Friday, February 15, 2019

About adding your first border

You must all be sick of me by now! I really have so much to share with everyone, I can't help myself. This will be short and sweet (I hope). Some of you have sent or are about to send your "center" to the next quilter - since we have some new quilters this time, it's a good time to talk about borders.

First, your border does not need to go all the way around the center block. It can be on just some of the sides. Use the style of the center to guide you - a more traditional symmetrical block might work best with a more traditional all-four-sides border; an improv or asymmetrical center may not.

Border added to Sophie's center, 2012

You can put the center on point and you can slightly encroach on the center block, especially if you are doing applique, but please respect the original design of the center. Use the color cues from the center block - if it's mostly saturated batiks, a small Civil War style floral might not work with it. You don't have to have a perfect match, but your border should complement or contrast nicely with the center.

I find the most challenging part of adding a border is balancing out the rest of the piece. If the center is very busy and detailed, the border might benefit from some free space for the eye to rest - consider adding detail to the corners and keeping the sides simple. If there are lots of triangles, maybe some squares will work well. The Cotton Robin gives us all the opportunity to try new things on a small scale.

Border added to Cathy's center, 2017

No matter how perfectly a fabric coordinates with the center, an unpieced border (or a few strips on each side) is not enough. Your border should add to both the color and design story started by the center. Try something different - there's plenty of inspiration on the Cotton Robin blog. Look at the reveals at the end of each year to see what other quilters have done. Don't fall back on the same technique each time - if you've always wanted to do improv, now is your chance. Maybe some English paper pieced hexis are the way to go.

A helpful tip when adding a border is using a coping strip. This is a narrow strip of fabric added to one or more sides to adjust the size of the bock. If your design requires you to divide the length of the block into 4 and the block measures 7-1/2" (finished) you can add to each side so that it measures 8". A coping strip also gives a little gap between the center and border to help visually separate them.

Finally, make sure that your border is small enough to leave room for the next quilter to add a border. The maximum size should be about 20" square - if you add a 6" border all the way around an 8" block, the next quilter can't add anything to it.

Have fun, get creative, live a little!

Border added to Julie's center, 2018

p.s. As I've looked through the photos of the borders I've added, I see a few themes - many are on point and they are all symmetrical. Maybe this year it's time for me to try something new too.

Center block on its way to Clare

I dropped my center block into the post yesterday - on its way from New Zealand to the UK. - Laurina

Saturday, February 9, 2019

About international mailing - helpful tips

As we gear up for mailing out our center blocks, I thought I'd share some tips on mailing. Of course, if you are happy with your current approach - you can ignore all of this.

I have been participating in the Cotton Robin for 7 years and was part of the Block Lotto for quite a few years as well. Everything I send out is "international" - it's one of the disadvantages of living on the "other" side of the planet. Over the years, I have heard and read a few comments about international mailing and have sometimes been shocked at how much some people pay to send things here (and others not so much). Based on what I have sent and received, I've come to a few conclusions. I don't want anyone to pay $20 to send an 8" square to me or anyone else.

Until it is layered and quilted, your quilt is a "letter"

I have done some research on this and I cannot find anything that says that a "letter" is made of paper. The key here is thickness and this will vary from one country to the next:
  • From NZ, a letter must be less than 1cm (about 3/8")
  • From the UK, there is a standard letter .5cm (about 1/8") and a large letter 2.5cm (1")
  • From the US, a letter must be less than 3/4" (almost 2cm)
  • From Canada, there is a standard letter .5cm (about 1/8") and a large letter 2cm (about 3/4")
I would guess that the standard letter thickness from the UK or Canada might be okay for the center block, but not after a border is added.

Your "letter" has no value

Yes, your quilt is priceless. But in most cases, customs laws are about purchasing and importing items. All of the quilts are being received and then being sent again, so you are not keeping them. Letters don't have a value and do not require a customs form. You don't put a customs form on a birthday card or postcard, so you don't need one for your quilt letter either. This may not be the case when you send the finished quilt, which will probably need to move up into the "package" category. If you are required to chose a value - go low, $5 or $10 is fine.

Flat and even is the secret

In New Zealand, the price is relative to the envelope size, but in many places (like the US), it's the weight and there's just a maximum envelope size. The bigger the envelope, the flatter it will be. You can use a 10" x 12" envelope and not have to fold your center block - even after 2 borders, it might only need to be folded in quarters. I see a lot of people sending their quilts in small envelopes that end up being quite thick.

