Quilting Along, Keeping the Faith

So.

We’re having a hand quilt-along. What in the world does that mean?!

Several of the members of my “faith,” led by Kathy Reeves, of Sewing Etc, are making a commitment to work on slow stitching of a quilt-making variety and to write about our progress every three weeks.

For those of you who have not yet been converted to quilt making and doing it by hand, perhaps reading about our projects will give you insight into our small, often misunderstood, sect.

If you are already an adherent of the faith, perhaps you’d like to join us in this mission? Just contact Kathy and let her know!

My Project

This is the quilt top that I made and that I will be quilting on for this project. You can read about it here.

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I’m also working on two other quilting projects that combine a little machine sewing with a lot of hand stitching and I may occasionally report about them, too.

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Fusion quilt–combining bits of vintage linens and crochet

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Cathedral windows quilt, with scraps from vintage dish towels

I have a quilt top. What else will I need to make it a quilt?

Not much, as it turns out. One of the nicest things about hand quilting is that it is minimalist.

This is the batting that will add the warmth to the quilt top that I made.

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There are zillions of options for quilt batting—it’s the fluffy stuff in the middle of a quilt. It provides warmth and gives the finished quilt a textured, three-dimensional look. I think this one is called “Warm and Natural”—it’s warm, lovely to “needle” for hand quilting, and I have it on hand.

This is the backing that will finish the “sandwich” and contain the batting on the quilt top that I made.

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Quilts are generally made of three layers—the top, the batting, and a fabric backing, all stitched together. It’s very trendy right now to do fancy pieced backings on quilts, in addition to the fancy pieced tops. But that just makes trouble for hand quilters.

Everywhere there’s a seam, on the top or the backing of a quilt, it’s an extra layer to stitch through. Quality hand quilting relies on rhythmic, regular stitching and it’s almost impossible to achieve that rhythm when stitching through lots of seams. I use plain fabric for my backing.

This is the thread that will join the batting and the backing to the quilt top that I made.

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I use thread made specifically for hand quilting. It’s a little heavier and stronger than regular thread. It’s also 100% cotton because I read somewhere that, because polyester is stronger than cotton, polyester thread and can actually cut into the cotton fabric of a quilt over time.

This is the needle that will draw the thread through the backing and the batting on the quilt top that I made.

Hand quilting needles are called “betweens.” They are very fine and quite small, compared to other needles. The theory is that the smaller the needle, the smaller the stitches that can be made and one way to judge the quality of hand quilting is to count the number of stitches per inch. Size 12 needles are the finest; I usually use a 9 or 10.

This is the finger cot that will pull the needle that will draw the thread through the backing and the batting on the quilt top that I made.

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I use the rocker or rocking method of hand quilting and that means I load as many as 5 stitches on my needle before I pull it through the fabric. The needle can be slippery and hard to pull so a latex finger cot, worn on my index finger, gives a little extra help. I buy them in the first-aid section of the drug store. Yes, I know what they look like . . .

This is the thimble that will protect the finger that pushes the needle that will draw the thread through the backing and the batting on the quilt top that I made.

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Again, I use the rocking method of hand quilting which means the bare fingers of my dominant hand don’t touch the needle—I use the thimble on my middle finger to provide the pressure to rock the stitch. Some thimbles are made especially for this kind of quilting—instead of the traditional domed top of most thimbles, these have a ridge around the top that prevents the needle from slipping off and maiming the quilter.

It would simply not be possible to do this type of quilting without a thimble. My thimble fits tightly and I am so used to wearing it that I never sew anything without it. I lost my thimble for a few days last year and nearly had a breakdown.

These are the scissors that will that will cut the thread from the backing and the batting on the quilt top that I made.

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Any small scissors will do but I think these stork scissors are super cute. I wear them around my neck on a (hand woven!) ribbon and some days I put them on in the early morning and don’t take them off all day.

This is the hoop that will hold the thread and the batting and the backing and the quilt top that I made.

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photo from terapeak.com

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It also makes a nice hidey hole for my assistant

Quilters can choose among lots of ways to hold a quilt for stitching—huge wooden frames that are engineering marvels, modern contraptions made of PVC pipe, and so on. But I love my hoop. I like my quilt to be taut as I quilt and this style frame lets me tighten the hoop a lot. It’s easiest to do the quilting stitch when sewing towards oneself and the hoop allows that because it pivots and tilts in all directions. It’s free standing, leaving both hands free, takes up little floor space, and looks quite pretty as it sits, holding a quilt in progress. The best part? I got it at an estate sale for $20! The worst part? I can’t find one like it for sale anywhere now—I’ll need to treat mine well!

