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Good Questions Deserve Good Answers

Do you use mostly batiks and tone-on-tones? I haven't used a lot of them and it presents a whole other realm of fabric collecting possibilities since I've used mostly reproductions and florals!
---Marla J.


Judy Martin responds: I use mostly tone-on-tone fabrics rather than multicolor prints. The largest part of my stash is reproduction fabrics, and I have used those for years. I have a lot of pre-1990s florals, and I use them occasionally. I am more inclined to use batiks, Asian prints, or modern prints at the moment, but I like a variety of styles in a book, and I always include reproduction quilts in the mix of quilts for a book. When I buy Asian prints or modern prints, I use the splashy ones that characterize the styles on the back of the quilts. I try to find tone-on-tone prints for the patchwork. I never seem to build my stash much anymore, as I make a lot of quilts and I buy only fat quarters or half yards. It's a good thing I am not actually stash building now, as I already have enough fabric to keep me busy for the rest of my life. Now, I buy mostly for inspiration and to remain current.

What are "true diamonds?" In your recent YouTube video, you make reference to cutting a "true" diamond.  What is a "true" diamond?  How is it different from an "untrue" diamond?  Is it the angles of the points?
---Wendy C.

Judy Martin responds:
Good question! A "true" diamond is the same as a diamond, having four equal sides. Some people use parallelograms having sides of two different lengths in place of diamonds, so I use the word "true" to make a distinction between the two. I was cutting diamonds with 45-degree points, though generally the angle may vary from one diamond to another.

What do you mean by "backtacking?"
Can you please explain to us here in Italy what you mean in your fabulous Ultimate Rotary Cutting Reference when you say, "...BACKTACK each seam for durability..."? We couldn't find an adequate translation in our English dictionary that may fit. Will you please explain to us?

---Francesca P.

Judy Martin responds: This is a good question even for native English speakers. Backtacking refers to stitching backwards for a few stitches at both ends of a seam line. This keeps the stitches from coming undone with handling. Years ago, this was common practice in dressmaking. I have always done it in my quilt making by force of habit. Longarm quilters tell me it really helps to backtack the seams on the edge of the quilt when it will be machine quilted.


Is there a certain size that binding should be when submitting a quilt to a judged show?  Does it need to be single or double fold?
---Dorothy G.

Judy Martin responds: Personally, I don't think it matters whether your binding is single or double fold or even whether it is bias or straight grain. However, the judges at your show might think otherwise. I would think more attention would be paid to whether the binding is evenly filled with batting and is neatly mitered at the corners. Some judges look for the miters to be stitched; others do not. I would suggest you ask for judging guidelines for your show.

I like to make a double fold straight grain binding that is cut 1-7/8" wide to make a small, neat binding. I cut ends at a 45-degree angle to spread out the bulk, and I join all strips into one long one before attaching. I press these seam allowances open. When I attach the binding to the quilt, I leave a tail of 4" or so at the start (at least 8" from the corner), and I stop about 6" from the starting point. I find the point on the quilt 1/4" from the short end of the start tail. I find the point on the end tail that would end up at the same point on the quilt and cut off the end strip 1/4" outside that, being careful to match the angle to the start strip. I join the start and end in a 1/4" seam, and then refold and stitch the remainder of the binding to the quilt. I hand stitch the fold to the seamline on the back of the quilt. I don't stitch the miters at the corners. I would think this binding would satisfy most judges.

Good luck at the show!

How do I put multiple pieces together for a binding? In your directions for Bindings, it suggests that if you need to put multiple pieces together, cut at a 45-degree angle. I would like to do this because 90-degree angles get too thick. When you cut the binding at an angle, how do you hook the pieces together? Mine is no longer straight if I sew two angled pieces together!!!

Judy Martin responds: A Point Trimmer is the solution to your problem. After cutting the end of the strip at a 45-degree angle, use my tool to trim off the tip of the point. When you align two such trimmed strips, simply align the trimmed end of one with the wide end of the other. Pin and stitch. Without trimming the point, it is hard to tell how to align the two strips. With trims, simply align ends.


