5 Steps to Completed Quilt Tops

So many quilters have unfinished projects boxed away in closets, shoved under beds or any place we put them so we won’t be reminded of them. Over the years I have had plenty unfinished projects. Thinking about the waste of money, fabric and tie just made me sad and a little embarrassed.  Why could I finish some projects but not others? What things did I do that helped me finished projects and what things did I do that caused me to abandon projects?

Watch the video to hear how a batch of Holiday Biscotti helped me develop the steps I needed to finish all my projects.

Here are the 5 steps:

1.   Gather and Prepare

Before you start any project, be sure you are committed to it. Do you really want to do this at this time? Once you decide to make a project, look through the pattern to become familiar with it then gather all the supplies you’ll need including thread, rulers, special tools or textiles. Put everything in one place such as a box, bin or plastic bag.

Think of it like you’re going to a deserted island to work on this project and you cannot leave until the top is finished. Once everything is gathered, start preparing what you can. This includes things like preparing all the papers for paper piecing or cutting templates. If you don’t have something, make a list to make sure you buy in the second step.

2.  Choose Fabric

I know most of us start with the faric but ry to make it your second step. Think of fabric as the ingredients in biscotti. You can’t add the ingredients unless you have something to measure them, something to mix them in and something to mix them with. So purchase or gather all your fabric and anything on your list from step 1. Don’t forget the binding. If you pre-wash your fabric, do that now. Prepare your fabric so it’s ready for cutting.

3.  Cutting and Organizing Fabric

Now you can start cutting EVERYTHING you need. Cut up all your  fabric, including the binding. There are two reasons for cutting all your fabric. First, if you cut it all now, you won’t have to stop later to do it. Second, if you make a cutting mistake or you purchased the wrong amount, you can go back to the quilt shop and hope some of the fabric is still there. It may not be there later.

If you nee 253 squares, then cut them all now and divide them into smaller bags for easy piecing. Think about blocks of the month and how everything you need for one block is in one bag. If the blocks are all the same, you could put everything you need for, say 5 blocks, into one bag. I call these Grab and Sew bags because I can grab one bag from the project and sew it up.

4.  Piecing

Now you have everything you need and your fabric is cut. If you have Grab and Sew bags, grab one and start sewing. Got 10 minutes to sew? Start where you left off and sew for 10 minutes. Got a day to sew? Finish one bag then go to the next. You will see progress because you have everything you need, ready to sew.

5.  Assembly

The final step is the assemble all the blocks or units you have pieced. This is where blocks become tops and the project is finished. Show that quilt top at guild meeting, snap a picture and share it with your friends.


Since I have started following these steps, I have finished every project I started. All of the workshops here at QuiltNotes follow these steps as you progress from lesson to lesson.

Completing a quilt top with our lessons is simple:

  1. Choose your workshop.
  2. Register and receive immediate access to all lessons.
  3. Construct your quilt top as you follow each lesson.

P.S.  Here is a link to Giana’s Holiday Biscotti recipe. We didn’t chop the pistachios, we put them in whole and we never added the chocolate and sprinkles at the end.

My New Studio

I have always worked from home but things changed this year when I started recording classes on video.  I needed some non-quilt related equipment such as large lights, tripods, cameras and microphones.  This equipment took up a lot of room but it was OK. I could still make it work.

What I couldn’t control was the neighborhood noise. Every Thursday, every neighbor here in the cul-de-sac has their lawn cut by professionals. They come in and after about 15 minutes of loud lawnmowers and blowers they were gone. This would be great if there was only one company but different companies would come and go all during the day, it seemed.

The other reason I needed a different studio was this little puppy dog shown here. Lucy, Lucy, Lucy. Bless her cute little heart. She barks at the UPS truck, the FEDEX truck, people walking their dog, little kids riding tricycles, you get the idea. No one wants to hear a barking dog or a lawnmower motor when they’re learning a new quiltmaking technique.

I also wanted to have uninterrupted, long periods of time that I could just put my head down and work. I needed to be more productive. I managed to find a really inexpensive little office in an older building just 10 minutes from home. Here are some pictures of my space.

There is a small space you enter from the hallway.

There is a file cabinet and shelf that were in the space already and I purchased them for $25 each. This is basically storage.

In this space I have my computer and here is where I do my editing and writing. Here is the large, old desk that was in the space and I purchased for $25.

