Pieced placemat detail

Sewing skills project 11: Set the Table Placemats

plain quilted placemat backs

After washing and drying, the placemats have a crinkly, casual texture

Back of pieced and quilted placemat

The pieced design, after washing

Project

Set the Table Placemats from School of Sewing by Shea Henderson

Project features:

  • machine quilting
  • hand sewn binding
  • pin basting
  • batting

Process notes

I made two placemats following the regular instructions, and two with the Extra Credit piecing method.

Materials:

  • Robert Kaufman Kona Cotton in Stone
  • Robert Kaufman Kona Cotton in Charcoal
  • Robert Kaufman Kona Cotton in Honey
  • Moda Weave in a light grey
  • chambray
  • Pellon Nature’s Touch Cotton Batting
  • Coats Machine Quilting & Crafts 30 Wt Mercerized ELS Cotton thread, color 155 Dogwood (for piecing and quilting)
  • Gütermann 50 Wt Natural Cotton thread, color 6210 (for binding)

Equipment and settings:

  • 75/11 Quilting Needle for piecing, 3.5/2.0 stitch, using 1/4-inch guide foot for piecing striped version
  • 90/14 Quilting Needle for quilting front to back, 3.0 stitch length, 4.25–4.75 needle tension
  • used Thread Heaven for hand sewing the binding to the backs

Results

I was surprised at how much I enjoyed making these placemats. We’ve never been a placemat type of family, so I wasn’t sure I’d really connect with the project, but it was such a wonderful warm-up to the quilt project, and a cool way to try out different fabrics and piecing designs. I enjoyed the piecing in particular — it was relaxing and fun to see the sections grow strip by strip. Love my 1/4-inch piecing foot.

During my quilting experiment, I learned that a heavier thread is nice for quilting, so that’s what I used on this project. However, I wish that I had used a 50 wt thread for the piecing. The thick 30 wt thread was unnecessarily bulky on those pieced seams. The 30 wt was nice for quilting though.

The large 1200-yd spool of thread was too large for the thread area in my machine, and my spool pin doesn’t have a vertical orientation option. When it was lying horizontally in the primary spool location, the thread got caught between the spoon and the machine itself, causing tension problems. So it required using the secondary spool pin, which worked much better. But it still wasn’t as smooth as with the smaller spools, so in the future I’d avoid buying these large spools for the sewing machine.

When it was time to quilt, I kept forgetting to draw my design on before pin basting. I was able to get around the pins to do a simple diagonal line on the two solid placemats, but it would still be better to get the designs drawn before pinning as suggested in the book.

Most of my hand-sewn binding happened on a comfy lounge chair, but I did the last placemat at my work desk in my office chair. I was surprised to see that the stitching looked better (and was actually easier to do) when done at my desk. The Thread Heaven thread conditioner worked best when I ran the thread through once, then put it through the needle and knotted the ends, then ran the double-thickness through the conditioner again.

One of the biggest lessons I’m learning from this process is that it’s all about the prep. Planning, using the right supplies and equipment, and careful cutting make the process go much better — or at least make it more enjoyable.

When I finished the placemats I realized that our dining table is too narrow for them to be used like normal. It would be fun to make a set customized for our table size, perhaps with an improvisational approach. I was watching old episodes of It’s Sew Easy and was intrigued by a segment with Victoria Findlay Wolfe. She explained how she uses her 15 minutes of play method to create fabric from pieced-together scraps, then uses that fabric to make blocks. That sort of free-form play is basically the opposite of my structured approach to things, which is exactly why I think it would be awesome to try.

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