So, you want to be a Quilter!

    Maybe your New Year’s Resolutions included taking up a new hobby and you’d like to try quilting? Judy Hall gives you some tips on how to start in this two-part tutorial, which will run across February and March issues.

Every quilter will warn you that it’s VERY addictive, can take over all your spare time and is costly because you always HAVE to add more fabric to your stash. Yes, you’ll even have to learn a whole new language. Plus all quilters know and abide by the saying ‘She who dies with the most fabric wins’. It doesn’t have to be that way, of course. Would you like to make a patchwork quilt but have no idea where to start? My best advice is start with something small and easy to see if you like patchwork and if you do, continue on and you will learn more techniques and acquire greater skills along the way. This tutorial will run over two issues of Into Craft as I don’t wish to overwhelm you and there’s plenty to keep you busy from one month to the next.

So, what do you need and where do you start? Wherever you live you will have a patchwork store near you. Hopefully, it will be one with beginner classes and helpful staff who are willing to answer the myriad of questions you will have. Plus today there is a plethora of knowledge easily accessible on the internet and numerous lessons available if you can’t attend those at your local store.   I would much prefer you to crawl before you walk and not venture out spending hundreds of dollars on fabric for your first quilt, let alone all the necessary equipment the shopkeeper or other quilters will tell you that you MUST have only for it to become part of a UFO (I did warn you that you needed to learn a new language, UnFinished Object). Settle for the basic equipment, whether you buy your own or borrow some from a friend. Everyone starts somewhere.   When I first started thinking about how to advise, I had a long, long list of ideas, techniques, do’s and don’ts, assembling, quilting, colour choices, tools and equipment for shortcuts and so on, but it would take a book to document everything, so this is SUPER SIMPLE for the absolute beginner who has never quilted or made something from little pieces of fabric shapes before.   Judy’s Hint: Anything that is new to you or any new word, simply seek more information on the internet. There is so much available to assist you, usually with illustrations or a YouTube tutorial.

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What You Will Need: Rotary Cutter – preferably a 45mm ergonomic recognized brand. Rotary Cutting Mat – definitely a self-healing quilting mat, NOT a craft mat. 45cm x 90cm. Patchwork Ruler – preferably 6 ½” x 24” recognised brand for accuracy and with easy to read numbers. 100% cotton fabric – far easier to work with. Thread – recognized brand for quality, not necessarily 100% cotton but preferred. Quilting pins – strong, fine, good quality. Schmetz Microtex sharp sewing machine needles – size to suit the thread you’ve chosen, but I like #60. Seam ripper – optional, but everyone needs one, even the best quilters. Sewing machine – in good working order with perfectly balanced tension, preferably recently serviced. Dry iron and ironing board. (You may have already noted, sometimes things are in metric and sometimes in imperial, that’s just the way it is in the quilting world mainly because a lot of information is from the USA who use imperial. Plus in Australia we use imperial measures in patchwork and metric everywhere else!)   Take a few minutes to read my past editorials in previous Nifty Notions columns about choosing and caring for a rotary cutter and a rotary cutting mat, sewing machine needles and thread. Caring for your Rotary Cutter Sewing Straight Cutting Matts   Always buy the best you can afford and never opt for cheap items because they are usually poorer quality and you’ll be disappointed with the results. You all know ‘you get what you pay for’. Often good brands are on sale or offered as a combo package for beginners.   Think about what you wish to make then buy the fabric, batting and accessories accordingly with the assistance of your quilt store. See, there’s another new word in the quilting language, ‘batting’. This is the wadding or filling between the quilt top and the backing fabric to give it some thickness or loft.   Some suggestions for your first project are: a potholder square, placemat, table centrepiece, cushion, small wall hanging, small lap quilt or even just a pet rug for your pooch!   PREPARATION: Prewash or not? An ongoing discussion and there are pros and cons for both sides. Most would say to prewash as soon as it is purchased, then fold carefully and store. If you do prewash, pop it into the dryer, but take out just before it is dry then press it to remove the wrinkling. Others, including very professional, highly respected quilters, prefer to leave the sizing in the fabric as it’s easier to handle for accurate piecing, so they don’t prewash.   Judy’s Hint: If you do prewash, it’s beneficial to lightly spray starch your fabric when you’re ready to use it. It truly makes a difference for ease of piecing accurately.   Have a cutting table of comfortable height when standing, which should allow you to have your rotary cutter below elbow level and without you having to stoop. When you are sewing, you should be able to sit directly in front of the needle, not centred in front of your sewing machine. Unfortunately, some sewing cabinets have forgotten this need. Look after your eyes. Always sew in good light. If your sewing machine is at a window, be careful of unnecessary glare. Make sure your chair is comfortable and the correct height. You need to see your sewing area without effort. Four Patch or Nine Patch Small Quilt: The secret of success is to measure twice, cut once, cut accurately, sew accurately and press correctly. I say ‘press’ not ‘iron’. Pressing means lifting the iron up and down upon your fabric, not sliding the iron over the fabric which is as you would do for ironing garments.   Cut two or more different fabrics into squares of any size you wish. Eg. with two colours, cut into 4 ½” strips and then crosscut the strips into 4 ½” squares. This will make a 12” 9 patch block with a ¼” seam allowance all around, so your block will actually measure 12 ½” before being joined to another block of the same size. Or, simply cut lots of squares of lots of colours and join them across in rows and then join the rows together. Join them by what we call ‘chain-piecing’.

