Favorite pins for piecing

I’m re-posting my two cents’ worth on quilting pins, (first posted in May 2013), as I still have the same favorite pins and would like to recommend them to you. When I’m piecing my quilts I like to pin at intersections to help keep everything precise. I always place my pins perpendicular to the seam line. If I use narrow pins and sew slowly, my machine will run over them without any problems. I’m always cautious about telling my students that they may sew over pins. Some machines are very finicky especially if the pins are fat, or positioned at an odd angle rather than at right angles to the seam line. If in doubt, take them out just before your machine reaches them. There are a variety of choices out there. Here are some of the options.

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The pins on the far left are my favorite. These are Clover Extra Fine patchwork pins. They have yellow or turquoise glass heads and a nice slender shank of 0.4 mm. They are hard to find in the stores. I buy them wholesale and have them available for my students to purchase. Please contact me if you’d like to buy some. The ones next to them are Fine (0.5 mm) and work well too. The Fine ones seem to be more readily available in the quilt stores than the Extra Fine. If you want longer pins, the flat headed flower pins, (far right), are good. The shank is narrow (0.45 mm) and the head is easy to grab. The second from the right and other similar pins, which are often called “quilting pins”, are too fat in my opinion and not appropriate for use when machine piecing. They do have their uses. When I’m auditioning fabrics on my work wall, I use them to pin the fabrics, (which are often folded several times), onto the board. Some people swear by forked pins, but these are pricey. One of my students told me that the forks bend easily. They are problematic if the forks aren’t exactly parallel and can cause puckers.


Of course, when you have pins, you need pin cushions. I have several including a Shaker one with bobbin holder, tapestry, little basket, blue-bird with green wings, a rather angular chicken, and a round felted chicken.

Nifty Pin Cushion

When I was teaching recently at the Cheyenne Heritage Quilters in WY, one of my students had these nifty wrist band pin cushions. The original one, with the cream flower-head pins, came from Stretch & Sew over 35 years ago. She found the new one at the Creative Needle, a quilt store in Littleton, CO. I like this design. The plastic base under the felted area prevents pins from going all the way through and pricking the wrist, and the pins are all vertical, so are easy to access.

New ones are also available on Amazon here.

Ann Person founded the Stitch and Sew company in the late 60’s. Sewing was taught in home economics classes in schools, but the curriculum rarely included sewing with knits. Ann taught home sewers how to create a multitude of knit garments through her classes, patterns, and instructional materials. Her novel technique, “Stretch and Sew”, employed a straight stitch or zigzag stitch so was easy to execute using a home sewing machine. She opened her first store in Burns, Oregon, in 1967, where she sold patterns and fabric and gave sewing lessons. Franchising was becoming popular in the United States at that time, and she took advantage of the trend. In the mid-’70s, there were 353 Stretch & Sew stores worldwide, as far away as Canada and New Zealand. She wrote dozens of instructional books, most of which can still be found on Amazon, eBay and other online sites; created over 200 patterns; and even developed her own sewing machine. Ann passed away at 90 years of age in August 2015, leaving an amazing legacy.


The FabGrab Quilter’s Sandboard

As a quilt teacher, I sometimes receive e-mails from people wanting to promote their new products. Maureen Lasslett, maker of the FabGrab sandboard, contacting me offering to send me this 3 in 1 no-slip fabric grabbing tool and asking for critical feedback. Maureen is a former quilt shop owner (2001-2011), quilting and sewing teacher, and the current co-owner of a sewing machine resource center in her home state of New Jersey. When she had her quilt shop, one of the more popular products that she offered her customers was a sand board, used for holding fabric patches in place while tracing template outlines, sewing and cutting lines. Clover and Dritz both carried their own version of this very useful tool, but no longer produce them. Maureen felt that this was a product that should be readily available for quilters, so she designed her own and it is now in the market place. Here’s her website.

20160905_121457Don’t be put off by the rather dated-looking packaging. This is a great tool with three surfaces for use in a variety of quilt-making techniques: the sandy textured surface holds fabric firmly in place for ease in marking and tracing, the felt surface may be used for a mini design wall for small pieces and applique, and the white acrylic surface on back provides a smooth area for writing and tracing. I particularly like the sand board and am already using this frequently. The size, 8-1/2″ x 11″, is convenient to use and to transport. I have no reservations in recommending this product.20160917_162016

Maureen is working on improving the packaging and will be removing the gimmick of the free fabric squares and pincushion pattern. On the updated versions, you may also find a different color of felt for the mini-work wall. Give it a go!



