Follow us

Tips and Techniques

...For Quilters and Fabric Lovers!

Welcome to our Quilting Tips and Techniques page. Here, we cover some great things to know as you get started on your quilting journey. Learn about essential items for your sewing kit, how to determine the right amount of fabric to buy, and simple techniques for pressing seams and measuring borders. Discover the benefits of water-soluble and fusible threads, along with recommendations for invisible thread and making a double-sided binding. Plus, find guidance on choosing the perfect sewing machine for your quilting needs. Let's dive in and make your quilting experience enjoyable and successful!

Whether you're new to sewing or a seasoned pro, it's important to have the right tools in your sewing kit. CLICK HERE to see ByAnnie's recommendations.

In answer to that age-old question — "How much fabric should I buy when I don't know what I'll use it for?" — here is a rule of thumb to go by:

  • If you love a fabric and expect to use it in a border or major part of a quilt, buy at least 3½ to 4 yards.
  • If you expect to use it as one of the major fabrics in a quilt, buy 2 to 3 yards.
  • If you expect to use it in string quilting, strip piecing or other small areas, buy 1½ yard.
  • If you have no ideas whatsoever what to do with it, but love it anyway, buy 1 yard.

When pressing seams, first press flat to "set" your seam. Then use the side of your iron to open it.

Steam distorts your seams, so press with a dry iron. If you must use steam, be sure to let the fabric cool completely before lifting it from your board.

If pressing a item made using fabric texturized with Texture Magic™, please be sure to press from the fabric side.  You do not want to touch the Texture Magic™ with a hot iron as it will make it stiff and hard.

When attaching borders, first lay your quilt top on a flat surface. Measure the quilt down the center from raw edge to raw edge. Cut all your borders this length, easing the quilt to fit.

When easing in, put the larger piece on the bottom and let the feed dogs do the work of easing in the excess. If you machine has a built-in walking foot, remove it for this application. You don't want the fabric to feed evenly in this case.

For help in figuring fabric requirements for borders and more, check out our Math for Quilters booklet.

Water soluble thread is a terrific product for various purposes such as machine and hand basting, trapunto, appliqué, and heirloom sewing.

I especially like to use water soluble thread for basting quilts.

I prefer to pin baste my quilts on a table, but find working around the pins when I'm quilting to be a real pain.

So, after pin basting my quilt, I set my machine to a long basting stitch and stitch lines every 6" to 8" across the quilt in both directions using water soluble thread.  I remove the pins as I go. 

When I've finished stitching the grid, my quilt is completely stabilized but all the pins are gone.  I can now concentrate on my actual machine quilting without having to work around pins.

After I've completed all my quilting, I gently wash the entire quilt to remove my markings and the water soluble thread. I can dunk the quilt in the washer and lift it out and the water soluble thread is gone.

I prefer to use the thread in both the top and the bobbin. My favorite brand is Vanish-Extra which is made by Superior Threads.

Some people have said that they've had some trouble getting the Vanish-Extra to dissolve easily. So, Superior has designed another product, Vanish-Lite, which dissolves much easier.  It can be removed by spritzing with water so it isn't necessary to wash the entire quilt.

Vanish-Lite is also a finer thread so you'll get more on a spool for the same price. However, if you're basting on a high-speed long-arm machine, you'll want to stitch with Vanish-Extra.

Here are some of the advantages of basting with water soluble thread:

  • Grid basting stabilizes the quilt beautifully setting the straight grain of the quilt.
  • Grid lines wash away so you don't have lines where they're not wanted.
  • Grid basting with water soluble thread is a great opportunity to practice stitch-in-the-ditch knowing that the thread will wash away, taking mistakes along!
  • Getting rid of the pins allows you to concentrate on each area without distraction.

Be sure to keep any bobbin wound with this thread in a closed ziplock back along with the spool of thread. You don't want to accidentally sew something (like a swimsuit!) with it. Store in a dry place.

Get Water Soluble Threads HERE

If you'd like to make a binding for your quilt that has one fabric on the front and another on the back, follow these directions. Fabric A will be the fabric on the front quilt and Fabric B will be the fabric on the back of the quilt.

  • For a ½" binding, cut a 1" strip from Fabric A and a 1½" strip from Fabric B.
  • Fold Fabric B in half lengthwise and sew it to Fabric A, matching raw edges and using a ¼" seam.
  • Sew the remaining raw edge of Fabric A to the edge of the quilt front, using a ¼" seam.
  • Mitre corners and finish as usual.

