Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Hand Quilting....Pick Stitching....A Tutorial....

I thought it might be helpful to add a post explaining the steps in pick stitching....let me know what you think....
Tools of the trade....
I prefer Piecemakers Embroidery needles for pick stitching with perle cotton...I almost always use #8 perle cotton.  It is easy enough to thread through the eye of the needle, but thick enough to add a decorative touch to your quilt.  I use either masking tape, painters tape or quilters tape to mark my stitching line.  I aways tell students to use the thimble they are most comfortable with...I use a leather thimble.  I have tried many types, but I have kind of skinny fingers so I have found this to be the best thimble for me.
Wear the thimble on the middle finger of your dominant hand...with the stretchy part on your knuckle....YIKES! Those are my grandmother's hands - ha!
I use an 18 inch hoop so I don't have to re-hoop the quilt as often.  The quilt should be in the hoop snug...but not too want to be able to push up a little hill from underneath the don't want to be able to bounce a quarter off of it!
Use tape to mark off your stitching line...when you want a straight line...sometimes I choose to have a more organic line and then I don't mark at all...just eyeball it.  All the work will be done on the top of the you will begin and end on the top of the quilt...
Use about 18 inches of perle cotton and put a knot at one end....begin by taking the thread just under the top of the quilt (not through all three layers) and start about 1/2 inch away from your actual stitch line...slid the needle under the top of the quilt and come up next to your tape on the stitch line...give the thread a little tug until you pop the knot into the middle layers of the quilt..this is burying the knot! 

Begin your first stitch by going straight down into the quilt - the needle should be perpendicular to the top of the quilt.
Here's where the big-time action begins...the hand on top of the quilt should be in a C position between your middle finger and your thumb...your other hand will be under the hoop.  So if you are right handed - your right hand will be on top of the quilt and your left hand will be under the hoop...
There are several things that will happen simultaneously and you just have to practice and get a rhythm to become proficient...your thimble finger will rock the needle (eye of the needle) up and the point of the needle down into the layers of the quilt...while you take the needle down into the layers, the other hand (middle finger) will feel the point of the needle poking through and it will direct the needle back up into the layers of the quilt.  While all of this is happening the top hand thumb will push down (while the middle finger underneath is pushing up) to create a little hill....this way the needle has some direction and come back up to the top layer of the quilt...your thumb on the top will feel when the needle has come back through.  As you push up this little hill, the eye of the needle will rock back down and the point will be rocked up to complete the stitch.  WHEW!!!
When pick stitching with perle cotton, I usually only stack a couple of stitches at a time...
I prefer larger stitches with perle cotton...a little larger than 1/4 inch...that is just a personal preference...I think it adds charm.
When you are ready to knot off the stitching...take your last stitch and make a loop and a knot...move the knot close to the quilt top....
Go back down into the hole of the last stitch and move your needle just under the top layer off to the side...come back up through the top layer...and pop the knot into the top to bury the knot.

Snip off the thread and you are finished with that line of stitching...
I cannot stress enough how the charm of pick stitching is that it is not perfect...the stitches are chunky and not always straight or in perfect little adds charm and whimsy to your quilt...I love it!


  1. Thank you so much for posting this tutorial. I am so drawn to that look, and yet not real good at it. Also, I noticed that you used your middle finger. I tend to favor my index finger and before you know it, it gets a bit sore. Also, a thimble makes me feel clumsy. Have you always used a thimble?
    Gosh, I wish I could just sit at your feet and watch you stitch away. :o) I would be quiet and ask very few questions. :o)
    Sincerely ~ Trish

  2. Hi Trish,
    I began quilting over 20 yrs. ago...first learning on my own and then taking classes. I did take several hand quilting classes and joined guilds to expand my knowledge. I have always used the middle finger (this is the way I was taught) and I have always used a thimble. Way too painful without. Thimbles are tricky...I just can't get used to anything other than a leather thimble. I do a lot of hand quilting so I'm sure it is just what I have become comfortable with. I am sure there are tons of options could even wrap your finger with just don't want to keep poking your fingers over and over again...not good for the fingers!

  3. Thanks Mary for this!! It definitly helps to see the pictures:) and it seems that I have the right needles, the right thread and - I have bought a leather thimble last week as I can´t get used to a metal one (no way to use that) ... so I keep on trying ...

