Tips for Better Fabric Cutting

In 29 days, I am sailing away to the balmy Bahamas on a quilt cruise with Quilt Retreats at Sea. While we are at sea, we’ll be sewing like madwomen. Between now and then, I need to cut 25 quilt kits plus some extras. Wouldn’t it be great to sit down at a retreat and have all of the fabrics completely ready to sew?

Fabric in a basket

I prewash and press all of my fabric before cutting.

As I’m preparing these kits and cutting yards and yards of fabric, I’m thinking about speed and accuracy.

Do not rush when you are rotary cutting. Rushing leads to careless mistakes, resulting in wasted fabric and stitches in your fingers. I have a dear friend who still sports the scar on her finger from such an incident. (You know who you are! And no, that finger is not more attractive just because it is more tapered!)

The secret to speedy fabric cutting is planning and common sense.

Fabric Stack

If you need to cut strips, I think it’s easier if you first sort the fabric by yardage.

  • Look at the entire task in front of you so that you can organize what you need to do.
  • Group similar tasks together to save set up time.
  • Make a list of what you need to cut, what fabrics to use, and how many pieces you need. Mark them off as you complete each task.

The secret to accurate fabric cutting is having the right tools and using them correctly.

Use the rotary cutter that works best for you. Try a few different models to see which one fits your hand best and which open-and-close mechanism is most convenient for you to use. I often switch off to a different model after I’ve been working for a while to give my hand a break.

Use a sharp blade. Use a sharp blade. Use a sharp blade. Your rotary cutter should cut cleanly through all of your layers in one smooth motion (always moving away from you). If it does not, you either need a fresh blade or fewer layers. I cut through no more than 10 layers of fabric at a time. If I miss a small section once, I’ll chalk it up to being tired and not applying enough downward pressure. If I miss cutting through all of the layers twice, I change blades. (Tip: I save the old blades for paper cutting. Use a Sharpie marker to label it and then put the used blade somewhere safe.)

Cutting on the kitchen island

For cutting, find a nice large horizontal space that’s a good height. I like using the island in my kitchen.

Rulers and mats vary in accuracy. Use good quality tools and check their markings for accuracy. My good friend Kathy Lincoln and I don’t often disagree, but we do on this point: I use the lines on the mat (yes, I’ve checked to confirm the markings are accurate) and Kathy uses only the lines on the ruler. Whatever you do, just confirm that your tools are accurate. I like to use the same tools for the entire cutting process to ensure consistency. I’ll change blades, but keep the mat and rulers.

So, how am I approaching this monumental task? Well, I’m taking over the house! I use the kitchen island for pressing fabric and for cutting. I use the table and chairs for organizing stacks of fabric, patterns, and notions. I use large square rulers to transport cut strips and squares from one place to another. Most importantly, I have fun. While I’m cutting, I may listen to a book from Audible or a marathon of one of my favorite TV shows, or I might listen to a custom cruise playlist I compiled just for this project. In less than a month, I’ll be sharing my pattern and fully cut kits with my Friendship Quilt Cruisers!

6,600 2" squares

6,600 2″ squares

Cyndi SouderJanuary is such a promising month, but it’s daunting, too. With the New Year come New Year’s resolutions, goals, and those promises we make to ourselves that we will accomplish more, do more, be more. Each year, I have made those promises to myself but this year I took a long hard look at the negative effect that can have. My resolutions seem rigid and demanding and unforgiving: be more productive; waste less time; make more money; lose weight.

Well, I’m not doing it this year. I refuse to entertain that much negativity voluntarily. On New Year’s Eve, I posted this on Facebook:

“I feel the shadow of New Year’s Resolutions hovering nearby. I will not yield to the pressure. Every moment of every day offers us the opportunity to change. Declare the change you want, move toward it, adjust and realign as necessary. As a dear friend once told me, to affect change, you only have to adjust your trajectory by one degree. Small changes in everyday life can create significant changes down the road.”

To this, I would add a few more thoughts.

