A beginning quilter can be overwhelmed by the shorthand, jargon and exacting instructions that come along with quilting. There are tips every new quilter should know. Pre-wash your fabrics before sewing with them. Not every quilting gadget is useful. Always use a seem allowance of at least a quarter-inch to be safe.
But there are also techniques that you must know to complete a quilt. Here are some primers and videos to get you started.
Before you start quilting, understand the common types and sizes of material used in quilts. They will have a big impact on the look as well as the feel of any quilt you make. Of course the thickness and material may change how you sew the quilt and which stitch you use.
The most popular material is quilter’s weight cotton. The dense material doesn’t shrink or stretch when it’s washed. Higher thread count material will be soft despite the density. For baby quilts, you may want to use a fuzzy flannel. Some folks also make quilts out of T-shirts and other sentimental items.
For each material, you may need a slightly different approach.
Cutting is a big part of traditional quilt-making. You will want to get a self-healing cutting mat “as big as you can afford,” advises some experts, plus a rotary cutting tool and acrylic quilting ruler.
When starting out, you may want to buy precut squares, since they come in evenly cut and the fabrics are usually pre-matched so you don't need to worry about the combinations. The sizes range from layer cakes, which are 10 by 10 inches to mini charm packs, 2.5 by 2.5 inches square. Plus there are a bunch of other combinations such as fat quarters, jelly rolls and honey buns that are good to understand.
Here's a quick list to follow:
Fat Quarters —18" x 21-22" per piece.
The amount of fabric pieces per bundle varies. Bundles can be custom-curated or all sourced from one fabric collection.
Fat Eights — 9" x 21-22" per piece, sometimes 11" x 18".
The amount of fabric pieces per bundle can vary. Bundles can be custom-curated or all come from one collection.
Layer Cakes — 10" x 10" squares. Bundles include 40-42 squares, usually all from one collection.
Charm Packs — 5" x 5" squares. Bundles include 40-42 squares, usually all from one collection.
Mini Charm Packs — 2½" x 2½" squares. Bundles include 40-42 squares, usually all from one collection.
Jelly Rolls / Junior Jelly Rolls — 2½" x width of fabric (usually 42-44" wide). Bundles include 40-42 strips, usually all from one sourced collection. Junior Jelly Rolls have 20-21 strips.
Frivols — 42 7" x 7" squares in a collectible tin.
There are also shaped collections for non-square cut fabric:
Turnover — Contains 80 6" triangles. Two of each print in the collection.
Honeycomb — 40 6" laser cut hexagons
Honeybun — 40 strips 44" by 1-1/2"
When you’re staring out quilting, patchworks with evenly sized shapes can be easier to attempt. You can also look for stash-buster patterns that are designed to combine a lot of different materials into one beautiful blanket.
On a site like QBPN, you can find a range of pattern complexity, some traditional, others modern. The quilt patterns on QBPN can also be searched by designer, incase there’s a style you like, in particular.
In the video above, Karen Brown walks through making a stash-buster quilt in which the pieces come from 13 different fat quarters. The elements can be laid out with different shades in mind to create gradation over the entire quilt.
Learning how to piece accurately and matching seems is essential at first. Leah Day likes to start with a scrap charger to ensure that if there are any problems with the threading they happen on the scrap and not a piece you want to appear on the final quilt. She also sets her machine for a tight stitch (the settings will vary from machine to machine, but you can try to start with Leah’s.)
Every quilter should master pressing. You need to press your blocks to improve piecing accuracy. Some quilters like using a dry iron; others use steam. Pressing also helps set your seams, thereby improving the appearance of your patchwork. While pressing can take time, you can easily fit the quilt blocks together.
Adding borders to the edges of your quilt not only creates an attractive frame, it also allows you to correct any skewed edges that can affect the appearance of your quilt. Mastering the edge also helps you improve the structure of your quilt.
Creating the Quilt Sandwich
Before sewing your pieces, create a sandwich. This sandwich consists of three parts: the quilt top, the quilt backing, and the batting. You can secure these layers with basting.
To make your sandwich:
-- Press and prepare your quilt backing, which should be three to four inches larger than all the sides.
-- Secure your backing to the work surface using pins or painter's tape.
-- Put the batting on the center or your backing and ensure these two components are of the same size.
-- Remove loose threads at the ends of your seams.
-- Put the top part of the quilt at the center of your batting and make sure the right side is on top.
You need to baste the quilt sandwich you have created using long stitches. When you use a sewing machine, hold the edges with pins.
Learn from Your Mistakes
If you are a beginner, you should know that mistakes are common and these can range from fabric choices to technical issues. However, the good thing is that mistakes present an opportunity to help you master different techniques and improve your skills.