  4. Fantastic Monika...let me know how it is going.

  5. Oh Thank you!!! This is a wonderful tutorial. I've had pick stitching on my mind since I discovered one of your quilts on flickr a couple of weeks ago. I love the look of it and I think it might look good on one quilt top I have in the works right now. I really appreciate all the pictures you took to go with this too. I know it takes awhile to put something like this together. Thank you bunches and bunches!! : )

  6. Awww...thanks Adrianne. Please, let me know how your project is going! I would love to see it!

  7. Thanks for the tutorial Mary, Im trying to Pick stitch a quilt at the moment and having a heck of a time, Its linen on the front and back, which I think must be my problem, I might see if I can get my hands on a leather thimble, do you think that might help?

  8. Hi quilt is linen as well...both front and back. Although it is quilter's linen. Can you pin-point the problem that you are having? I find that most people starting out have a some difficulty getting used to the thimble on the middle finger and the whole rocking motion. I really like a leather thimble...I wish I could just hand you one to try out! I have tried many different thimbles and this is the only one I have had luck with. Remember to go straight in with the first stitch and you need that hand underneath to feel the point as it comes through and push the needle back up. Take it need to rush. Keep your hand in that C position and remember to rock the needle. Let me know how it is will get it! If it just seems too foreign you can always just stitch all the way down through layers and pull the thread through and then back up again from the bottom...that just takes a bit longer to finish a project.

  9. Hi Mary, sorry its taken me so long to reply.
    I think my problems are: Needing a better thimble, so I picked one up like yours, too small needles, so I got the next size up, and holding my hand in the wrong position, Im just about to settle down with it for a while so will see how I go, Can't thank you enough for all your advice, very much appreciated xx

  10. thank you mary for explaining that so well. i have a neighbor that showed me this but she did it so fast that i did not catch anything but how to start and pop the knot through. i will try again as i have an entire quilt that HAS to be stitched this way. unfortunately i did not buy perle cotton. thanks again. maybe i will not hate handwork now.

  11. Thank u for taking the time to make this tutorial. I will be trying this in the new year! Your work is so beautiful!

  12. I just adore your quilting! Thank you so much for this tutorial! Oh gosh, I like those larger stitches, too. I love the look, it is very charming! {I'm fairly new to quilting and machine quilting is stressing me out!} :)

  13. Such a cute idea! I've seen this on your blog and other blogs but am glad now to know how its done! Maybe I'll play it safe and try it on a pillow first :) Thanks for the sharing!

  14. I saw the phrase "pick stitch quilting" and was curious...followed search links to your blog (which I already follow) and after reading this, I realize this is exactly how I hand quilt!!! I just didn't know that's what it was called! I don't use perle cotton, though, just a regular hand quilting thread. I go thru leather thimbles like water as they stretch out and get lots of holes in them....I'm always rotating it trying to find a new spot but before long it's back to the quilt shop to find another and break it in. I've also started using a fingertip thimble on my left hand - just a little metal disk that sticks on my fingertip to catch the needle point as it rocks down below the quilt...that hand started getting pretty poked up too! I enjoy your blog and your beautiful quilts and most importantly your delivery - no pride and haughtiness, and always a response to someone who really wants your help and appreciates your gentle help!!! Thank you and God bless!!! Jenn

  15. HI Mary....this is very interesting I am sure the ladies at would be very interested in..would you like to be a guest blogger in the near future. Please connect if you ( I manage the blog)

  16. Great Tutorial... I hope you dont mind.. I added it to My post on Hand QUilting.. Linked back to you of course! You can see it here at
    bec xx

  17. Thank you, thank you. You answered my questions about burying the knot with perle cotton and how you do that. :) Now, I think I'm really ready to start quilting my trip around the world quilt. ~Jessica

  18. Thank you! I am so looking forward to trying this on a quilt full of triangles and "awesome" fabric :)
    fwiw, when my hubby wears a hole thru his leather gloves, I snip the tips off the remaining fingers of the glove, and have a bunch of leather thimbles at once :)

  19. I'm just reviewing this again. I am so excited I bought a hoop, thimble, needles and perle cotton today. I just have to finish some machine quilting on the quilt (it is a large throw so I thought for my first time hand quilting that maybe I shouldn't try to hand quilt the whole thing)and then I can get started! Hopefully I will tomorrow. Your blog has really inspired me. I know I have said that before but it really does. Your quilts and Sarah Feilke's quilts are my favorite. Thank you for writing these great directions. I have always been so focused on the patchwork. It is really fun to get more into the quilting part.

  20. Thank you for posting this tutorial. I have been afraid to try this for years, thinking that there was no way I could ever get my stitches to come out half-way even. I was also afraid of pulling a big knot through the fabric and making a hole in the fabric. Well, I got up the nerve after seeing your tutorial, and I can't believe it. My stitches are beautiful, the knots haven't made any holes in the fabric, and the big stitches add so much to my quilt. I'm hooked! Bless you!