Wednesday, October 5, 2022

Quilty Folk Hand Quilting With Perle Cotton Basics--Part #1 An Enthusiast's Guide To Getting Started

This series is for all the people who have commented and/or sent emails through the years asking for a tutorial about hand quilting 'the Quilty Folk way'. In spite of all the general misgivings this has generated, I'm also sort of relieved to get this going. After reading through parts #1-4 and perhaps watching my extremely nonexpert videos, many people will begin to understand why this has always been a very bad idea, indeed. Hey, you get what you ask for. I'm just throwing all my hand quilting quirks out into the wind here and hoping it will help a few quilters along the way.

The first part pertains to what is necessary in getting started. A whole lot of gumption, let me tell you! There is absolutely a learning curve to hand quilting with perle cotton, not going to ignore or downplay that in any way. All totally worthwhile if you have a sincere love for the look though! Very cozy looking, how can you not love that? Obviously there are some other things needed too so let's get to that....

Tools of the trade
Tools & Supplies Needed:
  • 17" x 17" Square Plastic Quilting Frame. I use the 'Q-Snap' brand.
  • Thread Snips
  • Sturdy Leather Thimble. I prefer 'Elaine's' Leather Thimbles
  • Sturdy Needle with large eye. I use 'Fon's & Porter's' Utility Quilting Needles
  • Perle Cotton Thread--Any brand, #8 or #12
  • Quilt, sandwiched and loosely pinned
  • *Blue Wash Out Marking Pen. I mostly use Dritz
  • **White and Silver colored pencils for marking. I prefer Verithin
Ready for stitching
The first thing you'll want to do is make sure that your quilt is sandwiched and pinned, ready to go. With hand quilting, the quilt doesn't have to be pinned with an extravagant number of pins. Go ahead and zoom in if you like. There's just enough pins to make sure the entire sandwich doesn't shift while moving it around.
A potential placement for the 1st hoop
Place your first hoop in a strategic spot in the middle part of the quilt. No it doesn't have to be dead center. Just make sure that you can move afterward--to an area the size of one frame or so--on every side after that first hoop has been adequately quilted. When you decide where the optimum spot is, remove the outer pins that might get in the way of placing the hoop. Also take out adjacent pins that will be at a stress point when the clamps are positioned onto the hoop. Unlike the picture above {which is for auditioning for the best-spot-in-the-quilt purposes only}, your frame will be underneath the quilt sandwich. Then the clamps will be applied over the top of the quilt and directly over the frame edges.

Once you have determined that the quilt is positioned well in the hoop, and with a proper amount of slack, then take out all of the pins in the center of the hoop. You are now ready to begin stitching.

Quilty Folk hand quilting Part #1--Getting started

The video above is my awkward attempt to show how to get started hand quilting with perle cotton thread using a square plastic hoop. There are many other wonderful tutorials on the web that might expand further on your knowledge. Bear in mind that there is no single method that is perfectly correct or preferable, other than what you find more comfortable and enjoyable, both in concept and outcome.
Quilty Folk hand quilting Part #2--Tying off the thread

I talk a little bit about posture in the first video. Some of you will probably not want to sit with your legs crossed or with your knees up underneath you. Try pulling a low stool up close to your chair, and placing your feet on it, and thereby pushing your knees up. Or even one knee under you and one on the stool. It all helps. However it feels best to hold the hoop in a position to work underneath and over the top of it will work wonders in enjoying your stitching time. Push the quilt hoop into your chest or upper abdomen and use your elbow or arm as support. It's not something you'll want to do all day long, but for an hour or two a day, most of this is doable. 

If, after several sessions of practicing with a square hoop, it never becomes {mostly} comfortable or even satisfactory, please go find a different size or shape of hoop. I want to encourage trying A LOT because these plastic clamps work really well with quilting with the perle cotton style of thread. It is usually quite easy to change the tension of the quilt within the hoop by simply rolling the clamps toward the center of the hoop. This is especially true if the side clamps are not placed onto the quilt using an over zealously stretched placement. Make very sure there are zero wrinkles in the backside of the hoop! If there is, immediately take the clamps off and pull the quilt backing into a better position and replace the clamps before stitching.

