A No Hand-Sewing Method for Adding a Hanging Sleeve to a Quilt

The quilting on my newest Colorwash Bargello quilt is finished!

Cascade II from Colorwash Bargello Quilts by Beth Ann Williams, quilted and pinned to the design wall, ready for a sleeve and binding

It actually only took me about 2 1/2 hours cumulatively to complete the all-over free-motion quilting, but I had to break the time up into smaller increments so as to not overtax my body  –  taking into account MS, spinal stenosis, degenerative disc disease, chronic pain & peripheral neuropathy (among other things). Whew!

I’ve squared up the quilt and cut off the excess batting and backing fabric. Before I add the binding, I’m going to add a hanging sleeve. Typically, hanging sleeves are at least partially, if not completely, hand-sewn, but I developed my own methods so as to spare some of the wear and tear on my hands. It’s also super quick to do. 🙂

Note: I included this method in my book, Colorwash Bargello Quilts, as well as the more traditional way to add a formal sleeve. I use this easy sleeve on almost all of my quilts, whether they are teaching samples, personal quilts, or art quilts.

Easy (No Hand-Sewing) Sleeve:

  • Measure the width of the longest border at the upper end of the quilt (or longest horizontal seam near the top of the quilt). Double this measurement, and add 3/8″ to determine the width of your sleeve. In this case, the border measures 4″ wide, so I’ll cut the sleeve 8 3/8″ wide.

Measuring the width of the upper border (I’m working with the quilt upside-down)

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Colorwash Bargello – Free-Motion Quilting!

This is the eleventh in a series of sew/quilt-along posts about making a bargello quilt.

I am following the pattern for Cascade, the most beginner-friendly pattern from Colorwash Bargello Quilts.

I’ve layered my quilt top, Hobb’s Heirloom Fusible Batting, and backing fabric, and fused the layers together.  It’s a little unusual, but when I use fusible batting, I like to rough cut my batting about 2″ bigger all around than the quilt top and the backing fabric about 4″ bigger all around than the quilt top. This allows me to wrap the extra backing fabric around to the front and cover up the exposed batting – which helps keep the heat-activated adhesive in the batting from getting on my iron when I press around the outer edges of the quilt.  (This extra fabric and batting gives me something to hold onto when stitching close to the edges of the quilt.)

When I use fusible batting, I like to wrap extra backing fabric around to the front to cover up the exposed batting. No worries if it looks messy – it will all get cut off when I’m finished quilting.

I’ve decided to go with the variegated pastel Rainbows thread as my top thread and pale yellow Bottom Line in my bobbin. I’m using a Schmetz Embroidery needle, size 80, as this particular spool is one of the very early batches of this thread, and is a little more delicate than later versions. The Embroidery needle has a groove on the shaft that will help reduce friction on the thread, and therefore reduce the possibility of fraying or breakage.

On a quilt like this, I usually start on one corner and work my way across the quilt.

Working my way across the quilt

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Colorwash Bargello – Choosing Thread for Free-Motion Quilting

This is the tenth in a series of sew/quilt-along posts about making a bargello quilt.

I am following the pattern for Cascade, the most beginner-friendly pattern from Colorwash Bargello Quilts.

The quilt top is complete, and as I discussed in my previous post, I’ve decided to free-motion quilt this project.  I’m raring to get started!  I’m leaning towards a variegated thread that has a nice sheen. Although you don’t usually notice the color of the thread used for the quilting until you are right up close, it can have significant impact on the finished quilt.

A quick refresher for a few of my readers who aren’t quilters:

  • A “quilt” is traditionally composed of 3 layers: quilt top (which may be pieced together, appliquéd, or whole-cloth), the batting (I’ll be using 80/20 Hobbs Heirloom Cotton batting), and the backing fabric.
  • “Quilting” refers to the stitching (by hand or machine) that is done to hold the 3 layers together.
  • “Free-motion” quilting refers to dropping the feed dogs (the feed dogs are what normally moves the fabric through the sewing machine as you sew) and creating a design by moving the fabric manually (kind of like drawing on paper, except in this case, the pencil/machine is stationary and the paper/fabric is what moves).

A few of my personal observations about my thread choices:

  • I like thread with a bit of shine! In my early days, I often used rayon thread, but I switched to high-quality trilobal polyester threads such as Isacord, Rainbows, and Fantastico (the latter 2 are from Superior Threads) as they became available. These newer threads have beautiful sheen, are reliably colorfast, virtually lint-free, and are much less likely to shred or break while you are stitching. (Note: you may still get lint build-up in your machine from your batting and backing, as well as from your bobbin thread, if you are using cotton.)

