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6 Techniques for Hand Quilting

And which one to choose for your next project.

hands stitching
Photography by: Lennart Weibull

You might think it involves complex patchwork, but at heart, quilting is a very simple craft. Just nestle batting between two layers of fabric and sew them together. Try your hand at a project and turn basic materials into homespun works of art, starting from square one.

 

First, when choosing a thread for hand stitching, don't simply compare the spool to your fabric, side by side. Unravel it and lay it down on the fabric. The thread that disappears is the one you should use. When you are working with a printed fabric, always match the thread to the background color. Then, the trick for tight, uniform stitches: Keep your needle perpendicular to the fabric, and pull the thread straight through, not at a slant. The needle should be sturdy and extra-sharp, but not so thick that it leaves gaping holes.

 

[LEARN: 6 Handy Sewing Stitches You Should Know]
pattern ideas
Photography by: Lennart Weibull

There are dozens of techniques for hand-quilting (aka the freehand stitching you use to decorate a surface), tacking together layers, and closing the edges of a project. Master the ins and outs of our favorites.

 

1. Punctuate Gingham Squares 

Do this with dash-like stitches. (You can't go wrong when you follow your fabric's pattern.) Be sure to pin (or "baste") your layers in place while you work; curved safety pins designed for quilting grab the batting and keep your project flat. Also, see how the batting and bottom fabric are wider than the top piece? That makes for easier edge binding if layers shift as you sew.

 

2. Trace a Motif 

Once or even twice to give it more dimension. The lesson here: Lightweight thread (like the fine-gauge, all-cotton hand- quilting kind) draws eyes to the puffed pattern you create, while thicker thread (such as multistrand embroidery floss, shown here) makes the top-stitching the main event. Likewise, wool batting (used in our gingham swatch and in the quilted jewelry roll) can give more loft, while cotton (used here and in our baby blanket) lies flatter.

 

3. Stitch Your Way Down

Every fourth stripe to dress up shirt-like fabric. To be precise, use a disappearing-ink fabric marker to predraw your dotted lines, then follow them to a T. If your project has raw edges, you can sew them closed using bias tape, a narrow strip of fabric that's been cut on the bias (shown here), to create a contrasting border; see swatch 5 for the finished effect.

 

4. Create a Seamless Border

By cutting your quilt backing slightly bigger than the top layer and folding it forward. For the mitered corners, tuck the fabric into itself and hand-stitch it down. When you're planning quilt knots, placement is key: If they're too spread out, your batting can shift inside the quilt. The rule of thumb is no more than seven inches apart (your batting’s packaging will give specific guidelines).

 

5. Micro-Stipple a Mini Pattern

Like these dotted circles, with thinner embroidery floss. (Here, we pulled apart the plies and used three strands out of six.) For perfect rings, stencil on templates using a disappearing ink fabric marker.

 

6. Enliven Checks

with contrasting crisscrosses. Sew down through a square's center, leaving a two-inch tail on top, then up through the upper right corner, down through the bottom left corner, up through the center, down through the bottom right, up through the center, down through the upper left, and up through the center again. Got it? Finally, tie the excess and the initial tail together.

 

Ready to get started? Watch how to assemble all of your sewing supplies in a nifty jar: