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Jane Sassaman


The Quilted Garden picture

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Previous Topics:

What's Worth $10/yard
& What Isn't

from "Color Harmony for Quilts"
authors Weeks Ringle & Bill Kerr.


Featured Writing: Spring 2004

Exploring the Satin Stitch

Jane's recently introduced line of quilt patterns makes liberal use of satin stitch to achieve many of her signature effects.  Although Jane explains the basics of satin stitch in the pattern instructions, we thought we would shed a bit more light on the subject by excerpting a more intensive discussion on the topic from her book "The Quilted Garden":

There are actually very few stitches on my fancy sewing machine that are appropriate for my hard-edged graphic style; however, the satin stitch is one I have come to rely on for its simplicity and versatility.

I use the satin stitch to cover the raw edges of my raw-edged appliqued shapes and to attach two overlapping pattern pieces.  This means that the satin stitch line often follows or outlines each individual shape and pattern piece.

Satin stitch is just a fancy name for the zigzag stitch.  By adjusting the length and width of the stitch, I can take advantage of many design effects.  I've discovered that this simple stitch can enhance the quilt's surface by either defining or distorting the shapes and lines of the design.  The satin stitch can electrify, or it can subtly blend shapes and colors.

The satin stitch can also act as a drawing line, which becomes a new graphic element all together.  I especially enjoy using this stitch in a painterly way to suggest the presence of a light source, such as the sun, and as a sculpting tool to give the illusion of depth and texture to the surface.

Satin stitch using matching thread to define

Using satin stitch to distort the shape

Using satin stitch to draw a line

Using satin stitch contrasting thread to add intensity

above & below:
creating dimension with satin stitch
Defining Shapes

To reinforce and emphasize the line between the ieaf and the background, I use matching thread and a slightly open satin stitch so the fabric of the leaf is still visible.  The needle follows the edge of the leaf as its guide.

Blurring or Distorting Shapes
A neighboring color of thread is used with a slightly open satin stitch.  The stitch overlaps both the leaf's perimeter and the black background to blur or distort the definite silhouette of the leaf.

As a Drawing Line
A tight or closed satin stitch creates a solid line of color.  This line is so strong and definite that it adds a whole new design element to the quilt.  It also creates additional texture and interest because of the raised thread on the fabric's surface.

Electrifying Shapes
A contrasting color of shiny rayon thread makes the leaf seem to glow and vibrate.  This effect adds vitality and enlivens the quilt design.

Painting and Sculpting Shapes
The existence of sunlight is implied because this leaf is outlined with light and shadow.  Use of a lighter thread on one side and a darker thread on the other creates the illusion of dimension and depth.

On each of the leaf samples, I used an open-toed embroidery foot on my sewing machine, which allows me to see the stitches as they are [being made and to guide the needle with more precision.  The threads are basic cotton/ poly or a 30 weight rayon, both with cotton/ poly thread in the bobbin.  I also adjusted the width of the satin stitch to accentuate the points and curves of the leaf.  The stitch is narrow at the base and gradually widens as the leaf widens.  At the mid-point, the stitch begins to taper toward the tip of the leaf.

It is also important that you allow yourself time to complete the embroidery stage to the best advantage of the work.  At times, machine embroidery and quilting can be exhausting and monotonous due to the intense concentration required and the tedious repetition of tasks.  However, there is a difference between what is monotonous while working and what is monotonous to look at in the finished quilt.

Each stitch should strengthen the visual impact of the quilt. Some stitches will be obvious and easy to see, but some important stitching can be so subtle and subliminal, that the viewer only sees the impact or effect, but is unaware of its existence.

Quilters must learn to weigh the desired visual effect of their work and the time they devote to it.  Devoting the necessary time to your work will make it sing. Sometimes less is more when it comes to applying embroidery; sometimes more is better.  The trick is letting each successive layer of attention contribute to strengthening the voice of the final work.

To relieve the strain and tedium of the embroidery and quilting phase, I try to vary my tasks from time to time and to allow myself frequent breaks.  It's helpful to find small diversions so you can maintain your enthusiasm for the job.  Wash a few dishes, see what's new (or old) in the refrigerator, or sweep the floor.  These tasks will definitely make returning to tedious embroidery look good by comparison.  Listening to books-on-tape is also a wonderful way to keep your thinking mind occupied while you work on automated tasks.

When the quilt is finished, tedious tasks, such as embroidery and quilting, should not look tedious and strained.  They should look effortless and painlessly integrated into the whole design.  Your diligent attention should manifest itself into delicious details that accentuate and energize your quilt.


Each quilter has a different style of working and individual ideas to express.  Just as quilters are different, so are sewing machines.  Each brand and model offers a unique selection of features and stitches.  Quilters must discover for themselves which machine, features, and stitches are appropriate for their work.

