All posts filed under “Quilting

On Hand Quilting.

I was offered the opportunity to talk about my work and hand quilting at the Front Range Modern Quilt Guild last weekend. It was a fantastic experience for me, as I’ve never really talked about my quilts and my process in person to an audience of more than a few people. The chance to show not only what I do but how I do it was an excellent experience, one that I hope to repeat in the future.

It also forced to me do a lot of thinking about not just about what I do and how I do it but why I do it.

The how is relatively easy to explain now, as I’ve mulled over it a lot in the last few months. You, dear reader, can take a gander at this video my friend Juli Jackson generously put together for me to see how I make those stitches. In the three years that I’ve hand quilted, I’ve logged probably close to 1000 hours of hand quilting. It has become an automatic motion, familiar and comforting. I don’t think about it at all when I sit down to quit.

As you can see, it’s not a typical western style hand stitch (Sarah Filke has a great video on how to do that on YouTube). While there is a rocking motion involved, I’m using more of both of my hands to make the stitch. The dominant hand, my right, determines the length of the stitch on top of the quilt and moves the needle through the quilt sandwich. The non-dominant hand manipulates the fabric and determines the length of the stitch on the bottom. You can see that I tend to go past where I actually want the needle to be and pull it back. I’m working on changing this, as it tends to actually be quite more fatiguing on the hands and arms than it needs to be.

The stitches I make are longer than the spaces between the stitches. This is a hallmark of the sashiko stitch that I taught myself when I first started. The result is a more dominant stitch on top of the quilt and small dots on the back of the quilt with large spaces in between. In the video, I’m using a large needle, thick thread and am quilting through a heavily pieced top, wool batting and a muslin back. I’ve also decided, though much trial and error, that loosely placing the quilt in a hoop is actually a much better way to manage the fabric and my time than quilting without one.

The why, however, has many answers.

The time it takes me to quilt a quilt is significant and it marks that time for me. One of my quilts recounts to me the time in my life that I spent quilting it, taking me back to those details easily forgotten in the present day. It brings back the people I spent time with, the places I have lived and loved, the difficulties and the lessons learned. Hand quilting helps me see where I have come from.

It reminds me that my creative work is a slow, on-going process that doesn’t need to be done for the sake of getting something done. It is not a race but a meandering stroll. It is meant to be revealed in, savored, enjoyed.

It forces me to accept that perfection is unattainable and that moving forward is better than dwelling in the imperfections. There is beauty in each and every single stitch, even when they aren’t all straight or even. I can strive for good craft but perfection is something that isn’t useful for me.

As someone who isn’t particularly inclined to mark making with traditional methods, my stitches are the marks my hand makes.

I also hand quilt my quilts because it helps me direct my anxiety into something productive. It engages the resulting Obsessive Compulsive behavior that I have used all of my life to cope with it. The repetitive motion has become woven into my muscle memory and is a mindless yet engaging way to spend time that would otherwise be idle. By channeling that otherwise destructive and previously crippling behavior into something productive, I take all of the Really Bad Shit and make something I actually want to put out into the world.

Here’s the thing: I have accepted the reality that I will never be the finest hand quilter in the world. I make stitches that are my own, a culmination of my own trial and error. I won’t be making the 10-13 stitches per inch that traditional hand quilters’ tend to use as the mark of “good” hand quilting. My goal is make something that is solely my own, to put original work out into the world that isn’t dependent on an pre-established notion of “good” and “bad”.

Quilt no. 014: Denim Scrap

Quilt no. 014: Denim Scrap Quilting Details

My last finish of 2015, Quilt no. 014, feels like an obvious but useful metaphor for this past year: start in one place and end in a different, unexpected place. I started piecing this quilt in February while we were living in the mountains, surrounded by pine forests and snow drifts six feet tall. I finished it while living in a small apartment in a small city in northern Colorado, surrounded by things like modern conveniences and paved roads.

Quilt no. 014: Oblique

My approach to composition and piecing has changed pretty significantly. I’ve moved away from central composition, from minimal color schemes, from quilts that feel emotionally removed. I have been more compelled towards making that feels a little more urgent, more complicated, more layered, more reactive. The pieces that I have been working on the last few months are wildly different than this quilt.

Quilt no. 014: Quilting Details

No. 014 was made from 1.5″ wide scraps from no. 013, which I didn’t get to photograph before handing it off to it’s new owners. The first incarnation was actually suppose to be a rag rug, which is part of the reason the strips are so tiny. I also wanted to include as much of the details from the pants, including hems, pocket details and worn areas. It ended up giving this quilt serious texture and variety.

I chose the yellow thread as a nod to the traditional yellow linen thread used on jeans. The quilting design compliments the piecing, without mimicking or overwhelming it. The back is a bright red brushed twill. I skipped the batting to save my fingers while hand quilting; it made stacking the fabric on the needle a breeze. It’s quite large, 76″ x 76″, and as one can probably imagine, it’s got serious heft. Despite this, it’s remarkably soft and pliable. It makes a great noise when unfurled and snapped in the air.

