Quilting by Hand


For hand quilting, you will need the following supplies:

  • Short needles called quilting needles or Bet\Veens, in size 9 or 10.
  • A thimble to push the needle through the layers of the quilt. It’s in1portant to pick one that is comfortable and fits well.
  • 100% cotton quilting thread. For strength and durabil­ ity, choose a thread that is made specifically for hand quilting.
  • A fra1ne or hoop to keep the quilt taut as you sew. A comfortable, well-lit place to sit \vhile you quilt.

Steps for Hand Quilting

There are many different methods of hand quilting, but the stitch itself is a basic running stitch. The running stitch consists of a series of straight stitches, with the stitch length equal to the space between the stitches. After practicing for a while, each quilter seems to develop a personal style or technique for making the running stitch. Here are the instructions for the most common method of quilting by hand:

  1. Starting at the center of the qujlt top, insert the quilt into the hoop, pulling the quilt so that there is slight tension on the layers. Don’t pull the fabric
  2. Thread the needle with a length of quilting thread about·16″ to 18″ long. Knot one end of the
  3. Insert the needle through the quilt top and the batting (not the backing!) about Y:;’ 1 where you want to start quilting. Pull on the needle until the knot catches against the top fabric. Gently tug on the thread to pop the knot through the quilt top and bury it in the batting.
  4. Hold the needle between the thumb and forefinger of your sevving hand. Place your other hand under the quilt at the spot where you plan to start. With the needle angled sligbtly away from you, push the needle down through the As soon as you feel the tip of the needle underneath the quilt, use one finger of the bottom hand to direct the needle back up through the layers to the top.
  5. Using your thimble to push on the eye end of the nee­ dle, continue rocking the needle up and down through the layers. Take three to six stitches before bringing the needle and thread completely through the layers. Continue to quilt in this nner until you near the end of the thread.

Quilting by Hand Stitch Illustration

  1. To end a line of stitching, bring your needle to the guilt top, close to your last stitch. Make a small knot i11 the Take a tiny backstitch into the quilt top, through the top and the batting only, and then bring it back to the surface. Tug gently on the thread to pop the knot into the batting layer. Clip the thread close to the surface of the fabric.

Quilting by Hand Stitch Illustration


Best Batting Choices

Choosing the Batting

Many wonderful battings are available to quilters today. Best batting choices include choosing a batting for the look you want, the type of quilting you will do, and the way the quilt will be used. Most quilt packaging contains important information such as approximate loft, shrinkage, maxi1num distance between stitching, and recommendations about using the product for hand or machine quilting as well as for light or dark fabric. Be sure to read the package carefully when choosing a batting product. Just like the backing, batting should be 4″ larger than the quilt top on all sides if you’re planning to quilt by hand or with a home sewing machine, but 6″ larger if you’re planning to quilt with a long-arm machine. The following chart lists several batting types and their general uses.

Whichever type of batting you choose, be sure to take it out of the package, unroll it, and let it relax for a few days before you use it. You can also remove the batting from the package and place it in the dryer on the air cycle for 15 minutes to achieve the same effect.

Synthetic and Natural Fiber Batting Chart


Preparing Your Backing for Quilting


When preparing your backing, the fabric used to back your quilt should be good-quality, 100% cotton. If you prewashed the fabrics in the quilt top, prewash the backing fabric also. When hand quilting, you should always prewash backing fabric to remove the sizing. This allows for greater ease in moving the needle in and out of the fabric.

If you plan to hand quilt or to quilt with a home sewing machine, the backing should be at least 4″ larger than the quilt top on all sides. If your quilt top is 80″ x 80″, for example, the backing should measure 88″ x 88″. The extra fabric allows for any slight shifting or “shrinkage” that might occur during quilting. It will also allow for any irregularities in the size of the quilt itself.

If you plan to quilt with a long-arm machine, most manufacturers recommend that the backing measure at least 6″ larger than the quilt top on all sides.

