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.
Next time... embellishing.