Tips & Lessons

Hand Quilting Tips

There are so many factors that can influence your success in hand quilting. This tip will focus on thread, needles and the quilting stitch.Here



YLI hand quilting threads

There are so many different threads on the market, but it's important to use a thread designed for hand quilting. These threads are thicker than a regular piecing thread, and are typically "glazed" so they pass smoothly through the fabric and batting.

These days, I'm using YLI's hand-quilting threads. I like the quilting to fade into the overall quilt, so I usually choose a thread that's just a touch darker than the fabric.  If my stitches are going to cross fabrics in a variety of colors, I'll choose a neutral like a mid-grey or taupe.  But I use lots of black, cream and gold, too!

If your thread keeps breaking, it's possible that the thread is getting caught between the end of the needle and your thimble.  That pressure will weaken the thread eventually so make sure the thread is clear.

If your thread is tangling or twisting on itself, first make sure that you are starting with a length of thread no more than about 18" long. Then, I like to untwist my thread this way while sewing or quilting: hold the very tail end of the thread and bring the needle all the way down to your quilt. Drop the end of the thread and then slowly bring the needle to the end of the thread. Grab the end of the thread again and reposition your needle so the tail is the right length. That seems to take care of it for me!

Most people use a "between" needle for quilting.  The size of the needle is very much a question of personal preference -- and remember that with needles, the smaller the number, the larger the needle! I use a Size 11, but I've seen beautiful quilting done with larger needles.  In addition, you may find you prefer a certain brand of needle.  I only use John James Gold'n Glide needles: they are teflon coated so I find they pass more smoothly through the fabric.

Start with the smallest needle with which you feel comfortable, and then drop down a size once you're comfortable.  And remember that needles do go dull! If it doesn't hurt when you prick yourself, or if you find it harder to bring the needle up through the back, it's time to use a new needle.

If you're having difficulty threading your needle, make fresh cut of your thread on an angle. Also, the hole is a needle is stamped out, so I've found that my thread will often pass more easily through the needle from one side rather than the other.  You can't tell by looking, so if you're having trouble, turn the needle to the other side!

Here I am working on my grandson's tumbling blocks quilt, featured in the February 2012 issue of American Patchwork & Quilting magazine.

The Stitch

I usually use quilting frame, but if I have a tight deadline and a smaller project, I will use a hoop since it's more portable.

I used to use my fingers underneath the quilt frame, gently poking them with the needle and then pushing up into the underside of the quilt to bring the needle back up again. For more than 10 years, however, I have been using a spoon on the underneath side. It saves fingers and for me produces smaller and more uniform stitches. (Actually my use of the "spoon" is thanks to Gayle Ropp, a quilter in the northern Virginia area who showed me how it was done.)

There's more information on using a spoon -- and a video of the spoon in  use -- in the  Spoon Quilting Tip in this tips section.

For lots more information on piecing and quilting by hand, check out my book and companion CD, Quiltmaking by Hand.