Thursday, February 10, 2011

Hand quilting tutorial

I love hand quilting. It takes longer, but gives a lovely handmade look, and its much more sociable than noisy machine quilting. My technique for hand quilting is not necessarily the 'right' way, its just how I do it, and its not difficult. Its a matter of practicing and not insisting on perfection straight away. It doesn't bother me that my stitches aren't always even, otherwise I don't think I'd enjoy hand quilting much.

My tools include Perle Cotton no. 8, size 24 chenille needles, thimble with a ridge around the top and sharp scissors. I put these things in a little zippered purse and keep it with the quilt I'm working on so I can take it with me easily.
I don't use a hoop. I tried using one for my first quilt, but I just found it a pain to keep moving it around. So now I just rest the quilt on my lap (or sometimes tuck my feet up on the couch and drape the fabric over my knees) and grip the fabric with my left hand. I'm careful not to push up too much from underneath, but just try to hold it neutrally. I grip the fabric between my thumb and palm, and spread my fingers under the quilt, with my middle finger under the place I'm sewing.

For this project, I made sure I ironed my seams outwards so that I could use the shadow of the 1/4" seam allowance as a guide. That way, I didn't have to mark my quilt or use quilters tape as a guide.

Start by threading the needle with a length of cotton. It's meant to be about 18", but I must admit, I make it as long as possible, so I don't have to re-thread so often :) Tie a single knot in the end (you may need a double knot if using a thinner thread). Insert the needle about an inch away from where you want to start quilting, going through the top layer and batting (but not the backing fabric!) and bring the needle up where you want to start quilting.
Pull the thread...
until the knot pops into the batting and lodges there. I scratch the little hole it leaves to make it disappear.
To make your first stitch decide on your stitch length and hold the needle perpendicular (at a right angle) to the fabric, so the needle goes straight through (not at an angle). You will feel it prick your finger on your left hand at the back of the quilt (for me its my middle finger that I keep extended underneath the quilt). I don't wear any protection on that finger, and I've never had a problem with it getting sore or anything. I like to travel the needle along a little at the back so it makes pretty stitches on the back as well as the front (but I think I need to work on making these shorter as sometimes the stitches on the back are bigger than on the front).
Rock the needle back with your thimbled middle finger and put your thumb just in front of where the needle is to come out so that the needle comes straight through the layers.
Push your needle to the desired stitch length and then rock the needle up again so it is at a right angle to the fabric. Make your next stitch in the same manner, trying to keep your stitch length even.
Rock the needle back and forth to make a few stitches on your needle (I don't really touch my needle much, except with the end of the thimble).
When you have made a few stitches, push the needle through with your thimble...
and pull the thead so the stitches are taut but not puckered. When you start you may want to make one or two stitches at a time to try to keep your stitch length pretty even (remember it doesn't have to be perfect). Now repeat that lots and lots of times! Adjust the quilt on your lap as you go, so the part you're quilting sits flat and isn't being pulled askew.
When you're ready to finish your row of stitches (or you run out of thread), bring your needle up to where you want to finish. In the pictured example I was completing a square design, so I brought the needle up very close to the hole through which I started. This way, it will make a square on the back as well as the front of the quilt, and you wont be able to tell where you started and finished quilting.
Make a knot that sits right on top of your quilt. I hold my needle point at the hole as I pull the thread to help  the knot sit in the right place.

Now, insert your needle into the same hole that you just came out of, travel through the batting (but not backing fabric) and emerge about an inch away.
Pull the thread so the knot is pulled into and lodges in the batting. Massage the fabric so the hole disappears.
Cut the thread close to the surface (being careful not to cut the fabric), and massage the thread tip into the fabric so you can't see it.
That's it!
A cushion or a baby quilt might be a good place to start.

There are many different ways to hand quilt, and hopefully by sharing what I do, you can find what works best for you and develop your own technique. Please feel free to ask a question, or to share a tip. Happy hand quilting!

36 comments:

  1. I also love to handquilt, so peaceful and such a beautiful result! I never would have thought to use perle cotton for the thread, but it looks beautiful, I'll have to give it a try.

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  2. You read my mind! I want to use this exact style of hand stitching on a swap project for the Urban Home Goods Swap and have been thinking about the best way to do it as well as the right thread. I have only machine quilted in the past and wanted to branch out. Thanks!

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  3. You're hand quilting is beautiful! Thanks for sharing the tutorial. Do you machine wash your quilts that have been hand quilted? Any problems with that?

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  4. Thanks for sharing. Your pillow looks great.

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  5. Yay! What a great tutorial, thank you!!!

    I second that question...doesn't hand quilting make the quilt a lot more sensitive?

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  6. I haven't had any problems machine washing hand quilted quilts. If it was a quilt that was going to be washed a lot, I would either do lots of hand quilting on it to make it strong, or I would add some machine quilting as well. I quite like combining machine and hand quilting. On "Wonky Donkey" I stitched in the ditch and then hand quilted circles on it. The Perle 8 cotton seems to be really strong. I'd welcome anyone else's experiences on the subject.

