Wednesday, 10 October 2012

Tools for hand-quilting

Scrap vomit hand quilted
scrap vomit in progress

My mission to hand quilt my scrap vomit quilt continues. I'm enjoying the slow burn of this project. Something to pick up when I have some spare time in the evening, or for a half hour after lunch on a weekend at home. I've had many a happy afternoon quilting in the sunshine, but now Autumn is upon us, it's even more tempting to sit and quilt of an evening. Sitting under a voluminous quilt is a really good way of not having to put the central heating on. My cat seems to agree with the sentiment and wherever scrap vomit and I go, she's sure to follow.


There's a cat in mi quiltin what am I gonna do?
There's a cat in mi quiltin' what am I gonna do?*
This cat should win a prize for nonchalance, she has totally perfected the '...and?' look.

It's been a real learning curve for me taking on a quilt of this size as my only experience of quilting by hand has been on a baby quilt. Needless to say, working on a larger scale presents its own problems.

I've so far experimented with two kinds of needle. I tried the Clover Gold Eye quilting needles first, which were much tinier than I had imagined they would be, indeed, the eyes are almost too small to see, let alone thread! I followed a helpful tip in Last-minute Patchwork and Quilted Gifts and threaded all fourteen needles onto the spool of thread at once, just pulling a new length of thread through one of the needles and cutting when I ran out of thread. This definitely lessened the pain of threading, getting it all over and done with in one go. Though very fine and very sharp, I did find I broke 3 needles in my first few quilting sessions.  I think the key with the Clover needles is not letting the needle take too much of the stress, but manipulating the quilt as you rock the needle. I also bought some John James Pebble needles (after worrying about the snappability of the Clover needles) but, being thicker, I found them much harder to push through the fabric and much less flexible. The Gutermann hand quilting thread I've been using gives a nice stitch definition and it travels well through the fabric, especially after a few passes through my trusty paraffin wax, though it is hard to thread through those teeny tiny clover needles ... I wonder whether anyone has found a better pairing?

hand quilting tools

The other problem I have encountered on occasion is finding I can't physically grip the needle to pull it through the quilt when loaded up with a row of stitches. In extremis, I have found that grabbing an eraser from one of the children's pencil cases and  pressing it into the needle with my right hand whilst pulling the needle through with my left works quite well, but it's hardly the most efficient technique. I had been on a quest to source some of those rubber thimbles used by bank tellers until Florence enlightened me as to the existence of something called a 'needle grabber', which I have duly ordered and look forward to putting to use.

Of course one of the hazards of quilting with 2.5" squares is that when you press all those tiny seams to one side you end up with a huge bulk of fabric to quilt through in places. This is the one place where my clover needles fail me, and I have to abandon the rocking motion and take slow stitches from front to back until I've negotiated the bulk. Is it anathema to quilters to press seams open? I'm thinking this could have saved me a lot of grief and snapped needles! Likewise, I haven't used a frame or hoop at all when quilting and wonder whether this is going to turn out to be a huge mistake later. My feeling was that I would struggle to have enough give in the fabric to rock the needle through so many layers if it was held taught in a hoop.


Hand quilting tools

The one tool I really couldn't do without is my no-slip thimble, worn on the middle finger of my right hand. It has a recessed ridged top which is perfect for holding the end of the needle to push it through the fabric. However, the fingers of my left hand are definitely suffering from those evenings spent stitching. Even though I already have a hard layer of skin on the tips of my fingers from playing the violin, I've found that they're a mess of little grazes from the needle coming through the underside of the fabric. My first thought as an erstwhile harpist (well, I'm Welsh, it goes with the territory), was surgical spirit (which I think is known as 'rubbing alcohol' in the US). This was something used to harden your fingertips so that they didn't blister. I still have a bottle stashed in the medicine cupboard so I'm going to experiment to see if this affords any protection. I have also ordered some Thimble-its sticky patches; I'm hoping they'll still allow me to feel the needle underneath the fabric without shredding my finger tips to smithereens. 

Do you have any favourite tools that you can't do without? Is there anything else I need to complete my hand-quilter's toolkit? I would love to hear your tips and advice to someone who is new to quilting by hand.

*I'm sad enough to think this is really funny, but the husband suggests I link here by way of explanation.

22 comments:

  1. The quilt looks really good. the grey breaks up the design and makes a contemporary look. Happy sitiching

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    1. Thank you, Joanna. I am happily stitching again this evening and probably for many evenings to come before it's finished.

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  2. there's a whole seams open/seams to one side thing in the quilting world. I am a seams open girl. The original thinking was that the (hand stitched) seam would be strengthened by having an extra layer of fabric protecting it, but in the machine age this is a bit redundant. Do what you prefer!

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    1. Yes, I've always pressed to one side to strengthen the seam, and I do like the way you can then 'nest' the opposing seams together when joining strips. I would definitely be inclined to press open if I did another scrap vomit though as handquilting through all those layers is a complete nightmare!

