Sunday, June 16, 2013

Adventures in Hand Quilting

It all started three and a half months ago after watching the movie "Lincoln" with my dad (a huge civil war buff). An idea was planted in my head to create a civil war themed quilt for the man who spent many hours reading countless books about Lincoln and the Civil War. I knew it would be the perfect father's day gift for him. I began doing some internet searches on Civil War quilts and stumbled on Barbara Brackman's website, Next thing I knew I was at our local library checking out her book, "Barbara Brackman's Civil War Sampler: 50 Quilt Blocks with Stories from History". I chose the blocks I liked best and got to work.

As I finished piecing the top of the quilt (all on a treadle machine) I realized that it was quite busy with the assortment of blocks and I needed to quilt it in a way that would tie everything together. So I decided that rather than stippling on the machine I would prefer to do a repeating fan pattern. And then it hit me that these should be hand quilted, perhaps the way it would have been done at that time. 

I had never hand quilted before, so once again I was back on the internet. I watched many videos and read a few blog posts and ordered the few things I would need for hand quilting. 

Small quilting needles: I used John James Quilting Needles, Size 9 (which I ordered from Missouri Star Quilt Co.)

A Good Thimble: I use Singer's Comfort Fit Gel Thimble (I found mine at JoAnn Fabrics and wear it on my middle finger)

A Quilt Hoop or Quilt Frame: I found I switched around depending on how I wanted to sit. Honestly, I love the hoop because then I can work wherever I want. 

Small Quilt Hoop - Thrift Store for $1.99

Quilt Frame my Husband Built for $30 in Supplies

Optional Item: A Rubber Thimble for Added Grip (I purchased one from Missori Star Quilt Co. that I wear on my pointer finger)

Finally, I was ready to practice. Practice was definitely key. I took some scrap fabric and scrap batting and created a sandwich just like the actual quilt and practiced until I felt comfortable with the movements. Then it was time to tackle the quilt. For anyone learning, I do prefer step by step photos so I have included the motions that work for me. 

Step 1: Create your quilters knot and pull it through your sandwich to begin. Keep one hand above and one hand below your quilt. Then push your needle through your quilt going straight down. Do not push all the way through . . . stop once you feel the needle catch on your finger below the quilt.

Step 2: With the back of your needle nestled into a dimple on the thimble, turn the needle nearly 90 degrees, becoming almost parallel with your quilt and push through all layers bringing the needle back to the top. Use your thumb to add resistance to the top of the quilt to aid the needle in pushing through easier. Once again, push just the tip of the needle through.

Step 3: Keeping the needle nestled in a dimple on the thimble, pull the needle back up 90 degrees so that it is once again pushing straight down into the quilt. As before, only push until the tip of the needle pokes through.

Step 4: Once again, rock the needle 90 degrees so it is nearly parallel with the quilt and push through back to the top. Use your thumb to push the quilt top down around the needle as you poke through.

Step 5: If you are comfortable, continue rocking 1 or 2 more times and then pull the thread through after ending with the needle poking through the top. Your row of stitches will be all set. 

Repeat over and over, for what feels like an eternity, until you have completed your quilt!

Happy quilting!


  1. I've never been able to 'rock the needle' quilt. My stitches that way just aren't even or nice. I taught myself to 'stab stitch, poke pull' quilt. It works well for me, and, I don't need a thimble, and, it is much less stressful on my hands and wrists (which is good, since I have tendonitis in my wrists). The most important part is to quilt in a way that is comfortable for YOU. Good job!

    1. I had such a hard time at first but I think I am finally finding my flow. My stitches are starting to get more even but I am sure it will take a lot more practice before it feels just right! Thank you for all of your inspiration . . . after all, you were the hand quilter that made me want to try hand quilting!!!