Hand stitching


Top Tips for Consistent Hand Quilting

Hello! Well, hasn’t it been chilly here in the UK; no better excuse to stay inside and sew if you ask me – not that we need one!

Most of the country has had fairly heavy snowfall, but here in Cornwall we’ve had nothing, nada, not even a flake – well not here in the far west anyway. Still, that hasn’t stopped me wanting (needing!) to snuggle up under a nice cosy quilt most of the weekend to keep out the cold. I’m not sure I dare admit this, but I’m snuggled under a quilt I’m actually still quilting…yes, it’s one of those wip that I’ve been promising myself I’ll finish for the last, ahem, 3 years or so.  Oops!  Trouble is, we’re always using it!!!

Hand quilting without a hoop. Stitching round an applique shape using Anchor cotton pearl thread size 12 and an embroidery needle. Stephanie Boon 2013


It’s a quilt for my son, Kim, and he loves it so much he keeps disappearing with it.  Nowadays, whenever I get to snaffle it away from him for a bit of hand quilting I reel at the state of the stitching. Over the 3 year period I’ve been working on it I’ve obviously still been improving, which you can tell from the variable stitch size and wonky lines all over it. It certainly wouldn’t win any prizes for technique. That’s not the point of making it though and it feels good to know that I’m still improving, even after decades of sewing!

While I’ve been stitching away this weekend it’s got me thinking more about hand quilting techniques and the variety of ways you can go about it. I don’t use a hoop, certainly not on something this size anyway (double bed). I find it cumbersome and difficult to ‘rock the needle’ through the layers unless the fabric’s reeeeally loose inside it, in which case why bother?!

A lot of tutorials say you should “always work towards you” as it reduces aches and pains in the arm and shoulder, but I find I actually have more trouble this way as it means my wrist is at a slightly unnatural angle. I’m often contrary though, it has to be said, though not deliberately 😉

One thing I’m consciously developing is the ability to stitch from a number of angles, which means a lot less turning of the quilt as you work. I’m determined to continue with the hoop method on smaller pieces as well though, as it’s another string to the bow – and you can never have enough of those!

As usual I’ve been browsing the web looking for useful tips and I came across this really clear ‘how to’ video with Sarah Fielke (of Material Obsession fame). Oooh, I thought, I must share that it’s so good!  I got excited because she’s using the same thread I am for Kim’s I-promise-I’ll-finish-it-sometime-if-you-get-out-from-underneath-it quilt!!! It’s a nice weighty Anchor Pearl Cotton thread (size 12) that creates a lovely decorative surface stitch (rather than stitches that sink right into the layers).  Take a look!

What she says about stitch length is so true, especially for beginners; it really is so much better to make slightly larger stitches and make them all nice and even than trying to make them as tiny as possible with the likelihood of them wandering all over the place! The way she illustrates the ‘rocking’ of the needle is very clear too, and to my mind it’s one of the best illustrations for beginners I’ve seen. One thing I find with most tutorials is that the description of what the hand underneath is doing is a bit vague; it took me years of practice to get the stitches on the back as neat as the ones on the front – and I prefer calluses over thimbles every time! I also find a slightly longer fingernail helps to keep the needle in position on the back, it’s always more fiddly when I’ve got nails shorter than my finger tips.

Talking of tips…

Top Tips for Consistency

If I’ve learned anything over the life of making this quilt it’s how to do it more consistently next time! If you’re planning on hand-quilting a large piece that you anticipate might take you a month, or even a year or two to complete, here are my top tips for keeping a consistent look from start to finish!

