What Needle Is Best for Hand Quilting?

I constantly hear from new quilters who want to know what the BEST needle is to use for hand quilting.  My response is usually “whatever one you find easiest to use.

There is no one right or wrong needle.  As a hand quilter, you should try a wide assortment of needles AND try quilting with them through different situations:

  • Quilt with your needle through cotton fabrics (front and back) using the batting you normally use.
  • Then try quilting with a different batting… and another and another.  The best needle will let you know when it’s in your hand.   It will be comfortable.  Your stitches will be as even as you can get them (based on your experience as a quilter).
  • The best needle will sew with the thread you choose and will not be difficult to thread.  The eye of the needle will neither be too large or too small.

If you go on Facebook and visit the Celebrate Hand Quilting group (which I encourage you to join), you can ask hand quilters what their favorite or best needle is; you will get dozens and dozens of different responses.

50fe05ce-8c8f-40f2-b1f9-69d8038543b5_1-9f0ee69afca2f9852f9cd80914720345After years of experimenting, MY OWN FAVORITE is a Bohin needle.   It may not be YOUR favorite needle… but I like it.  It works for me!  Betweens needles, also referred to as quilting needles, are short in length with a small, round eye and a sharp point.

All the needles available to today’s modern quilter are inexpensive.  In fact, the needle is probably the most inexpensive tool you will purchase as a quilter.  So try a needle and jot down some notes for yourself.  Then try a different needle.  Jot down more notes.  If another quilter tells you to try needle X, go ahead and try it, but keep notes.  Pretty soon you will know the needle you like best.  When you find it, buy as many as you can.  Put a smile on your face and stitch, stitch, stitch!

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Let’s Talk a Little About Thread!

If you are new to #hand quilting, here are some tried and true details you’ll need 
to know about #thread.
When you hand sew clothing – putting in a hem, fixing a ripped seam allowance, etc.,
you sometimes use a double layer of thread in a matching color with a knot at the
end.  That could be either polyester or cotton thread – your preference!  I usually use
Coats and Clarks All-Purpose thread or Dual Duty thread for sewing clothing.
Dual Duty Plus thread by Coats and Clark is designed for hand quilting.  It is a strong thread, well-suited for hand quilting.  For hand quilting, you only want ONE layer of thread, not a double layer with a knot at the end.  The glace finish reduces abrasion on the thread which can cause fraying.  The All-Purpose thread features polyester covered polyester core for strength.This thread can be used for a variety of sewing projects, but is NOT normally used for hand quilting or hand piecing.
Another good brand of thread is Gutermann’s Natural Cotton Thread.  It comes in a wide variety of colors, and is a high-quality thread.  I use this for hand piecing.  The Gutermann Natural Cotton Thread is perfect for those who like to sew with natural fibers.  I prefer to use a good, natural cotton thread for both hand piecing and hand quilting.  For hand quilting, though, the thread needs to be heavier in thickness to withstand going through all the layers.
40-WT-SPOOL.jpgMy FAVORITE brand of thread for hand quilting is #Presencia.  Presencia 100% Cotton 3-Ply Sewing/Quilting Thread, 100% extra-long staple Egyptian cotton, mercerized for strength, colorfast and shrinkfast, tightly twisted and balanced, and virtually lint free. It is available in 40, 50, and 60 weights — the higher the number, the finer the thread.

40 weight is designed for longarm quilting, decorative stitching , hand quilting and top stitching — when you want the stitches to show. Mercerized – Colorfast and -Shrinkfast.

50 weight is ideal for general construction, piecing and appliqué.

60 weight is perfect for invisible applique or quilt piecing to achieve an exact 1/4″ seam allowance.

If you will be basting the three layers of your quilt sandwich together, there are a couple different ways you can do that.  Some people use little brass pins to pin-baste the quilt sandwich.  Others will use thread and thread baste their quilt.  I use neutral colors of thread to thread baste, and I do not concern myself with the weight of the thread or the brand used for basting because I will be removing the basting thread anyway.  I will talk more about basting in another article.

