Strip Tips- Selvages and Masking Tape

In days gone by, quilters actually took scissors and templates and cut each piece of fabric that they put into a quilt by hand.  Which makes every expertly pieced antique quilt I see blow my mind.  It’s not so much the piecing that is amazing to me as it is the cutting.  As my mother taught me, if you don’t cut it out correctly, you may as well thrown it out.  There were no rotary cutters and mats and specialty rulers and short cuts.  Just scissors and templates.

Fast forward through the quilting revolution and things have changed a bit over the years.  Tiny squares that used to be cut and pieced one at a time are often cut into strips vertically, pieced together, then cut again horizontally.  Once the late Mr. Yoshio Okada of Olfa introduced the rotary cutter to the quilting world, quilters everywhere began to explode with creativity, and the applications are proving to be close to endless.  The rotary cutter seems to be to the quilting world what the airplane was to the world at large.  It gave us wings.

Throughout my quilting career, I’ve had plenty of failures and successes.  And I have learned that what works for one does not always work for another.  And that’s okay.

So, here’s just a few tips I have learned over the years about cutting strips.  They might work for you, they might not.  But I have found it is always worthwhile to see how someone else does something, and that I often learn something totally unexpected.

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Want to know more about the history of the rotary cutter? Click the pic above for more information about Mr. Okada.

I don’t normally cut a large number of strips from a fat quarter, but I do from time to time, and this size was easier to photograph for the blog.  The pic above shows all the usual accouterments, and I assume that you already have a basic knowledge of the tools at hand.  My personal favorite rotary cutter is an Olfa, although I honestly use a wide range of cutters.  I also am pretty loyal to Creative Grids rulers because of their versatility, clear markings, wide range of products, and of course, the nonslip aspect of each tool.  I also prefer the Clover Cutting Mat.  I originally bought it because I liked the color, but then the more I have used it, the more I prefer it.  It is as if the blade sinks into the self-healing mat just the right amount, leaving a smooth, but not too hard surface.  The markings are also easy to read, although it is best not to use a mat for measuring.

The first thing I do is straighten one of the cut sides of the fabric.  There are several ways of doing this, but in this case, I used the selvage edge as a reference, looking carefully at the weave of the threads to get it as close to the straight of grain as I possibly could.  I am right handed, so I lined up the first ruler with the selvage threads on the right side.  I then butted a second ruler up to the first ruler on the left side, so as to prepare to cut the crooked edge off of the fat quarter.  After I move the first ruler away, I can use the cutter to cut a straight edge on the left side of the fabric.

I’ve had a lot of people ask why I cut off the selvage of the fabric.  The reason is that the fabric is woven tighter on the edges, or along the selvage, and as strips are cut from the fabric, it kind of recoils on the selvage and becomes misshapen, which results in oddly shaped strips after several cuts.  Cutting off the selvage releases the fibers and allows the fabric to lay flat.

When cutting many strips of the same length, I have found that it saves me a bit of time to build a sort of dam on the backside of my ruler.  I just take a pair of regular scissors and score the tape several layers deep.  I peel that strip of tape off of the roll, then carefully apply it to the backside of my ruler along the measurement that I am going to be cutting repeatedly.

Are there other ways of cutting a multitude of strips quickly?  Absolutely.  I don’t believe that there is any one perfect way of doing it, but this way works best for me.  Maybe it will work for you.  Let me know what you think…

Dear Dresden

The Green Apricot studio has a number of options.  The studio accommodates 16 sewing machines easily, and includes outlets for each sewer, as well as space for 4 irons and a cutting station.

Yeah, yeah.  So what?  A lot of sewing studios have that.

The studio also offers a large variety of tools for use while in the studio- like about 150 rulers and templates.  All of which I like to test, and then explain them to you.

Recently I had the chance to do a program at a local guild about Dresden Plate tools that are available on the market.  Now, don’t get me wrong, I know I did not test every single tool available to make a Dresden Plate.  However, I did test enough of them to be able to tell you a little about how they work, and when and why to buy which one.

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So, here’s the scoop.  First of all, not all Dresden Plates are Dresden Plates.  There are also Fans and Wagon Wheels, which technically are similar to Dresden Plates, but are not Dresden Plates.  And they may have a peaked tip, or not.  Some have blunt tips.  Some have rounded tips.  Some have three-sided tips.  Some have 20 blades.  Some have 12 blades.  Some have 8 blades.  Some are tiny.  Some are huge.  Some have a hole in the center when you make them.  Some don’t.  Some are complete circles.  Some are not.  And honestly, in the history of quilting, all of those variations add up to totally different block names, but for today, let’s just lump them as Dresdens, simply because it is the most recognizable name.

