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

Hand sewing

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 for hand quilting— 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.

Reply to Marian
  • (will not be published)

17 Responses to “Bring Back the Art of Hand Quilting With This Ultimate Starter Guide”
  1. Marian

    So excited to learn hand quilting. I have done quilting on a machine but I feel this is more personal. Thank you

  2. Sarah Spence
    Sarah Spence

    Loved your tutorial❣️One quick inquiry; I have a tremor disorder, but used to hand Piece & Quilt for a number of years; do you feel I’ll still be able to do this again?

  3. Jennifer Bell
    Jennifer Bell

    And then what? The article ends before describing the whole process. When you get to the end of that first 18″ piece of thread, what do you do? How do you end it securely?

  4. Anitta

    Isn’t “quilting” the actuall process of joining together of three layers (top, backing, stuffing)? For true beginners or literal thinkers, of which I am both, perhaps you might modify your instructions to change “Fact: sewing your quilt…” to “Fact: stitching your quilt” or at least mention that the actual design, cutting and attaching of the pieces to each other can be done by hand but is sturdier if done by machine.

    • Tammy Pyle
      Tammy Pyle

      I always wondered about that niggle in back my head since young starting that it really isn’t a quilt until its layered n stitched or tied together as a sandwich…then it has become a quilt, anything less is a UFO or just a sewn quilt top not yet a quilt. And as I got older in comes the designer… the pieces, N the quilter/Longarmer can be all different people then who’s the ‘quilter’ when it ends up in the ultimate hands of the owner.
      I, If i let someone Longarmer my quilt would be adding that fact below my name on the label n the designers name if not my creation. Is that correct thinking? From someone who gets stuck on literal stuff too sometimes

  5. Sharon Talarowski
    Sharon Talarowski

    I’ve done stitching of all kinds, but not hand-stitching of a quilt that I can remember that didn’t look hand-stitched. This looks awfully fun to try.

    • Claire

      Typical hand sewing is always double threaded. Alabama Chanin gives very detailed guidelines about this , very transferable to quilts.

      • Marthe

        @claire sewing and quilting in Patchwork is NEVER double threaded. Sewing is with cotton Thread, weight 50, and quilting with special quilting trhread, or when you do bigstitch-quilting with perle cotton (the Sarah Fielke-way) or Aurifill 12 weight

    • Raney Brown
      Raney Brown

      Dixie, while hand sewing is often done with a double thread, hand quilting is NOT. You should always use actual quilting thread which is stronger than normal thread.