Big Stitch Hand Quilting by Sherri Noel

Happy Thursday! We are so excited to introduce you to Sherri Noel, quilter, pattern designer, and sewing blogger for Last year, Sherri hosted the Sew Scrappy Sampler on her blog, releasing one 12″ block a month. Each block focused on a different technique, including foundation paper piecing, appliqué, english paper piecing, traditional piecing, dresden plates and more. Sherri’s quilt used fabrics from her Kaffe Fassett stash, a wonderful collection of bold and bright prints in a wide range of colors. She felt that her finished top, measuring at 90″ x 99″, would be best highlighted by hand-quilting and turned to Aurifil 12wt. We’re so thrilled that she was able to document her process in order to offer a tutorial on Big Stitch Hand Quilting here today. Welcome Sherri!


Hello! I’m Sherri Noel from and I’m so happy to be a guest here on the Aurifil blog. I’ve recently discovered Aurifil’s 12 weight thread, have used it on several projects now, and I’m loving it! I have a tutorial on Big Stitch Hand Quilting with Aurifil 12 wt. thread to share with you today.

I originally got started with hand quilting due to my aversion to machine quilting. Just when I’d finish all the patchwork on a quilt, I would stress over how I would get it through my machine. So, I got interested in alternative quilting methods and ultimately became addicted to hand quilting. I really love everything about it. I find it so relaxing , love how it looks, and love the organic feel and soft drape of the finished quilt. I really just love it all! If I have the time (and it doesn’t take as much time as you think), I always go for hand quilting… hands down! Some quilts call for big stitches… It’s just so yummy! Plus, you can use it for cross stitch, machine applique (I did!), redwork, hand applique and embellishing.


Here are some of my favorite colors… If you want your stitches to stand out, don’t be afraid to go darker than you think!


Aurifil has plenty of 12 wt. colors to choose from!


So, let’s get started!


  • Aurifil 12 Wt. Thread
  • Quilters Hoop — I used an 18″ Hinterberg Quilt Hoop on a stand for this quilt. I like to use a smaller 14” hoop when I’m quilting in my lap or on the go.
  • Thimble — I use a Metal Open-Sided Thimble by Clover.
  • Scissors — Small pair
  • Needle — I’ve been using a Clover gold eye Chenille #24 for hand quilting and I really like it. It’s sharp, has a nice large eye for threading and is a good fit for my hand.
  • Needle Threader — optional
  • Removable Marking tool — optional, for marking lines or motifs
  • Painters Tape — optional, use as a guide when stitching straight lines.
  • Basted Quilt Sandwich


Getting Started: 

It’s best to begin from the quilt center and work out toward the edges, so position your hoop closest to the center of your quilt and secure. I started my quilting in the center and worked my way around and out to the sides. It’s a little more cumbersome when you’re working in the middle of the quilt, since you have more quilt to wrap your arms around, but just adjust everything until you’ve got a comfortable set up. As you work out to the edges it becomes a little easier to manage the bulk.

Cut a piece of Aurifil 12 wt. thread, no longer than 30″ (manageable length). If you cut your thread longer, it will be too long to work with and it will get fuzzy and weaken if you pull it through the quilt sandwich too many times. Do you have a new 12 wt. spool? Did you know that the round stand comes off the spool so you can find the start of your thread? So convenient!

[editor’s note: There is a terrific Thread Matters post all about Aurifil spools right here.]


Thread your needle and tie a simple overhand knot at the long end.


If you need a needle threader, I recommend this style pictured below. It’s strong enough to pull the thread through the needle without the threader breaking.


Start by inserting the needle approximately 1/2″ from where you wish to begin quilting. Push your needle through the top and batting only. Then travel through quilt and bring your needle up at your starting point.


Pull the thread until the knot reaches the quilt top and give it a sharp tug ~ it will pop through the quilt top and embed itself in the batting. You will get the hang of this after a few tries. If you find your thread comes all the way through without getting stuck within the batting, try weaving your needle in the batting a little before coming out at the start point.


