We’re taking it back to basics with this complete guide to quilting for all you brand new and curious quilters-to-be out there!
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.
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 withareas 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 6½x24½in or a 3in x 18in ruler is most useful for cutting strips or rectangles. A 12½in 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
Let’s run through a few of the essential techniques that will help you get started…
How to pre-wash 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.
How to use a rotary cutter and quilting 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.
How to square up a quilt
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.
How to sew patchwork
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 ¼ inch seam allowance is commonly used by quilters and designers, but always check the specific measurements given for the project you are working on.
How to make 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.
How to make a quilt sandwich: step by step
Lay the pressed backing fabric right side down on a flat surface and smooth it out.
Lay the wadding on top of the backing and smooth out any wrinkles.
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.
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.
Machine quilting tips
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.
New to sewing and looking for handy tips to get better results from your sewing machine? We’ve put together this list of tips for beginners to machine sewing, to share a few lessons we’ve learned along the way!
Hand quilting tips
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.