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  3. Your quilt is looking lovely, you have so much more patience than me. I'm not sure I could hand quilt, I can imagine it's quite soothing once you get going but I fear I lack the patience. Bet it's worth it though. I'm trying hard to get used to using a thimble, I often find myself using pliers to pull the needle through tweed!!

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    1. Thanks, Beth. I'm not really that patient, I'm mostly a complete speed merchant, but I am enjoying the process for its own sake. It's nice to slow down for once! I have now got my needle grabbers through the post and have to say they are brilliant.

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  4. I always press open. I think it breaks some kind of rule, but I like the results better.
    Everything I've ever hand-quilted I've never used a hoop for--I just can't get the hang of the thing, and they've all turned out ok (of course, they were only table-runners, but still).

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    1. I'm going to try open the next quilt I make for comparison as I've always pressed to one side before. Maybe my points will match up better!

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  5. The quilt is beautiful :D So is the cat ;D

    Back when I indulged in this kind of thing I pressed seams open, but I think what works best depends on the stitch length you've used and the fabric you've stitched.

    It's a dangerous thing, needlecraft, I've just been chatting to a couple of injured knitters, why do we do this to ourselves?!

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    1. Thanks, Annie!

      Needlecraft is definitely a dangerous pursuit - I have a very big scar from my schooldays from a knitting machine!

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  6. I always press open, unless the instructions say 'press to the dark side' in which case I can't resist and tell myself I'm a quilting Jedi :-) Your quilting looks amazing, I'm also still on the hunt for the best quilting needles as I've found exactly the same problem with the Clover needles. I think I might try some Sashiko needles they're designed to have several stitches on them at the same time aren't they? Your SV is gorgeous, and that beautiful cat!! Give her a stroke for me :-)

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    1. Haha! I love the idea of 'the dark side', Helen! Do let me know how you get on with the sashiko needles. I'm sticking with my clover needles at the moment as I do like the fineness of them, but threading them is a total nightmare!

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  7. Ooops and I also meant to mention that the V&A Quilting exhibition was very clear that in the production of Welsh quilts it was considered normal practise to have a child thread about 10 long threads at a time and periodically come back to thread more as their stitching Mother ran out. Perhaps you should revive the tradition ;-)

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    1. Brilliant - I love this idea. I'm going to test out the 9 and 6 year old as soon as possible to see who has the better eye!

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  8. Scrap Vomit is such an ugly name for such a beautiful quilt, that Katy Jones has got a lot to answer for, ha, ha!! ; ). I can understand your problems with the quilting needles, I had expected them to be a lot larger to load up stitches, and in the small projects I've done so far, they just seem too small, and hard work. You're very brave doing a full sized quilt by hand quilting, but like you said, great for snuggling under on the sofa! Apparently seams to 1 side is the traditional method, open is the modern way, and does significantly reduce the bulk- the traditionalists do claim it weakens the quilt to have them open, BUT as long as you ensure the tension is right on the machine it shouldn't be a problem. And welcome to the Brit Quilt group, I only found it about 3 months ago, and there are always lots of lovely projects to see, and support to be had! Ange x

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    1. Haha! I just love the name, it makes me smile, hilarious. Yes, you're right about the quilting needles, I'd expected them to be longer too. I like Helen's idea above of using Sashiko needles as I'm sure they're quite a bit longer. I must experiment with pressing seams open. After all, with paper piecing my seams are always pressed open, so there's no real reason why piecing by machine should be different.

      Thanks for the welcome to the Brit Quilt group and for popping over here. I found it quite by accident, lots of lovely inspiration!

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  9. I agree, you can't keep calling such a beautiful quilt such an ugly name as Scrap Vomit. While quilting is still too scary for me, I have got some thimbles that go around the fingers - both a leather set and a metal set (that look like wide rings), which have lessened the brutality of embroidery. My favourite thimble is one that is designed for people with long nails, though. I don't, but I like having a bit of air about my finger tip, so I prefer it to the traditional thimbles.

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    1. Thanks for the recommendation, Dawn. I think I need to go and have a browse at the haberdashers, my fingers are really suffering!

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  10. Glad to see I'm not the only one with a quilt-lovin' cat - mine has taken to sleeping on my latest quilt wherever it is and whatever he has to shift to get to it! It came back from show and tell recently with two backs I'd made and all 3 were on the table - until he kicked off the bags onto the floor so he could curl up on the quilt! Our sofa now has a lovely dent in the top of the cushions where he's made a bed on the quilt draped over it, :-)

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    1. We have exactly the same problem with anything draped on the back of the settee, Pennie! I keep on meaning to make a little cat quilt for her, but I reckon she'd probably spurn it for the real thing anyway!

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  11. Love your Scrap Vomit quilt...and your kitty too :)

    With regard to the problem with your needle/thread pairing, Gutermann is my favourite thread, for needles, have you tried Roxanne's needles?. Handmade, they have a large eye, which makes threading so easy. I also prefer Thread Heaven to beeswax.

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    1. Thanks, Kylie :)
      I'll have a look at the Roxanne's needles, thanks for the recommendation. The threading is driving me slightly insane, even though I really like the sharpness of the Clover needles. I'll have to do some experimenting and report back!

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