Quilting Blog

More Than One Way to Piece a Quilt: The Benefits of Hand Piecing

Over the past year, I’ve fallen deeply in love piecing quilts by hand. I still piece many of my quilts on my machine but I always have a hand-pieced quilt project that I am working on as well.

Earlier this year, I made a commitment to myself to make at least a few stitches by hand every day for a year. Many of the projects include hand piecing quilt tops. I post what I’m working on daily to my Instagram account and a write weekly report on my blog.

By dedicating just a little bit of time each day to hand sewing, I’m able to accomplish a lot. Some days I literally make only a few stitches before bed. Here are some examples of what I’ve been working on:

Think Big! mini quilt in progress by Sheri Cifaldi-Morrill | Whole Circle Studio. Applique quilt pattern. Hawaiian inspired block in progress by Sheri Cifaldi-Morrill | Whole Circle Studio. Friendship Knot quilt in progress by Sheri Cifaldi-Morrill | Whole Circle Studio.

Photos via Sheri Cifaldi-Morrill of Whole Circle Studio

Everything old is new again — piecing quilts by hand is popular these days!

It’s difficult to imagine what it was like to make quilts before the sewing machine was invented. (Personally, I think I would find it more challenging to live without my rotary cutter!)

Before sewing machines were mainstream, quilters had no choice but to both piece and quilt by hand. While handwork does take more time than piecing on our speedy sewing machines, there are benefits to hand piecing.

Need a portable project?

Traveling? Waiting at a doctor’s office? Want something to do while watching television? Hand piecing is the perfect solution.

Needle turn applique in progress by Sheri Cifaldi-Morrill | Whole Circle Studio.

Image via Sheri Cifaldi-Morrill of Whole Circle Studio

One of the best things about handwork is that it can be done anywhere (even on a flight!).I always have a project prepared and packed up in a clear bag along with my tools and supplies. 

Don’t have a lot of room to set up a sewing machine?

Hand piecing is not only perfect for those on the go, but is great for those who may not have a lot of room to dedicate to a sewing machine.

Sew Can She Tool CaddyPurchase or make a sewing caddy (like the one above by SewCanShe), and you’ll have all of your tools and supplies at your fingertips.

Looking for precision?

Because you’re going slow, you can more easily control your stitches by hand than on a machine.

With some types of handwork, including needle-turn appliqué, you’re able to piece designs that would be nearly impossible on a machine. Appliquéing by hand also creates crisp clean edges, that won’t fray. I needle-turn appliquéd a Hawaiian-inspired design to create my Big Island Blossoms quilt shown here:

Big Island Blossoms quilt by Sheri Cifaldi-Morrill | Whole Circle Studio. Modern Hawaiian Inspired quilt.

Image via Sheri Cifaldi-Morrill of Whole Circle Studio

Do you have issues achieving the perfect Y-seam on a machine? Give it a try by hand piecing The results are amazing!

Moonstone Quilt blocks by Giuseppe Ribaudo.

Image via Giuseppe Ribaudo, Giucy Guice

Want to chill out?

I enjoy the meditative quality of all hand stitching. There is a calming effect of stitching away. Put on your favorite music or encourage a group of friends to meet up and stitch away!

Keep your mind sharp!

Piecing by hand is great for your hand-eye coordination. You’ll also find that the more you practice, the more your stitch quality will improve. I’m a big believer that being consistent makes you better and gets things done. Every stitch counts. Do what you can, stitch by stitch. Before you know it, you’ll have a project done and will master a new skill.

Want to get started on a project? Check out these methods for hand piecing.

1. Needle-turn appliqué

With needle-turn appliqué, you layer one fabric on top of another and turn the edge over while stitching the pieces together. I love this method of sewing because I’m able to design quilts that I wouldn’t be able to make with piecing on a machine.

Think Big! mini quilt by Sheri Cifaldi-Morrill | Whole Circle Studio. Applique quilt pattern.

You can achieve a nice clean edge, with no raw edges that might fray. You’re also able to have more control than machine appliquéing, especially around tight curves as shown above in my Think Big! mini quilt pattern.

Want to give needle-turn appliqué a try? Check out this free tutorial for tips and tricks.

2. English paper piecing

With English paper piecing, also called EPP, you wrap fabric around a stiff template (usually cardstock or plastic templates). After basting or gluing the fabric to the form, you stitch the shapes together by hand. Once all the pieces are sewn together, the foundation form is removed.

This fun technique is great for beginners and it is easy to piece tricky Y-seams. Since you are typically using small pieces of fabric for this technique, English paper piecing is a great way to use up your scraps!

Moonstone Quilt blocks by Giuseppe Ribaudo.

Image via Giuseppe Ribaudo, Giucy Guice

EPP is super popular right now with lots of modern quilters. You can purchase standard shapes, like hexagons or diamonds, to use as templates and design your own quilt. There are also EPP patterns you can purchase to make designed quilts, like the Moonstone pattern shown above, designed by Giuseppe Ribaudo.