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Secondly, as far as I can tell, there are basically three ways to make a Dresden Plate.  Paper piecing is probably the least common, but in patterns such as Everyday Best by Piece ‘O Cake use the Dresden idea and expound on it.  The oldest, and probably most common, is templates.  Just Google Dresden Plate Templates and you’ll come up with lots of results, but I especially liked the tutorial on making your own paper templates at PatchworkPosse.com.  The third way is to use manufactured templates or rulers, which are usually made out of materials suited for rotary cutting tools.

Paper piecing is paper piecing, but whether you use paper templates or manufactured templates, the process is pretty much the same.  Cut wedges, sew tops, clip, turn, press, then sew wedges together into desired finished shape.  Applique finished shape to a background fabric, then applique circle over center.  Applique can be hand or machine.  Background may be whole cloth or just a block.  All depends on the desired finish.

There are two basic differences to look for in templates or rulers.  It’s all about the degree of the wedge, and how narrow the bottom of the wedge is.

The wider the degree of the wedge, the fewer blades the Dresden Plate will have.  A 30 degree wedge will create 12 plates, an 18 degree wedge will create 20 plates.  There are other degrees that are available, so just be aware that as the degree of the template changes, so will the number of plates.  And be aware that what one manufacturer calls 18 degrees may not be what another manufacturer calls 18 degrees.  If you want your Dresdens to be consistent, be sure to use the same template for all of your blades.

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Likewise, the more narrow the bottom of the wedge, the less of a hole will be created in the center of the Dresden Plate.  Most templates have a wider bottom edge, which is what creates the hole in the center.  However, some have very narrow bottom edges, which leaves no hole in the center, or at least a very minimal one.  Having a hole in the center eliminates the bulk where the seams come together, and there isn’t a concern with matching seams as they meet in the center.

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Some templates include information on cutting the circle to applique on the center, and some do not.  It all depends on the product.  Just as in with the blades, it is possible to make your own template for the center applique, but it is helpful to have a guide.  Also, the center applique does not have to be a circle.  It can be a hexagon.  A square.  A bird.  Really, anything you want, as long as it securely covers the opening in the center of the Dresden Plate.

So, here is the list of products that I reviewed, and just a little bit about each one.  I hope you find this helpful on your next Dresden Plate project!

Suzn Quilts Mini Dresden– Uses 3 1/2″ strips to create 12 blades.  Includes circle applique template.
Suzn Quilts Tiny Dresden– Uses 2″ strips to create 12 blades.  Includes circle applique template.
Marti Michell Dresden– Includes multiple tools and extensive instructions for multiple sizes from 7-12″.
Marti Michell Mini Dresden– Includes multiple tools and extensive instructions for multiple sizes from 3-5″.
Creative Grids Kaleidoscope & Dresden Plate– 45 or 22 1/2 degree triangle for multiple size blades.  45 degree makes 8 blades, 22 1/2 makes 16 blades.  Instructions included as well as online video.
Creative Grids 18 degree Dresden– Cuts multiple size blades, 20 blades per full Dresden.  Includes circle template, which can also be used to make rounded tips.  Instructions included as well as online video.
EZ Quilting 30 degree Triangle Ruler– Cuts multiple size blades, 12 blades per full Dresden.  Limited instructions.  Finishes with no hole in center.  Does not include template for applique circle.
EZ Quilting 45 degree Triangle Ruler– Cuts multiple size blades, 8 blades per full Dresden.  Limited instructions.  Finishes with no hole in center.  Does not include template for applique circle.
EZ Quilting Dresden– Cuts multiple size blades, 20 blades per full Dresden.  Limited instructions.  Does not include template for applique circle.
Stack’N’Whack 18 degree Fan– Cuts multiple size blades, 20 blades per full Dresden.  Excellent instructions.  Includes pattern.
Fast 2 Cut Dresden Plate Template– Cuts multiple size blades, 20 blades per full Dresden.  Excellent instructions.  Does not include circle template.
Clover Dresden Plate and Fan Collection by Nancy Zieman– Cuts multiple size blades, 20 blades per full Dresden.  Instructions in multiple languages.  Includes template for applique circle.  Not to be used directly with rotary cutter.  Trace first, or alight rotary ruler with the template.

