Hand Quilting: Do You Pass it On?

8 Feb 2012

Recently a coworker brought in a treasure she'd acquired while visiting a friend in the Midwest: six vintage handmade quilt squares. Each one had been carefully pieced using the tiniest of hand stitches.

vivika's handmade quilts
My inherited handmade quilts.
Everyone in the office gathered around and oohed and ahhed at the handiwork. These pieces were from an era when women passed down the knowledge of how to hand quilt from mother to daughter, grandmother to grandchild. A slower time, indeed.

We started sharing stories of handmade quilts we'd had in our lives; ones we'd made, received, and given away. For me, those quilt squares reminded me of the homemade quilts passed down to me from my grandmother.

One, a log cabin quilt featuring blues and peachy pinks, was made when hand quilting was the only kind of quilting and your fabric stash came from your wardrobe of outgrown and worn-out clothing. This one is made from clothing worn by my great-grandmother and her sister. I brought them in the next day for show and tell, and the reminiscing started all over again.

I don't know many people hand piece their handmade quilts today, but I do see resurgence in embellishing quilts with careful hand quilting and stitching. Handwork is one of my favorite parts of fiber art. It invites the viewer to closely inspect the piece, and reflects the maker's artistry and craftsmanship.

LaFazio hand quilting
Hand quilting and stitchin adds texture in this
Jane LaFazio piece, 
from Quilting Arts, April/May 2011.
Contemporary fiber artists use hand quilting to achieve several different goals:

1. To hold the fabric sandwich together, when needed.

2. To add texture to the surface.

3. To highlight an area and give it contrast or interest.

4. To add a design element, such as pattern or line.

5. To give the piece that handmade quilt look, showing the hand of the artist.

I do it for all those reasons, and because I just love to hand stitch.

hand quilting
Hand quilting and stitching helps Mary Hettmansperger highlight the metal embellishment in this quilt seen in
Quilting Arts, April/May 2011.
I find it inspirational to look through back issues of Quilting Arts to see examples of how other artists add hand stitching to their handmade quilts. I always discover ideas I can use and interpret in my own way.

How about you? Do you hand quilt or even hand piece your fiber art projects?

And have you or do you plan to pass this skill on to a child or other young person in your life? Tell me about it in the comments section below.


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Comments

on 9 Feb 2012 11:14 AM

I'm new to quilting, and found that I love cathedral windows.  I saw a demonstration on Fons and Porter one day and then did some research on the internet for the instructions, from then on I was hooked.  The part I love the  most is the hand stitching.  My stitches are mostly invisible, not always sure on the count per inch, but it's something that I can do while waiting for an apt. or listening  to TV.  I  would rather watch where my stitches are going.   Next is applique!  

Sue from Pawtucket, R.I.

on 9 Feb 2012 11:31 AM

I have been quilting for nearly 25 years and handwork, either piecing, quilting or embellishing, is my favorite part of it all.  Yesterday I hand pieced a block for a antique I am repairing because I don't have a machine where I am right now.  As Iworked I thought about all the women in the past who didn't piece any other way and felt very connected to them.  My foremothers did not quilt, and it will be a few years, if at all, my daughters will.  At 29 and 35, they are more interested in careers.  But I didn't start until my late 30's, so who knows when their creative tendencies will bloom further into what genre.

Heather  L

Durango, CO

Linda B@9 wrote
on 9 Feb 2012 11:52 AM

At the moment I'm hand-quilting the first of two quilt tops hand-pieced by my Irish great-grandmother more than 70 years ago.  My mother kept these in her cedar chest for decades and gave them to me shortly before she passed away.  The fabrics are shirting and feed sack, the stitches are tiny and as regular as a machine stitch, and the quilt tops are priceless to me!  Nothing but hand quilting will do for these heirlooms.  I'm also doing a "hybrid" of part machine piecing and part hand piecing of Laura Wheeler's "Butterflies" pattern, and I'm hand-appliquing an orange peel quilt top -- both because I cannot seem to machine stitch curves very accurately!

on 9 Feb 2012 12:02 PM

My mother and I  hand quilt and primarily make bed-sized quilts.  I've handpieced blocks and cannot sew straight enough for them to look proportional.

