When my 14 year-old was a newborn, I chose to resign my teaching position and become a stay-at-home mom. After three months I found myself in need of a hobby. My husband suggested I learn how to quilt. It has become a beloved and favorite pastime ever since.
The process of quilting is basic and straightforward. Using a few basic rules, you’re only limited by your creativity and imagination.
Quilts come in all sizes: baby, lap, twin, queen, king, or any custom size. You can even quilt other items, like pillows, wall hangings, Christmas ornaments, pot holders and clothing, like a lady’s vest. Quilts can be made from almost any fabric, from high-end and expensive to cut up denim jeans and scraps from other projects. The possibilities are endless.
Imagine giving a new mom a baby quilt or making simple quilted pot holders to give to a newly married couple. It’s also a good skill to keep your hands and fingers nimble and a hobby that can be done even if the grid goes down.
Stockpiling a few of the basic supplies ensures that you can create wonderful gifts for family and friends even during hard times.
Learn how to quilt with these basic steps
The basic quilting steps are:
Wash, dry, and lightly starch all fabric before cutting. Even if your fabric claims to be pre-shrunk and pre-washed, there’s nothing more disheartening than finishing a quilt, washing it, and finding major puckers or bleeding in your finished project.
Cutting your fabric pieces
The size and shape of your fabric pieces will depend on the quilt design you choose. There are some very, very easy quilt patterns out there that consist only of squares and/or rectangles, making the actual stitching quite easy. If you’re picturing yourself slaving away with a pair of scissors, cutting each piece by hand, never fear! An inexpensive rotary cutter makes this job much easier by cutting through several layers of fabric at once.
Piecing your top
This involves sewing, by machine or hand, cut shapes of fabric together to make blocks and then sewing those blocks together into your quilt top. Many quilters use rotary cutting supplies to make this job easier. You will learn the ¼-inch rule that applies to all patterns. It is a universal measurement allowance that keeps quilting patterns consistent.
Marking your top
Use different stencils, designs, and patterns to mark your top piece. The blue ink pen (for quilters) will remain visible until you wash your quilt. The purple ink pen is temporary and will disappear after 24 – 48 hours, as I found out the hard way! There are also chalk and gray pencil options.
The back of a quilt is usually only a few large strips of plain fabric sewn together. It can be a solid color or a coordinating print. I prefer mine to be just a little wider and longer than the top piece and batting.
Most quilters prefer cotton batting over polyester. It wears better, feels softer, and doesn’t rub the fabric and break through like synthetics. Never pre-wash batting!
Once your top piece and backing are complete, lay them out in order: backing wrong side up, batting, then top piece right side up. Make sure you pull each piece taunt and smooth out as many wrinkles and puckers as possible.
This is a critical step that will temporarily hold your project together while you quilt. Many quilters, including myself, pin our layers then use general purpose thread to run large stitches in a grid or clock face pattern. Make sure your thread is a color very different than the one you’re using for quilting. Other basting techniques include quilters safety pins, spray adhesive, and basting tape. Find what works best for you.
For me this is the fun part! There is a debate about which is best, hand quilting or machine quilting. My personal preference is to hand quilt. The fundamentals of hand quilting are to use quilting needles called “betweens” and quilting thread which is thicker than general purpose thread.
There are excellent books and videos that will teach you all about the basics, and more advanced skills, of quilting, but this is the general procedure I follow when I hand quilt.
Thread your needle so that you use a single thread and knot it at the end. Your quilt should be secured in a hoop or frame. Put on your thimble, insert your needle from the back or front of the fabric. Pull the thread firmly but gently until it “pops” between the fabric and batting. Now that you’ve secured your thread, begin stitching in and out of all three layers. When you reach the end of your thread, tie a knot approximately ¼ inch from your last stitch. Insert your needle between the layers, pull gently but firmly until the knot pops through.
The fabric and batting will secure the knot. Continue following your blue or purple pattern lines with another thread. It is true that most quilters try to have tiny stitches, approximately 10 per inch. The best advice I received was to not worry about the length of my stitches but focus on making them even. Tiny stitches will come along with time and practice.
Once you’ve quilted the entire work, remove all basting thread. Sew a binding around the edges and you’re finished. Toss it in the washing machine on gentle cycle and delicate dry. Don’t forget to write your name and date on the back bottom corner of your piece and take a picture of it. No matter how good or bad you feel you’ve done, your family will appreciate your effort and you can take pride in creating something that will (literally) cover them with love for generations!
You’ll need some basic supplies to get started
This list is supplies is basic and most everything is quite inexpensive. I’ve included Amazon links to give you an idea of prices.
Basic Supply List
- Sewing machine with basic settings (You don’t need a Bernina unless you want one!)
- Quilting needles (betweens)
- Needle threader
- Seam ripper
- Fabric scissors — These must be used with fabric only, or you’ll end up frustrated, trying to cut through fabric with a dull pair of scissors. Store these in a home safe if you have kids with sticky fingers!
- Quilting safety pins
- Self-healing cutting mat
- Rotary cutter
- Omnigrid clear rulers
- Blue or purple marking pen
- Quilting thread
- General purpose thread
- Spray starch
- Spray adhesive
- Basting tape
- Quilting frame or hoop (for hand quilting)
There’s a vast resource of information on quilting. If you have a quilting store near you, the ladies are always eager to share their wealth of knowledge and love of sewing with anyone who asks. Trust me. There CANNOT be enough quilters in the world!
- Better Homes & Gardens: Complete Guide to Quilting
- “How to Make a Quilt” This link provides a good general overview with other links to expand your information and knowledge.
- Survival Mom’s “Learn a New Handicraft” Pinterest board
- “YouTube Tutorial ~ How to Quilt” This video does a good job of demonstrating some of the fundamentals of cutting, sewing, and piecing. It’s a good place to start.
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