Big Stitch Hand Quilting with Sarah Fielke

Sarah Fielke is a remarkable and creative maker. She has been working with Aurifil threads for years and was among our first designers.

A tireless thread champion, Sarah is always ready to try something new and find a way to make it flourish. Over the years, she has shared countless tips, handy instructional videos, and mini demos from our booth at Quilt Market.

She runs a wildly popular annual BOM and is a skilled and knowledgable educator. We truly adore working with her and owe her endless gratitude… for her creativity, for her knowledge, for her generosity, and above all, her friendship.

Our 12wt and 80wt threads are Sarah’s primary go-tos, for hand quilting and needle turn appliqué. Her Everyday Appliqué collection launched a few years ago featuring a stunning range of our 80wt threads. It was only a matter of time before a 12wt collection followed. Sarah is a hand quilter through and through and curated a gorgeous range of colors to ensure that the perfect match is always on hand. This set is a must-have for hand quilters (and truly, embroiderers)!

We are so delighted that you took the time to chat with us today, Sarah, thank you! Knowing that we might have a few readers who are meeting you for the first time, would you mind sharing a bit about yourself and how you got started in this super creative industry?
I’m a quilt designer, teacher and author from Sydney, Australia! I started quilting when I was very small – my Mum taught me to sew little bits of patchwork and I’ve been sewing ever since. I started teaching when my son was born 25 years ago, and soon moved from teaching friends in the park to teaching at a quilt shop and then buying one! I ran Material Obsession for 11 years before going out on my own. I teach in Australia and internationally, as well as for and my own on demand online classes. I’ve written 14 quilt books, designed fabric and of course I’m an Aurifil designer too!

Do you remember the very first quilt you made and how completing it made you feel? 
I made a lot of small wonky quilts for dolls and bears, and a few lap sized quilts including one for my Mum, but the first proper large bed sized quilt I made was for my best friend Bee, for her birthday when we were both turning 21. It was Queen sized and it seemed so enormous. It’s the one that stands out to me as my first really big quilting accomplishment. Mum helped me to baste the quilt top and then I hand quilted and tied it. I remember feeling sooooo accomplished because I had made something that was actually a BED QUILT, that someone could sleep under. She had it for years until I made her a new one, and now that one is on the guest bed and her kids both have my quilts on their beds… maybe it’s time I made her bed a new one!

What drives you to keep moving forward with your creative endeavors? 
Designing is what keeps me interested and engaged. I love the sewing, and that part is my relaxation and my hobby as well as my job – but designing the quilts and fabrics is what really makes me get up in the morning and run to the studio. I see and spark ideas all over the place and they turn over constantly in my mind. 

It has been a wild 2 years, for sure. How did the changes in the world affect your day-to-day? Now that we’re starting to see bits of normalcy creeping back in, what are you most looking forward to both professionally and personally? 
In a “normal” year I’m usually on a plane to the USA and Europe four or five times a year, so that obviously stopped during the pandemic. Being able to be at home for such long stretches, working in my studio and taking creative time for myself made me realize how exhausted I was by the constant travel. I started recording on demand downloadable classes that have been very successful, and there will be more coming next year. It’s made me realize that I don’t have to physically BE everywhere, every time, in order to teach, and that is a big step for me and one that I think will be great for me going forward. I’m looking forward to being a little more off the hamster wheel in the coming years – which means I’m looking forward to more writing and creating more new designs!

Let’s talk about Big Stitch Hand Quilting – why was it important for you to create this collection and what drove your color selections?
I’m often asked by students which colour they should use to quilt a particular quilt, white, black or grey? I always laugh and say look at my quilts! I hand quilt using all the colours of the rainbow, and very often several different colours in each quilt. I also love to use a darker shade of one colour to outline or highlight piecing or applique, and then the lighter shade of the same colour to quilt the background, and this collection gives you just that – a light and a dark in each colour so that you can play with highlights and texture in your quilts.