buoysngirl wrote
on 9 Feb 2012 12:13 PM

I have decided to hand quilt as I am too busy to spend time at a machine. I carry my project with me looking for those odd moments, waiting for my daughter etc. I might get to a meeting ten minutes early or if I am on a long delivery trip I enjoy the relaxation of sitting in my vehicle hand sewing. It does encroach on my knitting and spinning but does seem to suit hot summer weather better. I have just decided to do a large quilt and have spent the last 2 months looking at the fabric I have collected and enjoying the colours and trying to decide what style patchwork to use

Hornsby wrote
on 9 Feb 2012 1:25 PM

I've been quilting for more than 50 years and prefer to make Victorian crazy quilts completely by hand with the embroidery work holding the pieces together.  My son's mother-in-law recently inherited a handmade quilt from her grandmother which had been pieced but never quilted. I was pleased that my grandmother had taught me to sew the tiny stitches as a young girl so I could match the quality of that quilter to finish it. My grandmother also taught me to machine quilt on a treadle machine.

kelly202 wrote
on 9 Feb 2012 2:59 PM

I've been a hand piecer since 1984 and love it. I find it much more relaxing and accurate than machine piecing. When I have the time I also enjoy hand quilting, but alas, mostly these days I quilt be credit card. Sadly I've been unable to talk most of my young associates into quilting by either hand or machine.

kelly in Calif.

tracynz wrote
on 9 Feb 2012 4:06 PM

I really enjoy hand quilting and have quilted two queen size bed quilts, as well as smaller pieces. At the moment I am spending more time on surface design but am comtemplating a wholecloth hand quilting project for winter. I can't decide what size  to do yet - I guess it will depend on whether I want to finish it this year or next!

Tracy in NZ

ealake wrote
on 9 Feb 2012 4:42 PM

I'm so excited to see this discussion and discover many other who still hand piece. I too hand piece instead of using a machine because I find it more flexible, more relaxing and, yes, easier. I try to do everything by hand, including duplicating the techniques now shown in many magazines and seminars for machines. It's sometimes difficult to learn and/or discover tips for hand piecing since everything seems geared for machine so - THANK YOU for this topic! I also have a top pieced by my husband's grandmother which I'm quilting, as well as several antique quilt squares which I will try to turn into a quilt : )

on 10 Feb 2012 2:05 AM

I love to hand piece quilt tops,the same as my gran did.I love nothing better when it is time to finally cut all the basting stitches and watch the papers cover the floor like snow. I find the stitching to be as said before greatly portable and so soothing on raw nerves I love it.

Pinkero wrote
on 10 Feb 2012 3:49 AM

I usually make my quilts by machine, but one special quilt is hand pieced and hand quilted. It is a Grandmother's Garden with 2,226 hexagons of dressmaking remnants and worn out clothes from 4 generations of women in my family. I made it for my daughter who was about 10 when I started and grown up when I finished the quilt. I'm happy to have passed on to her the love for making things by hand. I don't think there is anything she can't do, and do it beautifully. She is teaching me now!

Ulla from Finland

Pinkero wrote
on 10 Feb 2012 3:49 AM

I usually make my quilts by machine, but one special quilt is hand pieced and hand quilted. It is a Grandmother's Garden with 2,226 hexagons of dressmaking remnants and worn out clothes from 4 generations of women in my family. I made it for my daughter who was about 10 when I started and grown up when I finished the quilt. I'm happy to have passed on to her the love for making things by hand. I don't think there is anything she can't do, and do it beautifully. She is teaching me now!

Ulla from Finland

FAC wrote
on 10 Feb 2012 5:53 AM

I love hand stitching - it was this that first got me started on quilting.  I've made several single bed/small size quilts entirely by hand and it will always be my favourite way of quilting, piecing and applique.   I started hand sewing as a child and have taught both of my daughters the basics.  They've got a way to go but I hope that one day they'll both be sewers too.  

