I don’t have time to piece by machine! – Jinny Beyer
Have you ever seen a quilt block that looked different, perhaps a bit more complex than usual, or even simple, but with inset seams or curves? Did you wonder how the person made it, or how she had the patience to finish it? Most likely, you were looking at a hand-pieced quilt. Popular patterns for hand piecing include tumbling blocks, Lemoyne star, bow tie and Lone Star.
Cactus Baskets, maker unknown.
Inset seams, like in these blocks, are easy when pieced by hand.
International Quilt Study Center
Linda Franz has a wonderful page about the benefits of piecing by hand. I agree with every one. For me, the benefits of hand piecing include socializing while sewing, relieving stress in a quiet setting, using simple techniques to see a complex-looking design develop, and freeing myself from the sewing machine and ironing board with a truly portable project. With hand piecing, the only pieces of equipment you need are needles, thread, pins, scissors, a thimble and your fabric. There are many expert hand piecers out there, with just as many favorite supplies and stitching styles. Don’t be overwhelmed!
Jinny’s book Quiltmaking By Hand is my favorite resource for hand piecing and quilting techniques. Her website also has instructions for basic and advanced techniques, from joining four points to setting in pieces. Watch Jinny’s appearance on Simply Quilts (type Jinny Beyer into the search box, and watch “Quilting By Hand”, parts 1-3), as she guides Alex through the first steps in hand piecing a quilt. At the end, she shows this stunning quilt that she uses for her beginning hand piecing classes. She presents it as a “mystery quilt,” made in sections, to her students, because many of them say that they never would have signed up for the class if they had seen the difficult-looking finished quilt first!
In my experience, hand piecers tend to be a quieter lot than others, mainly because I do not believe enough attention is paid to hand piecing in books and magazines. A check on this hand piecing forum will show you how excited quilters are about hand piecing, and how willing experienced quiltmakers are to share their knowledge, patterns and enthusiasm with new stitchers.
There is a time and place for all forms of quilting, and I enjoy machine piecing and quilting sometimes, too. But the emphasis these days on quick quilts that can be machine pieced fast means that hand piecing is perceived to be at the opposite end of the spectrum–slow. Once you develop a hand stitching rhythm and feel comfortable with the techniques, you may agree with Jinny, who pieces all of her quilts while on the go. Like her, you may find you no longer have time to piece by machine!