Hand quilting adds value to a quilt and ensures its heirloom quality. A hand quilted quilt is something that will become a part of your family picnics, holidays, and a main stay on cold winter nights. Next to antique furniture, vinyl records or that glass pendant lamp your Mum bought in that thrift shop that one year, it's the family heirloom your kids will argue over.
When I began quilting, it didn't take me long to recognize the beauty in hand quilting and that this exercise in patience was how I wanted to construct my quilts. Studying quilts at shows, particularly whole cloth quilts, or the hand stitches I was seeing in various quilt books, from the Amish to the Gees Bend Quilters of Alabama, this part of the craft really struck a chord with me. I love the Gees Bend quilt lines in particular, their stitches cascading down the quilts with an organic rhythm, at times running loose and wild. There in those small lines contain the spirit as I understand it, of the maker. The visual beauty of the stitches is so simple yet the art of this utilitarian tradition is complex.
Over time the slow, tactile practice of hand stitching has become one of my meditations. I'm reaching back consciously to a time when making was slower, simpler and at bare thread basics. And perhaps in some ways I'm having a conversation with my ancestors in the spirit realm. I come from a line of women who made lace, quilts and other intricate hand works. In this fast world, especially living in a large American city, the practice slows me down like painting does, to a slow pace like vegetables growing from seed. It's a time to think with space around me. A relaxing journey. At times I am a part of the quilt.
But beyond the romantic reasons for my practice there is the evidence that a hand built object yields real durability. I typically use sashiko thread, a thread made in Japan from pure cotton. The word sashiko means “little stabs” and is characterized by even running stitches. Sashiko is traditionally seen as white hand stitched patterns on indigo dyed cotton, linen or hemp fabric. It is a tradition that was used to anchor layers of fabric firmly together for warmth and strength, as seen on many heavy Fireman’s coats in the late 19th and early 20th Century. Sashiko threads' lasting strength ensures the three layers of the quilt are bound together tightly and that the quilt is created with its life span in mind. These are quilts built to become heirlooms. To be adored for their beauty and used for their practicality. I was first introduced to sashiko stitching by Maura Ambrose of Folk Fibers. If you are keeping up with the contemporary world of quilting and in particular natural dyes, you know her beautiful, endlessly inspiring work. A workshop with her one weekend in Austin proved to change my future course of the craft and the materials I would use going forth.
Hand quilting takes more time than other methods of quilting. Yet so much is gained during this gentle practice of patience, love and devotion. Are you a hand quilter? Why do you hand quilt?