We’re taking it back to the basics with this complete guide to quilting for all you brand new and curious quilters-to-be out there! Here you’ll find everything you need to make your first quilt.
Here at Love Patchwork & Quilting, we’re on a mission to convert everyone into a quilter. Sounds ambitious? Maybe so, but the beauty of quilting is anyone can get started, even if you’re brand new to sewing. Most quilt designs include the same basic techniques – from cutting and piecing to quilting and binding.
We’ve revamped our Beginner’s Guide to Quilting post below for those of you who want to start from scratch or just need a little refresher. Read on to discover everything you need to get started with patchwork and quilting.
- Shop for supplies: in the Sewing Quarter online store.
- How to bind a quilt with double-fold binding
- Check out the rest of our Quilt School series
Beginner’s guide to quilting
This post includes the following sections
- Features of a quilt
- You will need
- Pre-washing your fabric
- Using a rotary cutter and cutting mat
- Squaring up
- Piecing patchwork
- Measurements and seam allowances
- How to make a quilt sandwich
- Quilting:the basics
You might also find useful
- Quilt school: how to measure and cut quilt binding strips
- Quilt school: how to bind a quilt with double-fold binding
- How to tie a quilt
Features of a quilt
Here are some of the common features that you’ll find in many quilts. You’ll come across these common names for the different parts of a quilt.
- Patchwork quilt blocks – these square units are pieced separately, then joined together to make up the quilt pattern.
- Appliqué block – some units or quilt blocks are created with appliqué techniques.
- Quilting – quilts are secured together with areas of running stitch or other stitches in a decorative pattern.
- Quilt sandwich – when you make a quilt you join together three layers – quilt top, batting and backing fabric.
- Border – this surrounding framework of fabric runs around the edge of your quilt top – it can be plain or pieced from shapes.
- Cornerstones – squares at the corners of your quilt blocks. Quilts use these units to join lengths of sashing or borders.
- Sashing – a lattice of strips that can separate blocks to space them out. Sashing may be plain or pieced.
- Binding – the outer edging on a quilt. This thin outer edge also holds the quilt sandwich together.
Quilting tools: You will need
Here we’ll walk you through the basic quilter’s toolkit. These are the essential tools which will help you to make your first quilt…
- Sewing machine: For sewing fabrics together. Any standard machine is sufficient for patchwork, appliqué and quilting. Machines that have a variable stitch length and a zigzag stitch are the most useful.
- Quilter’s ruler: For measuring and cutting fabric pieces. An acrylic quilter’s ruler can cope with rotary cutters. A 61⁄2 x 241⁄2in or a 3in x 18in ruler is most useful for cutting strips or rectangles. A 121⁄2in square quilter’s ruler is useful for squaring up fabric pieces and quilts.
- Tape measure: For measuring fabrics; especially useful for measuring quilts.
- Rotary cutter and mat: These items make cutting multiple fabric pieces much easier. Buy the largest mat you can afford. A 45mm diameter cutter is most useful. Take great care with rotary cutters as they are extremely sharp, and replace or sharpen your blades regularly.
- Scisssors: For cutting fabric and paper or plastic for templates. Use dressmaking shears for cutting fabric and a separate pair of scissors for paper, card and plastic. Small embroidery scissors are also useful.
- Seam ripper: For unpicking seams and small areas of stitching.
- Fabric markers: For marking shapes on fabric. Pencils can be used for most fabrics.
- Chalk markers: Are useful for dark-coloured fabrics. Water-soluble or air-erasable markers can also be used.
- Fabric glue: For temporarily fixing fabrics together. Liquid glues, spray glues and glue sticks for fabric are available.
- Fine pins: For pinning fabric pieces together. These come with a variety of head types including flat (to slide under the machine foot) and heat resistant glass (suitable for pressing).
- Small safety pins: For temporarily securing fabrics together and making a ‘quilt sandwich’. Curved safety pins are available for quilting.
- Steam iron and board: For ironing fabrics and pressing work. Any steam iron can be used and a large ironing board.
