If you’ve been here for a while, you might already know about my obsession with hand quilting!
The obsession started a very long time ago - when I was just four years old, to be exact! I would tag along with my mom to her weekly quilting group because I wasn’t in school yet. She would give me a tiny quilting hoop, needle and thread to keep me occupied!
And. I. Loved. It.
To this day, it’s still my favourite way to quilt!
Hand quilting is a “manual” way to quilt - AKA, not using a sewing machine. It involves sewing together three layers (backing, batting and quilt top) using a hand sewn running stitch. These stitches look like dashes, which gives the quilt a really soft look. It’s certainly not the fastest way to quilt, but in my opinion, the end result is so worth it. It always looks SO beautiful!
Hand quilting is also an activity that I find extremely relaxing. Sitting in front of the TV in the evening with a hoop on my lap is one of my favourite things to do.
Although! I’ve been recently experimenting with hand quilting without a hoop. And now I can’t decide what I prefer more!
Second, feeling comfortable with hand quilting will take time and practice. Your stitches might not be perfect at first (or ever), but just like with anything else - I promise you’ll improve over time! You’ve got this!
Third, I wrote this blog post with YOU in mind! Over the years, I have tested and tried countless different notions in search of my hand quilting favourites! This list will tell you exactly what you need to get started on your hand quilting journey.
So, without further ado - here’s what you need!
I find that many people are using a wide variety of needles for quilting these days, based on their personal preference.
So, let’s talk a little about the different types of needles that are available!
Standard/Traditional Quilting Needles (also called “Between Needles”) are short, fine needles with a small eye. The most common sizes are 8, 9 and 10. I would say size 8 is best if you’re a beginner because they’re great for small, quick stitches.
Sharps are a common, all-purpose medium-length needle. If you have a needle lying around your sewing room and you don’t know what it is, there’s a good chance it's a Sharp! They have a sharp tip and a small round eye for added durability. They’re also a fine option if you want to give hand quilting a try!
Straw Needles (or Millners) are very similar to Sharps - they’re just longer! They are most commonly used for hat making or thread basting, but they’re a great option if you’re looking for a longer needle when hand quilting.
Sashiko Needles are long and slightly thicker than a Sharp. They also have a slightly larger eye for easy threading of thicker thread. These needles are quite strong and allow you to load several stitches onto the needle at one time. Because they are a little thicker, I do find them slightly harder to push through all of the layers of a quilt. If you prefer big-stitch quilting, Sashiko Needles are best suited for that!
And finally, there are Crewel Embroidery Needles. These are my personal favourites! They are a medium-length needle with a very sharp tip to easily push through tightly woven fabric. They also have a slightly longer and larger eye for easier threading than a Sharp.
Thimbles are a necessity, especially if you hand quilt! We all need a little extra protection between our fingers and that sharp needle when pushing it through several layers of fabric.
My favourite is the Bohin Leather Thimble because it molds to my finger over time like a second layer of skin! I also really like Clover’s leather thimble.
To accomplish this, you’ll need to use 40 or 50 wt thread.
Many modern quilters prefer big stitch quilting and will use Perle Cotton or a thicker weight thread. To accomplish the look of a much larger, more visible stitch, quilters often choose 8 wt or 12 wt thread. Bonus: Due to the stitches being much larger, it is a lot faster to quilt this way!
However, I personally find myself somewhere right in the middle and LOVE Aurifil 28 wt thread! It feels like the perfect balance between the two.
I have tried using 50 wt thread, but I just cannot manage 12 stitches per inch - even with years of practice! I don’t mind spending a lot of time on a hand quilting project, but in the same breath, I don’t want to spend a “year or so” on just one quilt!
I also tried the 8 and 12 wt Perle Cotton because it seemed to be trending on social media with modern quilters...and I have a confession. It’s really not my favourite! I personally find the thread a little too thick and cumbersome to work with. I struggled to push the thread through all the layers of the quilt and found my hands were quite sore afterwards.
