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Has Quilting Been Corrupted?

By Patricia Littlefield

The other day, I was forming triangles where you cut two squares, draw a diagonal line from corner to corner and stitch 1/4 inch either side of it, cutting the resulting triangles apart. My husband who was watching, innocently asked me, "Isn’t that cheating?"

I stopped, rotary cutter in hand, and turned to look at him. "Do you think I should be using scissors to cut out each triangle one by one?"

He quickly backed up, "I just wondered if using techniques like that somehow make your quilts less legitimate."

That little quilter/spouse exchange got me thinking: are our quilting foremothers looking down from above and frowning on us because we like to employ all the latest gadgets and techniques? Are our quilts contaminated if we use a machine to quilt them? Are we perhaps not real quilters after all?

Nowadays, we use rotary cutters, basting sprays, commercial templates made of plastic, and fancy rulers and cutting mats with precise grids already embossed on them. We can always find articles and books on how to put together a quilt in a day or so, using all the latest techniques like chain stitching. Not only that, we have computer programs to help us design and plan our quilts and figure out exactly what colors we want and how much fabric we’ll need.

And, of course there’s the sewing machine. Granted, sewing machines have been around for over a hundred years, but, according to Harriet Hargrave in Heirloom Machine Quilting, machine quilting has never been considered to be on a par with hand quilting. (I wonder if that means that using a sewing machine to assemble the quilt blocks is also déclassé.)

Is it somehow nobler to use scissors to cut out each square and triangle and to sew them together by hand and then hand baste and quilt the completed top and back, finishing the quilt by adding the final binding by hand?

Harriet Hargrave asserts that the idea that real quilts are assembled and quilted only by hand is very unfair to today’s quilters. We don’t have the time to sit by the fire and quilt; we have careers, children’s activities, and all the trappings of technology that have taken away our spare time. Machine quilting and the time savers that have been developed allow you can complete a quilt in a matter of hours that looks every bit as good as one quilted by hand. Ms. Hargrave maintains that when you machine quilt, "You are hand quilting with an electric needle."

Therefore, I decided that our quilts made using the tools and techniques that we now have available to us are indeed every bit as real and legitimate as those made totally by hand.

In fact, I will bet my stash that our quilting foremothers might just be a little envious of all the wonderful shortcuts and gadgets that we have available. Which makes me wonder: what new devices and procedures do you suppose our quilting daughters will come up with to expand and expedite the world of quilting in the 21st century?

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