Sunday, January 16, 2011

Hand Piecing

Do you hand piece?

Hand piecing sure isn't often (ever?) mentioned in blog posts. So when the February/March issue (No. 420) of Quilters Newsletter magazine arrived, with an article about hand piecing, I was tickled. The opening paragraph reflects my own thoughts about this somewhat neglected technique:
"Many hand piecers find the pastime relaxing and some say they're able to make more quilts because it's easier to find a few minutes here and there to hand stitch, even when they're on the go. Hand piecing is easy to learn and ideal for quilters of all skill levels with little or no dedicated studio space for a machine."
Let me add, "Hoorah for hand piecing!" When I thought about it, I realized I have three quilts that I've hand pieced, and I have enjoyed every moment of doing so... mostly while a passenger on long road trips, or while away from home. With a little pre-planning (less effort than applique), you take a hand-pieced project anywhere.

My first hand pieced quilt top is this Winding Ways. It isn't finish, but the hand piecing is! The quilt top is 51" X 69", (each block is 8-1/2" finished) and my plan is to add an appliqued border. I don't get around to hand applique as easily as hand piecing. 
These are the homemade templates I used to trace the pieces onto fabric. 
Don't the seams look good?

Are you noticing all the curved pieces? My philosophy about hand piecing is that if you're going to make the effort to hand piece, you might as well piece something that's a bit more challenging than just straight lines. Straight line piecing is much easier to accomplish on a sewing machine. So when I decide what I want to hand piece, I intentionally select a pattern with curves or set-in seams. That's why my second hand pieced quilt is this Periwinkle Star. 

Most often, when I've seen this as a finished quilt, the octagon shapes are pieced into quarters (straight seams). Again, my thought was make it a whole octagon with set-in seams. Gosh, I got so carried away piecing scraps (only the octagons are the same muslin fabric) that this quilt center is 80" X 80". I'm currently hand-appliqueing four borders for it. I'm on border #3. 

Get a load of that piecing! Come on, look closely! Check out those points! 
This kind of precision is very achievable when it's done by hand. 

My third hand pieced quilt, Candied Hexagons, is also unfinished. While this one involved quite a bit of straight seam piecing, some of the hexies have set-in seams. This quilt center also still needs hand appliqued borders. (sigh)

But the two points I want to make about hand piecing is that: 1) it's easy to do; 2) and, it's a great travel project.

Hand piecing stitches can be done in a couple different ways. Some make a simple running stitch. I prefer to load my needle with three to four stitches, pull those through, and then backstitch through the last stitch when I reload the needle. The thought behind this concept is that should a thread ever break, the entire seam won't pull out.

When you hand piece, you know exactly where to stitch because the line that's drawn around a template is the stitching line. I prefer to cut out a shape with a 3/16th inch seam allowance. The hand piecing stitches themselves are about 1/16th of an inch apart.

In the QN article, four different hand pieced blocks are featured including templates for tracing. Blocks are Orange Peel; Rainbow Flower; The Painted Daisy; and The Gay Cosmos. The latter two have the additional element of hand applique. You know how well I don't get along with that!

It's the Orange Peel that got my attention. Here are my homemade templates, ready to be traced onto fabric.

The book from which these four QN designs were taken is The Quilters Album of Patchwork Patterns by Jinny Beyer. It's a hardbound, full color book that contains 4,050 pieced blocks! Now wouldn't that keep a hand piecer busy for a while!

For those who want to know... our two month-old grandson, Aesa, is back at home after a two night hospital stay. He's recovering from bronchiolitis, a viral inflammation of the small ends of the bronchial tubes. We've learned that it's congestion and wheezing that most often strikes infants who are one to nine months old. We're extremely thankful he's improving, and we're grateful for your prayers.

After three weeks, I'm still trying to get over sinusitis and unhappily trying to get used to a plugged right ear. Let me tell you, it really is tedious to listen to myself so much! But I'm grateful to have energy again, and feel like getting back to my quilting. My next hand piecing project has my attention. Will you be hand piecing too?


  1. I love handpiecing. My Farmers Wife Sampler blocks are all hand drawn and pieced, and over the years I have completed about 8 or so large quilts all hand pieced. Its a quiet peaceful process for me to choose colours, draw the templates, trace onto the fabric, cut and sew. I think my best work has been hand done.

  2. I love to hand piece. Haven't done a lot in recent times but i was planning on hand piecing my Winding Ways quilt. You quilts are gorgeous. Hugs,

  3. You're preaching to the converted here, Linda! I LOVE hand piecing, and find I ge much more done that way, for the reasons you mentioned. I always take a project with me when travelling, and sit and hand stitch whenever I get together with quilting friends.Have even decided to do Joseph's Coat by this method!

