Patchwork and quilting

#QuiltingTheory – Essential Tools

NOTE: this post may contain affiliate links and you can read my full disclosure privacy policy here. Thank you.

When you start quilting – or any new hobby really – the number of tools that are available can be a bit overwhelming, and you can be left wondering what do you really need to get started? The list of what you would like to get is guaranteed to grow as you continue on your quilting journey!!!!

#QuiltingTheory what are the essential tools a new quilter needs

Over the years I have encouraged a few friends to try out quilting by giving them a little care package of;

  • Fabric scraps
  • Hexagon EPP Paper Pieces
  • A couple of wonder clips
#QuiltingTheory what are the essential tools a new quilter needs

Most people have scissors and thread at home, and to start with I think it’s more important to play and see if you like patchwork and quilting before getting caught up in what is the correct thread, fabric and scissors to have and use.

It’s a great starting point as the fabric doesn’t need to be perfectly cut to wrap around the paper pieces, the clips help with basting the shapes and keeping everything together and as a quilter, I have all of these things to hand (quite often from magazine freebies!). If you would like to get some paper pieces to make your own care-package or try out quilting, it’s worth checking out Sew & Quilt as Jessie offers lots of different paper shapes and specialises in hand-sewing.

Alternatively, if you wanted to have a play at piecing fabric on a sewing machine, precuts are the perfect introduction as they are already cut to size and ready to sew (learn more about pre-cuts here). Depending on what is used, a pack will be the right size for a cushion or small cot quilt.

So, you’ve had a play and decided that Yes! Quilting is for you. What should be next on your list?! Ideally, you will want to buy a cutting mat, acrylic ruler and rotary cutter. I have listed below the tools that I have tried over the years, to give an idea of all the different options available!

Needles & Pins

There are many types of needles and pins available. Because everyone has their own way of holding and using needles, what is ‘best’ is very much down to personal preference, which can take a bit of trial and error.

#QuiltingTheory what are the essential tools a new quilter needs
  • Needles: I switch between needles, often depending on what is to hand! I mostly sew with short, fine needles as I feel it gives me more control over what I’m sewing. My go-tos are a Size 10 (applique) or Size 12 (quilting between) gold eye needles but if I’m working with something like Liberty, I will often use a black-gold needle as it seems to be smoother with the fine Tana Lawn. I have also heard great things about Tulip Needles but have yet to try them out – they are on my list!
  • Pins: I prefer fine dressmaker pins as they don’t leave big pin marks in the fabric. The one downside is that they can become invisible if they drop on the floor as they have no decorative head on them, so you may prefer purpose made quilting pins. The other pins that I use a lot are applique pins which are fine and short so that they don’t get in the way when stitching.
  • Needle Threader: this needle threaded helps to alleviate my frustrations of working with a fine needle and thread, which I’m finding more useful with each passing year! It is also more robust than any other needle threader I have tried and easy to use.


For quilting, it is best to use cotton thread with cotton fabric as it prevents excessive wear and tear, helping your finished project to last a long time. There are lots of brands available – personally, I love Aurifil Thread as it is available in soooo many different colours and I’ve never had any problems using it! However, some people seem to struggle with their sewing machine not liking it and prefer to use Gutterman, so it can be a case of trial and error.

Colour wise, if you are just starting out and want to buy just one spool, I recommend a pale grey (for Aurifil, this would be colour code 2600) as it doesn’t stand out too much against a bright/dark fabric.

#QuiltingTheory what are the essential tools a new quilter needs

Cotton thread is available in different thicknesses – a 50wt is a great starting point as it can be used for hand and machine sewing.

As the numbers get lower eg. 40wt, the thread gets thicker making it good for more quilting definition or embellishing your project. As the number gets higher eg, 80wt, the thread gets fine and is often preferred by those who hand-piece/do a lot of English Paper Piecing as the stitching becomes almost invisible!

If you are doing a lot of hand-sewing, it can really help to use a thread-conditioner to coat the thread as it helps strengthens the thread and prevent it from tangling whilst sewing.

Cutting Mats

Self-healing cutting mats are fantastic for cutting fabric on: the mat ‘heals’ after you have cut on it. They prevent the rotary cutter from blunting too quickly, have measurements on which helps with cutting projects out quicker and also help with protecting work surfaces.

#QuiltingTheory what are the essential tools a new quilter needs

Over time, it is likely that you will end up with a few cutting mats for different needs – I now have four and they all get used regularly! My recommendations are;

  1. 24″ x 18″ cutting mat: if you have one cutting mat, this is a great starting point and was all I had for the first couple of years of quilting. It is just big enough for a Fat Quarter of fabric which makes it ideal for lots of different projects.
  2. 12″Rotating cutting mat: if you are making blocks that need trimming eg. Half Square Triangles, or trimming a lot of blocks to size, a rotating mat is very beneficial. You can trim two sides, rotate the mat 180* – without needing to lift the block, which helps with accurate cutting – and then trim the other side. Easy Peasy!
  3. Larger Cutting Mat: at 36″ x 24″ this is useful for cutting lots of strips without having to rearrange the fabric all the time, and ideal for other projects such as bags and dressmaking
  4. Desktop Cutting Mat: although I love my 24″ x 18″ cutting mat, I can’t use it very easily in my sewing room (I have to clear a space on the kitchen table!) so for smaller projects/individual blocks I have a cutting mat which fits perfectly on my worktop. This will all very much depend on your sewing room/space set-up.

