Big-stitch quilting technique: have you tried this fun way to finish? (video)

When the quilt finish line is near, it’s fun to take a moment to decide which techniques you’ll use to complete your quilt, especially when it comes to quilting your top. There are lots of options! From quick machine quilting with free-motion methods or walking-foot techniques to hand quilting, hand tying, and tacking, the choice is yours.

Small quilts offer a chance to play with hand quilting and still reach that finish line fast, and the big-stitch quilting technique is a fun and surprisingly quick way to go. Gail Pan, author of the “Patchwork Loves Embroidery” series of books, uses pearl cotton instead of traditional quilting thread, and it really makes each stitch pop! Plus, big stitches mean you’ll cover the surface of your quilt top with stitches more quickly—the finish line will always be in plain sight.

Read on for Gail’s big-stitch quilting technique—maybe you’ll want to give it a try!

Gail PanBig-Stitch Quilting Technique
From Patchwork Loves Embroidery Too by Gail Pan

To add a little dimension to my projects, I hand quilt them using a big-stitch quilting technique and size 8 ecru pearl cotton. I begin by placing ¼" quilter’s tape so that one side adjoins a seamline or a motif in my project, such as an embroidered circle. Using the edge of the quilter’s tape as a guide allows me to stitch a quilting line that is even and exactly ¼" from the seam. Quilter’s tape comes on a roll and is both inexpensive and repositionable.

Pretty Floral ToteThread your needle with pearl cotton thread, inserting the end straight off the ball. Cut a length of thread about 15″ long. Knot one end with a single knot. Insert your needle through the backing fabric to the front, where you want to start. Pull the backing fabric away from the batting and tug gently on the thread so the knot pops between the layers.

Bring the needle up through the quilt top right next to the ¼" quilter’s tape, and then insert it back into the quilt right next to the tape and approximately ¼" from the spot where your needle came up. This will make a “big stitch” approximately ¼" long. Bring the needle back up next to the quilter’s tape ¼" from the point where the needle went down last. Continue in this manner until you have 4″ to 5″ of thread left. Take the thread to the back, knot the thread, and then pull the knot back into the quilt, between the backing and the batting. Bring the needle out approximately 1″ away. Trim the thread close to the backing fabric. For “wavy” line quilting, freehand the quilting as you stitch.

Big-stitch quilting technique - detail
Big-stitch quilting: wavy lines

We put together a little video about Gail’s big-stitch quilting technique, so you can see her how-to in action:

  Reading this post in email? Click here to view the video.

Ready to give big-stitch quilting a try? Let these projects from Gail’s books inspire you!

This pretty table runner is chock-full of big-stitch quilting and is perfect for enjoying year-round:

Wildflowers Table Runner
Wildflowers Table Runner from
Patchwork Loves Embroidery Too

See 13 more projects from Patchwork Loves Embroidery Too >

Here’s a sweet topper for the holiday on the way:

All Around the Snowmen Table Topper
All around the Snowmen Table Topper from
Christmas Patchwork Loves Embroidery

See 12 more projects from Christmas Patchwork Loves Embroidery >

Or tuck your secrets and dreams into this happy little fabric folder:

Secrets and Dreams Folder
Secrets and Dreams Folder from
Patchwork Loves Embroidery

See 15 more projects from Patchwork Loves Embroidery >

How do you usually finish your small quilts?

  • Big-stitch quilting, just like Gail!
  • Machine quilting—with the pedal to the metal to get to the finish line.
  • I like to mix it up with machine quilting, traditional hand quilting, and big-stitch quilting.

Share your finishing smarts in the comments! And if we’ve inspired you to try Gail’s big-stitch quilting technique, you can order one or more of her books now and instantly download the eBook version for free.

Patchwork Loves Embroidery Too Patchwork Loves Embroidery Christmas Patchwork Loves Embroidery

38 Comments (leave a comment)

  • I like to use a combination of finishes….machine quilting where it won’t show up, and then hand stitching in the prominent areas ( when time allows 😉 )

    Monique Adams on September 7, 2018
  • I usually hand quilt, but I have some of them done on the long arm. I have not perfected machine quilting, but will one day. Her big stitch quilting is perfectly spaced and that is hard to do. Nice job.

    —Phyllis on September 7, 2018
  • Machine quilting.

    —Amy Cofer on September 7, 2018
  • No, I have not tried this method of finishing my quilts. Love it! I usually send them to someone else to do the quilting for me.

    —Laurie Halama on September 7, 2018
  • It depends on the project and what would look best. I’ve done them all so whatever works best.

    —Joanne O'Neal on September 7, 2018
  • I am a hand quilter, but have been trying a bit of machine quilting when I want to finish a project a little faster. I have a little wall hanging I am just starting to quilt and it has a center piece that I think will be perfect to give the big stitch quilting technique a try.. thanks for the idea!

    —Cheryl on September 7, 2018
  • I have only done machine quilting. I like this Big Stitch quilting and have a project I want to try it on.

    —Kathryn Brickey on September 7, 2018
  • I have a difficult time machine quilting so I usually tie large quilts and hand stitch the smaller ones. I have not yet tried the large stitch method shown here, but I may as I have the perfect quilt to try it on.

