Before you dismiss hand quilting as something your great-grandma might have done, here's something you should know. Sewing your quilt by hand provides a soft finish that really can’t be achieved by machines. And nothing beats the zen of sewing something with needle and thread.
It's best to start off with small quilting projects, like pillow tops and table runners, before tackling a bigger piece. But even before you embark on that, be sure to stock up on the right supplies and read the following tips.
What You Need
Obvs, right? But the size of the needle can make a big difference. Most hand-quilting pros agree that a size 10 is ideal — the eye isn’t too big or too small, and the needle is strong enough to handle a quilt's many layers.
If you're using all-cotton fabric, you'll want to use a cotton thread. Coating thread with a conditioner like Thread Magic can keep it from knotting as you stitch. You may have to try a few different types of threads to find one that's both durable and easy to work with. But they're out there!
There are all sorts of hoops out there, including handheld ones, lap hoops and standing quilt hoops. When hand quilting smaller projects, like pillow cases, you may not even need a handheld hoop, but for a throw, hoops can be useful.
Pro tip: Don't place the quilt too tightly in the hoop (like you would when you're embroidering, say). The fabric needs to be able to move up and down as you work, so make sure there is enough give.
How to Hand Quilt
Cut the Thread
Your thread should be roughly 18 inches. Any longer and it'll tangle. Shorter, and you'll be switching threads frequently. Tie a small knot at the end.
Pull the needle and thread through the back of the quilt, bringing it up at the exact spot you want to start hand quilting. Give a slight tug so the knot goes through the backing fabric but doesn’t pull all the way through. This way the knot will be hidden inside the quilt. (That's why you want a small knot, not a big one!)
Keeping your stitches small and even is the most important part of hand quilting. A good goal is six stitches per inch. Later, as you become more skilled, you can shoot for anywhere between eight and 12 stitches per inch.
Mind Your Hands
Keep one hand underneath the quilt and one hand above.
Your bottom hand steadies the fabric while it guides the needle all the way through to the back of the quilt and moves it back to the top. Your top hand will move the needle down into the fabric and up again.
Load the Stitches
As your top hand guides the needle up and down, don't pull the thread all the way at this point. Instead, load two or three stitches on your needle. Once you have a few stitches loaded onto it, pull the thread all the way through, taking care to keep the tension even.
Then use the up-down motion to load the next several stitches on the needle before pulling the thread all the way through. Continue in this manner until you're done sewing that particular piece. Then move onto the next one.
Pretty soon you'll be done with your hand-quilted project, thanking great-grandma's guiding spirit, and getting excited for your next needlework challenge!
Check out our class on hand quilting as a next step to your adventures.