Quilting Basics - Part 4 - Answering Questions and Helpful Readers' Comments

Blogs are like books in progress. Although, as the author, you are always on the last page, writing your heart out, at any point in time, someone else can pick up the book, and start reading, and it is all new and fresh to them. Yesterday, someone linked to our articles on basic quilting. Because of that, there's been renewed interest in those postings, with new comments and emails with questions. It occurred to me that there were a few things I did not talk about, and some new questions asked. Instead of answering all the emails separately, I decided to add a 4th part to the series. I hope it answers some additional questions you might have had. Please, feel free to include any tips and advice you may have. So, here's some additional info... in no particular order. I will continue to add comments made by our readers over time, so check back periodically :)

Quilting Basics - Part 1

Quilting Basics - Part 2

Quilting Basics - Part 3

If using tracing paper, wax pencil, disappearing markers, etc. on your fabric to mark stitching lines, always test it on a scrap piece of your fabric first. Mark your scrap, then wash it, to make sure the marks will come out. Nothing ruins a project more than marking stains!

I've had people ask me what size needles I use. The honest answer is I haven't a clue. All of my needles wind up, out of their packages, and tossed in my needle holder. (Just an old Altoid tin :) The needle I pick depends on the thickness of the thread I use (thicker thread, larger needle eye), how lofty my batting is (the thicker the batting the longer the needle), and the type of fabric I'm trying to quilt (delicate fabric requiring thinner needles). You can buy "quilting" needles, usually they are straight needles, without a bump around the needle eye so you don't leave a bigger hole than necessary, but simply use a needle that gives you a nice look and is easy to use.

The question of how to hold the top, batting and backing together could be a whole post by itself, but I'll condense it here. If I'm doing a small project, like the yellow square I used in the examples, I usually just pin or staple the piece together. (See note in Part 1 about using a stapler.) You can also go through and baste the 3 pieces together, using very long running stitches. The advantage of basting is there are no pins for your quilting thread to get tangled in, but basting takes more time. Using a hoop or frame helps hold your pieces together, and stops the layers from shifting. A hoop or frame is especially necessary when working with big pieces. Even when using a frame, I still like to pin my layers together. Several years ago, a friend gave me a Quilters Basting gun. It takes the place of safety pins and is fast. The gun puts small, plastic tags in your fabric, similar to the price tags used on new clothing. When you are done, you go through an sips off the tags. Always test the gun on your fabric first to make sure the gun doesn't break threads on the fabric.

I'm So in love with 505 Basting spray I used this for the first time on my last big project. It was all hand appliqued and I was afraid to machine quilt it. So I Hand stitched for 3 weeks :-) I used 505 and it really did a great job holding it together so I could get it on the frame. Used it for 3 small projects since and I'm still in love with it.

I was told it dissipates after 2 days but it held for more like 7 days... Which was a bonus.

I've used 505 a lot, especially for large quilts. It works wonderfully and if you don't overspray (which isn't necessary) and if you wait til the next day to start sewing the needles go through fine. I've quilted the same day and it's fine, too, but I think it was recommended to me to wait til the next day. I've used other basting sprays and they don't work well at all and gum up needles.

I haven't done hand quilting yet, but I'll remember to pull out my beeswax block for then. I don't use my beeswax much though. Here are a couple of tips if you don't have beeswax:

With cotton from a spool in particular, is that you always thread the end that comes off the spool first (not the end you cut). So that I don't mix this up, I usually thread my needle, then cut my length.

If you're using embroidery thread, I similarly find the "right" end to start (the side that will allow you to pull a length without tangling generally) and always thread my needle onto the first end. Before you thread your needle though, you'll also want to "relax" the threads by taking each of the strands and separating them. If you are only using 2 or 3 strands (ie for embroidery) I try to keep the threads laid so I remember which end was the "right" end to thread to the needle.

Submitted by Linda Theil on Tue, 01/17/2012 - 07:33.

I am not much of a quilter, but when I make a quilt I always hand-quilt it; and since I am an embroiderer, I think of my quilting as embroidery. As an embroiderer, I was taught to make an away-knot, so I use a similar technique for my quilting. I don't knot my thread, I just bury a long tail through the batting and take a little backstitch under my first quilting stitch. It may be unorthodox, but I like it and it works pretty good. Also I couldn't hand-stitch at all if I didn't have those fantastic little leather dots that stick to your finger to use instead of a thimble. Amazon calls them "leather thimble self-adhesive fingertip pads" made by Colonial. I call them finger-savers : )

Thanks for the suggestions. I've never used leather dot thimbles. It might take the place of the clear nail polish that I slather on my finger :) I will also use a backstitch instead of a knot if I'm making a decorative piece that won't receive any wear and tear. If I'm making a utilitarian quilt, I usually make a knot and bury it in the batting.

