Have you ever wanted to make a quilt, but not sure where to start? Well, this post is for you! A couple weeks ago on Instagram, Laree Washington, owner of Sew Into It Lessons reached out to me to provide her with tips on creating her very first quilt. Laree has a background in fashion design and marketing and does amazing work with drafting patterns and alterations. Quilting is an area that she’s never attempted and wanted to try! She created a 5 day quilt challenge where each day I provided her with beginner-friendly tips. Here’s how it went!
The first step in making a quilt is to start with the basics by familiarizing yourself with quilting terms. Some terms include Block, Piecing, Batting, Half-Square Triangle and Backing. Knowing these terms will be helpful when it’s time to read a quilt pattern.
Tuesday’s quilting tip included choosing a quilt size. When you have an idea of the size quilt you’d like to create helps you know how much fabric you’ll need. Laree used the quilting size guide chart from The Sewing Loft to help her decide. Since Laree wasn’t using an already-made pattern, I provided her with calculations that she could use in creating her quilt. These calculations help to approximate how many quilt blocks she will need to create. Below are an example of the calculations.
-Quilt width/each finished quilt block size-including seam allowance (ex: 6″)
50″/6″=8.3 (round up to 9)
-Quilt length/each finished quilt block size-including seam allowance (ex: 6″)
65″/6″= 10.8 (round up to 11)
9 blocks x 11 blocks= 99 total blocks
For reassurance, I personally like to add an extra block, so I would say 10 blocks x 12 blocks= 120 total blocks
Once Laree chose her size, the next step was to choose a design. I recommended Laree to check out Pinterest and use Google Images to find a design she liked. I also created sample quilt designs that I think are great for beginners. These beginner-friendly designs include the checkerboard pattern, strip pattern, and half-square triangle (HST) pattern. I really enjoy the HST as this is a great base to create new designs, such as a chevron pattern.
After choosing a design, the next steps include gathering your materials. This includes your fabric of choice (fabric for quilt top and quilt backing), self-healing mat, rotary cutter, ruler, batting, basting tools (i.e. quilting adhesive spray &/or large safety pins), quilting pins, and bias tape if you choose to finish the quilt using bias binding.
Since Laree was not using an already-made quilting pattern, she completed her own calculations based on the size she chose. Thursday was action day where Laree cut her fabric and started creating her quilt blocks, she decided that she wanted to learn the half-square triangle technique to incorporate using a chevron design. I provided her with steps she could use to create the HST. Below are my top beginner tips when creating her quilt blocks.
1. The old adage, measure twice cut once is crucial. Be sure to measure and cut your fabric as noted on your quilting pattern instructions. This is the first step in making sure your quilting design is even when it’s time to piece the blocks together.
2. To save time, chain piecing is very helpful. Chain piecing is a technique used to continuously sew blocks together in a line without lifting the presser foot. The end result looks like a long garland banner. Once you’ve finished chain piecing, cut your threads in between the blocks.
3. Typically in quilting, you sew using 1/4″ seam allowances. Try to have all of your seam allowances stay close to 1/4″ as much as possible. This helps to make sure that your blocks line up accurately.
4. When stitching two fabric pieces together, try not to stretch the fabric too much as this can distort your block.
5. Always press your seams. If needed, add a bit of starch to make your fabric stiffer, which makes it easier to work with when piecing together. The way you press, either open or to one side is your personal preference. *note-if you choose to press seams open and are using a light color fabric, be mindful that with the lighter side, particularly any pale hues, the seam allowance may may show through the quilt top.
6. After stitching fabric pieces to form a specific block (ex: half-square triangle), you may see small sections of fabric hanging over, known as ‘dog ears’. Be sure to trim any dog ears off. This makes the block look neat and trims excess fabric you don’t need.
7. Before joining all blocks together to form your rows, lay out each block on the floor into a pattern you like (especially if you’re not using any particular quilt design). If you choose to follow specific instructions from an already-made pattern, you may not need to do this step.