  • Make a small sample piece, ensuring you’re happy with the thread you’ve chosen, the stitch length, needle size etc.
  • Purchase enough thread to complete your project – plus a bit extra. You can never be certain that you’ll be able to get the same shade, or even the same thread again in the future. And the bit extra? Well, that’s incase you lose some (ever put anything somewhere ‘safe’?!!), or (in my case) you think you’ll just borrow a bit for another project you’ve got on the go, because there’s plenty right?!
  • Open a project file! I use a ring binder so that I can add what I like to it, including plastic sleeves and envelopes to hold my loose bits and pieces
  • File your sample piece in your project file along with the name and details of the thread you’re using. Make a note of the needle size you worked with (needle sizes can give you a different size stitch, so it’s worth noting the size you used in your sample). Make any notes about special technique that you used, for example did you use a hoop or a frame, work on your lap, etc.
  • You could also file any receipts for thread, needles and so on, so that you know where you got them and how much they cost, should you need to know in the future.
  • Most importantly, once you’ve put your bits and pieces in your project file…keep it somewhere safe!
I hope you find these tips helpful.  Maybe you’ve got a few more that I haven’t thought about?  Let me know in a comment below if you have 🙂 And, in the spirit of sharing, I’ve just started a new Pinterest board Sewing Tips and Tutorials where I plan to pin all sorts of useful bits and pieces from now on. Why not come on over and have a look, you never know what you might find!

Well, that’s pretty much the weekend over already, what have you got planned for the coming week?

Signature: Stephie x, ps I love to chat, join me and leave a comment...



Give a puff!

Suffolk puff scented pillow mosaic. Stephanie Boon, 2012

The sweet smell of homegrown lavender and the shades of  blue of this scented Suffolk puff pillow take me right back to summer. It was probably raining then, but much less than it is today! Here in Cornwall we’ve battened down the hatches against gale force winds and far, far too much rain (I wrote a little about it here). With the low light levels and the iron grey clouds who wouldn’t be pleased to see a little colourful cheer decorating the bed or a favourite chair? This little pillow certainly does it for me!

I whiled away the winter hours sewing the puffs by hand from fabrics old and new, then hand quilted them to the front. It was such a peaceful, relaxing piece to make over a few evenings this weekend, sat with friends, drinking wine, watching Withnail and I…

I laughed so much. Nothing could have made those hours more perfect. Well, except maybe an open fire 🙂

If you fancy having a go at making Suffolk puffs yourself check out my detailed tutorial; why not give them a go with your children? Yes, they’re that easy!


This sweet little lavender pillow is off to a new owner for lots of love and stuff! If you have any enquiries drop me a line via the Say Hello page.

Suffolk puff lavender pillow. Stephanie Boon, 2012


Suffolk puff lavender pillow, details. Stephanie Boon, 2012


Suffolk puff lavender pillow, close up, Stephanie Boon 2012

Close up

Suffolk puff lavender pillow, reverse. Stephanie Boon 2012


Hope you have a lovely evening – it’s wild here again tonight!

Stephie x

Tutorial: How To Make Suffolk puffs

Tutorial: How To Make Suffolk Puffs. © Stephanie Boon, 2017. www.dawnchorusstudio.com

How To Make Suffolk Puffs

And An Easy Patchwork Pillow

Suffolk puffs pillow - original design by © Stephanie Boon, 2013 www.DawnChorusStudio.com

What You’ll Learn

  • Traditional Suffolk Puffs

    Make a Suffolk Puff the easiest way there is! Choose whether to make a large centre opening or a completely closed one.

  • Suffolk Puffs With Contrasting Centres

    Learn how to make a Suffolk Puff with a coloured centre for a splash more colour. This is a great technique if you want to use your suffolk puffs for applique decoration.

  • Stitching them up

    Learn how to sew Suffolk Puffs together to make a coverlet or quilt.

  • How To Make A Scented Pillow

    Once you’ve made some Suffolk puffs make a pillow with the easy instructions below.

Why Make Suffolk Puffs?