To buy a new ruler, or not to buy a new ruler-

Okay, sew here's the dealio- The pattern "Houndstooth" makes multiple sizes, which is always a plus in a quilt pattern if you ask me.  (I don't know why, since I rarely actually follow the size directions, but whatever.)  Anyway, there are actually two different Creative Grids rulers you can use to make this pattern, based on the finished size of the quilt.  Well, it really is asking too much for me to actually READ the back of the pattern when I buy it, so of course, I bought the ruler intended for the larger size, not the baby size.  This is a problem.

Okay, sew here’s the dealio- The pattern “Houndstooth” makes multiple sizes, which is always a plus in a quilt pattern if you ask me. (I don’t know why, since I rarely actually follow the size directions, but whatever.) Anyway, there are actually two different Creative Grids rulers you can use to make this pattern, based on the finished size of the quilt. Well, it really is asking too much for me to actually READ the back of the pattern when I buy it, so of course, I bought the ruler intended for the larger size, not the baby size. This is a problem.


I tried to figure out how to make it work, but it just wouldn't.  You would have to continually flip the ruler to get the right cut, and that defeated the purpose of buying the ruler in the first place.  The pattern does include a template that you may use instead of the ruler, but let's be real, I am way too lazy for that.

I tried to figure out how to make it work, but it just wouldn’t. You would have to continually flip the ruler to get the right cut, and that defeated the purpose of buying the ruler in the first place. The pattern does include a template that you may use instead of the ruler, but let’s be real, I am way too lazy for that.


So, what else could I do besides break down and buy the correct ruler?  It really did make a difference.

So, what else could I do besides break down and buy the correct ruler? It really did make a difference.


Okay, so now to the nitty gritty on how this thing works.  I LOVE these specialty rulers by Creative Grids.  They have so many that are so helpful, and as we all know, the right tool makes all the difference!  Okay, so first off, this is the 2 1/2" Strip Ruler.  The trick is that you are actually initially making a tube.  You sew your strips together in sets of two, and then sew two sets of those sewn strips together into a tube.  To use the ruler, lay it on the tube vertically, just the same as you use a normal rotary ruler.  Do not try to use it horizontally- it is uncomfortable, unnatural, and you are likely to make a mistake while cutting.  Also, I found that the 28mm rotary cutter works best with these kinds of rulers.  Cut your tube using the ruler's diagonal edge as your guide.  You will end up with . . .

Okay, so now to the nitty gritty on how this thing works. I LOVE these specialty rulers by Creative Grids. They have so many that are so helpful, and as we all know, the right tool makes all the difference! Okay, so first off, this is the 2 1/2″ Strip Ruler. The trick is that you are actually initially making a tube. You sew your strips together in sets of two, and then sew two sets of those sewn strips together into a tube. To use the ruler, lay it on the tube vertically, just the same as you use a normal rotary ruler. Do not try to use it horizontally- it is uncomfortable, unnatural, and you are likely to make a mistake while cutting. Also, I found that the 28mm rotary cutter works best with these kinds of rulers. Cut your tube using the ruler’s diagonal edge as your guide. You will end up with . . .


this!  You do have to pick out the seam at the corner after you have cut your pieces, but it is no biggie.  Because the cuts alternate, you end up with alternate blocks.  If I had followed the directions in the pattern, these actually would be identical because there were only two colors used in the original pattern.

this! You do have to pick out the seam at the corner after you have cut your pieces, but it is no biggie. Because the cuts alternate, you end up with alternate blocks. If I had followed the directions in the pattern, these actually would be identical because there were only two colors used in the original pattern.

Got Font?

"Got Font?"  The name of this quilt came from the fabric, most of which has wording, letters, and numbers on it.  I found it in a Jelly Roll a couple of years ago and haven't known what to do with it until I saw this pattern!

“Got Font?” The name of this quilt came from the fabric, most of which has wording, letters, and numbers on it. I found it in a Jelly Roll a couple of years ago and haven’t known what to do with it until I saw this pattern!


I am absolutely in love with Creative Grids rulers, especially these specialty rulers.  This pattern, "Teacups" by Jay Bird Quilts, uses 2 1/2" strips to create a tumbler quilt.  Julie from Jay Bird uses the Double-Strip Tumbler ruler in her pattern to cut the tumbler pieces, and I have to say, I really enjoyed using this technique.  (The pattern also includes a template if you don't want to use the ruler.)  If you don't already have 2 1/2" strips to work with, one side of the ruler is a 2 1/2" ruler, while the other side of the ruler cuts the tumblers.