*Bonus Tip: As you gain more experience quilting, you may want to invest in a design wall. A design wall is usually made of flannel or other material that can adhere to your quilting fabric. This allows you to place your blocks on the vertical surface of a wall without needing pins and saving your back and knees from constantly moving around the floor. You’ll be able to easily play around with rearranging blocks into different designs.
Finally, I wanted to provide Laree with tips to finish her quilt, whenever she was ready to start the finishing process. My tips included creating a quilt sandwich (quilt top, batting, backing layers), the quilting process and binding.
*The quilt backing needs to be at least 2″ longer than the batting, the batting should be at least 2″ inches longer than the quilt top. Usually these measurements are more (ex: 3-4″) if you plan to have your quilt quilted by a professional who uses a long-arm machine.
Steps to Create a Quilt Sandwich:
1. Place the backing fabric (wrong side facing up) down first. Beginners may want to secure their backing on the floor by using painters tape or sewing pins depending on the floor surface. By doing this stops your backing fabric from shifting easily as you create the layers.
2. Choose your basting method–safety pins or quilting spray adhesive. If using spray adhesive, make sure to have proper ventilation. A little spray goes a long way, DO NOT overspray. If you need to make adjustments, over-spraying will make it difficult and cause you to ruin the quilt. *Another way to baste is by using thread (thread basting), which is common when quilting by hand.*
3. If using spray adhesive, you may want to spray the backing fabric then place the batting on top. Check to make sure the batting is centered with the backing.
4. Spray the batting, then place the quilt top on top of the batting. Again check to make sure the quilt top is centered with the batting and backing. Readjust if needed and smooth out any wrinkles. If you’re not using adhesive, this is where you will need large safety pins to secure the quilt top, batting and backing together.
5. When placing the quilt top, try not to stretch it as this will distort the top.
Tips on Quilting Using Your Home Sewing Machine:
1. For beginners, I recommend quilting straight lines. This gives the quilter experience of sewing multiple layers, without the need to constantly control the quilt as you would during free motion quilting. If you have a walking foot on your sewing machine, you may want to use it, which helps your machine to sew through the layers.
2. If needed use a fabric marker to draw out your lines before quilting to provide a guide for sewing.
3. If you choose to try free motion quilting, you will need to lower the feed dogs on your sewing machine. See your machine’s manual on how to do this. You will also need a free motion quilting foot, which can be purchased online or at a local quilting shop. Find a design that you may want to try. If you have any scrap fabric, I’d recommend trialing out a few patterns in order to get a feel for free motion quilting before working on your quilt.
4. Quilting gloves are very helpful, especially when quilting a larger quilt. The gloves have rubber tips that provide a nice grip and gives you better control when free motion quilting.
5. Working with a smaller throat space can be a bit challenging, it may take some time to get used to managing your quilt. Find a position that works best for you. Some find it easier to roll up the quilt (rolling the quilt from the right towards the presser foot) within the throat space as your stitching to decrease bulkiness.
Once you have your quilt sandwich (quilt top, batting and backing) made and quilted everything together. The last thing to do is bind the quilt. Binding is a process where you’re covering up all of the raw edges. There are several methods to bind. Sewing the binding can be done by hand or on the machine. If doing by hand, I’d recommend using a thimble.
1. You can buy pre-packaged biased tape. Depending on your quilt size, you may need to purchase several bias tape strips and join them together. You can also make your own bias tape from scrap fabric. If you use bias binding, you will need to use quilting pins or sewing clips to keep the bias tape from shifting while sewing. Never sew over the pins. Click the link for more information related to binding.
2. Beginners may find it easier to use a self-binding technique. This is a technique where you are folding over the backing onto the batting and quilt top to cover the raw edges. There is a great tutorial from Cluck Cluck Sew.Since I do not do self-binding quilting often, I have attached this great tutorial from Cluck Cluck Sew.
In summary of all of the quilting tips. Here are my final recommendations: relax, have fun with the quilting process, walk away if you need to and come back refreshed and most importantly enjoy the fruits of your labor! Please check out Laree’s Instagram page for more of her thoughts about the process of quilting and her beautiful quilt top. She also has a great YouTube channel (Sew Into It Lessons) teaching all things sewing!
Keep on stitching!