Cutting Tools

As quilting is mainly about chopping fabric up into smaller pieces, before sewing it back together again, there is obviously a need for cutting tools in your sewing room! If you are doing a lot of quilting, it is worth investing in a rotary cutter (to be used with acrylic rulers) as they help to speed up the cutting process. A secondary benefit is that it helps to reduce fraying of the fabric as handling is minimised.

#QuiltingTheory what are the essential tools a new quilter needs
  1. Seam Ripper: one of the most essential tools for a quilter, mine often gets way more use than I would like! If you are doing lots of sewing, it is worth spending a little bit of money on a seam ripper as they tend to be more robust and sharper (they can blunt over time) – I’ve been really happy with this one. It has a lovely feel to it and, once a seam has been undone, the silicon end is rubbed over the stitch line to help pull out any stray threads and remove/reduce the needle puncture marks. It’s magic! They are also a great tool for holding bits of fabric together under the sewing machine!!!
  2. 45mm Rotary Cutter: rotary cutters are available in a few different sizes, but this is one I’ve found to be the most useful and versatile. The safety mechanism tends to work in a slightly different way across each of the brands and the blades can be replaced as they get blunted with use. A smaller 28mm rotary cutter can be useful if you are making smaller blocks/cutting curves.
  3. Embroidery Scissors / Snips: useful for trimming threads, keeping close by when doing hand-sewing and snipping/trimming fabric.
  4. Dressmaking Scissors: a good pair of scissors for cutting fabric are essential, and to maintain their sharpness should only ever be used for fabric. There are lots of different scissors brands available – these ones have got holes in the blade so that they are not too heavy which means I never get sore hands when doing lots of cutting!

Acrylic Rulers

Acrylic rulers, when used with a rotary cutter and self-healing mat are really helpful for cutting fabric pieces quickly and accurately. You will probably find that you start off with one ruler and end up with a multitude! To start off with though, I would recommend;

#QuiltingTheory what are the essential tools a new quilter needs
  1. 6.5″ x 24″ acrylic ruler: this is an ideal first purchase as it is long enough to cut a whole Width of Fabric that is folded in half (perfect for cutting binding strips!) and when paired with a cutting mat can be used to cut large pieces of fabric easily. And as a friendly warning, if you have small children, make sure the ruler is always stored somewhere safe where they can’t jump on it and break it…….!!!
  2. A 6.5″ square or 12.5″ square ruler: a great next purchase, these are really beneficial for trimming blocks to size, and I probably use them both equally. These rulers are also great when it comes to bag/pouch making for cutting slightly bigger pieces accurately and quickly.
  3. 6″ x 1″ ruler: a handy size for keeping close by, useful for measuring seam allowance/piecing accuracy, adding a seam allowance and drawing guidelines.

Marking Tools

  • Pen or Pencil: visit this post to read more detail about all the different options that are available!
  • Hera Marker: I didn’t learn about these until I’d been quilting for a little while, but they are so useful! You can draw along the edge of a ruler with the sharp end – much like a pen – and it flattens the fibres creating an indentation line which can be used as a guide for sewing along. This is brilliant when you don’t want to use a pen of any sort on the fabric, for example when marking quilting lines. A quick blast with a steam iron will help to plump the cotton fibres back up and the line disappears.
Essential Tools for a quilter: flowers meadow cushion with quilting lines drawn with a Hera Marker by fabricandflowers

The only other things that I can think of which gets way more use than you would probably think is a wooden chopstick! Although not strictly for quilting, they are fantastic for turning out pouches/straps without piercing/damaging the fabric.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this post – if you have any questions or think that I’ve missed any essential tools off then please do drop me a line.

If you would like to look at the other posts in the #QuiltingTheory series to learn more about quilting, you can see them here;

See you soon,


Today’s sky::: overcast and grey

If you’ve enjoyed this post, please do sign-up to my newsletter to have updates and news sent to your inbox. And to see my patterns check out my Etsy shop here.

How to make applique templates using an iPad!

NOTE: this post may contain affiliate links and you can read my full disclosure privacy policy here. Thank you.

Hellooo! So, I’ve made a couple of things for Mr f&f lately with motifs on and thought it might be something that you would be interested in? So I’m going to show you how to applique using images traced from a tablet screen!!!

How to applique - making templates on an iPad and reverse applique coaster by fabricandflowers

Using your tablet (I have an iPad) find an image that you want to replicate in applique. Get the image to the approximate size that you want to copy on the screen, and take a screenshot.

Go into your photos, and open up the picture that you have just taken. Get a piece of paper and place over the screen. It’s best to hold the screen at an angle to get a true light-box effect and hold the paper in position with your fingers just off the edge of the screen (I’ve found that finger movements are still picked up through the paper, which is why I take a photo of the image, otherwise it keeps resizing as you’re trying to trace!!).

Disclaimer: this technique is based on my own experience and not recommended by device manufacturers so should be undertaken at your own risk!

Use a pencil to lightly sketch the outline of your shape, being careful not to put too much pressure on the screen to prevent causing damage. Again, try and keep your hand off the screen to stop the picture moving around. When you have got the rough outline, take the paper off the screen, place it on a flat surface and draw over the lines again to make them more visible, and add in any extra detail that you need.