The Basics

Have you ever tried to do hand quilting?  Or does the thought of quilting by hand scare the batting right out of you?  It shouldn’t!  Hand quilting is really quite simple once you see how it is accomplished.  You have probably heard of people who do knitting because it relaxes them.  Quilting by hand accomplishes the same goal: to relax and repeat the same motion over and over, both creating something beautiful and letting your mind and body enjoy a time of bliss and beauty.  

Before we begin learning how to do this, I’d like to explain a few things to you.

First, everyone is different, and everyone has their own preferences and ways of doing things.  That is life, isn’t it? You should watch my husband and I load the dishwasher.  I do it one way, and my dear husband rearranges the dishes before it gets turned on. No matter who arranges the dishes, the machine will still get turned on, and the dishes will still get washed.  

There are some quilters who will tell you what you MUST do, and make it clear to you that there is only one way to do the task.  We affectionately refer to THOSE people as the “Quilt Police.”  The rules that they describe are either THEIR OWN suggestions, or they are tried and true practices learned from generations of quilters who came before them. 

I’d like to introduce you to my father.  He isn’t a quilter, but he appreciates a good quilt.  My dad taught me how to drive when I was 16.  But he wouldn’t let me drive the car until I knew some basic skills.  
  • I had to demonstrate to him that I could change a tire.
  • I had to fill the gas tank with the right kind of gas, shut off the pump and go pay the attendant on my own.
  • I had to wash, dry and wax the car properly under his supervision.  
 
Again, I couldn’t drive the car until all these skills were in place.  What he showed me was that there are some basics that you need to know before the fun begins.  The same is true with learning how to hand quilt.  There are some basic guidelines and skills that you need to learn; let’s begin with those, one step at a time.  Again, these aren’t “Quilt Police” laws, these are raw basics.
 
  1. Prewash and press your cotton fabrics before including them in a quilt.  Here is why this is important:  a) Often, when fabrics are dyed by the manufacturer, they will retain any excess dye.  It is wise to run those fabrics through the wash (either by hand or by machine) to make sure you get the extra dye out before you include the fabric in a quilt.  I just toss my fabrics in the washing machine with regular detergent,  rinse and dry in the dryer.  ALSO, during the manufacturing process, fabric may be treated with finishes that will remain in the fabric while it is drying. While that might be alright to include in your quilt if you will be machine quilting, hand quilting is another story.  Finishes that are put into fabrics can sometimes make it more difficult to hand stitch.  If you will be hand quilting, you will be glad that you removed any of these finishes.  It makes the fabric softer and easier to stitch.
  2. Visit a quilt shop that carries thimbles OR go online and look for a quilt shop that specializes in hand quilting supplies.  Traditional quilting practices and demonstrations throughout time show that you want a thimble that fits snugly on the middle finger of your dominant hand.  I am right handed, so my thimble is always on my middle finger of my right hand. Wearing a thimble does not feel comfortable the first few times you wear one.  Trust me!  I was told to put on my thimble when I got up in the morning, and wear it all day long until it became a part of flexibilityme.  That really did work, and there are still times when I put it on and forget I have it on.  Make sure that your thimble really fits snug on your finger, though.  Try a few different thimble styles until you find the one that is meant for you.  Really, they are not that expensive, so try several on before you make a more costly purchase.  
  3. Use a good quality batting, but one that is fairly thin.  You don’t want something that is thick the first time you hand quilt.  I strongly recommend a Mountain Mist thin polyester batting OR a Hobbs Tuscany Wool.  Both of these will be easy to stitch on and will feel like “quilting through butter.”  Whatever you do, please stay clear of cotton batting the first few times.  
  4. Use a hoop or frame when you quilt.  Yes, really.  It doesn’t need to be anything expensive, and you can actually use four boards and four C-clamps to create your own quilt frame.  Many people will tell you that you don’t need a hoop or frame… they will suggest that you go without one.  I suggest you think back to old photographs featuring many women sitting around a quilt frame stitching.  Here – you can visit this link  and see what I’m talking about.  There was a reason that women sat around a quilt frame.  Stretching the three layers of the quilt on a frame and pinning them in place assures the quilters that there will not be puckers or “air pockets” in the finished quilt.  Yes, the large square or rectangular frame allows many women or men to sit around and stitch together.  But it is the “sandwiching of the layers” that is really the thing that helps create a beautiful quilt.  And again, many people will say that using a hoop or frame is unnecessary.  You need to decide that for yourself by trying different methods.  Remember, there are no quilt police.    Stay tuned for additional articles, videos and photos that will provide you with additional information on this topic.  In the meantime, go put that thimble right back on your finger! 

