Saturday, September 30, 2017

Hand Quilting vs. Machine Quilting

Hand Quilting vs. Machine Quilting? This is not a competition! And this post is not a debate about which is better. They are just different -- very different. Each project will vary depending on fabrics and batting, density of stitching, methods and skills of the quilter. But the same designs can certainly be be used for hand quilting or machine quilting. Here is one comparison using the same designs, each done quite differently.

This is a section of the antique 1848 applique quilt that inspired my reproduction quilt and my book, Baltimore Garden Quilt.* On this antique quilt, the various floral quilted designs between the applique motifs are emphasized by very close, straight diagonal lines of background quilting. There was no trapunto or stuffing of the quilted designs on this quilt, and no quilting "around" the applique pieces as we often do today. The batting is cotton.
This is the same area on my reproduction quilt made in 2008. After scanning the drawings that I traced from the antique quilt, Marty Vint beautifully quilted all the floral designs, and closely around each applique motif, with her Gammill longarm. We could have added dense background quilting, but we agreed this was enough. Oh, and there was also that book deadline! The batting is "Matilda's Wool" (no longer available). The quilting thread is a shade or two darker than the background fabric to add emphasis.

How will you decide to quilt?

Hand Quilting - photo courtesy Carla Therrien

Machine Quilting - photo courtesy Marty Vint

In a future post, I plan to show how to adapt these floral quilting designs to other quilts for hand quilting.

*All of the original 1848 quilting designs are included on the patterns provided (on CD) in the book. A full size pattern set (on paper) is also available separately. Avoid outrageous prices on amazon from third-party sellers! Buy directly from my website for $15.00 +3.99 shipping.

Keep Stitching!
Barbara M. Burnham

(c) 2017 Barbara M. Burnham. All rights reserved. Reproduction of any kind is expressly prohibited without prior written authorization.

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Hints for Threading Needles

Sewing by hand requires only a needle & thread, scissors & fabric, plus a bit of dexterity. But first, you have to thread that needle, which can present some challenges.

Over time, I have gathered tips and tricks for threading hand sewing needles. Most I learned from Grandma. Some tips are from stitching friends. When I teach hand applique, quilting, and embroidery, I learn tips from students. A few are gathered from the internet.

First tip:  Relax!
Suzy Mouse, Cinderella
Improve Your View
• Work in good light. My Grandma would say “you’re going to hurt your eyes.” Prevent eye strain.
• Close one eye. We all have a 'dominant eye.' A Certified NRA Sharpshooter, I know my right eye is better than my left.
• Thread needles when light is better, eyes are fresher, when you have more time or more patience.
• View the needle against a white background (or a light); it will be much easier to see the eye.
• Use a headlamp (like for camping) or a jeweler’s magnifier held on your head; some include a built-in light. 
• Inexpensive magnifying glasses are available in the pharmacy.
• Enlist a willing helper with better eyesight and/or patience.
• For hand quilting, thread several needles onto the spool without cutting the thread. Secure the thread end so the needles don’t fall off.

Reposition the Needle or Reposition the Thread
• Turn the needle eye around. Needle eyes are punched out by machinery, and the side punched into will usually be smoother.
• I push the thread INTO the eye. Try bringing the needle eye TO the thread instead.
• Make a clean cut on the thread – cutting on an angle will help.
• Hold the thread end “shortly” between your fingers so it will bend less.
• Flatten the thread end – especially useful for embroidery threads. Grandma taught me how to thread multiple strands of embroidery thread at once onto an embroidery needle. Fold the threads in half across the lower shaft of the needle. Pull the fold tight against the needle shaft. To flatten that fold, squeeze the fold tightly between two fingers of the other hand, as you slide the needle point away. Keeping the fold flat and holding it very shortly, push the fold into the eye, shown below.


Use a Needle Threader
• Needle threaders of various kinds are sold by Clover, Bohin, Fons Porter, etc. Some even have a light. Find one appropriate for your needle and thread. Every needle won’t fit in every threader, and every thread won't fit through every needle! I use one made of a old-fashioned simple wire attached to a holder. The wire is delicate, and cannot be forced with too much pressure, so keep a few on hand.
• Beverly Whitworth uses dental floss as a threader: “Fold the dental floss in half creating a loop. Insert the loop in the eye of the needle, put the thread in the loop, and pull through the eye of the needle.”

