What I Wish I Knew When I Started Quilting

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When you've been crafting for a long time, it can be pretty amazing to look back and realize how far you've come. My first quilt , made at age 15, was a strip quilt for my musician boyfriend — yes, I actually used fabric with musical notes and, yes, he still has it! But that first quilt wasn't my best work, and while I'm glad it lasted, here's what I wish that baby quilter had known to make it even more of a success.

1. Just Say No to Lead Pencils

My teacher, a traditional quilter, used a regular lead pencil to mark dark Civil War reproduction fabrics. I followed in her footsteps... and kept doing the same even when I moved into a modern aesthetic. So I now have a beautiful quilt where you can see lead pencil lines through my solid white fabric. I even quilted over those marks, so they're not going away. Lesson learned! Now I use a hera marker for hand quilting, and when I need more visibility, a water-soluble fabric marker .

2. Go Batty for Batting

My teacher only made quilt tops, so I didn't learn how to baste and quilt until I was a fiber arts major in college. I went to buy batting thinking the only decision was between polyester or cotton — but now there's bamboo, wool, even silk! There are also different densities and lofts to consider, and it all makes a difference in your quilt's final result. These days, the batting I'm most excited to use is wool: couple it with hand quilting and it can turn into a fluffy, puffy, wonderful blanket.

3. Chain Up!

At some point I realized that not only could I chain-piece quilt blocks , I could also chain-piece quilt rows, bringing a whole quilt top together SO FAST. My jaw hit the floor. I was like, "Suzy, what have you been doing all these years?!"

4. One Direction Isn't Just a Boy Band

Another lightbulb moment: the day I saw someone quilting every line in the same direction. I had always snaked back and forth, thinking wavy fabric between lines of stitching was inevitable — it's not! It takes a bit longer to stitch in one direction only, but the results are worth it, especially for matchstick quilting .

5. Give Pins a Good Slap

OK, don't do this literally. What I mean is, look for notions that will solve your every quilting problem. It was so fun to discover that a magnetic pin-holder slap bracelet exists! I don't need to put pins in my mouth anymore (you should never do that), and there are plenty of other notions out there to fix any other nuisances bugging you. Another favorite trick? Using a glue stick to adhere appliqué pieces. Genius!

6. Be Adventurous!

These days I like to push the boundaries of the quilting canon, so I've been exploring different fabric substrates looking for cool textures. My Bohemian Garden quilt uses all knit fabrics, for instance, and I'm so proud of it because it's unique. (And it's a long way from that first quilt.) So my last piece of advice? Learn to make things the "right" way, then branch out and try something new!

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What I Wish I Knew When I Started Quilting