Here's how I get my quilt letter nice and flat:
  1. Determine how big the envelope will be and get / cut some very thin cardboard or card to the size of the envelope (cereal boxes are good for this). This will keep it rigid. There's a balance between rigidity and weight that you will need to consider.
  2. Iron well - a bit of sizing or starch can help.
  3. If you need to fold the quilt, try folding the sides into the middle rather than just folding it in half.
  4. Wrap the quilt in plastic - I like to use Glad Press 'n Seal (see note below about Ziplock bags below) but you can use a bag and tape it shut. Get all of the air out as you seal it down.
  5. Layer up the cardboard, wrapped quilt, and another piece of paper or light cardstock.
  6. Slide the whole lot into your envelope. I put the cardboard on the front side of the envelope so that the machines that stamp stuff on it have a smooth surface. I don't know if this really makes a difference, but I like to think so.
  7. Weigh the whole thing, envelope and all - I use my kitchen scales. Some post offices in the US have a scale in the lobby for self service. There's a max weight when sending a letter from New Zealand, so sometimes I pull the cardboard out and replace it with paper if it's too heavy.

Why I don't use Ziplock bags

I don't use Ziplock bags for a few reasons. Firstly, they are heavier than other plastic wrapping options. Secondly, they do not fold well and you cannot fold the zip part at all. The zip is also thick and limits the "flatness". If I do use them, I cut off the zip and then fold the top over and tape it. I don't think you need to run out and buy some Press 'n Seal - you can wrap it in a plastic grocery bag that you've cut open and just tape it up. The key is to get the air out and protect the quilt from getting wet or soiled without adding much weight.

Never talk to anyone at the post office

No, I'm not anti-social. It's because they will ask you questions and try to convince you that you need to pay more or that your letter is really a package. Some clerks are kinder than others but you never know. My philosophy is that the post office will send your letter if it meets all of the rules.

Work out the postage costs online

I've looked at the web sites for all of the postal services in question. You might need to try a few times when estimating the postage - sometimes the maximum size/weight is not shown until you've gone through the whole process. You might want to check "letter" versus "large letter". When you do get the final choices, double-check that it is for AIR mail. Surface mail takes weeks (like 6) - I know this from personal experience. You can't even mail things from New Zealand this way anymore, but you can from most places.

Here's an example of the cost for mailing a "large letter" from the UK to New Zealand. I've circled the best option - don't be seduced by the slightly cheaper option - the estimated time is 84 days - you save 8 weeks for the cost of a latte!

From the US, the same letter will cost $8.48 with slightly different restrictions on size and thickness. From New Zealand, I would pay half as much but am limited to 200g (7oz) before the price quadruples because it's a "package".

I admit that the USPS is a minefield. There are references to "large envelopes" but then when you try to get a cost estimate, there is no large envelope price. It's probably why the cost differs so much - it depends on how the clerk defines what you are sending. Try a few approaches until you are happy with what you get - it could save you $10-15 to take a bit of time working it all out.

Buy some stamps

If you already have stamps, just put on as much as you need. Small denominations can be a problem just because they can take up a lot of room on the envelope. I try to keep some stamps on hand, but you can buy them at the post office (yes, you can talk to someone now) or somewhere else like a stationary shop or grocery store.

Drop your letter into a mail box

You can usually pick up some air mail stickers at the post office, but I often just write "AIR MAIL / PAR AVION" on the envelope with a blue Sharpie. I also like to tape the envelope shut, just in case. Because it's slightly thicker, there's a chance the seal can un-stick. Also, some of my envelopes have been sitting around for a while and the glue does perish after time.

Drop your letter into the mailbox and trust that you've followed the rules and that your quilt will arrive at it's destination in a week or 2. I've never had a problem with anything that I have sent from here.

Saturday, February 2, 2019

Schedule for 2019

I've updated the schedule information on the right side of the blog site. Since this is only visible if you go to the blog from a PC, I thoughts I'd include a post about the important dates. The dates will also be in the mailing information you will receive (or maybe have already received). Please remember that the dates are when he quilt should be received by the next quilter, not when you should send it. Give yourself time for the quilt to travel to its destination.

  • Center block should be mailed and received by the next quilter no later than February 28, 2019. Please send Laurina a photo of the center block before mailing (via email, not to the blog). Please post to the blog when you send or receive yours.
  • Center-with-one-border should be mailed and received by the next quilter no later than April 4, 2019. Please post to the blog when you send or receive yours.
  • Center-with-two-borders should be mailed and received by the next quilter no later than May 9, 2019. Please post to the blog when you send or receive yours.
  • Finished quilts can be mailed to their owners whenever you wish, but received no later than June 13, 2019. Please send Laurina a photo of the finished quilt before mailing (via email, not to the blog).

I know that sometimes we all struggle to get a round done and into the mail. For me, a little planning makes all the difference. I know that every round I will be sending to someone in a different country, so I always aim to send to the next quilter 2 weeks before it is due. If I'm running late, I still have a week for it to be delivered.

