If you are discussing or researching how to make a quilt, the chances are you are referring to a patchwork or pieced quilt. In times past, it was expected that every young girl would make several quilts for her dowry, and the ‘piece de resistance' would be her wedding quilt. These wedding quilts were often extremely detailed and elaborate, and their skills were passed down through the generations. These traditions have fallen away, but luckily we now have the internet to learn from! The joy and creativity of creating a special quilt still remain! A quilt is a statement of your personality, as so many personal decisions go into making one.
How to Make a Quilt
Here is a step-by-step guide to making one of these wonderful creations called a quilt.
The 7 steps for how to make a quilt are:
- Choose a pattern
- Gather the supplies
- Cut your pieces
- Sew the pieces in smaller blocks, then assemble those blocks
- Add Borders
- Create a quilt sandwich by adding the batting and backing fabric
- Use quilting stitches to hold the layers together
- Binding the edges
Step 1 - Choose your Pattern
Before you get to sewing your patchwork pieces together, you need to plan what type of quilt you want. Give yourself time to choose which one of the thousands of quilt block designs you want to attempt. A typical quilting pattern is comprised of smaller blocks that are arranged together and then framed by a border.
Browse the Internet, create a Pinterest board, read some quilting magazines and books, and decide exactly which blocks you want to use, as well as what color combinations you want to work with. Do you prefer traditional blocks or more modern ones? Are you going to go for complementary colors or neutrals? Dramatic contrasts or blending tones?
Here are some of the quilting block tutorials on the Treasurie site:
- Half Rectangle Triangles
- Windmill Quilt Block
- Nine Patch Quilt Block
- Pinwheel Quilt Blocks
- Flying Geese Quilt Blocks
- Log Cabin Quilt Blocks
- Half Square Triangles
- Quarter Square Triangles
If you are new to quilting, choose a simple design to cut your teeth on so that you don’t become discouraged. Or choose to make just a small quilt as a table topper or wall hanging. Squares are a great place to start. Rectangles, strips of color, or simple triangles are also fairly uncomplicated.
The Treasurie blog has a baby quilt pattern if you would like to make a simple square patchwork quilt >> How to make a baby quilt
Once you have made all these decisions, you are ready to go out and get your supplies, and start cutting your patchwork pieces.
Step 2 - Supplies
If you are new to quilting, you may need to stock up on some of these supplies. If you have done this before, you may only need to buy fabric. Read more about quilting tools.
Most quilters choose to use 100% cotton fabrics, as they are firm and easy to work with. Choose your fabric according to the colors you have decided upon. Be sure to take the size of the prints on the fabric into consideration. If you are using blocks made up of small pieces, choose a small print. Pre-wash all your fabrics to allow for shrinking and color bleeding.
It is possible to buy pre-cut fabrics at most quilt shops if you are using simple shapes. These will already be cut into squares of varying sizes, (charm packs or layer cakes) or strips (jelly rolls or roll-ups). If these shapes don’t suit your chosen blocks, you will need to buy fat quarters or fat eighths or fabric by the yard. A fat quarter is made by cutting half a yard of fabric in half vertically. So you have a quarter yard of fabric but in a nice square shape instead of a narrow strip.
- Rotary Cutter - A rotary cutter is a quick and accurate way to cut your chosen shapes. Have extra blades on hand to keep your cutting neat. You will also need a self-healing mat to cut on. (No scarred dining room tables, please!) Plus a long clear acrylic ruler to keep your cuts perfectly straight.
- Scissors - A small pair for cutting starting and ending threads.
- Sewing Machine: To machine piece, you will need a basic sewing machine with a good, adjustable straight stitch. If you plan to do the actual quilting yourself, you will need a walking foot or a darning foot.
- Thread: Choose a thread that matches your colors or a neutral which blends into them. Some quilters like to do the quilting with a contrasting color so that it shows up nicely.
- Pins: Long, fine quilters pins for piecing your blocks and curved safety pins for basting your quilt layers together.
- Needles: Universal sewing machine needles size 10/20 or 12/80 work well for most cotton. A machine quilting needle or needle suitable for thick fabrics is good for quilting your layers together and adding the binding.
- Marking Tools: A washable marker pen, fine, hard lead pencil, or tailor's chalk are needed for marking seam lines or turning points. Test your marker on your fabric to be sure it can be easily removed.
- Seam Ripper: Because everybody makes mistakes sometimes!
- Iron and Ironing Board: Set this up close to your sewing machine to save time. Read more about pressing tools.
Step 3 - Cutting
Before you start cutting out any small pieces, be sure that your fabric is squared up. If you are using pre-cut fabric, this step is not necessary.
- SQUARE EDGES - To do this, place your selvage edges precisely together and line up the fold with a line on your cutting board. Next, place your ruler at 90 degrees to the fold and trim the sides of your fabric. The sides must be perfectly even.
- CUT SHAPES - Now, cut out your shapes for your patchwork pieces. Some quilters prefer to do all the cutting at once; others prefer assembling one block at a time.
- ACCURACY - You may have pattern pieces or templates to cut around, or you may be working with measurements. Whichever you have, be sure to be accurate with your cutting. A tiny discrepancy makes a big difference over many blocks!
- SEAM ALLOWANCE - Always remember to include your seam allowance. Most quilting blocks use a ¼” (6 mm) seam allowance.
- Read more about how to cut fabric straight.
Step 4 - Assembling your quilt top
Sew together the pieces to form your block or unit. Always press each unit when done. When you have made all your blocks arrange them on a flat surface or a design wall to see which combination of colors and patterns is the most pleasing. Once you have decided on the arrangement of blocks, sew them together to form the quilt top. It is generally best to sew the blocks into rows, then to sew all the rows together.
Square up the entire quilt top by trimming any uneven or crooked sides.
