Friday, March 11, 2016

Does Machine Quilting Enhance Quilts that are otherwise Hand-Sewn?

Oh dear, I'm sorry to have neglected posting here for so long. Although many suitable topics and photos have passed through my mind and camera, there just hasn't seemed to be a nice chunk of time available for putting it all together. Today is the day to begin again!

quilt, Inspired by Alice, Marilyn Lidstom Larson, border detail
Inspired by Alice, by Marilyn Lidstrom Larson of Willow City, ND (detail of border)

For the past two months, it's been all about quilts and quilting for me, with beading taking a bit of a back seat for a while. My quilt and travel buddy, Lunnette, and I flew to Ontario, California for The Road to California, which is a ginormous quilt show with more than 1,000 quilts on exhibition and over 200 vendors. We gawked (and spent all of our allotted budget) for 3 whole days, barely noticing our fatigue and sore footies.

There are several intriguing subjects to cover, inspired by our experiences there. Today's post is about traditional applique and machine quilting.

quilt, Inspired by Alice, Marilyn Lidstom Larson
Inspired by Alice, by Marilyn Lidstrom Larson of Willow City, ND
photo credit (for this photo only): Road 2 CA

quilt, Inspired by Alice, Marilyn Lidstom Larson, detail of maching quilting
Inspired by Alice, by Marilyn Lidstrom Larson, detail showing back

quilt, Inspired by Alice, Marilyn Lidstom Larson, detail of applique
Inspired by Alice, by Marilyn Lidstrom Larson, detail of center

quilt, Inspired by Alice, Marilyn Lidstom Larson, detail of maching quilting
Inspired by Alice, by Marilyn Lidstrom Larson, detail of center quilting
Inspired by Alice, shown in the photos above, won the first prize of $1,000 in the Traditional, Wall, Applique category of the main (judged) exhibit! Take a moment to study the pictures, click on them to enlarge them, notice the way the applique and machine quilting compliment each other. Also think about what this might have looked like if the maker, Marilyn Lidstrom Larson, had hand-quilted her work the way Alice, her grandmother (and inspiration for the central portion of the quilt), would have done. I love this quilt, totally love it, and believe it deserved the award it received.

At the same time, it saddens me that in all the juried/judged shows I've seen (and entered) recently, there is no category specifically for hand sewn quilts... quilts which are hand-pieced, hand-appliqued, hand-embroidered, and/or hand-embellished, and finished with hand-quilting. Nope, hand-sewn quilts are judged right along with machine-sewn quilts. In my observation, machine-quilted pieces are the ones that win almost all the prizes, even in the traditional categories. Why is that? Is hand-quilting considered passe, a thing of our grandmothers' time? Is it because machine-quilting has more pizzazz in the viewers' and makers' eyes? Is it because the machine manufacturers are huge financial supporters of these shows and providers of much of the prize money? Is it because the machine manufacturers run the training programs for judges?

OK, let's look into this subject a bit more. Later, I'll tackle the subject of the influence of the machine manufacturers. For now let's consider this question:

Does machine-quilting enhance quilts that are otherwise hand-sewn?

Interestingly, at Road to California this year, there was a small exhibit of hand-sewn quilt tops, made long ago (most of them in the early 1900s) that were not quilted or layered with back and batting by the maker. These tops were given to modern machine quilters to finish, and the results were displayed. Studying them gave me a greater perspective on the above question.

I found myself looking at them through the imagined eyes of the original maker. Would she have been pleased with the finished quilt?  As you look at some of the quilts below (and in a few cases, detail shots), ask yourself, if you had hand-sewn the top, would you have liked the way it looks today? Does the machine quilting enhance the work of the original maker? I've numbered the quilts (in no particular order), so you can respond (regarding specific quilts) in the comments if you wish. As always, you can click on the photos to enlarge them.
vintage quilt top, modern machine quilted, exhibited at Road to California 2016
#1 - Vintage Top with Modern Machine Quilting

vintage quilt top, modern machine quilted, exhibited at Road to California 2016
#1 - Vintage Top with Modern Machine Quilting, detail

vintage quilt top, modern machine quilted, exhibited at Road to California 2016
#2 - Vintage Top with Modern Machine Quilting

vintage quilt top, modern machine quilted, exhibited at Road to California 2016
#3 - Vintage Top with Modern Machine Quilting

vintage quilt top, modern machine quilted, exhibited at Road to California 2016
#3 - Vintage Top with Modern Machine Quilting, detail

vintage quilt top, modern machine quilted, exhibited at Road to California 2016
#3 - Vintage Top with Modern Machine Quilting, detail

vintage quilt top, modern machine quilted, exhibited at Road to California 2016
#4 - Vintage Top with Modern Machine Quilting

vintage quilt top, modern machine quilted, exhibited at Road to California 2016
#5 - Vintage Top with Modern Machine Quilting

vintage quilt top, modern machine quilted, exhibited at Road to California 2016
#5 - Vintage Top with Modern Machine Quilting, detail
What do you think of these? Which tops are enhanced by the machine quilting? Are there any that don't look right to you? If so, why not?

Since there is quite a difference looking at the photos as opposed to seeing the actual quits, my responses to these questions might be different than yours. To my eyes, #1 offers a believable connection and balance between the quilting and the original applique or piecing. It felt like the original maker would have done something very similar, only by hand.

I didn't want the quilting to overpower the original as it does in #3 and #5. Both of these were so stiff from the dense quilting, that it would be like sleeping under a piece of cardboard. Both of them made me feel disjointed. The lovely charm and grace of the original work seemed lost. I'm not sure why, but the background color created by machine quilting with colored thread in #5 seems almost weird... maybe because it's such an unlikely choice for the period.

