You may have noticed more hand-quilting in my work recently. Previously, I quilted my artworks completely by machine. In the last few years. Some of my quilts have received scattered lines of hand-stitching/quilting. More recently, some quilts have been filled with hand-quilting. This has come about for a couple of reasons.
Early last year I made a commissioned kantha-style quilt for a friend, for their wedding anniversary. She gave be a very open brief, and this was one of the suggestions I gave her. I've loved kanthas for a long time, and this seemed like the perfect opportunity to have a go at one myself. And I loved how relaxing the stitching process was.
Then over the last year or so, I have been working through some health issues (which had built up over a lot longer than a year). This has included making changes to diet and lifestyle. One of the lifestyle changes is still very much a a 'work in progress' – the one about making relaxation a way of life. That's something I struggle with! But to get to the point, hand-quilting some of my quilts is one of the strategies I'm using to force myself to sit down and relax a bit more. It's really quite therapeutic! (Machine-quilting gets the job done a bit sooner, but is quite an intense task, what with struggling with a large bulk of fabric under a domestic sewing machine.)
If you're wondering about tackling hand-quilting, I love this explanatory blog post by Anna Maria Horner!
She needed a new project like a hole in the head, but the siren call of a looming exhibiton deadline is apparently too strong to resist. So with two and a half weeks until D-day, she threw caution to the wind and frantically gathered together scraps and snippets of fabric from the furthest reaches of the studio. “I'll hand quilt it”, she said. “I'll sit in my rocker and spend many peaceful hours gently stitching together the layers of fabric. It'll be the most relaxing thing I've done all year”, she said. “No hunching over the sewing machine forcing mounds of fabric through with tired and aching arms.”
And to this day you will find her hunched over the dining table, pulling the blunt needle through the layers of fabric with a pair of pliers and muttering about bruised fingers and aching hands.
P.S. I love that there are hints and snippets of art quilts forming in the studios of so many of my fellow Australian artists. I've noticed that Lucy Carroll, Brenda Gael Smith, Sue Dennis and Jenny Bowker are all busy on new art quilts. No one has specifically mentioned that they are entering this exhibiton, but I'm hopeful that at least some of these wonderful projects will appear in the exhibition!
I like to try and limit the range of techniques that I use in my textile art. There are so many different and interesting things that I could try to incorporate, but I'm fairly certain that it's better for my creative endeavours to limit myself to a few. Just like it's sometimes creatively stimulating to stick to a limited colour palette or in a limited time frame. The saying that 'necessity is the mother of invention' comes to mind. There's a challenge in expressing what I want to express with the few techniques at hand, without reaching for new techniques. There's also a place for mastering several techniques well, rather than many techniques poorly. And of course, limiting the number of techniques and processes I use also helps to limit the range of equipment and supplies that I need.
Here are my five favourite techniques:
I began dyeing my own fabric even before I settled on machine-piecing as a signature technique. Initially, I had two reasons for this. Firstly, I figured it to be cheaper to dye my own range of colours than to try to source it from patchwork shops. Secondly, the range of colours generally available in fabric shops is quite limited. I like to have more than twenty assorted greens at my disposal when making a eucalyptus quilt. Another thing I really like about hand-dyed fabric is the unevenness of the colour. Commercial solid cottons are rather flat-looking by comparison.
Machine-piecing is what I consider to be my most important technique, if I can put it like that. It's what makes my work different to the work of many appliqué artists. It also imposes great limitations (or maybe challenge is the better term) on my artmaking. The physical challenge of piecing together very tiny or tightly-curved pieces of fabric limits how small my images can be, or the type images that I create. Sometimes that frustrates me, but it also forces me to extend myself, and to keep trying new ways to make the machine-piecing work for me (finer lines, tighter curves, smaller scale or alternative styles of drawing). Sometimes an image or idea is better portrayed with pieced outlines, as in Trike, and other times solid blocks of colour works better.
Machine-quilting doesn't hold quite the same excitement for me as the piecing does, although getting started is always the hardest part. Once I've started, it's usually an enjoyable process. I always start by ditch-stitching over all the seam lines. Then I decide where to add extra quilting in the form of doodling, pictures or text.
Not every artwork I make features screen-printing, but I always love it when I am able to incorporate this technique into my quilts. Like hand-dyeing, it is a surface design technique, allowing me to manipulate the fabric even before cutting and stitching. Where possible, I like to use designs that enhance the story of the quilt.
Of these five techniques, hand-embroidery is the one that I have most recently incorporated. When I don't machine quilt the whole quilt heavily, I often like to add some had stitching. Usually a simple running stitch, but other times, seed stitch, unconnected chain stitch, chicken scratches, crosses and more (pardon me for not knowing the official terminology!) I use stranded embroidery thread for this, and I love the interest and texture that it adds to the artworks
Do you have a go-to technique or set of techniques for your creative endeavours?
It’s always exciting to deliver a newly finished project. This one was made with much love and prayer. A dear friend commissioned this one for her/their 10th wedding anniversary. It features fabric from the wedding dress and bridesmaids dresses, and a screenprinted panel inspired by the bride’s bouquet. The white panel has a favourite Bible text embroidered into it.
I really enjoyed all the handstitching in this quilt!
I love how it can be used to add highlights to a quilt. Or texture.
I also love how relaxing is to stitch away by hand.
I’ve been playing with some of the traditional embroidery stitches that I could remember – french knots, seed stitch, chain stitch, chicken feet (I’m sure there’s a proper name for that one).
So I was excited when a recent book purchase, The Stitch Bible arrived in the mail. Although this is primarily a catalogue of stitches categorised into several different types of embroidery (e.g freestyle, hardanger, black work, gold work), I’m looking forward to applying many of these stitches to my quilts over the years.
I’m not sure when quilting becomes embroidery or vice versa. In my mind, quilting has a functional purpose – to hold the layers of the quilt together over time. Embroidery, to my way of thinking, has a decorative purpose. While all my quilts are ditch-stitched (that is, quilted along the seam lines), many of them have a whole lot of extra quilting that is both functional and decorative.
While I’m slowly working away on my pile of handwork here, Hannah is tackling her quilt a whole lot faster .You may remember it from here and here. She lost her steam soon after that. She did a little bit here and there, but wasn’t really making much progress. With a bit of encouragement, she picked it up again last week as a school holiday project and had it all pieced together in no time. We layered it together, and now Hannah is hand-quilting it.
We had several choices here. If it was going to be machine-quilted, either I had to do it, or I had to teach her to use my own sewing machine. I’m not really ready for her to start using my machines. The old one she currently uses is more that sufficient for now. So I gave her a choice between me quilting by machine, or Hannah quilting it herself by hand. I love it that she chose to do it herself by hand – that’s where stubbornness can be a blessing!
I hope be adding some of those new quilts of mine to my shop over the next few weeks.