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18. Quilting Fabric 101

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Hi there. I’m Nicole Gilbert and you’ve joined the stop scrolling start sewing podcast. Are you new to sewing and want to start quilting, but have no idea where to begin? Each Wednesday Join me as I share the ins and outs of that quilt life. If you don’t have a sewing machine, have no idea how much fabric you need, or you’re just trying to figure out where the heck to stick that bobbin. This is the podcast for you.

Hey folks, Nicole here. Welcome to episode 18 of the stop scrolling start sewing podcast. On today’s episode, I’ll be your professor for quilting fabric. One Oh one. I’m breaking down the common fabric terms. You’ll run across types of fabrics and some age old fabric prep steps that you should be taking.

But first a listener, shout out. Stephanie writes over on the modern quilters circle Facebook page. I started sewing a few years ago as a hobby and have always wanted to quilt, but it scared me. And I started putting pieces together a month ago as a new project. You’ve now helped me realize why my machine likes to stall on me with Tupper fabrics, even when just making pillows. You’ve been so helpful. I love your podcast, Nicole. Okay, Stephanie, thank you so much for taking the time to leave me such a nice review over on the modern Coulter circle Facebook page.

You’re a girl after my own heart, jumping in feet first and learning as you go. I am so glad that you have found value in the podcast. Folks, if you’d like a mention on an upcoming episode of the stop scrolling start sewing podcast, head on over to wherever you listen to podcasts and leave me a review. I’d read them all. And I love to hear from each of you, if you’ve already left a review, thank you so much. They mean the world to me. Okay, guys, let’s get sewing. So let’s start with some basic fabric terminology. Um, and I will kind of have a recap of all of this over on the show notes for this episode, which you can slash episode dash 18. So if you are like, Oh my gosh, you’re on the train right now, or you’re on your Peloton. Don’t worry.

You can totally catch up there. So let’s start with some terminology because some of this is basics. Some of this is like, Oh, okay, I got you. So let’s dive in. All right, let’s start at the top yardage. So yardage it to the length of fabric, usually off of the bolt. Um, and that’s typically how you purchase it unless you’re buying a precut. So every quilt shop has a different minimum amount to purchase. Um, usually it’s about, um, an eighth of a yard. It’s just your minimum, but I’ve seen, especially for online retailers, usually online retailers, won’t let you buy like less than two yards. I’ve seen one yard, but two yards seems to be the, to the standard, but yardage is this the amount of length of fabric that you’re taken off the bolt. All right, now I’m going to go into a few of our pre cuts.

I went super deep on pre cuts in episode 12 of the stop scrolling start sewing podcast. So if you would like to really get a deep dive on some of the following that I’m going to chat about real quick, head over to the modern culture,, and you’ll be able to learn about them. They’re so first pre cut fat quarter and a fat quarter is just a quarter of a yard cut the fat way. Meaning if you had a yard laid out in front of you, you would cut it down the center, both lengthwise and with wise, and those four quadrants, each quadrant is a quarter of a yard and it is cut the fat way. So that is obviously much easier to use than a standard quarter yard off of a yardage because a standard quarter yard is only nine inches wide where a fat quarters, 18 inches wide.

So you it’s, it’s a little bit more user friendly. Um, same goes for fat eighth. If you laid up, uh, a, a yard out flat in front of me, you would cut it into eighths. Um, and so that is what gives you a fat eighth. And then we’ve got layer cakes, which are a collection usually of about 40 to 42 fabrics, um, of 10 inch squares. So pretty cool. They all coordinate. Um, I love me a layer cake. I’ve got, I’ve got a soft spot for layer cakes. Um, and on the layer cake chip, let’s talk about charm squares. Charms squares are the exact same thing as layer cakes, except instead of being 10 inches by 10 inches, they are five inches by five inches. And then of course the King of all pre cuts, the jelly roll, Oh my goodness. I love me a jelly roll.

They are a collection of, depending on the brand. I mean, jelly roll is technically a Moda and there’s always a 40 strips of fabric, but that actually will vary depending on your brand, but they are always two and a half inches wide by the width of fabric. Um, and I will get to with a fabric in a minute. Um, let’s see, let’s move on. Okay. So that’s your pre cuts. And like I said, I go way deeper into pre cuts in a previous episode. So if you want to listen to that episode, you can go over to the modern quilters And you can get in on all the precut. Goodness, I go over a lot of different types of pre cuts, um, different brands that you can get pre cuts in what they’re called in the different brands and what to look for. So if you haven’t listened to that episode, finish this one and then go over and do that one.

