Wednesday, February 20, 2008

How to Make a Quick Crib Quilt, Part III

Interestingly, I have taken longer to write about making the quick crib quilt than I took actually making the quick crib quilt. This suggests an easy rule you can follow to speed up your quilting exploits: Don't blog about them. But what fun is that?

Also: when I started writing this thing, I thought it would all fit into one longish post. It has turned into three bloated posts. So, although I still maintain that basic quilting is, at its heart, actually pretty easy, there is clearly a little more basic knowledge involved than I had quite realized. Interesting.


We left off last time with the three elements of your quilt -- the front, batting, and back -- all securely fastened together with safety pins. [I should confess to you, incidentally, that it took me a full decade to realize that you want to use safety pins, not straight pins, for this. Not only do they stay in place much better, but they are, as the name implies, safe. They do not rip through your flesh throughout the quilting process. Why did it take me ten years to figure this out? Because I'm an idiot, that's why. But enough about me.]

Step Twelve

Quilt That Sucker (Time: variable)

There are many long books out there about quilting, which is the stitching that holds together your three layers so that you can take those safety pins out. I will restrict myself to a few brief notes here.

In theory, unless you happen to have a long-arm quilting machine lying around the house, you could either machine quilt or hand quilt this thing. Hand quilting is like they do it in the movies, where you use a little hoop and actually put all of those little stitches in by hand, with a needle. Yeah, I know, it sounds nuts, but it is actually a marvelous art form and I have a lot of respect for its practitioners. But it is manifestly not what you would call "quick," so we're not going to use it for this quick piece.

In essence, machine quilting is just running the three layers through your sewing machine for a while to attach them together. Preferably, you want to have the pattern of your quilting be something that will enhance the design you created with your pieceing. In this sample, I quilted along several of the pieceing seams, or "ditches," putting a line of stitches about an eighth of an inch to both sides of them. On the border, I ran three vaguely parallel meandering lines in white thread against the star pattern of the border. This pattern softens the dark fabric a little, breaks up the strict geometry of the piece, and in my mind, has a nice Milky-Way look against the night sky.

General Quilting wisdom:

  • Pick thread that are going to go well with your top and your backing. Top thread goes through the needle, backing thread in the bobbin, and they don't have to be the same unless you want them to be.

  • As with fabric, there is a lot of old, surplus, and extremely cheap thread out there in the world, and frequent readers will not be surprised to learn that I have found uses for such stuff. However, machine quilting is not the place to skimp on thread. This is where the structural strength of your piece comes from, so even for a utility piece like this you will want to use at least a mid-range thread no more than a decade old.

  • The greater the density of your quilting pattern -- the "tighter" your quilting pattern is -- the more durable your piece is likely to be. However, if you get carried away and start putting more than around a line of quilting per inch, your blanket is going to start to get scratchy and stiff.

  • The "looser" your quilting pattern, the more important the quality of your thread becomes.

  • Since you are quilting for speed, have your quilting pattern be either one long continuous line, or lines that go from one edge of the piece to another. Quilting lines that start and stop in the middle of the piece are a pain.

  • For quilting in straight lines, as I did in the pieced portion of this quilt, a walking foot is the schizzle. Best $25 I ever spent on quilting gear.

  • If you are actually using this guide, and are curious about "free motion" quilting, just put it out of your mind for now. Come up with a quilting pattern that uses straight lines, and work at getting all of the quilting stitches nice and even and exactly where you want them to be. We'll worry about free motion some other day, perhaps once I get to be any good at it myself.

  • There are many, many ways to mark the surface of a quilt to get the pattern on it before you sew. They all have their pros and cons, but they all time time. For a little crib quilt like this, though, I recommend just eyeballing it (unless you have a marking method that you want to experiment with, in which case it would be a perfect way to practice!).
Step Thirteen

Attaching the Binding (time: maybe 45 minutes)

There are a million ways of doing this. We'll do mine, naturally.

The binding is the piece of fabric that protects the edges of the quilt. Once again, you need to pick a fabric that, at about a 3/4" thickness, will make the rest of your quilt look good. It should also be a reasonably strong fabric, as it will get a lot of wear, and shouldn't be a fabric that you know bleeds dye, as it may get sucked on. In this case, I chose to use the border fabric for the binding as well, but that is by no means necessary or even the norm.

Cut a strip of your binding fabric at 3" width for each of the four sides of your piece; make them at least 6" longer than the length of each side, and preferably a foot or so longer. Fire that steam iron up to it's highest steam-producing level for maximum effect, and press each strip in half all along its length, bad side together. You end up with 1 1/2" strips of doubled fabric, with the good side visible on both sides.

Pin these strips to the quilt. The two cut edges should be lined up exactly with the raw edge of the pieced top. Center your strips before pinning so that the excess length hangs off evenly from each corner.

Then, sew the strips to the rest of the quilt with the usual 1/4" seam allowance. Start and end each strip 1/4" from the edge of the quilt face. (This will work out so that each strip's first stitch begins where its neighbor's last stitch ended. If you accidentally leave a gap there, it's worth going back and fixing it.

Step Fourteen

Mitering the Corners (time: 5 minutes)

People make a big deal about this, but it's easy peasy. At each corner, fold the face of the quilt together so that the two edges are against each other. Where the excess of the binding strips are hanging off, pin them together.