    So very, VERY glad little Aesa is out of danger, and you are on the mend (if slowly). xx

  4. I've always preferred hand piecing, it's very relaxing & far more accurate, for me, than machine piecing. I also like to match the colour thread to every seam I sew, which of course you can't do with machine piecing. :-)
    I'm so glad Aesa is on the mend, it's scarey when they are so little & can't tell you what's wrong. Hope your ear improves soon, at least your energy has returned. hugs, Jan

  5. Oh your hand pieced quilts are beautiful. I do have a quilt that I started 2 years ago that I should pull out and work on. I do enjoy hand piecing but I like the applique more.
    Poor little baby boy. I am glad to hear you and he are getting better.

  6. I'm glad to hear Aesa is doing better. He even has a little smile while in the hospital.

    Your hand piecing is beautiful. I haven't tried that yet. I can see why hand piecing a curved piece like winding ways might be easier. I love the appliqued borders too. Do you sew them on by hand also? Hope you are feeling better!

  7. Your handwork is enviable, Linda! While it's not for me, I certainly admire it. I am working on my hand pieced hexagons, so I guess that counts!! So glad that Aesa is back at home and doing better. Have fun at QM tomorrow! Everyone shouts, hopefully you will hear them! =)

  8. I certainly agree with you about the hand piecing. I also love it. I find it so much easier to piece complex, curved blocks by hand. I can get much better points.
    Glad to hear that little Aesa is now on the mend.

  9. Oh, I love the quilts, especially the candied hexagon. Beautiful! I like doing some hand piecing but I'm not real good at it yet, plus I am short on the virtue of patience. I do find using paper templates is easier for me and I have an almost finished project (I have loads of those) to show off one of these days. Thanks for shaing.

  10. I am so glad to hear Aesa is doing better, and you too!
    I have a hand pieced top that I think is the Periwinkle Star. I got it from my SIL a few years ago, but haven't touched it. I think it needs to be hand quilted. We'll see.
    I love hand piecing, but have not done much in the last several years. I think I need to get over the "instant gratification" bug that has bitten me. I think more than liking hand piecing, I really like the calm and peaceful feeling I get from the process. I'm not good at relaxing, lol. Your hand work is lovely.
    Blessings :o)

  11. Your hand piecing looks wonderful. I haven't done much hand piecing but I have a friend that does. Your points are the best, you have to be very proud of quilts. I love seeing your work.

  12. I'm so glad your little one is doing better. I love hand piecing - just don't do it much any more. I do have one project in the works though. blessings, marlene

  13. Hi I popped over to have a look after you commented on my blog and I thought it was funny that I want to make a Candied Hexagons quilt (have had the pattern for about 2 years!) and then your next post your Jungle Friends quilt I have been planning to make one of them too! Do you have a post with all of your Jungle Friends in it? I'd love to see it all. I have hand pieced about 40 curved pinwheel blocks that I made several years ago still not made into a quilt. But I really enjoyed doing them and I agree if you are going to hand piece you can do harder curves. PS Glad your grandson is home now.

  14. I have never hand pieced (apart from one very misguided attempt when I FIRST attempted quilting) until I got started on my Candied Hexagons. I'm doing mine the English method, over papers, because I knew that I wouldn't be able to maintain the discipline of sewing "on the line"!

    I LOVE IT now!!! there are so many things that I want to make using hand piecing! Next up will almost certainly be something using my collection of 1930's prints - I just have to decide what.

    I find the whole process of the hand sewing really enjoyable, and it really does make a difference for all the set in corners. I also love having something that I can take with me anywhere and pick up when I have a few moments spare :)

  15. Hand piecers might like Inklingo ( Instead of having to make templates & then draw onto your fabric, you use a basic inkjet printer to print sewing & cutting lines directly onto the backside of fabric using freezer paper as stabilizer. She has a free program you can download & test it out.

  16. I love your idea for the borders on the periwinkle quilt. I searched your blog for the finished quilt with no success. Would love to see it finished!

  17. I have discovered 109 periwinkle "stars" in a trunk I inherited from my mother. I cannot figure out how to calculate the pattern for the hexagon, nor how to put it together using a sewing machine. Thus, I guess I'll need to hand sew, if I can figure out the pattern. Any suggestions where there might be a hexagon pattern?

    P.S. the email is incorrect and your site won't let me correct it!

    1. Hello Unknown! First let me say that it is NOT my site that won't let you correct your email address... it's Blogger/Google that's the problem. This is a change that happened in December and is out of my control. I have raised the issue to Blogger/Google that has thus far ignored my question. Second, I'm happy for you to have discovered the periwinkle stars! How fun! But allow me to correct you and say that the large plain shape isn't a hexagon. Though the shape has six sides, not all sides are equal. Perhaps there's where your problem lies. Personally, I wouldn't consider piecing this project on a sewing machine. The challenge of getting each of those corners to meet would be incredible. However, you can cut that six-sided shape into four pieces, and then be able to piece four straight seams... though that won't take care of the angles that will still need to be sewn in each star quadrant. I'm sorry I can't be more helpful. I'll only suggest that you take apart one block and use it to make a template. Best wishes... and I'm sorry I can't reply to you directly.


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