Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Hand-piecing Questions from a Friend Answered

When I published my blog article entitled Hand-piecing, a friend of mine, a very accomplished quilter, (whose blog, The Way I Sew It, can be viewed here) emailed me with a bunch of good questions on hand-piecing:

I'm so glad you posted this. It makes me want to try hand piecing something. Also, can you take a close up of your stitching? It looks so fine and straight. I can't click the picture to make it bigger. Just a running stitch, right? Doubled thread? Do you run your thread through beeswax so it doesn't knot? Do you use a thimble? How do your seams look pressed? I presume you must press to one side, not open? Is there a "right" number of stitches per inch for stability? Maybe you could do a followup post answering these and any other questions? :)

Her wish is my command (now that sounds hokey doesn't it?)! First off the picture. I hope Blogger will allow readers to click on the picture and make it larger. I've found that in some cases, it just doesn't go there. Screen doesn't change; pictures remain small. Maybe I did something to tick off the Blogger gods that day? I don't know.


Now to the questions:

1. Yes, it is just a running stitch. I thread the needle through the fabric 3 or 4 times at one time, however, there is no magic number. Others may be able to do more. This is just what feels comfortable to me.

2. I use a single thread, although I can't think of any reason why you couldn't use a double thread. I realize that machine-piecers will see hand-piecing as more fragile. And initially, it is--but it's not as fragile as you think. Once the hand-pieced top is quilted, those seams are held in place and are well-protected from stress by the quilting--whether it is hand-quilted or machine-quilted. Here is an example:

In this hand-quilted example, except for the center wreath area, I quilted right up next to the seams on either side. So those seams are held in place by the seam itself and two rows of quilting. Those seams ain't gonna move. :-) Even the wreath in the center of the block will stabilize the seams and prevent them from being susceptible to stress.

3. Beeswax. I have used it when my thread seems particularly prone to tangling, but often it's not necessary.

4. While I use a thimble for hand-quilting, I do not use it for hand-piecing.

5. I press my seams to the sides. I do understand the idea of pressing them open in certain cases where there is simply too much fabric joined in the center of a block or something along those lines, but I think the overlap of pressing the seams to the sides makes the block more solid, especially a hand-pieced block. This is just my opinion. I haven't done any tests or anything. ;-)

6. As for stitches per inch, I just went and measured, and my stitching comes out at about 8 stitches per inch. However, I won't swear that 8 is the "right" number. I've had success with that number, but it may be that 6 or 7 per inch would work too, and that if a quilter could manage 9 or 10, it might be better.

Hand-piecing really is a different animal from machine-piecing. Being totally "hand-crafted", each individual quilter will have her own way of approaching hand-piecing, and different tips and techniques. While yes, it is necessary to have a certain degree of integrity in the hand-pieced seams, there is no absolute right or wrong method.

If any other hand-piecers read this article, please leave any tips or techniques you'd like to share in the comment section. I'm always looking for new ideas, and maybe we can take the intimidation factor out of those who are curious to try hand-piecing, yet feeling a little daunted by it.

12 comments:

  1. Thank you for answering my questions so well! You, Michelle, are the accomplished quilter. I'm a pretty good quilt sewer together-er and aspire to be a decent quilter one day.

    I am surprised about using a single thread for hand-piecing, but it makes sense as you explained it. I will try this some day. I think a block with curves, in particular, would be a good one to try it out on.

    I really appreciate the time and thought you put into this!

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  2. Marvelous. Now if I can just figure out how to keep my stitches the same length, I'll be fine. :P

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  3. LOL, JKP. It's not necessary that the stitches be exactly the same length. They don't show. :-)

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  4. The only thing I do in addition to what you do is that every couple inches of stitches I take a back stitch. I was taught to do this so if the thread ever breaks things will only unravel to the next back stitch.

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  5. What great info. Thanks for sharing.

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  6. Great idea, Marcella! I sometimes take a back stitch when I think I've made a stitch farther apart than I'd like. I'm going to incorporate it more often.

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  7. I'm posting another fantastic tip that a wonderful quilter by the name of Sandy left on my Facebook page:

    "I use HANDquilting thread (G├╝termann) to piece by hand; one thread is plenty strong, at least as reliable as machine piecing; no bees wax required ;-)"

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  8. Great hand-quilting tips. I have handled the Gutermann hand-quilting thread before and you're right, it's strong and not prone to tangle. Taking a back stitch sounds like a good idea too.

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  9. Thanks so much for all the tips. I have a quilt that I started hand piecing last year and want to get it out again but maybe after July when my son is married.

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  10. I have a six pointed star quilt I have been hand piecing for years. How long does it take for you to finish each quilt? What's your opinion on longarm quilting after spending that much time on handwork? It's funny to me that the quilt that got me into this hobby still lays incomplete.

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  11. Hi, what a wonderful article! I do rather prefer to handpiece, I find it soothing which is rather strange, as when I used to make clothes, I hated the hemming parts! I swear by the milliners needles by John James or Richard Hemmings, they are longer than the quilter needles and just as thin, they now have a Gold n Glide in milliner's sizes and what a blooming difference in hand sewing! Those needles literally glide through cotton fabric, hope this helps, cheers,
    Debbie

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  12. Oh, I forgot to add that I usually hand piece the small blocks and when they get to be anywhere 12inches or over then they go under the machine needles - so, this way I'm using the best of both worlds, besides, what else is there to do which watching tv? lol,
    Debbie

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Your comments brighten my day. :-)