Wednesday, February 19, 2020

Plenty to Go Around: hand quilting

Plenty to Go Around
80" x 80"
Hand Quilting

I love the way hand quilting looks.  I love the process of hand quilting.  It is meditative, slow, and calming to the soul. It also gives the quilt a very nice softness of texture.  And, I love that it looks somewhat organic compared to the perfect computer drawn quilting lines of newer technology.

I have been quilting since 1980.  The first quilt took about 15-20 years to complete.  It was all hand quilted, before I knew how to hand quilt.  Basically, stick the needle in from the top, grab in on the bottom side with the other hand, turn the needle around and stick it back up to the surface.  This is called stab and grab.  It works, so that's what I did.  It is not the reason the first quilt took so long to complete!

One year, I was at the International Quilt Festival, winding my way through the vendor booths, and I ran across someone selling these little gadgets for hand quilting.  In five minutes, I had a thorough lesson in how to hand quilt.  It was fabulous!  The tool was good too, but I don't use it anymore.  I prefer using my hands and a few other tools.
Above is a self portrait of my hands.  I can now quilt for hours on end, but afterwards, my hands feel kind of dead! Ha!  (Also, my back and shoulders for sitting too long!).  Meanwhile, what you see here is the wonderful Clover leather thimble with a metal coin.  The coin part is dimpled and allows me to set the needle without it slipping.  The leather part is super comfortable and soft.  I had worn out two of these fantastic little thimbles and so started this project with a normal full metal thimble.  Sadly it didn't fit and gave me a cut and giant blister on my finger. Nuts! It was totally worth driving to a nearby city for a new leather thimble that was in stock on the only night it snowed in Austin! Yes, I am dedicated to my craft!

You may have noticed the blue spots on my fingers? It is blue painter's tape.  Quilting without them leaves my fingers feeling like they have been needle felted, or tattooed without ink.  A bit painful and unnecessary.  I cut new little pieces of tape for each quilting session.  If you press on them for about 20 seconds, they will stick pretty well.  They also work to build up layers if one isn't thick enough.

Which brings me to the needles.  I use a LOT of needles, because I tend to bend and break them.  I have yet to find the perfect needles, but these Bohin needles come pretty close.  I used to think it was the needle (and inferior needles are problematic), but I have come to find out that there is a minor flaw in my quilting technique, and if I am not paying attention, I will bend the needle, making it pretty useless, and I am on to another one. I have tried lots of styles, but the Betweens and Sharps seem to be the best for me.

The quilting technique.
I like to load the needle with a lot of stitches at one time. I think this one has about 6 stitches.  I am never sure how to count those?? Meanwhile, really excellent hand quilters can get 10 stitches per inch.  I am not there, but also, I find that I prefer to see the little stitches, so I will aim for the size that is visually appealing.  The bending of needles comes when I push too hard on a needle that has lots of stitches.  It works better to use the thimble to push and load the needle with stitches, and then use some locking forceps to pull the needle through.

Last, I use a hoop.  It helps get the tension right and seems to work for me.  I have seen other quilters NOT use a hoop.  I don't know how they do it.  Magic!

And for this quilt, the Plenty to Go Around quilt, hand quilting is the perfect compliment for a quilt that has been hand appliqued, and all hand batiked elements. I love the way it looks in the concentric circles, which is also paired rather nicely with the symmetry on the front. The same lines add a different element to the story on the back.


Karen said...

I can’t wait to see this quilt in person! It is so beautiful! Thank you, Kathy for sharing your process with the quilting world as well!

Kathy York said...

Thanks Karen! and you're welcome!