Quilting Instructions That Work

Quilting instructions for making a quilt generally follow conventional techniques. But the trick is to learn a method that works for you.

Not all quilters do things the same way or have the same preferences. What works for one doesn't necessarily work for others.

The best way to learn to quilt is to have an open mind and experiment and test all techniques at least once before deciding what to keep and what to throw to the wind.

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If you are excited about quilts and can’t wait to get started with quilting instructions that teach you  using good solid quilting techniques, then feel free to page through this page.

Bet you’ll find many opportunities to say “Wow! I didn’t know that. I can’t wait to try that idea on my next project.”

Quilting has earned a popularity closely tied to artistry and elegance. But you don’t have to be artsy to want to quilt.

For those who are passionate about quilting know that the monetary success is not as important as the fulfillment in producing a work-of-art that can be handed down from generation to generation.

Why Should We Prewash Fabric

quilting techniques

Quilting instructions often do not elaborate on why you should consider prewashing fabric. If you ask three quilters whether to prewash or not you will get three different answers all of which will be steeped in personal experiences.  Most of the time you will form your answer to this question based on fear.

I can only tell you that fabric dyes are either reactive dyes that chemically become a part of the fibers or dyes that are sealed on the surface of the fabric.

Reactive dyes can bleed and stain other fabrics when washed together. Surface dyes most likely become suspended in the wash water and generally do not stain other fabrics.

Both kinds of colorants can cause crocking which means the colors on the surface of any fabric can rub off during the handling process. Prewashing will take care of this dilemma.

When you prewash you can preshrink, check colorfastness and remove any chemical coatings. With so many absolutes why wouldn't you want to prewash every time? I always try to avoid unwelcome quilting instructions that could get me into trouble.

Prewashing can be relatively painless and is one of the easier quilting instructions to learn.

Cut a triangle of your fabric and pin it to a piece of white terry cloth. Or better yet, pin the triangle to a piece of falloff batting that you saved for jobs like this.

One at a time, drop the pined piece into a quart jar of sudsy warm water. Secure with a cap and shake vigorously. I love easy quilting instructions like this one!

Do this for each of your fabrics. Don't mix them all together in one jar.

Then examine the terry cloth (or cotton batting square if that is what you used) for dye transfer.

If you see any dye traces you should prewash the piece of fabric by itself, dry and press.

Start by Squaring Up Your Fabric

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Whether you prewashed your fabric or not you will nearly always have to deal with jagged edges, irreparable off-center folds and even crooked selvages.

An excellent Beginner Quilting tip is to learn how cutting, handling and sewing affects bias edges, straight grain or lengthwise grain edges of any piece of fabric.

There are a couple of ways to square fabric. The first one is quick and easy. Choose whichever side appears to be the shortest and make a small clip on the selvage edge cutting all the way through the selvage into the fabric just a smidgen, about a half inch.

Next, grab the two sides where you clipped the selvage and rip-tear from selvage to selvage. This method is always used for badly skewed plaids or stripes.

The second way is to lay the fabric on the cutting table to make it nice and straight. This method is preferred when the fabric seems relatively straight.

Press the fabric to remove stubborn creases and puckers before squaring up and before placing it on your cutting board. Line up the selvage edges as best you can and press with an electric iron to smooth out all the wrinkles.
Place the single folded piece of fabric on the cutting mat with the folded edge next to your body.

Fold the fabric in half again, aligning the selvage with the fold.  This makes four layers of fabric each about 11-inches wide.

When the piece of fabric is longer in length than your cutting mat, accordion-fold the yardage to your left (or right if you are a lefty) leaving the end that you are going to square up on the cutting mat.  This assures a straight cut.

Align the folded edge of your fabric (the edge closest to your body) to a vertical line on your cutting mat.

quilting techniques

Now carefully place your quilting ruler across the bottom crosswise grain edge of your fabric aligning the quilting ruler to a horizontal line on the quilting mat.

Do a double check and square up the bottom of the fabric by cutting at a 90 degree angle to the fold.

To keep the quilting ruler stable, spread the fingers of your left hand on the ruler and apply a little pressure.

Hold the rotary cutter against the side of the quilting ruler and begin rolling the cutter forward while applying firm, even pressure.

