Making your own quilt is easier than you think

Make a beautiful quilt from scratchSarah Ashford - Hearst Owned

Whether you're a keen sewer looking for a new challenge or a craft fan looking for a project to practice your sewing skills, quilting is perfect. Don't worry if you haven't tried it before!

In our handy beginner's guide to quilting you'll learn how to sew a quilt and discover everything you need to know to create a patchwork baby quilt with help from quilting pro Sarah Ashford...

Beginner's guide to quilting

It seems crazy doesn't it – quilters take different fabrics, cut them up and sew them back together again. We have been doing it for hundreds of years – in the UK quilting has been popular since the 17th century. Sometimes we make them to keep warm, and other times we want to create a beautiful textile.

What exactly is a quilt and what do you need to make one? In this beginner’s guide, I'll explain all of these things. Join me as I teach you how to make a simple patchwork baby quilt step-by-step. I hope you feel inspired to make a quilt of your own, and that you experience the joy that quilting brings.

What is a quilt?

A quilt is made of three layers of fabric; the top layer, the wadding (also known as batting) and the quilt top. The layers are held together by ‘quilting’ – the stitching that holds the three layers of a quilt together. This quilting can be done either by machine or by hand. The edges are 'sealed' by a binding that goes all the way around the edge of the quilt.

handmade patchwork quilt, how to
A patchwork quilt is a popular project for beginners, who are new to the craftSarah Ashford - Hearst Owned

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What do you need for quilting?

There are a few basic tools and equipment that you will need to make a quilt.

tools needed for quilting, rotary cutter, ruler and self healing cutting mat
Quilters need special tools to make the craft easier such as a rotary cutter Sarah Ashford - Hearst Owned

Rotary cutter
To cut your fabric you'll need a rotary cutter, which is essentially like a pizza cutter, but razor sharp! Luckily rotary cutters have a blade protector to keep fingers safe.

Self-healing cutting mat
The larger the better as it will give you more flexibility for cutting larger fabrics.

Acrylic ruler
This is to help you cut carefully and accurately.

fabric patches for quilting, beginners guide
One of the most satisfying aspects of quilting it choosing which fabric to useSarah Ashford - Hearst Owned

This is the fun bit! For my quilt I have used eight fabrics, with two squares cut out from each fabric, totalling 16 squares. Each square has been cut at 8 1/2” square because you always add a 1/2” seam allowance to the measurements when cutting. So each block in my quilt will finish at 8”.

You will also need some fabric for the back. I've used a 1.5m piece of fabric that is 44” wide, which will leave a little left over. If you don't have a piece of fabric this size, you can make a patchwork for the back, but this is more time consuming.

Fabric strips
Fabric strips are needed for the binding. My quilt measures 32”x40”, so I will need a 155” strip. This is the perimeter of the quilt, plus 10” extra to allow for the mitred corners and the join at the beginning and end. The strip can be pieced together to make one long strip.

Sewing machine
You can sew your fabric together by hand; you'll need thread and embroidery scissors and a needle to do this. But you will get on much faster by sewing it on a sewing machine. You only need a straight stitch on your machine, so a basic machine is sufficient.

Cotton threads
Choose colours that match the palette of your handmade quilt

beginners guide to quilting, iron for pressing
An iron is a quilter’s best friend!Sarah Ashford - Hearst Owned

Iron and ironing board
You'll also need an iron and ironing board or ironing mat

A marking tool
Get a chalk pen or hera marker, which is a plastic tool use to score the fabric

Quilting pins
These pins form a similar function to dressmaking pins but they are longer and thinner making them ideal for holding three layers of fabric together.

Sewing clips
An essential product that's useful for all sewers, these clips stop your fabric from moving and hold pieces together.

Masking tape
You'll need this to help you hold fabric flat when you're working in the basting stage

The inside of a quilt contains batting or wadding as it's sometimes known. This is what makes the quilt 'puffy' or –as we say in the quilting world – gives it 'loft'. I like to use a 80/20 cotton/polyester blend because it's mostly natural fibre, and drapes really nicely. Cotton is also breathable, so the best option for baby quilts.

