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10+ Quilting Basics for Beginners

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When starting out with quilting, it can be a hard to know what is best to do, which advice to follow and where to go after purchasing supplies and fabric. 

These 13 Quilting Basics for beginners was first shared in our FB Quilting 101 group.  They are a a great place to start or reminder- no matter what stage of quilter you are. 

For true beginners… by Cheryl H.
I am new to quilting as of July 2017. These are some things I have learned here and online…if others can add to this or changes need to be made, please say so.

Quilting Basics for beginners

1. Choose a pattern and then buy the amount of fabric it tells you to buy OR just buy whatever fabric you like and make your own pattern. I usually buy two yards of each color depending on the size I want- and that allows for extra. 100% cotton is what I mainly use, but others use flannel and probably other fabrics that I am not aware of. BTW-I was told to use Gutermann cotton thread so I buy it at Joanne’s.

Other folks will have their favorites. I have been reading that polyester thread will melt with heat. You can put a soft flannel on the back of a quilt, but BE SURE to wash the flannel before sewing or cutting it because it will shrink-not everyone believes and does this. I don’t want to take a chance! You don’t have to wash the cotton first; again some folks always do.

I buy from Joanne’s, Walmart, Fabric.com, Missouri Star Quilt Company, and other quilt shops and online stores-anyone who will sell it to me! Thrift shops are good places and even the stores listed have clearance bins. Old clothes , blue jeans, and even handkerchiefs work. There are lots of places to buy fabric. Don’t ever put your cut fabric in the wash because it will come apart-learned the hard way!

2. Using a fabric panel (a big picture) or a “jelly roll” of fabric is an easy way to make a first quilt. A jelly roll is just a round of 2 1/2 inch strips. (If you sew strips just back and forth, alternate starting sides or your quilt will bow) A rag quilt is another easy beginner quilt. Or you can just jump right in and try a hard one!

Type in Panels under Fabric.com and find a huge assortment. Fabric can be bought on the bolt or in cuts like the jelly roll. There is a 10 inch square layer cake and 5 inch charm squares-Google to see other cuts.

3.Decide what you are going to do and cut your fabric-if it is pretty wrinkled, I would iron it first. Some folks like starch. It is pretty important to have accurate cuts. Measure twice, cut once.

4. When sewing, you almost always need 1/4 inch seam-it is important to learn to be consistent with this, too.The only time I know it to be different is with a rag quilt and then it needs to be larger.

5.Each time you sew a seam, you need to press it (watch a Youtube on this). It is press (up and down), not iron back and forth because your fabric might stretch. I press my seams to one side although some people want it done down the middle to open the seam.

The rule of thumb is press the seam to the dark fabric side so it doesn’t show through on the top. Some people say that a seam is stronger if pressed to the side rather than open. Whatever works for you.

6. Sometimes you might add a border and sometimes not-the one thing I have learned is there is no quilt police. It is your quilt, do whatever you want.There are measurements for different size quilts-I just keep sewing until I like it.
Learn to square your blocks-can’t help you there. I am terrible! Youtube!

7. I use Warm and Natural batting (some people call it wadding), but there are lots of kinds. Some folks in warmer climates don’t use any at all and some use flannel. Again Joanne’s or Walmart or online. Whatever works for you.

8. Time to “baste” your quilt, or put together your quilt
sandwich. I have used curved pins. Some people use a spray glue -I have learned to love this. Pinterest has recipes for making your own or you can buy at Joann’s, etc. Pins need to be placed every Fist width size if you are using them.

Yes, you need tons of them to keep the material from shifting when you are actually quilting. So, lay your backing fabric (which can also be pieced to look cool or just solid) upside down, then your batting, then your pieced top right side up. Allow extra backing and batting to show around the top-about three inches all around. (You can also use sheets for your backing and some places even sell larger size fabric.)

9. Time to quilt. Watch lots of Youtube for this, but there are lots of just basic ways to do it. I do just straight line stitching for now, sometimes using the decorative ones on my machine. Others have learned beautiful machine quilting, some send them out to longarmers to do it, and still others do “quilt as you go“, a technique for quilting each block as you go along, and still others are skilled enough to do this entire quilt by hand!

