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.

Learn Hand-Quilting Techniques

Award-winning quilter Andi Perejda introduces the rich tradition of hand quilting. Learn how to choose fabrics, threads and motifs for beautiful results!

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88 Responses to “Bring Back the Art of Hand Quilting With This Ultimate Starter Guide”

  1. Marjorie Garek

    I have always been very interested in hand quilting, and am excited to begin.

  2. Connie

    My grandmother hand quilted. Would love to learn as she passed away when I was 13.

  3. Linda Kennedy

    Very interested I have hand quilted one quilt. It wasn’t perfect but I liked it

  4. Jeanne

    Returning to more hand sewing now that I have the time. I love the heirloom items from my Grandmother and my sister. My hope it to leave my legacy in stitches for others I love.

  5. Bobbie Burrs

    Looking forward to hand quilting a quilt, as it’s way too expensive to send it to a long arm quilter and do not want to machine quilt it. I have hand quilted one quilt many years ago and would like some professional instructions.

  6. Nicole

    I am about to start hand quilting. Never tired it but always wanted too. Fingers crossed it goes well! :)

    • Donna Sarah

      I did a little hand quilting a while ago. I have lost most of the use of my left hand but that is not my dominate hand. Will I still be able to quilt???

  7. Donna Louise

    This article gives a few basic instructions but is far from an ultimate starter guide. The article doesn’t specify what thread to use which makes a huge difference to the hand quilting. The article instead implies you can use whatever thread you have handy which will not result in a product that lasts long enough to justify the time it takes to hand quilt even the smallest quilt. The picture at the top shows the trendy big stitch hand quilting but at the bottom of the “article” is a link to an heirloom hand quilting class which is a completely different style/look of hand quilting from the picture at the top. This will be confusing to people who are, in fact, beginners at this. If people have seen big stitch quilting and sign up for the class looking for instruction in how to achieve that look, they will be disappointed when they find they have signed up for a class in traditional hand quilting. The marketing department should talk to someone who knows a little about hand quilting and revise this misleading click bait.

    • Lynne

      What size weight type of thread should be used for hand quilting + how much do u need

  8. Anchen Pienaar

    People under estimate the beauty of neat hand quilting and I would like to read more

  9. Shirley Ann Bee

    Need simple start. Would like to have some instruction by articles,m not zoom or computer

  10. Kim

    The article is lacking an important part, which is how to ‘rock’ the needle. Rocking the needle takes practice and is an essential part of quilting by hand.

  11. Amy Eubanks

    I learned more from the comments than the actual article, but the article was necessary to prompt the comments. Thank you.

  12. Stephanie B Young

    My mother did not quilt, but all of my children’s mothers-in-law are quilters! I would love to learn!

  13. Connie

    Thank you! I am very tired of all the machine quilting. We need websites with instruction and encouragement of hand quilting!

  14. Robin H Grossi

    Beeswax is good for conditioning thread too. It is friendly to the environment as well

  15. Dr. Yasmin Akhtar Kazi

    Excellent, love to sew by hand. Will try soon as have just started to sew.

    • Renee Rankin

      I’m sorry to say this article fell short of delivering the “ultimate starter guide” by a long shot! No discussion about the types of needles, types of thread uses, weight of thread that is best..big stitch hand versus traditional small stitch hand quilting.. the use of thimbles and anti slip grips for your fingers…. I can go on and on

  16. Marian

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

  17. 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?

    • Tara

      Ask your doctor for a referral to an occupational therapist. Figuring this stuff out is what they do!

  18. 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?

  19. 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

      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

      • Martha Williams

        Not everyone is a quilter. I love to piece the quilt top but will only do small quilting projects since I do not feel compelled to buy an expensive longarm quilting machine. Just can’t justify that expense just now. I do not feel deminished as a “quilter/pieced” because someone else machine quilts my work.
        I would like to learn more about the art of hand quilting since my grandmother and her sisters use to sit in the living room of her home around her quilting frame and quilt for hours.

  20. 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

      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.