Tuesday, July 19, 2011

tools for Hand Quilting

I learned to hand quilt from Anna Maria Horner's excellent tutorial and Q & A session.  Last summer fell in love with the process itself when I hand-quilted Aria's Fairytale Patchwork quilt.   I'll be posting a tutorial this week for hand quilting the Loulouthi Tiles quilt.  But first, let's talk tools.

All ready to quilt!

:: Quilting Frame ::

Just as with embroidery, you'll want a frame to hold your quilt smooth and taught while hand quilting.  You can use a large wooden hoop, but I prefer the Qsnap frames.  These lightweight plastic frames are gentler on your quilt than a wooden hoop and allow for easier adjustment.  If the quilt is stretched perfectly taught, it's difficult to make even stitches.  With Qsnap frames, you can let out some tension until it's just right, again without tugging and squeezing the quilt itself so much.  My Qsnap frame is 17" x 17". 

my favorite marking tool

:: Tracing Pencils ::

For me, the most challenging part of hand quilting is keeping the stitches s.t.r.a.i.g.h.t (and even).  I always trace my stitch lines first for a clear path to follow.  Over the years I've tried a number of marking tools like the Hera marker, chalk, disappearing pens, etc.  My favorite by far are a set of three water soluble pencils by Clover that I received for Christmas.  Here's why:  the pencil marks are easier to see than a Hera crease, the pencil marks do not brush off before I want them to like chalk, and the pencil marks do not disappear before I'm done as with pen marks. Clover's pencils glide on easily and make me happy!

Anna Maria's pearl cottons

:: Pearl Cotton ::

You probably don't need an introduction to pearl cotton thread.  Isn't it more lovely than candy in a dish?  These beauties are a bit pricey, but I thank each project that requires a new color for my collection!  Pearl cotton comes in several different weights, like 5, 7 and 8.  The smaller the number, the thicker the thread.  I like size 8, which comes in pretty little balls.  Unlike embroidery floss, which has 6 strands that are designed to be separated, pearl cotton is designed to be used as one continuous thread.  It has the strength to withstand rigorous hand-quilting, but the beauty of embroidery floss. 

:: Chenille Needles ::

Because I use chunky pearl cotton, I need a needle with a larger hole for hand quilting.  Embroidery needles work well, but my favorite are chenille needles, size 24.  They're shorter than embroidery needles which makes it easier for me to achieve the rocking motion necessary for hand quilting.  I find that the length of the embroidery needle gets in the way when I'm doing the upwards stitch that moves from the quilt back to top.  If you haven't hand quilted before, this probably sounds like nonsense, but come back to this later.  You can find chenille needles at most any sewing supplies store. Here's an example.

(Note:  I edited this section because I thought I was using a crewel needle, but in fact it was a chenille needle. So sorry!)

::Thimble::

So, actually, I still don't have one.  I mean, I have the classic metal thimble, but I can't stand using that.  I'd like to try a rubber thimble like this one, but I haven't sprung for it.  Working on the Loulouthi quilt has reminded me that I really DO want a thimble.  It's funny to say, but I wish I could try on a rubber and a leather one to see which I prefer.

Have I missed anything?  If you're a seasoned hand quilter, please let us know what you like to use!

44 comments:

  1. I actually do like my metal thimble, but not my rubber one. And sometimes when it's hard to pull the thread through for whatever reason, I cut off the fingertip from the thumb of a rubber glove and put it on my thumb. Also have recently discovered marking pencils by Sewline--the lead comes in white, colors and graphite. Makes a nice thin line that doesn't rub. I have two so I don't have to keep changing lead color. The picture with the perle cotton in the bowl is awesome!

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  2. Quilting without a thimble?! Ouch ouch ouch! I don't know how you do it! Spring for one. It'll help with making stitches even, once you get used to it it'll increase your speed too! Also, where do you buy your pearl cotton? I cam never find all the colors I want in stores.

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  3. On LACL's note I use a rubberband to pull my needle through when it's tough. The kim you get on broccoli or asparagus. They're always lying around and easy to find! I've surprisingly converted a handful of ladies who go to quilting!

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  4. I don't hand-quilt, but I do hand-sew the binding down on my quilts. I have a silicone thimble with a metal top that I got at my LQS which is wonderful - I wear it on my index finger and use it to push the needle through. :)

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  5. Leather thimbles are my favourite - I find that they stay on my finger better. Good luck with Loulouthi - it's looking great.

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  6. I like to doodle quilt as I go, so the disappearing (air soluble) markers are my fave. I also use two thimbles: a thumb thimble for quilting away from me, and a metal or plastic thimble (the old timey ones with advertisements on them are the best)for quilting side to side or towards me. My fave threads are Valdani pearl cottons and Sulky heavier gauge cottons.

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  7. I have tried many kinds of thimble and I am sold on leather. Find one that fits well and you'll forget you even are wearing it.

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  8. Thanks for posting this! I've hand quilted one wall hanging and it wasn't very good. This winter I will be hand quilting my hexagon quilt. I'm looking forward to your tutorials to help me along.

