Why pin? (a tutorial)


After some interesting email discussions with some of my barn door quilt along participants, I decided to take the time to talk for a minute about pinning.

Every quilter has to determine her (or his) own personal pinning system. Most quilters are not going to pin every single seam they sew. Some quilters never pin at all. I’m going to share what I do in case you find it helpful. The goal is for you to make your own decision in order to maximize your enjoyment of quilting and your satisfaction with your results.

When I first started quilting I used pins whenever my strips were longer than 6 inches because that is what the Learn to Quilt DVD instructed! I didn’t understand the hows or whys, and I didn’t have good results. I got really frustrated when my strips didn’t seem to line up so I started over cutting and trimming afterwards.

(Edit: by “over cutting” I mean cutting the strip longer than it needs to be, sewing, and then trimming).

This went on for some time and I made several very useful and pretty quilts that way. They always had a little wonk to them but I did my best with the information I had at the time.

In fact, allow me to show you something you probably didn’t notice the first time you saw barn door:

barn door oops

Woopsa-daisy! The triangle should be a normal, complete HST (half square triangle) and the first piece of the bottom border should line up with it. Completely not a big deal and not anything you’d notice if you view the quilt as a whole.


When I make mistakes that don’t ruin the quilt, I frequently leave them in. I’ve said before that it’s not fun anymore if I have to sew it twice. But I do try to understand what went wrong and how to avoid making that same mistake again.

In this case, the mistake was over cutting and trimming instead of carefully measuring and pinning.

I had similar problems with the solid stripes quilts I made my nephews. In that case my incorrect pinning technique caused my quilt top to completely refuse to lay flat. I don’t have any good pictures of that because it was before blogging. You’ll just have to trust me: it would not lay flat and it was extremely frustrating. (By the way, if you have trouble with your borders “waving” or “smiling” this is why!)

After watching a few Craftsy classes and receiving some very expert instruction from my husband’s aunt, my results (and enjoyment!) have improved quite a bit.

Here’s what I learned.

Most importantly, you have to pin in the right order. Besides the over cutting, this is the biggest thing I was doing wrong.

Line up and pin the outer edges first and then place a pin in the middle. If this was a longer strip I would add additional pins in the middle of these pins and then keep adding pins in the middle until I had pins every 3-4 inches.

If your strips are slightly off, you still line up the outer edges. Use even more pins (every 1-2 inches) and leave them in until your needle is just about to hit them. You’ll be amazed by the way that extra fabric somehow eases into the seam and disappears. If it doesn’t, that may be because your strips were too far off for “easing in” to work. Then you have to decide whether to go back and redo something or live with it the way it is and try again on the next strip!

If your strips have seams that you want lined up (as is the case for barn door) you line that area up and pin it first. Then you proceed with normal pinning procedure: outside edges followed by the middle.


On this strip I pinned my 2 triangle points first

That’s all there is to it! It’s simple and effective and I’ve personally found it worth it because of the frustration it saves me later in the process.

As always, if you have any questions please let me know via comment or email. And if you have any additional pinning tips or techniques we would all love to hear them.

Barn door quilt-a-long: week 2


Welcome to week 2 of the barn door quilt-a-long!

Confession time: it occurred to me last week that there is no reason in the world to write “quilt-a-long” rather than quilt along. So if you see that change soon you’ll know why. (English major fail.)

This week we’re going to sew the top rows (1-8). Don’t worry if you’re behind! If you’re able to focus a few good hours on this project you’ll have no trouble catching up. You may have seen hints on Instagram (@sarahschraw / #barndoorqal) that I am actually almost done with my quilt top. Once you get rolling it truly does come together fast. And good news: all the math is working perfectly!

There’s not a lot of new information this week. Last week’s assembly chart is all you need for the first 3 weeks of the quilt along. (You can reference the week 1 post here). Here is how your quilt will look at the end of week 2:


After some good email discussions with a couple of you I decided a little more instruction on the pinning step might be helpful! I’m going to do that under a separate post later this morning (Lord willing and the creek don’t rise).

Now, the link up. I’d love to see your progress, even if it’s still just a pile of fabric!

