began using it for quilts.

Comments (16) -

I appreciate what you are showing about mixing and matching fabrics.  I don't have that natural ability and when I put things together, well, no further comment. . .


jalcumbrack 9/26/2008 3:17:16 PM

Hi LaRue!

Another great blog to add to the growing list! I am with you, ALWAYS buy extra fabric. The one time you don't, you will need it! It seems to be a sewing rule! I have many times gone back to the fabric shop to get a matching piece, and have it be gone! So now, I play it safe! That is why there is so much fabric stashed in my little room.

I love the fat quarter's! You can do do many differnt things with them, like purses,piece them together for a table runners,and so on! I actually have a pattern book that everything is made out of the fat quarter's. It is one of my faves!


Why do they call them 'fat quarters?'  

I think that is a strange name and must have an interesting story behind it!


Loved your blog.  I can pick out fabrics with no problem.  I know what I like and can put together a nice array of patterns and colors.  My problem is:  DECIDING on a pattern for those fabrics that will best show them off.  A wonderful woman, Lisa, at Sew 'N Sew in Summerville, SC, is wonderful to help me but why is it that I am stumped on patterns?  Any clues?

I too have problems mixing colors. Everyone talks about this color going with that, and "look at the tone, this blue and that green and that purple go well together". what tone? After someone else puts the fabric together, after I tell them my color choice, i do see it, but to pick it out of the miriad of fabrics on the wall, shelves, tables etc etc... I can't see it.

I am taking a class on a french braid quilt but could not for the life of me get the fabric. I found one fabric that I just loved... loved .loved... the gal at the store pulled that bolt and "helped" me pick thirteen other fabrics to go with that one... I just could not do it...

Can you talk about the color wheel sometime in the future and explain how it works? I have been told that would be helpful, but not sure how?

thanks again I just love reading all of these helpful tips and blogs...

cme    8^)

Hello friends, I was out of town for a couple days, hence, I'm late getting back to you.  I had a wonderful time at a Quilt Guild Retreat.  We did a Mystery Quilt.  That's where everyone does the same quilt pattern, one step at a time and you don't know what you are making until the very last step.  You are shown the finished quilt top along with the last step, so that you can finish the blocks and assemble the blocks into a really cool wall hang, table cover, or whatever.  Fun, Fun, Fun!  Lots of chatter, jokes, laughter, humming machines and NOISE!

First of all, to Pat.  Your comments are always welcome.  Color is the one biggest hurdles for quilter's to overcome.  I think the same thing happens with ME.  You just have to find a balance, somewhere.  I don't really know where it comes from, but if you don't have it, you can cultivate it.

One small illustration, find a floral fabric with a few distinct colors in the design of the fabric.  That is your focus fabric. Pick up that bolt and hold on to  it while you look at others.  Look at it closely.  Now, in your mind, isolate about three of the colors, dark medium and light, that are distinct in that quilt.  Then, go around and find those three colors that are the prominent in other fabrics.  It often helps if they are semi-solid colors, smaller prints or solid fabric.  Stack up those bolts in a way that you can see them all clearly and switch them around if you need to to find the ones that "look" best to you.  If that doesn't work, find other bolts the you can substitute.  It takes trial and error and don't expect to be an expert right away.

The fat quarter.  I don't know the origin, but I can give you my educated guess.  A quarter yard measures about 44" x 9", it equals 396 square inches.  A fat quarter measures about 22" x 18", also equaling 396 square inches.  It is the same size in square inches, but it is just cut differently.  The 18 inch length makes one "fat" compared to the 9 inch length of the other one.  A fat quarter, is a half yard (18 inches) cut down the middle, paralell to the selvages. Shucks, Pat you do ask some analytical questions.   ;o)  Does that help?

Judy, yes fat quarter can be great, unless you have too many.  ;o)  Recently, I offered a friend a deal.  I asked her to help me organize my sewing room, in exchange for pay in fat quarters.  She couldn't get here fast enough.  If you like scrappy quilts, fat quarters are indispensible.  They are also a great way to get every fabric in a designer's line.  Illustration, the 22 fabrics pictured in my blog.   There are many books on the market for ways to use fat quarters.  Check 'em out.

If you look at this link, you will see an illustration of how a fat quarter is cut. Cut and paste it into your browser.">

NKJ, I have no answer for your question.  I have to be honest.  I struggle with the same thing.  The reverse is also trouble.  Find great do I create a really striking quilt.  I'm so sorry I can't help, it's such an individual matter.

cme, Yes, I will try to addres the color issue.  But please remember, my training is stricktly non-professional.  Without art classes in color theory, I think perhaps you might look around for a good book on color theory, as pertaining to quilts, crafts, sewing, etc.  I will try, but I don't know how sucessful it will be in a blog setting.  While attending the quilting retreat, one of the door prizes was a book on choosing fabrics.  Perhaps I can learn something there and help you out.

It's fun getting to know all of you via the blog world.  Thanks for your input.  It really helps expand the subject of quilting, and fabrics.

Stitches to you . .


