How to Big Stitch Quilt

What is Big Stitch Quilting?

Big stitch quilting is a type of quilting that is exclusively completed by hand and so doesn’t make use of a sewing machine. As the name suggests, this type of quilting is done by using large stitches and much heavier thread (compared to traditional quilting) to create designs on the quilt top. Big stitch hand quilting makes use of a basic running stitch at a much larger scale to create a more ‘handmade’ and ‘imperfect’ design– which is the overall aesthetic of this type of quilt.

What Makes Big Stitch Quilting Different?

Big stitch quilting gives that imperfect and handmade look that cannot be achieved with machine quilting. This type of quilting will require more patience, but the end result is a wonderful-looking ornamental handcrafted item that cannot be replicated and has a great personal touch.

Hand quilting can be highly therapeutic, more so when compared to machine quilting. Hand quilting gives a new level of satisfaction upon the completion of a project because of the extra time and attention to detail that it takes to hand quilt.

What Kind of Styles of Big Stitch Quilting Are There?

Big stitch quilting is a popular style of hand quilting and has been adapted into many different styles. The two most popular styles of big stitch quilting are Kantha and Sashiko.


Kantha is a traditional embroidery that originates in India, particularly in the eastern regions of West Bengal and Bangladesh. Kantha is known for its simple running stitch and is valued for its aesthetic worth and handmade features.

Traditionally, old saris are fixed together and stitched together with large running stitches to create a thin piece of cushion. These handiworks are then used either instead of a cushion or as additional bedding.

The Kantha type of stitching is also used to create a Kantha quilt, commonly referred to as nakshi Kantha. Traditionally, old saris are again used and layered together, and Kantha is stitched with a large running stitch to create a bedspread or blanket.


Sashiko is another type of embroidery that originates in Japan. The term ‘sashiko’ translates to ‘little stabs,’ which describes the large running stitches of this type of traditional embroidery.

Traditionally, sashiko is done on indigo blue dyed cloth with white cotton embroidery embellishments but can also be done with red cotton. Initially, this embroidery was done to strengthen fabrics and clothing, but it is now also used for decorative purposes, such as in the creation of quilts.

Materials Needed for Big Stitch Quilting

An Already Basted Quilt or ‘Quilt Sandwich.’

Remember that big stitch quilting is the decorative part of your quilt top. Therefore you will need an already basted quilt sandwich to complete this design.


An essential consideration in big stitch quilting is the type of thread that you use. Remember, big stitch quilting involves your thread showing and adds to the charm of this quilt, so it is essential to make sure that you select a thread that is thick enough, strong enough, and bold enough to stick out on your quilt top while remaining easy to work with. Also important is to ensure that the color you select complements your quilt top and design so that the colors don’t clash or don’t wash each other out.

In thread selection, you will want to look out for threads that have been double gassed, which results in a thread that has a low lint finish. A low lint finish allows the thread to be pulled through the fibers more easily, resulting in an easier big stitch process.

Fabric for Your Quilt Top

You must select good-quality fabric for your quilt top. Your quilt top fabric is the foundation of your big stitch quilting. A sturdy and goof quality fabric will go a long way in preserving your handcrafted stitches for years to come.

Marking Tools

Since big stitch quilting is a free-hand quilting technique, you will inevitably need some guidance to ensure that your quilt still looks ‘put together.’ For example, painter’s tape is handy to stretch your quilt top and sew your running stitches along with its guideline. This ensures that your running stitches are straight and uniform.

Any tape with minimal adhesion is great to use as a marking tool for your big stitch quilt, as they are not very sticky and therefore won’t give you a hard time during removal or leave behind a residue.

You can also use stencils and pencils or chalk to mark your quilt designs if you want to do more than straight line stitching. Keep in mind if you use chalk it will start to wear off as you go so it is not a long-term solution if you are going to take a while to complete your big stitching.

Hand Quilting Needles

Hand quilting needles are different from machine quilting needles. Specifically, you will want to use needles with larger eyes that can accommodate the thicker and heavier thread associated with big stitch quilting. The best type of needles to use are Crewel needles and embroidery needles, as their eyes are large and they have very sharp points.

