Should You Mark or Not
when Hand Quilting

Hand quilting fills the area with beautiful tiny quilting stitches that are unmatched for soft curves, angles and density.



When done correctly there are no large, puffy, un-quilted areas left behind.

This small pillow is my first attempt at quilting years ago.

Every beginning quilter should try hand quilting at least on one project.


hand made quilts

Hand made quilts require that you mark a quilting design on your quilt top after it is pieced.

This is a task that takes a lot of time that no one sees. Think of it as a behind the scenes function that once the design has been drawn it is no longer needed.

This is in direct contrast to any thing you do when quilting. Quilting is for show and hand quilting is a showstopper.

However, whether you prefer to use a hoop, a floor frame that has a lot of nostalgia or a twenty-first century frame, the area in which you hand quilt must be comfortable with an inviting stitching environment.

In the winter months when it is cold outside, as often it is in Ohio, I enjoy snuggling with the quilt in my favorite chair as I quilt out of my lap using a hoop.

Because quilting is a sedentary activity I watch the evening news or listen to my favorite music. I even pop a 'bestseller' book in my CD player and listen while quilting. Don't forget take frequent breaks to rest the eyes and stretch the legs.

Mark using Quilting Templates
or Quilting Stencils

quilting tool

It's all about the quilting templates...extensive hand quilting patterns will elevate a ho hum top; but limited hand quilting stitches will diminish what would otherwise be a beautiful top.

Choosing a quilting style and design has always been a tough decision for most quilters whether they are hand quilting or machine quilting.

Often times when a quilter makes a quilt using a commercial pattern they also try to mimic the quilting stitches.

You see, they don't just half fall in love; they fall in love head over heels!

That is why you may want to discuss what is right for your quilt top with an experienced quilter.

Here is a page that may help you decide on a machine quilting design. Look around and you will find many, many free quilting instructions and ideas on this site!

Be sure and visit our Machine Quilting Patterns and Continuous Line Quilting patterns for quilting ideas on quilting quilts.

Feel free to print any pages on this web site as a reference tool. Or better yet, put us in your favorites and come back often.

There are also a large number of books that will help when deciding on the right quilting templates and hand quilting patterns.

So, next time you are at your favorite quilt shop don't overlook their display of books and patterns.

Stencils and templates have been used by quilters since the beginning of the quilting revolution.

You simply trace these quilting designs directly from a book or magazine that you have purchased. This gives you the right to use the design for your quilt only.

When using a commercial template you can mix and match several templates to achieve the design that will enhance your quilt top.

There is no limit as to what you can achieve with templates that you purchase.

There are three basic categories for when and how to mark your design: No Marking Needed; Mark as You Go; Mark Before You Baste.

Hand Quilting - No Marking Method

quilting stitches

Quilting in the ditch is an example of when no marking is needed on hand made quilts or a machine made quilt for that matter.

Quilting in the ditch works best when seams are pressed to one side; simply stitch along the side opposite the seam allowance side.

Make sure you follow the seam lines, thus making any marking of design unnecessary.

When stitching in the ditch simply place the line of quilting a needle's width from the seam line, away from the pressed seam allowance.

Always stay on the 'low' side of the seam, thus stitching in the ditch.

quilting stitches


Echo quilting is achieved by following the motif outline at measured distance from its outer edge.

Again, using the no marking needed method for hand quilting allows you to quilt out of your lap using a small quilting hoop.

Echo quilting creates a ripple effect, much like when you throw a stone in a pond.

The lines radiate out from the center by gradually increasing the distance between the lines of quilting.

Echo quilting also works well when dealing with applique designs also called 'lay on designs.

quilting stitches

An overall design, also, called free motion stippling, is another example of no marking needed before quilting.

Machine quilters stitch the motifs without following any pre-marked lines. When hand quilting and using the free motion technique, you have the option of marking or not.

You may prefer to mark your stitching lines to get a nice uniform look.

