Adding the Notquilt Frame



This post is part of a series about sewing NotQuilts. If you’re unfamiliar with this method, The NotQuilt series begins here.

The link below takes you to the Balloon Notquilt project.

I spent some time thinking about the Notquilt frame. These are strips that I use to subdivide the fashion face of the NotQuilt into more manageable quadrants. I learned to use them as I went starting with the Starry Night NotQuilt. Previous NotQuilts didn’t have these dividers.

notquilt frame

Here’s what we’ll end up with.

The bands of framing fabric corral the chaotic busyness that appears when you sew down a field of random patches. The cat NotQuilt is a prime demonstration of this. Even though I controlled for both theme (cats) and colors (primarily blues and greens), the finished project still looks pretty random.

Bands of framing fabric also keeps the backing firmly in place with fewer wrinkles and tucks resulting from having the patches sewn down. Remember, we aren’t using a quilting frame to hold everything stable, and we aren’t hand basting all.

An alternative would be to use spray fixative; my neighbor Lisa uses it on her quilts and she loves it. I don’t know. Those warnings on the can about well-ventilated spaces bother me. So if you use it, follow the directions and get a brand of fixative that can be sewed through without gunking up your sewing machine and wash out when you’re finished.

Instead of a fixative, I use a million pins. It is a low-tech solution but it works, and I don’t have to buy anything. I do have to be careful handling the NotQuilt as those pins will catch my skin, and it’s hard to get the blood out.

Another reason to use framing fabric concerns the backing fabric’s tendency to shift when the layers of patches are sewn down. The backing fabric in this NotQuilt consists of three large, full-length panels, held down only at the four sides. That’s a lot of fabric that can shift, wrinkle, and pucker every time it gets pushed through the sewing machine. Sewing the framing fabric down keeps the layer of backing fabric corralled.

notquilt frame notes

Drawing the Frame

So I drew a picture, showing where I wanted the first set of framing fabric to go. I wanted it placed to define where the top edges of the mattress were. That makes it easier to make the bed. Line up the big stripes with the mattress top, and the NotQuilt will hang evenly all around.

I threw the NotQuilt onto my queen-sized mattress and evened it up. Then I measured. How far from the bottom edge to the mattress top? Then I decided how wide I wanted the framing fabric to be?

I chose six-inch wide strips; wide enough to provide a strong framing element that wouldn’t get lost amid the patches. Six-inch wide strips would also make a great start to covering the extensive bare acreage of the NotQuilt.

notquilt frame chalkline

Daughter snaps the chalkline

The NotQuilt was spread out onto the carpet and smoothed out as evenly as possible. Daughter and I snapped our chalk lines 17 inches in from all four sides. I smoothed it all out again and pinned down the two vertical strips.

I used a LOT of pins, keeping all the layers straight. Introduce a wrinkle now, and it will be there for good. It will wrinkle enough on its own, but there’s no reason to hurry the process along.

Vertical Strips First

notquilt chalkline

Where we laid the vertical stripe relative to the chalkline

I sew down the outer vertical framing strips first. Experience has shown that subdividing the backing into long vertical passages seems to leave fewer wrinkles. As with the backing fabric, I sewed down the four seams from the bottom to the top.

The vertical fabric strips have raw edges. They will be covered up with patches so there is no reason to add the bulk of finished seams.

Seam life with cat

Seam life with cat

Next came the outer horizontal strips. As always, spread your work on a large, flat surface, smooth out the layers, and pin down every two inches or so. There were six pieces, so they strips were pinned and sewn on in sections. The leading edge of the NotQuilt to the outer edge of the vertical strips comprised the four small sections. Then there are two long strips that ran between the outermost vertical strips. I sewed down the long horizontal pieces first and then the four shorter ones.

As with the vertical pieces, edges of the horizontal strips are raw and unfinished. Where the horizontal strips meet the vertical strips, turn under the raw edges, iron, and sew down. No matter how I arrange my framing strips, one part has to have a finished edge where it overlaps another framing strip. There is no way around it. A raw edge there will unravel in the wash.

I let all four of the outermost framing strips meet the raw outer edge of the NotQuilt. This is a design, not a construction choice. I like the way it looks. It is not necessary to sew framing strips to the outermost edges to hold down the backing fabric at the edges. It is helpful but not required.

Planning the Center

Once the outer strips were sewn down, it was time to address the center medallion. Did I want to have more framing strips to further break up that big, blank rectangle?

I did. I chose six-inch wide strips to reflect the outermost framing. The question was where to place the strips.

I experimented with laying the strips at various distances from the sewn-down framing strips, and settled on eight inches inside the outer frame. Not too wide, not too narrow, and it left a big blank area in the center.

Over the years, I have sewn down the inner framing strips in various ways. I made them go to the outer frame and no further, and overlap the outer frame and extend to the outermost hem.

This time, I used a free-floating box. Daughter and I snapped chalk lines. These lines extend past the edges of the balloon fabric strips. It makes it easier to erase than to measure and snap precisely.

This time, I sewed down the horizontal strips first. After sewing on the outermost framing strips, the largest free-floating backing panel parts remaining are the horizontal ones.

Putting on the Miter

When that was done, it was time for the vertical joins. Did I want to butt seams? Or something fancier?

How to fake a mitered corner: create a diagonal out of only one stripe.

How to fake a mitered corner: create a diagonal out of only one stripe.

I went with fancy miters. These are not true mitered corners, where you assemble the frame, miter the corners, and sew down the finished square. So I faked it. I pinned down the vertical strips, lined up the outside edges with the chalk lines and stopped at the top and bottom edges of the already sewn down horizontal strips. I then overlapped the strips, allowing the vertical strips to lie on top of the horizontal ones. Then I carefully folded under the part I didn’t need and ironed the folded edge that formed. I trimmed off the excess fabric, pinned everything and sewed it down.

Voila. Mitered corners. If you looked closely, you would see that they weren’t really mitered. So what? The finished joins look good, it was quick, and I’m not entering this in the county fair quilting contest.

(If you still want to know how to do a mitered corner, check out this YouTube video.)

The next step is to measure the edges and figure out how much yardage I need to make binding. Then it’s off to the stash to see what will be acceptable. While I search my stash for binding fabric, I will also pull out all of my blue scrap and see what looks best with balloons floating on a blue sky. Florals? Geometrics? Abstracts? Do I want colors other than blue?

The stash will tell me.