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How I Learnt to use a Quilt Hoop

Becoming An Expert Quilter

Big stitch quilting without a quilt hoop. © Stephanie Boon, 2015 www.DawnChorusStudio.com

Hoopless stitching!

For most of my quilting life I quilted ‘free’ with no frame and no quilt hoop. It was only a year or so ago that I decided I’d try the quilt hoop again, after some previous failed attempts – and hoped I’d persevere this time. And I have. As I’ve sat quilting Summer Blues this week I realise just how far my technique has come in a relatively short period of time. What’s that adage? 10,000 hours to become an expert? (Not if you read this article in the Huffington Post.)  I definitely haven’t completed 10,000 hours practice over one year (there aren’t 10,000 hours in a year for a start and besides, I need my beauty sleep!). And what practice I have been doing certainly hasn’t always had my full concentration. I’m no expert, but I’m certainly much better than I was – and I plan on getting better still.

Reading the Huff Post article really made me think. What is it I’ve done that’s helped me feel confident using a quilt hoop today, when a year or so ago I just couldn’t get it right. The article says that to become an expert you need someone to show you how. Well that’s not possible in my case: I don’t know anyone in person that actually quilts! Another thing the article says though is that an expert is always curious, always learning. And that curiosity and desire to learn, I think, was the key to my success. But why bother learning a new technique when the one I’d developed worked just fine?

Why Use a Quilt Hoop?

It might sound daft, but to me using a quilt hoop looked ‘grown up’! Yes, looking at books and videos, it seemed that if you were any good at your craft you used a frame or a quilt hoop.  I considered why this might be and came to the conclusion that the ‘rocking stitch’ just looked more efficient than the semi running/rocking-style stitch I’d developed (see some of my ‘free hand’ big stitch quilting above).  It looked faster and there was the added bonus of always being able to find where you left off!

My Quilt Hoop

14" quilt hoop, with work in progress. © Stephanie Boon, 2015

14″ solid beech hoop

I’ve had my quilt hoop for years (I just hadn’t used it much).  It still has the price tag stuck to the inside: £6.99.  Nowadays the same hoop costs £16.25! It has a 14″ diameter and a 1″ depth and is made from solid beech.  It’s really stable and doesn’t twist, it’s smooth and has a strong clamp too.  I love it because it’s lightweight but still feels really sturdy even with a double bed quilt in it.

Practice

I started practicing on smaller quilts that were easier to move about. In the past I’d found a hoop cumbersome to use, so thought a lighter weight quilt might help.  I decided I’d try and sew just one stitch at a time – the rocking stitch was proving much more difficult than it looked. I watched videos and read books and still couldn’t get it right. I experimented with different needles, different thimbles, different sized stitches, different types of thread – even sitting in different positions. And still I couldn’t get it right. Then one day I realised there was something else to experiment with.

Slack

I was very accustomed to using an embroidery hoop, but none of the videos I’d seen really mentioned the fact (or I’d glossed over it perhaps) that using an embroidery hoop is nothing like using a quilt hoop. And I mean nothing like it!  I’d been putting my quilt in the hoop a little slacker than I would put an embroidery in a hoop and then tightening up the clamp so it couldn’t move. I decided to experiment. I made it real slack – and then wondered what the point of having a hoop around it was at all. I tried a little less slack, but still wasn’t impressed with all the bunching and gathering up around the hoop itself. My stitches had got a little better though. Eventually I began loosening off the clamp and pulling my quilt more taut. My stitches were getting more even and my needle, well it even began to rock!

What I Know Now

The key to being able to use a quilt hoop is getting the tension of the quilt in the hoop just right

And it’s taken me almost a year to figure out what ‘just right’ tension feels like! When I put my quilt in the hoop now, I put it in so that it’s smooth and reasonably taut. The clamp is firm but not tight (the two hoops will easily come apart). Next I put the quilt hoop against the edge of a table and with the flat of my hand push the quilt down in the centre until it has a gentle bow.  With one hand still pressing on the quilt I use the other hand to make sure the rims of two hoops are level. And I don’t touch the clamp, at all! Then I’m good to go.

Are you a Beginner?

If you want to learn to use a quilt hoop too, here are a few things I learned from my experience that might help:

  • Be patient. Learning something new without someone there to show you means it’s likely to take longer.
  • Be curious. Look at lots of videos, read lots of books or magazines: you’ll glean something from all of them, but not everything from one.
  • Change the variables. Repeating the same thing over and over again will not perfect your technique! If something’s not working remember there are lots of things to change, some of them might seem insignificant but could make a huge difference (tension!).
  • Cut out distractions. Fully focus on what you’re doing without worrying about anything else.
  • Practice. Regular practice is key. Little and often as they say.
  • Be kind. I’m really guilty of being unkind to myself – if you are too, all the negative self-talk needs to stop! You’re awesome for trying something new, for persevering and you definitely will get there!

