Ripping out seams – is there anything to like about it?

We all make mistakes. No one enjoys it, and certainly not when someone else points out our flaws!  But we know when something we have created is not quite right.  An essential tool for every quilter is the seam ripper.  Whether you own the classic blue version, an ergonomic style or an elegant wood-turned piece of art, the act of ripping out seams means we have to face our mistakes.

Various seam ripping tools seam ripper from OffTheWall Quilt






Look on the bright side…at least with thread and fabric, our mistakes are temporary.  The seam ripper is a beautiful tool, a chance to improve our work.  Once the seam ripping is over, no one even has to know it happened!

When do you rip out seams?

  1. Rip out the seam if your seam allowance is wrong.

    One crucial element in quilting is the seam allowance.  Sometimes the fabric pieces are not aligned, so there will be a weak spot in the quilt since there are very few threads holding it together.  Rip it out and start over!  If your seam allowance varies from the standard quarter inch, your block will end up too big or too small, which affects the ovreall size of the quilt and the amount of fabric you need for the project.  If your units don’t meet the specified dimensions, go ahead and rip them out.

  2. Rip out the seam if your points don’t match.

    Granted, this is open to interpretation.  I am actually a fairly lazy quilter, and lots of points get chopped off in my quilts.  Some quilters have higher OCD tendencies and strive for the utmost perfection in their piecing.  Their seam rippers might get more use than mine and that is perfectly okay.  Take a look at your quilt blocks from a few feet away – if you still see the mistake, rip it out and try again.  Some quilters live by the rule that if you can’t see it from a galloping horse, then it doesn’t matter!

  3. Rip it out if you just don’t like it.

    Sometimes our fabric choices don’t allow the block design to shine.  Maybe you cut an animal motif in half and the wrong end of the horse shows up in the center of your block! Even if a quilt block is constructed well, the seam ripper may be called upon for aesthetic reasons.  This is purely a personal decision, but life is too short to put up with “meh” quilts.

How do you use a seam ripper?

Yes, you can actually rip out seams the wrong way!  Don’t worry, the worst that can happen is perhaps an extra hole in the fabric or a slower process.

Keep the blade flat against the fabric.

The blade is sideways as it slides under the line of stitching, then you turn the blade upwards and it cuts the thread. My friend Mel has a great tutorial on using a seam ripper.

Use a small rotary cutter.

rotary cutter and seam ripper

Yes, a rotary cutter can quickly rip out seams!  I demonstrate in this video from my Facebook page.

Seam rippers are like doctors: we appreciate having them close by but we hope we don’t see them very often!

Stretch and Move – exercises for Quilters

I hate to admit that quilting can be painful.  Joint and muscle pains are a natural consequence from being in one position for too long.  Over the past several days of working on a king-size quilt on my longarm, I remembered to take many breaks to stretch my back.  Here are some resources with exercises for quilters to use as a quick reference guide. I am NOT a doctor so please consult your own physician for specific complaints.

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Stretch every day

woman stretching

Have you ever been to an aerobics class?  There are some basic stretches that come to mind from the good ole days when I went to Jazzercise several times a week.  I work my way from head to toe with neck stretches (ear to shoulder), torso twists and ankle rotations.

Grab some simple equipment

tennis ball exercises for quilters

I have found relief for specific back pain from a chiropractor.  An at-home exercise she recommended was laying on a tennis ball.  I use it for both my shoulder and my sciatic nerve. You can see a good description of the technique on this page.

Remember, the goal is to find a balance.  If I have been looking to the left as I guide my longarm over a pantograph, I focus on stretching to the right.  If I have been hunched forward, I spread my arms and lean backwards.  An exercise ball is a great tool.  Some quilters even sew while sitting on one!  I simply lay back on mine for about five minutes to relax my torso.

woman sitting on exercise ball

Keep Moving!

In addition to stretching, keep your body moving!  I cannot stand at the longarm for more than an hour, so I set a timer which reminds me when to switch activities.  With several projects going at once, it is never hard to move to the next task!  If I am piecing at my small machine, I have a steady rotation between the cutting table, sewing space and ironing board.  These small changes in position throughout the day make a huge difference by the evening.

