I want to quilt! What next?

2015-10-29 16.04.12

Quilting is one of my favorite activities. Quilting is incredibly creative. The word “quilt”  derives from the Latin word “culcita” which means a sack stuffed with feathers, wool or hair used as a covering for warmth. Quilting was used as a means of survival for either blocking out the rays of the sun In Egypt during the time of the Pharaohs or for blocking out the cold and retaining body heat in China, India and Greece. Crusaders were quilting undergarments in the eleventh century. Survival quilting surfaced in the thirteenth and fourteenth century in Europe. It is well documented in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries in North America, and we carry on today, both for functional and decorative purposes.

So what do I need to get started?

Materials and Equipment

Note: Experienced or a beginner, always buy the best quality materials and equipment that you can afford. Using the proper tools for the job makes a difference as well. A quilt is made up of a top, a filler, and a backing.

Fabric for the top– I would like to say cotton is the fabric of choice these days, however, silk, linen, wool, and blends are also used.  Some say you should always prewash your fabric. However, that seems to be a personal choice. I know many quilters who do and many who do not.

Velvet, corduroy, suede, leather and other specialty fabrics are also used in, for example, a crazy quilt or a decorative piece. You will need to take into consideration what you will be using the finished piece for, the texture of the fabric, the fabric thickness, the construction, your abilities, and durability.

Filler, wadding or batting- The batting goes between the top and the backing. Some types of filling and batting popular today include but are not limited to:

  • Polyester- Polyester is thick and light without creating weight. It resists mold and mildew, has an excellent loft (dead air space between the top and the lining), and is easy to quilt. Suitable for hand quilting.
  • Cotton- Cotton is thinner and heavier than polyester, and it needs to be closely quilted to avoid matting. Cotton is a soft, breathable, natural fiber available in several different lofts. It is machine washable, dryable, with lovely drape and ages well.  It’s good for machine quilting or for making heirloom quilts that will stand the test of time.
  • Cotton/polyester- They are in an 80/20 ratio having the benefit of cotton but more loft.
  • Bamboo- Bamboo filler often combines a 50/50 ratio of cotton and bamboo. Being a natural fiber, it is also breathable, with minimal shrinkage, while still being washable, dryable, luxurious and excellent for machine quilting.
  • Wool- Wool is a natural fiber that is warm, breathable, soft and drapes beautifully. With medium loft, it works well for hand quilting as well as machine quilting. Much wool batting these days is manufacturer pre-washed making it machine washable. It can be expensive!
  • Recycled wool or flannelette- Old wool blankets can become the filling. They do not have a high loft, and they are heavy. Flannelette is useful when you don’t want high loft on for example silk quilts, clothing of placemats.

Backing or lining- The backing is the bottom half of the quilt sandwich, and it is usually cotton, a cotton blend or another fabric that serves a purpose like flannel or fleece for the warmth.

Needles- The needle you use is chosen similar to what you would consider for other types of sewing. It needs to be able to pierce the fabric quickly and have an eye that will hold the appropriate thread whether you are machine or hand quilting. Sharp/applique needles are for hand sewing. For hand piecing, it is strictly personal preference. Between/Quilting Needles are used for quilting by hand, and sewing machine needles are for the machine.  However, I know quilters who like to hand piece with sharps and some with betweens. Use what works for you most efficiently. There are no quilt police.

Thread- I almost always use 100% cotton thread for piecing, hand piecing or for quilting the quilt. Often I will use a 100% silk thread for applique.

Quilting- is the term to use for the method of joining the top layer, the filling, and the backing together.

A standing quilt frame.
A standing quilt frame.

This stand alone frame can be used for either quilting or rug hooking.

Quilt frame- These are the structures that are used to keep the three layers together, taught, smooth and unwrinkled when you quilt it. There are round frames, square and rectangular frames made of four wooden bars and c-clamps to hold them together. There are roller frames and circular frames. I have a standing circular frame that sits in front of my chair. I have also worked on a rectangular frame held together with C-clamps with other women in a quilting bee.

Rotary Cutter and Mat-Cutting mats are essential when cutting with a Rotary cutter. They help to avoid dulling the blade, and they protect the cutting surface where you are cutting. Rotary cutters were introduced to quilting in the early 1980’s and look like a pizza cutter with an extremely sharp circular blade. They can cut multiple layers quickly and accurately and have changed the way quilters cut substantially.

Scissors (fabric and paper scissors)- Most needleworkers will NEVER cut paper with fabric scissors! Therefore, most quilters will have at least three pairs of scissors not counting a rotary cutter. They will have a pair of paper scissors for cutting paper and plastic template material. Another pair of scissors or shears for cutting fabric. The length of the blade of scissors determines the hand size. A person with a large hand will want a larger pair of scissors. A person with a small hand may be quite happy with a six-inch pair of scissors. Use the right scissors for the right purpose. A small pair of scissors will be useful for trimming points and seam allowance as well as clipping seams at the curves and cutting threads.

Fabric Marker- A pencil with an art gum eraser for lightly erasing on fabric or writing on templates, a hard lead pencil or a washable fabric marker for marking quilting lines on the fabric before quilting. A permanent fabric pen for signing or writing on a quilt.

Rulers-There is a multitude of rulers to work with when quilting. Some types are as follows:

Drafting– these are thinner than those for rotary cutting.

Rotary cutting– these are made of heavy acrylic with numbers and lines evenly spaced across them.

Specialty rulers– There are many including those with convex and concave curves, those for triangles, rectangles, diamonds, squares, and hexagons (my current favorite).

Squaring- There are specialty rulers that you can buy for the purpose. I have had a carpenter’s square that belonged to my dad. I have used it successfully for many years for any squaring up I need to do.

Template material- For piecework and applique templates you will need paper and or plastic template material or cardstock to make your templates. It is useful to know that templates for machine piecing usually have the 1/4 inch seam allowance included. Templates for hand piecing do not.

Pins-Rust proof pins are a necessity. Most pins today are made of coated anodized steel.

  • Dressmakers pins are an all purpose pin with a sharp point and work well with a variety of fabrics.
  • Silk pins are popular when machine piecing because they lie very flat and are very fine as well as being longer than dressmakers pins.
  • Flat head pins are useful for the same reason as silks, but they are a bit heavier and longer.
  • Ball heads have a round head of glass or plastic. Many quilters love these because they are easy to see. But beware that the plastic heads will melt if you iron over them.
  • Quilting pins are longer than other types and have a heavier shank than dressmakers. They are used to hold the top, batting and backing ready for basting. Some like safety pins for this purpose.
  • Ball point pins have a rounded tip on the pin to use for knits.
  • Applique pins are very short being 1/2 inch to 3/4 inch and are preferred, so the thread does not get caught on a pin.

Thimbles- To hand quilt you will need a thimble and it is through trial and error that you find the one that works for you. The three top materials thimbles are made in are metal, plastic, and leather. I, myself prefer metal.

Beeswax- Beeswax is/was used to strengthen the thread by running the thread through the wax



Author: Karen Monteith

Karen is a writer, needle artist, nature lover and gardener who loves to share such information and to encourage the needle arts.

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