Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Hand Quilting Then and Now

Falling in love with a quilt is easy. Maybe the fabric has special meaning---"Look, there's a piece of Mom's apron!" or perhaps you received a quilt as a present from someone who loves you. Or maybe you are a quiltmaker and having spent hours and hours stitching are now convinced that this is the prettiest quilt you've ever seen.

While some folks are enamored with a quilt's color scheme, I love the stitches. I want to see the stitches! Whether by hand or machine, quilting stitches for me are as indicative of the maker's personality as an artist's scrawled signature. The stitches connect me to that quiltmaker and the time in which she lived.

The needles generally used for hand quilting are called 'Betweens' and their sizes range from  #1's (the largest in the above illustration) to #12s (the very tiny needle on the left). (Note that this illustration shows needles slightly smaller than real life.) The eyes (holes) on Betweens are round and must be well-polished so thread slips easily through them. People often start quilting with a #5 or 6, go on to a #9 and then after some time and experience, end up using a #10-12. They swear they can get the tiniest stitches with the tiniest needle.

Well and good but I'm aiming for even stitches first and then think about how small they are! And I'm not going to obsess over the size of my stitches--not any more. My favorite quilting needle can vary from day to day although I generally find "the" needle somewhere in the Richard Hemmings Betweens assortment pack. These needles are sleek and shiny and strong and unless I lose them, they last a long time.

Speaking of losing a needle, long ago I started to collect handmade pin cushions. Here are two my sister Mary Frances made for me. She's a knitter and used wool felting techniques to make these. One is a mushroom and the other a sashiko-theme spider in her web.

If you'd like to try hand quilting, ask at your local fabric or quilt store for an assortment pack of needles, such as the Richard Hemmings Betweens that I use. Or you can order straight off the web at the Colonial Needle website . Click 'hand needles' in the left hand menu and peruse to your heart's content.

Thank you Jo Glover for letting me photograph your beautiful Scrap Star quilt with Big Stitch quilting.