Five Tips from Audrey Esarey

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I always love learning new things from the sewing and quilting community. As a lifelong student, finding new approaches helps me bring my creative ideas to life, achieve my long-term goals, and make my workflow more efficient. Between guild meetings, online resources, quilty friends, and books, I’m always finding multiple ways to accomplish the same task! Here are some of my favorite tips and tricks:

  1.  Pressing Matters: Take extra care in pressing seams to increase piecing accuracy. Pressing the seam often takes longer than sewing the seam!
  • First, set the seam: before opening the seam, press the seam (as sewn) to set the stitches and smooth the fabric.
  • Next, press the seams open (my personal favorite) or to the dark side to avoid seam shadows.
  • Third, flip the fabric right side up, spritz with a mist spray bottle, and press from the top.
  • Finish by placing a tailor’s clapper on top of the hot seam while it cools for a perfectly pressed flat seam!​

Watercolor Eclipse by Audrey Esarey.
 
  1. Accent Quilting: Many of my quilts include both straight line quilting and accent quilting. I begin with the straight line stitching, using a neutral or low contrast thread and a stitch length of 2.5 millimeters, the standard for most machines. When accent quilting, I reach for a heavier weight thread to increase the visibility and impact of the stitching line. Heavier 28wt or 40wt thread in a contrasting color yields a high visual impact. In addition, lengthening the stitch length to 3.0 mm helps the accent stitching shine on a finished quilt. 

    Repelling Radial by Audrey Esarey.
     
  2. Auditioning New Ideas: When experimenting with a new design concept or technique, start with a mini quilt! I often begin by creating a piece measuring 24 x 24 inches or smaller. Making a small piece helps me work out the kinks in my workflow and uncover any tricky assembly areas. The time commitment and material investment are less daunting than starting with a larger project. After the mini quilt test run, I can evaluate if I want to invest the time to make a larger piece using the design concept or technique. 

    Angular No 3 by Audrey Esarey.
  3. Unconventional Quilting Tools: I often reach for unconventional tools in my studio, sourced from my local hardware store.  A tool doesn’t have to be fancy to be really useful in the studio!
  • Blue painter’s tape is an excellent tool to mark a long quilting line. I use a laser level to make sure the tape line is perfectly straight and travels the desired quilting path! Use a stitch in the ditch foot to sew next to the tape.
  • A laser level can also be used to cut batting from a roll in a straight line, keep edges straight when blocking a quilt, and mark the cutting line when squaring up a quilt.
  • Many of my quilt patterns include templates that are unusual shapes. These shapes are often difficult to cut with a straight edge ruler. When cutting the paper templates, I weigh them down with large flat washers or other flat heavy spare hardware. (Make sure this is clean hardware - no greasy hardware from the garage!) Clear tape can also be used to secure the paper templates to the fabric while cutting.
  • A design wall is one of my favorite tools in the studio to better visualize my quilt as it comes together and/or audition fabric colors. I create a design wall from a dense, one-inch insulation board covered with a layer of white flannel and then a layer of batting. The fabric pieces will lightly stick to the batting, and you can also pin into the insulation board. A design wall can be mounted to the wall or remain portable.
  • A small ironing surface can be made by covering a 24 x 24 inch square of plywood with several layers of scrap batting and a fabric remnant, securing the layers on the back with an upholstery stapler.

 

Ultraviolet Radial by Audrey Esarey.
 
  1. Auditioning Fabrics - Color and Texture: To enhance the visual interest in your quilt, use a variety of fabrics in your design. First, evaluate the value of each fabric; try using light, medium, and dark valued colors in your quilt. Quilt designs with a range of values will have greater contrast versus those made with mostly medium-value fabrics. In addition, instead of using one color in each hue, use several colors that are slightly different in each hue (one medium value green versus five medium value greens). Challenge yourself to reach for the fabrics in the store that you aren’t as attracted to… looking at you Ochre, Grellow, and Wasabi. Sometimes colors that look dull on the shelf will combine beautifully with the bright saturated colors, helping them shine even brighter in the design. Try mixing hand-dyed fabrics with commercially dyed fabrics for an added feeling of depth in the design. With color, the possibilities are endless!

    Watercolor Study No 6 by Audrey Esarey.
     
Bonus Tip: Need a quick value check? Take a picture and change the settings to black and white; this will reveal the true value of the fabric! You might be surprised by how many fabrics you’ve accumulated in the medium family!
 

​These tips and tricks are now part of my natural workflow as I sew in my studio. Thinking about color, accent quilting, and improving my technical skillset all started as goals to achieve, and while I’ve made progress, they are still things that I’m learning about in my quilting practice. I’d encourage you to make a list of things you hope to try someday, seek out opportunities to learn, and see what tips and tricks become part of your workflow. - cheers!

Audrey Esarey is an award-winning modern quilter and pattern designer whose work has been exhibited around the world. Her quilts have been honored with ribbons at QuiltCon and the Houston International Quilt Festival, and she recently won the Young Emerging Artist Award at Quilt National ‘21 for her piece Watercolor Study No. 7. She shares her creative process online at www.cottonandbourbon.com.