How to Hand Quilt: A Free Video Tip

Posted by on Jan 13, 2013 in Quilting | Comments

Hand-quilting may seem daunting, but as Craftsy instructor Sarah Fielke explains in this thorough free video lesson, it can be relaxing, satisfying, and with a bit of practice, any quilter can do it and love it! To get the basics of this lovely technique, watch below as Sarah demonstrates hand quilting stitches quickly and simply. Then register for Sarah’s new class, Big Techniques from Small Scraps, to take your new skills even further!

I’m Sarah Fielke, online instructor for In this little promo, I’m going to show you a little bit about my favorite thing about quilting, which is hand quilting.

Now, I know there are a lot of people out there for whom the thought of hand quilting is just absolutely terrifying. But I’m here to tell you that I’m converting the world one hand quilter at a time! My method of hand quilting is much quicker than the traditional Amish hand quilting method. I use a thicker thread, it’s much faster to do. But quite apart from being fast, it’s incredibly therapeutic, and it gives your quilts a really, really beautiful look and feel to them, and a definition that I just don’t think you get from machine quilting. That might just be my opinion, but anyway.

So I’m just going to show you a few of the little quilts that are actually in our Craftsy class that I’ve hand quilted. I hand quilt nearly everything. These little stitches here, you can see this definition here. They’re all done by hand. And I just think it gives the quilts a softness and a graphic energy that you really don’t get from an all-over machine quilting pattern. That is the main reason that I like hand quilting. Frequently, when I send my quilts away to be machine quilted—and by the way, my machine quilter wins awards, she’s absolutely fantastic—but I’m always sad when they come back. I look at them and think, “gee, I wish I hand quilted that.”

So I really hope you’ll just give it a little go. You might need to watch this promo a lot of times before you get it right. I have been hand quilting for over 20 years. So please don’t look at this and be disappointed. You just need to get practicing, and practicing. And by the time you’ve hand quilted, say, a small cut quilt, you’ll be cooking with gas, and it’ll all be fine.

So what do you need before you start? You’ll need a quilting hoop, which is not an embroidery hoop. Don’t go to your local craft shop and buy when those little thin things. You need a good, thick quilting hoop so that it holds the layers together with enough force. And also, over time, those little embroidery hoops will just crack. They won’t take the weight of your quilt. You’ll also need some Perle 8 cotton. This is what I quilt with. Traditional Amish quilting is done with a waxed cotton, and you take very tiny little stitches with a short needle. I use a much thicker thread, it shows up much more, you can take larger stitches and use a bigger needle, which is why I like it. It comes in a lot of different colors. This is a DMC thread. And I also really really like using a Presencia thread, which is available from Finca. So that’s that one.

This is the thimble I like. This is a Clover open-sided thimble. You wear it on the front of your finger with the open side to the back. It stops your finger from sweating, and it has all these little dimples in the front that hold the needles for you. And if you get stuck on a really hard part between seams, you have this little shelf here that will help to push the needle through.

These are the needles I like using. This is a John James Pebble. They’re crewel embroidery needles. And they come in a pack, usually size 10 to 12. I use all the different sizes that are in the pack. I also really like the DMC needles. They’re very nice. You do need to buy a good quality needle for hand quilting. If you buy a really cheap, thin one, it will just snap. It won’t take the weight of the force of the quilting. I mean, needles are not expensive. But you do need to invest in a good, sort of four- or five-dollar packet of needles to get some that will really take the weight.

And the last thing you need is a little pair of nice, sharp embroidery scissors to clip your threads off when you finish quilting. If you use big scissors, you can sometimes clip the top of your quilt, and that is a really sad, sad thing to have happen.

So we’re going to learn just a few basic stitches, and how to start and end your threads. Cut a piece of thread that’s not too long. You don’t want to be, you know, taking a stitch like this. And also, if you have a really big long thread, sometimes these Perles get a little bit fuzzy. So not too long. And you want to tie just a one-loop knot. A really basic, one-loop, granny knot. Don’t roll it off your finger or do anything fancy or it’ll be too thick to go through the fabric. So just a one-loop knot.

