The Basics of Hand Quilting

There is just something unbelievably wonderful about hand quilting. Not only does quilting done by hand remind us of the quilts from yesterday, but it also provides a soft finish that really can’t be achieved any other way. Here are a few hand quilting basics that you should be aware of if you are just getting started (or need a little refresher!)

Quilt with Colorful Chevron Design - Hand Quilting on Craftsy

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Here are some of the basics you’ll need to start hand quilting your own projects.

Supplies

  • Needles are the most essential tool for hand quilting. Most experienced hand quilters agree that using the “between” style of needle works best for hand quilting. A size 10 is needle ideal, as the eye isn’t too big or too small, and the needle is strong enough to handle the layers of most quilt back designs, batting and quilt top without being too big and bulky.
  • Thread is another necessity for hand quilting. If you are using all cotton fabric, you will want to use a cotton thread. Many quilters find that coating their thread with a product like Thread Magic helps keep the thread from knotting while stitching. Since many quilters have different preferences when it comes to thread, you may have to try a few different types of quilting thread to find one that's durable and yet easy to work with. See our post on choosing threads for piecing and quilting for more information on exactly what to look for.
  • Quilting hoops are used for ease of quilting. Many different styles of hoops are available, including handheld hoops, lap hoops and standing quilt hoops. When hand quilting smaller projects, many quilters prefer not to use a hoop, but for larger projects they are a great help. One mistake often made by beginners is placing their quilt too tightly in the hoop. Since the fabric needs to be able to move up and down as you quilt, make sure there is enough “give” for some movement.

Yellow and White Dresden Plate Quilt Block

How to hand quilt

Step 1:

Begin by cutting an approximately 18” length of thread. Using a longer piece of thread tends to cause tangles, and using a shorter piece means you’ll be switching threads frequently.

Tie a small knot in the end of your thread. You will be “burying” the knot inside of your quilt, so don’t make the knot too big.

Pull your threaded needle through the back of the quilt, bringing up the needle in the exact spot you want to start hand quilting. Give a slight tug so the knot goes through the backing fabric but doesn’t pull all the way through. This way the knot will be hidden in the interior of the quilt.

Step 2:

Start stitching. The ideal hand-quilting stitches are small and even. Keeping your stitches even is the most important part of the technique for beautiful hand quilting. Being able to quilt six stitches per inch is a good number for beginner and intermediate quilters to aim for with their quilting. More experienced quilters will quilt between eight and twelve stitches per inch.

Step 3:

Begin to hand quilt, keeping one hand underneath the quilt and one hand above. The bottom hand is used for stability, ensuring the needle goes all the way through to the back of the quilt and assisting in moving the needle back to the top.

Your top hand will move the needle down into the fabric and up again. Do not pull the thread all the way through at this point. You will want to “load” several (two or three) stitches on your needle using this technique.

When you have a few stitches loaded onto your needle, pull the thread all the way through, taking care to use an even tension. You will then use the up-down motion to load the next several stitches on the needle before pulling the thread all the way through.

Continue in this manner until you have quilted your desired areas.

White Quilt with Blue and Patterned Blocks

Keeping your stitches even and using equal tension each time you pull the thread all the way through are the two most important things to keep in mind. Try hand quilting on smaller projects like pillow tops and table runners, and you will quickly gain the confidence to quilt your larger projects.

35 Comments

Rumi

Great tips. I am looking for a suitable thimble for my left finger (underneath hand). I know I have to feel the needle, but it is painfully at the beginning.

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Kim

I use a small piece of electrical tape around my finger on the bottom side. I can still feel the needle, but my finger doesn’t end up hurting when I am done.

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Macracch

I love hand quilting but don’t use a hoop or a thimble. Very peaceful and restful.

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Marie Kladar

I use an under thimble, a small metal disc that adheres to our fingertip.

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Anna ten Broek

I love also hand quilting and years ago my husband and i started to make a little aid for handquilting the needlepuller. It makes handquilting much easyer. Many women all over the world are using the needlepuller and they are all sattishfeid. You can look on our site how it works and how you can buy them Next week i will demonstate the needlepuller at the Quilting Fair in Birmingham U.K.