Here's the formula to determine the size of strips to cut for other sizes of binding:

  • Fabric A: Finished width plus ½"
  • Fabric B: (Finished width x 2) plus ½"

So, for example, if you want a finished width binding of 1", Fabric A would be cut 1" plus ½" or a total of 1½". Fabric B would be cut 1" x 2 = 2" plus ½" for a total of 2½".

For a finished width binding of 2", Fabric A would be cut 2½" and Fabric B would be cut 4½".

What is a fusible thread and how do I use it?

Fusible thread is a terrific product for fusing appliqué pieces in place. Made from nylon which melts at a fairly low temperature, the thread looks a bit like dental floss and can be used in the bobbin or through the needle.

My favorite brand of fusible thread is Charlotte's Fusible Web™ fusible thread which is made by Superior Threads. I prefer to use the thread in the bobbin with MonoPoly™ invisible thread on top.

Fusible thread has many advantages over traditional fusible products:

  • It's fast and fun!
  • Your pieces are fused in place, but just along the very outer edge so you get the ease of fusible appliqué without the stiffness or flatness that often results when using traditional fusible products,
  • Once fused, the appliqué shapes stay firmly in place as you stitch around their raw edges with a decorative stitch. No pins needed. And, no shifting or moving — or puckers at the end. Sweet!
  • After completing the stitching around the edges, you can trim away the extra layers beneath the appliqué shapes if you like.

Have you ever finished a quilt and then thought about adding a label on the back? Try stitching around the label with fusible thread and then just fuse it in place. Quick and easy!

In addition to using the fusible thread for appliqué, Julie Woods from Australia, shared a great idea for using fusible threads with foil. All of you art quilters out there are sure to enjoy this technique!

You can either arrange the fusible thread on top of your fabric or use your sewing machine to stitch the thread in place. (Wind the thread on the bobbin and stitch from the back or use the thread through the eye of a 100/16 topstitch needle.)

Then place a piece of metallic foil paper (available at art supply stores) shiny side up on top of the fusible thread. Place an appliqué pressing sheet or piece of parchment paper over the foil paper. Press with a hot iron (no steam) so that the foil and thread will fuse to the fabric. Let everything cool; then pull the paper away from the design.

Try threading the fusible thread through your needle and making seed stitches on your art piece. Then apply the foil to the seed stitches -- beautiful!

Get fusible thread HERE


My favorite invisible thread is MonoPoly™ by Superior Threads.  MonoPoly™ comes on a 2200 yard spool in clear (matte) or smoke.

How do I use it? Let me count the ways!

  • When quilting a quilt with many different colors and fabrics, MonoPoly™ lets me use just one thread for all my quilting. I use CLEAR on light colored fabrics and SMOKE on dark fabrics.
  • For thread painting, I love to use MonoPoly™ on the bobbin. I can change the top thread to my heart's content but never have to mess with the bobbin!
  • MonoPoly™ is terrific for my favorite method of machine appliqué. I call it "mock needle-turn" because it gives the look of hand appliqué in a fraction of the time. I use a water-soluble appliqué foundation and a washable glue stick to turn the edges of the fabric under. Then I glue the pieces in place on the quilt top and stitch them in place with invisible thread. 
  • MonoPoly™ is the perfect thread to use when preparing pieces for appliqué with fusible thread.

    I use Charlotte's Fusible Web™ fusible thread in the bobbin and the invisible thread on top. The fusible thread is nylon which melts easily. When it melts, it releases the upper thread. The MonoPoly™ is smooth enough that it just jumps right out!

    Either color of MonoPoly™ will work. However, I prefer the SMOKE because it is easier to see when it comes time to remove it

MonoPoly™ is made of polyester, not nylon. It has many advantages over other invisible threads:

  • Polyester monofilament is heat resistant, so it is iron and dryer safe (at medium heat).
  • It will not become brittle over time.
  • It will not discolor.
  • It is strong with a low stretch.
  • It is soft and pliable.

Get invisible thread HERE.

I am often asked what machine I recommend and that is always a difficult question to answer. There are so many things to consider:

  • How will you use the machine? Embroidery? Piecing? Quilting? Bag making? Garment sewing? Each use requires different features so be sure to look for a machine that does what you need.
  • Is there a good dealer for that machine in your area? Can you take classes to learn to use your machine better? Will there be someone close and conveniently-located who can service the machine? Can you get more bobbins, new feet, and other accessories quickly and easily? 
  • What is your price range? My advice: Get the best machine that you can afford but don't buy things that you won't use. There are some essential features for a machine that I would insist on having: needle down, ability to move the needle position, ability to drop the feed dogs quickly and easily, ability to adjust bobbin tension quickly and easily, etc. Extras like an embroidery module and even automatic needle threaders just aren't as important to me so why spend extra money on them?
  • How much space do you have for a sewing area? I have been tempted to buy a fancy embroidery machine but, aside from the point that I'd probably rarely embroider anything, it would mean buying a whole new sewing table and completely revamping my sewing room. Not gonna happen any time soon.

