Hand Quilting With Rayon Thread

By Addy Harkavy (addy@TheExperimentalQuilter.com)

After finishing the top of a make-it-up-as-you go baby quilt; batting it with Hobbs 100% Organic Cotton batt, which I consider the easiest of the cotton batts to hand quilt; backing; and basting it; I was ready to quilt.

Quilt description: A friend and mother-to-be selected from my stash a group of fabrics that included peas fabric, the carrot fabric -- both on off-white background from KP Kids, and several vibrant prints that go well with those. I added an intensely colored floral print to tie it all together, along with Hoffman's vegetable garden on off white. Knowing that my friend does not like "cute" things, I asked how she would feel about a few rabbits from other fabrics appliqueed (broderie Perse) onto the vegie garden for visual interest. She agreed.

The fabrics immediately suggested something on the order of some traditional quilts often seen in southern France: a center rectangle or square, surround by rows of other fabrics. After piecing the square top, working outward from a central square and varying the widths of butted (not mitered) borders, I realized that the center needed more pizazz. So I appliqueed a square-on-point into the center. The corners of this square went beyond the edges of the center square but did not reach the edges of the next row of fabric. The new center square looks as though it's floating and has a large rabbit, cut from a rabbit-print fabric appliqueed onto the center. A giant carrot (complete with greenery) crosses the rabbit; the rabbit peeks out from behind the carrot.

The quilt top is fun, lively, and though juvenile, definitely not "cute" or syrupy.

When I use broderie Perse techniques, I like to highlight the contours of the appliquees with quilting stitches. Rabbity snouts, haunches, ears, and eyes were all candidates for contouring, and the rabbits' fur needed some luminosity. Since rayon thread seemed to be a great way to get it. I cut Sulky rayon thread (40-weight) in a 24" length, put it in my customary size 10 between needle (Jeana Kimball's Foxglove Cottage), and quilted away! Though subtle, the stitches are luminous on the rabbits. The thread didn't fray, tangle, or do other heinous things, and, best of all, it pulled easily through the sandwich.

I have heard horror stories about hand quilting with rayon thread and wonder if choice of batt has something to do with this. It seems possible that the rayon might snag on the fibers of a poly batt (I haven't tested this hypothesis), where it glides right through the cotton. In any case, a rabbit completed, I was on a rayon roll, so to speak, so I picked up another spool of Sulky rayon thread and went to work on the big carrot's greenery, followed by orange for contour lines so the tuber would seem rounded rather than flat. The needles I use (Kimball's) are English and well finished, and it is possible that a well finished needle eye also helps prevent the thread from fraying.

Copyright 1996 by Addy Harkavy (addy@TheExperimentalQuilter.com) Addy is co-owner of Pinetree Quiltworks, a mail order quilting supply company. Her company was one of the first of its kind to establish a catalogue on the World Wide Web.


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