Hand-piecing and the art of slowing down / by Riane Menardi

This summer, I was in a perpetual state of moving. (Two moves in three months. And yes, it was hell). Sadly, all of my supplies and beloved machine were packed in storage while I lived in a tiny one-bedroom apartment with Kev Dog.

Aside from doing a lot of yoga, watching a lot of Netflix, and spending as much time on my bike as possible, I kept sane by filling my evenings with hand-sewing. I decided it was a good time to return to a simpler, slower style of stitching and really savor the work that goes into each piece.

My friend and occasional colleague Amy encouraged me to try hand-piecing once, though I'm sure she doesn't remember. She warned me that it would take a long time, and that it wasn't for everyone, but I was determined to try — at least a small piece. And I fell in love with it. I love the feeling of accomplishment after each and every piece. I love watching the parts come together slowly, slowly, but surely. I love that you can see each stitch, and even the mistakes are beautiful. And I love the joy of sitting down every evening to work with my hands, not with a machine or a computer. I'm not saying I'll hand-piece every quilt from now on, but from time to time, it's a great way to slow down and enjoy the experience.

Want to try your hand (ha, see what I did there?) at hand-piecing? Here's a simple tutorial to get you started. It's small and it won't take long, so enjoy!

gather

  • 1/4-yard scraps of coral fabric
  • 1/4-yard neutral fabric (I used a nice Lotta Jansdotter gray)
  • Batting
  • 3/4 yard for backing and binding (I used a hardy linen)
  • Chalk or disappearing ink for marking
  • Hand-quilting thread
  • Sashiko thread or pearl cotton embroidery floss

Cut

  • From the coral: Strips of varying widths — anything from 1 inch to 3 inches will do
  • From the neutral: 24 Rectangles 3x4-1/2, then cut these in half, diagonally

sew

1. Using a simple running stitch*, sew 3-4 strips of coral fabric together, lengthwise, pressing the seams open. Continue until you achieve a width of X inches. Trim these down into rectangles measuring 3x4-1/2. Then cut rectangles in half, diagonally. Repeat until you have 24 triangles.

*When hand-stitching, I find it useful to insert a back stitch every now and then to keep the pieces secure. If you prefer a tighter stitch, you can backstitch across the entire line.

2. On the wrong side of each neutral piece, make a line 1/4-inch from the longest edge. This will be your stitching line. Matching right-sides-together, place a neutral triangle on top of a coral triangle and stitch along the marked line using a running stitch. Once finished, press the seam open.

3. Once all neutral/coral rectangles are complete, arrange the pieces how you would like them. Once again, mark the wrong side of each neutral piece, this time along the length where you will join the next rectangle. Row by row, stitch the rectangles together and press the seams open.

4. Once all rows are formed, stitch them together and press seams open. This will be the last step in forming your quilt top. 

5. Before forming the quilt sandwich, think about the way you want to quilt your piece and mark lines using chalk or disappearing ink. I marked curved lines radiating from one edge, about 1 inch apart from each other.

6. Cut a piece of backing and batting about 1/2-inch larger than your quilt top. Pin or baste in place, being careful to avoid the quilting lines. Using sashiko thread or pearl cotton embroidery floss, stitch on your marked lines — don't worry if they're not perfect; irregularities are charming.

7. Once quilting is complete, trim up the edges so quilt top, backing and batting are the same size.

8. Cut 2-inch strips for the binding (I usually just measure the length I need by placing the strips around the finished edges). Sew the binding using a 1/4-inch seam allowance either by hand or by machine. Fold the binding over and close with an invisible ladder stitch.

While you're sewing, remember to enjoy the process! This isn't a race. It's about slowing down and connecting with the work. Consider it a meditation, and you'll enjoy it even more. Good luck!