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.