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If Quilting Makes the Quilt, What Makes the Quilting? posted: 1/14/2003
by Malia Webb Printable Page
Category: Quilting Method: All
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When I teach hand quilting, you might be surprised to learn that the students do not even attempt a stitch until fifteen minutes before the end of the first two-hour session. The actual hands-on time is minimal, as I have a lot to say!

First of all, consider the type of fabric you have chosen. If it is a tight weave, such as an Indonesian batik, you have a higher thread count; hence, the needle is slightly harder to push. A low thread count means it's easy to get the needle through, but the chances of bearding are greater. What's even worse is you can see the batting! Also, when selecting fabric, be careful what you choose for your backing. Sometimes you can see the back fabric pattern from the front of the quilt.

Next, consider batting. Cotton and cotton mixes are good choices for utility quilts as they wash well. However, the type of cotton batting you choose will affect the quilting. Wool (higher priced) is wonderful for quilting; however, you have to be careful when washing it and follow the manufacturer's instructions exactly. Polyester is great for hand quilting, but choose a low loft. It's cheap and easy to quilt, but will beard, so choose a dark batting if making a dark colored quilt. Be cautious if you see the word "scrim". This can mean anything. Also, some cotton battings can react similar to quilting through lead sheeting. Test before committing yourself.

Quilting thread is something not to economize on. My number one rule is to avoid choosing a quilting thread that matches your fabric. This makes you more careful about your stitches and you'll easily see when you're not being consistent. Consistency is more pleasing to view; so don't worry about getting tiny stitches at this point. Tiny stitches will come with practice.

Thimbles, Thimbles, Thimbles. Which to choose? Think about what you use your hands for every day. Do you type a lot? Do you write a lot? Do you have a toddler you pick up frequently? What about repetitive movements? These are things to consider when choosing a thimble. Do your hands sweat easily? Are you prone to infections, diabetic, arthritic, or have swelling in your hands on a regular basis? These all play a part in choosing the correct thimble for your particular needs. Roxanne's are great for those who daily lifestyle consists of repetitive movements, such as typing. Jasmine's china thimbles are great for sweaty hands, and you might want to consider a glider/protector for the underhand if you have health related issues.

Frames and Hoops. Probably the one thing we economize more on is the quality of the quilting frame or hoop we use. I started off with a cheap thing from the local discount store. I found out pretty quick it wouldn't hold up to finish the project, so invested in another hoop that looked like it would hold together. It did, but then I was left with a shoulder problem from supporting the hoop. Then you have to decide, square or round. Decisions again. Advantages of the square hoop are it pulls the threads lengthwise and crosswise evenly. The disadvantage is the rounded corners of the hoop do not allow the sandwich corners to fold over without putting in creases. For this you have to pull them out. Further, when quilting corner to corner, your arm may not stretch to the maximum to quilt in the middle. Either that or the corner sticks into your stomach. Back to the round hoop. With the round hoop you do not always have even tension on the crosswise and lengthwise grain of the fabric. You can still stretch the corners/bias if you're not careful. However, its overall ease is a good advantage over the square.

Floor hoops and stands - be sure you try before you buy. What size quilts do you prefer to quilt? Make sure you can access the middle of the hoop with your underhand. See if you can sit in your favorite quilting chair (the tub chair in the family room from where you watch TV type thing) and still quilt. I doubt that you can unless you spend a lot of money on a high quality hoop (more than $200). Some companies advertise their floor hoops can be used at any angle. Be careful though; you may dislike the method of having to constantly change the angle, tilt, and rotation of the hoop. If it has more than one knob to adjust, that is one knob too many. Floor quilt hoops run from $40.00 to $500.00. Remember, you get what you pay for.

Using a quilting frame requires dedication to quilting. There is the no baste system sold by all the big companies. For this you need to try before you buy. Never buy a quilt frame without trying it out first. I speak from experience. There's the ratchet style and the friction style. There's the type that look like something that arrived on a space ship, and there are the kind that your husband would even say, "Wow, that is a piece of art with your quilt in it." If the frame is going to be in a prime place, it should look good and be functional. See if you can quilt from either side of the frame if you basically quilt in one or two directions. If you can quilt going uphill and backwards, then there's no problem. However, I am aware of only one frame on the market that you can tilt and adjust so you can quilt from either side. Again, it's a case of getting what you pay for. Do you want a bicycle or a Cadillac? The comparisons are truly that far apart.

Lighting plays an important role in quilting. Have your light source from the left if right handed; from the right if left-handed. Spend the money on a good lighting source. There are various brands out there that all perform well - Verilux, Ott, and Daylight are all equally good for most things.

Needles are often neglected as an important feature of hand quilting when starting, but by the time you are considering a floor frame or hoop, you'll have your favorites for each type of batting/fabric you have chosen. For some things I will use a Hemmings 11; for others a Roxanne 11, and still others a Roxanne or Hemmings 10. By the same token, I prefer John James sharps for applique and silk thread. Everyone is an individual and this is something only trial and error will tell you what you work with best.

I know this hasn't taken you 1 hours to read, but will give you a taste of what you should know before you buy. That is why I make each student's quilt kit with the same fabric, batting, thread, and needles. This is something you should try, and get your quilting friends to help you with:

20" square of low loft polyester batting
20" square of low loft cotton batting, needle punched style
20" square of cotton batting
20" square of medium loft polyester batting
20" square of medium loft cotton batting

3 yards of muslin, cut 20 x 20
Mark muslin with various curves, straight lines, and intersections.

Make a muslin sandwich out of each piece of batting. (Baste)
Label the brands of batting onto each muslin sandwich.
Label the brand of thread you are using.

For each marked line, label the needle you are using.

Save these muslin sandwiches with the markings on them. Date each one when you start to quilt. Date each line if necessary.

These are your practice pieces, and stitch improvement pieces. You do not have to knot the end if you don't want to.

"Warm up" using the practice piece that most matches the qualities in your quilt. The practice pieces will last years and help you determine your favorite batting, needle size, and whatever thimble product you purchase.

Remember, it's not the Quilter who fails to Hand Quilt; it's the Piecer who never tries.

2003 Malia Webb

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