And to be incredibly honest… it’s just not my favourite look, either! Although it can be beautiful, and many people LOVE it, the stitches feel a bit “large and in charge” to me. It feels like they overpower the piecing and create an imbalance between the quilt pattern and the quilting.
Back to the 28 wt thread! I find that it’s the perfect balance where it’s thick enough that you can see all the beautiful stitches that you spent so long on, but it’s also thin enough that you can easily pull through all the layers of your quilt, creating neither teeny-tiny or big stitches! Just perfectly beautiful medium-sized stitches!
You can also use whatever colour you want while hand quilting. You can choose a coordinating thread that blends in with your fabric, or something high contrast!
I pretty much always use Natural White - we’re talking around 96% of the time!
Clipped your stitches by mistake? We’ve all been there, including me!
That’s why I LOVE my pair of LDH Scissors Thread Snips for hand quilting. They’re so great for controlled thread cutting. They’re also good for anything else detailed like snipping seam allowances, layering seams or trimming edges.
A common question is whether or not to mark lines before quilting or to follow the seams as a guide.
I usually don’t mark my lines because I follow the design of the quilt. I will often go a quarter of an inch to half an inch away from the seam and use that as my guide (or I just do straight lines).
Tip: If you quilt closer than a quarter of an inch to the seam, you’ll be hand quilting through the seam allowance, which adds two more layers of fabric to push your needle through - not fun!
That being said, a lot of people like using a marking tool to make their stitch lines straight, curvy or intricate!
There are SO many marking tools on the market, but my personal favourite (when I do use one) is the Hera Marker. It’s quite possibly one of the best quilting tools in general that you can have on hand! It makes creases instead of marks on your fabric, and I can vouch that the creases really do last!
Another favourite of mine would be the Bohin Chalk Pencil, which works similar to a mechanical pencil. You can easily mark intricate and precise lines that will easily disappear - because they are chalk lines!
I do have to mention this - it’s always best to do a fabric test before using a chalk pencil!
I can’t tell you how much I love thread gloss! It’s the perfect solution to tangled/knotty/static-y threads while hand sewing - oh, and did I mention it comes in delicious scents?!
I love thread gloss so much that I actually collaborated with Sew Fine Thread Gloss to create my own fresh, nature-inspired scents. Which is only fitting, because I am a giant lover of the outdoors!
The scents are Conifer, Eventide and Cedar Grove. You can check them out in my shop here!
I saved this for last because I still go back and forth between using a hoop and not using a hoop! I know many quilters who use a hoop every single time, and others who never use a hoop. I do both!
The purpose of a hoop is to keep your quilt stretched in the right spot. It keeps all the layers very smooth with no puckering while you stitch!
Some people also use frames, but hoops are both more portable and less expensive. They are basically the same as embroidery hoops, but deeper and larger (usually around 18”).
Additionally, you don’t need to worry quite as much about your basting because the hoop holds everything in place for you! I often just thread baste if I’m using a hoop.
On the flip side, I can’t load quite as many stitches on my needle at one time with a hoop because the quilt is so taught. So, sometimes I choose to forego the hoop because even if I find it a little more difficult to wrangle the quilt, I can quilt a little faster once I get going!
Hand Sewing Kits
If it seems like too much work to source all of these things individually, I totally get it!
To make things even easier, I created curated kits that are available in my shop!
Each kit includes:
- Bohin Crewel Embroidery Needles
- Bohin Leather Thimble
- 28 wt Aurifil Thread (in a natural/off white colour)
- LDH Thread Snips
- Bohin Chalk Pencil
- 0.05oz Pot of Sew Fine x TBS Thread Gloss
All you would have to do is buy the hoop of your choice separately - if you choose to use one, that is!
And it’s all nicely tucked into an adorable (and exclusive) Boreal Forest Zipper Pouch! I collaborated with Heather from Heather Design Co. to design the fabric!
Ps. Heather is a VERY talented lady! You can check out all of the other lovely things she creates at @thecozyprairiequilt.
Oh, and don’t forget to have fun while starting out - you’ll get the hang of it in no time!
Are you just starting out on your hand quilting journey or have you been doing it for a long time like me? I’d love to know in the comments!