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how did quilting get quilted before machines?

 
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I'm still toying with the idea of making a quilt.  I have talked to quite a few quilters in local stores and they all say I have to hire someone to quilt (stitch the top, middle, and bottom together) on a big machine or go through the training and rent time on the machine.  

When I ask them how to do it by hand, they laugh, shake their head, and find something else more important - because I'm obviously not serious enough about this project to get that far.  

Or maybe my question is so ridiculous that no one would ever want to know the answer and they think I'm just wasting their time.  

The other question they refuse to answer is if it is possible to quilt it on my treadle - my treadle has a huge overhang and I can get massive amounts of fabric under the machine.  I know this because I sewed a massive medieval tent out of duck cloth on it.  That has a lot more cloth than any queen size quilt I've ever seen... but again, this is a quick way to get them to shake their head and walk away.

But even my featherweight (a small machine by past standards) has a foot and feeddog cover for free motion quilting.  And that has hardly any room under the arm of the machine.  

How impossible is it to quilt a quilt without special equipment?  How did people do it by hand?  

Am I completely crazy?  
Why can't I give up the idea of making a quilt by hand?  
 
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Back in the old days, my great something grandmothers had quilting bees.  I have seen some of those quilts that were still in our family.  These treasures were really beautiful.

Usually, a bunch of neighborhood ladies got together each with an edge of the quilt in their lap and quilted with needles and thread.

From what I have been told sometimes there was a quilting frame which made it easy for one or more ladies to quilt without doing a quilting bee.

The round wood two-piece frames called a quilting hoop similar to the embroidery hoops that are in fabric stores were also used.

From the quilts I have seen, there were several different stitches used or techniques for stitching.

What a lovely subject, I am looking forward to the other comments.
 
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When I was a kid, one of my friends' mom would make quilts entirely by hand. I think (no guarantees here, these memories are not recent!) that she'd iron the outsides flat, then make the sandwich with the pieces facing outward. She had some giant pins she'd put on it to hold the sandwich together. Then with big stitches she'd baste the three layers together in a sort of 8 armed asterisk from the middle. I remember her saying always start each arm from the middle. Those arms were usually funny looking, she'd use a really loud contrasting color for that. Then she sewed the thick bias tape like edge to the quilt. After that she'd spend what seemed like a season doing this almost invisible pattern of stitching all over the quilt through all the layers. She had a really large embroidery hoop she'd put the quilt in when she was doing that. At the end the big basting stitch arms and the giant pins would be gone, I assume she removed them as she went along.
 
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Quilting bees.  Groups of women met up, set up huge frames, and hand quilted together while chatting.  (Usually the piecing was done at home so this was just the scutwork of the quilting.)

I'm surprised that you're getting pushback on hand- or machine-quilting, both are perfectly reasonable options.  But the quilting task is really boring compared to the creative work of designing and piecing*, so I guess it's fallen out of favor?

I'd recommend seeing if you have a quilting club/society in the area that does quilting bees.  It sounds like you trust your machine, so maybe do a test baby quilt or pillowcase or something and see how it goes.  Otherwise, it's totally reasonable to handsew, it just takes foreeeeever.

*I find all quilting mind-numbingly boring, but my mom used to quilt so I know a little about it.
 
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R, I'm guessing that your featherweight machine being able to do quilting is more for small things like oven mitts or a shoulder patch of a hunting coat, since you have to get half of what you are sewing under the machine. Half a quilt is bulky! What the others have said about methods seems right to me, though I wonder if you could stagger a seam of top, batting, and bottom; and piece pre-quilted halves or quarters together? It might allow you to machine quilt the sections, and only hand quilt the overlapping seams?

I have been doing a project at work, sewing a cover for our latest product, which is 23" in diameter, quilted in the center in the shape of our logo. Managing the bulk of it while following a pattern is a challenge. It is a calligraphic form, and the way I did it was dizzying, sewing as if following the pen... I don't have a feed dog cover, and I think that's causing me trouble with pulling/puckering. I need to learn more about machine quilting too, before I embark on a production run of these. Two mockups and four logos later, and the first and second are the best examples, #3 got ripped out and redone.

I have one circumference that requires hand-stitching, It doesn't take quite as long as I thought, and it's the only way that I know how to do it. Sit down and watch some YouTube videos as I sew...
 
