The Way We Were and Why I Hand Quilt

Do you remember Barbara Streisand singing the song “The Way We Were?”  Those four little words are stuck in my head today as I sit in my house (not at work) listening to the radio with no Internet service or cable television.  I live in mid-Michigan, where we just had a record amount of snow and sub-zero temperatures.  People are being told to stay inside and not drive, and all schools, government offices, senior citizen centers and many businesses are closed.

I am lucky (at least, at this moment).  I have power, and while I can’t get on the Internet, I do have a laptop with power which allows me to at least write this post (which will be uploaded when everything is back in working order.)  Many other people don’t even have power.  My radio is on, and my clothes are tumbling around the dryer, almost ready to be hung up. 

I snuggled in my leather chair this morning enjoying the quiet and hand quilting on my latest creation.  I thought about technology and why it is that I love hand quilting so much.  So many people wonder why anyone still quilts by hand when we have fancy, huge sewing machines designed to do just that.  Why do we applique or piece by hand when most of us own a sewing machine?  Are we insane?
We live in a busy world.  It isn’t what I experienced when I was four years old, that’s for sure.  In 1960, we did have a television, albeit a black and white television.  I had to get off the couch to change the channel.  TV shows went off at midnight with the National Anthem playing (if you lived in the United States). Milk was delivered.  Microwaves had not yet been invented, so warming up a meal meant in a pan on the stove, which took more than a minute.

In 1960 our minds weren’t cluttered up with technology.  If we wanted to listen to a song and were lucky enough to have a stereo or hi-fi, we put on a record but had to turn the record over to play the other side.  We couldn’t plug our iPhone headphones into our ears and sit for days on end before we ran out of songs.  We drove our cars down the road with very few radio stations to listen to, that is, if our car had a radio. We couldn’t talk on our phone in the car.  We didn’t have Facebook or the Internet to communicate with other quilters from all around the world. We MAYBE had a few friends in our community who quilted who we could spend our time with. 
If you were a quilter back in 1960, a lot of pattern creation was done by the trial and error method.  Patterns were made out of cardboard templates (the back of cereal boxes) that were drawn by hand over and over to make them perfect.  Quilters used a yardstick.  They didn’t have plastic templates.  They didn’t have long arm quilting machines on frames.  If you needed something quilted, you did it by hand.  And it was relaxing, and it gave you time to think.

For me, the best part of hand quilting is having the time to think.  To ponder.  To go slow.  To unplug.  Lately, I have tried turning the television off more while I quilt just for the silence.  I enjoy watching what my hands can do all on their own.  I have remembered more things from the past by allowing myself this quiet time.  I have found myself being more creative in my thinking, which I can only think will help me improve as a quilter and artist. 

In being a hand quilter, I have restricted the quantity of quilts that I produce (as compared to what a long arm or regular sewing machine quilter can do). That means I don’t have as many photos to share on the Internet with my quilting friends from around the world.  That means in my quilt guild’s Show and Tell time, I rarely have something to show.  But I ask myself, 

What is the rush? Perhaps it is time we slowed down and got back to 
“The Way We Were.”

Note:  No cameras were harmed in the publishing of this article.

10 thoughts on “The Way We Were and Why I Hand Quilt

  1. This is so true Caron. While I marvel at people who can churn out 20 quilts a year, I prefer to make just 2 or 3. I spend a lot of time choosing the fabrics, I ponder over the final block placement, and I then hand quilt over a number of months. This all gives me great pleasure, and whenever I use the quilt I can remember other things which were going on in my life at that time. Although I may rush around the rest of the day, quilting is a time for peaceful reflection.


  2. I have a quilt in my frames but every year they are getting harder to quilt. This one has been in since the late summer. Hand quilting really bothers my shoulder and I can only sit there about an hour at a time. If it doesn't get out until spring I am not going to worry about it. I will work at it an hour a day and hope for the best. It is not one of my favorite things to do as I so enjoy making and sewing things. I just helped my mother n law put a quilt in. She is 84 and still hand pieces everything as she doesn't enjoy using a sewing machine. She really enjoys putting a quilt in. She lost her home in Aug due to a fire but the firemen saved a lot of her things. Four quilt tops survived and this is her first quilt in her brand new home. What a year she has had, She lost her husband in January, her home in Aug and moved into her new home in December. So you are right, take life slowly because you never know what can be coming around the corner. Have a great day and happy quilting.


  3. I enjoy both hand quilting and machine quilting, I think they both have a place in our lives. I don't tend to make too many quilts (machine or hand pieced) but I do like hand quilting and piecing for the things that Caron wrote about and for the fact that when there is no power available you can still work on your project something people who only use their machine wouldn't be able to do.


  4. Such a great post. I love hand quilting for the same reasons. It just helps us to slow down a bit. Who cares if it doesn't get done as quickly as one from a long arm. That's all good too, but not everything needs to be hurried 🙂

    Stay warm !


  5. In the 60's, I was begging for scraps from people who altered clothing, just to make something warm to sleep under in an un-heated house. It is a joy now to be able to use my own scraps in a creative way, to make things for my children and grandchildren and friends that I know they will appreciate. I always have a bit of hand-work to take with me to do on a bus or train or wait for things to begin, and a book in case I can't sit. I don't get lots of things completed in a year but it keeps me sane (I think)!


  6. What a fabulous post! I love the process of hand piecing and hand quilting. It seems so much more peaceful and offers me a tranquility that sitting at a sewing machine couldn't.


  7. love your outlook! My byline is, “Don't rush me!” And being a contemplative nature person I think that the quilting by hand will just suit me completely. Now to hurry about and learn the basics while I still have time, lol!


  8. Agree with Tim…….. it is good in the way it was. People are often in a hurry and are forget peacefulness of the humble handwork. The hands are working, but the mind and soul are resting. I often observed that I am more satisfied in life than people who are tend to live fast and do things as fast a possible. Fastness can overwhelm people, humans life wasn't meant to be as fast as possible, our mind and soul can't follow that….. yours sincerely, Annemieke from the Netherlands (ps wish you all in the USA luck with the amazingly cold weather, here it is to hot for winter times and spring begins months to early)


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