    —Debby Jensen on September 7, 2018
  • I like the way it looks! I might just try it.

    —Geri Alper on September 7, 2018
  • I like to hand quilt my small quilts or wall hangings. My stitches are not as tiny as I might like but I have not tried the large stitch. Maybe I will give it a try.

    —Eleanor Kay Hunzinger on September 7, 2018
  • I usually machine quilt my small quilts, but have tried big stitch.

    —Peggy on September 7, 2018
  • I like to vary my techniques – from machine quilting to hand quilting. I Have even done a little bit of big stitching. Every day is a new day so whatever hits me for the project I am working on!

    —Ann West on September 7, 2018
  • I love the look of the big stitch on the types of quilts I make. In the past I have tried both free motion and using my walking foot, but plan to do more of the big stitch. Thanks for the great video.

    —Sue in Oregon on September 7, 2018
  • I’m having a great time with big stitch quilting. Experimenting with different threads and needles. This just expands my take-along projects that go with me everywhere.

    Mary Lindberg on September 7, 2018
  • I usually hand quilt my small quilts. I have done some machine quilting and am getting better at it. But I have not tried Big Stitch quilting, yet.

    —Linda Towers on September 7, 2018
  • My mom hand quilts all of mine, both large and small with really tiny stitches, but I really want to try this on my next small quilt. I love the way it brings your eye to each detail and sets them off perfectly.

    —debby setlock on September 7, 2018
  • Usually machine quilting.
    Have done couple small projects by hand

    —Janet Flugum on September 7, 2018
  • I would like to do Big Stitch. Definitely need to finish many UFOs.

    —carol on September 7, 2018
  • I love hand quilting! I have always wanted to try big stitching but haven’t done it yet. Hugs,

    —Sandi on September 7, 2018
  • I’ve only tied quilts or (recently) machine straight line quilted.Thanks for all the information you share!

    —bookboxer on September 7, 2018
  • Just finished a giant hexagon quilt for an experiment (my son asked for it – so now it’s almost finished). Love the way it turned out! I will certainly do this again….

    —Judy Stolz on September 7, 2018
  • I "tried" this once and it ended up being a "regular" hand quilting process instead. I love the finished project, however I wanted the big/chunky stitch look.I will have to try again!

    —Becky Schultz on September 7, 2018
  • I like to mix it up.

    —Lena Truitt on September 7, 2018
  • I have done big stitch on a recycled denim quilt and I loved it.

    —Juanita R. Decquir on September 7, 2018
  • Thanks to Gail, I’ve started big-stitching a lot of my small projects. Thanks, Gail!
    And I love your books!!!

    —Karen on September 7, 2018
  • I usually hand quilt my small projects. I love the look of the big stitch. I will have to try it.

    —Deborah Gallett on September 7, 2018
  • I have small projects taking up space in closets unfinished. This is the instructions I have been looking for. Great ideas and that book would be the ticket for my UFO’s. Thank you for the information.

    —Althea Klosterman on September 7, 2018
  • Mix it up, depending on how the project speaks to me.

    —Linda Ahn on September 7, 2018
  • Unless it’s tiny I machine stitch. Things might change, I’ve recently been doing embriodery again, it’s very relaxing. Maybe I’ll learn to hand quilt, regular or big stitch.

    —Toni Anne Potter on September 7, 2018
  • machine quilting all the way -need to slow down and do some hand stitching !

    —LizAnn Lizotte on September 8, 2018
  • I use big stitch almost all the. Got to get done quickly.

    —Ann on September 8, 2018
  • To be honest, I have never finished (or even started) the final quilting of a project I’ve put together. Machine quilting has always scared me a lot, and I can’t afford to have someone else quilt my quilts. So, I have a lot of unfinished quilts. But this technique seems very doable. The thought of hand-stitching sounds very relaxing, and I’m up for the challenge! Thank you for the suggestion!

    —Teri D. Gailey on September 8, 2018
  • I like the look of big stitch, I have done by quilting by machine and sent out to a long armer.

    —Debbie Lewanzick on September 8, 2018
  • I usually hand quilt most of my quilts. I really like the idea of this big stitch.

    —barb on September 9, 2018
  • I usually complete small quilts with machine quilting; however, I have used big stitch quilting to complete a quilt and it looked very nice.

    —Lillian K on September 11, 2018
  • I usually finish small quilt with machine quilting,I made hand quilting when I used japaneses fabrics

    —Antonia Rojas León on September 13, 2018
  • I tried big stitch quilting this year and fell in love with it. I had been a traditional had quilter for over 30 years and could not believe I never tried this before. I have combined regular hand quilting using the smaller stitches with the big stitch and I liked the finished product. I tried different sizes of Perle Cotton and I like the size 12 the best and I prefer the manufacturer "Valdani".

    —Lynn Woods on December 9, 2018
  • Can you tell me what needle you use with the 8 croquet thread please.
    I am having difficulty finding a needle which will accommodate the thread and be easy to pull through the quilt sandwich ….many thanks

    —Janet Vandore on February 19, 2021

Leave a comment

*Indicates required field