When I offer to make a quilt for someone, the first response is often unintentional panic. You suspect you have opinions, but you don’t know what you want, and you don’t know what to ask for. You probably don’t know names of quilt patterns. You know what you like, but you don’t know how to articulate it.
That’s totally ok. That’s how we start.
A typical quilt has three layers, like a sandwich: the top, the batting, and the backing. You see the top and the backing, and the top is usually the one with the intricate piecework. The batting is the fluffy stuff in the middle that traps air and makes a quilt warm. Once the three layers are stretched out over each other, you take your sewing machine** and do patterns of stitching over the three layers to attach them to each other. Once you’ve done that, you’ve got to cut away the excess around the sides, like this, to clean up the edges:
** Some people do this by hand. I don’t. I’m not that crazy.
But that leaves the edges open and raw. That’s not ok. Next I cut out a very long and thin strip of fabric, called the ‘binding.’ I sew it first, by machine, to the front of the quilt…
and then hand-sew the other side invisibly to the back, to close off that open edge. It can either match the fabric near it, accent it, or contrast against it:
More about the quilting!
The word ‘quilting’ is deceiving, because it can mean one of two things. If you’re being totally strict, it should only refer to the stitching that runs through all three layers of the quilt to hold it together (as opposed to just ‘sewing,’ which is what you’re doing when you’re assembling a quilt top). In this strict sense, the quilting does indeed make a difference to the finished quilt. You have color choices here, too! You can choose a thread that blends into your fabric, or one that contrasts strongly.
I can also choose how dense the stitching can be. There are tradeoffs, of course: a more densely quilted piece will be stronger, sturdier, and last longer – but it won’t be as soft. A more loosely-quilted quilt will feel immediately softer, but may need to be treated with more care decades down the line. I quilted the hexagon quilt pretty closely (about 1” apart) because the fabrics were antiques, and I wanted to provide those fabrics as much stability as possible. I quilted Crayon Box a bit more loosely because I wasn’t quite so worried about it.
I try to make all my quilts machine washable. You’ll notice that all of these quilts have a nice, smooth top to them; when you wash them for the first time, the batting contracts about 3%, giving you that crinkled look that most people associate with quilts.
I always keep a few large swaths of fabric on-hand for backings. They’re usually notable for one reason or another:
Old or new?
Do you like rescued antiques or do you want something new? There’s no right or wrong answer here. Some people love the idea of salvaging an old quilt, but some have specific color/pattern wishes that can’t be satisfied by anything but an original. Both are totally okay!
Got a time period you love?
If you want something that looks very old, but don’t know quite what you want, visit reproductionfabrics.com and poke around. This section isn’t intended to be a definitive What Quilts Were Like At This Time reference but instead give you some guidelines.
[define time periods, provide examples]
Got a design you love?
These are some designs I have templates for, and feel comfortable tackling again.
Things I haven’t tried yet
I’ve seen so many fabulous things that I haven’t gotten to attempt yet. I have a few in mind that I’ve wanted to tackle, but I just haven’t found the right recipient or the right fabric yet.
Make it personal
if I’m going to do this, I’d rather tailor it to your interests. Don’t assume I know. The quilt fabric world has a lot of crazy stuff in it. Here are some ideas:
- old clothing with sentimental value (preferably cotton, but I can work with poly-cotton blends) to be cut up
- Color scheme? bright colors? dark and intense colors? pastels? scrappy and random? a specific color combination?
- Do you like things that look old, or things that look modern?
- Any particular ethnic style that appeals? Some options: French country (soft reds and tans), Japanese, Chinese, Scandinavian, Russian, African wax batiks, Southwestern
- Do mathematical tiling quilts appeal?
- Favorites: sports team, color, cartoon character, city, movie, TV shows, holiday, hobby?
- Flowing curves, straight lines, or something else?
Lastly, a word about Tenzing
Tenzing is my quilt buddy … whether I like it or not. Edmund doesn’t give a toss about snuggling on quilts, but every single quilt I’ve ever worked on has been ‘pre-loved’ by Tenzing. This is also why I wash every quilt I do – at least once, sometimes twice or more – to make sure there are no issues. If you or anyone in your household are cat-allergic, let me know and I’ll take extra precautions to keep my ‘helper’ off of your quilt. If you are severely allergic, I’ll wash your quilt twice and then take it to the dry cleaner’s immediately before sending it to you, just to be sure that you won’t have a reaction. Here’s why: