The Ultimate Guide To Better Hand Quilting

Hand quilting has managed to still be popular in today’s modern quilt world.

Quilters choose hand quilting for a variety of reasons. Many quilters want to create an heirloom, have a custom design, or simply enjoy the quiet comfort of stitching.

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Hand quilting requires thousands of small stitches but altogether they work to create beautiful images. These stitches add depth and art to a colorful patchwork of colors.

Each stitch taken is as unique as the fingerprint on the quilters fingers. Hand quilting represents the love, craftsmanship, and individuality of the person holding the needle.

History of Hand Quilting

Hand quilting and the origins of quilting trace back to ancient times.

These ancient cultures did not make covers for bedding but instead clothing.

Historical records show that quilted clothing was constructed for armor and protection from the elements. Researchers have discovered quilted wall hangings in the late 1300’s.

About that time, quilting started to encompass coverlets and other small items for the home.

During the 1700’s, petticoats worn under dresses were hand quilted to add insulation during cold winters. Dresses were often pulled back to the sides to show off the intricate hand quilting patterns on the petticoats underneath.

Quilted draperies became decorative and functional. America began its love affair with quilting in the mid-1800’s as women had more time to quilt. Young ladies were expected to have several quilts made prior to getting married.

These quilts were to be part of their hope chest to set up a new home.

The invention of the sewing machine allowed them to piece faster, but hand quilting remained the primary way that they finished their quilts. Today, home machines have replaced much of the hand quilting.

However, thousands of women still work by hand and enjoy the hand quilting process. 

Hand Quilting vs. Machine Quilting

Choosing to hand quilt your project or use a machine is a personal decision.

Many people enjoy the quiet time of reflection during hand quilting. If the quilt is for someone special, they may choose to hand quilt as a display of affection.

Here are a few comparisons to help you decide whether hand quilting or machine quilting is the best choice for your next quilt:

Hand Quilting

  • Hand quilting stitches are further apart enhancing the overall design of the quilting. 
  • Hand quilting is portable. Take your quilting in the car, airplane, or cruise. 
  • Hand quilting is personalized. Each stitch is unique to the quilter. The piece becomes an heirloom often passed down through generations.

MACHINE Quilting

  • Machine quilt if this item will be washed and used often. 
  • Machine quilt if the top or backing is a batik. Batiks are more challenging to quilt by hand.
  • Machine quilt if the idea of hand quilting a King Size Quilt seems overwhelming.

The Ultimate Guide To Hand Quilting

How to Make A Quilters Knot

Hand quilting requires the same first steps regardless of the technique you choose.

  • 1
    Insert the needle ½” away from where you plan to begin your actual stitches and without taking it through to the back bring the needle back up where you plan to start the stitches. This hides the knot inside the batting. 
  • 2
    Pull on the knot with a small tug. If you have made a strong knot it will not come through the top of the quilt.
  • 3
    Insert your needle through all the layers and on the backside form a small loop. Pass your needle through this and place your finger over the knot that is formed. 
  • 4
    Insert the needle back through to where your quilting line will start and begin quilting.
  • 5
    In the instance that the knot come through to the top try to repeat the first couple of steps. Try not to tug so hard on the knot.

Hand Quilting Stitches

The ultimate goal in hand stitching is to achieve uniform stitches. You want them to be the same length on the front as well as the back of the quilt.

If you have seen a quilt in a museum that has tiny stitches keep in mind that these were often crafted by young girls with nimble fingers.

Try to make your stitches consistent; even if that means they are a little bigger than you would like. As your technique improves, the stitches tend to get smaller.

Best Thimbles For Hand Quilting

thimble metal hand quiltingA metal thimble provides the best protection and is used to hold the needle.

We like the Clover 6025 Small Protect and Grip Metal Thimble because it keeps your finger cool and is comfortable due to it's lightness.

 

Beginners may like a leather thimble because it gives more control. We like the Dritz Leather Thimble because it is soft and long-wearing.

Try both and see which one you prefer. Typically you wear the thimble on your middle finger, so choose one that fits that finger properly.

folded quilt hand quilting

Running StitchThe needle is inserted through the front of the fabric and then catches small areas of the back of the fabric. This process is repeated through all layers making a type of line. 

Rocking StitchYou create tiny tucks while pushing the needle through the tucks. The quilt sandwich needs to be loose in the hoop. Push several stitches onto the needle before pulling the needle through.

