On Pins and Needles; Hand Quilting and Tools

On Pins and Needles; Hand Quilting and Tools

Hand Quilting the pieced top of a quilt is my favorite part of the process :) I often use helpful tools commonly found in your kitchen junk drawer. Hand Quilting and Tools that help you can make a better finished project.


Pictured is a white marking pencil and a pencil sharpener to keep the point extra sharp. I keep the sharpener with the pencil because I use it more than a few times while working on a quilt. If I keep it nearby, I save time by not having to leave my work area to go sharpen the pencil. I like to use a brightly colored sewing tape measure so it stands out on the quilt or my work table and I can locate it quickly. Painter’s masking tape is a great way to hold the quilt backing in place on a table or floor. You can pull the backing fabric taut and tape it down. The tape is strong and stays put. It doesn’t mar the fabric or allow wrinkles and it leaves no residue behind. Clothespins are great for holding layers together, marking where you last stopped stitching or gripping a hem edge until you sew it. There is less fabric movement using clothespins compared to the jostling involved with using pins. The bright white shapes you see are free-form cutouts from computer paper. In addition to the usual grid, echo or line quilting patterns, I like to add whimsical shape outlines such as flowers, hearts and leaves. The sheer piece you see is another quilting template. On this particular T-shirt quilt, there was one block with a decorative guitar on it. I used this non-woven lining fabric like tracing paper; placing it on top of the guitar and tracing it onto the fabric. Then I cut it out and used this for a template on another block that had a large empty space in it. It’s fun to come up with shapes that coordinate with the quilt. A couple blocks had flowers in the design so the flower template was a good choice. The heart template was used on a T-shirt that had an image of a popular boy-band that girl fans love :) These shapes can be sprinkled through the quilt for a fun look ! See how these templates were used below:


If you need inspiration for quilting shapes, look at some of the simple designs in the quilt itself; maybe some basic shapes stand out that could be used. Simple, but unusual quilt designs like triangles or rectangles. Maybe wavy lines would be good for a few squares. Look at cookie cutters for more ideas. What about the theme of the quilt ? If it has trees in it, quilt some large leaf shapes. If it’s a Winter quilt, maybe do snowflakes. Is it a food or coffee themed item ? Quilt spoon shapes :) Simply set down a spoon on the fabric and echo quilt around it. You can tape the spoon in place while you’re sewing. Who would have thought spoons would be such a good quilting tool ? Do you need a quick circle template ? Use a CD or DVD for your quilting tool.

On the aqua blue block above, you can see safety pins in the seam. I like to put them in a place where they won’t leave holes that might show; it’s safer using them ‘in the ditch’. And speaking of safety pins, I have a variety of them to use. These next photos shows the different sizes, shapes and colors:


In the photo above, you’ll see my ‘wonky’ safety pins on the left :) These have a bend in them that allows them to slip in and hold layers of fabric easier than the straight-style safety pins. They don’t wrinkle or bunch the stacked layers and are easy to use. While I was working on this particular quilt, I literally had my hands full and was scooting across the floor while quilting and hemming it. (Yes, I’m a floor-project person !) At one point, I figured out how to remove and close these wonky pins using just one hand ! I will try to explain it… Below, this shows a row of pins holding the folded-over hem in place. I pin close together so the layers can’t shift as I handle the quilt while sewing (by hand).


As I stitch, I sew very close to the next pin, taking an extra securing stitch in-place (back-stitch) for additional sturdiness. I also use Quilting Thread because it is stronger and can take the tugging and folding quilts get when in use on a bed :)


When the stitching gets aligned with the safety pin, I take the pin out with my right hand as my left is holding the quilt in place. Next, instead of setting the open safety pin down (unsafe !), I rest the head of it on the fabric (see below)~


With the head balanced/leaning against the fabric, I let it rest against my pointy finger while I slide the pin bar back into the head. It took me a while to get it to work smoothly but I’m happy to report I succeeded ! Nice to be able to do this while still holding the quilt project together where the quilting needle is waiting. If you can’t do this one handed, you’ll have to set the project down, close the safety pin with two hands, then carefully try picking up the quilt without jiggling the fabrics out of alignment.

Maybe you-all knew how to do this already~ I’m often a klutz with pins and needles and reluctant to let go of the project mid-stitch to close pins. I’m also paranoid of forgetting/losing an open safety pin and finding it later (ouch !). Closing the safety pin with one hand is well worth the time it takes to learn this.

More of the framed hem edge:


(Sorry for the not-in-focus photo, the quilt moved when I took the picture !) (~jk)

For me, Hand Quilting is relaxing and satisfying. It doesn’t require a lot of attention yet it is striking to see the finished product, on both the front and back sides and knowing your own hands did it !

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