Let’s get quilting. I quilt toward myself at a slight diagonal, (rather than right to left) and I find it the easiest way for me. Do what feels comfortable for you. Start a stitch with the needle sticking straight down through the quilt. I’m right handed and I have my right hand on top of the quilt making the stitch, and my left hand guiding the needle on the back of my quilt. In the next picture, my left hand is under the quilt sandwich and the needle is just poking through the other side resting on my finger tip. (yes, this fingertip will get a little sore…)


When I feel the point of the needle come through the back of the quilt with my left hand fingertip, I tilt the needle backward away from me. Next, I push the finger behind the quilt up, creating a small bump on the quilt top where your needle is. With your right hand thumb, push down on the quilt top in front of the needle, making the bump more defined, and now you can push the needle through that bump.


Also notice in the picture above how my needle rests right in the lip of my thimble.

Review steps: 

  •  needle straight up and down, just through quilt sandwich touching left hand finger tip
  •  tilt needle back
  •  push up with left finger from under quilt
  •  push down with right thumb in front of needle to make the defined bump
  •  push needle through bump

Here is a side view of the bump created by my left finger at the back and my right thumb.


When you get started, your thimble may feel unnatural on your finger, and you may struggle through the first several stitches, but it will quickly get easier. Stick with it! Your left finger tips will get sore and there are some products you can use like another thimble or little ‘dots’ to stick on your finger to protect them. Personally I don’t like having anything on my left hand fingers, I need to be able to feel the needle.

Once you are comfortable with making the stitch, try rocking your needle to take 2-3 stitches at a time before pulling the thread through.


Again, look at the needle on my thimble in the photo above. All those little dimples do good work at keeping my needle in place.

When you are ready for another length of thread, or done your quilting, you will need to tie off and embed the end of your thread in the batting.


Start by tying another overhand knot in the end of your thread.


Slide the knot down to the top of the quilt.


Insert needle back into hole that the thread is coming out of and travel through the batting only, then back out of top about a 1/2″ away.


Pull the needle through and give the tread a sharp tug to embed the knot into the batting and carefully snip off the tail.


That’s all there is to it!

If you’re new to hand quilting, start on small projects like I did, then when you’re comfortable, move your way up to a large project.

Here are a few more pictures of my finished quilt…

photo 24

photo 22

Notice how the quilting can really make your piecing or applique pop like in this Dahlia block.  The stitching around the shell shapes really make them stand out.

photo 25

The most important thing is to have fun with Aurifil 12 wt. big stitch quilting and enjoy the process.

photo 26

And don’t forget that the quilting on the back of the blocks can be just as much fun to admire as the front!

photo 27

I hope you liked this tutorial and give big stitch hand quilting a try. You can find additional pictures and information about this quilt and more on my blog —

photo 19

If you’re wondering how you can use 12 wt. thread in your machine, check out this post.

Happy Quilting!
— Sherri 

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sherri 250x250 300dpiSherri Noel is a quilter, a pattern designer and a sewing blogger. You can find her bag and quilt patterns plus tutorials on her blog at, named after her daughters. She is best known for her scrappy block-of-the-month programs, big stitch hand quilting, quilt as you go tutorials (joining quilted blocks) and her popular Madawaska Mittens made from recycled wool sweaters. Visit her blog and say hello!  




  1. Thank you for sharing & I love all the pictures! I do prefer hand stitching, but haven’t mastered consistent sized stitches. I’ll save this post and keep practicing!

  2. Sherri thank you so very much for the detailed tutorial and inspiring photos!! I purchased your mitten pattern years ago and continue to enjoy giving the upcycled sweater mittens today. You’re talent and generosity is appreciated. Always love finding new ways to use the yummy Aurifil 12Wt thread.

  3. I do the same thing, except I start and end in the back so that if my knot is too big and makes a tiny hole, it’s in the backing fabric and not the top of my quilt. 🙂

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