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How to quilt

By Catalogs Editorial Staff

Today there are two main types of quilting - hand quilting and machine quilting

Today there are two main types of quilting – hand quilting and machine quilting

In order to learn how to quilt, it is imperative that you first understand the definition of quilting. Essentially, quilting is a sewing method that joins two or more pieces of fabric together in layers to produce a quilt. At its most basic, a quilt consists of three layers of fabric – the quilt (or top) fabric, the batting and the backing material.

Evidence of quilting dates back to ancient Egypt, but it really made its debut during American Colonial times. In the early 1800s women were making whole-cloth quilts. It wasn’t until later that pieced quilts (or patchwork quilts) came into existence. In the early Pioneer days, quilting was done out of necessity for warmth, not as a pastime.

Today there are two main types of quilting – hand quilting and machine quilting. Hand quilting uses the old standard needle and thread while machine quilting is done with a sewing machine fitted with a quilting foot or on a specialized quilting machine. There are many stores with specialized quilting supplies and downloadable patterns.

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Here we provide you with the fundamental terminology and steps on how to quilt using the traditional method.

Quilting terms

Backing: The bottom or back layer of a quilt, usually a plain unadorned fabric that has been pieced to the width of the quilt.

Basting: Long stitches used to hold the the top, batting and backing of a quilt together while the quilting is being done.

Batting: This is the layer of “stuffing” in the center of the quilt sandwich.

Binding: Strips of fabric sewn over the edges of the quilt layers to finish and decorate the raw edges.

Blocks: Most quilt tops are constructed by sewing together smaller units called blocks.

Patchwork: A term that originated in England that means piecing quilt squares together to make blocks. 

Quilt Top: The top layer of the “quilt sandwich.”

How to quilt

1. Select your pattern, batting and fabric
For beginners it is recommended you start with a block pattern. You can find patterns at your local fabric store or online. Many quilters use cotton quilting fabrics that can be found at any fabric store. (You can even stitch together old T-shirts to make a quilt.) Whether or not you wash your fabric before or after you complete the quilt is completely up to you. Some cotton fabrics bleed or shrink, so it is better to wash them beforehand to avoid any surprises with your finished quilt.

2. Measure and cut fabrics
According to information at, it is important to have a basic understanding of patchwork quilt blocks before you even think about cutting your fabric. You can brush up on the difference between a basic four-patch block and a four-block patch with divisions by clicking here. Once you have a fundamental understanding of block patterns, cut the fabric to the correct size to make blocks from your pattern.

3. Piecing
At this stage, you will sew your cut pieces of fabric together, either by hand or with a sewing machine, to make the blocks. Then you will sew the blocks together to create rows. Press the blocks and then proceed to sew the rows together. This will serve as the quilt top.

4. Layer the top with batting and backing
Often referred to as the “quilt sandwich,” the batting and backing give the quilt is characteristic bulkiness, not to mention warmth. Lay your quilt top on the batting and backing fabrics to ensure they are long enough. Make sure you leave some extra fabric (2 to 3 inches) just as a precaution. You can trim off this excess fabric later. Make sure you smooth out the backing (move it, nudge it, do whatever you can to avoid pressing at this stage) to avoid lumpiness.

5. Sew the “sandwich” together
Using your trusty needle and thread or your sewing machine, sew a stitch through all layers of the quilt. This is the actual quilting process.

6. Square up and trim excess batting, bind the quilt
Binding is generally the last step in quilting. Straight binding is recommended because it is easier than bias binding. To bind, cut strips of fabric to 3 1/4-inch width. Do this for each side of the quilt, but make sure the fabric strips are at least 2 inches longer than the length of the side. Sew around the quilt, about 1/4-inch from the outer edge, ensuring the corners are square. Fold the binding and sew it onto the backing of the quilt, same as above.

7. Press your quilt and you’re done!


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