Submitted by jread921 on Tue, 01/11/2011 - 12:02.

I have found that a dryer sheet works well for keeping thread detangled as well. (although I LOVE the smell of beeswax much more than dryer sheet)

Then there is the question of thimbles. I seem to be thimble challenged. I have never gotten the feel of using one. If I do use one, it is leather, and I use it on my right hand for pushing the needle through. An elderly neighbor once shared this idea. She didn't like the feel of thimbles, either. What she did, on the backside guiding finger, was to put a couple coats of clear nail polish on her fingertip. Since you tend to just graze that finger, having a little film on your finger really helps. When you have picked through the polish, just add a little more. If I have a lot of quilting to do, I use nail polish on my finger :)

I am not much of a quilter, but when I make a quilt I always hand-quilt it; and since I am an embroiderer, I think of my quilting as embroidery. As an embroiderer, I was taught to make an away-knot, so I use a similar technique for my quilting. I don't knot my thread, I just bury a long tail through the batting and take a little backstitch under my first quilting stitch. It may be unorthodox, but I like it and it works pretty good. Also I couldn't hand-stitch at all if I didn't have those fantastic little leather dots that stick to your finger to use instead of a thimble. Amazon calls them "leather thimble self-adhesive fingertip pads" made by Colonial. I call them finger-savers : )


I enjoy embroidery, but have only done a small bit of hand quilting. When I took a class last year, they taught us to do about three stitches at a time. So, you go in and out, in and out, in and out, with your needle in the quilt that whole time, before pulling the needle through and tightening up your stitches. (Does that make sense, LOL?) Is that how you do it, or do you do one stitch at a time?

Good point to bring up, Tina. Yes, I will make 2 or 3 stitches at a time, weaving the needle up and down through the fabric, especially for straight lines.It is harder to do multiple stitches when you are quilting curves or if you are working with a loftier batting. As I said in the beginning... this is a "feel" type of craft. As you get more comfortable, you find things that work for you that aren't in the "books". I chuckle every time I watch Michelle knit because she holds the needles in a bizarro fashion. But look at her work... it is beautiful and she knits faster than me. Can't argue with success!

Fairy's First Quilt

Fairy got the coolest sewing machine from Santa this year. I'm a tad jealous myself and have been borrowing it for all my little projects recently. ;) Unlike the toy or children's sewing machines we have tried in the past this Sewing Pretty with Hello Kitty by Janome is a REAL machine... just slightly smaller with the added bonus of being cute as can be. She will not out grow this machine any time soon. Although not fancy, it is sturdy and it really, truly sews.

Santa also brought her several different charm packs including Moda Bliss. Fairy spent some time laying out all her squares and decided to make a stripy quilt... lining up the matching patterns in their various colorways.

She is now working at piecing each row. Her attention span gets her through about 3 squares at a time... but slow and steady is just find and dandy.

Quilting Basics - Part Three - Embroidery

Quilting Basics - Part 1

Quilting Basics - Part 2

Quilting Basics - Part 3

Quilting Basics - Part 4

When I was done quilting the sample I made for our Quilting Basics series, I wanted to add a little embroidery to the piece. I thought back to those early days of coloring inside the doodles and instead of using crayons, I did a different embroidery stitch inside each shape.

A couple of notes about embroidering for quilted pieces. If the back of you piece is going to be seen, like on a blanket, do your embroidery BEFORE you quilt. This way, all the messy stitching will be inside the quilt, and the only stitches on the back will be of the actual quilting.

If the embroidery is going to be on a piece that you won't see the back, like a wall hanging, you can embroider AFTER you quilt. The advantage to embroidering after you quilt is your embroidery will have more dimension because you are stitching through several layers. Both techniques are acceptable. 

The choice is personal and depends on the project you are doing. I'm trying to decide what to do with this little piece I created. I'm thinking it might become the center panel on a tote bag. More than likely, it will sit in my partially done stash until the perfect idea presents itself :) As we speak the painters are busy at work transforming my house from the rather dark, primitive colors I've used for years, into something more alive and spring like. It will be screaming for new embellishments, and I'm thinking of taking this basic concept of the doodle design, and turn it into a wall hanging above our piano. You can be sure I'll keep you posted :)

The pattern for this design and the embroidery stitches I used can be found HERE, or just let the spirit move you and design your own. Enjoy!

