Monday, September 3, 2012

On Hand-Quilting

It's been cooling off a bit this week (finally!) and that means I can get back to some quilting! I've had a few quilts in assorted states of non-completion due to hand-quilting. I thought I'd chatter a bit about hand-quilting and how I do it, when I do it, and all that jazz. I hand-quilted all of my quilts for a few years, simply due to the logistics of having to cram an entire queen-sized quilt into my wee machine and definitely wanting to work from the center out. In my thinking about it, I was pretty convinced that the maneuvering of a large quilt in the machine would take me about the same time to quilt as it would take to work it up by hand. I've since learned that this is not true, and I've become quite comfortable with machine-quilting. But every once in a while a quilt demands hand-quilting! Hand-Quilting Right now I'm working my way through this Retro Flowers quilt. I'm working 2 lines of quilting within each petal of the flower (I can go back in and do another round if I think it needs it). I knew that I wanted to quilt this within each petal, and I machine-quilted 2 petals and did not like it one bit! The curve of the petals is a bit too tight to be able to comfortably manipulate the entire quilt through. I ripped that stitching out (...before getting a picture, sorry!) and decided that hand-quilting would be the best way to go. Circles Quilt - front I tend to do any hand-quilting using 2 strands of DMC floss rather than traditional quilting thread. I also work the stitches to be a bit longer. I figure if I'm going to go to the trouble of hand-quilting the whole thing, I want it to show, to be a design element. I also find that it lends itself to a stronger motif on the back of the quilt: Circles Quilt - back For some quilts, the decision to hand-quilt is largely a logistical issue. I've decided to hand-quilt the Vortex Quilt because the quilt is IMMENSE - it's ~80" square. I also thought it might be a bit of a beast to run through the machine, as there are many many many tight seams piled up very close together toward the center. Due to the size of this quilt and the overwhelming task of hand-quilting it, I've had the help of some friends! It's getting quilted up bee-style, with each person working on a different portion of the quilt. While this leads to a bit of unevenness in the stitching, I'm not too concerned - I think the quilt is large enough and things are distributed enough that it won't matter in the end. (Also, it will be DONE!) Vortex Quilt This simple Crosses Quilt also received the hand-quilt treatment: Crosses Quilt - Front Again, I think this was a decision based on size. I find that I am also more prone to hand-quilt if the quilt-top can be broken down into a base shape - squares, circles, petals. That way I can gauge my progress a bit more, and I can set "goals" for myself when I'm working on it (...only 2 more squares...) For this green quilt, I treated the large empty squares with diagonal stitches of tangerine and mimicked the lines of the pieced blocks in white and green. That was all to make the back nicer: Crosses Quilt - Back I also love how the hand-quilting feels in the completed quilt - it really puckers it up nicely. This embroidered bird quilt got it too: Bird Quilt, QUILTED & BOUND Again, largely due to the size of the quilt. But also due to the bird images - any all-over pattern would interfere with the embroidery. And the combination of embroidery with machine-quilting on this Did. Not. Work. If I recall, I may have also been of the twisted mind "Hey, I've already put 600 hours of work into this, what's another 20?" It was definitely the right thing to do in this case. So, that's how I feel about hand-quilting and why I do it sometimes. Stock up on DMC, get your needles and thimbles, and get to it! It's quite satisfying.


  1. do you have any tips for making the back look as nice as the top? i've tried hand-quilting a small mini quilt but my stitches on the back look like a huge mess.

  2. You are AWESOME. In the old testament sense...