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 www.fiberfantasies.com (be patient as it loads; it’s worth it), my healing work at www.hearthealing.net and can find me on Google + , Facebook (for Transition Portals) Facebook (for Fiber Fantasies),  and Twitter.

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  1. You were the first one I’ve known to leave the stitching show on the back. I got Thom Atkins book and he seems to use beading stitches as quilting stitches, but there were no close ups of any backs. I just cannot get over the ‘neat back’ syndrome so my beading thread goes between the layers or I add a back(usually to smaller pieces). My intense quilting is a big part of my art, so I need that to show without the distraction of all the beadwork threads. It’s true that we all make our own way!

  2. Yes, Kathy, we each make our own way…:) Since my areas of intense beading can take 1 hr/sq in(sq cm), there’s not a lot of quilting stitches that aren’t holding up a bead. Check out one of my earliest postings on this site… “OK, I’m messy!”… /?p=101

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