Hand Quilting- the original quilting technique

There was a time when sewing and quilting were much more than a hobby, they were an inextricable part of building a society. We’ve lost appreciation for slow, intentional craftsmanship in our hustle-bustle world of maximum efficiency. So this month, I challenge you to settle your hands, slow the hurried sewing, and reincorporate hand stitching into your quilting practice. You just might find that you love it!

According to Wikipedia (my high school English teacher would be mortified), the earliest form of quilting developed in England in the 14th century. However, the first sewing machine wasn’t invented until the early 1800’s in France, nearly 500 years later! Then, the first long arm contraption came about 50 years later— so it is safe to say hand quilting significantly pre-dates any form of machine quilting. I think that’s one of the reasons quilters enjoy it so much — it’s one more link to the origins of this beautiful art. There was a time when sewing and quilting were much more than a hobby; they were an inextricable part of building a society. That all changed with the Industrial Revolution, which facilitated the mass production of most goods. Still, there’s so much to be learned from the past!

Hand Quilting- the original quilting technique

Let’s start with materials before we move on to technique. Hand quilting is simple, but there are a few supplies that make the process more enjoyable. (Disclaimer: some of these links are Amazon affiliates, but all are items I have purchased and use myself.)

  • Needles - needle size depends on thread selection. These embroidery needles include sizes to accommodate a wide range of thread sizes.
  • Pretty Snips - I have these embroidery scissors and love them.
  • Sturdy thread- Thread choice is determined by which method of hand quilting you prefer. If small, tight stitches are your goal, utilizing an embroidery hoop and a thinner thread is the way to go. If a more organic, loose look is preferred, a “big stitch” hand quilting without a hoop is preferable.
  • Leather thimble - leather allows for more flexibility than metal or plastic thimbles.
  • Embroidery Hoop (optional)
  • Hera marker (optional)

Now let’s get into the process:

Step 1 - Tying a “quilter’s knot”. To secure a “quilter’s knot”, begin with a threaded needle and place the thread tail over the needle. Hold in the tail in place while wrapping the thread around the needle three times with your other hand. Slide the wrapped thread toward the base of the needle and grasp the thread with the thumb and forefinger that are holding the end of the needle. With the other hand, pull the needle through your fingers (maintaining a hold on the wrapped thread), and continue until the thread is pulled through completely and the wrapped thread forms a knot at the end of the tail. This is your quilter’s knot. Below is a 30 second video demonstrating a quilter’s knot.

Step 2 - If using an embroidery hoop, place the hoop to the section that will be quilted. To “bury your knot” before beginning a line of quilting, push the needle through the quilt top and into the batting, without poking all the way through to the backing. Bring the needle back up through the quilt top, now you need to “pop” the knot through the quilt top into the batting layer. This takes some practice, but firmly pull the thread until the knot “pops” through the quilt top and nestles into the batting layer. Now you can begin your stitches.

Step 3 - Place thimble on the middle finger to guide the needle. To create a “running stitch”—use a rocking motion to move the needle in and out of the fabric. Rock the needle upward so it is nearly perpendicular to the fabric and pierces all 3 layers, then using your thumb, press the fabric down and rock the needle downward until it lays again the fabric and pokes back through the quilt top. Repeat to catch 2-3 stitches on your needle before pulling it through. Catching 2-3 stitches at once allows you to create a much straighter line of stitches, however it is important to remember that the beauty of hand quilting is that every stitch is unique, and perfection isn’t the goal.

Step 4 - Using your thimble finger, press the needle through the fabric layers, until enough of the needle is available to grasp and pull through the fabric. Pull firmly, but gently enough to allow the stitches to settle without distorting the fabric.

Step 5 - Finally, settle in with a good show or audiobook and a warm beverage (it’s winter here in Wyoming), and let your hands flow through the stitches. It takes time to find your rhythm, but it is time worth taking. Hand quilting allows the mind to settle as the fingers work, and the best part of all — there is no way to scroll a device while stitching a quilt! Couldn’t we all use a little less time with technology these days? Furthermore, every project suddenly becomes portable. Whether on a road trip, waiting in a carpool line, or simply needing time on the couch, you can now take your project with you anywhere!

Let me know what projects you plan to hand quilt this month! Are you new to hand quilting, or does picking up that needle again feel like returning to an old friend (frenemy)? I have a dear friend having a baby this summer, and I plan to hand quilt a play-mat for her. It really does add an extra special touch to any gift. As always, you can find me @wellspringdesigns_co and I am always happy to answer questions on Instagram or email wellspringdesignsco@gmail.com.

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