It seems that many beginner sewers aspire to sew a quilt. A lovely, well made quilt has an heirloom quality to it – something to be treasured and past down. Yet despite these aspirations, it seems many sewers (both beginner and even those with more experience and skill) are daunted by the prospect.
If you’re still daunted by the prospect here are a couple of other things you can do:
1) Start small – this is the beauty of quilting – your project can be as little or as big as you want it to be. If even a cot quilt seems to big, perhaps start with a dolls quilt, patchwork cushion cover or something similar. This will help get your confidence up.
2) Start with a simple design – straight lines and squares (more on this soon.)
Hopefully by now you have the confidence to plunge into your first quilting project, here’s what you need to know in order to get started:
a) Materials required
- Pins for the piecing stage
- Basting / safety pins
- Rotary cutter
- Sewing scissors
- Seam ripper
- Quilting ruler
- Self healing mat
- Fabric pencil / marker
I will explain the use of some of these further, later in this post.
The one thing that I left off accidently is my quilting pencil – a very helpful tool that I use to draw my quilting lines on during the ‘quilting stage.’ This pencil’s markings wash off.
And of course you need batting and bias binding too.
b) Quilting demystified – jargon and the stages.
A standard/traditional quilt is essentially made up of three components:
1) The ‘quilt top’ – The design on the top made up of lots of quilt blocks in rows and often surrounded by a border.
2) The ‘batting’ – The wadding the middle that gives the quilt it’s substance. You’re local sewing/ quilting shop should stock various different types of batting. The more expensive ones will most likely be made of natural fibres – cotton, wool, or bamboo, whereas the polyester or poly-cotton blends should be cheaper. They also vary in thicknesses.
3) The ‘backing fabric’ – This is essentially the bottom of the sandwich (with the quilt top being the other piece of bread and the batting being the filling). It is worth checking the width of your selected fabric (compared to the width of your quilt) before buying it, to see if you will need to join two pieces together. For most larger quilts you will need to do this, but for smaller ones this may be able to be avoided.
In my view there are essentially four stages to making a quilt:
1) Preparation – selecting a design and fabric, washing fabric.
2) Making the quilt top – cutting and ‘piecing’ (sewing) together the blocks.
3) Quilting – sandwiching the batting in the middle of the quilt top and backing fabric and sewing them together. (You can choose to do this yourself or get it professionally done.)
4) Binding – sewing the binding on to make the edges all finished and nice and neat.
Then you’re done!
We’ll explore these four stages a little more here, and I’ll share with you a few helpful tips and time-saving techniques (and refer to other helpful links where necessary.)
Get a quilt design you like. You can either find these online (ask Mr google or Pinterest.) Or design your own. Either way as a beginner quilter you probably want to be going for something simple with mainly squares and rectangles. In my opinion simple is often better and more effective anyway.
All of my quilts so far have been my own designs. This is not at all hard to do – but I would recommend that you draw a plan.
In the world of quilting everything is pretty much done using inches, and most quilt blocks are built on a (finished) 6 inch square.
I use 1/4 inch seam allowances, so if I want a finished 6 inch square I will cut it 6 1/2 inches square (to allow for the 2 x 1/4 inch seam allowances on each side.)In the case of the quilt my Mum and I made for my sister (above), this is what we did for the larger blue and floral squares, while the smaller rectangles we cut 3 1/2 inch by 6 1/2 inch to give a finished 3 by 6 inch rectangle.
I generally don’t worry about getting the exact size of the finished quilt sorted until later; as I will add borders later to get the size I want.
Once you’ve finalised your quilt design, you need to select your fabric. Most fabric stores will have a selection of pre-packaged co-coordinating fabrics for quilters. Or you can choose to pick the fabrics yourself (usually my favoured option.)
When selecting your own fabric, one helpful tip I’ve found is that on the selvedge of the fabric you often find something like this above, which shows the colour tones used in the fabric. Once you have selected your feature fabric you can take this into the fabric shop and match coordinating with it.
If you have one or two pretty busy fabrics, then perhaps consider getting something with a simpler design (plain or with subtle spots or stripes.) And don’t be afraid of white space – it can be very effective in quilts. 100% cotton of similar thicknesses is best.
2) Making the quilt top
This is the most time consuming stage of your project and often the cutting process can feel the most tedious. Cutting accurately very is important so that all your corners match up crisply. This is why we use a rotary/ roller cutter.
