Whether you’re making a patchwork quilt for yourself or for a friend, quilt making - once considered a luxury - has become a social pastime enjoyed by millions. A good way to recycle old clothes, scraps of material or even threadbare curtains, swapping a shop bought quilt for a homemade version is good for the planet and your wallet. But if the thought of undertaking a patchwork quilt leaves your head spinning, fear not because the Ecologist’s experts are here to help. ‘It’s good to have a plan of what you want to make by drawing it out,’ explains veteran quilt maker and artist, Pauline Burbidge. ‘Start on a small scale rather than making an enormous quilt as you might get a bit lost in those early stages.’
For those who want to try their hand at something spectacular such as the V&A’s Tristan Quilt – the earliest surviving example - associations such as the Quilters’ Guild of the British Isles and the Quilt Association have plenty of advice and support to offer. ‘We have a mixture of ages here and a student and young adult membership,’ says the Quilters’ Guild of the British Isles' Carol Bowden. ‘We also offer quite a lot of workshops.’
The word quilt derives from the Latin culcita, which translates as a padded and tied mattress, similar to a Japanese futon. Introduced to Europe during the Dark Ages, quilting remains a popular pastime. According to Annette Morgan, a quilter and teacher who has won national and international awards, doing a patchwork quilt brings out personal creativity. ‘I think many people think they’re not artistic or creative,’ she says, ‘and I say to them: you chose the fabrics, you chose the colour and the design, and you chose how to put it together. If that’s not being creative than I don’t know what is.’
Depending on the size of the quilt, the length of time needed to complete it can vary. While there are various ‘how to’ books on the process that make it possible to start and finish a quilt over a weekend, it’s not surprising to find many working on theirs for months at a time. ‘I work very quickly and a lot of students are quite surprised,’ explains Morgan. ‘It depends on the size, but finishing a quilt can take me two to three months.’ Burbidge, who loves the process of drawing and expressing herself with fabric and stitch adds: ‘My studio work can take me up to six months to make.’
If you’re making a quilt at home, the starting point should be fabric. ‘Most quilters keep what they call a stash,’ says Bowden. ‘With the use of small pieces of fabric they can use them up to make a quilt with two inch squares.’ Morgan agrees: ‘I’ve just made a piece of work where I used a fabric that I printed four or five years ago. It fitted in with the colour and scheme of things that I wanted to do.’ Burbidge adds that if you’re making a traditional quilt, cotton fabric are a good idea. ‘They stitch together better than any man-made fabrics, so choose a cotton dress weight fabric if you’re piecing a quilt together.’ ‘If you’re using recycled clothing you need to look for a high percentage cotton,’ adds Bowden. ‘Other fabric is entirely suitable but you need to be careful as some fray more than others.’
Once you’ve chosen your textiles and worked out a pattern, it’s time to think about putting your quilt together. ‘You need very basic patchwork, a rotary cutter, a mat and a ruler,’ says Morgan. ‘Self-healing mats used with craft knives are good for cutting out material as you can do four or five layers of fabric in one go. It’s much more accurate than drawing with a ruler and then cutting squares out with scissors and quicker than using a basic sewing machine, needle and pins.’
The Ecologist’s step-by-step guide to putting your quilt together
You will need: fabric squares, backing and binding, material for filling, thread, sewing machine, pins, needles, scissors, tape measure
• First map out how many fabric squares you’ll need. If you have a king size bed you will need a quilt that is about 264cm x 264cm so around 169 eight by eight inch squares.
• Once you’ve determined the desired size of your quilt, cut out squares of equal size and place them on the floor in the order you desire.
• Stitch each horizontal row into strips. Then sew the strips together, being sure to match up seams. Use the same hem and stitch on all for continuity.
• Next cut binding strips, about one inch wide, for each side. Iron in half to create a crease, then open and pin to the edges of your quilt ‘face to face.’ Sew a seam half a centimetre away from the edge to hold in place, and sew the corners together neatly.
• Now you’ll need to fill your quilt. Lay down a piece of cotton wadding, slightly larger than your quilt. Place your backing piece on top, face up and then layer on top your patchwork piece, face down. The backing and patchwork pieces will be facing each other. Pin the three edges of the quilt together and stitch. Then stitch together part of the fourth side, leaving enough room to turn your quilt ride side out.
• Hand sew the remaining hole together.
• You can finish off your quilt by stitching diagonal crosses into each square.
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