Wednesday, 16 July 2014

big stitch hand quilting tips


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:


If it's not straight you can pull the needle back before you've even made the stitches.

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.

Let me know if this helps and feel free to add any more tips in the comments below!


WIP Wednesday at Freshly Pieced

34 comments:

  1. This makes for very interesting reading Lucy- an excellent range of handy hints! Your hand quilting is always lovely!

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  2. This was the exact post I needed! thank you so much.

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  3. When I sew a running stitch, I bunch the fabric up with my left hand and sew with my right, so I'm manipulating the fabric up and down between my finger and thumb of my left hand. That works with a smallish quilt, but what do you suggest when you have a big one and you can't possibly bunch it all up in your left hand?
    I usually use a hoop and stab up and down perpendicular, but I'd love to be able to sew a running stitch, it'd be a lot quicker. Any thoughts?

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  4. Great post! I rock my needle and load up my stitches. The thing is everyone develops their own technique and preferences. For example I need to use a clover thimble and i push with my thumb! There are no rules! I love hand quilting with perle cotton too and finer hand quilting too x

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  5. Amazing post! The only hand quilting I've done was a small pillow, but I loved the look. I've never attempted to hand quilt a whole quilt because I'm too worried about the back. Maybe I'll keep practicing with pillows where the back is hidden until I get really good at it! Thanks for the encouragement... :-)

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  6. Great tips, Lucy!
    But I would not use embroidery floss for a quilt that will be used. It's okay for a wallhanging or something like that.
    The floss is not twisted and can show wear quite soon, and that would be sad for so much beautiful work!

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    1. Excellent point! I wouldn't use it for a quilt either, thanks for commenting about it!

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  7. What a welcome, helpful post! I think we all tend to stress about "doing it right," and often I have found that means I do not DO it! I am definitely sending your post on to my daughter!

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  8. Hi Lucy. I love to hand quilt and have always done so. When I saw the big stitch, I thought it was so pretty and wanted to quilt a baby quilt using those stitches. It started out great, but after about three or four inches of stitching, I found myself making smaller and smaller stitches like I normally would use in hand quilting. So then I would have to take them out. Any tips on how to keep on track with the big stitches?

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    1. That's exactly why I imagine the grain of rice! If you try to keep an image of the size you want in your head it helps. I'm sure it's only because you are used to smaller stitches and if you did more big stitch it would get easier, you just need to push the needle more as you make your stitches.

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  9. Ooh you have got me even more excited for my class with Jen Kingwell now!! Thank you xxx

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  10. I think hand quilting is easier than machine quilting, but that's just me and I've been called quirky more than once!

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  11. Lots of great tips. Your stitches look so lovely and even.

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  12. i agree with #1/#14 - just do it!!! i don't do it all the time but am so happy with the two baby quilts i tried it on first. and i plan on handquilting my gypsy wife when it's time. so relaxing and therapeutic and contemplative. i wish i could do all my quilts this way. thanks for the other tips. wise words from one who knows.

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  13. great post lucy now what do you reccommed for when your fingers get hard and calloused?! lol

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  14. I enjoyed reading your tips. I've never hand quilted a proper size quilt because I'm afraid of how long it would take and I'm worried my basting isn't up to it but perhaps it would be less onerous that I think :)

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  15. It's beautiful, but alas, would kill my RSI :o(

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  16. Great tips Lucy. I also found a great YouTube tutorial recently by Sarah Fielke - she uses a hoop, but makes it look so easy - I found it very helpful. I must get some perle thread... :-)

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  17. Thanks for all the tips, Lucy. I've only done one small quilt with hand stitching. As with any hand stitching, I find it quite therapeutic. I'll now know next time not to use embroidery floss!!! I was happy with my lines and the front of the quilt, but the back... some of the stitches were so tiny and it was totally uneven. As you said, though, I was the only one that noticed!!!

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  18. Fantastic Lucy! I LOVE hand quilting! Your quilting is always lovely!

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  19. What a great post. This is the way I quilt too. I love all the colours available in Perle 8. Do you know about Celebrate Hand Quilting on Facebook? We have over 7,000 members and share photos of our projects. Any hand quilter can ask to join.

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  20. Great tips. I think you have to check this, http://www.the-littlest-thistle.com/2014/07/finish-along-q2-prize-redraw.html, I believe you win some prizes, and you must claim it.

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  21. What a great post Lucy, I think you've thought of everything. I agree the best thing to so is just to Do It. For people who are worried about how long it will take then machine quilt a bit first then finish the quilt off with big stitches. In my experience getting the right thimble was more important than the right needle. I'm sorry I don't remember what brand my thimble is.

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  22. Thanks for all the tips. I've just finished a quilt top for my niece and fancy hand quilting it, I don't know, I've never hand quilted before so don't really have a clue. I just fancy a slow and steady job rather than a quick machine quilt. Anything I should know about using flannel for backing if I'm hand quilting?

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  23. I just machine quilted my last baby quilt and I am so disappointed not to have hand quilted it, I agree it looks better.. Thanks for the tips, especially about the thread!

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  24. Hand quilting - love it! Must get back to doing some!

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  25. great post! i can't keep up with blogs these days, but i was happy to see this over on pinterest.

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  26. Ooh hello, Ive been a stranger to blogs of late, found this link on Marys post.
    Thanks for the mention!!! BTW If Im stitching straight lines I ALWAYS mark my quilt with a water soluble pen and I am a needle stabber!!!!!!! I always wondered if there was a name for this method, I will call myself this from now on!!

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  27. Love the idea of making dots! I'm new at hand quilting and struggle with getting even stitches. Thank you so much!

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  28. Ooh you have got me even more excited for my class with Jen Kingwell now!! Thank you
    Custom Embroidery Digitizing

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  29. Very good tips. I think the reason I like the 'big stitch' look is the look, goes fast, & looks great

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  30. Great article - I have recently (2 weeks) starting big stitch hand quilting and I LOVE IT! Regular hand quilting is my first love but it takes time and I don't have as much to spare these days - so I only hand quilt on special quilts, BUT now I can put some big stitch hand quilting anywhere I like and it makes a huge difference to the finished item. I am amazed that it zips along as fast as it does. I use 1/4" wide masking tape as a guide for a straight line - I peel it off and use it over and over again. As you say Lucy there is still the odd wonky stitch and I take it out when I see it because it is so easily undone and redone. I love your work.
    Pauline
    perry94022 at hotmail dot com

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  31. I certainly learned from your writing. I'm a old lifetime Sewist from 1935. Mom taught all her 11 children to sew. We were very competitive and continue our Hand and machine projects. My three brothers and 6 sisters love the process.( one sister is in heaven ) I miss Margie. She didn't take care of herself like the rest of us. Well, that's another story but related to sewing. Sewing keeps us happy and alert. Something inside radiates our outer desires to blossom. Thanks for your input

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  32. Wow! Can I say a BIG thank you? I loved finding out at the end that the first picture was your first quilt! When I saw it I thought, "that is gorgeous and amazingly PERFECT...>I want to do it!" Thanks for all the tips...I'm heading to the store tomorrow to buy supplies. This all began this afternoon when I realized there was NO WAY I was going to be able to machine quilt what I want on my son's Doctor Who quilt. Thanks again for the inspiration!!!

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