Suffolk puff quilts have that special vintage feel we associate with the comfy, home spun atmosphere of days gone by. They’re such an easy patchwork technique to learn and they make the ultimate scrap quilt, which is great for using up all those pretty floral scraps we can’t bear to part with! Imagine coming into a light filled room on a summer’s evening and seeing a pretty Suffolk puffs quilt laying on the bed – bliss! But you can also applique the puffs to a quilt sandwich or stuff them individually to add warmth for chillier evenings. That’s where the name Suffolk puffs comes from: the wool used to stuff the puffs came from the Suffolk sheep breed. The breed originated in Suffolk on the east coast of the UK. They’re also known as ‘yo-yos’, especially in the US, and as well as quilts they make fun appliqué decorations on anything from cushions and bags to hats and lapels.

Very Easy Patchwork!

Suffolk puffs are great for easy patchwork projects because all you need is a circle of fabric and a needle and thread – no fancy gadgets in sight. They’re great to make with children, or even for an on-the-go project – just put a few circles of fabric in your bag with a needle and thread and you’re good to sew!

What will you make with yours?

The tutorials below show you how to make a several different versions of Suffolk puffs and how to sew them together for a quilt. They’re easy to personalise too: make them with a wider centre and decorate them with buttons or beads, or a contrasting fabric underneath. Then turn them into pretty brooches by layering different sizes together and adding a pin on the back. Once you’ve mastered the basics why not have a go at the lavender filled pillow, which is an easy patchwork project for beginners? The straightforward step by step instructions are towards the bottom of the page. There are so many things you can do with them that it’s hard not to get carried away and sew them to everything in sight! So, what will you make with yours?

Easy patchwork project: making suffolk puffs © Stephanie Boon, 2016 Cornwall, UK All rights reserved. www.DawnChorusStudio.com

Quick Links

These links will take you to the Dawn Chorus Studio tutorials linked in the text – all here in one place!


If you need more inspiration for your Suffolk puffs check out the links below.

How To Make Traditional Suffolk Puffs

Click on any image to see it at a larger scale

What You’ll Need

  • Fabric

    Circles of cotton fabric cut to approximately twice the required size of your finished puff.

  • Scissors

    A medium size pair of fabric scissors is best.

  • Matching thread

    Choose separate colour threads to match each circle of fabric, or if you’re making lots of Suffolk puffs you could choose a grey thread that will suit all colours.

  • Needle

    A medium size Sharps needle is a good choice, but use whichever style of needle you prefer to use for general sewing.

  • Pencil or fabric marking pen

    For drawing your circles

  • Compass

    You’ll only need a compass if you want to make your puff a specific size, other wise you can draw around a glass or small plate, etc.

  • Cardboard template

    If you’re planning to make lots of Suffolk puffs the same size it’s easier to use a template cut from thin card (an old cereal box will do).  Make the template the size of the circle you need to cut, rather than the size of your finished puff.

Step 1

Draw a circle on the back of your fabric, which should be approximately twice the size you need for your finished puffs. You can draw around a glass or something similar, or use a compass if you want a specific size. If you plan to make lots of Suffolk puffs all the same size cut out a template from thin card. Cut out your circles.

Step 2

Working from the wrong side of your circle begin to fold in about half a centimetre along the edge. Use a matching thread (doubling it will make it stronger) and fasten it under the fold with a small knot. Sew medium size running stitches just in from the edge,

Step 2 continued

folding and stitching as you go until you’ve completed the circle. Don’t clip the edge beforehand: just fold it into place. The further away from the folded edge you make your stitches the more ‘frill’ you’ll have on your finished centre, like the lavender pillow. If you want a closed centre, try and stitch as close to the edge as you can, like the red example below.

Step 3

Draw up your thread to gather the puff and fasten with a few backstitches – but don’t cut your thread just yet. Make sure the gathered centre of your Suffolk puff is in the centre of the finished puff, insert your needle between the centre folds and make one or two tiny stitches to ensure the centre stays in place. Now fasten off and cut your thread.

You can decorate your traditional Suffolk puffs with buttons and beads, layer them together for a brooch, or stitch them together to make a quilt. Details for joining them together are below.

