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Quilt it Freehand

The patchworks seamlines were the only quilting guide for this freehand quilt.
The quilts title, The Perfect Existential Object, is handwritten on the tan block.
A classic quilting frame allows the author to see the whole quilt at one time.
The patchworks seamlines were the only quilting guide for this freehand quilt.

The patchwork's seamlines were the only quilting guide for this freehand quilt.

Classic quilting frame
  A classic quilting frame allows the author to see the whole quilt at one time, or roll it up to work on the quilt's center. Photo: Toni Toomey

A classic frame for quilting
Before I continue my freehand-quilting saga, let me tell you about the simple quilting frame I use, which is helpful for this type of quilting and similar to the frames used by most pre-20th-century American quilters. Cheap and easy to make, it allows me to view the whole quilt at one time, or roll it up to get at the areas I need to quilt. Best of all, I don't have to baste the quilt because its layers are stretched and secured on the frame where they can't shift. Finally, if I want to use a quilting method that requires basting, such as tying or machine quilting, I can install my quilt sandwich in this frame and baste it in no time.


Assemble stands Prepare stretcher bars
Assemble stands:
1. Drill holes for wood screws in feet and top bars.
2. Screw braces to top bars, then to stem.
3. Screw feet to stem.
  Prepare stretcher bars:
1. Fold cotton ticking with edges inside.
2. Position ticking on bar with 1/2 in. of folded edge overhanging bar's edge.
3. Staple ticking to bars every 1 in.


Install the quilt sandwich
- Before attaching your quilt to the frame, prepare the backing 5 to 6 in. longer and wider than the quilt top. Lay the backing wrong side up over the four stretcher bars and firmly whipstitch the two short sides (or any two opposite sides of a square) of the backing to the bars' ticking.

Tighten the frame
  To tighten the frame and pull the quilt taut, hold one bar in place against your thigh while rolling the perpendicular bar, then tighten the clamp. Photo: Toni Toomey

Clamp the four bars together, ticking side up, stretching the backing very tight and using a carpenter's square to true the corners, then pin the remaining two sides of the backing to the ticking. Spread and smooth the batting, then the quilt top, right side up over the backing, truing the top with a carpenter's square. Pin the quilt top's edge to the batting and backing every 3 in., position the frame on the four stands at a comfortable height, and start quilting.

Quilt from the outside in- Quilt in about 6 in., or as far as you can comfortably reach, around the quilt's entire edge, then release the clamps on either end of one whipstitched side. Brace one bar against your thigh, roll the quilt up to the edge of the quilted area and reclamp the two bars, making sure they're still properly trued up. Do the same on the other end of the bar, and continue quilting. When the quilt has been rolled up 3 to 4 ft., it will become difficult to reach in far enough to reclamp the bars. At this point remove the pinned bars and replace them with the two 4-ft. bars.

Expanding my horizons
Returning to my tale of freehand quilting, once I was comfortable quilting small areas confined by nearby seamlines, I was ready to embark on a larger expanse with a crosshatch pattern. Still "fenced in" by the piecework's seamlines, I established a diagonal line by starting at one corner of the block and pointing my needle at the opposite corner. But to make sure my eye didn't stray as I traversed the distance, I marked the desired path with a few pins so that I'd have something to aim my needle at. As hard as I tried to keep the long diagonals parallel, they inevitably seemed to wander, but after a while I came to prefer this organic effect. And I knew I didn't have to work at achieving this look because it was going to happen anyway.

The stitching logistics I arrived at were simple: after covering the area with lines going in one direction, I was able to stitch a second set of diagonals in the other direction without any pinned guideposts. The spacing between the lines had already been established by the first set of diagonals, so I only needed to make sure my needle was perpendicular to the previous line, which was only an inch or so away.

Feathers and fans- Floral motifs and feathers were next, but I still had to ease into them, marking one row of feathers, shown in quilting pattern 4 in Quilt these designs freehand, or floral patterns that I could then follow in subsequent rows. Eventually I graduated to freehand fans, pattern 5, consisting of concentric arcs across the entire quilt top without regard for the pieced design, as I'd seen in many 19th-century quilts made throughout the South. I learned to work the way old-time quilters did, quilting one row of freehand arcs around the edge of the quilt about one needle length apart (I use a no. 9 between needle), then building more rows of concentric arcs, as shown on the facing page.

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Comments (10)

SteveGolden SteveGolden writes: lovely designs
Posted: 9:51 am on March 8th

KathJ KathJ writes: I've always had troubles hurting my fingers when trying to make something complicated. Now I am ready to quilt with no wounds at all!
Posted: 5:21 am on February 25th

MonetViera MonetViera writes: I love this patchwork technique
Posted: 12:53 am on December 7th

WillowMchenry WillowMchenry writes: Nice designs!!!!
Posted: 6:17 am on November 13th

ErinGoodwin ErinGoodwin writes: These look lovely!
Posted: 7:58 am on September 11th

GutterCleaner GutterCleaner writes: Wow, some of the quilt designs were completely new to me. Thanks for teaching me new stuff I guess.
Posted: 8:35 am on August 3rd

GutterCleaner GutterCleaner writes: Wow, some of the quilt designs were completely new to me. Thanks for teaching me new stuff I guess.
Posted: 8:35 am on August 3rd

EdwardJenkins EdwardJenkins writes: Great display .. Really good work
Posted: 2:14 am on July 31st

MollieJ MollieJ writes: Thanks for the tips!
Posted: 9:57 am on July 9th

AWriterInFact AWriterInFact writes: As is so often the case, this was just what I was looking for - I just didn't know I would find it here! Thanks.
Posted: 9:31 am on January 15th

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