Workshops » Beginning Hand Quilting

Beginning Hand Quilting

It all starts with a needle and thread. Learn how to make magic turning three layers into one

With: Nancy Chong
Skill Level: Beginner

It all starts with a needle and thread. Learn how to make magic turning three layers into one

Beginning Hand Quilting calendar image

3 Lessons
Type: Ebook Workshop
Price: $32.00
Start Anytime!



Whether you have never quilted at all or need helpful hints to improve your hand quilting, this class is for you. Using a delightful heart pattern or your own quilt top, Nancy will teach you several methods for hand quilting. Her easy-to-follow instructions and excellent photos will provide just what you need to become a hand quilter. Class includes photos for both right and left handed quilters. Level: all.

Supplies Required for Workshop

[embed width="300" height="293" class="right" thumbnail=""][/embed]In this class, we will be working with hand quilting as we make a feathered heart whole cloth wall quilt.  A whole cloth quilt is purely quilting on a single fabric top; no appliquéing, no piecing, just quilting.  You may have heard it referred to as a white on white quilt, but you can do whole cloth quilting on any color fabric with any color thread.   For this class, I strongly recommend that you use thread and fabric that are not the same color.  Whether you choose to use a pastel fabric and white thread or a white fabric and colored thread, you will find it is easier to take pictures that show your stitches so that I can help you during class.

The Requirements can be viewed as the first part of Lesson One.  It explains why you would make certain choices when picking your supplies.  Please read carefully.


My finished "Feathered Heart and Grid" quilt top measures 21" x 21".  I started off with larger pieces of fabric because the act of adding quilting stitches causes the quilt to shrink a bit.  If you use a different batting, or a tighter tension than I do, your quilt top might finish larger or smaller.  Because of this I have suggested below that you begin with fabrics that are larger than the finished size.

Quilt top:  24" x 24".  This can be as inexpensive as muslin, as rich and luxurious as 100% cotton sateen, or silk, and everything in between.  If you want to make a larger wall hanging, please feel free to do so.  Just start off with fabric about 3" larger than your finished size.  If you want your quilting to show, choose a fabric that is or appears to be a solid.  I will be using a beige and white subtle print for my samples because I love the fabric and wanted to use it for my wall quilt.  Hand quilting deserves the best quality fabric you can afford. 

PREWASH THE FABRIC TO MAKE SURE IT IS PRESHRUNK and all of the sizing has been removed.  Sizing in the fabric can make hand quilting more difficult.

In Lesson One, you will be able to print out the feathered heart pattern that you see in the class sample.  You can ignore, if you prefer, the pattern I provide, and use your own design or your can even use your own quilt. 

Backing:  28" x 28".  Your backing should be at least 4" larger than your quilt top.  Prewash the backing fabric to assure that it is preshrunk and all dye is colorfast.  You may choose any fabric for the back of your quilt.  As we quilt, no matter how careful we are, the backing fabric will get squished up a little faster than the quilt top.  Since you do not want to run out of backing fabric before you run out of quilt top, do not cut the backing too small.

If you decide to piece a backing or use a color, it is important to remember that

  • a pieced backing means you will have more seams you will hand quilt through
  • if you have a white or light quilt top, a colored backing fabric may show through, changing the appearance of the quilt top.  Check the layers first to make sure you can't see the background while looking at the quilt top.

Prewashing fabric:  There is controversy in the quilting world about whether or not to prewash your fabrics.  I am a firm believer in prewashing for these reasons:

  • different fabrics shrink at different rates, and I do not want my quilt to shrink after I have spent many hours making it.  I do not want the person who receives my quilt to be horrified when they wash it.  All cotton shrinks, as does all cotton batting.
  • I prewash because I want to make sure all of the dyes are set before it goes into my quilts.  In essence, I want to treat the fabric worse than anyone might treat it once it is made into a quilt, so there are no unhappy surprises later on. 
  • it is a really good idea to get rid of the sizing before you hand quilt.
  • washing removes other harmful chemicals used in the manufacturing process, such as formaldehyde

Binding: 1/4 yard fabric to match your quilt top (for class project)
In Lesson Three I will teach you 1/2" wide binding, by using a 2 1/8" strip of fabric.

