Wednesday, October 29, 2014

To Hand Quilt…or Not?!

On one of our show & Share days, a whole bin of  inherited antique tops was brought in for everyone’s viewing pleasure and opinions on what should be done with them.

Oh, we ALL have opinions!

And we also had a great time looking at them and studying the fabrics and wondering about the maker, and KNOWING the hours and hours and hours what went into the making of these humble tops that never became quilts.

I fell in love with this hexgon top…it looks like she started out with a plan for blues and reds in the center and then perhaps fabric ran out because the design just kind of disappears into scrappy everything.


Closer up!


And when fabric ran out..she went on with anything that will do the job!


More substitutions!


This one too!

And I love quilts where the stripes go every which way.  Fun!

But as the finishing goes…are you of the thought that something vintage like this MUST be hand quilted?  What are your thoughts?

There were thousands and thousands of hexagon quilts made during the same period that this one was.  It has fabrics from the 1930s through 1940s.  It was a scrap bag project with bits of fabric left from years of sewing family clothing and other household items.

It will never be a museum piece.  It will never hang in an international quilt show.

It is a humble reminder that families needed warm bedding, and the quilters desired to make something that was a necessity as beautiful as they could with what little they had.

But does it require hand quilting?

I don’t think so.  I think these fabrics are going to hold up better with a lovely sturdy machine quilted pattern that adds great texture as a whole, but also adds strength to help these fabrics survive several more decades.


Hands All Around!


Block close up.  1950s!

This is one of those lovely curved patterns where if seam allowances are not exactly right you are going to get bunching, puffing, and blocks that don’t lay square.  It’s a lovely vibrant top showing great fabrics from the 1950s and into the 1960s. 

But does it need hand quilting?  The blocks were hand pieced, but the blocks and the sashings are machine sewn.

No, I think a pretty machine quilting job will make this quilt into something that will last generations and secure all of those seams.

Let’s face it..who is going to handle all of our unquilted tops when it is our time to cross the rainbow bridge?  Will they be sold at yard sales? Put on ebay?  Tossed out because no one wants to deal with them?  My boys WILL know what to do with completed quilts, but tops that languish for generations – what eventually will happen to those?  I’d rather see this quilted by machine than left as a top.


Lovely UFO!

Loved the 1940s fabrics in this fun jewel star!  It’s just a piece….long and narrow.  What would you do with this?

Turn it into a runner?  Maybe pillows? 


Aren’t these fabrics great?  Look at those stripes!


Lovely traditional double wedding ring!


Close up!

Double Wedding Ring, like the multitudes of Dresden Plates, Hexagons, Sunbonnet Sues were so plentiful in the time that they were made.  What I love about them most is the fabrics that were cut, painstakingly one at a time using a template, a pencil, a pair of scissors in an attempt to make something beautiful out of a bag of simple scraps.

This one had a thin almost cheese cloth like muslin background fabric.  It’s a bit stained, a bit puckery.  There may be holes from years of long storage.  Does a quilt like this HAVE to be hand quilted?

I think not!  A lot of these quilt tops have very minimal seam allowance, many have been washed and seam allowances are unraveling and thready on the back side.

Let’s face it – if hand quilting is required, how many are going to just remain as tops because the thought of hand quilting them is severely daunting!? 

Machine quilting can sturdy up those seams.  It can ease in fullness ((up to a point!)) it can make this top a finished quilt that family members can cherish for generations, rather than an old top that lives in a rubbermaid tub in the garage, attic or basement.


Rose Dream Quilt!

This one could definitely benefit from some machine quilting!

It almost looks modern, doesn’t it?


String Quilt!


Close up!

This would be a no brainer machine quilting job for me!  Get it quilted, get it bound, snuggle up and use often!


Thin fabrics..see the light from the door behid?
This one has some better applique.  Definitely a 1930s…boy did they love their tulips and butterflies!  The yellow and background are very cheese-cloth like….it would be an easy one to hand quilt, but is it a necessity for this one?  It would be nice..but how much time do we really have to get all the quilts done that we want to do – if they all must be hand quilted?

I loved seeing these tops, and I would love seeing them as completed quilts however they are finished.

I love hand quilting.  I currently have two large hand quilting projects going – one at the house, one at the cabin.  I love curling up with my hand quilting hoop in my lap.  But I also believe that if the maker of these tops could see how we are machine quilting now, they’d say “Now why didn’t I think of that?”  “Oh, I wish I had a machine like that!” 

And most of all…

“I could have made SO MANY MORE QUILTS!”

Today Irene and I are on an agenda to get some cruise shopping done.  I need a pair of black dress pumps that don’t kill my feet.  It will be fun to get out today after a day of totally staying in and sewing and going nowhere yesterday.

There will be more sewing in between.

And there will be laundry.

And whatever else comes our way!

Have a great Wednesday, everyone!

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  1. Bonnie, I so agree with you on all the old top left unfinished and am so glad to see you address this issue. Get it done and enjoy it is my motto. Have a fun time off with Irene.
    May, Michigan

  2. Old quilter11:32 AM EDT

    Isn't it great that we now have the freedom to quilt by hand or machine and not have the "quilt police" saying "that's wrong".
    I personally enjoy hand quilting, and do not have space for a long arm. Do I rent time on a LA, you betcha! And do I sometimes pay a pro to LA a top, of course !
    Gotta rethink the 9 pieced tops in the tub under my bed. LOL

  3. Hand quilting vs. machine quilting and old quilt top. I guess it depends on the fragility of the fabric,the quality of the top, and the sentimentality of the piece. I was given an un-quilted, hand pieced, giant log cabin quilt made by my husband's grandmother when she was ten. The fabrics were probably from old clothes, and were fragile. I used a soft cotton floss to hand quilt it. I didn't want the fabric to rip. I found a reproduction print for the back. It needed to be hand quilted. Now it is a family heirloom.

