Do you need new inspiration for your charm squares, or new inspiration for your scraps?
Say hooray—the new book Sew Charming has you covered both ways!
From Country Threads—the best-selling authors of the “Charm School” and Civil War quilts series—comes a fresh approach to making quilts with 5″ squares. You’ll find the freedom to sew with whatever fabric you have on hand. Every quilt is made two ways—once with a charm pack, once with scraps—and you’ll be surprised at the dramatic differences that result. You’ll discover lots of ideas inside for decorating with small quilts too.
Left: Square in a Square quilt made with scraps. Right: Rose Pink Squares made with a charm pack.
We asked you (via Facebook) what you’d like to ask this celebrated quiltmaking team about their history, their designing process, and their new book. Here’s how Mary Etherington and Connie Tesene of Country Threads answered your questions.
From Cheryl: How did the two of you meet, and how did that meeting lead to your quilt shop, your books, and your following?
Connie and I were introduced by a mutual friend after we both moved to Garner, Iowa, in 1979. Connie was sewing gift items for a shop, and I was teaching beginning quilting in my home. We soon put our heads together to design quilt patterns. We worked around the dining-room table and used my address, because at that time it was Rural Route 2—a good fit for our name, Country Threads.
Vintage Hourglass and Four Patch, made with a charm pack
We started with four patterns and sent handwritten and hand-drawn brochures to any quilt-shop address we could find. A distributor ordered 24 of one of our patterns; then they ordered 12 dozen patterns after showing them at the Shamrock Hilton during Quilt Market 1982. From that moment on, the inquiries poured in. We were in the wholesale pattern business.
Double Four Patch, made with a charm pack
Several years later, we started purchasing a few supplies that we needed and decided to open a small shop to sell the excess that we couldn’t use. When we started, we worked in my home upstairs on our acreage west of Garner, Iowa, but we moved to a renovated chicken house when we needed more room. We began to produce dozens of patterns each year and soon decided to try our hand at self-publishing. Our first book was called On Behalf of Chickens—I had chickens on the farm and our customers liked to watch them when they came to the shop.
Framed Double Four Patch, made with scraps
After publishing a number of books and expanding our retail and wholesale business, Martingale approached us about writing a book as part of their Quilt Shop Series of books. We were chosen as one of the first three quilt shops to be featured in the series, and with that book came our followers. They found us in the country west of Garner, and they arrived carrying their books to be signed while they were here. It was an exciting time for us—we became well known in the quilt world after that book was published.
From Janet: How did you come up with the idea for the book Sew Charming? I love the idea of showing one quilt made with a charm pack and one made with scraps.
We ran a monthly club called Charm School in our shop for over five years. Each month we designed for our members a new quilt with a charm pack. Some of these quilts were simple and some were more challenging, but they all had two things in common: they were small, and they each started with forty-two 5″ squares.
Bitty Churn Dash, made with scraps (left) and with charm squares (right).
Each month after designing a charm quilt, my mind would wander to my scraps. I would imagine how that same small quilt would look in a different color palette. Of course there was never time to play around with fabric and make it again, so this book was our chance to do that. Each quilt has been made a second time without the constraints of a charm pack.
From Carol: How does designing work between the two of you? Does one design and the other sew, or do you switch things around?
We rarely sew together, but we often see each other in person to go over ideas. We each sew in our own homes, and then we meet to lay out our progress and get constructive criticism from the other. When we start a big project like a book, we throw lots of ideas out for discussion and divide them up, depending on which one of us has a better idea for a particular project. In 2016 it’s easy to send a photo back and forth, but when we started in 1979, that wasn’t the case. This will date us—we started before rotary cutters! After working together all these years, we just know how the other thinks, works, and designs.
Soaring Triangles made with charm squares (left) and with scraps (right).
From June: Do you have any tips for using or designing with charm squares?
Charms are the perfect way to build a fabric collection for scrap quilts. Looking at antique quilts will inspire you to use many different fabrics in your scrap quilts, and what better way to increase your stash than by using charm packs? No need to purchase yardage when you just want to add one small piece. Building a fabric collection can be overwhelming if you’re a beginner, but charm packs and other precuts will really help stretch your budget and your collection.
From Alicia: What’s next for Country Threads?
We’re both enjoying retirement from designated working hours and deadlines. We both sew every day and enjoy sewing for fun, as well as for charity. Our blog, Country Threads Chicken Scratch, is where we love keeping in touch with our customers online. Martingale has suggested that we might want to write another book soon, but we’ll definitely have to work harder than we are right now. Retirement is wonderful!
See more from Sew Charming >
So, what kind of Country Threads quilter are you?
a) I’m a scrappy soul. I’m swimming in them!
b) I’m a precut person—straight to sewing for me.
c) I can go either way: I just love it all.
Tell us your answer in the comments and you could win a copy of the Sew Charming eBook! We’ll choose one random winner a week from today and let you know by email if you win.
Ready to start “charming” quilts out of your stash right now? Buy the book and instantly download the eBook—it’s free with your print-book purchase!
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Thanks to all who entered the drawing. The winner is Joanie, who says:
“I am swimming in scraps. I inherit a lot of scraps and use them for various quilt pattern and donate the. To the VA hospital in Mexico MO or a Women’s crisis center.”
We’ll email you about your prize, Joanie—congratulations!