It is always up to one’s preference, but longer needles work a little better for this type of big stitch hand quilting for two reasons. First, longer needles are sometimes more comfortable because pushing through several layers of quilt batting can prove difficult with a short needle. Secondly, longer needles allow you to use them as guides to ensure that your running stitches are even and in line with one another. Loading your needle with several stitches (especially when your needle is longer) can help with this.

A Thimble

Even though a thimble is optional, using one is a good idea when doing any hand quilting. Specifically, with big stitch quilting, the process will require you to push the needle and thread through layers of basting, which can be difficult to accomplish and can be hard on your fingertips. Thimbles are helpful because they can assist you in pushing through needles when layers are thicker and more difficult, and they save your fingers so you can quilt for longer.

Quilter’s Hoop

Using a quilter’s hoop is optional and depends on your preference. However, it is helpful in keeping your quilt in place while working on it, particularly if you use stabbing stitches.

How to Big Stitch Quilt: Tutorial

Step 1: Getting Set Up

Start by positioning your quilt sandwich in your quilting hoop (if you are using one). A quilt sandwich is your quilt top, batting, and quilt backing all layered together. It is best to start hand quilting from the center of the quilt and slowly work towards the outside. Now is also the time to place painter’s tape or other guides and markings to plan out your design.

Getting into a comfortable position is also important. Then, thread your needle with a manageable thread length and knot the end. Make sure you don’t start with too much thread. Too long of thread can easily get tangled and knot up. This will take some trial and error to determine how much is enough to use without giving you too much grief in tangling as you go. You can also use thread gloss or thread wax to help keep your thread under control.

Step 2: Your First Stitch

Find a spot on your quilt that is slightly before where you want your quilting to start. Poke the needle through to the batting, but ensure that the needle does not go far enough to go through the backing.

Pull the thread up to the knot and give it a good tug to get it through the fabric. Now, your knot is buried in the middle of the quilt sandwich, and you can start your stitching.

Step 3: Stitching Your Design

Now is where you can start on your big stitch hand quilting design. A good method to keep your stitches the same length and consistent is to load up your needle – which involves poking your needle down a length of fabric without pulling it completely through until you have poked two to three stitches. Continue along this way, following your guides and your pattern. Generally, you can start out with stitches roughly 1/4″ in length with 1/4″ gap between stitches. The measurement of your stitches will become personal preference as to how big or small you want them to be on your project.

Step 4: Burying Your Thread

You will need to bury your thread when you finish your line of stitching or run out of thread. To do this, tie a knot close to the base of the fabric. Then, thread your needle through the very same hole, slide through the batting and come up a small distance away, and tug your thread through so that the knot pops through. All that is left is to snip the thread and the knot will be hidden behind the fabric inside the batting.

Some Tips to Keep in Mind

Go For it

Big stitch hand quilting can seem daunting, especially for less experienced quilters. However, to get started on a project like this, the best advice is just to jump right in. You can practice on unused or spare fabric and use that to make a small quilt sandwich and tack some big stitches on to get started. You won’t know if you can handle a project if you don’t try it out, and practice makes perfect.

Hand position and sitting position.

Big stitching on a large project can start to wear on your hands, back, and neck if you do it for a long period of time at once. Make sure you create a space to sit where you can keep your posture comfortable and your hand in an ergonomic position to reduce cramping. Getting up and stretching periodically will help with fatigue.

Make Sure You Are Using the Right Needles

Ensure that you use a needle that has a large enough eye to accommodate the thicker thread that you’ll use in big stitch quilting. It’s also important to make sure that your needles are sufficiently sharp enough to go through the batting layers of your quilt top.

Need Some Help Getting Started?

At Quilting Mayhem, you’ll find everything you need to get started on any quilting project, including big stitch quilting. Contact us for anything you may need, whether it is quilting supplies, patterns, big stitch quilting ideas, or anything else quilt!

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