Top Tip – the best quilting tool

Before I divulge the secret of the best gadget in your quilting toolbox have a look at this:

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The prolific Jan has already finished one of the Hexie Club projects (that she only started last week). Oh the joys of having unlimited sewing time. Jan tweaked the pattern slightly and added a fancy zipper pull. So it’s really a one-off.

There are more Hexie Club projects out there and we’ll bring you photos as soon as they’re finished. I’ll also talk to you more about hexagons and how they’re taking over the Apatcheez but now I have to tell you about the super-tool:

So this week we had some people working on their first sampler quilt. I mentioned it in the last post that some reverse sewing was required when Emma and Sharon’s blocks just wouldn’t come together as they should.

Third time lucky Emma!

Third time lucky Emma!

We always tell learners that they don’t have to worry about making a mistake, that we all did (and do) and that “it’s only fabric and what’s the worst thing that can happen?” The lovely thing about quilting is that you can always go back and fix a mistake or else make a new block if the one you’re working on is beyond repair.

Of course there is frustration in failing to sew the perfect 1/4″ seam, or from sewing two pieces together the wrong way round and sometimes you feel like Sisyphus – endlessly trying to create the perfect piece. (Note – at this point I asked the teenager-in-residence to name an amazingly creative person and he came up with Eddie Van Halen so the following example is his fault). But did Eddie Van Halen enjoy practising his chords until he got it right? Probably not. Sometimes things don’t go well and you want to give up – but wait – here is an wonderful tool to help – the seam ripper!

When seams do have to be unpicked the best quilting tool you’ll own comes into its own – the seam ripper. Sure you could use scissors or a needle or a stanley knife or some other sharp weapon but you’ll end up with a mess. Either you’ll pull the fabric out of shape or fray it to such an extent that it is unusable.

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Don’t think that the humble seam ripper can be used willy-nilly – oh no – in untrained hands it will cause more damage than it fixes. If you actually try to position the seam ripper between the seams and rip it along you’ll find you may have unravelled more than you bargained for – and that block you just spent all morning sewing is now  – well – ripped!

My first suggestion would be that you buy yourself an ultra sharp good quality seam ripper. I would recommend Clover brand. They have two types – the brown handle and white handle models – and both are excellent. Cheap rippers will only end in tears – just saying…

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So it just happens that I had cause to do some reverse sewing myself this weekend when I inadvertently sewed two triangles to the bottom left and top right of a piece rather than top left and bottom right. As the piece forms part of a flower bud leaving it was not an option (although I did consider it for a day or so).


So it had to go. Actually several had to go because I had continued on before I realised the extent of the mistake. Here’s the way to do it:


Slip the sharp end of the seam ripper through a stitch and press forward to break the stitch. I only needed to undo that part of the seam from the point of the seam ripper to the far right (not the whole seam) which is why the seam ripper is in the middle of the fabric.


Now keep going along the seam and break around every 4th stitch (in the example above I’ve actually ripped every 7th or 8th stitch but this is a case of do what I say not what I do!)


Now turn the piece over and pull the thread – you should be able to lift it clear with very little force. If it won’t come easily you probably ripped every 8th stitch like me instead of every 4th one like I told you!


Now turn the piece back over and just brush away the small pieces of thread you have left. Excellent now you can start to sew the seam again – and try to do it right this time!

Oh and one last thing – the teenager-in-residence thinks you should have a link to Eddie in action so here it is:

Until next time

Happy Quilting


Top Quilting Tips No. 2 – A Class Act

In the ‘Countdown to classes‘ series here’s number –

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Today I want to talk about classes and why you should attend one on a regular basis. As far as Apatchy Quilting goes I always envisaged that it would be a haven away from the stresses of everyday life as well as a quilting venue that nurtures creativity and inspiration. This is why I try to encourage everyone to think positively and why I discourage negative talk at classes – because it discourages people.


I was sad to hear that Rod McKuen died this week – I loved his poetry from the time I was a teenager. This portion of the poem ‘A Safe Place to Land‘ reflects what I feel about Apatchy:

“There should be some silence in this place so thought can harvest things it’s lately caught. I hope that you will take this as a resting space. A bench provided just before the clearing up ahead.”

