Hand Quilting

I am a beginner and I would like to handquilt and not machine quilt. Are there some special stitches that I have to do? Unfortunately, I have no mother, grandmother or friend to give me a practical demonstration.


Quilting is a running stitch. In-out, in-out, in a straight line, through all three layers (top, batting, back).

Thread your quilting between (a type of needle, the packages are labelled) with about 18 inches of thread. Some folks like a single strand, some use a double strand. The end should have a tiny knot on it. About an inch away from where you want to start push the needle into the top layer of fabric and bring it up at your starting point. Pull the thread through and pop the knot through the fabric so it is underneath. This takes some practice to get right. You want to pull the knot under without tearing a hole in the fabric, breaking your thread, or pulling the knot completely out of the quilt top. If you are near a seam you can enter there instead of the middle of the fabric.

Don't be tempted to use a very much longer piece of thread. It tends to want to knot up as you go along, and that can be more hassle than it's worth.

Should you wax the thread? If you want to. You can also use specially made quilting thread which comes with a wax-like coating designed to help the thread through the layers of your quilt. Plain old cotton-covered polyester works fine, too.

Put one hand underneath the piece you are quilting on. Push the needle through with the other hand until you feel it just prick your finger, then push it up to the top again. When you see the tip of the needle, turn it back down. Use a thimble on the end of your finger to push the needle with, do not hold it with your fingers. Once you get the needle started in the fabric you use the underneath finger like a fulcrum to see-saw the needle up and down as you push it through the layers.

Developing your quilting stitch takes practice. At first they will seem large and uneven to you. Don't despair. Keep practicing and soon you'll develop a rhythm that works for you, and you'll learn how the fabric responds to your needle. You do need to practice uninterrupted, though. It's not something you can do for ten minutes at a time between phone calls or kids.

It is more important to develop even stitches than small ones. Work on getting the top and bottom the same length. It's easier to do this with fine quality fabrics and a new, thin needle. If the batting seems to be hard to sew through, try a new needle (I tend to rub the coatings right off mine after a while) or a smaller size. Try needling just the batting, that could be the culprit. Some of them (especially the inexpensive unbonded cottons) are just a bear to get through. You're also going to find that seams are a challenge if you have six or eight layers to sew through.

How are stitches per inch counted? About half of the quilters I know count only the ones that show on top. The other half count both top and bottom and divide by two. Which way is right? We haven't decided yet. Forget what you've heard about having to have 15 stitches to the inch, though. That's a fantasy of people with too much time on their hands. A beginner can expect to get 5-7 stitches per inch, and an experienced or professional quilter can do about 12 after years of practice. Most of us are in the 9-10 range.

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