How to Hand-Piece Quilts
Follow these step-by-step instructions, and you'll be piecing quilts by hand in no time.
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These hand-piecing quilt top instructions were provided courtesy of quilting expert Jinny Beyer.
1. Begin by cutting all the quilt top pieces that are needed using either scissors or a rotary cutter. Make sure they are cut exactly to measure, including the one-quarter-inch seam allowance. In order to be sure that your angles are correct, it's good to use the small plastic tool found in most quilting stores that outlines every angle you are ever likely to use in your quilting. This same small tool has holes you can use to mark off sections of each piece (figure B) or to draw necessary lines. You should also have a template you can use to check that each section is exactly as it is supposed to be.
2. When you are sewing two pieces together, draw your seam mark on one side of one piece of material (figure D). Choose a thread that is darker in color than the darker material on which you will be working.
3. Knot the thread before you start to sew. With the needle in the right hand, hold the material firmly in the left hand and keep tension on the fabric for easier, more controlled sewing. Move the left hand, the one holding the fabric, up and down pushing the thread onto the needle. With the right hand reach and gather, allowing the stitches to gather on the needle. When the needle is full, stretch the thread out, keeping the seam straight and even (figure E). When you reach the end of the seam, lock with a backstitch then loop and pull thread through. This is the basic running stitch.
4. To make a four-pointed piece, sew one set of two pieces together, then another set of two. Join the two sets together, first finger press the seams on one half of the star to the right and on the other half, to the left. Butt the seams up next to each other and stick a pin into the end of the center. Allow seam allowances to fold to right and left. Sew toward pin. As you get closer, remove the pin and continue to sew toward the spot where the pieces join. At this point make sure all seam allowances face away from you. Take an extra big backstitch, then another. You will feel the needle bounce off the spot where the seams meet.
5. Place your thumb under the seam and place needle directly into the hole of the previous stitch (figure F) – this will lock the seam. Now push needle directly down, through the seam allowances. This will allow the seams to go whichever directions they like, unlike machine sewing.
6. At this point you should measure your section using the template you prepared before you started cutting. If it doesn’t fit exactly, make any necessary adjustments because it will never work right if the individual sections are not exact.
7. To ensure perfect points, lay three pieces of material to be used to make point, side by side (figure G). Sew the first two pieces together, going right to the seam allowance but not past it. And don’t break the thread. Instead, open the first two pieces and finger press the seam allowance to one side. Now add the next piece using the technique used to make the four-sided section. Put your thumb exactly on the spot where the three pieces crossed, lock in place, sew up the seam. Finger press seam allowance in opposite direction. Point should be perfect but you should use your template again to make sure it is exact.
8. The eight-pointed design requires matching two four-sided pieces together (figure H). The most important thing is that the points all meet exactly in the center. If any one of them is off, the entire thing will fail.
9. Match points exactly at center and pin (figure I), inserting pin just above the heaviest gathering. Move all seam allowances to one side. Snap it into place and pin will go directly to the center point, ensuring that all of them will line up evenly. Stitch to point. Be sure not to stitch past seam allowance line. Back stitch and lock in place.
10. The 12-pointed center is done the same way as the others, but this time you join quarters instead of halves. Once again, pin at the point and be careful not to stitch beyond seam allowances.
Eleanor Burns teaches how to make a quilt in just one day with the strip quilting technique.