Essential quilting techniques
Pre-washing your fabrics
- Some people like to wash fabrics before they use them in a quilt so that if they shrink in the wash, they do so before you make them into the quilt and not after. Other quilters do this after a quilt is finished for a slightly crinkled look.
- If you think a fabric might shrink or bleed dye then wash it before you use it.
- Pre-cut fabrics, such as charm squares and thin strips should not be washed before use because the shapes will distort.
Using a rotary cutter, mat and quilter’s ruler
- Use a strong acrylic quilter’s ruler when cutting – normal rulers are not suitable.
- Always cut away from you, replace the guard the moment you have finished cutting and wear suitable shoes in case you drop the cutter.
- As you cut, keep your fingers away from the ruler’s edge.
- Replace the blade when the cutter starts skipping threads.
- Take care! Rotary blades are extremely sharp.
- Cutting fabric pieces so they are right-angled and on the straight grain will get the best results in patchwork
- Place the fabric on your cutting mat so a selvedge is aligned with a horizontal marking on the mat. Check the right-hand side of the fabric – if it is also following a horizontal line on the mat then it is square; if not trim that fabric edge. Do the same on the other side of the fabric piece.
- You can also check that a finished quilt top is right-angled using the same technique.
- Pin fabric pieces together well, especially at seam junctions. If you press the seams on one unit in the opposite direction to its neighbouring unit this will help the seams fit together neatly.
- Open out the completed block and press the seam to one side or according to the project instructions
- When possible press towards the darker fabric so the colour doesn’t show through pale fabrics on the right side.
Measurements & seam allowances
- Most quilters describe their measurements in imperial numbers (inches), although either imperial or metric measurements (sometimes both) can be included in a project depending on the designer’s preference. Don’t convert figures unless you have to. If possible, use the measurement system stated within the project you are working on; where both imperial and metric are given, choose one and use that consistently throughout the project.
- A 1⁄4 inch seam allowance is commonly used by quilters and designers, but always check the specific measurements given for the project you are working on.
Making a quilt sandwich
After you finish making your quilt top, it’s time to create a ‘quilt sandwich’ – this is a layering of the quilt top, wadding and backing.
- Press the quilt top on both sides, checking seams are pressed in the neatest directions and trim any trailing threads.
- Cut your wadding and backing so they are several inches larger than the quilt top all round.
- The sandwich can be fixed together in various ways, including tacking, pins and spray glue.
Step-by-step: how to make a quilt sandwich
Step one: Lay the pressed backing fabric right side down on a flat surface and smooth it out.
Step two: Lay the wadding on top of the backing and smooth out any wrinkles.
Step three: Lay the pressed quilt top right side up on top of the wadding, with backing and wadding showing all round. Fix the layers to the surface with masking tape.
Step four: Tack all three layers together with long lengths of thread, working from the centre out in a grid pattern, with lines about 4in (10cm) apart. Alternatively, use pins or safety pins or spray basting glue to secure the layers.
Quilting: the basics
- Quilting is the stitching that is worked on a quilt or project to secure the layers together and add surface texture and embellishment. It can be worked by hand or machine.
- Marking a quilting design can be done before the quilt sandwich is assembled or after. Marking methods include pencil, chalk, erasable pens, templates and masking tape.
- Use a machine quilting needle and a quilting thread suitable for the fabrics you are using. Use a walking foot on the machine to feed the fabric layers evenly.
- Select a stitch length of about 10–12 stitches per inch (2.5cm). Check your machine tension to make sure the stitches look good from the front and back.
- A quick way to secure the layers of the quilt is by straight stitching ‘in the ditch’ (between the seams). You can also quilt ¼in away from the seams of all the quilt blocks.
- A hand quilting stitch is a running stitch.
- Generally, start quilting at the centre of the quilt and work outwards.
- The length of quilting stitches can be whatever you are comfortable with. The consistency of the stitches is more important than size.
Binding your quilt
- To finish your quilt, see our post about How to bind a quilt with double-fold binding