The very first quilt I made was a t-shirt quilt using my old high school and college shirts, with horrid blue sashing and a loud, floral pieced-checkerboard back. At the time I made it, I did not consult anyone for help, didn’t read any books, and invented a quadruple French-fold binding method that will be around much longer than the rest of the quilt, I’m sure. I must have used up two yards of fabric in that binding, as the finished width is just over an inch.
Not knowing how to really make quilts, I of course didn’t know anything about quilting it either, so I took the path of least resistance and tied the quilt using white yarn. It’s only tied in the corners where the t-shirts meet the sashing, and while I can’t remember the exact reason for doing so, I’m sure it was partly due to not wanting to poke holes through some of the shirt designs.
Over the years, as my quilting skills have grown, I’ve thought about that first quilt and wondered if I should re-do the bulletproof binding, or tear it down to the bare t-shirts and rebuild it from scratch (if only to replace my loud back with one less scream-y)—but there’s something about that quilt that’s endearing somehow, and I’d hate to erase the evidence of my growth, or forget that thrill of learning something new, however bad the end result.
Still, there is a part of the quilt that needs to be addressed at some point, and that’s the quilting. There’s nothing wrong with tying a quilt, not at all, but in my quilt’s example, there’s no way I used a batting that recommended quilting stitches every 14 to 16 inches. My quilt will need to have more quilting, if only so that it can make it through more wash cycles in the future. Let’s look at some ideas for adding more quilting to a quilt that’s already been tied.
To Be, or Knot To Be
Was your quilt tied with yarn, embroidery thread, ribbon, or something else? Whatever material was used, it’s likely that the ties were threaded with a giant needle and there are corresponding giant holes in your quilt top. Those knots are probably stuck fast, too. Attempting to remove the existing ties will likely do more damage, so my advice would be to leave the ties exactly where they are.
If the ties are especially long, you may want to cut them down to about an inch, so they are less likely to get in the way during quilting.
Tools of the Trade
Even with the ties cut down (or in the event you can’t cut them) you’ll want to make sure your foot doesn’t tangle in them while you are quilting. Some machines have a foot for this purpose (sometimes called a “bowl” or “spoon”) that floats over the top and can’t get tangled in the quilt. If this isn’t an option for your machine, you can place a layer of water-soluble stabilizer over the top of the quilt.
Reloading the Quilt
Once a quilt is bound, it’s tough to load it back onto the longarm, as there’s no place to attach the clamps or leaders. You can solve this by pinning a 4- to 5-inch strip of fabric to the top and bottom of the quilt to attach to the leaders, then roll the quilt onto the frame by pinning these fabric strips to the backing and take-up leaders. These strips don’t need to be beautiful, but they do need to be straight so that your quilt is loaded evenly.
For the sides, you can pin strips of fabric to the binding, and clamp to these fabric strips to support the sides of the quilt as you are working. This will enable you to quilt right up to the binding without distorting the quilt.
Tie-Friendly Quilting Patterns
Once you have the quilt reloaded, you want to choose a quilting pattern that will allow you to fill in the spaces around the ties without running over them. For this, you’ll want to free-motion quilt, so you can see where you are going and avoid the ties themselves. A few patterns that can work for this purpose are:
Good Ole Stippling
No doubt, stippling is a good choice for adding quilting stitches, and it’s fairly easy to avoid the ties without it looking obvious.
Big Loops, Little Loops
In this pattern, you can use little loops to travel and fill in areas, and big loops around the ties to avoid stitching over them.
Flowers and Loops
Incorporate the ties into the design by making them the center of a flower. It’s a little bit challenging keeping them centered, but it’s still a cute design even if they aren’t perfect.
Work your way around the ties with squares and corners. Like the stipple, you can get fairly close to the ties without looking like you’re purposely avoiding them.
This stipple has a definite directionality to it but is another pattern that incorporates the ties without calling too much attention to them.
Starting, Stopping, and Finishing
No matter which pattern you decide to use, you’ll want to try to blend the quilting as much as possible, so it doesn’t look like an afterthought.
Leave long thread tails when you start and stop so you can bury the threads as needed, or take an extra stitch or two by hand. I like to start at the edge of the binding or close to a tie if I can. Using a matching thread will also blend better and you can hide the places where you begin and end your stitching.
If you end up using a water-soluble stabilizer on top of your quilt to protect the ties, remove as much of it as possible by tearing it away from your stitches. It tears easily but can leave a bunch of little plastic parts everywhere.
Yes, it dissolves when wet, but it can leave a gummy residue if it doesn’t wash out completely. Some of our newfangled washers don’t add as much water to the wash cycle as we need to rinse it all out, and you might need to add a rinse cycle or two if you don’t tear out the stabilizer first.
Now that I’ve written this down, I’m feeling more confident about quilting my t-shirt quilt, and I hope it has given you some ideas as well. I think I’ll add it to my ever-growing list of things to quilt, and maybe one day I’ll tackle a new binding as well!
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