Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Needle and Thread, Etc.

Thank you for all of the nice comments about my hand quilting post last week. I suspected that there were quite a few of you who were interested in trying this and it seems I was right.


Quilting can be such an individual "sport." It's difficult to give recommendations when what I suggest may not be close to being right for you. You have to experiment with the tools available and find what works best.

But, since you asked:  While there are probably many good quilting threads out there that will suit you just fine, my all-time favorite hand quilting thread is the YLI brand. It's a 100% cotton thread with a glazed finish. I'm partial to the light brown as it goes well with light and dark fabrics and gives a nice primitive touch to my small quilts. I have several colors and interchange them depending upon the quilt.  


Needles:  I wish I could be more specific but I am sorry to tell you that there is no CORRECT needle to use for hand quilting. Because everyone is different, what is comfortable for me to use may not be right for you. The needle you use makes a huge difference. It should be one you can handle and thread easily or your quilting adventures will be disappointing and frustrating. You will need to select the needle you feel most comfortable using and should try several to see which one fits YOU. Don't give up on quilting until you try several different needle sizes and brands. I often use a different needle depending upon the fabric used in the project I am quilting or how my hands are feeling that day. 


Many quilters use a traditional "Between" needle which is short, sturdy and thicker than most hand sewing needles. This is the needle most often recommended when you are just beginning to quilt. But, understand that not every needle is the perfect fit for every quilter, particularly when you are just starting out. With needles, the larger the number, the smaller the needle size. If you look at some you will see that the larger numbered needles are smaller and finer. My advice is  - Don't start out with a size 12 quilting needle or you may become discouraged. They're very small and, for me, sometimes difficult to handle and control since my fingers are rather clumsy. When I first began to quilt, I assumed it was a RULE that you had to use a small Between. While many experienced hand quilters may like them, they may not be your best choice until you gain some proficiency. If you decide to try this type of needle for your hand quilting, buy a slightly larger needle at first (smaller number, larger needle, remember?) and work your way up. Even now, I like the control that a longer needle gives me. It just feels better in my hand.


Over the years, I've tried several different needles. I found that while Betweens may work for some, when I quilted with a small Between my hand would hurt because the needle was too thick and I had a difficult time pushing it through the layers. My quilting reflected that struggle. The smaller Betweens were finer but I still had trouble handling them because they were TOO small for me. My preference now is to use a Milliner's needle (or Straw needle), which is long and thin and allows me to sew through the layers more easily than those thick Between needles. Beginners may find that they are much easier to handle and that some brands will slide through the fabric with ease. I've also discovered that a "Sharp" needle glides through the quilt better than a Between and eases the stress on my hand.


Bottom line: My quilting improved when I began to use a longer, thinner needle instead of the tiny needle other quilters told me I should be using. I found I could also load more stitches on the needle and my hand did not tire as rapidly. Know what? The Quilt Police won't even know what needle you're using. Do what makes quilting enjoyable for you. 


You can see I don't do much fancy stitching. Lots of straight lines. 

Try several different needles and sizes until you find the one that is most comfortable to use. Focus on being able to quilt a straight line at first. When your stitches become smaller with practice and you gain proficiency you can always switch to a smaller needle and do fancier quilting. Some companies sell needle assortments so you can try several different-sized needles in one package and see which one you like best. 


Here are a few good quality needles to try - 

Foxglove Cottage  - I use Jeana Kimball's size 8 Milliner's or Straw needles for hand quilting. These are my favorite needles. Long and thin but strong. 
John James Gold'n Glide needles - I like these for applique. Have also used their Milliner's and Sharps. Their quilting needles have been recommended to me. Have not tried them yet but plan to try the size 9 (although, these still look pretty small) 
Richard Hemming needles - I have tried the size 10 Milliner's needles for quilting. They also make large eye quilting needles.
Clover Black Gold needles - I've heard these are good. Haven't tried them.
Tulip Hiroshima needles -  I've heard very good things about these too and mean to pick up some soon. A little more pricey than the others.


