The quilt frame is designed to apply an identical amount of tension to all of the layers of the quilt before it is quilted. This ensures that the finished product will be level and wrinkle-free.
It is possible to adjust the tension of the quilt by securing it to the poles with narrow strips of fabric, which are often made of muslin. You can secure the quilt to the cloth using either pins or basting stitches. There is a possibility that you can simply roll the quilt around the pole without the fabric strip, but I would advise against doing that. To begin, there is a possibility that the wood contains oil or sap, either of which could transfer onto your quilt and leave a mark. In addition, if you rely solely on rolling the quilt around the rod, you won’t be able to quilt all the way to the edge of the quilt while maintaining the appropriate amount of tension.
What will happen is that you will roll the quilt up on the rod as you quilt – kind of like a scroll on a player piano (if you are familiar with one of those!). One side of the quilt will be rolling up on the rod, the other side will be rolling off. If you begin quilting in the center of the quilt, you both rods will have equal amounts of your quilt rolled on them. Once you have quilted the center, you will roll the quilt off of one roll and onto the other.
The side rods are a little different. The quilt frame should adjust for the width of your quilt. You will want to pin or baste (I would recommend basting) the sides of your quilt to the fabric on the side rods. This will ensure tension around your quilt – top, bottom and both sides – so your quilt will be beautifully flat after it is quilted, with no puckers or pleats caused by quilting.
Many quilters love a quilting frame because:
- Several quilters can sit around the outside of the quilting frame and quilt at the same time.
- If set up correctly, it keeps even tension on the quilt, ensuring that your quilted quilt will not have puckers or tucks in the quilting.
- If you have it set up to raise to the ceiling, when you are finished quilting for the day, you simply lift the frame up, and it is completely out of the way – safe from roaming cats, dogs, bunnies, and children.
Some of the disadvantages include:
- It is quite large, and floor space and storage may be an issue.
- Quilters must be able to change the direction of their hand as they quilt, since the frame is not so easy to position so you are always quilting in a convenient direction.
- Because of its size, it may be a little more difficult to reach some of the areas of the quilt, i.e., the center.
Making a Quilting Frame — in 1890
“To make a quilting frame, order from a lumber yard or sawmill four strips of hard pine 1 inch thick, 3 inches wide, and 6 1/2 feet long.
These could not cost more than twenty-five cents. Tack a piece of muslin along the edge of each strip. Buy four clamps for a dime at a hardware store, or have them made by a blacksmith, and you have a cheap set of frames that will last a lifetime.”
Editor’s comment — As I read these instructions, it occurs to me that following only these directions, you would end up with 4 unconnected pieces of wood that didn’t necessarily provide any tension or shape for the quilt as you were quilting.
For a quilting frame to be useful, it should provide some stretch to the quilt — an equal amount on all sides — to smooth out the fabric and batting and ensure that as the quilting stitches are made, you are not sewing puckers into your quilt.
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