Always make sure you sit nice and straight when you’re quilting. Sit at a table and balance the hoop on the table, or sit on the couch and put a cushion underneath you. It’s almost like breastfeeding. You want to make sure that you’re sitting right, and you have your shoulders nice and straight, so that you don’t hurt yourself or get shoulder pain or back pain. And you always quilt toward yourself. So we’re not going to quilt sideways. As soon as you go sideways, you put your shoulder up, and you’ll be in all sorts of pain. So we’re going to quilt towards ourselves, sitting nice and straight.

So I have my hand at the back of the quilt. And you can probably see it bouncing up and down there. I’m going to put the needle in in between the two layers of fabric, into the batting or the wadding, and just slide it through, so I can feel with my hand at the back that that actually hasn’t come out, and the knot is going to pop through. Pull the knot all the way to the end, and give a little sharp tug, and it’s just going to pop through and lodge in the wadding there and not come out.

Once we’ve done that, we’re ready to quilt. So my stitches, I take quite small stitches. You can take up to a quarter-of-an-inch-long stitch. That’s absolutely fine. There’s no problem with making them that big, and it’ll be much quicker for you when you’re starting when you’re taking them that large. It’s more about being even than anything else. So concentrate on trying to get them even, rather than trying to get them small. So you go into the fabric, the length of the stitch you want it to be. My finger is right underneath that needle at the back. And the needle is actually balancing in between the tip of my finger and the thimble. And it can just stand straight there. I have callouses on my fingers, at the back. If you find that you’re getting sore fingers, you can wear little stick-on thimbles at the back called a “thimblet,” I think. There’s a few different brands of them. Don’t wear a big thimble at the back because you need to be able to feel how much that needle’s come through, because that’s actually the size of your stitch on the back. So don’t wear a big thimble on the back.

So that’s balancing on my finger, at the back. I’m going to rock the needle down flat, push my finger up in the back, and my thumb down in the front. Push the needle through the hill. Straight down into the fabric at a 90-degree angle, rock the needle flat, push my finger up in the back, and my thumb down in the front, and push the needle through the hill. You’ll probably almost immediately find that this happens: you get this great big gap here. That’s because, you can see, as I’ve turned the needle, I’ve pushed it. So you’re not going to push it anywhere until you have your little hill. So stand it up straight, rock it down flat, make the hill, push through the hill. When you’re sitting at home, hand stitching, hear my voice in your head saying, “thumb down in front,” because that’s what’s making your hill. As you get a little bit better, you’ll be able to take a couple stitches at a time.

When you’re ready to sign off, you’re going to bring your underneath hand to the top of the quilt, hold the thread out to the side, and take the needle underneath that thread, and keep holding on to it, then pull the top thread until that knot is right down on the quilt top. Put your finger on the top and pull so that the knot is tied right down low to the quilt top. Put your hand at the back again to make sure that the thread is not coming out, the needle is not coming out. You can go back down the hole that the thread is coming out of, slide through the batting again a little way away. Just give that a tug, and the thread will just disappear, and then you can use your little snippy scissors there to just clip that off.

So that is how to hand quilt. I really really hope you’ll try it. And if you do and you’re converted to hand quilting (or maybe if you just quilt one quilt), then please let me know! I love knowing that I’ve maybe inspired someone to hand quilt.