Cut the shape out. Now, you are ready to applique!

Reverse Applique: Punisher teapot coaster

This was Mr f&f’s Valentine present (how romantic am I?!). He recently got this teapot and joked that it needed its own special coaster. Who would be better to look after it than The Punisher?!

How to applique - reverse applique coaster by fabricandflowers

I wanted a slightly rougher, less refined look for this project. Having never tried it, I thought reverse applique – where the fabric is layered and the top one then cut away to reveal the one underneath – would be good, as over time the fabric edges would fray.

I placed the motif on the right side of the top layer of fabric. To draw around the outside of the shape, I used a Sewline pencil as it shows clearly on the dark fabric (or you can see my post here for other options).

Layer the fabric that you want to reveal under the front fabric (making sure that it is under the motif that you have drawn!) and secure in place pinning from the front. As this is a small project, I then put some wadding behind so that I would be quilting and securing the layers together at the same time. If I was working on a bigger project, I would probably use a glue pen or do a little stitching to secure the fabric layers together.

I free motion stitched the layers together, using the pencil lines as a guide. If you’ve never tried free motion quilting, a small project like this is a great way to have a go as it is easier to control a small piece of fabric, and also a ridiculous amount of fun! Everyone has a slightly different way that they like to set up the machine, mine is to;

How to applique - reverse applique coaster and tips for free motion sewing by fabricandflowers
  • Use an open-toe foot so that you can see where you’re sewing: this also means that the fabric isn’t ‘gripped’ as much by the machine, giving you more control over moving the fabric around.
  • Set the stitch length to ‘0’ as you will be moving the fabric around, which will determine the size of your stitches (and preserve your sewing machine needle!)
  • Some people like to drop the feed-dogs on their machine (the grippy bits that sit under the sewing machine foot). Personally, I like to leave them up as I find that it gives me slightly more control of the fabric as it can’t jump too much.
  • Generally, you will want to sew slower than normal to give you more control over the movement of the fabric – I have a digital machine and normally reduce the speed by about 50%!
  • Leave a long tail of thread at the beginning and end of your stitching so that they can be pulled through to the back and knotted.

When you are happy with your stitching, it is time to cut away the top layer of fabric. I pinched the back two layers (wadding and light grey fabric) with my left hand and the top black layer with my right thumb and forefinger before snipping a hole to start cutting (Note – if I do this again I will probably cut a little access hole in the top fabric before layering together as I was petrified of ruining my work!). I used a mix of little sharp embroidery scissors and duck-billed applique scissors which are great for cutting as close as you can to the stitching.

To finish the coaster, I trimmed the top to 5″, placed backing fabric right side together to the front and sewed around the edge, leaving a gap along one side to turn it out. With coasters, I always like to trim away the excess wadding and angle the corners so that when it’s turned out you get as sharp corners and smooth edges as possible.

Once turned through, a little press and some top-stitching and it was all finished. Ta-dah!!! Such a fun little project – probably only took a couple of hours all in, including taking the photos!

For standard applique – like the tie-fighter coffee cosy! – I cut the template into smaller pieces eg. wings, body, and window, for each of the fabrics I wanted to use for each section. Iron bondaweb – which is fusible on both sides, but with a bit of paper on one side – to the wrong side of the fabric. Turn your template pieces over (so that they were reversed) and draw around them on to the bondaweb before cutting out. Peel the backing off the bondaweb and arrange each of the pieces on to the fabric and iron in place. Decorate with stitching – I used free motion quilting as detailed.

How to applique - making templates on an iPad and reverse applique coaster by fabricandflowers

Now to decide what applique to do for his birthday….!!! I hope you’ve enjoyed this, and if you have a go at making your own templates then please do let me know – I’d love to see what you create!


Today’s sky::: bright but cloudy

If you’ve enjoyed this post, please do sign-up to my newsletter to have updates and news sent to your inbox. And to see my patterns check out my Etsy shop here.

#QuiltingTheory – Fabric

NOTE: this post may contain affiliate links and you can read my full disclosure privacy policy here. Thank you.

In this weeks post, we are going to be looking at fabric. Yay! When starting out, the selection of quilting fabrics can be exciting and scary. There are so many colours, patterns and different types of fabric cuts that you can buy……the amount of choice and decisions to be made can be overwhelming. It doesn’t take long before a fabric shop can feel like a candy shop though!!!

#QuiltingTheory - learn everything you need to know to begin quilting and grow your skills by fabricandflowers | Sonia Spence

Today, we’re going to be looking at the different ways in which you can buy quilting fabric cuts, and use them. There’s a lot of detail covered, so if you would like to jump to a particular section, here are the different headings;

Buying Quilting Fabric

There are a few different ways to buy fabric for quilting projects;

  • Precuts: 42 pieces cut to a certain shape/size from one range of fabric.
  • Quilting cuts: most common are Fat Quarters/Fat Eighths.
  • Yardage/Meterage: ideal for larger projects and quilt backings.

When I first started quilting, pre-cuts were a great way of getting variety in my patchwork, which was great when I didn’t have a stash and still nervous about putting colours and patterns together.