The larger space is where I sew and where I record the videos.

I have a small design wall on the right. The lights really help improve the quality of the videos. The large design wall is on the left. The quilt is the Fractured Paint Box in progress.

My only size requirement for the space was that I could take a picture of the entire quilt on the design wall. I could not do that in my 10 foot x 10 foot room at home. I had to bring a sweater because they keep this place so cold.

Here is my sewing machine and the next two projects on the left. I am working on Celebration Christmas Tree Skirt now and next will be Allyson’s Bella Wondered Land.

I have gotten a lot of work done here and I can work on my own projects at home on the weekend if I want. I like this separation of work and home.






7 Tips to Quilting Happiness

For me, happiness is pressing the last seam. What a feeling of satisfaction and accomplishment we have as we proudly display a completed quilt top. Yes, I know there is more to do before it becomes a quilt, but you must admit that pressing the last seam is a pretty awesome feeling! Here are 7 things I do to make the journey to quilting happiness as much fun as the destination.

1 Use the Right Rotary Cutter with a Fresh Blade – Unfortunately, most rotary cutters are tightly packaged, making it impossible for us to know how it feels in our hands. I have seen many beginner quilters choose the least expensive rotary cuter and have a terrible time learning how to use it. The blade will wobble, it won’t roll easily and beginners do not realize they can be seriously injured in a split second when using it. My preferred rotary cutter is the 45mm Olfa Ergonomic. It fits well in my hand and I especially like it’s safety feature. The blade is exposed only while grasping the cutter and retracts when you put the cutter down. I tend to drop my cutter almost daily, so this feature has saved my toes more than a time or two. I also own a 60mm Olfa Ergonomic for cutting more than 10 layers of fabric but the 45mm is my go to rotary cutter.

2 Pre-wash the Fabric – Many moons ago, when I first started making quilts, it was common for quilters to pre-wash fabric because some of the dyes were not as stable as they are today. For most of my quilting life I have NOT pre-washed my fabric until a few years ago…. one of my bucket list, paper pieced quilts was completely ruined by a hand-dyed Batik. Maybe I should have known better. I vowed that this would NEVER happen to me again so every piece of fabric gets pre-washed now. I also find that pre-washing makes the nap stand up which keeps the fabric from sliding when you put two pieces together. It stays in place.

3 Get Organized and Stay Organized – My studio used to be a hot mess. I’m working on being more organized but I still have a way to go. Right now, I call it a lukewarm mess. The one thing that has really helped me is organizing a project. I do a lot of paper piecing so I make sure my multi-page instructions are in a binder and my papers are cut out and placed in plastic zipper storage bags before I choose the fabric. This means I’m all ready to go once my fabric is picked, purchased and pre-washed. I use the plastic bags for non-paper pieced projects as well. It really helps, especially with a large project, to break it down into smaller, more manageable chunks of work.

4 Fix Problems as They Occur – When I was a new quilter I let a lot of things slide. I didn’t really care if the seams didn’t match up right or the seams were pressed the wrong way or the points were cut off. I would finish the quilt and say I would do better next time, but the finished quilt just didn’t make me very happy. After a while I started caring and wanted my piecing to be as close to perfect as I could get it. If my seams don’t match, I immediately rip out that part and do it over. If I see shadowing of a dark fabric through a light fabric, I take care of it before moving on. Having pride in my work makes me a happy quilter.

5 Learn from Others –  I always thought I could learn everything on my own so I resisted taking classes. Then I started taking classes and workshops from experienced quilters on topics or techniques that interested me. This really raised my skill level, which lead to raising my happiness level. There are so many different techniques and gadgets available to accomplish the same result. Classes allow us to see what’s out there and to choose and tweak the method that works best for us.

6 Teach Others – Some of my most happy moments are when I see the light bulb go off for someone who has just learned something new and useful in quiltmaking, or anything else for that matter. If you see someone struggling and you have an option for them, ask if they would like to see how you do it. Most of the time they will. If you have something to share, set up a class at your local quilt shop. Happiness comes in those light bulb moments in every class I teach. And here is a teaching happiness bonus…I learn something new from my students in every class I teach!

