Quilting For Dummies
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Quilting results in pieces prized for both usefulness and beauty. The long history of quilting offers ages-old tips, and modern technology throws in some shortcuts, if you want to take them. But the lingo hasn’t changed very much and tips for choosing quilting fabric remain practical as well as creative. Knowing how to apply common fabric yardages to quilting is useful, and so is having a list of all the materials that go into a finished quilt.

Quilt shopping list

Much of the fun of starting a new quilt comes from planning the shopping trip to get the supplies you need. Even if you’re using fabric scraps you already have, you may need to find some complementary material, and you’ll probably need backing and batting at least. Use the following list as a reminder of all the ingredients that go into a finished quilt:

  • Quilt pattern of choice

  • Fabrics for your quilt

  • Batting for the filler

  • Backing fabric that’s 2–3 inches larger all around than the finished quilt size

  • All-purpose thread for piecing and assembly

  • Specialty threads for appliqué projects

  • All-purpose or monofilament thread for machine quilting

  • Fabric scissors (dressmakers’ shears are perfect)

  • Rotary cutter, ruler, and self-healing mat for rotary-cut patterns

  • Thimbles and finger protectors for hand quilting

  • Quilting hoop or stand for hand quilting

  • Walking or even-feed foot for machine quilting

  • Free motion foot (darning foot) for free motion quilting

  • Templates for hand or machine quilting

  • Enough bias quilt binding to go completely around the quilt plus 6 extra inches for overlap

  • Quilters’ pins

  • Glue stick for holding appliqués in place

  • Seam ripper and needle threader, just in case

Common fabric yardage cuts for quilting

If you’re quilting, you’re dealing with fabric and yardages. The following chart is a useful tool to have on hand when you’re purchasing fabric yardage. You can also refer to this chart when pulling fabrics from your own stash to make sure you have enough of your fabric of choice. (Measurements are based on the standard 44-or 45-inch fabric width.)

Be sure to measure any large templates you plan to use so you don’t purchase a piece of fabric that’s too narrow for the task.

Yardage Cut Size In Inches Size In Centimeters
1/8 yd 4.5 x 44 in 11.4 x 111.8 cm
Fat eighth 18 x 11 in 45.7 x 27.9 cm
1/4 yd 9 x 44 in 22.9 x 111.8 cm
Fat quarter 18 x 22 in 45.7 x 55.9 cm
1/3 yd 12 x 44 in 30.5 x 111.8 cm
1/2 yd 18 x 44 in 45.7 x 111.8 cm
2/3 yd 24 x 44 in 61.0 x 111.8 cm
3/4 yd 27 x 44 in 68.6 x 111.8 cm
1 yd 36 x 44 in 91.4 x 111.8 cm

How to select fabric for quilting

A quilt is all about the fabric used to make it. Sure there’s batting and backing, but the design and integrity of a quilt comes from the fabrics you choose to compose it. Use the tips in the following list when choosing fabrics for your latest quilt or for your stash of materials for future quilts:

  • Always purchase 100 percent cotton fabric for your quilts. Avoid anything that has polyester fibers. Cotton handles beautifully, holds a crease well, and isn’t slippery between your fingers. It’s also the traditional choice for quilting.

  • Select fabrics that compliment each other rather than clash. For example, if you choose a large-scale floral as the focal point of your quilt, complement it with two or three smaller print fabrics that don’t compete for visual attention with the large print. Also, choose colors that are similar to the ones used in the larger print.

  • Be adventurous. Sticking to all small-scale prints makes a quilt look like it’s made from solid fabrics when viewed from a distance. Varying the scale of the fabric designs adds interest from both near and far.

  • Try something out of the ordinary now and then. Mix things up by experimenting with woven plaids or warm, fuzzy quilter’s flannels. You can even mix flannels with regular cotton fabrics; in fact, flannel quilt backs are wonderfully cozy!

  • When in doubt, choose fabrics from the same collection. Fabric manufacturers do the work for you so by creating collections of fabric in different colors and print scales meant to be used together so you can rest assured that everything works well together. In addition, sometimes store personnel assemble collections that go well together, just to give you some extra ideas to ponder.

  • Pop your fabric into the washing machine as soon as you get home, then dry and press it before storing. Taking care of this prep work early on guarantees that the fabrics in your stash are always ready to use when inspiration strikes.

Quilting lingo

Hang out in a fabric store long enough and you’re bound to hear some quilting lingo that you may or may not be able to translate. To help you feel more comfortable and in-the-know, here’s a quick rundown of “quilt-bonics”:

  • Appliquéd quilt: A quilt made of fabric shapes stitched to a foundation piece of fabric to create a design.

  • Backing: The fabric used for the back side of the quilt — the bottom-most layer.

  • Basting: Using large, easy-to-remove stitches to hold the layers of a quilt in place. You remove basting stitches after you complete the quilting design.

  • Batting: The filling that makes a quilt warm and wonderful.

  • Binding: The bias-cut trim used to conceal, or bind, the raw edges of a quilt. Bindings come premade, or you can make them yourself.

  • Charm quilt: A pieced or appliquéd quilt in which many different fabrics are used and don’t appear more than twice. Bundles of charm squares are often exchanged at quilting guilds so that quilters can collect a wide assortment of fabrics.

  • Conversation prints: Also known as novelty prints, these fabrics often have large-scale or unusual designs.

  • Directional prints: Fabrics that have an obvious one-direction design, such as a stripe or floral bouquet with a north-south orientation.

  • Fat quarter: This fabric cut measures 18 x 22 inches, giving you a more usable space than you have with a standard 1/4-yard cut of fabric (which would be long and skinny at 9 x 44 inches).

  • Fat eighth: This fabric cut is a fat quarter cut in half to measure 18 x 11 inches. Fat eighths are handy when you need just a small amount of fabric.

  • Fussy-cut: A pattern piece that has been cut to accommodate a specific design in the fabric. An example is centering a floral bouquet in the middle of a square to show it off in the finished block.

  • Loft: The thickness of batting. Low-loft is a flatter, less fluffy batting than high-loft, which is very fluffy and plush.

  • Long-arm quilting machine: You’re likely to find this special machine in a lot of quilting shops. Its sole purpose is to machine quilt an assembled quilt. If you don’t want to quilt your project yourself, many shops (and a good number of individuals) will quilt it for you for a fee using these machines.

  • Muslin: Plain cotton fabric that’s either unbleached or bleached white. It can be used as a backing or in the quilt top.

  • Pieced quilt: A quilt made of pieces that have been cut and stitched together to form a new design.

  • Quilt top: The topmost layer of the quilt; it features piecing or appliqué designs.

  • Strip quilting: Stitching strips of fabric together and cutting the multi-colored strip into pieces to create a new design.

  • Subcut: Cutting an already cut piece into many smaller pieces.

  • Templates: Premade plastic or acrylic pattern pieces or paper patterns mounted onto cardstock and used to trace shapes onto fabric for cutting.

About This Article

This article is from the book:

About the book author:

Cheryl Fall is the author of 12 how-to books, has designed more than 2,500 projects for publication, and is the host of The Creative Life with Cheryl Fall on PBS.

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