Quiltmaking Basics

Quilts have been in existence for a long time-possibly thousands of years-but have become very popular only in the last two hundred years or so. They were originally constructed for purely functional reasons, but while they still serve that purpose, they have also evolved into an art form. Quilts are used on beds and in babies’ cribs, of course, and are also used to enhance furnishings. But some will never make it to a bed or even a couch; some will spend their entire lives hung on walls, to be seen and appreciated just like a painting.

If you’ve admired quilts for a while, and maybe even considered making one of your own, here is some basic information.

Each quilt has three main parts.
The quilt top is the decorative part-the part with the pattern, the part that’s shown off. It’s usually made from fabric that is 100% cotton, because it shrinks more predictably, but some quilters use a polyester/cotton blend. But the fabric doesn’t have to be plain; some quilters use very soft fabric like flannel or even something fancy like brocade. The key is to use fabrics of the same or similar weight (thickness), so the top will “drape” properly and can be assembled easily.

The batting is the inner lining. It’s used to pad the quilt and give it warmth and a more three-dimensional quality. Traditionally quilters used everything from cotton and wool to old clothing, old quilts, and even newspapers. Today the two most common types of batting are polyester and 100% cotton. Polyester has more “loft,” making it fluffier and possibly more appropriate for a bed quilt, but many quilters prefer the warmth and organic feel of cotton.

The back (the bottom) is usually made of one entire piece of fabric. It’s sometimes called the “wrong” side, but this can be a misnomer, because quilt backs can be beautiful; it just depends on what you’re planning on doing with the finished quilt. If it’s going to be hung on a wall, for example, the back could be quite plain. If it’s going on a bed, you might want to make it attractive enough for the quilt to be reversed occasionally. Fabric for a quilt back can be a larger or different piece of what was used on the top, or it can be plain cotton muslin. It’s important to have the backing fabric be the same weight, and have the same care requirements, as the top.

There are three types of quilts.
A whole quilt has a top that, like the backing, is one entire piece of fabric. What makes this kind of quilt distinctive is the pattern of the stitching used to attach it to the other two layers.

A pieced quilt is probably what most people think of when they picture a traditional quilt. This kind of quilt uses blocks or other geometric shapes assembled into a larger piece.

An appliqued quilt has a top constructed of patterns or designs sewn onto another piece of fabric. The appliqued section may make up the entire quilt top, or it may be surrounded by other appliqued sections or geometric pieces.

There are five general steps to making a quilt.
1. Make the top.
2. Attach the batting to the backing using basting stitches and pins.
3. Attach the top to the basted batting and backing and stitch all three together.
4. Finish the edges.
5. Sign your work!

This is obviously very basic information. Entire books have been written covering the above in great detail; there are also videos available for those who learn better if they can watch the process. But if you’re trying to decide whether quiltmaking is for you, or if you just want to understand the process better, this may be all the information you need.

Quiltmaking is more than a craft; it’s also an art. The more you know about it, the more you can appreciate both the art and the artist-especially if you’re planning on becoming one!

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