Linda Steele is an award-winning quilter. She put together a list of 10 reasons to belong to a group. I couldn’t have put it better myself so here is her list:

1. Inspiration

Who cannot help but be inspired by other peoples quilts.

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2. Information

In our busy world it is impossible to keep up with everything going on.


3. Camaraderie

Sewing and quilting can be a solitary activity. Of course we all need time alone to prepare, design and achieve but it’s good to show others what we are doing as well.


4. Critique

Honest feedback is hard to find in the quilting world. Family and friends are too close and often don’t have the expertise. This is where a  group with the skill to articulate and use the principles of Art and Design as their base is invaluable.


5. Insight

Everyone’s work is different and it is very interesting to see how other people  approach a theme or idea.


6. Competition

Nothing spurs you on like a little bit of friendly competition.

Chris as winner Lesa champion

7. Support

Designing your own quilts and entering competitions can be tough and  rejection is common. This is where groups can offer understanding, commiseration and encouragement.


8. Purpose

Self-esteem is often built on achievement and finishing a quilt or helping organise an activity is very rewarding.

Toni amd Arnold

9. Confidence

Advising, listening, supporting and sharing with others have the advantage of boosting our own confidence.


10. Friendship

I have met so many wonderful people including online friends through my quilting groups.


Exactement! My thoughts too.

See you on Tuesday and Wednesday 9:30am to 12:30 for the day class or 6:00pm to 9:00pm for the evening class if you’re a night owl. Be there or be square.

Until tomorrow

Happy Quilting


If you have missed any of the Countdown to Classes series here are the links:

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Top Quilting Tips – No 3 – Nuts and Bolts

In our countdown to classes series here is number


Nuts and bolts – well no bolts yet – that’s for later. Your task today is to:

Make sure your toolbox is packed and ready for action

sewing box

As with any activity you could spend a lot of money on lots of gadgets and tools but, for quilting I think you really only need a few. Apart from the operational sewing machine, thread and an iron we talked about in previous posts (see below for links), here’s what should be in your toolbox:-

Rotary Cutter – the first rotary cutter was manufactured by Olfa in 1979. Before that quilters had to try to cut accurately with scissors which must have been a nightmare. So you could say rotary cutters put a whole new spin on things (get it?).

Now although Olfa invented the beast I prefer this type:


I’ll tell you why – they have a safety lock like pretty well all rotary cutters BUT these ones engage when you apply pressure for cutting. That means you don’t have to REMEMBER to slide the catch up each time you put the thing down.

Make sure you have a new blade – it will change your life it really will. If you are missing part of a cut or hear a noise it’s time to change the blade. You should be able to cut through fabric EASILY. Rotary cutters are just circular razor blades so if it isn’t going well it’s new-blade-time. That should keep your rotary cutter spinning around round baby right round.


Oh and remember what I just said – they are round RAZOR BLADES – that means they are DANGEROUS so be careful when you change the blade and make sure you dispose of the old one sensibly.

Scissors – the rotary cutter revolutionised quilting but you’ll still need a pair of scissors or two. One larger pair for jobs like cutting the edges of a quilted top before binding it. And maybe a small pair to use for snipping threads. Keep your scissors for cutting fabric only as paper is the natural enemy of the scissor. You have been warned.

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Pins – use fine flat-headed pins for your piecing and teeny appliqué pins for, well – appliqué. Go through your supplies and ditch any pins that are bent or blunt as they can damage your work. And a pincushion is useful at this point too.

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Plus you might want to invest in a magnetic pickup device or a telescopic magnetic retrieval pen as it is more precisely called. Whatever it’s called get one so you can easily find those stray pins on the floor before they find someone’s foot.

telescopic magnetci retrieval pen

Seam Ripper – no matter how careful you are there’s going to be some reverse sewing at some stage and you’ll need a seam ripper. Invest in a good one. I like the brown-handled Clover ones because they’re very sharp (naturally) and the little ball stops it from damaging fabric when you get a bit carried away. Using a cheap one will only end in tears. Enough said.


Rulers – there are hundreds of rulers available. You don’t need them all! If you want to do homework (and you will) you’ll need a 6 1/2″ x 24 1/2″ ruler – long enough to cut through a length of fabric.

To square up your blocks use a 12 1/2″ square or 14 1/2″ square ruler.

