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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.