Hang your quilt on a wooden frame: tutorial

It was only a couple of years ago that I first saw a quilt hung on a wooden frame. The tautness showed off the quilting and the whole presentation elevated the quilt to show its fine-art potential. When it was time to hang my Restrained Free-Form quilt, I thought this method would be perfect.

Restrained free-form

Restrained free-form

Although I’ve been told how to apply the technique I’ve never seen it done; and maybe you haven’t either. So if you’d like to present your next quilt on a wooden frame I hope my experience will help.

Don’t let the length of this post scare you. I tend to be wordy and undoubtedly belabour each point. Plus, I like to read instructions in baby steps so that’s how I write them. If you’re a big-picture person, I’ve started each step with a summary statement and photo so you can skip the minutiae. For a more succinct tutorial, check out Cathy Breedyk Law’s tutorial.

Okay. Here we go…

Decide on the finished size of your quilt and make sure you have a few extra inches on all sides to wrap around the frame. In my case the quilt was to finish to 15”x18” and the unfinished size was approximately 21″x24″.

You can do as I did, purchase stretcher bars from an art-supply store, or construct a frame yourself. If you have an assembled frame you won’t need the stretcher bars or the hammer, and can skip ahead to step 4.

Match pairs of stretcher bars. In each pairing, the flat side faces up first, then the rounded side.

Matched pairs of stretcher bars. In each pairing, the flat side faces up first, then the rounded side.

Stretcher bars the length  and width of the finished quilt
Rulers (2 or 3)
Straight pins
Fabric marker
Sewing machine and thread
Staple gun

To see a larger image of any of the pictures in this post, just click on it.

1. Lay out your stretcher bars with matched pairs opposite each other (no photo). The stretcher bars I bought were flat on one side and rounded on the other. Be sure all bars have the same side facing up.

2. Assemble the stretcher bars to make the frame.Dovetail seriesThe corners of the stretcher bars form dovetail joints. Push together the corners of 2 adjacent pieces. All you need is your hands. Push only hard enough for them to hold; do not push the bars as far as they will go. Now connect a third side, and lastly the fourth. You may have to loosen the existing corners a bit to fit the last bar into place. Once all four sides are in place. push the corners together as firmly as possible.

3. Square the frame. Please note: all references to the frame being “square” refer to the angles being 90 degrees and not a frame where all 4 sides are the same length.

Squared frame (left); detail of stapled corner (right)

Squared frame, front view (left); detail of stapled corner, back of frame (right)

If your frame is at all wonky, place a dish towel on a table or counter and stand the frame with the most squared end resting on the towel. Use a hammer to gently tap the corners closest to you into place. Flip the frame over and repeat. If the frame needs more work, repeat this step with the other two sides. You may have to go back and forth over corners you’ve already hammered until you’re done and the frame is square. You can check this with a gridded square acrylic ruler or a carpenter’s square (metal L-shaped ruler).

You may also want to reinforce the corners with a staple gun. Lay the frame on a flat, solid surface, and staple the joints on the back of the frame (above right). I ended up doing this later in the process once I realised my frame wasn’t as sturdy as expected.

4. Double-check the frame’s size.Size confirmationjpgLay the finished frame on your quilt to determine whether the size still seems appropriate. If it’s too small or large and you want to use the frame anyway, adjust the final dimensions of the quilt accordingly.

5. Mark the corners.???????????????????????????????Poke a straight pin from what will be one of the finished front corners (not the part that will wrap around the frame), straight through to the back. I used a ruler to find the spot, although you may want to use the frame as a guide. In the example above the quilt’s finished size of 15″x18″ extends to 1” beyond the border seam.

Keeping the pin in place, turn the quilt so the back of the quilt face up.

If you are more of a free spirit than I am you can ignore the rest of this step and mark your corner simply by using the pin as a guide and marking 2 lines to form a 90º angle from the pin to the outer edges of the quilt (right side of second photo, below).

Otherwise, place a ruler on the back of the quilt such that the pin lines up with the left-hand corner of the ruler (below left). I was lucky in that I could also align the ruler with quilting line that ran along the border seam (third line from bottom), which was 1″ in from would be the finished edge.

Take a second ruler and, holding the first securely, butt the second ruler against the end of the first and slide the second ruler toward the corner of the quilt (below right). This will ensure you are on the same plane as both the pin and the first ruler. Mark a horizontal line along the top of second ruler from where the pin comes through the quilt to the quilt’s edge. The fabric marker points to the line.

