Hand Quilting: The Love Affair Begins.

posted in: Art, Quilting 4
Larkin, detail. I have a knot I need to fix. Don't look at it! Photo: Me.
Larkin, detail. I have a knot I need to fix. Don’t look at it! Photo: Me.


I have fallen in love with a needle and thread.

A few weeks back, I directed you to a Quilt Scout column announcing my leap into hand quilting. When I wrote that column I had quilted just a few inches of “Larkin” and was still afraid I was about to ruin the whole thing and regret the decision to try this thing. Indeed, I was not thrilled with the results at that point; I definitely didn’t feel like I had found my new best friend. Then three gigs bore down on me and it was shipping quilts, taking airplanes, teaching classes, and so on, so I left “Larkin” on my recliner, put my anxiety in a compartment labeled “Deal With Later”, and went off to work.

But hand quilting this Kaleidoscope quilt is on my summer goal list and I don’t play around with summer goal lists, people: I mean business with to-do lists. So when I got home from Minnesota, I unpacked, locked the door, put on my favorite black cashmere pants and my halter top, pulled my hair into a ponytail, and settled into my favorite recliner with my quilt. I took a deep breath. I logged in to Netflix. And I started in — for real this time.

Guess what? I didn’t get up for four hours. Turns out, I love hand quilting.

Rocking a needle in and out of layers of fabric is an ancient gesture. Quilted textiles are featured on ancient Egyptian statues.. Stitching is a natural man/tool combination, like chopping wood with an axe or pumping water from a well. Using a simple tool creates simple pleasure. The act of loading stitches — going up, down, up, down with the needle through the fabric and then pulling the thread all the way through — and then doing it over and over until a pattern (and a quilt!) begins to reveal itself, this is inexplicably entertaining while putting a person in a tranquil place. You can’t type and hand quilt. You can’t cook and hand quilt. You can definitely binge watch The Office (both US and UK versions, though I’m working on the US version at the moment) and hand quilt, but that’s about it. It feels good.

The next morning, I stitched for two more hours and only stopped because my index finger was sore. In the evening, it was me and Larkin again, parked in the mid-century black leather recliner I found (in pristine condition!) in Washington, D.C. at a Salvation Army. This is what the chair was meant for: It was destined to be the chair where I quilt this quilt. If I sound like a convert, I am. I’m converted. I’m obsessed! I’ve worked on this quilt at least three hours every day since Sunday. Is my first attempt at hand quilting “good”? No, of course not. But that is so not the point. This is about doing something for the first time and enjoying it. I will never have another first-attempt. You know?

The Scout column got a big response because there are a lot of hand quilters out there. Well, ladies and gents, count me among your numbers. If you want more proof: Today I finished “Charlotte,” a spiderweb quilt top, and I made the back and basted it just so it would be ready for me to hand quilt when I’m done with Larkin. 

Serious question: Is there a club I can join? I want a card in my wallet to announce my love to the world. Or a promise ring. Anything.

4 Responses

  1. […] washes away at least a thin layer of all that. Maybe it’s one of those ancient gestures and it just feels natural to do it, thereby returning us to a place and time with no alarming subject lines, no transaction fees, no […]

  2. […] be quilted with a gorgeous feather motif; sometimes it needs straight lines. Some quilts (like this one!) will say “Hand quilt me!” and some say, “Put me on the next UPS truck to the […]

  3. […] Tonight, because I am trying to take ‘er easy on the ol’ hemogoblins, a selection from the vast PaperGirl archive One year ago this very day, I wrote about my fear and love of hand quilting. […]

  4. Pamela Keown
    | Reply

    Mary? Did you sit in the chair with a hoop or frame of some kind? I have wanted to hand quilt but I thought it had to be in some sort of contraption. You sat for four hours? I maybe could do this if it did not need SPACE for a frame. I thought I could not do it because I did not have enough room. – sign me confused and hopeful

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