Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Perfect Hand Quilting Without Pain

Perfect hand quilting without pain is possible.

Like all good recipes hand quilting needs the right ingredients. Just like making a cake if you don't get the ingredients right then the result you get will vary.

For years I was not sure of all the right things to do and although I enjoyed hand quilting, I was not happy with my stitch length or the pain I experienced after quilting for a long period of time. Even when my stitches were Okay on the front, when I looked at the back they were uneven and unsightly!

But then I learned the secret...and now I'm going to share it with you.

Here are all the right ingredients for you.

Let's get started. From reading my previous post you will have learned how to baste your quilt and have it all ready for hand quilting. If you haven't read this yet, click here for the link

My tips for success:
Use a fine quilting needle, I recommend number 12 clover quilting needles (don't panic when you see how small they are) Here's a photo of them for you.

Use a good quality quilting thread. For years I used Gutermann hand quilting thread until I came across the the brand shown below YLI. It is much softer to work with, I love it.

The spools above are Gutermann, a big benefit is that they come in lots of colour choices

This is the brand I use now.

A hand hint is to place a rubber band around the spool to stop it from unwinding.

There is much debate about whether to use a quilting hoop or not.
I find hoops very useful if quilting around shapes. The quilt can be turned in different directions easily, while stabilizing the quilt.
If I am quilting a row I roll the quilt firmly and then quilt towards myself unrolling the quilt as I work.
The mistake a lot of people make is how they place the quilt in the hoop, I'm convinced this is why many find hoops difficult to work with. Although it looks like a huge embroidery hoop, don't let this confuse you. The quilt should be very loose in the hoop, NOT taut like a piece of fabric for embroidery. To get ready for hand quilting, place the hoop all the way over the quilt and then push down in the centre so that the hoop comes up flush with the sides

You can see here how I have pushed the hoop right over the edge of the hoop underneath.

Although it is not easy to see, there is a dip in the centre. If I picked the quilt up it would be floppy in the hoop.

Always remove the hoop when not in use.

There are a variety of ways to mark your quilting design onto your quilt.
If you are using a pattern like a heart, scroll or flower you will need to trace this onto you quilt before basting. Use a sharp lead pencil or washable marker.

Stencils can be purchased for this or you can trace a drawn pattern using a light box.
I prefer to free hand quilt or use 1/4" quilting tape. (shown in the photo above) The 1/4" allowance ensures that you do not quilt through the thickness of the seam allowance. It can be doubled to give a 1/2" allowance or used in a long length to form a diagonal line when cross hatching a quilt (working diagonal rows).

Now for the big surprise...when I hand quilt I do not hold onto the needle with my fingers. WHAT! I hear you all say.

The secret to perfect hand quilting without pain is all in the thimble and your technique.

You may have seen thimbles like these:

These thimbles are good but not for hand quilting.

These, on the other hand, are my secret tools of the trade.

The silver thimble is for holding the needle. You will notice that it has deeper indents than a normal thimble. The other green thimble if for gripping the needle. These can be purchased from a newsagent or stationery supply shop.

The silver thimble quilting thimble was designed by a very clever woman called Luixin Newman known as "The Thimble Lady" I attended one of her workshops years ago and learned her technique. It opened a whole new world of hand quilting to me. I can now hand quilt for hours without any pain and it is much quicker than any other technique I have tried.

The great news is that she has a website if you would like to learn her amazing technique as well. She has some free videos that you may find useful. Here's the link for you, click here

To be honest, it took me a while and lots of practice to master Luixin's technique. At first it seemed awkward, but I'm very grateful I persisted. It reminded me of learning how to knit for the first time or perhaps like learning how to ride a bike.

Remember don't give up, practice makes perfect and before long you will have perfect hand quilting without the pain. Once you get the knack it's really quite easy.

Here are a few photos of me hand quilting, hubby took them this morning.

This step is very important, notice how upright my needle is. This ensures that the needle passes through all layers and is essential for perfect stitches on the back.

Loading up my stitches, I can normally get 4-5 stitches on at once.
Before discovering this technique I could only work 2 at a time, which means it's twice as fast!

Notice how the thimble is holding the needle, not my fingers which is why they don't get sore.

Because all the stitches are covering the small needle, the tip of the needle is grabbed with the rubber thimble. I would not be able to pick it up without it.

The last ingredient I should mention is how to start and finish.
Use a quilter's knot in your thread.
I demonstrate this knot in my embroidery resource, click here for more details).

Start from the front and pass the needle down and along, through the batting so that you catch a very small amount of backing fabric (this is important).
Come up where you would like to start and then tug the thread firmly so that the knot passes down underneath the fabric.
This should be easy providing your knot is the correct size.

Look carefully and you will see the tail of the thread and the knot before I tug it through. My needle has come up inside the corner which is a bit hard to see because they are both the same colour. Sorry, this is not the best graphic to show this. And I can't even blame hubby, I took this one!!!!