If you have changed the size of the project, you will need to measure the quilt’s entire finished outer edge, add perhaps 24" for joining seams; decide how wide you want to cut your binding, then divide the outer edge measurement by 40 (length of each strip of binding fabric), round that figure up to the next whole number and multiply that number by the width of your binding, and the total is the number of inches of fabric you need to buy.  When in doubt, always buy a little more than you think you need.

Example: Our class project finishes at 21" x 21".  I multiply 21 by 4, equaling 84".  I divide that by 40, equaling 2 plus a little more, so I round that to 3.  Next, I multiply 3 times 2 1/4", equaling 6 3/4", so I round that up to a quarter yard (9").  This allows for shrinkage and cutting errors.  I will have enough fabric in a quarter yard to make the binding, without worrying about running short.

Below, I have added ** to the supplies that we have available on my website:

Batting/Wadding/Padding:  28" x 28".  Your batting should be at least 4" larger than your quilt top.  Batting is the layer of fibers between the quilt top and the backing.  No one will see it, but it will definitely affect how your quilt will look and how easy it will be to quilt.  You get to choose whatever batting you want, but if you are a beginner, it is possible that you have no idea what you want.  Before you make your batting decision, you need to know that your quilting stitches will push the air out of the batting, making it compress, squishing it flatter than it is when you open the bag or cut it from the roll.  Every brand is a little different, so don’t be afraid to just start somewhere and learn from that experience.  I list brands in no particular order at the end of each description.

Cotton battings:  For the most part, cotton battings already have been compressed in the manufacturing process.  Most of the air between the cotton fibers has been squished out, so cotton batting is relatively thin and will produce a quilt that is quite flat.  Today, most quilters believe that traditional quilts should be flat, and therefore they suggest that cotton batting be used.  In fact, the general rule nowadays is the thinner the batting the better.  I do not agree with this philosophy and will explain what I believe after this review of batting choices. 

Read the batting package to make sure you are aware of how close you need to quilt to prevent the batting from separating or shifting with wear and washing of the quilt.  Be sure you consider this recommendation when deciding how to quilt your project.  Following is a list of some brands available in the U. S.  Please do not depend solely on this list.  Use what you have available in your area.

Some suggested brands are: Quilters Dream Cotton, Warm & Natural and Warm & White by Warm, Inc., Hobbs Premium 100% Cotton, Fairfield Natural Cotton, Mountain Mist Cream Rose and White Rose and Airtex.

Polyester battings**:  The advantage to using polyester is that there is still air between the fibers, making the hand quilting process generally easier to do, and resulting in a puffier quilt.  There are needlepunched polyester battings (which will result in a flatter quilt, like the cotton battings), but I prefer bonded, not needlepunched styles.  Polyester battings have a bad reputation in the U. S. because of bearding*, but I prefer them for almost all of my quilts.  Polyester is a man-made fiber that tends to result in a warmer quilt than cotton.  This is true partly because of the nature of the fiber, and partly because there is still air between the fibers that has insulating qualities.  Some suggested brands are: Fairfield Soft Touch; Warm, Inc.'s Soft & Bright, and Soft-Soft-High-Loft; Hobbs Thermore Ultra Thin, Cloud Lite, Cloud Loft, Polydown (white) and Polydown-DK (dark), Mountain Mist, Airtex, Quilters Dream Poly and Simplicity Bond Tight.

* Bearding is a condition where the batting fibers begin to migrate up between the fibers of the quilt top during the quilting process.  If you continue to quilt, using a batting that is bearding, it appears that there is a light fuzz (beard) on the quilt top.  Polyester batting is often blamed for this condition, but bearding has occurred for me using cotton batting, and I have never had it occur with polyester batting.  I will discuss bearding in Lesson One so you know some options if it occurs in any of your quilts.

Wool battings:  I love using wool battings.  They used to be very expensive, but are now more reasonably priced and many brands are now easily washable.  Wool battings are soft, resilient and have lots of air between the fibers, so they retain their loft after quilting.  They look wonderful and create a quilt that is flexible and  snuggly.  I used Hobbs Heirloom Washable Wool in my class project.  Some suggested brands are: Hobbs Heirloom Washable Wool; Quilters Dream Wool and Matilda’s Own 100% wool.

