If you’re new to the world of quilting, welcome! You might be wondering how to learn quilting and where to begin.
In this article...
Sounds about right? If so, keep reading. Today, I’m going to tell you all about what quilting is, how to learn quilting, what skills it requires, and the tools you need to make your very own quilt.
What is quilting?
Quilting is the term that describes the process of attaching layers of fabric together with a needle and thread.
A quilt is made up of three fabric layers. The top of the quilt is usually an intricate design or simple quilt pattern made from different color materials and quilt block fabrics. The middle layer is known as the batting, and then there’s the bottom layer.
The history of quilting is said to go as far back as 3400 BCE. Although there are no remnants from that time, historians believe that quilts were part of the culture, at least from what they saw in some drawings from around that time.
There is a carved ivory figure in the British museum of an Egyptian pharaoh who appears to be wearing a quilted mantle!
Hand quilting vs machine quilting
There are two options when quilting, either to quilt with a machine or by hand. To make a quilt by hand is the traditional way, but the advent of the industrial revolution ushered in dramatic changes to the quilt industry.
As textiles were being produced on a large scale, techniques of hand quilting were replaced with sewing machines. Here’s my review of the best sewing machine for quilting in case your interested to purchase one.
While traditionally it was seen as a symbol of luxury and wealth to make a quilt by hand, the rise of the sewing machine meant that quilt making could be completed easier and much faster.
Let’s look at the difference between the two techniques…
Hand quilting adds a homemade touch to the overall aesthetic of a finished quilt. The ultimate goal with hand stitching is to achieve neat and uniform stitches, but it can be tricky to get identical stitches.
You want the stitch to be the same length on the front and back of the quilt.
To make the seams consistent, they can often be a little bigger than you may desire at the start of your sewing journey. Don’t worry – as your technique improves, the seams tend to get smaller!
I think it’s often apparent when a quilt has been hand stitched, and there’s nothing like the visible authenticity of a well-made, hand stitched quilt.
The binding of a hand quilt is done with the help of pins and clips to hold the fabric layers together during the stitching process.
You can easily use a metal or leather thimble for finger protection when quilting, or to help guide your stitch.
- Can be a very relaxing and satisfying process.
- Gives a personal touch.
- Hand quilting is portable – you can sew on an airplane or anywhere else in the world.
- A good way for beginners to learn the basic quilting process.
- Mastery of technique might take time for a new quilter to learn.
Tying or knotting is a process used in some hand quilt projects where the layers of fabric are attached together with cotton thread.
The thread is pulled through the center of the quilt, and then tied in knots to secure the quilt.
Here’s a quick video on quilt tying
This is a good technique for beginners to start out with and helps to give the quilt a textured look.
Machine quilting is probably the easiest and fastest way to create a quilt.
A growing number of quilters use machine quilting as their primary method. When using this method to quilt, it’s pretty much guaranteed that you’ll have neat, consistent stitches and a shorter binding process.
If you need a machine to start your quilting journey, check out my review of top sewing machines for beginners and find the machine that will suit your needs.
More advanced machinery includes mid-arm and long-arm quilting machines. These are connected to software that follows a preloaded design. For beginners, a domestic sewing appliance could work for all projects.
- Quick way to finish a quilt and will save time.
- Quilts are generally more durable and longer lasting.
- Consistent stitches.
- Machines and their accompanying tools are expensive.
- Not all machines come with a high foot lift for your quilt sandwich.
So which method is the best?
For quilts that are laundered regularly and used as a functional quilt e.g. a baby quilt, machine quilting is the better approach.
Although hand stitching gives you more room to express your creativity and give it a more authentic appearance, machine quilting is actually stronger, and often the choice for functional quilts.
With both hand and machine quilting, both require patience and skill. Remember that the end result might not be perfect the first time, so don’t get discouraged if you hit a roadblock here and there.
Most quilters actually use a mixture of both techniques to get the best result from their quilting project.
Is it an expensive hobby?
Quilting can be an expensive hobby today, but it doesn’t necessarily have to be! Let’s explore both sides in response to the question:
Starting with the machine, a high end model could match the price of a second hand car or a nice holiday. You would need to have it serviced frequently to ensure it runs smoothly.
