Quilting for beginners must rank as one of the most rewarding sewing crafts. It has been said that if life deals you patches then go out and make a quilt! The first quilt you make is always going to be a memorable one. Be warned...once you are hooked on this craft it can become all-consuming.
Quilting for Beginners
Quilters have a language of their own and a group following second to none. With any new hobby or craft, it helps to start with the basics and learn the tools of the trade, the jargon, and the fabric cuts. Then there are the different patterns and the ways to piece them together.
In reality, if you like this craft you will never want to stop. There will always be an event, a special stash of fabric to use, or a memorable gift you would like to make.
In this article you will find out, how to get started, different tools to use, fabric requirements and how to piece a quilt together. Added to that there will be tips for beginners and a step-by-step introduction to putting a quilt together. So start right here and enter the wonderful world of quilting for beginners.
What is the Easiest Quilt for Beginners?
The easiest quilt for beginners is a baby quilt pattern using square patchwork. This is a smaller project that uses the easiest blocks and will help you learn lots of tips and tricks including simple piecing, assembly and applying your first binding edge.
Skip to the how to make a baby quilt tutorial.
Quilting for Beginners - Supplies
Choose your fabrics to suit your pattern. You can go random and just make a scrap, stash kind of quilt or go out and buy the colors and patterns you may prefer. Always choose 100% cotton for the quilt and look for fabrics labeled quilting cotton. This will give you the best results.
You will need fabric for the:
- TOP - This is the fabric that you use for your patchwork pieces. To make it easier, consider buying pre-cut bundles of fabric in 5 or 10-inch squares. You can also buy jelly rolls which are long strips of fabric usually 2.5 inches wide. Designers bring out these pre-cuts each season in complimenting fabrics so you don't need to think to much about matching patterns.
- BACKING - Select the backing fabric for your quilt in a similar type of fabric. The pattern or color should complement the top of the quilt.
- BINDING - Cut the binding fabric yourself or buy it from a quilting shop. The binding has to be longer than the quilt to allow for corners so make sure you have enough fabric to cut all the binding. Binding is usually cut from strips of fabric 2 ¼ inches wide and may be cut on the straight grain or bias. Read more about binding in how to bind a quilt.
Notion Selection When Quilting for Beginners
Get all the other materials you need to complete the quilt. Having everything ready will make the putting-together process easier.
This is just a starter guide, as in the realms of quilting, endless tools and gadgets are available to make quilting easier and quicker. Make friends with a fellow quilter, or your local quilting shop, for an introduction to a wide variety of gadgets and tools.
Further Reading: Quilting Tools
You will need:
- BATTING - Choose the batting carefully and read the manufacturer’s label for the information about the type of batting to get the best for your quilt. Low loft batting is a thinner batting that is easiest to sew.
- THREAD - Use a strong polyester thread.
- MACHINE NEEDLES - Universal needles can be used to sew the patchwork top together. Quilting needles are strengthened and sharp and make the quilting of the 3 layers much easier.
- OPTIONAL FOOT - A walking foot is a great presser foot to use for quilts as it lifts over thick layers and minimizes puckering. If you don't have a walking foot then your all-purpose sewing foot will do fine.
- CUTTING - Rotary cutter with spare blades - Accurate cutting is essential.
- MAT - Self-healing cutting mat. This is a mat to cut on that is marked with cutting guidelines. The self-healing property means the mat returns to normal after cutting and any grooves on the mat disappear.
- MEASURING - Clear acrylic quilting ruler – They come in different sizes with markings. Look for one that is 6” by 24” (15 x 61cm) or 3” by 12” (7.5 x 30cm) or have both!
- SEWING BASICS - Seam rippers are needed for those little mistakes along the way. And don't worry - we all make them.
- PINS - Pins, curved safety pins and quilting clips to secure your fabric pieces.
- IRONING - A pressing station including an iron and ironing board – A very important part of quilting is pressing.
Quilting for Beginners - Tips
Here are a few tips for quilting for beginners.
- START SIMPLE - Start with a small project and work up towards your king-sized four-poster bed size quilt! Doll quilts and mini quilts you can use as wall hangings are great projects for beginners.