  • Be kind to yourself. Don’t overload yourself with edicts and pronouncements about all of the things you must do. Pick one and then make tiny changes toward your goal. Forgive yourself when you go off your path and simply start again.
  • Celebrate every victory, no matter how small. Pause for a moment, smile to yourself, and breathe in the joy of accomplishment.
  • Don’t feel guilty about doing the things that make you happy. You have to feed your soul. As they say on airplanes during the safety speech: “Put on your own oxygen mask before helping others.”

If I did make resolutions, it would be this: honor the people and relationships you value. This morning, I learned that a close family friend has died. Aunt Alyce was not related to us by blood, but my mother loved her as a sister and named her a courtesy aunt to the six of us kids. She was my mother’s dearest friend, a strong influence in my sister’s life, and a truly good and loving person. I thought of her frequently, but I did not stay in touch as often as I should have. She died in July, just shy of her 97th birthday. Yes, it’s January now.

It’s time to take my own advice. I cannot go back and change the past, but I can start over and reach out to someone today. I can grieve Aunt Alyce’s passing and then smile and think of her whenever I’m sewing, which was her favorite activity. I can make a one degree change in my trajectory and see where it takes me. I wish the same for you.

Happy New Year.

I did not go willingly to Pinterest.

I resisted despite the advice and recommendations. Social media classes recommended it. Pat Sloan and Luana Rubin talked about how it could be useful for business and marketing. My friend Heidi Reagan wanted me to try it because she knows me well and knew I would love it. I didn’t care. I was sure Pinterest was a giant rabbit hole into which I would fall and never get out.

I don’t have time, I said. It won’t help my business, I said. I don’t see how it will help me in any way, I said. I was wrong on all counts. Click here to visit me on Pinterest.

My Pinterest Presence After One Week

My Pinterest Presence After One Week

So, why do I like Pinterest? Let me share my top five reasons.

1. Pinterest is free if you don’t count the cost of time and internet access.

2. Pinterest allows me to enjoy things I cannot own in three dimensions. Things that are too big or too expensive or just unavailable in real life can be pinned on my boards and enjoyed at any time.

3. Here in the real world, things don’t stay organized. Chaos always wins. On Pinterest, things stay where I put them.

4. Art is a visual medium. Pinterest is a visual medium. It feeds my need to see things that make me happy.

5. Pinterest is amazingly inspirational. A very small percentage of my pins are quilts. I find I’m inspired by non-quilt images that I hope will in some way inform the art I create later.

Thank you, Heidi Reagan, for giving me a tour of your Pinterest boards last week. About two screens in I knew I was hooked. For the record, you were absolutely right.

See You in Houston!

If it’s fall, then the IQA Quilt Festival in Houston is right around the corner. I love the Houston show. (Question: Why do we refer to quilt shows by the location rather than the official show name? Discuss.) The Houston show has more quilts, more vendors, and more visitors than any other show I’ve ever attended. Think really big. In 2010, attendance was over 60,000 people.


If you’re planning to be there, I’d love to see you! Here’s where you can find me.

Tsukineko Ink Basics (Class)

Set of InksThursday, October 31, 9am-noon, class number 446. This is my second year to teach this class at the Houston show, but I’ve taught it many times for guilds and at Artistic Artifacts, my local fiber arts shop.

I really like Tsukineko inks and the subtle color they can add to labels and printed photographs. What I LOVE about these inks is how much fun it can be to color black-and-white commercial fabrics. I like to start with a very light value and then add more ink to achieve darker color values. The inks can be heat set and then more layers added.

Design Your Own Memory Quilt (Class)

Celebration Quilt

Thursday, October 31, 2-5pm, class number 484. I taught this class last year, too! Many of the quilts I make are memory or celebration quilts, using materials and artifacts to commemorate an event or a person’s life. So many of the quilters I talk with want to make personal and original memory quilts. I teach this class locally and I travel to teach it at shows and guilds. It’s important to me to help quilters gain the confidence and skills they need to commemorate in quilts what’s important to them in life.

