How to Make Handmade Quilts

By Catie Watson

A handmade quilt adds a personal touch to any bedroom. You can use your creativity to choose a quilt pattern and find coordinating fabrics that match your room’s décor. A handmade quilt also makes a great gift. Beginning to quilt can seem overwhelming due to the large number of intricate patterns, specialized tools and technical terms. By starting with a simple project, you can get a taste for quilt making and end up with a quilt you’ll enjoy for years to come.

Determine the size of the quilt you’ll be making. An easy way to do this is to measure a flat sheet for the bed you want to cover. For example, measure a queen flat sheet to determine the quilt dimensions for a queen size bed.

Decide on a pattern for your patchwork top. The simplest pattern for a beginner consists of rows of blocks of the same size. If you would like a more complex pattern, many books and websites provide patchwork quilt patterns.

Purchase a plastic template for your quilt blocks. A template makes the job of measuring blocks for cutting much simpler. The 6-inch template is a good size for a quilt top. Alternatively, you can create your own template by drawing a square on cardboard with a ruler and cutting it out.

Decide on the size of the seam allowance you want to use--usually either 1/4 inch or 1/2 inch. Keeping the width of all the seam allowances the same will help the individual blocks and rows of blocks fit together when it’s time to sew.

Draw a scale picture of your quilt top pattern on a piece of paper. Use colored pencils or crayons to color each pattern piece. Try different combinations until you find the arrangement that pleases you most. From this drawing you can decide how many different fabrics to buy and how much yardage of each fabric you’ll need. Don’t forget to account for seam allowances when figuring how many blocks per row and how many rows you’ll need.

Buy the fabrics for your quilt. Many fabric stores and quilt stores sell quarter-yard cuts of cotton fabrics known as “fat quarters.” These are often displayed in coordinating color groups and are a great way to buy the fabric for a quilt. If you buy fabric from bolts, make sure to use similar fabric weights in your quilt. For example, don’t mix heavy denim with light cotton. Avoid stretch knits and stick with stable woven fabrics.

Draw your blocks on the fabric using a ruler or template and a water soluble marker from a sewing store, then cut them out. As you cut your pieces, lay them out in rows to make sure you like your design and have the right number of squares in each color. Then stack them in order to prepare to start sewing. Stack each row from left to right. Place a pin in the first block and stack the rest of the blocks in the row on top. Continue to stack the pieces for each row until you have a single stack.

Sew the blocks together by hand or machine. Place two squares on top of each other, right sides facing, and pin. When sewing together, leave the seam allowance you decided on before cutting. At each end of the seam, stitch a few times forward and backward to make sure the seam is secure.

Continue to attach one block at a time on the left until the entire row is complete. Once two rows have been completed, press the seams with an iron. Press each seam allowance to one side. For the next row, press the seams to the other side. This will cut down on bulk when you sew the rows together.

Lay the first two rows right sides together--after they've been sewn and pressed--then pin. Ideally, the seams between the blocks will line up. If they don’t match exactly, don’t worry. The overall look of the quilt will not be affected. Stitch the rows together, using the same seam allowance as between the blocks. After all the seams have been stitched together, press the seam allowances between rows to one side.

Cut a piece of backing fabric the same size as the quilt top. If you want to have an inner layer of batting, cut that and place it between the quilt back and quilt top. Pin all the layers together around the edges.

Connect all the layers together. “Quilting” is the term used to describe this process, and it can be achieved with long rows of stitching down each column and across each row in the quilt. You can use a matching or contrasting thread.

Bind the edges of the quilt. Cut strips of fabric about two inches wide. Sew one edge of the binding to the edge of the quilt, then fold it over, turn under the binding edge, and hand stitch in place.

About the Author

Catie Watson is a writer and software engineer who enjoys writing about a variety of topics related to culture, technology and education. Her work has been featured on numerous websites and in national magazines. She has also studied fashion design, worked as a costumer for film and theater and was a Walt Disney Imagineer.