Quilting is a fantastic hobby for people who love to work with their hands, their eyes, and their hearts. Have you ever looked longingly at a handmade quilt and wondered if you could ever do that? Guess what? You can!

Quilting Is Easy to Start

Can you sew, either with a machine or by hand? Knowing how to sew is the bedrock for any sewing craft (obviously), though there’s some difference between sewing and quilting. Even if you don’t know how to sew, you can still become a quilter; you just need the desire. According to veteran quilter Sharon Mitchell, if you want to do it, then you can learn to do it.

You can quilt three ways: by hand, with a quilting machine, or both.

Hand quilting

Hand quilting is a great way to make your projects stand out. Every craft made by hand has little details that don’t exist when you use machines. Thus, they stand out compared to machine work.

Quilting a blue quilt by hand.

Image by Sharon Mitchell, all rights reserved.

Machine quilting

Nobody has to hand quilt to be a quilter. You can use a sewing or quilting machine, but you should have good sewing machine skills before you start making quilts this way. Check out this article for more details about machine quilting.

How to Become a Quilter

There’s a number of ways to get into quilting. However, Sharon says the best way to learn something is by doing it under the watchful eyes of skilled quilters.

Quilting classes, camps, and workshops

Quilting classes, camps, and workshops are great ways to get into quilting. Sharon first started quilting with her mother, and then dropped it for awhile. Later, she went to a beginner’s quilting class at a local store. She believes this path is best if you want to learn to quilt. If you know a quilter who’s willing to be a patient teacher, the one-on-one attention is a great way to get started, too. There are even online classes you can take.

Books and websites

There are a lot of books and websites with great pointers, tutorials and general information about quilting. However, your best bet is to use these to supplement a class or other instruction.

Tools You’ll Need to Become a Quilter

Quilting tools, including thread, scissors, pins, pincushions, and a cutting mat.

Image by Sharon Mitchell, all rights reserved.

You will need several tools for quilting, like a cutting mat, a good fabric ruler, and a wheel cutter. Of course, you also need thread, pins, pincushions, needles, scissors, and at least one seam splitter (you will be ripping seams out and re-sewing them, especially as you’re first getting started) as well. A cutting mat has measurements on it, and a good one will also have a non-slip surface. Most importantly, it protects your table or desk from the wheel cutters.

A wheel cutter allows you to cut fabric without having to lift it off your mat, and it makes much cleaner cuts than scissors. Don’t get us wrong – you do still need scissors for cutting thread and for making small cuts. But a wheel works wonders for cutting material in general.

Best Quilting Fabric

Now that you’re set up, what kind of fabric should you use?

Cotton and linen

Quilter’s weight cotton is considered the best material all around for quilting. It’s sturdy, durable, does not stretch, and also doesn’t shrink as much as cheaper cotton. Quilter’s linen is good too, though it isn’t actually linen. It’s cotton with the look and texture of linen. This can be an ideal choice for quilters who want to mix linen with their quilter’s cotton without having to worry about problems arising from combining fabric types. There’s also a type of linen called Essex Linen, which is a natural fiber blend of linen and cotton. You can use that with quilter’s weight cotton as well.

Should you use scraps?

Scraps of quilting material with woodland and winter colors and themes.

Image by Sharon Mitchell, all rights reserved.

Sharon has made several quilts with scraps she had left over from other projects. If you already sew, you probably have a million scraps of material lying around. You can make great quilts with all these scraps – just make sure they’re materials suited to quilting.

Finding and Using Quilting Patterns

Your next move is to start looking for quilting patterns. Important things to keep in mind when hunting for a pattern are what you want to make, your skill level, and how long you’re willing to spend on the project.

What do you want to make?

What pattern you want depends on what you’re looking to make. Not all quilted products end up as blankets on beds. You can make table runners, pillows, Christmas tree skirts, and more as your comfort and skill levels grow.