Should I pre-wash my fabric? I've been quilting about 20 years and have always been taught to pre-wash all fabrics before cutting in order to remove extra dye and sizing. At the quilt shop the other day I heard an employee say to a customer how no one prewashes anymore. Do you still recommend pre-washing, or is it unnecessary?  I'm asking because you are my quilt guru.

---Janet W.


Judy Martin responds: I still prewash. I don't like doing it, so I usually have a basket full of new purchases (going back months!) waiting to be prewashed. For years, I tested everything by hand in the sink before washing it in the machine. (My arthritic hands can't take that anymore, so I just use the machine now, with small batches of like colors.) In hand rinsing, I came up with colors that continued running with alarming frequency. Batiks are especially problematic. I think people who don't prewash are taking a big risk. Keep doing it your way.


How do you get the points to come out right every time? I have checked the measuring before I cut. I have checked the seams. What else can I do?

Judy Martin responds: Turning seam allowances so that they go in opposite directions at the joints helps. Pinning also helps. I find that if I finger press rather than using an iron I am less likely to stretch bias edges that have not yet been stitched. Finally, if I find  I have sewn a seam a little too deep or shallow, I fix it before continuing. Otherwise, the errors seem to multiply. I hope this helps.

Should I buy a $2500 laser quilting machine? I am considering buying a laser quilting machine. I want to sew custom quilts for folks to give to their kids as heirlooms. Do you think that is a good deal and necessary to have?
---Lin B.

Judy Martin responds: First, I am not the most qualified person to answer this. But here are some things to think about. This sounds a lot less expensive than the usual quilting machine. I would investigate whether it is made with a powerful motor and metal parts, not plastic. Also, is the work area/throat big enough to do what you want? Do you have a space to put the machine? Do you have a way of connecting with people who want quilting done? Are there already plenty of quilters in your area? Can you stand for long periods of time? If you find the answers satisfactory, consider whether you really want to do quilting for others. If you are particular, you may not enjoy working on quilts that have been made poorly. (You may find wavy borders or joints that don't line up, making your job of quilting harder.) If, having considered these things, you still want to buy a quilting machine, go for it! Good luck!

How do I fix the seam allowance on my Juki? I know you have a Juki machine. I was recently doing a snowball nine patch baby quilt, and I noticed that my nine patches were about 1/8" to 1/16" smaller than the snowball blocks. I'm sure this is because my 1/4" seam allowance is a bit too generous. I'm trying to solve this issue, but I am a bit confused as to how to go about it. One option I have is to use the standard foot (the narrow one) and a seam guide. When I put the needle down onto a ruler's 1/4" line and screw down a seam guide, my seams still seem a bit much. The other option I have is to use a 3/16" compensating foot (the one with the edge) and then trim the blocks later. What do you suggest?  I'm at a bit of a loss, and I really want to make this work, but I'm struggling to find that perfect spot. 
---April M.

Judy Martin responds: While I'm talking about my Juki, I think this answer applies to many machines. I use the narrow foot with a strip of black electrical tape on the throatplate to follow as a seam guide. I have found the rulings on the throatplate of the Juki to be unsuitable for patchwork. The seams are too deep. My tape is less than 1/32" from the 1/4" mark. It is easiest to get the tape straight if you first put a piece of the tape over the feed dogs just inside and parallel to the 1/4" line. Then lay another strip of tape up against the edge of the first one; remove the first one. In order to find the perfect seam allowance, it is worthwhile to take a few minutes to test it.

Try cutting out a 1-1/2" by 9-1/2" rectangle and nine 1-1/2" squares. Stitch the squares together and compare them to the rectangle. When your rectangle and square unit match, your seam allowance is perfect.

How do I make a design wall? I am so tired of laying my squares out on the floor or on the bed in back. I have not had a free wall but now I am going to remove a couple of chests of drawers and use the wall for something. I really don't want to carpet a wall. Perhaps two big pieces of flannel hanging off a rod or wrapped around some kind of wall board? I would appreciate it if you have any practical advice for this topic. Thanks.
---Mary Lou M.

