How To Learn Quilting

Quilting is a time-honored craft which was created in its modern form by women in America during the eighteenth century.  At that time, quilts were made because it was a practical way to use up scraps left over from other projects.  Now, it's an art form which is gaining in popularity all over the country.  If you have a few basic sewing skills, quilting is easy and fun to learn!

  1. The first item on the agenda when you're learning to quilt is to acquire the necessary supplies.  Although there are a lot of specialty tools to be found, you can get started with just the basics:
    • Rotary cutter and extra blades.  A rotary cutter makes quick work of cutting many pieces of the same shape.  "Stack and slice" is a term you may hear in reference to rotary cutting.  This means to stack several pieces of fabric on top of one another, then use a rotary cutter to cut them into uniform shapes.
    • Cutting mat.  Also called a "self-healing mat", this is the surface on which you will use your rotary cutter.  You'll need one that is at least 18" x 24".  They are usually marked with a grid of squares, so that it's easier to line up pieces of fabric when cutting.
    • Rulers.  The most useful sizes for quilting are 6" x 24" and a 12" square.  Choose a ruler specifically made for quilting.  It should have markings both horizontally and vertically, at a spacing of 1/8".
    • Scissors.  Rotary cutters are very useful, but you'll still need a good-quality pair of scissors for trimming fabric and cutting out templates.
    • Graph paper.  If you want to design your own quilts or quilting designs, you'll need a supply of graph paper.  Five squares to an inch is a size that works well.
    • Needles.  For piecing and basting your quilt, you'll need a package of sharps, which are all-purpose sewing needles.  For quilting your quilt, that is, sewing the two layers together, you'll need a package of betweens.  Experiment to see which size is easiest for you to use.
    • Quilting hoop.  When you begin to quilt, you'll want a quilting hoop to hold the layers of your quilt together without shifting.  A 14" hoop is a useful size for most people.
    • Sewing machine.  It is possible to hand-piece and hand-sew an entire quilt, but it is very time-consuming.  Some people enjoy hand-piecing their quilts, but then choose to machine-quilt.  No matter what your preference is, you'll probably want a sewing machine at some point.
    • Iron and ironing board.  Washing and ironing your fabric before piecing is essential.  Unwashed fabric may bleed into other fabrics when it is pieced, and unironed fabric is difficult to work with.
    • Fabric.  For many quilters, choosing the fabric for their quilt is the best part.  It's a bit intoxicating to walk into a fabric store, with bolts of fabric lining the walls, and know that you can choose any combination of colors and patterns for your creation.  The best fabrics for quilting are one-hundred-percent cotton.
    • Thread.  For piecing, you'll need to use cotton-covered polyester sewing thread.  For quilting, you may want to use nylon thread, which is transparent.
    • Quilting pattern, and templates if necessary.  For your first project, you'll want to work from a pattern.  Later, as you become more comfortable with quilting, you can design your own projects if you like.
  2. Now that you've purchased your fabric, run it through the washing machine, using a mild detergent.  When you take the fabric out of the machine, squeeze it.  If the color is still bleeding, wash it again.  When it's colorfast, put it in the dryer on a medium setting.  After the fabric is dry, iron it with a steam iron.
  3. If you're using templates for your quilt, place them on the wrong side of the fabric and trace around them.  Mechanical pencils work well for this step.  If your templates doesn't include a 1/4" seam allowance, be sure to add it before you cut out the shapes.
  4. If you're using the "stack and slice" method for your quilt, stack all of the fabrics that you will need with their edges aligned.  Do not stack more than four layers at once, because it can be difficult to cut through with a rotary cutter.  Using your ruler, cut the fabric into strips of the proper width.  Turn these strips ninety degrees and slice them into squares of the proper width.  If necessary, continue cutting by slicing the squares diagonally into triangles.
  5. Begin piecing your quilt according to your pattern.  Remember, all quilt-piecing is done using a 1/4" seam allowance, which is the distance from the needle of your sewing machine to the edge of the presser foot.  Press seam allowances in alternating directions so that your finished quilt doesn't have any bulky spots.
  6. After your entire quilt-top is pieced, iron it again.  Layer your quilt-top, then your batting, then the backing fabric that you have chosen.  Baste these three layers together, using a large running stitch, or safety pins.
  7. Roll up the edges of your quilt and fasten them with ties if necessary.  Begin quilting all of the layers together, starting from the center and working out toward the edges.  For a first project, quilting "in the ditch" is an easy way to finish your quilt.  This simply means to quilt along the seams of the quilt-top.  A more advanced technique is to use a template to trace intricate designs on your quilt-top and sew along these lines.
  8. After all of your quilting is complete, make enough binding to go all the way around your quilt.  Straight-seam binding is created by cutting strips of fabric, and pressing each raw edge to the center on the wrong side of the fabric.  Fold these fabric strips over the raw edge of your quilt and sew along the edge through all layers.

This is, of course, only an introduction to the intricate art of quilting.  For extensive instruction or more advanced techniques, you may want to consider taking a class.  Most community colleges offer classes on a variety of quilting methods.  There are also many websites that can help if you have a problem along the way.


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