Introduction: Everyone CAN Quilt by Hand
You don't have to be ninety and live in a church basement to be a hand quilter.
You don't have to take three years to finish hand quilting a large quilt.
You don't have to have perfect stitches to hand quilt.
You don't need a large or an expensive frame to hand quilt.
It is all true. The quilt you see in the picture was pieced, basted, HAND quilted and bound in three days. Essentially from Wednesday evening through Saturday just after midnight with long breaks for real life interactions and chores.
The tutorial will give you some of the basics.
If you want more information about this quilt or to see more pictures you can check out my blog.
Step 1: Materials
1. Pieced and basted quilt.
2. Big Eye
Tapestry Chenille* Needles
*The ladies in the quilt shop assure me that I am using a chenille needle because you have to have a point to get through the quilt. I actually think I've been using a tapestry needle that is dull on the end. I'm not stitching through any seams so it could be. The real trick is to find a needle that suits you and is able to be threaded with the thick thread and strong enough to push through the quilt.
3. #5 Pearl or Perle cotton in colors you like
That is all.
You might also want to have:
5. Thimble if that is something you are comfortable with.
6. Thread puller/Needle gripper
7. Water soluble or other washable temporary fabric marking pen or pencil
Step 2: Getting Started
1. Cut off some thread. There is usually some discussion about how much thread to use. When I started hand quilting I didn't know how to bury the knot so I would cut a strand of thread big enough to go all the way across the quilt. It was quite unmanageable. The quilt ladies will tell you something like "no more than18 inches". My rule of thumb is to cut a piece just shorter than double my comfortable reach when pulling the thread through. That is probably just under 3 feet of thread. -- Now don't go measuring! There are enough things to make you crazy about quilting. You do NOT need to stress over the length of your thread. If it is too short, throw it away and start over. Too long, cut it off!
2. Tie a knot in one end of the strand. You are going to use a single strand for this particular project. Do NOT tie a mighty scout's best knot. Just tie a small simple slip knot. No... Stop right there. I did not say square knot! Cut that off and try again. A simple once through the loop slip knot. Any more than that and you will not make it through the next step.
My grandmother had some way of looping the thread around her finger and then rolling it off the end so that it had a perfect knot. I've never been able to duplicate that. If you know how to do it, let me know.
3. Trim the tail off of the knot.
Step 3: Pulling the Knot Through
You will take your first stitch on the back side of your quilt.
Start about an inch away from where you want the needle to be when you come up on the front of the quilt.
Take a long stitch in through the backing, travel through the batting and come back out on the backing side. As in the picture below.
DO NOT stitch through to the front. You are only taking a stitch through the backing and the batting.
Pull your thread all the way through until your knot is up against the fabric.
Now you can let go of your needle and grab a hold of the thread just above where it exits the backing.
Start pulling. You are going to pull on the thread until the knot pops through the backing. It will take more force than you may be comfortable with. Don't worry. The worst that can happen is that you will pop the knot through both holes and will have to start again.
If it is a bit stubborn, you can use your fingernail to gently assist it through.
Now you are ready to start quilting.
Step 4: Bringing the Thread to the Front
This is as simple as it gets. Stick your needle back into the quilt right next to where the thread came out.
Flip your quilt over and poke around until the needle comes out close to where you want to start your first stitch.
Don't stress about it. Close is good enough.
Step 5: You ROCK!
Pull the the thread all the way through to the top of the quilt. Check the bottom to make sure you haven't left behind any loops or snags.
From here on, you will be working from the top of the quilt. You are going to be making running stitches following the seam or the pattern you have drawn. These are not straight up and down stitches. They actually go at a bit of an angle through the batting.
My stitches on this quilt are about 1 cm long.
All of the quilters tell me that you rock the needle. If you understand what that means, ROCK ON... and don't worry about reading the rest of this. While I have finally figured out how to make the stitches, it has taken me longer to grasp what rocking the needle means.
As best as I can describe it, the point of your needle is tracing a pattern through the quilt that follows the curve of the rockers on the bottom of a rocking chair. You are pushing it down through the layers at a gentle angle. Then you round it out or scoop up a bit of air on the backing and then gently angle it back up through the layers to the top. You want the stitch on the bottom to be about the same length as the stitch on the top. Looking at it from either side, you want the stitches and the spaces between them to be about the same length.
That is a goal. It is not a requirement. We are learning here. Wonky stitches are fine. Don't get out the ruler. Don't stress. Just keep going.
You can do this one stitch at a time. That isn't very efficient and you risk getting into the habit of stitching straight up and down through the quilt.
So... when your needle surfaces, skim over the top about as far over as your first stitch and then angle back through the quilt to the bottom. Scoop some air and resurface on the top.
