Perfect Your Hand-Quilting Stitch
by Mary Stori
Perfectly rendered hand-quilting stitches have been admired and envied since the beginning of quilt making. Quilters view beautifully hand-stitched quilts with reverence, and often whisper, "Look at those stitches!" Yet, many quilters avoid hand-quilting because they're unhappy with their results. Skipped or uneven stitches, visible knots, and puckered fabrics are just a few of the potential pitfalls. Others include uneven, "pin-prick" stitches, which catch only a few threads on the back of the quilt and can easily pull out, and large stitches that can snag and break.
|Consistent hand-quilting stitches will enhance a quilt's beauty and help it last a lifetime.|
When executed correctly, hand-sewn quilt stitches are the same length on both the front and back of the quilt, and the spaces between them are all identical. Ideally, the smaller the stitch, the better; however, evenness and consistency of the stitches are more important than stitch size. And once this method becomes familiar, you will automatically sew smaller stitches.
If you're dissatisfied with your hand-stitching, follow along for an in-depth look at a hand-quilting method I call the hybrid rocking-stitch. With lots of practice, it produces consistently excellent results.
Fabric, batting, and thread
The right fabric contributes to a well-made stitch. Loosely woven fabrics don't quilt or wear well, while densely woven fabrics (such as bed sheets) and polyester and cotton/polyester blends are difficult to stitch. For uniform stitches, easy quilting, and durability, choose medium-weave, mid-weight, 100% cotton fabrics.
Batting forms the center of the quilt "sandwich," and there are many types, from cotton, polyester, silk, and wool to blends. Experiment to find the type that works best for you (see Choosing the right batting).
The best thread to use is one made for quilting; it's slightly thicker, stronger and longer-wearing than regular sewing thread. Of course, if you're making a purely decorative quilt, choose any thread you like.
Needles and thimbles
I use a "between" needle for hand-quilting. Its short, thin shaft is easier to direct in and out of the quilt layers than a larger needle. Betweens come in sizes 5 through 12 (larger numbers designate finer needles). Be aware that needle-sizing isn't standard from company to company. I prefer the size 10 or 11 between quilting needles made by Jean S. Lyle.
A thimble is vital for my hybrid rocking-stitch, because the eye end of the needle is maneuvered with the tip or side of your middle finger. Many different thimbles are available, but only your finger knows which fits you.
A metal thimble provides the best protection. Look for one with deep indentations to hold the needle in place. An open-ended thimble, such as those available from Roxanne Products (see Quilting supplies by mail), accommodates long fingernails, and reduces perspiration, which is often a problem with traditional thimbles. The thimble I prefer, however, is a leather one. A leather thimble grabs the needle better, giving me more control. It's also a good choice for beginners.