Adventures in Hand Quilting

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In a recent post I mentioned that I wanted to learn how to do hand quilting. I had pieced together a little dresden plate block, bought a small hoop, hand quilting thread, and quilting needles (called “betweens”), and set out to learn the craft.

To be honest, I really struggled. I simply could not get the hang of it. I started to get a bit frustrated, but felt that maybe I just needed to plug ahead and practice more. But it wasn’t very much fun and I put it aside for a while to focus on needle-turn applique instead. One day I stopped in to a quilt store and was chatting with one of the ladies who owned the shop and I mentioned my attempts at hand quilting. When she found out I was using heat-resistant batting (the dresden plate project was supposed to be a quilted potholder) she said “No wonder you are having so much trouble! I’ve been quilting for over 20 years and I wouldn’t hand quilt that kind of batting!”. So I felt a bit better after that.

I recently finished piecing a small applique project (more on that in a later post) and decided to try some hand quilting to embellish some of the applique pieces. It definitely went better than before, but still I wasn’t “wowed” by the process, and kept thinking it would be much easier, and look just as good if not better, if I just machine quilted the whole thing.

And then I had my epiphany.

I ¬†previously mentioned a video by Sarah Fielke that I’d watched to learn the technique for hand quilting. She quilts with perle cotton, a thick and somewhat glossy thread with a corded look to it. It sounded interesting but I’d only seen limited examples of this technique and hadn’t appreciated it’s potential.

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One day I was browsing quilting stuff on Pinterest (my latest obsession) when I came across a Pin (shown above) showing a quilt by Polly Minick from Minick and Simpson¬†(they are Moda fabric designers who I’ve watched many times on the Fat Quarter Shop’s YouTube videos of the twice annual Quilt Market show, in particular the Moda Schoolhouse sessions where all the Moda designers get together to show off their new lines; each one is about 40 minutes long and makes a great “show” for anyone interested in soaking in quilts and fabrics; plus I got to put faces and names to all the “stars” who designed the fabrics I see in the quilt shops). Anyways, the photo shows hand quilting done with perle cotton. I loved the look and so off I went to browse Pinterest and other places looking for more information on “big stitch quilting” or quilting with perle cotton. I discovered that not only can you do some amazing things with this method, but that you can also use embroidery floss in much the same way to achieve very similar effects.

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I really wanted to try this technique, so finally the other day I went out and found a few precious spools of perle cotton from the only store in town that carries them (in only a few colours) and also picked up some embroidery thread in colours that matched my applique project. I got some big-eyed needles and couldn’t wait to try this technique. My hope was that, with bigger thread and bigger stitches, this technique would be an easier start than traditional hand quilting.

Well, I’m happy to report that after only one evening of hand quilting I am in love with this technique! I will also confess my “dirty little secret” in the quilting world, which is that I have ditched the hoop. I simply could not seem to get used to it, and my stitches were really far apart and uneven. By removing the hoop I can really “fold” the fabric and get the stitches much closer together. I’m not the only one who quilts without a hoop, but we seem to be in the minority. I also took a tip from Anna Maria Horner’s tutorial and “allowed” myself to quilt one stitch at a time, rather than trying to place two or three on the needle like the “pros” do (her other great tip was don’t feel like you have to pull the thread all the way through with each stitich – why didn’t I think of that?).

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Not only is this technique easy and relaxing but I simply LOVE the look of the perle cotton. The embroidery thread was also easy to work with and the look was similar but with a smoother look. The perle cotton has a more “ropey” look to it, which adds a nice touch, especially if you want a more folksy look, but since I have yet to find a local source of the stuff I will probably end up doing more with embroidery thread (the neat thing about that is you can vary your thread size simply by choosing how many strands to use, AND you can mix strand colours in one “thread” to make a neat variegated effect).

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I’m so happy that I’ve found my hand-quilting groove and I can’t wait to start incorporating this technique into other projects I have in the works.