When finishing, take the thread to the back and form a loop, pass your needle through this, place your finger over the knot as it is formed. This will make your thread knot close to the fabric. Pass your needle back down into the batting and run it along and back up, tug the thread again so that the knot is underneath the fabric and embedded in the batting.

There you have it, all my secret ingredients for perfect hand quilting without pain.

Happy hand quilting!

Warmly Lenna

Please leave a comment if you found this information useful, I'd love to hear from you.
Or visit my website for more great articles like this one. Click here


Sue said...

What a wonderful clear to understand and easy to follow.

Aischa said...

Thank you for the effort of putting together this comprehensive tutorial! Makes me want to start hand-quilting again....

Please, would you check the link to Luixin Newman´s demonstrations? There is something not working...Thanks!

Lenna Green of Stitching Cow said...

Thanks for pointing this out to me Aischa, problem is now fixed.
Warmly Lenna

Anonymous said...

I have really enjoyed reading your tips for hand quilting and found them very clear and detailed. Thanks for sharing them with us. I hope your BOM is coming along nicely. Evonne xx

Nadine B. said...

Thank you for offering all these helpful things. You got an award from me - check out my blog :-))

Nadine from Germany

Sue said...

G’day Lenna. I’ve nominated your blog for the Brillante Weblog Award. You can see the nomination at:

jenclair said...

Thanks for both tutorials. The rubber thimble catching the needle must be a great help, and I'm eager to try your tips!

hipswimmermum said...

Hi Lenna,

Your blog is so helpful and has given me new ideas such as the hoop instead of the plastic frame - AND not holding it taut :)
Your blogs, website is so user friendly - well designed and laid out - with links to tools, fabric shops & other related info included.

I find instructions hard to follow - I learn better by observing someone else, so saying your tutorials are easy to follow, is a big compliment.
Keep doing what you are doing and I will pass your website on to my quilting buddies here and in Australia.

Catherine Clarke,
Mayne Island,

Anonymous said...

Hi Lenna, Just home from hospital after surgery and thought I'd check my mail and there you were. Reading about hand quilting makes me want to have a go ... great instructions and look easy to follow. Will be calling by often as I recuperate. Dzintra

Judy said...

I watched the Thimble lady demonstrate this on Simply Quilts and I've used her technique since then with great success! Thanks!

KayeAtHome said...

Very helpful--especially the thimble used! Thanks for suggesting it.

I have a stash of useless thimbles tried and discarded as I work to improve my quilting stitch, and now another to try! Hopefully my last.

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Nima said...

Thank you for sharing this info. I'm a newnie in quilting. My hand quilting lessons started yday and i'm practicing handquilting on a
15" scrap block...

Anonymous said...

I love your instructions. They seem to be very clear and much easier to understand than most. I have hand quilted in the past, but thought I was awful at it. I have had lots of quilt tops I have reserved for hand quilting and now I would like to try again. Thanks for your help.

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Linda said...

Thanks for this wonderful, easy to understand tutorial. I have been quilting for years, but with a lot more pain. What do you have on the under finger? That's the one that hurts - ouch! Again. thanks. Linda

Lenna Green said...

Linda, Try using a band-aid for the fingertip underneath, hope that helps

Anonymous said...

A fantastically clear and concise tutorial with really good tips and advice.I am a complete beginner and was looking for advice that was simple and useful...and it's all here!Thank you!I am all enthused and looking forward to starting now!

anniemac said...

Great tutorial-
I am desperate to find a thimble with deep dents and a ridge around the top so the needle doesn't fall off.
you have this type in the photos- can you post up some sites that these can be bought from thanks so much
I am struggling with a standard type of slightly coned thimble - I just can't seem to keep the needle in place long enough to get it through the fabric more than once!!
thanks so much :)

Anonymous said...

Just something you may try for yourself, but there is a product called Jacks Answer that relieves pain in the joints, neck, and shoulders really well. It usually works in as little as 5 minutes or so on most people. Everyone in our family either quilts, works needle point, or knits, and it has really helped a lot.

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eloidastitches said...

I use a rubber office thimble as a gripper as well, and find it VERY helpful for pulling the needle through. I modified the rubber thimble slightly by trimming off the little nodules, and then turning the thimble inside out. That way my thread is not catching on the little bumps and there is a smooth surface for gripping the needle. I hope this is helpful for others as well.

Unknown said...

I only wish I had read your blog several months ago when I first began trying. It is wonderfully simple, yet detailed and well organized at each step. Thank you, so much!

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Anonymous said...

Great info. I’ve hand quilted for 60 yrs and did no know about the thimble yo are shown using. I’m getting one. About quilting with a hoop. Always start in the center and work around the quilted part in a circle That way you are easing out and pulling tight anything that needs it. If you don’t you can end up with a big mess on the end and no room to correct it. Heartbreaking to reach a corner and it’s bunched up and then you have to take it out.



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