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Be prepared... for what? For sewing and quilting, for mishaps and disasters, for the disposition of your stash and equipment when you can't use it anymore. There are ways to prepare for all of these things.

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There are a number of steps to take when preparing to start a new project. Of course you need to choose the project or pattern and decide on fabric. (Actually, for a lot of my projects I decide these things as I go, so I don't necessarily do them before beginning.)

Prepare your fabric.
I always wash mine when I get it home from the store. I'm sensitive to chemicals and also prefer the feel of washed fabric. When I take care of it right away, it is ready to use from my stash. I use laundry detergent that is free of perfumes and dyes, and I don't use fabric softeners in the washer or dryer. If you are quilting for anyone with sensitive skin, including infants or sick people, these are sensible steps.

Before cutting, I press carefully with a hot steam iron, because cutting is more accurate on flat fabric. Accurate cutting is the first step to accurate piecing.

Prepare your space and equipment.
When's the last time you changed your rotary cutter blade? Like knives, rotary cutter blades are less dangerous when they are sharp, because you cut with the correct force. But even when they are "dull," they cut through flesh (and fingernails) in a hurry. (Ask me how I know...) So change your blades regularly. Think about your cuts before you start, and make sure you know where your fingers are. Consider wearing a "klutz" glove. Emergency room visits are a lot more expensive than simple precautions. (Ask me how I know...)

Wipe the cutting mat to clear lint caught in grooves. This keeps it from transferring to fresh fabrics, and also allows the mat to "heal," giving a smoother surface and better cuts.

Pay attention to your sewing machine. Change the needle regularly. If it is making a quiet popping sound as it moves through fabric, it is dull and needs to be changed. Check the machine owner manual to see how often the machine needs to be serviced, or whether you should oil it yourself. Many newer machines are self-lubricating, but not all of them. If you no longer have the manual, you may be able to find it online.

Wind bobbins. Clean out the area around and under the bobbin case. Your manual should tell you how, but likely calls for using a soft, small brush, cotton swab, or soft cloth.

Clean your iron. Mine calls for tap water, which is great for saving money, since I don't buy distilled water. (I iron a lot and go through a lot of water. Tap water is much more convenient for me, too.) Though I use filtered water, it still has a lot of chemical and calcium residue. Frankly, I don't clean my iron often enough, so I never remember the process. Finally I decided to put the iron's user instructions on the underside of the ironing board (it wedges up under there nicely), so I can find them easily.

Turn your ironing board. The narrow end is useful when ironing shirts, but you aren't ironing shirts when you're quilting. If you turn your ironing board so the broad end is to your left (if you're right-handed), you'll have more surface to use when pressing yardage.

Clean up your space. Since I lay projects out on the floor, I always vacuum thoroughly before I start something new. I also wipe off my cutting table and my sewing surface.

You may not need to do these things for each new project, but think about whether they're needed or not.

Prepare for comfort.
There are ways to make your work space more comfortable, probably limited only by your budget. Here are a few tricks I use to make my work more comfortable.

While you sew, sit in a desk chair that is adjustable for height and back support. Sit with good posture and stop regularly to stretch your neck and shoulders.

Because I iron a lot, I use a chef-style gel mat to stand on. It provides a lot of cushion and reduces fatigue. I also have one in front of my cutting table.

Another element of comfort while cutting is the surface height. My cutting table is a plastic-topped, folding "buffet" table, the type that can be found at most discount stores. It is much too low by itself, but I have it raised with PVC pipes slipped over the legs. The pipes are cut to raise the table about 5 inches. Other people find that bed risers work well to raise their table.

Lighting is key to reduce eye strain. Enough light, in front and above you, makes your work easier. Besides general lighting, I have Ott brand fluorescent lights at both my cutting and sewing tables. These were purchased at the big-box home store, not at the quilt shop, which made them less expensive.

If you use basting spray or other chemicals, make sure your ventilation is adequate. The fumes can quickly give me a headache. Also, check the can for flammability and take appropriate precautions. When I spray-baste, I use an old, clean flat sheet on the floor, under the work I am spraying. It keeps the over-spray from getting on the carpet or other surfaces. The sheet can be washed to remove the residue.

And remember to prepare your stash of chocolate.

Prepare for disaster.
We all know disaster can strike anywhere in the country, almost any time. Between weather-related concerns like tornadoes or snow storms, or personal circumstances like a home fire, we need to be ready.

Do you have good protection for your quilting and sewing equipment? This includes things like surge protectors for your electronics and other expensive electrical equipment, as well as dust covers for items less used. Does your iron have automatic shut-off, so it is not a fire hazard? If not, it may be time to update to a newer iron.

To protect your fabrics and threads, keep them out of direct sunlight and away from some of the insects that love them. Besides the light, how you store your fabric is important, too. Plastic bags are considered too tight, leading to the potential for mildew. Plastic tubs, even with lids, generally are considered safe.

Protection includes insurance. Whether you are a renter or a home-owner, you still need insurance for your stuff! Take an inventory of your studio. You need to know the value in order to claim it, in case of a disaster. List the makes and models of the machines. Do at least a photo inventory of your fabrics and notions, patterns and threads. At $10 a yard, even your fabric needs to be recorded. Quilting books are pricey; those not in print can cost a lot to replace, so keep a list or photo inventory of them, too.

Have you talked to your insurance agent about whether you need additional coverage for your high-end tools? Long-arm quilting machines, embroidery machines, and sergers may not be covered under your regular policy.

Do you quilt for a living? Make sure you talk with your insurance agent about business insurance, too.

Antique quilts must be appraised by a qualified quilt appraiser to determine correct value for insurance purposes. Check with your insurer for requirements. The Professional Association of Appraisers - Quilted Textiles may be able to help you locate an appraiser.

Prepare for the end of your quilting life.
At some point, all of us will be done quilting, whether that comes because of a loss of interest or ability, or due to death. Be prepared for that day.

Have an estate plan for your quilting or crafts studio. Consider how you want your stash and equipment distributed in the case of your untimely death. I have read too many stories of people whose stashes were discarded because family members were not interested and had no idea of the value. Sewing machines are expensive. Here again, family members may have no idea of value. Would you like your $1,000 sewing machine sold for $75? It might be able to be sold back to the dealer for a better price.

If you want your fabric donated, consider who will receive it. My local Mennonite relief store is glad for fabric donations, and the customers who shop there are more appreciative of fabric than the typical Goodwill customer will be. Perhaps your local quilt guild would like donations, or maybe not! The women's prison about 50 miles from me has an ongoing sewing project and appreciates help. You may find similar needs in your community.

Make a plan. Write it down. Tell your family members – and those who are to receive items – of the plan. They can’t do what you want if they don’t know what that is.


What tips, ideas, or links do you have for preparing your quilting life? How do you get ready for projects? How do you document the value of your equipment, stash, and projects? What have you done about your quilting estate planning? We'd love to hear.

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