Quilting is the craft of layering and sewing three pieces of material together-- quilt top, batting and backing--in a manner that creates one piece, a type of blanket. Sometimes the quilt top is pieced from different fabrics, but sometimes it is a single piece of fabric. It is the quilting process (top stitching) and layering that makes it a quilt. If you have become inspired by beautiful handmade quilts, now is the time to learn some basics. Practice your new skills by starting with a smaller project and gradually move to creating a full-sized quilt.
Choose cotton, velvet, denim, silk or any other fabric to make a quilt. The important factor is to make sure all your fabrics, for a particular quilt, are the same general thickness and type of fabric. A quilt will look and feel odd if you have a thin cotton fabric mixed with a heavy velvet. One hundred percent cotton is used most often for quilts. It is one of the easier fabrics to work with and all the different pieces can be run through the washer and dryer, at the same time, before starting the project, to allow for shrinkage. Because cotton is most often used, you can find a large variety of it in fabric and quilt stores. The quilt backing is often one of the same fabrics used in the quilt top. However, plain muslin also is used quite often.
Cutting and Seaming
There are many quilt top designs, produced from cutting different fabrics and seaming them together in a pattern. Art quilts are done in an abstract or pictoral design, each different. With art quilts, a traditional quilt design is not used but basic quilt steps still are performed, such as layering and quilting. Seam your quilt with a 1/4-inch seam. This is different than sewing garments, which usually use a 5/8-inch seam. It is important to have enough seaming so your fabric will not ravel apart, yet not so much you retain unnecessary bulk. In quilting, seams are pressed to one side and/or downward. If you are trying to choose which way to press your seams, look for the darkest fabric and press in that directions, to lessen the amount the seam is seen through the outside fabric.
Place the layers of your quilt together to sandwich (layer) it. After you have completed your quilt top, put a backing fabric face down on your work area. If your quilt is wider than the fabric, the backing will have to be pieced. This is usually done by cutting three even panels (or a larger middle panel with narrower ones at the sides) and sewing them together. Next comes the batting, which is layered on the backing fabric. Choose between polyester batting or cotton batting. Place your quilt top, face up, on top of the batting. Baste (use long running stitches) your quilt pieces together or use large safety pins. Start in the middle of your project and work outward, attaching safety pins or basting through the three layers, smoothing all pieces as you go.
Choose between hand quilting or machine quilting. Experiment with each to see which you prefer. Machine quilting will move your project to completion much quicker, as it is stitched entirely by machine. However, hand quilting (manually making small stitches through the quilt layers) will give your project an authentic look that cannot be achieved with machine quilting. Many quilters enjoy the quilt-making process as much as completion of the project and wouldn't trade hand quilting for any other way to make their project. In the past, women would gather to hand quilt one woman's quilt, known as a quilting bee. It was a social and productive gathering. Bees still happen among some quilting groups to complete large quilts.