Link up by clicking below. I’ll leave the link open one week (until January 20).

Friday finish: sewing room


I’ve been thinking recently about why quilting is so enjoyable and satisfying to me. It’s definitely because after all the hard work I’ve created something beautiful and useful. But it’s also definitely because of the beauty of the process.

I love fresh, uncut fabric.


Color me happy

I also love cut fabric.


And partially sewn fabric.


I’ve come to believe that fully half of my enjoyment of quilting is being surrounded by pretty things.

So when we recently decided to bunk Mr. 2 and Mr. 4 together in the same room (which they are loving by the way), I took care to make my new sewing room a beautiful place to spend time. Lots and lots of time.


Of course priority number 1 was effective fabric storage. I have been folding my fabric Jeni Baker style for a while now. I love how it looks, but the stacks can be a little tippy. I saw some shallow craft shelves on another blog and it occurred to me that a little back support is exactly what these stacks need. I enlisted the services of a talented local carpenter and could not be happier with how it turned out.


On the left I wanted some larger cubbies for collections. Pretty, inseparable collections. Part of me resists storing them this way because I know it discourages integrating the different lines together, which is something I personally strive to do. But seriously. I can’t help it. Too pretty. And anyway, how would I begin to sort my AMH by color? Who else has selvedges with 15 colors?



Well, ok, Amy Butler gets a shelf too.



Some lines lend themselves more readily to integration. I do plan to sort this Color Me Happy into the rest of my stash eventually. But I’m enjoying looking at it for now. Maybe this shelf will be sort of like a fabric inbox. (I’m very much looking forward to adding Catnap to it soon, thanks to Everyday Fray!!)


I also designated a shelf for the project I’m working on at the time. Right now that’s barn door.


The rest of the shelves are organized loosely by color.


Look at the poor lonely solids in the upper right

I’ve promised my husband that when the shelf is full I’ll stop buying fabric. At least until I use enough to make more room!

Even if I’m the only one who’s really going to see it on a daily basis, I think it’s worth it to keep my stash as beautifully organized as possible. Maybe this is one of the keys to actually wanting to use the fabric I already have instead of always feeling like I want to buy more.

We made a special trip to the nearest Ikea for the counter-height cutting table with handy shelves for scrap sorting and ruler storage.


I have one scrap bin for usable scraps to keep and one for unusable scraps to also keep – in case I need to stuff something or make an art quilt.


And here’s my thread organizer and matching cork board for inspirational notes, fabric bits, and pictures. And my Juki! You can read about my love for my Juki here.




I think my 2nd most favorite element in my new sewing room is my scrap organization system. But!! I want to share that with you in a slightly different way. I’m guest hosting as part of Sarah’s Scraps 101 series @ mila+cautro today! You really must click over and visit me there!


In case you’re wondering, here’s a rundown of the main expenses:

Of course I’ll be back Monday for week 2 of the barn door quilt-a-long. I am so excited to show you my progress and see yours! I have been posting regularly to Instagram. I’m @sarahschraw and we’re using #barndoorqal. I also added a little Instagram widget to my sidebar for anyone who’d rather check in here.

Lastly, the Year in Review party is closing in just a couple of hours! I am about half through visiting all the links and it has been such fun to see what everyone did last year. I plan to visit the last half as soon as the party closes so I don’t miss anything.

I’m linking up with Crazy Mom to celebrate the completion of my sewing room and my 8 scrap baskets! Don’t forget to visit me here to hear much more about those. And I think all these pretty fabric pictures entitle me to link up for Sunday Stash as well!

Barn door quilt-a-long: week 1

Welcome to week 1 of the barn door quilt-a-long! (If you missed the post about fabric requirements, you’ll find it here.)

This is what we’ll be doing this week:


Week 1: the 7 center rows

I originally intended to start this week by doing all of the cutting for the quilt. But as I was working on it myself (had to double check that math!) it occurred to me that it would be way more fun to start assembling it right away. You’ll get the satisfaction of seeing it come together quickly and you’ll be able to play around a little more with your fabric selection and layout.


This will also give us the opportunity to have a periodic link up to see how the quilts are looking!