You’d also need tools such as a rotary cutter, cutting mat, ruler, patterns, and binding clips.
Then comes the material! To make a queen size quilt, you will need around 20 yards of fabric.
Some people will prefer to spend a large amount of money on the most expensive fabric, cotton, and batting. That’s a great way to keep fabric stores in business!
But also no..
At the other end of the spectrum, we have thrift quilting.
When you first get started, you don’t need all the fancy bells and whistles, which could otherwise cost you unnecessary money while you learn.
I buy almost all my fabric (and sometimes cotton thread) for quilt blocks from thrift stores.
It’s better for the environment, and it’s more economical for me.
Old cotton sheets or curtains work when chopped up into blocks, strips and squares. These materials have been designed already to last through washes upon washes before the fabric shows any signs of wear!
The result is usually the same..
Experienced quilters tend to notice that cheaper fabric can have quality feel and stretch issues. Some use an iron for quilting to prep their fabric before use.
There are fabrics that technically shouldn’t be mixed, but when you are just getting to grips with the craft, it doesn’t matter!
Whichever material or thread you decide to use, you’ll still create a beautiful, fully functional quilt.
Is quilting easy to learn?
Anyone can quilt! If you have sewn before and are good with your hands and fiddly crafts, then quilting could be very easy. The secret is knowing where to begin.
With some basic tools such as a rotary cutter, acrylic ruler, and cutting mat, it’ll be simple to get started.
There is an abundance of help and ‘how to’ videos online or websites to help you start your quilting journey for the first time.
Making more complex quilt tops of course will take more time to learn.
Can I teach myself to quilt?
The skills to learn quilting are pretty basic, to be honest. I taught myself how to quilt, and while they’ve not always been the most complicated of designs, my creations were still beautiful nonetheless.
I would always suggest starting out small and cheap with materials. Maybe even start with a baby quilt until you’ve figured out the technique.
Choosing a Pattern
First, you will need to choose a pattern, cut it out and pin the design together. I think to pin and sew the top quilt is the most difficult part!
After this, pin the top quilt to the batting and the bottom layer and sew them together. Add a bind around the edge, and ta-da – your first quilt is complete!
How to start quilting
When making your first quilt, there are lots of things to consider.
Before you go out and purchase a thousand-dollar sewing machine, make sure to read our checklist first to ensure you’ve got everything you need together.
Things to consider:
Consider the size of the quilt as this will affect whether you use a machine, hand quilt, or both methods together.
An heirloom baby quilt or twin sized quilt would be okay to do by hand, as they have small edges and can be sewn with the basics.
Larger quilts made to fit king and queen sized beds would take more time and a lot more work.
Some fabrics are easier to handle than others, making it more or less difficult to stitch by hand.
Thick or stiff fabrics are a bit more difficult to push the needle through. Others can be slippery and too difficult to hold on to, but a mix of fabric together can provide a textured quilt block project.
The fabric for the quilt top is really important, as this will be giving the quilt its overall aesthetic.
Consider a combination of different sized strips or prints against something plain, and mixing two or three different prints and colors together in a square formation.
Simple patchwork and block quilting patterns are some of the most beautiful quilts! The best design for a total beginner when making a quilt is a block patch quilt top.
For your first quilt, you can start by cutting out simple patchwork blocks from your fabric and sandwich them together in a way that you find aesthetically pleasing.
Considering more complex quilt patterns for a beginner, there is a half square triangle, where (you’ve guessed it..) the squares are cut into half triangles to create all kinds of designs and shapes, such as the flying geese, chevrons, herringbone, and zigzag path. Classics!
There are many free quilt pattern designs online you can follow either by downloading them or watching a tutorial video.
Batting is used in the middle of the quilt to hold the top quilt stiff while sewing and give the quilt weight.
Batting is attached usually with heat from an iron to the sticky side of the batting fabric. Some quilters prefer not to use proper batting when they make a quilt, instead using an alternate fabric as the middle section. Then, they will sew it to attach.
There are so many different types of batting available online from unbleached, polyester, thin loft, thick loft, plush, bamboo, etc. Knowing them all can be a challenge and a half for a beginner quilter!