Silk battings:  I have only recently discovered silk battings.  I have not had an opportunity to use all of the brands, but silk provides a luxurious batting.  Just like wool, there is air between the fibers, and the quilt is soft and supple.  I have heard from some quilters that silk makes a very warm batting.  Silk has a tendency to stick to your hands when you are laying it out between your quilt top and backing.  It is suggested that you put on latex surgical gloves to make it easier to work with.  Suggested brands are: Richland Silk Company and Hobbs Tuscany Silk.

Bamboo battings:  These are very new on the market, and I have not yet had a chance to test bamboo batting.  If it is available to you, why not give it a try for this class project.  Then, I hope you will report in the Classroom Forum what you thought of it.

Blends:  Explore the cotton/polyester, wool/polyester, silk/wool, and silk/polyester blends that are available.  They are likely to provide the perfect combination of what you are looking for in a batting.  Some suggested brands are Quilters Dream Blend (poly/cotton), Pacafil (50/50 Alpaca/cotton and 50/50 Alpaca/wool), Hobbs Heirloom Premium Cotton (poly/cotton), Mountain Mist Cotton Blossom (cotton/silk and cotton/wool), Airtex (poly/cotton) and Matilda’s Own (wool/polyester and wool/cotton).

Pre-Washing Batting:  The packaged battings, as opposed to the batting you find on rolls, usually have instructions about what will happen if you pre-wash the batting, or if you wait to wash it after the quilting.  Read those instructions carefully and decide which look you want in your quilt, then do what it says.  In general, cotton battings will shrink when washed, so they will cause the quilt to pucker up a bit if you do not pre-wash the batting.  If you prefer a flatter quilt (with fewer puckers), then pre-wash your cotton batting so it will shrink before you add it to your quilt.  Polyester battings rarely shrink at all, so pre-washing is generally not necessary.  Each brand of wool and/or silk batting will have very specific instructions, so be sure to follow them.  I suggest that if you have a specialty batting that has special washing instruction, you note those instructions on the label of your quilt.  The most important thing to remember when washing batting is never agitate.


Marking tools:  You will need to find a marking tool that will wash off or rub out once the quilting is complete. 

There are many ways to mark your quilt top.  You want to make sure your marks show up enough for you to follow them, but then completely disappear when you are finished quilting (or before then).  Many older quilts were marked with lead or graphite pencils.  It is convenient, but the marks are very hard, if not impossible, to get out of the fabric, and therefore, pencil marks may show forever on your quilt top.  If you enter your quilt in a show, judges may comment unfavorably about those pencil marks, and the marks may not enhance your enjoyment of the quilt, which I think is a more important consideration than what a judge has to say.  If you are considering using a pencil, be aware that pencils now are made with graphite, not lead.  That means that any recipe or device you have for removing lead from your quilt may or may not work on graphite.  I have never been able to remove any pencil lines I have ever added to fabric, so I do not use them on fabrics at all, unless I need a permanent line.

Let’s explore some other alternatives. 

Hera Marker:  There are several versions of this creasing tool on the market, all of which work just fine and are inexpensive.  A Hera marker is a plastic tool that creases the fabric when pressure is applied.  By pressing down on the Hera marker as you rub it along the lines of the pattern, the Hera temporarily creases the fabric, making a mark that will show on the quilt top.  You may use this creasing technique by rubbing it along a ruler’s edge for marking straight lines, as with the grids in our pattern.  The crease will stay visible so long as the quilt top does not get wet.  Using the Hera may take a bit of practice before you are confident you will be putting the marks where they belong.  Practice on some scraps before you begin with this project. 

The real advantage to the Hera is that there are no marks that need to be removed.  In fact, I have tested the Hera on many different fabrics, and the creases always disappear once I have moistened the fabric and pressed it dry.  Since you will quilt along the lines in hand quilting, there is no need to remove the creases afterwards.