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  7. Thanks for the great tutorial. I have only ever hand-quilted one quilt and that was with the invisible thread - I hate invisible thread. It's like sewing with fishing line. Might have another go at it again - with regular thread this time.

    BTW sending a HUGE CONGRATULATIONS on your gorgeous quilt in Homespun. I just got my copy in the post today

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  8. awesome tutorial kate :)
    and VERY cool cushion!
    i'm impressed that you use a thimble, i can't get the hang of it so always have sore fingers!
    where do you get your perle 8 thread from? anywhere online?
    x

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  9. So pretty! I love how projects look with the colored thread and how you stitched along the seam line - makes the seam allowance disappear! Great tutorial - thank you :)

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  10. The Crewel Gobelin (in Australia) has a fantastic range and they ship really fast (its usually here the next day). They have a colour chart to show the range.
    http://www.thecrewelgobelin.com.au/p/1105478/dmc-perle-8-balls-.html

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  11. Thanks for the great instructions and photos! I've been wanting to try hand quilting for ages but was always worried I'd make a mess of all the hard work that leads to the quilting part!

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  12. What a nice tutorial!
    Lovely tanned hands, too, I might add.

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  13. Hmm... did my first bit of this today--ironically BEFORE I saw your tutorial :-) Good tips for next time, though :-)

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  14. Thanks for the great tutorial! The cushion looks great!

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  15. You're too clever for me :)
    I've watched you do it and now I have your tutorial and I still don't think I could do it :(

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  16. Thanks for showing this, I got a hoop but it doesn't seem to work for me, I will give this a try. Just curious will it look wonky on the other side or is it straight and even too? Mine always looks terrible on the other side.

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  17. Mine is pretty straight and even on the wrong side. Not quite as good as on the front, but good enough. I should have posted a picture of the back. I think it might have something to do with making sure the needle goes in perpendicular to the fabric, not on an angle.
    Good luck! If you're worried about the back, put a busy fabric on the back so the quilting doesn't show up well.

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  18. Perle cotton 8 with chenille needle looks fantastic. Never used anything but hand quilting thread when I DID hand quilt. Looks fantastic. Thanks for the tutorial.

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  19. This was perfect timing as it has been a while since I did any hand quilting. Great tutorial!

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  20. Kate where do you buy your Needles?
    My Local Quilt Store only sell s**t ones.
    Linda

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  21. Very clear tutorial thank you.

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  22. So good to read a tutorial on this! I had not yet learned how to 'hide' knots and you make it sound so easy! I'm looking forward to trying this on my next quilt! Thank you!

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  23. I have never used Pearle cotton for my hand quilting and I have been hand quilting for years. I will need to look for it and see what it is. I use tiny needles though so if I used that thread I would probably have to try a big needle and I'm not so sure I would want to do that.
    The quilt is lovely.
    Karen
    http://karensquilting.com/blog/

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  24. I've never seen a tutorial for hand quilting, and have always thought I'd be interested in doing it. Thanks so much for taking time to do this. That is so sweet. PS - can you add FeedBurner so I can get your post updates via e-mail? I didn't see that option on your blog. dmj53(at)hotmail(dot)com

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  25. Thank you for this wonderful tutorial!

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  26. I just hand quilted my first queen sized quilt. I couldn't do the quilting on my sewing machine so I decided this was the only way I could quilt it myself. I tried to use a hoop at first but found it too awkward to work with so I just held the quilt on my lap and worked with it that way. It has taken a few months of work but I found it relaxing and rewarding. I wouldn't hesitate to do it again!

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  27. Thank you Kate! I started hand quilting my charm bracelet quilt tonight and I got through 2 squares! Your tutorial helped immensely and my stitches turned out pretty good! Slow going but it is worth it as I love the handmade look. Maybe by the time I finish this quilt I will get quicker :) Thanks again for such easy instructions.

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  28. Thanks so much for this awesome step by step tutorial! I am going to try my hand (ha ha) at hand quilting and this is exactly what I needed. :) Thanks!

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  29. I am attempting to hand quilt for the first time. I so like your idea of not using a hoop. I started using the hoop, but find it annoying. So I will do my next project without a hoop.

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  30. I never would have thought of perle cotton, but I love the look. It stands out so much more, and I love the colored thread. I only recently discovered machine quilting and have been hand quilting my quilts for years (and not churning out very many due to the time involved!). I have a zig zag quilt that I had been contemplating what to do about machine quilting, but I think I may re-evaluate and do this instead. I think the colored perle cotton would really add a spark!

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  31. I have a question... how close or far apart should the hand quilting be? in your example, the squares look a few inches apart. is there an optimum?

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  32. Love it! thanks for sharing! i'm totally doing a pillow!

    Sherri

    ps I'm going to austrailia in five weeks! sydney then perth!

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  33. When you use colored thread can you see it under the white fabric when you pull it under to cut it?

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  34. where do I start the quilting design, in the middle or the edge?

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Thanks so much for leaving a comment! I try to respond but life sometimes gets in the way. If you have any questions please email me at kate(at)kateconklindesigns(dot)com