Archive for Hand Sewing

Hand Quilting Stitches – How Close are They Supposed to be?

Back of "Opulence - Asymmetrical Green Circle" - hand quilted by Mrs. Henry HerschbergerIn previous postings, I talked about two quilts, a symmetrical and an asymmetrical one that used as their inspiration for the image having the contents of a trash can being spilled onto a floor. I also mentioned that I had had to have surgery for carpel tunnel syndrome, having quilted too much to get into an exhibition I really wanted to be in. I thought that I would show you the backs of those two quilts and show you how hand quilting can vary.

The quilt above is the asymmetrical one and was quilted by Mrs. Henry Herschberger, an Amish quilter that Nancy Crow was using at the time in the early 80s. Mrs. Herschberger supplied the batting, backing and quilting thread. I drew in light pencil on the quilt top where I wanted the quilting lines to go and what color I wanted the thread to be. In this shot, you can see the neat,even hand quilting stitches that she achieved by rocking the needle in and out of the fabric. With a thin batting, the standard back then was 10 stitches/sq. in (sq. 2.5cm).

Back of "Opulence - Symmetrical Green Circle" quilted by Nancy SmeltzerThis is the back of “Opulence – Symmetrical Green Circle” that was quilted by me. I never did perfect the rocking motion needed for tiny, closely spaced quilting stitches, and so I did a “stab stitch”. That technique involves going up and down through all three layers of the quilt sandwich, one stitch at a time. On the front, it’s hard to distinguish the two techniques, but on the back, there’s not the evenness that the rocking stitch has. You can also see that I didn’t stretch my backing as tightly as Mrs. Herschberger, even though I was using a big quilting frame. It’s hard to handle that much fabric by myself, so I imagine that Mrs. Herschberger may have had family or friends nearby to help her get the sandwich to be nice and even.

Back of a hand beaded, hand quilted art quilt, "Circles of Black, Circles of White 7"Here is what the backs of my current art quilts look like. This one, is the back of “Circles of Black, Circles of White 7“.  In these more recent beaded quilts, I do a minimal amount of hand quilting to baste the quilt sandwich together, but also rely on large safety pins to secure the three layers. Then, the intensive beading holds the layers in place. I like to use quilting thread that has a glace finish on it, as that coating on the thread makes it stiffer. That feature makes it easier to thread the small eyed sewing needles that I need to use for the smaller beads, as some of the other threads are just too floppy otherwise to get them through the eye. The trade off is that the thread often gets knotted on the back and can make for a pretty messy appearance.

When I first started my work back in the 80s, there were few shows specifically for art quilts, and so I would enter ones that had more traditional pieces in them. While everyone loved the images on the front, I would get faulted for messy backs on my quilts. (That was back in the day when you got a comments sheet from the judges.) Many suggested that I at least cover up the quilting with an extra layer of fabric on the back. I however, don’t do that, unless someone commissioning a piece specifically asks for me to do so. I would rather that the effort that I put into the art work be visible on all sides, and if the energy is messy, than so be it. Besides, it will make it much easier for a future art historian to write about my work with the backs visible.

Have you ever been asked to change your working style and how did you handle it? Would you change how you work? In other words, where do you draw the line with regard to compromises with a client?

Why not leave a comment as to your thoughts on this posting. Please take a minute, fill out the form below or by clicking on the “comments/no comments link” at the top of the posting, and then share your ideas with the rest of us. We all grow when we share our thoughts and impressions, so why not join our growing community of those who appreciate art quilts and textile arts. We’d love to hear from you!… and PLEASE tell like minded souls about this blog! The more readers and contributors, the more I write.

You can see more of my art work on my web site at (be patient as it loads; it’s worth it), my healing work at and can find me on Google + , Facebook (for Transition Portals) Facebook (for Fiber Fantasies),  and Twitter.

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Thread Effects on Art Quilts – Hand Sewing

Ribbon embroidery in a detail of an art quilt "Dreams of Pinot Noir"Early in my art quilting career, I became fascinated with ribbon work and serious hand embroidery. I took a class in ribbon flowers and cockades with Candace Kling and quickly began making enchanted with the delicacies of ribbon flowers. I collected a number of choice ribbons with which to construct my creations and in this detail shot of “Dreams of Pinot Noir“, you can see a lavender flower off to the left, a ribbon rose to the right of the middle, and a loopy burgundy flower draped around a button center.

At the same time, I became enthralled with Judith Montano’s delightful books on embroidery, especially those on ribbon work. I spent hours pouring over the detailed examples in her books. There were also a number of wonderful narrow silk ribbons that were coming out on the market at the time, so there was a wide range of colors from which to choose. The cluster of grapes to the middle left of the photo above were done in that technique. By using silk ribbons, I was able to lay down an area of color much more quickly than if I had used traditional floss.

Gold embroidery edging a ribbon in the art quilt - "Elements -Fire"Here’s another example of how hand embroidery can be used to enhance an art quilt. The feather stitches here on the sides and middle of a peach and red striped ribbon add to the flame effect in this small piece – “Elements –  Fire“. The points of the stitches were angled upwards to give the effect of small flames rising from some embers. Gold plastic buttons to suggest areas of less intense heat were added for their textural effect. Clear glass beads were strung in lines nearby to add to the flame effect.

Detail of hand embroidery on art quilt - "Undersea Garden - Blue"In this detail shot of “Undersea Garden – Blue“, tiny blue branched stitches were made with embroidery floss to suggest a type of blue-green sea weed. There were clear aqua glass drup bead with a pink insert that were used to create the illusion of the air filled bladders that keep sea weed floating upwards in the water towards the sun. White and medium blue long stitches were used to secure clear plastic rounds to suggest sea urchins.

Detail of hand embroidery on art quilt - "Undersea Garden - Green"In this companion art quilt, “Undersea Garden – Green“, medium green floss was stitched on the left of this detail shot. The short branches suggest one species of sea weed,while the yellow green floss in the middle of the photo simulate another kind. In between the two, a black and pale green twisted yarn was couched to the surface and is seen in the upper middle to portray a third kind of sea weed. I love the twisted wealth of undersea foliage swaying in the waves that were created with just a few stitches of hand embroidery. Throw in some shiny glass buttons and beads to suggest other plants and an undersea garden appeared.

Terrific effects in embellishing art quilts can be achieved with just a few simple stitches. By saving the scraps of yarn and floss left over from other projects, these snippets can also be couched down and employed to enrich the surfaces. The result is that the viewer is rewarded by closely inspecting your work, and as a result, they spend more time examining them. That’s not a bad idea if you’re trying to communicate with your audience on a more intimate level than big bold statements. I feel that the message I want to get across is to pause awhile and spend some time in examining all of the details that I’ve laid out for you.

Have you used hand embroidery to embellish your work. What are some of your favorite techniques or materials? 

Why not leave a comment as to your thoughts on this posting. Please take a minute, fill out the form by clicking on the “comments/no comments link” at the top of the posting, and then share your ideas with the rest of us. We all grow when we share our thoughts and impressions, so why not join our growing community of those who appreciate art quilts and textile arts. We’d love to hear from you!

You can see more of my art work on my web site at