Creating a slow wave of wobbling hand sewn stitches….

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It seems like a very long time since I’ve wrote anything on here about my quilting…I’m afraid my head has been rather turned by an appreciation of all things woolly.  Bags of sheepy scented wool is tucked to the side of the sofa and the dining table has had to make room for my blocked swatches.  Knitting needles of all sizes and varieties while not quite yet being found in between the sofa cushions do seem to be breeding and I find them in odd places (mainly because I pick them up and then put them down again in a silly place before they are tidied away properly.)…even Bernard has gotten in on the act, half clambeirng into my lap while I knit, he likes to smell the wool as much as I do.

However, quilting and patchwork will always be my first love…taking a little break from sewing has made me appreciate them that much more and I know I’m not alone.  Some of the most looked at/referenced pages on my blog is a little series/tutorial I made showing how to baste a quilt and to mark it up and quilt it using the baptist fan pattern…’s a very traditional pattern and while it is a bit more timey to work than just squares or diamonds, I think the finished effect is always worth it.

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It’s easily my favourite quilting pattern and while I would like to incorporate some feather quilting into a top piece at some point I’m not sure about quilting a whole quilt that way..unless I make a wholepiece quilt, which is made from a one very large piece of fabric, no patchwork is really involved, just quilting. If you live near Bath then I’d suggest a visit to  The American Museum as they have some wonderful quilts, including some very beautiful wholecloth quilts….it’s lovely to go there in the Summer as their gardens are stunning and by all accounts their tea rooms are good too.

When you make a patchwork top, the more pieces that are in your patchwork the more little seams there are, it’s really easy to not take this into account when you then go to quilt it….it’s another reason really why I like the baptist fan pattern so much, it’s very forgiving to little bumps in the fabric created by the folds and seams of the patchwork, and it helps blend the patchwork underneath together….harsh lines of patchwork seem to soften and blur under the gentle curve of the repeating arc.

Even if you’re a beginner to quilting this is such a lovely pattern to sew, any little wobbly stitches (which are what makes hand-made so full of charm and becomes so dear when it’s passed down) are soon lost as your hand grows confident and your stitches become more regular in size.

The brown patchwork is part of a big quilt that I made for my boyfriend’s 40th birthday (though he was 41 when he got it)…the fabric for the patchwork is Japanese linen and cotton, the weave is quite loose and isn’t really ideal for quilting as it frays like the devil. I knew I wouldn’t be able to cut the fabric into too many pieces as it would just fray away, so kept the patchwork very simple and kept the cutting of the fabric to a minimum. However, I went to town somewhat on the quilting, each arc is about 1 cm apart so it’s nice and dense.  In all I spent about a year quilting it, and it used nearly a mile of quilting thread……the little ripples in the fabric are formed by all the tiny hand stitches which I think helps to soften the curves….they make me think of water ripples.

baptist fan quilting

I also used a variation of the baptist fan pattern when I made the quilts for Peggy and Pearl. When you’re working with the arc it’s a very natural movement for your hand to make and after a while I sort of drift off while quilting…not falling asleep but I can get completely mesmerized by all those tiny stitches….it’s very relaxing and time can pass by very quickly.

I find it a bit easier to thread up a whole load of little quilting needles before I begin and then as each thread finishes there’s a new one to take it’s place….it stops the “flow” of my quilting from being too interrupted and it also helps me keep track of how much thread I’ve used in any period of time.

As well as looking lovely I really like the feel of the quilting, all those ribs in the arc feel wonderful when you rub your fingertips over them…it’s like the fattest corduroy.  All the tiny gaps between hand sewn stitches pucker and helps your finished quilt top to drape and flopse.

translucent patchwork and quilting

One of what I think has been my nicest photos of my quilts was this view of the quilting and patchwork pinned up on the washing line…Spring sunshine coming through and the seams of the patchwork are more like faint ghosts, like old building lines and earthworks that you can see when you look down from a plane….the gentle lumps and bumps, curves and wobbles become very sensual, a slow wave of stitches rippling out across the quilt.

baptist fan quilting on quilt two

There’s several variations on the design but they can all be worked using the same easy to make plastic guide (I’ve found these before in old sewing boxes where they’d been made from metal and like a fool I’ve put them into charity shops as I didn’t know what they were….) and you use the same back and forth movement with your hand to quilt…..

When I finally get around to quilting my “dear ethel” quilt (she’s just having a rest at the moment, though I’d like to get all the patchwork completed on her this year…as to whether that’s achievable with this new found love of knitting we’ll have to see) I fully intend to quilt her with a baptist fan design……I’d really like to piece together a flying geese border for her and then cable quilt the edge (I’ve done that before in a big quilt that my mum has, it looks really nice and is lovely to run finger tips over and trace the cables.)

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When our friends in Norway had their little boy Ivo I made him a quilt from scraps that one of my sisters gave me (I say scraps but there was enough fabric to have opened my very own fabric shop….she’s very generous and I was right royally spoilt).  Both the patchwork block and the quilting were very traditional but the colours were bright and modern, a combination I’ve seen a lot in Scandinavian design books.

