thoughts on hand quilting

To be honest, I never really thought I would try hand quilting.  It looks nice, but I was happily plugging on with my machine and didn't see any reason to change that.  Until I saw a couple of quilts by Patti and Svetlana.  Not only are they beautifully hand quilted, but they are quilted in a way that seems (to me at least) like the right choice for that quilt.
Fast forward a couple of months and I am working on my Maple Leaf Rag quilt (yeah, I know you're probably sick of it by now).  This is a quilt that I have wanted to make for a long time and it is one that I really wanted to take my time with.  While I was piecing the quilt top I spent quite a bit of time contemplating how I would quilt it and hand quilting just seemed like the right (only) choice.

Disclaimer: I am no expert, I am a beginning hand quilter.  But I spent entirely too much time researching the process so I thought I would share what I found.  To prepare myself, I found a few great resources.
  • The most helpful source I found was this video by Sarah Fielke.  Everything that she said about the process clicked with me and I have re-watched it several times.
  • This post by Anna Maria Horner. Everything she does is gorgeous and her hand quilting is no exception!
  • And this post from Chase. There is a ton of great info here. 
When it comes to supplies, I try to go with a less-is-more approach.  These are the tools that I have found to be useful.  
  • Embroidery needles.  I bought this pack of size 5-10 at Joann's and I just used the smallest needle that I could thread easily with my perle cotton.  When I first started I just randomly picked a needle out and got started, but I was having a little trouble pulling the needle through the fabric.  I switched to a thinner needle and it has made the process much easier.  
  • Clover metal thimble.  Do not try hand quilting without a thimble or you will be in a lot of pain.  I have really disliked thimbles in the past, but when Sarah Fielke recommended this one I thought I would give it a try and it has been great.
  • Perle cotton size 8.  I went with the color Ecru, which is kind of boring, but the quilt is so crazy I thought it would be best.  I bought mine locally at Joann's.  My local store has a very limited color selection of perle cotton.  I am looking forward to getting my hands on some of this in the near future.
  • Embroidery scissors.  I have two brands, Elan and Fiskers, which are both great.
  • Hera marker for marking lines.  Apparently it didn't make it into the photo.
  • When I decided to try hand quilting I did not want to use a quilting frame.  It seemed big and unnecessary so I started out the process without one. Maybe it is just because this quilt is big and heavy (it's backed with corduroy), but the frame makes quilting so much easier.  I am using a 17"x17" Q-Snap lap frame.  It is a great size so I don't have to move it around too often but it's not too big to hold in my lap.  It is also easy to put on the quilt and collapses into little pieces so it doesn't take up too much space.
One question that I had before I started was how to baste the quilt.  I normally pin baste, but that wasn't really a good option because the pins are so heavy and they would get in the way of the quilting frame.  I didn't really want to thread baste because, to be completely honest, I have no idea how to thread baste.  I noticed that Svetlana had used spray baste when she hand quilted so I thought I would give it a try.  

I don't particularly like to spray baste because I kind of enjoy turning on a good movie and spending some time smoothing out and pinning a quilt. I also try to avoid adding things to the cost of making a quilt, but I used 505 spray on this quilt and it has worked out wonderfully.  Even though it has been hoisted around all over the place, everything has stayed together and I would definitely spray baste quilts that I intend to hand quilt in the future.

I have heard people say that hand quilting is relaxing, but I didn't understand how relaxing until I started this process.  If you are interested in hand quilting, I hope that some of this information helps!

13 comments

  1. I love to hand quilt. I need to try using my frame. I'm so used to not using one, but I think for better results I should use my frame.

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  2. Thanks so much for sharing this information, Erica. I am an Erica as well:) I have been wanting to give hand quilting a try, but I have been apprehensive. It is so helpful to know which products are needed and which methods work the best. Thank you! What thickness of batting did you use? I normally use Quilter's Dream Cotton Select Loft. Do you think it would be better to use the thinnest batting for hand quilting?

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  3. I am not going to get sick of your quilt. It is gorgeous. And I loved reading your experience. I do plan to try hand quilting when I have made the right quilt. This post will help me. Thanks!

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  4. I thought this was really great info - I hadn't seen Sarah Fielke's video and will give it a watch. I definitely want to try hand quilting - I never thought it would be something I'd do (too slow for an impatient person like me!), but given how much I enjoy stitching on binding, I think I might enjoy it. The hand quilting on your quilt looks fantastic!

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  5. Very nice post! I only hand quilted for years cuz that's all I knew, but now haven't in quite a while...thanks for the reminder!

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  6. Love your quilt! It's going to look great. :) Have a great weekend!

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  7. I am really looking forward to progress photos Erica! It is going to be spectacular! Thanks for the shout out too!

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  8. Aw, you totally make me want to hand quilt again. I use that frame too and just love sitting on the couch with a soft pin-less quilt to hand quilt. Eek, or at least like that in the cooler months!

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  9. I love this quilt! It is coming along beautifully :)

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  10. I just saw your post. Welcome to the world of handquilting! I read that your quilt is backed with corduroy. How hard was it to handquilt? I try to avoid backing my quilts with flannel or anything bulky because I find it difficult to load stitches on my needle. Also, I pin-baste after spraying because the quilts I hand quilt take me months to complete. I find that the spray baste "wears off." When I place my quilt top on the hoop or frame, I remove the pins only in the area where the hoop goes. I also don't like thimbles so I use Thimble Pads. They work well for me and it doesn't feel constricting on my finger. Plus I quilt with my thumb. I find that I can load more stitches and push the needle with my thumb away from me easily. I don't get cramps on my hand that way. I hope you're enjoying your hand quilting experience.

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  11. Well it is really nice to hear there are others besides me who truly enjoy hand quilting. I have been doing it for years. Just a couple of items I want to share with you. I also use a thimble and also quilt with my thumb. I usually always use Jeanna Kimbell quilting needles with gutterman quilting thread which you can get at your local fabric store (Joann's) and they run it for 50 percent off fairly often. My very favorite batting for hand Quilting is WOOL and I live in Texas and use my Quilts year around. Remember it is very hot in Texas but as with any natural batting it breathes and is warm in Winter and cool in summer. It can be a bit pricey but u can find it on sale also at online retailers. If you are using Pearle cotton then a quilting needle will not work for you but give them a try on maybe the net one. Also I have a round frame which is connected to a lap stand which make quilting much easier since I do not have to juggle the frame when I need one hand under the quilt and one doing the quilting. I got it at a Quilt Show many years ago and it is still going strong. You could also probably get some handy person to make you one, since it is just. A round wooden hoop with dowels attached to the hoop and the round lap portion. Once you use one of these you will no longer be as happy with your Q Snap one as that is what I started with also.enjoy your hand quilting journey!

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