Many thanks to Juliet Griffin for this post!
Everyone’s favourite game at last Wednesday’s Welsh Heritage Quilters meeting – a quilt stretch! This is Gerry’s beautiful “barn-raising” quilt, being expertly stretched and basted in her absence by a keen team led by Polly.
The stretching frame consists of four long pieces of timber with wide strips of firmly-woven fabric stapled right along their length. The frame is made up to the correct size for the quilt by simply assembling the pieces of timber into a rectangle of the correct size and clamping the corners with extremely strong sash cramps. The chosen backing fabric is pinned, face side down, to the fabric on the four sides of the stretching frame, followed by the wadding (batting) and the completed quilt top. (Gerry’s quilt is being stretched the other way up, backing fabric uppermost, as her top is unusual in being a little larger than the backing.) The clamps are adjusted so that all the layers are kept reasonably taut; this helps ensure they are all lying flat and square. Then the three layers can be secured together.
Polly spent a while visiting the Amish while she was in America and is enthusiastic about the methods they taught her, including the use of a large lattice of herringbone stitch to tack together the layers of a quilt before it is quilted. Some quilters use special safety pins instead, or straight tacking stitch, but the herringbone holds the layers together a little better. The lines of herringbone stitching run all the way along the quilt from top to bottom and all the way across from side to side, about five or six inches apart. Polly always uses white or off-white thread, just in case the dye from a coloured thread should run and spoil a quilt.
The sewing always progresses from one end of the quilt to the other. This is because human beings have arms of a limited length. Once each line of tacking has gone as far as our arms can efficiently reach, the sash cramps holding the end bar of the frame are released and the basted section of quilt rolled carefully around it. Then the bar is clamped back to the side bars and sewing can resume from where it left off.
Once the whole surface is basted, the quilt can be unpinned from the frame and taken away to be quilted. The tacking will hold the layers firmly together while the sandwich is manoeuvred around, whether in a long-arm quilting machine or in a hand-quilting frame.
It’s a race against time to stretch and baste a quilt in the hour and a half of working time available, so we work very fast and get as many people as possible around the frame. Two or three mighty souls sit and thread needles as fast as they can, sticking them ready in a polystyrene block. As each sewer uses up the thread in their needle they dash across to the threading table and swap their empty needle for a full one. This quilt was a king-size one so we started at half past twelve to get an extra hour or so. (These photos were taking in the tea break, when most of the working team had dashed off to grab a well-earned cuppa and a biscuit.)
This is only the second quilt stretch I’ve had the chance to work on since I joined WHQ. You’re a bit concerned the first time in case you do something wrong and spoil someone’s lovely quilt, but the more experienced members of the group are extremely encouraging and happy to show you everything you need to know so that you gain confidence very quickly. The sewing is great fun, fast and flowing, and the frame is always surrounded by banter and gossip and laughter.
Meanwhile, a selection of weird and wonderful scraps had been dumped on the neighbouring table, and WHQ members were rummaging for crazy pieces to work into their future projects.