Within the context of hand gesture recognition, spatiotemporal gesture segmentation is the task of determining, in a video sequence, where the gesturing hand is located and when the gesture starts and ends. Existing gesture recognition methods typically assume either known spatial segmentation or known temporal segmentation, or both. This paper introduces a unified framework for simultaneously performing spatial segmentation, temporal segmentation, and recognition. In the proposed framework, information flows both bottom-up and top-down. A gesture can be recognized even when the hand location is highly ambiguous and when information about when the gesture begins and ends is unavailable. Thus, the method can be applied to continuous image streams where gestures are performed in front of moving, cluttered backgrounds. The proposed method consists of three novel contributions: a spatiotemporal matching algorithm that can accommodate multiple candidate hand detections in every frame, a classifier-based pruning framework that enables accurate and early rejection of poor matches to gesture models, and a subgesture reasoning algorithm that learns which gesture models can falsely match parts of other longer gestures. The performance of the approach is evaluated on two challenging applications: recognition of hand-signed digits gestured by users wearing short-sleeved shirts, in front of a cluttered background, and retrieval of occurrences of signs of interest in a video database containing continuous, unsegmented signing in American sign language (ASL).