Fiona, Australia

daletom wrote
on 10 Feb 2012 7:27 AM

I am very much looking forward to teaching a young friend of mine how to quilt -- at her request.  I plan to start her out with hand piecing for a few reasons.  I'd like her to get close to the fabric and to really look at colours.  I'd like to have her learn that not everything requires a machine.  She lives over 2 hours away and doesn't have access to a sewing maching, so when we're not together she can work without me.  I will certainly move onto machine work with her, as well as rotary cutting.  But why not start with the basics!  I am decidedly NOT going to insist on straight lines.  In fact, I'm going to purposefully show her the difference between straight lines and wavy ones and free cutting versus precision.  Let's not limit our thinking right from the outset!  It's like when we insist people draw within the lines and then wonder what happened to creativity in our world!

on 10 Feb 2012 2:13 PM

Yes...I have tried to pass hand stitching on to my five daughters. When they were in grade school my husband and I home schooled them. Art was a part of their curriculum...so I took the opportunity to teach them about quilting and piecing. I wanted them to know about hand stitching since my family has six generations of quilters. Their first project was to create a small doll quilt which was hand stitched.Those doll quilts ended up in a reversible sampler/storyquilt, which commerates the history of the six generations of quilters in our family. You can view this reversible storyquilt at www.quiltstoriesbysherryann.blogspot.com.

None of the girls have become full fledge quilters yet....but their is still hope...I didn't fully embrace quilt making until my late thirties and my mother ...not until her sixties. :):):)

on 10 Feb 2012 2:25 PM

Yes...I have tried to pass hand stitching on to my five daughters. When they were in grade school my husband and I home schooled them. Art was a part of their curriculum...so I took the opportunity to teach them about quilting and piecing. I wanted them to know about hand stitching since my family has six generations of quilters. Their first project was to create a small doll quilt which was hand stitched.Those doll quilts ended up in a reversible sampler/storyquilt, which commerates the history of the six generations of quilters in our family. You can view this reversible storyquilt at www.quiltstoriesbysherryann.blogspot.com.

None of the girls have become full fledge quilters yet....but their is still hope...I didn't fully embrace quilt making until my late thirties and my mother ...not until her sixties. :):):)

SueBQuilts wrote
on 10 Feb 2012 7:12 PM

The youngest of my two daughters who also dyes and paints fabrics with me learned hand quilting from me at the age of six. She just turned thirty and now prefers machine quilting, but has the skills to do either. I have a picture of her with her first quilt (hand-quilted) at our guild's show and she was so small that her quilt hung over her head!

PatriciaD@14 wrote
on 11 Feb 2012 10:05 AM

Hand quilting is my favorite part of the process!  I'm currently hand quilting a queen sized whole cloth quilt and enjoying every stitch.  I always hand quilt my quilts.  I have only hand pieced one, but plan to make more that way.

tradquilter wrote
on 11 Feb 2012 5:48 PM

Hello,

I’d like to tell you about the Kingston Heirloom Quilters in Kingston, Ontario, Canada. We’re a group of about 50 women who have acquired a reputation for fine workmanship. Our quiltmaking skills have developed through working together on more than twenty-five group quilts that the members have produced during the past three decades. Each and every one has provided us with valuable learning experience. All are unique, and most of them simply evolved as we worked on them, one stage at a time.

We are known for our hand work:  both hand stitching and hand quilting.  You can visit our web pages and see the many and varied quilts we’ve made together over the years – we were formed in 1979.  http://quiltskingston.org/khq/">http://quiltskingston.org/khq/

Back in June 2006, twenty of us took the time to answer the question “Why do I hand quilt?”   There were two main reasons:

1) It is relaxing, meditative, and brings peace.

2) It gives me pleasure and a sense of accomplishment.

We spoke of hand quilting as being …

• An anti-depressant, normalizing the blood pressure.  It makes me think, contemplate, and meditate.  A machine would be too noisy.

• It maintains a modicum of sanity in our crazed, high speed world.

• I love the peaceful solitude and satisfaction of seeing fine even stitches, creating a beautiful design.

• I like the rhythm of the action; time to think and ponder, listen to music.

• I want heirlooms for my family.

• I love the pleasure of enhancing the fabric through feel of the fabric between my fingers.

• The effects of the finished piece are most satisfying.

And also spoke of …

• Keeping the quilting tradition alive.

• It has taught me patience.

• Designing a one of a kind quilt is challenging and satisfies my creativity.

• Because I can.  I find the sewing machine frustrating and I am not willing to put in the practice to be good at it.

We love to hand stitch!

At our last show in 2008, there were 11 quilts that were entirely made by hand.  This year we are having a show, QUILTS KINGSTON 2012, on June 8, 9, 10 and hope to have as many quilts entirely stitched by hand.  This is not to say that we don’t use sewing machines, we do.  There are several fibre art enthusiasts in the group as well.  The Limestone Quilters’ Guild are co-presenters at our show.  They also have traditional and fibre art quilters.  So the show promises to be a good one.  

