is there a “right way” to hand quilt?

I have been hand quilting for about 6 years now, and for the last few years I have been doing a lot of reading about quilting in books and on the internet.  I have heard of a lot of “rules” for good hand quilting: you must use a quilting frame or your quilt will not be square, you must thread baste the layers together, you must learn the traditional rocking motion quilting with the correct thimble, you must use the acceptable needle, you must have 12 or more stitches per inch, you must use the correct batting, you must select the correct thread and fabric, you must use the correct marking technique and the correct marking pen, you must not wash a quilt or it will distort your quilting, you must do the binding correctly……………….I could fill a page with ” you must” statements.

Let me assure you that the only thing that you must do is ENJOY IT!!

One of the things that in retrospect was a big help to me is that no one taught me how to quilt, so I had no one telling me I was doing it wrong.  I figured it out as I went along in a way that worked for me.  I would not expect any other quilter to change their methods and quilt as I do, and likewise I don’t think other quilters should expect me to learn to quilt “the right way”.  I already know how to quilt the right way….my way….the way I enjoy is the right way….don’t be afraid to do it your way!!

My way is in a hoop, with a homemade thumb thimble,  pin basting the three layers together, sometimes marking (with a blue wash away marker), sometimes not marking at all, using which ever needle I think is most appropriate for the thread and fabric and batting I am using, sometimes using wool batting, sometimes cotton, sometimes thick heavy cotton (warm and natural), sometimes a very thick polyester…. the bottom line is I don’t have rules….the rule is to do whatever works for the look I am going for.

Here are a few pictures of the quilting I have done on some quilts….it is not all the same…the quilting depends on the quilt (click Pictures to enlarge)

I would never claim that my quilts are perfect….but I am happy with them, and that is what is most important to me.  So what about “the rules”? ….Here is the gist, a practical list of “don’ts” for you.:  don’t be afraid to try new things, don’t be afraid to make a mistake, don’t let anyone tell you there is only one way to do anything………DO have fun!!

Happy Quilting


68 thoughts on “is there a “right way” to hand quilt?

  1. Gerrie says:

    Very nice, Tim! Your words help those of who tend toward perfectionism at the expense of enjoyment. The quilts are beautiful.

  2. threadlore says:

    Eloquently said Tim. Too many rules get in the way of enjoyment. It is always good to be reminded. Happy Holidays!

  3. Cathi says:

    This post should be required reading! I think some of us get paralyzed by fear of not making the perfect stitch. Thank you — the post really encouraged me to get quilting and stop worrying about the quilt police!

  4. audrey says:

    Thank you for a great post. You have been a huge inspiration to me as I have read about the many different ways you approach the hand quilting on each quilt you work on. I absolutely love to hand quilt, yet have been made to feel embarrassed about my work because of it’s ‘irregularities’. So crazy, when I’m one of the first to admire the spontaneity resulting from individualism.:)

    • timquilts says:

      Hi Audrey…..I so agree about the “spontaneous individualism” being the part that draws one to a quilt! I think that is the point of hand quilting rather than machine….never be embarrassed!

  5. I don’t follow the rules either! I follow my own way of quilting – also self taught. I do not use a hoop nor a frame. I quilt with everything in my lap in my comfy chair. Smaller quits get pin basted and larger quilts are thread basted. My stitches are not 12 to the inch and I’m fine with that! Rock on hand quilting!

  6. wordpressreport says:

    Reblogged this on WordPress Report.

  7. adaisygarden says:

    The quilts that get my attention and I enjoy looking at are usually the ones that you can tell right away it’s been hand-quilted — because the stitches aren’t perfect!

  8. Ann Hancock says:

    When you said “here is the gist, a practical list of don’ts for you”, I could hear Laurie singing the refrain of the song from “Oklahoma!” one of my favorite musicals! Thanks for that day brightener, and for a wonderful post. Sometimes we lose sight of what is truly important. Thanks for the reminder 🙂

  9. karen says:

    You are so right Tim – too many that want to try hand quilting are scared away from it because of all the “rules” I keep telling people you don’t need to follow the rules just do what is comfortable and enjoyable for you.

  10. Karen Beckley says:

    I so enjoy seeing your work. We hand quilters are a dieing breed.

  11. Louise says:

    Thank you Tim for this post. I do not look for perfection but I do look for character in quilts. My mother once called me a folk art quilter. That was her nice way of saying I was not very good in her eyes. Her stitches were tiny and even. Mine are not tiny and sometimes not even but I love every stitch I put into my quilts! I am happy being a “folk art” quilter!

  12. Nina-Marie says:

    Its nice to see that people are still hand quilting – I do at least one piece that is hand quilted and truly love it. After 20 yrs of wielding a thimble – I don’t listen to rules – but I’m thankful that Ami Simms got me started on the right track to begin with. I use a thimble and I like size 12 needles since i can get my stitches even and tiny – and I use whatever thread and design is appropriate to the piece. I don’t like to mark since there might be trouble getting out marks, and some of the new markers are proving to eat away at the fabric over time (:() . Great post!

  13. Laura Gottlieb says:

    Your quilting is lavish, creative, and breathtaking and it honors the quilt tops you buy and then quilt. It’s a wonderful combination.