Most of us are limited to the machine we already have and should, therefore, learn to explore its abilities to our fullest advantage.  I have a pretty fancy sewing machine with many stitches and features, but even so, there are very few stitches that are appropriate for my visual style.  Occasionally, I'm thrilled to discover a new stitch that can speak my language.  Each of these stitches becomes part of my visual vocabulary.

To test the stitches and effects of your own machine, I suggest that you make a sampler such as the one shown on the next page.  Apply simple shapes, such as leaves or doughnuts, with fusible web to a solid-colored background.  I also recommend reinforcing your background fabric with a layer of interfacing or tear-away stabilizer to keep your sampler from buckling.

From "The Quilted Garden" by Jane A Sassaman, published by C&T Publishers.

Click here to purchase The Quilted Garden by Jane A Sassaman.



"Color Harmony for Quilts"
authors Weeks Ringle & Bill Kerr.


Purchase this book
in our store...

Featured Writing: Fall 2003

Checking the Quality: What's Worth $10/yard & What Isn't

If you've ever wondered about the price differential in the fabrics offered by national chains versus those found at your quilt shop, read on.  This is an excerpt from Weeks Ringle and Bill Kerr's first book entitled Color Harmony for Quilts.  You probably know Weeks and Bill from their project FunQuilts and their new line of Free Spirit fabric called PRISM.  You can check out their world at funquilts.com.

When buying fabric, cost cannot be overlooked. National retailers boast large selections of $3/yd (1m) fabrics. Fabrics at quilt shops generally average $6-10/yd (1m). Is this price difference a reflection of volume discounting or of quality? When trying to gauge the quality of a fabric, it's useful to understand a bit about the economics of the manufacturing process. Manufacturers have lines of fabrics that are aimed at certain segments of the quilting market. Some are marketed to the bargain shopper, others are marketed to quilters seeking heirloom-quality fabrics.

Manufacturers that aim for the bargain market reduce their costs by doing any or all of the following things: buying a lower-quality, loosely-woven, cotton bases fabric; using lower-quality dyes; using less-sophisticated printing machines; using fewer dyes; and using designs that require less printing precision.

Manufacturers who market to heirloom-quality quilt makers generally start with a tighter weave of higher quality cotton; richer, more durable inks; more precise printing processes; and they tend to hire the best fabric designers. So, how do you tell them apart?

The color dots on the selvage of Primrose fabric from Jane's Floral Fantasy indicates there were 13 separate dyes used.

Jane's Dots fabric shows that only two dyes were needed.  Fewer dyes does not mean lesser quality but more dyes indicate a fabric more expensive to manufacture.

First, feel the fabric. Compare it to other fabrics in the store at different price points. A stiffer fabric usually indicates a poor quality of printing or that the fabric has been over dyed. Overdyeing will cause problems with wear and washing as uneven fading may occur as early as the first wash. A tightly woven cotton with more threads per inch will wear better than a more loosely woven cotton. Hold an expensive fabric from a quilt shop up to the light next to a bargain fabric from a national chain. Can you see the difference in the density of the weave? When you find high-quality fabrics, note their manufacturers and keep track of those whose fabrics wear well. Most manufacturers' fabrics are even in quality across their product lines.

Second, look at the printing of the fabric. Is the pattern crisp or does the pattern look a bit blurry? Blurriness is a sign that the various colors in the fabrics have not been aligned precisely in the printing process. This is known as poor registration. The edges along the length of a bolt of fabric are known as the selvages. In most cases, but not always, prints will have a white striped down the selvage with the manufacturer's name , the line of fabric, and the name of the designer printed on it. Sometimes there is also a series of color dots on the selvage. These dots are samples of the dyes used in the printing of that fabric. As a general rule, each time the manufacturer adds another dye to the production process, the cost of the fabric increases. Manufacturers of low-end fabrics rarely use more than two or three dyes. That is not to say, however, that two-color prints are necessarily of poor quality. There are many makers of two-color prints of excellent quality. If there are four or more colors on the selvage, prepare to pay more for that fabric. Most of these fabrics are printed on high-quality fabric.

Most national fabric-chains carry mostly bargain-quality to midrange quality fabrics. In contrast, most quilting shops carry only mid-range to high-end fabrics. Remember, the time and energy it takes to make a quilt far outweighs the cost of fabric. When putting together a stash of fabric, opt for quality over quantity. Options for reducing the cost of buying fabric include setting up a fabric swap within a guild, checking bargains on the internet, and asking local quilt shops about preinventory sales.

From "Color Harmony for Quilts, A Quiltmaker's Guide to Exploring Color" by Weeks Ringle and Bill Kerr, published by Rockport Publishers.

Click here to purchase Color Harmony for Quilts.


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