The Quilting Rules I Like to Break

Rules. Rules. Rules. Holy cow - enough already. I was with my quilting church group the other day and a few of the ladies asked some honest questions:

1. Do you use steam when pressing your patches?
2. Why don't you pre-wash your fabric?
3. How come you fold your fabric into fourths when you cut strips?
4. Do you have your fabric torn or cut at quilt shops?
5. How about pressing seams - open or to the side?

I realized that I was the Queen of Shortcuts long ago and break many of those pesky RULES that some anonymous quilter made up and scared the you-know-what out of the newbies. It's not that these rules are wrong; it's just that they're not always right.

Here's my most recent quilt finish made with a specialty ruler (I have VERY few; many are redundant or unnecessary). The 6" Curvy Log Cabin ruler was designed for Creative Grids by my former editor Jean Ann Wright.
Chasing Pac Man
Because there are SO many seams coming together, I pressed the seams OPEN when joining the blocks. Here are one of each color (the quilt uses three of each color).

Four curvy log cabin blocks
And when they're joined:
Curvy blocks joined; seams pressed open
The answer to QUESTION #1 above about whether to use steam in my iron is a resounding YES! But I am careful to not twist or otherwise distort the bias. I think that was the reason for the "rule" in the first place. Right now I'm taking a 5 minute break from sewing another quilt with a LOT of seams and in order for them to lie flat, I have to use steam! I'll share that quilt in an upcoming post.

Question #2 about pre-washing my fabric is just me, but because the project my church friends and I were working on had pre-washed fabric, I realized WHY I don't like it in the first place. I DO NOT like the feel of the fabric after it's been washed and dried. It's too puffy, too flimsy and floppy. I like CRISP fabric in my hands. I know the stories about the chemicals on the fabric; if I didn't die last January when I printed 3,000 pages for patterns for upcoming workshops (death by printer toner), then I'm good to go.

Also, because I've been sewing for the camera for 27 years and get a LOT OF FABRIC from various fabric companies, I just don't have the time to prewash, dry, iron all the yardage. And, if some of it is prewashed and others are not, then I could have a shrinkage disaster on my hands.

Here's the block we are making using green and cream fabric. It is my 10" paper pieced Palm block.

10" paper pieced Palm block before trimming
Question #3 about how I double-fold my fabric: When I cut fabric from yardage that is 42/44" wide, I always first straighten it. That's what the lines on my ruler are for. I DO NOT use the lines on my mats for this. I look at the fold at the top and bottom and then check them against the lines on my ruler. Here is a cut I made from the TORN fabric. Now it's straight. Why do I have pins there? Because I'm not ready to cut my strips and I can hang this on a hanger and not worry about lining things up again. Pretty clever, huh?

Straightening my fabric
AND, every few cuts I open the fabric to check to be sure there are NO curves. Yesterday, one of the ladies was cutting with a single fold (ie, the fabric was 22" high). She didn't stop and check every few cuts and there were some serious curves on several of the strips. I feel I have more control over the fabric when it's folded twice. Just me.

Question #4: We ran out of that cream fabric and so I got into my car and went to the quilt shop for more. This is one of my VERY BIGGEST bugaboos! I asked for 3/4 yard. The lovely clerk measured and then, before I could say anything, SHE TORE IT! Yes, she did. SHE TORE IT! I gasped. She freaked. I told her I do not like tearing, but I tried to be kind. This was not a mortal sin; just a little blip on the radar screen in light of quilting eternity, right?

This is what tearing fabric does to it. This is some fabric from another vendor and the quilt shop TORE IT. Can you see the runs? Some of them are up to 1" wide. This is why I like my fabric CUT.

Torn fabric
OK. I think there are probably several more rules I like to break. I'll let you know with another post sometime.

Here's a lovely quilt I made with that TORN fabric above. It uses one of my Peacock Garden blocks from my last book. I can see edges of those tears in this quilt (not in the photo, but in real life).

Peacock Garden
Now I'll get down off my throne and get back to quilting. I'm pressing a LOT of seams open this afternoon (Friday) as I write this. And there are no Quilt Police lurking in my closet. I think sometime I will share some of my over 2 dozen quilt magazine cover quilts and point out the "flaws" in each one. I think you will be surprised - and somewhat relieved. For now, get back to having fun with your fabric!


  1. I agree with all of this...I love steam, we just need to be careful. And crisp fabric is wonderful to work with.

    1. Yes, you're right. The crisp fabric is a pleasure to work with!

  2. Hi Debby! Apparently I learned or chose to break the exact same rules that you do. I almost gasped with you at the tearing of the fabric . . . why do they think that's a good idea?? Can't they SEE the frayed edges and how curvy they are? You just have to home and straighten the fabric. Oh well, whatever. Get to work on pressing all those seams! ~smile~ Roseanne

  3. Yes, the tearing of the fabric has got to be #1. That goes WAY back to the stone age of quilting. It's bad for the fabric - it stretches, too. I don't care what quilting Super Star swears by it - it's wrong.

  4. Always enjoy your insight and knowledge!! Thanks for sharing.

  5. Ha, ha. Insight and knowledge? I guess if I’ve been doing this for 27+ years, there are things I’ve learned from my 10,000 hours.

  6. It's a shame that there are so many rules and the threat of the Quilt Police. It is definitely discouraging to new quilters. I like to look at both sides of a "topic" and then make my own design.

    1. Yes, there are always two sides and we more experienced quilters should always come alongside the newer ones with care and encouragement - not with a bunch of rules. This is art (not math), so it's supposed to be fun.

  7. Dear Debby
    Thank you for validating all my "rules" hee hee for my students. I too have learned over the years these tips and when I thought about most of them, I was like Who made that up?
    Seriously I have not been pressing open, but small squares and strips it makes sense.
    Super blessings on you for the lines of your rulers rule. My LQS once had an entire shipment of mats come in just slightly off the straight, sold to the class and well no more needs to be said.
    Now for my burning question? What do you do to get students and sometimes staff in shop to Close the cutter before laying it down???
    I have fined them a FQ or taken cutter and hidden it, but some keep leaving open on the table.
    I have witnessed a serious cut from another quilter pushing aside someones stuff and lacerating hand badly. I use it as an example and it works... For awhile. Thanks for all you great ideas and tips. (and for letting me ramble.)

  8. Yes to everything you said, Peg. Rulers have lines; I've learned long ago that using the mats takes twice as long to get things done. Burning question answer: I always tell them how I sliced off the side of my left index finger, had to call husband at work to come home and take me to ER. And the time a "professional" dropped an open cutter on her sandaled feet and SHE had to go to ER. And the time a little playmate of my daughter's came into my sewing room (without permission), picked up my cutter and sliced her hand BIG TIME. It is a razor blade and pizza cutter! Not a toy.


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