Hand piecing is the most basic method of patchwork, its simplicity and slow pace make it an enjoyable and relaxing method. You can take it ‘on the go’, the stitches are hidden, and there are no papers to pull out when you’re done! Quilting is such a tangible craft and hand piecing allows you to manipulate and work with fabric in a humble and satisfying way.
HAND PIECING STEPS
See Extras section below for how to prep your pieces before you begin.
- Thread your needle and tie a knot at the end of the thread. Place fabric pieces RST and stitch near the corners of both pieces. If you find it tricky go through one piece of fabric at a time. Make a small stitch into the corner and then backstitch to secure.
- Stitch along the drawn line. You can do one stitch at a time or load your needle with stitches. I suggest practising loading your needle because it becomes easier and it is much quicker.
- Every few stitches, approximately 1-1.5”, do a backstitch to secure your stitching. I like to flip the top of the pieces over as I sew to check I’m following the lines on both sides. I prefer not to use pins but if you find it difficult flipping the pieces then feel free to pin the pieces in place so you don’t need to keep checking your accuracy.
Make sure you gently pull your stitches tight, as you continue to sew you may find that the fabric bunches up (particularly if you load your needle) so tug either side of the fabric to keep it taut.
- Sew to the end, backstitch and then tie a knot.
- Working to the pattern you chose, sew the next two pieces together in the same way. I am making a four patch so now I have two rows that need to be joined.
- When I am joining sections I like to use clips to hold them in place - one at the end and one where the seams will meet. You could use pins if you prefer.
- Begin stitching in the same way as before, starting in the corner and sewing to where the seams meet in the corners. You can open the pieces out to check you are right up against the seam. Do a small backstitch.
- Pass the needle through the seam on one side and come out on the corner of the next line. You want to continue stitching on the other side of the seam without sewing the seam down.
- Continue sewing to the end, backstitch and then tie a knot.
- Keep sewing the pieces and blocks together until you have completed your pattern.
- Press the block only when it is completed. If you are working on larger blocks you can press each section before you sew them together to make it less awkward. One of the nice things about hand piecing is not having to press the seams so often!
- Only cut an arms length of thread, it will help prevent knots.
- Focus on the drawn lines not the seam allowance, especially if you cut the fabric pieces with scissors. Unlike machine piecing, where the edge of the fabric is your guide, in hand piecing you follow the drawn line.
- Begin and end with knots, if you have lots of intersecting pieces you might find it better to keep the knots away from the corner. So begin a stitch away from the end and back stitch to the corner.
Before you begin you need to find a pattern or use templates to make your blocks.
There are a number of ways to draw the shapes on your fabric:
- Create templates using cardboard or freezer paper.
- Use acrylic templates.
- Draw the shapes using a ruler.
- Trace the pattern using a LightPad or by taping it to a window.
Make sure you leave enough room for seam allowance between each shape when you are drawing them onto the fabric i.e. you need to leave 1/2" between the shapes.
Then cut the shapes out with a 1/4" seam. I prefer to use scissors as it’s quicker since you don’t need an accurate 1/4" seam.
- A sharp, thin needle. I prefer to use a long needle as I find it easier to handle and to load stitches .
- Quality fine cotton thread, I like Aurifil 50wt.
- Fabric pen or pencil. My choice is the Sewline Styla water erasable pen, I also use it for embroidery. It doesn’t drag the fabric, it shows up nicely on most colours and it rinses out so easily with water. I sometimes use a Frixion pen but be aware that it will disappear once you press your block! You can also use a mechanical pencil for a nice fine line.
- A good pair of fabric scissors and smaller scissors to clip thread.
- Don’t be afraid of sewing curves or y-seams, hand piecing means you have complete control and you can always easily undo a few stitches if you need to.
- If you have seen foundation paper pieced patterns that you love but you don’t like that technique then try hand piecing them. Obviously it’s not as quick but you can get great results.
- You can easily mix hand pieced blocks with machined blocks if the thought of hand piecing a whole quilt is daunting - though once you start and see how easy it is you might become a slow stitching convert!
Name: Lucy Brennan
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