Thursday, July 7, 2016

Hand-y Piecing

Years ago, I took some hand sewing workshops with my friend, Sharon Stroud. The techniques I learned are time-tested--any block that you can piece by machine can be pieced by hand with needle and thread, and maybe a thimble to save the skin on your middle finger.

Hand piecing is particularly lovely when the block shapes aren't necessarily easily cut with a rotary cutter and standard rulers in a quilter's tool box. The very tip of the pencils in Jane Davidson's Splendid Sampler block, released this week, Pencils, is a fine example of a perfect hand-piecing opportunity. The shapes aren't quite achievable with any of the standard rotary cutting rulers.

First, print the template onto the paper side of freezer paper - you can use the regular grocery store variety freezer paper cut to an 8 1/2" by 11" rectangle and feed it into your inkjet printer/copier. Place a mark on any adjoining shapes where seams intersect. (Do you see the pencil marks on the paper on A7 and A8?) Cut the template shapes on the line and fuse each shape to the wrong side of your fabric pieces.

With a ruler and pencil, draw a line on the fabric that follows the very edge of the template. Draw slightly past the points to create a visible intersection. And continue that little tick mark from the paper onto the fabric seam allowance.

Next, grab yourself a cozy spot under a shady tree. And bring some 50 or 60 weight cotton thread, a pack of size 9 or 10 sharps, some snips, and a thimble if you use one. And your fabric pieces. We'll start with the middle two pieces. Remove the paper and place them back into the layout for orientation.

Place the two staring pieces right sides together, and stab the corner with a pin at the point (where the pencil lines cross) . . .

Check that the pin is stabbed through the markings on the back fabric too. If not, adjust the fabric until the pin stabs through both line intersections.

Secure the layers with the first pin, then begin the stabbing process with a second pin at the other end of the line. This is a pretty short seam, for longer seams, I like to add a few more pins (after stabbing and checking).

With the pieces secured, it's time to sew! Make a quilter's knot. A couple twists around the end of the needle, then pull through. Here's a quick video from my friends at Threads Magazine.

Keep your needle on the top of your work, and make your first stitch starting at the line intersection. Backstitch (make a stitch on top of an existing stitch) over your first stitch to anchor it.

Then load the needle with and in and out motion. (Keep your needle in front of your work - this isn't stitching cards!)

Always (meaning every time you pull the needle through--it doesn't take much for things to go way off track!) check to make sure your stitches follow the line on the back as nicely as on the front. Then pull the needle through.

Keep loading stitches until you get to the end (the intersecting lines), backstitch each time you start a new 'load' and double backstitch at the end point. Break the thread.

Pick up the next piece, in this case, "A7" . . .

Add new pieces to the back of your work. Align the corners AND the intersection, using the STAB and SECURE process as above.

Check the back, there's that match mark line we drew in in the seam allowance to mark the seam intersection.

Sew along the lines as before--Load the stitches on the needle, check the back to make sure you're on the line on both sides, pull through, and start the next load with a backstitch. . .

Then all of the sudden, there is a seam allowance in the way! Backstitch before the seam allowance, pass through the seam allowance so the needle passed through all those points we've so diligently marked, then backstitch to start the last little stretch. Don't break the thread!

Park the needle in the fabric for a moment while you pick up the final piece. Add it to the back (because new pieces are always added to the back) . . . .

Line up all the points again . . . then pick up the 'parked' needle and carry on with the thread on the needle with another line of stitching. Backstitch, load the needle, pull through, pass through the seam, don't forget a backstitch before and after the pass through, and double backstitch at the end. Break the thread.

There you have it, from the back.

After the sun goes behind the clouds, head to the ironing board, and press the seams. Now these cute little pencil points are ready to machine piece into your block!

Do you love hand piecing?? I certainly do!

Happy Stitching!
joan ford


  1. Thanks Joan - I just may tackle this block now ;) I never thought to feed freezer paper through my printer!

  2. Thanks for this tutorial. I will now attempt Splendid Sampler star. this will be my first freezer paper attempt. I KNOW I can do it now!

  3. Thanks Joan. I'm getting ready to do the Under the Apple tree block. Only I skipped drawing a line around the freezer paper, guess it's back to the drawing board before I begin hand stitching.

    1. Oh no! That line is pretty important, but very easy to forget! I have complete confidence that round 2 will be a success!