I have all the items I need for hand quilting assembled and, yet, I am not ready to start quilting yet.

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Why not? I need to baste the three layers of my quilt-to-be—the top, batting, and backing—together to keep the pieces from shifting around.

I used to LOATHE basting but I learned a method a couple of quilts ago that changed all that. I’ll tell you about it in my next update!

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This Hand Quilt Along is an opportunity for hand quilters and piecers to share and motivate one another. We post every three weeks, to show our progress and encourage one another.  If you have a hand quilting project and would like to join our group contact Kathy at the link below.
BellaLoriMargaretKerryEmmaTracyDeb and Kathy

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97 thoughts on “Quilting Along, Keeping the Faith

  1. Quilting is one of the few crafts I have yet to try, and it always seems so appealing, especially when I see your beautiful work, Kerry – something to aspire to! For now, I will content myself with watching your progress, and that of those in The Faith, from afar, but who know if/when I might be tempted to join in… 🙂

  2. Wow, I’ve learned so much from this post! I do love the fusion and cathedral window quilts. Perfect way to use damaged vintage fabric or linens.

    And I had no idea Rite Aid sold finger cots. I have to give my kitty Graycie transdermal medication twice a day on her ear. I buy disposable gloves and cut the finger tips off. Maybe that’s still less expensive…don’t know but it’s nice to have options.

    Best wishes on your hand quilt along!

    • Oh, good! I’m glad you feel you learned something–I’d like the posts to be interesting to non-quilters, too! And I am so happy to have come up with those two techniques to use damaged linens–you can imagine how much of that stuff I have lying around, too damaged to sell but too pretty to throw away. You’ll find the finger cots in the first-aid aisle–they’re useful to have around!

  3. Love your post and information. I’m a slacker because hand quilting has never caught my attention. If it is a small quilt, I machine quilt it. If it is a large one, I hand it off to the long arm quilter. Yes, I’m hanging my head in shame while I applaud your efforts. 🙂

    • It’s not shameful not to hand quilt! It just means you use your time to do other creative things. I wouldn’t recommend hand quilting to anyone unless they tried it and *loved* it–life is too short to spend a lot of time on a process that feels tedious.

    • Thanks, Caroline! And I have all kinds of old wooden spools lying around even though I’m told we shouldn’t use thread that old because it’s probably weakened with age. I just like the way they look!

  4. I am very curious to learn more about the fusion quilt but, in the meantime, I am delighted to read along with “This is the quilt that Kerry built”; it’s a beautifully constructed piece, or it will be.

    • Oh, I am so glad you picked up on the “quilt that Kerry built”–I wasn’t sure whether it would translate! And, yes, I am very excited about the fusion quilt. I saw one on Pinterest, done with just regular fabric, and immediately thought of my damaged-yet-pretty linens!

  5. I have attempted hand quilting in the distant past and enjoyed it, but never got to finish the project (which was very small compared to your wonderful quilts). I’m going to enjoy following along with these posts.

  6. Love your detailed description of all the steps and tools required. Sewing has never been my thing, sadly, and I know I wouldn’t have the patience for something requiring so much detailed attention. I can see myself at the basting stage, then throwing it all in a corner because I don’t get it right, and then it would just stay there until someone came along and said they would do it for me 😀 .
    Incidentally, I knew a few American ladies in our area who said they quilted, but it turned out they just made the top, then sent the whole thing to the States to be assembled and sent back to them… Guess I don’t judge them anymore 😉

    • I don’t have patience for most sewing but quilting is the exception, for whatever reason. And, yes, people use the term “quilting” to mean so much, not just the stitching together of the three parts of the quilt “sandwich.” Most of the “quilters” in my guild never do any actual quilting–they sew the tops together.

  7. Kerry, I love your quilting 101 process. And your quilt. And the scissors. And the quilt along. What a good idea. I will be reading whatever reports you give us with enthusiasm and will pretend I’m quilting right alongside you. Those darling embroidered/crocheted squares will be a unique addition to the quilt.

  8. Kerry, your teaching abilities sure do shine when it comes blogging! I love all your projects,the cathedral windows with the vintage pieces is a great idea.

    • Oh, thank you, Deb! I wish I could come up with a good way to teach the rocker method of hand quilting. I’ve tried several times, with local friends, and I’m missing the mark. Will keep working on it!