Judy Martin responds: I bought a free-standing cubicle wall for $15 from a used office furniture store. I covered it with fleece. It is not full room height because I sew in a room with a sloped ceiling. I have heard of people covering wallboard (or cellotex?) with flannel. Some attach it to the wall, others don't. One friend of mine simply hung an inexpensive vinyl tablecloth on the wall, fuzzy side up. It seems to work fine. Good luck!

How do I trim points that aren't 45-degree angles? I'm working on a design with isoceles triangles and would love advice on the best way to trim the bottom two points. The top angle is 45 degrees and the Point Trimmer does the trick, but the 67.5 degree points at the bottom don't line up with anything on the point trimmer. Can you help?
---Kathy S.

Judy Martin responds: This would be easier to explain in person. I I hope you can envision it from this message. Here is how to make your own custom point trimmer for any pattern: On tracing paper, separately draw each patch in the block, leaving space between. Add 1/4" seam allowances to each. Cut them apart (no need to be precise). Corners having angles of 90 degrees or more (such as squares and octagons) won't need to be trimmed. Place the first two patches together as you would for sewing, aligning the ends of the seam lines. Draw a line on each patch where the point crosses the neighboring patch. This is where to trim the point. Continue in this manner until all points of the tracing paper templates are trimmed.

Sometimes you will need to start arbitrarily. Cut off the point 1/4" from the end of the seam line at any angle. This will establish an angle for subsequent trims. Also, sometimes you will need to turn a patch over and trim the same point again as a mirror image. This is like a C trim on the tool; it lets you use the same trim for a patch in different applications. When you have drawn lines for all trims, double check that the ends of the patches align with neighboring patches. Then cut the patches precisely on the newly drawn trim lines. Tape the patch to the unprinted side of an extra rotary ruler, with the trim aligned with the edge of the ruler. Align the cut paper tracing on the ruler with the cut patch of fabric. Trim along the edge of the ruler. Repeat, using the appropriate paper tracing for each corner of each patch. Good luck!

What size seam allowances do I add for half-square and quarter-square triangles?  I'm math challenged. It's difficult for me to understand the process--the formula--the method of creating quarter-square triangle units. For example, here's the simple thing I'm attempting. I'm framing a clever alphabet panel with two rows of 2" finished squares. In each corner of the frame, I want to put a 4" finished square comprised of four different colored triangles....hence my desire to make a quarter-square triangle unit. Do you have a sure-fire, clear, easy way to figure how to do this? How do I know what size to cut the first squares that are sewn together to make half-square triangles? One direction I found said to add 7/8" to the finished size of the hypotenuse, but which hypotenuse??? I want to learn how to do this, as I've needed this information before and have just given up. I want to know how to do it, no matter what desired size the finished quarter-square triangle unit will be.
---J. S.

Judy Martin responds: This is a little hard to explain without being able to show, but I'll try. If you want to understand the process do this: on graph paper or tracing paper, draw or trace a finished square of a given size. Measure and add 1/4" seam allowances around it. Now draw the four finished triangles within the square. Add 1/4" seam allowances around one of these triangles. You will note that the seam allowances overlap the other triangles. In order to get all four triangles with seams around each and without overlap, you will have to move the triangles apart. If you extend the seam allowance lines around the one triangle until they intersect, that is the size of square you will need to cut. It just happens to be approximately 1-1/4" bigger than the finished square. Here is the rule: quarter-square triangles have straight grain on the long side of the triangle. To allow for 1/4" seam allowances, add 1-1/4" to the finished square size. Half-square triangles have straight grain on the two short sides of the triangle. To allow for seams, add 7/8" to the size of the finished square.

And while we're at it, you asked about the hypotenuse. Hypotenuse is just a fancy way of saying the side of the triangle that is opposite the right angle (or 90-degree angle). Draw a square and draw one diagonal line through it. You now have 2 half-square triangles. The diagonal line you drew is the hypotenuse. It's the long side of the half-square triangle, and you need to add 7/8" to the size of the original square in order to have the proper seam allowance for a half-square triangle. Now, draw another diagonal line through the square and divide it into 4 triangles. The long side (or hypotenuse) of each triangle is the side of the square. Add 1-1/4" to the square in order to have the proper seam allowance for each quarter-square triangle. I hope this helps.

