Periodically we get questions from some of you about various aspects of quilting and we try to answer those questions when we can.
The following came in some time back and I thought it would be a good issue to discuss:
Learning to do hand quilting – any suggestions on how to practice my stitches?
First and foremost, the tools and materials you use really make a difference.
Use high quality apparel weight 100% cotton fabric. If the fabric is heavy, you will get larger stitches.
I like to use 100% cotton batting. One of my favorites is Quilters’ Dream Cotton. This batting comes in several weights. I like the lightest weight, Request. The thicker the batting, the larger the stitches and the thinner the batting, the easier it is to quilt and get small stitches.
I use a between, size 11, for all my hand piecing and quilting. It is a sturdy needle and because it is so short it does not bend as readily. There are a number of needle companies and I have experimented with many of them. Unfortunately, as with everything else, many of the manufacturers are now having their needles made in China. Frankly, in my experience, the ones made in China are not the same high quality as those made in England and Japan. I would advise you to check the packaging. If it says “packed in England” and not “made in England,” the needles are probably made in China. My favorite needle of choice at the moment is the Colonial Needle Company, Super Glide, between, size 11. This needle is made in England and has a special coating that allows it to glide more smoothly through the fabric.
I like a pre-waxed thread made specifically for quilting. There are many brands and they now come in a wide range of colors. The one I use most is YLI quilting thread. It is a little more wiry than standard thread and produces a nice quilting stitch.
I can’t quilt without a spoon. You may wonder what that is. When quilting, you need a hand underneath the quilt frame to receive the tip of the needle and push it back up again. After a while your finger gets really sore. There are various devices to use under the frame that will guide the needle back up. Some thimbles have sharp ridges around the top for just this purpose. Aunt Becky’s Finger Saver is another device.
Once, I encountered a group of older women around a quilting frame. One of them was quilting up a storm and I asked what she used underneath. She proudly held up her thumb where she had a quarter taped. She was using that to guide the needle back up.
I have tried many different things, but my favorite is TJ’s Quick Quilter Spoon. It saves many sore fingers.
When quilting, sometimes if you have stacked four or five stitches on the needle it is difficult to grab the needle and pull it out. I use a small pair of pliers for this purpose. I just keep them on my quilting frame and grab them when needed.
I have saved the most important for last. To get good even stitches you must use some type of frame or hoop. It is the same as doing embroidery. Without a hoop, the work is either too loose or too tight. I can’t stress enough the importance of this.
My book, Quiltmaking by Hand, has a whole chapter on quilting, designs for quilting, how to put a quilt in a frame or hoop, and so much more. If you have an interest in hand quilting, this book would be useful for you.
I never sew without a thimble. I have written two blogs about thimbles and recommend you read, “Put A Thimble on It” and “Thimbles, Part II – My Favorite Thimbles.” These blogs cover how to choose a thimble and what my choice is.
Now to answer the question above, if you have the right fabric, batting, tools and some sort of frame, the best way to practice your quilting is to put a quilt in a hoop or frame and start quilting. The first stitches will probably not be to your satisfaction, but you will find that you will improve as you keep stitching.
I was very disappointed when I started quilting my first quilt. Here is a close up of how those first stitches looked and another several months later when I was achieving smaller and more even stitches.
I am happy to see the renewed interest in hand quilting and hope you will give it a try!