The Quilt Scout

by Mary Fons

I Do Not Desire To Quilt

Column #9

For many years, I did not quilt my own quilts. I had excellent reasons:


1. The quilts would have been ruined.

2. My quilts were usually under deadline for Quilty magazine or the Quilty show and they had to be quilted well and quickly.


    Show off. I practiced a ton, and was able to free-motion quilt a number of quilts in my book, Make + Love Quilts: Scrap Quilts for the 21st Century (available at fine bookstores everywhere), but most of them were longarmed by people who were far, far better at turning a fabric sandwich into an actual quilt.

     But once the book was finished and I transitioned out of publishing, I began to quilt more of my quilts myself. I have a mid-arm machine, which helps a lot since the quilts I make are big. But I’ve quilted several bed-sized quilts on my trusty domestic machine with varying degrees of success.

     Lucky for me, I have other options. Come with me, won’t you, as we look at the three ways to get a quilt quilted.


By Hand

     There’s a myth out there that quilters are patient people. But we’re some of the most impatient people around. We want to make a quilt as fast as possible so that we can begin the next one. We look for efficiencies (e.g., strip-piecing, rotary cutters, etc.) and have six quilts in line behind the one we’re working on now.

     Hand quilters may be an exception. To hand quilt a quilt is to settle down and settle in; you’re gonna be awhile. Though people who have hand quilted a long time get speedy, there is no doubt that hand quilting a twin-size quilt will take at least twice as long as doing it on a machine. That’s patience. And their time pays off. A hand-quilted quilt has been worked over; it has a special softness to it, and, yes, a tad more soul. Every stitch is planted, thought about, considered.

     You do have to buy thimbles, though, and you have to thread needles. Who has time for that?


 Machine-quilting a quilt is actually really fun. Just stick to small things to start, at least.By Machine

     I mentioned quilting those bed-sized quilts on my domestic. I don’t ever have to do that again.

     Machine quilting a big quilt on a basic domestic (however great it is, and mine is great) is a full-body, lengthy process. You have to roll the thing up like a carpet on both sides to begin and clip it all together…if you have clips. I never have clips. Depending on how big the quilt is, you’ll have to sling the rolled sides up over your shoulder(s), affix your walking foot or your free-motion foot to your machine (this may take forever and you may lose the screw), begin, keep going, keep going, and quilt for a long time.

     You’ll need to remove basting pins as you go, and toss them into a horrible tangle of basting pins in a box on the floor. You shouldn’t sew over any basting pins, but you probably will.


My “Night Sky” quilt -- in my book, available at fine bookstores everywhere -- which was longarmed because this quilt is enormous.By Check (or Credit Card)

     The longarm quilting machine. It’s like a sewing bee where women in bonnets gather round a frame and get a quilt quilted in an afternoon. Except there are no bonnets, a single human does the quilting, and there is beautiful, beautiful electricity involved.

     I’ve tried to find stats on how much the longarm quilting industry is worth; so far, I can’t find any data. (Can someone get on that?) Judging by the price I’ve paid for a number of king-sized quilts and the number of longarmers who give me their cards when I’m out on the road, the industry seems healthy.

     Why wouldn’t it be? It’s magic! You hand over your quilt. You give some guidance. You write a check at some point. And voila! You’re ready to put on the binding (though some longarmers will do binding for you, for a small fee). I hate binding so much. I usually pay for it.

     There is some kvetching from the peanut gallery about how longarming is cheating, and how unless you quilt your own quilt, you didn’t really make a quilt. These people have never used a longarming service.

     I lived in the East Village in New York City for six months. In New York City, no one has room for a bed, much less a washer/dryer, so everyone takes their laundry to a laundry service. You drop off your laundry, get your claim check, and within six hours or so, you go back and pick it up. Your laundry is clean, folded, and wrapped in vacuum-sealed plastic…and you did nothing. Having your quilt quilted by a longarmer is just like that but possibly better, because you can buy new underpants, but you can’t buy another Mariner’s Compass.