How will Short Strips affect my yardage?
I recently started a triple Irish Chain quilt but ran into trouble because the two books I purchased for the pattern gave instructions for across the grain cutting, but I like to do it with the grain. Is there some kind of formula, or an easy way to figure the switch from one to the other? I had so many problems that the quilt is half finished and put away when I would ordinarily have a project finished.
---Aline H.

Judy Martin responds: Good question! The strip widths and subsequent patch dimensions remain the same regardless of the grain. Only the strip length and number of patches per strip varies. If you have Judy Martin's Ultimate Rotary Cutting Reference, it will tell you how many patches you can cut out of an 18" strip and how many you can cut out of a 44" strip. If you don't have my book, you can estimate the number of 18" strips you will need as follows: Take the number of 44" strips and multiply by 2-1/2 to get the number of 18" strips. For the big squares, there may be a lot of waste in one strip size or the other, and the formula may not work. I recommend cutting off strip lengths that correspond to a hair over the size needed for one, two, or three big squares. This will waste less fabric. I hope this helps. Now finish that Irish Chain!

Where is the bias? I have been quilting for about 1-1/2 years and learning as I go. I have read about cutting and sewing on the bias, but have not yet figured out what it is. I took a class to learn to quilt, making a 20 x 36 inch table runner. It was fairly simple. We had to buy the material, necessary equipment to cut, sew, etc, then attend class and work under the careful eye of the instructor. Well, my very first quilt was a king-size Texas Lone Star quilt. Being green, I cut every diamond by hand. I enjoyed every minute of it not knowing there was a simpler way to do this. My next two were basic squares and triangles. Where was bias in the triangles?

Judy Martin responds: If you have made a Lone Star, you have had a crash course in bias. Bias is simply the stretchy edge that is diagonal to the lengthwise and crosswise grains (or threads) of the fabric. If you are a beginner who doesn't know enough to be afraid of the bias, you have a leg up on the others. It is really no big deal. Some people act as though it were to be avoided at all costs. If you cut your patches so that the straight grain is around the outside of the blocks wherever possible, and you take some care not to stretch the bias edges out of shape when sewing or pressing, then you shouldn't have any problem with bias. Fabric has bias even before you cut into it. Triangles and diamonds have one or more bias edges. Happy quilting!

Can arm fatigue lead to inaccuracy?
I finished a small quilt over the long weekend and did my first prairie points! I made a crazy hearts quilt in 1930 prints and it was much fun, although I ended up with same old problem. I am always off on one corner as far as measurements go. I have decided that the longer I keep cutting, the more tired my hand and arm is. Therefore I am not as accurate. Does anyone have this problem? Or are there any answers to becoming much more accurate?
---Sandy F.

Judy Martin responds: I have never heard of your problem of inaccuracy due to tired arms and hands. It makes sense, though. Maybe you need to be doing two projects at once, one cutting and one quilting or machine piecing. Then, when you start to tire, you could switch to the other project. Are you moving your hand down the ruler as you cut? For accuracy, it is important to have your holding hand near the cutting hand to keep the ruler from slipping.

How should I fold small pieces of fabric for convenient storage?
I'm trying to get my fabric on shelves and out of bins. I read in your classroom tips a few years ago about cutting on the lengthwise grain. I started cutting that way and like it much better. I've looked at the pictures of your sewing room.I have lots of small pieces between one fourth to one half yards. Therefore, my question is, how do you fold the pieces so they stack semi-neatly, while still being about the same size, and be able to unfold only one fold to start cutting on the lengthwise grain? Any suggestions would be appreciated.
---Elda O.

Judy Martin responds: I have never concerned myself about how far I must unfold a piece of fabric to cut lengthwise strips. You must be more efficient than I am! I like to keep my fabrics folded about the same size, which is about 11" by 9". For a quarter yard, you could fold it to 9" x 22", then fold it to 9" x 11". For fat quarters, fold 18" x 11", then 9" x 11". When you cut off a strip, refold on the previous fold lines if you want to keep the folded piece the same size as before. I hope this helps. Have fun reorganizing.