 




Expanding Horizons

Many people in the quilting world know that I have written two books on quilting. My first was America’s Pictorial Quilts. I met so many quilters from around the United States and other countries during and following the publication of that book, one of the first books that the American Quilter’s Society published. Schroeder Publications in Paducah, KY had a line of books called Collector Books, a division of Schroeder Publishing, which began in 1969 when Bill Schroeder saw a need and filled it. Bill’s wife Meredith was just beginning a line of books about quilting (via the newly-formed American Quilter’s Society). At that time, my Mother-in-law owned and operated an antique shop in our small town, Flushing, Michigan. Through the years, she had amassed quite a mountain of books on antiques, many of them published by Schroeder Publishing under the “Collector Books” umbrella. As I was writing America’s Pictorial Quilts and looking for the right publisher, I found a good match between my goal to write a quilting book, and the goals of the Schroeders. My first book was published in 1985.

Not long after APQ came out, I began a second book called Contemporary Quilts From Traditional Designs. This book was published by Penguin Books out of New York City. My editor, Cyril Nelson, had a love for quilts and for writing about them, and I was blessed to have him join me in seeing my second book through from start to finish.

I enjoyed the writing process with these two books, but felt a need to expand my writing horizons. Over several years, ideas wriggled in and out of my head, and slowly a story started to take shape, loosely based on real-life events from my family in the New York and Pittsburgh areas.

During this period, I was also involved in education, working as an elementary and middle school teacher, adjunct university instructor, and elementary principal. While the novel was still on my mind, I just didn’t have the time to see it through. I was a little too busy! From time to time I would re-read what I had written, add a paragraph here and there, and set it aside. “Someday,” I’d say, “I will get back to it.”

It’s time. My husband, a woodworker, has retired from his business downtown and is now starting a new phase in his life that, while similar to what he has been doing for 34+ years, is really different. This week he is completing the IMG_9575
construction of his new studio. He will still be woodworking, but he will now be creating furniture and pieces of art that HE chooses to make, rather than refinishing or repairing items for people who need his assistance. I must say, right now he is smiling continually like “a kid in a candy store.” And I love it!

I am working in real estate in our community (which I love), I continue to quilt (by hand, which I love) and I have decided that my “someday” is now. I am three chapters into my third book, and the brain is excited to be writing again. I am fortunate to have a woodworker at home who can also serve as an editor; a graduate with a degree in Literature does seem to have quite a knack for discovering writing mistakes and for making good suggestions.

Yes indeed, as I gradually work towards that thing called “retirement,” I realize that I really have no plans to officially “retire.” I just have plans to do things differently, much as the Woodworker has.

Hello, World, we are still here, and we are both smiling. Bring it on!

Dare to be Different: Just a Thought…

Are you a follower? Do you follow and copy trends that you see so you fit in with the crowd? I think many (or most) of us have done that at one stage or the other in our lives. Think back to when you were a young teenager. Did you dress like everyone else out of fear that you would be made fun of if you didn’t? Did you follow the crowd and cheer for the most popular team “just because?”

