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Which type of quilting is best?

by Kathy

Which is best, machine or hand quilting?


The answer completely depends on YOU, as I don't believe that one is generally better than the other. However, there may be times where one is more appropriate than the other.

If you like to do handwork (and I do!) there is nothing like the feeling of working with fabrics and fibers with your hands. There's a certain satisfaction to be had creating something with the simplest of tools in our computer and gadget driven society.

But we live in this society and one of the things that seems most scarce these days is the time to create. Those same tools and gadgets that can keep us from our creative passions can also make them more accessible.

What's a quilter to do?

First, try both.

As you are learning to quilt, make the opportunity to try both types of quilting. You may just surprise yourself at which you prefer, and as I tell my 14-year old daughter, you'll never know unless you try!

Next, look at the purpose of the quilt. If it's to be heavily used...I'm going to machine quilt it.

I perceive that the machine quilting stitches will last longer because each line of stitching contains two threads. It will have 'enough' quilting to hold all the layers together through use and through casual machine washing. I say casual, because the quilts I make that are intended for regular, heavy use (kids beds, couch) get thrown into the washer without any special care. They may accidentally be thrown into the dryer and fully dried, too. I expect these quilts to be used up...they'll need to be replaced (good opportunity to make another!).

If the quilt will hang (light use) and be more 'heirloom' in me, that quilt is a good candidate for hand quilting, if I so choose. The effort and time I put into it will be appreciated and cherished. Then it is more a matter of long do I want to spend quilting it.

About the time it takes to quilt...

...just because a quilt is machine quilted, doesn't mean it's quick to do.

If you are machine quilting, you might choose to do tiny stippling...because you can.

In real life, the only person that I've seen do tiny stippling by hand is Anita Shackelford...and it was AMAZING!!! Literally took my breath away to see it. The hand quilting was about 1/8" apart. Most probably wouldn't attempt this by hand. (Anita has now added long arm quilting to her skill set...I'm assuming because there are just so many quilts she wants to make...not a judgement on hand quilting vs machine...)

Conversely, just because a quilt is hand quilted, doesn't mean it took forever to do. Many of the antique quilts we see today were grid quilted. A simple execution of quilting that looks wonderful and competently does the job of holding the layers together.

If you're talking durability...

...then I believe it depends on how much stitching was put into the quilt.

If there is 'enough' quilting to hold the layers together, it is my humble opinion that neither is better than the other.

What is 'enough'?

In design, it's subjective. We've seen quilts that are quilted 'to within an inch of their life'...heck, I've even quilted a few of those myself (sly grin!). None of the individual stitches in those types of quilts is terribly stressed by the weight of the finished quilt.

Now imagine a quilt made completely from 9 inch squares with a cotton batting. A machine quilter might choose to just ditch quilt the whole thing. A hand quilter, wanting to avoid all the seam allowances, might choose to quilt 1/4" away from all the seams. Both are very traditional in their approach.

The hand quilter has created more stitches to hold the quilt together. There's a good chance her quilt will survive longer. But (again in my humble opinion) neither had added 'enough' to hold the layers together through use and washing. Both need to add more quilting through the open space of the blocks.

So, which is best?

Whichever one you enjoy more!

I hope this has adequately answered your question.

Readers, please jump in with your thoughts on this very interesting question. Just use the comments link below to join the conversation.


Julie Baird

Comments for Which type of quilting is best?

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Hand quilting over machine
by: elaine

Do you realize hand sewn and hand quilted quilts will be valuable in years to come while machine made ones basically are just like what you buy at the store?

From the Editor: That's an excellent point, Elaine. I do see fewer and fewer hand quilted quilts these days. You're right...that will make them much more valuable in the future! Thank you!

From the Editor...again! :) Elaine, I've been touring around the Internet and found this blog post by Sue Garman (totally love her stuff!). It has a bunch of pictures she took at Quilt Festival. They are all hand made--pieced or appliqued and quilted--a good read, fabulous eye candy, enjoy!

This is the link...


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