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Well, I was today years old (49) when I learned there was such a thing as a quilting machine!
My grandmothers' and my mom made quilts by hand. They had a quilting frame.  A giant stretcher you set up that holds the quilt stretched tight while you hand quilt it. My grandmother's was often set up over a bed as it was full size, otherwise, you could set it up in a big empty room like a church basement, and all the ladies would get together and make short work of your quilt. My mom's was compact (though still has long as the quilt is wide so one person could easily slowly work on the quilt.
I wonder what happened to it? I didn't see it when I cleaned out her house in 2019.
Review of some commercial quilt frames
DIY a quilt frame
 
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That depends on how lofty your quilt is and what kind of quilting stitches you want. Nowadays the elaborated patterns are done with a long arm machine as part of the design. If you just need straight grid lines to hold the layers together, a home sewing machine can do it. Hand baste first to keep the layers from shifting.

If you already have your choice of batting, maybe you can test if the quilt can fit under the overhang. Isay the finished quilt is 200 cm long, then roll up 1 m of batting sandwiches between two layers quilting cotton to see if it will fit. If the batting is too lofty, then a walking foot or some kind of pressure adjustment will help to reduce puckering. One advantage of a treadle machine is the large working area. If possible, put another table or flat surface so part of the quilt won't weigh down.

Good luck with your quilt project.
 
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I have made dozens of quilts over the past 30+ years and I have never hired out the quilting. About half of them I quilt on my 1978 Bernina, which is not exactly designed for quilting, but it can be done. The rest I have quilted by hand. I have used a quilting frame in the past, but they take up a lot of space. Now I just use a large quilting hoop (looks like a large embroidery hoop). I actually enjoy hand stitching, but I understand it is not for everyone.


20220307_153219.jpg
[Thumbnail for 20220307_153219.jpg]
 
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Melissa Ferrin wrote:Well, I was today years old (49) when I learned there was such a thing as a quilting machine!
My grandmothers' and my mom made quilts by hand. They had a quilting frame.  A giant stretcher you set up that holds the quilt stretched tight while you hand quilt it. My grandmother's was often set up over a bed as it was full size, otherwise, you could set it up in a big empty room like a church basement, and all the ladies would get together and make short work of your quilt. My mom's was compact (though still has long as the quilt is wide so one person could easily slowly work on the quilt.
I wonder what happened to it? I didn't see it when I cleaned out her house in 2019.
Review of some commercial quilt frames
DIY a quilt frame



These frames were also often hung from the ceiling, and raised to store, between quilting sessions, then lowered, to work. This saved a lot of space, and allowed even folks with very small, single room cabins to quilt large bed covers and wall covers, and even to make them big enough to create quilt 'walls', for privacy.
 
r ranson
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These are awesome insights.

So next time I have my treadle machine out, if I stuff my queen-sized duvet (it's quite thick) under the arm and see if I can get more than half of it under there, then I know I can quilt on the machine?  I imagine I could simply quilt lines to make diamonds or whatever if I made a mark or something to follow.  

If I can't fit it under, then quilting by hand seems likely.  
 
Cheryl Gallagher
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When you try quilting with your machine, I recommend that you roll up the side that will go under the machine.  It makes it a little easier to handle all the bulk of the quilt. And generally, whether you are hand or machine quilting, you want to start in the center and work out to the edges.

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[Thumbnail for 20220307_202953.jpg]
 
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r ranson wrote:These are awesome insights.

So next time I have my treadle machine out, if I stuff my queen-sized duvet (it's quite thick) under the arm and see if I can get more than half of it under there, then I know I can quilt on the machine?  I imagine I could simply quilt lines to make diamonds or whatever if I made a mark or something to follow.  

If I can't fit it under, then quilting by hand seems likely.  



My mom made a gigantic wall quilt with her 1983 Viking sewing machine. She's never had a special quilting machine, nor used one. (Granted, she always used thin batting bought from the store. But, I think I recall you once saying that you'd sewed a medieval-style cot mattress. If you can sew that on your machine, why not a quilt?!)

It doesn't even have a large overhang. This is the machine:



She just used either normal stitching or zig-zag stitching. She often stitched the top, middle, and bottoms together with free-stitched flowers &/or swirls. Here's a close-up picture of the queen-sized quilt my mom made on the 1983 Viking sewing machine, as well as pictures of the stitching she did on my son and daughter's quilts that she made them.
20220307_230533(0)-1-.jpg
Close-up of the quilting stitches. I'll see if she can send more pictures of how she's stitched other quilts.
Close-up of the quilting stitches. I'll see if she can send more pictures of how she's stitched other quilts.
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Stitching on my son's quilt
Stitching on my son's quilt
20220307_231330-1-.jpg
And my daughter's quilt!
And my daughter's quilt!
 
