The reviewer of this book was Danielle: Danielle is a Canberra-based quilter, crafter, knitter and collector of fabric who loves to applique. She blogs infrequently at Petits Elefants, but is more likely to be found on Instagram and twitter (@petitselefants).


Beginner’s Guide to Free-Motion Quilting  Natalia Bonner, Stash Books, 2012


Natalia Bonner is well-known in the online quilting community as a professional long-arm quilter. In her first book, she shows us how many of the popular quilting patterns used on modern quilts by long-arm quilters can be replicated on our home machines. This is a practical guide, with lots of pictures and diagrams to unravel the mystery of how those lovely, perfectly rounded and spaced swirls can work on your quilt!


There’s no denying that free-motion quilting is to many home quilters the last frontier. While we may have squeezed a twin-sized quilt under the tiny throat of our machines at times, sometimes we have to admit that sending the quilt off to be quilted on a long-arm machine is the better option. Others may be confident with a gentle meandering stipple pattern, but be a little nervous about trying something that looks a bit more complicated. This book will help dispel the perception that ‘fancy’ quilting patterns can’t be done on your home machine.


In practical terms, it’s important to acknowledge that free-motion quilting, as with a lot of skills, takes practice, and lots of it. The more you practise, the better you will be. If you’re willing to put in that practice, then this book has loads of inspiration for quilting designs, ranging from simple swirls to more complex combined designs, and perhaps the pinnacle of quilting, the feather! One feature I particularly like about this book is the whole chapter it devotes to border designs, and especially the hints about carrying the design around corners, something I have struggled with in the past and which has put me off wanting to free-motion quilt on my quilts that have borders. There are also sections on allover designs, how to quilt custom designs to fit individual blocks and how to manage appliquéd quilts. Six quilt patterns are included in the book, my favourite of which is the cover quilt, Orange Slices.

This book will serve as a fabulous resource for anyone who either would like to try free-motion quilting or who has already mastered one or more designs. It is packed with detailed pictures and diagrams, and practical tips on how to complete your quilt.


Elizabeth Hartman is a self-taught quilter. She has been making things her entire life but, when she tried quilting for the first time, she fell in love and hasn’t been able to stop. Elizabeth is the author of The Practical Guide to Patchwork, Modern Patchwork, and the popular blog, ohfransson.com.

One of the most important parts of my creative process is maintaining a clean and organized space in which to work. I’ve been lucky enough to have a designated sewing room for just over 7 years now, and I’ve learned through trial and error the things that work best for me. I want to talk a little about my favorite parts of my sewing room and how they help me to be more productive.

Fabric organization

Since the process of making a quilt always involves pulling out and auditioning a bunch of different fabrics, it doesn’t take long before every surface in the room is covered. To keep things simple (both for finding fabrics and for putting them away!) I like to keep my fabric organized by color, with print and solid fabrics stored separately.

I keep my folded fabric in clear plastic drawers that fit under my sewing room counters. The drawers make it easy to put away extra fabric, or to pull out an entire drawer if I want to, say, go through all the yellow prints I have. Since I’m not always able to stop and put things away as I’m working, I also keep a “to be filed” basket on the counter.

Another thing that I find hugely helpful in keeping my fabric stash organized is editing. I routinely go through my entire stash and pull fabrics that have sat unused for too long, or that I’m just not as crazy about as I once was. This process was painful at first, but the benefits of having a smaller and less-cluttered fabric stash have made it worthwhile. I also feel better about giving my unused fabric to other quilters who will actually use it.

Design wall

My design wall has become such an important part of my process that it seems crazy to me that I quilted for so many years without one! A “design wall” may sound like something super-fancy, but the one I’m using now is, literally, just a giant piece of cotton batting tacked to the wall. (Some people use flannel, but I find that batting works much better.) Fabric sticks to the batting, making it possible to temporarily place fabric and piecing on the wall, step back, and consider the arrangement.

In order to make my design wall a full 8’ x 8’, I had to work around a few light switches and electrical outlets. To do that, I started by removing all the outlet covers. Once the batting was tacked up on the wall, I carefully cut away the batting from around the switches and outlets. Then I replaced the covers, which hid the raw edges of the batting I had cut away.

If you don’t have the space for a permanent design wall, it’s quite easy to make a smaller, portable one by wrapping sheets of lightweight foam insulation from a hardware store. The portable wall can be stored under a bed or in a closet when you’re not using it.

Pressing board

As a quilter, I almost never use a conventional ironing board. Instead, I have a counter-height pressing table that’s about 29” x 39”. To make it, I simply had a piece of plywood cut to match the top of my IKEA countertop. I wrapped the plywood in three layers of cotton batting and one layer of cotton fabric, and used my staple gun to tack the excess batting and fabric to the underside of the board. Simple!

My countertop pressing board stays in one place, but it’s easy to make more portable versions. I have a smaller version that I made by wrapping the top of a wooden TV tray. The smaller version can be set up and used right next to my machine and is portable enough to bring to sewing circle.