I’d also suggest a 6 1/2″ square ruler to make life easier for you.


Mat – be kind to your cutting mat for although it can heal itself from cuts it does not cope with many things in the sewing room – like heat (don’t get it hot or it will warp) or being warped (don’t store it upright with the weight on itself or it will warp). The manufacturers reckon you should soak them in cool water but, as I have a large mat, where can that be done while keeping it flat?


Also – if you cut 8,435,723 pieces of fabric at the same spot (say the 1/2 metre mark) your mat will eventually wear and you might consider investing in a new one before you saw through your cutting table and amputate your toes!

To start I would recommend a mat 24″ x 36″ because you can cut through a length of fabric folded in half. If you are stretched for space you could get by with a smaller one but, what can I say, size matters!

I also like the spinning mats because it makes it easier to trim small pieces and is particularly useful when you are doing paper piecing (or foundation piecing).

Can you believe that you can make a quilt with just the tools above? Well you can’t! You also need the things we’ve talked about in the last few posts. Oh and one more thing – if you don’t already know – quilting is addictive. You will want to keep going once you start. This means you need a comfortable chair when you’re sewing – one that helps your posture and takes the pressure of your back and shoulders. A set-up like the one below is recommended. I also like the chair with castors because you can swivel to your cutting mat, then to the machine, then the iron in a cut-sew-press kind of routine. Oh and as you swivel round you can pretend you’re in Star Wars on the Millennium Falcon fighting the Imperial troops just before you jump to light speed (or is that just me?).


And there’s two more things you need but you’ll have to stay tuned for those….

Until tomorrow

Happy Quilting


If you’ve missed any of the countdown just click here to catch up:-

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Top Quilting Tips – No. 4 – A Pressing Problem

In our countdown to classes series here is number


So we all know that pressing is an important part of quilting and that, to perfect your technique, you need to develop a mutually- satisfying relationship with your iron.


Maybe you never owned an iron before you started quilting. Maybe you iron everything including the underwear. Maybe you have shunned ironing as the result of a bad experience when you had to iron 48 shirts in one day.

Whatever your experience, when you are quilting your iron needs to be performing at its peak to get you where you’re going. The irons of the quilting world serve us well but we often take advantage of them. I have left TWO irons on all day on more that one occasion – points for consistency but that’s it.

So here’s today’s task:

Give your iron the once over it deserves.

If your iron doesn’t have a self-cleaning function (can I get one of those for the house?) you’ll have to do it yourself. To start, give it a good clean with a damp cloth. That’s after you make sure it’s turned off of course.

If you’ve accidentally pressed the vlisoflex or some stabiliser on the wrong side and the sticky remains are still visible on the plate then now’s the time to give it a good clean with something more than water.


I’ve read that you can use methylated spirits for this but I just use the commercial iron cleaner you buy from the supermarket. By cleaning the plate you can ensure your next project doesn’t get ruined. Don’t take to it with harsh abrasives or steel wool. There’s no need to be violent. Follow the instructions on the pack and you can’t go wrong.

Now I’ve also read that you should clean the water tank with diluted vinegar. I just use distilled water all the time and don’t get the mineral deposits that require this sort of cleaning.

Don’t store your iron face down because it doesn’t like it. Make sure you leave it for 15 minutes to cool down before you put it away and don’t wrap the cord (if it’s got one) around the plate – wrap it around the base.


Now about the surface on which you iron – it should be tall enough that you don’t get back strain. Maybe you can use a portable board strategically placed between the cutting board and the sewing machine if you’re doing fiddly piecing and you don’t feel you could benefit from getting up every 30 seconds to walk to the ironing board because you’re already trim, taut and terrific…just a thought.

Maybe you could do as Ricky Timms suggests and make an ironing table out of plywood covered with batting and then heavy fabric stapled to the base. The blog sew many ways have a tutorial on how to build this one-

ironing board 023

Or maybe you already improvise. Have you improvised? Do tell.

How to press is something that we cover in class. You’ll learn about the pros and cons of using steam and other things seemingly more sinister

steam  7f0d92b780b461c03b5a4793f181ba36

For today we’re just looking after the equipment. Maybe you should take a before and after photo of your iron.