Stitching with perle cotton thread means that a larger needle is necessary than what would work well with regular hand quilting thread. There is a larger eye needed after all. Using this longer, quite sturdy needle means it will be extra important to add slack within the hoop in order to easily glide the needle through all of the quilt layers. If the quilt is unnecessarily tight within the hoop, you will instantly notice just how much harder it is to load stitches onto the needle and also, how much less consistent the length of your quilting stitches will be. Getting accustomed to this larger, fairly unwieldy needle is not a lot of fun. After awhile; however, you'll wonder how you could ever competently use the more traditional size of quilting needle!

Quilting with perle cotton thread lends itself very well to 'the human touch' or imperfection. Make your stitches just as long as looks good to you, making sure they are not so long that they become 'toenail catchers'! The important thing is to try and find a consistency in the length throughout. People have asked how far apart the stitches can be or should be? However far apart as looks fine and good to you. And that's really all that matters. Once again, consistency throughout would be the only measure of 'Am I doing this right?' Unless you're striving for a very primitive look. In that case, make the stitches as uneven as possible! Keep in mind that your stitches will change a bit from one stitching session to the next and how tired or energetic you might feel, whether or not you're having a good visit with someone while trying to quilt--that sort of thing. Try to keep more stitches in the hoop than you rip out or you'll never see real progress!
Checking out the stitching on the back of the quilt.
As you learn how to stitch, take a moment here or there to check out the stitching results on the back of your quilt. Be aware of transition areas where the needle might have slipped under the quilt sandwich instead of sliding between the layers. Watch out for lines of stitching where several stitches don't come all the way through. If the thread doesn't catch in the back, then the quilt sandwich isn't going to hold up to use when it's finished.

Sometimes you'll see a very long stitch on the back that makes you wince. If it's way too long, you'll have to fix it. For me, that often happens at the very end when I'm in a hurry, tying the thread off and trying to wrap things up for the night. If you haven't tied off your thread, go ahead and rip out the stitches back to that long, ugly stitch, and then, start over. If you have already tied off the thread and moved on {poor you}, you'll probably have to cut off the thread somewhere a ways out from the mistake--try to leave a length of thread to easily tie off somewhere convenient. Then, load a new length of thread and re-stitch that problem area once again. It's actually almost impossible to fix these sorts of mistakes solely using the initial thread used. 

I still make a regular practice of turning the entire quilt over to check for stitching 'oops'--usually at the end of a evenings quilting session. I lay the quilt on the floor {while the hoop is still attached} and look at the overall stitching on the front. Then I turn it over and survey the back. Stitching good? Check! No wrinkles? Check!

For most people, it will take a very long time and lots of practice before the back of the quilt looks nearly as good as the front. That's just a fact, so don't be discouraged! Be gentle with yourself and enjoy how the stitches look on the front of the quilt. Try using multi-colored, quilt backing fabrics that hide a multitude of sins if you're going to be picky about uneven stitches in the back. It really does help camouflage things! Be watchful when stitching close to the sides of the quilt hoop. That seems to be a great place for extra-long stitches on the back of the quilt to magically appear. Everything about this improves with practice and you'll be amazed at how the awkwardness eventually eases up. No matter what, be happy and quilt more!

Part #2 Moving the Hoop should be ready by tomorrow!


  1. Home from work and just checked in. It is pouring with rain here on the NSW coast of Australia. Lots of flooding and people and services suffering. More rain all weekend which means guilt free sewing in good daylight. Thank you, thank you, thank you for these insights. I will be buying a square hoop on Saturday to have a go on just a scrap sandwich. I want to finish my latest quilt top to do my very first hand quilted quilt. Vids are good. I really get the idea of it so much better. Particularly allowing for slack. I think previous attempts with a hoop it has just been too tight. Alison good tips on posture. You are a gem!

  2. Audrey, you are so encouraging! I am still trying to hand quilt something started in the last century, so I don't think hand quilting is my thing. 😕That said, I love your quilts and appreciate all hand quilting. I'm looking forward to your tutorials and appreciate your efforts for your blog readers.

  3. Your tutorial is great! So practical and real, thank you very much, I needed to be reminded of all your good tips.
    Have a good day!

    1. Janie
      I don't know why google is messing with my reply, I'm signed in!

  4. This is a great tutorial. I do a bunch of "big stitch" quilting but I like to real how other people to do it. You attitude seems to be "Do what feels right to you." And, I agree with that way of thinking. I tried the little square hoop and it didn't work out for me. I tried a small round hoop and again it just wasn't comfortable. I went back to my floor hoop for a while and then found a (pricey) small round hoop that I love. I really like your idea of the two knots at the end of the thread. I'll have to try that.


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