Do you hand quilt all of your quilts, or do you find that you use a mix of both hand and machine quilting? 
I don’t machine quilt at all unless I’m forced. I can machine quilt pretty well on a domestic machine, and I used to teach machine quilting! I just don’t enjoy the process. Every now and then there’s something I need done fast and I machine quilt it, but usually I hand quilt everything I have the time for, and send the quilts out that I don’t have time to hand quilt. Hand quilting makes me happy, machine quilting makes me cranky – life’s too short to do the things you don’t enjoy!

For anyone just getting started with the practice of hand quilting, what advice would you offer?
Just that – practise! 🙂 It’s important to learn the basics of how to quilt easily and ergonomically, and the techniques required to do that. But once you’ve been taught the mechanics the best thing you can do is practise. Hand quilting is like anything worth doing well – you will take some time to get it going to your satisfaction, but once you do its a skill you will have forever. It’s worth taking the time to learn it!

As a super champion for hand quilting with Aurifil 12wt, do you have any insider secrets you could share?
My top tip for hand quilting would be to make sure you learn an ergonomic style of hand quilting. Like every kind of quilting technique, there are a thousand different ways of doing it “right”. My way is just one of those thousand ways. I do have a focus on making sure you look after your body while you stitch, because hand quilting can cause you some serious pain in your neck, shoulder, elbow, and thumb if you don’t learn stitching positions to combat it. My top tips for doing that are:

  • Learn to use a hoop. Not only does it keep the fabric flat and smooth, but it also takes the weight of the quilt away from your hands.
  • Always quilt towards you. That means turning the quilt as you go so that you aren’t stitching sideways and pinching up your shoulders and neck.
  • Sit up straight and put the edge of the hoop on a table or a Lap App to help distribute the weight. If you’re sitting on the couch, you can put a cushion on your lap and then the hoop on the cushion and it will do the same thing for you.
  • Use the right needle for the right job! Big stitch hand quilting requires a needle that is long and slim, but strong, and has a long eye that is not too hard to thread, but not so wide that it hampers you pulling the thread through the layers. It took me years but I finally found the perfect needle! My Sarah Fielke hand quilting needles (and my milliners needles for needleturn applique!) are both available at my website.

Your Everyday Applique collection features all 80wt and we’re thinking it would be the perfect partner to this new hand quilting collection. How would you see quilters incorporate both into one project?
I would say that nearly all my quilts incorporate 80wt and 12wt together! It’s pretty much my combo made in heaven. 80wt for my needleturn applique, epp and hand sewing down the binding, and the 12wt for the hand quilting. The colours in both collections go beautifully together, so if you applique a quilt using the threads you’re sure to have the hand quilting threads there ready to complement it. 

We’re fishing for sneak peeks… what’s coming up for you in the second half of 2022 and where can we find you? Can you share a sneak peek of your upcoming BOM?
2022 is nearly done but not quite… at the beginning of October I will reveal the sketch for my 2023 Block of the Month program and open the subscriptions! I can’t tell you too much yet but the quilt is called The Secret Garden. Suffice to say that it’s my usual blend of piecing and applique, lots of whimsical flowers and vines and of course a little red robin, just like in the book…. 

2023 is going to be a huge year for me, as I have another incredibly exciting surprise that will be revealed in November. I am also launching a collection of new patterns and some old favourites from books too, available as PDFs and also printed patterns for quilt shops. And then I’m already working on an equally huge and surprising project for 2024! I wish I could tell you more but it’s all under wraps for now. Stay tuned though – you can make sure you don’t miss anything by following me on Instagram @sfielke, on Facebook /sarahfielkequilts,  or signing up for my newsletter at

Happy Days Quilt in black by Sarah Fielke

Website — BOM — Instagram — Facebook — Twitter

Sarah Fielke is an award winning quilt designer from Sydney, Australia. In her 24 years in the quilting industry, her 14 best selling quilt books have sold over 200,000 copies worldwide and have been translated into 5 languages. Sarah’s quilts have roots in both modern and traditional quilting, making her a firm favourite with quilters new and old. She describes her quilts as “contemporary traditional”.​

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