Saturday, January 26, 2008

How-To: Basic Quilting Instructions


These instructions offer a brief introduction to quiltmaking, a relaxing, yet addictive hobby. Interesting new quilt techniques are always being created and developed; consult your local Fabric & Home Bonanza store for the latest trends and classes. Quilts may be made for seasonal and everyday bed coverings, pillows, wall hangings, table toppers, table runners placemats and more. Review this information before beginning if you are making your first quilt or keep on hand for an easy reference guide.


  • Scissors (for paper & template plastic)
  • Iron & ironing board
  • Marking tools: pencils, chalk markers, fine-point permanent marker
  • Needles: package of sharps (for hand piecing) assorted sizes, package of betweens (for hand quilting), size Nos. 8 to 12
  • Quilting hoop or frame
  • Pins & pincushion
  • Rotary cutter and mat (at least 18" x 24")
  • Rulers: 2"x18", clear acrylic 12" square, clear acrylic 6"x24" (for use with a rotary cutter)
  • Sewing machine (for machine piecing)
  • Shears: 8" (for fabric)
  • Template plastic
  • Thimble (to fit the middle finger of your sewing hand)
  • Thread: nylon monofilament thread, size 004 (for machine quilting), quilting thread (for hand quilting), sewing thread in colors to match your fabrics.

Pre-wash fabric to remove excess dye and minimize shrinking of completed project. Machine wash gently in warm water, dry on warm setting and press. Immerse a swatch of fabric in a clear glass of water to test colorfastness; if dye appears, soak fabric in equal parts of white vinegar and water. Rinse and dry fabric; test another swatch. If dye still appears, do not use the fabric.

Proper pressing is a prerequisite for accurate piecing. Press with a light touch, using iron tip and an "up and down" movement. Save continuous motion ironing for wrinkled fabric. Use either steam or dry heat, whichever works best and assembly-type pressing to save time.

Choose a pressing plan before beginning a project and stay consistent, if possible. Seams are set by first being pressed flat and then pressed either to one side, usually toward the darker fabric, or open. Sometimes, both are used in the same project, depending on the design.

To prevent distortion, press long, sewn strips widthwise and avoid raw bias edges. Other pressing hints are: use distilled water, avoid a too-hot iron-which will cause fabric shininess, and pre-treat wrinkled or limp fabric with a liberal amount of spray fabric starch.

Make templates by placing transparent plastic over the printed template pattern and tracing with a fine-point permanent marker. Trace and cut out on the stitching line (broken line) for hand piecing templates; cut on the outer solid line for machine piecing templates.

Label each template with the name of the quilt, template letter, grain line and match points (dots) where sewing lines intersect. Pierce a small hole at each match point for marking match points on fabric.

Position fabric wrong side up and place the template on the fabric. With a marker or well sharpened pencil, trace around the template and mark match points. For hand piecing templates, allow enough space for ¼" seam allowances to be added. For machine piecing templates, cut along the drawn line. For hand piecing, cut ¼" beyond the drawn line.

Stitch fabric pieces together for patchwork by hand or machine.

Hand Piecing
Place 2 fabric pieces right sides together. With point of pin, match corner or other match points to align seamlines; pin. Use about an 18" long single strand of quality sewing thread and sewing needle of you choice. To secure thread, begin at a match point and without a knot, take a stitch and a backstitch on the seamline. Make smooth running stitches, closely and evenly spaced, stitching on the drawn line on both patches of fabric. Backstitch at the end of the seamline. Do not stitch into the seam allowances. Press seams after the block is completed.

To join the seamed pieces and strengthen the intersection, stitch through the seam allowances and backstitch directly before and immediately after them.

Machine Piecing
Use a ¼" wide presser foot for a seaming guide or place a strip of opaque tape on the machine throat plate ¼" from the needle position. Place 2 fabric pieces right sides together, raw edges aligned and pin perpendicular to the future seamline to secure. Begin and end stitching at the raw edges without backstitching; do not sew over pin. Make sure the thread tension and stitches are smooth and even on both sides of the seam. When joining seamed pieces, butt or match seams, pin to secure and stitch. Press each seam before continuing to the next.

To chain piece, repeatedly feed pairs of fabric pieces under the presser foot while taking a few stitches without any fabric under the needle between pairs. Cut the chained pieces apart before or after pressing.

Hand Applique
Needle-Turn Method. Place the template on the fabric right side. Draw around the template with a non-permanent marking tool or your choice, making a line no darker than necessary to be visible. Cut out the shape, including a scant ¼" seam allowance on all sides.

To blind stitch the appliqué shapes, position the appliqué shape on the background fabric, securing with a pin or a dab of glue stick. Select a sewing thread color to match the appliqué fabric. A 100% cotton thread is less visible than a cotton/polyester blend.

