I love hand quilting. I do it on quilts I love and some smaller makes just because. It looks so good, it doesn't take as long as you might think and it's so enjoyable.
This is not a step by step tutorial, you can find great tutorials easily. I recommend Susan's tutorial for quilting with perle thread and Mary's pick stitching tutorial. You'll find lots of inspiration from them too and for more gorgeous hand quilting visit Clare's blog Selfsewn and Susan at Patchwork and Play.
I'm going to give you some advice, some cheats and some encouragement!
1 - Just do it. Really, go for it. Grab a basted quilt and stick a threaded needle in it. You won't know if you can do it until you do. If you're really scared make up a small quilt sandwich and have a practice on some fugly fabric.
2 - Use perle thread (I generally use #8), a thicker cotton (I like Aurifil 12wt and 28wt) or embroidery floss (separate 3 strands - not suitable for quilts that will be used, see comments below!).
3 - Don't cut a long length of thread. It's tempting because you think it'll last longer but actually you just end up with a tangled mess. I generally hold the end of the thread in one hand and use the other to pull the thread the length of my outstretched arm and cut it at my shoulder. If you have extraordinarily long arms you could cut it at your bicep.
4 - Use a needle with a big enough hole for the thread. Don't waste your time trying to get thicker thread through a tiny needle hole. Experiment with different needles to see what works for you. I'm sure most of the time I'm quilting with an embroidery needle because that's what I have a lot of, just make sure they're sharp (as in pointy)! I like to use a longer needle too because that's what I feel comfortable with. I have some sharps (the name of the needles), betweens and some milliners (all various brands) and I like them all depending on the thread. I've come to realise that needles are like pens - they all work and do the same job but some just feel more comfortable to work with.
5 - You might want to use a thimble or you might not. You could use a quilting hoop or frame or not. It is up to you, try it out and see what you prefer. There's no right or wrong. Sometimes I use a thimble when I can find it or put it on when I realise my fingers hurt. I don't tend to use a hoop.
6 - Fake it until you make it. You can draw lines on your quilt with chalk or washable ink pens or pencils, you can mark them with a hera marker and you can even... mark the stitches on your quilt! When I'm tracing an embroidery pattern I use dots - so I end up with what looks like a dot-to-dot picture rather than trace every line exactly. Sometimes my stitches end up the same length as the space between the dots. So why not literally mark out your quilting stitches and quilt over them? I'm not suggesting you do this for a whole quilt unless you want to but you could try it until you get used to the stitches:
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
No one will be able to tell you've marked the quilt once you've washed the marks away!
7 - You set the stitch length. Sometimes I try to picture a grain of rice and go for that length. Anything around 1/8th - 1/4" looks good. What matters is to get them the same length with the same distance between stitches. Just try to be consistent. I don't aim for perfection. As long as they look roughly the same I'm happy with that.
8 - Seams are a helper. It's really easy to quilt in a straight line, even without the 'cheats' in #6! In my latest hand quilting project I made a buggy bag and when I was quilting the panels I followed the seam allowance. I use the seam as a guide and while I'm quilting I can usually see or feel the fabric seam allowance that has been pressed open underneath (important to consider when you're making your patchwork, if you want to use this 'cheat' then you'll need to press all your seams open). I realise you've got wadding and backing too but trust me you can still feel that seam allowance on the top of your quilt. So I'm quilting and following the seam allowance as I go. I quilted both sides of the seam this way.
9 - Unpick it if you don't like it. I tend to stop every so often and check I'm quilting in a straight line, if there's a couple of wonky stitches it's no big deal but if I stand back a bit and it still bothers me I will undo my quilting. I keep checking so I only have to undo a couple of stitches. You'll need to do this less as you get used to it but if you're just starting don't be afraid to pull out stitches you don't like. Better to be happy with the end result!
10 - Use your needle as a guide if you chose to use a longer needle. When I'm sewing along a seam I can use my needle to help keep a straight line, just laying the needle on the fabric:
11 - You don't have to load your needle with stitches, if you want to just stab stitch you can (going front to back one stitch at a time). As soon as I tried loading more stitches though it was surprisingly easy and it really does make quilting faster.
12 - Don't worry about the back of the quilt, concentrate on the front. As your stitches get neater and more uniform the back will too. You can try making sure your needle is at a 90 ° angle perpendicular to the quilt top / bottom to make the stitches the same length but honestly no one is going to expect the back to be perfect.
13 - If someone looks at your finished quilt and points out that there's a couple of wonky stitches or the stitches on the back are shorter than the ones on the front then you should... wait that's so unlikely... way more likely that they'll look at it and say 'what a beautiful quilt!'. Don't stress. It's probably only you that will look at it critically so stop it, step back and take a look - I bet it'll look great!
14 - Do it. Yes that's the same as #1 but really now what are you waiting for? See that first picture on this post? That was my first hand quilted quilt.