What is the allure of hand quilting

What is the allure of hand quilting?

People often look at me with almost disbelief when I tell them that I only quilt by hand.  Wouldn’t it be easier to machine quilt?  Think of how many more you could finish if you used a machine.

I say that is true and then I feel obligated to try to explain why I would rather hand quilt. ( and I really have a hard time doing it) If you are a hand quilter I don’t need to explain it to you, but for those that aren’t here is my attempt.

Hand quilting and machine quilting are two entirely different things.  Machine quilting can be breathtaking.  Some of the work I have seen is so amazing that I cannot begin to imagine doing it by hand and I would never try.  Hand quilting for me is a relaxed meditative process.  Once I get going my mind is free to wander, my hands can be quilting but I can be miles away in my mind.  I can sit with a quilt in front of the TV and the compute looking at all three and still be in another world, thinking and stitching.  I think that I stitch my feelings into the quilt. I have several quilts in process all the time….how I feel tells me which to work on.  Each and every stitch in the quilt goes through my hand and caries my thoughts with it.

People often comment that I must have a great deal of patience to be able to do so much hand quilting.  I don’t actually think that is the case.  Since I quilt so much it might seem as if I am in a race to finish, and it is very exciting to finish a quilt, but the real enjoyment comes from the process.  To me it doesn’t require patience, it requires allowing myself to relax and enjoy it.

There are other reasons for hand quilting.  It is a traditional art form that I believe needs to be preserved.

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Even with a traditional art form there is a lot of room for personal expression and creativity.

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History can be blended with modern in a very satisfying way.  And there is that satisfied feeling that does come at the end when I can look at the finished product and say to myself “I did that all by hand”

Relax…enjoy the process….and happy quilting


74 thoughts on “What is the allure of hand quilting

  1. Sara says:

    Greatly said……….. from a longarmer…

    • timquilts says:

      thanks Sara!…..
      and I am glad that you mentioned that you are a longarmer! Like I said I can really appreciate the beauty of well done long arm quilting……but it is a different process…and one that I am not cut out for!

  2. Jacqueline says:

    Your post touched me. I am just about finished my first large quilt which I have worked by hand. I to agree that each stitch contains my thoughts and feelings. Totally relaxing. I am hooked completely.

  3. LOL, Tim, you finish most quilts each year than most people I know, including machine quilters. I think that makes you a quilting machine.

  4. antarabesque says:

    I totally get the process, even though I am a machine quilter. I am also a cross stitcher and I find both are a spiritual practice. My projects have prayers and hopes sewn into them, even more so if the project is for a specific individual. Many of my best ideas come while my hands are busy.

  5. Gloria Ochoa says:

    Hi Tim! Can you tell me what you use to mark your stitching lines especially on the dark fabric? That is always a challenge for me.

    • timquilts says:

      every quilt is different, many I don’t mark at all, I just quilt free form, but for a structured design that requires marking, on dark fabric I use a white chalk pencil…the mechanical kind….I have one that fons and porter makes

  6. Nancy says:

    Nicely said, Tim. Hand quilting is so relaxing. You can internalize with your thoughts, or converse or watch tv or listen to music while hand quilting. Someone told me recently that they got more quilts done with machine (hired) quilting. But is that really the point?

  7. You truly just expressed the heart of every hand quilter. Thank you for this post, and for helping to preserve this beautiful art. 🙂

  8. I severely broke the cervical neck of the bone in my upper arm where it meets the ball, and pushed a half inch of bone into the ball. Even thought it has been 20 years, it still limit fluid movements my arm should be able to make. It gets really aggravated at times when I just machine sew, and trying to move the bulk of a quilt around is just too much aggravation. Because I use a hoop to hand quilt, I can adjust it so I can quilt in comfort, and make it a much more enjoyable pasttime…

    • timquilts says:

      I am so glad that you are able to continue to hand quilt!

      • It was a learning curve when I started hand sewing a few days after the break. I could hold the needle in my right hand, but when I took a stitch I had to pull the fabric away from the needle with my left hand as the right arm was a paperweight for quite a while. Perseverance paid off, and I did get a stained glass unicorn quilt done before the sling came off three months later… Arm was still a paperweight for quite awhile after but I wasnt about to sit around and be bored… over 20 years later I still have problems trying to work on a frame as I cant hold my arm out in front of me for long…

  9. Loved this post. Don’t I know it! Get tired of rationalizing my work sometimes….

  10. Sue says:

    So true, Tim. Here’s another reason I love hand quilting….because I don’t have to fight with my sewing machine when it doesn’t want to behave! Plus it’s so portable.. There are too many good reasons to hand quilt. Why are we in such a hurry to get on to the next quilt anyway? So much love with every stitch. I love what you said about it taking you to other places as you stitch. Boy, isn’t that the truth! What a great way to relax. We folks need more of that these days.