Temporary Marking Tools:  There are many temporary marking tools that you can use. There are chalk pencils, and what appear to be chalk pencils, blue and purple liquid markers,  thin graphite pencils, white pens, pouncing powders, and home remedies.  What you need to realize is that no marking tool can guarantee that it will come out of every fabric.  You MUST test every marker on your fabric before you use it. Here are some available brands:

  • Clover Water Soluble Pencil**
  • Patricia Campbell’s Fabric Marking Pencils
  • Chaco Liner
  • The Fine Line (blue liquid)
  • Dritz Water-Soluble Marking Pencil
  • Bohin Chalk Cartridge Set

Be sure to ask your store clerk for suggestions if you cannot find any brands I mention here. You will not want to use the disappearing marker or air erase marker. It does not stay long enough for you to complete the project and in high humidity will disappear before you can finish marking.  I repeat, test your marking tool before you mark your quilt top.

Transfer Paper**:  There are several transfer papers available in quilting stores.  The basic concept is that a paper is coated with a chalk-like substance.  By placing the transfer paper on the fabric, and tracing the pattern on top of the transfer paper, the lines are marked on the fabric below.  Each transfer product has advantages and disadvantages, so read the instructions, and follow them.  Test on your fabric before marking the quilt top.  Suggested Brands: "Pattern Transfer Paper"**, Saral™ and Clover Chacopy™. 

Testing Marking Tools:  I always test my marking tools.  Once I buy a marking tool, I mark it on a scrap of the same fabric I used in my quilt top.  I follow the instructions for that marker.  If the markings disappear, I am satisfied and can use it on my quilt top.  If it does not disappear, then I try whatever method I am willing to use to wash the quilt.  If the markings come out, I will use it on my quilt top.  If, however, the markings do not come out, then I do not use that marking tool on that fabric.  I need to find another marker for that quilt top.  This sounds quite time consuming; and I agree, it is, but it is easier to do this testing than have a quilt top with a permanent set of markings on it.

Needles**:  Hand Quilting Needles are also called "Betweens. " You may find a package using either or both names.  I suggest you start with a size 10 hand quilting/between needle until you develop some experience and opinions about what you might like better.  You can choose another size if you want.  Size 12 is the shortest, thinnest hand quilting needles I have found; size 11 is between a 12 and a 10 in length and diameter.  I believe size 9’s are too thick for fun hand quilting, but it may be perfect if you are frustrated with a bent size 10.  In general, the wisdom in the quilting world is that you will get smaller and more even stitches with a shorter needle, rather than a longer one.  All needles are not created equally, but the differences are so small, I am not going to offer suggested brands.  Hand quilting is a tough task to ask of a needle, and I think a sturdy one is preferable to a shorter one that bends easily.


For Basting:  I like to use regular sewing thread (100% cotton or poly/cotton) for basting.  I always select a contrasting color that I hate to look at on the quilt top.  This will motivate me to quilt more often, so I can pull out the basting threads.  This is a good opportunity to use up spools where there is not much thread left, not even enough to wind on a bobbin.  Avoid using cheap thread as it may not be colorfast.  Mercerized thread is colorfast.  Avoid using thread on old wooden spools, as the thread has been soaking up the acids contained in the wood for years.  The thread has been weakened and may not be colorfast any longer.  You deserve to use good thread. 

For Quilting:  Buy a spool of Hand Quilting thread.  Hand quilting thread is thicker than most sewing threads.  It is stronger because it has a tough job to do.  It must hold together while being yanked through all those layers of fabric over and over again.  I have used glazed, waxed and unglazed threads, and they all work just fine as far as I am concerned.  I am not a fan of the 40 weight thread that advertises it is used for piecing and hand quilting.  I think it is thick for piecing and too thin for hand quilting.  I especially like the strength and unglazed softness of Aurifil’s hand quilting thread  
28 weight**.  We carry it on our website.

Whichever brand you buy, you can match the color of your quilt top, use a color that contrasts with the top fabric or use variegated thread.  If you are a beginner and quilting a practice project, then I strongly suggest that you choose a contrasting color thread, so you can see what you are doing, what you have done, and can easily see the improvement.  It will also make it easier for me to see when you upload pictures of your work in progress.  I also like using a contrasting thread because if I am going to all the time and trouble to hand quilt something, I want everyone to see that I did so.  I love seeing the effect that contrasting and variegated thread has on the quilt.  In fact, for the class sample I used navy blue thread so it would show. 

