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By jove I think she’s got it!

Yes, this week I’ve been doing a happy dance! Want to know why?  My rocking stitch finally rocks; I’m so excited I can’t tell you!  Last week I was inspired to give this most traditional of quilting stitches another go when I noticed that Kaja over at Sew Slowly had her quilt in a hoop. She showed the stitches from the back of her quilt too and boy are they even.  I may have swooned.

I’ve had a go at this method of quilting on a number of occasions but found the hoop too cumbersome, or that I just couldn’t make the stitches come through to the back of the cloth properly. I adjusted the tension of my quilt between the rings, I tried with big stitches, big needles, small needles… I didn’t think there was much else to try and decided I just hadn’t ‘got it’ and would concentrate on improving my ‘oven glove and tunnelling’ method!  (I guess you know what I mean?!).  But something has always nagged me and I felt that the rocking stitch looked more efficient.  You see quilters on Youtube stitching at a rate of knots.  I decided to have another look around to see if I could find some new insight. And then I stumbled across this video. It’s a bit annoying to begin with as the lady seems quite interested in selling us a weird looking thing that hangs around your neck and makes you look like a light up St Bernard Dog, but once she’s got that out of the way it’s pretty good stuff.


As I was watching, I was thinking the same thing about most other ‘rocking stitch’ videos I’ve seen: “yeah, but what’s your hand underneath doing, exactly“.  And as if by magic, she answered Or rather she said something that turned a lightbulb on in my head: “I didn’t tell you to push the needle through”, or words to that effect. I suddenly realised that when people say you can feel the needle coming through underneath that what they mean is you should only just feel the point, the very tip, not the shaft at all – and if you pushed the needle right through you’d definitely be able to feel the shaft.

And then something else: you only need take about 3 stitches. Really? Really?!  What, not 6 as a minimum, 9 if you’re good at it? What, not 50 stitches to the inch then?!  I was keen to try again.

My first attempts were not pretty. I decided that slow stitching needed to become ‘painfully slow stitching’, if I was going to master this at all. I faffed about with the tension in my hoop until it was ‘not too loose, not too tight’. It took ages. A few more stitches, more adjustment, a few more stitches, more adjustment…  And then, after quite literally sewing my underneath finger to the quilt on a couple of occasions, I got it! The stitches weren’t too regular and I think I can even spot which three stitches were on the needle before I took up the next three, but, for the first time, I’d managed to actually make a run of stitches through the back of the fabric without inch-long gaps. I was motivated!  I just slowed right down, gave myself permission to make wonky stitches and time to learn. It might take years to perfect, I told myself, but so what? But after an hour so I found a rhythm and my stitches were much more even. Longer on the front than the back, but I was happy with that. That will be something that comes with practice. But the thing that amazes me with this method, is that I actually found it easier to make smaller stitches than large – and tiny stitches are what I’ve wanted to make for a long time.

You may want to cover your eyes; I’m doing that happy dance again!

New to you too?

If you’re trying out the rocking stitch for the first time: don’t give up! Be persistent and it will come. Don’t be afraid to make adjustments to your technique or your quilt or the hoop, or your chair. Don’t be hard on yourself, give yourself time to perfect it. New things take practice to achieve well and if, like me, you don’t have anyone to show you and you’re trying to learn from books and videos, well, it’s harder to learn that way, but when you get it you’ll feel totally awesome – and that’s because you are!

Pop by on Sunday and I’ll show you some of my attempts on my August Rain quilt – the weather’s been awful here the last couple of days and getting a decent photo hasn’t been on the menu!

Keep on rocking ’til next time!

Linking up with Let’s Bee Social at Sew Fresh Quilts and Work in Progress Wednesday at Freshly Pieced.

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4 replies
  1. Lara
    Lara says:

    Stephie, you go girl! Perseverance pays off for sure. I will have to learn to do this too. Looking at Kaja’s hand quilting also got me all the more interested.

    • Stephie
      Stephie says:

      Thanks Lara! Perseverance definitely pays off, but I’ve learnt that sometimes it’s easier to put things aside for a while and come back later with fresh eyes. I used to feel that was ‘giving up’ (social expectation is that you doggedly continue!), but I learnt as a painter that it’s ok to turn something against the wall for a few weeks, months, even years, and come back later with new insight or skills – I only wish I’d learnt to apply that to other areas of life sooner, haha!!!

  2. Kaja
    Kaja says:

    Way to go Stephie! Isn’t it great when something suddenly works like you want it to. Like you I learned by watching online and like you it was a real lightbulb moment. Apart from properly understanding the technique the thing that has made the most difference for me is learning to use a thimble properly and finding the right thimble. My underneath finger is a mess sometimes, but the top one, that does the pushing, is very happy!

    • Stephie
      Stephie says:

      Kaja, my ‘underneath finger’ is taking a real battering! I love the leather thimbles with a little round metal piece on the pad area – I find all metal ones too hot and sweaty. And just as you say, it took a while to find one that I really got on with – who’d have thought something as simple as a thimble could be so critical? I think my top stitches are beginning to look even now, but underneath needs some work – more practice required – and I’m not complaining about that!


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