Sunday, June 12, 2011

Stage Six: Quilting

This part is, admittedly, the more mystical part of the whole quilting process. I didn’t know how it was done until I read a book or two. And, as a further admission, this is the part with which I’m the least patient. I always do less quilting than someone with more talent would do.
You can quilt by hand or by machine. My first quilt was done by both, with pictures quilted by hand in a hoop and letters quilted by machine. I am not very good with hand quilting—it takes a lot of dexterity, patience, and the ability to use a thimble to make stitches small and even. I enjoyed learning how to do it, but it was time-consuming and not, anyway, the best choice for a baby quilt that I’d like to be used.
It took me a while to figure out how to quilt by machine, too. My mother’s machine is actually better at it than mine, though I’ve gotten my machine’s quirks mostly figured out. Here is the process:
step one: backing. I cut a backing piece to a few inches longer/wider than my quilt top borders, and iron it as smooth as possible. This gets laid, right side down, on one of the cutting mats. I favor just regular quilting cotton for my backing, but I sometimes do a medallion backing—one print or color with a larger patchworked piece in the middle. I also have done stripes and squares for the back. That way, the piece is reversible. I sometimes kick myself for buying large pieces of fabric that I don’t have a plan for, but I can’t tell you how many times that’s come in handy for the backing!
step two: batting. The batting gets cut to the same size as the top, and gets placed over the backing piece, gently, and smoothed as much as possible. It helps to fold it and center it that way. I also usually pull back the batting and backing together, as if they were one piece, and smooth that out before smoothing it back down. This helps the batting and backing kind of stay together.
I favor Mountain Mist’s Cream Rose batting—it took me a while to come to this, but it’s great. It’s easily needled, warm but not too thick, and super soft. I’ve heard it called insubstantial, but I find it just right for baby quilts, and it doesn’t bunch up in the machine.

step three: top. The quilt top completes the layering, and it gets smoothed over the other layers as tidily and squared-up as possible. I have learned to take a lot of care making sure the three layers are together evenly and that they almost cling to each other. You can get fusible batting, but I prefer this way.

step four: basting. There is pin basting and stitched basting. They say that pin basting is best for machine quilting, but I have to be honest—it doesn’t work. Not for me. Sometimes I’ll pin baste the edges of the quilt and a few parts of the middle, but only in combination with stitched basting. Basically, for stitched basting, you cut long threads and take long stitches through all three layers of the quilt, making sure the layers don’t shift. You can do a grid or a sort of starburst. Basting should be about four inches apart and should go from the center out, which is also the way you…

step five: quilt. Once the basting is done, I check to make sure the back is still smooth and nothing is puckered or bunched. Then, I figure out how I’m going to quilt the thing. In blocks? “In the ditch” of seams? In patterns? Around figures? In something abstract? I usually choose to quilt around my blocks or shapes, in either clear or matching thread (I’ve used machine quilting thread, but honestly, I’ve seen no difference from regular cotton thread, and I always have some from making the actual quilt top). I also use a machine quilting needle—I’m not sure what the difference is, but I have some, so I use them.
To do the actual quilting, I sort of half-fold, half-roll parts of the quilt so that they’re easier to manage. With large projects, they suggest using bicycle clips to secure the folds. Baby quilts aren’t usually that hard to manage, and sometimes I hardly find it worth it to roll it, especially because I often change direction, and I don’t have a long-arm machine, so I have to fit whatever I have all the way around. Folded or not, I then just stitch away, in whatever design I’ve decided, using the same straight stitch I’d use for any other sewing. Sometimes I do have to adjust bobbin or thread tension, so I usually do a test before I start on a few scraps layered together.
I mentioned that you’re supposed to quilt from the center out, which is true—it’s less likely to get unsightly puckers on the back, or layer shifting. They also suggest you outline blocks first, then do any internal, more fiddly work, which makes sense. There is also a way to quilt where you ignore the design and just quilt a pattern all over, but I’ve never really done that.
I mentioned not having much patience with this. A lot of times, the quilting involves doing a few lines, smoothing the whole thing out on the floor, picking it back up, then stitching more lines, and repeating until finished. This is not really all that time-consuming, but, you see, the quilt is almost finished at this point. The end is near, and you can really feel it. I’m thinking about getting it cleaned and delivered, and my mind is often on the next project, or wanting not to sew for a few days. On top of that, my patchwork pieces are often pretty elaborate, so I want them to have the most attention. I could just do a tied quilt, but that’s not really right, either. So, I compromise by doing just enough to set pieces off and give the piece a few extra tidbits of interest, and then I quit.
Best Part: A couple of times recently I’ve had quilting come out really well, with no major problems. That was a really good feeling, since I feel so inept with this part.
Worst part: Puckers/bunches. No matter how good the basting, sometimes lines aren’t straight or a layer will pull a bit too much. There is usually nothing you can do about it, or you can pick the whole thing out and try again.
Next: Binding! We’re almost home!


Pearl Westwood said...

Your tutorials are so detailed, I am not the best sewer in the world but I love to read about everyone elses makes!

Abs said...

Thank you for stopping in! I'm not the best sewer in the world, either. But it's almost more fun to make it up as I go along!

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