Begin stitching on a straight or gently curved edge, no at a sharp point or corner. Turn under a short length of seam allowance using your fingers and the point of your needle. Insert the needle into the seam line of the appliqué piece, coming up from the wrong side and catching just one or two threads on the edge. Push the needle through the background fabric exactly opposite the point where the thread was stitched onto the appliqué fabric piece. Coming up from the wrong side, take a stitch through the background fabric and appliqué piece again catching just a couple threads of the appliqué fabric. Allow about 1/8" between stitches. The thread is visible on the wrong side of your block and almost invisible on the right side.

As you stitch around the edge of an appliqué fabric piece, turn under the seam allowance as you work, following the drawn line on the right side of the fabric, using your fingers and the point of the needle.

Freezer Paper Method 1. Trace the template shape onto the dull side of freezer paper and cut out. With a dry iron, press the freezer paper shape, shiny side down, onto the appliqué fabric right side. Cut out the fabric, including a scant ¼" seam allowance on all sides. To stitch, follow the same procedure used in the Needle-Turn Method. Rather than using the drawn line as your guide, use the edge of the freezer paper.

Freezer Paper Method 2. Trace the template shape onto the dull side of freezer paper and cut out. With a dry iron, press the freezer paper shape, shiny side down, onto the appliqué fabric wrong side. Cut out the fabric, including a scat ¼" seam allowance on all sides. Finger press the seam allowance to the back of the paper template and baste in place. To stitch an appliqué fabric piece, follow the same procedure used in the Needle-Turn Method. The seam allowance has already been turned under in this technique. To remove the freezer paper, shortly before closing the appliqué, remove the basting and pluck out the freezer paper with a tweezers; or after the appliqué is sewn, cut the background fabric away behind the appliqué and remove the paper.

To reverse appliqué, two fabric pieces are layered on the background fabric, the edges of the top fabric are cut in a particular design and turned under to reveal the underlying fabric. Pin or glue the bottom appliqué fabric into position on the background block. Cut the top fabric along the specified cutting lines. Place the top fabric over the bottom fabric; check the position of the bottom fabric by holding the block up to a light source and pin. Use the Needle-Turn Method to turn under the top fabric seam allowance and appliqué.

Machine Applique
Trace templates without seam allowances on paper side of paper-backed fusible web. Cut out, leaving a small margin beyond the drawn lines. Following manufacturers instructions, apply to wrong side of appliqué fabric. Cut out on drawn line. Position appliqué on quilt where desired and fuse to quilt following manufacturer's instructions. Finish appliqué edges by machine using a buttonhole stitch, satin stitch or stitch of your choice.

Miter border corners when an angled seam complements the overall design of the quilt. Cut border strips the finished length and width of the quilt plus 4"-6" extra.

Center and pin border strips in place. Start and end seams ¼" from raw edges; backstitch to secure. Press seams toward quilt top. Lay quilt top right side up on ironing board and fold each border end flat back onto itself, right sides together, forming a 45 degree angle at the quilt's corner. Press to form sharp creases. Fold quilt on a diagonal, right sides together. Align border strip raw edges, border seams at the ¼" backstitched point and creases; pin in place. Stitch along crease, backstitching at ¼" border seam. Press seam open. With quilt right side up, align 45 degree angle line of square ruler on seamline to check accuracy. If corner is flat and square, trim excess fabric to ¼" seam allowance.

For multiple mitered borders, sew strips together first and attach to quilt as on unit.

Press quilt top and change any correctable irregularities. Choose a marking tool which makes a thin accurate line and pre-test removability on quilt fabric scraps.

Marking tool options include; water soluble and air erasable markers, white dressmaker's pencil, chalk pencils, chalk rolling markers and slivers of hardened soap. The same project may need several types of markers.

Design aid options include; freezer paper cutouts, stencils, templates, household items such as cookie cutters and acrylic rulers. After marking quilting designs of choice, do not press quilt top; markings could be set permanently.

Use the same quality backing fabric as used in the quilt top. Remove selvages and cut backing at least 4" larger than quilt top on all sides. It is necessary to seam backing for quilts larger than 36"wide when using standard 40/42" wide fabric. Use either vertical or horizontal seaming, whichever requires less fabric. Press backing seams open.

Standard pre-cut batting sizes are:

  • Crib: 45"x60"
  • Twin: 72"x90"
  • Double: 81"x96"
  • Queen: 90"x108"
  • King: 120"x120"

Consider several factors when choosing batting. How do you want the quilt to look? How close will the quilting stitches be? Are you hand or machine quilting? How will the quilt be used?

