Quilt-making is not a uniquely American craft. Like many other things, it was brought across from Europe by early settlers. But it is here in the United States that quilting truly came into its own as an artistic handicraft. Through the years, quilting has changed in many ways, with each era having its own style and even purpose in quilting. The art form remains today, both in making patchwork quilts by hand and by making “whole cloth” quilts on special quilting sewing machines.
Part of the reason for making those whole cloth quilts was because fabric was not woven in wide enough pieces to cover a bed. It was necessary to sew multiple pieces of fabric together, in order to make a blanket which was both wide and long enough. At the same time, quilting provided a way of covering up the wool blankets that formed the insulating core of the quilt, making it more comfortable against the skin.
In the earliest days of American history, quilting was a luxury reserved for the wealthy, as only wealthy women had the time for making quilts. During that era, quilting was more of a means of showing off one’s ability with a needle, with the stitching serving as part of the quilt’s decoration.
What most of us think of, when we think of quilts, is patchwork quilts. Contrary to common myth, these were not only made of sewing scraps and worn out clothing, although those materials could be used in a patchwork quilt. However, there are many examples of antique quilts which were clearly made of all new material. Yet the patchwork quilt retains a place in the heart of Americana.
All quilts are made of three basic layers. There’s the decorative face layer, the backing layer and a filler. In olden times, that filler was usually a wool blanket, but in more recent times it has been replaced by quilt batting, which is usually made of cotton and polyester, although it can also be made of bamboo. Even without any decoration, the actual quilting is needed to sew the three layers together in such a way as to keep them from shifting in relation to each other.
Because of the work that went into hand-sewing a quilt, they are considered by many people to be family heirlooms. Rather than being used to keep warm in bed, they might be spread across a bed not in use for decorative purposes. Some people hang the more beautiful ones on the wall, as decorative wall hangings.
Commercial Quilt Hangers
There are a number of different types of commercial quilt hangers available on the market. These range from things that look like unusual coat hangers to a series of wood screw clamps, which are attached across one edge to hang the quilt. There are also wood hangers combined with a knick-knack shelf, where the quilt hangs on a wood bar suspended under the shelf. There are even things which look like shower curtain hangers, but with clips to hold onto the edge of the quilt.
Different quilt hangers pose different problems for the person using them, such as needing to fold the quilt to fit on the hanger. This can hide the true beauty of the quilt, only showing part of it. But the more serious problem for those who own heirloom or other antique quilts, is finding a quilt hanger which allows the quilt to be displayed, without damaging it. This requires some sort of hanger that spans the full width of the quilt, supporting it across the entire span. Hangers that clamp the quilt and hold it in just certain points can allow the quilt to sag between those points, causing the quilt to become misshapen. Some quilt hangers also require sewing a casing, such as on a curtain, to the back of the quilt, something that nobody would want to do to a heirloom piece.
Another option entirely, which some people use, is to hang the quilt from the ceiling. This is especially useful for larger quilts, which might brush the floor if hung on other types of hangers. There are a variety of self-stick hangers available, which will not damage the ceiling. However, they still only hold the quilt at a series of points, allowing the fabric to sag between those points. Care must be taken as well to ensure that enough hangers are used to support the quilt’s weight.
Probably the best possible option available is the compression quilt hanger. This eliminates the sagging problems caused by clamp onto only certain points, while providing a hanger which will not damage the quilt in any way. Generally made of hardwoods, these hangers are also attractive, without taking the focus away from the quilt itself. The only drawback to them is that they tend to be a bit expensive. But that’s not an issue for woodworkers, as we can make our own.
Making a Compression Quilt Hanger
As with many other projects, there’s plenty of room for the woodworker to show their own personality and creativity in their design of a compression quilt hanger. Part of that creativity may be limited by whatever wood is available in the workshop or the local lumberyard. Most compression quilt hangers are made of hardwoods, as befits an heirloom collectible; but they can also be made of lower cost softwood, especially molding.
If molding is to be used for the quilt hanger, it would be advisable to use either a patterned piece of molding, such as a wood strip one that has had a vine pattern stamped into it or to use chair rail. Casing and baseboard looks just like what they, when used for projects of this type, making them a poor choice. But the big problem with using any molding is that it is no more than ½” thick, so more fasteners need to be used to hold the two halves of the hanger together, so that the quilt won’t sag.
