One of the quilts that arrived in my shipment from storage was one of the very first quilts I ever worked on, a Sunshine and Shadow. For more about that, read this post. Anyway, this is the quilt I learned to hand quilt on, in a frame, which was horrible. My mom and I both quilted on this in one direction and then the quilt came off the frames and I did the rest of the quilting over the next several years with no frame and no hoop.
The difference is obvious between my first quilting stitches and the later ones.
I have my Alphabet Sampler up on the wall now too. It was one of the first quilts I did with the freehand fans. I notice that my fans were much flatter then than they are now - the difference in practise. I convinced a friend of mine to do the freehand fans and she was a bit discouraged that they were coming out flat, but hopefully this will help her take heart:
More rounded fans aren't superior to flat ones. Just different. I love them all. Speaking of variations in the fans, have you been reading Tanya's blog? She had a great entry about a Japanese sashiko quilting design that is the same as the fans. Go read it here.
Kristin, I hold the quilting needle in my right hand and do a rocking motion, gathering multiple stitches at a time. In my left hand I hold a fold of the quilt and that hand stays steady. I don't put any kind of tension on the quilt sandwich.