woman with long brown hair holding blue quilt and smiling

What is quilting?

Originally established as a thrifty way to make bedding, quilting has evolved to become one of the most intricate and visually exciting forms of craftwork.

With designers like Dior and Calvin Klein using the technique in their catwalk designs, it’s no wonder crafters are scrambling to learn how to make their own. 

What is quilting?

Simply put quilting is the act of stitching together several layers of fabric and wadding to create one single piece of fabric.
Quilting was originally developed to make warm and substantial bedclothes using old scraps of cloth. As time went on, quilts became objects of beauty as well as practicality, passed down through the generations as heirlooms.

The use of quilting isn’t limited to bedspreads. Fashion giant Chanel uses the technique in their infamous cross-body handbag. Lightweight down jackets used by hikers and climbers are also heavily quilted to keep the padding in place.

How do you make a quilt?

A quilt is made up of three parts.

1. The top – the layer made by sewing together different fabrics to create a design.
2. The middle – the filling to give the quilt its warmth. This is often made up of wadding.
3. The backing – a single piece of fabric which covers the back of the quilt and is usually unseen, though contrasting fabrics can be used.

Once each quilt piece is created and cut to size, the three layers are then bound together by stitching through all three layers and binding around the edge.

Blocked or pieced quilt

The traditional image of a quilt is a series of patchwork patterns. This is usually created by a series of ‘blocks’ which are then sewn together before being quilted. Blocks are created by piecing together different shapes and styles of fabric to complete a square, or appliquéing a design onto a square background.

triangle blocked blue quilt with pink edge on grey sofa
Some of the basic quilting patterns include:
Log cabin – so called because its oblong blocks resemble a wooden cabin.
Star – which uses a series of triangle shapes to create a star within a block.
Flying geese – a series of triangles which are arranged to represent a flock of geese heading north for the winter.

Although some more modern techniques break away from quilting set shapes and patterns, most quilters work from the basic idea of blocking.

Appliqué quilt

An appliqué quilt is created by taking shapes of material and sewing them onto a background.

Rather than traditional patchwork blocks, appliqué quilts tend to create a picture. Some quilters find appliqué easier as you don’t have to create perfect geometric shapes or spend time lining each piece up.

cream quilted tote bag with appliqué pink rabbit on front

Quilt as you go

Quilt as you go quilting is a quick way to piece a quilt together. Instead of creating blocks from different pieces of fabric, you stitch your small fabric pieces straight onto the wadding and the use topstitching to secure the backing material.

hands sewing green quilt as you go placemat on brother sewing machine

Foundation piecing

Also known as foundation piecing or FPP. This quilting technique is created by sewing fabric patches directly onto a foundation template, usually paper marked with a pattern. The foundation pattern may be for a block, or an entire quilt. When done correctly, the blocks are perfect every time. This technique gives greater definition to small or pointed shapes.
hand holding paper with numbered pattern and quilted fabric

Choosing colours and fabric

The first thing to do when making a quilt is to decide what your quilt is for. For example, a baby quilt is not only going to be smaller, but it is likely you’ll want to choose a different colour scheme than a quilt for an adult bedroom. Likewise, a quilt which is intended for a wall hanging doesn’t have to be as hard wearing as a bedspread or blanket quilt, which may need to be washed on a regular basis.

Once you’ve decided what your quilt is for you can start to choose your fabrics, deciding your colour scheme and what technique you are going to use. Sometimes you may feel that the possibilities are endless, which can be overwhelming! If you’re not following a strict colour scheme set by a pattern a good place to start is your material stash. Quilts are great for using up your scrap pieces.

Some materials are easier to sew than others, likewise some are warmer or more hardwearing. Fabric choice will depend on what your quilt will be used for, but generally a good quality cotton is recommended.

Hand or machine quilt?

Quilts were traditionally hand quilted, with quilters labouring for hours on end. However, home quilting machines make quilting much easier, quicker and give a more professional finish.
Home quilting machines usually have a longer sewing arm and bigger working area than a standard sewing machine. This gives quilters a larger space to work in, which is especially useful when working on large quilts like bedspreads. Quilting machines will often have extra stitch patterns included, providing you with lots of ways to personalise your quilt.
blonde haired woman quilting yellow floral quilt on Brother Innov-is VQ4

You can quilt smaller quilts on a home sewing machine, but you will need to make some small adjustments to make sure your machine can cope with the work.

  1. Use the right needle – depending on the material used you can use a universal needle to create your initial blocks (read more about needles here). Once you come to sewing the layers of your quilt together, and for quilting over the top, you’ll need to use a more robust quilting needle.
  2. Use the right foot – for blocks of cotton or poly material you can use your standard presser foot. When it comes to sewing multiple pieces of material together you’ll find it easier with a walking foot, which helps all layers of the material move at the same time.
  3. Drop the feed dogs – if you use free-motion quilting on the top of your quilt you’ll need to drop your feed dogs (or use a drop feed cover) so you can move your material in multiple directions, not just backwards and forwards.
  4. Presser foot pressure – quilts can be quite bulky, so adjust your presser foot pressure to accommodate the extra material. If your machine does not have this function built-in, there will normally be an optional presser foot that will fulfil this function.
  5. Practise – like with all sewing, you’ll need to practise on a little spare piece of quilt to make sure you have stitch length, type and tension correct.

Get personal

The design, production and purpose of a quilt is extremely personal, so don’t feel the need to comply with traditional patterns and colours. It takes time and patience to create a quilt, so it’s important that the design reflects you (or the person you’re giving it to).

If you can’t decide what pattern or style of quilt you want to create there are plenty of magazines, blogs and websites with free patterns. Or why not check out our quilting section of the blog? There will be free patterns, tips and quilt-alongs published every month.

More from Quilt Club

You might also like

Back to top