Perfecting Hand Quilting Stitches

Periodically we get questions from some of you about various aspects of quilting and we try to answer those questions when we can.

The following came in some time back and I thought it would be a good issue to discuss:

Learning to do hand quilting - any suggestions on how to practice my stitches?

 

Quilt Frame

 

First and foremost, the tools and materials you use really make a difference.

Fabric:

Use high quality apparel weight 100% cotton fabric. If the fabric is heavy, you will get larger stitches.

Batting:

I like to use 100% cotton batting. One of my favorites is Quilters’ Dream Cotton. This batting comes in several weights. I like the lightest weight, Request. The thicker the batting, the larger the stitches and the thinner the batting, the easier it is to quilt and get small stitches.

 

Dream Batting

 

Needles:

I use a between, size 11, for all my hand piecing and quilting. It is a sturdy needle and because it is so short it does not bend as readily. There are a number of needle companies and I have experimented with many of them. Unfortunately, as with everything else, many of the manufacturers are now having their needles made in China. Frankly, in my experience, the ones made in China are not the same high quality as those made in England and Japan. I would advise you to check the packaging. If it says “packed in England” and not “made in England,” the needles are probably made in China. My favorite needle of choice at the moment is the Colonial Needle Company, Super Glide, between, size 11. This needle is made in England and has a special coating that allows it to glide more smoothly through the fabric.

Thread:

I like a pre-waxed thread made specifically for quilting. There are many brands and they now come in a wide range of colors. The one I use most is YLI quilting thread. It is a little more wiry than standard thread and produces a nice quilting stitch.

 

Tools on Quilt

 

Spoon:

I can’t quilt without a spoon. You may wonder what that is.  When quilting, you need a hand underneath the quilt frame to receive the tip of the needle and push it back up again. After a while your finger gets really sore. There are various devices to use under the frame that will guide the needle back up. Some thimbles have sharp ridges around the top for just this purpose. Aunt Becky’s Finger Saver is another device.

Once, I encountered a group of older women around a quilting frame. One of them was quilting up a storm and I asked what she used underneath. She proudly held up her thumb where she had a quarter taped. She was using that to guide the needle back up.

I have tried many different things, but my favorite is TJ’s Quick Quilter Spoon. It saves many sore fingers.

Pliers:

When quilting, sometimes if you have stacked four or five stitches on the needle it is difficult to grab the needle and pull it out. I use a small pair of pliers for this purpose. I just keep them on my quilting frame and grab them when needed.

Quilting Frame:

I have saved the most important for last. To get good even stitches you must use some type of frame or hoop.  It is the same as doing embroidery. Without a hoop, the work is either too loose or too tight. I can’t stress enough the importance of this.

My book, Quiltmaking by Hand, has a whole chapter on quilting, designs for quilting, how to put a quilt in a frame or hoop, and so much more. If you have an interest in hand quilting, this book would be useful for you.

And finally…Thimbles:

I never sew without a thimble. I have written two blogs about thimbles and recommend you read, “Put A Thimble on It” and “Thimbles, Part II – My Favorite Thimbles.”  These blogs cover how to choose a thimble and what my choice is.

Now to answer the question above, if you have the right fabric, batting, tools and some sort of frame, the best way to practice your quilting is to put a quilt in a hoop or frame and start quilting. The first stitches will probably not be to your satisfaction, but you will find that you will improve as you keep stitching.

I was very disappointed when I started quilting my first quilt. Here is a close up of how those first stitches looked and another several months later when I was achieving smaller and more even stitches.

 

First stitches, about 4 stitches per side

My first stitches, there were four stitches per side.

At the edge of the quilt.  After four months, my stitches were better - about seven per side.

At the edge of the quilt. After four months, my stitches were better – about seven per side.

By my third quilt, I felt very comfortable.

By my third quilt, I felt very comfortable.

 

I am happy to see the renewed interest in hand quilting and hope you will give it a try!

 

My current project.

My current project.

 

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12 comments

  1. Barbara wellman

    As usual this post is right on point. These are the same steps I’ve used to get my hand quilting stitches small and even. I am going to look for those needles, I live in a very rural area and shop quite a bit online.

  2. Evelyn Rau

    Thank you for the information.I have been quilting for many years, but I have never been satisfied with my hand stitches. With the proper tools, I am going to try handstitching again. Can you tell me where I can purchase the Colonial needles? I have never seen this brand of needles, so I am thinking that I will need to order them online. Thank you for your help..

  3. Izzy

    Well, Im kinda confused , just when I began to make tiny even stitches along comes Kantha quilting and big stitch.. i cannot get an even big stitch and tend to back to the old ones. I remember the Amish being the authority in perfect stitches in the 80s when I began quilting and they said 9 stitches to the inch was expert so I strived for it and just when I finally got it I am learning this decorative giant stitch.. Yours are excellent though !!

  4. Izzy

    I searched your site for colonial needles and found none..

  5. Mally

    You inspired me to hand quilt again recently with the photos of the Labyrinth Quilters Quest quilt in a blog post posted a month or so ago. I have a question. Did you use one color of thread throughout for Labyrinth quilt? Or do you a choose a color that closely matches the color of each fabric patch? There are so many colors in that quilt and I can’t tell from the photos. I am quilting the quilt called Columbia from Quiltmaking by Hand and using 3 colors that are close to the predominant colors of fabric used in the quilt. That is: white for the light background, red for squares and red areas of the border print and blue for the blue areas of the border print.

    • You ask an excellent question and it is one I will now put in my queue for blogs…..sooner than later.

      Stay tuned.

  6. Susan

    Jinny, thanks so much for this post and the photos. Seeing the progress you made with increasing experience is very encouraging!

  7. Sarah Kirtland

    Thank you for the post.
    1. Instead of pliers, I found, in a quilting store somewhere long ago, these little rubber-like circles (very thin, tan in color, about 1-1/4″ diameter). They work really well and can pull the needle through 6-8 stitches gathered on a #11 John James needle.
    2. I have had a lot of trouble with my right hand. It worried me because I was concerned that I would drop something while I was working in the kitchen. So, I saw a hand specialist (yes, they do exist), an M.D. He confirmed that the discomfort was coming from the way I quilt – it is stretching the tendon in my right hand so that it becomes irritated. I was worried that the effects might be irreversible and he said no. That, as soon as I stopped hand quilting(I don’t have any problems with piecing or English paper piecing), the effects would reverse themselves. If my hand becomes really uncomfortable, he also suggested applying heat using a paraffin bath which helps keep the heat around the hand, compression gloves, and advil or Aleve. I’m still hand quilting a quilt but am keeping it very simple – straight and curved lines 1/4 inch from the seam. I’m getting about 6-8 stitiches per inch.
    I just wanted to share my experience. I love quilting.

  8. silvia herman

    Me encanta el acolchado a mano.

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