Visit our show web page:    http://quiltskingston.org/     to find information and see pictures of past shows.  We invite you all to come north of the border to our beautiful city on Lake Ontario and see our show. Hope to meet you in June 2012 in Kingston, Ontario.

Donna, Past President, Kingston Heirloom Quilters

Joyce2011 wrote
on 12 Feb 2012 2:54 PM

I loved the article about hand quilting.  That's how I learned.  I have some wonderful quilts handquilted by my grandmother that remind me of a simpler time, and a lot of love in each stitch.  I also have a picture from my mother in law  who was a nurse in a nursing home.  A lady loved to embroider so much that even in the nursing home she managed to pull fibers from some old dresses and use them to embroider a picture of the birds outside her room.  It's amazing...She gave it to my mother in law, who passed it on to me years later.  What a wonderful gift!

on 13 Feb 2012 4:56 PM

I have been specializing in hand sewing for most of my life, personally and professionally.  I make and sell hand-stitched quilts, dolls, animal toys and doll clothes for over thirty years.  I also teach hand work - sewing, knitting, crocheting and embroidery - and have two quilting and doll-making groups in the Pittsburgh area.  Passing on and preserving handwork is my mission and passion.  I encourage young people to learn the history and skills of hand work and older people to continue their handwork traditions.

SerenaPotter wrote
on 15 Feb 2012 4:24 PM

I hand piece and hand quilt everything. My mama taught me when I was little and it is still the method she uses today too. We still hand trace templates and cut with scissors. At 27, I've had a needle in my hand since I was a child but have seriously been quilting daily for about ten years. This wonderful art is not dead. I am teaching basics on my blog for free, for everyone regardless of age.

This art is a gift given to us all to connect and remind us of how to make it through hard times.

serenapotter.wordpress.com

on 18 Feb 2012 11:18 AM

I hand stitch my quilting projects, small - medium sewing projects, and simple mending. It is easier to make sure that pieces / seams line up. It makes projects portable. Hand sewing also means that I can sew without disturbing family members while watching tv, etc. About the only sewing I do on the sewing machine is hemming pants or sewing clothing patterns.

monte4488 wrote
on 22 Feb 2012 5:17 PM

I love hand quilting!  As a child I watched my Grandmother, her sister and cousins quilt on a frame that sat on the backs of Grandmother's dining table chairs.  I was too young to learn from my Grandmother, but as an adult was very blessed to have a quilting shop in town.  Lucille was a master quilter and taught lessons.  I have been hooked ever since although I have had little time to quilt.  One of my favorite activities was to share hand quilting with 4th graders at an elementary school.  I made kits for a small quilt with fabric, needle and thread and taught them all, boys included, to quilt.  Some of the boys were better quilters than the girls and enjoyed it!  I hope that all hand quilters will share quilting with the younger generation.

Eve from Spokane, WA

on 25 Feb 2012 11:59 PM

I learned to quilt 4 years ago, and by now I haven't quilted any of my works by machine, all by hand.  I'm just encouraging myself to learn machine-quilting, with my domestic sewing machine, but haven't find the time yet.  I live in Guatemala, where quilting is a very recent-known art, and I guess there's just one long-arm quilting machine, in a quilting shop. So, most quilters here, do machine-piecing but hand quilting.

on 4 Mar 2012 9:30 PM

I like to piece and quilt by machine, but I do have a huge respect for the art of hand sewing and quilting.  I am usually too impatient to do it by hand, I like to see the finished product right away. I am working on one specific pattern by hand right now to say that I did it. It's a challenge to keep myself from running to the machine to get it done, but I know if will be so worth it when I am done.

Sarah from Winnipeg, MB

www.crafty-canadian.blogspot.com

SueR@33 wrote
on 25 Mar 2012 8:27 AM

Can anyone recommend a good resource, or a few resources for hand-quilting?  I took a class a few years ago, but never finished the quilt.  Life took over, and I forgot most of what I learned; we made and traced stencils, cut out our fabrics, etc...I enjoyed all the handwork involved, but as I said-I forgot almost all of what I learned.  I would like to re-visit the whole process, plus actually finish my quilt.  It needs to be quilted; then I need to put it together-as far as the binding.  I left off with basting the backing, batting, and top part of the quilt. That is as far as I got.  Thanks for any and all input!