    As for the thimble, I can't stand any of them. I have them in metal, leather, and silicon. The thing that worked best for me was wrapping a small bit of Ace bandage around my finger. I use the kind of bandage that is sticky so it sticks down easily.

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  9. Thanks for this! I am looking forward to the tutorial.

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  10. I've never tried hand-quilting (I'm a new quilter!) but you're inspiring me to try it out :D

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  11. I have the white leather thimble with elastic that fits it on your finger. I don't feel comfortable with the metal ones.
    I am finding it hard to find perle cotton in different colors also.

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  12. I learned to hand quilt with Georgia Bonesteel (You may have caught her TV show on PBS or saw her books in the Library) & so I quilt without a hoop.

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  13. Thanks for your list of what works for you. I always love to see what others are using. I have all types of thimbles and I must say that the leather is my favorite, but I need to replace it after each project as the needle tends to wear holes in it. The only other thing I would add to this list is a pair of small scissors. I keep my on a ribbon around my neck so they are handy for those short little threads that need trimming after I hide the knot. Looks great, I hope one day to try out the pearled cotton too.

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  14. I am so excited for this tutorial! I have been dying to learn how to hand quilt and having a blogger I love teach is wonderful!

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  15. I have not hand quilted but am inspired by your post. I do a lot of hand sewing and embroidery and always use two thimbles. I like the leather ones. They are especially great after you have worn them for a little while because they stretch to fit you finger very well. I wear one on my right middle finger and one on my left index finger. They fit so well now that I can tell if I don't have them on the correct finger even though they look alike.

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  16. My recent blog post shows Im new to this hand quilting malarky- I use a clover leather thimble with a metal part thats on the front of my finger MUCH better then a regular thimble as the grooves are bigger and push the needle better, you finger must hurt without one!!

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  17. It sounds like most of you prefer leather. Leather seems most "right" to me since it's natural and long-lasting. I just wish I could try them on. Where have all the thimble fitting rooms gone?

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  18. Beautiful quilts! Thanks for the link to the tutorial and the tool list. I really want to learn how to hand quilt. I love the beautiful look of the hand quilted stitches. Your Loulouthi quilt looks amazing.

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  19. I really like a leather thimble, never tried a rubber one & hate a metal one! The leather is soft & has a small insert of metal for the push! Works great!

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  20. I've never quilted with pearle cotton - how interesting! I've used hand quilting cotton thread - maybe by YLI I think? It pulls through your Kona OK? Interesting. I'd think it would be too thick.

    My favorite thimble is a metal one with a little opening on the nail part. My hands sweat in everything else, and there's nothing worse than a sweaty finger skooching around in a thimble.

    I'm interesting in trying the Clover pencils. I hate marking quilts because I get all frustrated with pencils of any sort. It's good to know that there's something you like!

    Lots of good info - all the best, Chris

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  21. I hand quilt a lot! I love it! Though I never learned the "proper" way to do it--but my way works just fine for me.
    I use a large embroidery hoop as my frame. And I really ought to learn how to use a thimble because it's killer on the fingers!

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  22. I hand quilt a lot! I love it! Though I never learned the "proper" way to do it--but my way works just fine for me.
    I use a large embroidery hoop as my frame. And I really ought to learn how to use a thimble because it's killer on the fingers!

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  23. Hand quilting is awesome! I use a wooden hoop, but I'd love to use a qsnap one, I think that looks super cool ...

    As for thimbles, I use a leather thimble that I love. Such an improvement on the metal ones from before!

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  24. You're crazy if you're quilting without a thimble! Seriously. I poke my fingers 10 times a day to check my blood sugar so you'd think I'd be used to needles drawing blood . . . but hand quilting kills my fingers! I will sometimes use just a band-aid or a piece of medical tape (the thick, squishy kind) on my finger so it's in just the right spot. However, I recently found a thimble I love . . . I want to send you one!

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  25. I do a lot of hand quilting and these days mostly with perle cotton. In the past I used embroidery needles, but have since found Fons and Porters Utility Needles. They are wonderful and specifically designed to use with size 8 perle cotton. I do use a thimble, but a leather one with an embedded metal piece at the tip. If you use the traditional rocking method for hand quilting a thimble is a finger saver :)

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  26. I am a very new quilter and am interested in your tutorial. I have done embrodery and crosstich in the past so I'm hoping I can hand quilt too. I have never been able to use a thimble, never could find one that would fit my slender fingers. I will definately be looking at the leaather and silicone ones mentioned here.

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  27. Could I use your picture of the qsnap frame loaded in my blog? I saw this picture this morning, ordered one immediately and lost my stress related headache. This is the case of a picture being worth a thousand words and only about 5 or 6 people read my blog and most of them are family.

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  28. I only know how to hand quilt and I probably do it wrong. I do not use a hoop of any sort, I just lap quilt, which makes for a very portable quilt. I don't use a thimble, but I do use finger cots (they look like little condoms for your fingers). You can find them in the first aid aisle and they are AWESOME at helping to pull the thread through tough spots.