Ideally, two pieces of ¾” thick hardwood should be used to make the quilt hanger. Those pieces will provide enough stiffness so that fasteners only need to be used about every 16”. If ½” thick material is used, that should be closed up to about every 12”. Generally speaking, 2” wide boards are sufficient. They should be cut the same length, slightly longer than the side of the quilt they will be holding.
Rout a ½” wide, 1/8” deep groove along the entire length of both pieces, ¼” from what will be the bottom edge, when the quilt is hung. The faces this is routed into will become the mating faces of the boards. Sand the edges of the groove, as well as the mating edges of the board, to round them over and prevent chaffing of the fabric. Also rout recesses into the backs of the back piece to install keyhole fasteners into it.
The outer face of the front board can be cut with a router or on a router table to provide a more attractive profile, if so desired. A number of different bits would work for this, depending on the look desired. Some more common profile bits used might be chamfer, corner rounding, roman ogee, corner rounding or a combination corner rounding & beading bit.
Rather than just screwing the two halves of the hanger together and having screw heads showing, it will look nicer to use round drawer pulls as the “nuts,” with the screws coming through from the back side of the clamp. In order to do this, align the two pieces of the clamp and tape them together with painter’s tape. Then mark the locations for the attaching hardware. Drill through both pieces of wood together, preferably with a drill press, ensuring that the drill holes are perpendicular to the surface of the wood.
Take the tape off the two pieces and sand them smooth, staining and varnishing the pieces. Take care not to let any sawdust get into the varnish as it is drying. Even so, it’s a good idea to lightly sand the surfaces between coats, in order to take off any bumps caused by dust settling in the finish while it is drying.
A Magnetic Variant
There is a magnetic variant of the compression quilt hanger on the market. It looks much like any other compression quilt hanger, with the exception that there are perpendicular hanger pieces attached to each end of the hanger bar. This is to allow ample space between the hanger bar and the wall, as there is no back bar, just the front one.
I question whether these can be called compression quilt hangers, because they do not work like the ones I just described. The main difference in how they operate is that there is a strip of metal inset into the bar, and the quilt is held to it with rare earth magnets. While very effective, this sort of hanger has the same potential to allow the quilt to sag between the screw, just like any other quilt hanger that clamp on to the quilt in several separate locations.
Making such a hanger is fairly easy. All that’s needed is a piece of 1” thick hardwood, 2” wide and longer than the quilt is wide. Two mounting brackets for the ends are cut from matching hardwood, to a profile something like that shown in the diagram below (in brown). These will be attached to the ends of the hanger bar, either with dowels, mortise and tenon or screw. They will each need two mounting hole, top and bottom, or a keyhole mounting bracket inset into the back.
Before attaching the mounting brackets, rout out a 1” wide groove in the back side of the hanger bar, slightly less than 1/8” deep. Mount a 1” wide by 1/8” thick strip of steel in this slot. To do so, I’d recommend drilling and countersinking hole into the steel strip, so that flathead wood screw could be used to mount it. It’s a good idea to clean the steel with a degreaser and then paint it, before mounting it to the hanger. Remember to use oil on the drill bit and countersink, so that they don’t overheat while drilling the metal, as that will dull them.
In order to hang the quilt, the quilt hanger is laid on the table, face down, and the quilt is laid on top of it, with the quilt’s binding strip just above the steel strip in the back of the hanger strip. Then place a number of 25mm square by 3mm thick rare earth magnets on the quilt, over the steel strip to hold the quilt to it. Hang the quilt hanger to the wall.
Hanging the Quilt
In order to hang a quilt with the compression quilt hanger, it is first necessary to attach the hanger to the edge of the quilt. This is best done on a large table, so that the part of the quilt being attached to the hanger can be spread out.
Run the clamp screw through the back of the back piece of the wall hanger and then lay the back piece on the table, with the top edge of it near one side of the table. Then lay the quilt on the table, setting the edge binding of the quilt into the groove cut into the surface of the wood piece. Then set the front piece of the clamp in place, running the screws through it as well and with the groove in that bar over the quilt’s edge binding. Tighten down the round drawer pull “tightening screws” clamping the quilt firmly between the two halves of the compression quilt hanger.
Install two screw into the wall, level with each other and the same distance apart as the two keyhole hangers on the back of the compression quilt hanger. Ideally, these screws should be going into studs in the wall. If they are not, then use molly bolts, so that there is support and the screws don’t pull out. Remember, the screw heads should not be tightened down all the way, so that they can be captured in the keyhole hangers. Hang the quilt.