Quilting can be quite the combination of style and precision, art and engineering. A task that can be quite an arduous one if left unattended. With so many choices and products in the world of quilting, it can be hard to know just where to begin without spending an arm and a leg. Then the hours of trial and error. Never fear, this twenty-year seamstress is going to lead you down the path of awesome gadgets and simple tips on how to succeed in quilting.
It doesn’t matter, either a first-time quilter, or an experienced stitcher looking to up your sewing game for that next contest or challenge, I’m here to help.
There are many skills utilized in quilting, but in my opinion, the most critical one of these skills is precision. All through the design process, cutting, seaming, ironing, and ultimately finishing processes, precision will be the key. Some of the quilting techniques you will find would not even be possible without precision. Did I mention precision? 🙂
There are six stages to quilting:
Layering or making your sandwich
And last but not least, Binding.
As in any project, we must first and foremost come up with our design. Whether you have a specific design in mind from your own imagination, a desire for traditional keepsake quilting pattern, or just crave an exercise in speed quilting, design should always be taken into consideration. Remember friends, quilting design is not just one dimensional. It is the look, feel, and behavior of the quilt. From the inside out, a quilt’s design must be considered at every step. This ensures that you will give a long lasting and beautiful quilt every time. Find your color palette, style and go to it!
For more on designing a quilt, check out my “Quilt Design with Ease”, this has great tips and a formula for making the right choices down the design path.
Now that we have our quilt design chosen, our fabric purchased and processed, we are ready to make our first cut.
(If you are new to quilting or need a reminder check out my Processing/Preparing Fabric and Purchasing Fabric blog.)
Scary, I know.
I remember cutting my first quilt, I stood there; freshly washed and ironed fabric, satisfyingly flat and perfect, just waiting for me to cut it flawlessly… no pressure. Realizing that I only have enough fabric to get this right the first time (and trying to not hyperventilate) I had an epiphany, even if my cut was not perfect, that was the whole point of quilting. Not cutting incorrectly, but the history of quilting itself stems from putting together little pieces of otherwise unused fabric in order to use every little piece. “So, you can’t really make a mistake in quilting, you simply are just beginning you’re next quilting project ahead of schedule.”
Yet I stopped, and I asked myself,
“Is there anything that can make cutting easy and perfect the first time, every time?”
Yes, and it is not your scissors, the device you need my quilting friend, is called a rotary cutter. This is like a pizza cutter for fabric, and a good one is wicked sharp.
If you have never heard of a rotary cutter or would simply like to learn all about rotary cutters, check out all about rotary cutters article
Used with a rotary cutter, is a cutting mat, or a rotary mat. Learn all about rotary cutting mats here.
The last thing you will need for a happy quilting cutting experience is a clear and clearly marked quilting ruler. These wonderful tools come in a variety of sizes and shapes. Find out all about finding the Right Quilting Ruler for You.
Phew, I know that was a ton of information thrown at you, and if that is too much work for you, the cutting that is, don’t be discouraged, you can be a quilter yet. Quilting no longer necessarily involves cutting. Fortunately for quilters everywhere, in the wonderful age of the internet, there are many companies that offer dye cut, or perfectly pre-cut quilts pieces. These are already cut and packaged, ready for you to start piecing today. Choose either a prepackaged kit or the individual shapes you desire for that masterpiece of your very own. My favorite options are the kits that come 100% cut out and designed all ready to sew. My favorites are from Savvy Sewer, the offer both hand dyed, solid cloth, and will work with you to design your very own quilt and send all of the pieces cut and ready for you, how cool is that.
Now having our cut work complete we are ready to go sew.
Lining up the edges (while pining perfectly, of course), begins the process of building the quilt top with the all important ¼ inch seam. This seam may require some practice, particularly for a first timer. If you are working on a pattern from a prepackaged quilt kit, or magazine the kit or patterns will most often come with a set of instructions attempting to tell you which piece goes together first, second, third, and so on. I have been told by many of my students that IF there are in fact directions to the quilt pattern they are certainly not for the beginner. However I know if you go slowly, (and have a great seam ripper), you will be just fine.
For those of us going on our own, there are many patterns and how-to’s online that may be able to help. For example, check out my page on quilt piecing 101. But really it all breaks down to this, build your base piece, a square, then build your rows, then put those rows together into your quilt top.
Then there was thread, the glue holding your piecing work of art together. But which thread? So many options and not enough time and money to try all of them before your quilting endeavours. So to quote the great Inigo “there is too much let me sum up”; Quality of the thread is critical to the life and behavior of the quilt, especially when going through the wash. Cheaper threads may have you ending up with pieces after your first laundry cycle, or play date. I always choose a top quality, cotton thread from a reputable source.
Here are a few I like:
These are by no means the ONLY types of quilting cottons I use, but they are my standard go-tos. I utilize cotton threads most of the time. Cotton thread will allow the quilt will wear evenly. This mean is that everytime the quilt is washed, I know that due to me choosing all cotton materials the piece will wear together, get soft together, and overtime, simply become one. Imagine that favorite quilt that is just so old and soft you think you are going to just melt into it, that is the feel I want 40 years from now, and that is what I plan for in every quilting project.
