How to Make a Quilt: Learn Quilting Basics & Get Creative With Textiles

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Most of us have had a quilt at one time or another, whether as a child or an adult. More than something to place over your bed, quilts tell a story. Handmade and passed down through generations, the idea of a quilt conjures up comforting memories.

The art of quilting has a long, storied history and is particularly tied to American folk art. And just as many handicrafts like hand embroidery, knitting, and needlepoint are making a comeback, quilting has seen a resurgence. A wonderful way to express creativity, making a quilt doesn’t have to be difficult. There are so many techniques one can use, that it’s easy to get started and build up your skills.

Historically, quilts were used as bedcovers, which continues today, but you’ll also see them displayed as artistic wall hangings or even as small table runners and placemats. Quilts can be hand sewn on a frame or, more commonly these days, sewed together on a machine. At the end of the day, it really comes down to bringing together three layers—the patterned top, the center batting, and the plain backing—using the quilting technique. Really, once you have the basic technique down there’s nothing you can’t create. Quilting itself is the act of sewing together these three layers and the stitches used to do so.

Quilting Terminology

To get you started, here are some of the common terms you will come across when learning to quilt.

Quilting Basics

Photo: MaxCab via Shutterstock

Appliqué – This technique entails sewing pieces of fabric, usually cut into designs, onto a background fabric.

Backing – The backing is the textile that is the bottom layer of the quilt. Occasionally it’s embellished, but more often than not it will be a plain, single piece of fabric.

Basting – This is the act of securing the three layers in place prior to quilting together the quilt. People hold these layers in place using basting pins, a running stitch, or starch spray.

Binding – This finishing touch requires a thin strip of fabric sewn around the entire exterior circumference of the quilt.

Chain piecing – Used to speed up construction and save thread, chain piecing is when individual pieces of fabric are run through the machine in an assembly line without stopping to break the thread between each patch. Once the “chain” is finished, the threads between each patch are clipped.

Design wall – A wall or screen covered with batting where fabric blocks are laid out into the quilt pattern before sewing. Once the look is finalized, the fabric can be fixed to the batting using pins.

Quilting Basics

Photo: MaxCab via Shutterstock

Free-motion quilting – Free-motion quilting (FMQ) simply uses a domestic sewing machine to sew together the quilt sandwich. In this case, quilters leave the feed dogs down and use a hopping foot, which allows movement in all directions to create stitch patterns.

Jelly roll – Jelly rolls are prepackaged fabric strips, each measuring 2.5 inches by 44 inches. Their pre-cut nature makes them a timesaving option for quilting. They’re usually sold by Moda Fabrics from coordinating color collections.

Paper piecing – This patchwork quilting method is an English technique where pieces of fabric are sewn to a paper template to ensure accuracy. Once the block is completed, the paper is torn away.

Patchwork – Also known as piecework, the popular quilting style is when strips of fabric are sewn together to create different geometric shapes. As opposed to appliqué, the shapes are “pieced” together along the seams rather than sewn over a background fabric.

WOF – This abbreviation, commonly seen in quilt patterns, stands for Width of Fabric. Most fabric is sold at 44 inches in width, though sometimes 60 inches is used.


Next up: Essential Quilting Supplies & Quilting Kits

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