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Is Quilting Hard? | A 50 Year Quilter Tells All

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Quilting has always been a part of my life. My mother was a quilter and my earliest memories include my mother quilting and my attempts to help her. So it is surprising to me that many people believe that they could never make a quilt, that quilting is just too difficult.

Quilting is hard only to those people who know nothing about the quilting process and the many steps involved in making a quilt as the entire process would seem overwhelming. However, anyone can make a quilt as long as they choose a project that is suitable for their knowledge and level of experience.

Once you have some experience with the process, there are quilts that are easy to put together and there are quilts that are very difficult, but once you see the quilting process broken down into its many parts, it is much easier to feel confident that you too can become a quilter. 

When you see quilts made by experienced quilters and the beautiful work that has been done, you may think that that would be impossible for you to do. Well, that particular quilt or quilting technique might be out of your league. There are many techniques that are out of reach for all of us, but here are a few tips for choosing a quilting project that is just right for you.

  1. First learn the basic fundamentals of making a quilt either by reading, by taking a course of instruction, or by watching someone you know as they make a quilt. There are also many excellent YouTube videos that demonstrate the various steps in making a quilt.
  2. Plan the entire quilt before getting started. You certainly wouldn’t want to run out of fabric or thread before the quilt is finished.
  3. Start with quilt patterns consisting of larger pieces which are easier for beginners. There are even fabrics available with patterns that simulate pieced quilt tops so that you are simply joining together two pieces of fabric with a batting.
  4. Start with a smaller quilt like a wall hanging, a throw, or a baby quilt.
  5. Use pre-cut pieces for your first quilt.

What Are the Parts of a Quilt?

The three main parts of a quilt include the quilt top, the batting, and the lining or backing which form the quilt “sandwich,” and the binding.

  • Quilt Top: The quilt top is the part of the quilt that is usually the attention-getter and the most labor-intensive part of the entire project. The kinds of fabric, the colors, and the pattern must all be planned and obtained before you begin.
  • Batting: The size of the quilt and your preference for the kind (cotton or polyester) and thickness of the batting that will determine your batting selection.
  • Lining (Backing): The color or colors of the lining or backing of the quilt can either match, coordinate, or contrast the color scheme of the quilt top, or it can be made from a fabric of neutral color. The size of the fabric from which the lining will be made will determine whether the lining will have a seam. The lining can be pieced out of any type of fabric but there are also quilting fabrics available that are 108” wide and are large enough to make a quilt lining that does not have a seam. Another option for a lining is to use a flat bed sheet that will give your quilt a seamless lining.
  • Binding: The quilt binding serves the purpose of joining the three parts of the quilt sandwich together while giving the quilt a finished look. There are numerous ways to bind a quilt including making the lining large enough to fold the excess fabric over onto the top for a binding, by using fabric left from the quilt top, or by using pre-cut binding strips or satin for the binding. Quilting Frame with Quilt Sandwich.
Quilting Frame with Quilt Sandwich
My Quilting Frame with Quilt Sandwich

What Are the Steps to Planning a Quilt Project?

Here are the various steps in the quilt planning process which track the parts of the quilt and the logical order of the planning process.

  1. The place to start is to determine the purpose of the quilt. Why are you making this quilt, as a gift for someone special, to use up part of your fabric stash, or just because it is time to make another quilt? 
  2. What size quilt will you make, a wall hanging, a throw, a baby quilt, a twin, a full, a queen, or a king?
  3. What design or pattern will you choose for the top?
  4. What color or colors will the quilt be?
  5. What fabric or fabrics will you need for the quilt top?
  6. What fabric or fabrics will you choose for the lining or backing of the quilt?
  7. What kind of batting will you choose, cotton, wool, or polyester? 
  8. How will you make your binding, from the lining, with fabric from the quilt top, by using a coordinating or contrasting fabric, or will you use a ribbon as binding?
  9. Will you hand quilt, machine quilt, or have it professionally quilted?
  10. What color, size, and type of thread will you use? 
  11. How much of each type of fabric and thread will you need?
Quilting Frame with100% Cotton Broadcloth Lining
My Trusty Quilting Frame Lined With Broadcloth

What Are The Steps To Making A Quilt?

When you are ready to make a quilt, you will know the purpose of the quilt. Use that information to continue the quilt project by following these steps:

  1. Follow the steps in the quilt planning process described above.
  2. Use that information to purchase or obtain the materials and tools needed.
  3. If you are going to prewash your fabrics, do so now.
  4. Iron your fabrics.
  5. Lay out your fabric on a large flat surface and measure and carefully cut the required pieces for top and lining.
  6. Lay out your quilt either on a quilt wall if you have one or on a large table or the floor.
  7. Sew the pieces together.
  8. Press all seams down and iron top and bottom.
  9. Lay out the lining on a large flat surface with the right side down and attach the sides to your quilting frame, if you have one. For machine quilting, tape the sides of the lining down so that the fabric is taut, but not stretched.
  10. Spread the batting evenly across the lining so that it is taut but not stretched.
  11. Add the quilt top right side up and baste or pin the 3 parts (top, batting, lining) together.
  12. If using a quilting frame, follow the directions for quilting that apply to your frame.
  13. If machine quilting, roll from the right and left sides so that you begin quilting in the center of the quilt.
  14. After quilting, attach the binding and hem to finish the quilt.

What Is the Best Kind of Fabric for a Quilt Top?