Until tomorrow


If you’ve missed any of our countdown just click on the links here:

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Top Quilting Tips – No. 6 – Pimp Your Machine

In our countdown to the start of quilting here’s tip number 6


OK your sewing machine has been dusted and cleaned but what about some customisation? You personalise your other possessions. Do you have those family stickers on the back windscreen of the car? Do you have the personalised address labels for your snail mail? Have you put a little dangly charm on your phone? Then what about your sewing machine?


Don’t laugh – one of my customers who runs a retreat at Lake Tahoe – ooh there’s an excursion waiting to happen – tells me that all the girls buy Singer Featherweights for retreats and take them to an auto shop for a custom body spray.



Now down here in Oz I haven’t seen something quite so drastic but here’s my Top 5 suggestions…

1. Antenna Toppers – not the foxtail please. No sewing machines don’t actually have aerials but think outside the box and you come up with a thread holder. You will need one if you’re using special thread such as metallic or even some of our lovely Wonderfil Mirage (Intentional Product Endorsement there did you notice?).

Now I’m not talking about putting the spool of thread in a coffee cup beside your machine (just me?). What you need is a proper stand-alone spool holder.


I use one of these and find that it makes my sewing, especially thread painting, SEW much easier.

2.  Bumper stickers – No I’m not suggesting you cover Betsy with ‘My Other Machine is a Bernina’ or ‘Ask Me About Sewing’ – actual stickers I kid you not.

Rather than shame your machine think practical. The most practical I know are the Qtools Sewing Edge.


These little beauties stick to the plate on your machine to help you guide fabric towards the perfect 1/4″ seam. And don’t think it’s only beginners who can benefit from these babies. When you’re driving on into the night your eyeballing may not be what it once was.

3. Under The Bonnet – you checked your bobbins in yesterday’s task so now you need to check your needles.


Working with worn or bent needles will only give you grief. We’re talking tension problems or stitches dropped or shredded. The size of the needle has to match the fabric you’re using as well as the thread. I can see we’ll have to talk more about this.

4. Covers – not seat covers or wheel covers but a cover for your machine. Let’s face it – the rigid white covers that come with the vehicle are very ho-hum. So here is your chance to really individualise your machine AND add a project to your UFO list. Create that Wow factor by making a sewing machine cover that says you. Here’s one I saw in France and I bought the kit so it’s on my list AND I’ve actually started the project.


Maybe you want to be practical


or maybe a little more whimsical


Here’s your chance to make a cover that says you. It can be retro, modern, bright, neutral – whatever tales your fancy. In true how-do-I-look style you can chang your ride from a fashion victim to a fashionista.

 5. Lights – so your car might have headlights, tail lights, fog lights, bumper lights and brake lights. What makes you think you don’t need to see as clearly when you’re accelerating through a section of chain stitching or a particularly tricky foundation pieced project?

You don’t necessarily need a miner’s light but hey – if it works:

Maybe a laser light (say what?):

Try to use ambient and task lighting with some magnification if you need it. Daylight light is best (you can buy bulbs with this feature – we have them in the classroom – who knew?). We don’t want you to end up with eye strain so watch those peepers.

Until tomorrow

Happy Quilting


Missed some of the series – click on the links here to take you back

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7…Sew Ready

Here’s the next in our countdown to Apatchy Quilting classes –


How are you going with your countdown to classes? I had the stereo cranked up listening to David Bowie while I sorted out my UFO list and I nearly Ziggy Stardusted when I realised how many I had – occupational hazard when you own a quilt shop!

Pozzie Dog was helping me sort out the paperwork. He just turned ten and, even though he’s now a senior citizen of the canine world, still turned up to work to consider what to do with the boxes of paper around the office.


But I digress. Now supposedly quilters are practical folk who strive to maintain order in their piecing and their precise points. So we shouldn’t have any problem with today’s task….

Make sure your sewing machine is ready for all the action it’s going to get this year.

Maybe you have a top of the range machine that cost the equivalent of a luxury car


Maybe you’re using Aunty Glad’s cast-off

IMG_0113 for AskMe

Whatever your mode of acceleration, just make sure Betsy or Bernie is ready for the massive workload ahead. This means getting a service if you haven’t done so in the past year. No really, your machine likes getting its insides cleaned and oiled and will be ever-so-grateful.


