Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Quilting Away.....

I have been having so much fun lately - once the Houston quilt show was over and done, I felt sort of lost, trying to figure out what I should work on next and what my priorities were.  I was also waiting on the delivery of my Grace quilting frame, which I purchased at the Houston show.  It is a 4-pole frame for hand-quilting and immediately after it was delivered, I loaded my Sarah's Revival quilt in it.  Take a look:

But wait... there's more!  The most exciting thing about this frame is that I never have to baste a quilt again -- it's magical!  My back is still giving me fits from the last quilt I hand-basted, so this is a blessing and then some.  So while I was taking pictures, I thought I'd show you a few things about how I hand-quilt.  First of all, I'm a stab-stitcher.  I don't do the "rocking" method of hand-quilting -- I've taken plenty of classes but so far they just don't stick.  My friend Georgann has finally convinced me that I CAN learn but I don't NEED to learn... so I'm giving up the ghost and sticking with stab stitching; we even engaged in a little friendly competition to see which was faster/better -- and we totally tied!   

Look at the above picture.  I love hand quilting - it is pure therapy for me; I problem-solve, watch tv, listen to the news, and daydream while I am quilting.  Every problem disappears.  Better yet... the quilt starts to come alive!  Look at the photo above -- I am using wool batting and it quilts up so nicely - better than any batting I've ever used before.  I pre-shrink my batting (even poly batting) because I am persnickety.  I pre-shrink all my fabric, so why not preshrink my batting, too?  Despite the labels on every batting I've ever used (including 100% poly), batting shrinks.  Sometimes it shrinks a lot.  So I put it in the washer, fill it with hot water, let it sit without agitating, then spin the water out and throw it in the dryer til it's still damp but not sopping, then I air dry it.  Yes, like I said, I'm persnickety but it works for me.

How about some other tips?  Here goes....  When I do cross-hatch quilting (diagonal lines in both directions), I like to use blue painter's tape to mark the lines.  I lay the tape down on the quilt top and just run my needle right against it -- it keeps my stitches straight and keeps the lines at an exact 45 degree angle. 

How do I keep those lines at exactly 45 degrees?  I have a ruler that is made for a longarm quilter, but a drafting ruler could serve the same purpose; it has a 45 degree (adjustable) angle on it; I run it against the rail on my frame and lay my tape at the 45 degree angle.  In this way, I keep my angles perfectly aligned at 45 degrees.

Here's another photo of the ruler -- it's also wonderful when I'm longarm quilting and want to do cross-hatching.

Next, how do I mark lines other than straight lines?  I use a simple mechanical pencil.  It's not a fancy quilter's marking pencil, but a cheap Papermate pencil.  It has a very soft lead.  I like this because I can use a VERY LIGHT HAND to mark a VERY LIGHT LINE that will not smear and that will disappear once I have quilted across it.  Below is a photo of the markings of some lines in the quilt border.  You might also notice the Staedtler Mars Plastic eraser; this is the best eraser for quilting as far as I'm concerned.

The Mars Plastic erasers are available in office supply stores; they usually come in packs for 2 for a couple bucks - and they last forever.  If you find some, try them out; you might find them to be good for your needs, too.

What else am I working on now?  I started a new quilt; it doesn't have a name yet, but it will have lots of piecing and applique -- and several feathered star variations that have "halos" of color within them.  You'll see these blocks once I get them made, but in the meantime, I whipped out a simple block just so I'd have something to work on at a bee this week.  Here is Block Number One:

And here is now much applique I've gotten done so far... not much but it's a start!

I can offer yet another tip to everyone.  It is my firm belief that up to 50 percent of the time spent in making a quilt is spent in choosing fabrics.  They can make or break a quilt, so taking that much time is not a problem... but we can speed up the process a little.  I generally go through my stash and pull fabric after fabric and put them all in a couple stacks on my work table -- or in a separate box where I can keep them all together.  Why?  Because when it's time to select fabrics for the next block, I just choose fabrics from the box, not from the entire stash!  It makes it a lot easier because I know they are al meant to go together.  Occasionally I'll add another couple fat quarters, but usually I stick to my original group of fabrics.  This is what is going in the next quilt: 
Another thing that I did this past week was to take a couple of UFOs out of the UFO chest (it's a big seaman's chest... and it's full).  I made a bunch of these for a "make it and take it class" years ago -- that is, I made all the half-square triangles and even cut out the rectangles, squares, and setting triangles.  I thought it was a great idea for a class but I missed the boat somewhere because the class didn't fill and I was stuck with a dozen of these un-made blocks.  So I made a couple.  They are perfect as gifts -- go buy a ready-made frame with a mat in it and put this 8" block in it... and voile...