Now I’ve got my hoop sorted, it’s time to work on evening up my stitches some more…how many years do you think that’ll take me?!

Summer Blues patchwork quilt in progress © Stephanie Boon, 2015 www.DawnChorusStudio.com

Some progress this week

This Week in My Hoop

I was so humbled and inspired by all the helpful suggestions and comments on my last Slow Sunday Stitching Post, The 9 Patch Dilemma, that I kept Summer Blues in my hoop all week.  I’m really pleased with the progress I’ve made so far. I’ve completed all the horizontal in-the-ditch stitching along the sashings and have made good inroads in the vertical sashing too.

Summer Blues Quilt in progres (back) © Stephanie Boon, 2015 www.DawnChorusStudio.com

It’s good to see the progress from the back

I’ve even experimented with a little bit of outline quilting in the 9 patch squares.

In my quilt hoop: hand quilting a 9 patch block. © Stephanie Boon, 2015 www.DawnChorusStudio.com

Experimenting with some outline quilting – loving it!

With your help it’s finally coming together in my mind and the procrastination seems to be abating! I’ve decided that I’ll ditch all the sashing and outline quilt the 9 patches and flying geese border – and that is it! There will be no stitching in the sashing – this quilt needs to be DONE! And to help me get there I’ve made a plan:

12 week quilting plan © Stephanie Boon, 2015 www.DawnChorusStudio.com

12 week plan

I reckon that if I can dedicate 10 hours stitching a week to this particular quilt I should have it finished up in 12 weeks.  And you know where 12 weeks takes us? Christmas!  Wouldn’t that be a nice gift to myself?! As an incentive I thought I’d post a wee progress report each Sunday from now on and invite you, my lovely slow stitching friends, to hold me to account. Carrot or stick, give it to me straight: I have to get this done! I really need to move on.  10 hours a week on this quilt seems doable and I reckon that should give me ample time to get on with other projects too, for I’m definitely not a one project at a time kinda gal!

I’m linking up with the lovely Kathy for Slow Sunday Stitching, Lee for Work in Progress Wednesday and of course Lorna for Let’s Bee Social. I look forward to catching up with you all!

Favourite Link Parties graphic © Stephanie Boon, 2015 www.DawnChorusStudio.com

Have a lovely Sunday – and if you have a few minutes to spare check out this week’s post on digital colour palettes!

Signature: Stephie © Stephanie Boon, 2015 www.DawnchorusStudio.com

Addendum

This quilt was finished in 2016, sometime after the Christmas finish I’d planned. It’s a lovely, fairly traditional design, utilitarian style quilt – and it makes me smile every time I wake up! Read more about the finished quilt and my thoughts on the 7 year journey it took to make, including learning how to use a quilt hoop.

 

35 replies
  1. Deb @ Frugal Little Bungalow
    Deb @ Frugal Little Bungalow says:

    It looks wonderful with the outline stitching! 🙂 What a great post…I hope that many newbie quilters will find their way to read it over time when they are having troubles and googling about quilting in a hoop 🙂

    I had started with a floor frame for my first quilt….then my ex and I split up and I couldn’t take it with me. Later on I got one of those small white PVC pipe ones which when it had a quilt in it was mostly used by the grands as a tent : ) I like the 14 inch round hoop the most and use it exclusively now as I can lug it anyway…to the porch, table, couch, wherever. But I know that any hand quilted project will be no larger than a twin, or a couch sized quilt….larger than that is getting tied 🙂

    Reply
    • Stephie
      Stephie says:

      Thanks Deb 🙂 How did you find working on a floor frame? I’m really curious about trying one sometime, but I wonder if you have to be able to quilt in any direction and I’m definitely not at that stage…yet! I love the idea of your grandchildren using your quilting as a tent, I can just picture them!! I made my son a quilt and it took so long because he kept ‘borrowing’ it before it was finished – at least we know they’re loved 🙂

      Reply
  2. Deb
    Deb says:

    I too am self taught with lots of books and videos to learn from! I just started using a hoop to hand quilt last year as well. It does take getting used to and I found I need mine not tight at all but not too slack either. I always figure we have to start somewhere and as we learn and practice we get better. It is fun to see how my stitches have gotten better over the last year. Great post and your decisions on the quilt are perfect. I too break things down into manageable parts and it just feels good to check off each item from the list. Enjoy your stitching.

