Whether you’re already hooked on the benefits of hand stitching your patchwork and are looking for some tips to improve your technique, or you’re curious about ditching your machine (temporarily!) in favour of a needle and thread but aren’t sure where to start, this free hand-piecing tutorial is for you. Our Technical Editor Laura Pritchard is here to help with this video walkthrough and step-by-step walkthrough.
In the guide below, we’re sewing Carolyn Forster’s Broken Dishes quilt block. It’s part our her Hand-Pieced Sampler Block of The Month series.
You will need
- Fabrics as described in your block pattern
- Hand-piecing templates
- Sharp pencil
- Template plastic or card
- Needle and thread
- Small quilting ruler with ¼in markings
How to hand-piece patchwork: step by step guide
Draw around each of your shape templates onto the wrong side of your fabric with a sharp pencil. Line up any grain arrows with the grain of your fabric.
Cut out each piece adding a ¼in around all edges. This can be done by eye with scissors, or rotary cut with a small ruler.
Place the first two pieces right sides together with the marked lines aligned. Pin right through the corner points at each end, and along the marked lines. Check that the pins go straight through the line on both sides.
Starting with a knotted needle and thread and a backstitch, sew a running stitch from point to point along the drawn line. Check regularly that your needle is travelling through the line on each side.
Stitch a backstitch every inch or so to secure the tension.
When you reach the end of the drawn line, to finish off work two or three backstiches and cut the thread leaving a tail of ½in.
Do not press the seam
Continue to add more units in the same way. Always pin directly through the marked lines to line up the pieces perfectly.
Hold seam allowances away from your line of stitches as you approach a seam junction to make sure you don’t stitch it down.
When you get close to the end of the seam make sure that you come up with the running stitch right on the corner at the end of the seam line and then make a backstitch through to the back of the work.
Move the seam allowances back towards the line of stitches and hold them out of the way.
Come up on the other side of the upright seam one stitch ahead of the corner and take a backstitch directly into the corner. By making this backstitch after skipping the seam, you will lock the stitches to stop them gaping at this point.
Continue stitching to the end of the line and finish off as before.
Where two seams meet at a junction, approach the corner and take a backstitch as in step 9, but this time take your needle diagonally through the junction at a diagonal so it comes up one stitch length ahead of the corner on the other side. Push and hold the seam allowances out of the way and in opposite directions to avoid stitching these down. Take a backstitch and continue as before, your seams will knit together nicely.
9 top tips for hand piecing
- Copying templates onto template plastic or thick card will be easier and more accurate to draw around than paper. Be sure to transfer all markings and grain lines. It is also useful to record how many pieces to cut, and from which fabric.
- When drawing around templates, remember to leave enough space to add a ¼in seam allowance around each one.
- Always use a fine sharp pencil to draw around the template. Angle the pencil in towards the shape to get an accurate and consistent shape.
- A small quilt ruler or add-a-quarter is useful for adding seam allowances.
- When pieces are cut, lay them out in the order of the block so as not to get in a muddle.
- If you want to reverse the direction of the block, flip templates over before drawing around them. Just be sure that you do this for all templates in the block.
- Short applique pins are ideal for hand-piecing.
- Practise your running stitch to get even, small stitches.
- Keep a sewing pouch nearby with all your supplies so you can easily take your sewing on-the-go.