Batting is important as well. Again, everyone who quilts has a favorite batting and the one I use may not be one you will like. For what it's worth, my favorite is the Fairfield brand 100% natural cotton batting made by the Polyfil Company. Low loft, very thin, easy to quilt through. Let me repeat that -  a thin batting is easier to quilt through. It also gives your small quilts that antique look. Shrinks a little when washed so your quilt will pucker slightly after it dries. Keep in mind that heavier battings like Warm & Natural are great for large machine-quilted quilts but can make hand quilting your small quilt extremely difficult. Why not make it as easy as possible? I've heard that some quilters use flannel but I have never tried it on my small quilts. I like a batting that gives a little body to my project and I'm not sure flannel will do that. But I may still try it one day. Polyester batting will make your quilt look too puffy so avoid those. Some swear by wool. I found what I like and I stick with it. Cotton works for me. Try some different kinds. 

You asked: No, I do not use a hoop. I tried it and now just prefer to quilt on my lap. Usually with my feet up. I place my pin-basted, marked project on top of a cushioned lap desk (see photo below). The lap desk sits on top of a small pillow which is then placed upon my lap. The top of the lap desk is flat and supports my hands and wrists when I sew. As unconventional as it sounds, it's a perfect solution for me and reduces any neck or shoulder stress. The pillow raises my quilt to a comfortable level where I can see what I'm stitching without contorting my neck or getting eyestrain because it's too far away.  I can also lean back on a sofa pillow, tilt the desk and lift up my knees on the couch to support the pillow underneath if I feel like it. My back and shoulders are more relaxed when I'm not hunched over. Way too much information??  What can I say -  I like to get comfy cozy when I quilt. 


I know that there is a lot to learn - you have to be patient. Perfection does not come the first time you quilt. Also, keep in mind I am not an expert. I just know what works for me to help me do the kind of quilting I choose to do right now, which is simple, enjoyable stuff. Who knows - I may aspire to become a much better quilter and quilt feathers someday when I retire and have more time. That's not feasible for me right now.


There are many resources for all of this on the internet so do some research. YouTube has numerous hand quilting videos and Craftsy even has an online class or two.  Think about my suggestions or ask around at your local shop or guild. And then, go ahead, mark your quilt and get started! Hand quilting is fun. But you won't really know until you try.


34 comments:

Frankie said...

I do so agree with you about choosing the right needle for hand quilting. My quilting is much more enjoyable since I switched from Betweens to a Sharp needle. There are no rules about this stuff. I'm using silk wadding for my small quilts at the moment and loving it. It's very easy to work with and I really like the puffiness. I've very much enjoyed your posts on hand quilting. As you say, it doesn't have to be perfect and it's quick and fun. I can't wait for your new book, I hope it makes its way to the UK shops before Christmas.

ruthie said...

Very good information. I want to try the straw needles. Thank you.

Beth C said...

Kathy, I've never read a more excellent or thorough discussion on hand quilting, enjoyed every word. Your little quilts pictured here are so soft and sweet, I'm really tempted to try now!

Carolknits said...

You are amazing-your words ring true with me and you say them so eloquently:) I love your work and your blog. Thanks for your help and encouragement.
Carol

Jean Belle said...

Thanks for sharing your methods with all of us. I have used a double layer of flannel in a few small quilts and find that it makes them much stiffer than my regular thin batting. I'd recommend it in a quilt for hanging on a wall - it will stay flat better, but it doesn't drape softly so avoid flannel if you like a softer quilt.

Themis Abdo said...

Thank you, I like all your posts. Regards from Brazil.

Debra said...

Hi, Kathleen

This was a very timely post for me. Just yesterday I started to hand quilt "Cherry Baskets", when I decided to try using a sharp rather than my usual size 11 between. I discovered that my stitches were more even and uniform, and the needle seemed to pass through the fabric layers with more ease. Since I began quilting during the 1980's, I was always striving for tiny stitches, but now I feel free to do as I like, thanks to you.

