Workshop Wednesday: Hand Quilting with Big Stitches

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I will be the first to admit that technically speaking, I am not a quilter, I am a piecer. I love selecting the fabrics for a quilt and putting together creative combinations – I love seeing how interesting my blocks are once they sewn. What I DO NOT love doing is quilting! Yikes, I know! How dare I say such a thing?! But it’s the truth. My mom has a long arm machine and I happily pass along my finished quilt tops to her to do my quilting. I also have absolutely no patience for hand quilting at this point in my life. However, lately I have become quite infatuated with mini quilts and big stitch quilting seems just the right speed for my many little projects.

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perle cotton

Big Stitch quilting, sometimes referred to as Utility Quilting, is a method of hand quilting that uses longer stitch lengths (1/4”) and thicker threads – most commonly #8 perle cotton. The stitching shows more prominently on the quilt than machine stitching and adds an extra layer of design to the finished quilt. Big stitching has many other benefits as well: it creates a softness to the quilt that’s is not seen with machine quilting, it provides strong graphic vibes, it’s fast and it’s therapeutic (aaahhhhh!).

I perused Pinterest this morning and found some fun examples of this type of quilting:

Log Cabin Mini by Crazy Mom Quilts

Log Cabin Mini by Crazy Mom Quilts

Square Flair by Rachel Daisy

Square Flair by Rachel Daisy

Big Stitching by Victoria Gertenbach

Big Stitching by Victoria Gertenbach

Nightingale by Minick and Simpson

Nightingale by Minick and Simpson

Only a few basic tools are needed to do big stitch quilting. You will need a quilting hoop (not an embroidery hoop as they are too flimsy for quilting projects) as well as a thimble and small scissors. You will also need #8 perle cotton (or something comparable) and thicker needles with large eyes such as Fons & Porters Utility Quilting Needles Size 5.

The Quilter's Bible

The Quilter’s Bible

Having never tried big stitch quilting myself, I watched a short tutorial on Youtube by renowned Australian quilter Sarah Fielke, which gave me a good grasp on how to maneuver my needle through the fabric to get a nice, even stitches and also how to hide my knots at the beginning and end of stitching. There is also a book called The Quilter’s Bible by Tone Finnanger that has a nice section specifically on big stitch quilting and would make a great addition to any quilter’s book collection.

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My blocks

Now that I’ve done a bit of research, I realize that there is nothing to be scared of when it comes to big stitch quilting. In fact, it looks quite fun, easy and fast! I occasionally have a block that I’ve made for a quilt that I find, ultimately, just doesn’t fit in with the other blocks. I throw all of my “reject” blocks into a storage box with every intention of finding a use for them later (I’m sure you know how that goes!). Also in that box, which is labeled UFOs of course, are several mini quilts that I have pieced but never quilted. I’m going to be using this box of goodies to practice my own big stitch quilting. The cold, dark evenings of winter lend themselves well to sitting in front of the tv and doing some hand sewing so I’m going to spend some time over the next couple of months practicing my technique on my box of UFOs. As spring approaches (not nearly fast enough for my liking!) I can see myself packing up some mini quilts to be big stitch quilted while I’m traveling or even while I’m just hanging in the backyard with my dogs. Big stitching on a small project can be a nice, portable project to take along anyplace.

If you are looking to try big stitch quilting, using one of these small and easy patterns, is a great place to start. (insert pics of table runner pattern and hexagonal pillow pattern here) The Big Stitch Table Runner Pattern consists of easy-to-piece square patches and the Hexagon Pillow Pattern requires a bit more skill to piece the hexagons together – but don’t sweat it, you can do it! Both patterns feature big stitch quilting that adds some funk and pizzazz to the projects.

Once you’ve got the hang of this fun style of quilting, venture on to bigger things! Not only can you big stitch quilt little projects like I’m doing, but you can also big stitch a full sized quilt! Check out some books like Jen Kingwell’s Quilt Lovely and Tula Pink’s Quilts from The House of Tula Pink  to get some great ideas. Both Jen and Tula design beautiful quilts and oftentimes use big stitch quilting to finish their quilts.

So, on one of the cold, dark evenings ahead, pull out a small UFO and try your hand at Big Stitch Quilting. It just may be your new passion!

– Anissa

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