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!)
Here are some of the basics you’ll need to start hand quilting your own projects.
- 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.
How to hand quilt
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.
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.
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.
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.