Questions: Where does a Visually Impaired person start when it comes to quilting or is quilting possible?

Yes, quilting is possible to do non-visually.

I have found the strip quilting method is not complicated non-visually. This technique is conducive to team sewing, along with being very systematic and organized without many tiny pieces. There are numerous books in the market that give detailed instructions on strip quilting for patterns such as Trip Around the World or Log Cabin.

Inspiration to share some adaptive quilting techniques I have taught, came after seeing the San Francisco Quilt Guild’s show last weekend. Besides beautiful quilts, I found a vendor who restores Featherweights and other vintage sewing machines.

Venture out for inspiration and keep on enjoying needle arts without sight.

Useful Non-visual Adaptive techniques 

Organizationa and labeling– As a non-visual quilter, be very methodical and keep very organized with each pattern piece/fabric. For organization and labeling, “match makers” are great for marking the wrong side of the pieces and keeping the different colors separated. Also lock plastic bags of various sizes keep the different colors/sections together. Have a master label chart for each project showing the system of labeling. Besides assisting as a reminder for oneself, a chart also helps when a sighted person is needed to give accurate double checking feed back. It’s important to label pieces while going through each step systematically. Check the Appendix of my books for more pointers on organization and labeling ideas.

Cutting StripsFor making strips, I prefer tearing strips of fabric on the cross-grain when possible. Paper patterns of strips can be pinned and cut out with scissors. Other ways use a rotary cutter with a retractable guard and a thick cutting guide of wood. To use the retractable guard rotary cutter along with a thick rotary cutter guide is the safest way I have found for someone visually impaired to use the rotary cutter. See Resources below for instructions on constructing the rotary cutter guide, if you know someone with woodshop skills. This guide is designed to keep the hand up and away from the blade edge more than a ruler would give.


Hand position on top of board. Fingers away from the cut out guide edge.

I recommend practicing with the blade protection locked on the rotary cutter to be sure one is safe with the technique before cutting out strips of fabric. IMG_3012

SeamsQuarter inch seams are used in quilting. I recommend a permanent tactile guide tape on the machine. The advantage to a stable 1/2-inch guide tape is that there is no need to re-adjust and re-measure a guide for the different seam widths each time a different size seam is sewn. The needle positioned to the far left will provide 1/4-inch seam when the fabric is following the left edge of a tactile guide tape. Or use a 4.0 mm twin needle. Cut off the right needle leaving the left needle. This gives a needle off-centered to the left for a 1/4-inch seam allowance when following the left edge of the 1/2-inch guide tape. Details are in the Resources below for adding 1/2-inch tactile guide tape to the sewing machine. Another way, if you don’t use the guide tape, is to use the needle positions mentioned with Creative Feet’s Satinedge foot for 1/4-inch seams.


Creative Feet, for the Satinedge foot.

Constructing a WOOD BOARD ROTARY CUTTER GUIDE – Needed materials: 3/4-inch thick wood board of 24 inches or desired length, table saw, measuring tools and sand paper.

  1. Decide on width of strips for project including seam allowances. For example, for a finished 3-inch piece in quilting, the board will need to be 3 1/2 -inches wide (allowing for the 1/4-inch seam allowances on either side). The board also needs to be 3/4-inch thick.
  2. For the first cut, set table saw blade at 9/16-inch width from fence with a 5/8-inch blade height, then tip the blade to a 22 1/2 degree angle.
  3. First cut is for the angle, with the board width face down.
  4. After the first cut, change the saw blade to a 90 degree angle and shorten the blade to 1/2-inch height with the fence 3/16 -inch from the blade.
  5. Place board with back against fence to remove wood from the angle just cut to reveal a ledge that allows the rotary cutter screw space to pass along the edge. A relaxed “L” shaped edge results.
  6. Sand edges with one or two swipes to remove any splinters. Use sand paper wrapped around a wood block. Then finish the wood as desired so fabric will not get stained.
View of board's end

View of board’s end

GUIDE TAPE Instructions– Needed materials: 1/2-inch straight edge medical tape or adhesive labeling tape

Lay the tape so the right edge of the tape is 5/8-inch to the right of the centered needle. Use at least four layers of tape. Except for alongside the feed dog, use one to two layers of tape. Cut the tape narrower alongside the feed dog so the tape does not cover the teeth.


Half-inch tactile guide tape placed on sewing machine & table. Note cut out around feed dog.

The right edge of the guide tape is 5/8-inch away from the centered needle. The left edge of the guide tape is 1/16-inch to 1/8-inch from the centered needle. If the machine model has adjustable needle positions, more variations of seam allowances are possible. The needle positioned to the far left will provide 1/4-inch seam when the fabric is following the left edge of the guide tape. Or the needle positioned to the far right and following the right edge of the guide tape will provide 1/2-inch seam allowance.

Star Tech, 1601 Fulton Ave., Sacramento, CA 95825, Phone 916-488-3480, www.STARTECH-INTL.COM. For: “Match Makers” a tactual identification and marking system (great for marking pieces for quilting). Some quilt stores also carry them.