As a rule, I am not a very patient or meticulous person. For example, even though I have knit since I was a child, I have never even made an adult sweater…. It would just take too long! Hand quilting is my one exception to this rule. I have loved this slow and contemplative process ever since Joelle first taught it to me many years ago.
For the uninitiated: Hand quilting is the method of sewing together the three layers of a quilt (the backing, the batting, and the top) in patterns of hand sewn stitches. It’s certainly not fast, but it is stunningly beautiful. The gentle rocking motion of the needle is so soothing, and I love all of those neat rows of tiny little stitches!
My favorite way to showcase hand quilting is with the simplicity of a wholecloth quilt. For the top of my Windowpane Quilt I used the classic Betsy print from the very special Liberty of London Tana Lawn collection. The silky smoothness of this fabric and the exquisite detail of its pretty pattern truly made this project a joy. And for the back, the Yarn Dyed Essex in Denim reminded me of a well loved pair of jeans and really added some old fashioned charm. I chose a baby size for this quilt because the hundreds of small hand stitches seem to infuse it with a little extra love!
To make one 36-inch square quilt:
- 1 yard Liberty of London Tana Lawn Classic in Betsy for the top
- 1 1/2-yards of Essex Yarn Dyed in Denim for the backing and binding
- 1 crib sized request weight cotton batting
- Hand Quilting Thread in color 6716 for the hand quilting
- Hand Quilting Thread in a brightly contrasting color (I used 2074) for the basting. This will be pulled out at the end of the process so don't worry if it clashes.
- 100% cotton thread in color 9200 for sewing on the binding
Hand Quilting Tools:
- A 12-inch quilting hoop
- A Goat Leather Thimble (You could use a metal thimble instead but I find the leather ones to be easiest.)
- An Under Thimble
- A Hera Marker
- Binding Clips
- Hand Quilting Needles (these are also called "betweens" and are shorter than a regular hand sewing needle)
- A hand sewing needle
- Curved Quilting Needles
Making the Quilt Sandwich
Cut the backing fabric into a 40-inch square. Put aside the extra fabric, you will use it for the binding later.
Press the backing fabric and tape it, wrong side up, to a clean floor stretching it out slightly so it is totally flat with absolutely no ripples or wrinkles.
Cut the batting to be roughly the same size as the backing and smooth it on top of the backing so that it is also flat.
Cut and press the top fabric into a 36-inch square and lay it right side up in the center of the previous two layers. Make sure it is also smooth and flat.
This is the quilt sandwich.
Basting is sewing something together with large, easily removable stitches. It temporarily holds the layers of the quilt sandwich in place as you quilt it. Once you are done quilting the basting stitches will be pulled out. As someone who loves a shortcut I can see why it might be tempting to skip this rather tedious step but please don't! Basting really helps to ensure that the finished quilt will be smooth and un-puckered.
While the quilt sandwich is still taped to the floor, thread a 24-inch length of the contrasting quilting thread onto a curved needle. Do not tie a knot at the end of the thread. Starting at the center of the square take a large stitch through all three layers with the curved needle. Pull the thread through, leaving a 4-inch tail.
Continue to sew these large stitches in a spiral pattern from the center of the sandwich outward. When you reach the end of a length of thread, instead of tying a knot, leave a 4-inch tail. These tails will allow you to easily pull out the basting stitches at the end of the quilting.
Baste the entire quilt sandwich this way. Once you get to the corners and edges of the top you can abandon the spiral shape and baste it together freestyle, just make sure that the top is basted evenly and along all of its corners and edges.
Using the Hera Marker, which creates a visible crease, mark the quilt top every 6-inches vertically along the entire vertical length of the square. Then mark every 6-inches horizontally along the entire width.
You will have a grid of thirty-six 6-inch squares as shown above.
You will be hand quilting 1/8-inch inside of each marked square, as represented by the red, as represented by the red squares above.
For all the quilting instructions please keep in mind that I am right handed. If you are a lefty you will want to reverse the hands in these instructions.
The hand quilting stitch is a very specific (and fun to do) stitch. It comes with its own rules and even it's own knot!
Cut an 18-inch length of your matching hand quilting thread (not the basting thread) and thread it onto one of the short hand quilting needles. Wrap the thread's end around the needle twice, as shown above.
Hold the needle in place at the sharp end with your left fingers. With your right fingers pinch the two wraps and pull them off the needle. Keep pinching and pulling the wraps down the entire length of the thread until you reach the end.
At the end of the thread the wraps will form a little knot as shown above. This is a quilters knot.
Un-tape the basted quilt sandwich from the floor. Place the section you would like to quilt on the inside of the quilting hoop and then attach the outside of the hoop. You can start quilting wherever you like. Tighten the hoop slightly but do not stretch the quilt itself. You want the hoop to hold the fabric in place but not to pull it as taut as you would for an embroidery hoop.
Before you begin quilting you need to anchor your thread. First find where you would like to start quilting. You will anchor your thread 1-inch before this point. Bring your threaded needle through the top of your sandwich and the batting layer, then back up through the top, coming up at your start point, careful not to puncture the backing fabric.
Pull the thread until the knot pops through the top fabric and is thus hidden in-between the layers of the quilt. Do not pull it so hard that the knot comes through the exit point as well.
