how to hand quilt

If you want to know how to hand quilt, you’re in the right place. This ancient technique is still popular and rewarding – and not even all that difficult!

Quilting is at least a couple of thousand years old. The oldest evidence we have, is an ivory figure of an Egyptian pharaoh wearing some kind of quilted cloak. It is estimated to date around 3,400 BC! While we can’t be sure when these techniques appeared, we do know that they are ancient. So, if you thought that you needed a quilting or sewing machine to create a quilt, you couldn’t be more wrong.

There’s some magic about hand quilting. While it’s slower and not as precise as machine quilting, the majority of experienced quilters use both methods. And if you ask them about their favorite quilts, it is usually a hand quilted piece. Passion for hand quilting is almost unexplainable, but I will give it a try.

Why You Should Learn Hand Quilting

For hundreds or thousands of years, hand quilting was the only way to create quilts. While sewing machines have been used for some quilting tasks since they were invented, the late 20th century was the turning point. Sewing and specialized quilting machines took over and became widely popular. However, hand quilting is still going strong and many quilters still use this technique

There’s no doubt that machine quilting comes with many benefits. It is a faster and easier way to create a quilt. Especially if you have to deal with heavy fabric. Moreover, machine-made quilts are usually more durable and often machine washable. So, you may wonder if hand quilting is becoming obsolete. No way. And here are 4 reasons why.

  1. It is more artistic. Hand quilting is highly personalized and in a way more artistic quilting method. You do everything with your hands (okay, you use thread and needle). When you complete the project, it is a unique piece of art made by you.
  2. Hand quilting has therapeutic effects. This is true for all types of needlework. It helps you to relax and relieve stress while doing something beautiful and useful.
  3. It is affordable. You don’t need to buy a machine and countless accessories. It all comes down to fabric, threads, and needles.
  4. It is portable. You can create your quilts anywhere. You can work in any room at your home or take it with you on your travels. 

What You Need to Start Hand Quilting

You only need a couple of items to start your hand quilting campaign. These are needles, thread, and fabric.

  • Needles. There’s a variety of needles you can use, depending on the type of the project and materials you use. As a general rule of thumb, you should start with somewhat larger needles (size 9 or 10) and then gradually switch to smaller ones as your technique improves.
  • Thread. 100% cotton thread is the most common choice for quilting projects. If you plan to use and wash your quilt a lot, a polyester thread may be a better choice, though.
  • Fabric. As for fabric, it’s entirely up to you. Generally speaking, natural fiber fabrics work best. Knits have a lot of stretch, so it’s more difficult to work with them. Loosely woven fabrics may lose their shape when you cut them. But, you may give it a try. 

You’ll also need a pair of scissors, ruler, pins, and clips to measure and cut your fabric. It’s not a must, but there are a couple of tools that can be convenient when quilting. These tools include a thimble, quilting hoop, rotary cutter (it’s an alternative to scissors), cutting mat, seam ripper, and iron.

how to hand quilt

How to Hand Quilt – 5 Essential Tips

There are dozens of techniques and styles for hand quilting. But, at the core, it comes down to sewing running stitches through three layers of your quilt. So, here are the basic guidelines.

  1. Cut the thread to be approximately 18” long. Tie a knot at the end. Insert the needle through the top but not through the batting and backing. Do it an inch or two from where you want to start. Give the knot a little tug to pop it through the quilt. Now, your knot is hidden inside the quilt.
  2. For classic hand quilting, it’s easier to use a thimble. Your dominant hand should be above the quilt and the other one beneath it. Pierce all three layers of your quilt until you feel the tip of the needle on your finger underneath the quilt. Instead of pushing the needle through, rock it back to the top of the quilt. Use your finger underneath to push the needle back up. Push the needle through and that’s your first stitch. 
  3. Typically, you should do a couple of stitches at a time. So, when you push the needle back up to the top of the quilt, don’t push it all the way through. Just pull out the required length of the stitch and pierce the fabric again. Then, keep rocking the needle up and down at even intervals.
  4. While we like our stitches to be small, it is more important that they are even. So, you can start with roughly 6 stitches per inch. As your skills improve, you should aim for the optimal range from 8 to 12 stitches per inch for most projects.
  5. To finish your stitches, tie the knot and use the same popping technique from step 1.

Final Thoughts

Hand quilting is a traditional technique, but there’s much more to it. There are so many reasons to use a sewing machine to create quilts. It’s faster, more precise, heavy fabrics are not a problem, and the end product is sturdier and more durable. Yet, hand quilting just wouldn’t go away. I’ve seen myriads of amazing machine-made quilts, but when I see a beautiful hand quilted piece, my heart skips a beat

We live in a hectic and restless world. Learning how to hand quilt can be another way to slow down a little bit. It will help you to appreciate and enjoy your craft more. As well as the other aspects of your life. Hopefully, you can find time to enjoy some kind of needlework. If hand quilting is your choice, you can find some useful tips in our “Quilting for Beginners” article.