Learn How to Hand Quilt

on May 20 | in Sewing + Quilting Tips, Sewing Tutorials + Patterns | by | with 44 Comments

Sarah from Hip to Piece Squares is a fabulous quilter, and loves to hand quilt her work. We asked Sarah to share her expertise with us today. Enjoy Sarah’s introduction and her hand quilting tutorial…

From Sarah: I am hand quilter by necessity. Away at school and determined to make a quilt, I was missing a crucial tool for the process: a sewing machine. Instead, I just quilted it all by hand!

You’ll need a few special tools to get started. It’s important use a hand quilting thread. These threads are often wax coated for strength, stability, and to prevent tangling. (If you choose to use an uncoated thread, you can coat it yourself with quilters’ beeswax.) You’ll want to try using a between needle, which are shorter than many other sewing needles. The shorter needle is important for keeping control over the length of your stitches. A quilting hoop or frame is important to keep all three layers of the quilt sandwich from sliding around while you sew. And finally, you’ll need to choose a thimble. They come in a variety of styles including steel and leather. You may want to try several types to what feels most comfortable to you.

Before you make your first stitch, you’ll need to make a knot at the end of your thread. I use a quilter’s knot. Start by threading your needle, then laying the last centimeter or two of the thread on your right index finger with the end pointing down. Pinch your needle on top of it between your thumb and index finger, with the point facing away from your hand.

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Holding the end of the thread connected to the needle in your left hand 2 inches away from the the pinch and needle, wrap it around the needle, going from front to back 3 to 4 times.

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Then, making sure that the end of the thread is on top of the long tail, slide (without releasing your pinch on the end and wraps) your thumb and index finger around the wraps and let go of the thread in your left hand.

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Pull the point of the needle with your left hand and keep the knot to be tight in the pinch, until the entire length of the thread has slid through the pinch in your right hand. Give it a little tug, and you have a quilter’s knot.

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To pop in your thread, insert your needle next to where you want to start quilting, and into the batting. Pull the needle up to where you’ll be starting your stitches at and tug at the knot until it pops into the quilt top. The knot should embed itself into the batting and will secure itself. You’re just about ready to quilt!

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(For the next steps, I do things a little unconventionally. Traditionally, quilters are taught to wear their thimble on their middle finger, while gripping the needle with their thumb and index finger and then moving the needle with the thimble only. I always felt awkward holding the needle this way, so I wear my thimble on my ring finger and then grip and move the needle in and out of the fabric with my thumb and middle finger. I believe that as long as it feels comfortable, you should make modifications for your personal preference.)

Start by holding the quilting hoop on the arm you are not sewing with and keeping your hand under where you will be sewing at. Place the needle straight up and down, into the quilt sandwich.

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Then, without pushing the needle all the way through, push up from underneath the quilt with your thumb and gently rock your needle with your thimble to pick up a new stitch from the bottom.

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When the tip of the needle shows on the top of the quilt, point your needle back to the starting position of straight up and down and repeat the previous steps.

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Once you have 2 to 3 even stitches on your needle, push the needle all the way through the fabric with your thimble.

Continue quilting with controlled, even stitches until you are one stitch from where you would like to finish.

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You’ll need to make another quilter’s knot to end the line of quilting. Start once again by holding the thread between your finger and needle, and wrap from front to back around the needle 3 to 4 times.

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Making sure not to twist anything, gently slide the knot down and tighten about ¼ inch from the last stitch.

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Finish off by inserting your needle into the quilt sandwich, pop the knot into the center of the batting and cut the end of the thread. Easy peasy!

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If this seems like a lot to think about, just concentrate one or two things at first. Start out by just working on making your stitches all the same length—it will help to make your quilting look neat and tidy. Keep practicing and in no time you’ll be ready to tackle a quilt of your own!

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44 Responses to Learn How to Hand Quilt

  1. Rebecca says:

    (1) How tight/loose is the hooped sandwich? (2) at the vertical needle starting point, is the sandwich top lower, level or above the edge of the hoop? (3)when you say, “push up from underneath the quilt with your thumb” is the underneath thumb/finger pushing up sandwich behind the needlepoint, at the needlepoint, or pushing up the sandwich ahead of the needlepoint? Thanks.

  2. Lindsey says:

    I am still very, VERY new to the whole “quilting” thing in general, so I have a lot of introductory books. This tutorial is, by far, the best one I have seen yet. Thank you so much!!!

  3. Great post, great tutorial, I love hand quilting,it really makes great quilts.

  4. Great tutorial. I’m working on a doll quilt right now for practice. I can see how it can be relaxing and fast once you get going with it. Can you do a tute on the type of batting you prefer? Is it 100% cotton?

  5. Rebecca says:

    I have been dreaming (I mean literally dreaming) about hand quilting and was so thankful when I came across this tutorial. I am always so taken-a-back when people so generously share their time and knowledge, thank you. Can’t wait to get started:)

  6. Kathryn says:

    Thanks for the Tutorial, but I just don’t quite understand something:

    “Then, without pushing the needle all the way through, push up from underneath the quilt with your thumb and gently rock your needle with your thimble to pick up a new stitch from the bottom.”

    This instruction (above) sounds a bit like you don’t take that needle all the way through to the bottom side with every stitch, and that you keep several stitches inside the batting before coming out fully on the bottom side. Do you mean that when quilting, only every third or forth stitch goes through to the back of the quilt?

    Also I just find it so very hard to make the needle go through even twice onto the needle and still keep the stitches reasonably small. A hoop just makes it harder!!! Any suggestions?

  7. WHATUPDUCK says:

    Very nice tutorial! I’ve hand quilted for years and still learned a few things.