Since I don’t have the money for a gym membership at the moment, I am taking advantage of the free option in my neighborhood – a walk around the block.  Several blocks, actually, since I have a route that is a little over a mile long. I drag my husband along and it’s becoming a nightly ritual that gives us some time to converse rather than stare at separate screens.  Speaking of technology, are you a Fitbit wearer?  There are many tracking devices and apps to encourage you to get your steps in! What are some of your favorites?  Please share in the comments!

Let’s stay happy and healthy by doing some stretches and exercises every day!

Free Motion Quilting – Practice Sketches

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Muscle memory is important for any repetitive task, and free motion quilting certainly qualifies! If you don’t want to spend the time and money creating practice quilting sandwiches out of muslin and batting, then grab some paper and doodle away!

Lori at The Inbox Jaunt has some great doodle exercises and free motion quilting tutorials.

Creating a Zentangle is another way to get into the creative sketching groove and play with designs that can translate into thread and fabric.

sketchbook tools

I bought a 5×7 artist’s sketchbook and some fine-point Sharpie markers to start my mornings with a daily sketch. (Check out my Instagram feed @truebluequilts for #dailysketchbook)  Some days I am in the mood for feathers and sometimes I divide the page to practice different fillers.

Related post: Free Motion Quilting – Starting on Paper

Dividing the page into different widths can help you plan border designs.

sketchbook quilting designs

Or work with circles.

sketchbook free motion quilting

Mandalas are another technique that can expand your creativity as you design a new element for each layer of the image.

Once you have a design on paper, it is time to see how it looks on fabric.  Some people recommend charity quilts or baby quilts as practice pieces, since the recipients are more forgiving.  (This is no excuse for sloppy work!  The comparison is giving a quilt to a non-judgmental child versus submitting your work to a show to compete for an award.)

Related Post: Free Motion Quilting – From Sketchbook to Finished Quilt 

Sketching gets the creative juices flowing and it helps cement a certain design into your memory.  Free motion quilting can start on paper!

Grab a pen and share your artistry with us by using #truebluequiltsketches on social media.


Free Motion Monday – Quilting Swoon Blocks

Recently I made a quilt for Quilts of Valor and then it was time to choose a design for quilting Swoon blocks. I considered the final destination and use of the quilt.  Is it for show or daily use?  Should I use an all-over pantograph design or heavy heirloom stitching?

swoon for Quilts of Valor

This longarm quilting project is a top made from Swoon blocks in patriotic colors. From the start, my goal was to donate this quilt to the Quilts of Valor Foundation. For this purpose, I chose a simple design that will stand up to daily use and multiple washings. A pantograph or all-over pattern would be fine but I decided to do a custom design because of the high contrast in colors and the various elements of the block.

Sketch before you quilt

paper sketch quilting swoon blocks

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Rather than jump right into the quilting process, I used EQ7 to print out a diagram of the block. This gives me a practice sheet or coloring page to sketch my ideas. I started with the star and diamonds shapes and quickly found a continuous line design that I feel compliments the piece elements.  I wanted a simple background fill so I used wavy lines in the house sections of the block.

Related post: my favorite features in EQ7!

Final plan for quilting Swoon blocks

When I took this design to the quilt and started thinking about thread color, I realized that I did not want the houses and background to be the same color.  I substituted a loopy meander in the house sections where I can match thread color, and I kept the wavy lines in the background. I filled in the sashing with lines and loops.

alternate plan quilting swoon blocks
Longarm process… when I started quilting on a longarm, I would quilt all of one color throughout the quilt before changing thread colors.  This meant rolling the quilt back and forth several times. Recently, I began changing thread color more often so that I quilted all the colors in one row before advancing the quilt.  For this Swoon quilt, I am doing a combination.  I started with white thread, then changed to red and gold before advancing.  When I get to the bottom row, I will change to blue thread and work my way back to the top.

Using matching thread means that some of the quilting design is less noticeable, but it will still have great texture and I’m sure it will be a great quilt to cuddle under!

final quilting swoon blocks

What is your standard quilting design? Have you tried this popular Swoon block yet?