Now that you have all of the tools you need – quilting thread, thimble, quilt hoop or frame, and – most importantly – the quilt – you are ready to begin. Thread your needle with a strand of thread about 20-24 inches long. Usually it works best to thread the needle just as the thread comes off of the spool. Tie a small knot in the end of the strand – just a single thread (not a double thread as you would use to sew a button). Next step is to decide where you will start your quilting stitches. Once you have figured that out, bury your needle about 1” away from where you would like to start.
Feed the needle between the layers of the quilt and bring the point of the needle up where you want to begin quilting. (The goal here is to bury your knot inside the layers of the quilt.) Pull the needle all the way through the quilt top, then give a gentle tug. The knot should slide right through into the center of the quilt. If it doesn’t, just play with it.
Sometimes I tug on the thread with my fingers while securing the fabric with my needle. If your knot is small enough, it will go through the weave of the fabric. Check the end of the thread past the knot. If it is still sticking up through the quilt tip, you may need to work it into the layers of the quilt. That can be done with your needle. Gently poke your needle through the quilt top, just above the thread. (I know you can’t see this, since it is covered by the fabric, but you can get a sense of where the thread is.) Then slide your needle parallel to the fabric toward the tail end of the thread. This should pull the tail into the layers. If the tail of the thread is extra long, you may wish to trim it slightly.
Be sure you have enough extra thread on the tail past the knot so your knot will be secure. Once you have your knot safely tucked inside your quilt layers, you are ready to begin quilting. Wearing a thimble on the finger you will use to push the thread into the quilt will save that finger. So, using your “thimbled” finger, push the threaded needle into the layers of the quilt until it comes through to the other side. Use a finger on your other hand under the quilt to feel when the needle has come through. Use the finger underneath the quilt to guide the needle and thread back up through the layers to the top of the quilt. Your thumb on the hand on the top of the quilt can be helpful as well. Poke the needle up through the layers in a line where you quilting pattern is (you could be quilting ‘in the ditch’ or have designed a fabulous decoration for your quilting pattern). Beginners may want to make one stitch at a time. With practice, you will be able to make 3-4 stitches before you pull the needle through all layers of the fabric and tighten the thread.
The thread needs to be tight, but not so tight that it puckers the quilt. Continue this “rocking” motion of quilting along your quilting design until your thread is only about 6” long. Now it is time to knot the thread and cut it off. Wrap your thread once completely around the needle. Then carefully poke the needle into the quilt top (between the layers) just as if you were making the next stitch. (Some folks make this final stitch on the back of their quilt since it will not have the same “tautness” as the other quilting stitches.) Bring the needle up through the quilt top about 1” away from the last stitch, and gently pull the knot through the quilt top. Clip the end of thread, and, if necessary, pull the short end of the thread between the layers of the quilt as you did when you began your quilting stitches. Thread another needle, and begin again. I generally use a quilting hoop, and when I have a hoop-full of quilting, I move the hoop and begin again.
I also usually start in the center of the quilt and work out to the sides. Before you know it, your quilt will be complete. Hand quilting is something easy to do when watching TV. (Even if you don’t like sports, you can sit and quilt and pretend to watch the game!) It’s also a great activity for long car trips – if someone else is driving – waiting in the doctor’s office, or in the car for your kids, or while your kids are practicing dancing, Little League, or a variety of other things. You get the idea – it’s portable, productive, and fun! Happy Quilting! Penny Halgren ©2005, Penny Halgren Penny is a quilter of more than 24 years who seeks to interest new quilters and provide them with the resources necessary to create beautiful quilts.