A Quilt Story

By Cinda Olsen

I have been quilting since 1992. I read anything and everything I can get my hands on about quilting. You can pickup little tidbits of information from all kinds of quilting articles. Sometimes the things you read today don’t seem important, but next year you might get a flashback about that article. There are all kinds of opinions about quilting. No one opinion is the only correct opinion in quilting. There is usually more than one way to make a quilt no matter what kind of quilt you are making. Some are a lot faster and easier than others. A smart person will listen to all the opinions, and then choose the one that works for them.

Quilting is relaxing for me. Some people consider it therapy. When I start quilting, I can forget all of the problems of the world and mine. But I also don’t like to start working on a quilt if I am already in a bad mood. If I am upset about something it continues into the quilt. I will have to rip out more things when I am in a bad mood. It is best to wait until you are in a better mood. Sometimes we don’t have choices; we have to go for it anyway. But I get angrier when I have to rip out. I don’t make as many mistakes if I am in a good mood. But then sometimes if I start sewing it puts me in a better mood. Just be aware.

Dark, Medium and Light I have found that as long as I choose dark, medium and light fabric, it doesn’t matter what colors you use, your quilt will turn out awesome. All darks, all mediums or all lights will turn out boring. Choosing colors to me is the hardest part of quilting, because I want my quilt to turn out spectacular. Some people color on graph paper, some do a computer program, but I just have to play with the fabric until it comes to me. And then I just have to go for it. Once I make a decision, I just do it. Then if you can see that one of the colors just isn’t right, take it out as soon as you realize it. If you only have a small portion done, it doesn’t hurt as bad to take out.

Choose large, medium, and small prints, geometric, strips, plaids, and other types of prints for most quilts, it adds interest.

Precision when cutting strips or pieces, cut precise. Don’t give a little extra just in case. That little extra is what will cause you problems later. Cut as precise as you can. Granted things happen, and some little mistakes can be fixed without starting over. You can sometimes make a mistake a new part of your pattern. And as far as perfection, years of practice is what makes those great quilts that you see at the show. You just have to do the time. Perseverance is how. Since you really like to sew, it won’t take long to get there. If you are really striving for that perfect quilt for competition, take out all the little mistakes as you make them. Don’t be so hard on yourself that you never complete a project at all.

Matching points precisely Press seams opposite directions. Then stab the straight pin straight in at the point of the top fabric and then stab it into the second point on bottom fabric. Leave this straight pin sticking straight in. Take another straight pin and stick it close to the edge of the fabric, poke it down on one side of the seam and up on the other side of the seam ¼ (inch not ½).

Choose the best Fabric that you can afford. This is a great theory and I do this often, but I have a great stash that I accumulated before they came out with all the great fabrics that they have today. I often go into my stash and see what I can come up with. Sometimes pulling out the fabric and playing with it makes my creative juices flow. Still dark, medium and light, in those lost but not forgotten fabrics. I went to a quilt show this weekend and I came home and started playing with the fabrics that I already have. I got some fabric strips already cut at a garage sale. The woman who was having the sale was moving, and she used to own her own shop. She had cut strips off every fabric that she bought. I just had to buy some of them. Of course they were a little larger than I wanted so I had to trim ½ inch off of all of them, but that gives me a chance to square them up. They were cut a little crooked. That ½ inch was just enough to straighten them up. I laid them all out light to dark. I counted 100 different prints. That is cool. Do you know how long it takes you to find 100 different fabrics without the pain of finding just the right colors? These just happen to be one box of black gray and white, and one box of mauve, pink, red and burgundy. These colors should all look great together. We will see, I just started working on this project. It will be something like Strips and Curves or Michael James would do. It could have been some kind of log cabin. These pieces will be appropriate for either. Now I am thinking that I will cut some large curvy pieces, and what is left I will make a Strips N Curves quilt. I might even get this quilt done for this years quilt show.

One simple way of choosing color is to take a fabric print that you like and choose colors from that fabric. Don’t be afraid to go a little lighter or darker. Then there is always complimentary colors, monochromatic or Triad colors. Just pick colors you like. Listen to other people’s opinions, sometimes they have great ideas, but in the end do what you want. It doesn’t matter what color as long as you remember dark, medium and light. I can’t say that enough.

