Monday, August 9, 2021

Contemplating Texture and the Quilted Stitch. A Few Things to Think About.

Part of the fun of making a quilt is the actual act of quilting it. It determines so much of what the quilt will be, what it will say, how it will look, and how it will feel, (to the touch and to the heart). Because of that there are things you may wish to contemplate before quilting.

For instance, I wanted the quilts in my previous post to have a clean, modern look, with visible quilting, and I didn't want much added texture. So, I choose to machine quilt, (as opposed to hand quilt) them in a Baptist fan design, which is one of my favorite quilting motifs. In those previous quilts, the quilted lines almost seem to float on top of the surface. That's in part due to machine stitches don't create the same tug and pull of the fabric that hand quilted stitches do, so the texture is generally cut down somewhat in that regard. Side note: Solid fabrics will showcase quilted lines more than prints will, as the quilted lines can get visually lost amongst the printed design.

Other considerations are the weight of the fabrics used. I've found that the heavier the fabric, the less texture is created from the quilting. This is especially true if you choose not to wash the quilt afterwards. Washing and drying a quilt will always increase the texture due to shrinkage. Note: For those quilts shown in that previous post, I used mid weight, (quilting weight) shot cottons, and did not wash or dry them afterwards. This helped keep that crisp clean look by avoiding too much quilting texture.

Now, for this quilt, (which I simply call "Up") I wanted to go in the opposite direction and give it lots of texture. Ingrained, organic texture. And that called for hand quilting, along with some other considerations, such as the following...

1) As mentioned above, the weight of the fabric plays into how much or how little texture your finished quilt may have. Because I wanted lots of texture for this quilt, I chose to use light weight shot cottons. The lighter weight fabrics have the ability to gather a bit more closely, and pucker a bit more easily, when the thread is pulled through it, thus creating more texture (These are all Kaffe Fassett shot cottons that I've had in my stash for years. They are very light weight with a lovely drape.)

2) Choosing to set my rows close together gave me more texture than if I had set them farther apart. This is simply because with hand quilting, the quilted stitch provides the texture, so the more stitches, the more texture. (Now every rule has its exception, and sometimes I find that if I am machine quilting close set rows, I get a flatter, more stiff, less textured quilt. This seems to happen when the fabric itself is more densely woven, then if I were to use a light weight fabric.)

3) I like my stitches to be visible, so I don't make them too small, but because I wanted texture, I also didn't make them too big, as again, with hand quilting, the more stitches the more texture.

4) Afterwards, I gave it a light wash, and a few minutes in the dryer, then allowed it to air dry. Had I given it a harder wash, and more time in the dryer, the texture would have been more than I wanted... I wish there were some magic formula I could give to you on this, but practice is the only way I know of getting an intuition of what's too much and what's too little. In regards to washing and drying, when in doubt go for less texture as more can likely be added with another wash and longer dry, but once it's there, it's there.

I suppose needle and thread size also have a say in the texture created when hand quilting, but in all truth, I have been doing it the same way for so long, I don't know. All I know is I like my results, so no need to try and alter them. When hand quilting I use 12 weight cotton thread and no. 9 John James "straw" needles.

Look at that yummy texture! 

Also, look at those little short lengths of turquoise blue stitching that I've place here and their in between the long rows. Hand quilting offers the perfect opportunity to add in little extras. Sometimes it may be cross shaped stitches, (x or + ), other times it may be a little mended area or extra stitches added in like I've done here on "Up". (Hmmm... maybe these random little blue stitches are floating upwards?) Again, something to think about when contemplating your stitching. 

And speaking of contemplating your stitching... how does one decide how to quilt one's quilt? I always say it's best to ask your quilt what it wants. You will find that they are rarely shy and if you listen closely they will tell you exactly what they want to be. (And woe to you who is fool hardy enough to ignore the request. Quilts can be ornery little buggers if they don't get their way.)

So, there you have it. Just a few things on stitch and texture to contemplate before quilting your next quilt. And really, I do mean a few... we didn't even talk about free motion quilting, (I know the humble stipple stitch is often dismissed, but you can get some crazy good texture from combining stipple stitching with machine washing and drying.) How closely and how far apart you quilt those stipples will also play into the texture, as will the weight of the fabric... never underestimate the effect on texture caused by the weight of your fabric, and how open or closed the weave is. 

To summarize, as always, experimentation and practice are key in getting a better understanding of how quilting effects texture, and how the degree of texture is affected by things such as: the the fabric content; weight of the fabric; the choice between hand quilting, machine quilting, and free motion machine quilting; the quilted motif; how closely or far apart the quilted stitches are placed; and whether you wash and dry your quilts, and to what degree if you do. Go play with it and have fun!

For more details on "Up" please see here.