How to Quilt by Hand: Tips for Success

27 Jan 2014

A note from Vivika: Last year, Quilting Arts editors Rose DeBoer and Kristine Lundblad helped restore a coworker's heirloom handmade quilt that had been damaged seemingly beyond repair. With ingenuity and tiny stitches, Rose and Kristine revived the quilt's beauty and function. Today, I've asked Rose to share her tips for how to quilt by hand.

"Frenemies" handmade quilt by Nneka A. Gamble, featured in Quilting Arts Magazine, Feb/March 2014.
Hand quilting is truly a labor of love. The choice to hand quilt instead of finishing by machine can be made for many reasons--desiring a more heirloom look, wanting the quilting stitches to play a more prominent role in the design, or enjoying the process of hand stitching are just a few. Before you begin the odyssey here are a few tips for how to hand quilt:

1. Sit back and relax.
If you were in a hurry, you'd be threading your machine! One of the delights of working by hand is enjoying the process, so settle in and treasure the moments.

2. Use really good hand sewing needles. In the case of needles, you do get what you pay for. Buy the expensive, name brand needles. Your shop owner may be able to guide you to some good choices. If the label on the package starts with the phrase "Pak-O-Needles," it's probably not what you're looking for.

3. You'll need the good thread, too. If you're working on a cotton quilt, do purchase 100% cotton thread. The weight of the thread and the finishing are personal choices, so you may want to purchase small spools and test them to see what you like. I have a friend that swears by glazed cotton quilting thread--she loves the way it pulls through the fabric. I usually prefer a 40wt. unglazed thread.

4. Take just a few moments to warm up.
There's a reason for batting practice and basketball warm-ups. And even non-sports loving quilters would be wise to take heed. Your stitches will get more even as you go along. So take those first 50 or so stitches on a smaller project. Have a little stack of potholders to work on as you get into your groove. Then when you switch to your quilt, you'll be sailing along.

Personally, I love hand quilting. It's soothing and restful--and the results are so lovely. Take your time and enjoy the journey.

There are many ways to explore handwork; check out the resources from our sister publications.



P.S. Do you ever quilt by hand? Why or why not? Leave your comments below.


Related Posts
+ Add a comment

Comments

on 28 Jan 2014 3:32 PM

I absolutely LOVE hand-quilting. I can't say that I am prolific, but I get a lot of excitement looking back at my work, recalling what was going on. in my life at the time I started and completed, much later!

I would like to learn more about using a frame for quilting. I have never felt comfortable with one, and work with the spot where I am stitching taut in my left hand, with some of my fingers on top and others on the bottom side of the quilt.

I have not had great luck with drawing or tracing a design on my fabric, and prefer to do improv stitch patterns. I enjoy the creativity that emerges unexpectedly! I'm working on a small Halloween wall hanging, and have inserted some subtle ghost outlines, and other pictorial motifs, some by accident, For example, and attempt to mimic some of the machine stippling rendered what looks like the flight pattern of an appliqued bat a few inches away! The eye can spark imagination in surprising ways!

papmom wrote
on 28 Jan 2014 4:13 PM

I have hand quilted. Did some research on the how to etc.

Enjoyed it, I have a floor model frame.

First project was a small wall hanging, then on to a bed quilt.

The bed quilt had photos of my dogs, hand quilted bone shapes and paw prints.

Started out using stencils then just chalked in the shapes.

on 28 Jan 2014 4:19 PM

I have a queen-sized quilt with fairly large Pine Tree blocks set on point and solid alternate blocks.  I have been hand quilting it, off and on, for several years. I am doing pretty straight forward 1/4 inch outlining of all elements in the pine tree block and an oak leaf wreath in the alternate blocks.  I use 1/4 inch tape for outlining and marked the wreaths with a template.  I am pleased with it, but disappointed that the quilting does not show off better.  I will finish it, but probably always do more machine quilting!!

caronmosey wrote
on 28 Jan 2014 4:30 PM

I am a hand quilter, and have been for almost 40 years.  I love the peacefulness that hand quilting offers.  There are SO many hand quilters in the world!  I keep hearing that it is a dying art, but it is definitely not!  There is a Facebook group for hand quilters www.facebook.com/groups/handquilting/ as well as a blog called "Celebrate Hand Quilting."  It is wonderful to see more articles on hand quilting - THANK YOU SO MUCH!

