Someone recently asked me how I decide whether to hand quilt or machine quilt a quilt.
The smallest pieces I've done have been 3" x 3" to use as Christmas tree ornaments. Because I wanted these to look traditional and special, I hand quilted them. But truth to tell, I never thought of machine quilting them. I can certainly see where doing any machine free motion quilting on a piece that small would be awkward; hard to hold on to and move the piece without real fear of the needle inflicting serious pain upon your fingers.
My miniature quilts usually average somewhere around 20" x 24", some smaller, some larger. I can think of only one instance where I machine quilted one of them. (Maybe two?) For one thing, I love the look of hand quilting and enjoy doing it. The miniature size quilts are super-easy to handle when hand quilting. And let's face it, a piece this size can realistically be finished in a reasonable amount of time compared to how long it takes to hand quilt a full sized quilt.
Of the many full sized (twin, double, queen or king) quilts I've made, I've attempted hand quilting on only two. (The others all having been machine quilted.) I say attempted because neither one of them is done. (Hang your head, Mama Pea.) The second full sized quilt I ever made (the first was tied), I wanted to hand quilt it. I was determined to be a traditional quilter and do all my quilting by hand. Shortly (very shortly) after starting the hand quilting, I became aware of how long it was taking me. No wonder our quilting ancestors were able to turn out only one quilt a year!
The second one in the process of being hand quilted is a queen sized Double Wedding Ring I'm making for my daughter. It's a labor of love, albeit a slow one. Will I ever finish the hand quilting on that very first one? I don't know. But my daughter's quilt will get finished, I promise you . . . and her . . . and me . . . I do.
In a perfect world (that would be one where I had a maid, a cook, a gardener, etc.), I would hand quilt all my full sized quilts. Realistically, I've either machine quilted them myself or in some instances, had them machine quilted. The quilts I keep for myself get used. I hope the ones I give as gifts get used. This means they will be washed. Machine quilting simply holds up so, so much better than hand quilting.
All of my baby quilts, I machine quilt. If a baby quilt is to be hung on the wall in the nursery, it's a different story. That one can be hand quilted (and I have made a few of those) but when I make a baby quilt to sell or give as a gift, I'd like to assume it gets used. Therefore, I want it to be durable and capable of having a long life lasting through lots of napping, cuddling, playing and many, many washings.
Several years ago, I gave a baby quilt to the first-born of the gal who was my daughter's Matron of Honor. Months later, she e-mailed me saying she was upset. Her little son had . . . well, he pooped on the quilt and she couldn't get the stain out. I told her I was happy to hear that because that was what I made the quilt for; I wanted it to be used and remembered as part of his babyhood.
All of the potholders I make for myself or to give away are machine quilted. Unless you're a very, very neat (and unusual) cook, potholders need to be washed frequently . . . at least mine always do.
The decision to hand quilt or machine quilt a piece is entirely up to you . . . or me. I don't feel there's any "right" way or "wrong" way. I think each method offers its own advantages and disadvantages, pros and cons. So I just do what appeals to me . . . and I'm usually happy with the results.