  14. Linda Cronise says:

    Hi Tim,
    I think you are exactly right. To me, it is like writing. Everyone holds the pencil differently and there really isn’t a right way to do it. It has to be what is right for you. I am left handed and when I was young teachers tried to change me to being right handed. It didn’t work. I am sure that
    I don’t quilt correctly but it suits me and I get alot of complements on my work.

  15. Chris says:

    As a quilter your interpretation of quilting is no different than an artist and they way they paint. It is an art and they way you do it is just fine and very rewarding for you. The same is true for a machine qulter. There are no “Quilt Police”. Contrary to popular belief everyone has their own methods. Your floral arranging is your own style also. You do lovely work and it is rewarding for you so “must do” things are a bad term because you “must do” as you see fit. Keep up the beautiful hand quilting “Tim’s Way”

  16. Jill says:

    Well stated Time!!

  17. Sue says:

    Tim, there are just too many ‘rules’ with quilting in general. I personally have fallen off the wagon of rules because I’m tired of everyone scrutinizing my piecing, quilting, whatever. I couldn’t agree more that the way to do it, is the way that feels and works best for you.
    Enough of the quilting police!

  18. Jeanne says:

    I discovered your blog earlier this year, and you are an inspiration! I know every project is different and special, but in general how much time (a day? a week?) do you spend hand quilting? You certainly must have other things to do in life, but you get such an incredible amount of quilting done it seems you must spend every waking minute at it.

  19. realgffood says:

    Thank you Tim! The more I have learned about quilting, the less joy I have as I have become critical of my work. This post helps me to feel better and the fact that you have taken others’ work that was not perfect, but saw value in it and completed it.
    P.S. My kids will be making snowflakes…love them!

  20. […] – Thank you, Tim! It helps to know that, since my hands don’t work quite right for hand-sewing, a professional sees nothing wrong with doing it “my way.” […]

  21. You must be doing it ‘right’ because your quilting is beautiful!

  22. Splinter says:

    Dear Tim, what you are doing right is enjoying quilting. That’s the only thing that has to be right. And it shows in your quilts, I love your work! Thanks for sharing your thoughts, I am fully with you.

  23. Sue Matlock says:

    Tim, thanks for saying this. You have beautiful quilts and i appreciate that you quilt your way. I have been told that I have to use a frame or hoop, but I have to have my fabric, needle, and thread very close to my face in order to see it well, so I quilt without a hoop and lots of pins or basting and it works fine for me. Also, my hands are to big for betweens and I have trouble with thimbles not fitting well, so I use sharps for appliqué and quilting and just get callouses…eventually. But I love to hand quilt, so that’s the way I do it…. Sue at

  24. All I need to say is “well said”

  25. jolcrafty says:

    Thank you for that, I agree no rules but what makes you happy!

  26. Faith Swanson says:

    I absolutely adore your work. Thank you for your encouragement.

  27. Una says:

    Hear, hear! I love, love your words in this post, your quilt tops and how your love for them shows in your quilting. In stitches, Una

  28. Terry cortez says:

    Well said Tim. Found your blog a few weeks ago and now read it faithfully. Not only am I taken by your quilting, but am enthralled by the quilting patterns you decide on. Each one is so individual and so suited to each quilt. I fought machine quilting for a long time and finally succumbed, but there is nothing like the look of a hand quilted piece. I currently have two quilts (both done by others and bought by me) that I have slowly been working on. You are a true inspiration and love the fact that you bring old tops to life. Merry Christmas to you.


  29. Janet Cooper says:

    Yikes!! Whoever thought that 12 stitches to the inch was a good idea?
    I am a big fan of ‘big’ quilting, like sashiko stitches, used to outline appliques and other block elements. At the same time I am in awe of those Amish ladies and their tiny quilting stitches. I am somewhere in between.
    I so totally agree with you that the only thing you MUST do is have FUN!

  30. fay says:

    There’s rules? 😉 Actually, my understanding about the more intricate quilting like Welsh quilting is that it leaves room open for inspiration. When those people back in the day would crank out those quilts, they would do it rather quickly because the motivation was to get the quilt done, not to be perfect. All those loops and curves hide inconsistencies as opposed to straight lines. It must be why I love it so much.

  31. katechiconi says:

    A voice of reason, creating a thing of beauty. Thank God for someone who doesn’t lay down the law, making you feel inadequate if you don’t do microscopically perfect teeny tiny stitches. I spent nearly a year hand piecing and then hand quilting my own bed quilt. I’ve had more than one dismissive comment that my stitches are rather large… I don’t make quilts for shows, but for my friends and family, and if I want to use a large stitch, I will. Thank you, I enjoyed this a lot.

  32. Lori says:

    I make what I like too. Most of the time I don’t use a pattern. I quilt on a round quilting Frame. Your quilts are beautiful. And, the examples you show and give are easy to understand. All the rules in some of the books will make folk not want to quilt at all!
    Happy sewing, Lorij

  33. Kerry Brown says:

    Right on! I quilt patchwork tops that my grandmother pieced before she passed away in her nineties. It gives me great joy. I am not a perfect quilter, and these tops aren’t pieced perfectly. Doesn’t matter. They are for utility. I have a full time job, two very busy daughters, and a husband. Quilting is usually the only thing I do that doesn’t have to be hurried in my day. Uneven stitches? Pieced corners a little off? So what, it’s still a warm quilt for someone that means so much.
    Quilt on, Tim!


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