Virtue Signalling Via Hand Stitch

Tempting as it might be to head off grid and into the remaining forest or out into the desert, most of us do need to remain somewhere in plain view, connected to the rest of the world by mainstream media and the mass of other sources that present us with information. Some of this framework is vital, and other stuff we filter by our own preferences. I turn the tv off after I’m out of bed and dressed, turning it on again early evening for the day’s news. Even if there’s a stunning Breaking News thing going on, most of the time it can wait until further detail has been gathered up and presented with some kind of analysis.

People have different ways of coping with news overload and big issues of the day. The importance of many of them depend on where you are, but for all of us around the world there is a massive plastic problem, some serious environmental issues need addressing or mitigating and then there are family stresses, downsizing, upsizing, gun violence, bees, gender bewilderment …. Many facets of modern life present us with pain or discomfort that needs alleviating, and for many people today the Slow Stitch Movement has much to recommend it as a calming therapy. I’ve posted about this before – http://www.alisonschwabe.com/weblog/?p=741

A recent comment by a hand stitcher about a pic of what she’s currently making was about more than just calming through hand stitching – it was also a perfect example of virtue signalling via stitch. The stitchery was a bit minimalist, and by hand. The stitcher said she carefully thinks about every stitch, and was looking for any hints or guidance, for which I read ‘approval’. Hand stitching is very relaxing. I do a fair bit, as quilting mostly; and while I do think about what I am doing in general terms, I don’t focus on every single stitch until I get to a corner where something has to be fitted in! I’d be no good at all with the disciplines of sashiko as these images show, compared with the following examples of my own hand stitched creations 🙂

Heritage 2 detail
Desert Tracks 5 detail

Somehow in the quilted textile world there are lots of subtle, unwritten rules for people to follow and become a bit obsessed with. I’ve had quilters tell me they they only use scissors to cut their fabrics, as if this is somehow better (implying more correct) than the new fangled rotary cutter technology which for 30+ years has been a universally accepted speedy and labour saving cutting device in the p&q world. Quite often this person will add virtue by saying that they always hand stitch. Still more virtue is gained if they declare they use only cotton 🙂

For the record, I have always pieced patchwork by machine. My thread of of choice for the past 20+ years has been Gutermann’s Skala, a polyester multi-thread of a kind often labelled ‘bobbin thread’. Despite being very fine, it’s as strong as or stronger than any cotton machine thread. If I want to unpick something, all I have to do is grab the end of the top thread and out it comes. That really suits how I work, piecing into and taking out segments from lots of groups of fabric strips. I have cones of white, cream, light, medium and dark grey, and black, plus stand-by cones of grey and black, just in case. They’re 10,000m cones, so running out is unlikely, but I do live in Uruguay.

Also this week, a member of an improvisational quilters facebook page wrote extensively on how she sews her improv patchwork all by hand. Whoop de Doo! Since improv piecing involves cutting and rearranging segments and groups of segments, but hand stitching needs to be anchored with a knot or backstitching to stop a broken/cut thread unravelling, I routinely advise people that don’t recommend it for hand stitchers.

Piecing by improvisational techniques is very calming, I find. It’s my go-to-favourite surface design technique. It’s not difficult, but it’s also not super fast. I’ve never been interested in those ‘quilt in a day’ super fast project books and patterns for time-deprived moderns. As a senior, I’m never in that much of a hurry, though this is not related to the fact that I do best under pressure, and am a bit of a last minute wonder when faced with a looming deadline. It goes without saying I am a skilled procrastinator :-)

Afterglow,1999. The relevant pencil diagrams and typically brief notes from my sketch book.

People often give the impression that they believe ‘improv’ is a speedy technique, requiring little skill that permits makers to rush ahead without any preconceived plan: grab a couple of fabrics, sew them together, throw that onto the design wall, and see what happens. While there is always opportunity for an exciting serendipitous moment, I believe successful improvisational quilt actually needs some, albeit minimal, planning.

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