Moisten the Thread or the Needle.
• Grandma would often moisten the thread. That doesn’t usually help me, but sometimes it does help to adhere a fraying end. You don’t have to spit on it; you could just moisten your fingers; which I might do for threading machine needles. Sometimes moisture just swells the thread, so just recut it.
• Some people moisten the needle instead (carefully). That has never worked for me.

Beeswax, Thread Conditioners, etc.
• Wax the thread with beeswax, or slide it on Thread Heaven® thread conditioner and protectant, to make the thread a bit stiffer or behave better. These products also help prevent thread twisting. I just hold the project in the air and let the needle dangle to untwist unruly thread.

Buy Quality Products & Use the Best Tool for the Job.
• Find out where your needles are manufactured. Many are now contracted out and quality may suffer. Read the package. “Packaged in” does not mean “Made in.”
• The head (eye end) of the needle should not be rough or pointed, and the eye punch should be smooth. Thread fray and breakage can be caused by an imperfectly punched needle.
• Choose appropriate thread and needle. A student in my workshop was frustrated just getting started because she could not get her thread into her needle. She was sold a pack of needles and a spool of thread by a vendor who sent her off to class with poor choices. Although I provide needles and threads for sale in my classes, she had already spent her $$. I gave her a new needle and thread, so if nothing else, at least she learned about matching needles to threads.
• Switch to a different needle (shorter/longer, thinner/thicker, bigger eye, better quality) or choose a different thread. Sewing should be fun, not frustrating.
• Discard old threads if they are weak. Test them compared to new thread.

Consider how threads are manufactured.
• Hand sewing thread is inserted into the needle as it comes off the spool. However, thread untwists and wears as it travels through fabric. Some threads wear better if the end cut AT the spool is inserted into the needle.
• Hand quilting thread is heavier for a reason – the entire thread must travel completely through all three layers of fabric with every stitch. Machine quilting thread enters the quilt only partway, and only once each time along its length. Video How a Sewing Machine Works in Slow Motion by EverythingForYou.

Manage Short Tails and Avoid Re-threading

• As you sew, occasionally move the thread tail along the needle eye to avoid wear. As the thread becomes shorter, the tail can slip out of the needle and then you have to thread the needle yet again! Train your pinky finger to hold that thread tail.
• With very thin thread, make a slip knot on the needle eye. Video: How to Make a Silk Thread Knot by AngiesBitsAndPieces
  • With thick thread, if you can pierce the thread tail with the point of the needle, snag it and pull it up to the eye forming a loop (one of Grandma’s tricks).

• Park your needle safely -- When you park a working needle, leave the thread tail encased in the last stitch so the needle can dangle but not fall off. Store idle needles in a pincushion.
• When storing a threaded needle, knotting one end of the thread = 50% less chance of the needle falling OFF the thread.

Suzy Mouse - The Work Song
These are all the best hints I've got. Now go sew!

Keep Stitching!
Barbara M. Burnham
(c) 2017 Barbara M. Burnham. All rights reserved. Reproduction of any kind is expressly prohibited without prior written authorization.

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Basting and Quilting in an Old Fashioned Frame

Joe Cunningham is a professional quiltmaker with a flair for improvisation and quilting “freehand” designs without marking. “Joe the Quilter” lives in San Francisco, California, a long drive from Baltimore, Maryland. But thanks to technology, I just spent an hour and a half with Joe and his “Zen attitude,” via his DVD, Basting and Quilting in an Old Fashioned Frame.” (found on

As a teacher myself, of hand applique and hand quilting, I always enjoy learning how other people work on their quilts.

On the video, Joe shows step-by-step how to make the simple, inexpensive 4-board frame he uses. While visiting a local quilting group, the Dorcas Quilters, Joe points out similar setup options that they use. This kind of frame can easily be disassembled and stored away when not in use; convenient for a quilt guild, shop, or at home.

He also shows how to use the frame to thread baste the 3 layers of a quilt (backing, batting, and top) in preparation for machine quilting or hand quilting in a hoop.

From his studio, Joe talks about how he likes to work while actually quilting in the frame, how he decides what to quilt, and the tools he prefers. 

Zooming in to view both hands above and below the quilt, Joe maneuvers the needle to demonstrate how to do the actual hand quilting stitch, tie off, and “waddle” from one place to another.

