In the history of quilting and embroidery, there has probably been no bigger debate than that between those who chose to embroider or quilt by hand, and those who use machines to embroider or quilt. When the disciplines of embroidery and quilting began, there really wasn’t a choice, in order to create an embroidered garment or a quilt to warm the bed on a cold winter’s night, the piece in question had to be created by hand.
Those who continue this tradition maintain that something made by hand is more special, more personal, and should therefore be more treasured. The process of hand embroidering or piecing and quilting a quilt by hand will most likely be a longer process than doing the same things with a machine, which proponents of the slow stitching movement say is to be desired. Quilting or embroidering by hand also brings the satisfaction of creating something with your hands, handling fabrics and threads, and the ability to pay close attention to every facet of the process.
As time moved on and technology developed, new machines were invented to do some of the tasks that were formerly done by hand. Huge, often two story high Schiffli machines created laces and embroidery. In later decades, the Schiffli machines were joined by multi-head and single head embroidery machines, giving the option of machine embroidery to anyone who could afford to purchase a machine.
In the quilting world, sewing machines offered the ability to piece quilts using a machine. Instead of hand sewing pieces together, they could be stitched on a machine, allowing the creation of a quilt top in less time. The advent of long arm quilting machines provided the ability to quilt a top by machine, sometimes finishing in a single day or week what had previously taken weeks if not months to complete. Machines made the process of embroidery and quilting faster and easier but, some argued, the machines also took away the skill and the personal nature of the disciplines.
Today, while the debate is still ongoing, both sides seemed to have reached a detente. Some people hand embroider or quilt, others use machines to accomplish the same goals, and yet others switch between one method and the other, doing whatever best suits the needs and time requirements of the project. In the end, what matters most is not how a thing was created, but that it was created at all. Whatever method is used quilts and embroidery that bring beauty to the world are being made and that’s the thing we all must remember.