A post script on quilting and imperfection

hand-dyed silk, hand quilted with Valdani 35 weight cotton thread

I thought I might add one or two points, further to yesterday’s post and comments.

I don’t use a thimble for quilting, despite having quite a few different kinds. I have a leather thimble as well as various metal ones. I even have the silver-plated Roxanne thimble (a very kind gift a couple of years ago). I just can’t get on with them. I like to be able to feel where the needle is, and how the cloth is responding – and a thimble prevents that. I just learn to live with permanently sore and rough fingers.

I quilt ‘incorrectly’. I don’t use a hoop or frame, although I do usually work with the cloth supported on a table. Having said that, I did once quilt a whole bed quilt on my lap, and it turned out OK. Basically I do running stitch, not quilting stitch. A true quilting stitch needs to be done in a frame, and the needle should enter the fabric (from the top) vertically and emerge from underneath vertically. The stitch should be the same size on the top and on the back, and the space between the stitches should be the same as the length of the stitches. I find this impossible, particularly on the rare occasions when I use batting between the layers. My ‘quilting’ stitches are just running stitch, where the needle enters at a slight angle and emerges at a slight angle. The stitches on the back are nearly always shorter than the stitches on the front.

I’m not really interested in perfection, in getting so many stitches per inch, or in having perfectly even stitches on the front and back. I’m more interested in the expression created by stitch, and particularly the expression given by hand stitching.

My quilting, I suspect, will never win any prizes, nor will it impress any judges. But, mostly, it’s good enough for me, and it does what I intend it to do.  Now I’m going to find some hand cream. Have a wonderful weekend; see you next week.

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14 Responses to A post script on quilting and imperfection

  1. Janice says:

    I’ve often wondered how people manage to do a proper quilting stitch, but your explanation of what is correct makes it even harder for me to understand how ‘proper’ is achieved. I was taught that it should be a rocking motion, but my rocking motion has always resulted in something approaching a running stitch (only probably not as neat!). As you say, the stitches on the back are shorter than the ones on the front. I did manage to achieve ‘perfection’ in terms of length on front and back on one occasion when my top fabric was an evenweave and I threw out all hopes of ‘rocking’ in favour of a vertical stab. It is, for me, one of The Great Quilting Mysteries. And so I take heart from what you say, and I agree with it. What matters is not some idea of correctness set by someone else, but how we feel about our work – the precess and the finished item. Handmade from the Heart, not from the Textbook!
    Have a lovely weekend. x

    • Karen Turner says:

      ‘Proper’ – ie correct – quilting is a Black Art. I once resorted to stab stitch too, when I was preoccupied with ‘getting it right’. Have you seen the late Roxanne McElroy’s book ‘That Perfect Stitch’? A whole book – and website – about hand quilting. Her quilting was indeed ‘perfect’. But not for me.
      And thanks for your epigram at the end there – I like that very much 🙂

  2. Penny says:

    I’m with you on the fingertip thing. I have permanent callouses on my middle finger and when I was beading I had to constantly wrap it with bandages in order to use the needle. I’ve always said that if I ever had to have my fingerprints made it would be obvious that these are ‘working’ hands. I totally agree with you about both the thimble and the hoop. I’ve never been able to work with a thimble (at times I wished I could because my fingers were so sore) and I’m not good with hoops either. Now as I work on loop-pile embroidery with the punchneedle I use a gripper frame and that works wonderfully.

    • Karen Turner says:

      Likewise, Penny. Sometimes my fingers are so sore I would dearly love to use a thimble. I’ve tried the gripper frames, and I do quite like them.

  3. arlee says:

    Amen, Sister. I use a hoop only when there’s a stitch i have to do with threads woven or tied in. And thimbles are a pain in the whatever–i have a callus on my right ringfinger end that is perfect for pushing my 6 stranded big eyed needles through–and failing that, there are always pliers to pull!

  4. Kristin says:

    I totally agree with all you’ve said. I’ve done the rocking quilting stitch for years, but have never improved my stitches to any where near perfect. I gave up on that a long time ago. I have started using the running stitch as quilting since taking Jude’s classes and like it a lot. I like not having to use the hoop especially. I too have trouble with thimbles. I once had a leather one that fit perfectly and I loved it, but it wore out and I’ve not found a proper fitting one since. Metal thimbles don’t fit my finger well and I get a sore knuckle when I use them. So I too have sore finger tips.

  5. Rachel says:

    I have trouble with thimbles too, but I think I work about half my embroidery on a frame and half in the hand…

  6. l don’t use a hoop or like being “tidy” either..thanks for all this info…still think your stitches are amazing lyndaxx l use a good hand cream too!Haxxhappy stitching.

  7. Jude Whaites says:

    Totally agree, I have never been able to work with a thimble. I have my great grandmothers silver thimble and would dearly love to use it but I have no feel for the needle when wearing it. I have lost count the amount of times I have stitched my fingers to the back of the fabric!

  8. Deborah says:

    I don’t use a hoop either and have quilted queen-sized quilts on my dining room table. Otherwise I just use my lap or a clipboard.

  9. in my humble opinion “perfect” is essential for heart or brain surgery but totally boring for just about everything else.

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