Quick and Easy Crafts: Quilting Basics

A quilt is a blanket that is made by sewing small pieces of fabric together into a design and has layers of fabric. Quilts are also known as coverlets and comforters, too. It all depends on the size, thickness and style you choose to design. The three main parts of a quilt are the top, center and backing. The quilt top is the most recognizable part of your quilt. It is the main component with the fancy, colorful designs of small pieces of fabric sewn together in beautiful patterns. The center layer is the batting, and the third layer is the quilt backing.

When making a quilt, you first find a quilt block pattern that you wish to make. Then, you chose which colors you want to use. Quilts are traditionally made of 100% cotton fabric, but you can use alternate fabrics if you wish. It is recommended that beginners stick to the cottons, as they are easier to work with. You can find fine arrays of fabrics at a fabric store such as JoAnn’s, or at a local quilt store.

Always wash and iron (if need be) your fabrics before you sew them into a quilt. I ruined one of my first quilts by not following that simple step. Take it from me and completely wash all your fabrics so they shrink first, not after you sew.

It is ‘standard’ that all quilt pieces and blocks have a one-quarter inch (1/4) seam allowance. If the seam allowance is any smaller, the fabric could ravel and cause holes after use or washing. If you use a larger seam, the quilt could become unnecessarily bulky. So, if you want a square piece to be 4 inches finished on each side, then cut it 4 ½ inches by 4 ½ inches square. (That is a ¼ inch seam allowance on each side.)

When sewing the pieces together into your chosen block, use good, strong thread. Cheap thread often breaks too easily, and could cause your quilt blocks to fall apart.

Something that I do before I begin my quilt project to make a drawing of the block I am making. I use quad paper, and draw out my design, then use crayons or colored pencils to shade in my colors. I then write down the measurements underneath the picture, and also write down how many of each piece I need, how many blocks I need and how big the borders are going to be. This especially comes in handy for larger, more complicated and time-consuming quilts. Just imagine starting a quilt and then not working on it for a month. With this simple idea, you will have a ‘map’ with all of your measurements and you don’t have to struggle to remember the specifics.

Press each seam as you sew them. The blocks are much easier to piece together if they are pressed. Also, this is a good time to see if they are all the same size. (It is critical that they are all the same size. If they aren’t, your rows will be wonky.) If all of your blocks are the same, then you can proceed to the next step of sewing them together into rows.

Use your ‘map’ as a reference and always keep it handy. If you have a large quilt planned then it is wise to make a complete picture of your full pattern to keep your blocks or squares in order. Again, I have learned this the hard way on a quilt I made for my sister years ago. The last two rows were sewn wrong and it wasn’t until I finished the entire project and had given it to her, that I saw my everlasting mistake. Pin your blocks together before you sew, as this will help you match up your seams. You want all of the seams to match up as best as you can, as this makes your quilt look neater. Then, when the rows or columns are all completed, then pin them together and sew them. Pinning is again crucial so the seams line up. Once you have all of your rows or columns sewn together, your quilt top is almost done!

Borders are the ‘frames’ around the quilt top. You can have as many frames as you want, or none at all. Some quilts look better with one narrow border and then a contrasting, wider, border around that. Other quilts look better with a wide border just to frame the entire project. Cut your borders from your chosen fabrics, then sew them around the quilt top. Press them when sewn, and then you are ready to “sandwich” your quilt.

The quilt batting is the ‘fluffy’ stuff inside the quilt. There are cotton batting, polyester batting, and bamboo batting. Chose the material and thickness that suits your needs. For instance, a quilt that is used in Arizona may need a thinner batting than one used in Montana. Also, you can use a sheet of flannel as batting, or a blanket from the store. Fabric stores sell batting in packages that are pre cut to the size of the bed you wish to cover. If you are making a doll quilt or a quilt to nestle under on the couch, then check the measurements on the packages to see which one is closest to your quilt’s size. You can also buy batting by the yard, or piece together scraps left over from other projects. In the olden days of pioneers crossing the prairies in covered wagons, the settlers used long grass as quilt batting.

Prepare your backing as described in your specific quilt pattern. Some are simple; others are done as another quilt top to make the blanket double sided.

Once your batting is chosen and your backing is prepared then it is time to lay the quilt down and begin sandwiching it. It is best to use a large table, if possible, and put them in this order: quilt top, backing and the batting on top. Make sure the quilt top is ‘right side’ in, that way when you turn it right side out, you will see the pretty design you spent so much time on. Trim any on the batting to line up with the top and bottom.

Take your quilt pins and begin pinning the edges. Work your way back to the beginning, but leave anywhere from 6 to 10 inches open so you can turn your quilt after sewing. The thicker your quilt, the larger the gap you will need to turn it. Using either the standard ¼ inch seam, or ½ to insure I get all of the layers, sew the perimeter of the quilt, leaving the designated gap open.

After sewing the perimeter carefully remove all pins and gently turn the quilt ride-side out. I always iron my full quilt to make it easier to finish. This not only makes it easier to re-pin, but it makes it flatter to run through my sewing machine. Depending on your quilt pattern, use the necessary amount of pins and sew accordingly. You can either machine quilt your project or you can ‘tie’ your quilt. Machine quilting is a lot of fun because you can either just follow the seams using a standard sewing machine, or if you own a long-arm sewing/quilting machine, you can make intricate patterns. All of these options help keep the batting in place when washed and used. Pick a style that helps to compliment your particular project.

I hope these simple basic steps will help you design and enjoy your homemade quilts.