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Before we begin, it's important to note that there's not one correct way to create a quilt – it'd be near impossible to cover every single method. Every quilter has their own preferred process and creative style, but if you've never quilted before, where should you start? This page explores the quilting process with a sewing machine, covering everything from fabric prep and cutting, to basting and quilting the layers together.
Fabric comes in a variety of sizes, colours and designs, so selecting the right fabric for your project may feel a little bewildering at first. For beginners, the easier way to choose complementary fabrics is by purchasing one, or several, fat quarter bundles. Commonly measuring a flexible 18" x 22", the size of these precuts truly opens the possibilities for what you can do. Each bundle generally contains a selection of prints from a collection, with a complementary colour scheme to cater for projects such as this. Alternatively, there are other fabric precut bundles available – please see our Types of Fabric Precuts page for more information.
Once you've selected your fabric, you should ensure you fully prepare it for cutting and stitching – failing to do so could risk all sorts of problems later down the line. Begin by washing your fabric to decrease the risk of the dyes bleeding into one another when the finished quilt is washed. When drying fabric, there's always the risk of shrinkage – so it's best to get this out of the way before you cut and sew the pieces together! Finally, it's crucial that you iron your fabrics before cutting as any existing creases could have a disastrous impact on your measurements – in quilting, precision is key!
Generally speaking, many quilters like to create bespoke patchwork designs for their quilt tops. This means that you'll need to cut fabric strips or shapes and sew them together to create a block – please view our Introduction to Patchwork for more information on this. There are a few essential tools that you'll require to ensure the utmost accuracy: a rotary cutter, a self-healing mat and a quilting ruler.
There are many ways in which you can cut your fabrics – into strips, squares, triangles and so many other shapes, but it's important to always remember to leave a seam allowance as this will play a significant role in the joining of your fabric pieces. As a beginner, it's best to start with the basics, so Jennie Rayment has joined us for Craft Academy to show you exactly how.
After you've cut all the fabric pieces, you should decide upon a layout – how you want to sew them together. The best way to ensure precision is by pinning the pieces together. Next, lay the two pieces you want to sew together face-to-face, with the patterned sides facing one another, then use your sewing machine or hand stitch the pieces together with a straight stitch, ensuring you have a quarter inch seam. This seam is very important as it means the blocks will line up accurately later on – when using a sewing machine, use the quarter inch foot to make your life a little easier! You should then press the seam allowances either open and flat or to one side, depending on the type of patchwork you're creating, to allow for a neat finish.
Once you've finished your first block, repeat this process many more times so that you have enough blocks to form a complete quilt top. Then, when you've ironed all the blocks to ensure precise final measurements, it's time to stitch all the blocks together. Generally, it's easier to sew a single row at a time. Position two blocks face-to-face as before, and stitch along the raw edge of the fabric with a quarter inch seam. Join more blocks to the end, following the same process, until the first row is complete, ensuring that you press the seams again. Repeat this process with the next row and the next, until all of your rows are complete.
The final step is attaching the rows of blocks together. It's important to pin the intersecting seams together to ensure that all the seams are aligned – this results in an accurate, perfectly precise quilt top. Simply sew your rows together and voilà – you've constructed your own quilt top!
At this stage, you have a completed quilt top as well as pre-bought wadding and backing. As suggested, the quilt top sits at the top of the 'quilt sandwich,' the wadding is the middle layer and the backing sits at the bottom of the sandwich. But before you get carried away and begin stitching the layers together, it's important to baste your quilt layers first to hold them in place.
First, take your backing and make sure it's well ironed. Place this fabric piece on the floor with the front facing down. It's easiest to tape it to the floor whilst smoothing out any wrinkles, thus giving you a precisely-sized bottom layer. Smooth out your wadding, then align it centrally on top of the backing. Finally, layer your quilt top centrally on the wadding, with the front facing up. Again, smooth out creases so that it sits perfectly.
Now it's time to baste your quilt layers. Accuracy is fundamental in quilting, so these long, temporary stitches aid in the precision of your finished quilt. It's best to loosely baste in a grid format to prevent the layers from moving when quilting. You can, however, use quilting pins or a specially designed MicroStitch Tool to hold the pieces together, if you'd prefer. Once basted, remove the tape.
The next step involves taking your basted quilt sandwich and quilting the layers together permanently. This can be done by hand or using a sewing machine – ultimately, it's your preference, however using a machine will save a lot of time. You can either use a stencil and quilting pencil to draw on where to stitch, or try your hand at free-motion quilting without any sort of guide. An alternative method, and arguably the simplest, is using the Stitch in the Ditch method in which you guide the machine, with the feed dogs raised, across the quilt so that the stitches drop into the 'ditches' where your fabrics have joined at seams.
Once you've finished quilted your layers together, the final step is binding the edges for a neat finish. To do this, you require long fabric strips. These strips can be cut on the straight (from selvedge to selvedge) or on the bias (diagonally at a 45 degree angle across your fabric). Bias cut strips must be used for any quilt with rounded corners or a scalloped edge. Once cut, sew your fabric strips together to create a longer strip – long enough to bind one side of your quilt. You'll need four of these binding strips - one for each side of your quilt.
The simplest way to attach your binding is by firstly pinning it in place. This, again, ensures total accuracy when stitching. Evenly sew one side of the fabric strip to the front of your quilt through every layer. When all four sides have the binding, fold the fabric strips over to the back of the quilt, turn the raw edge under, and sew to the back of your quilt. Remember to remove your quilting pins before sewing the binding in place!
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