Okay. Moving on selvages. So the selvage is actually the edge that runs along the finished edges of your fabric. So not when they roll it out from the bolt, not the edge that they cut from, but the opposite ends. Usually they are a solid color, typically white, white, or whatever the background color is of the fabric that you’ve gotten. And on the salvage, it gives you, um, some information, the company that produced the fabric, the collection that it comes from, uh, many times you will also find, um, a color code on the edge that tells you all of the individual pink colors that were used in the dying process, which is pretty cool. Especially when you are trying to match fabrics, you can kind of get like that one fabric. You want everything to tie into and then find coordinating fabrics off of that color key that’s on the salvage.

It’s pretty cool. Um, and it should always be cut off of your fabric. We don’t want to keep it on there because then once you start sewing, you might end up with a spot where you can see the salvage and nobody wants that. And believe me, I’ve done it. I’ve, I’ve honestly all of the mistakes that I tell you, like, please don’t ever do that. I guarantee you I’ve done it at least once. So that’s how I know. Please don’t do it. Okay. So sometimes you will hear on the fold, I’m seeing it less and less. And I don’t know if it’s maybe that this new generation of quilters and I would consider myself in that generation of cultures because, um, the young girls are coming and I’m excited. I’ve got hands raised for that. Um, and also I say young young girls with an asterisk because I am 35.

So I’m not as young as I used to be, but I like to think of myself as such anyway, with pre cuts, being so popular, especially with newer quilters and younger quilters. Um, the fold terminology is kind of falling to the wayside, just because a lot of people aren’t really working with full yardage, um, fabric cuts. But if you ever run into somewhere ref referencing the fold, what they mean is the fold that is created when you fold your fabric salvage to salvage. So that crease that’s created, that’s the fold. Occasionally you will see patterns, especially if you’re talking about like, I think the big thing now is I’m a quilter, so I don’t really do any, um, seamstress kind of stuff. I mean, I do it. I know how to do it in a very basic sense. I would definitely not refer to myself as a seamstress by any means.

Um, but I’ve dabbled too. You’re there. Um, and I’ve definitely made like bags and, and, uh, zipper pouches. And I’m kind of all of the little sewing projects out there. I’ve done the, all, all of the things. Um, but I mean, I wouldn’t, I can’t like make a prom dress. I wish that’s amazing, but not in my repertoire. Anyway, all of that to say, I have been doing a lot of face masks lately. Like many of you have as well, and some of the patterns do work off of the folds. Actually, my husband has just actually asked me for a neck Gator, meaning one of those, like if you were a female, I would say like, you know, the thing that you could use a face mask, but you now can also use the headband, those kinds of things. Um, he wants one of those instead of just a regular face mask.

And that pattern that I found that is working well for me today. And I’m actually doing it like today, um, is actually the cutting comes off of the fold. So I have to fold it and then cut off of that same thing with the surgical caps that I made for, um, some folks a couple of weeks back. So that’s what they mean by on the fold. They want you to cut, to fold it, salvage to salvage. I don’t know why I rambled so much on that one. Okay. Grain. Ooh, grain grain is the direction of the weave of a woven fabric. And that is always based off of the salvage. So like if you’re looking for a reference point, it’s the salvage. So the, you blew up on the green references, the thread that runs parallel to your salvage and we can, so there’s different people refer to it different ways, but your thread that runs parallel to the salvage and perfectly perpendicular to the salvage are green lines.

Okay. Some will say with the fabric, with the grain versus on the grain, like with the grain is the perpendicular and on the grain is the parallel, but the grain is either perpendicular or parallel to your salvage is, um, and so fabric that when you cut fabric on the green, there’s no stretch when you cut it cross grain or bias, you’re actually like at a 45 degree angle or some degree angle to the salvage. And that will be stretchy for you. That’s why some of your triangles, if you don’t have it really sturdily set up or aren’t stitching in certain ways, get a little wonky it’s cause there’s a little bit of stretch just naturally from the fact that that, that triangle is cut. At least one of those cuts is on the bias.

