Magickal Needlework-- Quilting 101

If you haven't read Magical Needlework by Dorothy Morrison, you might wish to borrow it or buy. This book covers all the reasons to do magic through the juxtaposition of needle, thread and cloth to create magical items. I see no reason to reinvent the wheel when Dorothy did it so well.

For the purposes of this series, I'll deal with the pioneering art of quilting since it is versatile and practical. I'm teaching my daughters with this blog, so you'll see me refer to them as Merri, Susan, Tuesday (TJ), Jenny Elf, and Desi. Two are the daughters of my body, and the rest are adoptees, but who cares? I love them all.

I'll refer to several books, but most commonly I'll refer to You Can Be a Super Quilter! by Carla J. Hassel. This book, written when the girls were infants or before they were born, focuses on the simplest aspect of quilting--hand piecing and hand-quilting. I'll refer to more modern books or give my own comments as we go, as needed. However, the most simple things can be the most magical, and even the poorest pioneer woman could afford needle, thread, and recycled flour sacks, worn out clothing, and other found items into useful things for her home and family. Memories, love, prayers, and good wishes were stitched by hand into each block. That's a good example and a way to learn.

Today, we're dealing with one of the most fun aspects of learning needle arts-- fabric shopping.

Quilting 101- Fabric Facts

I’ll go into what Super Quilter says, but here are some bits of advice from Mom.

1. When you go shopping for fabric, have a list of exact yardages you need. This should be one of the first pages of a notebook you keep on this quilt. Believe me, you’ll want to keep this info. Trust me on this and start a notebook. Eventually, you can transcribe all this onto a Word doc and insert photos, but for now make it something you can take with you to the store. Later, this can go into a permanent binder.

For example, this list below came from a Halloween pattern available for free from I raid this site regularly for free patterns.

1/3 yard metallic orange print (blocks)

32 — 1/8-yard pieces novelty prints (blocks)

1 yard total assorted bright and dark prints (blocks)

5/8 yard mottled yellow (blocks)

1/4 yard mottled purple (inner border)

1/3 yard black star print (middle border)

6 — 1/4-yard pieces geometric prints (outer border)

1/2 yard metallic black print (binding)

2-7/8 yards backing fabric

51x67" batting

Finished quilt: 44-1/2x60-1/2"

Finished block: 8" square

Quantities are for 44-45"-wide, 100% cotton fabrics.

Measurements include 1/4" seam allowances. Sew with right sides together unless otherwise stated.

While the list may seem intimidating, it’s a fairly mid-range amount of fabric to purchase. When broken down, it’s about 8 yards of fabric for the top, and out of that you’ll have plenty of scraps for another project. Do the math. Convert everything to 1/8th yard measurements and add it up, giving yourself a little fudge factor, like converting 1/3 to ½ and therefore is 4/8 yards.

At top quilt shop prices ($9 a yard for the best of the best), the top alone will cost about $72. (You’ll treat Grandma’s quilt with a little more respect now, won’t you?) Shopping at Joann’s will cost an average of about $50.

So, plan on spending about $50-75. Remember, you don’t have to buy all of this at once! I save by buying on sale Fat Quarters (1/4 yd each) at Joann’s, and so have a “stash” to shop from first before I dig into my wallet to buy more. Note that this quilt is a “scrappy” quilt, where the designer planned on the quilter using fabrics from a stash, and so gave vague color concepts like “mottled yellow” and specified that the quilter should use 1/8 yd novelty prints (yeah, that’s the polite way of saying, “Shop your stash, honey!”)

Frankly, once the fabric bug has bitten you, unless you go shopping with a plan and a limit, you’re worse than a hormonal dieter in a chocolate shop. Take only the cash you budgeted and don’t bring the credit card. This is especially true in places like Joann Fabrics and Wal-Mart, but can be equally true in quilt shops where quality and beauty are literally everywhere you look.

I do recommend following a pattern at first when shopping. Your stash will develop of its own accord over time, as you make quilts, placemats, wall hangings, purses, jackets, and…what? Did you think this was just about making blankets? Get real, honey! This is about covering your home, body, table, kitchen, and family is the coolest designer looks as well as your personal tastes. Merri and Susan don’t even come close to matching in their personal color tastes, yet they could use the same quilt pattern with radically different results.

As Susan has learned from me already, even the terminally sweet icon of Sunbonnet Sue can be twisted to fit a personal style. (Mine is Sinbonnet Sue. Want to see her? Go to and search for Sinbonnet Sue). When I made my first Sunbonnet Sue, I made her a zombie eating a brain. Yeah, I am that twisted, but you don’t have to be! Another quilter had Sue going through the decades of the 20th Century, and I have to say Flapper Sunbonnet Sue was pretty darn cool, but Astronaut Sue was applause worthy! Yeah, she’s the Barbie of the Quilters. Since appliqué is one of the easiest quilting techniques, you can be assured we’ll return to Sunbonnet Sue for hours of fun and games. For now, let’s get back to fabric shopping.

Think in terms of your personal color choices and style. Remember the list is there as a guideline, nothing more. If you can’t find a “black star print,” then how about that cute “black cat print” instead? Ghosts on a black background? I couldn’t find a metallic black, so I used a plain black and used glittering fabric paint after the quilting was done. I could see Merri going for a black roses border and adding tiny red jewels as “drops of blood” like the roses bled. Susan might go for a metro-metallic look. TJ might find the Dios del los Muertos black sugar skulls more to her liking.

Also, think outside the box. Okay, so the pattern was originally designed for Halloween, but the basic design is easily converted to other themes like Christmas or Valentine’s, when another abundance of specialty fabrics are available. Birthdays and other holidays are also possible. When you hang this quilt up on a small curtain rod on the wall, you may already be planning to replace it with a Christmas hanging, or perhaps a birthday.

I’m learning that I fabric shop best online where I’m not tempted to finger fabrics that aren’t on the list. I actually save a lot of money, even with shipping charges, because I don’t buy everything in sight and can stick with a list better. Even at famous and expensive shops like I can maintain control better than going out where I can finger fabrics and be tempted by everything in the store. You can also buy fabric online at as well. (Psst! Hancocks-Paducah has a catalog you can request for hours of safe fabric “fingering” to make a list and order before you do something stupid.)

Okay, that’s enough for today. Go play.


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