Stitch Regulation in Hand Quilting…should the back look the same as the front?

I have been asked frequently about stitches per inch in hand quilting.   How many should there be?   How do I count them?   I did a post last year about stitches per inch here

A related topic is what the stitches look like on the back.

I was once told, when I was new to hand quilting, that quilt judges look at the back of the quilt as much as they look at the front and the stitches on the back should look just like the stitches on the front.   I am not a quilt judge and I honestly don’t know if all  quilt judges do that but it did influence how I quilt.

It is hard to describe how to make the stitches the same front and back but here is a stab at it.

The length of each stitch should be the same as the length of the space between the stitches.


If you look at the needle with a few stitches loaded on in the picture what I try to do is make the white fabric part and the silver needle that shows between the white parts be the same length.    Where you see the needle segment will become the top stitch and where you see the white will be the stitch on the back.

That is not easy to see so lets look at a sample with more contrast. (click on pictures to enlarge)


what I am going for here is even front and back stitches.   I want the length of the stitch to be the same as the gap between the stitches.

A look at the back will show stitches the look similar.


If I decrease the space between the stitches it looks like this on the front.


there isn’t a lot of difference between the first sample on the left and the one where the stitches are closer together on the right but if you look at the back it becomes more apparent.


I think you can see that the stitches on the back are noticeably smaller on the sample on the right.

If I exaggerate the stitches and make them longer and keep the space between small it looks like this


and the back really shows the difference


Will the quilt police come and take you away if your stitches aren’t the same front and back?  of course not!

sometimes you may want to take long stitches and small spaces between as in big stitch quilting.

I do try most often to make the front and back look the same but that is a personal preference.

In this quilt I have a hard time finding which is the front (I added a hanging sleeve so now it is easy to see)


here is a picture of it while I was working on it that shows both front and back

red thread whole cloth progress 010

not perfect but they look almost the same.

On this quilt I was frustrated with marking it .  It was hard to mark on the prints and still be able to see the marking


What I did is outline stitch all of the blocks from the front and then turn over the quilt and mark it on the back .   I could see the block pattern because I outline quilted them all and then I quilted it from the back.   It looks the same as if I had done it from the front.

2010_06185-3-11-signature0014 2010_06185-3-11-signature0024

I hope that all makes sense.  But remember the most important thing is to have fun!    My stitches are far from perfect but I think if I tried really hard I might be able to get pretty close to perfect and I think it would take away all the fun!

Yesterday I posted about the finished star quilt.    I took some pictures today of it after washing it and drying it so here they are (click pictures to enlarge)

Can you tell the Teddy really likes it?

Happy Quilting


22 thoughts on “Stitch Regulation in Hand Quilting…should the back look the same as the front?

  1. Helen says:

    Looks like it’s Teddy’s Star !?!!
    It is simply stunning what you have made of this quilt!
    If only the maker could see it, she/he would be very happy I think!

  2. Susan Dileanis says:

    Thanks to you I am getting back into hand quilting. I am working on some old dresden plate blocks from the 30’s that a friend of mine got at a garage sale for 25 cents. Do you have a brand of needles that you like to use and what size do you use? Thanks so much for such a wonderful blog.

    • timquilts says:

      I like John James #11 betweens I started out with #9 needles and as I did more quilting I found I could use a smaller needle….i sometimes use a #12 for very small stitches but they are a real pain to thread!!

  3. Robert B says:

    Very timely post. I had bought a smaller pre-printed piece a few years ago and pulled it out to start learning hand quilting this evening. Both posts helped me to understand that even stitches is better for me to strive for than number of stitches. The number can be increased as I get better.

    And I love the photos of Teddy. What a good companion. My best friend left me in May of this year and I miss him very much. Teddy shows me what a good friend he is to you.

  4. peppercory says:

    Similar but not exactly the same. The back of a quilt, for me, is another country. I love it when I turn over a quilt and see what the stitches and backing fabric make.

  5. Marilyn says:

    I enjoyed your article on hand quilting. I am relatively new in making quilts. I word it this way as I only have made tops! I do have a few tops done and more that have been set aside, temporarily of course. Tying quilts (me) or a long arm quilter has completed another quilt for me.

    Currently I am working on a quilt for one of my grand-daughters and am hand sewing it. Maybe I will give hand quilting a try.

  6. Deb says:

    (stitches are far from perfect but I think if I tried really hard I might be able to get pretty close to perfect and I think it would take away all the fun!)
    I agree whole hearty with that statement!! I’m not a machine so I want my quilts to have character . 🙂
    Scratch Teddy behind his ear, and tell him I think he’s cute .

  7. katechiconi says:

    Your stitches are very much more perfect than mine, but I’m OK with my big stitch quilting. My arthritic hands are not up to the fine control needed for the tiny ones, and as you say, the quilt police are not checking my work. So long as the layers are held together, and it looks acceptable, I’m happy!

  8. Lesley Petri says:

    Thank you Tim for explaining stitch length. I am new to hand quilting. Could you suggest the needle size and length for me.

    • timquilts says:

      For hand quilting with regular hand quilting thread ( 40 weight glazed thread like coats cotton or gutterman or YLI hand quilting thread) I use a #11 John James between needle…..when I started I used a #9 which is much bigger and as I got better I worked down to a smaller size…..for big stitch quilting with perle cotton thread I use a size 5 embroidery needle. each quilter is different so It might help to test out several different sizes and find what works best for you. Fonz and porter has a mixed package of hand quilting needles in different sizes and that would be a way to try out a few

  9. Ruth Bridges says:

    Just wanted to say glad I found your Blog .This post about quilting stitches (front vs back) was a light bulb moment-never read that anywhere ( about the spacing) Its like “oh…Okay.Love the Interplay Quilt..I think the quilting is what will “make” this quilt special…can’t wait to see it when its done, someday. 🙂

  10. Rebecca says:

    Thank you so much for this post! You explained things so well. I have a quilt my paternal Grandmother started, my Mom finished the top, and then it was passed on to me. I will be hand quilting it and I am still learning about hand quilting, so this really helped. The Wonky Star is fabulous! What a transformation from what you started with! I think it must be Teddy’s favorite.

    • timquilts says:

      it is wonderful that you have a family top to quilt!! I hope that you enjoy doing it! glad the post was helpful 🙂
      Teddy does like that star….it turned out very soft

  11. Karen Young says:

    Oh thank you, thank you, thank you! I’ve pieced parts of several different (to be quilts in the future) – but I finally started to actually hand “quilt” for the first time recently. The quilt is flannel and it’s for my two year old granddaughter – I’m quilting around the figures and when I look at the back – well, it hardly looks like the same outlines – but, I’m thinking when I get better at the stitch lengths being the same – and get more done – that it will start looking more like it “should” – but I had come to the same conclusion you have – I’m having fun – I like hand quilting instead of machine quilting – and it will be quilted one way or the other 🙂 – she will know it was made with love – by her nana 🙂 Thank you again – and your work – and puppy – are beautiful! Nana Karen


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