The stabilising ruler follows the quilting lines (left); a second ruler butts against the first (right)

The stabilising ruler follows the quilting lines (left). A second ruler butts against the first to provide a straight edge for marking (right).

Now move the second ruler to butt against the long side of the first ruler and draw a vertical line (photo below).

Mark a vertical line where the marker is pointing (left). Both lines drawn (right)

Mark a vertical line where the marker is pointing (left). Both lines drawn (right).

6. Mark the cutting and connector lines and cut away the excess fabric. Corner marked+cutDraw dashed lines ¼” from the two solid lines you drew in step 5. From the corner where the dotted lines meet, measure the distance equal to the thickness of your frame (my frame was 3/4″ thick) and draw a line connecting the dotted to the solid line. Repeat for second side. Cut along the dotted lines through all layers, using scissors for precision.

7. Stitch the corner.

Raw edges aligned for stitching (left); the red circle (right) shows the reinforced stitching from the corner to the connector lines

Raw edges aligned for stitching (left). The red circle (right) shows the reinforced stitching.

With right sides facing, align the corner’s cut edges (above left). Match the 2 connector lines and pin. Stitch along the solid line from the corner of the angle to the connector line. Reinforce stitching (above right).

8. Repeat steps 5 through 7 for the remaining 3 corners (no photo).

9. Verify the frame’s fit.

Right side of sewn corner seam (left); frame nesting in the quilt (right)

Quilt’s right side with sewn corner seam (left); frame nesting in the quilt (right).

Turn all corners right side out. With the back of the quilt facing up, place the frame inside the quilt. The frame should pretty much pop into place. Make sure the quilt fits securely. Tuck corner seam allowances in whichever direction makes for the best fit (fewest lumps, well-filled corners, etc.). If the fit is loose in any corner, add a row of stitching next to your original stitching on the quilt side (not within the seam allowance). Repeat until you obtain the desired fit. Alternately, fix a bad fit by following step 12.

10. Staple the quilt to the back of the frame.

Completed back

Completed back

To do this with just 1 pair of hands, have the staple gun nearby and stand the quilt in its frame on the work surface. You can start with any side. Use both hands to evenly distribute the tension and pull the overhanging edge taut. Slide your non-dominant hand to the middle of the frame. Maintain even tension and staple the centre. Then try to maintain (or reestablish) the same level of tension and add a staple on either side of this centre staple, about halfway to the corner.

Next, flip the frame and repeat on the opposite side before moving on to the third and fourth sides. Once you are happy with the fit and anchoring, staple a bit more on each side. Leave the back loose near the corners because they will be tacked separately. Don’t be afraid to make a mistake. I pulled out a few staples and tried again when I wasn’t happy with the tautness of the quilt in one spot or another.

11. Staple the corners.

Stapled corner 2 steps

Since in the stapling process you pull on the quilt and frame, check to see if the frame is still square. If it is not, hammer the corners to square it up again. As long as there is no embellishment that may be damaged, you can even hammer on a quilt-wrapped corner.

To wrap the corners, trim a little bulk from the cut edge. Be conservative in how much you trim because you can always cut more later if necessary. You want to have enough quilt sandwich to wrap around the corner with no bald spots, and at the same time eliminate excess fabric that might only get in the way. Staple one side of the corner (above left). The second half of the corner should overlap the first. You will get a neater finish if you fold under the extra fabric on the second half of the corner rather than leaving it a raw edge. Fold under as much fabric as necessary and staple second side (above right).

12. Fix any ill-fitting corners.

Problem corner with arrows

Despite your best efforts, you might end up with a bit of excess fabric at the corner like I did. In the left photo, above, the green arrows point to the corner of the frame and the red arrows point to the corner seam that I stitched in Step 7. To fix this, I firmly wrapped the fabric on the edge facing me (the blue and purple side) and held it in place with my right hand. Using my left hand, I lifted the overhanging section of the all-purple side and used my thumbs to tuck the excess corner fabric away from me and under the overhang. Then I wrapped the overhang into its proper place against the underside of the frame (above right).

Finished corner is tidy, with no bumps or bulges

Finished corner is tidy.

13. Trim excess fabric.

Finished back and front new

If you will be attaching hardware to hang the quilt (I used eye screws for hanging in a show), you will want to trim the excess quilt sandwich to allow for easy access to the wooden frame.

And you’re done!