I am very new at quilting-just started learning this spring-but I have been looking at quilting magazines -besides working in a fabric store several years ago-and a tip I have learned that might help some, is when you pick out a focal fabric (a fabric that you really like and is the basis for a quilt) is to check the selvage edge of the material where, when the material is dyed, the manufacturer puts color blocks with the color sequence used.  This could help you pick out colors to use.  It is just a suggestion, but it has helped me.

serenemachine2 9/27/2008 11:39:19 PM

LaRue, I have a question.  I see things like a "jelly roll" ,ec. and I know it describes quilting fabrics, but what does it mean???


That was a great tip.  I know about that, but I forgot to mention it.  Another thing those dots indicate to me is a really good quality fabric.  When I first began to see them, it was just on really high quality fabrics, found in good quality quilt shops.  It has become more common, it seems, but you hardly ever see them on really low quality fabrics.

Serenemachine.  What a cute screen name!  Are YOU serene, or just your machine?  You asked about Jellyrolls.  Those are precut fabrics, sold in rolls.  They use coordinating fabrics, I believe from one designer's line.  They make uniform cuts from selvage to selvage, the width of the fabric, and roll them tightly in a roll, and give them the nickname of jellyroll.  You can then either use them full length for a strip quilt or cut them up in squares or rectangles.  They are sold in a bundle.  They've become very popular.

Thanks for asking,

Stitches . .


Great blog!  So helpful!  My problem is finding quality fabric.  I live in a small town and the stores selling fabric seem to be closing or not selling fabric any more.  



If you don't mind ordering on line.  There are many web sites devoted to selling quilt fabrics.  You can find them by typing "quilt fabrics" into your browser.  You should see some very good web sited under that list.  Also, under that listing, you should find the names of fabric manufacturers.  In those web sites, they usually give location of fabric shops that carry their brand of fabrics.  If you know the name of manufacturers, type that in the browser, and they should list localities of quilt shops.  Otherwise, if you live near enough to a larger city, type in "Quilt shops+ city, state"  Example;  "quilt shops+Atlanta, Ga"  That should bring up any quilt shops in or near the city you list.  It's a bit harder to buy fabrics on line because the colors aren't as true as viewing them in person, but I have always been happy with the results of ordering on line.

If you don't get any results that way, email me directly and I'll see if I can help you more.

Stitches . .


I just love your blogs, ME and quilts are my passion.  I like to do quilts in themes.  I have done an american  wild animal one for the grandson, a wolf and indian one for my daughter and serveral floral ones not to mention crib size one for the babies.

With ME I know what the ones I am doing it for like and can do it.  As far as the colors I take the colors out of the embroidery.  Example, on the grandsons I did the logs in a light brown, the frame in a deep green, the back in an animal print.  Using these colors just brought the ME to jump out of the quilt.

Please keep up the blog for I enjoy everyone of them.


I want to know how to do the Hand stitch w/needle and thread , like on the binding after you sew with machine on one side. I just need to see how that is done. What I have seen that is completed , it is beautiful.

Thank you

I have used the Orvus soap for many years on our cows and sheep.  I never thought of using it on quilts/fabric!  How much would you use?

Oh my goodness, I didn't check for a couple days, and I have three new friends, all of a sudden.  I'm so very happy that you enjoy my blog.  If you haven't read the first four, please catch up.  I'm trying to do this in some kind of sequence, hoping to cover some of the things that may be of interest to new quilters .

Marge, I'm so glad you are combing the two kinds of needlework.  I'm new to ME, but plan to do some quilts with ME before long.  Keep up with your good work, and keep us informed.  Put some of your things on the gallery.  Show them off.

Neva, one of my friends was a "Neva" before I moved.  Do you need to know about binding right away?  If so, write to me personally through ATG, and I will help you.  That is one of the things that I plan to cover later, when we have done some other things, leading up to putting a quilt together.

Vreni, that must be an acronym for your first and last names.  I dont' think I could pronounce it as a first name.  ;o)    Orvus soap is great for quilts.  I use about a Tablespoon, or a "big two-fingered scoop", as sombody's Grandma would describe.  (Shucks, that could be me).  I usually run water in the washer, add the Orvus while the water runs, and let it agitate to mix it up.  See if it makes just a bit of suds, then put in your quilt or any other delicates.  Put the washer on gentle cycle, if you have that, and let it run a short cycle. If you don't have a getle cycle, just let it soak, and then rinse and spin.  If it is an heirloom quilt that is pretty delicate, just run water in the tub and disslove the Orvus in the water and let your quilt soak a while and then rinse by hand.  If you do that, you might put in the washer, just to spin the water out.  Then dry the quilt flat.  I spread it out on the living room carpet, with a clean sheet under it.  You can reshape or block it while it's still damp, and let it dry completely.  I migh add. . .never dry clean a quilt.  The chemicals in dry cleaning might react in some way or yellow the quilt over time.  I don't have much experience with cleaning old quilts.  I would go to the internet and look that up.  Also, there are washing products marketed for cleaning old quilts.  I'm not familiar with them, but I have seen them in quilt shops.  You can do a search ofr them too. Hope that helps.

Another word about washing quilts.  If you have finished making a quilt, you can wash it or just wet it and spin the water out.  Then block it as you would a sweater.  You can straighten up the edges just a bit that way.

OOPs,  I forgot something.  I'll be out of town for a couple days,  If anyone has any questions, or comments, I'll get back to you when I return.  Also, I forgot to sign my last comments.

Stitches to you,


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