A TECHNIQUE DRIVEN Blog dedicated to mastery of surface design techniques. First we dye, overdye, paint, stitch, resist, tie, fold, silk screen, stamp, thermofax, batik, bejewel, stretch, shrink, sprinkle, Smooch, fuse, slice, dice, AND then we set it on fire using a variety of heat tools.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Stitch Size - from heirloom hand quilting to tacks and darns

When I started thinking about what I might write about hand stitching for this blog, I read through some of the posts on  my own blog where I've considered this subject.  About 5 years ago I was looking at how much  the size of my stitching had altered over the years.

My mother taught me to hand quilt  in the few months  I was unemployed after graduating and once I'd practiced on a bag ( getting 12- 13 stitches per inch) I was hooked, loving how the  stitching altered the surface and the soothing rhythm of process. The first art quilts I made were based on stained glass windows, 2 wall hangings made of scrap strips cut with scissors from jumble sale fabrics.  I  had a hand operated Singer machine  with a single stitch  suitable only for dressmaking and piecing and  I took it with me when I moved around the country in various jobs  from 1983 to 1990 -  quilting had by necessity to be by hand
 'Parsons Prism' 1982
'Amish Square' 48 x 48 " 1986

1986 was a productive  year for quilting while I was based in Salisbury doing botanical survey work on Salisbury Plain - Sarum Quilters were so supportive. More confident now in my stitching, in an Amish style quilt   I used black thread which would show up more  in the tulip patterns I designed myself.  However black on black was nightmare  and I reverted to cream for 'Counterpoise'!

 'Counterpoise' 60" x 60" 1986
 In 1987 I went  on a  batik course at Westhope College with Anne Dyer with Medieval Tiles in my mind from the British Museum. My mother had died recently and it seemed important to keep going  with the textile  interests we'd shared. Forming the centre of a double sized  bed quilt, it took me 7 years  of weekends and bank holidays to complete the hand quilting, each 'tile' taking 2 hours.

 'Medieval Tile Quilt' Double Bed  1987-1994  
Then in the mid-1990's I acquired a Bernina sewing machine with 'windfall shares' from a building society. Now I could achieve small stitches with machine quilting, I could be more prolific and concentrate on using larger hand stitches for decorative  not functional purposes. I often use a combination of both machine and hand stitching, whatever seems  appropriate for the cloth I'm working with. 

'Rules the Waves' 2012

'Red Remnants' 2014

My average stitch size now is probably 3-4  stitches per inch, often  larger! On some of my seascape pieces such as 'Rules the Waves'  I use  glazed quilting threads in huge overlapping tacks to give the impression of  sea spray and on my most recent pieces I've been using crochet cotton to 'darn' sections of old quilts.   Having served my apprenticeship over 12 years making thousands of tiny heirloom quilting stitches I think I've earned the right to break out!  

In my  next few posts  I'll share some of my projects large and small which illustrate the  different approaches and threads I use.

Mags Ramsay


  1. Your big, expressive stitches became your hand-writing. this is more than "breaking out", it is finding your own voice - exquisitely. I can only applaud for that.

  2. ooh, nice. But I do like the big stitch!

  3. Even when my hand quilting was at its best I don't think I could have ever achieved the consistency of stitches. Beautiful work.

    I am also in awe of the machine quilting. It to is an art!

    Looking forward to the month...


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