  8. Pam says:

    Thanks for this great overview. I’ve been trying to teach myself hand quilting from a few books and online sources and this helps reinforce. One question I can’t find a answer to: I keep bending/breaking needles. Is my hooped fabric too tight? Are my needles just that crappy? I can’t figure it out. Any suggestions would be much appreciated!

  9. Christina says:

    What great info! I’m currently working on a hexagon quilt top, all hand stitched. I’ve been contemplating hand quilting it when I eventually get to that point (ten years from now). 🙂 I’ve never done any hand quilting, but you’ve made me believe I just might be able to do it. Thanks!

  10. Ramona says:

    Thanks so much for the pictures of the knotting technique. I was taught the technique but always have a problem with it and your pictures made it so much clearer. Thanks again.

  11. Leah says:

    Thanks for this! I only ever hand quilt. Lately I’ve been bending my needles though (been using clover) – any suggestions on brands to try?

  12. Christine says:

    I love the knotting technique part. I always wondered how to hide the knot when I am hand-stitching the binding and had been unable to find anything in my books or online. Thank you soooo much for the great tutorial!!!!!

  13. claire gale says:

    thanks so much for the great tutorial, i love the tips i picked up here.

  14. Andrea says:

    Yes! I have been needing this!

  15. Okay I’m going to try this – wish me luck everyone

  16. great info. The most relaxing thing for me to do is to sew somwthing by hand at the end of the day.

  17. duff says:

    wow, you make this look easy. I had tried too many times and my stitches are just too long. I realize it’s a skill, but it’s as though there’s just too much to go through with 2 layers of fabric and batting. Is there a particular batting you like or is there one you would recommend I try?

  18. Krystina says:

    Thanks for sharing this. Really great and detailed.

  19. Thanks.

  20. Helena says:

    Thanks for sharing, hoping to pratice soon.

  21. ima10cow says:

    I just started to hand quilt my first quilt last week!I’ve been using tutorials on the web to try to figure out what to do. What luck that this post came up in my google reader today!! This was the clearest post I have read on hand quilting! Thank you so much for posting. I can’t wait to try what you taught about the knot! It is so much clearer now. THANK YOU!!

  22. nancy says:

    I have yet to make a quilt but have always been determined that when I make one it will be hand quilted. It was good for our Grandma’s! so much more of YOU in the work!!

    What I can never get info on is how you design the quilting pattern (not the quilt top) to go with the patchwork. I’ve seen such intricate beautiful designs on the backs of quilts but never found instructions about how to make it work with the front…?????

  23. While I learned to hand quilt about a year ago, and started a mini (24×24) quilt then, I’ve yet to finish it. This tutorial has given me the motivation I need to get it done;-)

  24. Kate says:

    Great tutorial – I will give hand quilting a go!

  25. Bree says:

    My aunt and I were just talking about hand quilting yesterday and up you pop!

    A couple of questions, you obviously use a hoop – is that like a large embroidery hoop?

    And do you pin the rest of the quilt to stop it all flapping about while you are working on that section?

    And do you start in the middle and work out, hoop by hoop?

  26. Andi says:

    I really want to try this. I remember visiting my grandmother’s quilting guild and trying hand quilting for the first time and being totally frustrated. Maybe now that I am older (and maybe more motivated….)it will be easier?

  27. Llamabean says:

    Great tutorial, this is great, thank you, I can’t wait to try it with your tips.

  28. Mrs. JP says:

    Look at those perfect stitches. I guess practice does make perfect!!

  29. Emily V says:

    You’re brave to start a quilt with no machine, but I bet the results were lovely! Thanks for sharing some techniques!

  30. Jayne says:

    hmmm so I don’t ‘need’ the $4000 machine to create hmmm

  31. Katie B says:

    This is incredible! I’d love to try it sometime.

  32. Melanie says:

    wow! thanks! All I need to do now is practice, right? 🙂

  33. Dana Nichols says:

    I always had the same problem with my thimble and so I have just never “got the hang of” hand quilting. I will be trying your method. I do believe I can do that! Thanks!!!

  34. antique love says:

    Love the blog,…. will try to quilt.. thanks!

  35. This is agreat! I’m, by no means, great at handquilting, but I do enjoy it. My issue is always with the popping the knot into the batt. I can usually get it off the start, but I can never get it at the end of a line. Your instructions seem a bit too easy here. Do you have a spot with more details?

  36. Rachel says:

    Wow, it’s such a very pretty affect. I hope to find the right project to try this on!

  37. Nanna says:

    Thanks for a great tutorial!

  38. Ann says:

    Very helpful. I like hand sewing and think I will try this on my next small quilt. Do you set up the sandwich any different? Is it pinned (or basted) all over then you put a section in a hoop and remove the pins?

  39. Andi says:

    Amazing! I once sewed a lined messenger bag by hand but I cannot imagine finishing a quilt without a sewing machine.

  40. Amy says:

    Fabulous. Thanks for sharing. And I’m so glad to hear your first quilt came back to live with you!

  41. Anita says:

    Great post and very timely for me. Can you recommend any battings for hand quilting? I used warm and white for my first and current (years…) project. I’m finding it difficult to quilt through with the straw needle. I’m wondering if there might not be a batting that is better suited for hand quilting.

  42. Linda says:

    She makes it look so easy! Maybe I should try this again after giving up a few years ago…

  43. Megan says:

    thanks for the great explanation. i’m feeling more and more inspired each day to try some hand quilting.

  44. carolyn says:

    This is great — thanks for the clear how-to! We are off the grid all summer, so no sewing machine for me, and I’d love to finish this quilt I’m working on!

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