Hand Quilting

Finishing Your Quilt

Part 2

Basically, hand quilting is a series of running stitches made through all layers of a quilt with a needle and thread. Here are a few things you will need before you start.

Thread

Hand quilting thread needs to be smooth with as little lint as possible and should be very consistent in thickness. It’s important to use a good quality thread as an inferior thread will be hard to work with and will form annoying loops and knots. It’s also good practice to run your thread through beeswax (dressmakers or quilter wax) a few times to help it glide through your fabric layers.  

For prominent stitches you could try sashiko thread (try Daruma Yokota sashiko thread) or perle cotton. I like to use Aurifil 12 weight cotton thread, it’s not as thick as sashiko thread but it’s smooth and glides through the fabric easily. You can use any good quality sewing machine thread too but you may want to use a thicker thread. Remember a 40 or 50 weight (wt) thread is finer than a 12 weight (wt) one. The lower the number the thicker the thread. 

Needles:

Needles are personal preference and also will depend on what thread you are using. You may have to try a few to find the right one but they do need to be sharp, strong and not too thick. I like to use an embroidery needle or a Crewel needle size 9 or 10 but you could also try a chenille needle. You can buy quilting needles, personally I find them too short but if you are using a hoop you may find a “between” or quilting needle better. Common sizes are 8, 9, and 10; size 8 is best for beginners.

Thimble:

An essential tool for hand quilting, again you may need to experiment to see which one you like. There are many to choose from- leather, metal, plastic. I use a plastic Prym ergonomic one. 

Frame/hoop or free sewing?

I don’t use a frame or hoop to hand quilt, my stitches are a little bit ‘wabi sabi’ but that’s how I prefer it. I sometimes sit at the table and hang the bit I’m stitching over the edge of the table but mostly I like to cosy up in an armchair and stitch in front of the TV especially in the winter.  

If you prefer neat, even stitches then you’ll want to use a frame or hoop. You will get smaller, more even stitches if you keep your quilt stretched as you stitch. A frame supports the quilts weight, ensures even tension and frees both your hands. Hoops are more portable and less expensive. Quilting hoops are deeper than embroidery hoops to accommodate the thickness of quilt layers. 

Hera marker:

This sturdy, inexpensive tool is actually perfect for creating temporary creases in fabric. Place your material on a flat, hard surface (like a table, hard floor or cutting mat)  then lay down your ruler as a guide. Press the Hera Marker firmly along the side of the ruler to make the crease, and when you’re ready, stitch right in the indented lines. 

Fabric pen- heat or water erasable:

Useful for marking your quilting pattern, just remember to test it: some pens leave long-term marks on material.

Start by planning out where you’d like to stitch

You could stitch around the shapes in each block or you could stitch ‘in the ditch’ of the seams. I like to stitch ¼ inch away from the seams- I usually just eyeball this measurement but you could draw or crease the lines in (using the methods above)

Always start in the middle of your quilt and work your way out to the edges. 

You’ll begin and end your stitching by burying the thread tail between the layers of the quilt; this prevents knots from showing on the front or back of the quilt.

To make a quilter’s knot: 

With your needle threaded, hold the thread tail over the needle, extending it about 1.5cm above. Holding the thread tail against the needle with one hand, use your other hand to wrap the thread around the needle clockwise two or three times.

Pinching the thread tail and wraps with your thumb and forefinger, grasp the needle near the point and gently pull it through the thread wraps. Continue pinching the thread wraps until the thread is pulled completely through and forms a small, firm knot near the end of the thread tail. 

To start: 

Insert the needle into the quilt through the quilt top and batting, but not into the backing, a few centimetres from where you want to quilt. Bring the needle back to the surface in position to make the first stitch. Tug gently on the thread to pop the knot through the quilt top and embed it in the batting. 

For a classic running stitch, wear a thimble on the middle finger of your stitching hand.

Hold the needle between your thumb and index finger. Place your other hand under the quilt, with the tip of your index finger on the spot where the needle will come through the quilt back. With the needle angled slightly away from you, push the needle through the layers until you feel the tip of the needle beneath the quilt.

When you feel the needle tip, gently push the needle forward and up through the quilt layers until the amount of the needle showing is the length you want the next stitch to be.

Repeat this rocking motion until the needle is full. Pull the needle away from the quilt top until the stitches are snug. I get approx 4 stitches per inch but it depends on your fabric, needle and thread.

When you want to stop stitching/ burying the thread end:

Make two knots on top of each other in the thread approx 1cm away from the quilt top, make the last stitch but run the needle through the quilt top and batting layers only. 

Bring the needle out approx 2cm away from the stitching.

Tug gently on the thread to pop the knot through the quilt top and embed it in the batting.

Holding the thread tail taut, clip the thread close to the quilt top. 

If you finish a line of hand quilting with plenty of thread still in your needle, you may want to move to another area without knotting your thread and starting again. The technique for doing so is referred to as ‘travelling’. If the distance you need to travel is more than 5cm, however, it is best to knot the thread and begin again. When you finish a line of stitching, run the needle point through the quilt top and batting only, moving it toward the next quilting area. 

This is a slow stitch project so enjoy the process.

Happy stitching!