  9. I loved the rhythm in this post–you were referencing something, some medieval rhyme or something, The House that Jack Built?–and it pulled me right along. In any event it was great and I like the step by step by step narrative. When I was in college, one of my roommates was sewing a quilt, which I found fascinating at the time. She had a hoop that fit in her lap. I must ask her what happened to that quilt. I know she used it when she first got married. Nice to know your quilting and I like the look of the red and white (with a bit of green) quilt you showed us earlier this year. Hope all is well with you and yours.

  10. You are such a great conversationalist teacher Kerry! I have been looking at tools, and it is CONFUSING to say the least, especially when you haven’t really done it. I’ve only read two of our groups posts and I am feeling much more confident about my choices. Ex. I have been looking at one of those thimbles, but had never seen anyone else with one (except on YouTube) and here you have one. Understanding the little things can make such a difference. I can feel it in my bones, this is going to be a great group! Hope we get some new friends joining us too! Thanks for the lesson. Once I get my stuff, I may be begging you for a Skype session to watch you quilt!

    • I was just saying to another commenter that I’m not very good at teaching hand quilting, even though I’m pretty good at doing it. It’s a funny skill and so much of the action takes place with the hand *under* the hoop–it’s really difficult to demonstrate. I learned from a book . . . I should go look and see if I still have it.

  11. I loved your poetic instructions. They have such a nice rhythm to them. 😉 I’m always looking for an easier way to baste the sandwich together but I will probably always machine quilt. I’m not that even in my stitching so hand quilting isn’t going to happen though I love and admire quilts that are hand stitched. They look so much better in my humble opinion. I love the quilt top you are doing. Wonder how many years it takes to quilt? 🙂

  12. How lovely… plus I’d never read your ‘faith’ post before.
    Coincidentally, this week at our knitting group we were talking about making socks to enter into a competition. I commented that it was a big investment in time and skill for a single entry. One of the other knitters was very dismissive of my comment, saying that she could make a pair of socks in an hour on her knitting machine and they were easy. I did wonder about explaining to her the meditative nature of knitting a sock by hand, the enjoyment of working with five needles at once, the joy of a beautifully turned heel, the pleasure in grafting the end of the toe so that there is no bulky seam… but then I realised all that would be lost on her, so I just kept quiet and went back to the sock I was knitting…

    • Hi Johanna–thank you so much for staying in touch with me, even though you’re not actively blogging any longer! I always love to hear from you and hope the Walkers are all doing well!

  13. I agree with many comments above about the playful structure of your post. Very fun to read. What a terrific undertaking! And I am very glad you have a furry assistant for company… I look forward to reading more as your project unfolds. I also like the phrase ‘thimble breakdown’ (but not the strong emotions that accompanied it… glad you found it!)

  14. I came into the rhythm first off and was both entranced and educated as I swung along with ‘the quilt that Kerry built’ – and I discovered also that I need a lanyard for my (stork) scissors because they constantly get buried beneath bits on my art table and I’m holding the bit I want to cut in one hand and rifling around through the items with the other and by the time I find the familiar little stork, it I’ve almost forgotten what I wanted it for…… Why haven’t I thought of this before? I am so going to enjoy following this thread along (ha! did you see what I did there?) your work is exquisite and I shall learn so much! Though I doubt it will motivate me to hand quilt or even machine quilt though I was so enchanted with the hand crochet around the antique embroidery pieces I might possibly adapt that idea for something else……. I’ll let you know if that happens 🙂 xoxo

    • When I was in grad school, I worked in a high-end clothing store, where we offered gift wrapping. I started wearing my scissors around my neck then and have never looked back! To see more of the quilt blocks with the crochet edge, go to Pinterest, and search on fusion quilt. I had never seen this technique but, when I stumbled across it, I knew the search was over for the prefect way to use my damaged linens!

  15. I cannot get along with thimbles – although I could probably try harder to build a relationship – so I either machine quilt or do ‘naive’ hand quilting which basically means large, often uneven stitches which I try to pretend are intentional.
    I wonder if you’ll be spray basting. That’s been my preferred method the last couple of times – before that I used curved safety pins but they are a bit of a pain when using a machine. I shall await the next instalment.

  16. I heard the rhyme immediately too – such a fun way to teach and explain hand-quilting! I dream that one day I might have a little while each week to do some crafting of some sort. I used to enjoy sewing/embroidery but I just repair clothes now (if I have the time!). My fingers are a bit bent and crooked and holding a needle is difficult but not impossible. I can dream!
    I look forward to seeing how you get on. Your beautiful quilt top, the fusion quilts and cathedral window quilts – absolutely wonderful!

