Thursday, October 6, 2022

Quilty Folk Hand Quilting With Perle Cotton Basics--Part #2 An Enthusiast's Guide to Placing/Moving the Hoop

Getting started with placing the first frame is generally quite easy to figure out. Just find a spot in the middle-ish of the sandwiched quilt and get your hoop situated. You can try to be strategic and eyeball the entire width of the quilt for rough measurements. Can you quilt the entire width of the quilt using only six frames across? If you move the hoop one way or the other a few inches, does that make it so that you'll only have to move the frame four more times across instead of five? If you have an individual block layout then you'll probably be more interested in placing the hoop centered over each block. Perhaps catching part of the sashing inside that same hoop? Just take a few minutes and consider what might save you time as you're quilting along. 

1st hoop
Placement of the first hoop:  I talked about this a little in Part #1, but we'll revisit for a minute or two. Get the main part of the frame underneath the quilt sandwich. Make sure there are zero wrinkles on the underneath side, and THEN take the pins out of the areas where the clamps go. Also take out any pins on the outside area of the clamps where they might be stressed from the action of the hoop pulling fabric into its orbit. Now put the clamps on. Next, take out all of the pins on the inside of the frame. Okay, now would be a good time to fiddle with the tension inside the hoop. You need slack {or sag} but not so much that you end up with a bowl in the middle of the frame. How much? It's definitely unique to each person, so practice and experience is the best teacher. 

You'll know it's too much slack when your needle won't slide immediately into the quilt sandwich. It wants to get bogged down and you'll have to work at getting the fabric into place for the needle. You'll also know when there isn't enough slack. The needle will feel very stiff sliding into the fabric and it's going to take a lot more effort overall to make your stitches. You'll definitely feel the resistance. This is especially true if you want to load more than one stitch at a time. So go ahead an be a 'Goldilocks'. Getting it just right makes a world of difference in how fast you can stitch and how much fun you'll have doing it!

Did you notice {in the above picture} the slightly wrinkled area on the bottom left inside my frame? You can roll the bottom clamp toward the outside of the hoop, tightening up that area, OR you could take that bottom clamp completely off and simply readjust the placement. These are things that you'll constantly have to do as you move your hoop around the quilt sandwich.

 Potential 2nd hoop
Placement of each subsequent hoop: After you have your first frame stitched, then it's time to move the hoop. Ideally, you'll move to one of four spots--directly to the top, the bottom, or directly to the left or right of the previously stitched quilt sandwich. Take the clamps off that newly stitched frame and then simply slide the frame underneath the quilt to the new area. You can do this while the quilt is on your lap or resting in a flat position on the couch, floor or on a table. Make sure to overlap slightly, the previously stitched area with where the new to-be-stitched spot will be.  

The picture above shows a potential 2nd hoop position. {The pins have not been taken out yet or the clamps attached.} When you have the quilt sandwich exactly where you want it, remove the outer pins as before and start placing the clamps. After attaching a single clamp, I often take my hand and lightly push down into the quilt at the center of the frame, thereby creating a better opportunity for slack. Put the remaining clamps on and proceed in the same manner as with the 1st hoop. If you have dangling threads, just make sure they end up inside the frame rather than be caught underneath the clamps.

 Quilty Folk hand quilting Part #3--
Stitching the 2nd hoop
The joy of using older clamps: Be gentle with the previously stitched area. Don't want to inadvertently pop stitches! If you have an older hoop, take one of your more stretched clamps and place it on that particular side. It's also great to use these older clamps for any sides where you might have applique. People think I'm crazy for continuing to use well worn and cracked clamps, but I'm telling you, it saves me oodles of damage to the applique. That is worth its weight in gold!

Stitching in rows
The picture above and the one below illustrate two different approaches to moving the hoop around the quilt. Both ensure that you are constantly moving the hoop in a manner that helps eliminate unsightly wrinkles at the back of the quilt. Obviously you would not want to place the hoop harem-scarum around the quilt sandwich or even kitty corner from finished frame to finished frame. Stitch in a seamless direction, very soldierly in your forward march from the very first hoop. Every time you position the quilt sandwich within the hoop, make sure that the back side is perfectly smooth again. I really can't emphasize this part enough. If you bumble around and quilt through and over a wrinkle in the center back of a quilt sandwich? That problem can {and probably will} multiply and cause you all kinds of grief later on! Just don't do it.

Stitching in a cross shape, filling in the corners
Border areas: Once you get to a border, then you will choose a spot in the middle-ish of that area and quilt one direction and then the other {left and right}. I almost always leave the corners of the quilt for the very last, but you can definitely quilt a corner area immediately after the adjacent borders are totally quilted. Up to you! 

Remember, when you are constantly {lightly} pushing the quilt backing one way and then the other, trying to ensure a smooth look overall, the border is where all of the fabric tends to start waving and wrinkling. If it is going to do so. It may not! Some fabrics seem to be much more prone to stretching than others, so never be super aggressive about stretching the backside of a quilt sandwich. Take a few moments before placing that initial hoop at the border. First, check to see if that area is truly smooth enough in the back--all the way across the quilt--to make for a good finish. Oftentimes you'll need to reposition a few pins at the outside of the quilt where extra fabric has bunched up against them. 

Also, go ahead and doublecheck the backing fabric at the corners of the quilt. Have you pushed the fabric too far in one direction or another? Now would be the time to sew on a smidgen of extra fabric to the backing if need be. Don't ask me how I know this!