You might even consider unearthing the instruction book – the one at the bottom of the sewing box under the spare bobbins and screwdrivers and elastic you bought for something but now you can’t remember what (or is that just me?). Have a bit of browse inside – it’s amazing what gems you might pick up. Maybe there IS a dedicated setting for that elusive 1/4″ seam??

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The sewing machine has been around for quite a while. They were used during the Industrial Revolution to speed up the manufacture of clothing, but the first machine was invented by Thomas Saint in 1790! Apparently he was about as good at inventing as I am at free motion quilting so it wasn’t until 1830 that a couple of Frenchmen (bien sûr) patented machines to make uniforms for the French Army. Or so says Wikipedia and he would know. This is why the French have the jump on fashion and why their soldiers may not have always won the battles but always looked very smart.


If you’re guilty of neglecting your machine and it’s running like Thomas Saint’s, now’s your chance to make amends. Give it a good clean, use the cover that came with it to keep it free from dust and for goodness sake pamper the poor little pet.

Did you know that 13th June this year is Sewing Machine Day – me neither but we can’t wait that long – do it now!


You’ve got 7 days to give him/her the ultimate makeover. Go for it. Whether it’s computerised or a deadly treadly show some respect and at least vacuum the dust out.

Don’t forget to make sure you have your 1/4″ foot, walking foot and darning foot (for free motion quilting). You know you’re going to need them. Oh and make sure you’ve got enough bobbins.

Until tomorrow

Happy Quilting (well not yet but soon)


8…UFO Sightings

Here’s the next in our countdown to classes at Apatchy Quilting


So now your sewing room is organised and you can see what’s in there – now I know the joy is in the journey not the destination BUT your job for today is to unearth your UFOs – all of them! Now I’m not talking about the magazine pages you marked with little Post-it notes while you were reading and decided to make-that-when-I-get-a-chance (or is that just me?).

I’m talking about the unopened kits that you bought at the last four Craft Shows – the ones in the basket under the spare bed (just me again?). Also the half-done quilt tops, tablerunners, bags and other major works buried at the back of the cupboard, in the to-be-done bag or in their own dedicated plastic tub (you know who you are).

U 1bl baskets

Oh and what about the quilt tops that are finished but just need the quilting, or the binding or the labeling? (My end-of-year challenge quilt is a candidate for that.)

Today get them all out and make a list – maybe it’s a big list – even better. Maybe you’ll have new projects that you don’t yet know about (even though you promised yourself you weren’t buying anything else from the Craft Show until you finished what you had). They won’t be on your list now but we can always add a supplementary list for newcomers.


I like the AllPeopleQuilt challenge here but there is only space for twelve projects and I might need more or maybe less. This challenge only works if there’s twelve exactly. So I’d like to be a little more flexible than that.


As I see it we should be celebrating every time we finish a UFO – even if it hasn’t yet been identified as unidentified! Sounds a bit existential doesn’t it? This is why I like to add your projects to the Gallery and mine too – so we can all celebrate when things are DONE.

Why don’t you just make a list of all your projects from the itsy-bitsy-teeny-weeny to the oh-my-God-is-that-even-possible with the option of extending the aforementioned list should subsequent projects identify themselves during the course of the year? Much simpler. Then we can have a celebration at the end of the year. Maybe we should have an end-of-year prize for the most UFO’s – or maybe we just all give ourselves a pat on the back for finishing what we can?

So rifle through that organised sewing space of yours – right now – and get out your UFO’s. Make a list with the details of each UFO and where it’s up to then send me a copy too (send it to Use this 2015 UFO Challenge form if it helps. We’ll keep a tally of the number of projects my clever Apatchy people finish during 2015.

Teresa from the fabrictherapy blog has an excellent post on how to organise your UFOs if you want to have half a chance of actually finishing them. The pictures of the tubs above are from her page. Have a look if you are having trouble. She is almost as organised in real life as I would like to be in my mind. Until tomorrow

Happy Quilting (well not quilting as such but getting ready for quilting)



9 …. Sew You’re Organised?

Here’s the next in our Countdown to classes at Apatchy Quilting ………maxresdefault

This month it seems like every blog and every magazine are concerning themselves with what must be the universal problem of how to keep your sewing gear organised.


