There is something so innately satisfying about quilting.

A homemade quilt is practical, and it also makes a wonderful heirloom or gift. When you learn how to sew a quilt, you learn about traditional techniques that have been passed down through generations. You also learn basic practices that you can put to use on other sewing projects—any of which have utility if you’re interested in taking your sewing skills beyond reattaching a button here and there.

Becoming a quilter doesn’t require an extensive background in sewing. With some know-how, passion, and practice, anyone can learn to quilt and start creating beautiful pieces worth snuggling up under. And to get you going, we’ve put together this handy guide to all that you need to know before taking on quilting projects, including a quick look at the origins of this cozy craft. 

What Is Quilting?

In its simplest terms, quilting refers to sewing three layers of fabric together, either by hand or with the help of a sewing or quilting machine. The three layers are generally known as the quilt top, the batting (or insulation), and the backing.

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Skillshare instructor Esther Nariyoshi demonstrates a beginner-friendly quilting technique.

Beyond this technical definition, quilting is an art form that humans have been practicing for centuries, with distinct trends shaping the craft throughout time. Many quilters apply ornamental stitching and embroidery techniques to their quilts to create unique designs that are given texture and dimension by the padded layering of the piece. These completed projects may be used to make quilts for bedding, though they’re just as often used to create garments, homewares, and wall hangings.  

As for the origin of quilting, there is evidence to suggest that the very first king of the Egyptian dynasty wore quilted clothing. Further evidence of quilting has been traced to late BC Asia, and we know that quilting had made its way to Europe by at least the 12th century, when the Crusaders wore quilted garments under their armor for added padding and warmth.

To learn to quilt is to learn skills that have been perfected by humans throughout the ages. That you get a true work of art out of the process is just the cherry on top.

What are the Types of Quilting?

There are four types of quilting: appliquéd, pieced, paper pieced, and English paper pieced.

Appliquéd 

Quilting fabric with a raw-edged fabric shape stitched onto the surface.

Pieced 

Various quilting fabrics sewn together into one large quilt block. This is similar to patchworking; however, it becomes a quilt once the block is adhered onto batting and a backing layer.

Paper Pieced 

Also called foundation piecing, a technique where patches of fabric are sewn onto all or a portion of an existing quilt block, known as a foundation block.

English Paper Pieced 

A mosaic-style quilt made by sewing together various fabric shapes into a foundation block.

Once you master the basics of quilting, you can create any style that you prefer. Focus on technique first, then decide what you want to make with your newfound skills.  

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Learn to quilt and create custom bedding, garments, home decorations, and more.

What is the Difference Between Sewing and Quilting?

Quilting is a form of sewing, but not all sewing is quilting. The main difference comes down to the basic definitions of the terms: while sewing is stitching together any two materials (usually two pieces of fabric), quilting is stitching together three layers, with the aforementioned batting in the middle.

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List of Quilting Supplies

You don’t need much by way of supplies in order to start quilting, but there are a handful of basic tools that you should have on hand:

  • Sewing kit or machine
  • Tape measurer
  • Quilter’s ruler 
  • Scissors or rotary cutter
  • Sewing pins
  • Fabric pen
  • Iron and ironing board

You can opt to use a regular ruler instead of a specialty quilter’s ruler, but the latter will make cutting your fabric a lot easier.

materials
You’ll only need a few specialty tools to start quilting, though you can try supplementing them with more standard tools first if you’re not sure yet that you’re ready to commit.

Once you’ve got your essential quilting supplies, it’s time to focus on your materials. You can find quilting materials at any fabric store, or you can patch together existing pieces of fabric that you already own and then just purchase your batting.

Quilting Fabrics

The most important part about choosing fabric for your quilt? Finding styles that you love. Fabrics can be purchased pre-cut, with all of the pieces that you’ll need to create a full quilt block. You can also buy your fabric piecemeal. If you’re choosing multiple patterns for a single quilt, aim for balance in your design by paying attention to the scale, color, and texture of each of your fabric pieces.  

Quilting Batting

You have a number of options when it comes to batting, including quilting batting made from cotton, polyester, wool, or recycled materials (such as recycled plastic water bottles). Things to consider are how warm you want your quilt to be, as well as the environmental impact of the material. Likewise, different types of batting are better suited to different styles, so when you’re choosing a pattern, look for a recommendation on what type of batting is best.

Muslin Backing

Muslin is a common material for the backing of quilts because it’s sheer and lightweight, both of which allow your quilt to be warm without being too heavy. Look for high-quality, durable, and unbleached varieties, or use cotton if you’d prefer something with a bit more body.  

Do You Need a Quilting Machine?

Definitely not! Quilting machines are certainly helpful, but they’re also big and expensive. A standard sewing machine will be sufficient for your quilting project, as will simply sewing your quilt by hand, even if it’s more time-intensive.

Getting Started: How to Quilt

Once you have your materials, it’s time to start quilting. There are multiple techniques for how to sew a quilt based on the style that you want to achieve, so here, we’ll just cover the basics.

Step 1: Choose a Pattern

You can quilt without a pattern, but there is quite a bit of math involved in quilting, so sometimes it’s easier to have the numbers laid out for you in advance.

Quilting patterns can be found in all sorts of styles and sizes—including mini quilts, which are a good choice for a first project. A nine-patch quilt block is often recommended for beginners, but you can go with any quilting pattern that appeals to you.

Step 2: Cut Your Fabric

Your pattern will tell you how many fabric pieces you need and what size each piece needs to be. Check (and double check!) your measurements before cutting so that you don’t end up accidentally wasting any fabric.

The fastest and most foolproof way to cut your quilting fabric is with a quilter’s ruler and a rotary cutter. A standard ruler and scissors or shears will work too, just go slow so that your cuts come out clean.

Step 3: Pin, Sew, and Iron Your Quilt Top

Lay out your design and use sewing pins to secure each piece of fabric into place. Then sew together your top layer using the method of your choice. Regularly take a step back from your work to make sure that your design is coming out exactly how you want it to. When done with your top layer, turn it over and press the back side with an iron.

Step 4: Trim Your Batting and Backing and Attach Your Layers

Cut your batting to size, leaving it 2” larger than your quilt top. You may need to cut multiple pieces of batting and sew them together if you don’t have a single piece that is large enough. When you’re done, trim your backing to size, again sewing together multiple pieces if necessary, with the seam running down the middle.

Pin together your quilt top, batting, and backing until secure, or use quilter’s glue. Don’t worry that your edges aren’t pretty yet—that will come later.

Step 5: Quilt!

Now is when the quilting really begins. Going by hand or with a sewing machine, stitch your pattern or appliqué onto your quilt top. This is where your creativity will really come out, with an opportunity to try out interesting techniques or styles. You can also keep it simple, though, especially as you’re learning.

Step 6: Bind Your Quilt Edges

Cut, sew, and press binding strips, which are what you’ll use to create a clean border around your quilt. The trickiest part of this process will probably be sewing around the corners, but with a good binding tutorial and some practice, you’ll be able to get the hang of it.

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You have so many options for the design of your quilt top. Do some research ahead of time to find a fabric style and quilting pattern that you like, such as this look from Skillshare student Rachel Lawson.

Where to Find Quilting Patterns

Find inspiration (and measurements) for your quilting projects by working off of existing patterns. You can find tons of free quilting patterns for download online, and they are also available for purchase from fabric stores and art supply stores.

The more quilting experience that you get, the more you can branch out into more difficult patterns. Don’t be afraid to take on a challenge, though—if you’re going to put in the work to make a quilt, you may as well make something that you know you’ll cherish. 

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