Keep things simple

When I was setting up my first sewing room, I approached it as I would approach setting up any other room. I picked regular furniture, I painted the walls red (really!) and I hung up lots of pictures and things on the walls. As a room, it was lovely. As a creative workspace, it was a nightmare. The red walls permeated everything I worked on, and having so many decorative elements around was distracting.

Today, my sewing room is painted a very light gray and I’ve made a point to choose white countertops, shelving, and other elements. The space is so much brighter and cleaner – like a blank canvas for my projects!


Kaffe Fassett, an accomplished painter and designer of textiles, is widely acknowledged as a visionary in the use of color. He is the author of 15 books, a fabric designer & knitwear designer for Rowan, and was honored in 1988 to become the first living textile designer to be given a one-person show at the Victoria & Albert Museum in London.

Kaffe Fassett: Dreaming in Color: An Autobiography. STC Craft/A Melanie Falick Book (September 15, 2012).

Many people ask me, a 6’3” Californian man, how I got started in the world of textiles, how I got my name and above all, how I made so many things work in my favor. It was high time to write a book that outlined my most improbable career – from painter to avid knitter, needle point and patchworker designer.

The hardest thing was deciding how to approach the book. What do I leave out, what to include and try to explain it all. It was a nightmare at first, but as I got into it with the help of two editors I found myself really drawn into the great romp that is the last 45 years of my textile career. I had kept dozens of diaries, which was amazing to re-read after so many years. Unfortunately I cared little for details, like dates, so some whole sections didn’t even mention a year, let alone a month or day. But somehow the people I’ve worked with for years were able to piece it all together and the extraordinary Internet answered so many questions, like dates of events that ran alongside my crazy life.

Inevitably jamming 74 years into 200-plus pages meant a great selection process had to take place and many amusing stories had to go, but I do feel that the main thrust of the pattern of luck, that allowed me to bring my ideas to so many across the world, is there on the pages. It was a daunting experience to be sure and it was over a year till I could write again with confidence in my diary. I sort of felt I completed my life when the book went off after the last proof reading.

The best thing for me is the almost 500 illustrations showing my work and the influences of art and travel that inspired most of it. The book turns out to be homage to the great Steve Lovi, who not only photographed 5 of my books including our first book, Glorious Knits, but also taught me most of what I needed to get my career started. Steve died in his early 70’s just as Dreaming in Color was being completed. I was able to show a portrait I painted of him and state what his life meant to me. I hope those who read my book will have their questions answered and will be inspired to go on making their own creative textiles. The book is bursting with color, which has always been my magic talisman – so don’t be shy about using lots of it.


Guest series 2012: I asked fellow bloggers, makers and creators to write on their creativity and focus their essay on one of four topics: creativity and health, creativity and business, creativity and parenting or creativity and process. I am very excited to have a wonderful lot of fellow creative folk guest posting here at whipup.net over the next couple of months. Please welcome…

Alissa Haight Carlton lives in Los Angeles and is one of the founders and president of the Modern Quilt Guild.  She has written two books, Modern Minimal: 20 Bold and Graphic Quilts and Block Party: The Modern Quilting Bee. She blogs at handmade by alissa.

My creative process for designing and making a quilt is something that I’ve consciously worked at developing. I’ve come to realize that if you don’t have a process, how do you know where to start and where to go from there? I’ve also realized that my process changes, depending on the purpose of the quilt. If a pattern is going to be written up for the quilt, I always start by sitting down and designing the quilt. I use Illustrator for this. My abilities with the program are limited, but I love that I can design everything to scale, so I know my numbers will all add up. Once the quilt is designed, I get down to the leg work of following my own pattern and making the quilt. I often find this tedious as it feels purely like labor, but I’m driven by my desire to see my vision become reality.

If I’m not going to write a pattern for the quilt, I work in a completely different (and, for me, a much more fulfilling) way. I tend to keep my design process going throughout the making of the quilt, which makes the construction feel less like labor and more like part of the creative process. I thought that I’d show this process through the designing and making of a specific quilt (the one pictured above).

Let me begin by saying that the single most important tool for me with this process is a design wall. I simply tacked some cotton batting to my wall that fabric sticks to. This way, I can put things up, step away, hem and haw and just generally look at it a lot. Getting a design wall was transformative for my quilt design and I’d recommend it to any quilter out there. You can see it here on the left side of this photo of my (never this tidy) studio space. It takes up a whole wall and is 100% worth it.

The first thing that starts me thinking about a quilt is usually the colors and fabrics. For this quilt, which was a commission, I was given some guidelines in terms of the colors requested, so I pulled all of my fabrics that I thought could work.

From there, I didn’t know what direction I was headed, but I knew I wanted to do some improvisational piecing, so I cut a whole bunch of the fabrics up into strips and started piecing.