For my quilt, I've used a piece of wadding that measures 44” x 36”. It needs to be bigger than the quilt top because it can shrink up a bit when you quilt it. Once the quilt has been quilted you can trim it up to the size of the quilt top.

wadding or batting, the filling for quilt making
Batting is what makes quilts feel so cosySarah Ashford - Hearst Owned

Glue baste
This is a wonderful invention that temporarily holds the three layers together before quilting, in a process known as basting. (No turkeys here!) You just spray it on and it will hold in place until you've stitched your quilt together. Alternatively, you could use quilting pins, which are curved safety pins. These are a little fiddly to use and it takes a lot longer to pin the three layers of fabric together, so I like to opt for the spray, but either will do the job.

basting spray for quilting, beginners guide
Basting spray provides a temporary adhesive by holding fabric in placeSarah Ashford - Hearst Owned

Understanding quilting terms

When you start learning how to quilt you will start by using quilt patterns.

Here are some of the terms you might come across in a beginner’s quilting pattern:

Chain stitching – where you feed multiple fabrics through the sewing machine continuously, without cutting the thread. It creates a 'chain' that can then be cut at intervals afterwards. It's quick and saves thread.

RST – Right sides together. This is when you place the fabric so the right sides are touching each other.

WST – Wrong sides together. Here, you place the fabric so the wrong sides are touching each other.

Seam allowance – This is the distance between the stitching line and the seam.

1/4” Seam – This is the standard seam allowance used in patchwork. Always assume this seam allowance unless the pattern states otherwise.

Fat Quarter – This is a square piece of fabric measuring 18” x 22”. Quilters like to purchase fat quarters so that they can have a selection of different fabrics in their work.

Basting – This is temporary stitching, pins or glue that hold the three layers of the quilt together in preparation for quilting. The stitches or pins are removed just before that section of the quilt is quilted.

The most popular types of quilting

how to make a handmade quilt using patchwork, for beginners
Making a handmade quilt is extremely satisfyingSarah Ashford - Hearst Owned

There are several different ways you can make a quilt. For this tutorial I will focus on quilting using basic patchwork square quilting technique as it’s a great way for beginner’s to get started with how to make a quilt as most quilts are made with a patchwork top.

Here are some other types of quilting you may come across and may want to try in the future:

Appliqué quilts

This is where you cut out smaller fabric motifs and stitch them onto a larger fabric base, it may involve patches.

Paper pieced quilts

Paper piercing is a method where paper is used to stabilise the backing of any cut fabric pieces, typically geometric shapes.

Memory and photo memory quilts

A quilt with a special meaning, these are usually made using old clothes and other fabric items that perhaps belong to someone that has passed away and is a celebration of their life. It can be done by using a patchwork method.

Preparing the patchwork

My baby quilt is made up of 20 squares, in a 4 x 5 formation. First, lay out the squares in a placement that you're happy with, ensuring a balance of colour, scale and design. Take a photo that you can refer back to, so that you don't get in a muddle!

colourful cotton fabric squares for quilting
Lay out your fabric squares to see which patterns work well togetherSarah Ashford - Hearst Owned

Using a 1/4” seam allowance and a straight stitch, first sew the squares into pairs using the chain stitch method, and then stitch the pairs into the rows, referring to the photograph. You will have five rows in total. Don't iron anything at this stage.

how to sew a patchwork quilt, step by step
Making a patchwork quilt is an ideal project for a beginnerSarah Ashford - Hearst Owned

Press the seams of the top row to the right and the row below to the left. Keep alternating the direction that you press the seams.

Take the top row and flip WST with the row below. Line up the central seam and pin either side of the seam to ensure it doesn't move. You will see that one seam goes to the left and one to the right. They should 'fit' into each other nicely. This is called nesting the seams. Repeat for all the seams in the row.

nesting the seams, quilting an patchworking for beginners
Nesting the seams is a technique used to join your patchesSarah Ashford - Hearst Owned

Continue in this way for the remaining rows, so that eventually all the rows are stitched together. Press thoroughly using your iron, ensuring it's nice and flat where the seams join.

quilt top, quilting, patchwork, beginners guide
When your quilt top is complete you can begin to assemble your quiltSarah Ashford - Hearst Owned

Assembling the quilt

Now that you've completed the patchwork quilt top, it needs to be basted. A hard floor space or large table is best for this.

Place the pressed quilt backing right side down on the floor and tape in the corners and along the edges with masking tape. Place the batting on top. This should be the same size at the quilt backing.