I’ll be honest, here… as a teen, my ability to “fit in” was based on what my family could afford, not on what the current style was. And that teenage girl did the best she could to follow trends but never seemed to be able to catch up.

A day or two ago, I posted a photo of our front door on my Facebook page. When we first built our home back about 20 years ago, we wanted it to look different. We were the first home to be built in our neighborhood, and in driving through our community, we noticed that most houses that were being built had brick on the outside. Nobody had flagstone. NOBODY. We wanted to be unique, so that is what we requested from our builder. We absolutely adored it! Our white siding looked fantastic with maroon-colored shutters and a maroon-colored front door. Along with our flagstones, it made a great combination. Sad to say, when the house across the street was built, it had white siding, flagstone and maroon door and shutters. HEAVY SIGH.

My husband counted red and maroon front doors on our street recently. There are approximately 16 of them on our street alone. So our front door has now changed to dark gray to match our newly-painted shutters and porch bench. We enjoy being unique.

Do you enjoy being different? Or are you a follower? I recently bought a new car. Tired of seeing all the silver, white, black and tan cars in my area, I went with a shiney copper just so I would be slightly different. It’s a little thing, I know, but it makes me smile.

As a Realtor, I look at houses on a daily basis, both inside and out. Pinterest seems to dictate how people decorate their homes these days. I see a lot of houses with the same color pallet inside. I see lots of signs with writing on them hanging on walls. Lots of painted pictures created by women who took classes where everyone painted the same exact picture. I just don’t get that, but whatever. Pets are even becoming “the thing” around here. New puppies are springing up everywhere, and even they are ruled by trends. Our dog “Noodle” was a rescue dog, not a trendy dog… but we wouldn’t trade her for the world.

As a quilter, I cringe everytime I see someone post that they really like another quilter’s finished quilt and then turn around and ask them if they can have the pattern… followed by, “Where did you get the fabric and what is it called?” I LOVE IT when people take a risk and do their own thing rather than create a copy-cat version of someone else’s talent.

When was the last time that you designed your OWN quilt? Did you know that it’s entirely acceptable to mix and blend fabrics from different designers? You don’t have to stick with the same designer’s fabric all through one quilt. Mixing it up can give you a delightful look that other people might not have thought to do. Give it a try, and DARE TO BE DIFFERENT!

Conservative Quilters? Seriously?

I started college as a fine arts major. I was in choir and numerous plays. I attended the Interlochen Fine Arts Camp in Northern Michigan, attended college locally as a fine arts student while I was in my senior year of high school. I sang in the Flint Festival Chorus and had the honor of singing with them at Charles Stewart Mott’s funeral. I was in Gilbert and Sullivan Players, and the list goes on. I had many friends who were gay; it never bothered me. And why should it?

A number of years ago, my husband and I and our two sons attended a different church than we do now. The priest at that church said to the congregation (during a Sunday service), that he would not serve communion to any individual that he knew to be homosexual. That made me extremely angry, and I went home in tears.

You see, my close friend Chris was active in his own church in high school. He spent a lot of time helping the youth in his church, assisting the regular Sunday School teachers as needed. He spoke freely about his faith in and out of school, and you couldn’t find a more devoted Christian. And yet, if he were to attend my church, he would not have been allowed to receive communion. In my eyes, that was just plain WRONG.

Fast forward to the late 1970’s and early 80’s. I was a young mother and just starting to learn how to quilt. I was self-taught and could not find a quilting class, but had the pleasure of working at Quilts, Kits and Caboodles, a quilt store in downtown Flint, Michigan. There, I picked up some tips and suggestions, and I was off and running. Within a year or so, I started teaching quilting in the Flushing School District, one night each week, in their community education programs. In my first class was a young man about my age who really wanted to learn how to quilt. I thought that it was unique for a man to want to learn how to quilt, but why shouldn’t he? I didn’t blink an eye, though looking back, I’m sure there were a few women in the group who might have had questions about why James was there. Fortunately, they never brought up the subject.