Hope you’ve enjoyed this! I’m Sarah Fielke. If you enjoyed this, make sure to check out my class, Big Techniques from Small Scraps, on


  1. Elizabeth Scott says:

    I grew up with hand quilters and one of my earliest memories is of playing under the quilting frame while a quilt was set up. My grandma would keep a yardstick on the top of the quilt for whacking our heads thru the quilt to discourage us. from touching the underneath of the quilt. I remember the first time I was allowed to sit at the quilt with my aunts and the Ladies Aid Society and start my hand quilting. I had suddenly become a grown-up (I was only 10). Of course, for a young girl, the intrigue quickly wore off once I could do it and was expected to do it right, so for many years, I quit hand quilting and went to machine quilting. Wow, it was so fast and didn’t look half bad. Then when my Aunt died and left an heirloom quilt only half hand-quilted, my mother and I took on the task of finishing the quilt for her grand-daughter. Though my Aunt died 3 years ago, her granddaughter will receive, for her graduation nexy year, a quilt hand peiced and hand quilted from her grandmother. Doing this project has brought back to me the love of hand quilting. You are right. Nothing can replace hand quilting. It definitely has its place forever in the quilting arena. Thank you for this beautiful reminder of that. I hope everyone tries to quilt at least one project by hand.

  2. Jill says:

    I totally agree! I always say you can’t compare machine and hand quilting, they are both wonderful and beautiful! I enjoy hand quilting and have been hand quilting for 26 years now! I always look forward to hand quilting it relaxes and put me back in the right frame of mind!

  3. Jan MacKay says:

    I am a beginner quilter and I have chosen to hand quilt my enormous which is almost queen size. I have finished hand quilting the middle of it and am working my way out. I have tried so many different methods of holding my quilt, from a snap on frame to a tack on frame and Have finally ended up using a very large quilting hoop like yours. I don’t know why I chose such a large quilt to begin on but have learned so much along the way. I finally bought the little stick on thimbles and also one that is a little stick on metal thimble that I love. I wish however, that I had watched this prior to starting as I wish I had used the larger thread. I am using a good quality cotton thread but really like the looks of the pearlized cotton. I am sure by the end of this quilt I will have learned enough to write a book. I have a great quilt shop nearby that gives me load of suggestions and friends on a quilting group that have been a real help. I think next time I will quilt each block before I connect them to each other. I am sure that there a process there too.,
    Thank you for sharing this video with us.

  4. Judy Leckie says:

    That is an excellent demonstration, I will email this link to my hand quilting class

  5. Sherry Wheeler says:

    What a lovely explanation! Thanks so much. I do prefer hand-quilting and I like the way you explain how to do it more effectively. I will give it a try with thicker thread and a bigger needle on my next project.

  6. Linda Fielding says:

    What a great little video. I have never hand quilted, but love the finished look. I have always looked at those teensy needles which are typically used and stayed away. However with larger needles and thicker thread and such clear instruction, I will now give this a try. Now if I can get used to wearing a thimble, I’ll be all set to become the next quilting queen!

  7. Jo says:

    How refreshing! I have hand quilted for years and thought I was alone in feeling machine quilting leaves me feeling unsatisfied! I tried to get in the machine quilting grove, but never “loved” the look and feel of it like I do when something is hand quilted.

  8. Patti says:

    Thanks so much for a wonderful demonstration! While I have done a little bit of hand quilting using perle cotton, I haven’t done a whole quilt. I am so used to going from side to side, that it will be an interesting challenge to try your top down method! I sure do like it!

  9. Diane Buchanan says:

    I am making my first ever quilt and managed to “blow up” the computer on my Janome 10001 while trying to load a quilting card. Machine is with the repairers and I hope the insurers will stick to their word and pay for it! However I saw this email from Craftsy (I’m stereopurr on there…) and decided to watch the demo video. I am now happily sitting doing some hand quilting! It’s so therapeutic while I watch the snow fall outside. Kind of glad now I made a mistake loading that card as I’d never have even tried by hand if I wasn’t without my machine. Thanks so much!

  10. Robin Maguire says:

    I hand quilted 2 baby quilts several years ago, and then I hand quilted a queen sized quilt for my son. I wish I had seen this before I did it! It took me 4 years to quilt. There are pictures of it on my Craftsy page.