Caution Never Use a Bed Sheet

Using extra-wide fabrics in specialty widths -90″, 108″, and 120″ – eliminates the need to piece the backing. If you prefer to piece the backing and you plan to machine quilt your project, think about doing something creative. Try piecing the back with excess fabrics from the front. Pieced backings are a great way to use up leftover fabric and any extra quilt blocks.

Pieced Backings

If you decide to piece the back of your quilt, be careful to position the grain lines of the fabrics appropriately. Also, pay attention to the colors of the fabrics. You don’t want darker fabrics shadowing through to the top, which is especially a concern if you’ve chosen a thin batting.

When using continuous yardage to piece a backing, the following method always produces good results. To make a backing that measures approximately 80″ wide, measure the length of the quilt, adding an extra 4″ to the top and the bottom. For example, if your quilt length is 72″, you would add 4″ to the top and 4″ to the bottom, resulting in a total desired length of 80″. Cut two equal lengths of 42″ -wide fabric to that measurement and place the pieces right sides together. Using a 3/4″ seam allowance, sew the pieces together along both long edges. Trim away the selvage edges, leaving at least a 1/4″ seam allowance. Align the sewn seams one on top of the other and press along one folded edge. Cut on the fold. Open the fabric and press the seam allowances open.

Seam Allowances

To piece a backing that measures approxi1nately 120″ wide, you’d simply need to sew three widths of 42″-wide fabric of appropriate length together. Also, be aware that a backing can be pieced either vertically or horizontally, so you’ll want to evaluate your quilt to ensure the most efficient use of fabric.

Seam Allowances Pressed Open


Marking Your Quilt for Quilting

How to Mark Your Quilt for Quilting

Marking for Hand Quilting or Quilting on the Home Sewing Machine

When marking your quilt design on a quilt top, you’ll need to choose a marking tool and a transfer method.

Marking Tools

A variety of marking tools are available to quilters.


Choosing a Marking Tool

To mark a quilt top for hand quilting or quilting on a home sewing machine, use a marking tool that is visible but easily removed. There are a number of marking tools to choose from.

Mechanical and quilter’s pencils: A sharp pencil is the most common marking tool. A high-quality mechanical pencil with a 0.5 mm lead works well and always maintains a sharp point. A silver quilter’s pencil creates a line that is visible on dark fabrics, and the markings wash out easily. Regardless of what kind of pencil you use, remember to mark lightly.

Chalk pencils: Chalk pencils are available in several col­ ors and show up clearly on dark fabrics.These pencils can be sharpened to a fine point without crumbling, and they flow smoothly across fabric. When using a chalk pencil, mark the quilt top after layering it with the batting and backing. Mark as you go because the chalk rubs away easily.

Testing on ScrapsMarking pens: Pens with disappearing ink can be found in both air-soluble and water-soluble types. All of these pens come with specific instructions and precautions for making the lines disappear. When using a disappearing­ ink pen, be sure to follow the manufacturer’s instructions exactly.

Masking tape: Masking tape is useful for marking straight lines and grids. It comes in several widths and can be used to mark small areas at a time. Be sure to remove the tape at the end of each quilting session, since it can leave a residue if left in place for a long period. If you want to mark a quilt top with masking tape, do so after layering the quilt top with the batting and backing.

Tracing the Design

Once you’ve selected the right marking tool, the next step is to trace the design onto your project. Trace the quilting design onto the quilt top before basting your quilt.

When marking light-colored fabric that you can see through, place the pattern sheet under the area to be marked. Using masking tape, secure the design to a hard surface. Place the area of the quilt to be marked over the design and anchor it in place with vveights or tape. Trace the design directly onto the fabric, remembering to mark lightly.

When working with medium-value fabrics, use tape or clamps to secure the pattern sheet to a light box. Place the quilt top over the pattern sheet and then trace the design onto the fabric, repositioning the quilt top as needed.

For dark fabrics, you can mark directly on the quilt top by tracing around a hard-edged template. To make a template, trace the design motif onto template plastic, and then cut it out along the outer edge of the motif. Place the template on the fabric and trace around it. Add the inner and connecting lines of the design by drawing them freehand on the quilt top. The template method is time-consuming, and I rarely use it.