While it’s great to start a quilt knowing exactly what tools you’ll be using, sometimes you just have to figure things out as you go.
I recently made a flannel baby quilt and decided to add some big stitch hand quilting to some areas. I’ve done this before — quilted most of a quilt by machine and then added big stitch quilting for impact in certain areas — but I’d never hand quilted flannel before. So when it came time to start, I assembled what I thought would be the right tools for the job because they’ve worked for me before: perle cotton thread #8 in a few different colors and from different manufacturers, big stitch needles and my open-backed Roxette thimble. And then I sat down to hand quilt for the first time in a few months.
At first I thought I was having difficulty perhaps because my skills were a little rusty, or perhaps because it was warm and the thimble felt like it was sliding off my finger. Then I thought maybe it was because of the late hour, so I put my hoop down and decided to try again in the morning. But when I struggled again the next day, I knew it was time to do some troubleshooting. I didn’t think the problem was with my thread choices, so I started with going back to using my old ridge-top metal thimble, thinking that perhaps I would get more power if I directed the stitch from the tip of my finger rather than from the pad.
Big mistake. First of all, my hypothesis was all wrong — I actually felt as if I had less force and control when I went back to pushing the needle using my finger tip. I didn’t realize how accustomed I’ve already gotten to quilting with the Roxette just this past year (I blogged about trying it for the first time in January). But I kept at it with my old thimble until I realized I was getting a blister above my knuckle from the uneven pressure of the thimble on my finger. So back to the Roxette I went and I felt better immediately.
OK, if the trouble wasn’t with the thimble, it was time to look at the needle I was using. I had started with one I thought would be better for going through flannel, but I think it was too thick and offered too much resistance to the thicker fabric. I ended up going back to my trusty chenille size 24 needles, which continue to be the right choice for me. Because I usually only load two stitches at a time with big stitch quilting I like a slightly shorter length than some other quilters do.
As for my threads, they worked just fine once I figured out I was using the wrong needle, even though they all came from different manufacturers, including Cottage Garden Threads perle cotton #8, Finca perle cotton #8 from Prescencia, 3-strand cotton floss from Weeks Dye Works and even Lizbeth #20 cotton thread from Handy Hands.
I got the duck motif from The Quiltmaker Collection: Quilting Motifs Vol. 2, which is a fantastic resource (and I’m not just saying that because it came from our sister publication).
If you’re new to big stitch hand quilting, I recommend doing your own exploration of tools and threads to find out what works best for you. The needles aren’t that expensive and it’s worth it to spend a few dollars if only to figure out what doesn’t work. I had already tried out a variety of needles and thimbles and I know what works for me, but for some reason I thought I needed to use different tools just because I was working with flannel. The lesson I learned was not to overthink things before beginning; better to start with what experience tells me works best and then troubleshoot from there if necessary.