    I finally bought a machine that I can quilt with, so I'm learning, wish me luck. I'm sure my kids are going to get really sick of the millions of blankets I'm going to make for their beds. But their young, so they'll go through a lot, right?

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  29. Stitchinpenny - of course you may!

    Mary, thanks for the recommendation on utility needles. They look just like my crewel ones! My only remaining crewel needle is bent (and I'm still using it), so I may order some of those needles!

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  30. Question: how does the thread hold up in the wash? I've only ever used handquilting thread because it'll still have the same hold on the quilt 20 years from now. Have you subjected any handquilting to multiple washes? I'd love to use the colorful cotton that you do but I'm afraid that it won't last. ???

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  31. I have a leather thimble that I love using. But it has taken some wear to get it feeling comfortable where I say it is my favorite to use. Just thought you might want to know it make take a little time to get it feeling just right.

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  32. OMG...I so needed this! So much helpful info here! I've read so many how to's on hand quilting but learned a ton more a lot easier from this post! Thanks Rachel!!! I can't wait to see your quilt when it's done..I'm obsessed with that line of fabrics.

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  33. As with so many others, leather is my choice. They really aren't too expensive so don't be afraid to try one. I started out with the white leather one with the elastic to get used to having something on my finger but as someone else said you will need to replace it from time to time as you wear a hole into it. I have "graduated" to a leather one with a small metal insert which lasts much longer. I don't think I'll ever get to using a metal one. Good luck- I love hand quilting.

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  34. Oh thank you for this! I felt stupid asking about that thread when it seemed so basic to so many quilt bloggers... When I use a thimble, I like the fabric ones, but they all seem cumbersome so most the time I end up with a chewed up looking finger. :-)

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  35. Hi Rachel - nice post :). I absolutely love hand quilting...though time consuming. I love using that pearl thread as well and it is an absolute dream to work with. I can't stand metal thimble because I have small fingers and they never stay on! I love these: http://www.amazon.com/Thimblepad-Leather-Adhesive-Thimble-Pack/dp/B004ALLKMM/ref=sr_1_3?ie=UTF8&qid=1311138205&sr=8-3 they are a great alternative. They stick nicely on your fingers and comes off when you want it to.

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  36. Thanks for the great tool tips! :) I have embroidered a little, but it hasn't been my favorite thing. Maybe I just need the right tools?. :)

    I actually made my own thimble and LOVE it! I hate my metal thimble too. I actually have a picture of it on my blog: from blank pages...
    It's simply some wool (helps keep moisture in your hands rather than taking it out like cotton does), and two layers of some kind of vinyl or something, I don't even know. (I would have used leather, but I don't have any). It works great! And until recently when I was trying to push a thicker needle through something really tight, it hasn't ever poked through the vinyl to my finger. It only took a few minutes to put together too, so until you get a nice one, you could try something like this. :) (I agree with another comment. Not having any thimble can be ouchy business!)

    Happy sewing! I can't wait to see how you do your Loulouthi quilt!

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  37. Hi Rachel, this is a neat, informative post. Have you tried Aurifil's Cotton Mako 12 for hand quilting. It is a thicker thread, similar to pearl cotton, but has a super smooth mercerised finish so that it slips through the quilt sandwich very easily.
    Jenny, Always Quilting

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  38. This is great information! I've seen a post or two about how to hand-quilt, but never about what I need for it. Thanks!

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  39. I was wondering what kind of hoop everyone used. This looks like a great idea.

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  40. I LOVE Jillily's Poke-a-Dots as a thimble. They are adhesive dots to put on your finger, they don't slip, and they are great!! Give them a try!

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  41. I went through tons of thimbles trying to find one I liked. The metal ones were tough to use, I tried leather and the stick on spots and rubber. Now I am back to metal and I got used to it somehow. I don't even think about it any more.

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  42. Great post. I've never used a thimble. I've only hand quilted, never used a machine. I use an old wooden oval hoop, some of the newer ones are too tight, and quilt with everything from crewel/embroidery needles to betweens, hand quilting thread to floss and crochet cotton. I've spent the last three years attempting to hit 22 stitches per inch, but I'm only at 18. It's the most fun way to quilt in my opinion.

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  43. I just took a hand quilting class at my LQS, and I was having trouble finding the one that was 'just right'.

    I actually ended up using electrical tape on my finger for a while. I don't like the metal ones, because they're hard, and I can't 'feel' the needle at all, and have trouble controlling it.

    So far, I like this one the best:

    http://www.createforless.com/Joy+Enterprises+Nimble+Thimble+Medium/pid23911.aspx

    I found it Joann's. It's still a little stiff, but I have a feeling it will soften up the more I use it.

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  44. I use a leather thimble with a metal "coin" on the tip for my right hand, and the little latex finger covers that you can find in the drugstore for application of ointments on my underneath fingertip. The latex gives me enough protection that I don't end up ripping my WHOLE fingertip apart, but I can still feel the needle coming through.

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