    I like the subtle sheen this thread adds to the quilt. The pastel color changes show up a little better in person than they do on camera.

  • I especially enjoy variegated thread – especially brands such as Rainbows or Fantastico, both of which change color every inch.  

    Fantastico thread from Superior Threads

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Colorwash Bargello – Machine Quilting Options

This is the ninth in a series of sew/quilt-along posts about making a bargello quilt.

I am following the pattern for Cascade, the most beginner-friendly pattern from Colorwash Bargello Quilts.

The quilt top is complete, and I’m considering my options for machine quilting the quilt top, batting, and backing together.

There are no rules about how best to quilt a bargello quilt, only preferences.

Sometimes I feel that adding a lot of free-motion quilting might distract from the power and clarity of the design.

In those cases, I usually opt for clear MonoPoly thread in my needle and a walking foot (or even-feed foot) on my machine and hide the stitching “in the ditch” between the vertical rows. Fire on the Savannah from Colorwash Bargello Quilts is a good example of this – you can’t see the quilting on the front of the quilt unless you examine it extremely closely.

Close-up of the quilting on Fire on the Savannah from Colorwash Bargello Quilts by Beth Ann Williams

Another “in the ditch” alternative is to stair-step the quilting, following the design line.

Close-up of the backside of a version of Cascade from Colorwash Bargello Quilts made by Sandy Harvey. Note the “stair-step” quilting along every third fabric in the vertical rows. This stitching is hidden “in the ditch” on the front of the quilt.

At other times, I deliberately use lots of free-motion quilting with highly visible thread (and a free-motion foot) to add an additional design element to the quilt. You may not notice the quilting from a distance, but it can be a fun surprise when you get up close! I also like to use the color of the thread as an additional unifying element in the quilt – the subtle sheen or veil of color it creates across the surface of the quilt can help reinforce a cohesive impression of the design as a unified whole rather than emphasizing individual colors or pieces of fabric.

Here are some close-ups of the free-motion machine quilting on some of my bargello quilts:

Close-up of the quilting on Cascade from Colorwash Bargello Quilts by Beth Ann Williams

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Colorwash Bargello – Measuring & Sewing the Borders

This is the eighth in a series of sew/quilt-along posts about making a bargello quilt.

I am following the pattern for Cascade, the most beginner-friendly pattern from Colorwash Bargello Quilts.

I’ve picked out my border and am ready to sew it on.

When I first started quilting many, many years ago, I would just lay my border strip across the end of the quilt, sew it on, and then cut off any extra border fabric that extended past the edge of the quilt.

Sometimes this method seemed to work just fine; but other times, I would find myself grappling with quilt edges that were bowed instead of straight, wavy edges, or even little “volcanoes” or bulging areas within the quilt.

The problem was that the outer edges of a pieced quilt sometimes seem to “grow” or stretch a little more (from handling?) than the interior of the quilt. This tendency could be exacerbated if the pieced quilt had a lot of small pieces, strip-piecing, bias edges, or even just a lot of cross-grain pieces – especially if the fabrics in the quilts varied even a little in weave. (High-quality batik fabrics usually stretch a little less than high-quality quilting-weight cottons, which usually stretch a little less than chain-store quilting cottons, etc.)

What I eventually learned is that perfectly flat quilts with perfectly square corners are much easier to achieve if you follow these tips:

  • Always measure through the center of the quilt to determine border lengths
  • Always cut parallel borders together, so that they are exactly the same in length
  • Pin, pin, pin! 

BUT if the discrepancy between the center of the quilt and the outer edge of the quilt is more than 1/4″, I recommend strategically trimming the quilt top or “squaring it up” before proceeding with the borders!  

Here is how this method looks in practice:

I like to add the side borders first, so I begin my measuring through the center of the quilt vertically

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Colorwash Bargello – Auditioning Borders

This is the seventh in a series of sew/quilt-along posts about making a bargello quilt.

I am following the Cascade pattern from Colorwash Bargello Quilts.
The body of the quilt top is complete, and now it is time for the border. 