So here’s the new schedule (and I do apologize if you were terribly attached to the last one):

  • Week 1 (January 6) – center rows (9-15)
  • Week 2 (January 13) – top rows (1-8) & link up for week 1 progress
  • Week 3 (January 20) – bottom rows (16-23)
  • Week 4 (January 27) – borders & link up for weeks 1-3 progress
  • Week 5 (February 3) – quilting & finishing
  • Week 6 (February 10) – final link up celebration (with at least one giveaway, possibly more!)

Here is your Barn door assembly chart, containing all of the measurements for the entire quilt. This week we’re going to start in the center and work our way out.

Without the borders, barn door is a 63 3/4 inch square that forms the primary “X” design of the quilt.

Barn door diagram

Image credit: Anne at play-crafts.com. Thanks Anne!

This X is composed of 23 strips. To create the assembly chart I numbered the strips 1 to 23 from top to bottom. Most of the strips in the quilt are composed of one middle strip, 2 HSTs (half square triangles), and 2 side strips.

Edit: All of the strips are 3 1/4 inches wide.

You can find my HST & hourglass unit tutorial here, and my cutting tutorials here and here. For even more basics, read through my beginner’s series

When you assemble your strips, be sure you join each unit with a true 1/4 inch seam. As in most quilt patterns, the math for this design depends on an accurate 1/4 inch. Anything more or less will cause trouble when you are lining up your rows.

I like to keep a small ruler right by my sewing machine and I frequently check my seam allowances.


The 1/4 inch line of the ruler should line up with your thread

(You’ll note that my HST/hourglass tutorial encourages a scant or “less than” 1/4 inch seam for making those units. Don’t be confused by this! Just remember that you can always use a scant seam for a unit that will be trimmed, but when you are joining multiple units into a finished block or quilt, you will most often use a true 1/4 inch seam because that is the amount accounted for in the math.)

For this quilt, I think it’s helpful to be able to nest your seams when you are lining them up. I press all of my middle pieces toward the middle and all of my outer strips toward the outside.


Your triangles and hourglass don’t have any abutting seams so you can press them any way you want. I chose to press them open so my quilt top will lay flatter. If you don’t want to have to think about which way to press your seams, pressing them open is always an option. It just makes lining up the points slightly trickier (in my opinion).


The hourglass and triangles are pressed open; the center strips are pressed toward the center; the outer strips are pressed toward the outside; the seams joining the strips together are pressed open

Once you have your first 2 rows assembled, joining them immediately will help you determine whether you’ve cut and sewn accurately up to this point. If your points are not lining up, try to figure out what has gone wrong. Double-check your measurements and your seam allowances. This is another advantage of assembling a little at a time!

I advocate heavy pinning and I’ll tell you why: fabric stretches. Pinning doesn’t just ensure that your components line up, it offers some resistance to the tugging of the presser feet and feed dogs on the fabric. If you often have a small amount of fabric that sticks off the end of one side of your work, that is why. I know it’s an extra step, but it’s worth it to avoid dealing with the uneven edges later.

Focus on lining up the angles of the triangles. The lines of the triangles create the “X” design of the quilt.


Pin where the triangles meet first.


Then place one pin at each outside edge of the strips. Keep adding pins in the middle of the pins you’ve already placed until you have pins every few inches. Sew your strips together, removing the pins at the last possible second before your needle reaches them.


Continue assembling strips until you have your center 7! Or of course if you’re on a roll keep going. You now have all the information you need to complete the entire quilt top.

Please don’t hesitate to leave a comment or send me an email if you have any questions. One of the benefits of a small quilt-a-long is the opportunity for more extensive interaction and collaboration.

Don’t forget to post your progress on our Flickr page! Let me know if you guys are Intagram users. I could dust off my account if it’s something you guys want to do. #barndoorQAL anyone?

Friday finish: Yaya’s flower garden

Ah, ok, I’m cheating a bit here. This isn’t really this week’s finish. It’s a quilt I finished just before I started this blog in July, so I missed the chance to photograph and share it.


So I hope you’ll forgive a little self-indulgent late sharing.