Read reviews for tips on the color of the batting you are using, as some may show through if you are using a light colored material. It’s really important to read the manufacturers guidelines first, as some batting requires pre-washing before use.
Making the first cut on your material can be intimidating, especially if you have spent a lot of money on the materials.
The first step with cutting out fabric to use on quilts is to use a rotary cutter and fabric. You can watch this video below that helps guide you when cutting out strips and patches of material for your quilt.
Once you have the right tools to cut out material and understand how to use them, the rest of the sewing should be a little more simple.
Many quilters use fusible batting for their projects to hold the sandwich layers together in place. This is to make the fabric stiffer so that it is easier to handle without the need for a lot of pins.
You will need to bind the edges of the quilt seams together to give it a finished look. Quilters typically add the binding to one side of the quilt first, e.g. the back, before adding it to the front.
There are different binding techniques, but from experience, I suggest researching how to bind properly before potentially ruining your quilt!
What equipment do I need to start quilting?
A rotary cutter and cutting mat for the perfect quilt block
A rotary cutter will ensure you cut amazing quilt blocks and squares every time. No more faffing with scissors and worrying about uneven cuts! It also means you can cut through layers of fabric squares at the same time.
A mat protects any surfaces where you may be doing the cutting.
An acrylic ruler
One of these should help you get your measurements right and cut a straight line square for your patchwork quilt.
They’re opaque and will help you get that perfect ¼” seam allowance!
The material also won’t dent or cut through if your rotary blade gets too close.
Can I quilt with a regular sewing machine?
Definitely. A regular sewing machine will have the straight stitch and zig-zag, the two stitches that are really used when quilting.
If you wanted to buy a more specialized machinery for quilting, machines are available with an extra wide work area, larger throat space, and extra high presser foot to squeeze your quilt sandwich under and save you the pain.
What is the easiest way for a beginner to make a quilt?
There are many free basic pattern guides available for download online that are suitable for a beginner.
I would recommend a four or nine patch bento box quilt, but there are quilts that move up. These include the easy hunter’s star quilt, kaleidoscope quilt, and star crossing quilt.
These are all a great way for a beginner to build the basics in quilting and sewing!
Tips for quilting projects
- When creating a patchwork or t-shirt quilt, try not to sew white squares or shapes together. White can change color and fade over time and washings.
- Make sure to check online for basics. You can find everything you will need to know for sewing your quilt project through a video guide on Youtube.
Glossary of terms / learn about type of quilting:
Quilting very close to a seam line of a patch or quilt block. Quilting in the ditch is usually done on the side without the seam sew allowance, and is almost invisible.
Quilting inside each patch is usually about 1.4” away from the seam line. This method avoids seam sew allowances and lends most strength to the quilt.
Quilting that follows the lines of a design that is drawn to the quilt top. E.g. feathers, bows, birds, hearts etc..
Quilting that complements rather than follows existing seam sew lines.
Quilting only certain portions of a design to emphasize them.
Quilting that fills in or flattens background in the quilt top to make the primary sew design to stand out.
Different fill types are:
Basic fill quilting done in straight parallel lines over square patchwork.
Done freehand in random curved lines and swirls, and does not follow any pattern but depends completely on the quilter’s whim. Lines should not cross or touch each other.
This means creating very closely spaced echo or meandering stitches to flatten down an area completely.
Quilting that fills the entire top in a design that ignores any of the seam lines.
So, it’s no secret that quilting can be expensive, but it doesn’t mean you have to break the bank.
Things like bulk buying or a quilting subscription box might help but are not necessary.
It is definitely possible to make beautiful quilts on a budget and even send them as a gift; and I’ve been doing it for years!
Once you’ve tried both quilting techniques, you will probably notice that you prefer one method over another.
Many quilters will quilt together with both methods to get the best results for each – either can be satisfying to the crafter who genuinely finds a love for the art of quilting.
I hope you enjoyed reading my article on how to learn quilting. It’s such a rewarding and fun process. If you’re looking for other ways to practice, learning how to make a bed quilt is also good practice for beginners. Also, I wrote an article about repairing quilts since knowing how to do so is always a good idea. Best of luck to your quilting journey!