Wednesday, February 15, 2017

QAYG Sampler - Week 4 - Nine Patch Block

   Week 4 of the Quilt As You Go Sampler has us to the quilting of the Nine Patch block you have pieced together this past month. As with block types, there are many ways to quilt your block but to begin we will start with a very easy way to quilt.

   Some quilters love the whole process of making a quilt while others love the piecing or quilting more. When hand quilting a quilt, I find I love the whole process but find the actual quilting a stress relieving exercise once I find my rhythm.  I know many a knitter who feel the same way.

   Week 3 of the Nine Patch block showed how to sandwich your block and should now look something like this.  Depending on the method you use to quilt, you may decide to use more basting lines but for this simple block, the bare minimum is fine.

   First a little bit of information about quilting thread. As we discussed in Before You Start Sewing or Quilting blog post, using thread with the same fiber content as your material will yield the best results.  That is not to say that I haven't used all purpose thread before. I have and it worked fine, but for the longevity of your quilt, try to stay as close to the common fiber content as you can afford.

   Unlike with basting thread, I use a shorter strand of about 18-20" when hand quilting as it is easier to work with and doesn't wear as much towards the end of the strand. Think about the amount of layers your thread will be sliding through, and then multiply that by the amount of stitches. That is a lot of friction and both wears on the thread and causes static which can twist and knot it. 

   There are several possible solutions to this. The first is to use shorter strands of about 12-14". Another is to pull your cut strand of thread through an old dryer sheet. You could also buy a thread conditioner like Thread Heaven.  Or you could go the old fashion route and use beeswax or use thread specifically made for hand sewing that has already been coated with beeswax.

    When I first started out, I didn't do any of these things as I was in a hurry but soon found out I wasted more thread and time by having to cut off knotted/frayed ends. So when I couldn't afford anything but regular thread, I used shorter strands. I tried using candle wax but found it did not coat the thread evenly and have read since then that this is not recommended by anyone with knowledge of thread properties

  You can buy thread wax in sewing and quilting stores but I really like regular beeswax. If you choose to strengthen your thread, pull it either through the wax or press thread against the wax (or thread conditioner) with your thumb while pulling. Do this several times. When using the thread wax bought in a craft or fabric store, you should then also pull the thread through your thumb and forefinger once or twice to set the wax and to clear off any loose residual wax.  If using a dryer sheet, pull thread through a sheet several times.

   For those people who wait for sales and for those who can afford it, there is 100% cotton quilting thread already waxed. It comes in a variety of colors. Both spools of thread in the picture below are 100% cotton. The one on the left is wax coated.

   Last week I showed you how to do basting in the minimal manner necessary for using a quilt hoop. If you wish to quilt without a frame, more basting is required to hold the sandwiched layers in place until the block is completely quilted.  You accomplish this by adding rows in opposing directions.  We will be using this method next month. 

   For now we will be using a very inexpensive embroidery hoop.  Yes, I know this is not what it is made for but when I first started I didn't know any better or that you could quilt without a hoop and this $3 hoop worked very well. 

   If you can afford a couple dollars more, then I recommend you get the plastic version as I have broken many a embroidery hoop. If you wonder why I haven't suggested using an actual quilting hoop, it's because although they are wider, deeper and stronger than embroidery hoops, I want to show that quilting does NOT need to be an expensive proposition for those without the means to purchase better equipment. Necessity is the mother of invention.

   The actual quilt hoops I have invested in are the square PVC ones shown. The larger one I bought for about $15 with a 50% off coupon from Joanns Fabrics.

   You will need to use a large hoop for this large square.  When working with smaller blocks, I have used smaller hoops.  Open the tightening screw so that the hoop has enough room to accommodate all three layers of the quilt sandwich.

   Place the inner hoop on a flat surface and lay your quilt block centered on top of it. Gently push the outer hoop onto the top being careful not to create puckers or stretch your block out of shape.  We simply want to support and immobilize the quilt while it is quilted.

   As with the basting, we will be starting in the center of the block and work evenly outward.  Again, I am going to show you the bare minimum of quilting as I did with the basting.  The point of this first block is to learn that you can easily learn how to quilt. Just remember the more quilting you do, the stronger the quilt as the tension of the seams is spread out in a larger surface area. More on this later.

   This is the only time I use a knot in my quilts as it holds the buried end of the thread within the batting anchoring it for the first stitch.

