The Basics

Have you ever tried to do hand quilting?  Or does the thought of quilting by hand scare the batting right out of you?  It shouldn’t!  Hand quilting is really quite simple once you see how it is accomplished.  You have probably heard of people who do knitting because it relaxes them.  Quilting by hand accomplishes the same goal: to relax and repeat the same motion over and over, both creating something beautiful and letting your mind and body enjoy a time of bliss and beauty.  

Before we begin learning how to do this, I’d like to explain a few things to you.

First, everyone is different, and everyone has their own preferences and ways of doing things.  That is life, isn’t it? You should watch my husband and I load the dishwasher.  I do it one way, and my dear husband rearranges the dishes before it gets turned on. No matter who arranges the dishes, the machine will still get turned on, and the dishes will still get washed.  

There are some quilters who will tell you what you MUST do, and make it clear to you that there is only one way to do the task.  We affectionately refer to THOSE people as the “Quilt Police.”  The rules that they describe are either THEIR OWN suggestions, or they are tried and true practices learned from generations of quilters who came before them. 

I’d like to introduce you to my father.  He isn’t a quilter, but he appreciates a good quilt.  My dad taught me how to drive when I was 16.  But he wouldn’t let me drive the car until I knew some basic skills.  
  • I had to demonstrate to him that I could change a tire.
  • I had to fill the gas tank with the right kind of gas, shut off the pump and go pay the attendant on my own.
  • I had to wash, dry and wax the car properly under his supervision.  
Again, I couldn’t drive the car until all these skills were in place.  What he showed me was that there are some basics that you need to know before the fun begins.  The same is true with learning how to hand quilt.  There are some basic guidelines and skills that you need to learn; let’s begin with those, one step at a time.  Again, these aren’t “Quilt Police” laws, these are raw basics.
  1. Prewash and press your cotton fabrics before including them in a quilt.  Here is why this is important:  a) Often, when fabrics are dyed by the manufacturer, they will retain any excess dye.  It is wise to run those fabrics through the wash (either by hand or by machine) to make sure you get the extra dye out before you include the fabric in a quilt.  I just toss my fabrics in the washing machine with regular detergent,  rinse and dry in the dryer.  ALSO, during the manufacturing process, fabric may be treated with finishes that will remain in the fabric while it is drying. While that might be alright to include in your quilt if you will be machine quilting, hand quilting is another story.  Finishes that are put into fabrics can sometimes make it more difficult to hand stitch.  If you will be hand quilting, you will be glad that you removed any of these finishes.  It makes the fabric softer and easier to stitch.
  2. Visit a quilt shop that carries thimbles OR go online and look for a quilt shop that specializes in hand quilting supplies.  Traditional quilting practices and demonstrations throughout time show that you want a thimble that fits snugly on the middle finger of your dominant hand.  I am right handed, so my thimble is always on my middle finger of my right hand. Wearing a thimble does not feel comfortable the first few times you wear one.  Trust me!  I was told to put on my thimble when I got up in the morning, and wear it all day long until it became a part of flexibilityme.  That really did work, and there are still times when I put it on and forget I have it on.  Make sure that your thimble really fits snug on your finger, though.  Try a few different thimble styles until you find the one that is meant for you.  Really, they are not that expensive, so try several on before you make a more costly purchase.  
  3. Use a good quality batting, but one that is fairly thin.  You don’t want something that is thick the first time you hand quilt.  I strongly recommend a Mountain Mist thin polyester batting OR a Hobbs Tuscany Wool.  Both of these will be easy to stitch on and will feel like “quilting through butter.”  Whatever you do, please stay clear of cotton batting the first few times.  
  4. Use a hoop or frame when you quilt.  Yes, really.  It doesn’t need to be anything expensive, and you can actually use four boards and four C-clamps to create your own quilt frame.  Many people will tell you that you don’t need a hoop or frame… they will suggest that you go without one.  I suggest you think back to old photographs featuring many women sitting around a quilt frame stitching.  Here – you can visit this link  and see what I’m talking about.  There was a reason that women sat around a quilt frame.  Stretching the three layers of the quilt on a frame and pinning them in place assures the quilters that there will not be puckers or “air pockets” in the finished quilt.  Yes, the large square or rectangular frame allows many women or men to sit around and stitch together.  But it is the “sandwiching of the layers” that is really the thing that helps create a beautiful quilt.  And again, many people will say that using a hoop or frame is unnecessary.  You need to decide that for yourself by trying different methods.  Remember, there are no quilt police.    Stay tuned for additional articles, videos and photos that will provide you with additional information on this topic.  In the meantime, go put that thimble right back on your finger! 


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