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My wife has hand quilted half a dozen large quilts since we married. Some machine work in the initial assembly, but all the quilting has been done by hand. They take ages, but it is her relaxation.
 
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Here's one I appliqued and quilted by hand (I sewed the large blocks together by machine, but everything else was by hand).  The applique was fairly quick considering, but the quilting took me ages.  I actually prefer to hand quilt instead of machine quilt because it is precise and neat.  I have machine quilted on my regular sewing machine, and I always seem to end up with tucks and puckers, and it's hard work heaving the quilt in and out of the machine to get all the stitches in;  last time I machine quilted, it took several hours and I spread it over two days.  Last time I hand quilted (a scrappy log cabin quilt, not pictured), it took me several months.  I didn't quilt daily, or sometimes even weekly;  I even made larger spaces in between the quilting lines compared to the appliqued quilt--but it was still a long time before it was ready for my bed.  

I do not use a frame or hoop.  I baste the quilt layers together first, mark my quilting lines with chalk, then just hold it on my lap to quilt.  I use a short quilting needle and short lengths of thread, plus a thimble;  these make it easier on my hand and arm.



For me, hand quilting is worth the time and effort it takes to get a superior result.  It is not worth it for many people and that is absolutely fine.  
 
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That's beautiful quilting G Freden!
 
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You could try quilt as you go on individual blocks using your machine or by hand? I'm going to try this with hand-carded batting.

 
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Michael Cox wrote:My wife has hand quilted half a dozen large quilts since we married. Some machine work in the initial assembly, but all the quilting has been done by hand. They take ages, but it is her relaxation.



I agree on the soothing effect of handwork but making a whole quilt from A to Z by hand would seem unachievable for me.
I admire those who can still do it & I thank everyday modern machinery that makes my life easier ! :)
 
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My mom always did them on her electric Singer Zigzag machine. I never paid much attention, I just remember rolls of fabric and a fair amount of cussing.  

(Later on she made my Dad frankenstein that sewing machine onto an antique Singer treadle base so she could use it without electricity.  She was never happy with the result, it took more footpower to operate than she could comfortably deliver.)  
 
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I've quilted all my own quilts, from a baby size up to queen size using my regular sewing machine. It's just a matter of rolling, folding and scrunching. There may be a fair bit of swearing involved too. You aren't limited to just straight lines either. As long as you can drop the feed dogs, you're good to go.

I've hand quilted quilts too. I love to see folks expressing an interest in hand quilting. Seems fewer and fewer people are able to hand quilt. It's just a matter of practice and patience. A quilting bee certainly makes it faster but I find hand work to be really relaxing.
 
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I wonder if tied quilts were more common historically? I remember several old quilts my grandmother had when I was a child that were hand tied (i.e. a stitch of very heavy thread run through and knotted to hold the layers in place every few inches). Much easier to do by hand than full-on quilting, and definitely warmer since you can use thicker batting...
 
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My mom quilts 100% by hand. This is the last quilt she made (and it was for me) using a dahlia pattern and is for a queen-sized bed. Ignore the giant spot in the image, the camera was dirty. She prides herself on ridiculously tiny and precise stitches. She should have been a surgeon. She came up with the lotus flower stitching design for the field quilting. She never did hand-tied quilts, but they were common in my husband's family. We were gifted a family quilt from his g-grandmother that was hand-tied and made from feed sacks.
quilt.JPG
[Thumbnail for quilt.JPG]
 
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Being from Ontario originally, I happen to know that at least 35 years ago when I was visiting the farmers' market in the Kitchener/Waterloo area, that the Mennonites always hand stitched the quilts they sold. I don't know if they still do or not, but it's what they did then.

With a regular sewing machine, I suspect doing a complicated design would be more difficult and take more practice ahead of time, than doing one based on straight lines. I have a gizmo that hooks on instead of a regular pressure foot that feeds the fabric from the top as well as the regular feed dogs. I bought it for when I was sewing coats for the kids which were thick and were different fabrics for the lining and the outerwear. Using the "quilting attachment" made a big difference in keeping the different layers lined up.

How "poofy" you want your quilt will make a difference also. I admit I tend to need a warm blanket as I get cold easily. I think I'd get very creative if I decided to tackle a project like this and do some sort of a variation of quilted panels that I then stitched together so I could make the panels nice and "poofy".
 
