Quilting ABC’s

You’ve seen your grandmother and great grandmother’s quilts and they are so pretty.  But over the years, the colors have faded and maybe there’s a hole here and there so you think to yourself, “I could do that.  I could make my own quilt with new fabric (they’ve got so many colors and choices) and maybe a new design.  How hard could it be?”  You decide on the color you want – let’s say you want a little splash of color in your bedroom now so you go with red.  Well that was easy so off you trot to the nearest fabric store.  You walk in the door and there you behold the great walls of fabric!  You’re faced with walls and walls, racks and racks of fabric!  You’re so overwhelmed that you simply can’t move, but then you see it.  Oh good, you see red – just the color you want.  So you head that way, but as you get closer you realize that there are a dozen shades of red to choose from, not to mention each fabric has it’s own design.  Undaunted you pick the one you like and take it to the cutting table.  The sales girl asks what you’re making and you tell her a quilt.  She looks up at you expectantly and asks where the blender fabrics are.

Wait, what?  What’s a blender fabric?   

Quilting Can be Overwhelming

She sees that the totally confused look on your face so as sweetly as she can she asks if you’ve chosen a pattern for your quilt.  Pattern?  What pattern?  Where do you find that?  Back to the drawing board…….

You head home again still totally determined to do this quilting thing.  You should be able to find the perfect pattern on the internet, right?  Boot up the old computer and to the internet you go!   You type in ‘quilting patterns’ and the internet gives you some ridiculous amount of sites to check out.  Like most of us, you pass the Ads and check out the first few sites.  Clicking in the one that sounds like it might be simple you are now faced with thousands of patterns!  Hmmmm, Log Cabin?  Courthouse Steps?  Dresden Plate?  Good grief!  Just when you thought you’d never find one, you happen upon that perfect pattern.  Now that one looks easy and it even looks like one of Grandma’s.  Done and done!

You print out the pattern and start reading it, and again, you get that overwhelmed feeling……so much stuff!

Getting Started on Your First Quilt

So exactly what do you need and where do you begin to make a quilt?  Let’s go through this step by step.  Making a quilt is fun, creative, keeps your brain active, and at the end you’ll have a gorgeous keepsake that you’ll have for many years to come..

I always tell beginners to start small.  Making a full size quilt the first time around can be extremely overwhelming and before you finish, you may be tempted to give it up. So starting small would be a table runner, dresser scarf or a small wallhanging.  There is very little fabric to buy and to cut, but it’s really a good way to get your feet wet.  

The internet does have really good patterns or you could go to a local quilt shop and get a pattern there.  I suggest you go to the quilt shop because you are right there with all the fabric and people who know how to quilt and will be able to answer any questions.  One stop shopping!   

Essential Quilting Tools

So now you have the pattern and all the fabric you’ll need (including those blender fabrics).  Home again you bring out the pattern and start to read it.  What’s that funny looking tool they show cutting the fabric?  Doesn’t look like any scissors that you’ve ever seen.  So here’s a list of tools that you will need to get you started.

  1. That funny looking cutting tool in the pattern is called a rotary cutter.  Unlike plain scissors, a rotary cutter will not distort the fabric.  You will cut the fabric flat on your table.  This gives you the precise measurements that you will need for all those pieces that you’re about to cut.
  2. You will also need a cutting mat.  Cutting mats come in all sizes and have a 1” grid on them.  These mats will protect your table from the rotary cutting blade.  Also, the grid on the mat will help you cut straight lines.
  3. The next thing you will need is a ruler.  Not just any ruler mind you, but one that is designed specifically for quilting.  Omnigrid is a good choice, although there are others.  These ruler also have a grid on them for the precise measurements a quilt takes.  The first one you get should be no less than 23” in length.  That will cover the width of fabric (from the fold to the selvage edge)
  4. Of course you will need pins.  One can never have enough pins!  I like to use small pins (the head being about ⅛”).  

All of the above tools can be purchased at any quilt shop or the larger fabric stores like JoAnn’s.  

Now Comes the Fun

Now you’re ready to begin.  Follow the pattern exactly for cutting the right size pieces and sewing them together.  After you cut all the pieces called for, you get to design your layout.  Most quilters use a design wall/board.  That’s just a piece of foam with flannel pinned to the surface.  Your pieces will cling to the flannel without the use of pins.  As you put your pieces in order making your blocks, you will see where the main color (red) and the blender colors will go.  

Once the piecing is done, you’ll add borders (if borders are called for).  At this point, your pieced ‘top’ is ready to be quilted.  If you don’t know a professional quilter or don’t know the right questions to ask somebody with a longarm quilting machine, I have already written an article about how to choose a longarm quilter that may be helpful to you.

When you receive your project back, it’s ready to bind.  Binding is the final step.  Once the binding is done, you will have completed your very first quilt.  You should be very proud of yourself.   Although I’ve been quilting for many years, I keep my very first project (a table runner) on my dining room table.  Even with the not so straight edge and the points that don’t always match, I like to remember where and how I started.  Just like you I had to take that first step.  I’m glad I did and I know you will too.

If you started with a small project remember that making a full size quilt is the exact same thing you just did, only more of it.   Remember that quilting is something that you should enjoy and sometimes there will be frustration, you will have a beautiful treasure…..and best of all you can say “I did it”.

Leave a comment and let me know if I need to clarify anything.  Thank you and happy quilting!


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