Starting directly across the strip from where the seams attaching the binding strips end, sew the two strips together. Go halfway across the strip at an angle of 45 degrees away from the quilt.

Then, take a right angle turn, and sew back toward the quilt,

ending up at the point where both binding strips meet at the corner of the quilt.

You should end up with a little arrow pointing down the strips, away from the quilt. I usually then turn around and go over the seam a second time, for strength.

Then, poke the arrow inside out with a seam ripper, et viola!!!

Step Fifteen

Tacking Down the Binding (time: a couple hours)

Get a good, mid-length movie. Some quilters prefer NetFlix or Blockbuster for this, but I generally check them out from the library. I am usually a fan of international movies, but it is important to get a movie in a language that you understand, as you won't be able to catch every subtitle. A dialogue-driven drama is best, since you won't have to focus on the screen so much.

Start the movie. As you watch, pick a spot along the binding, and, using a needle and thread, make a stitch that nips a few threads into the "nose" of the binding, and a few threads on the back of the quilt just inside of the seam that attached the binding strip to the front. Make a knot in the thread, sealing the binding down to the quilt back, and then make a few supporting stitches on either side of the knot.

Now, you are ready to tack in earnest. Insert your needle under the quilt back at the knot, run it about 1/4" within the quilt, along the binding seem. Holding the edge of the binding in place, push the needle back up through the back so that it nips into the binding again. Pull the thread through, then dive the needle back into the backing where it just came out, advance another 1/4", and repeat ad nauseum. When you get to the end of your length of thread, make a little knot like you did at the beginning. You will probably need to go through 3 or 4 threads to get through a crib quilt.

I always thought this was a "whipstitch," but I see I was dead wrong. Whatever. Sorry I'm not doing a better job of explaining it.

Make your stitches shorter than 1/4" inch close to the corners, as they will get a lot of stress there. Make sure there is a stitch right next to the seam at both sides of the miter. Also, this is another place where you don't want to be using cheapo thread.

Instead of movies, some people prefer doing this step while at family events, on flights, or at staff meetings if your office is sufficiently relaxed. Whatever.

Step Sixteen

The Warm Glow of Completion (5 minutes)

It's a lovely feeling, but it is usually quickly replaced by a restless enthusiasm for the next project. Congratulations! You've got the bug!

Thanks for reading this rambling primer. Doubtless all of this has been explained better by others, elsewhere. If you know of any good sites, you might want to post them in the comments for the benefit of any newbs who are trying to follow my rambling directions and getting lost.


The Calico Cat said...

Luvre the 3 little pigs!

I have no idea what you did on that binding, but it turned out cool!

Su Bee said...

NO ONE has ever written it better -- you need to do a book! It's not rocket science and we don't need to go at it with grim determination; we do it for FUN and dang it - your directions are fun to read!

Barbara said...

I was reading quickly and, at first, thought you said, "some people like to do this at family fights" and thought that would be interesting.

Melissa said...

These are great tutorials, and very entertaining too!

Just so that I'm perfectly clear on the binding: The binding is a double thickness of fabric, and the raw edges are sewn on with machine. It's then folded over the quilt edge and the folded ridge of the binding is what is tacked down by hand. Did I understand correctly?

jovaliquilts said...

I like your tutorial because it covers lots of little things that aren't in most threadbare (pardon the pun) basic instructions.

I learned to do bindings with stitched in miters when a took a class with Sharon Pederson just after I made my first quilt. I love it! The really hard part of traditional bindings (for me) is getting the joining on the side to lie flat, but with this technique, you don't have to do that. If anyone wants to see another explanation, she has it in her book Reversible Quilts.

Rebel said...

OK... you *might* have converted me to your way of binding. That little arrow thing blew my little mind! I usually sew the (prepackaged - naturally ;) ) binding into one long strip and just kinda try to curve around the corner as I go... and it's kinda a toss up as to whether it turns out looking nice or not.

I feel better that it only took me until my 5th quilt (after cussing through the sewing of quilt #4 as my hands were torn to shreds by straight pins) to figure out the wisdom of the safety pin.

Michael5000 said...

@su bee: Thanks! But if I had really done such a great job, Calico would understand what I did with the binding. Maybe I'll do a binding post, down the road.

@barbara: I have done hand sewing at family fights before. It's good, because doing crafts lowers the general level of anxiety, and if that doesn't work, you've got a sharp weapon on hand to deter attack.

@melissa: Yes, and I wish I had put it so well.

@rebel: Prepackaged binding? They make that? I'm so naive... But, how hard is it to iron a piece of fabric in half? I think you'll be happy with your conversion.

And, thank you for making me feel better about the safety pin thing....

atet said...

You know -- even with simple things when I see other people's techniques I learn something new. The binding thing is cool -- I've been doing the fold over thing but your method actually creates a seam in the corner. I think I'm going to have to try it :0). Thanks!

Pam said...

It has been a great tutorial to read - thanks so much. I have heard about this "other" way to do binding and I hear it is a much easier way to get a nice corner and no matching up the mitered seams in the quilt. I will certainly have to give it a try. I think I understand what you did. I will have to bind something and follow along to actually "get it" I think.

gl. said...

i loved reading this like i love reading sven's essays about stopmo: i don't plan on running out & making a quilt or animating a puppet, but i love to see in-depth art experiences from a personal perspective.

Shelina said...

It was a fun entertaining tutorial. Thanks.