Free motion quilting requires a lot of practice when there are no lines to follow.

Because the feed dogs are lowered you will glide the quilt under the quilting foot.

The length of each stitch depends on how good you become at using a consistent movement.

Mark as You Go Method for Hand Quilting


quilt stencils

Using a small template or stencil such as a geometric shape, heart, or just straight lines you can achieve an overall design one-block-at-a-time.

Position your template on the block that fits in the quilting hoop or frame, mark and quilt; next reposition the hoop to start the process all over again.

A Neat Tip:

I cut a circle using 3/4-inch plywood slightly smaller than each one of my hoops; next I sanded the edges so as not to snag my quilt top.

I place the plywood circle inside the quilting hoop and under the quilt top to form a solid surface.

This provides a flat surface for marking the design on the quilt one block at a time, marking as I go.

quilting hoops

With a solid flat surface you will be able to draw background filler lines as you quilt then remove the wood circle and continue your hand quilting.

A Neat Tip: Or you can put the quilt in the hoop and pull it taut; then mark the design on the quilt block. If you find it difficult to mark the design on the taut top, try removing the hoop and place the quilt on a solid flat surface such as a table top and mark the design. Once the design has been marked, use a circular motion and run your fist underneath the hoop using a circular motion until the quilt has been slightly loosen in the hoop. Do this before you quilt.

Use a see through drafting ruler which is thinner and more flexible. Simply use a seam in the design to line up the ruler to achieve a straight line and be sure to hold the marking pencil perpendicular to the edge of the ruler.

Tip: I use a vanishing marking pencil for marking when hand quilting. This type marker is affected by humidity and vanishes quickly especially in the summer months in Ohio. But a vanishing marker works fine when using the method for marking as you go. These marks are easily removed when the quilting is finished by spraying with cold water.

TIP:A word of caution here; this type ink will become permanent if you apply heat, so do not use a hot iron or any heat for that matter like leaving your quilt in a hot car. Doing so will surely result in an unhappy experience.

If you have the luxury of owning a 2-Rail Roller frame but don't know how to load it we can help! Our Free 2-Rail Frame Mini Book is a PDF file that can be downloaded right here.

Mark Before You Baste Method
When Hand Quilting


quilting hoop

When you have a fancy all over design that must be strategically placed such as feathers, geometric designs, cables, vines and others, it is best to mark the quilt before you do any basting.

Templates and stencils come in many sizes and designs. But guess what, they will rarely be the size and exact design that you want.

This is where freezer paper performs its magic for you.

The coated side will adhere to fabric when positioned shiny side down on the fabric and pressed on the paper side (dull side) with a hot, dry iron.

It does not leave any sticky residue and will adhere until you pull it off.

quilt stencil

Trace patterns from books, stencils or create your own drawing on the paper side (dull side) of the freezer paper.

Once you are satisfied with your design and it fits your quilt block, darken the pencil lines with a black Sharpie fine-line marker.

The ink will show or bleed through to the vapor barrier (shiny side) but will not go any further. This becomes your master template.

Lay the quilt top wrong side up on an ironing board. Position your master template shiny side down to the back side of your quilt top placing it exactly where you want the design to be on the quilt top; next using a hot, dry iron press the master template to the quilt top.

Move your quilt top with the master template attached to your light box. If you don't have a light box learn how to build a light box.

Once you have transferred the design to the front side of the quilt top remove the master guide, reposition and press it to another section of the quilt for marking.

You can do this process 10 or 12 times before the freezer paper will not stick any more.

These designs can be saved for yet another quilt. Simply roll them up, mark it with identifiable information and store in a cool dry place.

You are now ready to baste your top, batting and backing together using your basting quilt frame.

Hand Quilting has Many Marking Tool Choices

quilting tool

Marking quilting accessories come in many style markers and erasers. Vanishing ink pencils and chalk markers are best used for mark as you go techniques. Since you will quilt marked sections in a short period of time, long term visibility is not necessary.

