Dear Readers: We decided to repost this post from exactly 5 years ago now that more people are interested in “slow quilting.”
I love this quilt. I love that I had the nerve to quilt it by hand and I love the idea that it might get quilters to rethink their assumptions about hand quilting. My fingers are crossed and I really want to hear your reaction to it.
Neither Bill nor I buy into the notion that hand quilting is inherently better than machine quilting. Nor do we accept the idea that hand quilting is by nature old-fashioned and that tons and tons of threads all over a quilt makes it modern. The problem is that most of the people who hand quilt replicate 19th century patterns and machine quilters sometimes gravitate toward more contemporary quilting patterns. As a result, the chasm between the two camps gets wider and wider.
So when Bill and I began auditioning designs for Quilts Made Modern from all of our sketchbooks and computer files, we agreed that we wanted to show a modern version of hand quilting. We feel that the difference between the two is a matter of which is the better method to achieve the look you’re after. And let’s be real and do the math: Nancy Crow’s quilts may be hand quilted and sell well, but they cost upwards of $50,000. I don’t even want to know how much we’d have to charge for the eight months I spent working on Small Change, the quilt pictured above.
We developed this quilting pattern in 1996, shortly after we married and long before we ever imagined that we would start a business. Needless to say, this was before we had a 14-foot-long industrial quilting machine in our studio. Anyway, we have since fallen in love with Cherrywood Fabrics and thought that we should try out this pattern with contrasting thread in the same design with Cherrywoods.
Although it seemed as though I had a lot of time when I started, I had to work on it for at least two hours every night to make the deadline for photography. I literally timed myself on each block and calculated the time I would need for the entire piece because there are some things that you just can’t rush. I took it everywhere. I worked on it in airports, at the homes of family members and friends and it felt as though I’d never finish it. There is, however, something wonderful about having a project that is portable. I usually knit when I am visiting with friends or waiting for flights, but it was nice to have the quilt to work on over those long months.
Small Change is quilted with wool batting so I found the loft too high to do the traditional rocking stitch. Although poking with one hand and pulling with the other is slower than the rocking stitch, I do find it easier to get more consistent stitches. The concentric circle pattern is also easier to do with a poking and pull stitch as opposed to a rocking stitch I think, which is easier for gentle curves or straight lines. I used what we call a Big Stitch, longer than the traditional eight stitches to the inch, partly because of the loftier batting and partly because I wanted an easier going feel to the quilt. I think that I’m just not a teeny stitch kinda girl. Although some purists think that bigger stitching is sloppy, I can live with that and my hands can definitely live with it.
We find it far easier to baste the quilt on our long-arm machine before beginning the hand quilting, although basting on the floor works fine if you don’t have a long arm. I use two thimbles when I hand quilt to protect my fingers. If you’ve never hand quilted before, you might want to start on a small project first to get the hang of it. I like hand quilting with solids and low-contrast prints. If there’s a lot of pattern in the fabric, you’ll never see the stitches.
As always, I machine washed it and dried it before the photoshoot and my stitches were just fine. What wasn’t fine was when the US Postal service lost this quilt and all of the others for this book for 19 days on the way to C&T when they were sent by registered mail. “Well you got insurance on them don’t you?” asked the unconcerned woman I spoke to at the post office. “There’s no amount of money that you could pay me to cover a quilt that I spent eight months quilting,” I replied. I can’t even count how many conversations we had with the post office, the postal inspector and various workers from Chicago to California. Eventually they turned up and I now look at that quilt a year later and choose instead to remember all of the lovely conversations with friends and love ones I had while working on it. That quilt is another chapter in my life.