Pre-cuts will sometimes have duplicates of fabric patterns/colourways, depending on the size of the range (which can be anything from 20+ different prints). Common pre-cuts are;

#QuiltingTheory - learn everything you need to know to begin quilting and grow your skills by fabricandflowers | Sonia Spence
  • Mini/Candy Charms: (42) 2.5″ squares
  • Charm Pack: (42) 5″ squares
  • Layer Cake: (42) 10″ squares
  • Jelly Roll: (42) x 2.5″ x Width of Fabric strips

My only advice with pre-cuts is to be extra careful when sewing them together. Double check the size as I have often found that I need to use a slightly more scant seam allowance than I normally would to achieve accurate results.

#QuiltingTheory - learn everything you need to know to start quilting and grow your skills. Today we're looking at quilting fabric cuts and how to draw marks on fabric by fabricandflowers | Sonia Spence

If you’re looking to buy bigger pieces of fabric – either for a specific project or to build up your stash – the most common cut is a Fat Quarter. However, Fat Eighths are also great for smaller projects or applique/scrap projects.

Using quilting fabric

#QuiltingTheory - learn everything you need to know to start quilting and grow your skills. Today we're looking at quilting fabric cuts and how to draw marks on fabric by fabricandflowers | Sonia Spence


The selvedge runs along each side edge of each fabric, and prevents it from unravelling . One side will detail the manufacturer, designer and name of the fabric range as well as individual colour dots (or sometimes motifs!) that identify the exact colours used in the fabric printing. This is a great way of getting an exact colour match if you are looking to use solids.

Some quilters like to cut off the informational selvedge by 1-2″ to use them in other projects (Pinterest is a great source of projects!). The other selvedge side sometimes has the design print running all the way to the edge of the fabric but also needs to be cut off as it has a different texture (like a tape) and tiny holes.

Generally, cutting off the selvedges will leave 42″ of useable fabric.

Right/Wrong side of fabric

For most fabrics, it is easy to tell the difference between the front (right side) and back (wrong side) of the fabric as the front tends to have stronger colour where the pattern is printed on.

On some fabrics though, such as solids, batiks or Liberty Tana Lawns, it can be a bit trickier to identify the front of the fabric as the printing process and/or thinner fabrics means that the colours seep through to a much greater extent. Where this is the case, I normally do a couple of things;

  • Fold the fabric back on itself. If there is no noticeable difference in the colour/texture of the fabric, I don’t worry about it too much!
  • If there is a noticeable difference, I will decide which side to work with. As I cut the pieces out, I will mark them (with one of the marking tools or maybe a bit of washi tape) so that they all get used in the same way.

To wash or not to wash fabric?

This is a subject that causes much debate between quilters – should fabrics be pre-washed, or left until the quilt is finished???

Fabric undergoes lots of different processes and treatments whilst it’s being made. One of these includes adding starch. Pre-washing will remove this and can mean that, even with pressing, it can be difficult to get all the creases out of the fabric again.

Generally speaking, as long as you are using the same fabric type throughout your project eg. all cotton, it doesn’t make too much difference to the finished item as they should all react in a similar way to being washed.

One benefit of leaving washing until the quilt is finished, is that the fabric will shrink (generally by 3-5%) giving the quilt a lovely crinkled effect and – assuming all the fabric are made with the same materials – all fabrics will shrink by the same amount.

HOWEVER, it does become a bit nerve-racking to do this if the project you are working on is high contrast or has a very vibrant colour eg. red or navy.

I follow the non-wash* approach and throw in a couple of colour catchers with the first wash. If it’s a particularly strong colour, I’ll put a couple of extras in for good measure. The sheets absorb any colour that does run and so far, this strategy has always worked for me. And sometimes it’s the colours that you don’t expect to run that do! I would, however, always recommend using your own discretion or testing the fabric if you’re especially concerned and it’s a project that you are going to invest a lot of time and money in.

*NOTE: this is different to dress-making where I would always recommend pre-washing your fabric as it is devastating to make an item of clothing that is the perfect fit only to have it shrink after its first wash!

How to cut fabric straight

Ooooh, this is a good topic! From experience, I have found that some fabrics can be printed wonky. It’s frustrating, but it does happen, so ‘straight’ can sometimes be relative to the pattern of the fabric you are using!

When I am cutting fabric, I use a quilting ruler as a guide against the selvedge (a straight edge) to ensure accuracy.

However, if the fabric has a noticeable pattern – and it is not perpendicular to the selvedge – I cut in line with this as any unevenness can be highly noticeable once it’s pieced into a quilt.

Drawing/marking quilting fabric

#QuiltingTheory - learn everything you need to know to start quilting and grow your skills. Today we're looking at quilting fabric cuts and how to draw marks on fabric by fabricandflowers | Sonia Spence

When quilting, you will sometimes want to draw on your fabric – either to mark a sewing line, quilting pattern or template line for applique.