This quilt is a big one, measuring about 95 by 95. It required 575 hexagons! Crazy. Of course it wouldn’t have required that many if I’d known what I was doing. I machine pieced the flowers first, then surrounded them with white hexagons, then trimmed the blocks square. Unfortunately, that not only took forever but it also resulted in bias edges all around, making the borders… charmingly wonky.


If I could do it over again, I’d English paper piece the flowers and then machine appliqué them to nice, perfect squares. I’d also probably choose prints for the backgrounds and borders. The flowers have so many cute prints, but somehow the strong contrast between the white and melon sort of steals the show.

Here’s the back:


That’s one giant hexi flower (English paper pieced with humongous templates!) on navy stripes. I don’t know why stripes photograph so poorly from a distance. Here’s what it actually looks like:


Despite the things I think I’d do differently now, I’m tremendously proud of this quilt. It was a ton of hard work and I’m so glad I stuck with it. Of course it helped that it was for my mom (who my kids call Yaya). She richly deserved this labor of love.


I love how this medium-scale floral from Denyse Schmidt’s Shelburne Falls line looks as a binding. I need to branch out from dots and stripes and use florals for bindings more often.

2 reminders:

First, don’t forget to link up your Year in Review posts here:

Party closes on January 9! Be sure to come back then and visit everyone’s posts. It’s like a whole year of Friday finishes in one post!

Second, on Monday I’ll be back with the first post of the Barn door quilt-a-long! Will you be joining me?

Here’s the schedule:

  • January 6 – cutting
  • January 13 – assembling the HSTs and hourglass unit
  • January 20 – assembling the strips
  • January 27 – piecing the X
  • February 3 – adding the top and bottom borders
  • February 10 – quilting & finishing
  • February 24 – final link party celebration (with at least one giveaway, possibly more!)

Year in review link party!

A couple of years ago when I was up a lot nursing my first baby, it occurred to me how very encouraging it is to see morning come each day. A new start. Today could be a great day! Let’s welcome the light and the fresh start it brings. 

But how much more so a brand new year!

And most importantly for purposes of this space, a new project year. What quilts will you make this year? What quilts are you most proud of from last year? How does your first quilt last year compare to your last?

After a great email exchange with Anne of Play-Crafts, we decided that it’d be great fun to review our year in quilts and encourage you to do the same.

So this is the first quilt I made in 2013:


Complete with mistakes like this one:


This is how I learned that my standard Singer presser foot measured 3/8 inch

And of course you guys have seen the last quilt I made in 2013:


My beloved penny sampler

I feel like I have come pretty far in a year!

Here are a few more 2013 quilts you haven’t seen before because they’re from the first half of last year, BB (before blogging).

Untitled design

And of course there’s the ones you have seen:

Untitled design

Some of these I still really like, others I would definitely do differently now. But I share them with you this way because I want to be mindful of the possibilities this year holds, and really challenge myself to make the most of it. I think these mosaics do tell a story of growth and achievement. I want to take that further this year.

I’ve been hearing buzz that there is momentum in the quilt industry to offer alternatives to the quick and easy trend. Which is not to say that simple quilts aren’t beautiful (I will always love square patchwork) or that we’re going to abandon our beloved beginners. (You know about my beginner’s series, right?) But sometimes it’s exciting to take on more advanced designs and push yourself to the next level.

That’s one of my big goals for 2014: I want to carefully choose a few really complex and time-consuming projects that will (hopefully) yield really special quilts. My hope would be to look back at the end of 2014 and have a few new favorites to rival my penny sampler.

I’m not going to get too specific about my plans. I find that I get sick of projects even just thinking about them too much ahead of time! For now, it’s enough to know that my very first project of 2014 is our barn door quilt-a-long (so excited! I hope you’re joining me!), followed by some major WIP clean up (read about that here). By the time I get through those I’ll have picked out my next big project.

Now Anne and I want to hear from you! Write a blog post about your year in review and your goals for this year and link up with us! Many of you have already written about this, and we welcome you to link up any relevant posts here. (Anne has an identical link up on her blog so your link will show in both places.)