Friday, 12 August 2011

ABCs of Sewing: Q is for Quilting

I've decided to go out of order here. If you'd been paying attention, you might think that the next letter coming was D (which will be for darning, if I ever get to it). But this morning, a friend in need berated me for not actually explaining what a quilt entailed. All apologies. And just for you, Julie (since every other reader of this blog seems to be here just for the Octonauts things - not joking. Well over half of my all time readers...), here are the ABCs of quilting.

A Definition

First: what is a quilt? Well, it's a sandwich of fabrics consisting of a top layer (quilt top), middle layer (wadding, or sometimes batting), and bottom layer (backing). It's usually finished with binding. The whole things makes a blanket which is viewable from both sides, so unlike most things you sew there is no 'wrong' side in the finished project.


Now there are quilts, and there is quilting. The above is a Quilt. Quilting, though, is the little stitches that you put through all three layers. These stitches are both decorative and functional. They hold the quilt layers together, but you also use them to enhance, to outline, and to decorate.

'In the ditch' quilting
Patchwork squares, outlined, seen from the back
For example. You might have a quilt made up of patchwork squares, all different patterns. When it comes to quilting, you might decide to quilt around the squares (this is called 'in the ditch', and means you sew in the seams that are already there).

You may decide to go diagonally across the squares, creating another layer of pattern. Or, you might decide to create an entirely new pattern on top of your squares by stitching stars, hearts, flowers, and so on.

Or, you could decide to sew a random pattern of squiggles, or stippling, using free motion quilting.
You might also use quilting to outline an existing pattern, if, hypothetically (Julie), you bought a printed panel with fairies, hungry caterpillars, or monkeys. You could then sew around certain lines to emphasise them.

You can quilt by hand, or machine. Just make sure you buy the appropriate thread.

Quilting supplies

The following will be useful for your quilting life. There is a whole, large market devoted to quilting. In Edinburgh, I recommend Mandors. Online, try The Cotton Patch, or eBay
  • a rotary mat, and cutter 
  • a quilting ruler (go for a longish one, rather than a square) 
  • quilting safety pins, to baste, or hold your layers together, while you quilt 
  • quilting needles, either for your sewing machine or for hand quilting 
  • an iron 
  • 100% cotton thread
Rules for Making a Quilt

When it comes to making a quilt, really anything goes - but there are a few rules that will make your life easier. 
  1. Always use 100% cotton thread. Over time (and we are talking a long time, but if you're making a quilt you are making an heirloom piece), other threads can wear through the fabric. Cotton shouldn't. Use thread for hand or for machine as appropriate (hand quilting thread is usually coated to make it easier to work with).
  2. The standard seam allowance is 1/4 inch.
  3. Pre-wash and shrink your fabric.
  4. Stretchy fabric generally isn't used for quilts. It can be, but requires extra prep - namely, making it not stretchy. Use an iron-on stabiliser to do this.
  5. Use a good quality wadding. You want it to be thin! The first time I tried to quilt, I bought wadding that looked like a marshmallow. It would have been good for making a puffy jacket, or a gillet, but not for a blanket. Think like a layer of felt - that's about what you're going for.
This is just a very basic explanation to get you started, Jules (and anyone else, who stumbled over here from the Octonauts pages). There are many, many more pages on the web that can help you with specifics, like what kind of quilt top to make, and what quilting method to use. But I hope this can help you on the way to becoming a quilting addict!

1 comment:

  1. Weeks later and I'm still fannying about. Terrified of cutting into my pretty fabric. I think I've started out too ambitious, but still, it's for mum so I want it to be nice. But what if I stuff up?! Oh well, am about to bite the bullet and wash material to cut up in little bits tomorrow night. I have a feeling the fabric isn't going to be very forgiving, and that's what worries me the most... jx