Batting is made from different fibers. If you prefer an old-fashioned looking quilt, consider using a mostly cotton batting. The newer cotton battings are bonded and do not require the close quilting that old-fashioned cotton battings once did. If you don't want to do a lot of quilting, use a regular or low-loft polyester batting.

If you are not sure which batting is right for your project, consult the professionals at your local Fabric & Home Bonanza store.

Mark the center of the backing on the wrong side at the top, bottom and side edges. On a smooth, flat surface a little larger than the quilt, place backing right side down. Smooth any wrinkles until the backing is flat; use masking tape to hold it taut and in place.

Unfold batting and lay over backing. Smooth wrinkles, keeping the backing wrinkle free.

Position quilt top on backing and batting, keeping all layers wrinkle free. Match centers of quilt top with backing. Use straight pins or quilters safety pins to keep layers from shifting while basting.

Basting holds the three layers together to prevent shifting while quilting.
For hand quilting, baste using a long needle threaded with as long a length of sewing thread as can be used without tangling. Insert needle through all layers in center of quilt and baste layers together with a long running stitch. For the first line of basting, stitch up and down the vertical center of the quilt. Next, baste across the horizontal center of the quilt. Working toward the edges and creating a grid, continue basting to completely stabilize the layers.

For machine quilting, pin-baste using nickel-plated safety pins, instead of needle and thread. Begin in the center of the quilt and work outward to the edges, placing safety pins approximately every 4".

Hand Quilting
Hand quilting features evenly spaced, small stitches on both sides of the quilt with no knots showing on the backside.

Most quilters favor 100% cotton thread in ecru or white, though beautiful colors are available.

Beginners start with a size 8 or 9 "between" needle and advance to a shorter, finer size 10 or 12 needle for finer stitching. Use a well-fitting, puncture proof thimble on the middle finger of your sewing hand to position and push the needle through the quilt layers.

A frame or hoop keeps the layered quilt smooth and taunt; choose from a variety of shapes and sizes. Select a comfortable seat with proper back support and a good light source, preferably natural light, to reduce eye strain.

To begin, cut thread 24" long and make a knot on one end. Place the needle tip either into a seamline or ½" behind the point where quilting stitches are to begin and guide it through the batting and up through the quilt top to "bury" the knot. Gently pull on the thread until you hear the knot "pop" through the quilt top. Trim the thread tail.

To quilt using a running stitch, hold the needle parallel to the quilt top and stitch up and down through the three layers with a rocking motion, making several stitches at a time. This technique is called "stacking". Gently and smoothly pull the thread through the layers. To end, make a small knot and bury it in the batting.

Machine Quilting
Machine quilting requires an even-feed or walking foot to ensure quilting a straight stitch without distorting the layers and a darning foot for free motion or heavily curved stitching.

Use 100% cotton thread or size .004 nylon monofilament thread (clear for light colored fabrics, smoky for dark fabric) on top and cotton in the bobbin. Pre-test stitch length and thread tension using two muslin pieces layered with batting. Adjust as needed.

Choose a quilting strategy. Begin stitching in the middle and work outward, making sure the layers are taut. Roll the edges of the quilt compactly to reveal the area being quilted; re-roll as needed. To secure the thread, take 1 or 2 regular length stitches forward, backward and continue forward; stitch a few very small stitches and gradually increase to desired length. Trim thread tails.

Stitch "in the ditch" or along the seamline to secure quilt layers while adding subtle texture. Stitch open areas with a design of your choice.

Quilt binding can be cut on the bias or straight of grain. Use a continuous strip of bias for a quilt that will be used frequently or has scalloped edges and rounded corners. For bias or straight grain double fold binding, cut 2 ½" or 3" wide strips of fabric and fold in half, wrong sides together. Fabric binding tools and packaged fabric binding is available at your local Fabric & Home Bonanza store.

Beginning near the middle of any side, align binding and quilt raw edges. Sew to the corner and stop stitching ¼" from the quilt edge; backstitch to secure (an even-feed foot is very helpful). Remove from sewing machine. Fold binding strip up and back down over itself, aligning raw edges on the second side and pin in place. Beginning ¼" from the quilt edge (same point where stitching stopped on the first side), sew binding to second side and stop stitching ¼" from next corner edge; backstitch. Remove from sewing machine and continue in the same manner. After sewing all sides, finish using the technique of your choice. Wrap binding around to the back side, using your fingers to manipulate each corner to achieve a miter on both front and back sides. Pin and bind stitch in place.

You will want to sign and date your quilt and record other information important to you, such as the quilt's name, your city and state, and the event the quilt commemorates. You may embroider or use permanent ink to record this information on a piece of fabric, which you then stitch to the quilt backing; or you may embroider directly on the quilt.

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