  11. mrsmoore says:

    Thank you so much for your “mission statement.” I truly love to hand-quilt, and I find that it tempers and prioritizes my decisions about what tops to make. Whenever I see an appealing design, I ask myself whether I want to dedicate the time necessary to hand-quilt it. Of course I still have more tops than time, but I am making progress. I can finish about six queen-sized quilts a year–some traditionally hand-stitched, some with size 8 perle. And that’s enough quilts for me.

    • timquilts says:

      that is a good point…..and I didnt realize it until you said it….but knowing that I will hand quilt does change the decision making process in what tops to tackle ….thanks!

  12. Claudette Booker says:

    Are you sure we’re not related? I was born in the UP. I feel exactly the same about hand quilting. I also hand piece a lot. I’ve tried machine quilting (only on small projects) and am usually very frustrated by the time I finish. But hand quilting…so relaxing. I usually only quilt on one project at a time, but I have lost track of the number of hand piecing and applique projects I have going right now. I’m thinking of a few tops that I might have machine quilted, but I’m having a hard time letting go of the creative process to someone else. Love your quilts!

    • timquilts says:

      I think we are related…in spirit anyway , as I think are all hand quilters….and I totaly understand what you say about the control of the creative process!!

  13. Sue Matlock says:

    I hand quilt, hand appliqué, weave cloth, weave baskets, cross-stitch, and embroider by hand. All take a lot more time, but as you indicated, for me, it is totally about the process. I give most everything away to people who appreciate the handwork, but LOL, don’t think they have the patience or time…but they all watch tv and movies. I also own and use a gammill long arm, but it has a completely different purpose… I never really know what to say when people ask why I just don’t do it by machine, thanks for the explanation.

  14. Jill says:

    Ditto to everything you said……….It is hard, sometimes, to explain to people why I hand quilt. If have said it so well. Thanks for speaking for many of us.

  15. I couldn’t have said it better myself. I agree that’s it’s very relaxing to sit quietly hand quilting.

  16. audrey says:

    So true about stitching our feelings into our quilts. The quilt knows us better than anyone by the time we get through.:)

  17. Janine Huisjen says:

    Thanks for putting this so succinctly. I believe that hand quilting is a kind of meditation, and I try to convey that to others when I make them a quilt as a gift. They are never far from my thoughts when I’m at work on a quilt made just for them. But it’s also social. I piece by machine, but I’m always eager to get to the quilting part because I know that then I’ll be able to sit and talk with my husband while we watch TV and I do my handwork on my hoop. I love the look of machine quilting and I’m sure it can be meditative, too, but it would keep me separated from family too much of the time.

    • timquilts says:

      thanks!….I so agree with the social part….It is nice to be able to quilt, and talk with people at the same time…I can’t imagine being able to that while machine quilting

  18. Sharon Eshlaman says:

    Nicely put. Take time to smell the roses.

  19. tjsnana says:

    Loved this post!!! I closed my facebook account so I am glad to be able to keep up with you through your blog. Bren Haws

  20. Well said, Tim! (Applause!!)

  21. Sharon says:

    Good post. I too, love to hand quilt. When I started quilting, I thought the only reason you made the top was so you had something to quilt, that’s what I thought it was all about. I must have hand quilted the first 10 or so quilts, then I got a longarm. I now quilt for others, but still hand quilt my treasures, it’s the process, the rhythm, the calming that comes from rocking the needle!

  22. I used to say that during the decades I was hand quilting. And I still believe a beautiful hand-quilted quilt is beyond wonderful. But then I had to face the fact that I was mortal, and I had to learn to machine quilt so I could make the quilts in my head.–Of course, I had no idea that every quilt in my head would beget several more. Maybe I should at least hand quilt a tiny quilt so I don’t forget how and so I can appreciate even more the fact that I can machine quilt. Both methods can rise to the level of awesome art.

  23. Carla says:

    You nailed it, Tim! I always feel so good, if like you said, I can let myself slow down and enjoy each stitch I take.

