Experimenting with Fabric Art: “Give a Hand” Art Quilt

In the last year I’ve sewn practical items for everyday life, and greatly enjoyed seeing them put to use as well as making them. However, for a long time I’ve been eager to find time for fabric art per se. I had an image in my mind: my hand, repeated in a grid, in some of my favorite colors. This week I finally found the time to actually make it:

ANY Texture Finished Give a Hand art quilt, upholstery fabric wall hanging

There is something very primal about a hand print. It was one of the first images our ancestors created on cave walls, when humans first started making art. When young children get paint for the first time, they likewise print their hands immediately. In many cultures, a print of the hand, or a “Hamse,” protects against evil. Hands are crucial for everything we do. My work is all HANDmade, and that is what makes it unique. We all have hands, and yet each person’s hands are very much their own. Hands make us the individuals that we are, yet, in their similarity, unite us into the wider web of humanity.

I decided to make an art quilt, yet break all the rules of quilting. Instead of the fine cotton fabrics usually used for quilting, I chose to incorporate the upholstery fabrics I fell in love with over the last few months.

For a long time I collected suitable pieces in my favorite colors and textures, until I had enough. Early this week I ironed double-sided interfacing to the back of the pieces, and meticulously outlined my left hand on nine different fabrics. I chose to use my actual hand and not a mold. This way each drawing turned out slightly different, yet they are all of the same thing. I cut them each out, getting a mirror-image that looks like, but is not, my right hand. I ironed them to their background, and then chose embroidery thread to go with each:

Pieces ready for applique

Next, I appliqued each and every one by hand. There is something very soothing about the repetitive motions of hand stitching. It is a wonderful stress-reliever for me, and this week, Election Week, turned out to be the perfect time to do this kind of work:

Appliqueing pieces by hand

When I finished appliqueing all the pieces, I played around with their arrangement:

Deciding on piece orger

I then settled on a pattern I liked, and machine-sewed all the pieces together, using a zigzag stitch:

Sewing the pieces together

When the entire top was finished, I “sandwiched” the piece together: top, batting and back, and set about to quilt them. Here I encountered an unexpected difficulty: the bulk of two layers of upholstery fabrics, combined with the batting and occasional seam, could not fit under my machine foot! I hadn’t planned on hand-quilting this piece, but this is exactly what I had to do.

I hand quilted a few quilts before, but this one felt a lot different. Since each piece of fabric had a different texture, stitching through each felt very distinct. The more velvety segments were easier to sew through. Others were really resistant, and required the use of much force. It didn’t take long before I had to frantically search for my various thimbles!

Hand quilting my Give a Hand art quilt

At one point my needle broke, something that never happened to me before! I had broken many a machine needles, but never a “real” one:

Hand appliqueing my quilt

I chose to quilt this work with a color-changing thread that I thought might tie all the different hues together. Originally, I planned for an elaborate quilting pattern. After the first few stitches, however, I realized that neither the color of the thread nor the pattern mattered much: unlike with quilting cottons, the upholstery fabrics seemed to have “swallowed” the thread. It mostly disappeared within the textures, drowning into them. So I changed my plans, and quilted for practical reasons only: to attach all three layers together.

Hand quilting my Give a Hand art quilt detail

The stitching itself also had to be adjusted. Due to the heaviness of the “sandwich” I had to go for much larger, far-between stitches than I would have attempted on a traditional quilt.

The result, however, turned out to be very close to what I originally had in mind.

ANY Texture Give a Hand art quilt, upholstery fabric wall hanging

The heavy fabrics give the work a significant body, and the different, delicious textures give it lusciousness that traditional quilts lack.

Finished quilt detail

This is my “Give a Hand” art quilt. I like to think of this work as a gesture of peace: a welcoming wave of “hello” many times over. An offer of help to anyone who needs it. We desperately need such gestures at this time.

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