Now it's time to arm your fingers against the sharp quilting needle. Place your thimble on your right index finger and your under thimble on the tip of your left index finger.
Hold the quilting hoop on your lap. Place your left hand under the hoop with your left index finger directly under where you'll be stitching.
Keep in mind that you will be stitching towards yourself. Insert your needle 1/8-inch or less from the thread's exit point. Press it perpendicularly through all three layers of the quilt using only your right index finger, until the tip of the needle hits your left index finger on the opposite side of the quilt. Meanwhile, push the fabric in front of the stitch downward with your right thumb.
While pushing the fabric down with your right thumb rock the needle back with your right index finger while pushing up with your bottom left finger to create a little bump on the fabric. With your right finger push the needle though the bump so it come out back on the top. Pull the needle and thread through the fabric so that it just barely puckers it. This is your first quilt stitch! It is important to make sure that this stitch has gone through all three layers of the quilt sandwich.
Do not be discouraged if your first stitches (or even all of the stitches on your first quilt) are not very even or very small. It's more important to get the rocking motion and the idea that you are only using three fingers; the left index, the right index, and the right thumb to make each stitch. The beauty of handquilting comes from the irregularities so it's best to embrace them early on!
As you get a more comfortable with the handquilting stitch you will be able to take more than one stitch at a time before pulling your needle through. Once I get rolling I can usually take 3 or 4 at a time. But remember this isn't a race, there is nothing wrong with taking one stitch at a time.
When you reach the end of a length of thread stop while you still have 3-inches of thread left. Tie a quilter's knot close to the last stitch. Push the needle back into the quilt for the last stitch but only go through the front and batting layers, not the backing. Bring the needle out 1-inch away from the last stitch and pull the thread to pop the knot to the inside. Cut the thread end at the exit point to hide it and then start another row of stitches.
Quilt 1/8-inch inside of each of the marked squares. In the end you'll have 36 quilted squares each 1/4-inch from one another. I love how the rows of quilted stitches look so close to each other because they create a pretty puffed up line.
Once you are done with all of the quilting pull out the basting stitches.
Cut the backing and batting to match the top fabric. Make sure not to cut into any of the quilting stitches as you do this.
Cut the binding fabric into four 2 1/4-inch strips from selvage to selvage and then cut off the selvages. Each strip will be roughly 42-inches long.
Pin two of these strips together at a 90-degree angle with their right sides facing. Using the Hera Marker mark a 45-degree angle (marked in white in the picture above) from the upper left to the lower right corner of the 90-degree angle where these two strips overlap (marked in red). Sew along this marking.
Cut off the corner to the right of the seam (as shown above) leaving a 1/4-inch seam and then press the the seam flat with the seam allowance pressed to one side.
Repeat this to add the remaining two strips of fabric. You will have a roughly 150-inch long binding strip.
Press this strip in half width wise, right side facing out. Your binding strip will now have a folded edge and a raw edge.
Starting in the middle of one side and leaving a 4-inch tail pin the raw edge of the binding strip to the raw edge of the quilt with the quilt facing top up.
When you reach a corner fold the binding strip up, perpendicular to the edge you were just pinning, thus creating a 45-degree fold as shown in the picture above.
Then fold the binding strip over the 45-degree fold, retaining the fold, and resume pinning the raw side of the binding to the next raw side of the quilt. You should have a neat triangle of excess fabric at the corner as shown above.
Continue pinning the binding onto the quilt in this manner around all four of its sides. When you get back to where you started leave a 2-inch gap un-pinned.
Using the 100% cotton sewing thread and your machine's walking foot sew the binding to the quilt along the pinned edges with a 1/4-inch seam allowance. When you get to the corners stop 1/4-inch before the edge and do not sew into the triangle of excess fabric. Back stitch at the beginning and end of each seam. Do not sew the 2-inch un-pinned gap.
Trim the tails of the binding tape to be 1 3/4-inches. Fold the end of one of them inside of itself 1/2-inch.
Tuck the unfolded end inside of the folded end thus hiding the raw ends. Now pin the edges of the 2-inch gap to the quilt.
Sew over the gap with a 1/4-inch seam allowance back stitching at the beginning and end of the seam.
Flip the quilt over. Pull the folded edge of the binding tape over onto the back. Using the binding clips secure the binding tape, so that it just overlaps the previously sewn seam.
When you get to a corner fold the binding tape outward and then back in on itself to form a neat mitered corner as shown above. Secure the binding tape along all four sides in this manner.
You will hand sew the binding onto the back of the quilt using a blind stitch.
Cut a 24-inch length of the matching hand quilting thread. Thread it onto the hand sewing needle and tie a knot at the end (It doesn't need to be a quilters knot.)
Starting on the inside of the binding tape to hide the knot take a 3/8-inch stitch through the bottom fold of the tape.
Then take a tiny stitch directly below your exit point into the backing fabric. Do not push through to the backing or top of the quilt.
Pull the thread through and then go back into the fold of the binding tape directly above where you just exited. Take a 3/8-inch stitch through the fold as you did in the previous step.
Continue to sew the binding strip to the backing in this manner. The stitches should be fairly invisible. When you get to corners you can take a few whip stitches to secure the miter.
When you get to the end of a length of thread simply tie a knot at the base of the last stitch and then hide your thread end in the fold of the binding tape.