There are lots of different pens, pencils and tools available for drawing and marking on fabric. Again, what you use is most often down to personal preference and the project that you are working on. Over the years, I have tried out a number of the most commonly used options;

  • Frixion pen (A): draw on the fabric and when finished, run over the lines with a hot iron and the lines will disappear. It’s magic! However, the lines can come back if the temperature gets extremely cold and, depending on the fabric, it can leave a residual line which doesn’t completely disappear.
  • Washable pen (B): draws just like a felt-tip pen, but the line washes away when dabbed with water.
  • Air erasable pen (C): Once drawn, the pen line will gradually disappear the longer it’s left in the open. This is okay if you only need a mark temporarily, but if the project is going to take a bit of time it can be frustrating if your marks have disappeared! Also worth noting that it disappears a lot quicker in hot weather!!!
  • Silver gel pen (D): These are great for needle-turn applique. You can draw the shape/lines on the front of the fabric and the line gradually wears off as you handle the fabric. It also shows up on a variety of different coloured fabrics.
  • Mechanical pencil (E): a pencil with a retractable/extendable lead inside. Each pencil often comes with a few leads inside and refills can be purchased.
  • Ceramic lead pencil (F): much like a mechanical pencil, the lead can be extended/retracted and the refills can be purchased. The leads come in different colours – I like the yellow as it seems to show on both light and dark fabrics (I know it looks barely visible in the picture but I promise that under the light of a sewing machine it does show up!). The line can then be erased with a damp sponge or gentle rubbing. Also useful for dress-making.

If I am drawing on the front of the fabric, I tend to use a washable pen (drawing embroidery lines), silver gel pen (for marking dark fabrics/zips when pouch making and needle-turn applique) and ceramic lead pencil.

If I want to mark the back of the fabrics/within the seam allowance I use a mechanical pencil. These probably get the most use in my sewing room and I buy them in packs (or refills) – they can be picked up easily and cheaply so are quite cost efficient too!

Phew – yet another mammoth post!!!!! I hope it’s all been useful. Please do make sure that you carry out your own checks when using, washing and marking fabrics as the reactions/results can vary depending on so many different factors – please remember that these are only my thoughts and experiences!

If you’d like to look at any of the other posts in #QuiltingTheory please have a look at the schedule;

See you next week when we’ll be looking at quilting tools!


Today’s sky:: blue skies but a little cloudy

If you’ve enjoyed this post, please do sign-up to my newsletter to have updates and news sent to your inbox. And to see my patterns check out my Etsy shop here.

#QuiltingTheory – Seam Allowance

NOTE: this post may contain affiliate links and you can read my full disclosure privacy policy here. Thank you.

Helloooo! And welcome back to Week 2 of the #QuiltingTheory series. Today, we’re looking at the Seam Allowance. This may be a term that you’re already aware of – especially if you’ve done some sewing before. One of the main things to know is that as quilters, we nearly always work in Inches (in comparison to dressmakers, who tend to work in centimetres), no matter what country you’re from! Which can then get a bit confusing when you’re ordering fabric in metres….but I digress!

#QuiltingTheory - learn everything you need to know to begin quilting and grow your skills, starting with The Seam Allowance and a Scant Quarter Inch by fabricandflowers | Sonia Spence

What is a Seam Allowance?

Simply put, a seam allowance is the distance from the edge of the fabric to the stitching line. Generally, quilters work with a 1/4″ seam allowance. This means there is enough fabric for the seam to survive natural wear and tear and stay secure, and not too much that it leaves the seam bulky on a finished block.

When I first started quilting, I worked out a 1/4″ on my sewing machine foot and off I went. All went well to start with: strictly speaking, if you’re sewing squares together, it doesn’t matter if your seam allowance is a smidge bigger/smaller than 1/4″: if you’re using the same allowance on all pieces of fabric, you will still end up with a square!

Sewing a 1/4″ Seam Allowance

There are a few ways to figure out how to sew a 1/4″ seam allowance on your sewing machine.

Sewing machines often come with a few different sewing feet. A ‘standard’ foot (which is the ‘A’ foot on my Janome, pictured on the left) is included with all machines, and sometimes you may receive a 1/4″ foot depending on what machine you have (the ‘O’ foot, pictured on the left). These can often be bought separately which is useful if you enjoy quilting – just make sure that it’s compatible with your machine!

There are a few ways to find out what to use as a guide mark for achieving your 1/4″ seam allowance, and these can be used for both types of sewing feet, although here I have only demonstrated with the standard foot;

  • Look at the measurement marks on the bed of your sewing machine and keep the edge of the fabric in line with this as you sew.
  • Place the foot on top of a ruler and look at where a 1/4″ measures from the centre of the foot – for my machine, that means keeping the edge of the fabric in line with the edge of the hole where the needle sits/the transparent section of the foot.
  • Sit at your sewing machine, and with the needle in the down position and the foot on the bed of the sewing machine, place a ruler (I’ve used this one!) matching the 1/4″ against the needle and look at where ‘0’ is on your sewing foot.

Personally, I like to measure from the needle position as I’ve found that every machine I’ve had is slightly different and the 1/4″ isn’t quite as accurate as I would like! Generally speaking, with the Janome a 1/4″ is at the intersection of the transparent/metal join at the front of the foot.

What is a scant 1/4 seam allowance?

To sew with a scant 1/4″ essentially means to sew the seam slightly less than 1/4″ from the edge of the fabric, so that the thickness of the thread and the little bit of fabric that is lost in the fold when opening the pieces out takes the total seam allowance up to 1/4″.

At this point, you are probably thinking quilters are crazy! We’re arguing over maybe the width of a piece of thread?!?! And I mean, how much difference can that really make?! The honest answer is that it very much depends on what you are doing. If you’re sewing together squares of fabric until you reach a quilt size you like, you don’t need to worry about this just now!