Quilting Basics - Part 2 - Stitching

Quilting Basics - Part 1

Quilting Basics - Part 2

Quilting Basics - Part 3

Quilting Basics - Part 4

Let's face it, the more we do something, the better we get. Sometimes when we try to explain a technique to someone, we find the chore daunting. We know when the bread has been kneaded long enough or how tight to hold our yarn when we knit. Experience has taught us that... we've learned what "right" feels like, but it is hard to explain that to someone else. The same is so when you do hand sewing and embroidery. Experience teaches us how to hold the needle, how tightly to pull the thread, and how far apart to place the stitches... we simply learn how it feels.

Sometimes, though, there are little tricks we can use to help speed the learning process. I will admit I'm a BIT anal when it comes to my stitching. My dad was an engineer and every so often his genes surface in me, requiring an engineer's precision. When I first started quilting, I was forever taking my quilting out because my stitches weren't even... or straight... or even remotely close to the same size! One day I got the idea of using my tracing wheel as a guide for stitch placement. As the wheel turned, it left behind a series of little dots that I could follow. My stitches looked perfect. For the first time I was really satisfied with my quilting.

Having said all that, I seldom employ this technique when quilting now, mainly because I developed a "feel" for quilting. After "connecting the dots" for a while, I was able to quilt without the marks and get similar results, although my stitches are usually slightly longer and farther apart, but by using the tracing wheel technique I learned continuity. As time has gone by I've come to appreciate the beauty of irregular and I'm nearly as hard on myself. So, treat this technique as a learning experience, not as a standard :)

CONFESSION: I am not a professional quilter. I would classify my skills as average. I am sharing tips that work for me and that have evolved over time. I DO NOT CLAIM to be an expert :) If you have any additional suggestions PLEASE share them. There is always so much more to learn!

Now, let's get started!

If you haven't already, prepare your piece following the directions in Quilting 101 - Part 1 - Getting Started.

Thread your needle and make a SMALL knot at the end of the thread.

Because the front and back of quilting projects are usually visible, we want to hide all knots and ends. To do this, determine where you want to start. I usually start near the middle of my piece and work out. Pick one of the dots and stick a pin straight through it, going through the top, batting and backing. Make sure you do not go in on an angle, you want you pin to pierce the backing directly beneath the dot on top.

From the back, insert your sewing needle in the backing 1/2" - 1" away from the pin. Bring the needle out of the fabric next to the pin. NOTE: Your needle should travel under the backing and through the batting, being careful NOT to go through the top fabric. In other words, if you turn the piece over, you should not see this stitch on the front.

Pull the needle and thread through your work so the slack is removed and the knot is visible. 

Pinch the backing near the knot and gently tug on the thread. Sometimes you need to "wiggle" the fabric a little to help the knot pop through. You want the knot to lodge itself in the batting. If your knot comes all the way out of the project, your knot may be too small or you may be tugging too hard! Try making the knot a little bigger or don't pull as hard and stop pulling as soon as the knot disappears under the backing.
Your knot should now be hidden.

NOTE: Some people will start their knots of the top of their work, using the same method described above. I choose to start on the back because sometimes pulling a knot through, even a small one, can pull on the fabric causing a small snag or leaving a little hole.

Insert your needle in the back of your piece where the thread is attached. Go through the original dot on the front of your piece. Your thread and needle are now on the top of your work. You are now ready to start quilting.

Basically, quilting is simple a running stitch used to hold multiple layers of fabric together. Always work from the front of the fabric with one hand holding the needle the the other hand used to guide the needle through on the back. Insert the needle through the next dot, going through all three layers. 

With the needle still in your work, (needle point in back) use your other hand to guide the needle from back to front, entering the front through the next hole. Your needle will be going through the piece on an angle. Your stitches on the backside will be smaller than the stitches on the front. Often, you are only grabbing a few threads on the backside. Most hand stitched quilts will look this way.

Continue stitching in this manner. You want to pull the thread tight enough so there is no "slack" left in the thread, but not so tight that you are puckering the material. Your work should lay flat on a hard surface. (Several stitches front)

(Several stitches back) Notice how they are smaller than the front.

When you have around 6" left of thread, you will want to tie off this thread and start a new one. As discussed above, you can do it on the top or back of your work, but when I can, I always work on the back.

Start by wrapping the thread around your needle 1/4" - 1/2" away from where the thread is attached to your work. (Like making a French knot)

Holding these wraps with one hand, slide the wraps off the needle, as you pull the thread through with your other hand. 

You should now have a small knot near the surface of your work.

Using the same technique described above for hiding your original knot, insert your needle beside the point where the thread is attached to your work, slide the needle between the backing and the front through the batting. Bring the needle back through the backing 1/2" - 1" away from the entry hole, gently tugging the thread and wiggling the pinched backing to cause the knot to pop through the fabric. 

Cut the thread at the surface so there are no ends sticking up through the fabric. 