  4. Anonymous11:59 AM EDT

    I am SO GLAD that you have addressed this topic, Bonnie. I have several vintage tops I have collected and it felt wrong to machine quilt them, not authentic to the time period. You make several good reasons that it is perfectly okay to machine quilt them and why and I agree. Thanks to you, there will be more finished quilts in my home.

  5. And don't forget,ever since the sewing machine was made available to homes ,many women have quilted quilts on their DSM, it was a time saver for a busy woman needing g to keep warm
    Quilts on the beds.

  6. What about the old-fashioned way of tying? It's quicker, gets the job done, and is an 'authentic' way of finishing an old quilt top.

  7. I used to hand quilt old tops for pay and I spent a lot of time repairing worn areas as I stitched. I thought then that hand quilting was the only way to go. Now that I've entered the machine quilting world, I've rethought my stance on old tops and can really see your point about quilting them quickly (and securely) so they can be used instead of stored (or worse, stashed). But I always like to have something around to hand quilt, so I'd make sure to save the sturdiest ones for that.

  8. Anonymous1:39 PM EDT

    I am now finishing some of my granny's tops that my mama brought to me. They were probably done from the 40's-60's. I am machine quilting them and I think they look fine. Finished is better than not finished!!!

  9. I'm not a purist and totally agree. Get it finished! My Midnight Flight waited since it turned into a flimsy. I got it on the table and quilted a great Feather pattern on it and I LOVE the texture. Just have to get the binding on it now.

  10. OH Bonnie,, while I so enjoy 'museum" quilts, it is those homemade wonders that steal my heart! YOU are so right when you say they are so humble, they will never make it into even a show --- THESE are the real quilting treasures of the USA!

    Thanks so much for showing us these beauties.
    Smiles, JulieinTN

  11. I think it depends on the quilt and what the owner wants. Either way will definitely enhance the top and I think it's a shame they are kept stashed away and not enjoyed.

  12. Hi Ms. Bonnie,

    I still hand piece/quilt, so if my quilt tops are hand pieced, I feel it should be hand quilted, and that is what I do. I still hand quilt most of machine pieced tops, too, only because I like time I spend hand quilting, and love the softness of hand quilted quilts.

    Thank you for sharing photos of the GFG quilt top, the story of running out of the fabric is too funny.

  13. I so agree, Bonnie. If any of these tops were exceptional in some way, then maybe hand quilting would be called for. But, while very lovely, these quilt tops are 'common' - and I mean that in the best possible way. They deserve to be finished, used, and loved. HOW they get finished is less important than that they DO get finished.

    Bottom line? Most of the piecers of that era were extremely practical people, and these were extremely practical quilt tops. If those women had had access to modern quilting machines, you can bet they'd have gladly taken advantage of them for everyday quilts like these.

    That darling UFO Jewel Star? So fun. I'd add just a little solid or muslin at the ends to square it up a bit, then finish as is. What are they calling those narrow accent quilts that go across the foot of the bed, that are so trendy these days? It would be perfect for one of those.

  14. By all means machine quilt them. Right now they do nothing but clutter up space. Quilt them and they will get used. The UFO would be a lovely bed runner.

  15. Thanks for "permission" to have my collection of GFG quilts machine quilted. I can't enjoy them when they're in the cedar chest. Tops that were given to me or collected for cheap along the way are what got me interested in this wonderful hobby in the first place! Why not have them nearby, and finished!

  16. I too have several older tops to quilt. I will definitely machine quilt them. I finished a Dresden from the 30's with machine quilting and it was perfect. My uncle's grandmother had made the blocks (by hand and not one of them laid flat) but by coaxing them to behave then sashing them and bordering with repro fabrics it is now proudly displayed on their bed. It won't win any awards either, but it too is a family heirloom. So ladies I too agree with Bonnie, done is better than sitting in a box stuck in some dark corner.

  17. While I agree that most of the tops you showed would do well with machine quilting, the one pattern I would not machine would be GFGs. I would take my cue from Tim and do big stitch quilting on those with perle cotton. He has info on his blog regarding the technique.

  18. Thanks for this timely post. I just inherited a top that was made by my husband's aunt. I have been wondering want to do with it.

  19. Having lived through the 30's, I can guarantee you that many of these tops would have been tied and used daily. This was the depression and money was tight.

  20. You said live in a rubbermaid tub in the garage, attic or basement. Since I have no attic or basement it means the garage and as I get older I want the $$$$$ car in there FIRST.

  21. Bonnie,
    I am visually impaired and sewing machines have always been a bane to me, scaring me with their speed and frustrating me with threading and little moving parts. I have been sewing for over 20 years and quilting for about 6 and everything I do is by hand. For me it's easier, more relaxing, more fun, and more of my own love and energy goes into the project. Yes, I often think about how much time I could save and how many more projects I could do if I did it by machine, especially the quilting part, which can be just grueling! Piecing is the fun part! But I think I do OK. Is 13 completely handmade quilts in 6 years good speed??? They're all lap size and bigger. I envy those who are adept at machine use and idolize long-arm users, but by hand is the only way for me! :)


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