Quilting Basics - Part I - Getting Started
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.
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