Quilting and the Sewing Machine. Any sewing machine will work, you know that. But if you want to quilt, and you are looking for a sewing machine, don’t let anyone talk you into buying a sewing machine if it doesn’t have a ¼ inch foot. It just makes life easier. You can mark your quarter inch on the sewing machine, you can use the edge of the foot, and you can buy a generic foot, or even draw on the back of the fabric, but nothing works quite as well as the ¼ inch foot that comes on a sewing machine. Just this one little thing will make you a great quilter immediately.

The difference in machines I have had several sewing machines. It seems that all sewing machines have their good points and bad. My old machine just got too rickety, and I wanted a new one. Then that one didn’t do quite what I wanted, so I bought a new one, (maybe six years later). But now the new one has the quarter inch foot that makes life better, but when I stop it takes one or two more stitches. My old one would stop instantly and I could back it up half a stitch if I needed to. I like that, but I like other things better about the new one. Now I have my eye on another machine, and it has a built in walking foot which is a great feature. It seams to not have a quarter inch foot (I should check into this more thoroughly though because that doesn’t make any sense). I really like the larger throat area on this one, and would buy it if it had a quarter inch foot. They encourage you to buy the generic foot, but it is not the same. I can do a quarter inch seam if I want to without the foot, but why when it is so simple with the foot that goes with the machine. I do a lot of large quilts on my machine, and it would be so nice to have the extra space, and the walking foot. It is just a brain tease with me thinking about it.

A scant quarter inch is also better than a quarter inch usually. That is just one (or two) thread less than a quarter inch. My machine allows me to use the quarter inch foot and move the needle position over a little (to 4.5).

I put a straight pin through the seam allowance ¼ inch from the edge of the top piece of fabric and into a ¼ inch from the edge of the bottom piece into the seam allowance. This matches up perfect points.

Pressing seam allowances. There is no law for pressing seams. It depends on what you are doing, whether you press seams to one side or press them open. Pressing seams opposite directions makes it possible to butt the seams close to make perfect points. Pressing seams open often works better when you have too many seams coming together at one point. Or if I am doing something special to the back of a quilt, I press the seams open. It helps to keep the bulk to a minimum. The other thing is do what the pattern calls for. There is usually a reason why the pattern says to press it one way or the other.


Have fun If it is not fun, you are doing something wrong. You have to learn to walk before you can run. Take one step at a time and you will get there.  Please be kind to yourself. Rome wasn’t built in a day, and all that stuff. If you do dare to put your quilt in a show, don’t wear your feelings on your sleeve. The quilt shows have all beautiful quilts and it is hard to choose the prettiest ones. I used to feel bad when I didn’t get a ribbon on my beautiful quilt. My husband said look around there are a lot of other beautiful quilts that don’t have ribbons on either. However the show competition was good for me, because they usually give you a little constructive criticism. If you don’t take it personally you can gain from the experience, because next time don’t make the same mistake again. I have corrected one thing at a time until I am pretty good now. I am not the great one, but I am good. There are some awesome quilters out there and I love to have an opportunity to go to a show or lecture with them. They can give you all the helpful hints that it took them years to learn the hard way.

When taking a class learn the technique. By the way if one of them (the awesome great ones) tries to give you a helpful hint, take the hint. Don’t take it personal, and don’t just say I want to do it my way. If you are taking a class, get all you can out of it. By all means do it your way when you can, but in a class you should try to do it her or his way, at least in the class, that is what you paid for. For a class do your homework. If you are supposed to come with strips cut, do it before you come to class. If you were supposed to wait then wait to cut your strips. They might be going to teach you an easier way. Don’t just try to figure it out by yourself that is why you took the class. Ask the instructor for help, they like it, which is why they are there.

To make a square, flat quilt, it is important to square the blocks up as you go. If you don’t square it up as you go, it can keep getting a little off each step of the way. Then when you measure the quilt in the final stages, it can be as much as three inches off larger on one end of the quilt. It can also end up three inches larger or smaller through the middle of the quilt. Some quilts you see at the quilt show are awesome, but you wonder why they hang wavy or cockeye. Some times it is because they didn’t keep squaring it up through the whole process.