I fold up my fabric so can cut through a few layers at one and then line up a corner of this fabric with the markings on your self healing mat, to give a right angle. (You may need to neaten the raw edge of the fabric first, if it is not already cut in a straight line.)
Then you line up your quilting ruler to give the size you need to cut. In the example given here, (a vintage picnic blanket) I want to cut a width of 3 1/2 inches. (As you can see the corner of my fabric is at ‘1’ on my mat not ‘0’ so I’ve cut at the 4 1/2 inch mark.)Before you cut check that the ruler is lined up properly both at the top and bottom.
As you can see now I’m left with some long strips of 3 1/2 inch wide fabric. I need 3 1/2 inch squares, so normally I would just go along the line and cut at 3 1/2 inch intervals – but I’m going to show you a time saving technique that you may be able to use.
Instead I’ve cut an identical 3 1/2 inch long strip in a contrasting piece of fabric. Then I sewed them together with right sides facing (using a 1/4 inch seam allowance) and pressed the seams open*.
Then I cut this at 3 1/2 inch all along the strip(thus saving time!)
NB: This time saving technique will only be useful for you however, if you have a repeating pattern where the two fabrics are next to each other throughout your design
I found it extremely useful when making Isabelle’s quilt (top photo). I was able to flip one of the pieces round (as also demonstrated below) to give the diagonal design.
You basically keep making your blocks and join them together with other blocks until you have a full row. Then make another, join the two rows together and you so on and so forth … and you will see your quilt grow before your eyes!
I have already stressed the importance of accurate cutting. Other things that will help your corners line up and your quilt to look professional are ironing and pinning. *As I said above, I press my seams open, although I understand that a lot of other quilters press there seams towards the darker coloured fabric. Do what you suits you best. Regarding pinning – I pay special attention to meeting up vital corners and junctions and make sure that I pin at these points.
Once you have finished all your rows, add any borders that you require to give the desired size (I usually google or measure old quilts/duvets to get the size I want.) And la voila you have finished your quilt top!
Before you can begin quilting you first need to ‘sandwich’ your batting in between your quilt top and backing fabric. I find it easiest to do this on a large clean bit of floor. (It also pays to remove curious babies and pets at this point!)
First lay down your pre-washed and pressed backing fabric with the wrong side up on the floor (remember you may have had to join a couple of pieces together to get the right size.) Ensure that this is very smooth. Then place your batting on top, followed by your quilt top, right side up. smooth all layers out. The backing fabric and and batting should be bigger than the quilt top. You can trim around the edges later.
Once you have it how you like it start pinning through all layers of the quilt with safety pins. These serve to hold all layers of the quilt together until it is quilted. As this is a very important job I say the more pins the merrier!
Once you have all your pins in you can now trim the batting and backing fabric down to size. in line with the quilt top.
Then draw your quilting design with a quilting pencil and ruler. I personally love to quilt on the diagonal through squares and find it easy to keep this straight.
My Mother-in-law tells you shouldn’t have more than a hand’s gap between any two lines of quilting so that your quilt holds together really well. She also tells me it is good to quilt a large bit in the centre to really ‘anchor’ your quilt to start with. Obviously remove your safety pins as you go.
Use a long stitch and take it slow to avoid puckering (and unpick if necessary!) If your making a large quilt it can be tricky at times dealing with so much fabric, but persevere, it’s worth it!
Some people choose to get their quilts professionally quilted, obviously there is a cost to this but the results are amazing and can save you a bit of work (and possibly stress) – so this always is another option.
If you want to avoid the cost of batting, you can always cheat as I did on my son’s quilt (above). I used a woollen blanket from the op-shop which served as both batting and backing.
Hold on, you’re on the home stretch!
Some people choose to make their own bias binding – and if you wish to do so there is a really good tutorial here.
I personally am a bit lazy and prefer to buy nice wide binding from my local fabric store.
There are few different options when it comes to sewing on your binding.
I personally like to follow this but finish the back by hand sewing using a blind stitch.
I would also recommend this tutorial if want to use rounded corners instead.
Once your binding is complete, congratulations! You have just created a quilt, a work of art, a family heirloom! Well done!
(And well done making it all the way through this post! There is so much to talk about when it comes to quilting!)
Thanks for having me Ros!
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