How to Make Your First Quilt — Back to Basics

Posted by on Apr 07, 2011

Print this Post


Cozy handmade quilts are the pinnacle of homemaking chic. But for those new to quilting, creating one of these craft behemoths can be more intimidating than fixing a carburetor or baking a cake for Martha. Thankfully we've got Meg Cox, journalist and author of "The Quilter's Catalog: A Comprehensive Resource Guide," offering a dressed-down walk-through of what you need to make your first quilt.

Quilting Basics
To read a pattern is to speak another language, and for those new to quilting, quilting patterns might as well be in Greek. Google has an app for that, right? So do yourself a favor and cozy up to an expert. Cox says, “Find the time to take a quilt class or learn from a friend. You'll be with instructors and in a room full of people who are learning, too.” She adds that the instructors will be teaching at the level you're ready for. 

Prefer going your own way (as Fleetwood Mac has suggested)? Cox often sends young quilters to check out Mary Fons' webisode series "Quilty", which simplifies quilting basics. “She's completely adorable,” says Cox, “and the 10-minutes lessons are broken down into simple but fresh topics.” Who knew there was more to YouTube than falling cats and people hurting themselves?
Watch a free episode of "Quilty" via our new article.

quilting fabrics
Choosing Fabric: Will Sheets Work?
In her book, Cox writes, “Let me start by saying that there are no hard rules about buying fabric and no single method of building a fabric stash.” With that said, there are some general guidelines that new quilters may want to use but can be ignored as skill grows. First, buy 100% cotton, which is easy to work with. Plain cotton will be even easier to work with than cotton flannel or chintz.

For those thrifty nifties out there, you're probably already thinking of ways to cut costly corners — perhaps using sheets instead of buying fresh fabric. But will it work? Cox writes, “For savvy consumers who buy luxury sheets with thread counts in the hundreds it might seem puzzling that quilter's cotton has a thread count so much lower — in the sixties and seventies.” But quilting fabric needs to be lighter, she continues, since it's just one of three layers in the quilt sandwich. (We'll talk about the quilt sandwich very soon!) So one risks wearing out fingers, needles and patience when using the heavier cotton sheets for backing rather than the thinner quilt cotton. Quilter beware!
Find a quilt fabric store near you via

Did I Make the Right Choice? Choosing Fabric Colors

Too much choice is just that — too much, especially for the new quilter. When trying to decide what colors to buy, Cox suggests relying on the quilt shop staff. “They have things organized by collection. So, a quilt designer who is popular, all their designs will be together.” This means colors will coordinate much more easily than patterns and prints pulled from several different designers.

Those wanting to go it alone (you guys, again!), consider buying pre-cut fat quarters at an online catalog like

Or consider the Fuzzy Eyeball technique: when looking at several prints, relax your eyes — like when looking at a 3D hidden image picture. Do the colors blend together? Is there one that stands out in a way that distracts? In general, consider a mix of hues, some darker colors like plums and sages that will fade into the background and then, on a smaller scale, some brighter colors or patterns, perhaps featuring a warm red floral or royal purple print.
Get tips on using the color wheel to guide quilt color choices via Stitching Junkie.
The Quilter
Excerpted from "The Quilter's Catalog" by Meg Cox, published by Workman Press.

Log-in to Post a Comment: Craftfoxes shadow Google shadow