Once it's framed, it makes a perfect little gift for a friend or a family member -- without too much effort on your part!  This is one of only three "quilts" that I have on display in my house (and the second one is the same size as this one...).  Most people find that rather unbelievable -- I don't have quilts on display!  Last weekend, though, my guild did a "Tour of Quilt Studios."  It was a blast -- my studio was included on the tour and for the first time in forever, I hung quilts everywhere. It was SO MUCH fun!  Maybe I need to re-think not having quilts on display.  Here's the framed quilt:

Another project I worked on this month was making stars out of leftover fabric.  These stars are wonderful -- they are 7-1/2 inches (finished size) and "float" in the block, so they block can actually be cut down in size.  To make them, cut four 2-3/4" squares and four 2-3/4 by 3-1/2" rectangles from background fabric; cut eight 2" squares for the star points; and cut one 3-1/2" square for the star center.  Flip and sew the star points on the sides of the rectangles, then sew the units together in strips and rows -- they take just a few minutes, once you've done the cutting -- and they are perfect stash busters or scrap-eaters.  This past week, I made 32 of them!

Last, but certainly not least, when my Friends of Baltimore quilt won first place in the Group category at the IQA Quilt Show in Houston, there was an awards ceremony, where I had the pleasure of celebrating the moment with many friends - and with Elly Sienkiewicz, the "queen mother" of Baltimore album style quilts.  She is such an angel - so full of joy!  My friend Georgann snapped these photos -- I love the second one, as it displays that sense of friendship that quilters around the world share with each other.

May this season of the year bring you much joy, along with health and plenty of time to quilt.  Until next year....  happy quilting!

(c)2011 Susan H. Garman


  1. Sue, thanks for the hand quilting tips, especially the tools that work for you. I shared them with the readers on Your work is beautiful, as always!

  2. beautiful work! I have been using a 3 roller quilt frame for years and love it - you will never want to baste a quilt again!

  3. Wow. This was a wonderful post! I love the tips you've given to those of us who also enjoy hand quilting.

    I use the Grace Frame Z44 and love the part about not having to baste too :)


  4. I am also a stab stitcher! When people find out they seem to say it like it isn't really quilting. I've tried rocking and I can do it but I don't enjoy it. And that's really what it's all about. Isn't it? Donna ( Quilting on the Mon)

  5. It's amazing what you can do with stab and stitch! I guess it's all what we're used to because you certainly do beautiful work! I wish I had room for a quilt frame.

  6. I just love my Grace Frame and I love to hand quilt, unfortunately haven't had time to do much of that lately. My Dear Hubby stained my frame for me and it looks really nice.

  7. My sister and I taught ourselves to quilt in the 70's, and we found that stab stitching was easier.There was no-one to tell us we were wrong (we live in Australia) and so I still stab stitch to this day. I can make tiny even stitches, and I can take two or three stitches before
    I pull the thread all the way through, so I find it quite fast. Over time the stitching on the back has become perfectly straight (it tended to be crooked at first) so no-one could tell which method I used anyway.
    I do know how to quilt 'properly' but I love my old way and it gets the results I want.
    You do such fabulous work, I just wish you could post more often because I love to see what you're up to!

  8. Once I had my Z44 I could never go back. My husband stained mine for me as a present. I hope you enjoy your frame. Your work is lovely.

  9. Sue, gorgeous work. I too can't rock. I have a question how do keep your stitches even and straight on the back when you stab stitch. I would live to hand quilt Lily Rosenberry when I finish it.

  10. Thanks for a wonderful blog and all the tips!!! I feel like I just
    took a great class. Thank you so much. The quilts are awesome!!!

  11. Your work is awesome! And thank you for the quilting tips. I would love to learn stab-stitching, as I could then use a frame. With the rocking stitch I can only work from right to left, so I use a hoop. But a frame would be wonderful.
    Your new block looks lovely too - can't wait to see the rest!

  12. It makes me so mad realize that I let my mother's quilting frame get away. I have no idea who has it now, but oh, how I wish it was mine.

  13. WOW-I love the hand quilting advice and the pictures are great! I never thought I would say this, but I am a traditional quilter and I love it-I love hand quilting! The best work is done by hand! Thanks for everything you do.

  14. Thank you for all the quilting tips.
    Your work is stunning!!

    I look forward to watching your new quilt grow.

    Congratulations on your Friends of Baltimore quilt! :)

  15. You said that you prewash all of your batting by throwing it in the washer and then the dryer. Do you do this for your wool batts also? I'm ready to start hand quilting a reproduction of an antique quilt and don't want 3% shrinkage!

    1. In answer to the question about washing wool batting... Yes, I pre-wash it by soaking it in very warm water in the washer (not agitating it!) and spinning out the water after a good soaking. Then I dry it very lightly in the dryer, and finish it off by air drying it on the bed or a table or the floor (whatever is most convenient). I do this for ALL battings, as they all shrink-- wool, cotton, silk, and poly blends! I know I'm a fanatic but I am happier knowing it won't shrink later....
      Sue Garman