How to Hand Quilt: A Free Video Tip

Hand-quilting may seem daunting, but as Bluprint instructor¬†Sarah Fielke explains in this thorough free video lesson, it can be relaxing, satisfying, and with a bit of practice, any quilter can do it and love it! To get the basics of this lovely technique, watch below as Sarah demonstrates hand quilting stitches quickly and simply. Then register for Sarah’s new class, Big Techniques from Small Scraps,¬†to take your new skills even further!

I’m Sarah Fielke, online instructor for Bluprint.com. In this little promo, I’m going to show you a little bit about my favorite thing about quilting, which is hand quilting.

Now, I know there are a lot of people out there for whom the thought of hand quilting is just absolutely terrifying. But I’m here to tell you that I’m converting the world one hand quilter at a time! My method of hand quilting is much quicker than the traditional Amish hand quilting method. I use a thicker thread, it’s much faster to do. But quite apart from being fast, it’s incredibly therapeutic, and it gives your quilts a really, really beautiful look and feel to them, and a definition that I just don’t think you get from machine quilting. That might just be my opinion, but anyway.

So I’m just going to show you a few of the little quilts that are actually in our Bluprint class that I’ve hand quilted. I hand quilt nearly everything. These little stitches here, you can see this definition here. They’re all done by hand. And I just think it gives the quilts a softness and a graphic energy that you really don’t get from an all-over machine quilting pattern. That is the main reason that I like hand quilting. Frequently, when I send my quilts away to be machine quilted—and by the way, my machine quilter wins awards, she’s absolutely fantastic—but I’m always sad when they come back. I look at them and think, “gee, I wish I hand quilted that.”

So I really hope you’ll just give it a little go. You might need to watch this promo a lot of times before you get it right. I have been hand quilting for over 20 years. So please don’t look at this and be disappointed. You just need to get practicing, and practicing. And by the time you’ve hand quilted, say, a small cut quilt, you’ll be cooking with gas, and it’ll all be fine.

So what do you need before you start? You’ll need a quilting hoop, which is not an embroidery hoop. Don’t go to your local craft shop and buy when those little thin things. You need a good, thick quilting hoop so that it holds the layers together with enough force. And also, over time, those little embroidery hoops will just crack. They won’t take the weight of your quilt. You’ll also need some Perle 8 cotton. This is what I quilt with. Traditional Amish quilting is done with a waxed cotton, and you take very tiny little stitches with a short needle. I use a much thicker thread, it shows up much more, you can take larger stitches and use a bigger needle, which is why I like it. It comes in a lot of different colors. This is a DMC thread. And I also really really like using a Presencia thread, which is available from Finca. So that’s that one.

This is the thimble I like. This is a Clover open-sided thimble. You wear it on the front of your finger with the open side to the back. It stops your finger from sweating, and it has all these little dimples in the front that hold the needles for you. And if you get stuck on a really hard part between seams, you have this little shelf here that will help to push the needle through.

These are the needles I like using. This is a John James Pebble. They’re crewel embroidery needles. And they come in a pack, usually size 10 to 12. I use all the different sizes that are in the pack. I also really like the DMC needles. They’re very nice. You do need to buy a good quality needle for hand quilting. If you buy a really cheap, thin one, it will just snap. It won’t take the weight of the force of the quilting. I mean, needles are not expensive. But you do need to invest in a good, sort of four- or five-dollar packet of needles to get some that will really take the weight.

And the last thing you need is a little pair of nice, sharp embroidery scissors to clip your threads off when you finish quilting. If you use big scissors, you can sometimes clip the top of your quilt, and that is a really sad, sad thing to have happen.

So we’re going to learn just a few basic stitches, and how to start and end your threads. Cut a piece of thread that’s not too long. You don’t want to be, you know, taking a stitch like this. And also, if you have a really big long thread, sometimes these Perles get a little bit fuzzy. So not too long. And you want to tie just a one-loop knot. A really basic, one-loop, granny knot. Don’t roll it off your finger or do anything fancy or it’ll be too thick to go through the fabric. So just a one-loop knot.

Always make sure you sit nice and straight when you’re quilting. Sit at a table and balance the hoop on the table, or sit on the couch and put a cushion underneath you. It’s almost like breastfeeding. You want to make sure that you’re sitting right, and you have your shoulders nice and straight, so that you don’t hurt yourself or get shoulder pain or back pain. And you always quilt toward yourself. So we’re not going to quilt sideways. As soon as you go sideways, you put your shoulder up, and you’ll be in all sorts of pain. So we’re going to quilt towards ourselves, sitting nice and straight.

So I have my hand at the back of the quilt. And you can probably see it bouncing up and down there. I’m going to put the needle in in between the two layers of fabric, into the batting or the wadding, and just slide it through, so I can feel with my hand at the back that that actually hasn’t come out, and the knot is going to pop through. Pull the knot all the way to the end, and give a little sharp tug, and it’s just going to pop through and lodge in the wadding there and not come out.

Once we’ve done that, we’re ready to quilt. So my stitches, I take quite small stitches. You can take up to a quarter-of-an-inch-long stitch. That’s absolutely fine. There’s no problem with making them that big, and it’ll be much quicker for you when you’re starting when you’re taking them that large. It’s more about being even than anything else. So concentrate on trying to get them even, rather than trying to get them small. So you go into the fabric, the length of the stitch you want it to be. My finger is right underneath that needle at the back. And the needle is actually balancing in between the tip of my finger and the thimble. And it can just stand straight there. I have callouses on my fingers, at the back. If you find that you’re getting sore fingers, you can wear little stick-on thimbles at the back called a “thimblet,” I think. There’s a few different brands of them. Don’t wear a big thimble at the back because you need to be able to feel how much that needle’s come through, because that’s actually the size of your stitch on the back. So don’t wear a big thimble on the back.

So that’s balancing on my finger, at the back. I’m going to rock the needle down flat, push my finger up in the back, and my thumb down in the front. Push the needle through the hill. Straight down into the fabric at a 90-degree angle, rock the needle flat, push my finger up in the back, and my thumb down in the front, and push the needle through the hill. You’ll probably almost immediately find that this happens: you get this great big gap here. That’s because, you can see, as I’ve turned the needle, I’ve pushed it. So you’re not going to push it anywhere until you have your little hill. So stand it up straight, rock it down flat, make the hill, push through the hill. When you’re sitting at home, hand stitching, hear my voice in your head saying, “thumb down in front,” because that’s what’s making your hill. As you get a little bit better, you’ll be able to take a couple stitches at a time.

When you’re ready to sign off, you’re going to bring your underneath hand to the top of the quilt, hold the thread out to the side, and take the needle underneath that thread, and keep holding on to it, then pull the top thread until that knot is right down on the quilt top. Put your finger on the top and pull so that the knot is tied right down low to the quilt top. Put your hand at the back again to make sure that the thread is not coming out, the needle is not coming out. You can go back down the hole that the thread is coming out of, slide through the batting again a little way away. Just give that a tug, and the thread will just disappear, and then you can use your little snippy scissors there to just clip that off.

So that is how to hand quilt. I really really hope you’ll try it. And if you do and you’re converted to hand quilting (or maybe if you just quilt one quilt), then please let me know! I love knowing that I’ve maybe inspired someone to hand quilt.

Hope you’ve enjoyed this! I’m Sarah Fielke. If you enjoyed this, make sure to check out my class, Big Techniques from Small Scraps, on Bluprint.com.

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