  11. Debbie Phillips says:

    This was a great instructional video for hand quilting! I’ve been quilting since 1986 and have hand quilted all that time. I like the idea of using thicker thread and will try it on my next quilt. Thank you for this booster lesson.

  12. Pat says:

    True to tradition…..yes we can take over the world, even if it is one quilter at a time :)

    I have always hand quilted my pieces. There is something about spending all that time piecing my quilt, then the idea of putting it on a machine to quilt it. (But, I also like to hand piece some of my quilts)

    I have always wondered why at the quilt shows, the quilts that win are the ones that are machine quilted, on a longarm that does it by computer !!!

    Keep up the crusade, Sarah !!!

  13. Vickie says:

    Sarah, what a wonderful video demonstration on hand quilting! I have hand quilted for over 30 years, and in my opinion, you can’t get the same authentic quilting look from a machine, that you get from doing it by hand. There’s a quality about it that just can’t be matched. With that said, I signed up to take a FMQ class on Craftsy in hope that if I can learn it (have never done it before) maybe I could get more of my unfinished projects done sooner. But I will always hand quilt; it’s a great stress reliever from work and so relaxing. I get so caught up in my quilting that I block everything else out. Hooray to you Sarah, for keeping the love of hand quilting alive, even if it’s one at a time!

  14. Barbara says:

    I am primarily a machine piecer and quilter and will probably remain thus but about 1 1/2 years ago I decided I should broaden my skills in some way. I took a hand quilting class at a show and have a small (wallhanging) quilt that I plan to hand quilt when I feel my skill is improved enough to tackle it. I am also now working on another one that I am hand piecing and plan to hand quilt as well. I am glad to have gotten some tips from this as I can use all the repetition I can get at this point.

  15. Charlene Cairn says:

    I learned hand quilting about 15 years ago and have loved it ever since, it’s sooooo relaxing, and actually easier than machine quilting on a larger quilt. I use the tip of my finger, and I like a Clover thimble with a metal tip and a soft skirt. I do a lot of applique, so hand quilting makes it easier to continue the thread either side of the design instead of all those starts and finishes. I am also working on improving my machine quilting to get more quilts finished (so that children’s quilts are given to them before they grow up), but hand quilting will always be my preference. I haven’t tried using thicker thread but I am now inspired to give it a go.

  16. Pam says:

    I think I will give this a whirl. What batting do you prefer and use?

  17. ThereseAnne says:

    You have inspired me. I do enjoy hand stitching but as a new quilter, I think I have been trying to “catch up” with my friends who have quilted much longer. So I have had my quilts machine quilted on longarm machines. Some of the results I have been happy with, others I have second thoughts. Besides saving the cost of having someone else quilt, I think I would feel better about completing the quilt “all by myself!”

  18. Sherry says:

    This has inspired me to finally begin hand quilting a top that my great grandmother who was born in 1876 pieced when she was in her 90′s. Mammaw passed away in 1981 at the age of 105, so it is approximately 45 years old but in great condition. It is one of my most precious heirloom’s with the exception of Mammaw’s Bible that she frequently read. She would be so happy to know that I’m completing what she started so many years ago. I won’t hurry as I lovingly hand stitch each stitch and after completion I intend to use it on our bed from time to time.

  19. Jan says:

    I prefer hand quilting because I can never carve out big enough blocks of time for machine quilting and i simply don’t like sitting at the sewing machine for so long. I’d like to know what kind of batting you use too. I’m self taught so I enjoyed this video. Thanks.

  20. flowerpress says:

    What a wonderful simple tutorial. You have definitely inspired me and given lots of hints about how to hand quilt successfully, thanks Sarah.

  21. Gladys says:

    Thank you very much for great vídeo, and for transcribe everything said in it so I could read all the explanation through a translator! I hope to try this method some day! The video is very inspiring!

  22. Savannagal says:

    That was one of the best videos I’ve seen yet on Craftsy. You speak slowly, clearly and concisely. I learned quite a bit in a very short time. Thank you for sharing your craft with us.

