Friday, October 8, 2010

Something up my sleeve

My friend Marti Plager has a thing about totally finishing her quilts before she moves on to a new project, and that includes sewing on sleeves. 

I tend to be the opposite way about finishing.  I'm usually in a hurry to get a quilt done, at least enough to be photographed.  But then I'm usually in an equal hurry to get started on something new.
That means sometimes quilts get their pictures taken with binding merely turned to the back and pinned invisibly, to be finished sometime in the future.  (I usually complete that task promptly, if only because I need the pins.)  Sleeves often don't get sewed on for months or even years, until a quilt gets to go out in public. Sometimes the thread ends, taken to the back, get to hang there, unknotted and unsunken, forever.

So when Marti got the word that she got into Quilt National, all she had to do was find a box and send the quilt off.  By contrast, I am still sewing away to get mine ready to leave home.  (Although the show won't open till the end of May, the quilts have to be photographed now for the catalog.)  I suppose most of you know how to put sleeves on, but I do get enough questions about finishing that I will take the liberty of sharing my process with you, since it's easy to take pictures and document all the steps while I'm actually doing it.

I don't put labels on my quilts, but instead put my name, the title of the quilt, and the year on the sleeve.  I use a dark fabric that will discharge with bleach.  I use Finish dishwasher gel (formerly known as Electrasol) applied with a ketchup squeeze bottle.  I've tried other brands of dishwasher gel, but this one is best for writing or drawing because it holds its bead rather than wicking out, so I get nice sharp edges on my letters.  I usually allow the gel to dry before putting it in the washing machine so it doesn't offset the bleach onto other parts of the fabric.

I make the sleeve somewhere between one and three inches shorter than the finished quilt, so the hanging device will be hidden.  I turn back the ends of the sleeve about a half inch and run two rows of stitching to hem it down. 

Then I sew the sleeve into a tube with wrong sides together -- this way the inside of the sleeve will be smooth, with nothing to snag as the hanging stick goes in and out. 

I press that seam open on top of a yardstick, then turn the sleeve over, make sure the lettering is properly positioned, and press the entire tube flat.

I sew the sleeve to the quilt about a quarter-inch below the top edge of the quilt.  This line of stitching falls in an area where the edge of the quilt has been folded back, so underneath the sleeve are two layers each of quilt top, batting and backing.  That can make a very fat sandwich and even though the facing theoretically holds the folded edge in place, I always fret that the natural inclination of folded-back edges is to spring out to their original position.  So as I stitch the sleeve on, I run the thread through the folded-back layer and all the way into the layer closest to the viewer to help hold things in place.  This also gives a little more stability to the hanging quilt, because the weight of the quilt is supported by both layers of the quilt instead of just the folded-back edge.

Finally, I sew the bottom edge of the sleeve.  To leave room for the bulk of the hanging stick, I don't sew on the pressed edge of the tube but turn it up a bit.

I mark with pins where the pressed edge falls, then turn the sleeve back about a quarter-inch.  I finger-press the new edge, pin it in place, and sew.  Finally, I stitch the back of the tube to the quilt along the open edges.

With this quilt, I'm using black thread to match the sleeve, but the face of the quilt is pale yellow.  So if I misjudge and let even a millimeter of thread come through to the face, it will be horribly apparent.  I check every couple of stitches to be sure this hasn't happened, which makes for slow sewing.  Meanwhile Marti, having done her sleeves a month ago and sent her quilt on its way, is happily on safari in Africa.


  1. I always look forward so much to your instructive posts dealing with some phase of the quiltmaking process. I use an almost identical technique for attaching the hanging sleeve, but I still managed to pick up a couple of great tips that I will incorporate in the future.

  2. thanks, Sandy! I think we all are fascinated by watching somebody else do things we've done forever. Amazing how frequently you pick up a little tip or concept that you haen't thought of before.

  3. Just read this after reading your post on SAQA. I baste the sleeve to the top before adding the binding, with the raw edges at the top. Then sew it in place with the binding. That eliminates the seam that makes the sleeve a tube (which you position to the back). Then after the binding is done I hand sew the remaining three edges of the sleeve leaving a small pleat to allow for the rod width.

    Sometimes I will put a false back on the quilt and then I add and machine sew the sleeve and label before sewing on the back. That eliminates the hand sewing completely (I use in the ditch for attaching the binding).

    1. I use your method too when I do binding -- much quicker and easier -- but mostly I have faced edges, so I have to do this more tedious method.

      I've never done false backs but if I did I hope I remember your plan!