Fold half of the batting back on itself, spray the backing with spray baste and return the batting in position. Fold the other half of the batting back on itself and spray the backing with spray baste. Return the batting and smooth down. Place the patchwork quilt top on top of the batting and adhere with basting spray in the same way.

basting, quilting, patchwork, beginners guide
Basting is an important quilting techniqueSarah Ashford - Hearst Owned

Carefully remove from the quilt from the floor/table and press on the front and back to adhere the glue.

Quilting stitches – machine quilting v quilting by hand

At this point you need to make a decision as to whether to quilt the quilt by machine or by hand. The advantages of machine quilting are that it is much quicker and you can have a lot of fun with different quilt pattern designs once you get more experienced. Hand quilting is also an option, and gives a wonderful heirloom quality to the quilt. However it takes a lot longer, and it can take some practice to get even stitches.

For this quilt I have decided to quilt by machine in left and right diagonal lines that intersect the points of the squares. To do this, use an acrylic ruler and hera marker to score the lines, which act as a guide for you to follow.

hera market, quilting, patchwork
Using a hera marker helps you create clean creases in your fabricSarah Ashford - Hearst Owned

I like to set my stitch length to a four, which is a long stitch length that gives a lovely effect. I love using my quilting gloves to quilt, as it helps me gain better control of the quilt and manipulate it more easily.

how to make a quilting, quilting by sewing machine
It’s best to use a long stitch when you’re quilting Sarah Ashford - Hearst Owned

Once you've quilted the whole quilt, quilt all the way around the edge at about 1/8” to 'seal' the edges. Trim off the excess batting.

Adding the binding

I like to use single fold binding as it uses less fabric and is less bulky. Pin the binding to the top right edge of the quilt, about 6” from the corner and stitch in place using a scant 1/2” seam.

how to make a quilting, how to add quilt binding
Attaching the binding to your quiltSarah Ashford - Hearst Owned

Stitch until you're 1/4” from the corner of the quilt. Pivot the quilt 90 degrees, and fold the binding up, away from the quilt. Fold the binding back down the next edge, creating a pleat. Start stitching from the top of the fold like before. Do this for all four corners of the quilt.

how to attach quilt binding to a quilt
How to add binding to the corner of a quiltSarah Ashford - Hearst Owned

As you approach the beginning of the binding, fold the beginning binding piece at a 45 degree angle away from the quilt.

how to make a quilt, beginners guide, attaching binding
Finishing the binding on a quiltSarah Ashford - Hearst Owned

Stitch the end of the binding over the fold and continue for a few more inches, reinforcing the stitching to secure in place. Trim off the excess binding.

Fold the binding to the back of the quilt and secure in place with binding clips or pins. Use a small ladder stitch and matching thread to stitch the binding to the back of the quilt by hand. To make the ladder stitch, bring the needle up behind the binding to hide the knot. If you’re right handed, work from right to left. Take a small stitch into the quilt (but only the top layer, not all the way through) and then come back to the binding and take a stitch into the binding. Repeat by going into the quilt again, then back into the binding. You will find that your stitches become invisible and melt into the fabric when you gently pull it. So clever!

finishing stage, how to make a quilt
Small clips will help you keep your binding in placeSarah Ashford - Hearst Owned

How to approach making smaller blocks

The process for patchwork is essentially the same, whatever size you want your quilt to be. You could cut your quilt blocks to a smaller size and you would construct the quilt in exactly the same way. The smaller the blocks, the more the pieces to stitch back together, but that's part of the fun!

close up of a handmade quilt by sarah ashford, beginners guide to quilting
Your first finished quilt is a craft to be proud of!Sarah Ashford - Hearst Owned

Caring for your quilt

First of all, don't be too precious about your quilt, they are meant to be used and loved! If you want to wash it, hand washing with a gentle detergent is a good option. If you want to machine wash it, use cold water, gentle detergent and a delicate cycle. You can add a colour catcher to make sure that the colours don't run into one another. Hang outside on the line to dry.

Once you've made your first quilt you'll be on roll. Put your new skills to the test by trying another quilt project. Get inspired by these quilting books.

Do you love crafting? Share your creations with us by tagging @primamag in your pictures on Instagram!

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