The quilting can be fairly rudimentary, its main purpose being to hold together the layers of the quilt, or it can be decorative and sometimes extremely elaborate. Machine quilting is quicker, but nothing beats hand quilting for sheer heirloom beauty and a soft hand to the finished quilt.
Designs for hand quilting, or elaborate designs for domestic machine quilting, are generally marked on the quilt top before the quilt’s layers are sandwiched together. On pale fabrics, the marking is done lightly in pencil; on dark fabrics, a special quilter’s silver pencil is used. Pencil lines can be erased later.
If you intend to quilt straight lines or a crosshatched design, masking tape can be used to mark out the lines on the quilt top. Such tape comes in various widths, from ¼ in. (6 mm) upward. Free-flowing lines can be drawn on with a chalk pencil. If you intend to outline-quilt by machine, you may be able to sew straight-enough lines by eye; if not, you will need to mark the quilt top first.
Quilting by hand produces a softer line than machine quilting and will emphasize the lovingly handmade quality of the quilt. Many of the quilts in this book are quilted using perle cotton, since it is often easier for beginners to work with and stands out vividly against the fabric’s surface, although traditional waxed quilting thread can be used if you prefer.
To quilt by hand, the fabric needs to be held in a frame (also known as a quilting hoop). Freestanding frames are available, but hand-held ones are cheaper, more portable, and just as effective. One edge of a hand-held frame can be rested against a table or bench to enable you to keep both hands free.
Hand quilting, like machine quilting, should commence in the center of the quilt and proceed outward. To commence hand quilting, place the plain (inner) ring of the frame under the center of the quilt. Position the other ring, with the screw, over the top of the quilt to align with the inner ring. Tighten the screw so that the fabric in the frame becomes firm, but not drum-tight.
For traditional quilting, choose the smallest needle that you feel comfortable with. (These needles are known as “betweens.”) For quilting with perle cotton, use a good quality crewel embroidery needle.
1. Thread the needle with about 18 in. (45.5 cm) of thread. Knot the end of the thread with a one-loop knot and take the needle down through the quilt top into the batting (wadding), a short distance from where you want to start quilting. Tug the thread slightly so that the knot pulls through the fabric into the batting, making the starting point invisible.
2. With your dominant hand above the quilt and the other beneath, insert the needle through all three layers at a time with the middle or index finger of your dominant hand (use a metal thimble to make this easier) until you can feel the tip of the needle resting on your finger at the back.
3. Without pushing the needle through, rock the needle back to the top of the quilt and use your underneath finger to push the tip of the needle up. Put your upper thumb down in front of the needle tip while pushing up from the back. This will make a small “hill” in the fabric.
4. Push the needle through the hill. This makes one stitch. To take several stitches at once, push the needle along to the required stitch length, then dip the tip into the fabric and repeat the above technique. Gently pull the stitches to indent the stitch line evenly. You should always quilt toward yourself, as this reduces hand and shoulder strain, so turn the quilt in the required direction. You can protect your underneath finger using a self-adhesive finger pad such as a Thimble-It. Or you can use a leather thimble, although this does make it more difficult to feel how far the needle has come through, and thus more difficult to keep your stitches neat and even.
5. To finish, hold the thread out to the side with your left hand, and loop a one-loop knot using the needle.
6. Slide the loose knot down the thread until it lies directly on the quilt top, and tighten the knot. Take the needle back down through the hole the thread is coming out of and slide it away through the batting. Bring the needle back up to the top of the quilt and give the thread a tug. The knot will follow down into the hole and lodge in the batting. Cut the thread close to the surface. (To see a video tutorial of this technique, see the sidebar of Sarah’s blog, www.thelastpiece.net.)
For more quilting techniques and projects, check out Cute Little Quilts by Sarah Fielke and Amy Lobsiger.