I am absolutely in love with Creative Grids rulers, especially these specialty rulers. This pattern, “Teacups” by Jay Bird Quilts, uses 2 1/2″ strips to create a tumbler quilt. Julie from Jay Bird uses the Double-Strip Tumbler ruler in her pattern to cut the tumbler pieces, and I have to say, I really enjoyed using this technique. (The pattern also includes a template if you don’t want to use the ruler.) If you don’t already have 2 1/2″ strips to work with, one side of the ruler is a 2 1/2″ ruler, while the other side of the ruler cuts the tumblers.


The pattern begins with seaming sets of (2) 2 1/2" strips.  I chose to use as much contrast as I could in my strip sets, although I was working with neutrals, so this is not a high contrast quilt.  After seaming the strip sets and pressing them open, I used the Double-Strip Tumbler ruler to cut the tumblers.  I also used "background" tumblers made from Osnaburg fabric.  This gave the quilt an earthy, "organic" look and feel.

The pattern begins with seaming sets of (2) 2 1/2″ strips. I chose to use as much contrast as I could in my strip sets, although I was working with neutrals, so this is not a high contrast quilt. After seaming the strip sets and pressing them open, I used the Double-Strip Tumbler ruler to cut the tumblers. I also used “background” tumblers made from Osnaburg fabric. This gave the quilt an earthy, “organic” look and feel.


Here are the first couple of rows of tumblers sewn together.  The tumblers on the end are trimmed in order to square up the quilt.  The instructions in the pattern actually say to trim the excess from the ends after the whole quilt top has been pieced.  I find that too difficult, and prefer to cut the pieces to size as I go.

Here are the first couple of rows of tumblers sewn together. The tumblers on the end are trimmed in order to square up the quilt. The instructions in the pattern actually say to trim the excess from the ends after the whole quilt top has been pieced. I find that too difficult, and prefer to cut the pieces to size as I go.


Rows all laid out and ready to sew!

Rows all laid out and ready to sew!


All pieced together and quilted- a little swirl to balance all of those straight lines!

All pieced together and quilted- a little swirl to balance all of those straight lines!


I decided to try something new with this quilt.  Instead of using my normal sewing machine, I thought I would try to use my serger to attach the binding.  My serger has a perfect 1/4" seam, and of course, it trims as it goes.  (I do not trim all of the excess off before I sew on the binding.)  However, the corners were very complicated.  I will probably practice this idea a little more before sharing the details of how I got it done!

I decided to try something new with this quilt. Instead of using my normal sewing machine, I thought I would try to use my serger to attach the binding. My serger has a perfect 1/4″ seam, and of course, it trims as it goes. (I do not trim all of the excess off before I sew on the binding.) However, the corners were very complicated. I will probably practice this idea a little more before sharing the details of how I got it done!


I really do love finishing the binding by hand.  I know there are a lot of machine techniques out there, and I do use them from time to time, but I really love doing it by hand.  Crazy, huh?

I really do love finishing the binding by hand. I know there are a lot of machine techniques out there, and I do use them from time to time, but I really love doing it by hand.
Crazy, huh?


They don't look like much in this photo, but these are a clever pattern by Karen Montgomery.  The pattern is "Reversible Pillow Wrap", and it is an inexpensive one sheet pattern offered at a number of quilt shops.  The other side of these wraps are a totally different fabric that will match a totally different quilt- if I ever get the quilt made!  Check out the pillows in the first image on this post- that's what these babies turn out to be.

They don’t look like much in this photo, but these are a clever pattern by Karen Montgomery. The pattern is “Reversible Pillow Wrap”, and it is an inexpensive one sheet pattern offered at a number of quilt shops. The other side of these wraps are a totally different fabric that will match a totally different quilt- if I ever get the quilt made! Check out the pillows in the first image on this post- that’s what these babies turn out to be.


And here's the final quilt!  I wanted to frame it a little, but not all the way, so I added borders to the top and bottom.  I also didn't totally follow the directions when it cam to size, but I was mostly obedient to the instructions, so I feel like I didn't do too shabby!

And here’s the final quilt! I wanted to frame it a little, but not all the way, so I added borders to the top and bottom. I also didn’t totally follow the directions when it came to size, but I was mostly obedient to the instructions, so I feel like I didn’t do too shabby!


While this isn't the most helpful image to you if you were thinking about making this quilt, I love this shot because it really is a pretty cool perspective.  "Got Font?" belongs to one of my daughters, and she took this picture, which I thought was pretty creative.  Smart girl.

While this isn’t the most helpful image to you if you were thinking about making this quilt, I love this shot because it really is a pretty cool perspective. “Got Font?” belongs to one of my daughters, and she took this picture, which I thought was pretty creative. Smart girl.