7 Quilt Police do not Exist – It is YOUR quilt. Do whatever you want to do. Many of my students ask “Carol, what is the best way to do xyz?”. My answer is always the same, the best way to do something is what works for you. If it’s easier for you to do it one way, then do it that way. If you are happy with the results, go for it!  Seek out your options. Try them out. Tweak them. Choose fabrics, patterns and techniques that make you happy and don’t apologize for your choices…. own them! Learn, grow, be happy.







Daggered Medallion Online Workshop

Now you can "attend" an online workshop where you'll learn to piece the Daggered Medallion pattern by Quiltworx. The workshop is taught by Quiltworx Certified Instructor, Carol Thelen and consists of 12 lessons. From taking the papers out of the plastic bag to pressing the final seam in the quilt top, Carol guides you step-by-step to complete your project. More than 25 videos show the piecing of this quilt plus 7 videos showing basic information for any Quiltworx pattern.

How Does the Online Workshop...Work?

When your order for Daggered Medallion Online Workshop is complete, you will have access to all 12 lessons for two years.


Interaction with Carol and With Other Students

There are several ways to interact with Carol and/or other students:

  1. Add a comment or question in the comments section at the bottom of the lesson.
  2. Use the contact page to send an email directly to Carol.




4 Tips for Using Fabric Swatches with Quiltworx Patterns

Many Quiltworx patterns use lots of different fabrics and it can be easy to mix them up during cutting and piecing. Here are 4 ways I use fabric swatches to help keep me organized:

Some quilt shops will straighten fabric on the bolt before displaying it in the shop. Often the trimmed fabric is placed inside the bolt and made available to customers for swatches. Glue these swatches in your instructions or a separate piece of paper and make notes to help you remember where it goes once you get it home.

Once you get the fabric home you might need more swatches. A quick way to make swatches without sacrificing too much yardage is to cut a 1/2″ x WOF strip from each fabric. Cut segments as you need them. This uses just 1/2″ from your total yardage but gives you more than enough swatches to work on the project.

Cutting 1″ segments from the 1/2″ strip gives you a 1″ x 1/2″ piece that fits nicely in the swatch chart.

Cutting 1/2″ segments from the 1/2″ strip gives you 1/2″ x 1/2″ pieces you can glue to your unit papers to keep track of which fabric goes in which section. This is helpful when you have multiple different accent fabrics that are pieced in a certain order.

Check out the quilting classes online at QuiltNotes.

5 Scrap Quilts to Pull from Your Stash Today


Pre-washed pile of fabric, about 1/3 of the donation received from Quilt Guild of Greater Houston.

I am so fortunate and quite overwhelmed at the response from quilters when I asked for fabric donations for patriotic quilts for Veterans at Camp Hope. For over a year now and because of the generosity of all you beautiful quilters, I have a constant, manageable flow of incoming fabric.

My latest donation came from the Quilt Guild of Greater Houston on the day before Thanksgiving of 2016. I pre-wash all the fabric to reduce problems of shrinkage or color run. It took me 3 days to sort, wash and dry the 9-1/2 loads of fabric. Everything from strips of fabric to 7+ yard cuts was now in need of pressing, folding and cutting and it was in a huge pile in the middle of my sewing room!

This past year has taught me that it is more efficient to cut the fabric as I receive it and make kits ready for piecing. Here are some things I do to keep things going:

  • I use extra-large plastic zipper bags (Ziploc™ or store brand) with the slider to hold each kit and sometimes they hold several kits of the same pattern. They are reusable and they travel and store well.
  • Download and print the pattern and place it in a sheet protector that stays in the plastic bag. If the pattern is purchased it goes into the plastic bag.
  • For the Veterans quilts I usually don’t kit the binding and backing fabrics but for your kits you might want to go ahead and pull your binding and backing fabric and add that to the kit.
  • As I’m cutting, I use scraps of paper to keep a tally of my progress.

No Bake Jolly Bar by The Fat Quarter ShopDownload the free pattern. It uses Jolly Bars from The Fat Quarter Shop (5” x 10” pre-cut sets) or 10” pre-cut squares you cut in half or 5” x 10” rectangles cut from strips. I went slightly crazy with this pattern and not only made 3 kits/quilts for Veterans, I made 4 for my grandnieces and nephew. The finished size is about 63” x 81” and takes sixty-four 5” x 10” rectangles and 2-1/2 yards background.