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Denise Kersting wrote:My mom quilts 100% by hand. This is the last quilt she made (and it was for me) using a dahlia pattern and is for a queen-sized bed. Ignore the giant spot in the image, the camera was dirty. She prides herself on ridiculously tiny and precise stitches. She should have been a surgeon. She came up with the lotus flower stitching design for the field quilting. She never did hand-tied quilts, but they were common in my husband's family. We were gifted a family quilt from his g-grandmother that was hand-tied and made from feed sacks.



That is magnificent.
 
Denise Kersting
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Misty May wrote:
That is magnificent.

Thank you, I'll tell my mom your comment. She was thrilled when I said it got thumbs-ups! She turned 75 this year and I think it was her best work. She likely won't quilt again, she lost all the feeling in her fingertips due to chemo-induced neuropathy.  But now she focuses on counted cross-stitch.
 
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I think a key concept in the video you just posted Raven is, "I can't do it the way my mother did it, but I can do it this way". Same with the, "I can only sew right to left".

This is such an excellent example of the old saying, "if at first you don't succeed, try another way". We are all different, we all have our strengths and struggles. She is quilting with "large stitches" but the colours and stitching is beautiful and fulfils the requirement of holding the batting in place, and most importantly, it pleases the sewer. I can admire the delicate tiny stitches that were all the vogue at one time, but I can also admire creative new ways of interpreting "quilting", and most importantly, I can respect people creatively doing functional work that is unique and different, instead of cookie-cutter "this is how you must do it" recipes.
 
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r ranson wrote:



This is basically how I've done all my sewing, darning and embroidery. I like it a lot better when I can get my thumb over my work, but I've sewed with all of my hand under the the fabric, too. I've never once used an embroidery hoop. I like to hold the fabric in my hand. When I used to do embroidery on stiff fabric, I'd often hold the fabric taut between my left pointer+middle finger pinching one area my left thumb+ring finger+pinky pinching on the other side of the stitches (that probably doesn't make sense, but I could take a picture if this isn't something everyone else does...)
 
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The knotted quilting was a granddaughter project my mom did with both my nieces when they were very young, maybe young enough to count on one hand. It was just two pieces of fabric around a batting and she sewed all the edges, but they were pulling them together and tying the strings.  They took those things with them on car trips and sleep overs and to cold movie theaters for years.

I just checked and found one in our blanket storage.  It looks like my mom just did the most basic of box quilting on the machine.   The tying must have been mostly cosmetic as over the years of wear and tear most of the knots have gone missing. You can see remnants of the embroidery thread that was used.
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Children's sew with Nana project still survives
Children's sew with Nana project still survives
 
Jay Angler
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Casie Becker wrote:

The knotted quilting was a granddaughter project my mom did with both my nieces when they were very young,

I love that your mother chose a pattern with bright colours that would appeal to many children, and yet, being flowers it could "grow with them" and not look like something that should have been left behind in the  nursery. There's also enough variety in the colours that it could fit in with many different colour schemes. I tried very hard to do similar when #2 Son desperately needed his room repainted as he was transitioning from Elementary to Middle School. He's now working as an Engineer, his comforter cover has survived several "rebuilds" and needs another one as soon as I have time, and even the border print I used at "chair back" height to cover patterned pink hearts the former owners had sponged on that were too resistant to sanding and primer to be successfully hidden by the top coat, was a repeating picture of the Lunar landing with the Earth in the background, he doesn't want me to remove - he's an engineer, and he feels the lunar landing celebrates the best of engineering!
 
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Hi,  My wife and I have made most of our quilts on a sewing machine. The top and bottom layers are made up of blocks. We lay the bottom layer out out on 3 tables, square it and tape it down. Then the batting, then the top layer making sure the top and bottom block lines line up with each other. Then we pin the quilt with quilting pins to hold everything in place.

We roll it up and put, shove it under the arm of the sewing machine, starting in the center and "stitch in the ditch". We also frequently check the underside for movement which happens a couple of times throughout the whole quilting process. Sometimes the back of the quilt is one whole piece of fabric so no need to match blocks.  We have done king size quilts on the Janome.

The quilts done by hand were done using a quilting frame, and it takes a long time to quilt by hand, but many hands make light work.

So go ahead and use your machine or do it by hand, whichever gives you the most comfort. And remember the saying about mistakes. If you cannot see it from 3 feet on a galloping horse, don't worry about it.
 
