On trying my hand at modern whole cloth improv hand quilting

One of the workshops I did during the recent South African National Quilt Festival was with the fabulous Diana Vandeyar. The title of the class is in the headline. The reason it’s such a long one is:

Slow stitch, organic quilting, improv quilting; it doesn’t matter what you call it, this is one of the most satisfying and relaxing quilting techniques.  No stress, just you, the needle, the thread and the beautiful texture…  Though this quilt is an easily managed project, it is not a race and you may not finish all the quilting in the class.  Students will also be shown how to finish the whole cloth with a hand-stitched binding to the front, a sample to practice this technique will be supplied. 

—- Diana Vandeyar (from the workshop description)

We were asked to prepare a whole cloth quilt sandwich of 100 x 112 cm at home so that we could immediately start stitching at the half-day workshop. When I saw the photograph of Diana’s class sample I had to sign up for it.

Photograph of Diana Vandeyar’s hand quilted modern whole cloth (from the Quilt Festival website).

I have taken her at her word and have not rushed to finish the quilt that I started during the workshop. Somehow it took on a life of its own and I did not quilt it in improv rows across the width but instead started in the middle in the more traditional way. The fabric has a pattern of fine gold dots and I found myself not quite ‘joining the dots’ but did follow the path that they made through the fabric.

During the class Diana showed as breathtaking and inspiring examples of the whole cloth quilts she has made. Her enthusiasm about stitching is contagious. It was a lovely class with happy chatting as we sttiched. She said that there is a magic moment when all the elements of the quilt-in-the-making come together. Well, I stitched and stitched after the class, and just as I despaired of reaching that moment, this happened :

These skeins of woolen thread fell out of a storage box and ‘asked’ to be included in the quilt.

From here it was an easy step to deciding that I would stitch the outline of the map of the Eastern and Western Cape provinces of South Africa using the bronze thread, and then I will stitch the route I travelled to get from my home to the Quilt Festival and back again. The quilt will be called Road Trip. There, I have written it, now I must finish stitching it. I intend to continue to stitch to the edges of the quilt in the muted tones of perle no. 8, as pictured above, before I over-stitch with the woolen thread.

I know I have at least one reader who wants to know more about hand stitching the binding to the front of the quilt, as mentioned in the quotation above. We were given beautifully prepared samples of sandwiched calico, with a blue binding machine stitched onto the sandwich. All that was left to do was to hand stitch it down with running stitch. Thank you Emmely for telling us that this is called big stitch binding in modern quilting circles. It’s very easy to do, especially when someone else has done the machine work for you.

Diana supplied us with such thoughtful kits. In addition to the binding sample, they included a kit kat (for sustenance and a bit of a break from the stitching), three different sized needles, a ball of perle thread and an extremely useful thread guide.

I have used the binding sample piece to practice a bit of improve quilting as well as a second binding method that Diana showed us. If one carefully squares off the quilt and then cuts back the binding by a quarter of an inch, it is possible to make a neat folded back edge (by turning a small seam to the inside of the quilt, from both the front and the back) and to close it off with running stitch and no binding. The bottom edge of the practice piece below serves as an example.

I have added another page about this workshop to my diversity workbook. Watch this space for the forthcoming Road Trip quilt.

20 thoughts on “On trying my hand at modern whole cloth improv hand quilting

  1. Oh, this is so interesting! How did you baste your sandwich? I love the serendipity of the two skeins of floss that dropped in, saying they needed to be in your quilt. Will be fun to see your progress as you go along!


  2. Am always struck by the interplay of memory and serendipity in your quilting Maz!

    Looking forward to your map quilt.

    Happy stitching 🧵 🪡


  3. Dear M, Another Fab Fabrications making my Friday! Hope you had a wonderful day yesterday inspiring budding stitchers, thought about you. Ooodles K

    Sent from my iPad


    Liked by 1 person

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