How to hand sew a quilt

Updated July 20, 2017

In modern times, many quilters use rotary cutters and sewing machines to piece their patchwork quilts. But there are times that it's convenient to hand-sew patchwork. Waiting for appointments, for the children to finish their lessons, or just sitting beside the pool are times when a sewing machine is impossible. Quilters who have a small bag with just a few items at their fingertips for hand-sewing a quilt are making great use of their time. Most quilt patterns readily adapt to hand-sewing when the quilter knows the steps necessary to convert the process from the sewing on a machine to hand-piecing.

Quilting templates for hand-sewing differ from their machine-piecing counterparts; they are the finished size of the piece without any seam allowances added to the template. Trace the finished-sized pattern piece onto template material and cut out. Cardboard may be used but the edges wear down over time and tracings, and the quilter will need to replace it periodically. Plastic template material is preferred because it last forever and the quilter can see through it to place the template exactly where desired on the fabric.

Trace the template, using a sharp pencil, onto the back of the quilting fabric, making sure to leave approximately 6 mm (1/4-inch) seam allowance all around the outside edges of the template. If tracing multiples onto the same fabric, leave about 1.3 cm (1/2 inch) between the uncut pieces so there is a 6 mm (1/4-inch) seam allowance for each piece. Trace the sewing line, not the cutting line.

Cut out the traced pattern piece approximately 6 mm (1/4-inch) outside the drawn lines. An exact seam allowance measurement is not important when hand-sewing quilt pieces. If cutting out multiples, cut in the middle of the traced template lines, sharing the seam allowance between the two pieces.

Thread a hand-sewing needle with a single strand of matching thread and knot the opposite end. Layer two pieces, right sides together. Pass a straight pin from the back, through the left end of the sewing line, to the corresponding left-hand point on the front fabric, and pin in place. Repeat along the line approximately every 5 cm (2 inches), matching the sewing lines each time. Repeat on the right-hand end of the sewing line with the threaded sewing needle instead of a straight pin and pull the thread through the piece until the knot is flush with the back fabric.

Sew, using small running stitches, on top of the drawn sewing line, matching the line front and back. Take three small running stitches and pull the thread through. Sew one small backstitch to lock each section of stitches in place, and then proceed in the forward direction for three more stitches. Repeat until approaching the left-hand straight pin. Remove the pin and replace with the threaded sewing needle in the same holes, finishing the sewing line. Do not sew into seam allowances. Secure with knot. Clip the end of the thread just beyond the knot.


Hand-sewing needles corrode where hands continually come in contact with them. Replace the needles often so they slide effortlessly through the fabric.

Things You'll Need

  • Quilt pattern
  • Template material
  • Pencil
  • Fabric
  • Fabric scissors
  • Thread
  • Hand-sewing needle
  • Straight pins
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About the Author

Marge Burkell is a professional artist that has been writing since 1985. Specializing in home and garden, quilting and crafts, her work has appeared in "Quilting Today," "Art to Wear" and "Craft & Needlework" as well as her own line of sewing patterns. Burkell authors multiple blogs and has written for iVillage, among other Internet sites.