    • Thanks, Clare. I hope you achieve your crafting dream. My fingers aren’t bent or crooked yet but they are often achy and stiff. I think maybe I do my crafts with such fervor because I know one day I’ll be limited . . .

  17. While your quotes quilt will be lovely, I also have my eye on your cathedral windows quilt. Very few quilters make that pattern any more so I’m pleased to see it used. I think the creed of your faith will get your congregation through just fine.

    • I first saw someone doing the cathedral window technique when i was in a crafts course in college-and I was immediately smitten. I did quite a lot of it for awhile and then didn’t for years. It’s proving a nice portable project (post-yoyo) and I love being able to use up the snippets of my beloved kitchen towels!

  18. I was in a shop that sells antiques and I saw some really gorgeous vintage thimbles that made me think of you 🙂 I should visit your blog more often and see how this project unfolds.

  19. what a lovely post about the simple religious icons you have. 🙂

    I use finger cots in the winter for my knitting if my thumbs split, they are wonderful! And yes, we call them finger condoms at my house. I used to work with a woman who used something similar for filing, she always said she “practiced safe filing” lol. Glad you practice safe quilting.

    And I am so glad that you are doing that quilt top – I love that one, and all the wonderful quotes you gathered for it. Not just a quilt to warm the body, but also the soul. 🙂

  20. Kerry,
    If you ever get bored with your sewing and quilting projects (yeah, that’ll happen), you should consider becoming a professional photographer for a studio that does product shoots! Your styling is great, and the photo quality is top-notch!

  21. Your comment about polyester thread is so true. Polyester blend fabric scraps degrade too. My grandmother pieced a quilt for me when I was in high school. Many of the polyester blend pieces split at the seams while the cotton scraps held together. It rests in a closet now rather than on a bed.

    • The first quilt I made, when in college, suffered the same fate. One of the fabrics was very unstable and those pieces just fell apart. I think I must’ve thrown the whole thing away.

  22. Beautiful end-products. This reminds me that a few years ago we saw an exhibit of quilts. Amazing work by hands. A good friend (and avid quilter) should us the high-quality points.

  23. I am so happy that you shared this. You have inspired me to hand quilt this winter, so I will follow these posts with great interest. Here’s a question for you–how do remove stains from old fabric? The whig rose quilt I started decades ago has a few brownish and rust patches from long storage. I assume that some of your vintage linens and dish towels must have stains and you have some nifty solution. Oxyclean?

  24. A great looking quilt. I was amused at the way you outlined your quilt story through a children’s book format. I love hand quilting, I rock the needle, and … I’ve never used a thimble. They just annoy me. =) I did have to quit biting my fingernails to hand quilt, though. =) For my projects, I’m not doing an actual quilt at the moment, but catching up on some hand embroidery things. And maybe doing some crazy quilt embroidery, as well. I’ll be posting next time, as long as I can be a day early or a day late.

    • Oh, I’m glad to hear you’ll be joining the quilt along! And I’m sitting here trying to imagine how you rock a needle without a thimble–that sounds painful to me!

  25. I think I will join! I have a quilt that I started hand quilting some years ago…I love it and I’m quite proud of it, but I honestly forget about it most of the time. We are having cool, rainy weather today and there’s football tonight, so perhaps I will dig it out! Thanks. I’ve not done a “group blog” thing before so it will be fun.

  26. Pingback: Hand Quilt-Along Group! | a daily dose of fiber

  27. Kerry, the quilting bug continues to awaken within as I read your beautiful descriptions of your fibers and tools. I especially love your hoop and think it’s “just the berries”, as my father often says. Which means the hoop is as fabulous as that first taste of fresh warm berries off the cane in early summer. As I go off to my loom, I’ll be dreaming of the boxes of fiber I’ve saved over the years that are calling to be given new life in a quilt. I’m looking forward to following the quilt along.

    • Just the berries–perfect! It’s a wonderful hoop–built to last and so easy to use. I think quilting and weaving go together very well as crafts, even if they don’t overlap.

  28. Pingback: Hand Quilt Along: It’s Basted! | Love Those "Hands at Home"

  29. I love hand quilting, and it is nice to find a blog dedicated to it 🙂 Lovely to see how everyone has their own method, with the same lovely looking end result.

  30. Pingback: Hand Quilt Along: Reinspired | Love Those "Hands at Home"

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