Hand Piecing Tutorial by Rose Rushbrooke

My favorite method of piecing is by hand. Sometimes, with practice, you can put together some complicated shapes - such as curves, or insets - faster than going to the bother of dragging out your sewing machine. You can ease pieces together while stitching to ensure exact sizing. And traveling with a small project in a little bag, ready to whip out when sitting waiting for a train, or in the passenger seat of a car, suddenly becomes a boredom antidote. A quart ziplock bag containing some ready cut pieces, thread, a needle and scissors - a doctor's office is covered, no more reading out of date magazines!

Many of my art quilts are stitched together by hand. It's probably the most enjoyable part of quilting as far as I am concerned.

How To Hand Piece

Tip: Always make sure that all the pieces on the outside edges of the block are cut on the straight of the grain. If at all possible cut triangles so that a straight grain meets a bias edge giving less chance of stretching the piece while stitching.

Step 1

Hand Piecing - Pinning

Lay out all the pieces of your block exactly in the position you want them stitched together. Pick out the first two triangles to stitch. Hold the right sides together with your fingers.

Start by pinning the two pieces - push the pin straight through at each point of the triangle where the pencil lines meet. Do the same on the other point.

Leave the pins at right angles to the fabric so it doesn't get distorted. I like using Iris Swiss pins or fine glass head pins as they are very skinny.

Step 2

Hand Piecing Pinning Tips

Pin in between the points, leaving approximately one to one and a half inch spaces.

All the pins should now be at right angles to the fabric.

Take another pin and line it up with the one already in the triangle tip. Angling the pin almost horizontally push it down and back up through the fabric. Because you have the first pin already steadying the fabric the second one will slide in without shifting the two pieces. Remove the pin at right angles and use this to do the same thing to the next pin. Keep on doing this until you have all the pins properly lodged. This way you will find the pencil marks will stay exactly lined up while you stitch.

Step 3

Hand Piecing - The First Stitch

Everyone uses different needles for piecing. I use a straw/milliners needle, some people use a 'sharp' and Jean Lyle recommends using a size 10 appliqué needle.

Thread your needle of choice with either 100% cotton or cotton covered polyester (I like YLI Select hand piecing cotton thread). Use a colour that matches the darker fabric or a neutral shade such as medium gray. Do NOT make a knot at the end of the thread, this makes extra bulk and the less you have to quilt through later - the better!

Take one tiny stitch into the first pinhole. Split the tail with the needle, pull the thread through and tighten to lock in the first stitch.

Step 4

Hand Piecing - Stitching

Back stitch a couple of times and then take about five or six running stitches onto the needle before pulling the thread through. As you take each stitch, keep an eye on the two sides to make sure you are stitching ON the pencilled line.

I make my stitches about one sixteenth of an inch apart. Some fabrics are a little harder to stitch through, for example pima cotton has a high thread count so it is harder to push the needle through. Most normal quilter's cottons are printed on lighter weight fabric with lower thread count so are really easy to stitch through.

Step 5

Hand Piecing - Back Stitch

Back stitch approximately every inch and a half. This gives strength to the seam and locks in the stitches. The idea behind this back stitching is if ever the seams come apart (heaven forbid) then the whole seam won't go. Just the part between the back stitches.

The pins are a good marker for when to back stitch. As you reach each second pin then take it out and back stitch.

Donít worry about whether you are making an exact quarter of an inch seam. You are stitching ON the pencil lines so you are following the exact shape of the template.

If you want to trim the seams even later, you can. You will find when you iron the block flat it will be the size you were aiming for.

Step 6

Hand Piecing - Securing at the Corner

Near the end of the line make two or three back stitches. At the last stitch make a loop big enough to put the needle through easily.

To secure the thread, push the needle back through the loop and then through the loop you just made. Tug the whole mess gently to close it up and make a small knot.

Snip off the thread leaving about half an inch tail.

Step 7

Hand Piecing - Crossing Seams

During the piecing of little bits of fabric you start running into seams. You may have noticed that ironing seams flat, open or otherwise has not been mentioned so far and there's a very good reason for this.

Using the Hole in the Barn Door quilt block as an example, pin and stitch a pair of rectangles to the centre square. Make running stitches as usual right up to the seam. Just before the seam take a backstitch, push the needle through the seam and make a backstitch on the other side.

Check to make sure that the two stitches join exactly on the other side to give a continuous seam and no little gaps. Now you see why the seams are not ironed. They need to be unfettered (!) so that you can negotiate which way they will be ironed when the block is finished.

Step 8

Hole in the Barn Door Quilt Block Layout

Let's put a Hole in the Barn Door quilt block together and see what all this hard work can accomplish!

First stitch all the pairs of triangles together being careful not to stretch the seams. Then stitch all the rectangles together. These pairings will make eight squares plus you have the plain square for the middle of the block.

Piece the middle row together first. Pin and stitch a pair of rectangles to the centre square and then do the other side.

Next piece the top row together by pinning and stitching the two paired triangles to either side of the paired rectangles.

Now you should have three rows that look like the picture.

Step 9

Hole in the Barn Door Quilt Block

Stitch the three rows together and 'voila' - there's a beautiful Hole in the Barn Door quilt block. Do that a few times, stitch all the blocks together and make a whole quilt top.

As I stitch each piece together I finger press the seams over to the darker fabric. Once the block is complete I iron it properly and measure it making sure it is the size I want.

Rose Rushbrooke
Rushbrooke Strand


Thanks Rose...Your tutorial explains hand piecing so clearly and I love that you can hand sew any quilt block using that method, the same as the first quilt blocks were made!

Be sure to visit Rose's site here.



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