The most useful thing I learned from Joe today is how to quilt away from myself. I look forward to trying his methods, and I can watch over and over until I accomplish the Zen attitude of quilting "without looking." Meanwhile, I can enjoy the music on the DVD from “Music for Squares” by Joe Cunningham and Erik Walker.
Keep Stitching!
Barbara M. Burnham
(c) 2017 Barbara M. Burnham. All rights reserved. Reproduction of any kind is expressly prohibited without prior written authorization.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Hand Quilting 101 Workshop

HAND QUILTING 101 WORKSHOP with Barbara M. Burnham

Sat, Apr 22, 2017 at 10:00 am to 4:00 pm
Visit Spring Water Designs for details:
9691 Gerwig Lane Suite G, Columbia MD 21046

Have you wanted to learn to quilt by hand? Maybe you would like to improve your hand quilting stitches, or try a new technique?  Would you like to sit next to someone who can guide you step by step? Join us to learn the basics of hand quilting. Work on a practice quilt piece, a wall hanging or pillow, or bring your current hand quilting project. Try several methods of quilting by hand, with or without a hoop or frame, even if you have never quilted by hand before. 

Barbara uses a video projection system so everyone can see closeups, as well as one-on-one guidance with each student. She will bring her award winning quilts, and several antique quilts for your inspiration. A selection of quilting designs will be provided.

Topics covered:
How to choose fabrics, threads, and batting
Choose the best tools for hand quilting
Basting the quilt sandwich
Selecting a designs for your quilt
Marking tools, how to mark quilting designs and grids, no mark methods
Several ways to do hand quilting stitches
Lap Quilting, or By-the-Block
Begin and end threads with knots, or with no knots
Quilt straight lines, curves, and feathers
Hide colored threads to prevent shadowing
Handling a large quilt
Plans to make your own quilt frame (handout)
Tips and techniques to make your hand quilting easy and fun
New! Big Stitch Quilting techniques

Keep Stitching!
Barbara M. Burnham
(c) 2017 Barbara M. Burnham. All rights reserved. Reproduction of any kind is expressly prohibited without prior written authorization.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Baltimore on the Prairie 2017, Nebraska City, NE

Baltimore on the Prairie
*** Applique Conference ***
September 20-23, 2017
Lied Lodge and Conference Center
Nebraska City, NE

Once again, I am very excited to be teaching two workshops at Baltimore on the Prairie (September 20-23, 2017).

A well known teaching faculty has been assembled for 2017: Nancy Amidon, Barbara Burnham, Jeana Kimball, Lisa DeBee Schiller, and Cathy Van Bruggen. Classes cover all skill levels from the very beginning basics to advanced Baltimore techniqes.

For my workshops, we chose two applique blocks drawn directly from the antique quilt in Baltimore Garden Quilt, and updated them with new fabrics and  new techniques.
Here is a preview of some techniques I will offer:

Choose from layered or multilayered flowers with dimensional folded buds,

or try edge ruching method for dimensional flowers and buds.

Fussy cut fabrics or add broderie perse flowers. 

Sew perfectly round padded circles, French knots, fancy fringes, or criss-cross centers.

Choose from several methods to make stems and arrange them in graceful curves. Learn to applique bumpless curves, sharp points and V's, how to handle small appliqué pieces, and tips to make hand appliqué faster and neater. I use a video projection system so all students can watch techniques up close. I hope you can join us!

Keep Stitching!
Barbara M. Burnham
(c) 2017 Barbara M. Burnham. All rights reserved. Reproduction of any kind is expressly prohibited without prior written authorization.

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Academy of Applique 2017 in Williamsburg, VA

Once again, I am very excited to be teaching a 3-day workshop at Academy of Applique in Williamsburg, VA 2017 (Feb. 27-March 1). 

Join us to applique this Baltimore Garden Woven Basket, and fill it with flowers inspired by antique applique quilts. Choose from a variety of applique techniques, including options for beginners and new techniques for advanced applique artists. Start with easy basket weavers to build your basket.

Learn to needleturn applique with freezer paper on top. Try my unique and sure-fire method for taming points, bumpless curves, and deep inner V’s without fray.

Sew Paisley Roses in hand on a foundation, and try your hand at “twisted” applique for added dimension.

Discover tricks to maneuver parts that overlap and underlap on a triple-loop bow. Add a bit of reverse applique and a perfect padded circle.

Sprinkle in a few edge-ruched flowers and embellish with fringe.

Design a multicolor spinning flower, or try your hand at inked embellishments on a simple one-piece white flower.

Students love my video projection system so everyone can watch closeups of my techniques right from their chair.  As of today 1/25/17, there are still 3 seats available, but it is only a month away, so don’t wait any longer to register!

Keep Stitching!
Barbara M. Burnham
(c) 2017 Barbara M. Burnham. All rights reserved. Reproduction of any kind is expressly prohibited without prior written authorization.