Judy’s Hint: Always cut away from yourself for safety reasons.

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Make it as small or as big as you wish, or that your fabric allows.   Another way is to cut two prints into strips and strip-piece them together as shown in Pic 6 Then cut them into strips the opposite way and join each group alternatively in rows.

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  An example of your finished quilt may look like this which is simply sewing four squares together with a full square in between. Again, always work in rows.

Harriet Hargrave Quilt

When you sew, use a scant ¼” seam; refer to my previous editorial about these seams and always commence a seam with the needle down into the fabric and hold the two threads tautly for the first few stitches. See previous article: ‘When is a 1/4 inch not a 1/4 inch?’ Take extra care when sewing over intersecting seams, place a pin either side of the intersection and always only sew up to a pin, then remove it before continuing. Never sew OVER a pin, no matter what others may advise. If you hit the pin you can throw the timing of your sewing machine out of whack. Simply not worth the risk. Listen to the purring of your machine and act accordingly if you feel a change in its performance. Clean and oil it regularly, referring to your instruction manual as oiling varies from machine to machine.         Square up your finished quilt top, if necessary. For the simplification of your first little quilt, I suggest you place a square of batting, same size as your quilt top, underneath it and pin into place. You may like to ditch-stitch all seams to hold the batting in place and give a pleasing rise and fall appearance of each block. Ditch-stitching is straight stitching right in the seam where the two fabrics join. You may ditch-stitch in-between both the horizontal and vertical rows, or just the horizontal or vertical rows.   Judy’s Hint: An edge-stitch foot is preferable to use as it parts the fabrics and keeps your ditch-stitch sewing straight.                           Place the same size square of your backing fabric over the quilt top, right sides together. Sew around all four sides leaving an opening through which you may turn it right side out. Press lightly. Judy’s Hint: Always have the backing fabric no darker than the lightest fabric in the quilt top.   There! I hope you’re proud of yourself and are now inspired to move onto other projects, learning more patchwork and quilting techniques as you go. I have purposely left alone areas like colour selection, layering and pin basting, grain of fabric, quilting the quilt, adding sashings, borders or bindings. This project is a ‘first quilt’ for those who MAY like to take up patchwork. This is just the beginning for you. I hope we see many more young quilters visiting the Shows! There are many beginners’ quilting books available, but I recommend Quilter’s Academy Volume 1 by Harriet Hargrave and Carrie Hargrave. Harriet is the master of quilting, an absolute guru, having taught quilting for many years and written many best sellers. My sincere thanks to Harriet and Marti Mitchell for their permission to use some images from their books. Look out for part 2 in next month’s Into Craft newsletter. Products are available from good haberdashery retail outlets or from the Punch with Judy stand at the Craft & Quilt Fairs. Or visit

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