    Reply
    • Stephie
      Stephie says:

      Deb I think we’re so lucky to be teaching ourselves in the ‘internet age’ – can you imagine trying to learn without Youtube videos?!?! I’m so grateful to all those people that spend the time putting them together – and they probably have no idea how helpful they’ve been 🙂 It does take a lot of experimenting to get the tension right doesn’t it, but once you’ve found it, it’s a real ‘aha’ moment! Hope you had a great weekend and have a good week to come 🙂

      Reply
  3. Ann
    Ann says:

    Every time you or Audrey show your handwork, I think I need to pull my hoop out again. It was beside my chair for a while because I was “going to work on my oldest UFO” every evening during the news.” One day it got put away again; I never do it. Hand quilting is gorgeous. Must start up again… someday.

    Reply
    • Stephie
      Stephie says:

      Oh Audrey is such an inspiration – so masterful! I think I’m one of those people that just can’t sit still Ann, so I like to keep my hands busy. If I was watching the news with nothing to occupy me I’d probably fall asleep, haha! And I do envy the machine quilter’s pile of finished quilts, it must be so much easier to keep the pile of ufo’s down!

      Reply
  4. Calra
    Calra says:

    I am so glad you figured it out! I have always used a hoop, can’t imagine quilting with out it! I know many don’t use a thimble either, I just can’t imagine that!

    Reply
    • Stephie
      Stephie says:

      It’s funny you should mention thimbles Carla, last night my needle kept piercing my beat up leather thimble so I thought I might as well take it off and stitch without it! I’ve got a pretty hole on my middle finger this morning! And it’s thanks to everyone’s help that I got it figured out, so thank you!

      Reply
  5. Leah
    Leah says:

    I haven’t done hand quilting in years, but I must say some tools are absolutely necessary – a hoop or quilt frame being one of them. Call me a judgmental quilter – but the small fine hand quilted stitches are what it’s about. Those old time quilters knew what they were doing, big stitches were for embellishment, decoration, not for holding a quilt together.

    Reply
    • Stephie
      Stephie says:

      I don’t think you’re a judgemental quilt Leah, we all have our preferences 🙂 I’d love to be able to take teeny stitches and one day I will! Have you seen Andreas quilting? One day… I can take tiny stitches through the top, but the difficulty I have is bringing the needle up close to the previous stitch, but I’m going to keep trying – maybe just one stitch at a time. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O-T7OgxKh2s

      Reply
  6. Quilter Kathy
    Quilter Kathy says:

    What a terrific post…thanks for sharing your learning to date!
    So wonderful that you were encouraged so much by commenters that you your enthusiasm is reenergized for this quilt!

    Reply
    • Stephie
      Stephie says:

      It’s thanks to you Kathy for creating such a lovely group of likeminded people! I really look forward to Sundays each week, I’d feel lost with out meeting up 🙂 I’m glad you liked the post.

      Reply
  7. CathieJ
    CathieJ says:

    Your stitching looks great. I use both a round and an oval hoop. The oval hoop can be attached to a stand but I often take it off because I like the freedom of turning the hoop easily as needed. I am no expert either, but I do enjoy the process. I am looking forward to see your finished quilt.

    Reply
    • Stephie
      Stephie says:

      I think you’re right Cathie, enjoyment of the process is the most important thing. If we did it to reach perfection overnight (or at all!) we’d give up pretty darn quick! I’ve never seen an oval hoop, do they only come with stands? It sounds intriguing. It’s wonderful to hear that so many people prefer the simple hoop. I think those lovely big frames must be great for group quilting, but there’s nothing nicer than sitting down with a quilt on your lap to take a few stitches in the evening 🙂

      Reply
  8. Gail
    Gail says:

    Hooray for you and your hand quilting! It looks great!!!! I’ve hand quilted several small projects but have never done a large quilt. This quilt will be done in no time!

    Reply
    • Stephie
      Stephie says:

      Gail, that sounds like ‘famous last words’ to me, haha! I certainly hope I can manage it before Christmas and thanks to everyone’s encouragement I feel like I’ve got the bit between my teeth. This is the largest quilt I’ve ever done in a hoop. It’s the largest one I’ve mostly hand pieced as well – and boy does it leave a lot to be desired, I’ve definitely improved since I stitched this one together! It appears I wasn’t too good at finishing up at the end of a line of stitching. Or cutting my seam allowances even – some are huge and some are fraying, oops! If this quilt lasts a few years I’ll be amazed 😀 We live and learn!

      Reply
  9. Kaja
    Kaja says:

    I’m glad you felt inspired to keep going with your 9 patch; I think it will be very pretty. You are right about learning quilting techniques – what would we do without the internet?

    Reply
  10. audrey
    audrey says:

    I had to laugh reading through this post! So very true that the most important thing is time and experience. I’ve gleaned so many little tips to help me make minor adjustments through the years, but really we all have to find our ‘best’ way don’t we!