  23. Shirley Williams says:

    I’m an experienced sewer, but amateur quilter. My mother hand-quilted all her quilts, but I never appreciated how challenging it is until I started thinking about doing it on a 60X80″ quilt. Your tutorial makes it look really doable. Thanks very much.

  24. I’ve just started hand quilting and learned pretty much what you’ve said in a 2hr workshop but you’ve cemented the technique in my head and I will give your top down method a go. I much prefer the look of hand quilting and will definitely do my next project by hand, possibly in the thicker thread. Thanks very much.

  25. Sarah Fielke says:

    Thanks everyone and I’m so glad you’ve enjoyed the video! The batting is use is Matilda’s Own 100% cotton- it is available in the USA but not widely, it’s an Australian product. I believe a comparable product in the USA is Hobbs cotton.

  26. Jasmine Liska says:

    That’s incredible! I’ve just started hand-piecing my first quilt top and, while I’m enjoying piecing, I’ve been very nervous about quilting it once the top’s done. Your demonstration of hand-quilting is exactly what I’ve been looking for; I can’t wait to try it out! Thank you so much!

  27. Deb Hegstrom says:

    I want to thank you for staying true, hand quilting will be a lost art if those of us who believe in it don’t step up and teach the younger ones how to do it! I learned how to hand quilt when I was about 23 and 4 grown children later. I thought it would be nice to have a sewing machine to machine quilt but resources have never allowed that so I am stuck with piecing and hand quilting a king size, Grandmothers Flower Garden Quilt! I am only 1/3 of the way through hand piecing the quilt top, my children think they are going to own this quilt when I am done. Well they will be surprised when they will only get it when I go to heaven. I have made lots of things in the past for them…but this one is for me because I am not willing to have a quilt be mistreated when it was sewn completely by hand.

  28. Norma-Jean McGuire says:

    Thank you so much for this wonderful tutorial. I tried hand quilting and I was having so much trouble. After watching your video I tried it again – with success! I have a small quilt that I am using for my first hand quilting experience. It may take me a while, but I am determined to finish it by hand!

  29. Carol says:

    I just finished one of my first hand quilted wall hangings. While I enjoyed it, I wish I would have watched this first! Maybe I will do more hand quilting. My mother thinks I spend too much money quilting “by check”!!

  30. Judy says:

    Thank you for your demonstration, I will be hand quilting my second quilt soon and hope to be able to make it a bit more interesting than the first. I was torn between machine quilting which I have not done yet and hand quilting this second project, and I think since seeing your clip I have decided hand quilting is the best. I am making this quilt for a family member and I feel the hand quilting translates to love by personally doing so. Thanks again.

  31. Lisa says:

    Love this! Have always maching quilted but this tutorial was exactly what I was looking for to get me into hand quilting! thanks very much!!

  32. Judy Sachs says:

    Thank you Sarah. I have only quilted the “Amish” way and have some trouble keeping my stitches even. Your demonstration with thicker thread is something I will definitely try. I’m sure I will love it.

  33. Judy Sachs says:

    Thank you Sarah. I have only quilted the “Amish” way and have some trouble keeping my stitches even. Your demonstration with thicker thread is something I will definitely try. I’m sure I will love it.

  34. Judy Sachs says:

    Thank you Sarah. I have only quilted the “Amish” way and have some trouble keeping my stitches even. Your demonstration with thicker thread is something I will definitely try. I’m sure I will love it.

  35. Judy Sachs says:

    Thank you Sarah. I have only quilted the “Amish” way and have some trouble keeping my stitches even. Your demonstration with thicker thread is something I will definitely try. I’m sure I will love it.

  36. Judy Sachs says:

    Thank you Sarah. I have only quilted the “Amish” way and have some trouble keeping my stitches even. Your demonstration with thicker thread is something I will definitely try. I’m sure I will love it.