In this class, I show examples of memory quilts, walk students through the worksheet from my book on memory and celebration quilts, and brainstorm with them to inspire ideas and overcome potential roadblocks. Everyone gets a chance to share their ideas and ask questions. Students arrive with a topic and leave with ideas, suggestions, and a path to follow.

It’s Okay to Write on Your Quilts (Lecture)

Color!Friday, November 1, 11am-noon, event number 549. I love adding text as graphic elements in my work and I’m gratified that this has been identified as a trend in the art quilt world. I believe the writing on your quilts should not be confined to your labels. In this lecture, I share lots of examples of adding text using your sewing machine, paint, ink, and beads. The possibilities are endless!

Meet the Teachers

Creating Celebration Quilts Book CoverFriday, November 1, 2:30-3pm and Saturday, November 2, 1:30-2pm. The show organizers invite teachers to present a half-hour presentation to help us connect with show visitors. I’ll be there sharing my book, Creating Celebration Quilts, and talking about making memory and celebration quilts. If you miss this class on Thursday, this will give you an overview of how to get started on your own memory quilts. No tickets required; this is a free event.

Printing on Fabric with Wooden Printing Blocks (Open Studios)

WoodBlockShellSaturday, November 2, 4-6pm and Sunday, November 3, noon to 2pm. While I love using commercially available fabrics, it’s fun and gratifying to create my own fabric with paint and stamps. In these free demos, I’ll show how easy it is to create your own fabric using some paint and the wonderful wooden printing blocks from Colouricious (available from Artistic Artifacts online, at the store in Alexandria, Virginia, or at the show). These versatile blocks can be used for stamping, for rubbing as a texture plate, and for display. LOVE them. No tickets required; this is a free event.

I hope I see you there!

My Path to Quilting

This is the first stop on a 10-stop blog hop exploring how quilters and sewists got started quilting and sewing. The complete list of blogs with links is at the end of this post.

Bridesmaid Dress

Linen bridesmaid dress I made from two patterns

I cannot remember a time when I didn’t sew. Whether I was pulling yarn through fabric with a fat, blunt needle or making simple clothes for my dolls, I’ve always worked with fabric to make things. The girls in my family all learned to sew on Mom’s Singer sewing machine. Sewing was a useful skill, and we mastered that along with vegetable gardening and basic cooking. Through middle and high school, I wore some really embarrassing homemade clothes. Tim Gunn would have said they looked like “Happy Hands at Home,” but I was so proud of my creations.

In the early 1980’s, my sister Vicki learned quilting from a friend of hers. Her friend would accept no money for the lessons; she taught quilting on the condition that her students would teach others. Pay it forward. Everything was done by hand with modern tools like sandpaper templates, sharp pencils, and scissors. Vicki and I shared a love of needlework. As soon as she learned to quilt, she taught me.

My first project was a simple navy and white sailboat pattern made with half-square triangles painstakingly hand-pieced and then hand quilted. I made the block into a pillow and gave it to my sister as a gift. The pillow is long gone with no pictures to prove its existence, but I can present my first quilt as evidence of how much I had to learn.

Puff Quilt

My First Quilt

My grandmother made puff quilts; you may know them as biscuit quilts. Nana constructed each puff by hand, pieced them together by hand, and finished the quilts by hand. She cut up nylon stockings for stuffing each puff and used worn out clothing and scraps from homemade clothes for the decorative puff tops. She made a quilt for my brother, working long days to finish it. I had never seen anything so beautiful; oh, how I wanted one. Ultimately, I made my own. I learned so many lessons on that quilt: test any pattern changes you want to make, think things through, and plan. My king-sized, flannel-backed monstrosity of a puff quilt weighs more than a bag of potting soil. Enough said.