Quilt no. 014: Denim Scrap Detail

It’s not a fine quilt by any stretch of the imagination. Very few of the points match, the hand quilting is a bit sloppy and I didn’t even square it off, for fear of trimming off quilting knots. It won’t be in any shows. It might spend part of its life hanging in my living room to make the space less generic. It would probably make a great picnic or beach blanket.

Quilt no. 014: Denim Scrap Corner Details

Like the year this quilt was made in, the details are less than perfect but from far away, it’s a pretty good one.

Quilt no. 014: Denim Scrap Wide

Quilt no. 018: Storied Minimalism

Hillary Goodwin of Entropy Always Wins set forth a challenge for September’s Bee Sewcial block. Her title was Some Things are Better Left Unsaid and she set forth a challenge for the group to create a block using black and white, minimalist design with some meaning behind it. While I don’t participate in Bee Sewcial as a member, the group was gracious enough to open the prompts up to the greater modern quilting community on Instagram.

Quilt no 018: Piecing Details

August was filled with turmoil and conflict. Emotional. Creative. Internal. My 20 year old Janome gave up the ghost in the middle of time-consuming piecing project. A serious hormone shift meant that mental health issues were ever-present including some of my oldest friends: self-doubt, self-loathing and obsessive compulsive behavior around food, sex, pleasure centers.

I sat down to tackle Hillary’s challenge with a machine graciously lent to me by Stephanie Ruyle. I had been thinking about Yoshiko Jinzenji’s minimalist quilts, about her piecing techniques. I pulled from my stash a vintage black silk table cloth, that had spent a large part of it’s life in service on a Union Pacific dining car. I also pulled various vintage cottons: washed muslin and feed sacking. Some new broadcloth. I cut and stitched, cut some more, stitched some more. I wasn’t reacting, just making, just assembling. Despite this quilt being quite small, 18″ x 18″, it was time consuming. I’ve been real into time consuming piecing the last few months; small pieces assembled into larger cloth appeals to me deeply.

Quilt no. 018

I clamped enormous noise cancelling headphones over my ears and submerged myself into the world of chain piecing and podcasts. I was half-listening to Sandi Sawa Hazlewood interview Sherri Lynn Wood about her making process as I assembled the little pieces into a two parallel strips. Wood dropped this little gem.

In a way, quilt making is just a mirror. The way you put patchwork quilts together, the way you put shapes together and make relationships in your patchwork, reflects how you make relationships in your life.  – Sherri Lynn Wood on the Crafty Planner Podcast

I didn’t think about the relationship to what I was making and what was going until I posted the top to Instagram. I wasn’t really feeling how it came out. I did, however, receive a bunch of positive and thoughtful feedback about it. Stumbling, ordered chaos. Pathways and steps and hints of a long journey. I saw it. I see it.

Quilt no. 018: piecing details

I am still indifferent to the finished piece. But it’s there, it exists. A documentation of a particular moment in time, without any intention behind it other than it just make. It was more important for me to make than to make something completely successful.

Quilt no. 018: Fancy

Quilt no. 016: Floating Squares

When I left my apartment on a clear Saturday morning, I had only a handful of expectations about Sherri Lynn Wood‘s Improvising from a Score workshop. I decided the night before that my only goal that morning was to show up with my tools and I would go where the day wanted to take me. I had a stressful and trying few weeks prior to the workshop and I just wanted to engage in something that was going to allow me to make something without internal expectations.

Front Details

Sherri’s approach to making and quilting feels really refreshing to me. Up until taking her workshop, I had been wanting to spend a lot of time refining my craft, perfecting my piecing and my hand stitching. I was much more focused on further refining what I already knew, rather than exploring. Her workshop gave me the opportunity to learn how to trust myself a little more, to listen to what my creative impulse drove me towards and that a plan doesn’t need to have a predicted outcome.

Front Details
Something shifted for me that day. I talked in the entry for my previous quilt about the patch work bags I made when I was teenager. Making this quilt felt like that: challenging, fun and engaging. Picking the fabric, using scissors to cut the pieces and fitting them together was a delightful and welcome change to the heavily structured and planned quilts I’ve been making.

I chose to piece this from different shot cottons, various types of Kona and Bella solids as well as some printed quilting fabrics that where given to me by Jess at Threaded Quilting. There’s a layer of washed muslin between the top and the pieced back, which made the hand quilting quick and easy. At 34″ x 43″, it will make a lovely lap quilt for it’s new home with Hannah Jewell in North Carolina.


While this quilt doesn’t feel like anything I’ve made in the past, it has led me to a new way of piecing that is much more compelling to me. While my meticulous planning led to quilts that met my expectations, it has been freeing to drop those expectations and just make.

Backing Details