Pepper Cory wrote
on 28 Jan 2014 4:50 PM

I have done all kinds of quilting: traditional hand quilting, Big Stitch, sashiko, domestic machine, and even longarm. But I keep coming back to hand quilting when I'm making a quilt for myself that I love. I like to get 'up close and personal' with a loved quilt and hand quilting means I put myself into every stitch. I encourage all sorts of quilting but know where my heart is.

lburrell2 wrote
on 28 Jan 2014 5:34 PM

I am 71 and I grew up embroidering and doing hand sewing for finishing garments, hemming, tacking etc.  I am now learning hand quilting.  My goal is to hand quilt a quilt begun by my mother and grandmother.  The top is pieced, but it needs to be layered and quilted.  I'm not very good at brain/hand co-ordination so learning takes me longer than it does for many, but living 70+ years has taught me to be patient with myself.  I'm so pleased to see a lot more classes, online and at shops for hand quilting.  Thanks for this encouraging post.

SandySK wrote
on 28 Jan 2014 5:50 PM

I love to hand quilt.  When I started quilting, I thought free motion was all that.  As I learned, I began to appreciate the beauty of the broken line produced by hand quilting.  There is something magical about it.  And I love the peace and meditative nature of rocking my needle back and forth through the layers.  It's just something beyond special to watch art happening under my fingertips.  Yes, it is laborious.  Yes, it takes a long time.  Yes, my fingers get sore and usually look like they are pin cushions.  But, it is all so worth it.  I wish more time and attention were given to hand quilting.  It's a bit disappointing to read magazines or whatever and realize they are all aimed toward whether my sewing machine does free motion or embroidery.

on 28 Jan 2014 6:24 PM

I USED to hand-sew a lot and loved hand quilt my quilts (none of them really large though).  However, over the last few years, due to aging and sore hands and fingers, I've had to stop hand-quilting.  But, I do miss it and love the look achieved by hand-quilting.  If the piece is quite small, I do hand-quilt it.

Once in a while, I do hand embroidery to get my "handwork fix".

foxfyre wrote
on 28 Jan 2014 7:15 PM

I hand quilt most of my quilts. I like the look and feel of hand quilting. I like sitting under a quilt I am making. If it is for someone special, I often think of that person, our times together, and all those thoughts and love are quilted into the quilt. I also hand stitch binding. Again, it is a look I prefer.

I have taught myself to machine quilt and do it when time is short or it is a "look" I want.

I think anyone who quilts should also think about some hand piecing projects. It's pretty hard to take our quilting with us to meetings, appointments, or other situations where we sit and wait. Hand piecing is a great way to have our quilts "on-the-go."

Cindy Lear wrote
on 28 Jan 2014 7:20 PM

I have done both hand quilting and machine as the project dictates. But my favorite overall is hand quilting.  There is a feeling of peace when I settle in with the project and work for a few minutes or a few hours. I call it "getting into my Zen mode." Surprisingly while my hands are working, my brain takes small journeys and I come up with some very creative ideas or solutions to problems. It's a win-win situation.

beanybaby wrote
on 28 Jan 2014 8:10 PM

I'm a self-taught hand quilter with forty years of experience.  I love the process.  It produces a softer and more subtle effect than machine quilting, and even though it takes much longer, I think its worth the time.  In fact, I tell people that it's my alternative to psychotherapy....  There's a kind of zen quality to my quilting time as I sit there just following the lines.

Unfortunately, I am beginning to experience arthritis in my hands that makes it less comfortable to hand quilt.  I'm giving serious consideration to learning to machine quilt at least some things, but I haven't yet mustered up the fortitude to face the inevitable learning curve problems.