Cyndi Souder's Quilt

Power Suited Him, part of the Power Suits Art Quilt Collection

I quickly made the transition to machine piecing and, more slowly, to machine quilting. I took classes that intrigued me and read every book I could get my hands on. I met other quilters and learned something every time we sat down to work together. I had found my people. And I had found my art form. Bodies change and clothing no longer fits; walls don’t outgrow their quilts.

Let's Go! Recently seen at Sacred Threads 2013.

Let’s Go! Recently seen at Sacred Threads 2013.

Now I am a professional quilter. I make art quilts and celebration quilts on commission. I teach art quilting and I’m inspired by my students every time we meet. I travel to give lectures and workshops, and I teach at the IQA Quilt Show in Houston. I realized my lifelong dream of being a published author this spring with the publication of Creating Celebration Quilts.

If I had a week with no responsibilities, I’d quilt. Whether I’d attack my pile of UFOs or start something new, I don’t know. What I do know is this: quilting calms me, excites me, fulfills me, and makes everything right in my world.

Please visit the other blogs on the tour to learn more about how we become who we are: quilters.

Aug 1. Cyndi Zacheis Souder 
Aug 2. Becky Glasby
Aug 3. Cheryl Sleboda
Aug 4. Barb Forrister
Aug 5. Jackie White
Aug 6. Tracy Mooney
Aug 7. Lisa Chin
Aug 8. Laura Krasinski
Aug 9. Catherine Redford
Aug 10. Sylvia Lewis

Creating Celebration Quilts Book CoverI love making quilts that celebrate something — events, milestones, the lives of lost loved ones, or even a special vacation. I relish the design decisions, the fabric choices, the execution, and the joy of seeing the quilt completed. I have made many, many celebration quilts. Some have been for myself, but mostly they have been for others.

I wrote Creating Celebration Quilts to help you design and create your own Celebration Quilts. Using the skills you have now, you can create quilts that are personal, meaningful, joyful, and healing. In my book, I have included four sections to help you through the process:

  1. The Celebration Quilt Worksheet will help you design your Celebration Quilt and offer you things to consider as you work through the process.
  2. A Closer Look follows five Celebration Quilts from concept to completion, including quilts made from a commercially available foundation piecing pattern, from a roll of precut strips, from a large collection of bow ties and a bulletin board full of quotes, from tee shirts and traditional nine-patch blocks, and from clothing and artifacts belonging to a spirited man I wish I’d met while he was still with us.
  3. The Celebration Quilt Toolbox contains tips and suggestions for taming difficult fabrics, using photographs, approaching the quilting, incorporating quilted words, constructing show-ready hanging sleeves, and adding complete and meaningful labels.
  4. The Celebration Quilts Gallery is filled with ideas and inspiration with examples of baby quilts, wedding and anniversary quilts, quilts that celebrate the lives of lost loved ones, and quilts that celebrate family, family traditions, birthdays, accomplishments, events, and travel.

When I teach Celebration Quilts as a class or workshop, I am always surprised and moved by the stories I hear. Often, the quilters I meet are planning quilts to honor family members and we talk about the linens, clothing, and collections that have been left behind. Sometimes quilts are planned to commemorate weddings, anniversaries, births, and graduations. I’d love to hear your stories…what do your quilts celebrate?

Leave a comment by Sunday, June 30, 2013, and you will be entered into a drawing for your choice of either a free copy of my book or a free consultation on a celebration quilt you’re planning or working on.

Creating Celebration Quilts is available on my website and at quilt shops everywhere.

Thanks for visiting my blog. Celebrate with Quilts!

Karen Greve Young
Karen Greve Young

Readers, I’d like to introduce my guest blogger, Karen Greve Young. Karen is, in no particular order, an author, a professional strategist, an MBA, a wife and mother, an athlete, and my beloved niece.

I have friends from Boston. For a while, I had family in Boston, attending Boston College and Harvard. And, as I read online yesterday, “Today, we are all from Boston.” For these reasons and because Karen writes so eloquently about marathons, human instinct, and hope, I’m happy to run her article in this month’s blog.

