How to Quilt by Hand

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Even with the most modern of quilt patterns, hand quilting is a way to connect with the long tradition of quilting worldwide.
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Figure 1: You can use slightly thicker quilting thread or even pearl cotton for hand quilting.
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Figure 2: Wrap the thread around your needle three or four times.
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Figure 3: Pull the needle through until the knot forms.
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Figure 4: Push your needle through just the top layer of fabric and tug at the thread until the knot "pops" under but doesn't come out the other side.
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Figure 5: Trim the end of the thread.
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Figure 6: Begin quilting, stitching through all three layers of the quilt.
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Figure 7: "Rocking" the needle makes quilting go faster, as you can do more than one stitch at a time.
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Figure 8: At the end of your thread, tie a knot as before.
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Figure 9: Pull the knot at the end of your thread through the top layer of your quilt.
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Figure 10: Continue quilting until the entire quilt is done, hiding knots as you go.
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“Quilting with a Modern Slant” by Rachel May is full of quilting tips and tricks, as well as ideas on how to make a quilt that builds on the aesthetics of traditional and art quilts.

Quilting with a Modern Slant (Storey Publishing, 2014) offers a glimpse into dozens of unique visions, with profiles of quilters and artists who have developed their own aesthetic and quilting tips and patterns from author Rachel May. Modern quilting offers the freedom to play with fabrics, patterns, colors, stitching and the way in which they all connect. With photographs of finished quilts, quilting tips and tutorials on natural dyeing, machine quilting, appliqué, finishing, improvisational piecing and even starting a blog, this book is chock-full of ideas to inspire quilters of every level. This tutorial from “Chapter 4: Quilting from Tradition,” was co-written by Alice Webb Greer and Rachel May and shows how to quilt by hand.

Hand-Quilting Basics

1. Use tiny needles when you quilt by hand (these are—no surprise—called quilting needles). When hand-quilting with a hoop, leave your fabric a little less tense than when you embroider, so that your needle can move through all three layers several stitches at a time.

2. You can buy special, slightly thicker thread for quilting by hand. (Figure 1 in the slideshow) If you’re new to it, you may want to choose a color that blends with your fabric. Or, try using pearl cotton, which is heavier weight and will draw more attention to your stitches (and will also require a bigger needle).

3. Make a quilter’s knot in your thread by wrapping the thread around your needle three or four times. (Figure 2 in the slideshow)

Pull the needle through until the knot forms. (Figure 3 in the slideshow)

4. Hide your knots like this: push your needle through just the top layer of fabric (not the batting or backing), and then push your needle back out the top, tugging at the thread until the knot “pops” under but doesn’t come out the other side. (Figure 4 in the slideshow) This takes practice. Trim the end of the thread. (Figure 5 in the slideshow)

5. Start quilting: the next stitch goes through every layer. (Figure 6 in the slideshow) If you can do more than one stitch at a time, this will make the quilting go faster. This is called “rocking” the needle. (Figure 7 in the slideshow) You can plan to follow the piecing of your quilt (stitching in the ditch), or quilt in any other pattern. If you prefer, freehand or stencil a quilting pattern with tailor’s chalk, which washes out.

6. When you get to the end of your thread, leave yourself enough thread to do the same hiding of your knot that you did in step 4. (Figure 8 in the slideshow) (Figure 9 in the slideshow) (Figure 10 in the slideshow)

Start Simple

A great way to learn about quilting by hand is to skip piecing altogether, and make a wholecloth quilt, with a single whole piece of fabric for the quilt top. Baby quilts are a manageable size to start with (about 40” square) or else lap quilts (about 60” square).

Quilting Instructions from Quilting with a Modern Slant

How to Make a Quilt in Six Steps
How to Make a T-Shirt Quilt


Reprinted with permission from Quilting with a Modern Slantby Rachel May and published by Storey Publishing.