Tools I use for hand piecing
You're interested in hand sewing patchwork (handpiecing) and you wonder if there are 'special' tools. Well yes and no. There are no 'must have' tools when it comes to hand piecing your patchwork and quilts, well aside from, you know, a needle and thread... however over time you'll find there are tools that you use again and again, that help you hand piece. I've listed my current tool box kit below, it can change over time, but these are pretty much my go-to tools. The 'right' needle and thread can make the BIGGEST improvement to stitching.
Templates - When hand piecing a quilt you’re often using designs that come with templates. If you’re making your own templates from the pattern use something like template plastic, paper or cardboard templates won't stand up to being used over and over. You can print paper templates from the pattern and then use self adhesive laminate or laminate them if you have one. I also cut my templates out without the seam allowance, preferring to trace the final block part as accurately as possible and then adding seam allowances.
Marking tools - I’ll mainly use a mechanical pencil 0.7mm with 2B leads, these leads are nice and soft, so they make tracing templates super easy, you don’t need to press very hard when marking, available from your local or online stationer. Sometimes I’ll use a silver gel pen to mark dark fabrics (make sure it's a gel pen).
Rulers - I like to use a small ruler with a quarter inch marking to add my seams to blocks. I have a couple of different ones on rotation with different lengths and I'll use the one that best suits the block pieces I'm adding seams to at the time.
Matilda’s Own Design Mat - I know a lot of hand piecers and English Paper Piece sewers like sandpaper boards to help keep their fabrics in place whilst they’re tracing or gluing templates on to fabric but I do not. It grates my teeth. I do however LOVE the Matilda’s Own Design Mats. I love the texture and the grip of these mats.
Thimble - I sometimes use a thimble for my thumb whilst hand piecing and have various ones in my stash and switch around all the time. It’s worth experimenting to find the ones that work for you. Using a rubber thimble on your thumb can help reduce hand/grip fatigue.
Karen Kay Buckley 1” Perfect Pins - These pins are my favourite for hand piecing and needleturn applique. I only use 2-3 per seam generally on smaller blocks and they are super fine so they have a low profile and are great to use for hand piecing and pinning blocks together. As you become more experienced as a hand piecer the less pins you’ll need. I also use the Clover Glass Head Pins and Sohmo Glass Head Pins. Addtionally, recently I've used the Clover Applique pins and these are also helpful when appliquing.
Roxanne's Glue Baste-It - I use Roxanne's when preparing my applique blocks. The smallest dabs will do the job, it's super useful. Do not use more than dabs, it can be hard to remove if you use too much and want to reposition a piece. It does wash out.
Needles - For hand piecing I’ll use a Miliner Size 10 or 11 needle or more recently I am using Bohin Applique long needles as I like the length for loading up my needle and they slide through fabric so nicely. As long as your needle goes through fabric like butter and has minimal drag, you’re good to go. You don’t want to be wrestling your needle through fabric! I’ve tried numerous brands and have also used Jen Kingwell, Sue Daley and recently tried Jeana Kimball needles, Jeana's Embroidery/Redwork needles are fabulous for big stitch handquilting.
Thread - For hand piecing I have used Sulky 100% cotton thread, 50wt, Aurifil 50wt and presently my go-to is Wonderfil Decobob, it's super light, fine, slippery and is smooth to sew with. I usually just use a silver grey for hand piecing, no matter what colour fabrics I’m piecing. If, however I was stitching an all over dark fabric I’d use a darker thread. For needleturn applique I'll use the Decobob, it's an 80wt and just disappears when sewing. The Bobbinator is also a fabulous accessory for machine and hand sewists. The prewound bobbins are perfect for applique.
Thread Balm - I don't always use thread balm, but occasionally if the thread I'm using is giving me a hard time and knotting or tangling I'll use it. Presently I'm using The Next Stitch Thread Balm and tend to go for citrus scents. You can check out the options available at the link.
Fiskars Easy Act Titanium Micro-Tip Scissors - I LOVE these Fiskars spring action scissors. I have used them for years now and when I need to replace them the older pair becomes a household scissor for the kitchen or paper. As I hand cut most of my fabric once I’ve traced templates the spring action helps my hand from getting fatigued and the small sharp blade is great for accurate hand cutting.
Seam Roller - What the what?! A seam roller is a hand piecers best friend. As you’re stitching away you can quickly set and press seams, no iron or electricity needed.
Oliso M3Pro Mini Iron -The new versioin of this mini project iron is coming soon. This mini is super cute, packs a punch for its size and is terrific for block pressing. Do yourself a favour with this tool. I use mine with a USA to AU power adapter, the iron has a Volt switch so I easily switched it to my voltage and use the adapter. The M3Pro is out soon!
Wool Mat - I can't remember where I got my mat, what I do know is it is THE tool to get nice flat blocks when pressing and you don't have to press the heck out of them! The heat from ironing reflects back up to your block and sets your seams really well.
Template Plastic - As you’ll likely be tracing your quilt block pieces over and over, paper templates won’t cut it. You’ll need to trace your template pieces on to template plastic, you can use these over and over again. Or if you have a laminator you can laminate your templates or use adhesive laminating sheets. Some quilt patterns also come with acrylic templates, lots of my patterns have an acrylic template available.
Seam Wheel - When tracing templates that have curved edges and no seam allowance added you’ll need to add your curved seams. And a little seam wheel is a simple and great little tool to have in your hand piecing kit. Put your mechanical pencil in the hole and trace your curved seam. Jen Kingwell has her own seam wheel at a great price. This is one of those sewing notions I keep a handful of in case I lose them, which I do!
Finger Pincushion - This little guy is super useful when you’re hand piecing and want to pull pins as you sew and you can quickly stick them into your finger pincushion… just don’t forget if you haven’t got it on and stab yourself (yep, maybe speaking from experience here).
This free pattern by Loopylace is the one I used and I also hand sewed mine, small stitches are key and it’s held up perfectly fine. Oh, and I used a 4.5” square, not 4” as mentioned in the pattern, I also wear mine on my index finger not my thumb.
Flatter Smoothing Spray Flatter is excellent to use on finished blocks, apart from smelling amazing, it does a great job of helping seams and blocks behave. I don’t use steam when I iron, just a hot dry iron and Flatter, Pineapple is the scent I love. Not only are the scents yummy it does a great job of smoothing blocks AND it's not starch based, which is great news for us hand piecers. Our blocks can sit around a bit longer whilst being sewn and starch is not a quilt's best friend, bugs are attracted to the starch as a food source so you'll potentially end up with bugs seeing your quilts as food! No thanks.
Phew, that's a lot of tools!
That sounds like a LOT of tools, but it's really just a handful of my favourites. You'll find over time that you gravitate to your favourite tools and stick with them. If you've gotten until the end, thank you! I truly hope you learn to love hand piecing as much as I do.
Do you have any tools that you love to use when making your quilts?
Please do comment if you have any questions and I have a freebie block below you might like to use to try handpiecing patchwork.
Have you tried hand piecing patchwork and quilts?
Put your details below and you’ll be emailed the Wheely Fun quilt block pdf. The pdf includes the block, templates and instructions on how to piece the block together, including the seam setting for the block so you have nice, flat blocks. There’s also a colouring sheet a coloured mockup so you can make your own Wheely Fun quilt. Get scrappy, dig out as many prints as you can and have fun!
By putting your details below you’ll receive the PDF and you’ll also sign up to my Scrappy Digest. The Scrappy Digest is sent out fairly irregularly and you can unsubscribe at any time. It’s a fun quilty digest.