There are 30 day detox programmes for your home, the top 10 tips to tackle clutter and all manner of good advice on ow you should organise your ‘space’. Not to mention ‘storage solutions’ (we don’t call them ‘plastic tubs from the cheap shop’ anymore Jan that’s not politically correct!)


Now as many of you know I am not averse to the odd organisational challenge myself. I have a Pinterest board devoted to this concept. And every January I dutifully re-arrange Apatchy Quilting  in an attempt to create the ultimate quilt-shop-from-home layout (and so that you don’t know what to expect when you start the new year). Here’s a shop I came across in Germany – I like the sample shelf Helga


What inevitably happens is I create a dreadful mess and burn out about two days before it all comes together wishing I’d never started. I have to persevere though because otherwise it is like a scene from Hoarders.

sewing room 2011 A

Nor am I immune from the latest wisdom on the subject. Why only last month I studied ‘The Life-changing Magic of Tidying’  The author Marie Kondo suggests that storage is not the solution. that we have too many possessions and and what we should do is, well, chuck 90% of it. The result – a neat and tidy house with no chance of it becoming cluttered again. Well yes Marie but then what do we serve the food on when visitors come around if we jettisoned all the plates? And do you mean ‘neat and tidy’ or do you mean ’empty’?

So here’s the problem – I need a lot of stuff – here’s a shot of the van when we left Rye in England to drive to the Cotswolds.


Don’t laugh we needed all that stuff – there were six of us – and there’s still room for more so what’s the problem?

And for quilting I need a LOT of stuff – and to make a gross generalisation – I like all of it! Sure I could de-clutter YOUR house because I don’t care for your stuff personally. But mine is special. Chuck the lot and have a clutter-free house? Not this little black duck!

So that’s settled – I’m keeping everything and sometimes it will overflow and not be in the space it belongs. Rather than spend days trying to tame this beast I think I’ll try to enjoy it and pursue more creative pastimes – like trying to actually use some of it.

fabric & scissors

Rather than infinitely re-arranging I realise I have limited quilting time – and I’m not going to get any more this year or have any extra energy or change dramatically – so I need to make the most of it. So the ApatchyK method of organising is to realise it will never be perfect and I’m just going to appreciate being able to look at it and imagine the possibilities.


One of my clever ladies sews for one hour every night. I told her the Debbie method would be annoying because you would just get started and then have to stop. But she says “at least I get an hour every night and instead of organising fabrics I create beautiful quilts out of them” or words to that effect – and she does get a lot done. So as for de-cluttering and organising – there’ll be no more of that.

Ok well I have actually re-arranged the shop (again) and my office and the coffee room and the storeroom…..and now there’s a dreadful mess in the classroom area that will have to be sorted out before next week and I do feel a little burnt out. But never fear it will all be beautiful and I’ll definitely get my sewing machine out very soon…or should I tackle the colour coordination of my thread collection?

My name is Kaye and I’m an organiser-holic.

Seriously though you might want to have a good look at your sewing space and see if you’re ready for 2015. From what I can tell storage solution boxes are the larval form of fabric and that’s why the fabric seems to have reproduced and you don’t have enough boxes to hold it. Have a look and see if you can arrange things a little better – maybe you need to add a shelf higher, maybe you can store things below your cutting table.

Of course the challenge here is that you need to be able to see what’s in your stash so you can actually use it. Those clear plastic tubs are good for storing fabric and you could have a rainbow collection going. I found this on Pinterest

What's REALLY in your fabric stash?

If you have a whole room or even a wardrobe don’t forget you can hang long lengths of fabric on coathangers. For smaller lengths I do like the Fabric Organizers that we sell (shameless promotion)


Basically you want it to be colour-coded and you can store it on shelves, racks, curtain rods, baskets and many other choices. Go and have a look at the Pinterest page for ideas – and don’t burn yourself out because there’s another chore tomorrow.

Happy Quilting


PS Remember the lovely Martha from Wisconsin who came to visit us in February 2013? Well she bought some Aboriginal fabric from Apatchy Quilting, and, because she clearly has her stash in order, she finished her quilt and sent me photos to prove it. Have a look at her amazing quilt in the Gallery.