Q. I love quilting, but I have a question. How can I pick up four stiches on the needle when the work is stretched tightly in a frame? I do it by stabbing the needle up and down, one hand below, one above -- not by running along. Am I missing a trick? Should the material be loose on the stretcher?
"A. You're like the lady in Yorkshire, England, who said: "I can get the needle doon but I can never get it oop." Since your question is a universal one, I thought I would answer in detail.
You are right, you must stretch the fabric loosely in the frame to be able to quilt smoothly and easily. But let's start at the beginning.
First, you assemble the three layers of the quilt into a sandwich (quilt face, batting and the fabric backing). Baste the three layers together, using a broad basting stitch (see Fig. 1) that will hold them as smoothly as though they were one. To baste, knot the thread and, starting at the top left, work down to the bottom of your quilt, taking a series of evenly spaced horizontal stitches. At the bottom, go back and form a cross stitch to secure the thread. Cover the entire area of your quilt in this way, spacing the rows about two inches apart. Next, mount the quilt into a frame -- square or oval if you are quilting the entire top, round if you are doing apartment quilting. Do not stretch the layers too tightly; leave the quilt slightly slack in the frame.
Begin with a quilter's knot (see Fig. 2), or bury a small knot in the batting by pulling the thread until the knot pops between the layers (see Fig. 3). The quilting stitch is simply a running stitch (see Fig. 4) that will become beautiful with practice. With one hand on top and the other underneath, push the needle straight down through all three layers; prick the finger underneath (just to make sure you are there) and return the needle to the top. Continue, taking as many stitches as you can get easily on the needle. (You will take more as you gain experience and increase speed and rhythm.) Each stitch length should be equal to the space between the stitches, and the stitches should be of equal length on either side of the quilt. Try to train yourself to use either hand on top; this makes it simpler to work in different directions. To end, knot the thread, take the last stitch, and pop the knot into the batting. Run the needle through the batting a few inches before cutting the thread.
The correct quilting needle is a help. "Betweens" are short and strong and make the work easier, but there really is no trick other than practice makes perfect. Start with a small piece for practice and use only a thin layer of padding. Keep going! Rhythm makes for eveness. Your first quilting might be done around a cross-stitch sampler, which reads: "Lord give me patience, but I want it right now!"
Q. Can you tell me where I can get ready-cut quilt blocks? I'd like to quilt or at least piece one if I could get the blocks cut. I can sew but not cut (arthritis and shaky hands).
A. Yours Truly, Inc. (P.O. Box 80218, Atlanta, Ga. 30366) has lovely quilt blocks, ready-cut kits you can assemble. You might also try what one of our readers wrote to us about recently: quilting a printed sheet! You can buy such lovely designs nowadays, and you will find all kinds of possibilities following the contours of the pattern or making your own designs in between. The finished bedspread is beautiful -- and inexpensive!