Bring Back the Art of Hand Quilting With This Ultimate Starter Guide

Fact: sewing your quilt (or a smaller project, like pillow tops and table runners) by hand provides a soft finish that really can’t be achieved by machines. Not to mention there isn’t anything that beats the zen of sewing something with needle and thread. If you’re interested in trying the craft, these tips — along with the right supplies — can help you get started.

What You Need

There are a few must-have supplies to help you master the art of hand quilting.

1. Needles

The size of your needle can make a big difference. Most hand-quilting pros agree that a size 10 is ideal — the eye isn’t too big or small, and the needle is strong enough to handle a quilt’s many layers.

2. Thread and Conditioner

If you’re using all-cotton fabric, it’s best to use a cotton thread. You may have to try a few different types to find one that’s both durable and easy to work with. Once you’ve got it, coat the thread with a conditioner like Thread Magic to help keep it from knotting as you stitch.

3. Quilting Hoops

There are all sorts of hoops on the market, including handheld hoops, lap hoops and standing quilt hoops. When hand quilting smaller projects, like pillow cases, you may not even need a handheld hoop. But for a project like a throw, hoops can be useful.

Pro Tip: Don’t place the quilt too tightly in the hoop, like you would when embroidering. The fabric needs to be able to move up and down as you work, so make sure there’s enough give.

How to Hand Quilt

Here are some pointers for getting started with hand quilting.

1. Cut the Thread

Your thread should be roughly 18″ — any longer and it’ll tangle; any shorter and you’ll have to switch threads frequently. Once you’ve got your length, tie a small knot at the end. Pull the needle and thread through the back of the quilt, bringing it up at 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 inside the quilt.

2. Start Stitching

Keeping your stitches small and even is the most important part of hand quilting. A good goal is six stitches per inch. As you become more skilled, you can shoot for anywhere between eight and 12 stitches per inch.

Pro Tip: Keep one hand underneath the quilt and one hand above. Your bottom hand steadies the fabric while guiding the needle all the way through to the back of the quilt and moving it back to the top. Your top hand moves the needle down into the fabric and up again.

3. Load the Stitches

As your top hand guides the needle up and down, don’t pull the thread all the way — load two or three stitches on your needle instead. Then you can pull the thread all the way through, taking care to keep the tension even. Continue in this manner until you’re done sewing that particular piece, then move onto the next one.

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