Beanybaby

bibicarole wrote
on 29 Jan 2014 11:02 AM

Hello! Thank you very much for these advice because i was looking the right way to stiches a quilt by hand. This is very important for me and you solve my dilemma. Thank you. It meen alot to me. :)

Nancyfromaus wrote
on 30 Jan 2014 4:20 AM

Very interesting workshop.  Must take advantage of your tips very soon.

hanks Nancy

Suntred wrote
on 1 Feb 2014 8:46 AM

When first I started quilting, I was too scared to hand quilt---it seemed a skill beyond me, and so I did simple machine stitch-in-the-ditch, or used the wavy stitch on my machine to go over the seamlines. After some years, I taught myself to hand piece, and gave hand quilting a try. I'd read a couple books by then and tried to keep my stitches even. Now I love to hand quilt, although will never win prizes for it! I agree with others comments---is a Zen thing, and I find the little things I've hand quilted are more special to me, possibly for having them in my hands longer.

I am self-taught from books mostly, although recently from blogs too, and am the only quilter is the entire family, 90% of whom think I'm mad. The other 10% want me to make them a bed quilt for free! lol

SueR@33 wrote
on 1 Feb 2014 9:33 AM

These comments are great...I have been trying to find some recommended resources for hand quilting....I do have a machine, but live in a condo and am hesitant to use it since it may be loud to the ears of others...any other recommended resources are greatly appreciated!

Nanato4Ts wrote
on 1 Feb 2014 10:03 AM

I hand quilt exclusively.  I have zero desire or interest in machine quilting.  Machine quilting seems to fall into one of two categories: a simple meandering kind of quilting that really doesn't add much to the quilt or profuse quilting that overpowers the pattern ... and makes the quilt too stiff.  I don't look down on those who machine quilt (my neighbor and walking/quilting buddy machine quilts), but I know what works for me ... hand quilting.

anitarlbarra wrote
on 1 Feb 2014 1:24 PM

I look forward to hand quilting -it is so relaxing.  I like to use it for quilting bed quilts that I find hard to machine quilt on my sewing machine.

hopesvirtues wrote
on 1 Feb 2014 2:09 PM

I believe hand quilting is just beautiful!  Even if stitches aren't even and small, there is no better compliment from a friend or child than to receive a gift which has been hand done without the aid of a machine.

One year ago, I walked into my neighborhood quilt shop for the first time.  The owner approached me to offer help and I burst into tears because I had just been given the diagnosis of Rheumatoid arthritis in my hands.  I was afraid it was a kind of death sentence to the joy I had received in sewing.  You see, my oldest daughter had just informed me that she was about to have a baby girl and the joy I remembered in sewing for my three girls when they were young was forever doomed to be repeated at my diagnosis.

It turned out that Nancy, the owner of this little shop, had once worked as some kind of a physical therapist and her kind, encouraging words put me in my place as she reminded that there are people out there that were much worse off than I was.

I have been sewing constantly this past year, making a darling little quilt for my Granddaughter and then grandson.  I've sewn dresses and toys and little, tiny stuffed animals and am even now embroidering once again.  My sewing machine broke down this past week and am now faced with the catastrophe of having to finish two projects by hand and then what?

I'm looking forward to finishing these two quilts by hand.  You see, if I hadn't been encouraged to keep quilting and sewing, my hands might have become useless.  My hands are all the better for ignoring the pain and enjoying the satisfaction of being able to do what I thought I could never do again...and the joy I know my girls feel when they open a package with a home made gift from their mom.

I'll worry about the sewing machine problem another time as I use what I have now.  After all, God will provide .  And He did give me two hands.

I appreciate all the tips here and I'm sure I'll use them.  Great timing to read all of these!

kittylittle wrote
on 1 Feb 2014 6:00 PM

Hand piecing and hand quilting make me so happy! Ihave hand quilted every quilt I ahve made and learned something new each time.

on 1 Feb 2014 10:57 PM

My first large quilt I hand quilted it was for my best friend and appreciated the quilt even more because of the hand quilting, which made it more authentic than a completely machine quilted piece.  I took a crazy quilt hand made class this past summer and I truly enjoy adding embroidery stitches to my quilts.