Interview with Quilting Arts TV’s Susan Brubaker Knapp

Quilting Arts TV - Susan Brubaker Knapp photoCool news, quilters! FaveQuilts recently had the opportunity to correspond with Susan Brubaker Knapp, new anchor of Quilting Arts TV, to talk a little about her own quilting and her advice for all those home-quilters out there.  She was kind enough to answer YOUR questions, which we collected via our Facebook page and our newsletters. Many thanks to Susan and don’t forget to tune in to Quilting Arts TV!

Is investing in a fabric cutter (such as Accuquilt or Sizzix) economical, or should I just keep on cutting the traditional way?

I think it depends on how you work, and what kinds of quilts you want to make. If you make a lot of quilts with traditional shapes, then fabric cutting machines can save you a ton of time.

Is it okay to sew wider top & bottom borders (& keep side borders narrower) to lengthen a quilt?

Absolutely! Why not? Just make sure that the quilt still looks balanced, and that basic design principles have not been compromised just to lengthen it. The most interesting quilts are those where the quiltmaker has taken a basic design or pattern, and changed it in ways that makes it more uniquely hers.

My binding is always uneven–sometimes it looks great, and sometimes it looks terrible. Is there a trick to it that I’m missing? 

I had problems with my bindings when I first started quilting. My mother –who was a former home economics teacher and an excellent quilter – told me so! And I ignored her for a long time (after all, she was my mother). And then I started entering shows and I got marked down for my bindings. I crawled back to her, and asked her to teach me the right way.

My best advice is to find a video or a book by someone who really knows her stuff, and follow the directions exactly. I have several good quilting reference books on my shelf. If you learn better by watching, rather than by reading, you can see my technique in my new Quilting Arts Workshop (available as a DVD or download) called “Fabulous Finishes:  Seven Techniques for Binding, Facing, Framing, and Hanging a Quilt.” Or watch multiple videos by experts online, and experiment with them to determine what works best for you.

By the way, I think double, straight-grain bindings are the easiest to do and achieve great results.

Common binding mistakes:

  1. Cutting off too much, or too little, or cutting unevenly, when squaring up your quilt before binding. This leaves you with the wrong amount of fabric and batting to fill up the binding, so some places are wide and plump, and others are skinny and flat.
  2. Not sewing a uniform ¼” seam allowance when you sew the binding on.
  3. Not paying attention to your corners (or simply not knowing how to handle them) when you machine stitch the binding on, so that they are not square or full. Corners are what separate the newbies from the pros.
  4. Rushing through the step where you hand stitch the binding to the back of the quilt, or failing to align it uniformly (it should just cover the machine stitching line, so that the binding is the same width on the front as the back).
  5. Going too fast, or not caring enough to do it right, because you are desperate to be done!

What do you do with the blocks that just don’t turn out for some reason? Perhaps due to color combinations or you just don’t like the block. You spend a lot of time and money into the block, hate to just toss them in a land fill.

Hmmm…. Here are some ideas:

  1. Take them to a friend, or offer them up to someone at your guild.
  2. Put them into a sampler quilt with neutral sashings and borders. Donate it to a charity so that you will never have to see it again! Not nice enough for a child, vet, or the elderly? It would still make good pet bedding!
  3. Sew a bunch together, and then sandwich them with batting and backing and use them to practice machine quilting.
  4. Make them into potholders and donate them to your guild’s quilt show boutique. Or give them to someone as a birthday or holiday gift.

What marking method do you prefer?

I don’t mark very much (I am usually free-motion quilting and thread sketching), but when I do, I really like the mechanical pencils with ceramic leads by Bohin and Sewline.

What has been the most difficult quilt /quilt block you have done personally?

The two that have been the most challenging for me are probably Pickle Dish and Feathered Star.

Do you have any tips or trade secrets about how to master free motion quilting? 

First, relax. If you partake, have a beer or glass of wine. (Not too much; you don’t want to stitch through your fingers!) Put on music that makes you chill out (for me, it is classical. For some reason, music with words doesn’t work for me.) If you are tense, your quilting will be tight and jerky. Tell yourself that this is going to be fun, and liberating.

Start on a project that is not dear to you. Make a sandwich from solid fabric, batting and backing fabric; pin and use it to practice. Consider buying one of those panels – you know, the ones with teddy bears or flowers on it – and use it to practice quilting around the elements. Practice, practice, practice. Chances are, you won’t be good at free-motion quilting unless you practice MANY hours. Set a goal of doing five to ten minutes of free-motion stitching each day, and use this time to practice different motifs. I’m convinced that anyone can learn to be a great free-motion quilter; it just takes practice.

What are some of your quilt inspirations? Where do you get your ideas for your quilts?

Almost always my art quilts are based on my original photos. I take photos almost every day, where ever I am – even when I’m out walking my dog – and choose the best ones to convert into works of art made with fabric and thread. For my traditional (contemporary) quilts, my inspiration may come from a great fabric or fabric collection, or a color combination I’ve noticed in nature.

