“Are you going to hand-quilt that?”

I brought my twelve completed blocks for the Fat Quarter Shop Designer Mystery Block of the Month to my grandmother’s house last weekend. She looked them over, scrutinizing my seams, checking the alignment of my corners.

“I’m not trying to judge your piecing,” my grandmother said. “But these are very good. See this?” She points to a spot where four corners meet, perfectly. “This is very good work.”

Hearing this from my grandmother is very meaningful for me. I grew up watching my grandmother sew and quilt. Like many women her age, she learned to sew as a child, and made clothing and toys for her family. I remember her sewing an army of stuffed teddy bears for a charity sale. She picked up quilting in the early 1980s, when she saw a raffle quilt made by her local guild, and has been quilting ever since. Recent health problems have diminished her ability to hand-applique (one of her specialties) but she is still piecing and hand-quilting.

“So,” she says to me. “Are you going to hand-quilt that?”

hand appliqued and hand quilted

My grandmother always asks if I’m going to hand-quilt the things I make. For her, hand-quilting is the only way to quilt. And she’s good at it. She takes teeny-tiny, evenly-spaced stitches and makes intricate patterns in the negative space of her quilts. What she does is beautiful, and it takes hours. Days. Weeks. (For someone like me–years.)


It’s hard for me to tell her that I’ll probably be loading this one on my mom’s longarm and freehanding it over a weekend. But that’s probably what I’ll do with this quilt, and with several others that I have in progress. Because otherwise, they’ll never be finished.

seriously, look at those teeny-tiny, perfectly-spaced stitches.

I sometimes feel like modern quilters are crazy for finishes, but not so crazy for the process. There are link parties for finishes, challenges for finishes, contests that require quilters to complete a quilt within tight time constraints to win prizes and recognition. I won’t deny that there’s something satisfying about crossing the proverbial finish line on a project. Finishes are sexy! Everyone loves a finished quilt! But there isn’t a lot of fuss about taking your time.I’m not a finisher by nature. I always have multiple projects going at once, and I flit between them (and sometimes abandon them) at will. I think that’s why bees work so well for me–they allow me to indulge my whims and do a bunch of different things all at once.

Applique and traditional piecework, plus hand quilting.

I have a lot of respect for the beautiful things that machine quilters are doing these days. We’ve come a long way from ugly-ass stippling, which is probably what my grandmother is thinking of when she thinks of “machine quilting.” I love the look of hand-quilting, and I enjoy handwork. I want to hand-quilt something as an heirloom to be passed down to my daughter someday–right next to the quilts that my grandmother has made for my mother and for me. The issue, for me, is choosing the right project. It has to be the perfect project. It has to be something that I am willing to invest years of work in. Because I’m not a finisher. It will take me years.


But I look at my grandmother’s quilts, and I realize that when I do–it will be so worth it.


(All photos in this post are quilts made by my grandmother, Lenora Festa, photographed at her house in June 2013.)


Posted on by nanette
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7 comments on ““Are you going to hand-quilt that?”

  1. I think there’s more emphasis in modern quilting on making quilts that will get USED. Some of the hand-quilted quilts that have been passed down in my family are too precious for me to feel comfortable using them. And hanging them on the wall is not really my style either. Anyway, that’s my excuse for finishing them up the easy way. :)

  2. I completely understand the feeling towards hand quilting. I have hand quilted one lap quilt and am working on a queen sized one. It is so time consuming and sometimes I regret doing it, but then you see how beautiful the stitches look and you think it will all be worth it in the end.

    If you decide to hand quilt something I am sure it will be lovely, it seems you have a wonderful teacher.

  3. Just for the record , I am a hand quilter, but because of the time involved, I pick and choose which quilts are deserving of hand quilting. I recently finished hand quilting a Dear Jane which took a great amount of time. The end result is outstanding! I usually never hand quilt those that will be given away because I give them to be used , so machine quilting is the best option for those. Unlike you , I have to pay to have my quilts professionally custom quilted so those I reserve for my favorites, or those I wish to enter into some show. I do also enter my hand quilted ones in shows but since love my sewing machine they are fewer and fewer these days! Once you get the hang of hand quilting you will find it is very relaxing and the most wonderful thing you can do. You do have a great Teacher there, be sure to gleen everything you can from her ,as from what I see she is a master!

  4. Your grandmother does beautiful work! What a wonderful Idea to showcase her. I came to the party late but got the best treats. I. Only hope that one day my granddaughter does the same for me! She is a pro spend time learning to hand quilt from her and it will not take you years. Better yet work on one together for your family that would be priceless. It is amazing how much you can get done in one session a week or month, and the memories you will make for yourself and her!

  5. I currently both hand piece and hand quilt, and I agree with you that there’s a lot of emphasis in the online world at getting things done and getting things done fast. A throw sized quilt can easily take six months to make start to finish (pieced, quilted, bound). There’s something about the process that’s so rewarding, and I like having a quiet activity to enjoy in my downtime.

    I’m getting a better feel for what parts of the process I enjoy the most and may start to machine some others in the future (binding. I could do the front part of binding on a machine for sure) but I would never give up hand piecing.

  6. I hand piece, appliqué and hand quilt. I’ve settled on this as what I love best. I enjoy the process. I’ve considered myself a quilter for years. When I first started out, I quilted by machine. I didn’t enjoy it. To me that’s what quilting is all about. Enjoying myself. And I do use my machines mind you but don’t enjoy it as much. I enjoyed looking at your grandmothers quilts. Thank you for sharing them.

  7. What treasures your grandmother has made! I don’t do handwork. Like you, it would take me years, but I so very much appreciate the work of those who do the hand applique and hand quilting. Thank you for sharing grandmother with us today.

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