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.


Where You’ll Find Us

design, fabric, general crafts, quilting

Most days we’re in our studio or office in the historic village of Oak Park, Illinois, which borders Chicago. Thanks to social media, however, we get to connect every day with people around the world through this blog, Facebook, Pinterest and Instagram. Here’s how we use each of them:

Craft Nectar

We use this blog to share longer-format ideas, free patterns, topics in the quilting and craft worlds and projects or designers whose work we think you’d find inspiring. We post here when we have news or a new project to share and it shows up on our Facebook page as well. Weeks has a personal blog Yes, It’s My Real Name, where she writes about topics unrelated to quilting.


We post information about special sales, pictures from shows and in-progress quilt shots on the Modern Quilt Studio Facebook page. If you only want to follow us in one place, this is the site where we can easily link to Pinterest and Instagram. We also have occasional giveaways or online offers on this page.

Many people send Facebook requests to our personal Facebook pages. Facebook limits the number of people we can have as friends on our personal pages but doesn’t limit the number of people who can follow our business page. In addition, we use our personal pages for non-work-related posts (family news, thoughts about current events, pictures of our foster pets, etc.) Most people who send friend requests to our personal Facebook pages often don’t realize that they are personal pages and are looking for quilting posts so we encourage them to like our business page to find posts that will be of interest to them.


We use Instagram for pretty pictures, sometimes shots we’ve featured in our publication Modern Quilts Illustrated or others we’ve taken while we’re on the road. Sometimes they are related to our work and sometimes they are just beautiful images from our garden. We post images that we hope will inspire you to see design differently. And occasionally we can’t resist sharing a cute picture of one of our foster pets. We generally post daily on Instagram, linking all shots from Instagram to the Modern Quilt Studio Facebook page. You’ll find us on Instagram as Modern Quilt Studio.


Our Pinterest posts are divided onto boards by various topics. We show our fabric, patterns, and ideas that we hope will inspire you to take on a new project. Posts may include a quilting detail so you can see a thread color or a pattern that you might want to try. Other posts show how we organize our tools or store fabric. Our goal on Pinterest is to help you see possibilities and fearlessly try something new. Typically we post several times a week a variety of posts to different boards. We link our Pinterest posts to the Modern Quilt Facebook page as well. You’ll find us on Pinterest as Modern Quilt Studio.

Want to windowshop or actually shop at 2am when you can’t sleep? Our webstore is always open! If you don’t see something you’re looking for, it means it’s out of stock or we don’t carry it as our system is constantly updating inventory. Fabrics and kits sell out quickly so if you put something in your cart last month, it may not still be there. As always, shipping to US addresses is FREE! If you mis-cut a piece or want backing options for a quilt in progress, feel free to call us at (708) 445-1817. Nancy, our wonderful and knowledgeable studio manager, will take good care of you if we’re not available.

If you’re interested in hiring us for lectures or workshops, you’ll find our Booking FAQs a helpful read before you email or call us. Descriptions of our lectures and workshops are here. Please email booking requests to We’re fully booked through January 2017 but are taking requests for 2017-18 now.


Dashiki Time

fabric, sewing

Two hot summer days ago, UPS delivered bolts of our new Barbados fabrics. Wanting to make something right away, I thought of the cool comfort of dashikis I learned to love when I lived in Kenya years ago.

Weeks and I combed the internet for a good pattern and she found an affordable ($5.99) and downloadable pattern — Burda “Men’s Linen Shirt #138.” Though the pattern calls for a fabric that is the same on both sides (which is to say not a print), with a little adaptation I hoped I could make it work.


This was my first time using a downloadable Burda pattern. Though it has only four pattern pieces, it required 26 sheets of paper and a fair amount of tape.


The material requirements called for 59″-wide linen. I calculated that I’d need 2 1/2 yards of 42″-wide fabric which I prewashed as I taped together the printouts.


I’m a sucker for blue and thought the scale of our “Breeze” fabric would have the cool summery feel I wanted. Unlike any patterns I’ve purchased in stores, this one did not include seam allowances. I used a flexible drafting curve to extend the pattern and create the seam allowances. I don’t know if this is common in downloadable patterns, but I found it a bit annoying (though easy enough to deal with). In fairness the pattern did say it didn’t include the seam allowances.


Though it adds work, I prefer to sew french seams when I make shirts. If you’ve never sewn french seams, they’re counter intuitive. It’s a two-step process. First you sew your pieces wrong sides together:


Next you trim close to the seam, press the right sides together and sew another seam to encase the raw edges. It creates a smooth, finished seam with no raw edges to fray and no need to overlock:


The front comprises two sides which each fold inward to create a front facing. They are joined with a center seam. Given the graphic wave motif, it required careful planning and alignment of the pattern before cutting the fabric to ensure alignment of the repeats. The reason most dashikis have a center seam is that it allows you to have nicely finished neck and hem slits. It also lets you mirror large scale motifs if desired.


Earlier I mentioned having to make a small adaptation since I was using a print and not a solid linen. The change had to do with how the back neck facing and inner front facings were attached at the shoulders. If you decide to make this pattern, it’s not hard to figure out, just know that it’s indeed possible.

After wearing my dashiki all day in the summer heat and being so comfortable, I know I’ll soon make another. So what would I do differently next time? Add an inch to the sleeve length! I’ll probably wear the shirt with the sleeves rolled up most of the time, but when I unroll them they’re just a tad short.

Overall I’m happy with the pattern. The dashiki has room for movement without being boxy. The biggest question is which fabric do I use next? I’m leaning toward the red and gray Lanai print but am fond of the tan and taupe Resort print as well.

Any thoughts?