A couple of years ago, I joined a quilt guild in our area. It was interesting to meet with others who loved quilting, though I am a hand quilter and most everyone else was not. Several older women chastised me for not using a machine, but beyond that, everyone was fine (most of the time.) I spent a year as president of the guild, and helping to bring in speakers and to plan programs. I did a trunk show with my own quilts, showing the group quilts from the two quilt books I had written early on. There was a man who attended that trunk show, the only man in the group. I was thrilled to see him there, as James was the young man in my first quilting class years ago (mentioned above.) What surprised me was the reaction of the others in the audience who wondered just why he was there. After all, wasn’t this a WOMEN’s guild?
No, it was a QUILT GUILD. Gender was never a deciding factor for attendance, and I made that clear.

From that time on, the atmosphere within the group changed. I brought in a fantastic male speaker Several other men started visiting the guild on a regular basis to learn how to quilt, but they were treated differently. And because I was friends with several of them, I noticed that I, too, was being treated differently. One person in particular became very nasty with me, and I was never sure just what brought that on, but I looked at it as her problem and not mine.

Within the past few weeks, a change has taken place in the world of quilting. There is a group, the “Conservative Quilting Group,” that is making life difficult for many quilters who don’t meet their guidelines. Not just QUILTING guidelines, but political and religious beliefs as well. Not only are they attacking people’s beliefs, but they are out to ruin the livelihood of quilters who earn their living by writing books, teaching classes, selling their quilts, etc. Basically, what they are doing is an adult form of bullying to the nth degree. And it is wrong. Just plain wrong. The paragraph above mentions one person who became very nasty with me. It turns out that she is one of those individuals who is in the so-called “Conservative Quilting Group.”

The group is a small, SECRET group on Facebook. You can’t find them by doing a search, you have to know how to access the group. I don’t care to know how that is done, as I want no part of it. So why am I writing this blog post? Because quilters need to know what is going on. We thought that quilting was a safe, fun, relaxing hobby, something pleasurable to do in your free time. It COULD be that, but now our world is a lot more complex than it was before. When I first saw the name “Conservative Quilters,” I thought that meant quilters who are careful in planning their quilts, rationing out fabric, using up scraps, etc. Nope, not that at all.

I am seeing several of my friends being attacked. And, this past week when I mentioned it in a Facebook group that I started several years ago, the nastiness ran rampant in ways I would never have imagined. And it is just SO wrong! I have been deep in thought the past couple of days. I decided that I am not going to do anything different, but I AM going to be supportive to my quilting friends who are being attacked. I’m not going to name any names. I’m not going to add fuel to the fire. But I do know this: I hope these so called “Conservative Quilters” who hold themselves up as being devout Christians will come to the realization someday that Christians DO NOT ACT LIKE THAT. THEY DO NOT BULLY OTHERS. THEY DO NOT CALL PEOPLE NAMES AND RUIN THEIR BUSINESSES. That is not why God Sent His Only Son. Pick up a bible some day and stick your nose in it. Do some reading. I will be praying for you.

Why do you want to learn how to hand quilt? OR, Why do you want to learn how to hand quilt BETTER?

Why do you want to learn?  What drives you to quilting?  What is your passion? Who do you know personally that is a hand quilter?  (By that I mean knowing someone OUTSIDE the Internet world… someone you see in person and talk to on a regular basis).

I read the following phrase recently: “Clarity trumps perfection.”  When you combine that phrase with the process of learning to hand quilt, what do you think of?

Would you take a few moments to think deeply about the questions presented above and share them with me via email?  I’d like to take all your thoughts and put them together into a list and share them, not through a usual Facebook discussion, but just as a simple list of your thoughts.  So please respond to me by dropping me an email  and include your first name.  I am excited to find out what thoughts you have, and once I have gathered your thoughts, I will share them on this blog.

Stay tuned, and keep stitching!