Thursday, July 21, 2011

Free-motion Hand Quilting

Years ago I had the fortune to attend a lecture by Welsh Quilt expert Jen Jones. I already knew a little bit about Welsh quilts and could not pass up the opportunity to view some wonderful antique ones in person. What I learned form Jen that day whet my appetite and opened my eyes. I stayed for the workshop led by Martha Waterman to learn more about specific Welsh quilting motifs and how to draw and apply them as wholecloth designs. One of the things I learned was minimal marking could be done, then the spaces filled free-form with traditional spiral and leaf shapes (not unlike the current Zentangle drawing craze). I couldn't imagine being able to quilt such designs without them being marked, but I tried it on a batting sample, and indeed, I could.

Today has been a cold and dreary day (hard to believe it's late July), so perfect for spending some time with the big quilt and the additional hand quilting I know I must add. Quilting, after all, is first and foremost functional, there to hold the layers together and especially in the case of a bed quilt, extend its life. Gaps too big between rows of stitching will cause many problems down the road and detract from the overall appearance even now. There are many reasons I've been trying to get out of adding more quilting and I finally figured out how to get around a couple of them. First, I didn't want to have to mark additional quilting lines (really hard to do once the top is layered), and I didn't want to wrestle with all that weight and bulk as I found I was doing in my hoop on a stand. After finishing the last round of machine quilting, I spread the quilt out on my work table and realized I could hand quilt it right there, letting the table carry the weight and not needing a hoop since so much quilting was already in place. Huge relief when I figured that out, and it is indeed working well.

As for the marking problem, I'm getting around that for the moment by starting with the appliqued squares to which simple echoing adds adequate filler and can be eyeballed accurately enough. This is similar to that lesson I learned about Welsh free-form quilting. I've also dabble a bit in Hawaiian quilting and learned that all that wonderful echo quilting done on traditional quilts typically was measured by the width of the quilter's finger. Straight pins might be placed for a few inches along the track as a guide but otherwise no marking. I discovered that the spacing for my echo lines are about a finger width - very convenient! However, I'm not bothering with pins for guides.

I may add some spirals to other areas of the quilt and am screwing up my courage to do them without marking as well. Just as free motion quilting with a machine can be liberating, so too can unmarked "free motion" quilting by hand. Give it a try!


Amanda said...

That's looking fab! Can't wait to see more progress. Don't forget the simple marking of dragging a thick needle. Very useful if you just need to check an effect.

The Idaho Beauty said...

Oh Amanda, that's right! I HAD forgotten about that. That could definitely make the spirals I have in mind a little easier. Thanks!