- USE SQUARES - It is wise to start with big pattern pieces and use squares and rectangles with their straight edges. You can even start off with pre-cut pieces available from fabric shops. There are many easy start-up patterns using large squares easily pieced together.
Quilting for Beginners - Instructions
So where do you begin to enter this world of quilting for beginners?
There are 3 basic steps for quilting for beginners.
- TOP - Sewing the top involves patchworking a design. This may be simple squares or something quite elaborate.
- ADDING BACKING AND BATTING - This step involves adding the batting and backing to the top and then sewing through all layers to join them together. This is called quilting.
- BINDING - Binding creates a neat border for your quilt and holds everything together.
Step 1 - Sewing the Top
Pattern Selection When Quilting for Beginners
Get inspired by looking at other quilting projects and then choose a simple pattern. It doesn't need to be anything large or fancy. You can start with a small project like a baby’s quilt or a throw for the end of a single bed. Then choose a simple design, even if it is just a series of squares joined together.
I have a simple baby quilt pattern that uses squares. You can adjust this pattern to make a quilt of any size by simply adding more squares.
Cutting the Patchwork Pieces
Now you are ready to cut your chosen quilting pattern blocks from your fabric pieces.
Templates and Shapes
You may have a template for the shapes in the design or you may be working just from measurements. Templates can be purchased from quilting and sewing stores or you may make your own. Measure the size of the blocks and the required size of the quilt to know how many blocks to make.
It is vitally important to cut accurately. It is the cutting that really makes the quilt professional. Keep an eye on your rotary cutter and change blades frequently to keep a smart cutting edge. If you notice frayed edges, or the blade not cutting through, then it is time to change the blade.
Further Reading: Cutting Tools and Quilting Tools
Squaring the Fabric
When you are ready to cut you need an acrylic ruler and a rotary cutter to square the fabric edges. Unfortunately, some fabrics are not cut accurately at the fabrics shop.
Before you set that rotary blade in motion make sure you have ‘squared up’ your fabric. It should be pre-washed and pressed so that it is ready for cutting.
A ruler that does not slip is ideal, or you can buy sticky dots to give some non-slip qualities to your ruler.
It is really important to fold the fabric in half and use your cutting board with its measures to help you square up the fabric. Fold your fabric by letting the selvages meet and then setting the fold on a straight line of your cutting board. Next, take your ruler and lay it exactly perpendicular to the side of the fabric edge. This should be at a 900 angle to the fold at the top.
Use your sharp rotary cutter to trim away the excess fabric at the sides to get a piece of folded fabric that meets exactly at each side. It must be even on both sides. The measures on the cutting board will help to get accurate measurements.
Cutting Shapes when Quilting for Beginners
The actual cutting of your shapes is probably something you may want to practice a couple of times on some scrap fabric. It is a push-up action. You push the rotary cutter away from your body and hold it firmly down on the fabric. Your ruler is there to guide you as you try to cut each side in one cutting motion.
The cutter takes a bit of getting used to as the blade is pushed down and the cutting tool is pushed away from your body. As you cut you can organize your squares or patterns according to how you plan to sew them.
To save time it is possible to cut multiple pieces at once, but practice first and be sure your blade is sharp and your pressure on the ruler is firm.
Lay out all your pieces to make sure all the colors and patterns blend. Use can use the floor or a large table.
Sewing the Patchwork
Now you have cut all your pieces you are ready to sew them into blocks according to your pattern. If you have chosen a really basic pattern of squares then the sewing up is simple. If you have pieces to sew together to make a block you will follow the pattern or design you like to create the blocks. A strict eye must be kept on the seam allowance.
Quilting Seam Allowances
The recommended seam allowance is ¼ inches (6mm) however, some quilters will work on a ‘scant’ ¼.” A scant is a thread or two short of the ¼” measure. The reason for the scant measure is that the accuracy of the seam and the end result is kept in check. An allowance is made for the folds between each piece. It is a minuscule amount, but it does add up over the rows. Some machines will have gauges and quilter’s foot attachments to help with the seam allowance.
The most important thing is to keep the same distance all around and to keep the stitch line straight. Press each seam well as you go along. Pressing is another essential for accurate quilting and making up of the blocks.
