Hand Quilting my New Years Resolution

I’ve been trying to finish hand quilting this quilt for ohhhh maybe three years?!#*@!!!  So I decided to make one of my New Years resolutions to work a little bit on it every day until it is done.   As you can see I have a pretty sweet set up for hand quilting.  I have a really nice view of my patio and the indirect Eastern light is great for actually seeing where I’m quilting.

I use painter's tape as a guide for my straight lines

The top I’m working on is a great old vintage top  made from a variety of indigoes and Mourning fabrics arranged in a very striking snail trail display.  Some vintage collectors might say finishing such tops is a mistake.  But I think old tops without any documentation might as well be finished and enjoyed.  I take lots of pictures of the front and back before I start so details of construction are recorded.

When I look at old quilts or tops to buy I am often attracted to the ‘odd ducks’.  Wonky blocks, off colors or patterns etc. despite the fantastic visual impact of this quilt top it had structural problems, which may be the reason that it was never finished.

Snail’s trail blocks have a lot of bias edges in their construction and that can lead to some pretty wonky blocks.   In the case of this quilt: while the blocks were all hand pieced the seams between the blocks were machine sewn. All that hand pieced bias fabric trapped in tight machine stitching made for some blocks being pretty ‘poochy’ in the middle.

detail of the pucker before quilting

No amount of stretching would ever get that completely flat.  My remedy was to choose a fairly fluffy , mostly wool blend batting.  Also I think quilting on a big frame helps keep fairly even tension over the whole surface of the quilt thus spreading or easing the  puckers in as you quilt.

same block after quilting

It’s not perfect by any means but it lays more less flat.   When the quilt is relaxed off the frame the fluffy wool batting helps to camouflage a multitude if sins!

I have hand quilted a few tops of my own construction but I find finishing these orphan tops is much more gratifying.  I find machine piecing  my own tops is much more efficient (and appropriate). I am not a great hand quilter so I try to match my quilting with the construction level of the top.

As to my New Years resolution… I’ve done pretty well.  I have quilted a little everyday since the new year and I have already quilted almost an entire row of blocks.  Just one more roll of the frame and I will be on my last row!!! Yahooooo!  Happy New Year! CW

8 responses to “Hand Quilting my New Years Resolution

  1. I’m very impressed!!!!!!! Such creative thinking,talent, and dedication.

  2. Your quilting is awesome. I too have vowed to complete hand-quilting vintage quilts I rescues from flea markets several years ago. I try to do a few stitches each day or until my fingers start stinging. I quilt on a lap hoop – but after seeing your quilt frame, I am very tempted to investigate the purchase of a free-standing frame. Can I be so bold as to ask what brand and where you purchased your frame? Your quilting set-up is great and so inspiring to hand quilt.


    • Hey Terry, Thanks for your comment. I’m glad to hear I’m not the only one who thinks finishing vintage tops is not totally insane! As to your question about my frame; I bought it about 15 years ago at a quilt fair and unfortunately it has no label or any kind of markings on it at all. I think I payed $650.00 for it, but that was 15 years ago. I do remember the manufacturer was from Texas. The main reason I purchased that frame was the “self basting” feature. It works similar to a long arm frame in that you pin the top and backing onto two separate rollers, put the batting in between and then pull all three layers to the opposite roller and pin them together. All the rollers are controlled by cogs that control the tension over the surfaces of both top and backing. Thus the ‘self-basting title. Look for cogs that have reinforcement. Mine have formica coating on both sides that that makes them much stronger and less likely to break. As to you stinging fingers… have you tried thimble pads? They are little dots of leather with adhesive on the back. I stick on on my right middle finger (my ‘driving’ finger) and one on my right thumb ( my ‘receiving’ finger). I could never get the hang of regular thimbles but these little pads have really helped my hand quilting. ‘hope that helps, cheers, Claire W.

  3. Thanks so much for the info on the quilting frame. I also live in California (Murrieta) and will begin my search. This may be harder than one might think as the emphasis lately has been on machine quilting and thus hand quilting supplies are not readily available. Although I do machine quilt many of my quilts, there are some quilts that scream for hand quilting. I do use a thimble on my driving finger and finger pads on my underneath finger, along with finger cots for pulling the needle through. I have tried millions of thimbles, plastic ones, Roxannes (3) vintage silver ones, among many others and none ever felt just right. That is until I discovered Thimbles by TJ Lane. These thimbles are silver, pretty and pricey. I was going to order on-line (was a little apprehensive about the fit) until I discovered an outlet at a quilting store about an hour away from me. The saleslady spent at least 45 minutes with me to get the perfect fit. She was an expert at fitting and had me try on many thimbles; she also pointed out what was wrong with the ones that I thought were “just right”. She had me suck on my finger each time I tried on a thimble and if the thimble “popped” when taking it off, it was the right size. The one I finally bought is fantastic with deep dimples for gripping the needle. I have no sensation that I have a thimble on – it fits that well. Now all I need is the perfect quilting frame. Again, thanks for all the info. – Terry

    • Hi Terry,That’s really interesting how your search for the perfect fit thimble worked. I never knew there were so many tricks to the process!A couple of things occurred to me that I did not mention before that might influence your search for a frame. A free standing frame is great for your basic over all quilt patterns. Notice I’m just quilting diagonal lines from upper right to lower left. For me it is the easiest stitch to sew. If you want to quilt fancier patterns it may not be so easy ’cause you can’t turn the frame. Grace’s frames has a hoop on a free moving stand that lifts the hoop off your lap while allowing rotation all around the hoop. I have not tried it but it looks like a better way to go if you want more maneuverability. Grace’s has a we site and a lot of other sources sell their products. It’s just amazing what a wealth of info there is on the internet!!While checking out these web site I also found the following had great info about marking quilts etc. Good luck in your search, cheers, Claire W.

  4. What a lovely set up for quilting Claire!! And I relaly liked seeing the before and after quilted block. Nice work on that one!! What a fantastic old top. A little every night adds up- you’ll be done before you know it!

  5. I love your quilting frame and the view out the window! Lucky you.
    I am in the process of deciding on a quilt frame to buy. I like to do a lot of cross hatching and just simple quilting designs.
    My thought though is if I wanted to do fancier quilting couldn’t I just quilt all the lines I could and baste then take it off the floor frame and use a hoop in my lap for the rest of the quilting?
    I love the quilt your working on , its a dream of mine to hand quilt an antique quilt top.

    • Hey Kathie, Thanks for your comment. I really like my ‘self basting’ frame; but it is really for very basic quilting= straight on the diagonal, straight right to left ( for right handed) and I haven’t tried it but I think babtist fan would be possible. I think if you wanted to do fancier hand quilting you might want a frame you could rotate around. I had thought about what you suggested; using the big frame for all over simple quilting and taking it off the frame for the fancy work. I think that idea has real possibilities! cheers, CW

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