In today’s modern world, machines do a lot of things for us. We have coffee machines, leaf blowers and microwave ovens. In quilting, we have machine piecing, using. Like the others, it removes a lot of inconvenience. But it also removes the feedback between our hands and the cloth. In trickier pieces, the improved control, that a hand allows, makes a better quilt. In the beginning, quilting was a product of our hands. It’s nice to go back to the roots once in a while.
To start learning hand piecing, first find a quilting template or make your own. When making your own template use a light variety of plastic. You can use quilter’s plastic, exposed X-Ray film or the plastic tops of old tins. The see-through type of plastic is best. A quilt template or pattern from a quilt book or magazine will include the seam allowances. Overlay your chosen plastic and trace the inner line with a marker. Cut out the shape and follow the line that is closest to the plastic. Next, place the template on the wrong side of the fabric or the side, which will be inside the quilt once it is finished. Trace the shape on the fabric with a fine pencil. Add a ¼ inch seam allowance. When marking more than one template at a time, leave at least ½ inch between templates.
When hand piecing, you will need 100% cotton thread and a quilting needle for the piecing. Different quilters use different quilting needles. Some people use a sharp, others a size 10 appliqué needle, and others use a straw needle.
Line up the two pieces of fabric that will be sewn together. Place a pin through the dot at the very end of the seam line. Remember, the seam allowance! Don’t sew it. Put another pin at the end of the seam. These two pins are there to hold the pieces together. Place another pin in the center. Check to see whether the pin is hitting and lining up with the line on the back. Place three pins, one heading towards one end point, another heading towards the other endpoint and then one in the middle. Remove the anchor pins at the end of the seam line.
Thread a needle with a quilter's knot. You may backstitch a couple of times or just use a small knot. To sew the pieces together, use a running stitch with small stitches. Make sure you stitch on the penciled line. Don’t stitch into the seam allowance. Backstitch every 1 ½ inch. It doesn’t have to be exact. If you reach the end of the line, secure the thread and snip it off. Leave a ½ inch tail. Check to see that the stitches are joined exactly with no gaps. It’s best to use cloth that hasn’t been ironed so you can negotiate later the best way to press them.
Hand piecing is very portable. You can do it on the couch or in the porch. It’s not for everyone. It takes patience. Beginning quilting with hand piecing is harder to learn but there is more satisfaction with it. It is an enjoyable part of quilting.