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What is Hand Quilting?

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  • Written By: A.E. Freeman
  • Edited By: Kathryn Hulick
  • Last Modified Date: 02 December 2016
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Hand quilting is a method of quilting that does not use a sewing machine. When a person quilts, she is sewing several layers of fabric and stuffing, commonly known as quilt batting, together. Quilting stitches are generally decorative and add to the visual appeal of the finished product.

A specific type of needle, often called a between, is used for hand quilting. Betweens differ from regular hand sewing needles because they are shorter and somewhat stronger. The size of between a quilter uses depends on the size and type of stitch he will be sewing. A number between five and 12 is used to note the needle's size. The smaller the needle, the larger the needle's number.

Since hand quilting requires that the quilter push the needle through with the tip of her finger, many find wearing a thimble to be helpful. Thimbles for hand quilting come in several different materials. Metal thimbles are generally the most durable while leather ones give the quilter a better grip on the needle. Thimbles are usually worn on the middle finger of the quilter's needle hand.

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Quilters can hand quilt in their laps or by securing the fabric and batting in a quilting hoop or frame. The hoop or frame holds the fabrics and batting taut. This allows the quilter to work without worrying about the materials moving and creating an uneven quilt. A frame works best for people who are hand quilting a large project, such as a quilt for a bed. If a quilting hoop is used, the person may have to constantly stop stitching in order to move the materials over on the hoop. People working on smaller quilting projects may feel comfortable quilting without any support system.

Hand quilting produces a distinct line of stitches that looks different than the stitches produced on a quilt sewn by machine. The line of stitches is called a shadow line. Hand quilted stitches tend to pucker and are usually less straight than machine stitches. Quilters commonly use the running stitch, a straight stitch made by sticking the needle and thread through the fabrics, moving the needle over a stitch, and then pushing it back into the fabrics.

Quilters arrange the running stitch into patterns that complement the seams and design of the quilt fabric. The ditch pattern is a quilting stitch sewn near the seams of a quilt block, so that the quilting stitch is almost not noticeable. More decorative quilting patterns include meandering and stippling, which are sewn freehand.

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