Variegated thread, on appliqué quilt

Thimble:  Finding the perfect thimble is a continuous process.  I have collected over 20 different styles throughout the years, each one offering something a little different.  Here is a photograph of some of my assortment. 

A portion of my thimble collection

There are many more that I have not purchased, but they might be perfect for you.  Here are just a few things to consider as you go thimble hunting.  You probably do not yet know the answer to all these questions.

  • Will you be using your index finger, second finger, or thumb to push the needle?
  • Will you be using the pad or tip of that digit?
  • Do you prefer a metal or leather thimble?
  • Do you have long finger or thumb nails? 
  • Do you have a physical condition, such as arthritis, that might require something special for hand quilting?

Buying a usable thimble means you need to find one that fits.  I suggest you first shop at your local store where you can potentially try on some thimbles.  This will give you an idea of what size (large, medium, small) you might be looking for.  Of course, online is a possibility, but finding the right size will be the challenge.

If you are a new quilter, I suggest that you find three inexpensive thimbles, one each that

  • fits your index finger
  • fits your second finger
  • fits your thumb

You may have just purchased two thimbles you may not use, but at least you will not have to go shopping over and over again as the lessons unfold.  As you shop, look for a thimble with deep dimples on the side.  Smooth-sided commemorative thimbles or ones with very shallow dimples were not made for hand quilting, and I suggest you avoid them.

In the photos below, I have labeled each thimble with a letter.  Below the thimble photos is a table giving you the brand name of that thimble, and where you might find it online, if I have that information.

Two thimbles with ridges around the tip

For your finger tips you will want one with a closed top that has a ridge around the top.  If your thimble with a ridge around the tip also has deep dimples on the side of the thimble, it will give you the ability to try both finger tip and finger pad quilting.

Two examples of deep dimples on the side

If you know you want to use a leather thimble, get one that is a snug fit. They are likely to stretch a little with use. 

Leather thimbles

If you have long fingernails, you will most likely use the pad of your finger, so buying a thimble with a ridge on the tip will not work for you.  Find one with a hole in the top to allow for your fingernail.   

Use thimbles that make room for your long nail

Even as confusing as it sounds, you will want to use a thimble.  You will be pushing the eye of the needle quite forcefully and you do not want it to poke through your skin, or slip underneath your fingernail.  Below is a photo of an odd assortment of tools that work like thimbles; they push the needle through without letting it poke your finger/thumb.

Unusual products to protect your fingers

There are also very expensive thimbles.  The one shown below is really a piece of jewelry and a working thimble, but it was a very expensive gift to myself.  In the table below, I give you several brand names of expensive thimbles that you might want to investigate, but only after you know you love hand quilting.

A very expensive thimble

Thimble Chart identifying by letter those in pictures above
A John James Nickel Plated Steel Thimble

Many of these thimbles are available at:

B Needleart Guild Thimble
C Thumb Thimble, available at (only while supplies last in each size)
I Clover Double-Sided Coin Thimble
D Thimblelady plastic Cone Thimble J Dritz Quilters’ Leather Thimble
E Sashiko thimble K Tortoise Thimble
F Nimble Thimble L Ted’s Thumb Thimble
G Elaine’s Goat Leather Thimble M House of Quilting, handheld quilting thimble (paddle)
H Homemade leather ring from thick scrap leather N Thimbles by T.J. Lane with a thimble cage necklace

If you want an expensive thimble, also check out Roxanne’s Thimbles and the metal Thimblelady assortment.  What makes these expensive is the quality of the metal, and that they are custom fit. 

Hoop or frame:  I was taught to use a hoop that either rests in my lap or is supported on a floor frame sitting beside my chair.  You may have a large floor frame and you certainly can use that.  Since I have never used one, I will not be instructing you on how to mount the fabric on your frame.  Please follow your frame instructions.  I am going to teach you how to use the lap-type hoop.  If you wish to try using a hoop, please purchase a round or oval wood quilting hoop, approximately 14", 16" or 18".  If you are working on a large quilt, you will most likely prefer either the 16" or 18" hoop size.  (Some of you may wish to learn how to quilt without a hoop.  Unfortunately, I have never quilted without a hoop, and therefore am not going to be able to teach you those techniques.  If, after trying a hoop, you want explore doing it without a hoop, write into the Classroom Forum and we can discuss the differences that I have discovered.  In the long run, I believe you will become a better quilter with a hoop, rather than not using one.