In Karen’s words…
I used to run marathons. My first one was in Napa Valley, in 1997. I had trained for months, running 20-40 miles a week along the San Francisco Bay and Pacific Ocean.  I was driven by my love of running, and I have to admit it, my fear of failing. No matter how well my training was going, I was afraid I would “bonk” before the finish. “Bonking” or “hitting the wall” is the endurance athlete’s nightmare – when you deplete your body’s energy before the finish line. The goal is to push yourself to your limits – just not beyond.

It wasn’t until I saw the finish line that I was certain I would cross it – what a feeling of achievement and relief! And to confirm a myth, yes, a few Napa Valley Marathon spectators sitting at the end of their driveways were cheering while sipping what looked suspiciously like wine (the race starts at 7am).

As soon as I finished that race, I set my sights on my ultimate marathon goal: Boston.

Boston is the only marathon I know of that requires runners to achieve a qualifying time. Eighteen months and hundreds of training runs later, in California’s Humboldt Redwoods, I had the race of my life and ran a qualifying 3:36. I was going to Boston!

My training shifted from constantly pushing my pace to qualify for Boston to putting in just enough miles to enjoy and finish the race.

But I underestimated the hype. Everyone at the start was talking about two things. First, wow, was it ever hot for a race day! And second, there’s no place to qualify for Boston like Boston.  So hubris replaced logic and I thought, “I qualified before, I can do it again.”

Halfway there!

Halfway there!

At the halfway mark, I felt strong and was on my way to a new personal best. Then the heat and my unaccustomed fast pace started to kick in, hard. When I reached Heartbreak Hill at mile 21, it seemed to break my heart, my stride, and my spirit.I shuffled along the last six miles in blistering heat thinking every step, “I have to finish. I can’t finish. I have to finish. I can’t finish.” By the time I turned the corner onto Boylston Street at mile 26, all I could do was force one foot in front of the other.

Then I saw the finish line and thought, “I have to pick it up for the finish. This is Boston. I can do this!” So I tried to sprint.

Instead, I fell, hard, on the hot asphalt. I stood up, took a step, and fell again. And then again.

I stood slowly and looked at the finish, three blocks away. It was right there! But I couldn’t move my legs. I had bonked.

At the Finish Line

At the Finish Line

Then, I felt bodies on both sides of me, as an older man and woman put my arms over their shoulders, reached around my waist and helped me walk. Gratefully, exhaustedly, I hobbled between them as they sacrificed their finish times so I could finish at all. At the finish line, I was immediately put in a wheelchair and surrounded by race volunteers who whisked me away to the medical tent.I don’t know the names of the people who helped me across the line that day, but I will never forget them. My Boston Marathon race pictures – depicting my strong but naive pace at mile 13 and my body collapsed in a wheelchair at the finish – are next to my treadmill at home. They remind me that I have to put in the training to get what I want. They remind me to set high goals and really go for it. They remind me to persevere, even when it really, really hurts.

And the pictures remind me of the two people, who had never seen me before or again, who helped me achieve one of my life goals. To this day, I’m not sure if I even thanked them in my exhausted stupor. But I think of them every time I look at my race pictures.

This week, 14 years after my Boston Marathon, the finish line was tragically racked by injury and grief. And the community – runners and non-runners – immediately stepped in to help.

As New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman wrote, “When you watch the video of the bombing aftermath, notice how many people you see running toward the blast within seconds to help, even though more bombs easily could have been set to explode there.”

Last night, I felt compelled to run. With every step, I thought about this year’s competitors and supporters, and I rekindled the magic spirit of Boston, that terrorism can’t quell.

As I ran, I wrote this blog in my head. Because suddenly, I could reconcile my experience with this one. Because as horrible as things can be, the human instinct that leads people to help total strangers in crisis – not to mention those who work every day to help people in need – means there is hope.

My heart goes out to those injured and affected by this year’s Boston Marathon horror. I fervently hope that the only heartbreak at future races is on Heartbreak Hill.


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