Making Your First Wholecloth Quilt

Judging from the number of inquiries I’ve had re cently about making a wholecloth quilt from a kit, there are a lot of people out there who are thinking about giving it a try but are a little hesitant. They ask questions like – how can I learn to quilt by hand; is making this type of quilt time consuming; how can I be sure the quality is top notch; and how do I go about it in general?

A long time ago, the only thing to do when you were contemplating making a wholecloth quilt was to start from scratch and this meant drafting your own pattern, or buying a paper pattern and using a lightbox to transfer it to the cloth.  So a great deal of time, and trial and error, was invested  before you even started to sandwich the quilt and handquilt it.  The skills required were those of a much more experienced quilter and often women with such skills were approached to help to do this. A few years ago I made a “boutis” style*  quilt on special order which was a whole cloth cranberry and cream toile on one side and plain muslin on the other – I transferred the pattern to the muslin – not without a lot of freewheeling where errors had been made in drafting the original pattern – and the finished quilt was exquisite.

 * boutis   refers to the old french tradition of making reversible wholecloth quilts and quilted clothing using the “indiennes” fabrics so popular from the time of their first importation from India in the 1600’s

Before you go any farther, take a look at this beautiful quilt below and see more pictures and read the story about it here:http://pilgrimgirl.blogspot.ca/2009/04/pilgrim-classic-wedding-quilt.html 

There are many lessons to be learned in this story, not the least of which is that fine quilts are made to be used, loved and become soft and worn, not tucked away safely out of sight. I tell prospective customers that the kits available now in the secondary market are at least twenty and often more than thirty years old and that they were made with pride and care out of 100% North American cotton grown, spun and loomed, in the USA and will only improve with use and washing. Off white and ecru can be washed frequently, and air dried under shelter outside or damp dried in a machine on warm,  or close to a woodstove in winter. They are, if not quite immune to babies and pets, a lot better wearing than brightly coloured quilts which will fade and become dull with repeated washings, while the piecing starts to come apart as the thread used cuts through the softened fabric.

The writer of this account understood that this would be very time consuming but worked in tandem with her mothre who clearly was a skilled handquilter – they finished the job in eleven months but I’m sure  mom had other projects on the go too, and Jana was away at university a lot of the time - I have made full sized quilts of a similar size working at least 5 hours a day in about 6 months, Smaller quilts proportionately take far less time, of course.

She describes pricking her finger constantly in an effort to be certain her needle was passing through all layers  – this is not gdesirable because of staining the quilt and doesn’t have to happen – I quickly grew to understand by ‘feel’ alone if I was going through all layers – if you don’t, no harm done, just use a thimble – you can find them made of pliable leather with a dimpled metal plate where you can push the needle back up through.

Jana describes the opportunity to let her thoughts run free with this type of quilting – I’ve described it as a zen-like feeling where you become relaxed but alert and thoughtful – I find it a welcome change from the constant problem solving of my normal quilt designing – and like to keep one on the go as a companion – a little reward and also to use as a ‘problem-solving’ time – I do my best thinking when relaxing like this!

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Above is a basic standard work on quiltmaking which was written by two women who are still going strong today with their own quilting magazine and many fabric lines and quilt patterns on the market. Marianne Fons and Liz Porter wrote this book in the early 1980’s before the technical revolution swept many more traditional skills before it and the knowledge has become nearly lost as to how to cut and mark for piecing, how to handquilt, how to do applique without thehelp of glues, solvents and a sewing machine. A copy of this book is never far from my work table as it contains, as well as basic instruction, loads of tips and ready reckoners to design your own quilt and come up with the right size, and the right colour values.  I have a small supply of this book, long out of print, as I used it in classes, and will sell you a copy for $20USD – these books are very hard to replace, so may only last until my supply is exhausted.

They are in extremely good second hand condition.

PRICE: $20USD + $10USD shipping = $30USD

If you are planning to jump right in to a full queen sized quilt, you will need to buy your backing extra – the full sized kit comes complete with the ready to start quilt top and matching bias binding, but no backing. At the moment, I have two 92×117 100% cotton backings in antique tea dye – this gives the effect of unbleached muslin – and these are extremely rare in the secondary market, coming as they do still sealed from the factory.

PRICE: Doublestencil 100% cotton antique tea dye quilt back 92×117   $75USD + $20USD postage =                                                    $95USD

You will also need a strong glazed thread for handquilting – I’ve pictured my favourite YLI  100% glazed cotton quilting thread which comes in 1000 yard spools – one should be sufficient for a large quilt and will probably do you for two or three smaller quilts. Again, now harder to find since handquilting is a rare pastime today, I can source this thread for you in natural which is a good coice for anything from ecru to creamy white.

PRICE: $12.50 for the 1000 yard spool and no chsrge for postage in a parcel with other purchases.

Finally, if you want the very best quality of quilt batting go for Quilter’s Dream in the Request weight.  it comes in a variety of sizes and by the roll. If you are doing a lot of quilting you can’t beat the price if you buy the roll.  I can either point you in the direction of a good source for this batting in the USA,  or can supply my Canadian buyers who might have trouble sourcing.