Quilting Rulers

I feel the need to re-run my thoughts on rulers because I am appalled by what many quilting shops are offering. In May, I visited Shipshewana, IN, an Amish quilting Mecca. The only rulers at both the Yoder Department Store and Lilly’s, the two impressively large quilting stores in town, were Creative Grids rulers with an extra 1/2″ added which I hate. Despite the huge array of sizes displayed, there were no rulers without the extra 1/2″. I wanted to get a ruler for my friend who is a beginning quilter and could not bring myself to buy her the 6-1/2″ x 24″ which is so confusing. I do not understand the logic of producing rulers like this except for 9-1/2″ and 12-1/2″ squares which can be used for easily cutting finished-sized 9″ and 12″ blocks for applique. I am a huge fan of Omnigrid rulers without the extra 1/2″ and always recommend these to my students.


The Omnigrid rulers are clear and easy to read. If I could only have one ruler for all my quilting, I would choose the 6″ x 24″ and this is the one I advise new quilters to purchase. With my 6″ x 24″ I can use either long side for measuring my cuts. For the Creative Grids 6-1/2″ version I get confused by the extra 1/2″ and I find it easy to make a mistake if the ruler is turned round the wrong way. My second favorite is the 15″ square which I find extremely useful for cutting large squares and squaring up my Kaleidoscope and Op-Art Kaleidoscope blocks. Another I like is the 6″ x 12″ ruler. This is especially good for cutting strip sets into segments which I do frequently when making my Bargello block quilts. When you are making these repeated counter-cuts, it is easier to use this smaller ruler rather than the long 6″ x 24″. You can line up the horizontal lines on the ruler with the seam lines on the strip-sets which helps to keep everything square and even.


I realize that part of this is simply due to habit and what I’m used to, but for me it is hard work using rulers that have the extra 1/2″ or that have variable divisions in the measurements marked on the ruler. I have seen some appalling specimens on my teaching travels and my students get frustrated when their rulers are so difficult to use.

Bobbini bobbin holders

When I was teaching for the Sew Broke Quilters in Mars, PA, one of my students had these nifty bobbin holders. They are made from squashy rubber and are a very handy way to keep a bobbin with the corresponding spool of thread. I think they are ingenious and am ordering some. Once again, I was introduced to an awesome new gadget during a workshop.

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Here’s a YouTube video from the makers, Smartneedle Inc. These bobbin holders are available on Amazon and cost $9.99 for a pack of 12, (no shipping charge if you have Amazon Prime).

LED Sewing Machine Lights

An aspect I enjoy about teaching, is learning from my students and being introduced to new gadgets. A lady at my recent class at the Quilt Guild of Greater Houston had these awesome LED lights on her sewing machine. They come in a strip with an adhesive back and can be cut to the appropriate size for your machine. Nice patchwork pincushion tied onto the machine too!


The amount of light generated from the strip of little bulbs is significant. More light is always good for ease of vision and accurate sewing. Here’s a shot of the machine with lights switched off and you can see the difference. The view of the backside of the machine shows how the lights are connected to the power source with cables. On my machine, I used the clip provided to pass the cable around the back and I stuck the switch part around the corner on the end of the machine.

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You can order these lights as a kit from Amazon and if you get the expansion kit with an extra transformer and connectors, you can do two sewing machines for $45 (instead of one for $30). Mine have just arrived and I’m very pleased with them. I will share the second set with a friend. A reviewer on Amazon recommends temporarily taping the lights up to try them out and move them with ease to adjust to the most advantageous position. Once you are satisfied that they are in the best place, then you can peel the paper away from the back to expose the adhesive strip and stick them exactly where you want them.


Here’s the kit including the extension with enough LED strip lights for two machines, connectors, and two transformers etc. Here’s a link to a YouTube video to help you with the installation if you decide to purchase them.

Iron Shoe

My last few blogs have been about the Sew Expo in Puyallup. My main splurge there was at the Bo-Nash booth, where I purchased an IronSlide Ironing Board Cover and an IronSlide Iron Shoe. Here, I’ll show you the iron shoe. See my blog from last week for the ironing board cover.


The IronSlide Iron Shoe is made of fiberglass with a non-stick surface. Starch and fusibles may be wiped off easily. Apparently, nothing will burn and you can iron over things like glitter, puff-paint and sequins without damaging them. You can also dispense with pressing clothes. It fits most sizes of iron. Simply pull on the draw strings and tie for a nice snug fit.