With 5 weeks between each round, I like to plan my work like this week by week (I always check my calendar in case I have other commitments and need to squish or expand my schedule):
  1. Quilt arrives - put it on the design wall and stare at it for a few days. Pull some fabric and make a pile.
  2. Start designing - draw some ideas, play with shapes, narrow down fabric choices, and draft/source patterns. Sometimes I know immediately what I will do, other times, it takes a few false starts before I know.
  3. Do the work - this is the fun part, hopefully my planning means that I know what I'm doing!
  4. Packed up and ready for the post (or not, if I'm running late).
  5. Relax.
I know that everyone works differently and that's what makes life interesting. BUT, it's the responsibility of each and every one of us to stay on schedule so that the next quilter doesn't need to rush through and maybe not do her best. I know that in the Northern hemisphere, vacation time can be a problem - I'm hoping that by finishing in the first half of June, this won't cause us trouble (and think of me heading into the winter months, even if we have a mild one).

Please let me know if you're having any issues - we all understand that sometimes life gets in the way of quilting. If you need to drop out or need extra time, it's okay as long as I know. We are an understanding bunch and there is always someone willing to pitch in to help another quilter.

Thursday, January 31, 2019

A few late additions

There will be a slight delay emailing out the mailing details - we have had a few late additions to the group this week (Allison is re-joining and Clare is new). I hope to have everything sent out by Sunday.

Sunday, January 27, 2019

Thanks Laurina!

Everything looks great and having the emails will keep us on track!

glen In Louisiana

Wednesday, January 23, 2019

2019 Guidelines for your center block

Your "center" block this year will be the same as previous years. For those of you that are new or who might be a bit forgetful, I thought it would be a good idea to re-articulate the guidelines. I believe that following design guidelines leads to a more productive creative product. Imagine if I asked an architect to design me a house but did not say how big it should be or what style I wanted. They might make me a 6 bedroom modern house over 4 levels rather than the 3 bedroom one story cottage I had in mind. If I didn't specify that I wanted a 1 kitchen and 2 bathrooms, what would I get? 4 kitchens and 1 bathroom, maybe? So, some of the guidelines here might seem obvious to you but it's still worth reading, just to make sure.


Your center block can be any regular shape (square, rectangle, hexagon, triangle) that fits inside a 9 x 9 inch square or an 8 x 10 inch rectangle. It can be smaller, but not bigger. The size limitation allows plenty of room for the next two quilters to add borders without exceeding the maximum quilt size of 20 x 20 inches.


Please (please, please) make sure that you use good quality 100% cotton quilting fabric for your center block (and all borders). This means no:
  • Poly/cotton blends
  • Heavier weight cotton fabrics
  • Silks, linens, or linen blends
  • Lamé or metallics
  • Lace, netting, or other sheers

I also recommend that all of your fabrics are pre-washed, especially reds. I don't want to start a big debate over this because I know that people have strong opinions. If you think that only "old" or "cheap" fabrics run, don't be fooled, it's not true.


Embellishments like beads or 3-dimensional pieces should be reserved for the final quilting/binding round. All center blocks (and borders) should be flat so that they can be quilted.


Use any construction method that you like - this is where you get to use your creative flair. The only limitation here is that things must be sewn down - this means that raw edge applique should be attached by thread, not just ironed on. Some unusual construction methods are okay as long as you sew them down and they can be ironed without needing anything else (pressing cloth, paper, non-stick sheets, etc.). These little quilts get quite a bit of handling on their journey back to you and we want to make sure that they stay together along the way.

Your center block should be something that was created by you. An orphan block that was the wrong size or not quite right is fine, or create a block from scratch using a new technique that you've always wanted to try.

Any of these techniques (or a combination) are fine:
  • Machine piecing
  • Hand piecing
  • English paper piecing (please remove all papers)
  • Foundation paper piecing (please remove all bits of paper from the back)
  • Needle turned applique
  • Machine applique (raw edge or turned)
  • Hand or machine embroidery

If in doubt, please just ask me. I don't want to stifle anyone's creativity, but it's important that your center block can be worked on by the other quilters without running into problems.

Styles and colors

There are no limitations to the styles and colors that you choose to use. The other quilters that work on your block will take clues from your block when deciding what to add. The color story might stay the same during each round or someone may choose to introduce new colors to complement what you started with.


The Cotton Robin is open to quilters at all levels - from beginner to expert. Regardless of your skill level, please ensure that your block is well-constructed and well-presented when you send it off to the next quilter. The person adding the first border should not need to "correct" anything before they begin. I am not a member of the quilting police and I acknowledge that everyone has a different view on quality. Here are some things to consider when you are creating / choosing your center:
  • Seam allowances - too-small seams can unravel so try your best to keep them to 1/4 inch.
  • Pressing seams - all of your seams should be pressed open or to one side (or a mix). Try to avoid bulky spots that are not pressed down well. Sometimes I take a small hammer to an intersection of 6 or more corners, even if they are all pressed well a couple of "taps" helps flatten them down.
  • Square it up - make sure all sides are straight and even. As other quilters add borders, the slight variations tend to amplify.
  • Stay stitch the edges - if you have bias edges or lots of small pieces, sew around the entire block 1/8 inch in from the edge, this will stop anything from shifting or becoming distorted. This is not usually necessary for most blocks, but it never hurts to be safe.