In my opinion, the following are the best fabrics to use in quilting, although any type of fabrics can be used as well as pieces cut from discarded clothing.

  • 100% Cotton Quilting Fabric- The absolute best fabric to use in quilting is quilting fabric made of 100% cotton which will hold its shape for many years if properly cared for and will be easier to work with for the quilter. 
  • 100% Cotton Broadcloth- Another very good choice for quilting fabric is 100% cotton broadcloth which was originally made from either cotton or wool, but is now available in many different blends. Although the blends are popular for making clothing, 100% cotton broadcloth is best for quilts, and is more affordable than quilting fabrics.
  • 100% Cotton Flannel- 100% cotton flannel is popular in quiltmaking, and is used for all types of quilts. Flannel makes a quilt that looks good and is cozy and warm, and although flannel does fray, this problem can be overcome by cutting the fabric with pinking shears.
Quilting Fabric Made From Cotton
Quilting Cotton
Cotton Broadcloth For Quilting
Cotton Broadcloth
Flannel For Quilting
Flannel

What Is The Best Kind Of Fabric For A Quilt Backing?

The best types of fabric to use as a quilt backing are:

  1. Quilting fabric that is 108″ wide – Quilting fabric that is made up to 108” wide will allow the quilter to create a quilt that has a seamless backing, and will hold its shape for many years if properly cared for, and will be easier to work with for the quilter. 
  2. 100% Cotton broadcloth – 100% Cotton broadcloth is an excellent fabric to work with, holds its shape, is available in many colors and patterns, and is less expensive than quilting fabric.
  3. Flannel – Flannel is a very popular fabric for use in quilting because it creates such a beautiful and warm quilt, especially for baby quilts and quilts for use in cold climates.
  4. Flat bed sheets – Flat bedsheets are easy to work with, are less expensive than some fabrics, and create a seamless quilt backing.

What Kind Of Batting Should I Use?

The most popular choices for quilt batting are cotton, polyester, and wool. 

  • Cotton is known for being soft, warm, breathable, and easy to work with. It also ages well. However, it does shrink when washed which can create a puckered look on some quilting patterns, and it is the heaviest weight batting.
  • Polyester batting, which is less expensive than cotton, is durable and comes in different lofts, or thicknesses. One downside to using polyester batting is that it does migrate or shift positions when not quilted closely enough. 
  • Wool batting is warmer and is great for hand quilting, but it is expensive and creates an allergic reaction for some people.

What Kind Of Thread Should I Use For Quilting?

A Variety of Thread Colors in a Bin

Here are some factors to keep in mind when choosing the right thread for the job:

  • Cotton and polyester are the two best threads for quilting.
  • Avoid cheaper polyester threads as they break easier.
  • Heavier fabrics will need heavier thread.
  • Thicker quilts will need heavier thread.
  • Cotton is better for piecing while polyester is better for quilting.
  • There is hand quilting or dual duty thread designed specifically for hand quilting.
  • There is thread designed specifically for machine quilting.
  • Decide whether you want your thread to match or to contrast with the fabric when choosing your thread color.
  • If you want your stitches to show, use a thicker thread, but if you do not want your stitches to show, use a thinner thread.

Where Can You Buy Quilting Fabric And Supplies?

For new quilters, quilting fabric can be bought in local fabric stores, in some chain stores like Wal-Mart, chain fabric and craft stores like Joann Fabrics and Michaels, and many Internet fabric stores. Prices will vary depending on where you buy, the type of fabric that you buy, and the fabric manufacturer. 

Beginning quilters will benefit greatly from shopping locally where they can see and feel the fabrics before they buy. It is difficult to know the quality of the fabric you are buying when shopping online.

How Do You Care For and Store Handmade Quilts?

Here are some tips for caring for and storing handmade quilts:

  1. Do not dry clean handmade quilts because the chemicals used in the dry cleaning process may damage them.
  2. Wash quilts only in cold water on a gentle cycle and only when necessary.
  3. Always line dry handmade quilts and never machine dry them. However, they can be fluffed up or “dusted” in the dryer for just a few minutes (approximately 10 minutes) on a low heat setting.
  4. Store quilts in a cool dry area away from temperature extremes and direct sunlight.
  5. Store quilts in fabric such as a pillowcase to keep them dust and lint-free.
  6. There are textile storage boxes and tissue paper available for proper storage of antique and more delicate quilts.

Here are a couple of my quilts:

Finished Quilt Made With Cotton Broadcloth
Finished Quilt Made With Cotton Broadcloth
Quilt Made With Batiks
Quilt Made With Batiks

Final Thoughts

There is evidence of quilting that dates back to Medieval Times, and different cultures have produced different types of quilts throughout the years. There are art quilts that are intricate in design and created from delicate fabrics, and there are functional quilts made from heavy fabrics whose only job is to keep you warm. And then, there are many types of quilts in between.

But, however they are made, the creators of those quilts had to start somewhere. So, what is the best way to learn to quilt? I would have to say that the best way to learn to quilt is by watching someone else make a quilt or by helping make one, although many quilters are self-taught.

So, whichever method of learning to quilt is available to you, making a quilt is not hard as long as you go through the steps one at a time and you will be able to create a quilt of your own. I hope you enjoy quilting as much as I do.

Thanks for stoppin’ by!

Jelly Grandma

For more, check out The 3 Best Types of Quilting Fabric for Looks and Durability.

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