Hand Quilting vs Machine Quilting: Choosing The Best Method

Hey there, quilters! Quilting by hand and machine quilting are two very different processes – although they might sound similar.

I’ve done quilting with both my hands and a machine, and both techniques have their benefits.

Which one will you decide to use?

What is quilting?

Quilted Elephant Design Blankets
Quilted Elephant Design Blankets

Quilting is an art form that has been around for centuries.

It was traditionally done by hand with needle and thread, but today quilters can use quilting machines to help create beautiful results in a much faster time.

Most quilts begin as quilt tops, made from complex designs that have been pieced or appliqued together.

Quilt Tops

When the quilt top has been put together (this can take months or even years), it is then attached to a middle batting and then backing, which provides support and completes the quilt once and for all.

Different sewists can have a few favorite ways of sewing these layers together.

And actually, some use a combination for different types of quilts.

Machine quilting

Quilting on a Machine
Quilting on a Machine

Machine quilting can be done at home using a domestic sewing machine or professionally with a mid or long arm quilting machine, which has a larger throat space.

Most quilters lack the room, or else the funds for a specialty machine with a long arm to accommodate a large quilt.

Long and Mid Arm Machine

When using a long or mid arm machine for quilting, you’d have to stand up for long periods of time.

Nowadays, many home sewing machines are advanced with features that make quilting easy and produce professional looking products.

A modern quilt you may find in a store will most likely have been sewn by quilters using a machine.

Hand quilting

a centuries old traditional method of creating a quilt…

This is a centuries old traditional method of creating a quilt.

The hand quilting approach can usually be observed on a wall of vintage quilts at a museum, as quilts made this way can be a real rare find nowadays.

Despite how old it is, the system of hand quilting has remained the same over the years.

There’s a real technique to hand quilting with different sewing stitches and specific ways to fasten the layers of fabric together.

Knotting

How to Hand Tie a Quilt

Knotting is a popular technique to secure layers of fabric, where yarn is pushed through from the bottom to the top and then tied into a knot on the outside.

This knot holds the materials in place and provides a textured feel to the quilt.

What’s the difference between hand vs machine quilting?

The differences in manual vs machine quilting could be stark depending on your existing experience, project, and familiarity with the practices.

For one, a hand quilted item typically takes a lot longer than a machine quilted project.

Let’s look at the pros and cons for using each method.

MethodProsCons
Hand quiltRelaxing or therapeutic for the quilter. An economical way to sew, without purchasing a machine.

Portable – you can literally quilt anywhere in the world. Some argue this technique is more artistic and inventive.
Time consuming.

It can be tricky to create consistent and even stitches.
Machine quiltFaster, taking a lot less time with even, consistent results.

Machine quilts are durable in comparison to a hand quilt and can handle washing.
Much easier to deal with heavy fabrics in a project.
Machines can be a learning curve.

May need an extensive work space. Machines can be expensive.

I think both are a really great way to express your creativity.

While I’ve never used a long arm quilting machine, I have hand quilted and used my home sewing machine.

In fact, you could combine the two super easily!

Can you mix the two methods?

Combining both approaches in your project can add a special splash of detail to the look of a finished quilt.

I’d recommend machine quilting first to secure the fabrics, and then going over with hand sewing on your top designs

TIP

Make sure to plan your quilt, including yarn and design to help get the best result from your project.

Learning Materials

Luckily, there are plenty of resources to help you get the combination job done and improve your quilting hand.

Feel free to check out the abundance of related information through sewing books and YouTube videos.

Things to consider:

How do you decide which technique to use? There are some things to consider.

Size

Large Quilted Gray Blanket with Colorful Design
Large Quilted Gray Blanket with Colorful Design

Although you may want to create a lovely heirloom quilt that’s going to be handed down through the family, most quilts are often queen or king size and therefore would take a much longer time to sew by hand.

Quilting on a machine is the best option for any large projects due to the time it takes to hand quilt.

Fabric

Different fabrics are most suited for quilts and some are easier to handle than others.

This makes it more or less difficult to stitch by hand sometimes.

Thick fabrics can be difficult to push the needle through and can be tough on the quilter’s hand.

Satin or silk, of course, might be too difficult to hold onto.

Purpose

Quilts are used for different purposes, either to fit a decor scheme, be hung as a display, or provide warmth.

Machine quilting is the better approach if you’ll be using and washing a quilt.

NOTE

Although hand quilting gives an authentic appearance, machine quilting is actually stronger and often the choice for functional quilts used to cover a bed.

Time

Pile of Quilt Projects
Pile of Quilt Projects

Making a quilt is a lengthy process, before you’ve even had the chance to start sewing, let alone to complete the quilt.

It entails fine measuring, cutting, designing, and piecing the blocks together.

It’s impossible to be specific with how many hours it takes to make a quilt by hand, as it varies on the skill level and how much time a person can put into their labor.

NOTE

A baby quilt can take more than 12 hours to sew, but a king sized quilt could take an entire year to finish!

Location

When making a quilt, you’ll need to be close to your quilting supplies. If you are hand quilting, you can do it literally anywhere in the world!

Consider the room, the size of your workspace, and whether you’re going to be traveling often during the quilt making process.

TIP

If you’re a frequent flyer, hand quilting may be the better option to get the job done.

Preference

Every quilter will prefer one method over another…

You will have to try them both out yourself to see which one you love the most.

Either method can be satisfying to any quilter who enjoys the process and holds a real love for the art of quilting.

FAQs

What do the different patterns on a quilt mean?

Close Up of a Quilted Blanket Pattern
Close Up of a Quilted Blanket Pattern

There are limitless patterns and art designs on quilts.

Patchwork quilting is one of the most common and became popular in the 18th century during the American Revolutionary War.

Certain patterns can help identify if a quilt is antique.

There are traditional types of patterns, such as two rings interlocking, grandmother’s garden, and the classic honeycomb pattern.

What’s the difference between hand quilting thread and machine quilting thread?

Theoretically, you can use any yarn for quilting but I wouldn’t exactly recommend it.

Your quilt is ultimately only as strong as the thread holding it together, and if you’re taking the time to quilt, you should invest a little more on a quality yarn.

NOTE

Machine quilt thread can be used in both the needle of a machine and in the bobbin.

Yarn

Yarn that is labeled hand quilting has been glazed or coated to help slide through the fabrics, making the quilting task easier.

This cannot be used interchangeably in your machine, however, as the glazing can gum up your machine’s inner mechanisms if you’re not careful.

How can you tell how a quilt was stitched?

Most antique quilts that you find in a museum were made with no help from a sewing machine, made entirely by hand.

Look closely at the yarn throughout the entire quilt.

If the stitches appear a bit uneven or there are different sized spaces, it has probably been hand stitched.

If the spacing and stitching is uniform, it has most likely been machine quilted.

NOTE

A quilt that has been hand quilted usually looks a little ‘softer’ or ‘looser’ than a quilt created with a machine.

Conclusion

Although hand quilting can provide an incredibly authentic appearance, machine quilting is actually stronger and often the more popular choice for crafting a functional quilt.

Whichever handwork you prefer, the key to a legendary project (or at least one finished without a hitch!) is patience and perseverance.

Even if the quilt takes longer to make than you expected, the results will always be worth it in the end!

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Kris Daub
Kris Daub
[email protected] byCurated I'm a maker at heart! I love to create and tech others to create. I particularly sewing and hand crafts like ebroidery. I also love larger home decorating projects. ✂️ 🧵