small change and the art of slow quilting

design, experiences, quilting, sewing

Dear Readers: We decided to repost this post from exactly 5 years ago now that more people are interested in “slow quilting.”


I love this quilt. I love that I had the nerve to quilt it by hand and I love the idea that it might get quilters to rethink their assumptions about hand quilting. My fingers are crossed and I really want to hear your reaction to it.

Neither Bill nor I buy into the notion that hand quilting is inherently better than machine quilting. Nor do we accept the idea that hand quilting is by nature old-fashioned and that tons and tons of threads all over a quilt makes it modern. The problem is that most of the people who hand quilt replicate 19th century patterns and machine quilters sometimes gravitate toward more contemporary quilting patterns. As a result, the chasm between the two camps gets wider and wider.

So when Bill and I began auditioning designs for Quilts Made Modern from all of our sketchbooks and computer files, we agreed that we wanted to show a modern version of hand quilting. We feel that the difference between the two is a matter of which is the better method to achieve the look you’re after. And let’s be real and do the math: Nancy Crow’s quilts may be hand quilted and sell well, but they cost upwards of $50,000. I don’t even want to know how much we’d have to charge for the eight months I spent working on Small Change, the quilt pictured above.

We developed this quilting pattern in 1996, shortly after we married and long before we ever imagined that we would start a business. Needless to say, this was before we had a 14-foot-long industrial quilting machine in our studio. Anyway, we have since fallen in love with Cherrywood Fabrics and thought that we should try out this pattern with contrasting thread in the same design with Cherrywoods.

Although it seemed as though I had a lot of time when I started, I had to work on it for at least two hours every night to make the deadline for photography. I literally timed myself on each block and calculated the time I would need for the entire piece because there are some things that you just can’t rush. I took it everywhere. I worked on it in airports, at the homes of family members and friends and it felt as though I’d never finish it. There is, however, something wonderful about having a project that is portable. I usually knit when I am visiting with friends or waiting for flights, but it was nice to have the quilt to work on over those long months.

Small Change is quilted with wool batting so I found the loft too high to do the traditional rocking stitch. Although poking with one hand and pulling with the other is slower than the rocking stitch, I do find it easier to get more consistent stitches. The concentric circle pattern is also easier to do with a poking and pull stitch as opposed to a rocking stitch I think, which is easier for gentle curves or straight lines. I used what we call a Big Stitch, longer than the traditional eight stitches to the inch, partly because of the loftier batting and partly because I wanted an easier going feel to the quilt. I think that I’m just not a teeny stitch kinda girl. Although some purists think that bigger stitching is sloppy, I can live with that and my hands can definitely live with it.

We find it far easier to baste the quilt on our long-arm machine before beginning the hand quilting, although basting on the floor works fine if you don’t have a long arm.  I use two thimbles when I hand quilt to protect my fingers. If you’ve never hand quilted before, you might want to start on a small project first to get the hang of it. I like hand quilting with solids and low-contrast prints. If there’s a lot of pattern in the fabric, you’ll never see the stitches.

As always, I machine washed it and dried it before the photoshoot and my stitches were just fine. What wasn’t fine was when the US Postal service lost this quilt and all of the others for this book for 19 days on the way to C&T when they were sent by registered mail. “Well you got insurance on them don’t you?” asked the unconcerned woman I spoke to at the post office. “There’s no amount of money that you could pay me to cover a quilt that I spent eight months quilting,” I replied. I can’t even count how many conversations we had with the post office, the postal inspector and various workers from Chicago to California. Eventually they turned up and  I now look at that quilt a year later and choose instead to remember all of the lovely conversations with friends and love ones I had while working on it. That quilt is another chapter in my life.


For the gift givers…


For the past few years, we’ve designed and posted here a sheet for quilters to share with their families who wonder what to buy for them for the holidays. We’ve happily conspired with husbands and partners, kids and in-laws to help them find a holiday gift that’s exactly what you’re looking for. We ship to offices and even gift-wrap for those who need it.

Modern Quilt Studio Gift suggestion card

So here’s this year’s hint, hint sheet for you to share with your family members who don’t know a fat quarter from a fussy cut. Be sure to point out that shipping is free to US addresses.

Happy Thanksgiving to everyone who will be celebrating tomorrow!



Stitches to Savor

design, inspiration, needlework, quilting

I’m really happy for Sue Spargo. I’ve never met her but she was able to do something that many artists, including us, would love to do: she was able to have a beautiful, hard-cover coffee table book of her work published by Martingale. Martingale gave me a copy of Stitches to Savor at International Quilt Market and asked if I’d review it. We only review books we like but we were delighted to be able to share this book with Craft Nectar readers.

There are no patterns or instructions in this beautifully photographed book but there is an endless amount of inspiration. With 200 photos of Sue’s work, you get a chance to focus on the details and composition of her work, which is hard to do in a pattern book. The detail photographs also allow the reader to see how Sue mixes cotton and wools, as well as hand work and machine techniques so effortlessly.

Not everyone is able to do handwork or enjoys it but this book makes you want to try something new. From the tiniest bead to the perfectly placed French knot, this book is beyond just eye candy. It’s a book to inspire. It’s a book for daydreaming and encouraging the reader to see new possibilities for familiar materials. You don’t flip through this book. You linger because there’s just so much to see. Regardless of your style of quilting, there will be something in this book that catches your eye and gets you thinking. If you’re thinking about a holiday gift for your favorite needleworker, this is the book you’re looking for.

I hope Stitches to Savor becomes the blockbuster hit of 2015 because the quality of both the work featured and the production of the book warrant it.


Coming October 23: Fat Quarter Love!

design, inspiration, quilting

We’ve long wanted to publish a series of patterns using everyone’s favorite precut, the Fat Quarter. So we decided to design a Fat Quarter-sized booklet called Fat Quarter Love with eight of our favorite patterns that use solids, large-scale prints, your favorite basics and even hipster novelty prints. The projects range from crib-sized quilts that can be made in an afternoon to more ambitious queen-sized bed quilts.

Fat Quarter Love will retail for $10. Look for it at your local quilt shop. If you can’t find it locally, we’ll be selling it beginning October 23 on As always, we ship free to US addresses. We hope you’ll tuck Fat Quarter Love into your favorite bundle to inspire your next project.