This is the part where you set out the blocks (smaller sections) according to the design you have chosen. They could be alternate colors or a pattern alternating with plain fabric. There will always be an overall pattern you are aiming for. You need a large space to lay out the pieces and play around with color and design.
Some quilters use a large table for this activity. Others have fabric draped on the wall and can pin the blocks out to get the overall effect as they can see the whole quilt. Once you are satisfied with your overall design, then it is time to sew up the blocks. Quilters will sew their blocks in rows and then take the long line of blocks and sew that into lines until the quilt is put together. Once again follow the direction of your chosen design.
Step 2 - Quilting the Top, Batting and Back
Now the blocks have been put together and you have made the top piece of the quilt. The next process is assembling the quilt. This is the making of the sandwich. The three layers of the quilt will be pinned, and then basted and sewn, to secure all the layers together.
Assembling When Quilting for Beginners
Here are the steps just to assemble the sandwich layers of the quilt.
- PRESS - Always start by pressing everything then lay out the quilting sandwich.
- DIMENSIONS - The backing and batting should be 2 inches (5cm) wider all around than the top. These proportions are achieved by adding 4 inches (10cm) onto the width and length of the top quilt.
- PIN AND BASTE - Once the three layers are in place and centred to be accurately laid out the pinning and basting can begin. If you do not have a big enough surface to accommodate the full length and width of your quilt lay it on a smaller table and allow the same amount of the quilt to drape on each side of the table. Use safety pins instead of regular pins to better hold everything in place. Here’s a tip to use with the pinned method. Don’t close the pins until you are happy with the layout then the pins can be closed. This helps movement or changes in the spacing.
- DIRECTION - The backing fabric goes with the right side down and the batting is the jam in the sandwich so to speak. The worked top piece the right side up. The top piece needs to be centered. The batting and the backing should be equal all around.
- BASTING - The actual basting is the next step. There are two options and they are a personal taste. A pinned basting is usually preferred. The pins used are curved safety pins and quilting shops supply them. The curved pin makes allowance for the bulk of the backing, batting, and top piece of the quilt. The other option is to baste the quilt together with hand stitching. It really is a personal choice. Baste your quilt from the middle.
Quilting Through All Layers
This is it! Now you are ready to actually start quilting. This simply means you will stitch through all 3 layers to join them together. Here you can see I stitched a diagonal pattern through my quilt.
Quilting Pattern Options
If you started with a simple square pattern this is an easy process as you follow the natural lines created by the blocks and pieces. Some quilters with more elaborate designs prefer to use a professional quilter to do the machining part of the quilt.
Here are some stitching options for your quilting:
- GRIDS - On a quilt built of squares, the first line of stitching goes straight through the middle following the straight grain of the fabric from top to bottom. The second line of stitching runs across the fabric from left to right. This forms a basic cross of stitching through the quilt. The rest of the stitching lines follow these initial lines.
- DIAGONAL LINES - Lines can be stitched across the diagonal of the squares. It is quite easy to stitch each square from corner to corner
- RANDOM -Another interesting option is to use this as an opportunity to ramble over the quilt in a wavy random pattern across the blocks. Make the initial ramble through the middle and then follow the wavy line created with lines or rows of stitching running in line with the original stitch. Space the lines out evenly as you fill the quilt with these random lines.
- GRID ON EITHER SIDE OF SEAMS - Straight lines can be stitched in a grid on either side of the seams.
- MORE OPTIONS - The pattern of stitching can be stitched in the ditch, meaning in the seam itself, or follow the pattern of the blocks.
- TOOLS - Check the setup of your machine and have a nice sharp new needle, a walking foot is a worthwhile addition for quilting and the thread should be clear nylon on the top and white or a color that matches the backing on the bottom.
- STITCH LENGTH - Set the machine onto a larger stitch and practice on some scraps that have been assembled into mini sandwiches.
- SPEED - It is a ‘go slow’ process as you get the hang of it.
- SIDE - The quilt is stitched on the right side.
- DIRECTION - Always start as close to the center as possible and work your way to the edge.
You are almost done with your amazing quilt!! The last part is a section of its own as this is the binding of the quilt. It is the finishing touch after completing the first steps.