It’s not a quilting design that works too well on anything very small, I’ve tried it on notebook covers and you couldn’t really see it clearly, but I made a case for my computer (which is what I turned the quilted squares into that I used for the tutorial) and that was about 24 inches by 15 give or take a little…but really it’s a design that works best if it’s allowed a bit of space to spread and ripple out, and a bit of time to allow you to sew it… I’ve mentioned before when I’ve written about my hand sewing (and I’m going to repeat myself here from an earlier post so apologies if you’ve read this before)…..for me, the absolute pleasure of hand sewing patchwork and quilting comes in the constant touching,holding and handling of the fabric, and the slowness and time in piecing the pieces together.  The time spent is important, each stage takes time, which is such a precious commodity nowadays but it’s often overlooked when the quilt is all finished…. it’s a very guilty pleasure.


How to baste a quilt not a turkey

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After I’ve pinned out my fabric and smoothed it all flat, I begin to baste the layers together.  Basically this is just tacking the layers so they are held together while you quilt them.

Start off in the middle of your pinned fabrics (from here on I’ll refer to it as your “quilt”), I prefer to use a long sewing needle and some tacking thread in a contrasting colour to my patchwork.  Make a couple of back stitches in the centre of the quilt, you should feel the needle go through the fabrics, and then make a line of stitches from the centre out towards the side.  Work the stitches along the extra wadding and extra back fabric so you’ve tacked right to the edge of your “sandwich”.


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Rotate yourself round so you are now working on the next side of your quilt, again make a couple of back stitches and baste/tack out from the middle to the next side. Do the same thing for the next two sides.  Your quilt is now divided into four sections.  Baste each section in turn, work your way down the central line each time and tack out towards the edge in a straight line.


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For big quilts (anything baby sized and over, I stitch the tacking/basting lines about a hand span apart (so about 4 inches), this holds the layers nice and secure so they don’t shift about.  (though for this project I think they are about 2 inches apart.)

The stitches themselves tend to be about half an  inch to an inch long and spaced about the same distance apart.


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If you are looking at your quilt top from above imagine it is cut into 4 sections, top left, top right, bottom left, bottom right.

Top left and bottom right, the lines of basting will want to run horizontally, top right and bottom left, the stitches will want to run vertically.


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Once all the basting has been done (and for a big quilt this can easily take some hours, it’s really easy to start leaving bigger and bigger gaps but try to keep the basting lines at about 4 inches, it does make for better quilting as your layers of fabric won’t be able to move about), you’ll need to carefully un-pin the quilt from the carpet and gently lift the quilt up from the floor.  I say gently because inevitably you’ll have a few carpet fibres trapped,  snip the tacking underneath where the basting has trapped the carpet fibres, lift up the quilt and then tack over the section  you’ve cut.  Generally I find a couple of back stitches are enough.

At this point your “quilt” will actually look quite quilty as the lines of basting/tacking look like giant quilt stitches.

When you are working on the carpet it is a good idea to get up every so often and do a few stretches so you don’t end up with bad knees or a bad back, I tend to put on some music and do a little workout for 5 minutes before starting again…. (I find the theme tune to something like Cagney and Lacey great for moving about to).

If you don’t have a carpet where you can pin your fabric layers out and instead have a wooden floor I believe you can use masking tape to secure the quilt, however this isn’t something I’ve tried myself so I’m not sure how well it works or if when you sew the lines of basting would the needle would scratch the floor?

Another option to sewing the layers (which I guess would be better if you have a nice wooden floor) would be to use special quilters safety pins. They are slightly curved (like baby nappy pins) and can be used instead of basting.  I’ve not used them myself as I prefer to baste by hand but I’m sure your local quilting shop would be able to advise you on what they are like to use.

Basting and binding for Olive…..

These are just a couple of sneaky early pictures of the quilt I’m sewing for Olive…. the light isn’t so good at the moment so apologies for the rather dark pictures.


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This is the back of the quilt, I’ve used a Lecien fabric in a very soft grey, the big green stitches are where I have basted the three layers of the quilt together (I prefer to hand baste my quilts regardless of size, I know some  people prefer safety pins or basting tags but I just prefer to do mine by hand. ) I’ve basted the quilt in rows that are 3 inches apart.   And you can see the start of the quilting,   I’ve quilted the patchwork in a diamond pattern which breaks up the squares on the front. I’ve used a grey thread to compliment the back fabric but which also suits the mixed colours on the front.  It seemed less harsh than cream (which I felt would be too much against the back fabric)

And I’ve used pure wool wadding (or batting) for the inside.  I’ve used this on almost all of my quilts and it is so lovely to use.


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I’m using a fabric by Tilda for the binding, I’ve cut it 2 1/4 inches wide and I fold it over an inch before I pin it to the quilt.  I know this is a more unusual width for binding but it is the size I prefer to work to work with.


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I’m back stitching the binding on the top layer of the fabric, only going through one layer of the binding fabric and all three layers of the quilt…at this stage I could kiss whoever invented the thimble!!


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Hoping to have the binding finished tomorrow morning and then I’ll be embroidering a tiny name tag for the back with Olive’s name.

I’ll be writing a piece about how I baste and bind in bit more in depth in the next week or so but for now just wanted to show what I am doing.