Hand Quilting: Know Your Notions

Hand quilting is an enjoyable and satisfying past-time that rewards you with beautiful and useful quilts. As with any sewing skill, you need practice and the right notions to create a successful quilt.

Gather Your Tools

The right tools will ensure you have an enjoyable experience and that your quilt looks good.

At the minimum, you will need:

  • Quilting needles. These needles have a round eye and fine tip, so they easily pierce the layers of the quilt. Their short length also makes them quicker to maneuver.

  • Quilting thread. Quality thread made specifically for quilting is less prone to breakage and knots.

  • Thimbles. There are many designs and styles of thimbles available. They will save your fingers a lot of pain. Try several different styles to find the type of thimble that works best for you.

  • Sharp scissors. Small embroidery scissors work especially well because you can easily clip threads close to the knot.

  • Quilter's rulers and stencils. These are nice for cutting the quilt pieces, but they also come in handy for transferring your designs to the fabric for when you begin stitching.

  • Quilting frames or hoops. Although not necessarily, a good hoop helps keep the fabric taut as you stitch.

Basting Your Quilt

Since a basic quilt has at least three layers, and some quilts may have more, it's vital that the quilt top, batting, and quilt bottom are evenly lined up and basted together before you make the first stitch. Otherwise, you may end up with wrinkles or an uneven edge.

There are three main ways to baste:

  1. Stitching. Simply make long running stitches around the edge of the quilt to hold all the layers together. These threads are snipped out after you are done quilting. A long needle and heavy thread are the only tools needed.

  2. Pins. Pinning is a common method, but it can also be the most troublesome. Pins can fall out or poke you as you work. Generally, pins are only suitable for small areas, such as holding a piece of applique in place.

  3. Clips. Clips provide all the benefits of pins and stitching, without the work or ouch factor. You have several options for clips. There are specially made clips just for quilting. You can also use office binder clips or clothespins. Just avoid metal clips, which can leave behind rust stains if they become wet. This can be a common issue in humid climates.

Transfer Your Design

Finally, you will need tools to transfer your quilting design, unless you plan to do it completely freehand.

  • Rulers. These work well for straight lines or simple geometric designs. Quilter's rulers are clear and come in a variety of shapes and sizes.

  • Stencils. You can use simple stencils that you trace, or you can use a transferable stencil. There are even transfer pencils available that allow you to trace over a drawn or printed design, and then transfer it to the quilt top.

  • Fabric pens or markers. Use these to draw the stitch design onto the quilt. These wash out of the fabric once you are done stitching.

  • Quilting tape. If you are creating a design with straight edges, such as a diamond, you can use quilter's tape to lay out the design on the fabric, and then stitch beside the tape. Simply pull off the tape when you are done.

The right tools make hand quilting much more enjoyable, so take the time to find what you like. You may need to try different tools before you can discover what works best for you.