Preparing for Hand Quilting

Even with quilt shows displaying tons of machine-quilted quilts, there are still a lot of quilters who quilt by hand. I see photos online all the time of quilters crawling around assembling their three-layer quilt sandwich on the floor. OMG, why? I have been hand quilting all of my quilting life, which has been since around 1975. Here’s how I do the same thing, which is much easier on the back and knees. It does require a little investment of money at the start, but after that, it’s free and ready.

What you need:

  • Four one by 3 boards – I have various sizes, but you can determine the length you need most and then buy that. If you are lucky, you have a husband who is a woodworker who can supply them for you. Thanks, Dean!
  • A fabric tube as long as each of your boards (don’t go buy something unless you feel like it. None of mine match, and many are made up of leftover cruddy fabrics. Your finished tube should be about 3 inches wide.
  • A staple gun with staples
  • Four 3 inch c-clamps (see picture below)
  • Four chairs with straight backs (or something like what my Dear Hubby made me – see pictures below)
  • Little brass pins, and lots of them (No, do not buy the larger silver pins. They will rust. Invest in brass in bulk. See picture of my very dry hand, below.)
  • Your finished quilt top
  • Your choice of batting
  • Your backing, at least 8 inches wider all around than your quilt
  • Quilt thread
  • Needle
  • Thimble
  • Coffee or wine, depending on the time of day
  • Round or oval quilting hoop for use on your lap

Using a staple gun, your four boards and the four fabric tubes you have made, Staple a tube on each board so that at least an inch and a half of the tube extends beyond the edge of the board. See photo. Notice how this isn’t rocket science? Perfection does NOT matter here. I did take a huge marker and write the lengh of the board on the end to make life easier later on.

Find a space in your home, garage, outside, etc. that is large enough to work in. Set up four chairs facing each other in a rectangle larger than your quilt. Balance your boards on the backs of the chairs so that the fabric flap is on the inside of the rectangle. Use your c-clamps to loosely secure the corners while you measure and square everything up. It is VERY IMPORTANT that your corners be square, and opposite sides measure the same distance. When everything is square and measured correctly, tighten down your c-clamps.

When I started quilting, my husband made me these neat gadgets to replace the use of chairs (Windsor-back chairs don’t work, since the back of them is curved.)

Lay your backing across the boards wrong side up. Begin pinning at one of the corners of the frame, working your way down one edge. Stop, then do the OPPOSITE edge the same way. Pull tight, but not too tight. Repeat with the other two sides. You should now have a trampoline for a fly. (Note: cats love it when you have made this trampoline. Ask me how I know. Keep your cats out of the area! )

Spread your batting on top of the backing. Smooth it out as you go along. If you have patience, you will let the batting rest on the backing over night. If I use cotton batting, I take a spray bottle of water and lightly mist the entire batt. It seems to help it relax and get rid of the fold lines.

Place your quilt top over the batting right side up. THIS IS IMPORTANT: Stretch your top a little to square it up. Measure your sides, look for square corners. Pin along the edge of the quilt top every inch and a half. This is the most important step here, so make sure you don’t hurry through it! With a needle and thread, sew-baste along your pinned edge through the top, batting and backing. Do NOT sew through your fabric tube on the frame. Again, I know this from experience, and I am happy to share this tip with you for no extra charge. Remove the straight pins as you sew around the edge of your quilt.

Using your little brass pins (remember, the finer the pin the smaller the holes they make), pin through the sandwich every 3-4 inches all the way around the frame and as far into the middle as you can reach. Your pins will last you a lifetime. Find a pretty container to keep them in.

When you can’t reach to the middle of your quilt to pin anymore, it is time to roll the quilt from one end. Using one of the sides that has a board ON TOP of the other two boards, release the C-clamps and a few pins from around the edge of the boards. Roll under tightly, then c-clamp back into place. See bottom photo. When the entire quilt is pinned, you can remove it from the frame.

The bottom photo shows my latest quilt after it has been rolled a few times. I have purposely not shown the quilt top so as to not distract you from your lesson, and so that the recipient will not see it before it is given.

In the materials list above, I mentioned that your backing should be at least 8 inches wider all around than your quilt? That is very helpful if you will be quilting in a hoop on your lap. You want straight edges on your quilt that do not wobble. This extra fabric (and batting) will allow you to quilt the edges much more easily.

Hope this helps… and saves your knees!