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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My Old-Time Religion

I grew up in a family committed to missionary work. One aunt was a Christian missionary in Mexico, another aunt and uncle were Wycliffe Bible translators in Vietnam.

I spent last weekend witnessing as well, proselytizing and evangelizing, but not for Christianity.

Those who follow along here may have a vague memory of me announcing that I’m an atheist, but that doesn’t mean I’m not religious in my beliefs.

It’s just that my religion doesn’t have a god . . . but its heaven is most inviting, or at least it’s the place for me.

It’s a small sect, with few faithful adherents. Some are the equivalent of C&E (Christmas and Easter) Christians—they practice the faith but casually and only on their own terms.

My religion isn’t well-represented in this region; we few members seek each other out and rejoice when we find another believer.

It’s a fundamentally old-fashioned belief system, slow-paced and beholden to the olden days.

My religion, it seems, is hand quilting.

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Last weekend, I spent two days at the biennial show of the Champlain Valley Quilters’ Guild, sitting at a quilting frame–demonstrating, teaching, talking about quilting by hand–and looking for converts.

Like all missionaries, I got a variety of reactions. Some people walked by and laughed, and walked on. A couple of hand quilting atheists shook their heads and called me crazy.

But my slow work, with the serene smile on my face and the peace in my movements, drew others. They sat, they watched, they picked up a needle and joined me.

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Some people were curious—they seemed to come looking for a new kind of meaning, a place of belonging.

Others were already true believers. We spoke in almost spiritual tones and words of how we felt about the hand quilting. It has a soul; it carries the spirit of our ancestors; it allows us to transcend the mundane, to find a peace unavailable through a machine.

I asked them to look at the three or four quilts, in a show of 400, that were quilted by hand, by members of the faith. We could all see and sense the difference, even though we admitted that the quilts done by machine were often awe-inspiring in their own ways.

We agreed that, while we’d never go to war or start an Inquisition to defend our faith, we’d never foist our beliefs on others, we still agreed that our ways suit us best.

Everyone needs to believe in something, I guess. And I believe in taking it slow . . .

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One of only three or four hand-quilted quilts in our guild show. Maybe next time, there will be more!?

When All Else Fails

What do you do when you don’t feel like doing anything? When you have no mojo, no forward momentum?

Do you accept that state and just hang out? That sounds nice . . .

It may be clear that I feel a pressing need to be productive. It seems to be critical to my sense of self and satisfaction.

So, I am rather undone on a day when I feel like doing nothing, when it all seems off kilter.

My antidote these days is to sit down and do some quilting by hand.

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I had such a day recently. I managed to exercise for a bit and make some candy for a customer. And eat breakfast. But then I just stalled. I tried weaving and that wasn’t the answer. I ended up unweaving almost all I wove because my heart wasn’t in it and I kept making mistakes.

I did some prep work for embroidery squares for two different quilts. Blah.

The weather was windy, cold, icy . . . no hope of a walk outside.

I even tried to nap and that didn’t help.

In my heart, I knew just what I needed. I sat down in my little corner with the soft cushion on the sturdy chair, with the bright light over my shoulder, and my red and white quilt on my quilting hoop.

I put my thimble on and got stitching. When I quilt by hand, I use the method of rocking the needle through the layers of fabric and batting, loading 4 or 5 stitches on the needle at a time.

This method is rhythmic and results in small, even stitches—a joy for a quilter to behold.

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I rock the needle and straight lines emerge. The flat, pieced blocks gain a texture, any wrinkles are plumped out as the fabric is sewn down around the interior batting.

Quilting in an open area of plain fabric poses no difficulties. The needle slides through easily and quickly and the magic happens.

I imagine my father felt the same satisfaction as he plowed a field, watching the straight, dark furrows replace untilled pasture.

Quilting by machine is all the rage these days and it can be fantastically impressive. I just know I could never get this calm sense of accomplishment from quilting on a sewing machine—sewing machines make me tense and frustrated.

I am sure hand quilting might make lots of people tense and frustrated, too. But it soothes me. And I’m not even certain why that is, except it’s difficult to make a mistake, it’s fairly easy and pretty mindless, and you can really see the benefit of the time invested.

I guess the point is that I hope we each have a place to turn when we want to make progress, feel productive, snap ourselves out of a funk. I know one of my “pick me ups” is hand quilting.

What’s yours? What soothes you, when your day seems off-kilter?


Just a footnote: Thank you for the time and energy so many of you invested in reading and adding wonderful comments and interactions on the Advent, My Way series. You made my holiday season memorable! Happy New Year!