The Basics: Learn to Hand Quilt

comments (0) June 7th, 2008     

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MaryRay Mary Ray, contributor
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The tools of the hand-stitched quilt are few: a needle, thread, thimble, and hoop. Now you just need time and lots of patience.

The tools of the hand-stitched quilt are few: a needle, thread, thimble, and hoop. Now you just need time and lots of patience.

Photo: Courtesy of UltraMarineBlue/Flickrz

It's the quilting that makes a quilt a quilt – that process of placing a layer of padding between two layers of cloth and stitching them all together. Of course, it was all done by hand at one point, and the rows of stitches needed to be quite close together in order to keep the batting-which was not bonded, needle-punched, or held together with a scrim as it is today-from separating. In fact, the quilting stitch became a pièce de résistance-with the goal being as many as 10 to12 evenly spaced stitches per inch. On the face of it, that seems like a reasonable task. After all, the quilting stitch is a simple, utilitarian running stitch-not fancy like embroidery stitches. But trust me, it's not as easy as it looks to keep those stitches small, even, and straight. There's a technique to it, and it takes practice.

I've done a little hand quilting in the past, but mostly I quilt by machine, so in preparation for writing this post, I thought I'd give hand quilting a try again. Actually, I wouldn't mind having some projects that I could pick up and do anywhere (almost). And, working by hand is a way to feel connected to the history of the craft. It takes some time to get into the rhythm of quilting, but once you find that rhythm, the process becomes very relaxing and enjoyable. I'm not striving to win a prize for the most stitches per inch; I'm happy with just straight, even stitches.

If you want to give hand quilting a try, you'll need some tools:

  • The proper needle: Quilting needles are also called "betweens." They're small and strong with a small eye and come in several sizes (the higher the number, the smaller the size). Try out a few different sizes to decide which suits you best.
  • A thimble: If you say you can't use one, try again. Quilting is hard on the fingers, and you'll never get that needle through the layers without the help of a thimble. There are many different kinds, from leather to silver. Try out a few to see which you like best.
  • A hoop or frame: Large frames are for bigger quilts and take up a lot of space. Wooden hoops are traditional. Plastic, PVC hoops are the modern-day equivalent. You can quilt small projects without a hoop, but for larger items, you'll want something to hold on to. A hoop does the job with just the right tension to support your stitching.

To get reacquainted with the proper hand-quilting technique, I revisited an article by my friend Mary Stori that appeared in Threads no. 93. This issue is out of print, but check out eBay to scoop one up on auction or the Threads magazine Gatherings forum for more guidance on where to track this issue down.

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