I have not used poly batting since 100% cotton became readily available – you can’t beat the feel and drape of the request weight cotton, and you can’t beat the fact that after washing it adds a slightly puckered effect so charming in vintage quilts. More practically, it relaxes out of the packaging very easily and makes sandwiching and pinning or basting a dream. Once you start to quilt you’ll note there is no ‘creeping’ and hence no unpleasant surprises to be straightened out as you go along. And finally this material needles like a dream – you never run up against those funny little nodules you can’t get your needle through! Quilters’ Dream indeed!!

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ARE YOU READY TO START YOUR OWN WHOLECLOTH QUILT NOW?

Well, start you engines!!

I suggest to quiltmakers doing their first quilt to start small – choose from any of  the patterns available among the smaller wholecloth kits listed here

:http://www.novascotiaquilts.com/2013/01/wholecloth-quilt-kits-wallhanging-crib-and-throw-size.html       

Note: I found another Anchors Aweigh to replace the one I have on hold for a customer, so can offer it again.

All these kits come with backing and binding included in the package and you will need to discuss with me how to arrange things so that you can easily cut the binding when the time comes for that step. So – the only other supplies you will need will be batting, pins, needles and a good quilting thread. You’re good to go after you cut off the extra provided for binding.  Check with me – each kit brand is slightly different so I will look at the kit and guide you through mking the binding.

Once you’ve done that, then lay out your quilt top, batting and backing starting with the backing on the bottom  on a large table – your dining table should be great for this or one of those folding banquet tables so many people have. I’ve  even heard of ping pong tables being pressed into service – whatever works for you!

Spread the surfaces evenly together, working out from the middle and smoothing out any bumps and lumps.  When you are happy there are no wrinkles and that there is complete coverage under the quilt top with perhaps a little to spare of both batting and backing - then you can begin at the centre and pin or baste outwards to the edges, continuaslly checking there are no foldovers or bumps on the back and batting. If you find some, unpin or unbaste and start over.

Carefully roll or fold the quilt sandwich and transfer to where you’ll be working  on it. It’s your choice whether you use a frame or not and what kind of frame to use. I have never been happy working in a frame and have used several different kinds, but that is just me – whatever is best for you is best in the long run.

You’re ready to begin! Choose what ever size of ‘betweens’ needles is currently good for you – try buying an assortment package and go with the goal of using a nine or ten needle – you may start larger, I know I did, but you’ll soon want to try the smaller, more flexible ones. I find Piecemakers is my choice – many needle brands offer the same sizes but often you’ll find the thickness of the needle and thus its flexibility varies – Piecemakers seems thin enough to be flexible but I’ve never broken one either. I can help you source these.

START AT THE VERY CENTRE OF THE QUILT _ NOWHERE ELSE!!!    If you do nothing else, follow this instruction carefully. Work everything outwards from there and equally on one side and then the other. If there is a lot of crosshatching involved try to break it up into small segments in terms of working outwards and keep it going that way. Try not to wander far from the centre in any direction.

Keep going steadily even if you feel you’re not making much progress – a little every day will eventually start to look like a lot!! Don’t be tempted to skip out to do the borders, you’ll get lumpy results that way. Just a slow gradual spreading out from the centre.

Once you’ve done the last quilted lines around the periphery of the quilt you’re almost done. One last step – about 3/8 inch out from this ;ast quilting, use a ruler to draw straight lines around each edge and starting at the middle of each side pin carefully through all three layers working from one side to the other of each centre pin until you have all edges carefully pinned. Then following those pinned lines you will sew a largish running stitch completely around the quilt sandwich – this will be your line to pin and machine stitch the binding to the right side - bind the long sides first and then the shorter top and bottom sides, trimming as you complete each edge. Any good quilt text or the ‘Schoolhouse’ section of most quilt magazines will show you how to finish your binding so no rough edges show – you will have made french binding which is simply a double fold binding  which is blindstitched on the back. if there are any of your basting running stitches showing, carefully clip them and pull them out.

I think the above instructions will be enough to get a confident beginner on the way to being an experienced quilter and remember, part of my customer service is always being available to help with troubleshooting and assisting the learning curve.

Best of luck – you can do it!!

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I am contemplating putting together a choice of 18 inch blocks complete with thread, pins, needles batting and backing and selling these kits complete with instructions to those of you who feel they need more of an introduction to the skill – let me know if you are interested and we can talk – and maybe start a small group – who knows?

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And do sign up to receive  my Nova Scotia Quilts Newsletter on a monthly basis – I’m getting February’s ready to go and as well as a couple of early bird new items before they go up on the website, I’ll be offering special promotions only available to newsletter recipients – this month will feature very special prices on some “orphan” items I have paired up with instructions or patterns from my files – don’t miss it                  

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Until next time, keep busy and keep warm – winter is having another kick at the can here today despite what our little Shubenacadie Sam had to say on Groundhog Day!!  Warm hugs from Janet in chilly Hall’s Harbour.

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