Walk your left hand (don't slide it) and reposition your hand as you advance the rotary cutter.

Be careful not to shift the ruler. Do not lift the cutter from the fabric until it has cut through the folded edge.

A Quilting Instruction Tip: It’s a given, you will have trouble keeping your quilting ruler from sliding while you cut. 

There are a couple of things that you can do. Place two or three needle grabbers on the fabric before laying the ruler down. This is a small circle of rubber used by hand quilters.

Needle grabbers are inexpensive, reusable, easy to find and do not obscure your view because you can place them away from the point of measurement.

Many quilting instruction tips are based on safety so familiarize yourself with as many as you can.

Another quilting instructions tip is to place about three 1/2-inch squares of 'stick on' sandpaper on the back side of your cutting ruler. You will most likely be able to find a piece of this type sandpaper on your husband's work bench. He would use it to stick to the bottom of his electric rotary sander. You can also find sand paper grippers anywhere that they sell sewing notions such as Nancy's Notions or Jo Ann Fabrics.

How to Sharpen a Rotary Cutter Blade

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If your rotary cutter leaves a thread uncut at regular intervals, the blade is most likely damaged. Try repairing the blade by using a rotary blade sharpener.
If you are not familiar with a sharpener tool stop by your local quilt store and ask for a demonstration. You will also find a rotary blade sharpener at most craft stores like Jo-Ann Fabrics and Crafts…a good place to use your 40 percent off coupon that they send you if you are on their mailing list.

If you cannot repair the blade replace it. Of all the quilting instructions that I can tell you about, this one is a real safety tip; remember a dull blade is dangerous. Get rid of it!

Olfa makes a nice rotary cutter that retracts the blade automatically once you release the handle which helps protect the blade from getting damaged and gives it a longer life and is safer than the kind that you have to retrack yourself.

Avoiding the Bends is Easy

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Fabric folded lengthwise twice is easier to handle but it can also produce a bend in the middle. It is important not to assume that your fabric, once squared, will remain squared.

It is important to check the angle of the cut edge after every few cuts. Both fabric and rulers tend to slip.

Slippage is a natural tendency when two or more movable items react to applied pressure.

Lengthwise grain holds its shape better than the more stretchy crosswise grain. So it is better to cut borders, lattice, and other long pieces along the lengthwise grain.

This means you are cutting parallel to the selvage (side by side in same direction).  It also means that any long straight borders will have less piecing. Yeah!

Borders are difficult, so when I read about simple quilting instructions such as this I like it! Learn more about Quilt Borders...they are unlimited!

Quilting Instructions for Pressing

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We all learned to iron by placing the iron down with authority and then use a back-and-forth motion, just like swaying to the music while doing the peppermint twist! Lots of motion at the waist line!

If the wrinkle was stubborn and didn't disappear, we added more steam or squirted with a spray bottle filled with water.

Quilting instructions for pressing quilt pieces differ from the traditional way of ironing. Quilters relate to the Pogo-stick motion.

In quilt making you need to re-learn how to use the iron. You only need to press by lifting and setting; it is an up and down motion.

Each time you move to a new area lift and place-do not glide.

Quilt seams are generally pressed to one side. If you press the seam open you see the joining stitches and the seam becomes weaker.

Plus, the batting may protrude through the seam causing an ugly effect on the top side. This is especially true with hand-pieced seams.

how to make a quilt

It is also true that pressing the seams open will help the quilt to lay flat and it makes the quilting easier unless you are quilting in the ditch.

But, if you know that you have to press the seams open be sure and set the stitch length to 16 stitches to the inch. This is the kind of quilting instructions that you most likely won't find in books. It is learned after you experience the dilemma.

The thing to remember is to set your machine to a very small stitch. If you must press any seam open, and you will have to on occasion, this is a quilting instructions tip to remember!

Avoid moving the electric iron at an angle (against the grain) as this will cause distortion.

First 'set the seam' which is also referred to as imbedding the stitches into the fabric. Then open the joined pieces and press the seam toward the darkest color. Always use a dry iron (without steam) and a lift and place motion…no sliding back and forth. Warning, it will be hard to break old habits!

Matching Unlike Patches

how to make a quilt

In quilt making, squares and triangles are joined frequently. You become a pro at joining them after doing a few when you first learn to quilt.

