Saturday, June 7, 2014

Quilting Tutorial

I have decided to start selling my quilting patterns on  Because not everyone needs in detail instructions on how to finish their quilt, I decided to omit those from each pattern.  However, I know there are a lot of people who would like to have some more in depth instruction on how to quilt.  

So here we go:

Let's start with batting.
  There are many different kinds of batting available.  I prefer to use a thin 100% cotton batting.  Cotton batting shrinks slightly with washing, and gives quilts a softer puckered look.  There's wool, bamboo, polyester, and so much more.  Play around and see what you like.  


Remember to use the same quality fabric for the back as you do for the front.  Using a single pattern of fabric for a backing is very popular.  When you choose this option,  you can choose a fabric that has a somewhat busy background to hide your quilting.  If you want to feature your quilting, choose a solid or less busy patterned background. Also, be aware of the color you are using, try to pick a color that blends with the thread color you are using for quilting.

A pieced backing can be just as interesting as the front of the quilt.  I love to use leftover blocks from the quilt top, scraps of fabric from my stash, and other large pieces of fabric.  You can put these backs together in many ways, use your imagination.  Some of my favorite quilts have pieced backs.  

Quilt Labels

I mention quilt labels at this point, because I love to put the quilt labels on before quilting.  That doesn’t mean I always remember to do this, but I thought the placement here could be helpful for you.  You should put a label on all your quilts.  The label should include the name of the quilt, who made the quilt (pieced by, quilted by), the year it was made, and the location.  If this quilt is made as a gift, I also add a quote or a little message for my loved one.

The quilt label can be a left over block from the quilt you made or a scrap piece of fabric.  Using a permanent marker, print your message on the quilt label, and then press with a hot iron.   
As an alternative to the permanent marker, I love to print labels directly onto my fabric. To do this the fabric needs to be centered on an 8.5” x 11” paper, with 2” margins on each side, there is enough room to print 2 quilt labels per page.   
 To print directly on fabric, first create your label in a word processing program, and the print it onto a sheet of paper to test the spacing and font size.  When the label is ready for printing on fabric, center fabric over the already printed page.  While fabric is flat, tape with clear wrapping tape, covering all edges of the fabric.  Make sure there are no wrinkles in the tape or fabric.   Feed the paper back into the printer, and print.  When finished, set the ink with a hot iron.

You can sew the quilt label on as part of the backing, or you can hand sew it on after the backing is already pieced.  To hand sew it, press the raw edges of the label under 1/4” and pin them into place.  I like to place it in the bottom corner of my quilt so I only have to hand sew two edges, the other edges being sewn in with the binding.


To prepare your quilt for quilting, form a quilt “sandwich” and then pin baste the layers together

1. Prepare backing by ironing smooth.  Place the backing fabric, right side down, on a large flat surface (that can endure scratches and pokes from safety pins).   Using masking tape, begin taping the quilt back to a flat surface.  Start taping from the middle of one side, then tape the middle of the opposite side.  The backing should be taut, but not stretched.  Continue with the same method on the two other sides.    Continue taping around the backing, keeping the backing wrinkle free and taut, with approximately 8” between each stretch of tape.

2. Layer batting over the secured backing.  Smooth completely.

3. Center quilt top over the batting and backing.  Smooth over the batting.  The batting will hold the quilt top in place as you smooth the entire quit top.  Starting from the middle of the quit top, using basting safety pins, and pin using approximately 4” spacing.  Be aware of your quilting pattern at this point, and try to pin in the areas where you think you won’t be quilting.  Continue pinning until the quilt is secure.


 You may want to mark lines as a guide, or you may want to mark the whole quilt.  Do whatever makes you feel comfortable.  When machine quilting, it is easier to get smooth clean lines when the design is simple, and you can move freely.  Practicing quilting designs by drawing on paper beforehand, helps the actual quilting process go much smoother.  Draw a sketch of the quilt, and then practice the quilting pattern on top of the quilt drawing to determine the direction, path, and form of your quilting pattern.  Magically, if you can draw a design on paper, you can quilt it with your machine.  It is also a great idea to quilt along the print in the fabric.  This not only is a fun and beautiful method, but it ensures there is enough quilting.


There are many methods of quilting.  Hand quilting is beautiful, time consuming.  Machine quilting is much quicker, still beautiful, and sturdy.  There is also always the option of sending the quilt top out to a professional hand quilter or professional machine quilter.  Whatever method you choose for your quilt, please ensure the quilt is adequately quilted.  The quilt you have made will endure much longer when it is quilted evenly and somewhat densely throughout. 

Machine quilting is much easier than most people think.  The key to machine quilting, is taking the time to practice on scrap “quilt sandwiches.”  The practice time helps you determine the correct thread tension, the best quilt design, and it helps you get in the quilting groove.  Never skip the “practice” step of machine quilting.

In machine quilting, you are free to use whatever thread you like.  As you do, consider the thread strength, and try to match the spool and bobbin threads in strength.  Whenever possible, I use the same type of thread for both the spool and bobbin threads, the exception is when I use a mono-filament thread for the spool thread.  Don’t use mono-filament thread in the bobbin, it will only cause headaches.  For a dark quilt, use a darker or smoke mono-filament thread, for a lighter quilt, use the traditional clear mono-filament thread.

For straight line quilting, use a walking foot, and sew on your quilt as normal.  For free motion quilting, use a darning foot, and lower the feed dogs on your machine.  As in piecing, draw the bobbin thread up through the top, and hold both the spool thread and the bobbin thread to prevent bunches of thread.  A few tips to remember as you quilt:

  • it is easier to keep an even stitch length if you use the same sewing speed, and move in a smooth even motion.
  • pay attention to the thread tension.  Check your top and bottom threads to ensure there’s no looping.
  • relax and enjoy, try not to tense up.
  • use quilting gloves.  Gloves really help you keep a hold of your quilt, and move it easily.


Selecting the binding for a quilt is like choosing a frame for a picture.  It can really add to the quilt, or it can disappear into the background.  Both of those options are great, depending on the quilt, and it’s purpose.  Binding’s can be made of one fabric, or have continually changing fabrics.  I love to use stripes and plaids for bindings, they help the eye move around the quilt, and provide visual interest.  Avoid using symmetrical small patterns (like small polka dots), as they lose their interest in such a small strip.

Another decision in binding, is to use bias cuts (cut on the 45 degree of your fabric), or straight of grain.  The only time the bias is absolutely needed is when the quilt has a curved edge.  The bias cut, helps the fabric bend, stretch, and move over the curves with ease.  Most of my decisions about bias or straight of grain come from the fabric.  Do I like the fabric best on a 45 degree angle, or is straight of grain best?  Luckily, many fabric designers are making bias looking fabric for those of us who love look of bias, and love the ease of cutting on the straight of grain.

Now you have all the information you need to finish your quilt.  I'd love to see your progress!

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