Hand Quilting, now There’s a Challenge

I am slowly and laboriously trying to quilt my Modified Dolly Madison Star Quilt.

Don't try this at home

Hand Quilting the Modified Dolly Madison Star Quilt

Initially I had planned to hand quilt the whole quilt. It’s only a lap quilt, so I thought it might not be that big a deal. It turns out that if I hand quilt it entirely it will take months to complete and I don’t have months to spend. Also I prefer to hand sew in daylight so I can see what I’m doing. We’re all back at work now after the holidays and the days are getting shorter again as we head towards winter. So the quilting will be a combination of machine stitch in the ditch and hand quilting.

A little more on the challenges of hand quilting….

The photo is a total set-up, designed to make it look like I know what I’m doing. Don’t be fooled. I don’t.

I think the photo shows at least one problem area. There’s not enough slack in the fabric, making it hard to ‘rock’ the needle. I watched a YouTube video on hand quilting and tried again with the quilt less taut in the hoop and that made it a little easier. I’m still wondering though how the ladies manage to rock the needle when they are working in a big quilting frame.

The ‘no slip’ feature of the hoop hinders more than it helps. It has in internal ridge, designed, as the name says, to stop the quilt slipping. Which is all very well, except when you want to put some slack in.

Experienced hand quilters will have observed that I basted the quilt sandwich with safety pins and left it at that, rather than hand-basting. The reason: simple laziness. Hand quilting is bad (and tedious) enough without hand basting as well. If I need to, I simply move a safety pin when I’m putting the quilt sandwich in the hoop.

So far hand quilting isn’t doing it for me. I’ll keep going but I’m not enjoying it.


15 responses to “Hand Quilting, now There’s a Challenge

  1. Most all of the quilts I’ve done have been hand quilted. I don’t use a hoop, though. I have a sort of portable quilting frame that is approximately 3 ft. x 4 ft. The top frame fits down on the under frame and holds the fabric fairly tight. I have to tighten it up quite often. It does keep the material the right tension so I can rock the needle. I have a long arm quilter but have so much trouble with it. Can’s seem to keep the tension correct on it and I get “birds nests” on the back side. Good luck on your quilt!

    • Thanks very much for checking in and for your good wishes. I’m not sure I have quite worked out what the correct tension is in the hoop. Guess I’ll just keep plugging along and hopefully my technique will improve as I do.

      Sorry to hear that your long arm is giving you grief. Birds nests are the worst!

      Long arms look to me like complicated pieces of equipment, not to mention the amount of space they need. As this stage I’ll just keep taking my big quilts to be quilted professionally. The tumbling spools quilt is booked in for mid February and I’m sure Pam will do a fine job, as she always does.

  2. Your tension in the hoop looks fine to me. I’m primarily a hand quilter… have been for 35ish years. However, I would suggest a larger hoop so you have more room for movement. I use small brass pins to baste my quilts, and they stay in until I take them out as I get to them. I don’t think that’s lazy at all! Why add another step to the process with basting stitches and waste thread? Don’t give up hand quilting. You’ll get it if you stick to it!

    • Thanks so much for the feedback. Feedback is what I really need right now. I’ll look out for a larger hoop next time I’m shopping online at Hancocks. I’d like to ‘get’ hand quilting as it looks so wonderful.

  3. Beautiful piecing on that quilt! I agree that hand quilting takes a long time – I don’t generally have the patience for it. If I hand quilted all my quilts they would never get done :-) I send them out, even though it does cost a pretty penny. When I do hand quilt, I prefer lap quilting ala Georgia Bonesteel – no hoop that I’ve ever met seems to be the right size…

    • Thank you for the compliment on the piecing. The quilt is looking less and less smooth as I complete my lines of quilting – which I’m not pleased about.

      Will look up what Georgia Bonesteel has to say – that’s a new name to me. Thanks for the reference.

  4. I started hand stitching mine and moved over to machine stitching. The thing is hand stitching is lovely (and I hand stitched the quilt top) but it just doesn’t give the strength to the finished quilt that machining does in my opinion. Plus it can be finished in a few evenings rather than months!

  5. My mom hand quilted a quilt that my Great-Great grandma started (she did the top)…mom used a hoop almost twice the size of yours there. I really want to try hand quilting, but I have carpal tunnel in both hands due to working at a bakery long time ago. :( I have a hard time holding a needle just binding a quilt…which is one of my most favorite parts of quilting. :)

    • Having a hard time holding a needle must be difficult :-( I’d have to say you’re not missing out on much with not being able to hand quilt. As for binding, I’m just about to bind my jelly roll sampler quilt which is becoming an urgent job as it’s a birthday gift needed in mid February. Last night I sewed all the binding strips together and measured the sides of my quilt to make sure I had enough binding prepared. I realised that’s going to be a LOT of hand sewing. Hand sewing anything is not a favourite activity for me in any shape or form. Nor are hemming pants or making curtains, though I do both because I have to. But I LOVE piecing. While others tell me hand quilting is relaxing, the hum of the sewing machine is what I enjoy.

  6. I pin all my quilts for hand quilting rather than basting. As for tension I actually think it is a matter of personal preference, what ever it takes to get a good motion going. I know some people who have it really loose and almost bend the fabric onto the needle, rather than moving the needle around.

  7. Brenda in Namibia

    Enjoyed all the comments on hand quilting. My confession is that I don’t use any hoop at all but just make the quilt into a scroll and then quilt between the top and bottom ‘rolls’. I place the scroll across my lap – the quilting may not be as perfect as in a hoop but it is easy to do and much more fun! Some every day seems to keep Mr Carpal Tunnel at bay!

    • Glad you found a method that works, and thanks for sharing it. I’m battling on with this quilt, with and without a hoop, and am considering redoing some of the hand quilting as the stitch length is terribly uneven in places. Then again, I’m getting tired of even having it lying around, taunting me in its half finished state. Somehow I don’t think it’s my destiny to be a hand quilter.

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