#QuiltingTheory - learn everything you need to know to begin quilting and grow your skills, starting with The Seam Allowance and a Scant Quarter Inch by fabricandflowers | Sonia Spence

However, if you are working on a block that is made up of lots of pieces, or working on a small block, seam accuracy really starts to matter. A slight discrepancy of 1/32″ per piece/block can soon add to become a big issue: I once had to unpick a whole border round on a medallion quilt because it finished 3/4″ smaller than it should have done (I was working with small 1.25″ squares which is why it had such an impact!)……sooo frustrating, but all part of the learning curve. At least, that’s what I was trying to tell myself at the time!

Working out a Scant 1/4″ Allowance on your machine

We’ve already talked about how to find the 1/4″ position on your machine. For a scant allowance, you will need to sew slightly closer to the edge of the fabric, which can take a bit of trial and error. There are a couple of ways of doing this depending on your machine;

  • Re-position the needle
  • Re-position the fabric

If you can, repositioning the needle is easier than trying to realign the fabric by such a small amount, and easier to replicate time and again. This will very much depend on whether you are able to shift the position of your needle. On my machine, which is digital, you can use the Width setting to shift the needle left or right by slight increments. My machine has a 1/4″ setting, with a needle position of 8.3, but I need to increase it to 8.8 (shifting the needle to the right as you look at the machine) to get a scant seam allowance. I do this each time I switch my machine on, but it soon becomes habit! You should check the handbook for your own machine to see if and how you can re-position your needle.

#QuiltingTheory - learn everything you need to know to begin quilting and grow your skills, starting with The Seam Allowance and a Scant Quarter Inch by fabricandflowers | Sonia Spence

If you need to re-position the fabric, it can be helpful to mark the bed of the sewing machine – Washi Tape is a really good way of creating a guideline to follow without permanently damaging/marking your sewing machine, is easily replaced and relocated if swapping between projects. Although if you have a top-loading bobbin like I do, you may want to make sure it’s full before putting the tape in place!

#QuiltingTheory - learn everything you need to know to begin quilting and grow your skills, starting with The Seam Allowance and a Scant Quarter Inch by fabricandflowers | Sonia Spence

The best way to check for a Scant 1/4″ Allowance is to take three pieces of fabric 2.5″ square. Place two pieces Right Sides Together (RST) and sew along one side. Open out and place the final piece RST with one of the squares and sew so that you have a row of three squares stitched together. Press with the seams to one side and measure the centre square. If it measures 2″ you have achieved a scant seam allowance. If it’s slightly under/over this measurement, then repeat the steps above.

It may take a few attempts, but only needs to be done once (although I would always recommend re-doing these steps if you get a new machine) and is well worth the effort before embarking on a big, or small, project!

Some exceptions!

As always, there are some occasions when you can/need to use something different to a 1/4″ seam allowance (scant or otherwise!);

  • English Paper Piecing (EPP): some quilters prefer to use a bigger seam allowance – generally 3/8″ – when wrapping fabric around paper shapes. This can make it easier to prepare the pieces and allows for the fraying that can occur with the handling of fabric over time but is very much down to personal preference.
  • Basting: If making accessories eg. a pouch, you may need to join two (or more) pieces of fabric temporarily. This is done by using a longer stitch on the machine – or hand stitching – normally within the seam allowance eg. at 1/8″
  • Pattern: although most patterns use common abbreviations and techniques, I would always recommend reading through a pattern before starting a project to make sure that you understand all the standard definitions, and seam allowances that the designer recommends.

And that’s all for Seam Allowance! I hope it’s helpful for you in your sewing journey? If you have any questions then let me know and come back next week when we’ll be looking at fabric. I’ll try not to get too lost in my stash over the coming week whilst I’m doing some research…..!!!!!!

To see all the other posts in this series, you can see the schedule here;

See you soon,


Today’s sky::: overcast, grey. Generally miserable. Meh!

If you’ve enjoyed this post, please do sign-up to my newsletter to have updates and news sent to your inbox. And to see my patterns check out my Etsy shop here.

#QuiltingTheory – The Lingo

Hello! And welcome to the first post in the #QuiltingTheory series! Today, we are going to start with all the different quilting definitions, abbreviations and acronyms – or the lingo, if you’d rather! – that is commonly used.

Before we start though, I would like to cover off something that I found really confusing when I started this journey – What is a quilter?! Strictly speaking, patchwork is the cutting up of fabric and stitching it back together again to make lovely patterns. Quilting is the process of placing a number of fabric layers together and stitching through them, often sewing a decorative pattern in the process. Over time, these terms have become interchangeable and Quilter has become shorthand for someone who does either patchwork or quilting. This can encompass quilts, cushions, pouches and other accessories. Once I started quilting I found lots of different projects I could add patchwork too!

#QuiltingTheory - learn everything you need to know to begin quilting and grow your skills, starting with The Lingo by fabricandflowers | Sonia Spence

Now, I confess that this is a long post. I figured it would be beneficial to keep all of the definitions together. To make it easier to navigate, I have split the quilting lingo into broad categories – you can click on the titles below to jump straight to a section – but you may still want to pin this for future reference!

  • Seams: seam allowance definitions.
  • Fabric / Materials: explaining fabric and the different cuts.
  • Tools: a brief explanation of the main quilting tools.
  • Techniques: a summary of the different ways a quilt can be put together.
  • Quilting: the different ways a quilt can be finished.
  • Others: key words that didn’t fit in to any of the other categories!

