After learning English paper piecing at the start of the year, I'm finding there are yet more hand-sewing skills to be practised and fallen in love with. I decided to hand-quilt my daughter's Liberty print quilt and, other than hand-stitching a few flower emblems on my mother's silk quilt, it's not an area in which I've dabbled before. When it comes to hand-sewing, the learning of each new skill feels like being returned to square one as a sewing novice once more and it's a feeling which I love. Perhaps because it's an uncertainty that's wrapped up in some confidence - in most others areas of life where I may give up too quickly and never see the outcome of persevering, when it comes to sewing I have a concrete belief that if I keep going I really will somehow improve. So for several hours I kept this faith at the forefront of my mind: when my sewing was awkward and the effort of wielding the needle clumsily through the fabric felt something akin to sewing with a pitchfork; when the hoop seemed unwieldy and I failed to find a way to easily rest it in the crook of my arm; when my shoulders ached through my poor sewing position; and when I forced myself to unpick previous lines of stitching every time I saw my more recent stitches becoming neater.
I spent hours striving for the elusive rocking motion that the lovely Ruth Eglinton had told me about when I'd met her at the Festival of Quilts and frequently reminded myself of my book's words: Initially, it's more important for the stitches to be an even, regular size than for them to small.
And finally, after several hours, I remembered someone telling me that hand-quilting is easier if you sew toward your body - and it was this which made the difference. Suddenly the rocking motion appeared, my shoulders felt more relaxed, my stitches more even, my fingers beneath the quilt rocking the fabric up and down to meet the needle at just the right time to allow a few stitches at a time to slip painlessly onto the needle. And once the rhythm had been felt, I realised that I could sew away from my body with just as much ease.
For the central square I am following the lines of the large hand-pieced medallion. When, at first, the stitches hug the edge of this motif they are the clear outline of the flower, but as they radiate out toward the edges of the square they begin to look like indistinct undulating waves of stitching which remind me of the whirls of a finger print. They are not tiny and perfect like Ruth's stitches which I aspire to but they are, for the most part, even.
I hadn't realised how pleasingly different hand quilting would feel to machine quilting. But it is deliciously tactile. When I run my hand over this dense hand-quilting it feels soft and smooth, but simultaneously, bumpy and puffy. It has a confusing, enjoyable feel that leaves my hand wandering back for more smoothing and stroking of the fabric. My daughter came and sat with me last night while I quilted and from the moment that she touched a finished area she too seemed drawn to sit and run her hands over it, admiring its bobbly softness.
My fingers feel slightly painful, from trial and error as I experimented with thimble use and which fingers it was best to wear them on.
I have something of a selection. The lovely tan leather thimble delights me with its softness, good quality and the feeling that it could become a well-worn friend but, on a quilt with a lot of white fabric, the tiny flecks of leather it leaves behind are an irritation. The most comfortable and practical thimble has been the one which Ruth advised me to buy - it has a strange stretchy latexy sleeve which fits to your finger snuggly and the tip has a ridge to stop the needle shooting off the sides. I am also enjoying using my needle catcher (the cream flat disc) on the rare occassions when I've found I've loaded too many stitches onto my needle and it's difficult to pull through the fabric.
The thing which I've been most surprised by though is how much more well-basted one's quilt must be for hand-quilting. I've always felt that the one area of quilting in which I excel is preparing a smooth quilt sandwich which stays in wrinkle-free and smooth throughout the quilting process. However, hand-quilting has wiped away any feelings of self-assurance in that department. Frequently placing the quilt in and out of the hoop and repeatedly stretching different areas of it taut means that the quilt needs to be basted together much more firmly at the outset with pins placed more closely and perhaps a more generous attack with the basting spray! This is such a learning curve.
During the day I have been writing up my Dresden plates messenger bag patten, but I am finding that often I have a flip-floppy stomach feeling of excitement whenever I think of the evening where I can sit hand-stitching while watching past episodes of the Great British Bake-Off on iPlayer (my husband is out for a few hours several evenings a week as he has numerous sporting commitments, but I am slowly drawing him into this as he invariably arrives home mid-episode).
What tips do you have for hand-quilting? Do you have a favourite book or tutorial, a beloved tool, a way of marking out quilting lines or a unique stitching method which ensures perfect stitches? I would love to hear.