You are now ready to start a new length of thread. Attach in the same manner you did your first piece, starting with the next dot. Continue until the entire piece is quilted.

{Finished Front and Back}

Next time... embellishing. 

Copyright © Wee Folk Art 2008 - 2010. All rights reserved.
All photos, text and patterns are copyright protected. You may not copy, reproduce or redistribute any material found on WeeFolkArt.com without written permission. Wee Folk Art retains all rights.


Quilting Basics - Part I - Getting Started

Quilting Basics - Part 1

Quilting Basics - Part 2

Quilting Basics - Part 3

Quilting Basics - Part 4

Probably the question I get asked MOST is... how do you get your stitches so even. My glib response is usually... years of experience. Although that is true, there are tricks I've learned along the way that helped my skills improve.

Quilting is all about stitches. By definition, quilting is sewing 2 or more layers of fabric together, usually with some layer of batting in the center for warmth or to give the stitching depth. Whether you are quilting a patch to a ripped pant knee or sewing a large quilt, the techniques are the same. If this is your first go at quilting, I do recommend you start with a small, manageable projects. Bulk equals additional complexities.

So, today, we are going to make a practice piece. When you are done, you may decide to incorporate it into something else, but this project is all about process. We will be creating a free form design, then learning the basics of quilting.

solid fabric - use a light weight cotton or flannel (fabric should be washable in order to remove the tracing paper design)
light weight cotton batting - DO NOT use the "fluffy" type of battings
contrasting quilting thread or cotton floss (I used a fun variegated floss)
small chunk beeswax
copy of pattern or blank 8 1/2" x 8 1/2" piece of paper
safety pins and/or stapler
tracing paper and tracing wheel (the type with a "teethed" wheel, not a "smooth" wheel)

To get started we need a design. Remember in early elementary school when you were asked to draw a meandering line, never lifting pencil lead from paper, eventually ending at the beginning? Lovely little enclosed shapes were created as we crisscrossed over lines. Then we were instructed to color in all those odd little shapes creating a stained glass look. I always LOVED this project.

Now, you can either make a copy of a design I created, or let the spirit move you and draw your own. NOTE... you will be quilting all the lines you draw, so don't make the design overly complicated!  Also, keep your design at least 1" away from all sides.

Cut out your fabric and batting. Cut 2 - 8 1/2" x 8 1/2" squares of fabric for the top and backing, and cut 1 square batting the same size.

Take your top fabric and lay it on a hard surface with right side up. Lay a piece of tracing paper on top of it, with the wax side against the fabric.

Place your pattern on top and pin through all three layers. Now, taking your tracing wheel, trace the entire design. Press firmly and try to trace the design without lifting the tracing wheel. (If your pressure remains steady, you can actually turn the pattern with one hand while tracing your design with the other.) The wheel will create little holes in the pattern. If you do need to stop, carefully realign, trying to line up a tooth on the wheel in a hole it already created. (NOTE: Before tracing on your fabric, you might want to try tracing onto a piece of paper to get a feel for the amount of pressure you need to leave a good design.)

When you are done tracing, remove the pattern and the tracing paper. Your design should be easily visible if you applied enough pressure when tracing.

Now, sandwich your fabric together beginning with the wrong side of the backing up, followed by the batting, then the top with the design visible.

Pin the three pieces together. You can use straight pins. Not my favorite since they poke and catch your thread. I prefer safety pins. HINT AND CAUTION: you can use a stapler on some fabrics. Do not use on delicate fabrics or fabrics that snag easily. Staples are blunt ended, whether as pins have sharp points. A stapler can cut the fabric instead of moving the threads out of the way when going in. Always experiment on a scrap piece of fabric to make sure the staples do not damage the fabric when they are removed. The benefit of using a staple is there is nothing on the surface for the thread to get caught on. Of course, you can only use a stapler on small projects.

When quilting, you should use quilting thread, which is a thread heavier than regular sewing machine thread, but not as heavy as rug thread. You want a slightly heavier thread because it will hold up better and if you need to give a slight tug, the thread won't break. Plus, quilting is both a functional and decorative stitch. The heavier thread is more visible. You can also use cotton floss. If using a 6 ply floss, use 2 ply. Work with thread about 18" long.

Before threading your needle, slide your thread through the edge of a piece of beeswax. This serves a couple purposes. It strengthens the thread and helps prevent it from tangling. I ALWAYS wax my quilting threads, mainly because it really helps stop the thread from getting tangled, which can be so frustrating!  

Next time... stitching your piece.

Copyright © Wee Folk Art 2008 - 2010. All rights reserved.
All photos, text and patterns are copyright protected. You may not copy, reproduce or redistribute any material found on WeeFolkArt.com without written permission. Wee Folk Art retains all rights.
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