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“Quilting” is the act of sewing stitches through all 3 layers of your quilt. This locks the layers together and gives a quilt its characteristic puffiness and grooves. The tension of the stitches holding the top and back together form the deep contours.
There are specialized, “long arm” sewing machines made for quilting. But I prefer doing this by hand with just a needle and thread. It certainly takes longer, but I think it’s worth the extra effort.
I vividly remember the first queen-size piece I hand quilted. I spent the whole month of December stitching at my kitchen table. Passing a needle through the fabric, pulling the thread tight, one stitch at a time, listening to audiobooks.
I love the calming rhythm. It’s become one of my favorite parts of making quilts. The perfect balance of engaging my hands and freeing my mind to wander. It can feel meditative, like the cadence of a heart beat.
You don’t need many tools: needle and thread, scissors, and a thimble is about it. I prefer to use Japanese Sashiko thread. It’s a thicker cotton thread that will last a long time and has a distinct look. You’ll need to get special Sashiko needles too. They have an eye that’s larger to accommodate the thicker thread.
Sashiko stitching has a fascinating history, and in many ways it mirrors quilting. The earliest examples of it were done out of practicality, repairing worn-out clothing. It evolved into a decorative art and was even used to help make garments for firemen.
When I’m quilting I feel a sense of freedom to move around and take my project with me. Since the quilt is now pinned together you can roll it up and take it outside to sit and work for a while. There’s something ancient and spiritual about listening to nature or huddling near a fire while working with your hands.
If you’re having trouble threading your needle you can try rubbing the tiniest bit of candle or bees wax on your thread to help guide it through. Although you could trace an elaborate design for your stitches, I’ll be doing a simple pattern that follows the seams of the piecing. This is sometimes called “stitch in the ditch.”
Hand quilting is going to take a while, especially for larger pieces. For your first quilt I wouldn’t worry about placing the stitches tightly. It’s more important for the stitches to be consistent. For this design, I want the stitching to fade into the background and only serve to highlight the colors and design of the piecing.