A circular, quilted Christmas tree skirt on a white background, with an off-white back with small, gold Christmas trees.

Image by Eve Mitchell, all rights reserved.

If you want to make a quilt for a bed, find a pattern that fits your skill level and the size of the bed for which you want it. For this, Sharon points out that you need to consider the person who will use it. For instance, if they like having a big blanket in which to wrap up, then buy a pattern at least one size larger than the bed for which you’re making it.

Skill level is important

Sharon says that beginners should look for simple patterns that don’t need the precision of perfect quarter-inch and eighth-inch seams. Learning to sew these seams well is a task in and of itself, and when you try your first quilt, your seams will be less than precise. Choosing a pattern that requires less precision is great for learning.

Pattern Components to Look For

You also want a pattern with large pieces made up of squares and rectangles. These patterns have fewer seams, and it’s much easier to create accurately sized quilt blocks with these than it is with smaller pieces.

Making Quilt Blocks

Quilt blocks are the squares that make up the top of the quilt. Each block can be a single color or design, or they can be made up of smaller pieces of material.

Creating worksheets

One thing that Sharon does is create worksheets for her quilts so she can more easily keep track of what she’s doing. In the worksheet below, she sketched out how to put each piece of each block for one of her quilts together. Below that, she laid out how she wanted the corners of each block to match up. On the right, she has a layout for the full quilt top based on the color of each numbered square in her blocks. You can also see she has notes to clarify and track her progress. This gives her multiple views of her quilt as she sews it so she makes fewer mistakes, like accidentally sewing two identical blocks together.

A quilting worksheet and notes detailing how each piece of each quilt block is to be put together, and then how each block is to be sewn together to make the full John Deere quilt top.

Image by Sharon Mitchell, all rights reserved.

Types of Quilts and Quilt Blocks

Here are the most common quilts and quilt blocks that you will run across.

Pieced quilts

The most common and basic type of quilt is a “pieced quilt.” This is any quilt made up of different colors and patterns sewn together. Most of the quilts you’ve seen are probably pieced quilts.

Appliqued quilts

A quilting block with turquoise appliqued flowers, and what applique looks like on the reverse side of the block.

Image by Sharon Mitchell, all rights reserved.

These quilts have one material sewn onto a background material. This type of quilt allows you to use shapes with curves and odd angles without the added strain of trying to figure out how to sew them all together to make your quilt blocks.

There are several other types, too. A postage stamp quilt is made up of tiny blocks—usually no more than an inch or two across—sewn together in rows. You can also make sampler quilts, which have a specific number of blocks you then sew together.

Correctly Sizing Your Quilt Block

When you start cutting your blocks, make sure you cut them with enough extra room to accommodate your seams. Sharon says that if you want a 12 by 12 block, you should cut it so that it’s 12.5 by 12.5. This gives you a quarter inch on all four sides to sew your seams. If you sew them correctly, you end up with your nice 12 by 12 blocks.

Buying Pre-Made Quilt Blocks

There are places all over the internet where you can buy pre-made quilt blocks. Check out Quilt Blocks GaloreThe Quilting Company and Equilter for some great pre-made quilt blocks. There are also exchanges, according to Sharon. Click here to learn more about this method of getting quilt blocks.

Quilting Is a Fantastic Hobby and Can Be a Lot of Fun

An unfinished blue and white quilt with yellow Post-it notes pinned along one side.

Image by Sharon Mitchell, all rights reserved.

Quilting isn’t for the faint of heart, but for those who have a passion for sewing, it’s a great new hobby. As Sharon says, if you want to quilt, you can learn to quilt. Even if you don’t sew, and you want to learn, you can learn, but there are just a few final things to keep in mind. You will make mistakes, and you will find yourself with unfinished projects, but you shouldn’t let these things discourage you. Find friends, learn from your mistakes, and enjoy yourself!


Featured image: CC by NC-ND 2.0, by Kim Unertl, via Flickr