In Praise of Big


I tried. Really I did. I did my research, took it slow, but within seconds realised that machine quilting a huge quilt was not going to work. Not on my machine.


But the quilt is big. Huge!


And I didn't want to hand quilt so large a quilt. It would literally take forever. So I decided to give a new technique that I'd read about a go.

Big. Stitch. Quilting. Also known as utility quilting.

The skills are similar to traditional hand quilting but instead of aiming for the most number of tiny stitches per inch (I never did perfect my stitches), the stitches can be 1/4"/6mm long. Or the size of a grain of rice as one big stitcher put it. One, apparently, is meant to aim for larger stitches on the top than on the bottom (unlike hand quilting where they should be a similar size top and bottom - not that I ever managed that either) but wouldn't you know it, mine tend to be the same size on both sides of the quilt.


But the wonderful thing about big stitch quilting is that it doesn't matter. A little variation in size just gives it that unique rustic handmade look. Well, that's what I tell myself anyway.

That's not the only upside. There are also other advantages to big stitch quilting.

One is the thread. It's thicker. And I can play with colours. I ordered #8 perle cotton in blue, variegated blue, and yellow (I already had cream) and I love the texture the thicker thread gives the quilt and how using different colours is a lot like painting on fabric. No more boring creams that blend into every fabric for me! (And the threads don't seem to fray or snap like quilting thread can do when the needle wears against the same spot all the time. I like that. Less wastage and less frustration with the thread snapping when you only had another 3 stitches to do!)


Two is the needle. It has to be bigger to take the thread and to make larger stitches. This means that the needle is easier to thread (even when half-dark), easier to handle and manipulate, and easier to find when it falls to the floor. (A definite advantage given that when Son#3 was only six or seven he had to have surgery to remove a needle that had broken off when he stood on it and had lodged itself against the bone in his foot causing redness, swelling and pain. Just before Christmas. I still contend that it was not one of my needles and must have become embedded in the carpet due to the fault of the previous home owners.)


Three is the speed. It's faster. Much faster. Even doing a whole lot of dense quilting that I hadn't planned when I began the quilt, it moves along quite quickly. I was surprised when I turned the quilt over and saw how much I had done in just a short amount of time.




Four is that it's fun. I enjoy traditional hand quilting but I've discovered that I enjoy this too. It's fun to be able to swap colours and not have to worry about the size of stitches. They also rip out a lot easier if I decide they're not even enough. (Even "rustic-handmade" has its standard of quality in my opinion.)


Big stitch quilting is similar to traditional fine hand quilting but without some of the strain of fine hand quilting. On the other hand, I have managed to make my fingers bleed from struggling to push the bigger needle through several layers of fabric (I pieced my backing as well as the top - a decision I am partly regretting now that I'm quilting by hand) so it also has its downsides.


And since I didn't get to machine quilt this big quilt, I did at least get to practice machine quilting on some sample blocks that I whipped up into cushions.





All was not wasted!

Quilt Details
Name: Coffee Under the Jacaranda
Fabrics: Mainly cotton. Many scraps including a piece from the pillowcase I made at school (aged 8-10) and leftovers from many of the quilts I have made. Includes cotton dressmaking offcuts from my mother. Other fabric purchased in small amounts (which is why the borders don't match.)
Techniques: Hand pieced (especially a lot of the four-patches) and machine pieced. Big stitch quilting with #8 perle cotton.
Inspiration: Begun as a way of using a whole lot of tiny scraps by making lots and lots of four-patch blocks. Incorporated a number of ideas from several traditional quilts that I liked but would never have the time to make them all.
Commenced: Prior to 2003. Top completed by 2005. Lined and made into a cover for feather-down quilt and utilized for several years before lining and outer cover removed. Sat in my sewing box until this month when I decided it was time to quilt this big baby. 
Batting/wadding: 50/50 cotton/poly (which apparently will no longer be available - a shame as I'm enjoying this first foray into quilting cotton batting even though it does tend to take longer for marks from the hoop to drop out - as evidenced in some photos). 

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