Thursday, February 10, 2011

Be Our Guest: Peppermint Pinwheels

Over the coming weeks we will be hearing from crafters in our 'Be Our Guest' series. We hope you find their stories and crafts as inspiring as we do!

If you are interested in appearing on the Fat Quarterly site or in an issue of Fat Quarterly, drop us a note at

First up is Stacey who creates some of the most striking quilts around. Stacey's quilts have a traditional focus but the finished product is far from traditional. You can read all about Stacey's quilting adventures at her blog, 'On The Design Wall'

Fearless Quilting
by Stacey Sharman

I am afraid of many things - cockroaches, things that might be living under my bed, a world without bubbly beverages - but somehow, I have never been afraid of quilting.  I would never even know such a thing existed, except that I hear and read about it often when people talk about quilting.  They’re afraid of choosing fabrics, taking on a new technique or pattern, the level of commitment it takes, and most of all, I think they’re afraid of putting vast amounts of love and time into making something that will be judged and found lacking.

To those people, the quilters that are afraid, I say, “Wouldn’t it be wonderful to be a fearless quilter?”  I think, quilters often like to have rules to follow, so I’ve come up with a few do’s and don’ts to help you become a quilter who’s not afraid to break the rules.

The DO’s

1. You can’t go wrong with colors and fabrics you love.  Value really is one of the most important aspects of having an interesting quilt, so pair the fabrics you adore with fabrics of a different value (light, medium, dark) and don’t be afraid to throw in a touch of something wild.

2. Steam and starch are your friends.  If my piecing must be exact, I douse my fabric in spray starch.  This makes the fabric hold its shape better which helps me to cut more exact shapes and sew them together with better accuracy.  And, if I’m doing improvisational piecing, there’s nothing like a good steam to make my fabrics obey and lay flat.

3. Finish what you start in a timely manner.  If you don’t like it much now, you’ll really hate it in a year and you’ll never finish it.  And it’s quite possible that while you’ve outgrown your project, someone else you know would love to have it.  As the sign says in one of my favorite quilt shops, “A finished quilt is better than a perfect one.”

4. Be brave!  If you hate it, don’t be afraid to do something about it.  Cut it up, twist it around, sew it back together.  Is it better yet?  No?  Cut it in half and piece something through the middle of it.  Still hate it?  Put it in the scrap bag and use it in a different project.

5. If matching points matters to you, baste your seams and check your points before actually sewing the seam.  That way, if you got it wrong, it’s a lot easier to rip apart those big stitches and redo it.  If they don’t match after a couple of tries, perhaps it’s not meant to be!

6. Do it again. Practice really does make perfect.  And let’s face it, we’re dealing with fabric here and we know where to get more of it!

7.Do ask for advice and critique, but, if the sensitive artist in you is fragile, only ask trusted sources.  Also, don’t ask “does my butt look fat in this?” kinds of questions.  Don’t point out the things that bother you.  Wait and see if they even notice, because chances are, they won’t!

The DON’Ts
1. Don’t think about it too hard.  I find that my first choice is often the best choice.  If you look at something for too long, you begin to lose perspective.  If you really are having a hard time making up your mind, it’s time to walk away and do something else for the afternoon.

2. Don’t be afraid to go “off the grid.”  Sometimes it’s fun to cut without rulers.  Improvisational quilting is an excellent way to play with color and pattern, and rulers are not required.
3.Don’t be intimidated by anyone or anything!  You can do it!  Maybe it wouldn’t be the way someone else would do it or with the colors or fabrics someone else would use, but that is what makes your quilt special.  It’s all you!

I also just want to throw in a few tips that I wish someone had told me when I first started sewing. 

 *To begin sewing a seam, sew over a little scrap of fabric and then up onto the seam you want to sew together (without cutting the thread in between).  This will keep the edge of your fabric from getting eaten by your sewing machine or creating a bird’s nest made of thread on the back of your fabric.  Some quilter’s call this little scrap of fabric a “piggy,” while other’s call it a “chicken.”

*It really is worth it to buy the best sewing machine you can possibly afford.  I went through at least 6 or 7 sewing machines before getting my Bernina 130 (the love of my life!).  My enjoyment in the process of sewing went from a 3 to a 10 the day my new machine came home with me and it’s been wonderful ever since.

* No one sews in a perfectly straight line.  Just do your best, try to keep you seam allowances the same width.  It also helps to iron the seams flat, before you press them open or to the side.

 Bio: Stacey Sharman has been quilting fearlessly since the mid-1990’s when she made her first hand-pieced pinwheel block in a college textiles class.  She opened her quilt company, Peppermint Pinwheels in September, 2009 and has used that as an excuse to sew obsessively ever since.  You can find out more about her and her quilts in the following places:





  1. Fantastic post, enjoyed it very much. Great to meet you, Stacy. Thanks for all the great tips.

  2. great post! really useful tips, thank you :) I've discovered now that if I do a bit of improv piecing I become a little more accurate when I go back to the measured piecing afterwards ...

    ... it's almost like being let off the leash and then coming back to heel <--- sheesh, and I don't even own a dog!

  3. great advice on working on a projects! I really like what she said about letting go of projects you don't like or ruthlessly cut into them!

  4. Thanks for the tips! I especially agree with the tip about buying the best machine you can afford. I finally bit the bullet and bought a Bernina (my last machine caught on fire if that gives you an indication of how bad it was!). I found there was a huge jump in my sewing hrs because I knew that I wouldn't be ripping out seams that my machine had "eaten."

  5. Thank you for this post! I'm a newbie quilter, and I admit to being "scared" of not being perfect. This is excellent advice, and I'm bookmarking it to read the next time I'm worried about my quilting inaccuracies. :)

  6. I think I've been fearless with my latest project!
    But you are right about finishing it, because I'm sure this time next year I will say what was I thinking!

    Great tips!


  7. @Sarah - I love the dog walking analogy! I'm totally going to use that in my next improv quilting class!

  8. Great post Stacey! Here's to being fearless quilters! The improv sewing can be soooo addictive!

  9. I absolutely agree with what you said...and you said it really well. Fear can be one of greatest stumbling blocks for quilters. Great article.

  10. Excellent advice. I wonder where all the animal associations come from for leader fabric, in these parts, we call 'em Thread Bunnies!

  11. Thanks to Stacey I am now tackling my real quilts - such an inspiration! Birgit

  12. Thank you Stacy, some very helpful and inspiring advice.

  13. A very helpful post ... I've just about killed my cheap sewing machine. You're right, it's just about time to bite the bullet and invest in something good!

  14. Steam and starch are your friends! That's great. And you're totally right about overcoming fear. Love your approach and ideas on this... really talking about finding and following your own muse.