I spent a lovely day this week visiting with a dear friend, Diana Annis. Diana is a long-arm quilter who has quilted many of my favorite quilts. Diana is also a wealth of knowledge about quilt documentation including dating fabrics and appraising quilts.
She was not able to quilt my latest, True Colors of Springtime, so I was really excited to show her how beautifully it was quilted by Pam Bowen (the Quilted Seahorse).
I’ve decided to enter this quilt into Mancuso’s New England Quilt Expo, so the quilt needed to be “blocked” to ensure it hangs beautifully. Since Diana is the expert on this process, I knew “my baby” was in good hands with her!
Not only did Diana block this beauty for me, but she also wrote up her method so I could share it with all of you! I am so happy to have Diana Annis as my Guest Blogger this week!
Let’s welcome Diana Annis from In Stitches!
Diana, Why do we block a quilt?
If you want your quilts to lay exceptionally flat on your bed, or to hang perfectly straight in your next quilt show, Blocking should be the final step in your quilt-making process.
Blocking is done after the quilting is completed. It is best done before the binding goes on but can be done after.
Every time you handle your quilt, from piecing, to applique to quilting, the fabric can be stretched. Blocking is the process of wetting the quilt, smoothing it into the final quit size, and allowing that quilt to dry on a flat surface.
But wait, Diana, what if your fabrics are not prewashed? Will this cause the quilt to bleed?
Yes, air drying a quilt may cause “problem fabrics” to bleed. This is a great reason to wash all your fabrics before you make your quilt! It is the first question I ask a customer who wants me to block their quilt.
OK, so now we know why to block, but how is it done?
Diana’s process: I have a front load washing machine. It does not agitate, it tumbles. It also has rinse and spin, and hand wash cycles. If there are spots, stains, or schmutz on the quilt, this is the time to get that out, with gentle cleaning. If there is none then a “rinse and spin” is enough. The purpose is to wet the quilt only enough to be able to tug it into the shape you want. Most often an even-sided rectangle.
Once clean and damp it’s ready to get to work.
There are several ways to complete this. I have two design walls in a vertical position, the largest being 8’x8′. My design wall is made from two sheets of 1″ dense insulation foam. I covered the design wall in flannel so I can use it for design, pin to it, and block on it. Sue made a YouTube video on making a design wall, and you can find it HERE
I used 280 corsage pins for this quilt. You can also use thin T-pins. I like to put them into the seam of the binding if it is already on, or into the edge of the quilted three layers where the binding will cover any holes.
When I first start I use a 4′ step ladder and start at the center of the top of the quilt. This quilt is only about 3″ from the top and bottom edges. I also have to make sure that the sides fit within the wall sides.
I have lines drawn on the top of my wall in permanent marker. I pin along the top of a line and that keeps the top of the quilt straight, tugging just a bit as I go. Don’t tug too much, the quilt will shrink up some as it dries, flattening all the wrinkles you were horrified to see when it came out of the wash. I also don’t want to create “dog ears” at the corners by tugging too much.
Once the top is pinned, at about 1″ to 2″s apart stand back to look at that line to make sure it is straight, even, and not “dog-eared”. Now measure to the end of the wall and mark with chalk or blue erasable marker about 1′ down each side. Tug and pin to this line on both sides, moving down a foot at a time. Once close to the bottom you’ll have a frown at the bottom of your quilt.
Tug the bottom center of the quilt to the same length as the side ends and pin. Do the same to the center of each half, and the quarters. The bottom will take a little time so be patient. Work your way back and forth, adjusting as necessary, until you get it where you want it.
Let it dry overnight. Even in steamy weather it will dry faster than you think!
If you feel it is drying too fast while pinning, spray with cold fresh water. Not heavily, just enough to be able to tug it better.
WOW, Diana, not only is that a lot of work, but it requires a lot of space! Not everyone has room for an 8 x 8 design wall. Are there any other ways to block a quilt, besides hiring you to do it?
It is a lot of work, but the result is so worth it!
Yes, there are alternatives to a vertical wall. You can pin the damp quilt to a carpeted floor. Use painter’s tape to mark your lines, and angle your pins so they hold your quilt taught.
You can also make a folding design wall, using the same foam panels and duct tape to make a hinge between two or more panels. It can be propped against a wall, or laid open on a table. This way you can fold and store them when not in use. If you are only blocking your quilts, you don’t need to cover the foam panels with flannel.
Before I got my foam design wall, I used to pin quilts to the large outside wall of my garage! I used push pins and nice days. The backside of my garage is in shade almost all day.
The last option is to use a bed. If you start early in the day it will most likely be dry by bedtime. Lay it evenly over the top of the bed, tugging to make the top, bottom, and sides as straight as you can. Smooth out any hills and valleys. It will give it a much smoother appearance than hanging on a line, or draping over a railing. This method will not give you the super smooth result you get from pinning but works in a pinch.
Diana, how would someone contact you if they wanted to keep in touch?
They can reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Diana, Thank you for sharing your process with us! Thanks to Diana Annis from In Stitches, the “True Colors of Springtime” is ready for the show, and looks fabulous!