LS: Art of Quilting Column February 01, 2009

Cotton stands tall with 'quilt first’ theory

This quilting concept may seem a bit backward, yet the theory is truly advanced.

You quilt individual blocks first, then put them together to finish the project.

The woman who invented the technique and received a patent on it in 2004 calls it Cotton Theory. She picked that title because her own name is Betty Cotton, so what could be more obvious?

True to her surname, Cotton works with the all-natural fabric every day in the Quilt Yard, her retail shop in Osseo, Wis.

Like many quilters, she enjoyed piecing fabric together to make quilt tops, but when it came time to layer the top with batting and backing and scrunch the bulk under her sewing machine needle for the quilting process, the projects often became a source of frustration.

In 2001, Cotton decided to try the procedure in reverse and came up with a new method: “quilt first-then assemble.”

No matter what size the quilt, each block is quilted on a domestic machine. Then, the raw edges of the quilted pieces are sewn together. The seam allowances are folded on the outside of the quilt, then stitched in place.

The fold-and-finish process yields a three-dimensional effect, and the final result is a completely reversible quilt.

In addition to bed-sized quilts, Cotton has patterns for table runners, place mats and totes.

She says the process can be quite creative and extremely accurate, with the option of using your machine’s decorative stitches and even machine embroidery.

Besides teaching Cotton Theory, Cotton has written two books, the most recent on using her process with traditional blocks. In it, she explains how to enlarge blocks with framing strips and how to join quilted blocks with connector strips. She offers 14 projects.

Some of the seams used in the finishing stitches are referred to as highway, freeway or one-way street.

I first saw Cotton demonstrate her method on the PBS television show, “Sewing With Nancy.”
Cotton and her husband, Jack, live in Eau Claire in west-central Wisconsin, owning and operating the Quilt Yard in nearby Osseo.

He manages the store, giving her time to work on her designs and new projects.

Another part of their business is Camp Cotton Quilting Retreat, where up to 18 guests can stay overnight. Cotton gives five-day trainings at the camp, which certify students in the mastery of Cotton Theory and qualify them to teach her methods.

Cotton also will teach her innovative style at the Rocky Mountain Sew Expo, scheduled this week, Feb. 5-7, at the Denver Merchandise Mart.

Her first class on a reversible table topper is scheduled from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Wednesday, the day before the formal start of the expo. Cost is $75 with a kit fee of $45.

Cotton will teach reversible place mats on the three following days, each from 12:30-3:30 p.m. at a cost of $35 with a kit fee of $25.

Sewing machines are provided.

Other teachers at the 14th annual expo include Shar Jorgensen, Linda MacPhee, Peggy Sagers and Cynthia Guffey.

Also planned are a “Personal Effects” quilt exhibit, the Denver Doll Artisan challenge and exhibit, a vendor mall, make-it, take-it projects, demonstrations and fashion shows.

You can purchase a three-day pass at the door for $10. Parking is free at the mart, 451 E. 58th Ave.

For details and a $1-off coupon, go to

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