Quilting Design should be balanced.  Another reason a quilt can hang funny is because they may have uneven amounts of quilting. Lots of tiny quilting patterns in some areas, and not so much stitching in other areas, this can make a quilt hang like a bowl, or larger at one end, or the middle.


Half square triangles are done in a number of ways. The way I like to do them is to cut the square a little larger, and then square it up after you sew them together. To make a 2 ½ inch half square triangle, you usually cut a 2 7/8 inch square and cut it in half diagonally then sew them together. But sometimes they might come up a little short. I like to just cut a 3 inch square and cut it diagonally then sew them together. This gives you a little more room for error, and makes it easy to square up. I always square it up anyway.


Balance Design
Balance Color
Balance amount of Stitching

When I buy Border Fabric If I have a choice I buy 3 yards for the border. Then I don’t have to peace it in the middle. I have a nice long peace.

When I Cut Borders I measure both ends, and across the middle. It should measure the same, but if it doesn’t and it is a small amount (½ inch or so), you still take the middle measurement for adding borders. The same goes for the binding.

Accent Borders are really nice. ½ inch to 2 inches of a little lighter or brighter colored fabric can add a sparkle to your quilt. It also ends the pattern there and then frames it with the borders.

Boarder Yardage requirements Three yards is better so you don’t have to peace is in the middle. 1 ½ yards divided equally is OK.

Mitering Corners or not If it shows off Border or special designs, I miter. I don’t bother mitering if it is not going to show (a busy print etc.).

When putting the binding on, do the same, measure both ends and the middle. Lay the quilt on the table or on the floor when you measure and when you are pinning the binding on the quilt. Measure and make the opposite side the same measurement. If you just keep laying the binding on and sewing as you go, you can be stretching the quilt. A walking foot is important in this process. The walking foot feeds the top fabric through at the same rate as the bottom. The walking foot also helps to keep from putting pleats and tucks on the back side, which you won’t notice until you finish your quilt in some cases. Binding can help or hinder how square or flat the quilt is.

I measure about 2 ½ to 3 inches wide for the binding. One yard is usually enough to do any size quilt, including a California King size. Of course you won’t need nearly that much for a small quilt. I always cut the binding straight of grain. This is also one thing that can cause your quilt not to be square. If I have scalloped the outer edge, or some kind or curvy edge, I would cut the binding on the bias. If I do a scalloped edge, I also put little darts in the inner points, instead of letting it wrinkle in every inner point. This is a personal thing I think.

Star Quilts When I do a star quilt. I sew the star, and then I measure all the points and then figure an average measurement for the square and the triangles that square up the quilt. There is a formula that is supposed to work, but not for me.

Always use the straight of grain on the outside edge of a square or outer edge of the quilt.

I never piece the batting. There are all kinds of articles on piecing the batting together, but I will never do that again. I made a beautiful quilt, and I didn’t have a large batting so I pieced it together. I did minimal quilting, and when the quilt was washed the batting bunched up all the way down the middle of a border print border. I could open up the seam all the way down and repair the batting, but I have not done it yet.  The other thing is if you peace the batting be sure and do lots of quilting all over the quilt especially the area that was pieced.

Basic Instructions:
Helpful hints:
Yardage There is usually written instructions for measurements, but because fabric comes in different widths, you sometimes come up short. If it is your favorite print or color you probably should buy a little extra because usually when you go back to the store it will be gone.

Chain piecing is always the fastest way to put a quilt together, with one exception, Strip piecing.

Old methods and new techniques There are a lot of new methods of quilting. Scissors used to be the only way to cut. Now we have the rotary cutters and more. If you are not using the rotary cutter you really need to learn to use them. They are faster and more accurate, and you can cut as much as eight layers in one cut, although I would rather use Scissors to cut Appliqué (small curvy peaces).

Hang on to the thread when you first start to sew. If you hang on to the thread you won’t have the problem of the needle coming unthreaded or the thread going down into the machine and jamming things up.

Swatch chart It is often very useful to make a swatch chart to keep track of the different colors and fabrics.

Use post-it notes to label stacks 1A, 1B, 2A, 2B, etc.