Kathleen Tracy said...

Jean - I will have to try a double layer of flannel. As long as it's easy to quilt through. Thanks for the tip!

Kathleen Tracy said...

I'm happy to see some of you are using a Sharp needle too! I never felt comfortable sharing that as I thought some quilters would frown upon it since it was not a traditional Between needle. Perhaps the quilting I do is not traditional either since, while I aspire to tiny stitches, I don't always make it. Oh well : ) I won't feel bad if you won't feel bad. It's still more fun than stressful.

jane nj/wi said...

You know Kathy if I still lived in Illinois you could come and "borrow" any needle on the market. I am a confirmed "toolie". I love trying new things and reading about them. I, ahem, don't awkward get right on them but when mood strikes late at night or Sunday's I am armed and dangerous. My LQS up here has a super owner who stitches everything and has gotten into wool very heavily. If you have local friends have a "stitch in" and make samples. I did that with wool with a small talented group I sewed with. Being the short ball hitter I always learned a lot. They made out as I had a good stash. I may never be a great hand quilter and arthritis isn't helping but it is interesting and I keep trying.

linda said...

Thank you so much Kathleen for sharing your creativity, knowledge, experience, and preferences. I truly appreciate it! I am looking forward to continuing my quilting journey! I do a lot of wool appliqué and I use a cushion with a small bread board on top in my lap. My homemade version of a lap desk. It's very comfortable for me as well

farmhousequilter8 said...

You know now everyone will want the pattern for the needlekeep! Love your quilts. Paula in KY

Jennifer M said...

Beautiful job at an introduction to hand quilting. I have never tried a sharp but plan to now:)Thank you so much!

Anonymous said...

Kathleen, thanks so much for the great post on hand quilting. Have not hand quilted in a few years now but wanting to get back to it. Will definitely try the straw needle, have only ever used them for applique. Thanks again, you're terrific!

Heartsdesire said...

Great information, Kathy. Thanks for this wonderful post. Never thought to use a Milliner's needle, but I'm certainly going to try one. I love hand quilting, but have always been frustrated by it, just couldn't seem to get the stitches consistent. Perhaps with a different needle, I will be more comfortable with it.

cityquilter grace said...

black gold are good quality needles but hard to see on darker fabrics...fyi

Mary Ann said...

Thank you for the wonderful information. I love hand quilting and enjoyed reading what works for you.

Karen Miersma said...

Thanks for the great information. Your quilts are darling. I was wondering what you use on the finger underneath the quilt. I keep pricking it and have to stop for a few days for it to heal.

Rosa said...

I handquilting too and I agree woth you for choosing the right needle for handquilting, my best one is the small one and try to make small stitches.Thanks for the tips.

Anonymous said...

Great info! Will print this off to keep handy. I used to hand quilt more but now have some arthritis so your needle recommendations are good and will try. I have been using the betweens in size 11-12. I still like the hand quilted look as opposed to machine, which I do. I also quilt without a hoop, in a recliner where I can bend my knees up.
Thanks and love your blog. ~ Jody Randall

ferne said...

Loved this post! I was just cleaning the garage the other day and saw a lap desk that I thought I should get rid of because it is not being used. So glad I didn't I think I might love this for my hand sewing! I have so much trouble getting comfortable doing it sitting on the couch and that is where I would love to do my hand sewing. Thanks for sharing! I love your thoughts on needles I was concerned because I kept trying the 'proper' quilting needle and hated it. You're right the longer one feels better in my hand and so much easier for me to thread.

Trudi said...

Brilliant post Kathleen! Do you use a thimble when you hand quilt? If so, which one do you recommends? I also would love to know more about your lovely needle keep.

Kathleen Tracy said...

