Help with fabric, seams and waves

Your quilting genie gives you some answers to your quilting questions.

Uhm…what? Did I take that too far?

I don’t think so…well, maybe. I had a colleague that called me her genie – yes Charlotte, I’m talking about you. She gave me this nickname early on in a project because I had the answers to her questions, and it stuck. I could be in the middle of the cafeteria and hear “Ag hallo my genie!”

Let me take a page out of that book, and give you some answers to quilting questions that I get asked.

Dear Aggie,
I bought fabric and later needed more. I found the exact same fabric at a different store, but the colour is slightly different. What do I do?


First of all, aren’t you the lucky one to find more fabric for your project? Most of us have to resort to alternatives or change the pattern.

Now, the problem is that fabric on one bolt may have been dyed on a different day or in a different dye bath so it has a slight difference in the chemicals. Then indigo became indigo-go. Like cars made on a Monday or a Friday either just before a shift change or right after a long weekend. You get where I’m going?

Also, different stores have different bolts. It could also happen at the same store that has two different bolts, for the same reason. This is why there’s a batch code on the bolt roll up thingy (that flat piece of cardboard in the middle). Same with baked beans and Appletizer – that’s how they figure out that an entire day’s worth of goods have to be removed from the shelves. Only fabric won’t make you ill.

Honestly though, this doesn’t happen often. And it’s not likely that anyone will notice unless you do the old “see here’s where I made a mistake and used the same fabric…”-thing. Remember the first rule of quilting is not to show others the mistakes. They’ll never know it wasn’t intentional or that the pattern said something different.

bundles of running quarters

Dear Aggie,
Why don’t my patchwork seams line up?


Remember to measure twice, cut once. This is usually where things go wrong in my piecing.

Else the seams aren’t lining up because of a slight stretch in your piecing. Pins are your friend. I know, it’s time consuming and you just wanted to stitch the pieces back together. There’s a reason pins are in your sewing kit, and know it’s not for keeping between your lips in case you need a little something to ponder on. (Oh, it’s just me that does that?)

Starch your fabric to maintain even tension in the fibres. Yes, starch is an important member of my quilting arsenal. I use Best Press.

Nest your seams. This means that you have your seams going in opposite directions when you press them. That way when you line up different rows, one row of patchwork will all go left and the next row will all go right. This prevents a bulk in one spot that your machine may resist, and you guessed it, will feed the fabric layers unevenly.

aligning seamspin the seams correctly to get a perfect patchseams for quilt top

Dear Aggie,
My quilt’s edges are all wavy after quilting. What did I do wrong?


Your quilt decided it’s summer and time to hit the beach? Seriously, this happens a lot, and there are a few ways that you can prevent this.

Pin baste your quilt. Yes, glue works great too, but with a pin baste you can assure that those layers are not going anywhere. When you glue baste, you can still manipulate those layers, right? As you move your quilt around those layers are moving, but with a pin baste, they’ll behave much better.

Resist the temptation to go straight to your sewing machine to zip those border strips onto your quilt, and pin them in place first. This is especially relevant when you’re adding borders to what will be a wholecloth centre. Your machine is feeding that bottom fabric through differently to the top, but if you have pins holding the fabric together, your tension is evenly spread because you’ll notice any gathering (or lack thereof) between pins.

Press, don’t iron. Yes, I too am guilty of this one. When you’re pressing your seams, don’t rub the iron off on your fabric. Put it down on the seam, lift the iron up and then put it down on the next seam.

Starch is your friend. Yip, call her Sally if you must, but starch will never let you down. Your patchwork will be much more consistent and resist the urge to go on holiday, at the beach, and catch some waves.

Take at a look at this blog post about starching.
fabric starching blog image

Dear Aggie
My thread keeps breaking. What am I doing wrong?

Don’t you just hate it when you have to rethread ten million times? I usually change thread, or change my needle and then I’m good to go.

Those are the two biggest culprits. Using the right thread for piecing and quilting is important. And quality does matter. The cheap stuff that you can pickup at the China Mall isn’t going to cut it. Use quality thread and the right weight.

I generally stick to 40wt. That’s the thickness of the thread. When I’m quilting I may go to a 50wt, which is thinner than 40wt and is great when you want the stitches to disappear into the quilt (not literally of course, but visually). Polyester or cotton? Whatever works for you really. I use trilobal thread for quilting and I use 100% cotton for piecing, usually. The trilobal does an equally great job at piecing.

Brands I like: Gutermann, Colorful, Metler, Isocord. All good brands and available in South Africa from good haberdashery stores.

Needles must match the weight of the thread you’re using and the purpose. I have a lengthy blog post explaining different needles and how to match them to thread.

There’s one more thing that you should check, if you’re still having problems.

Take a look under the throat plate. That thingy that sits over the feed dogs, and you can usually unscrew it. If you’ve never done that, well, lint caught in the bobbin area is probably the culprit. Your bobbin likes a nice clean bed, so open up and clean down there too. And then give your machine some oil. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions and make sure to give all the needed areas a drop or so.

Now that you’ve got the bobbin area clean, replace the bobbin and make sure it’s in correctly. Direction matters, so again check your sewing machine manual and make sure you’ve got that bobbin thread in there correctly. And of course, the bobbin is wound up nice and neat right? There’s no bubbles and bulges, because that right there is the cause of all your problems.

And let’s rethread the top thread just one more time. Sometimes it’s just a kink in the thread, so cut off an arm’s length of thread before you start.

Now, if all of that didn’t fix the thread issue, it’s quote possible that there is something wrong with your sewing buddy and it needs a doctor. That’s just the mechanic at the sewing shop. Let her take a look because things like timing and tension discs need a professional adjustment.

Got any more quilting questions that you want answered? Send them my way, or drop them in the comments.

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