Cinda’s Quilt Book should start with beginning quilt patterns, intermediate, and advanced.

These are the major Sewing machine feet you will need.

  • Regular foot
  • ¼ inch foot                                                                                                   
  • Darning foot
  • Walking foot

Straight stitch throat plate can be helpful in maintaining even tension while free motion quilting. It is the one with a small hole instead of a slot.


Thread always use a good quality thread. Cheep thread has knots and thick and thin spots that make the thread break. I prefer Metler #50cotton thread
Safety Pins are for basting, and I often mark one end of the quilt when sewing stacks of strips or squares and you want to keep track of where you originally started. I also mark a flaw with a safety pin in the fabric so that I can work around a flaw or color etc. If you don’t mark the flaw, when you try to find it again sometimes you can’t find it, and it will show up in the middle of your quilt. Sometimes it is just a bright blotch of color that I mark, that I don’t want in the middle of my quilt.

Rubber fingers are important for griping the fabric, and moving it around while machine quilting. They have other methods for this; I am just partial to the rubber fingers. I don’t like the gloves with the rubber coating on the palms (people who use them love them). I may as well wear baseball mitts. I feel like I can’t get the accuracy with them. You can also wear rubber gloves; you just need something to grip the fabric.

Quilting designs
Quilting Stencils
Fabric Markers

Batting I prefer Quilters Dream Request (really thin), but it depends on what you are doing. I use a thick batting when doing Trapunto (in certain spots).


Marking the Quilt top I use water dissolvable pens for marking

Pin Basting and Thread Basting I pin baste if I am going to machine quilt. I thread baste if I am going to hand quilt. Machine quilting is not easier, it is faster and I want all my quilts quilted before I die.

Straight line quilting
Free motion quilting
LongArm quilting

Securing the thread I use a self threading needle, pop the thread in and put it through between the layers about an inch long and come back up and cut it off.

Cutting and squaring fabric before

Marking the top – I mark all the time now with the water dissolvable pen, because when you are through you can wet it with cold water and it is gone. I did it with a pencil when I first started quilting, but when a judge marked me down because they could see pencil lines on it. Not to the naked eye and I had good eyes back then. I got out a magnifying glass, and yes you could see a faint pencil line. I just thought that will not happen again. I plan every quilt to go into a show, and I correct all mistakes as they happen.

Some of my stitching designs my husband, Glenn Olsen,  has made me. I wanted a pattern with “this and that”, pretty soon he has design a pattern on his computer and  printed it out and then made a panto with his router out in his shop.  Another  new pantos for me to use on my long arm. I’m so lucky.

Fabric and photos I save unique designs (fabric, photos, magazines etc.) for ideas and stitching ideas – designs

My own patterns

  • Star
  • Lily
  • Double Wedding Ring
  • Japanese Fan
  • Celtic Flower
  • Michael James Strip
  • Wild Line Appliqué
  • Travel by sea
  • Bahamas
  • Feathered Star

Appliqué – hand or machine, I do both I use what ever it takes to get the job done for the look that I am looking for.

Strip piecing – Strip piecing is faster than hand piecing, but sometimes it is convenient like when your are traveling from place to place.

Templates – I use templates, strip piecing. I use what ever it takes to get the job done for the look that I am looking for.

Pre-wash I pre-wash all fabric because if it is going to do something awful, then I don’t bother making anything out of it. Sometimes they shrink at different rates. I saw something made out of new and used fabric (the new shrunk the old didn’t) NOT PRETTY

Anything that can be machine pieced can be hand pieced

Fancy back – plain back I like to do something that has to do with the front. Sometimes the same fabric and sometimes a similar design extra large will do. Not too many lines, it is too hard to sew when the lines over lap (it makes it bulky and breaks needles and thread). You should press seams open when doing a back.

Hand quilting – machine quilting Machine quilting is not easier, it is faster. Hand quilting is easier to maintain accuracy.

Use your thumb or little finger for measuring for consistency in size of quilting designs and amount of stitching

Layering quilt – measure your quilt top – purchase batting at least 2 or 3 inches larger than the quilt.

Check back with me
As you can see I have not completed my dialog on some of the topics.  I will get back to it.