A Tale of Two Templates, More or Less

Shar Jorgensen's Quilting from the Heartland Templates, and
The Perfect Patchwork System from Marti Michell

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 fabric.

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 photographs.

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 look great.

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 black square.)

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 co-owns Pinetree Quiltworks, a retail and mail order discount quilt supply house. She can be reached at addy@TheExperimentalQuilter.com

Copyright 1996, Addy Harkavy


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