Quilting in the hoop
Quilting in the embroidery hoop, a versatile technique with many applications, requires a few special considerations from design, thread, and stabilizer choices to deciding how to finish off the thread ends. A little extra effort and thought in these areas can increase the success and beauty of machine embroidered quilting.
First of all, consider using outlines of filled designs and redwork designs in addition to designs that are digitized as quilting patterns. Use editing software or step through the design on the machine to stitch only the outline. Be sure to check the stitch process of the outlines, as some are discontinuous or jump around, which would not appropriate for a quilt motif. Some designs have heavier outlines, such as when the design uses a triple stitch instead of a single running stitch, making the back of the design look heavier. While the heaviness of the stitching cannot be changed easily, even these heavy lines will look lighter when light weight thread is used in both the bobbin and the needle.
Secondly, the bobbin thread should match the backing fabric if the quilting is to be hidden. Since almost all bobbin thread is either black or white, lightweight embroidery thread is a good bobbin thread choice for machine embroidered quilting. Some designs will also work with monofilament thread in the bobbin, needle, or both. It is best to slow down the machine speed if using monofilament thread. If the stitching is to be visible, embroidery thread to contrast with the backing fabric can be used in the bobbin. This is a great place to use cotton embroidery threads in both the needle and bobbin, as they match the fabric type and are stronger than rayon embroidery threads.
No special settings need to be used if the needle thread matches the bobbin thread, but if the two threads are different colors, some adjustment may be necessary. Embroidery machines are set up to pull the needle thread to the back of the embroidery for an unbalanced stitch. If the needle thread color would look unsightly when it appeared on the back of the quilt, the needle tension can be increased until a more balanced stitch is achieved, with the threads interlocking within the thickness of the batting layer.
The third consideration is choosing an appropriate stabilizer. One of the greatest benefits of quilting in the hoop is that often no stabilizer is needed, such as when a three layer quilt sandwich is hooped and a low density design is embroidered. If a stabilizer is needed, there are several possible methods. The easiest would be to use a water soluble stabilizer that can be washed away after the quilt is finished. The quilting can also be done on a sandwich consisting of a top fabric, batting, and a cut away stabilizer, with the backing fabric being attached either on the underside of the hoop at some point during the quilting process or as a later step altogether. Using a light tear away stabilizer is also appropriate, but tearing the stabilizer away from the running stitches can be time consuming, making this a more cumbersome method. Other stabilizer combinations are being developed as this quilting technique increases in popularity.
Finally, the biggest consideration is what to do with the thread ends and knots. When the quilting is to go all the way to the edge of the piece to be quilted, hoop the top, batting and backing together and stitch out the design, then trim the larger hooped piece to size and finish the quilt. Finishing techniques range from traditional bindings, to serged edges, to various quilt-as-you-go methods. But what about those times when you would like to use an embroidery design to quilt a border? Or for those projects where the quilt layers are already put together before you embroider through all the layers in the center of the quilt? What do you do with the thread ends on the back? There are several choices, depending on the result desired and the effort applied to achieve that result.
The easiest choice is simply to allow the machine to cut the threads. When the quilt is removed from the hoop, apply a small amount of a fray stop solution to the knots and to each end of every jump stitch. When the solution is dry, trim the threads to about 1/8 inch. There will be visible knots and thread ends, but embroidery thread is so fine, the knots should not be very noticeable. This is even recommended and considered an identifying characteristic of quilting in the hoop.
In some designs the jump stitches will be small enough as to be barely noticeable and can be left intact. If the designs have longer jump stitches in them, there are ways to make these stitches invisible or nearly so. One way is to stitch these designs through the top and batting layers, adding the backing by some other method afterwards.
However, in most cases the quilting will be through all three sandwich layers, so something must be done with the jump stitches. If visible jump stitches are not acceptable, it is possible to bury the threads, making the back look as beautiful as the front. This takes more effort, but can go more quickly than one would expect. If thread ends are to be buried, be sure all automatic thread snips and cutters are turned off. Leave long thread tails between any separate motifs. When all quilting is finished, trim one end of each jump stitch on the front of the quilt and turn the quilt over to the back. On the back, for each jump stitch, trim the same end that was trimmed on the front. This area can be secured further with a minute drop of fray stop solution. Pull on the bobbin thread at the other end of the jump stitch to pull the needle thread to the back. If the needle thread will not pull to the back, thread it through the eye of a sharp sewing needle and use the needle to bring it to the back. You may tie the needle thread and bobbin thread in a small square knot for extra security, but this is not always necessary. Bury both thread ends in the batting of the quilt, either separately or together. If you pull the thread so that the fabric buckles a little before you snip off the end, it will slide back into the quilt sandwich and disappear. Another technique is to snip the thread about ¼ inch beyond the fabric so that a little tail is showing, and then lift the backing enough for the tail to slip between the quilt layers. For long jump stitches, the threads can be snipped in the middle, and threaded between the layers at each end of the jump.
This technique is also used on the threads that start and end a motif. Be sure to leave long threads between motifs and snip them in the middle so there is thread to bury afterwards. Use the bobbin threads to pull the needle threads to the back, and bury the threads using a hand sewing needle. This technique takes quite a bit of effort, but it pays big dividends. The back of the quilt looks as beautiful as the front, and the stitching is secure and will not come undone.
One way to cut your finishing workload in half is to start each design the way you would a free-motion quilting design by pulling up your bobbin thread at the beginning and holding both the needle and bobbin threads as the stitching starts. Then both threads can either be buried with a needle later or snipped off together on the top, depending on how securely they are held by the rest of the embroidery stitches.
Endless hoops and redwork motifs make quilting in the hoop a great, easy way to have perfect, personalized quilting around the borders of any quilt. With all the options for quilt-as-you-go finishing techniques, as well as the many choices for digitized quilting designs, the options for beautiful embroidered quilts are limited only by your imagination.