Quilt Sleeve Trial and Error

The one thing on my sewing must-do list this week was to sew a quilt sleeve onto my green and orange string quilt wall hanging. I had been in such a hurry to finish it (in time for my presentation about quilt labels at the Cincinnati Modern Quilt Guild meeting), that I didn’t bother with the sleeve. Now, I have the opportunity to submit the quilt to a small show, so the time had come to add a sleeve.

I had sewn sleeves on in the past, so I forged ahead, cutting the sleeve, turning under the short ends, and even hand sewing both long edges of the sleeve onto the wall hanging. Ta da!

And then, I decided to read up on how to attach a quilt sleeve.

Wow. Did I guess wrong. I mean, I would have been able to hang the quilt. But it would have looked wrong. I attempted to make the sleeve somewhat more right, but then I decided to do it all right. So I started over from scratch.

Most quilt shows have very specific requirements for how the sleeves need to be attached so the show can hang the quilts properly. Here’s a tutorial from Quilts, Inc. for attaching a sleeve that meets the International Quilt Association requirements. They suggest cutting your sleeve to at least 8 1/2″, so the finished sleeve is 4″, deep enough to accommodate the poles or slats used at most quilt shows. For the record: I cut my first sleeve to a mere 6″, so the finished sleeve was pretty skinny.

The most common (and commonly recommended) sleeve is called a D-sleeve. It gets its name from the shape the open ends of the sleeve make once it’s attached to the quilt back. The side against the quilt is flat, and the open side is rounded to accommodate the width of the pole used to hang it.  This tutorial from Tallgrass Prairie Studio illustrates very clearly the shape of the D-sleeve and how to get it.

Basically, it’s just a matter of creating a temporary fold of 1/4″ that opens up to be the rounded part of the D. Once I had the top edge stitched down, I folded the sleeve up toward the binding and pinned in place. Then I stitched down the new bottom edge.

For the record: So that‘s why my last quilt didn’t hang right! I had been sewing my sleeves down flat; once the dowel was inserted, the front of the quilt bulged because there was no allowance made for the width of the dowel.

Here’s my D shape.

The placement of the sleeve on the back of the quilt matters, too. Because the sleeve has give (thanks to the D shape), you need to be sure to position the sleeve so the give doesn’t end up showing above the quilt once the pole is in place. This tutorial from Blue Moon River shows where to place the sleeve, even in cases where the top of the quilt isn’t straight. Most people recommend placing the sleeve 1/2″ to 1″ below the top edge of the quilt. For the record: I had my sleeve right below the binding. Of course, I didn’t have any give in the sleeve at the time, but had I made a D sleeve, it would have peeked out above the quilt once a dowel was inserted and the quilt was hanging. Here’s what it looks like when done correctly.

Finally, the length of the sleeve is important. All three tutorials above have slightly different recommendations for the length. I followed the first set of instructions above, which calls for cutting the sleeve 2″ longer than your quilt; then you fold in each short side 1 1/2″. This puts the sleeve just 1/2″ in from the sides of the quilt, which is great for a quilt show. I prefer to hide my hooks and dowel behind the quilt, though, so this leaves very little margin for error as I am/ my husband is hanging it (sorry, Honey).

Each of the tutorials above has other little tips and insights to help you along. If you haven’t attached a sleeve before, I suggest giving them all a quick read (before you forge ahead) to figure out what will work best for you.

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