Problems: Sometimes you find yourself with a problem border. The fabric is obviously way too wrinkled in the back to lay completely smooth across the entire length of the quilt. Before you freak out and throw the entire thing into the trash, just relax and take a deep breath. Most of the time you can simply position the first hoop somewhere in the middle part of the border, and then gently ease extra fabric into each subsequent frame. Try to do it strategically. As each frame takes part of the wrinkling, the effect is not nearly as obvious or sloppy looking as you first supposed.

Part of the charm of hand quilting is the 'crumpled' effect apparent after a new quilt is laundered and everything shrinks a bit. A little bit of fabric wrinkling {spread out over several feet} will mostly disappear once the quilt is freshly washed and dried. If a wrinkle is largely resistant to any smoothing efforts, then you have to make a choice. Go ahead and hand quilt over the top of it or take out a lot of previous stitching. In all my years of stitching, I've only ever had one major wrinkle that couldn't be manipulated enough to successfully camouflage. I quilted over it, washed the quilt and hardly ever thought about it again. You do you.

Stitching border areas
Stitching the overall pattern: When stitching an 'overall' pattern throughout the quilt, such as the Baptist Fan, the traditional way of starting off is to choose the lower, right hand corner for the very first hoop. From there, you would move the hoop over to the left, and on and on, until you stitch one row the complete width of the quilt. See picture below for example of frame placement. Next, you would start the 2nd row, over on the right side. Place the new hoop directly at the top of the 1st hoop placement {finished area} and proceed to the left from there. 

Whenever the new hoop area is being positioned, it's very important to make very sure that everything feels right at the back of the hoop. You can't just smooth the fabric to one side and say, 'Oh well, that's good'. Throughout this sort of quilting, the fabric will consistently be pushed upwards and outwards, always toward the top lefthand corner. Again, don't be aggressive, but be quite diligent checking for extra fabric starting to wrinkle up and causing problems. 

A reassuring thought--you can almost always feel a problem starting before you can actually see it. Always, always, always take the time to re-position your hoop if it's not right before stitching. And, once or twice during the overall quilting time, take the time to turn your quilt over, lay it completely flat and peruse the entire backside. For preventative measures. Your quilt will thank you! Is there an area where unstitched fabric seems to be bunching at the pins in an alarming way? Might be a good time to reposition some of the pins and stop a problem before it even starts.

Stitching an overall pattern across quilt
I have also seen where people quilt in rows around the entire outside of the quilt, slowly moving inward until they are left with only the center part of the quilt to stitch. This is not something that I have ever attempted, but I imagine you would want to pin your quilt very carefully before undertaking this particular method.

Quilty Folk hand quilting Part #4--
Being efficient with the hoop
Another question I get on occasion is why there is sometimes pictures here on the blog with only two or three clamps on my current hoop. If you go back and look at the 2nd picture, you'll see that there is an awful lot of dangling threads leftover from the previous stitching. When persistently stitching in one direction, it just seems to make sense to take that clamp off {the one in the way}.and go ahead and stitch out a little extra. I wouldn't advise this for brand new quilters, but if you're well accustomed and comfortable with using the hoop, then go ahead! It's a easy way to be economical with secure stitching areas.

Sometimes when quilting from side to side {and trying to squeeze all of the quilt width into a reduced amount of frames}, I'll even take both of the opposing side clamps off at the very same time. I know, I know, breaking all of the rules here.... It's definitely not a 'first hoop' thing to do, but happens more often when the bulk of the quilt is stitched down and not shifting as much. I did warn you. I most definitely have quirks!

This was supposed to be a short post, but clearly something went wrong. Part #3 and #4 will hopefully be posted sometime next week!


  1. I'm now caught up on your posts, Audrey. I thought I was the only one who wore flannel shirts. I have about 4 from LL Bean or Eddie Bauer and I love them but you are right, the fit has to be comfortable. Comfort is the main thing for me. I am so pleased you are sharing your hand quilting expertise; I read both posts carefully and try to do many of the things you suggest. I'm using a large round hoop and always lay out my piece to look at the back after the nightly session. So far with this Tilda quilt, it is going well and is already taking on a bit of that soft look that hand quilting gives a quilt. My stitches are certainly not the same front and back but I'm okay. Anyway, I love that your family get what you do and your own special style of quilt making which makes you an artist really.

  2. Still haven't caught up with your other post I'm afraid Audrey, but this one is amazing, so much information and very, very helpful indeed. I used to have a hoop/frame exactly like the one you use, I thought it was great but where on earth it had disappeared to I do not know, might look for another one.

  3. It is pouring with rain here, and not really very safe on the roads. The three local quilt shops I contacted don’t have a 17 inch square frame. I’m looking online to see if I can buy one in Australia to avoid US shipping costs. I’ll find one soon. In the meantime I am plugging away on my stone roses which is the quilt I’ve chosen to hand quilt. Thank you again for sharing your technique. I am anxious to get started!

  4. Very detailed tutorial, thank you.

    I have not be getting notifications of your post, sort of thought you'd taken the summer off. I have LOTS of fun posts here to catch up on. Sorry to be out of the loop.

  5. Well done! You've covered all the basics a beginning hand quilter should know. I did find it interesting that you quilt away from yourself, something I've never been able to do successfully. It works beautifully for you!

  6. I always enjoy your blog and looking at your beautiful quilts. I was pleasantly surprized to see that you use pearl cotton for your handquilting. I have a box of pearl cotton "balls" tucked away in a box that I would like to gift to you. Have sizes 5, 8 and 12 in a variety of colors. I used to use pearl cotton for wool applique but now prefer using YLI quilting thread. I can be reached at if you are interested. Terry

  7. your quilt is similar to my cantaloupe quilt (or mine is like yours) I machine quilted straight line quilting and then added lots of big stitching. the machine quilting kept it all straight and neat. I want to make another one!


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