Thread Matters 2019: Quilting by Hand

This month’s Thread Matters – The Aurifilosophy Series allows me to introduce Aurifil Designer and Aurifilosopher Sarah Maxwell of Designs by SarahJ. Fabric, pattern, and template design are just of the few of the many amazing things Sarah excels at. She is also a skilled quilter, speaker, and educator. Sarah is all about family and community, always willing to collaborate on fun new projects. We’re thrilled to have her on the Aurifilosophy team and to welcome her to Auribuzz to share her hand quilting tips and tricks with you today.

If you missed the January introduction of Aurifilosophy and this fun new Thread Matters series click here to read more. Consider scheduling an Aurifilosophy Program for your shop, group or guild – learn more here.

Happy Stitching!
Karen L. Miller ~ Redbird Quilt Co.

With today’s fast-paced lifestyle and busy schedules, the idea of hand quilting a project can seem unrealistic. Mix in concerns about the length of your stitches and whether they are evenly spaced, and often it’s easier to just machine quilt your projects or send them out for professional quilting.

There’s something magical and relaxing, however, about the simple process of adding hand stitches to a project. With these tips and tricks, you can be on your way to successfully hand quilting your own work.

A good hand quilting stitch is all about evenly spaced stitches. While competition-level quilters strive for 12 stitches per inch (or less!), any number of stitches per inch is acceptable. It’s suggested to be consistent with the amount of distance between each stitch and with the amount of thread showing on top of the fabric as a single ‘stitch’.

Evenly spaced hand quilting stitches primarily come about by starting with the right tools and finding time to practice, practice, practice.

Making your favorite quilt block into a mug rug is an easy way to create a practice piece for yourself. I chose to start with a simple chain block but any patchwork block will work for this process.

I looked for fabrics with motifs that could be used as a stitching guide—vines or anything with gentle curves work particularly well. This eliminates the need to mark stitches (one less step is always welcome, right?) and has the added benefit of “hiding” the stitches within the printed motifs.

For my block, I pieced a few fabrics from my Peaceful Petals collection.

The swirling motifs on the black print and the branches on the white print are perfect guides for practice stitching. The grey daisy print has lots of movement and value variation so it’s a great candidate for “hiding” straight line stitching.

Batting loft will have a strong affect on the size of your stitches. Simply put, the thinner the batting, the more likely to achieve small stitches. My personal preference is Hobbs Tuscany Silk Batting. It’s lightweight and a needle glides through it effortlessly.

I’ve experimented a lot over the years and silk batting is always my go-to when I want the best stitches.

I recommend selecting a hoop to stabilize the quilt. Needles and a thimble are a must! I prefer the John James big eye needle in size 11 and the Roxanne thimble, but this is often a matter of trial and error to find what works best for you.

and finally…

Thread comes into play on multiple levels.

I always recommend Aurifil thread for its strength, sheen, large color selection, and exceptional quality. Using Aurifil 100% Egyptian cotton thread also ensures that my quilting stitches will be virtually lint free.

image by Jennie Pickett of Clover & Violet

Next, determining the weight of Aurifil thread is accomplished by evaluating the goal of your quilting:

Is it a supporting player, adding interest and accents to a busy patchwork design?
If so, opt for a 40wt thread in a shade closely matching the fabrics.

Is it the main star, filling in negative space or open background areas?
Consider a 28wt thread in a contrasting color.

Is it performing utility work, holding together the layers of a quilt that will be used and laundered frequently?
Picking a 12wt thread and using larger, big stitch quilting may be the answer.

For my project, I selected 28wt thread in colors 2615 and 2625. I started stitching over the branches and vines in the prints. Once I had traced over all those motifs with stitches, I started filling in the rectangles with straight line stitching. Another option would be to outline all the daisy motifs.

Hand quilting projects are portable and perfect to work on in those random moments when you’re waiting to pick up kids from a practice or in a car on a long drive.

This mat will sit near my sewing machine as a as a reminder that it’s always ok to slow down.


Sarah’s love of quilting stems from her college days, when her mom sent her pink dogwood quilt to grace the bed in her first apartment. The quilt was a comforting reminder of her home in the Lake of the Ozarks, where the dogwood blossoms always signaled the start of spring.

A few years later, married and expecting her first child, Sarah caught the nesting bug. Inspired by the treasured dogwood quilt, she bought a Teach Yourself to Quilt book and crafted her first quilt. She continued to improve her skills through classes at local quilt guilds, as well as learning from gifted teachers throughout the United States, fully taking advantage of modern conveniences, such as rotary cutting and computer design, as they became available.

Today, Sarah is a fabric and pattern designer for Studio 37 Fabrics, a division of Marcus Fabrics, with countless quilts to her credit. Her work has been featured regularly in both McCall’s Quilting and McCall’s Quick Quilts for the past several years. Additionally, Sarah’s quilts have appeared in Make ModernSimply Moderne,  American Patchwork & Quilting, and Quilts & More, as well as many other magazines.

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