Hand Quilting Basics
Hand quilting results in dashed lines of stitches and a quilt with a soft look. Methods of hand quilting vary as much as quilters do. Adapt the techniques that follow to suit your style.
Hand Quilting Tools
Before you begin any quilting project, collect the tools and materials you'll need in one easy-to-access place. Here is a list of general supplies for hand quilting:
Frame or hoop: You'll get smaller, more even stitches if you keep your quilt stretched as you stitch. A frame supports the quilt's weight, ensures even tension, and frees both your hands for stitching. Once set up, however, it cannot be disassembled until quilting is complete. Hoops are more portable and less expensive. Quilting hoops are deeper than embroidery hoops to accommodate the thickness of quilt layers.
Needles: A "between" or quilting needle is short with a small eye. Common sizes are 8, 9, and 10; size 8 is best for beginners.
Thimble: This finger cover relieves the pressure required to push a needle through several layers of fabric and batting.
Thread: Quilting thread, including the preferred 100% cotton variety, is stronger than sewing thread.
Starting Hand-Quilting Stitches
Stitch with an 18" length of hand-quilting thread in your needle. 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.
Securing Thread to Begin
1. With your needle threaded, hold the thread tail over the needle, extending it about 1⁄2" above.
2. 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.
3. 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.
4. 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. This is called a quilter's knot.
5. Insert the needle into the quilt through the quilt top and batting, but not into the backing, a few inches from where you want to quilt. Bring the needle back to the surface in position to make the first stitch.
6. Tug gently on the thread to pop the knot through the quilt top and embed it in the batting.
Stopping Hand-Quilting Stitches
Securing Thread to End
1. Wind the thread twice around the needle close to the quilt top, as if making a French knot.
2. Holding the thread wraps next to the quilt top, run the needle tip through the quilt top and batting layers only.
3. Rock the needle tip back up, bringing the needle out 1⁄2" to 1" away from the stitching.
4. Tug gently on the thread to pop the knot through the quilt top and embed it in the batting.
5. Holding the thread tail taut, clip the thread close to the quilt top, releasing the end to snap below the surface of the quilt top.
Hand-Quilting Running Stitch
For this classic hand-quilting stitch, wear a thimble on the middle finger of your stitching hand.
1. 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.
2. When you feel the needle tip, slide your finger underneath the quilt toward you, pushing up against the side of the needle to help return it to the top. At the same time, with your top hand roll the needle away from you. 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.
3. Lift the eye of the needle with your thimble finger, positioning your thumb just ahead of the stitching. Rock the eye of the needle upward until the needle is almost perpendicular to the quilt top and the tip is in the fabric. Push down on the needle until you feel the tip beneath the quilt again.
4. As in Step 2, push the needle tip with your underneath finger and roll the eye of the needle down and forward with your thimble finger to return the needle tip to the top.
5. Repeat this rock-and-roll motion until the needle is full.
6. Pull the needle away from the quilt top until the stitches are snug.
Remember that uniformity in stitch length is more important than the actual length of individual stitches.
Traveling with the Needle
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 "traveling," which is often used for continuous quilting designs such as feathers. If the distance you need to travel is more than 1" to 2", however, it is best to knot the thread and begin again.
1. 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. If you are using a contrasting thread color that is darker than the quilt top, be sure to slide the needle deep into the batting. Bring the needle tip out about half a needle length away. Do not pull the needle all the way through unless you have reached the point where the next stitching line is to begin.
2. If you have not reached the starting point of the next stitching line, grasp the tip of the needle only. Leaving the eye of the needle between the quilt layers, pivot the needle eye toward the point where the next stitching line will begin.
3. With a thimble on your middle finger, push the tip of the needle, eye first, toward the next starting point. Bring the eye of the needle out at the starting point, pulling out the entire needle, eye first. Begin stitching where desired.