How to Hand Stitch a Quilt

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After sewing together a quilt top, the next step is to hand stitch, or hand quilt, to bind together the three layers of your quilt. Although hand quilting takes longer than machine quilting, the final look can have an heirloom appearance and can be appreciated by others who know the amount of time and skill that goes into hand stitching a quilt. While it takes practice to hand quilt, if you know how to hand stitch a quilt you’ll find the process becomes smoother with time and experience.

Things You'll Need

  • Quilt top
  • Removable fabric marker or fabric pencil
  • Backing
  • Batting
  • Safety pins or thread
  • Quilting frame or hoop
  • Hand quilting needles (also called betweens)
  • Hand quilting thread
  • Thimble
  • Prepare the quilt by marking your quilting lines on the quilt top. Baste the backing, batting and quilt top together with thread or safety pins. Load the center of the quilt onto the center of a hand quilting frame or hoop so the fabric is taut with a little give when pushed up or down.

  • Thread about 24 inches of thread onto your needle and tie a double knot on one end. Put the tip of the needle into your top layer of fabric an inch away from where you want to begin quilting and push the needle so it comes out at that starting point. Give the thread a tug to “pop” the knot of your thread through the upper layer of fabric on the quilt top.

  • Place a thimble on the middle finger of your dominant hand. Make a C shape with your dominant hand from your middle finger to your thumb. Place your other hand under the quilt along the backing with your middle or index finger against the fabric where you want to quilt.

  • Hold your needle, or “between,” vertically between your thumb and ring finger with the eye of the needle against the tip of your middle finger where the thimble is. Push the tip of the needle straight down in the quilt until it reaches your finger on the other hand.

  • Maintain the C shape as you slowly tilt your upper hand away from you as you simultaneously push up with the finger touching the needle point on the other hand until the needle is held horizontally. Push the needle forward slightly and bring it back up to vertical, lowering your bottom finger. You are now ready to start the next stitch.

  • Load three to four stitches onto your needle before pulling the needle and thread all the way through the quilt layers. Give the thread a light tug to lock in the stitches. Continue following your marked lines and making stitches until you only have 4 to 6 inches of thread left.

  • Tie a knot in your thread as close to the fabric as possible and slip your needle under only the quilt top. Bring the needle back up an inch away and pull the thread to “pop” the knot into the quilt to hide it. Start a new thread as you did before and continue until the entire quilt is complete.

Tips & Warnings

  • As you practice hand stitching, try to make the stitches and the spaces between the stitches of equal lengths. Once you are able to make even stitches, you can begin to work on making the stitches and spacings smaller.
  • Although it will be awkward to move your hands in this way at first, it will become easier as you grow accustomed to the movements of “rocking” the needle to pick up stitches.
  • Hand quilting should never hurt. If you experience pain in your back, shoulder or hands, change positions to make yourself more comfortable.

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References

  • "Hand Quilting With Alex Anderson"; Alex Anderson; 1998
  • "Quilter's Compete Guide"; Marianne Fons & Liz Porter; 2000
  • Photo Credit quilts image by Christopher Martin from Fotolia.com
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