Okay. Alright. Bias. I have this all typed up and I’m just like kind of rolling through them. Okay. So biases diagnosed with the grain, like I just said. Um, and you will, you’ll always work on the bias when you have a triangle, just because of the nature of the shape triangle. Now, anything that you’re trying to have stretchy or curved you want to do on the bias. Also keep this in mind when you are cutting your binding strips. Um, obviously you can always buy, um, binding tape, um, green tape bias tape, but if you are binding something that has occurs, use bias, not green tape or make it yourself. I tend to always make my binding tape and I almost always use bias just because I find that it does better when you’re doing like magic mitered corners. Um, but that’s just me. Some people are like no grain, always great.

Um, but that’s again, just me now, w O F you will see this a lot in quilt patterns because the author of the quilt pattern does not want to make an assumption of the width of your fabric. They will also usually say based upon X, Y, Z with so w O F stands for, with a fabric, typically fabric off of the bolt is about 44 or 45 inches. But I have seen it as little as 40 and up to like 48. And that range is what would be considered like a standard with fabric. You will find some wide width fabrics, um, usually use for backings. And those are almost always 108 inches. Um, but in your quote patterns, they will often say, cut 12 strips, two inches wide by the width of the fabric. Meaning they just want you to cut the whole thing. You don’t have to like cut it down smaller yet until the next phase, if there is an X phase.

Um, but I’ll also, again, I always say all of this in reference to quilting because I’m a quilter and that is so heavily what I do. But for those of you who are into like home decor, home decor fabrics actually usually are 54 inches. So also keep that in mind, um, less. Okay. So we talked about with now length, your length of your fabric is always the amount that you have taken off of the bolt. So if you order a yard of your fabric, the length of that fabric is one yard. So it’s pretty straightforward. However long your salvage is that’s how long your fabric is.

Okay. So now let’s chat about right and wrong sides of your, your quote fabric. Now for most fabrics, this is super easy to find. Occasionally the fabric is super hard to find, and occasionally there is no right or wrong side. And I will tell you, when is one. So when you’ve got a quilt fabric and like one side of it is like white or gray or black, and then the other side has the pattern on it. The side with the pattern on it is the right side. And the gray white or black side is the wrong side. And that one’s pretty like straightforward. Now, things like Kona, solids, or motor Bella solids, um, those fabrics, there are no right or wrong sides, or at least I hope I’ve just said that. And now I’m like, Oh gosh, there is somebody somewhere. Who’s going to be like, ah, there is a right side.

So if you know that, please come tell me, cause I’ve been doing it wrong the whole time, but seriously, you get those fabrics off the bolt. They’re exactly the same on both sides, visually speaking. And they work the same way. So I have been operating for the last decade plus over the fact that those solid bolt yardage do not have a right and wrong side. And then there are occasional ones where it’s really hard to tell, but there really is a right and wrong side, especially for, um, fabrics that are, um, like blender fabrics where there’s a print, but it’s really hard to discern from the background. But if you flip it over and you look close, there’s no print on that side. Uh, those will get you. Those are seam ripper fabrics. I love them. I use them all the time because I think that blender fabrics are amazing.

Um, and I will get a little deeper into what is a blunder fabric a little bit later in this episode. But, um, sometimes they can be a real bummer and then you so like 10 chain pieces together and you’re like, Oh, that whole stack is upside down. I’ve done it. It stinks. So really pay attention to your right and wrong sides. I actually, when I am stacking my cuts up to prepare them for pre chain piecing, I set them a very specific way. That way when I pick them up, they always go right sides together. Okay. Moving on. Ooh, last, but certainly not least in the terminology section scale. So scale almost always refers to the size of the pattern or print of your fabric. So think of this as like how much white space is between the printing or when I say white space, I mean like the background color.

So sometimes you will see like really densely printed florals where like the background is a beautiful creamy, butter, yellow, but it’s like a background. And like 99% of the fabric is covered in a floral that is a really dense and small type scale. Now think of like your character prints, like, you know what I’m talking about, the aisle in the quilt shop, that’s got like all the star Wars and Harry Potter and lightning McQueen fabric, and the pictures are further apart. You can see the galaxy behind Darth Vader. You know what I mean? Those are really large scale prints. And so scale just refers to how tightly those, the printed pattern is together. And a good way to think about it is to look at how much white space or, or blank space or open space, however, well, however, your D design school brain thinks that is, um, the more of background space there is the larger, the scale of the print.