Step 5 - How to Make a Quilt Border
Decide if you want a border around your blocks to act as a frame for your quilt. This is not essential, you can simply add binding at the end, but a border gives the quilt a professional, ‘finished’ look.
Borders can be plain or decorative or even pieced. You can have more than one strip of border if you want to add extra size or color to the quilt. You will also need to decide on the treatment of the border corners. Do you want square or mitered corners or even cornerstones?
Measure the top and bottom edges of your patchwork, decide on the width of your border, and cut accordingly. Sew these onto your quilt top. Then measure the sides, including the borders you have already added, and cut and sew these into place.
Read more about quilt borders and how to create these 3 different looks.
Step 6 - How to Make a Quilt Sandwich
Now that your entire quilt top is assembled, you need to put the layers of your quilt together. This is called the quilt sandwich, and consists of backing, batting and your quilt top. Your backing fabric should match or blend with your quilt top.
Both backing and batting need to be about 2” (5cm) larger than the quilt top, all around.
- Place the backing right side down, then the batting, then the quilt top, right side up.
- Make sure the quilt top is well centered, then pin the layers together using curved safety pins. These pins hold your layers firmly in place.
- Start pinning from the center and work your way outwards. The pins should be about a hand width apart.
You can still thread baste your sandwich together as well. Some people choose to only pin baste, and then start quilting, removing pins as they go. Just be sure your three layers are absolutely secure, with no slipping or shifting of any of the layers.
Read more about quilt basting methods.
Step 7 - Quilting Stitches
Now you will be using your sewing machine to secure all your quilt layers together. Your quilting should be done on the right side of your quilt. Stitch slowly and carefully to keep your quilting lines even.
Another decision to be made! Do you want your quilting stitches to be decorative or functional?
If you choose functional, you can stitch in the ditch. This means you will use your walking foot and sew the quilting lines right into the seams of your blocks so they are virtually invisible.
Another functional form is to quilt grid lines. Using your removable marker and long quilting ruler, draw vertical and horizontal lines evenly across your quilt top. Then use your walking foot to sew along these lines, forming a grid.
You can use the same technique with a diagonal grid. Here are a few quilting stitch options.
More decorative is ‘Outline Quilting’ where you sew along the outlines of your patchwork, but allowing the stitches to show on either side of your seams.
If you want the actual quilting to be a special feature of your quilt, you can do ‘Free Motion Quilting’ with your sewing machine. This is also called meandering because your lines randomly meander across your quilt top. Use a darning foot for this, deactivate your machine’s feed dogs, and move the quilt itself in the meandering pattern. Keep your stitch lines close to each other and try not to cross over any lines already sewn. This definitely requires practice before attempting it on your actual quilt!
The other type of feature quilting is ‘Stencil Quilting’. To do this you will sew your quilting stitches around acrylic stencils. Alternatively you can mark the quilt with a removable pen, drawing around the stencils, then sew along your marked lines. This is also best attempted with feed dogs down, as you will need to make some tight turns!
Read more about quilting stitches
Step 8 - How to Make a Quilt Binding
Once your layers are firmly stitched together you will still have raw edges around your quilt. These will be covered by your binding.
Read the full article on how to bind a quilt.
Step 1 - Preparation
Once again, square up your quilt with your ruler and rotary cutter.
Step 2 - Cut Binding
Cut your binding. It does not have to be cut on the bias as you are sewing along straight edges. Decide on the width of the binding. It is usually about 2-3 “(5-7 cm), plus seam allowance. Cut strips, then join them together so that you have one long strip which will fit all the way around the quilt.
Step 3 - Pinning
Fold your binding strip in half lengthwise and press it well. Now lay the doubled binding on top of your quilt, right sides facing and raw edges together. The fold of the binding will be facing the center of the quilt. Pin into place. Leave about 6” (15cm) loose for finishing off later.
Step 4 - Sewing and Corners
Start sewing at the center of one side of the quilt. Stitch down the two edges of the binding to the three edges of the quilt sandwich. You will be sewing through all five layers. Use a sturdy needle!
- Stop ¼ inch (6mm) from the first corner.
- When you reach a corner, fold the double layer of binding up, hold that fold in place and then fold down again, turning the quilt 90 degrees, following the new direction of the side of the quilt. This will make a triangle-shaped tuck to form your mitered corner
- Continue in this way all around the quilt.
- When you get close to your original flap, open out the binding and join the flaps together. Re-fold and sew it all down over the join.
Step 5 - Ends
When you get back to where you started, stop sewing a few inches before the other side and leave a tail. Press both ends over to mark where they overlap. Open up and sew the seam, then trim and press open. Lay the binding back down and stitch across the gap.
Step 6 - Folding
The next step is to fold that doubled binding over all the raw edges and stitch it down on the back of the quilt.
Traditionally this was done by hand with a tiny slip stitch, but you can sew a neat line of stitches with your machine, close to that folded edge. Keep checking that all your layers are enclosed! When you reach those corner tucks, fold them neatly into a triangular shape. I like to stitch these corners down by hand, as invisibly as possible.
How To Make a Quilt - In Conclusion
You have now almost completed your quilt! Don’t forget to add a label, which is like a signature to your work of art. You should include the name of your quilt, your name, where it was made, and the date on your label. If it is a gift, add the name of the recipient as well. You can print your label onto fabric, embroider it, or write it neatly with a permanent marker. Then stitch it to the back of your quilt. You can use your home printer to make your own clothing labels.
Making a quilt is like embarking on a journey! You plan ahead, possibly take a few wrong turns along the way, stop for a rest now and again, learn a lot of new things as you go, and end it with a great feeling of satisfaction. It is an incredibly addictive and rewarding hobby. You will soon be helping and teaching others how to make a quilt!