10. After quilting it all, it is time to bind the edges. Watch Youtube for self binding and for added on binding which you can buy or make-it is very easy to make. Lots of folks have difficulty with binding. Youtube is helpful, and lots of practice! I like Angela Walters binding technique, but there are several. It also helps me to press my binding after one side is sewn on-I pull it over to the other side just where I want it and press.

11. I wash in cold water and dry in the dryer after it is completely finished. If you make a rag quilt, take it to a laundromat because so much lint comes out of it and it can ruin your home machine OR some folks put it in a pillowcase to do, OR just Really keep an eye on your machine!

12. Always put your name and date on the back.
There is a method of quilting called qayg- Quilt As You Go.
Quilting is mostly made of blocks sewn together and in this method, you quilt each individual block as you put it together so after it is all connected, it is basically done-except for binding. When you do it the regular way, which I do, it is pretty hard to pull that great big quilt through the throat of your machine while quilting the whole thing-but I do it. Again, whatever you like.
Some people wash their fabric first but you don’t have to. Might be a good idea though if it is red, orange, purple or something else that might run. There are fabric papers called Color Catchers that I buy in the laundry section at the grocery store and use.They help so the color that runs doesn’t ruin the rest of the quilt. I wash bright colors with Color Catchers before I cut the fabric and use them again after the piece is quilted. I use at least two at a time and sometimes wash twice.

13. Extra suggestions
***When you actually start sewing, hold the ends of both threads for four or five stitches and then let go, to keep it from getting caught up in the stitches and “nesting” in your bobbin area. Some folks use “leaders” and “enders” to help with this-just a scrap piece of fabric so if your thread does mess up, it isn’t on your pretty quilt.

***When your thread does nest under your fabric (not if), there are several things to try to fix it. Take the bobbin out and redo it, take the spool out and redo it, check for dust in the bobbin, or my all time winner-sometimes there is a little tail of thread sticking out of your bobbin that needs to be cut off.

***Let the machine feed your fabric through-don’t pull it!

***Don’t let your piece hang off your work area and “drag”-this will mess up your stitches.

***Go slow when running your machine if you are just learning. My machine has a “sweet” spot about halfway through the settings that works well for me. Too fast and my thread breaks.

***I clean my bobbin area every time I change bobbins or refill-more times if using a fabric with a lot of lint. Most folks will tell you not to use an air type sprayer to clean your machine because it blows the lint back into it.

***Follow the directions on your machine as far as oiling and caring for it. BTW, a lot of machines have a youtube video showing you how to use it and care for it.

***Watch a variety of You tube Videos to see what works for you.
If you can take classes they are wonderful, but You tube videos are great when you can’t. I like Jenny Doan videos from the Missouri Star Quilt Company and Angela Walters from Quilting Is My Therapy.

There is so much to learn-and everyone will have their own opinions. Find what works for youand just have fun!

Thank you again Cheryl for your quick and concise run down of Quilting Tips for Beginners!

If you have another suggestion- drop it in the comments below.

2 thoughts on “10+ Quilting Basics for Beginners

  1. Eleanor L. Francis

    I am not familiar with the sheets you buy for making colors fast. In our college clothing classes at TSU we were told to add vinegar to the rinse water to set the dyes. It worked then and it works for me now and is a lot less expensive and more readily available than those sheets. I enjoyed your help with beginning quilting notes.

  2. Faith

    As a relatively new quilter, your tips are very good….one thing I would add, that may be here but I missed it…..when you wash any of your fabrics, wash them ALL. You can not/ should not make a quilt with some fabrics that are washed and some that are not. Fabric shrinks at different percentages, and when this happens it runs your quilt. To save myself the heartbreak of taking the chance this could happen, I wash and dry my fabrics when they come into the house, before they ever see my sewing room….then all my fabrics are ready to work with when the creative bug hits. Thanks for your article

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