Okay, guys, you got that again. Like I said, I will break all this down at the modern quilter circle, Okay. So let’s head on over to types of fabrics. And since I already mentioned it before, let’s start with blenders. I love blenders so much. Okay. So I am definitely a modern quilter. Like you couldn’t guess modern culture circle. Um, I love solids. I use solids a lot in my quilting. Um, I do use prints. I’m not saying I don’t use prints, but there’s a lot of prints you will never, ever, ever see me use because they’re just not my jam. I will, occasionally I’m going to say occasionally, I mean, like occasionally use a floral and it’s always a very small scale print, very dense on the fabric. Um, I do use Paisley occasionally and I always feel like, like, Oh, this is be walking on my wild side when I use a Paisley.

And even by paisleys or really pretty tame paisleys I don’t know if you could really say that. Has there ever been a tame Paisley, but I swear I can find them. Um, and then for the most part, I use blenders now, blenders are any fabric printed in a way where like the print colors and the background colors, all kind of blend together, get it blender. Um, think of your batiks. Batiks are great. Well, not all batiks, but a lot of antiques are great blenders. Um, I always think like white on whites, I use that is somewhere where I do use a lot of prints, my whites. So I will put like a white on white print. Ah, I love me a white on white print and that I will get kind of, I’ll get some squirrely on that, like Christmas quilt, Christmas ornaments, white on white, because it doesn’t feel so drawing to me.

So with my whites, I will use prints. I take everything I just said back. Uh, but yes. So, um, blenders are all kind of like the same color printed on the background or very monochromatic. So various shades of the same color marbled. You’ll see a lot of marbling, um, fabrics out there. Those are excellent blenders. I love blenders because since I predominantly print with solids, um, up a lender gives a lot of depth, um, to, uh, quilts. Um, there’s a lot, it gives it more, just a little bit of oomph, a little pizzazz. I love blenders, but again, I love blenders predominantly because I use solids. And so those end up being like my jazzy little pieces for those of you out there who love to use prints and I, I can appreciate a print. Oh my goodness. I’ve seen some gorgeous quilts out there using prints.

It’s just not my personal jam, but blenders are great with prints because what they do is sometimes when you’re using a lot of prints and you try to put a solid in there, it looks a little weird. It looks a little flat. It kind of sticks out like a sore thumb, but a blender can accomplish the exact same thing that assault, you think solid will accomplish in your quilt, but it will look better with a blender because it’s not so jarring, like all of these prints and then a flat solid, instead you’ve got this softer marbled or batik, or, you know, a tone on tone pattern that really works well with all of your other prints. So keep that in mind, blenders. I mean, I feel like everybody should be really comfortable and familiar with blenders cause they’re wonderful.

Okay. So florals, I’ve got me a love, hate relationship with florals. I use florals, but only super small scale, um, like really dense so that the pattern is almost like the entire color. Like I like, I like patterns. So tightly packed together that it is its own color much like how marbling and blenders are put together. So those are the florals that I like to use. Um, but I mean, you I’ve seen some beautiful large scale, um, floral prints. I think personally why I lean away from large scale prints is that with my quilting, I like to do, um, pieced tops of pretty small pieces. And so they just don’t, they don’t express and translate well into the types of quilt top piecing I make, because once you start cutting it up, you cut up those big prints. And so it doesn’t translate to your final pattern.

Um, and I’m not a huge fan of fussy cutting, just because I have like a no waste tolerance with my quilting. Um, and so fussy cutting is like, not my jam for those of you who don’t know what fussy cutting is. Fussing cutting is like, especially done. I mean, you could do it for anything, but usually it’s done when you’re using a large scale, um, print. And like, let’s say you need a five by five inch, um, quilt, square, uh, cut square out of your fabric. You would actually center the print underneath like a five by five block and cut it out to be that perfect five by five square with your print perfectly inside that square. So that, that way when you do so it all together, you don’t mess up the print. Like you don’t like cut off almost head or something like that. Um, so that’s why you would do fussy cutting. Um, you do end up going through a lot more yardage when you fussy cut. Uh, so that is something to keep in mind. So

I think, okay, so let’s go with batiks. I was going to say something first, but I think I want to go to batiks first. Um, so I love batiks so much. They are so beautiful and so rich in color. I think that’s my favorite thing about them is that they’re so rich in color. Um, what makes a batik batik is that it’s dyed in a special way that utilizes, um, wax resistant dyes. So it’s kind of like a tie dye or watercolor luck. Um, and usually the fabrics are reversible, um, which is kind of cool. So like what’s on one side is not necessarily, what’s all the other and you can pick and choose what you want to do. Um, and like no two batik prints are ever identical because of the way they’re done because of the way that the wax is applied to the fabric and then dip dyed.

