Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Mounting Your Quilt On Stretcher Bars

I have found that some wall-hanging quilts will look better when mounted on wooden stretcher bars (just like a painted canvas). By doing so, you avoid any curling, waviness, or other things that often occur with hanging pieces. And it also saves a little work as you don't have to do a binding or put on a hanging sleeve (as they hang just like a regular framed piece of art).

For example:

You may be able to buy the stretcher bars locally, although they are not always the best quality and may not come in the size you want without a special order. I usually get mine on-line from French Canvas.  They are solid and straight and generally cheaper than the store ones (although the cost of shipping cancels that out).

Once you have finished piecing your top, and before you start quilting, you need to do some different planning than for a normal bound quilt.

First: You will be wrapping the edges of the quilt top around the stretcher bars. So make sure there is enough extra background fabric (or in the border) that you will not lose any part of your design.  Determine the depth (thickness) of the stretcher bars you will be using. Add this number (times 2) + 2" to the top/bottom and side dimensions of the quilt. If necessary, add more fabric to the background / border to account for this.

For example: Let's say your design body was 24" x 24". Then you have a 2" border all around. So the total size is 28" x 28". If you want to see the finished quilt as 28" x 28", this is the size of the stretcher bars to buy. However, you will need to add more border fabric. Here's what to do: The bars I use are typically 3/4" deep. You need this plus at least a 2" overhang to be able to mount the quilt. So you would need to add (at least) 2 3/4" more border fabric (or another border) all around. So our quilt top now measures 33 1/2" square. The finished piece will still be 28" x 28".

Next: baste a line of contrasting thread all the way around the quilt at the point where the back side edge of the stretchers will be. In our example, this would be 28 3/4" from the center point (or, you could measure in 2" from the new outer edges). Later, when you are actually mounting the piece, this line will give you an alignment guide. This line also tells you where to stop quilting!  Do not cross it. Make sure you sew this basting BEFORE you make the quilt sandwich. Otherwise you will get a nasty bulge when you quilt.

Then, as with any quilted piece, you would cut your batting and backing fabric a few inches extra all around. So for our 33 1/2" x 33 1/2" quilt they might be 39" x 39". Do what you're comfortable with.

Quilt as you normally would.

After the quilting is done for a regular bound quilt, you would trim the batting and backing even with the top's edges. With this method, any batting or backing fabric should be trimmed even with the basted line. DO NOT CUT THE TOP! You will have to turn the quilt over and hand trim using the basting line as a guide.  It doesn't have to be perfect or exact.

Assemble the stretcher bars per the manufacturer's instructions. Also, put on the hanging hardware at this time, but not the wire (do that last). The hangers should be about 1/3 of the way down from the outer edge of the top stretcher.

Next, you will mount the finished quilt on the bars.  You will need a bunch of push pins and a heavy duty stapler with (preferably) 1/2" staples. Follow the instructions at this link, or look at the steps which I have reproduced here. Note: Having the basting lines means that you don't have to mark the bars as indicated below. Just align and start pinning!

How much to stretch?  You do want the quilt to be "taut", but be careful: unless it is a small piece (say 18" or less), it will not be "tight"; there will always be some "give". Use you judgment. Also, be careful not to pull so tight you break any stitching threads or (heavens!) any pieced seams. And as you work your way around, keep making sure that it is still square and lined up. Before you put that first staple in, stand it up and back away and check for proper alignment. Maybe it is centered left and right, but the top has more border showing than the bottom. If so, unpin and fix.

Now, remove the basting threads. As you rip out the top thread, use your seam ripper point (or a tweezers) to grab the bobbin thread and pull it through to the surface (it is now buried under the pinned top, so you can't get to it from the back).

Then start stapling as per above.

The corners are the most difficult. You will have double thicknesses and, depending on how you trimmed and how much you have pulled, there may be batting and backing fabs. I like to have the folds going along the top and bottom, so here's how I do it:  Finish stapling the top (or bottom) fabric all the way to the edge. Then CAREFULLY cut parallel to the side edge ALMOST to the fold of the top-edge fabric. Then fold the side edge down. It will still be bulky. Note where that extra piece of triangular fabric (the corner) is as you fold it under (trust me, you'll see it). Unfold and CAREFULLY trim a little away. Repeat as often as necessary until the fold-over sits nicely and is not too bulky, then staple it in place. Better to trim a little each time than too much!!! You do not want any raw edges showing. Repeat for the other 3 corners.

Put on the hanging wire, hang, step back and admire your work!