Number 4 has the look of a chenille bedspread, both pretty and more-or-less "of the period." It works for me, even though the quilting is dense. The same is true for #2.

More from Road to California coming soon...

17 comments:

  1. I liked #1 and #2 best. I think it was because those quilting patterns are classics that balance with the design. I particularly like #2. #5 I didn't like at all - the many different patterns were jangly to my eye and the color didn't do anything for me at all.

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    1. Thanks for answering, Peggy... It will be interesting to see what others have to say. Somebody commented on FB that the colors of the applique distracted from the quilting. I guess that person would like whole cloth quilting much better. But for me, I like the traditional applique work, and love hand quilting, even though it takes so much time and patience to pull it off

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  2. My favorites were #'s 2 & 4. I did not care for #1 at all, in my humble opinion I think the machine quilting makes it too busy, it is competing with the gentle beauty of the quilt.

    Great post.

    Have a lovely weekend ~ FlowerLady

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    1. Thanks for your thoughts on this, Lorraine! I have exactly the same as your #1 opinion, but about #3.

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  3. Hi Robin, sounds like you had a great trip to the quilt show. Interesting question you posed. I think the more traditional quilting pattern worked well on #1. #2 I don't like but I think it is more the color than the quilting. #3 I don't like because the quilting totally overpowers the applique. If there had been a little more un-quilted space or if there had been something like quilted flowers that mirrored the appliqued ones I would have liked it more. #4 was better but still more closely quilted than I would like. #5 was interesting. I was intrigued by the use of the colored thread to make the faint color wash but the blocky geometric background didn't really mesh with the more traditional flowers. I did like the white flowers that were added through the quilting. I think if the background had been rounded leaf shapes and different shades of green that it would have worked better for me. I have to say that I have a cupboard full of pieced tops that are partially quilted because the hand quilting is so time consuming for me so I can really see the draw of machine quilting.

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    1. Hi Dawn... Thanks, especially, for your thoughts about #5... because of what you said, it is growing on me a bit. It just takes a mind shift regarding period pieces.

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  4. I've been thinking this over the last couple of days. I'm not a quilter, I just never took to it. I don't like machine quilting much and it is very much the norm. We have a local quilt show here on Kauai once a year, and last year they had a special category for completely hand-quilted quilts - of which there was ONE. I miss the old quilts, the ones made from scraps of clothes and other linens, carefully pieced to make the most of their re-use, and then lovingly (and perhaps tediously) hand-quilted. Those quilts seem to have much more of the energy of the maker in them. Modern quilts, as art pieces, are beautiful, but lack heart to me.

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    1. I agree with you, Peggy... and I dislike machine embroidery even more than most machine quilting. On the other hand, I'm very glad that people who don't have the dexterity, patience,time, or whatever it takes to do hand-stitching have a way to express themselves with their machines.

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  5. I do not like machine quilting. You mentioned how quilts in shows are quilted to stiff cardboard. I do not think the people who created the quilt tops you showed would like this at all. They made quilts to keep their families warm. A stiff cardboard cover will not accomplish that.

    It's sad to see nothing but machine quilting (and sometimes it's the same pattern over and over)at the shows. Last show I went to there were only 3 hand quilted quilts. But it seems that's the fad now and everyone wants to go along with the crowd

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  6. great blog.i like your traditional quilting idea.thanks for sharing it.

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  7. Such an interesting topic, and great photo illustrations. My BF is a long arm quilter, and she is interested in finding a vintage top to long arm quilt. She herself has done a lot of hand piecing, and she machine quilts them, but it enhances the piecing, and is not dense like some of these.

    Also, you made me think. I do think there has been a category for hand quilted work in several of the shows I have attended, for sure in QuiltCon, and I think also in Paducah. There were lots of hand stitched Japanese quilts in Paducah, and usually also at PIQF, and they do win top awards because their work is so beautiful.

    But I agree with you. I love hand work and hand stitching of any kind. It seems to be more accepted and rewarded in the art quilt shows/exhibitions.

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  8. Hi Robin: I liked your post .
    I work all my patchwork hand ... I have no sewing or quilting machine .
    I like the work at hand and I think that many jobs patchwork end up losing their essence under the presser quilting machine ... all end up being the same, and equal to the " quilts " that are purchased in stores . "
    Imprefecciones prefer manual padding , but I understand that it is very costly and time consuming work.
    Afectuso receive a greeting from Spain .

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  9. Anonymous8:38 AM

    I'm probably in the minority here but I much prefer the wonderful machine quilting shown above. I think machine quilting at this high a level adds a whole new level of dimension and creativity to the design that gives depth to the original top, which it would never get with hand quilting. I also believe that the common criticism of making the quilt too stiff is untrue if the proper thread and batting are selected.

    Susan in Texas

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  10. Anonymous2:54 PM

    I like them all for wall hangings, but for a quilt the machine quilting is too busy.

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  11. Anonymous7:06 PM

    Hi Robin, I'm new to quilting. My 96 year old aunt has made over 300 hsnd msde quilts and she is my inspiration, but I hate to sew by hand, so I started watching UTube vedios on machine quilting, now I'm hooked.I'm working on my 3rd one now. I have a great machine that will make any stitch I want, but I love making my own circle patterns. I also think that quilt as you go in columns is the only way to go. I'm still learning and I look forward to learning more about mschine quilting.

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  12. This Embroidery Design is mind blowing and I think the owner should use machine for Embroidery Digitizing rather than making their worker sew the design by their own naked hands as it is not that safe. I want to appreciate you for sharing such interesting and amazing article :)

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  13. Embroidery looks amazing on any cloth and I appreciate it for sharing as this article is very interesting and helpful Keep updating about new things.

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Thanks you for joining the discussion on this post today!