Quilting In The Hoop

If you search online for “quilting in the hoop” you get lots of projects which actually piece appliqué quilt blocks within an embroidery hoop, or you get very dense embroideries which are intended to be quilt blocks in and of themselves. What I haven’t been able to find are directions for actually using an embroidery machine instead of a long arm quilter for doing the final quilting. Lots of information on free motion quilting, quilting with a walking foot on a home machine… I’m sure people use their embroidery machines to do the actual quilting but I’ve not found any descriptions.

I have developed a technique for using my embroidery machine in lieu of a long arm quilter because that’s the machine I have. Long arm quilting machines are very expensive and it makes no sense for me to own one – first, because I have nowhere to set one up (except in my basement which has no natural light) and second because I don’t make enough quilts to justify the expense. And I certainly don’t want to use it for a business – the joy of quilting would be gone.

So here’s how I do it. The technique involves creating an embroidery to fill whatever size block I’ve used to construct the quilt. I don’t like a heavily stitched quilt so I set up a single run (the design is stitched just once), open flowing design with a stitch length of 2.5mm. I make the design about 10mm narrower and shorter than the finished block size (to allow for slightly different finished block sizes). I can adjust the size up or down a small percentage once I have it on the embroidery machine.

I start the process by choosing a hoop that’s a bit larger than the block I’m quilting – I want to allow a some wiggle room so I can adjust the position of the design within the block. Step #1: I put a double sided non-permanent craft tape on the underside of the hoop (peel off the protecting paper). I get from 10 – 15 hoopings before I have to renew the tape. The tape is essential for making hoop placement easier – it keeps the top of the hoop in place while I slide the hoop bottom beneath the quilt block. (Non-permanent scrapbooking tape sticks nicely to the fabric but can be a bit difficult to remove from the hoop back. The best tape for the job I’ve found at my local Dollar store – the last time I saw it there I bought 20 rolls to last me a while! It sticks to the fabric very well and peels off the hoop reasonably easily. Double-sided scotch tape doesn’t work at all.)

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I position the hoop around the block doing my best to center the block vertically and horizontally. Notice the tape markings on the hoop – they show me where the top and bottom seams ought to align horizontally (I found their location by using a Frixion erasable pen to draw both horizontal and vertical lines through the center of a block then positioning the hoop and marking the seam lines – this makes it possible to position the hoop without having to locate the center for each block); in this quilt the vertical center falls in the middle of the vertical joining strip so I didn’t need to mark the vertical alignment. (I put small permanent black marks on the hoop to mark the positioning for an 8″ X 8″ block. All other block sizes I mark with tape.) (I have used my 120 x 120 hoop, my 150 x 150 hoop, my 360 x 350 turnable hoop, my 360 x 200 hoop… any hoop will work; the process is the same for all of them.)

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Next I place the hoop in the embroidery unit, bring up the embroidery design on the screen and use precise positioning to check the location of the corners making sure they fall within the block. Notice the cross hairs in the lower right of the embroidery design.

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I check all four corners to make sure the design fits the block. Because the hooping is at best approximate, I use the precise positioning on my machine to fine tune the location of the design within each block. I adjust the position of the design (up/down, left/right) making sure it’s as centered as possible.

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I set the machine to embroider, but before I start, I bring my bobbin thread to the top of the quilt (later I will embed the two threads using a self threading hand sewing needle – picture later). I hold the two threads out of the way so as the machine executes the embroidery it isn’t stitching over these threads.

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I stitch out the design,

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When the embroidery is done (I include a tie off and automatic thread cutting in the embroidery design), I remove the hoop from the machine, and before removing the hoop I pull the starting threads into the quilt. I also embed the cut tie-off threads on the underside of the quilt. I find it easier to handle the self-threading needle in the quilt when it’s still taut in the hoop.

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This quilt required 50 repeats of the embroidery design, plus eight half block designs (set up as a separate design) four on each side. It took me a couple of hours a day over three days to complete the quilting of this 48″ X 62″ quilt.

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I used my large endless hoop to stitch out the border (another design I created using the elements of the design I used for the blocks). The vertical joining strips were narrow so in the end I left them unquilted. Before beginning this quilt I stabilized the layers (backing, batting, top) by stitching in the ditch along the horizontal lines – I didn’t do vertical lines because I didn’t want vertical seams through the blocks.

I haven’t tackled a larger quilt – I think the boredom factor would do me in; in addition, I don’t have table space to hold that much fabric while the machine is doing the embroidery. My lap quilts are small enough that I can position the quilt fabric beside and above the embroidery hoop while the machine is doing the embroidery. It’s important not to have too much drag on the hoop – if the quilt hangs down the weight interferes with the hoop movement and the design doesn’t stitch out accurately.

So there you have it: Quilting In The Hoop – a technique for quilting a quilt using a home embroidery machine instead of a long arm quilter! Need more information? Ask for help using comments.

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