How To Make Suffolk Puffs With A Contrasting Centre

Click on any image to see it at a larger scale

Easy patchwork project: making suffolk puffs © Stephanie Boon, 2016 Cornwall, UK All rights reserved. www.DawnChorusStudio.com

What You’ll Need

  • As Above

    Everything you need for a traditional Suffolk Puff, plus:

  • Bondaweb

    A small piece of Bondaweb large enough to cover your contrasting fabric, or fabric glue.

  • Contrasting Fabric

    A piece of contrasting fabric a little smaller than your finished puff size.

Step 1

Cut out a circle from your main fabric roughly twice the required size of your finished puff, then fold it into quarters and iron it so that you can easily see the centre of the circle.

Step 2

Cut a circle of Bondaweb a little smaller than the size of your finished puff.  Iron the Bondaweb onto the wrong side of a piece of contrast fabric according to the Bondaweb instructions.

Step 3

Trim off the excess fabric and remove the paper backing.

Step 4

Place the glue surface over the centre on the wrong side of your main fabric circle and iron into place according to the Bondaweb instructions.

Step 5

Turn a hem towards the small circle and stitch it down with tiny running stitches (doubling your thread will make it stronger), which will make the open centre of the finished puff larger.

Step 6

Draw up the thread to gather the puff and fasten off with a couple of small backstitches.

Sewing Suffolk Puffs Together

Click on any image to see it at a larger scale

Easy patchwork project: making suffolk puffs © Stephanie Boon, 2016 Cornwall, UK All rights reserved. www.DawnChorusStudio.com

What You’ll Need

  • Card Template.

    Lightweight card template.

  • Bradawl

    Or something similar to make a hole in the card.

  • Pencil

    A piece of contrasting fabric a little smaller than your finished puff size.

  • Needle and Thread

    A standard sewing needle and thread to match all your Suffolk puffs (I suggest something like grey).

  • Quilter’s Rule

    A gridded transparent rule showing right angles is ideal.

Step 1

Joining your puffs together is the next logical step for an easy patchwork project. The following instructions show you how to mark the back of the puffs to keep them square as you stitch them into blocks, and although this isn’t strictly necessary it can be really helpful. If you’re planning to make a quilt use a dissolvable pen or chalk so that it doesn’t show on the back.

Before you make your puffs make a hole in the centre of your template with a bradawl, (the centre will be visible from the point of your compass). Draw around the template with a pencil (or dissolvable pen/chalk) on the right side of the fabric and mark the centre through the hole.

Step 2

Use your Quilter’s grid rule to mark a right angled cross through the centre mark of your circle. Don’t draw the cross through to the edges – if you do it will show on the front of the Suffolk puff. Continue to make your Suffolk puffs as described above, but if you’re not planning to stitch them to a backing don’t stitch the centre in place through to the back fabric. (It might be unsightly if you do.)

Step 3

Stitch two puffs together by placing them right sides together. Match up the pencil lines and stitch together with a couple of firm oversewing stitches for no more than a 1/4″ along the edge. Fasten off well.

Step 4

Continue stitching puffs together to make a row approximately 12″ long.

Step 5

Join the rows together with a couple of small firm stitches as before, matching up the pencil lines. Make a 12″ square block.

Step 6

Make several blocks and continue to join them together until your quilt top is the required size. You can leave your puffs like this to make a lightweight bedcover, or you could make a warmer quilt with a quilt sandwich. To make the quilt sandwich lay a backing fabric wrong side up, then the wadding, then a plain top fabric, right side up. Lay the puffs on the top and tie the layers together through the centre of each puff, knotting the ties on the back.

Make A Scented Suffolk Puff Pillow

Click on any image to see it at a larger scale

Scented patchwork pillow made with Suffolk Puffs (yo-yos) © Stephanie Boon, 2016 www.DawnChorusStudio.com

This mini Suffolk puff pillow is an easy patchwork project. It’s the perfect size for filling with a sachet of lavender or your favourite scented potpourri – keep it on your bed for a restful night’s sleep! It measures approximately 6.5″ x 9″ (16.5cm x 23cm), but can easily be adapted to make a standard size cushion.

