Hand Quilting vs. Machine Quilting
That beautiful quilt top that you have worked on for so long is finally finished! Maybe you inherited a quilt top from your Aunt Gladys or picked one up at an Antique store. Whatever the case, now you need to decide how to turn it into a complete quilt. The biggest decision you'll need to make is....should I hand or machine quilt it? If you are like me, you probably decided which way to go during the design and sewing process.
Here are a few insights which might help you make that decision.
Parts that make up a quilt
If you are at the point of deciding between hand and machine quilting then this info will probably be redundant, but sometimes it's nice to get a refresher.
Think of a quilt like a sandwich. It is usually made up of 3 parts:
- Quilt top - This is the layer that is made by sewing together various shapes and sizes of fabric. It is the design part of the quilt, the "picture" so to speak.
- Middle - This layer is the batting or the filling of the quilt. There are many different options that you can choose from.
- Backing - Usually, but definitely not always, this layer is made from one piece of fabric and is the part of the quilt that lays on the bed or hangs against the wall.
Once the layers have been assembled you are ready to quilt it all together.
- Quilting - This is the sewing process that joins all 3 layers of the "sandwich" together. A quilt can be hand or machine quilted. It can also be tied, but we'll save that discussion for another day.
- Binding - This is the last step in the process and "binds" the layers together around the perimeter of the quilt.
Hand vs. machine quilting
Do you prefer to hand or machine quilt your pieces?
Hand quilting vs. machine quilting
When I first started quilting I did everything by hand and it took forever to finish one quilt. Some of those quilts are still among my favorites today. Once I learned how to use a sewing machine and subsequently started using the services of a professional machine quilter, a whole new world opened up to me. Today I use both methods.
When deciding which method to use, I think of the following things:
- Size of quilt - About 50" x 50" is my limit for hand quilting these days.
- Fabrics used - Some fabric is easier to hand quilt than others. Batiks are tough and can be rough on fingers that aren't as nimble as they used to be. Silks are slippery.
- Quilt use - If the quilt is going to be on a bed, used and washed fairly often, then it is getting machine quilted.
- Age of Quilt top - I once found beautiful antique quilt top at a shop and hand quilting fit it perfectly.
- Quilt pattern - More modern patterns beg for snazzy machine quilted designs.
- What the quilt top is "saying" to me - This sounds a little corny, but it's easy to get attached to a quilt top after you've worked on it for a while and sometimes it will "tell" you how it should be quilted.
Hand quilting is traditional. Chances are that every quilt you see in a historical museum has been hand quilted and, while there are not as many quilts being made this way today, there are many people who still enjoy hand quilting with beautiful results.
To me, hand quilting is very pure and there is something special about it. When I hand quilt a piece, I know that I have made that quilt from beginning to end. It is my piece of art. Once I get in a groove, I can sit and quilt for hours. It's very relaxing, almost therapeutic. There are professional hand quilters who do lovely work, but I prefer to do it myself.
In general, hand quilted pieces have a more "wrinkled" look to them. They tend to look a bit "softer".
Machine quilting is newer and can be done at home on your machine or sent out to a professional quilter who usually uses a longarm machine. These are amazing pieces of equipment which can take up an entire room and do wonderful things with thread. At quilt shows today, the majority of quilts are machine quilted with exquisite results. Things can be done on a machine that just can't be done by hand.
I have machine quilted a few pieces, but to tell the truth, I am not very good at it and my sewing machine is not the best for fancy quilting designs. When I decide that a top will be machine quilted, I send it out to a professional quilter.
Before I moved a few years ago, I worked with a wonderful professional quilter. After a few quilts, I trusted her enough to let her create her own quilting designs on my top. She did beautiful work and we went on to collaborate and win a 2nd place ribbon and a "Best in Show" ribbon at quilt shows. Now I work with a lovely lady who does a great job. It took me a while to find her, but after seeing her work at local quilt shows I knew she was the right person for my pieces.
Machine quilted pieces tend to have a "crisp" look to them and sometimes seem to be more heavily quilted.
Which method will you choose
Most quilters prefer one method over the other. I love them both, but I have to say that when I see a quilt that has been beautifully hand quilted, my heart skips a beat.
In the end, the decision to hand or machine quilt is entirely up to you. It's your work of art, your name is on it. Do whatever feels right. I've never regretted my quilting choices and am proud of all of the quilts I have made. I know you will be proud of your work too.
Good luck and Happy Quilting!
Questions & Answers
© 2012 Claudia Mitchell