Hand quilting is an age old art that has remained essentially the same for many centuries. The theory behind hand quilting is very simple, but the only way to fully master the technique is with practice. Compared to machine quilting, hand quilting is considerably slower work. However, many quilters find it an enjoyable and meditative activity that affords a much greater degree of control over the needle.
The most essential piece of equipment needed for hand quilting is a frame or hoop. There are many different sizes and styles of quilting frames and hoops available and you should pick the one that you find most comfortable to use. A frame can expand and contract to make different sized sections of the quilt available for working on. This is an advantage when quilting designs with long lines or ones that travel from one edge of the quilt to the other. Quilting hoops are more manageable to handle. They can be preferential when quilting designs are rounded or made of small individual shapes; they are also more portable than frames. Use a needle and thread specifically intended for hand-quilting.
Before your sandwich of quilt top, batting and backing fabric is ready to be hand quilted, it needs to be well pressed and basted. If you plan to follow the design of a pieced quilt top, for example when quilting-in-the-ditch or shadow quilting, you do not usually need to mark the design on the quilt top. For more complicated designs, use a disappearing marker or fabric pencil. For a large quilt it will help to have a quilting design schematic on paper to refer to. You can use stencils, rulers and templates to help create a quilting design. When you are ready, mount the quilt in your hoop or frame so that the center portion is exposed. Begin quilting in the middle and work outwards to the edges.
Thread your needle with a length of thread measuring about 18 inches. Some quilters wax the thread with beeswax to give it more strength but this is not essential. Knot the end of the thread, insert the needle into the top layer of fabric only and bring it up at the spot where you want to begin quilting. Tug the thread gently to pull the knot through the top layer of fabric into the batting layer. To make the first stitch (for right-handers), hold the left hand underneath the quilt, palm-up. With your right hand, insert the needle straight down through all the quilt layers until you can feel it with your left index fingertip. Use this finger to push the needle point back up through the layers, then pull the stitch taut. For a beginner it is more important to have even stitches than small ones. Experienced hand quilters can make several stitches at a time. When moving from one section of the quilt to another, pass the needle through the batting layer to eliminate the need for knotting and cutting the thread. When you reach the end of the thread, make a few secure backstitches and snip the thread so that the end is hidden within the batting. Ideally it you should not be able to tell where you started and stopped quilting.
- Quilts From Happy Hands; Sandra Lee Wright; 1981
A writer of diverse interests, Joanne Thomas has penned pieces about road trips for Hyundai, children's craft projects for Disney and wine cocktails for Robert Mondavi. She has lived on three continents and currently resides in Los Angeles, where she is co-owner and editor of a weekly newspaper. Thomas holds a BSc in politics from the University of Bristol, England.