Ladies - Thanks for all the nice comments. The pattern for the Civil War "Huswife" needle case is in my book "Remembering Adelia." Very, very simple to make. I have made so many of these as gifts.

Kathleen Tracy said...

Linda - what a clever idea to use a bread board. Anything sturdy and flat with a pillow underneath will do. I'll have to remember that but I am so attached to my little lap desk. Bought one for my daughter in black and pink since someone in the house is always "borrowing" mine : )

Kathleen Tracy said...

I have not found the perfect thimble yet. I hate wearing thimbles. I have a leather one that is just okay and I wear that at times. I like to be able to feel the needle so my fingers are somewhat callused. I have not tried the silver one that so many quilters recommend - the one that costs $100 plus. Can't bring myself to spend that much since I have doubts it will be comfortable for me. I do wear a small flexible fabric band aid on the finger underneath.

Let me know if nay of you have found the perfect thimble that does not cost an arm and a leg.

Sheila said...

Thank you for the information. I'm new to quilting and made a quilt,which I was going to hand quilt. In buying everything for it, they're telling me this needle (size10,) big eye quilting, very small. Then to pick out a thimble, which I can't seem to keep on my finger, hoop. Long story short, I got very frustrated and took it to be longarm quilted.
In reading your post this morning, I had the needle by foxglove cottage and tried one in a wool wallhanging that I'm doing and so far I liking it. I will have to try a small quilt sometime. I also didn't care for the hoop, either.
Thanks again and so sorry for the long comment.

Kathleen Tracy said...

Sheila - I know exactly how you feel - I went through the same thing and was always frustrated by my seeming lack of ability until I figured out the recommended methods or tools did not work for ME. You have to experiment to find out what does. No one really tells you that. Good luck! Don't give up.

Heather J said...

You have a very uplifting and encouraging way when you talk about hand quilting. It is great that you take our discouraging self talk and put it into a positive. I noticed on a comment you left in the last post that you are not comfortable with machine quilting. You said something along the lines of 'I am not as good at it as I would like.' So I feel compelled to repeat your own words and say that these small quilts are a perfect size to get more practice on. And you will likely improve with repetition. It is my hope that you give yourself the same uplifting positive message. It holds true for both hand and machine quilting.

TakeMeThereTotes said...

I am so glad you discussed batting in this post. I have found batting makes such a difference to the final quilt. I have rediscovered hand quilting this year and have enjoyed it so much. I am using a large needle and perle cotton thread because it is so much easier on my hands. I agree quilting is a personal preference skill and you have explain the subject so well and thoroughly.

sue said...

Thanks for permission to do my own thing when "trying" to hand quilt. I have always been uncomfortable using a hoop and also those ultra short needles. Haven't become proficient but your hints make me want to try yet again.

Kathleen Tracy said...

Heather - thanks for the kind comment. I would like to be better at machine quilting but please don't think I am beating myself up over it. The only thing keeping me from getting better is time - it's something I have not taken the time to practice or learn. I am usually making quilts on deadline and so the quickest thing for me to do is fall back on my hand quilting since I am more comfortable that the quilt will turn out a little nicer if I do it that way. But someday I hope to take a class or learn some machine quilting techniques. Like everyone else, right now all I need is more time . . .

Ann in PA said...

Kathy, Thank you for the great information on hand-quilting. You know I'm a fan. It's so relaxing. Some Betweens do seem to be too fat to glide easily through certain fabrics and batting, so I can't wait to try Milliners and Sharps. I use the desktop and pillow set up for applique but now I need to try it for quilting. Thanks for sharing all the great ideas and for keeping the art of quilting alive!

quiltgrannie said...

Such an inspiration Kathy!! Thanks for sharing all your hand quilting tips with us. I have good day's and bad day's of hand quilting. Most likely a combination of things happening.

La Mañosa said...

Wow, thanks for sharing these tips! It sounds like I should give hand quilting another try with different needles and maybe a different batting.

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