The masochism, joy, and absurdity of hand quilting

A technical note: For the few (any?) non quilters reading this, the actual quilting of a quilt is the stitching that holds the layers (back, batting, and top) together.  This is the part traditionally sewn by hand, think images of church quilting bees with women gathered around a large wooden frame.

Today, much, maybe even most quilting is done by machine.  I’m not knocking machine quilters, there are some free motion people out there who do absolutely amazing stuff that I can only dream of, but for me, hand quilting is still a very important part of the process of making a quilt, particularly quilts that are gifts for someone.  There are a lot of reasons.  Some of is undoubtedly about linking myself to the tradition, taught to me by my Grandmother.  Some is masochistic pride.  It reminds me of end of the semester when all my grad school friends are posting prideful/masochistic status updates constantly like “500 pages to read in 2” days or “24/80 written, 4 days left.”  Apparently we like to quantify how much we like to destroy ourselves trying to exceed common sense and the human sleep cycle.  I think about a quilt I made for a wedding present last year that I was happy to tell anyone I put over 2,500 feet of hand stitching into (quilting and binding).  Hand quilters are competing, mostly with themselves, to have the tiniest, most even stitches, at the expense of pricking themselves with a needle a few hundred thousand times.

But pride and masochism aside, I would still be hand quilting.  For me, I find joy in the exacting, meticulous, millimeter by millimeter journey over the quilt top that I have made for someone.  By the time I am finished I will have been over every square inch of the quilt, poured myself into it, and dedicated myself to that quilt, body and mind, for long hours, making it as perfect and beautiful as I possibly can.  In a text messaging, fast food, wal-mart shopping instant demanding, fast disposing society, there is something a little bit absurd about hand quilting.  Perhaps it is the absurdity of it that I most enjoy, dedicating absurd amounts of time and energy into making something that I hope will be used and treasured for a lifetime.


13 responses to “The masochism, joy, and absurdity of hand quilting

  1. I can totally relate!! I like to machine quilt for that quick fix of a finish but if it’s going to be meaningful, it has to be hand quilted for me. I too, can related to that picture! (I’ve got several of my own finger) too funny!!

  2. Bravo! There is nothing quite like handquilting. I find that I feel more accomplished (if that makes sense?) when I quilt by hand rather than machine – it seems more personal, but I try to avoid the white cloth 🙂 Good luck on your projects!

    • Totally makes sense. I’m machine quilting a wall hanging right now and I just don’t feel as connected to it. I mean, literally speaking it is less personal to machine quilt something, the machine is much of the muscle for you. It makes sense for some projects though.

  3. There is a little adhesive pad called Thimble-It I sometimes use after I have managed to work a sore hole in my under finger. It’s obviously not the same feel, but it let’s me quilt longer than I could manage otherwise.

    • I like using new skin liquid bandage, personally. It mitigates the damage a little. I take a break about every 45minutes and put a new coat on. I’m too obsessive to lose the feel with pad thimbles myself, but I can totally see how that would extend the quilting session!

  4. We could suggest that as a plot twist but I don’t think I could watch an episode with a murdered quilter.

  5. Since I only hand piece and hand quilt I can relate to this completely. Clover makes a thin rubber thimble-like cap that works well to save the finger.

  6. Pingback: WIP Wednesday #3 | Fallingforpieces's Blog

  7. You have so perfectly put how I feel about hand sewing a quilt top though I bottled it at the last minute and machine quilted mine!

  8. I too like to hand quilt (and piece), but sometimes I do think I must be crazy!

  9. I too hand quilt my quilts, and I have the calloused under-finger. Since living in an R.V. full time I have had to use a lap quilting hoop instead of my frame. I just can’t quit quilting. Ohhhh I do miss my quilting frame.


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