Learning different techniques in quilting is certainly psychotherapy. For many of us it helps us to express our creativity, break out of a rut, gain of sense of accomplishment, or conquer our fears! Yes – quilters have many fears – fear of cutting (FOC), binding (FOB), piecing (FOP), applique (FOA) and quilting (FOQ). As strange as that may sound, some quilters even fear quilting! They like to applique or piece quilts, but are afraid of ruining their work by quilting it. These quilters often send them to someone else, who loves stitching, to finish it for them. I am not judging by any means. This is a hobby so, we should do what we enjoy.
As with most phobias, the best way to tackle them is face on. First, admit you have trepidation and commit to overcome it. This is no different that deciding to get in better shape or be financially more responsible. Although, partners of quilters will insist that quilting interferes with both getting in shape physically or financially. But I digress. You start slow and easy. Keep practicing. Learn from your mistakes to improve incrementally. Take advice from others (which is difficult at times, I admit). As your confidence builds, you will be more and more amazed at what you can accomplish.
Using this approach, I suggest diving right in and eating dessert first – start with quilting. You can skip the cutting, piecing, and applique. Many would consider these the meat and potatoes of our craft. You can work on that fears or lack of self-confidence later. Dig into dessert with a small quilting project like a pillow or throw. To make it even easier, I would suggest a pre-printed wholecloth version. It is tracing with thread. Of course, you can embellish as you grow more confident. But start simply. The first picture is a wholecloth throw that I quilted to improve my techniques on my long arm quilter.
Whether you are learning to use a new machine (stationary or long arm) or learning to hand stitch, these whole cloth quilts are great to focus your attention. Whole cloth quilts eliminate the fear of cutting (FOC) carefully chosen fabrics, ruining the applique or piecing you worked so hard to complete. By purchasing a pre-printed piece, you can just dive right into quilting.
This particular fabric was purchased from The Stencil Company. They have a wide variety of patterns, colors and sizes. Their website also had loads of ideas for future projects if you get hooked on quilting.
In addition to the pre-printed quilt fabric, you will need batting and a backing fabric both slightly larger than the quilt top), needle, thread, scissors (for cutting thread, not fabric), and a hoop (for hand quilting).
When picking a backing fabric, I chose a lovely violet floral print for the back of mine (you can see a little of it in the binding). The busy pattern hid a little of my quilting. Solid backing will show more of you stitching. The fabric should be 100% cotton otherwise, the back and the top will shrink at different rates when you wash and dry it.
There are several batting choices and I will cover those in more detail in another blog. The most common choices are cotton, poly-cotton, poly, bamboo (usually a cotton blend), and wool. Wool is the puffiest, but also the most difficult for a beginner to use. Poly and cotton-poly don’t shrink, so if you like a “flat” look, this is the batting for you. Bamboo is nice because it drapes well but also tends to be more expensive. I used cotton, because I like the crinkled look it gets after being washed. To me, it shows the stitching more than the poly does.
Next, you need to chose a thread. As with most topics, there are avid supporters for their personal preferences in thread. Some people will only use cotton thread because they feel poly thread will “cut” the cotton fabric over time. Others will only use poly thread, because they feel the cotton thread shrinks or breaks more easily than poly. Rayon and silk are other choices for thread, but those tend to be used for competition quilts because they really “pop” on a quilt. Personally, for new quilters, I like cotton thread. I used a variegated thread for this project to give it a little personality. Even though it was my practice quilt, I wanted to enjoy it!
The last choice is to bind or not to bind. Plenty of quilters have FOB, so know if you do, you are not alone. If you choose not to bind, which is a great choice, you will fully assemble the quilt sandwich before quilting. If you chose to bind the quilt, you do that after quilting. So let’s quickly talk about how to do a non-binding quilt. You make the sandwich: batting, backing (right side up) and top (right side down). This means the quilt top and bottom are kissing. Sew a quarter inch seam along the quilt top, leaving about a 4 inch opening (think of a pillow case). Trim the excess batting and backing so you have nicely squared edges. You may want to clip the corners to remove bulk. Then, turn the quilt right side out and whip stitch the opening to close it. I will be demonstrating this technique in another blog. For my quilt, I chose binding even though it is my least favorite part of quilting. I guess I have FOB.
Once you have the quilt sandwich ready (already stitched for non-binding or pinned together for a quilt with binding), you can start quilting. A sturdy hoop will provide enough structure to make hand quilting easy. The stitch used is a very simple running stitch, which means pulling the needle up through the sandwich, moving it about an 1/8 of an inch along the printed line and puling the needle down through the fabric, Repeating until you reach the end of a line. Hand stitching is generally judged on the evenness of the stitching, so consistency is more important than the stitch length. Also, know that quilting is much like driving a car, you need to understand your route to be most effective. You want to backtrack as little as possible while providing the best coverage. Mail carriers and have this technique down pat! The last important item is to bury your starting and ending knots in the batting. This means gently pulling them through the first layer of fabric. If you pull too hard, it will come out the other side, failing to anchor your thread!
Machine quilters tend not to use hoops. They also can backtrack a little. Machine quilters should realize that the more they quilt over a line, the more pronounced it will be. So just like hand quilting, plan your route carefully! Machine quilters also need to bury their knots. Who wants to be tickled or poked by whisker threads?
Once you finish quilting and no longer need the stencil lines, it is time to erase them. This is where the magic happens. You soak the quilt in cold water for an hour or so. Do not use soap. The lines simply disappear!
If you carefully compare the corners of the pattern to this finished section, you will note that I have added a little flair or bling with extra quilting. This was done to improve my free motion quilting and have a little fun. Believe it or not, tracing is hard work! You can add your own flair to your project. I have seen some lovely embellishments done with extra stitching, beading, and even fabric painting. Remember, this project is to improve your self confidence and conquer your fear of quilting! Let your inner child out and have fun with this!