I have two Berninas, a Juki, two Janomes, and a Pfaff and I love and use each one of them for different reasons.

  • I do the majority of my sewing on an older Bernina 1080. I also have a Bernina 1130. These machines are almost the same. Both are work horses which go through lots of layers with ease. I especially love Bernina's ¼" foot and their zipper foot  (more about those later). Those two feet are probably the reason that I sew on the Bernina more than any other machine. No one makes feet like Bernina!
  • My Juki TL-98Q is strictly a straight-stitch machine so I cannot use it for zig-zag stitching or decorative stitches. However, if I am just stitching straight lines, the Juki goes significantly faster than any of my other machines and I can fly through a project. It produces a beautiful, even stitch, too. I especially love the thread cutters on the Juki — I can operate with a tap of my foot.
  • I have a small Janome Gem which I love for taking to classes. Its small size and light weight make it really simple to transport. I can even take it as a carry on when I travel by plane.
  • My larger Janome 6600 has lots of fun decorative stitches and even an alphabet. I actually bought it largely because I wanted to embroider poetry in curved lines on quilts. . . something that I still haven't done, but one day. . . I like to use this machine for machine quilting but rarely use it for assembly of projects because I prefer the feet on my Bernina.
  • Because my staff also helps with a lot of my sample sewing, I recently added a Pfaff 420 to my studio equipment. Though I haven't used this machine very much, my assistant (who always sews on a Pfaff) loves the way the foot moves up a little as you stop stitching and goes down by itself. She assures me that I will love that feature. I do love the built-in walking foot on the Pfaff and its beautiful, straight stitch and am looking forward to working more on that machine soon!

Here are some "must-have" features to look for in a machine that will be used for quilting or purse making:

  • Needle down: One of the most important extras to have on a sewing machine, this feature ensures that the needle will always stop in the down position. This is especially important when free-motion quilting, but is a feature that I would not give up for anything. Get it!!
  • Good machine feet: As mentioned before, I use my Bernina 1080 more than any of the other machines that I own (even though those machines may have other attractive features) because I LOVE the Bernina feet. Here are the basic feet that you'll want to have:

  • Ability to lower the feed dogs:  In order to free-motion quilt successfully, you must be able to lower the feed dogs so that YOU move the fabric rather than letting the machine move the fabric. Check out how the machine is designed for you to accomplish this task. On my Bernina, it's a simple turn of a dial on the right side of the machine. On my Janome Gem there is a button that slides on the back of the machine. Make sure that the button or dial is easily accessible and easy to engage. I've seen machines where the bed of the machine must be removed in order to engage/disengage the feed dogs. That would be a real hassle when you're trying to quilt!
  • Extension table: Check out the size of the bed of the machine and any extra extension table that comes with the machine. You need a flat area around the needle on which to lay your fabric. You need room to rest your hands to hold the fabric in place. The larger that area, the better. It's hard to get a good stitch if you fabric is falling off the side!
  • Open arm: The ability to remove the bed of the machine so that the arm is open is a great feature that is especially helpful for garment sewing. I also appreciate this feature when I am sewing purses and bags, such as when I topstitch around the top of the bag. 
  • Throat space: More room between the needle and the right side of the machine makes maneuvering pieces much easier. If you want to make larger purses and bags or if you plan to machine quilt, look for a machine with a large opening in this area. 

    • 1/4" foot: This foot is essential for sewing accurate 1/4" seams. You can get 1/4" feet with or without guides on the side. I prefer the foot withOUT the guide. The Bernina foot also is designed so that I can sew accurate 1/8" seams and 1/16" seams. And it's completely open in front of the needle so I have great visibility. Love it!
    • Zipper foot: A zipper foot enables you to sew on the side of the foot instead of down the middle. This is helpful as you can get into tight places. Look for a foot that gives good contact with the fabric as you want to have good control as you stitch. Don't forget that you'll need to move your needle to one side or the other of the foot before stitching.
    • Walking foot: A walking foot makes the fabric on the top move along with the fabric on the bottom so is essential for machine quilting.
    • Darning foot: A darning foot doesn't put pressure on the fabric so is the foot you need when you are free-motion quilting. There are several styles and sizes. I like the closed foot and the open foot which gives me more visibility. 
    • Open-toe embroidery foot: This foot it completely open in front of the needle and has a wide opening so that it is easy to see where you are stitching. I use this foot anytime that I am stitching with decorative or zig-zag stitches.