Monday, August 25, 2014

hand sewing

I'm finally set back to playing on a quilt I started months ago. Moving from boat to land took more emotional energy than I thought it would. Then I traveled around for awhile (FL, LA, OR, DE, VA), packing light without any sewing along. Finally cleared the plate enough to relax this week and bring out this quilt.

This one is crib size, because I am using up some leftover fabric, so it's a bit bigger than the tiny quilts of last year. Quilting is taking more time, because I want to make this sturdier than the wall pieces in case it needs to be laundered many times. There are four types of stitching in my tiny quilts:

1. The appliqué stitching creates the design of shape on background. I do this by hand because I enjoy it and like the finished look. The shape floats on the background fabric with tiny hand stitches done in matching colored thread. Machine done appliqué is done with a close zig-zag stitch around the shape edge. This makes a textured edge to the shape like an outline on a cartoon. I've used machine appliqué in the past to increase speed and add a design element by choosing a contrasting thread color for the zig-zag outline. Machine appliqué has it's merits, for sure. I may go back to it some day. Machine appliqué also gives the cut shapes the possibility for tighter curves, since there is no seam allowance. A complicated shape just has to lie flat on the fabric. One other consideration for machine appliqué is that the zig-zag stitch tends to pucker the edge of the fabric shape. A layer of double-sided fusible bonding material is needed to glue the edge tight to the backing fabric before sewing. This adds cost, time, and plastic to the appliqué process. 

2. The piecing stitching (if used) joins fabric colors together to make larger background or foreground pieces. I do this by machine because I like the speed and straight lines the machine produces. The seams also come out flatter than hand sewing. Once the seams are pressed the front side of the fabric looks integrated with tiny, even joins between the colors. The corners where four straight-sided colored pieces come together look perfectly aligned (careful cutting, pinning and pressing before sewing help here).

3. The quilting stitching anchors the three layers (front, batting, backing) together. I do this by hand. These stitches are both functional and decorative. Machine quilting stitches look very different than hand stitches. I like the look of hand quilting stitches, but hand quilting is a huge time sink. I do like holding the fabric, letting my mind wander and watching my hands manipulate the needle through the layers of fabric. Motions that my fingers have been doing most of my life, providing a constant source of pleasure running through my days.

4. The hemming stitching binds the finished edge. I do a combination of machine and hand sewing for the binding. I sew the first side of the binding on by machine, to get the nice straight, hard line. Then I pin the free edge under and sew this around the edge of the quilt by hand. I think it's my favorite kind of hand sewing. It's the last step of making the quilt and the clean, finished edge follows my hands around as I go along, making everything tidy and complete. 

The quilting stitch is my focus this week. The needle moves in and out. My needles have gotten dull over the years. I need a new pack of #10 sharps. The small hoop I bought last year (since I stupidly gave away my old good one) is cheap plastic and slips. The Gutermann quilting thread is a dream, though, smooth and strong. The path I chose for the stitching line winds around the circles and partially through the straight block edges. It's important to keep the line unbroken to keep from having to knot and re-thread often. I forgot to trim the insides of the appliqué shapes so the fabric layers are too thick to stitch through in places. It's an intimate process, the quilting stitch. One stitch becomes a whole. The fabric layers are bonding through my fingers.