Align the 90 degree corner of the triangle to the 90 degree corner of the square. The tip of the triangle will extend beyond two corners of the square.

Pin the two patches together. Both extending triangle points should measure exactly 1/4 inch.

After stitching the two pieces together, ‘set the seam’ and then open the pair and press toward the dark side.

Trim off the extending 1/4-inch triangle points after you stitch and press the seam.

quarter square triangles

Turn your attention to joining a triangle's bias side to a square. The long side of most triangles is cut on the bias. This means that it will stretch very easily so handle very carefully.

To make joining of a square to the bias side of a triangle, first find the center of the square by folding in the middle and then mark that center point by finger pressing.

Next find the center of the bias side of the triangle piece. Be careful not to pull or stretch. Mark by finger pressing in the same manner as you did with the square.

Match the centers of each piece (right sides together) and pin. Stitch together and trim the 1 /4-inch extending triangle points off.

Bias Edges are Difficult to Handle-Beware

how to make a quilt

This method of joining two same size triangles will eliminate handling the cut bias edges and eliminate any stretching along the bias line. 

Be sure you start with squares that are 7/8 inch bigger than the desired finished size of your triangle square.

Stack two same size squares right sides together that are 7/8-inch bigger than your desired finished size. Using a soft #2 pencil with a sharp point, draw a diagonal line from corner to corner on the wrong side of the lightest square. It is important to be accurate with the pencil line.

Using your 1/4-inch presser foot stitch a seam on each side of the diagonal line you just drew.

Prepare several squares for sewing, sew one seam on each pair by chain piecing. Then chain piece again to complete the second seam. You don’t have to clip the pieces apart before sewing the second row.

You can clip both rows of stitching at one time after all sewing is complete.

Chain Piecing Identical Parts is Speedy

quilting techniques

When sewing identical parts using an assembly line process your accuracy will improve.

This technique is called chain piecing. It is fast and will conserve both time and thread.

As you might imagine, when you sew like-sets of patches in a continuous line, without stopping, until you have all the sets joined, your technique and confidence will improve.

Start with a scrap starter to minimize the thread from jamming and the fabric from being pulled into the needle hole. Quilting instructions such as this are valuable and most likely will not be found in most quilting books.

Or you can also hold on to the tails of the lead threads until you stabilize the first few stitches.

I keep a supply of scrap starters handy as I find I need both hands to assure a nice straight and even start.

  • To start these quilting instructions, select pairs of patches that are identical.
  • Stack the pairs on the left side of the needle.
  • Stitch across a double thickness of scrap fabric also called a scrap starter. 
  • Stop at the edge keeping the fabric under the presser foot. 
  • Butt the first pair of patches directly against the last edge of the scrap starter. 
  • Stop a stitch or two before the edge of the first actual set and without lifting the presser foot, slip the next set of pieces under the toes of the presser foot.
  • The feed dogs will catch the second set of pieces and move them under the foot. But it is your job not to overlap the sets. 
  • Continue adding patches and stitching without clipping the threads. 
  • When you stop sewing to pick up the next patches, make sure the needle is down in the fabric to prevent the pieces from slipping out of alignment.
learn to quilt
  • If the sets involve points and tips, as with triangles, hold the points flat as they approach the needle.
  • Use a long pin or stiletto to hold the fabric tips so they won’t be pulled into the needle hole on the sewing machine.
  • You can trim the quarter-inch tips (dog ears) after you set the seams but before you open the pairs to press.
  • Do a trial run on one set to check the trimming angle for accuracy before trimming all dog ears.
  • This will lessen your chance of stretching the finished unit as you press. 
  • A narrow space and short length of thread will divide the two sets of pieces. 
  • Sew all the pieces you stacked to the left of the needle. The chain can be as short as 2 sets or as long as 50 or more sets. 
  • After completing the chain, remove the pieces from the machine. 
  • The next step is to set the seams, clip the sets apart, and open and press toward the darkest color.

How to Make a Quilt

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I bought the pattern from you for the Alec's Civil War quilt and it is coming along great. But I have 1 question, did you quilt through the screen printed soldier pictures or just quilted around them. Thank You,

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