31 July 2012

Hand-quilting preparation

Basted quilt, hoop, and muslin strips.
I was recently in Japan, where many traditional craft techniques developed centuries ago still survive, albeit precariously. (I'll blog about my adventures soon.)  In my own quilt work, I often tap the services of my talented machine quilter, Laurena McDermott, but have not, and never will, abandon hand-quilting altogether, as long as I'm able to manipulate the needle to my satisfaction.

As I methodically stitch, it feels good to be a sustaining part of a long tradition of handwork, and I also love the texture unique to the hand-quilted surface. I use traditional tools, for example, my trusty two-part wooden quilting hoop, and was recently thrilled to find a vendor selling small bars of beeswax at my local farmers' market, so I can now run my lengths of thread along the edge of the beeswax. The ever-so-thin coating of wax helps prevent the thread from breaking and fraying.  Silicon thread conditioners work well too, but don't have the same faint, pleasing fragrance as beeswax.

In a previous post, I discussed hand-basting the quilt sandwich - layering the backing, batting and top with long stitches in contrast color thread. Once basted, the last step prior to beginning hand-quilting is to address the problem that the quilt is rectilinear while the hoop is circular. There are tensioning devices, for example the Q-snap frame, that are rectilinear, but I've found I can't achieve the same tautness with that type of frame.

Extender strip pinned to basted quilt.
I rip regular or unbleached muslin into strips about 8 - 10" wide (exact width doesn't matter), and anywhere from 60" to 110" long. In a fit of organizing a few years ago I labelled each strip with its length at both ends of the strip, using a fabric marking pen (those are the numbers visible on the muslin strips in the top image).

Strip pinned through all layers; excess length held by safety pin.
I pin two muslin strips on the long edges of the rectangular quilt, aligning the long edge of the extender strip with the long edge of the basted quilt top, and pinning carefully through all layers.  Let the extender strip overhang the bottom and top of the quilt a few inches. For example, if the quilt top is 60" long, the extender strip needs to be at least 66".

I stitch the extender strips, through all layers, using a 90/14 needle. I use the longest stitch length on my Janome and set the needle position to 3.5, which gives me a 1/4" seam allowance, so I can quilt right to the edge where the binding will be.

Stitching through all layers.

Left: muslin strip stitched. Right: strip folded over.
After sewing strips onto the long quilt edges, the strips are folded to the right side and additional strips are pinned along the top and bottom edges of the quilt top, again through all the layers.  It's sort of like adding an additional border, one that will be removed when the quilting is done.  Having the edges of the quilt sandwich "framed" by extender strips not only allows me to use my round hoop, but the secure stitching prevents batting from "leaking" out and keeps everything nice and square.

Extender strip pinned to quilt and to previously sewn strip.

Extender strip sewn through all layers, flipped to right side.

Extender strips allow corner to be quilted.

Reverse side, quilting in progress.
When all four sides have their extender strips sewn on, then quilting can commence.  It's perfectly fine that the quilt back - the purple fabric -  stops short of the hoop, as the securely sewn muslin extender strips allow for correct tensioning. The last image was taken several months after the other images, when quilting was almost completed.  Once the stitching is complete, I carefully remove the muslin strips with a seam ripper. I press the muslin strips, remove any bits of thread, and they are ready for reuse on another quilt.