If you are cutting squares, does it really matter whether you cut the strips crosswise or lengthwise with respect to the grain?


Judy Martin responds: If you cut your crosswise strips at a 90-degree angle to your selvages, you should get approximately the same thing with lengthwise or crosswise strips when cutting squares. However, I like to cut all strips lengthwise so that my half yards and fat quarters all remain the same length for maximum efficiency in cutting other shapes. Also, the first cut is invariably the most reliable one, and so I like to make that the lengthwise one. (You know how you have to straighten your cutting after several patches.)

Should I sort my fabric by color, theme or size? 
I was inspired to get my sewing room organized after taking a virtual tour of your sewing room. I have a desk that my machine is set up on, a table for cutting, bookshelves for books and shoe boxes that hold UFO's and a shelved wardrobe that I want to store my fabric in. My problem is how to sort the fabric. I have some long lengths for backing, and some fat quarters and fabric that I have recycled from clothing. I probably have every size of fabric you can imagine, but most is 1-3 yards. In the past I folded it and stacked it in color sections. The small lengths would get lost. I want to be able to find my fabric when I am ready to sew. Please help me get organized.
---Theresa B.

Judy Martin responds: Good question, Theresa. I sort mine all three ways that you proposed, and a few more, as well. Most of my fabric is in pieces from 1/2 yard to 1-1/2 yards. The larger pieces, usually enough for a lining, go in a trunk. I keep the batiks and clearly contemporary prints in one area, the thirties prints in another area, the solids (which I seldom use anymore) in a third area, the old prints I don't like much at the moment in a fourth area (way back in a corner), my newer and favorite traditional prints in a fifth area, my Japanese prints in a sixth area, and the rest of the fabric in a seventh area. If I have selected fabrics for a project but haven't finished cutting it out, I put the fabrics in a tub along with the pattern and the cut and stitched parts. Within each area, the fabrics are arranged by color. Sometimes the small pieces are a little hard to see at a glance, but I can always find them if I go through the stack methodically. If I had flannels, whimsical prints, or cottage florals, I would probably have separate areas for these, as well. If a fabric is one I wouldn't use with most of my other prints, I create a separate area. I used to sort my thirties fabric by color, but I have stopped doing that because I generally use all colors of it in any project. You'll have to find what works for you. Have fun organizing!

How much material should I buy for the quilt I want to make?
I just received The Block Book. I am a beginning quilter, have had only one class and made a queen size Crown of Thorns quilt. I can hardly wait to start a quilt (queen size for my son and wife) from your book. Since I am a beginner, I have very little stash. I will be buying new fabric for my bed size quilts but don't want to buy too much or especially too little.
---Sally S.

Judy Martin responds:Judy Martin's Ultimate Rotary Cutting Reference will give you yields for virtually any patch in The Block Book. You count up how many of a particular patch in a particular fabric you need to make a single block. You multiply that number by the number of blocks you need to make. Then you look in the book at the chart for that patch. It will tell you how many you can get out of a single yard. Say it tells you you can get 360 T1's out of a yard and you need 140 to make your quilt. Divide 140 by 360, which is .38888888, which is slightly more than 3/8 yard. That means you'll need to get 1/2 yard to have enough. Of course, if you use scraps, then you don't have to worry about yardage. If you run out, you go to the store and buy another fat quarter.

Do I have to adjust the amounts of yardage on a pattern if I am cutting short strips?
There wouldn't be any difference would there except for cutting the border out first? I made a small baby quilt out of scraps and used short stripsand it went together like a charm! Thanks for all of your great books, tips, etc.
---Diane K.

Judy Martin responds: Yardage for short strips and crosswise strips is nearly the same. Depending on the size of patch, short strips may take slightly more or slightly less yardage. My Ultimate Rotary Cutting Reference lists how many patches of each size and shape you can cut from a yard for both methods. You can use these figures to help plan yardage when you wish to switch methods from those given in the pattern.

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