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My mom did a few quilts as well.  She used these bicycle pant clips to keep the quilt edges from unfurling. I'm sure you can find a cheaper alternative.
 
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I've made a few quilts in my time. Started with a baby size and simple squares. I've never taken a class or studied anything, just did it. Of course I made mistakes that had to be fixed, or they were small enough to leave. Most I've simply tied knots every several inches all over, but I've found those often hurt the finished product upon many washings, pulling through the outer layer and leaving a hole.

Relatively recently (4-5 years ago now), I began hand stitching the layers. Yes, it takes forever, even for a slightly larger than twin but smaller than full sized. I did use a huge embroidery hoop which both helped (keeping the layers together tightly and framed) and hindered (difficult to position the wad of the rest of the blanket, can't use my hands the same way as without it, etc) my progress.

I've also rolled one side and stuffed it under my machine's arm to use the sewing machine to do the simplest of quilting, straight lines from one end to the other. I remember using large plastic squeeze clamps to hold that roll together, found in the tool section of a large hardware and lumber store (Lowes). I have never basted before quilting and the finished  blanket showed that in bunching up the last bit during machine quilting. Ugh!

I've read alot about QAYG or quilt as you go. I've not tried it. Basically you create your pieced square (or whatever basic shape) and add the other layers to it, quilting that much smaller piece that is easier to handle, then put them all together already quilted. There is tons of info out there to be found, and just knowing about its existence helps to formulate the terms to use to find it online. Or in a library.  Or here is a little quick blurb  


Ultimately I think what method you use will depend on many things, such as skills already acquired, tools available, your body's abilities to work the necessary repetitive motions, and just how daring you feel at the time. I know that there are times I don't feel mentally up to the job. For me that is just as important to attempting the work as all the rest.

I look forward to seeing what choices you make and how it all comes together for you R. Good luck! (And shame on them for laughing at you and moving along to other tasks. I might be just offended enough to tell them thanks for nothing and never returning.)
 
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I'm curious what variety of quilters you have in your area. I'm pretty sure hand quilting is super common.

When I was 12 or so I made a quilt, just a basic box one. The back was a couple very heavy velour drapes from the thrift store, sewn together.  I propped up two 2x4s on the kitchen table, ends together, then extending out over the backs of two kitchen chairs, so it was a stable triangle. Then I draped the velour over them. I thumb tacked the velour to the lumber to keep it taut and so it wouldn't slide around, then draped my batting and machine sewn patchwork top over the taut backing. Then I just hand basted it all together, starting from the center, stitching in the ditch.

When I needed to vacate the kitchen, I'd just wrap all the fabric around the 2x4s and prop the whole bundle up in a corner.

I was supposed to then do a nice tight stitch and take out the basting, but the velour was a bitch to deal with cause it was so heavy and had a really stiff nap to it. I broke so many sewing machine needles on the hem where I had the velour folded over the front of the quilt as a border. So I just quit at the basting. It held up for about ten years before it needed any bits restitched.

My friend's mum when I was a teenager was into quilting for a while. We were in the store with her when she bought a quilting frame. They had a bunch in stock, so it obviously wasn't a weird request. Hers was kind of like a big tv tray made out of tubing. You could sit in a chair or on the couch, and pull the frame over your knees so it was like you were sitting at a desk. The quilt draped over the frame and you clamped it onto the edges. It was like a square, freestanding quilting hoop.
 
Jan White
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Ah. Looks like what she had was a Q-Snap frame.
 
Cindy Haskin
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Jan, like this one?   (https://www.amazon.com/ZKer-Embroidery-Stitching-Handhold-Quilting/dp/B079GYZJSQ/ref=asc_df_B079GY534T?tag=bingshoppinga-20&linkCode=df0&hvadid=80745437134466&hvnetw=o&hvqmt=e&hvbmt=be&hvdev=t&hvlocint=&hvlocphy=&hvtargid=pla-4584345015844237&psc=1&th=1) I have one of these as well. Does not work so well on thicker fabrics or with thicker batting.
The "clamp" parts pop off. I ended up using those aforementioned squeeze clamps on this as well to much better effect!
 
Jan White
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Yeah, Cindy. Like that. Hers was freestanding, though.

Like this, but I think hers was a little smaller. Maybe not. Was years ago.

https://www.yarntree.com/cross-stitch/index.php?main_page=index&cPath=697_1424
 
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