    Reply
    • Stephie
      Stephie says:

      Thanks Audrey 🙂 It’s definitely about learning from others and appreciating that everyone does things a little (sometimes a lot!) differently and whatever works for you is what’s best! It just takes a while to find out what that is – and that’s not a reflection on our abilities, just that this is a ‘slow’ craft (and that’s the beauty of it)!

      Reply
  11. daphnedawn
    daphnedawn says:

    You’ve given me the inspiration to get my quilt hoop out of the box and begin using it. Mine has a stand with it, but since I’ve never used it, I’m not sure whether it would be best to use it with or without the stand. I guess time will tell. Now I just need to get back to Colorado where my hoop is still living in its box. Your quilt is going to be beautiful, and I can’t wait to see it once it’s finished!

    Reply
    • Stephie
      Stephie says:

      Thanks Daphne! I’ve never used a stand, but I’m curious to try – I wonder if it’s easier if you can quilt in any direction (which I can’t…yet!!!)? I just imagine you’d be taking your quilt off the stand every five minutes to move it along? No idea, but once I feel I can stitch in a direction other than towards me, or (just about) away from me, then I’ll have a look!! I hope you find yours soon and get a quilt in it – you’ll have to let us know how you get on!

      Reply
  12. gretchenweaver
    gretchenweaver says:

    Posting on my blog about the progress I make quilting my Jane gives me the incentive to keep quilting! Once I have the row quilted, I can do other things that week. My quilting frame is the old fashioned sticks and stands. I can pretty well quilt in just about any direction now. You are right about having your quilt the correct tautness. I think everyone has their own preference though. I don’t like mine terribly tight, I think that makes it stitch too hard. I hope you are able to make your 12 week plan work. What a wonderful Christmas gift that will be to yourself, a finish for Christmas! Gretchen

    Reply
    • Stephie
      Stephie says:

      Thanks Gretchen 🙂 I’m so impressed that you can quilt in any direction, that must take some practice over the years. I would absolutely love to be able to do that. I think the idea of posting regularly about progress must really help with motivation and I’m looking forward to trying it out. I’ve done quite well with this week’s goal, but I’ve still got a bit to do before I can tick it off the list – best get a move on because I plan to link up with Kathy for Slow Sunday Stitching tomorrow! Need to head in to town first though to buy some more thread. Have a great weekend Gretchen.

      Reply
  13. JanineMarie
    JanineMarie says:

    Great post!! I think a 14 inch hoop is the perfect size. I’ve tried other sizes as well as a PVC hoop. Each have their roles, but this is still my favorite. I still have my original hoop (30+ years old). I’ve had others, bought when the hardware on my old one wore out, but they didn’t feel as sturdy and smooth. Now I just use the old one with rubber bands to hold it together. I’m impressed that you have a 12-week plan, but don’t let it rule you and rob you of the joy and relaxation of hand quilting. For me, having too many deadlines for hand quilting makes it too much like work. I do find, though, that I stay up too late because “I’ll do just a little more…”

    Reply
    • Stephie
      Stephie says:

      I couldn’t agree more – too many deadlines = work! I like to think of this schedule as a guideline: if I can manage to stitch this much per week I’ll have a quilt by Christmas, If I can’t, I’ll probably have one in the new year! I love the idea of your favourite hoop being held together with rubber bands! That sounds like a well loved hoop to me!

      Reply
  14. gretchenweaver
    gretchenweaver says:

    Just curious what kind of thread you are using for quilting. I’ve switched to YLI thread. I used to use Coats & Clark but the quality isn’t like it used to be. I had trouble with tearing and knotting. I tried Gutermann quilting thread and didn’t like that either. I suggest you get YLI if it is available. The bad thing is it only comes in a spool of 1000 yards so it will last you awhile.

    Reply
    • Stephie
      Stephie says:

      I use Gutermann hand quilting thread Gretchen. To be honest it’s the only brand my local fabric store stocks! There is a quilt store not too far from home though that I need to pay a visit soon, so I’ll check to see if they sell YLI there. I’ve just had a look online and see that I can buy it online at The Cotton Patch (who offer a great service), and it’s a great price too for the large spool. Thanks for the recommendation! I don’t usually like buying things online unless I’ve touched it first (weirdo!!!), but I’ll definitely give this a try now 🙂

      Reply
    • Stephie
      Stephie says:

      Laura, you definitely can do it! You just have to not be hard on yourself and appreciate that all those amazing quilters with tiny even stitches have probably being doing it for decades! I think the most important thing is to enjoy the process. I really hope you’ll have a go, you never know you might discover something you really love to do 🙂

      Reply
  15. Mary Ellen Cash
    Mary Ellen Cash says:

    I absolutely love quilting by hand and using a hoop. That is how I first started quilting more than 30 years ago. I still have my original hoop, having had to have it repaired a time or two, but, never finding another just like it. I enjoyed looking at the beautiful work you do. Keep it up.

    Reply

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