From my stash, I pull the background fabric and cut it per the instructions and place the pieces in the plastic bag. If you want to mix the background fabrics you can cut them as you are cutting for the other kits. As I’m cutting for the other kits I cut one 5” strip from each fabric and sub-cut into four 5” x 10” rectangles. I use two for the kit and save two for the next kit but you could use all 4 if you wish. This picture shows two No Bake Jolly Bar kits all zipped up.

You can also use the leftover 5" x 10" pieces for a bricks quilt.

Just Squares – I use 6" finished squares. For the Veterans quilts I use 108 squares set with 9 columns and 12 rows. For the 4" borders I use 2-1/4 yards of border/binding fabric.

I cut the border and binding strips on the lengthwise grain shown in my tutorial, Lengthwise Grain Border and Binding . As I’m cutting for the other kits I cut 6-1/2” strips and sub-cut to six 6-1/2” squares.

This picture shows my progress cutting 6-1/2" squares. I separate the squares into three stacks. The two stacks on the left are for kits. The papers on top of each stack are how I tally the number of squares in each stack. The stack on the right are the other squares cut from the WOF strip. The larger stack will be kitted later and the paper on top of it reminds me what the quilt layout is (number of rows and columns, border size).

I like to use the  6" Even Up from The Gadget Girls to cut my squares. Not only does it work well for WOF cuts it's great to stack odd shaped pieces of fabric and use a rotating cutting mat to cut a stack of perfect squares quickly.

Puzzle Box by Christa Quilts – Download the free pattern. Uses 2-1/2” strips. Quick to piece, finished size 64” x 80”. This quilt takes 40 strips of neutral fabric and 40 strips of colored fabric. I use any pre-cuts from my stash first and then cut any remaining strips as I cut for the other kits. I generally cut 2-1/2" strips whenever I can because you can always find patterns to make quilts from strips.

Strip-Pieced Diagonal Beginner Quilt by Jen Eskridge

This quilt is great for beginners because it is easy to choose fabric, easy to cut and easy to piece. I also think it is a pretty quilt. Check out Jen Eskridge's Tutorial and download the PDF at the end.

Using just 3 fabrics, strips are cut at 3-1/2”, 6-1/2” and 9-1/2”. For the size I need I triple the fabric requirements in the pattern:

  • 2 yards medium fabric 1
  • 2 yards medium fabric 2
  • 2-1/2 yards dark fabric and binding

Yellow Brick Road by Atkinson Designs -- Order on Amazon

This is not a free download but I bet many of you have this pattern in your stash somewhere. I’ve bought and either given away or lost at least 4 of this pattern in my quilting career. It’s a great go-to quilt that’s fast to piece and the pattern has sizes from baby (6 fat quarters) to king size (48 fat quarters). Gather the number of fat quarters needed for the quilt size you want and put them in the bag. Choose your border and binding fabric as well.

As I cut for other quilts I generally cut fat quarters when I can. I place the fat quarters in a large basket and pull them for kits as I make them. This is a picture of my fat quarter barrel, a hamper with handles and wheels, where I put all my fat quarters ready for kitting. When it gets full I start pulling for as many kits as possible requiring fat quarters.

Summary – Plan of Attack

For this large pile of fabric, I cut more kits than those shown above but if you want to take on the challenge of kitting these 5 quilts from your stash, here is what I recommend:

  1. Lay out your 5 plastic bags or your containers of choice.
  2. Download and print the free patterns and place them in their own sheet protectors and place those in the bags.
  3. Choose the background for No Bake Jolly Bar and the neutral(s) for Puzzle Box. If you are sure these are the fabrics you want, then go ahead and cut as required and place the pieces in their respective bags.
  4. Choose the three fabrics for Strip-Pieced Beginner Quilt. Cut the fabrics as required and place them in the bag. Done with this kit.
  5. Choose the border/binding fabrics for Just Squares and Yellow Brick Road and place them in their respective bags.
  6. If you have pre-cuts for No Bake Jolly Bar or Puzzle Box pull those from your stash and place them in their respective bags.
  7. Start cutting from your stash. The cuts listed below can be obtained from one yard of fabric. Pick a fabric and cut the following from WOF:
  • 18”: Sub-cut to two fat quarters. Use both for Yellow Brick Road or use one and stash one.
  • 6-1/2”: Sub-cut to six 6-1/2” x 6-1/2” squares for Just Squares. Use as many as you want for the kit and stash the others.  (I separate into 6 kits.)
  • 5”: Sub-cut to four 5” x 10” rectangles for No Bake Jolly Bar. Use what you want for the kit and stash the rest. (I separate into 4 kits.)
  • 2-1/2”: Cut as many of these as you want for Puzzle Box and to stash

As you cut, be sure to keep a tally of the different pieces needed. You can take this opportunity to use up yardage from your stash to make new fat quarters and 2-1/2” strips. It’s easy to find great patterns for fat quarters and 2-1/2” strips.


