A Helping Hand for Hand Quilting

Do you get hand quilting anxiety like I used to? Are you trying to channel the Amish and achieve 10 stitches per inch?! Have you thrown in the towel (needle!) and concluded that hand quilting “just isn’t for you”? Read on for my thoughts, theories and a simple tip…

OK, so I used to hate hand quilting…there, I’ve said it! I always loved the look but not the process. My aunt used to say “but it’s so lovely and relaxing” which made it even worse; I found it super stressful and it made me far too anxious for it to even come close to feeling relaxing. I tried all sorts of tools to help; different thimbles, a quilting hoop, various needles but it still bugged me so I just gave up.

But I didn’t need extra fancy equipment (although I do understand that some tools make hand quilting much easier for some people so that definitely is a trial and error thing), what I really needed was a change of mindset. My knowledge of hand quilting was based on the more traditional style. If you’ve ever read about the history of quilting you’ll know that the Amish community rock at making and quilting quilts (quilting actual dates back to nearly a thousand years ago and there are many different traditions spanning that time from across the world) and their hand quilting skills are well-known. An Amish hand quilter will typically fit around 10 stitches per one inch line of quilting… let’s stop and think about that for a minute…that is a lot of stitches in a small space! Why did I think I could come close to achieving that…madness! And if you think it through properly, with that number of stitches fitting into a small space, the stitches must be small. This looks beautiful but it wasn’t actually the look I wanted. When I looked at more modern quilts with hand quilting, the stitches were much bigger and chunkier; this was the look I wanted. I’d been trying to merge the two ideas and that was never going to work so…mindset change.

Go your own way and create the look you want. You’ll find more joy in a technique you are finding difficult if you do your own thing. Use technical information as a guide (if you want!) to help you get started but just get started in any way that suits; you can always improve your technique later but if you never get started then there’s nothing to improve upon.

So I have chosen to “own” my hand quilting style. Yes they are longer, chunkier stitches (and yes they aren’t always perfectly even) but I really do love that look, and I think it works well with the thread and needles I like to use, as well as the overall style I want to achieve with my projects.

Below you can see some photos of some hand quilting and hand stitching projects I have worked on that give some different examples of how hand quilting can be used:

  • outline elements of your patchwork design [top left]
  • add dense areas of texture to your project [top right]
  • all-over lines, like straight line quilting on the sewing machine [bottom left]

Now I know I’ve encouraged you to go your own way if you’ve been struggling with hand quilting but I do have one little tip for you. If you look closely at the photo of my thumb just above here you’ll see I’ve got two little lines marked in pen. This is my absolute top tip for getting your hand quilting stitches more even (if that’s the look you want, of course). Mark which ever thumb or finger you have on top of your project and which isn’t holding the needle; I’m right handed so for me it is on my left hand and I feel most comfortable with my thumb on top of the project and the rest of my hand underneath. I use the marks on my thumb as a guide for the stitch length; my needle is coming up to the top surface of the project in line with the first mark and then going down into the project at the second mark. The good thing about marking your own thumb/finger is that you can change the distance between the marks (which is your stitch length) depending on your preference and the project. I like to use a fabric pen just in case any ink accidentally transfers onto the project.


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