What is your design process?

For my art quilts, I start by taking a great photo and tracing the basic color areas in the photo onto tracing paper. I enlarge my drawing to create a pattern. I use this pattern as the basic template, and then create my pieces using either wholecloth painting (painting with acrylic textile paints on white fabric) or fusible applique (using fusible adhesive to fuse down the pieces). Then I heavily thread sketch (free motion stitching through the surface of the quilt and interfacing/stabilizer) before I machine quilt.

For my traditional/contemporary quilts, I often design using graphic design/illustration software (I use Adobe Illustrator), so that I can scale elements, and move blocks around on my computer before settling on a final design. If you don’t have this kind of software, you can often do the same thing with graph paper.

Are there any shortcuts to cutting and measuring triangles?

I can’t really speak to this, as I’ve always done it the traditional way.

Scrap quilts can be a little overwhelming–many quilters have huge scrap fabric bins and no idea of how to start using them. Any advice?

If you make a lot of scrap quilts, I highly recommend getting into the habit of cutting up fabric remnants (from other projects) into the shapes you use most often in your scrap quilts. Do this each time you find yourself with a remnant that it is not big enough to use for a new  project. This could be 2” strips, or 4” squares, for example. Then put them into zippered plastic bags or bins according to color or value. This way, they will be ready to go when you want to make your next scrap quilt.

Need new fabric?

Lily Ashbury High Street Jelly RollInspired by Susan’s advice and want to get started on a new project? We’re giving away a FREE jelly roll, the Lily Ashbury High Street Jelly Roll, courtesy of Moda Fabrics!

Moda Jelly Rolls are always a great investment, as the pre-cut fabric drastically cuts down on preparation time without sacrificing piecing accuracy. They are cut specifically to minimize fraying while you work, and are perfect for a wide variety of projects, from home decor to clothing.

The Lily Ashbury High Street Jelly Roll comes with 40 2.5X44-inch die cut fabric strips (including duplicates), so there is plenty of material for you to work with. Lily Ashbury has done an absolutely fabulous job of blending softer pastel shades with a bolder, almost neon spring palette. The fabric design has a sweet bohemian feel, very easygoing and light, which would be appropriate for any season.

Do you watch Quilting Arts TV?


  1. sherryl dallmann says

    I enjoy watching QATV! Sometimes I learn something new, somtimes I am inspired to try something new.

  2. Chris says

    I have been watching it lately. Great info in the show. I agree just donate the ugly blocks. Sometimes I cut them up like a Disappearing 9 patch and resew them. They look so much better.

  3. Linda Bee says

    I just found Quilting Arts TV and love it. So glad to make a new ‘friend’.

  4. Peggy says

    I enjoy Quilting Arts TV and am excited that Susan Brubaker Knapp will be the anchor. Can’t wait for the new series to be available where I live.

  5. lavonne hansen says

    New to Quilting Arts TV – found it because I am a beginning quilter. learn a lot

  6. Sharon Schipper says

    I watch Quilting Arts every Saturday on Colorado Public Television. I tape them, and then keep a lot of them. I’m going for free motion quilting, but my old reliable Viking isn’t happy with the feet or especially the feed dogs down. I keep at it, use my walking foot for straight line quilting and handstitch a lot still, sigh. Looking forward to the new shows and ideas!

  7. Janinne says

    This is the first I’ve heard of it. I’m obsessed with quilting though so anything that can help me is great. Can twain to see an episode!

  8. Helen S. says

    I watch Quilting Arts on PBS here in NC. Sometimes it is wonderfully illuminating and at other times not my style.

  9. Shirley says

    Oh yes, try to watch Quilting Arts every chance I get – not always on our local station. So many helpful tips and new ideas.

  10. Carol Douglass says

    I love QATV but it just stopped appearing on my local PBS channel. So Sad!!!!! I really miss it!!

  11. Linda Stewardson says

    I’ve never watched it but plan to look into it- I know I’d probably learn a lot.

  12. Nicky Williams says

    I wish I could pay and down stream the shows as I Iive in England.
    I do buy the shows on DVD, but it would be nicer to see the recent shows so much sooner, as I’m a big admirer of the show 🙂

  13. Savannah Hickman says

    Yes. I watch Quilting Arts TV all the time. That is how I found my calling with fiber arts.

  14. Donna Knudsen says

    I didn’t know about this show. I watch 2 other qult shows so will definitely look for this one too.

  15. Mimi F. says

    Unfortunately, although I have access to 3 PBS stations, none seem to carry Quilting Arts! Would love to be able to watch.

  16. Lanie Sauter says

    I am redoing my sewing/hobby room and putting in a TV for PBS & CreateTV (also a PBS station). I hope to view your TV show. We don’t have cable or satellite–just a couple of local channels.

  17. Marlene Carlson says

    Yes, I watch Quilting Arts every Saturday. I enjoy learning new things and watching ideas that are out of my box.

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