After you cut strips from your stash you might end up with small pieces. I like to go ahead and cut those and be done with that fabric. Cut more of whatever you want or need and have room for.

Check out the quilting classes online at QuiltNotes.

Sewing Y Seams

mark y seamsIf you say the words “curved seam” to many quilters you will see them cringe and make funny faces. Another phrase that produces the same reaction is “Y seams”.

A Y seam occurs when three pieces of fabric intersect. To sew them together you stitch three seams. The good thing is these seams are almost always straight so you are stitching three straight seams.

For each of the three fabrics at the intersection you start by marking the intersections of seam allowance as shown. When you sew each seam you will start stitching at the marked point and stitch to the end. I like to backstitch a few stitches so the stitching stays put while I stitch the other two seams.

Here is a great video from Jinny Beyer showing how to complete the Y seams. In this demo Jinny uses small pieces of fabric but the same method is used when stitching Y seams for large pieced units.

Rows on a Ring

Quilters are always looking for simple, inexpensive ways to make assembling quilts faster, easier and more enjoyable.

Assemble quilt rows with row charms.

A package of 28 embroidery floss plastic bobbins and ring for $1.99 and a permanent marker and safety pins I had laying around. How can these items help a quilter? Here is what I did with them.

Cut a slit in the plastic bobbin

For each bobbin I cut a slit as shown above. In this picture the slit area is marked with the permanent marker so you can see it but there is no need to mark before cutting. Cutting this slit makes the bobbin function like one of those plastic tags you find on bakery products.

number row charms

I used number stickers to number a set of bobbins from 1 through 20. The permanent marker will work just as well.


For each odd numbered bobbin I used the marker to fill in the little circle in the lower right portion of the bobbin.


For each even numbered bobbin I use the marker to fill in the little circle in the lower left portion of the bobbin. Later I’ll tell you why.


Next I attached each bobbin to the spring side of a safety pin. The slit I cut before makes it snap in easily and placing it inside the spring prevents the charm from falling off when the pin is open.


Set of 20 row charms.


I numbered the rows as I took them off the design wall. For each row I started stacking on the left and worked towards the right as I placed each block on top of the next. I used the safety pin to pin the entire row together in the upper left. This keeps the blocks in order and tells me which corner is the upper left of each block in the row. I did this for all the rows in the quilt.


I use the ring from the bobbin package to hold the numbered rows. All the blocks for the entire quilt are numbered in rows at the upper left corner and held together with the lockable ring.


Another view of the rows on a ring. Pin it to your design wall or put it in a bag or box to piece later. This is especially good at a retreat where you can take time to layout the blocks then pin the rows for piecing later.[divider]


And what about those dots….odd on the right and even on the left? Once you piece a row together those dots tell you which way to press the seams:

  • odd-numbered rows  press the seams to the right
  • even-numbered rows press the seams to the left

Pressing in this way makes the seams interlock when the rows are stitched together. I leave the pins in place until all the rows are stitched together.

To number rows and columns your numbering system will include a letter and a number on each bobbin such as A1, A2, A3  etc for row A blocks 1 through 3. You’ll need a lot more bobbins and pins. You can buy extra bobbins and/or extra rings separately.[divider]

Happy quilting

Carol Thelen























From Vintage to Fiesta With Quiltster

vintage compass quilt pattern

Still in the beta stage, the fabric auditioning app at Quiltster.com lets you load a Quiltworx pattern and color it with fabric. I’m not sure when it will be available for everyone but I was fortunate enough to become a beta tester.

You can use the fabrics already loaded in the app or you can upload your own. I was able to download my fabrics from Timeless Treasures Pinata collection and upload them to my Quiltster account. I chose Vintage Compass shown here.