What You’ll Need

  • Template

    3.25″ (8cm) template cut from lightweight card (e.g. an old cereal box.)

  • Equipment and Notions

    Make your Suffolk puffs using the method above. To make the pillow you’ll also need a ruler, needle and thread and a sewing machine to make it up.

  • Suffolk Puff Fabric

    24 circles of cotton fabric cut to 3.25″ (8cm).

  • Fabric for the Front

    Choose a piece of fabric for the front of your pillow and cut it to 11″ x 8″ (28cm x 20cm).

  • Fabric for the Back

    Choose two pieces of fabric for the back of your pillow. Cut one piece 8″ x 8″ (20cm x 20cm) and one piece 8″ x 6.5″ (20cm x 16.5cm). You can use the same print for both pieces or a different one for each.

  • Binding

    Cut a strip of fabric 36″ long x 1.5″ wide (91.5cm x 3.5cm) from the fabric of your choice. For this small pillow I cut the fabric on the straight grain. Make the strip into binding using a binding maker if you prefer.

Step 1

Make an 8cm lightweight card template and make 24 Suffolk puffs as described above.

Step 2

Lay your top pillow fabric right side up. Lightly draw an accurate 6″ x 4″ (15cm x 10cm) rectangle about an inch from the edge. Divide the rectangle equally into 24 x 1.5″ (3.5cm) squares (6 across and 4 down).

Step 3

Appliqué one suffolk puff into each square with blind stitch.

Step 4

Make the back of the pillow. Hem one short edge along each back piece of fabric: fold 1/2″ to the reverse of the fabric, fold over again then press and stitch down (by machine or hand as you prefer).  Place the largest piece on top of the front, wrong sides together.

Step 5

Lay the second piece of fabric on top, right sides together and pin through all the layers along the centre opening.

Step 6

Flip the pillow over and pin the front and back together around the edge, close to the Suffolk puffs. Tack together (by hand or machine) removing the pins as you go. The tacking will stop the layers moving about and help you to stitch close to the Suffolk puffs when you attach the binding.

Step 7

Make the binding. Make your binding from a strip of fabric 36″ (91cm) long by 2″ (5cm) wide. The binding can be made along the straight grain or across the bias of the fabric as you prefer. Follow the tutorial for using a binding maker, if you need further details.

Step 8

Place the binding right sides together along the edge of the pillow starting at the centre (corresponding to the opening on the back). Create a neat edge at the starting point by folding about 1/2″ (1cm) of the binding back onto itself and pin it into place.

Step 9

Begin sewing the binding down close to the tacking stitches below. Stop machining when you are about 1/2″ from the corner. Lift the needle and fold the binding back at a right angle, then forward again along the second edge.

Step 10

Lower the needle so that it meets the point at which you lifted it (about 1/2″ / 1cm from the edge) and continue stitching, ensuring you don’t machine through the fold. Continue in this way until you reach your starting point. Overlap the binding at your starting point and trim. Press the binding back, folding it neatly at the corners.

Step 11

Fold under the binding on the back of the of the pillow, pin and stitch down by hand with a hem stitch.

Make a simple rectangular cushion pad: cut 2 pieces of lightweight voile or muslin to the size of your finished pillow (excluding the binding); Machine along 3 edges; fill with lavender or your favourite potpourri and stitch the final edge down. Insert into your Suffolk puff pillow, place on your bed pillow and sleep well!

That’s it! Easy patchwork at its best. Now that you’ve learnt how to make Suffolk puffs and join them together you have all the skills you need to go on to make a quilt, go for it!

I’d love it if you come back to share what you learnt from the tutorials and let us know if there’s anything you discovered and would like to add. It would be fun to add a gallery here of the things you’ve made too, so don’t be shy and send your photos to [email protected]