Best regards Anna ten Broek

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Elaine Nieiecki

Can you show me what the needlepuller looks like, the cost and how do i buy one?
thank you

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Pearl Getz

I use what ever size of betweens I feel best for me. They come in many sizes. Try many sizes.

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Linda McAteer

I just started quilting about 2 years ago and enjoy hand quilting the most because I like keeping my hands busy and anyone can sit down at a machine and sew a straight line.this is so very special and it is a lost art and I am teaching my grand child to do this .hooked from the beginning and only time I take a break is this my hands are bothering me too much

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Summer

I have been hand quilting since I was little, most of the women on my mother’s side of the family do, so it is something I just grew up with. I remember not realizing until I was in college that people could even make a quilt using a machine. I guess I didn’t realize what a special and lost art this is

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Kimberly Ellison

I’ve been hand quilting for a long time but I still love reading the hints and tips. I would suggest, however, especially for beginners you also add how to finish the thread off when it gets too short.

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Lisa Roberts

Yes how do you do that? Finish off at the end of the thread.

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Jeannette Stoves

I just started hand quilting I am haveing trouble keeping my stiches close together what can I do?

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Pearl Getz

Trying to hard, as long as stitches are about the same size, it takes a lot of time to quilt little stitches. I found on Pinterest, the type of quilting, called big stitch. You might like to see what it looks like. I quilt litte stitches, but the big stitch is a lot of fun.😊

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Jenny

I am interested in handquilting for a very practical purpose: multi-tasking!! My daughter is in a music group at our church and they practice for one hour every week. I have these quilts I need to do for my boys’ beds and I can’t easily lug my sewing machine around and make all that noise during music practice, can I?

so, I decided that I need to go portable! This way, I don’t have to worry about threading bobbins either!
I can also sit and work on it while my son reads to me during our homeschool time as well as in the van on those 30 minute+ drives when my husband is driving!

I do have a quiestion: Can I both hand and machine quilt on the same project, depending on where I am and how much time I have available to work on it?

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Julie

You can… but machine quilting and hand quilting look very different when they’re done, so you might not want to. Or you might want to choose certain parts of the quilt to machine quilt and others to hand quilt.

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Pamela

I do the piecing together by sewing on my sewing machine. Then when the top piece is done, do the design or actually quilting by hand. Maybe that is cheating, but with 15 grandchildren to keep up with. That is how they get their Christmas quilts, plus I have several others to do as well.

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Pearl Getz

I think piecing with a machine is how you should do it. It would take forever.

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Mary M

I like to piece and quilt by hand piecing by hand the block lay flat and quilting by hand it looks nicer than by machine. If I had a machine with a wider yolk I might use the machine because of the ease.

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Pat

I’ve been hand quilting for 25 yrs. I do piece together by machine then hand quilt. To me it is very relaxing and it is more personal when it is hand quilted instead of machine quilted. My fingers do hurt a lot and I cant use a thimble.So I’m always looking for little remedies to put on my fingers.

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Sandi

I wear a fingertip pad, it’s sticks to my finger, it has a textured surface that helps in pulling the needle thru.
Also, wear a leather pad on middle finger for pushing needle thru. They work great!!

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Sheri lea

Moleskin works good. Buy a roll of it and cut to fit. Throw it away when finished.

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Reba Davis

I do machine quilting, but I would like to hand quilt.

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Nellie

I am interested in hand quilting and how to finish off the thread at the end .

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peggy johnson

please refresh my memory as to how I finish off thread at the end.

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Mary M

When quilting by hand I make a quilter knott about one or two inches from quilt and put needle in quilt to pinto batting and bury thread and pull up needle in next block and cut off .See YouTube

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Patty

I am working on a quilt called party stripes. I have cut and sewed the pieces as directed however as I sew the larger pieces together the pieces are not fitting they are getting shorter. Also the sections are curved I have taken the pieces apart tried to sew them again reversing the stitching on the rows but that doesn’t seem to work. Please help!

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Lisa

Check your 1/4″ seam allowance. If it’s off even a tiny bit, it can cause the pieces to not fit correctly.

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Scout

After years of searching for the right thimble for me, finally find one . It’s a soft leather with a metal disc somehow sewn into it. Just fits over the end of my finger. Got it at Joanne’s

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