Quilter's Ultimate Marking Pencil is a mechanical pencil that makes a fine line. There is no reason to ever have to sharpen. The only draw back is that every line you put on you must take off.

To help in the removal process there is something called Sew-Clean and Marking Pencil Removal.

These products are liquid and you will need to mist the marks, let the solution soak in and if necessary scrub stubborn spots lightly with a soft brush.

Sometimes before you mist the marks a soft eraser will do wonders for areas where you may have pressed too hard when tracing your design.

When pencil markings keep returning this usually occurs when marks have been removed by rubbing with a wet cloth, spraying, or dabbing.

Water dissipates the solution without removing it. It may be necessary to flush out the solution by soaking the quilt in a washing machine filled with cold water.

Quilting tool

When you need to mark black or dark fabric using a template, Quilt Pounce is the quilt-marking tool for the new millennium!

To transfer your stencil, simply position it where you want it and wipe the powder-filled Quilt Pounce over the top of the stencil.

If you are getting too much powder on your quilt you most likely are patting the pad instead of wiping it over the stencil.

Once you have finished with the wiping process, gently blow of excess powder if necessary.

If you have trouble with the chalk rubbing off the fabric too soon, spray the chalk outline lightly with an alcohol based hairspray. 

The chalk will stay on until you wash it off. Ordinary stray starch works well too.

quilting needles

Hand quilting requires the right size quilting needle!

Learn to Quilt by auditioning the right thimble. The styles range from being very ridged (metal) to being very flexible (leather) plus there are many styles to choose from today. There is one thing for sure, you cannot hand quilt without learning to wear some sort of a thimble.

Brass, stainless steel, silver or even gold are some of the metals to choose from when deciding what type thimble will be best for you. Metal is the traditional material but today it is not the only material.

A thimble should be snug enough to stay on your finger and should not fall off when you lower your hand; it should just touch the end of your nail without crowding your finger. So, ladies, you might want at least one short nail!

When choosing a thimble, there is no one- size- fits- all for different stitching techniques. Applique work will only require a bit of padding for your finger; another kind will be more suited for piecing or maybe you won't need one at all for piecing; your weight of fabric or batting will determine how much of a thimble you will need; threads will also play a role in deciding what kind of thimble will work best. Just keep an open mind and try several. They are relative cheap and nice to have on hand for different techniques.

If you are one that needs to feel the needle pressure, then maybe a finger wrap or adhesive backed shield will be more suited. But the quilting action requires that the needle be pushed upward. That is part of the reason metal thimbles are designed with an angled, indented, dimpled, non-slip top.

I have been sewing for a good many years and I am still looking for a perfect thimble. That is a nice way of saying that I just never learned to adapt. But I can't say it loud enough, you will be far better off if you do adapt!

quilting threads

The tried and true 100% cotton thread for hand quilting stitches has stood the test of time for quite a while now.

Remember, while color is important it is not the only measuring tool when it comes to choosing the right thread for hand quilting.

Review the article on quilting threads for a better understanding of just how important it is to get the thread right. 

When hand quilting use an 18-inch length of quilting thread. Hand quilting thread is heaver than machine quilting thread and you will be able to recognize the difference immediately.

The end of thread last off the spool and where you cut it loose from the spool is the end that you will knot. This helps keep the thread from tangling.

Wrap the needle twice as shown while holding the wrapped thread securely and pull the wrapped thread to the end to make the knot as shown here.

quilting tip

 When quilting a quilt here's how the quilting knot goes:

  • Using about 14 to 18 inches of thread grasp the end of the thread between the needle and your index finger;
  • Wrap the thread around the needle two or three times;
  • Hold the thread with the left fingers and pull the needle through the wrapped thread;
  • A small knot forms at the end of the thread after you pull the thread wraps all the way down to the end;
  • The knot will be big enough to hold without pulling through the batting layer.

This may take a little practice so don't give up!






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