Step 3 - Binding the quilt
Binding the edges of the quilt starts with making your binding and joining it to fit around the perimeter of your quilt. A few extra inches of fabric are needed in the measurement to allow for the corners and a seam at the end. Binding can be store-bought or you may choose to make your own. It is not bias binding unless there are curved edges to your quilt.
Here are the steps to making and attaching the quilt’s binding:
Trimming the Quilt
Before you start to get the binding prepared, you need to square up the finished quilt with your ruler, rotary cutter and cutting board. The edges of the quilt need to be trimmed and neat ready to add on the binding. It is advisable, but not essential, to baste around the quilt to prevent puckers and tucks when you sew on the binding. A row of basting stitches just on the edge is a good way to secure the edge of the quilt. Then pressing again is another essential preparation action.
There are different schools of thought to attaching the binding. Getting neat corners is a tricky part and making mitered corners is the best way to ensure neat corners.
- CUT - Choose the color or design of the binding fabric. Cut it into strips. The number of strips you need are calculated to go around the quilt and add on 12 inches (30cm) for corners. Generally, the strips measure 2 ¼” but if your quilt is fluffier or thicker due to the batting or fabric used, then a wider strip may be required.
- JOIN - The strips may be joined with a straight diagonal seam. The diagonal join is made by laying one strip right sides up on the table and placing the other strip at right angles to the first strip right sides together. Sew the two together with a diagonal seam from the top left corner to the bottom right corner. Mark the seam line with a fabric marker to ensure the seam is straight. Trim the seam to ¼ inch (6mm) and press open.
- FOLD - Fold the binding in half lengthwise with wrong sides together and press ready to sew.
Starting the Binding
- LEAVE A TAIL - On the right side of the quilt, start pinning the binding from the middle of one of the sides leaving a tailpiece for joining at the end of the stitching.
- CHECK POSITION - Roughly pin and adjust the binding to avoid any joins on corners or other places you may not want a join to break the pattern. This is just the placing of the binding to get it to fit accurately around the quilt.
- PIN - Start the final pinning of the binding on the quilt from the center point. Pin up to the first corner and at this point and then stop.
Sewing the First Side
- BASTE - Once the pinning is complete, depending on your confidence, you may like to baste the binding before sewing or just get straight on the job of machine stitching. Before you start up your machine, change your needle to a stronger needle. A quilting, jeans or denim needle is recommended to cope with the bulk of the fabric. Use a walking foot if you have one and you are good to go.
- STITCH - Stitch with a ¼ inch (6mm) seam allowance.
- STOP - Stop ¼ inch (6mm) before the first corner and remove the quilt from the machine.
- LIFT - Lift the fabric strip up vertically and then bring it down again to turn the corner. The binding that is turned down runs back along the edge of the quilt. A triangle is formed and will be the mitered corner when the binding is turned over.
- SEW - Staring ¼ inch (6mm) from the end, continue to sew the next straight edge.
- REPEAT - Repeat for the next corner.
Ending The Binding
- LEAVE GAP - Leave another tail piece and a small gap for joining the binding ends.
- PRESS - Mark the binding by creasing each end at the point where they meet.
- JOIN - Open the binding to join at the marks with a ¼ inch (6mm) seam right sides together. Trim the excess and press the seam open.
- FINISH - Fold the seam back into the binding and close the gap on the quilt edge. The binding is now sewn all around and four mitered corners complete.
Bring to Back and Stitch
Press and turn the binding under to the back to finish off on the other side of the quilt. Fold the corners neatly at the back like the photo below.
- HAND STITCHING - The traditional finish is a blind hem stitch or slip stitch at the back of the quilt. This takes the longest but gives the nicest result.
- MACHINE STITCHING - An alternative finish is machine stitching along the edge of the front of the binding. Stitching from the front allows the quilter to be able to watch exactly where the stitches will lie on the front of the quilt. A matching thread is best for this process.
Quilting for Beginners - In Conclusion
Now you have the absolute joy of shaking out your quilt and using it. Hand-made with love by you from start to finish. Quilting is a craft that has been handed down through generations and many quilts are filled with special memories as well-loved fabrics are sewn together. It is through these family heirlooms, with their fond quilters' stories, one can reflect and hope that all your sorrows were patched and your joys quilted into a treasured family heirloom.
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