All pieced together, and our top looks amazing!
Congratulations, one of the greatest milestones of quilting accomplished, but don’t stop now! Having completed a quilt top is a celebratory marker in the quilting world. However many of us are now feeling done. Have done all that is in us, and now ready for a break. We cut, pinned, pieced, and now have truly something to show for it, well, half a something… alright a third, but for many of us this is where the quilting journey will abruptly come to an end.
PLEASE don’t let this happen to you, there are options. I promise the work will all be worth it in the end, not to mention is gets down-right addicting.
This is where the quilt really comes together.
Layering is the process where we take the quilt top, quilt batting, and backing material, layer them together, then pin to prepare for the next step of hand or machine quilting. This layering is often referenced as making the quilt sandwich. For layering your quilt you must have a large enough area to lay out the whole quilt, as flat as possible. If you are lucky enough to have a large table, it does make it easier physically to work up and off of the floor. For most of us there are only two practical options to spreading out a piece that large in our homes, the floor or the bed. The bed makes a perfect makeshift workspace, and doesn’t take up any extra space like a cutting/work table does. Before using the bed as a work space, strip the bed of all linens, this makes your new workspace nice and easy to work on, as well as ensuring no damage to the linens underneath.
Starting to building the quilting sandwich, is made all the easier when the top and backing are ironed flat.
Begin with your quilt backing.
Place the right side of the material down on the bed, smoothing out any wrinkles before the batting middle. When laying out the quilting batting, especially if using cotton, take care to not stretch or pull the batting out of shape. This can leave you with an unevenly thick, lumpy quilt. Last but not least, with the right side of the quilt top facing you, center the quilt top on to your quilt batting. Beautiful, this is the first time your quilt starts to really look and feel like the quilt it is becoming.
Once the layers are all laid out I begin to pin. Start in the middle and work your way out and around evenly. I use quilting safety pins for this step. They are these slightly bent safety pins, this helps you grab all three layers at once. Continue working out from the middle of the quilt, pinning every 6-10 inches square until you reach 3-4 inches from the edge.
Quilting- The stitching of your quilt
There are some options to get your nice, evenly flat layers of pinned fabric and batting stitched together perfectly.
Quilting the piece together, on any standard sewing machine, utilizing the technique of free motion quilting, is one of the options.
You can also use an embroidery machine, if you happen to have one at home these are a great tool for you to add into your quilting. You can find embroidery designs especially made to quilt your quilt blocks and borders. Hand quilting, there is always this option, and while relaxing and methodical to some, hand sewn, are four letter words to this seamstress. Don’t get me wrong I have had the pleasure of hand quilting a quilt, but with how busy I stay, any more speed is queen.
No matter what method you choose to use for the real quilting part of the project, you will be utilizing a hoop of some kind. This hoop will help you keep the tension even, during stitching. Hoops for quilting come in all sizes and many shapes. For the hand quilters, we have both lap hoops and free standing hoops or frame for one to work. Machine quilting utilizes hoops as well, just very different hoops, called machine quilting hoops. Before you invest your hard earned money into supplies you may use once and never again, I recommend taking a class in the craft type you are interested. It is better to take that class and try before you buy the supplies. Hand or machine, the stitching holds the quilt together and allows the fibers to become one over time.
Quilted and ready to go, use the rotary cutter to trim up your quilt. Trimming ensures your quilt is square and ready to be bound.
Binding and this quilt is finished!
*Last Step Celebration!*
Binding is the final step in this artistic process. Binding covers the raw edge of the three layers and finishes the quilt. Binding, also known as bias tape or bias binding, can be made or purchased prefabricated.Depending on the quilt design I will use both methods. For example, if I have a black and white quilt, I usually would go into my binding stash (which yes I have, It’s like a sewing store in my sewing studio) and use black pre-made quilt binding. There are many different types of binding sold, and they are all sold. All of these different bindings sold are in very similar packaging, be sure you are choosing quilt binding. I use prefabricated binding for ease and time. Now if I have a uniquely colored batik quilt, I am, of course, going to make my own binding. This will ensure a cohesive design and color scheme as well as a very professional, clean look.
If you have never made your own bias tape binding, I highly recommend giving it a try. It opens up the world of always being ready for a project without having to make that one special trip to the store.
Congratulations you have completed your first quilt and you are officially done.
Of course, there are optional embellishments. One of the most popular ones is the quilt label. This tells who made the quilt, and the original recipient, as well as when it was finished or given.
There are many places who can make custom labels that have space for you to write in your name with a fabric marker. You can order them custom made online through different retailers like Amazon.
Other embellishments can go into beading and other textural quilting embellishments, particularly for art quilts, but that’s another tale.
A Quilting Public Service Announcement- Don’t just let that quilt top, that you spent hours on, sit around the house collecting dust. Send the topper to one of the many fabulous shops that will layer and finish your quilt for you. They do the batting, backing, stitching and binding, and you receive a beautiful quilt in the mail all finished. It is wonderful and I highly recommend using a service or planning to use a service like this especially for finding loved ones unfinished projects and helping them to be completed.