How to Make a Quilt

Variable star patchwork and traditional applique designs.Variable star patchwork and hand appliqued blocks



A quilt is made like a sandwich, starting with the top, which is the design. Designs are made from patchwork or appliqué. Patchwork is made by sewing shapes such as triangles, rectangles and squares together with seams. The technique is called piecing. Hand piecing or machine are both acceptable means to make patchwork. Traditionally multiple blocks of one design are made, like stars or log cabin blocks and are then sewn together to make an overall design. Then designing and planning the juxtaposition of color and shapes for the design to emerge. Applique is a technique of sewing shapes onto a piece of fabric to make a design, it does not use seams, and generally the raw edges are turned under before the shape of flowers, stems and circles are sewn onto the cloth. Applique although traditionally done by hand, is very popular for machine sewing using decorative stitches or a satin stitch to cover the edges.


Once a satisfying design has been made in the desired size, whether appliqué or patchwork, the top gets sandwiched together with a lining and a backing. The lining, also known as batting can be cotton, polyester, wool, bamboo or hemp, really any material that will serve to “trap” warm air between the layers of the sandwich is acceptable. I prefer natural materials and use mostly cotton, as it drapes nicely when quilted and creates a soft texture that resembles an heirloom quilt. The third layer of the sandwich is the backing and is the same size as the lining and the top. The layers need to be held in place so they won’t shift. For large pieces I use a traditional Amish quilt frame to line up all layers evenly and eliminate wrinkles. I use big basting stitches to secure the layers. The bulk of the quilt is rolled into a neat package to fit into the sewing machine. Quilting lines or designs are sewn across the surface of the quilt securing all three layers and adding texture.

The use of a sewing machine does not take away the aesthetic of a well-executed design but allows the process of making a quilt to be quicker, but not quick.

Quilting is accomplished with hand stitching or on the sewing machine. The layers can also be tied with yarn as in the suggan quilts. When quilting was making a come back in the 1970’s, machine-quilting techniques were winning acceptance in the quilting community. I did have a couple of old timers tell me a quilt wasn’t a quilt unless it was quilted by hand.The use of a sewing machine does not take away the aesthetic of a well-executed design but allows the process of making a quilt to be quicker, but not quick.It was fun to experiment and help pioneer a technique new to the art of quilting. Machine quilting allows for a more functional less fragile item for everyday use. Quilts are considered fine textiles and should be carefully cared for.


Once the quilting is completed, a 2” binding is stitched down by hand to cover the raw edges of the quilt. If I know a quilt will be used to exhibit I will sew sleeve to the back for hanging. I like to sew a fabric label to the quilt with my signature and date.

Antique quilt, late 19th century, Old Maid's Puzzle design, hand quilted.

Layers of this antique quilt, Old Maid’s Puzzle, held together with a hoop for hand quilting