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I was concerned about losing the sharp point on my iron, but this doesn’t seem to present a problem when I want to iron seams open and has not been an issue. One thing I have noticed when ironing my quilting fabric, is that it tends to create static electricity. The fabric then clings a bit to the ironing board. As far as ironing efficiency goes, this in combination with the ironing board cover seem to have made a difference and everything is working nicely.

Ironing Board Cover

My last few blogs have been about the Sew Expo in Puyallup. My main splurge there was at the Bo-Nash booth, where I purchased an IronSlide Ironing Board Cover and an IronSlide Iron Shoe. Stephanie did a nice job promoting the products and I decided to give them a go.


I have a “European” ironing board which is 18″ wide and 49″ long, and always have difficulty finding the appropriate size of ironing board cover. I purchased the Giant IronSlide cover which is 65″ x 29″. It is self adhesive and you simply peel off the paper backing and stick it down. I removed my old cover and extracted the padding from it to use again, and then added the silver self-adhesive IronSlide cover. I cut around the ironing board leaving a margin to tuck in at the sides and cut slits in it to miter around the edges. It was a little tricky and the adhesive is extremely sticky, but I managed to install it on my own. Having a second pair of hands would definitely have made the job easier. The ironing board looks pretty slick now and so far, I’m liking it.

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The IronSlide cover is made from luninex which reflects 300% more heat than regular cotton covers, so this in theory cuts the ironing time in half and both sides are ironed at once. If it has creases in it after installation, these will iron out. I didn’t have any problem with that and mine is nice and smooth. The cover is very stable and doesn’t move around at all.

In my next blog, I will show you the IronSlide Iron Show.

The magic of Color Catchers

I made this large Bargello block quilt for my nephew and there was almost a catastrophe.


On my way to quilt it on my friend’s long-arm quilting machine, my water bottle tipped and spilled slightly onto the quilt. When I got to my destination, I discovered to my horror that the red dye from the small red squares had bled. This should not have happened – all the fabrics were pre-washed before I pieced the quilt and the dyes should have been stable.

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We dried the quilt top by ironing it and decided to go ahead and quilt it. After quilting and adding the binding, I washed the quilt. Color Catcher to the rescue!

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The Color Catcher is a white sheet that goes into the washing machine with the laundry load. It traps the loose dyes that are released during the washing cycle. As you can see, it worked its magic when I washed the quilt. The red that had bled onto the surrounding fabrics was released and gathered up by the sheet, which changed color from white to dark pink. Color catchers come in boxes of 24 and are available at grocery stores.

Portable design wall

When I was teaching in Spokane, WA, one of my students brought an ingenious portable design wall to class. She said that quilt teacher Pat Speth had given her the instructions. I contacted Pat and she kindly agreed to allow me to share these with you. See Pat’s blog for more pictures.

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Pat developed this design wall back in 1995 and has been sharing it in her workshops ever since. It’s lightweight, inexpensive, and very portable. Here are the supplies you will need:

Dressmaker’s cardboard cutting board (the kind that folds up for storage), when folded measures 14″ x 40″
Two curtain rods that extend to at least 72″ (the white metal ones that curve on each end)
Piece of flannel 44″ x 80″ or a flannel-backed vinyl tablecloth
10–12 large binder clips 2″ size (from the office supply store)
Double sided carpet tape

Cover the backside of the design wall with the flannel – it will fold up with the grid side on the outside so the flannel will stay cleaner longer. With the backside facing up, apply the double-stick carpet tape along one long edge at a time. If your flannel is wider than the design wall, apply the tape to the grid-side and attach a couple of inches of flannel to the front (or whatever you need to make it fit). Press the flannel onto the tape, allowing it to extend past the cutting board at the top and bottom by a couple of inches.Tape both sides, then turn the board over. Apply tape to the top, press the flannel into place, and repeat on the bottom edge.

When all the edges are taped down you are ready to attach the curtain rods.  Extend curtain rods to 6′ and lay them under the long sides, one side at a time.Attach binder clips to hold the cutting board to the curtain rod.

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Use five or six binder clips along each side. Finish attaching the clips to one side, then do the other. If you are short of wall space for a permanent design wall, you can create the wall space by leaning these up against almost anything, blocking windows or doors. For larger quilts, simply set two or three of these design walls next to each other.