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What Is Quilting? An Illustrated Guide for the Beginner

Updated on May 28, 2019
Zoe Davies profile image

Zoe has been quilting for a decade. Owner of online UK fabric store 'Fine City Quilting'. Wife, Mum of two & Professional Fabric Stroker.

The BEST sort of sandwich......

Quilting is the process of sewing together layers of fabric in order to make a thicker, warmer layer.

Three layers are usually used and often referred to as a quilt sandwich..guaranteed to contain no calories but may make you rather inactive!

Historically the middle layer of this sandwich could be old blanket but these days a purpose made wadding or batting is used. This is a craft we should be embracing in 2019 as we can use and re-purpose old clothing and table linen instead of disposing of them. Also in a world where items are mass produced, it's rather wonderful to make and own something that NOBODY else has!

The 3 layers that make up the sandwich

1) The Quilt top is the pretty patchwork layer you can see.

This layer can be as simple as a single piece of cloth or hundreds of pieces sewn together.

2) The Wadding

Wadding can be made of a variety of warm materials making up this padding layer - cotton, cotton mixes, bamboo, polyester or wool. Bamboo wadding is fantastic for anyone with allergies.

3) The Backing

Plain solids such are perfect for backing but will show up any bad stitching! A busy pattern will hide a multitude of sins!

Quilt top ideas!

The only limit to this is your imagination! I have made some fantastically crazy quilts but I have also enjoyed making the most classic patterns like 'Flying Geese' or 'Log Cabin'.

There must be a thousand patchwork blocks out there, a simple google search or library visit will prove this but what is more fascinating is the many different patterns and secondary patterns that emerge when these blocks are:

  • put together
  • rotated

The choices only multiply vastly once you've chosen a pattern for your quilt top....fabric choice has halted many a Quilter in their tracks.

There are NO RULES - I work by instinct at this stage. I may have been drawn to a captivating print and then choose a few solids and complimentary patterns in different shades and tones that work with it.

In terms of what is on trend in quilting it's always interesting to see what the Pantone colour of the year is (this year is Living Coral), quilters are normally on the same page and we see this reflected in fabric choices. Over the last 4 years solid shades have been almost more popular than prints.

Be brave, be creative. If the worst comes to the worst you can turn it over, only display the backing fabric and pretend it's a 'whole cloth' quilt!

Close up of a handmade quilt


Basting...not just for turkeys!

Once the 3 layers are basted (temporarily fixed together) either with a basting stitch that will be later removed or safety pins or an adhesive spray, the quilt sandwich can be quilted by machine or by hand. There are those who swear by one method or the other it can be a divisive topic - BUT I'm happy to use a bit of both.

Hand quilting is done with a needle and thread (make sure you're using a Quilting Needle, they're sharp) and involves sewing a running stitch through the three layers of the sandwich to secure them together. This can be achieved with a stab stitch or rocking stitch. A quilting silk finish cotton looks the best - I personally use Mettler but there are many brands that will perform in a similar way.

Hand quilting is distinctive and can definitely make an item more personal. It is a contemplative task which is slow and rewarding.

Machine quilting provides faster results but can be fraught if things don't go to plan. Unpicking is harder when you're dealing with tight machine stitching! Straight lines and gentle curves can be achieved with a walking foot.

For anything that requires more curves, you'll need a Free-motion Quilting Foot, also known as a Darning Foot or Hopping Foot. With this many effects can be achieved like the examples below.

Close ups of FMQ (free motion quilting)

These tiny scraps have mad a well loved cushion using treasured fabrics including my grandmother's table linen and a snippet of my husband's wedding waistcoat.
These tiny scraps have mad a well loved cushion using treasured fabrics including my grandmother's table linen and a snippet of my husband's wedding waistcoat. | Source

When life gives you scraps - make quilts!

A true Quilter will have a serious stash of fabrics. Even the smallest amount can be re purposed and kept. Old clothes with an interesting pattern, old table linen, baby clothes. Quilters are green - we don't like to waste and we like to re-use!

Close up Quilting

Quilting the three layers together not only forms a warm cover but some fantastic definition!
Quilting the three layers together not only forms a warm cover but some fantastic definition! | Source
Machine Quilting with a walking foot can create straight lines or gentle waves.
Machine Quilting with a walking foot can create straight lines or gentle waves. | Source

© 2019 Zoe Davies


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