The Pleasure of Hand Quilting

This post was inspired by a post I read by Kerry on Love Those Hands At Home. She spoke about how, motivation at a standstill, she decided to work on her hand quilted project.

In 1987, I began quilting. I had been introduced to it at a young age as both of my grandmothers lived with us for a time and both quilted.

One day I sat down with them and actually pieced a 4-square block. That’s as far as it got because all I could think about was the time it would take to make around 100 of them. Grandma Hattie and Grandma Nannie didn’t explain to me that you just do one at a time and eventually you’ll have that 100. That much patience wasn’t in my 15-year-old self.

My first ever quilt consisted of Evening Star blocks made originally by my Great Grandmother, Mary Eleanor Keller, my Great Aunt Nancy Keller and my Great Aunt Libby. These had been stored in a cardboard box full of treasures Grandma Nannie gave my mother for safekeeping. I got that box.

This was also the first quilt I had published. I think it was published because of the family story behind the quilt. With 4 generations of us contributing to it, it was beautiful to behold. This is still one of my favorite quilts.

When I began quilting, there were no “quilting” sewing machines to be had for a price. There were sewing machines, but they were just that – for sewing. Twenty years later I would get my first “quilting” sewing machine and I did quilt 4 quilts on it. It was hard. The backing would bunch up if I wasn’t careful and the quilt became stiff rather than soft and pliable as with hand quilting.

My hand quilting became easier when I learned the Amish rocker method of quilting. It is as it sounds, the needle is held perpendicular to the quilt and rocked back and forth to pick up tiny stitches. I can quilt 20 stitches to the inch and believe me, that’s awesome.

I detested marking out a quilt pattern so almost all of my quilts were quilted free form. I would either shadow the shapes or quilt lines and crosses. I like my quilting close together. I had seen many polyester filled quilts that were quilted 8 to 10 inches apart and they don’t look good. They look like someone didn’t care enough about them to finish them.

Last March my son bought me another “quilting” sewing machine. It is horrible, no other word for it. The feed dog lever has stuck in the lower position so the machine is broken. I could try to get the throat plate off again. I was told to put machine oil on the screw since neither of us can get it out. I’m not sure I will do this because that machine was awful from day one. He didn’t listen to me when I told him we should send it back.

I’m not going to replace this with another “quilting” machine. Instead, I bought more quilting needles and a nifty 11 x 17  Q-Snap quilting frame. I have one somewhere but cannot find it. I’m now back to hand stitching and there I will stay. Even piecing is best accomplished by hand. The seam allowances are 1/4 inch without struggle and a few night spent piecing a quilt together is quite enjoyable. So what if it takes 6 weeks to make a quilt? It will last for years.

I sleep each night under a quilt I made topped with one from my Grandma Hattie in the Double Wedding Ring pattern. On top of that is the Dresden Plate Quilt I received for my 16th birthday from Grandma Nannie. Both of them show signs of wear. The Dresden Plate was made in California, as that was where Grandma lived at the time. It’s full of rayon fabrics rather than cotton and they just don’t hold up. The Double Wedding Ring has a couple of tiny holes and the binding is frayed. I don’t care. I love that quilt. I love them all. I’ve never seen a hand-pieced, hand-quilted quilt I didn’t love. I’m back to where I belong, a needle in my hand and fabric on my lap.