  24. Carolyn Black says:

    I totally agree with you Tim. I find something so relaxing and soothing about hand quilting. I have machine quilted some smaller projects but find that I don’t have the pride in them that I have in the hand quilted ones.

    • timquilts says:

      I understand that…the few small machine quilted projects I have done sort of make me fell like I cheated…..so I am not as proud of them….but I still like them

  25. Louise says:

    For me hand quilting is a connection to my family’s past. All the women ( and a couple of men too!) were fantastic needle workers. I grew up with women quilting. When I quilt I feel a connection to them and also for me it is a quiet time to reflect, remember and dream of the future.
    My daughter is both a hand and machine quilter. I think that is great because she is creating the next generation of quilting in my family.

    • timquilts says:

      its wonderful that you fell the connection with family and history!…….my family doesn’t have the tradition of quilting, but I do feel the histoy of the process…especially when I work an on antique top or blovks

  26. Dawn Fox Cooper says:

    I enjoy hand quilting for many of the reasons you state, but also I love to feel the change that takes place with the quilting process. The three layers become one & the whole feel changes as it “becomes” a quilt in your hands.

    • timquilts says:

      I hadn’t thought of that Dawn, but you are so right about it…..I sometimes am amazed at the end when I compare the change from top to quilt…..it really does change the whole feel and look

  27. Connie Johnson says:

    Hi Tim,
    You are so right in all you said…especially about the meditative quality to quilting. I’ve been doing a lot of hand piecing and that,too can set the mind at ease and yet let it wander. I read a quote somwhere about an older quilter who said her life had been stitched into her quilts. I feel the same way. If something’s going on in my life ,quilting quiets me. I often think of the quilters of yesteryear, perhaps far from neighbors or town, yet they could always turn to their quilting to see them through.

    Connie Johnson

  28. Sharon Snow says:

    I enjoy hand quilting. plus I it is also a tradition that is becoming a lost art. Working 4 days a week, canning food in the summer, and raising 5 children: I don’t know about the rest of you,but I need some relaxing time.My husband has his T.V. but I don’t care for it much. I would rather be productive and have something to show for my time.The people that I work with tell me to use a machine to quilt, but to me, it wouldn’t be the same. Then they are usually telling me that either I have too much patience or too much time on my hands .LOL It is just my quiet time;time just for me.

  29. Machelle says:

    Expressed beautifully!

  30. I agree wholeheartedly!

  31. Angie says:

    Well said Tim! My husband keeps telling me that I am going to go “cross-eyed”, I have tried to explain and I don’t think I could say it any better than you just did. I will read it to him, thanks!

  32. Claudette Booker says:


  33. Connie Blankley says:

    Well said, perfectly expressed. I think one who machine quilts has very little to no relationship with that quilt. A hand stitched not only pushes the needle and pulls the thread but runs his/her hands over the entire surface of that quilt many times before finishing. Thoughts, prayers, laughter, and tears are shed at one time or another during the making of each quilt and love spread with each brightness of the hand. Thank you Tim fir your inspiration. You make me strive to be a Vetter quilter

  34. Barbara Bettles says:

    I am a custom longarmer, and I totally admire your work. Your creativity shows in your work, and that you love what you are doing. The detail in your work is wonderful and exquisite. I love the magic that happens when the quilting changes the dynamics of the quilt top, whether it be hand quilting, sit down machine, or a longarm. Bravo to you!

  35. Helen Beall says:

    When I machine quilt, I just want to get it done. But when I hand quilt, I want to look at what I’ve done. I love the process and the look!

  36. bermudagirl says:

    Love it! Great post, yes hand quilting beats all on the meditative front. Especially like that second quilt you have there. Is that one all yours, it’s too modern to be a rescue I guess. Love it!

  37. shannonhicks says:

    Beautiful post, Tim. I believe at heart I’m a hand quilter that just happens to use an electric needle! 🙂 I totally understand what you mean about it being a meditative process. For me, there is something about the hum of the motor, the dance of the machine movement, that lulls me to another place where time ceases to exist and I fall into my creative zone. I’ve been a longarmer for 18 years; by now the machine is just an extension of me. In 2000 my mother and I both did a small wholecloth from the same pattern that was in an Australian magazine. She did hers by hand, I did mine by machine. We entered them in shows together so that people could see the beauty of both mediums–that they were more similar than different, yet each had their own unique characteristics. Isn’t it lovely that we can each find joy in this wonderful, creative process!?!


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