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...


4 replies
  1. Sandra
    Sandra says:

    Hi Stephie, love your tips. Ive just started hand Quilting my first quilt and I know what your talking about. I call this quilt my Test Quilt – I’m trying many ways of patchwork and hand quilting. Like most of my quilts no prizes at quilt shows ?

    • Stephie
      Stephie says:

      Thanks Sandra! Oh there are definitely no prizes on my walls!!! But who cares, that’s not why I quilt (although I know it’s why some people do and that’s great too). A quilt takes a long time to hand-quilt so I think it’s perfectly natural to experiment and test things out for a good few years before you find a rhythm that suits you. I picked up another good tip along the way (that I often forget about!!): keep a ‘warm up’ piece alongside your quilt and always do a few lines of stitches on it before you get going on the main attraction, it really does help you ‘settle’ in before you pick up where you left off. Have a look at the post I recommended to Mona How I Learnt To Use A Quilt Hoop for some more tips 🙂

    • Stephie
      Stephie says:

      I used to find it so much easier to get neater stitches on the back without a hoop that’s for sure, but I decided to try again with a hoop and after some persistance can quilt smaller stitches with a hoop these days (but they’re probably not so great on the back, haha!)
      You might enjoy this post about my trials and tribulations! How I Learnt To Use A Quilt Hoop Thanks for your comment Mona, it’s lovely you dropped by 🙂


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