The it’s just, it’s not like replicable. So like if you, there’s no repeating in the pattern, which is pretty cool. I love it. A lot of batiks are blenders as well because it is like a tie thing. And so depending on the dyes that are used, you might get like blues and Indigos, and Violet’s all on the same swirl and it’s just, it’s beautiful. And it would be a perfect blender and still really visually appealing. Um, but yes, the big thing that I love is just the color, Oh my goodness. Batiks have such great color to them. Um, and you will see them from everything from just like, like splatter, watercolor, tide effects all the way to like some really exquisitely done Starbursts in animals. And, Oh my gosh. I mean, this guy’s a little bit with boutiques, but I love a batik, but I wanted to do that first because I know I had mentioned it when I was talking about blenders and I wanted to make sure that I didn’t leave you hanging on what the heck one of those is.

So now I’m going to go back. This is such a broad category. And I was doing a lot of research trying to find a better term for this, but everywhere I looked, it just refers to them as traditional. And unfortunately I’m going to follow the pack and also refer to them as traditional. Um, but these traditional fabrics are, I would almost call them like heirloom fabrics, not from quality, which is what a lot of quilting. When you see the word heirloom, that’s what they’re referring to as the quality, um, heirloom is more about like vintage or like vintage Victorian civil war Amish. All of these things would kind of fall under the headline of traditional. Um, oftentimes you will see them in more muted colors, especially when we’re talking about things like civil war and Amish quilts. Um, there is a whole movement on replicating civil war quilts.

Beautiful. I need to make more, I’ve done one or two. Um, I actually made one via a quilt of Valor pattern. Um, that was just, I’m in love with it. I made it for my husband’s first deployment, um, and it just speaks to my soul, but there are so many fabrics out there that are actually like civil war reproductions. Um, and they’re gorgeous, but they are muted. So I think that’s like the biggest thing. There’s a lot of navies and burgundies and creams and tope and beige, uh, you’re not getting any hot pink. Okay. But they are beautiful in their own way. They’re, they’re beautiful and very, very, I mean, again, traditional, so I guess, I guess everyone’s onto something I really wanted to find a better word to describe them, but I guess traditional is it.

Uh, let’s see. And then of course, let’s see we’ve got our geometrics, which geometrics are exactly that that’s where you’re going to get your checker boards and your gingham prints and your polka dots, all of those types of things that’s in your geometrics. Um, again, I don’t use geometrics probably as most as I, as much as I should. Um, I like, I like Colt top piecing, so I’m going to go there cause I know you’re probably like, well, what does she, like? I like basic solids and blenders because I really enjoy quilt top piecing. So when I make a quilt, it’s got a good Julian little pieces, love little pieces and to highlight all those little pieces, sometimes I don’t want to take away from either the quilt fabric itself, beautiful prints out there. I would end up trapping almost head off every single time.

You know what I mean? Um, because I’m cutting such small pieces, so I don’t want to take away from the quilt tops, but geometry. Awesome. And then lastly, novelty, fabrics and novelty fabrics, again, are all of those things with like really, um, I mean there are a little pop culture, so I S some, some companies will refer to their novelty fabrics. I’m like, I’m not sure if I call that a novelty fabric, but it is, it does have like aquas and lime green and yellow and red and pink and just real fun colors. Um, and sometimes that’s considered normalcy fabrics. Most of the time, novelty, fabrics have some sort of true picture on them. So, I mean, that could be anything from, I mean, you know, the star Wars and lightening McQueen fabrics that I was talking about earlier, or like little pictures of lipsticks and compact mirrors and purses all over it, or, I mean, the sky’s the limit, any, any sort of like actual pictures, little houses and roosters and kitchens. And I mean, you name it, there’s a fabric with it on it. I guarantee it. Um, and then often, sometimes they will refer to a collection as a novelty collection, but there might only be, you know, a handful, maybe three or less fabrics in the collection that have like a true novelty print to them. Like I’m thinking of,

Speaker 3: (32:36)
I’m trying to think what’s a good one.