Several quilting hoops

Notice the hoops pictured here are not spring-loaded embroidery hoops but are heavy-duty wooden quilt hoops.  This is important because we are going to put our hoops through some tough times, and we want them to hold our quilt layers securely.  An embroidery hoop is too narrow and cannot hold the fabric tightly enough, nor allow you to move the fabric within the hoop.

Just like thimbles, there are many types of hoops to choose from.  I believe the basic wooden hoop still provides the perfect way to hand quilt.  If you have a hoop made from a composite material, one that incorporates a Bungee-cord system, one that has a groove between the two parts of the hoop or a square plastic hoop, these will work, but they will not be specifically addressed in this class.  You will need to adapt my methods to make your hoop work appropriately.  I may be able to offer some suggestions for their use if you ask me about them in the Classroom Forum once class begins. 

You do not need to buy specialty hoops, at least until you know whether you are going to be doing lots of hand quilting.  I will teach you how easy it is to use the basic wooden hoop for all your quilting needs, including a special trick for quilting near the raw edge of the quilt.  If you decide you want a floor-standing hoop or floor frame, I suggest you do some comparison shopping online to find exactly what you want.  I have recently purchased a Poly Pro Grace Hoop2 and a Grace Lap Quilting Hoop. 

Poly Pro Grace Hoop2, floor standing hoop

Grace Lap Hoop, rests on your lap

If you need an online source for wooden quilting hoops, visit  Under Stitching Tools, check out their hoops.  They have round and oval wooden quilting hoops at very reasonable rates.


Basting can be done with thread, safety pins or plastic tacks.  With hand quilting and a hoop, thread basting is the preferred method.

Thread basting: Spool of regular sewing thread in an ugly color.  Any long needle can be used as a basting needle.  This is the method I will share with you in Lesson One. 

Safety pins.  If you prefer this method, I strongly suggest Dritz Curved Safety Pins, but any medium to large safety pins will work.

Quilt tacking gun: There are several brands of quilt tacking guns on the market (Dritz and Dennison).  If you think this will work for you, buy one with a thin needle, to avoid large holes being poked in your fabric.  This needle should be about the same diameter as the safety pins you might use.  The quilt tacking tool or gun is similar to the ones used to attach price tags to garments.  In our case, we use the nylon tag to hold the layers of our quilt together while we quilt.  The nylon tags are then cut away when they are no longer needed.  Please follow the instructions that come with your tacking gun.

Quilt tack guns with plastic tacks installed on left gun

Spoon:  We will use this as a basting tool if you decide to use thread or safety pins, so use any odd or old spoon you might have around the house.  This will get scratched and become a quilting tool, so do not use an heirloom spoon.  A plastic one will work, at least until the handle breaks off, then you can grab a metal one so that will not keep happening.

Ruler:  for marking straight lines 1" apart as drawn on the pattern.  A see-through rotary ruler will work fine.

Masking tape, blue painters tape or other tape that will not leave a residue on your fabric.  We only need a little of this tape.  We will use it to layer the quilt backing and batting and quilt top, so be creative and use what you have for this first project.  In the future, you will probably use this type of tape often, so get masking or painter’s tape.

Thread snippers/scissors

Straight pins (approx. 6-8))

Bias tape:  Wait until you see how this is used in Lesson One before buying or making any.


Lesson One

  • Pattern
  • Fabric preparation
  • Marking quilt top
  • Tracing
    • light box
    • transfer paper
  • Quilt preparation
  • Layering and basting layers
  • Using a quilt hoop

Lesson Two

  • How to hand quilt
  • Finger tip quilting
    • single stitch
    • rocker stitch
  • Finger pad quilting
    • single stitch
    • rocker stitch
  • Thumb quilting
    • single stitch
    • rocker stitch
  • Troubleshooting

Lesson Three

  • How to square up your quilt
  • How to add a binding
  • How to add a sleeve

Student's projects