So, now that we’ve sorted that out, shall we begin?!


To find more detail on seams, including how to achieve the correct seam allowance, check out #QuiltingTheory Seam Allowance.

For this week though, we are looking at the most generally used terms;

#QuiltingTheory - learn everything you need to know to begin quilting and grow your skills by fabricandflowers | Sonia Spence
SA Seam AllowanceThe seam allowance is the distance that you sew from the edge of the fabric. For quilting, this is generally 1/4" unless otherwise specified in a pattern.
ScantA seam allowance that is just under a 1/4" seam allowance
Nest SeamsWhen sewing rows of blocks together, the seams for Row A are pressed to eg. The left, and the seams for Row B are pressed in the opposite direction eg. The right. When the rows are placed together for sewing the seams on each row sit - or nest - together neatly allowing for greater accuracy in joining them together (pictured).
Press SeamsTo press a seam, an iron is placed on top of the fabric seam and pressed down, before being moved to another section of the seam and repeating the action. Seams are not ironed in a traditional way to avoid stretching the fabric. In quilting, seams are either pressed open or to one side (normally the side with the darker fabric), depending on what is being sewn.

Fabric / Materials

This week we will look at the different fabric cuts that you can buy – for even more detail check out #QuiltingTheory Fabric here.

#QuiltingTheory - learn everything you need to know to begin quilting and grow your skills by fabricandflowers | Sonia Spence
SelvedgeThe edge of each side of fabric, this is generally trimmed off.
WOFWidth of FabricMost quilting cotton measures 44" wide from edge to edge, or 42" if you exclude the selvedge from each side. You can also get wider fabric eg. 108" wide which is great for backings
FE / F8Fat EighthA piece of fabric measuring 21" wide x 9" tall
FQFat QuarterA piece of fabric measuring 21" wide x 18" tall
Jelly RollA pack of 42 x 2.5" Width of Fabric strips from one collection
Mini Charm (Candy) PackA pack of 42 x 2.5" squares from one collection
Charm PackA pack of 42 x 5" squares from one collection
Layer CakeA pack of 42 x 10" squares from one collection
Dessert CutsA pack of 12 strips measuring 5" x Width of Fabric
BiasFabric cut at a 45* angle to the selvedge, which gives it more stretch.
RSRight SideThe front of the fabric (stronger in colour)
RSTRight Side TogetherPlacing two pieces of fabric (or folding one piece of fabric in half) front sides together.
WSWrong SideThe back of the fabric (duller in colour)
WSTWrong Side TogetherPlacing two pieces of fabric (or folding one piece of fabric in half) wrong sides together.


There are lots of tools that you can use in your quilting journey, which I will cover off in Week 4. Listed below are the ones that you will most likely come across, or even want to buy, when you first start out – you can see all my favourite tools here!

#QuiltingTheory - learn everything you need to know to begin quilting and grow your skills by fabricandflowers | Sonia Spence
Rotary CutterThis is like a pizza-cutter, but specifically used for cutting fabric. The blades are very sharp and are able to cut through multiple layers of fabric at a time, so are brilliant for cutting out large projects! They have a protective cover on them and the blades can be replaced as they dull.
Cutting MatThese come in lots of different sizes and are often called self-healing as the mat as they are made from a material which closes back together. It is best to always use a sharp rotary cutter and not to always cut in the same place to minimise any potential damage.
Quilting RulerAvailable in lots of different shapes and sizes. When used with a rotary cutter, they enable you to cut multiple strips/pieces of fabric quickly and accurately.
Wonder ClipsHandy for keeping lots of layers together - especially for fabrics that may be marked with a pin - binding, and keeping pieces of fabric/patterns together.
NeedlesThere are lots of different needles available for hand-sewing - varying in length, thickness and the size of the eye where you put the thread through. Favourite needles are very often a personal preference - I like to use a very fine needle, but will use different needles depending on what fabric I'm sewing with and what I'm actually sewing! (you can find my favourite needles by clicking on the link above).
ThreadFor quilting, it is always recommended to use thread that is made out of the same fibres as the fabric eg. Cotton thread with cotton fabric. This helps to minimise wear and tear on the fabric and help the quilt to last.


There are many different ways that patchwork can be put together, the ones that you will most likely come across in the beginning are;

