half square triangle quilting blocks

Sewing skills project 12: My First Quilt

Chambray and linen quilt
My half-square triangle quilt, featuring chambray and linen-cotton blend fabrics

Technically, this was my second quilt, but the first one was fifteen years ago and I didn’t know what the heck I was doing at the time, so…this is my first proper quilt.


My First Quilt (lap size) from School of Sewing by Shea Henderson

Project features:

  • matching seams
  • pieced half-square triangles
  • machine quilting
  • hand-sewn binding

Process notes


  • Robert Kaufman Kona Cotton in Charcoal
  • Robert Kaufman Kona Cotton in White
  • Robert Kaufman Kona Cotton in Ash
  • Robert Kaufman Kona Cotton in Spice
  • Robert Kaufman Essex Yarn Dyed Linen Blend in Black
  • Robert Kaufman Chambray Union in Indigo
  • Robert Kaufman Essex Wide Linen Blend in Flax
  • Gütermann 50 Wt Natural Cotton thread, color 3260 for piecing
  • Gütermann 50 Wt Natural Cotton thread, color 6210 for binding
  • Coats Machine Quilting & Crafts 30 Wt Mercerized ELS Cotton thread, color 155 Dogwood for quilting

Equipment and settings:

  • for piecing, used foot pressure of 2, J foot, tension 4, 5.5/2.0 with stitch 21 (except for the linen-to-linen blocks used pressure 1)
  • for quilting, used walking foot, 3.5/3, aligned seam line with edge of foot

Day 1: cut block pieces (120 squares); piece together the back (cut the length of fabric in half, resulting in two pieces each 2 yd x WOF; stitched 5/8″ from selvedge edge, then trimmed edges to 1/2″ before pressing open)

120 fabric squares ready to sew into blocks
120 fabric squares, ready to sew into blocks

Day 2: join binding pieces and press in half; pin blocks and mark for triangles

Day 3: sew seams on blocks to form triangles (used 1 bobbin + one and a half 100-m spools of thread)

Day 4: set block seams; slice each block in half diagonally

Day 5: press seams open (120 blocks)

120 half square triangle quilting blocks
120 half square triangle quilting blocks, seams pressed open and ready to trim to size

Day 6: trim blocks to 6 1/2 x 6 1/2; arrange blocks; sew first 5 rows

quilt blocks arranged for construction
quilt blocks arranged for construction

Day 7: finish sewing rows; set seams for 8 of the rows

Day 8: set rest of seams; start sewing rows together

Day 9: finish sewing rows; press row seams flat

completed quilt top
completed quilt top, ready for pin basting

Day 10: pin basting the top to the batting and backing

pin-basted quilt top
pin-basted quilt top

Day 11: quilt first half of the lines

Day 12: quilt second half of lines; trim edges; apply binding by machine; prep for hand stitching

Day 13: begin hand stitching binding

Day 14: complete hand stitching of binding


Wow, this was a big project. Every time I started to feel close to being done, it turned out there was a lot more to do. And it wasn’t even a bed-sized quilt! It was such a great experience though, learning new things and bonding with my sewing machine.

My first challenge was cutting. Actually, my first challenge was choosing fabrics. My second challenge was cutting. It was hard for me to cut multiple layers of fabric and stay on grain. More accurately, I didn’t stay on grain. That’s something I’ll definitely need to watch more carefully, especially for garment sewing.

I’m so grateful the author instructed us to cut the blocks a bit larger and trim them down after the half-square triangles were pieced. They tended to be misshapen just enough that finishing without that trim would have likely put things askew.

When sewing the rows together I discovered that some Solvy stabilizer on the underside helps the fabric go over the feed dogs smoothly and prevents the trickier intersections from bunching up, getting sewn down wrong. This occurred to me only after 10 rows of ripping out a few corners on each row and re-sewing.

If I could change one thing about my project it would be the quilting stitches. I wouldn’t buy the 1200-yd spools of 30-wt thread for this machine again. There were just too many tension issues, and my quilting stitches aren’t as even as I’d like. The 50-wt worked much better. For me, sewing row after row during the quilting stage was rather tedious, with the size of the quilt unwieldy for my machine.

The hand stitching went very well and by the end I really felt like I had gotten into the rhythm of the stitch. Doing a quilt like this, with so much hand stitching, made me less likely to avoid it on future projects because now I know it’s not insurmountable.

I’m delighted with how my quilt turned out. I love the way the colors and fabrics work together — it looks crisp and polished, yet casual because of the chambray (which I’m addicted to) and dark grey backing. It has an appealing nautical feel to it. I’m not certain if there’s another quilt in my future, but I’m very glad to have made this one, and that my goal of sewing all of the projects in the book is completed.

Half square triangle quilt with chambray and linen blend fabrics

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


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.


  • 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


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.

quilted zip it pillow

Sewing skills project 6 Extra Credit: Quilted Zip It Pillow


Zip It Pillow, Extra Credit quilted version, from School of Sewing by Shea Henderson

Project features:

  • binding
  • covered zipper
  • soft interfacing
  • removable and washable cover
  • quilting
  • + hand-stitched binding

Process notes

As with the last pillow, I made my own 18 x 18 pillow form.


  • Robert Kaufman Kona Cotton in Stone
  • Robert Kaufman Kona Cotton in Charcoal

Equipment and settings:

  • microtex 80/12 needle
  • used optional muslin backing to make quilt sandwich
  • marked first quilting line with fabric pen, then each additional with 1 3/8″ painters tape, using the walking foot and stitch #2 3.5/2.5
  • for the lines next to the primary grid lines, used stitch #1 0.0/2.5 and aligned the original stitches with the left edge of the walking foot
quilting with painters tape guide
Using painter’s tape as a quilting guide


I think I used too few (or poorly-spaced) basting pins because there was some rippling with the muslin backing. This wasn’t a big issue because that backing was the lining, but it’s something to watch for when making the quilt project.

After quilting the top, I trued it up with the backing and noticed it was 1/4″ smaller all around. So the backing required a little trimming to make them line up.

I must have had beginner’s luck with the first pillow — after joining the binding ends on this one, there was a bit too much binding length and it caused a tiny wrinkle when it was stitched down. It’s barely noticeable, but it’s something to be careful of in the future. It’s definitely easier to re-sew that binding joint than rip out the seam after stitching it down!

hand stitched pillow corner detail
I’m happy with the hand stitching on these corners

The hand-stitched binding was trickier on this pillow because it was so much darker than the pillow itself. I decided to use thread that matched the binding rather than the pillow, and it was more visible than if the binding and pillow matched in color. But after I washed and dried the cover it helped blend the thread in pretty well, and leaving it unpressed after drying resulted in really cool texture that helps loosen up the understated look of the plain solid fabrics and straight quilting.

zip it pillow quilted detail
The wrinkled texture gives this cover a more casual look