I can usually get 2 or 3 stitches at the most on my needle using the Pearl cotton.
Pull the thread through. Be firm but don't pull so tightly that the fabric bunches up.
Periodically check the back to make sure you are getting all the thread and not leaving behind any loops or snags.
Notice I am not using any sort of frame. I gather the fabric of the quilt from the back side in my left hand. I am sewing right handed. I imagine you would do the opposite if you were left handed. Some times, I spread it out on a table if I am working in the center of quilt or having a hard time grabbing the fabric.
I am using the middle finger of my left hand to push the needle back up through the quilt.
Step 6: Oops. What to Do If You Left a Loop of Thread or Have a Knot.
If you get a knot in your thread you should first try patience. Don't pull the knot tight. Loosen it as best you can and then see if you can ease it out. Typically it is thread looping around itself rather than an actual knot. A little prying with the end of your needle will usually do the trick.
If you can't get the knot out, you can cut it off. Try to do so leaving the longest piece near the quilt. This way you can simply re-thread the needle and either finish off with a knot (described a few steps later) or you can keep stitching.
If you can't get enough thread to keep going, you will have to cut the knot, pull out some stitches until you have enough thread to work with, tie it off and then add the stitches back.
This works for loops as well. Just remember, you need to be able to put a knot at both ends of your stitching. This is particularly important with these large stitches as it won't hold if you don't secure the ends.
Step 7: Moving to a New Section
Remember at the beginning, I said I didn't like tying knots. Well, that is still true. If I have a long enough piece of thread on my needle when I finish a section, I will travel through the batting to the next section and keep going. This works for short distances.
You simply poke your needle through the top layer and into the batting at the end of your last stitch. Do not push it through the back. Poke the needle back up through the top layer where you want to start again.
I imagine, it is this sort of thing that gives the quilt professionals nightmares, but we are not professionals. We are people who simply want to make and finish a quilt so that it can be used.
Step 8: Perfect Stitches Are NOT Required.
I've been told that the ladies who hand quilted with perfect stitches would start in the morning and work all day. After a short time, they would get into the groove of quilting and their stitches would be even and perfect. At the end of the day they would rip out the uneven 'practice' or 'warm up' stitches.
It is true that after you get going you will get into a rhythm and your stitching will start to look consistent. That is great. But don't worry about the loosey goosey stitches. This is rustic or artistic quilting. Uneven, wiggly stitches add character. So just keep going and get it done.
There is one rule you need to consider. That is how close you need stitch. Your package of batting will have a recommendation for the distance between stitching. Use that as a guideline for quilting. It is generally some where between 4 and 10 inches. That means that you need to connect the top to the back through the batting every 4 or 10 inches. Cotton batting tends to require closer quilting as it is more likely to shrink and ball up. The synthetics seem to be more forgiving and can be stitched further apart. Really all you are doing is keeping the batting in place. No one wants to end up with a quilt that has lumps of batting in the corners and no lovely fluffy batting to cover your cold toes.
Your quilt pattern is entirely up to you. I try to avoid any design that causes me to stitch through seam allowances. It is just easier to pull the thread through. (Now that may be because I'm using a tapestry needle instead of a chenille needle and it would be a dream with the sharp point, but meh... It is still easier to avoid sewing through the thick parts of the quilt.)
Usually stitching around each block is a pretty good guide. Doodle. Do whatever you like. It is all good as long as it holds the three layers of the quilt together.
Step 9: Tying the Knot
When you are finished with a section or about to run out of thread you will need to tie another knot and you will want to bury it in the quilt. This is exactly the same process you used to get started... well except for tying the knot. It is almost impossible to get a knot tied close enough to the fabric to pull it through smoothly. You have to use the need to tie the knot.
On you last stitch push all the way through the quilt to the back. (You can finish off on the front. It is a matter of preference. The quilt police may have rules but we do what works for us.)
Pull the thread all the way through. Check one more time for stray loops. Now is the time to ease them through the stitching without having to take drastic remedial action.
Hold the needle with your dominant hand. Hold the thread out from the quilt with your other hand. Wrap the thread around the needle once. I use the needle to twist around the thread and gather up a loop. You can wrap it with the other hand if you prefer. Do this a close to the fabric as you can.
Slide the loop on the needle all the way down to the back of the quilt where the thread exits.
Push your needle through the loop into the back and batting but not the front. Come back up through the backing about an inch away.
Pull the thread through the loop and the batting. When you reach the end of the thread a knot will have formed.
Tug the knot through the backing and into the batting.
Snug up the thread, and cut it off. When the fabric relaxes the little tail will go right back into the middle of the quilt and your knot will be well and truly buried.
Stitch until your quilt is done.
And that is really all there is do it.