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Talking of Hand Quilting

Which I was a few posts ago, I wanted to take this subject a bit further.

Hand quilting tutorials seem to be few and far between on the Internet. At least, those which teach the way I hand quilt. I wanted to offer a collection of links but apparently this is not going to happen.

Mary Stori has a great tutorial posted on Threads Magazine – Perfect your Hand Quilting. I probably like this tutorial because this is exactly how I hand quilt. She recommends the Jean Lyle needles, and the Roxanne thimble.

Another tutorial is a video made by Nancy Ellen. She uses the side of the thimble rather than the tip.

I have 2 Roxanne thimbles but found a lovely silver and garnet thimble at the International Quilt Festival. Made by T J Lane, it is personally fitted to my finger and very pretty.

T J Lane silver garnet thimble
T J Lane silver garnet thimble

This is my go to thimble as it is light but strong. It allows my finger nail to poke out at the tip.

It feels nice on my finger, and it is like a piece of jewelry.

My preference is to push the quilting needle using the side or base of the thimble and there are plenty of dimples to anchor the end while guiding it through the fabric. Balancing the end of the needle at a right angle to the fabric I gently push the tip through until I can feel it with the middle finger underneath. Then I swing back up, press the fabric down so it makes a little hill on top and push the needle through. Classic rocking style. Of course, I have a calloused finger tip after a while….

Detail of Royal Crustacean fractal quilt by Rose Rushbrooke. Image copyright © Rose Rushbrooke.
Detail of Royal Crustacean fractal quilt by Rose Rushbrooke.

This picture is a detail of Royal Crustacean – fractal art quilt. It is hand quilted using variegated quilting cotton which is my mostest favoritest type of thread. Space dyed or variegated thread gives you a lovely extra layer of design and colour on top of the piece.

The look and feel of the hand quilt stitch is unique. In response to my earlier post Barb wrote – “The feel, the texture and the absolute beauty of the hand to fabric art is not even closely comparable to the machine automated result.”

Hear, hear!

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Why I Hand Quilt

When I first joined a quilting Guild, back in 1997, I thought “these people are CURAYZE to spend thousands of hours making lines of tiny stitches. Just to hold some little bits of fabric together? OUT OF THEIR MINDS.”

Me and my sewing machine are perfectly capable of stitching fabric together. After all, I made my own clothes by machine for years while I lived in the West Indies, why stop now? So my first experimental quilts were machine quilted. Very simple straight lines.

Benedictus Nouvelles Variations 1 - quilt by Rose Rushbrooke. Image copyright © Rose Rushbrooke.
Benedictus Nouvelles Variations 1

Here’s a close up of Benedictus’ Nouvelles Variations 1 with machine stitched quarter inch lines. And yes, there is no question I quilted and finished this piece very quickly.

Later I got carried away and learned how to machine stipple and meander and write cursive and make feathers……

Detail 2 Dock Over Moccasin Lake - quilt by Rose Rushbrooke. Image copyright © Rose Rushbrooke.
Detail 2 Dock Over Moccasin Lake

This is a detail of the pictorial quilt Dock Over Moccasin Lake. I designed it at a Ruth McDowell workshop in Paducah. You can see the stippled quilting holding the piece together.

And it needed machine stitching.

Every single piece of this quilt is hand stitched together with a folded over seam. Try and hand quilt and you would have very sore fingers, miserable looking uneven stitches and a fairly lumpy quilt. It makes sense to use a sewing machine on such bulk.

Many art quilts today, and even traditional quilts, are machine stitched. Beautifully.

Silk by Hollis Chatelain
Silk by Hollis Chatelain

Look at this piece created by Hollis Chalelain.

Silk was awarded the 2012 Master Award for Thread Artistry at the IQF in Houston, Texas. This is all machine stitching. It’s quite magnificent. It makes a real statement for using a sewing machine as an art tool.

I did make several quilts using machine quilting. I even bought a short arm quilting frame so I could load and work on larger pieces.

That Perfect Stitch by Roxanne McElroy
That Perfect Stitch by Roxanne McElroy

But I was curious about this hand quilting business and decided to try it out. The guild members helped and a terrific book – That Perfect Stitch by Roxanne McElroy got me really rocking.

The look of the stitches is lovely, and best of all, making the stitches is calming and peaceful. In my world there is no comparison between hand and machine quilting. They are two different animals with different missions in life. If I could be a master machine quilter I would – but it didn’t take.

So I choose to be a master hand quilter and enjoy my beautiful thimbles and calloused fingertips. And now I hand stitch all the art quilts I create.

If you want to have your own copy of That Perfect Stitch by Roxanne McElroy you can get it from Amazon (if you make a purchase I get a little bit of a commission).

Roxanne is no longer with us but her daughter Dierdra McElroy has updated her mother’s book and you can get this from Amazon too (if you make a purchase I get a little bit of a commission): That Perfect Stitch: The Secrets of Fine Hand Quilting by Dierdra A McElroy.