Number Nine * July 1, 1996
By Addy Harkavy
Act I: Template Sets
Sharlene Jorgensen's (Quilting from the Heartland)
templates began a revolution in rotary cutting, and
justifiably so. Her acrylic shapes gave quilters templates
sturdy enough to use with rotary cutters and precut strips of
Shar's templates are now available in sets that make specific
blocks and in groups that permit quilters to make a variety
of blocks and patterns. These include: Double Wedding Ring,
Add-on to Double Wedding Ring, Mini Double Wedding Ring,
Mariner's Compass, Winner's Circle, Dresden Plate, Mini
Dresden Plate, Endless Chain, Grandmother's Fan, Crazy Quilt
(2 sets, 6" and 12" blocks), Flying Geese (3 sets,
2", 3", 4", 5"), Drunkard's Path (2 sets,
3" and 4"), Pandora's Box, Pandora's Box Add-on ,
Apple Core, Shell, Bow Tie (3 sizes, 3", 6", and
8"), Grandmother's Flower Garden, Curved Two-Patch,
Peaky & Spike and Friends, Pickle Dish, Wheel of Mystery,
Oriental Fan, and Log Cabin/Log Cabin Star which amounts to
some 31 template sets. Prices range from $7.95 to $26.95; all
templates are accompanied by fliers or books of varying
length. Books include schematics, directions, and color
The templates are made from a sturdy, transparent,
peach-colored, 1/8" thick acrylic with acceptably smooth
sides and are accurately cut and to produce accurate if not
precise blocks. Each template set is accompanied by a set of
instructions or an instruction book, which offers
illustrations and explicit directions. Ms. Jorgensen
demonstrates these templates on her TV show, and her results
It's time for me, Addy, your friendly, neighborhood template
tester who is no whiz at following directions (which is why,
some say, I design my own patterns most of the time) to try
them out. In fact, if you think a pattern's foolproof, it
hasn't really been field tested until somebody like me
tries it. If I can get it put together properly the first
time, then it probably is foolproof.
OK. So I tried to put together Shar's Mariner's Compass from
the templates. In reporting on this little episode in my
quilting career, I must tell all that not only am I
comfortable making the Mariner's Compass, I usually draft my
own and piece with home made (cardboard) templates or use
paper piecing techniques. Full of confidence, I opened the
Shar's Mariner's Compass pattern and selected the pieces I'd
need for a 32-point compass. Directions for cutting were
excellent, and pretty soon I had some neat piles of split
points and solid points, along with pieces to fill in the
background. Assembly time! Following the printed directions,
I lined up the pieces and stitched as directed 1/4 inch from
the edges of each piece. So far so good. I pieced the compass
in eighths, joined the eighths to quarters, the quarters to
halves and noticed -- to my dismay -- that the
"hips" of the second and third rings of points did
not hit their longer mates at points that would be on a
circle if I swung a compass from the center.
Sigh. Try again. I cut out more pieces, checked the
directions, and realized that I had not been as consistent as
perhaps required in aligning the pieces so that a little nub
on the edge (as shown in the illustration) overhung one piece
from another. It would have been nice to know whether this
distance should have been 1/8", 3/8", or a country
mile. Making a special effort to be consistent, I
laboriously, but with daunted self-confidence, put together
another compass. Better. Even close, but no cigar.
At that point, I dumped it in my DNR (no, I don't mean do
not resuscitate, I mean "do not revisit," a
designation one step below UFO) pile and went on to check out
other templates that made specific blocks from squares or
triangles. I had better luck here and was generally satisfied
with my results.
Let it be said, however, that I have heard from quilters that
they are sometimes disappointed that the templates from one
set don't supplement those in another because the sets make
different size blocks, for example.
Quilting from the Heartland has now published books 100
through 400, with 500 on the way. These books are very useful
and run down many of the patterns in the template sets. The
patterns can be used without owning the template sets, and
the directions are well enough written that even I can follow
them ... most of the time.
Overall, Shar's templates do their jobs quite well, but some
quilters may object to the cost of a template set that makes
a relatively limited group of blocks.
Act II: An Integrated System.
Recognizing demand for precise and versatile templates, Marti
Michell took a different tack and came up with a system of
templates, books, and a strip cutting chart, each element of
which could stand alone or work with the other components. To
this end, she designed four basic template sets along with a
fifth that compliments them, in addition to a more dedicated
sunburst (Mariner's Compass/sunflower variation) packet.
Retail prices range from $12.00 for the 3" basic set A
and Sunburst set F to $18 for the 45-degree diamond basic set
E. Set A consists of a three-inch square plus component
shapes with three-inch edges or fractions thereof; Set B is
the 4" version of Set A. Each has seven pieces. Sets C
and D are add-ons to A and B, respectively; Set C has seven
piece, and set D has eight. These four sets are the basis of
a highly versatile system that permits quilters to make a
seemingly infinite variety of blocks.
Marti Michell's elegant templates are the very best I
have ever seen or used. Made from 1/8" clear acrylic,
they feature deep blue markings that are not only informative
but look great. Each template tells you to which set it
belongs, shows grain direction, provides a number for easy
identification, has a hole for hanging, and is buffed to
perfection on all surfaces. I've saved the best for last: all
templates have nubbed corners, which make accurate -- even
perfect -- piecing a no-brainer, even for me.
Although each set is accompanied by a flyer with directions,
Marti Michell has published two inexpensive (retail price
$10.00) block encyclopedias that offer a comprehensive block
library. Rather than telling quilters "how to make a
quilt", these books are technique and idea books that
can help quilters make the blocks shown or use them as
take-off points. Wow! I particularly loved the way blocks
were shown with different color placements, layout
suggestions, and additional blocks for two-block patterns.
Each of the two books can be used with or without the
templates and are models of the way quilting books should be
written. Each book begins with a description of the system
and tips for sewing perfect 1/4" seams, tips for working
with directional fabrics, and other neat things to know. This
advice is followed by ways to make good ideas better and
suggestions as to how to expand an existing block pattern to
create a new design.
Example: In book two, on page 28, Ms. Michell shows how to
make the spool block. Then she shows a rolling spools set and
variation that makes spools on point. The page also gives a
nifty cutting tip and construction tips that really do make
life simpler. On the very next page, she shows how to make a
block called empty spools, along with its variation, Georgia
spools. As a bonus technique, she shows how to make the ever
popular "Dimensional Spool". Now this is the spool
in which the "thread" actually stands above the
surface of the quilt. And though it's an easy pattern to
make, it's not always so easy to explain. I got it right on
the first try; you can, too! (Can't resist mentioning that
she also covers the dimensional bow tie in this same book on
page ten, and that comes out right the first time, too. Of
course, I had to give it my own little twist, so I
made the knot of the tie in loud colors and all the squares
of the background black. Instead of a bowtie, I wound up with
a wonderful, dimensional on-point square in the middle of a
The inside front cover of each book features a strip cutting
chart; laminated strip cutting charts are available
individually as well.
In my opinion, Marti Michell's Perfect Patchwork System
does exactly what it is intended to do: it helps quilters to
cut accurate pieces to make accurate blocks, and all its
parts fit together and do, indeed, add up to a system. What
more can I say?
Addy Harkavy lives in Maine, and runs Pinetree Quiltworks,
a retail and mail order discount quilt supply house. Other
reviews of hers are featured in "The Quilting
Consumer" at the TVQ website at http://www.tvq.com/qconsume.htm
Addy can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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