Want to learn how to English Paper Piecing? Check out Helen Stubbing’s Quick & Easy English Paper Piecing class.

3. Traditional hand piecing

If you can piece it on a machine, you can piece it by hand! All you need to know is how to make a knot and a basic running stitch.

Piecing quilt pieces

Image via Pat Sloan

Since you’ll be stitching slowly and with a handheld needle, you’ll have lots of control and can be precise with simple seams or tricky situations, like Y-seams. Pat Sloan has a great tutorial on basic hand piecing. 

If you’ve only pieced a quilt on a machine, give hand piecing a try. Start small and make a mini-quilt and join the slow stitch movement!

About the author

Sheri Cifaldi-Morrill is a designer, pattern writer and award-winning quilter. With the help of books and the Internet, she taught herself how to sew and discovered her love of designing and making quilts. As a trained and practicing graphic designer, her quilts start with a concept and research shapes the design. Her work is inspired by her everyday life and experiences. Sheri strives to make beautiful objects that inspire others to make and learn by providing clear instruction and encouragement. In 2016, she was awarded the first annual Craftsy Quilt Designer Fellowship. Learn more about Sheri and her work at wholecirclestudio.com and on Instagram or Facebook.

14 Comments

Jennifer

Sheri
Loved reading your little write up on Hand sewing.
I love hand sewing
and do take needle turn applique projects to Dr.’s offices as well as English paper piecing
It is amazing how fast projects get done .
we have a lady in our Guild who embroideries and sews a little square every day of the month she then joins them all in a row and shows us what she has accomplished that month.
Keep it up

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Sheri Cifaldi-Morrill

Jennifer, I’m glad you enjoyed the post!

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JWNeedleworker

They asked me to teach a class at the nursing home where I’d been donating quilts and I readily accepted the challenge. I didn’t know how to piece by hand so I went to Craftsy’s free class with Jinny Beyer to learn. We started April 7th and by June 29th we had two complete. One we used for a silent action to raise money for fabric and we entered the other in the county fair and received Grand Champion. One of the ladies is from a different county so she entered there and received Grand Champion also. It’s been a delight for those who thought they could never accomplish anything like that again. We’ve completed eight 36″ quilts, 2 bed runners, and we have pieced 5 quilts for our veteran’s that need to be quilted by Veteran’s Day. It’s been good for me!

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Sheri Cifaldi-Morrill

Wow! That’s amazing. Thank you for sharing!

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Karen

I have hand pieced for years and years and people thought me a bit crazy – now my hands are developing arthritis and I still hand piece but turn to my machine a little more – I also hand quilt almost all my quilts – in the past 30+ years I have made over 300 quilts most by hand

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Sheri Cifaldi-Morrill

Hi Karen, 300 hand quilted projects—that amazing!

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Wendy Peacock

I’ve only been quilting for about 9 months and I was only taught how to do bindings by hand, so I’ve never known any other way! In addition, I found a finished quilt top at an antique store years ago that was completely hand stitched but was disintegrating, in part, because some of the fabric scraps that were used were just too thin. I bought it, not knowing what I was going to do with it. I only knew that I couldn’t let it lay there any longer. I can’t even imagine the loving work that went into making it! Since learning how to quilt, I’ve taken on the job of restoring each and every defective piece by hand. Needless to say, I’ve ALWAYS got an evening “TV project” as I call them!

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Sheri Cifaldi-Morrill

Hi Wendy, I’m so happy to hear that you’re giving extra TLC to antique quilts. And yes—hand piecing projects are awesome “TV projects”!

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Kathleen

I see you have basted the applique in place before turning the edge, rather than pinning. How far from the edge of the applique are your basting stitches? I’ve never seen this technique, but then I’m relatively new to applique.
Thank you!

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Sheri Cifaldi-Morrill

Hi Kathleen, I typically having my basting stitches 1/4″ from the edge. Another tip—use leftover thread from bobbins. Doesn’t matter what color as long as it contrasts with the fabric your basting (so you can see the stitches). It’s a great way to use up thread and you’re going to be taking the basting stitches out at the end anyways. Give it a try!

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Kathleen

I made a comment yesterday. It didn’t post. Testing again.

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Norma

I hooked on hand quilting too! I always look forward to mtly night time ritual in front of the TV with my husband. Best part of my day!

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James Lee Tucker

It’s interesting to know that hand stitching has a calming effect. I think this is the reason I would usually my grandmother doing hand stitching a quilt when I was a kid. As she’s now too old to make a quilt, I’ll buy her a Hawaiian quilt as a gift for her birthday.

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Sheri Cifaldi-Morrill

HI James. I hope you or other family members still have some of her hand stitching projects. What a treasure! Thanks for reading the blog post! –Sheri / wholecirclestudio.com

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