I love improv piecing. I never worry about where the quilt is headed – I just enjoy the process and working with the different colors and fabrics.  I also tend to focus on shape and color placement quite a bit since I usually work with solids. I  have turned to solids more and more as I’ve progressed in my quilting. I personally find a lot of patterned fabrics placed together to be busy and that takes away from the graphic feel that I to go for in my quilt designs.

Once I’d pieced a fair number of the improv blocks, it was time to start thinking about where I was going to go with them. Now try as you might to avoid it, at some point you have to decide where you’re going with a design… Unless the quilt is going to be improv from corner to corner and then squared up at the end, you eventually have to do some planning and dreaded math. When I reach this point, I turn to Illustrator. I’d been thinking that I wanted to create stripes with the improv piecing (I like the idea of improv within a structured context) so I took a photo of the blocks lined up and cropped it to be a strip. From there, I put the photo in Illustrator and messed around until I came up with a plan of this simple woven effect.

You can see that I just stretched and squeezed the one photo as needed to fill in the stripes. I wasn’t concerned with getting it to look just right since the only goal here was to sort out placement of the stripes within the negative space. Since I work to scale in Illustrator, I can also establish sizes of all of my piecing and negative space portions this way.

So from there, I kept on improv piecing until I had enough to fill in all of the strips, and I cut out all of the pieces of fabric to fill in the negative space – placing it all up on my design wall as I went along.

Here’s where I made a mistake – one that happens to me semi-regularly. I didn’t go with my gut. The pale yellow was the only fabric that was almost right that I had in my stash, so even though my instincts were telling me it wasn’t completely right, I kept on going because I was eager to make progress with the quilt. After walking away from my design wall and coming back to it a day later, I knew I had to make a change. A pale tan was in order, not a pale yellow.

A trip to the fabric store later, I had the right fabric and I got down to business finishing the quilt top.

Once I finish a top, I always make the back using up fabrics I have left from the front. To be honest, I pay very little attention to designing these backs and tend to just put them together as the fabric I have allows.

When it’s time to quilt, I think long and hard about how to best compliment the design of the quilt. I tend to not think about quilting before it’s time to do it. I’ll think it through while I’m basting, and I take my time making the decision. Here I quilted the negative space with very dense straight lines that echo the piecing design and then I filled in the improv stripes with less dense lines. I stopped and started so that the quilting followed the “weaving” effect of the piecing.

From there, all that’s left is the binding! Again, this is something that I don’t think about until it’s time to do it and my instincts usually point me in a direction. I like to use the binding as a frame of sorts, so I’m usually drawn to one of the darker colors in the quilt top. Here I went with one of the darker yellows.

And there you have it, how I design a quilt, from start to finish. As I mentioned earlier, I love to keep the design process going through as much of the construction as I can. I get very bored by the labor of making quilts (yup. I’ll admit it.) and I’m not the type who can sit down and make the same block 100 times. I almost never make the same quilt twice. I’m driven by the desire to see what will come next and sometimes my quilts turn out very differently from how I’d first imagined them. I am also not scared of making mistakes. I have started many projects and once I was half way through I realized I simply didn’t like where the quilt was going so I stopped. I put it aside and chalk it up to a learning experience that I can apply to future quilts. Or maybe it can be chopped up and used in a different way? You never know where your ideas, even the bad ones, might lead you!


My life in this very moment is just all about quilts, quilting, fabric, stitches, threads, rotary cutter, sweeping the mess, scrap bags of fabric piling up, making space for more quilts…

In between I am trying to keep the sanity by staying real. Real life keeps butting its head into my sewing realm. Kids. Dinner. Dishes. Responsibilities. Friends. Health. … so to stay real I have to stop procrastinating, need to use my time wisely. Need to be organised. Have to stay on track. Stay focussed. …

How to stay on track … Keep lists. Use the blackboard planner. Not in fact plan too much. Be realistic. Delegate. What do you do to stay on track?

Some organisation tips:: from Elsie :: Organising the family paperwork.

Check in on our creativity series:

We also hosted: Maya on her blog tour for her new book Reinvention.

Interesting links: 

Happy mother’s day this weekend to all the mothers out there. [I share mother’s day this year with my husband’s birthday — so … kiddos you better buck up! :)]

This week I am reading some traditional quilting books from That Patchwork Place:

Foundation-Pieced Quilts (Dec 2011) :: Civil War Legacies (March 2012) :: Pretty Patchwork Quilts (March 2012) and Kaleidoscope Paper Piecing (Jan 1012). All of these quilt books are full of traditional designs and techniques that have taught me a thing or two. That Patchwork Place always has such excellence in their quilt books. The instructions, diagrams, templates and images are straightforward. Don’t get these books for the pretty styled pictures or the conversational dialogue – you won’t find it. However do get these books for a good foundation in technique and some lovely traditional style quilt designs that will challenge your skills.

[Thanks to publishers and distributors for sending me books to review, I don’t get paid to post reviews but I am an amazon affiliate] (Australians can purchase craft books online through can do books or booktopia or else browse booko for the best prices.)

Sign up here to receive our weekly email newsletter