Cascade from Colorwash Bargello Quilts – ready for borders! (the blue painter’s tape numbers at the top of each vertical row can also come off now)

When I teach quilting classes or workshops, I usually caution class participants to wait, if possible, to make their final choice of border fabric until the interior of the quilt has been completed. This is because the sum can be much more than its parts! The way the colors, values, and visual textures of the fabrics interact with each other, as well as with the border fabric, can produce significantly different results from what you might anticipate.

Furthermore, like any scrap quilt (or multi-fabric quilt), a bargello quilt can often be made to read as a “blue” or “brown” or “green” quilt simply by adding a border of that color.

I find it helpful to lay the quilt top out on top of any fabric I am considering for a border so that I can see the border fabric on most or all of at least 2 sides of the quilt top.

To illustrate, I’ll share with you some of the border fabrics I “auditioned” for this project: Continue Reading…

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Colorwash Bargello – Sewing the Vertical Rows

This is the sixth in a series of sew/quilt-along posts about making a bargello quilt.

I’m following the Cascade pattern from Colorwash Bargello Quilts.

We’re on the home stretch!

The vertical rows have all been numbered and are ready to sew. Just like before, I start with a small piece of “header” fabric in my machine, stitch across it, take a stitch or two on “air” and then (without raising the presser foot), slide my first set of strips under the presser foot.

I sew all of the strips into sets of 2, always first checking the numbers at the top of each strip to make sure the strips are in the correct order and orientation. 

Checking the numbers at the top of each strip before sewing them together

The horizontal seams should “nest” against each other. I watch from the side and “finger pin” as I go, but you can use regular pins if you prefer.

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Colorwash Bargello – Laying Out the Vertical Rows

This is the fifth in a series of sew/quilt-along posts about making a bargello quilt.

Now that my loops are all cut from the strip-pieced tubes (see previous post), I’m ready to open the loops up and lay out  the bargello segments that form the vertical rows. This is exciting, as it will be the first chance to see what the finished quilt will look like.

I start by laying all the loops on my worktable in order. Remember – the colors are different in the photo only because the tubes have been rotated differently. All of the odd numbered loops have been cut from one tube, and all of the even numbered loops have been cut from another tube.

Laying the loops out in order first on the worktable – note the alternating direction of the seam allowances

Now it’s time to open up the loops!

I like to use an inexpensive foam core board for this. Being able to look at the design vertically helps immensely. As I open each loop, I pin it to the board and transfer the number to the top of the bargello strip.

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Colorwash Bargello – Cutting the Bargello Segments

This is the fourth in a series of sew/quilt-along posts about making a bargello quilt.

Two sets of fabric, each sewn into a tube, seam allowances pressed in opposite directions.

Once you have your fabric sewn into tubes, it’s time to cut the bargello segments.

There is a cutting chart for each project in Colorwash Bargello Quilts. I’m following the chart for Cascade here and am cutting my segments 1 1/4″ – 2 3/4″ wide, but you can design your own pattern if you’d prefer. 

Either way, the most important thing to remember is to cut all of the odd numbered segments from one tube and all of the even numbered segments from the second tube.

I begin by sliver-trimming first, to give myself a clean edge to work from. 

I also number the loops (bargello segments) as soon as I cut them, so that I don’t get the order of the loops mixed up. (Don’t ask me how I know how easily this can happen….) Continue Reading…

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Colorwash Bargello – Sewing & Pressing the Strip Sets

This is the third in a series of sew/quilt-along posts about making a bargello quilt.

Once you have your strips cut (each pattern in Colorwash Bargello Quilts tells you how many strips to cut – Cascade requires 2 strips of each fabric, each strip 2″ x 20-21″), it’s time to sew them together.

Note: the original Cascade pattern calls for 19 fabrics.  I am using 20 for this new quilt.

Use 2 different colors for your top thread and bobbin thread. You’ll see why later!

First of all, I highly suggest using a noticeably different color thread in the top of your machine than what you are using in the bobbin.  This makes no difference when you sew the strip sets, but it will make a LOT of difference later…

I also have a few tricks I’d like to share that might help you avoid uneven strip sets, seam allowances that curl, or puckers or pleats in the seams:

  • A consistent seam allowance is a MUST. Quilters generally stick with 1/4″ seams. For this kind of project, an exact 1/4″ isn’t as important as a consistent seam allowance that measures the same width at any point along the seam.

    Two styles of quarter-inch presser feet. I prefer the one with the blade, but either one can help keep seams consistent.

  • I also recommend a straight stitch throat plate, if you have one. 

    A zigzag throat plate (left) vs. a straight stitch throat plate (right)

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