Spoon QuiltingWith a spoon, the thumb on the hand that is under the frame fits into the bowl of the spoon and the edge of the spoon pokes into the underside of the quilt. When the needle goes down from the top of the quilt, it hits the rounded edge of the spoon and then “glances off” the edge and comes back up again. There is sort of a rocking motion that eventually allows uniform stitches.

QUILTING TIP:

Be careful when choosing patterns that have long straight lines. Although they are easy to quilt with a running stitch, any stitches that are crooked are easily seen. 


Try to find designs that have shorter curved lines in the design.

Hand Quilting Patterns and Stencils

Choosing a pattern for the quilt is often exciting and at the same time nerve-wracking. With hundreds of designs available, the quilter often has to stand back and look at the quilt to determine what she/he thinks would work best.

Using a stencil and a chalk pounce pad is one way to get the pattern on the fabric easily.

Work in small sections at a time though, otherwise the chalk will brush off, and you will lose the pattern.

A quality Ceramic Pencil can also be used to trace the lines of a stencil and can quickly wipe away with a damp cloth.

QUILTING TIP:

Choose a thread that is a bit darker than the fabric.


If too many colors are present in the quilt, then choose a neutral color that will not compete. Neutral colors are typically black, gray, cream or gold.

Hand Quilting Threads, Needles & Hoops

Quality Thread

Use the best quality thread to ensure that your stitches last as long as the quilt fabric.

The thread needs to be thicker and hold up to the continuous insertion through the quilt sandwich. It also needs to have a glaze to it. The glaze, which is usually wax, coats the thread.

As it travels through the quilt sandwich, the fibers can shred and can fray. A fraying thread will eventually break. Therefore, there are two types of thread that most quilters prefer to use due to their sturdy fiber base and glaze.

Here are the two high quailty hand quilting threads we recommend:

1-Gutermann Hand Quilting Thread

2-YLI 21100 Hand Quilting Thread

QUILTING TIP:

If your thread keeps breaking, it's possible that the thread is getting caught between the end of the needle and your thimble. That pressure will weaken the thread eventually so make sure the thread is clear.

Hand Quilting Needles

Needles can seem intimidating when you first encounter them. They are quite small in length, and the eye of the needle is tiny.

Some quilters refuse to hand quilt because they think that working with a small needle would prove too difficult. A lot has changed since the days when quilters only used “between needles”.

Modern quilters use larger needles and have developed hand quilting techniques called “utility” stitches to accommodate the larger needle.

For traditional hand quilting, start with the smallest needle that you feel most comfortable using.

After you master that, then move down a size. Quilters use needles ranging in size from 12 to 5.

The larger the number, the smaller the needle. If you buy a variety pack of sizes, you will be able to determine which one works for you best as you start out.

Here are the two high quailty hand quilting needles we recommend:

1-John James Big Eye Hand Quilting Needles

2-John James Size #10 Hand Quilting Needless

QUILTING TIP:

If your thread is tangling or twisting on itself, first make sure that you are starting with a length of thread no more than about 18" long.


If your thread keeps twisting, hang the thread by the end closest to the quilt and drop the needle down. Bring the needle to almost the end of the thread and allow it to untwist.


Once it is straight again, pull the thread tail back to the right length.

Hand Quilting Hoops

Once you have decided to try hand quilting, you need to purchase a quilt hoop specifically designed for quilting.

Do not buy a plastic hoop as they are for embroidery. A quilting hoop is larger with a wider frame. This wider frame is needed to hold three layers which are quite thick.

The recommended size is a 12” hoop. This is small enough to keep in your lap with going past your knees and also very portable.

The number one reason that most quilters get frustrated and quit is that they hoop the quilt sandwich wrong. In embroidery, you want the fabric taut in the hoop. Tap it, and it makes a drum sound.

The opposite is true in hand quilting. Once hooped, you will want to push the fabric up from the back with your first until it extends above the hoop by 1”-2”.

This allows the needle to rock back and forth through the quilt sandwich as you stitch along.

QUILTING TIP:

Spray baste your quilt sandwich with a product like 505 Spray Adhesive. Although it is a spray adhesive, it will not make the needle sticky. 


Then make a basting stitch with the thread along the edge. Cut the backing and batting 5”-6” wider than the quilt top all the way around.


This allows for take up during the quilting process.

Today’s quilter enjoys more gadgets and tools than any other time in quilt history.

Computerized machines operated by longarm professionals finish the bulk of the quilts made today.

However, every year women want to learn the hand quilting technique. Whether it is to slow down and enjoy the process or pass on an heirloom, the fact remains that hand quilting has survived the modern world.

If you would like to learn more about hand quilting be sure to contact your local quilt guild or quilt shop.

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