As a new quilter, I have been plugging away with trial and error methods and have spent countless hours with Google by my side as I try to understand the ins and outs of quilting. Whether it be terminology, methods, patterns or even basic how-to’s, I’ve been stumped time and time again. But it turns out that as with any other hobby, once you understand the basics it’s really not as intimidating as you originally thought and is quite fun.
My best advice to a fellow quilting newbie is this: buy a 1/4″ guided foot for your machine! This foot helps create a consistently even seam allowance that maximizes your use of the material and helps your end product line up and remain square and even. Go buy a foot! Now. It’s okay, you can click away to search for one and order it. You really do need this. I thought I could get away without it. I finally caved in and bought one. It was as though the clouds had parted, the sun streamed down onto my sewing machine and the angels sang for joy. Really! It happened!
There are five main components of your quilt – the top (the patchwork/piecework part), the batting (the insides of the quilt), the backing (material on the back of the quilt), the quilting (the type of stitching) and the binding (the finished edges).
Your top consists of the pattern and materials you choose. There are hundreds and hundreds of patterns out there! Don’t dismay because there are some really simple, yet elegant patterns to get you started.
There are two quilting patterns I recommend for a newbie. Each of these is pretty easy to piece but they look great when finished. The first is the Ragged Square Quilt. I originally saw this tutorial by Crazy Mom Quilts and fell in love with it. I made one using Christmas materials and by the time I finished, I didn’t want to give it up as a gift!
The second pattern, Disappearing 9 Patch [editor: see Charm Square Quilt for additional variations], looks like a lot of intensive piecing when it’s finished. The reality is that you simply sew nine squares together, cut that block into quarters and rotate the quarter pieces. I just started a D9P and can’t wait to have it complete!
Poly, cotton, flannel, fleece, old blankets, old sweatshirts… you name it and it can be used as a batting. I started out using a polyester batting but will be experimenting with other materials. When choosing your batting, keep in mind the intended use of the quilt. A baby blanket won’t need a super dense batting whereas a winter queen size quilt would need a sturdy batting. Don’t be afraid to use an old battered towel as the batting guts of a lap blanket. Get creative and experiment.
Choosing a backing material is difficult for me. Many quilters opt for a solid color cotton. Others choose a coordinating print or even sew pieces together to create a unique backing. As a newbie, I found it was easiest to buy remnant cream colored fleece and use that as my backing and eliminate batting. Again, find something that works for you and then expand your horizons as your confidence and skills increase.
Stippling, freehand, diamond pattern, machine stitched, hand stitched, oh my! A dear friend taught me how to make a simple 2″ diamond pattern and it has been my standard quilting pattern ever since. I feel it’s the easiest quilting method for someone just starting out because it’s easy to measure and mark, it helps you practice straight stitching and it looks great on the finished product. Don’t limit yourself to diamonds though. My first quilted lap blanket was stitched using traced patterns of squares and stars.
You have two choices with binding – buy it or make it. Personally, I like quilts with coordinating binding but I have yet to tackle making my own. I buy my binding and sew it on. It’s easy. It’s predictable. But most of all, it’s easy. To make your own binding, I will once again refer you to Crazy Mom Quilts’ Binding Tutorial. I’m a big fan of her tutorials.
When trying to purchase your material, don’t be put off by terms such as jelly roll, charm pack, fat quarters and jelly cake. Quilting does not contain calories, despite these naming conventions!
- Jelly roll: collections of 2.5″ x 44″ strips of fabric, usually packaged in a roll
- Honey buns: same as a jelly roll but wider strips
- Charm packs: collections of 5″ x 5″ squares of fabric. I love charm packs!
- Fat quarter: one-fourth yard cut of fabric that usually measures 18″ x 22″. You can often purchase a bundle of coordinating fat quarters.
- Layer cake: collections of 10″ x 10″ squares of fabric.
- Jelly cake: collection of a layer cake, jelly roll and charm pack bundled together
Now that you know the naming conventions of the materials, the next step is to figure out what to do with it and decide which product you need.
A fat quarter is the most versatile because you can cut it into any size square or strip you need. But if you’re not so great with even cutting (that would be me!), you might want to opt for the precut squares (charm packs). I have found charm packs to be irresistibly inexpensive on Ebay. You can purchase almost any size square you can imagine – from the tiny 2″ squares up to 10″ squares.
There are thousands of quilting blogs out there. Explore! Become friends with Google and search, search, search! If you find a blog you like, leave some comments and ask questions. The authors would love your feedback and would be more than happy to answer your questions.
Don’t let quilting intimidate you. Once I jumped in and started working on it, I realized I was only held back by my own insecurities and inhibitions. I’ve since discovered that I love quilting. I’m glad I didn’t wait longer to get started. I’m still a newbie, but I’m learning and practicing. Please leave some comments with your favorite blogs, resources and advice!