I can’t think of one off the top of my hand, but I don’t like Lillian loom. I love Lily and loons so much. And I actually recently got a layer cake from them. And one of the pictures in the layer cake, one of the prints and the layer cake was

Speaker 3: (32:55)

Apparatus. So it was like really cute. There was like blenders and spoons and all sorts of stuff on there. But then the other fabrics in the collection were like more florals and geometrics and blenders, but they went really well with that pattern. So sometimes when you get like a collection, maybe one or two will be untrue novelty and the rest just go really well with it. So like I’ve seen some really cute novelty quilts. And the key there is to not go overboard with the novelty prints. Cause they can get a little garish to say the least, okay guys, there, you haven’t on the types of fabric. Now we are going to get into preparing your fabric for use. And I understand that this episode is getting a little bit long. So thank you so much for bearing with me. I’ve been rambling, my little guts off, but this is the last one we’re going to dive into preparing your fabric.

Now everybody has some different ideas of whether you should prepare or not prepare wash or not wash starch or not starch, but that’s what really goes into prepare your fabrics. Now, if you are buying high end quilt shop fabric, you probably don’t need to prepare your fabric. If you are buying bright colored fabric, especially reds and really crazy blues, I believe you should wash it. I don’t care what kind of fabric it is, wash it because the last thing you want to do is have bleeding colors. Now this again is a personal preference. However, because I know there are many people out there who are like I never ever washed my fabrics. Just use a color catcher after you wash your final quilt. And what color catchers do is they actually absorb all of the bleeding colors so that all the bleeding dye goes onto the color catcher and not on the lighter colors of your quilts.

So I get it. Also, some people are like, I start everything because they want to make sure that all of their fabric holds up and plays nicely together. And some people say, I starch nothing again, personal preference. However, I will say starch can be quite handy when you’re working with cuts on the bias, because it makes it a little stiffer and it cuts out some of the stretch. But we always have to remember. I truly believe, especially when you’re mixing different brands, what you do to one is what you should do to all in a particular project. So make sure we’re staying consistent so that all of our fabric plays nice together. And if we are pre washing our fabric, the great thing about pre cuts went from like Moda everything’s pinked. You don’t really need to wash a precut, but with all the edges being pink, they won’t have the unravel go on a good way to solve the unraveling yourself is to either pink it yourself, which is that zigzag edge on the special scissors that do it.

Or you can clip all the corners of your fabric and that will also help with your unraveling in the washing machine. But those are the different ways to do it. Regardless if you wash or don’t wash or starch or don’t starch, press your fabrics. That is the number one prep I want you to do. If you take nothing else from this episode, it is that you are going to press your fabrics. Okay, guys, that was a lot. So again, head on over to the modern quilter, to recap all of the things I went over today. Also, you can head over to the modern quilters for not only today’s episode, but all past episodes so that you can get up to date and folks you have just finished another episode of the stop scrolling start sewing podcast. Thanks you for hanging out with me and make sure you never miss an episode by hitting subscribe wherever you listen to podcasts. Now, stop scrolling and start sewing.

Quilt Love

Noelani T.

I worked with Nicole in a one on one environment on a large quilt. I have limited sewing experience and...

Noelani T.

The Modern Quilters Circle

Noelani T.

I worked with Nicole in a one on one environment on a large quilt. I have limited sewing experience and Nicole’s expertise was invaluable for this large project. Nicole is very patient and explained the different steps and their purposes clearly. She improved my original idea to better accomplish my overall goal. I highly recommend Nicole as an instructor and would personally have another session in a heartbeat!

Michelle L.

I seriously didn’t even know the names of parts of my sewing machine before I worked with Nicole. She walked...

Michelle L.

The Modern Quilters Circle

Michelle L.

I seriously didn’t even know the names of parts of my sewing machine before I worked with Nicole. She walked me through everything step by step. And it was amazing. She taught me the ins and outs of my machine and how to add each basic concept together. It was invaluable, because now I can figure things out and get creative without fearing the dreaded unravel!
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