Big stitch hand quilting uses a simple running stitch and a heavier thread such as 12wt thread. This is the perfect technique to add a personal touch to quilts, and those slight imperfections from doing hand stitching only adds to the home-made charm. This is a gorgeous way to give your quilted projects a textured, hand-made look.
Before starting you’ll need to take a look at the thread you’ll be using. One of our favourite choices is Eleganza, an 8wt Egyptian perle cotton thread that has a soft sheen to its matte finish. This thread is thick enough that it stands out more boldly against the fabric. One of the things that makes this thread an ideal choice is that it has been double gassed, resulting in a super low lint finish. It also has a very tight twist to prevent unravelling as you stitch.
If Eleganza is thicker than you wanted for your quilting, another option is Spagetti and Fruitti. These 12wt Egyptian cotton threads are thinner than Eleganza, but still thick enough that it stands out. Like Eleganza, they have both been double gassed for a very low lint finish, so your stitches will not only look beautiful, but the thread is very easy to pull through the fabric and fibres.
Finally, another option we’d like to suggest is Dazzle, an 8wt rayon thread with a single strand of metallic woven through. While we normally wouldn’t recommend a rayon thread to hand quilt with because it’s so slippery, because this thread has a strand of metallic in it, it has more friction to grip the fabric and stay in place.
These are only a few options for thread, but they give you an idea of the different types of threads available that can change the look of your hand quilting. Before starting, I’m going to peel a length of painter’s tape and place it along the line I want to do my quilting. This gives me an easy guide to follow so my quilting stays straight and doesn’t wobble. Because painter’s tape isn’t too sticky, I can peel it off when I’m done without leaving any residue.
If you have a particularly large quilt, using a quilting hoop to keep your quilt taut while quilting is preferable. However, since my piece is quite small, I’m going to go without one which is fine too.
For any 8wt threads, you can use a chenille size 24 or a long darner size 1 hand needle, but any needle with a large enough eye to fit the thread will also work. To begin, cut a manageable length of thread, not too long that it will get tangled. Tie a knot on the opposite end from the needle.
Choose a position slightly before where you want your actual quilting to begin and poke the needle through to the batting, but not far enough that it goes through the backing.
Pull the thread all the way to the knot, and once it reaches the fabric, give it a sharp tug so that it goes through the fabric and gets buried behind it. You’re now ready to begin your stitching. You can decide how large you want your stitches to be, just try to keep your spacing consistent.
Poke your needle down the length of the stitch you want it to be, but don’t pull it all the way through. Continue loading up stitches along the length of your needle until you have a few on your needle, then you can pull your stitches through. This is the basis of the running stitch. It helps to keep your thumb in front to push the fabric closer to the needle so that you don’t end up with too big of a stitch.
Now if you happen to run out of thread or want to finish off your line of stitching, you’ll need to bury your thread. To do that, tie another knot close to the base of the fabric. It helps to put your finger on the knot before pulling the thread all the way through to keep the knot as close to the fabric as possible.
Now put your needle through the same hole, slide it through the batting and come up a little ways away, and pull the thread all the way through giving it a little tug to get the knot through. Now you just need to snip the thread and your knot will hide nicely behind the fabric.
That’s all there is to it! For comparison, we’ve done more hand quilting over here using Fruitti, the 12wt variegated cotton thread. You can see it’s quite a bit thinner, and how that variegated colour looks. Beside that is another section using Dazzle, the 8wt rayon and metallic thread. It’s the same weight as the Eleganza, but that strand of metallic gives it a lot of sparkle for a totally different effect. The rayon is also a lot shinier than cotton.
(left) Eleganza, (right) Dazzle
(bottom) Fruitti (top) Dazzle