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10 Things Every Quilter Should Know About Quilting

Important Skills for Beginning Quilters to Master


Beginning quilters are sometimes overwhelmed by the hundreds of new terms and techniques they encounter when they make their first quilt, and the confusion is often compounded because of the many ways to accomplish every quiltmaking task. You'll discover which quilting methods work best for you as you become more experienced, but getting comfortable with the must-know skills will help you sew accurate quilts on your very first try.

1. Learn About Fabric

Quilting Fabrics
© Janet Wickell

Fabrics are the backbone of our quilts, but you might be surprised how many people begin to assemble their first quilt without putting fabric characteristics to work for them. It's much easier to make a quilt once you understand how to care for your fabrics and why quilting patches are cut using specific guidelines. Two important must-knows are:

You'll find more fabric advice in the Quilt Fabric Info Index

2. Sew a Quarter Inch Seam Allowance

How to Sew a 1/4 Inch Seam
© Janet Wickell
Beginning quilters, especially people who are accustomed to sewing garments with 5/8" seam allowances, sometimes have a hard time visualizing and sewing the 1/4" seam allowance used to make quilts. There are tricks to help you get the seam just right -- but you do need to do a few tests before you start sewing patches for a quilt.

3. Develop Rotary Cutting Skills

Learn How to Rotary Cut Fabric
© Janet Wickell

Rotary cutting is a technique that every new quilter should master, because it allows us to bypass the time-intense method of constructing templates to mark and cut individual pieces of fabric. You'll love the freedom that rotary tools provide, and speedy cutting is fantastic motivation for continued success.

4. Learn Strip & Quick Piecing Techniques

Quick Pieced Half Square Triangle Units
©Janet Wickell

Strip piecing and other quick piecing techniques let you sew large chunks of fabric together, then slice off sections to create pre-sewn units. It is so easy! Learn the basics and you'll be able to create a quick pieced version of just about any quilt block you see. A few most-used techniques include:

Most of my quilt patterns include strip piecing instructions, with illustrations to walk you through each project.

5. Get Pressing Basics Down Pat

How to Press Quilt Blocks
© Janet Wickell
Your piecing accuracy will improve immediately when you take a bit of time to press your quilt blocks as you make them. You might think extra pressing will slow you down, but you'll find that you actually save time when your quilt blocks fit together just like they should, without grabbing the dreaded seam ripper.

6. Don't Pitch Those Quilt Blocks Just Yet

© Janet Wickell

We've all sewn quilt blocks that aren't quite accurate. Most often, they're smaller than they should be, perhaps because we've either sewn a slightly large quarter inch seam allowance or haven't pressed adequately. Don't feel discouraged if that happens to you, because a high percentage of 'off' quilt blocks can be rescued.

How to Fix Quilt Blocks

7. Measure and Sew Borders... the Correct Way

Learn to Sew Quilt Borders
© Janet Wickell

Adding one or more borders to the edges of a quilt does more than provide an attractive frame for your work... the process offers an excellent opportunity to square up slightly skewed edges. It isn't unusual to see beginning quilters determine border length by measuring along the outside edges of a quilt. If the quilt is skewed, that technique ensures it will remain skewed. Learn how to measure and sew butted borders that will improve the structure of a quilt.

How to Measure and Sew Straight Borders

8. Be Sure to Try Mitered Binding

How to Sew Mitered Quilt Binding
© Janet Wickell

Sewing mitered binding to the edges of a quilt has developed a bit of a reputation of being difficult, but is actually a very easy technique. An important step is omitted from nearly all mitered binding instructions, and it creates problems for anyone who'd like to apply binding that's wider or more narrow than 1/4". My quilt binding instructions explain.

Easy Mitered Quilt Binding

9. Become Familiar with Quilting Terminology

Keep a quiltmaking glossary or a basic quilting book at your fingertips when you're making a quilt or reading quilting articles. When you encounter a term you don't understand, look it up. It won't be long before you're familiar with all the terms you need to know in order to follow quiltmaking instructions.

Be sure to read How to Make a Quilt -- it includes important information about the skills needed for successful projects.

Remember that you can search this Web site for any term. The search box changes in appearance sometimes, but is typically in the upper right area of the page. Be sure to add the word 'quilting' when you search.

10. Don't Obsess Over Errors

Little Ugly Quilt
© Janet Wickell

See the little quilt to the left? I like to call it What Was I Thinking? It's awful, in part because of a (really) busy print at the center of Snowball blocks (which aren't even recognizable as Snowballs). Using a different fabric in those areas might have resulted in a (somewhat) better quilt, and altering contrast throughout would have been one more plus.

Understanding color value is just as important as an understanding of the color wheel, maybe even more so, but it's essential to learn as much as you can about each of those elements.

We all make errors, both technical and in our choice of fabrics, but our boo-boos nearly always lead to a better understanding of the quilting process. 'Mistakes' are really just learning experiences, analyze them and tuck that knowledge away for the next project. Your skills will grow with every new quilt you sew.



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