Here are some of the fabrics from Pinata collection that I uploaded to Quiltster. Click on any image to see a slideshow of larger images.

Once I loaded the fabric images I was able to insert fabrics anywhere I wanted and make any changes I wanted until I was happy. Once you are finished you can print a full page picture and yardage information. I put these into a sheet protector and used them for reference when cutting and piecing. Since there is nothing vintage about these fabrics I call my quilt Fiesta Compass.

And here are pictures of the finished quilt sans binding and label. Click an image for some seriously bright eye candy.

Larger images.

Cover Image from Quiltster
Cover Image from Quiltster


Fiesta Compass pieced and quilted.
Fiesta Compass pieced and quilted.

My friend and fellow CI, Barb Linares, mentioned to me that better results are achieved if the fabrics are scanned instead of photographed. Of course, if you can find your fabric images on the manufacturer’s page that’s even better.

Here are some links for your surfing and pinning pleasure:

Click the Events tab above for information about my upcoming classes or contact me to schedule something for your group.

Larger AndSave
















Lengthwise Grain Border and Binding

Why Lengthwise Cuts?

QuiltNotes woven threads

The lengthwise grain runs parallel to the selvage and is stronger and stretches less than the crosswise grain  which runs from selvage-to-selvage. The lengthwise grain gets it’s strength from the warp threads which are continuous all along the length of the fabric. The weft threads are the shorter threads which are woven across the warp threads.

Fabric cut from the lengthwise grain has no stretching or easing and makes the borders lay flat. Here are two short videos explaining this in a little more detail:

Straight Borders
Straight Borders
Cornerstone borders
Cornerstone Borders


  • This method is for straight or cornerstone borders.
  • The border strips are sewn to the longest edge first.
  • With 42″ of usable width of fabric, this method works for borders cut up to 8″ wide and binding strips cut up to 2-1/2″ wide. Check your usable width before cutting.

How Much Fabric?

For a finished quilt size of 75″ x 95″:

  1. Determine the finished size of your quilt top and use the length of the longest size in your calculations. In this example that number is 95″.
  2. Add 5″ just to be safe.  95″ + 5″ = 100″ so you will need 100″ of fabric from the bolt.
  3. Divide this number by 36 to determine the yardage.  100 / 36 = 2.77 yards or 2-7/8 yards.

Making The Cuts

Cutting borders and binding

Open the fabric and press out the middle crease. It’s better not to skip this step, but if you do you’ll find out why soon enough.

With the fabric still open, fold in half with the cut edges together. The selvage edges will be on both sides as shown above.

Keep folding in half until the fabric fits on your cutting board. Use the longest ruler you that fits on your mat so the cuts will be as straight as possible.[hr]
Cutting Borders and Bindings

Cut 1 – Starting at one of the selvage edges, cut off the selvage.

Cuts 2 thru 5 – The cut width of the border.

Cuts 6 thru 9 – The cut width of the binding.

Now you have 4 border strips and 4 binding strips.


Attaching the Borders

Attach borders to the longest side first. Why?  Remember we cut the length of all 4 border strips the size of the longest side plus a little extra. If we attach borders to the smaller sides first the remaining strips will not be long enough to attach the longest sides later.

  1. Measure the longest side. It is best to measure in three places: both of the longest sides and down the middle. Take the average of these three and cut two border strips to that size. Attach these borders first. [box type=”tick”]You should never attach a border strip then trim the excess. You will have wavy borders nearly every time.[/box]
  2.  Measure the two remaining sides and cut the two remaining border strips to that length and attach.


Wasting Fabric?

Some people have told me that using this method can result in lots of leftover fabric. That’s true if your border strips are narrow. In the example above we used 100″ of fabric. With a usable width of 42 inches and borders cut at 3-1/2″ the leftover fabric will be a strip about 18″ wide by 100″ and will include the selvage. Here’s what you can do with this fabric:

  • cut 4 strips at 2″ for a 1-1/2″ finished inner border and 4 strips at 2-1/2″ for another binding, or
  • cut 4 strips at 4-1/2″ for a 4″ finished border.

You get the idea. If you’re cutting narrow borders and having this much leftover fabric bugs you then this method isn’t for you. I like having stable borders that I don’t have to piece along the stretchy crosswise grain.