BastingA way of joining layers together, generally by stitching, with the basting thread being removed once the layers have been properly secured. This can be done by hand with big stitches and is a great way of using up the odds and ends of thread that are left on a spool/bobbin. Alternatively, it can be done on a sewing machine , using a longer stitch length and within the seam allowance eg. if you are working with a 1/4" seam allowance you would baste at 1/8" inch.
EPPEnglish Paper PiecingA traditional form of patchwork where fabric is wrapped around a piece of paper eg. a hexagon, and secured with either basting stitches or glue sticks. Each of the hexagons are then sewn together to create a larger piece such as a cushion/quilt.
FPPFoundation Paper PiecingThis is used to achieve complex shapes and very accurate piecing. The pattern is printed on to paper and the fabric is sewn on to the reverse side of the paper, with the pattern on the front dictating where the lines should be stitched.
Leaders/EndersA piece of fabric that is used to begin stitching on before moving on to the actual pieces of your quilt. Some machines can chew fabric at the beginning of a new seam or end up with a tangle of threads at the back. By using a leader/ender, if there are any issues the quilt blocks remain unblighted. Some quilters use the leaders/enders as a separate project - a 2 for 1 project - or you can just use a scrap piece of fabric!
Machine-pieceFabric pieces sewn together using a sewing machine
Chain-pieceWhen sewing fabric pieces together by machine, the pairs are sewn together one after the other with a little chain of stitches between them. You end up with a long chain of pieces - almost like bunting! - and when the joining chains are snipped you end up with the individual pairs/blocks. This can help to speed up the process of sewing pieces together - especially useful on a big project! - and also helps to reduce the amount of thread that is wasted.
Hand-pieceSewing pieces of fabric together by hand. The sewing lines are generally drawn on the back as a guide to sew along.
AppliqueFabric shapes are cut out and placed on the front (right side) of a piece of fabric and stitched in position. This can be needle-turned, where the raw edge is folded under and hand-stitched in place, or machine stitched in position, often using a blanket stitch.
ImprovSewing pieces of fabric together in a random way to create fun and interesting patterns, not following a pattern.
Whole ClothOne piece of fabric is used for the front of a quilt and the pattern is created wholly through stitching (by machine or hand).
Y seamsAlso called inset or set-in seams, these occur when three or more pieces of fabric meet, often forming a Y shape, such as when joining hexagons together. The can be joined together by hand or by machine with a bit of practise.
Top StitchStitching added to a project - mostly pouches/bags and dressmaking - to secure and add strength to a seam/edge and add decorative detail.
Slip StitchMost often used for hems or somewhere that you don't want visible stitching such as applique or binding.
Ladder StitchOften used to close a gap that has been left for turning an item out eg. A pouch or soft toy. The stitch is carried from one edge of the hole to the other, creating an invisible closure.


The terms and phrases most frequently associated with the quilting stage of making a quilt;

Batting / WaddingThe layer that goes between the quilt top and the backing fabric - it's what makes a quilt lovely, warm and snuggly! There are lots of different materials available - cotton, wool, bamboo.
LoftThis indicates the thickness of the wadding - they can vary from thin to thick depending on the material used. Generally, the thicker the wadding the more difficult it can be to quilt.
BastingBasting a quilt refers to joining the top layer (patchwork), the middle layer (the wadding) and the bottom layer (the backing fabric). This can be done in a number of different ways - using pins, spray glue or thread….it often depends on personal preference and the size of the project!
QAYGQuilt as you GoThis technique can be used in a couple of different ways. For a smaller project, such as a pouch, a piece of fabric will be laid directly on some wadding and stitched in place. Other pieces of fabric will be added in a similar manner. For a larger project such as a quilt, the blocks can be quilted individually before being joined together (this can be useful on really big quilts that would be too tricky to stitch on a domestic sewing machine)
Echo QuiltingStitching around a shape in the quilt, and repeating this with the lines spaced equally apart.
FMQFree Motion QuiltingSewing a pattern on the quilt using a sewing machine - these can range from basic meandering to highly elaborate patterns.
KanthaHand-stitching in big running stitches, often with rows close together to create a beautiful texture
Long ArmSpecialist machines that are used for Free Motion Quilting. If you have made a special quilt, are not confident at quilting or you have a project that is simply too big to tackle on your machine, you can send your quilt to someone who specialises in quilting.
BindingA piece of fabric that is wrapped around the edge of the quilt to hide the raw edges and secure all the layers together. It gives a lovely finish to the quilt and helps to frame the design.


Other words and phrases that I kept coming across when I started this journey that didn’t quite fit into any of the other categories!

#QuiltingTheory - learn everything you need to know to begin quilting and grow your skills by fabricandflowers | Sonia Spence
WIPWork in ProgressMost people (well, I'm hoping it's not just me, anyway!) have a few projects in various stages
UFOUnFinished ObjectSimilar to a WIP!
BOMBlock of the MonthThere are lots of fun programmes/clubs that you can join where you receive the pattern for a new block each month. Some are free, some you pay for and they are both a great way of trying out new skills with a community of people. At the end of the programme, you will have a completed project. They often run over a year but can also run weekly/bi-monthly.
Dog-earsA term used to describe the little triangular ends that sit outside the seams of the blocks when you've made half-square triangle blocks. Personally, I prefer to trim the dog-ears off my blocks before sewing them together as I find it helps with accuracy, but you can just leave them (see picture above)
FlimsySometimes used to describe a quilt top where all the blocks have been joined together, but it hasn't yet been made into a quilt.
Design WallA 'sticky' wall that blocks can be placed on when making a quilt to ensure correct colour placement. Often, this is a piece of wadding stuck on a wall. If you don't have enough wall space, you can use a pin to secure blocks to a sheet which can be folded up, or I find the floor works just as well (best when the kids aren't around!)

Phew! That was quite mammoth, wasn’t it?! I hope that it has all been useful? There are many more terms, but these should cover the key ones that you come across in the beginning. If there’s any that you think I’ve missed out though, then please do let me know!

Come back next week when we will be looking at Seam Allowance in a lot more detail and please drop me a line if you have any questions,

Back Soon,

S x

Today’s sky::: overcast, raining. Generally yuk!

If you’ve enjoyed this post, please do sign-up to my newsletter to have updates and news sent to your inbox. And to see my patterns check out my Etsy shop here.