Lap Quilting and Length of Stitches on the Quilt Back

Dear Jeana,

I have had your book Loving Stitches for some years now and continue to use it for information, technique and inspiration. I have come to love lap quilting and use it almost exclusively now. However, I struggle to get my stitches as small as when I use my hoop. I can get the top one tiny but I miss out the bite on the back and the thread doesn’t go right through the three layers. I prefer to use 100% cotton batting (Heirloom, Dream Cotton, Hobbs) when I can find it and I use straw needles, the finer the better as long as they don’t snap.

I wish I could just drive on up to Foxglove Cottage and ask for help but I’ll never get over the ocean…I married a New Zealand man 16 years ago and left South Georgia to make a home here on a sheep/cattle/deer ranch. There are plenty of quilters in New Zealand but I don’t know anyone who lap quilts without a hoop. Can you offer some suggestions?
I found your website by searching “Jeana Kimball” and was duly delighted to discover that you will ship internationally. I will enjoy browsing and shopping there I am sure.


Sincerely,

L. Sue

Thank you for writing L. Sue. It is good that you are using Straw needles to quilt with, and you are right in saying that if the needle is not thick enough, the point of the needle will “snap off” from the tension of trying to move through thick layers. I, too, use cotton batting, my favorite is Mountain Mist, Blue Ribbon Batting, but I am not sure if you can get it where you are. Have you looked into wool batting. I believe the best wool available is produced in your part of the world. Wool is much easier to needle, but the loft is different than cotton and maybe what you are looking for is the “flatter” look that is a characteristic of cotton batting.Believe it or not, my quilting stitches are longer on the back of the quilt than on the front. In thinking it over this week as I stitched, I attribute that to two things: 1) the way I hold the needle, and 2) using a Size 8 Straw needle. Let me explain.

“The more often you repeat a task, the more efficient you become in movements to complete that task.”

I found that when I lap quilt I hold the needle in a way that requires the least motion to take a stitch. When I analyzed just how I do hold my needle many years ago when I first wrote Loving Stitches I realized that when I insert the needle into the fabric, to begin a group of stitches, I hold the needle near, or on, the eye, with my thumb and forefinger in the same position I would hold a dart if I were throwing it at a dartboard. My needle hand is under, or behind the needle. With this position I am able to insert the needle straight down and through all of the layers of fabric.

Beginning the Stitch.jpg

If you are holding the needle with your hand over top of the needle when you insert it into the quilt, the needle will pierce and enter the quilt layers on an angle. Already, with this angle, you are reducing the size of the stitch on the back of the quilt.

If you are holding the needle with your hand over top of the needle when you insert it into the quilt, the needle will pierce and enter the quilt layers on an angle. Already, with this angle, you are reducing the size of the stitch on the back of the quilt.When I insert the needle into the quilt I do not simply “glance” the needle off my underneath finger, I actually push the length needle through the layers well beyond the tip of the needle. In other words, I over-shoot the desired length of the stitch on the back of the quilt and then, and this is important, I begin to back up the needle (with the point of the needle gently scoring the quilt backing) until it is where I want to re-enter the quilt.

If you are holding the needle with your hand over top of the needle when you insert it into the quilt, the needle will pierce and enter the quilt layers on an angle. Already, with this angle, you are reducing the size of the stitch on the back of the quilt.When I insert the needle into the quilt I do not simply “glance” the needle off my underneath finger, I actually push the length needle through the layers well beyond the tip of the needle. In other words, I over-shoot the desired length of the stitch on the back of the quilt and then, and this is important, I begin to back up the needle (with the point of the needle gently scoring the quilt backing) until it is where I want to re-enter the quilt.

Completing a stitch.jpg

Then I push the needle straight up. It is easy to come straight up because the point of the needle is already angled upward. This small motion alone (of pushing the needle too far into the back, and then backing it up to position it to re-enter) is the key to longer stitches on the back of the quilt.

Then I push the needle straight up. It is easy to come straight up because the point of the needle is already angled upward. This small motion alone (of pushing the needle too far into the back, and then backing it up to position it to re-enter) is the key to longer stitches on the back of the quilt.I don’t know which version of Loving Stitches you have, but on page 50 of the first version, photos 1 and 3 generally show how I hold my needle. (Those are my hands by the way.) But when I had the chance to do the revised edition, I made sure the photos illustrate much better how I take my stitches when I lap quilt. Those photos are on page 74. If the above explanation is not working for you, an investment in the Revised Edition of Loving Stitches may be worth the price—short of a trip across the ocean.

Then I push the needle straight up. It is easy to come straight up because the point of the needle is already angled upward. This small motion alone (of pushing the needle too far into the back, and then backing it up to position it to re-enter) is the key to longer stitches on the back of the quilt.I don’t know which version of you have, but on page 50 of the first version, photos 1 and 3 generally show how I hold my needle. (Those are my hands by the way.) But when I had the chance to do the revised edition, I made sure the photos illustrate much better how I take my stitches when I lap quilt. Those photos are on page 74. If the above explanation is not working for you, an investment in the Revised Edition of may be worth the price—short of a trip across the ocean. I use Size 8 Straw needles for hand quilting because they are long enough to reach way down with each stitch and produce the leverage needed to come back up through all of the layers. I wish it was a thinner needle because I believe my stitches would be a little smaller with a smaller sized needle, but, like you, I tend to break them. To compensate, I concentrate on making the stitches small on the top of the quilt.

I hope this helps. Give it a try and let me know how it works. Hand quilting is such a worthy occupation I hope you keep at it!!

Best wishes to you on a late Friday afternoon!

Jeana

P.S. This photo is from the back cover of Loving Stitches, first edition, it iis a more distant view of how I hold the quilt while lap quilting. (Yes, I am left-handed, the above photos are flipped to look as if I am holding the needle with my right hand.)

Hand Quilting.jpg



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