   The next few pictures were made to show how to bury a thread end in the batting and how to make your actual first stitch around the center quilt square. 

   Time to begin.  

   Start by cutting a 18-20" piece of quilting thread and strengthen it in the manner of your choice described above. I am using a contrasting thread to teach and show detail but have quilted most often using either the color of my backing fabric or a neutral color such as white, cream, black or grey. This is purely a personal choice. 

   Make a single knot leaving about a 1/4" tail.

   Thread your needle and gently slide it through the top layer of your quilt block, into the batting being careful not to catch any of the backing fabric and then come back up through your block top where you want your first stitch to be along the quilt line you marked on your quilt block.

   Gently pull the thread until the knot rests on top of the top of the quilt block and then pull just until it 'pops' through the fabric and into the batting. As the previous pictures showed, the knot is now anchored in the batting and you are ready to start your first line of stitches.

   Important note: Although I explain further along how to untangle sewn basting threads, if you make a conscious effort to sew over them rather than through them, it will make removing those basting threads later infinitely easier.

     At this point you have two ways you can run your stitches through the sandwich and you should try both to see which you are most comfortable with. 

   The first is the same running stitch you used to piece your block with. Make sure you catch all three layers. In the beginning you will want to constantly look on the back side of your block to ensure you have done this. I would not recommend loading more than three stitches on your needle at a time when you begin.   

   If you know how to use a thimble, thank the person who taught you because this makes this way of quilting so much easier. Unfortunately, I can not teach that as I have never been able to find a thimble I found comfortable and anything but awkward. 

   The second way, and the way I normally quilt, is by putting one hand under the hoop and one on top. I then ply the needle down through the sandwich with one hand and return it back up through with the other hand. It takes a bit to accurately push the needle up through from the bottom coming out on your quilt line, but once you get into this rhythm, quilting becomes faster. 

   Do not be discouraged if this does not come easily to you. Believe me, you are the only one who is going to complain about the straightness or size of your stitches! Everyone starts learning in exactly the same place. The beginning. Understand and believe that. Relax. You are doing just fine and will get better and better. 

   If it makes you feel any better, I don't know a single quilter who doesn't wish they could be perfect and not make a single mistake on any given quilt. (Perfection and the pursuit thereof can be annoying) My mother-in-law once told me that there are those who believe every quilt MUST have a flaw as there is only one person who is perfect and unless I could walk on water, I would do well to just plan on there being flaws. 

   Make an effort to make your stitches even and straight rather than small and close together. That comes with a lot of practice so while awaiting for that blessed day to arrive, work on accuracy. You'll be glad you did.

    Continue following your quilt line around the inside of your center quilt square.

      End your stitching on the back of your quilt, tie a knot close to but not next to the fabric. Bury your knot in reverse of how you started it then pull on thread end so that it is pulled tight and clip being careful not to cut your fabric.  Because your thread is pulled tight, the thread will lose it's tension once it's cut and should slide back between the layers. 

   Remember when you were basting your quilt block and you started in the center and then moved radially outward? Pick one of the remaining eight squares and repeat this process. 

   There is only one difference. You will NOT be quilting around the entire square. Only quilt up to the no quilt zone line and knot and bury your thread. Then begin quilting the OPPOSITE quilt square of the one you just completed.  Continue in a plus sign/X pattern.  If you will remember, the no quilt zone is needed to attach other blocks to. 

   Once all your squares have been quilted using the seam edge method, you have two choices.

  Remember our conversation about the more quilting, the larger an area for seam tension to be spread adding to the durability and longevity of a quilt? This block has the minimum required quilting for this batting, but you could add a tic-tac-toe pattern to the squares by quilting alternating Xs and Os within each square. Or hearts. Or some other cookie cutter type shape which we will cover in a future lesson.

   If, however, you are satisfied and happy with your square, remove from quilt hoop and carefully pull your basting threads out. 

   If any have been accidentally sewn with quilting threads, DO NOT yank free! Carefully snip the BASTING thread on both sides of the stitch it is sewn to, then carefully detangle. Be very careful NOT to snip your quilting thread.
   LEAVE IN the basting thread that runs around the edge in the no quilt zone!

   You have now completed your first quilt block!

   Next week we'll see what you can make with one, two or three quilt blocks if you don't want to make an entire bed quilt. If you DO want to make an entire bed quilt, we'll talk about that too. Plus you will get a look at the next quilt block we are going to make.

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