Friday, 12 August 2011

ABCs of Sewing: Q is for Quilting

I've decided to go out of order here. If you'd been paying attention, you might think that the next letter coming was D (which will be for darning, if I ever get to it). But this morning, a friend in need berated me for not actually explaining what a quilt entailed. All apologies. And just for you, Julie (since every other reader of this blog seems to be here just for the Octonauts things - not joking. Well over half of my all time readers...), here are the ABCs of quilting.

A Definition

First: what is a quilt? Well, it's a sandwich of fabrics consisting of a top layer (quilt top), middle layer (wadding, or sometimes batting), and bottom layer (backing). It's usually finished with binding. The whole things makes a blanket which is viewable from both sides, so unlike most things you sew there is no 'wrong' side in the finished project.


Now there are quilts, and there is quilting. The above is a Quilt. Quilting, though, is the little stitches that you put through all three layers. These stitches are both decorative and functional. They hold the quilt layers together, but you also use them to enhance, to outline, and to decorate.

'In the ditch' quilting
Patchwork squares, outlined, seen from the back
For example. You might have a quilt made up of patchwork squares, all different patterns. When it comes to quilting, you might decide to quilt around the squares (this is called 'in the ditch', and means you sew in the seams that are already there).

You may decide to go diagonally across the squares, creating another layer of pattern. Or, you might decide to create an entirely new pattern on top of your squares by stitching stars, hearts, flowers, and so on.

Or, you could decide to sew a random pattern of squiggles, or stippling, using free motion quilting.
You might also use quilting to outline an existing pattern, if, hypothetically (Julie), you bought a printed panel with fairies, hungry caterpillars, or monkeys. You could then sew around certain lines to emphasise them.

You can quilt by hand, or machine. Just make sure you buy the appropriate thread.

Quilting supplies

The following will be useful for your quilting life. There is a whole, large market devoted to quilting. In Edinburgh, I recommend Mandors. Online, try The Cotton Patch, or eBay
  • a rotary mat, and cutter 
  • a quilting ruler (go for a longish one, rather than a square) 
  • quilting safety pins, to baste, or hold your layers together, while you quilt 
  • quilting needles, either for your sewing machine or for hand quilting 
  • an iron 
  • 100% cotton thread
Rules for Making a Quilt

When it comes to making a quilt, really anything goes - but there are a few rules that will make your life easier. 
  1. Always use 100% cotton thread. Over time (and we are talking a long time, but if you're making a quilt you are making an heirloom piece), other threads can wear through the fabric. Cotton shouldn't. Use thread for hand or for machine as appropriate (hand quilting thread is usually coated to make it easier to work with).
  2. The standard seam allowance is 1/4 inch.
  3. Pre-wash and shrink your fabric.
  4. Stretchy fabric generally isn't used for quilts. It can be, but requires extra prep - namely, making it not stretchy. Use an iron-on stabiliser to do this.
  5. Use a good quality wadding. You want it to be thin! The first time I tried to quilt, I bought wadding that looked like a marshmallow. It would have been good for making a puffy jacket, or a gillet, but not for a blanket. Think like a layer of felt - that's about what you're going for.
This is just a very basic explanation to get you started, Jules (and anyone else, who stumbled over here from the Octonauts pages). There are many, many more pages on the web that can help you with specifics, like what kind of quilt top to make, and what quilting method to use. But I hope this can help you on the way to becoming a quilting addict!

Thursday, 4 August 2011

A quick catch up.

It's been a bit quiet on the blogging front. I've been finishing old projects and working on lots and lots of presents. I feel a bit funny blogging tutorials for things I've made as presents, but I'm more than happy to answer questions if anyone wants to try any of the below!

So, here's a quick run through of the last few weeks in photos, and not so much a tutorial as an idea shared for a baby shower present you can make.

First up, this top secret present has now been posted, received, and is therefore safe to share. Made for a very good friend's baby, said baby had the nerve to show up 5 weeks early, thus throwing all my plans to have this there for his arrival! It was quite a basic quilt top, but then I decided to try my hand at free motion quilting. Definitely not as easy as I'd hoped it would be. Quilting this thing took...a very long time. And many, many broken needles. By the end, though, I was barely breaking any (as opposed to the first few inches which used up 7 in the space of half an hour).

I love this quilt - simple, bright colours, and the backing is possibly my favourite fabric ever. I may well make this again, but there are a few things I'd do differently...

Finished quilt

Close up of the quilting

Quilt backing
The finished book
 Next up, we have a project that was born out of a baby shower. We wanted to make a collaborative present for the (second time) mum-to-be, and I'd originally thought this would be a blanket. I asked everyone at the shower to draw a wee picture, and was going to turn them into appliques for a fleece blanket. However, the designs didn't really lend themselves to one blanket scene, so I then thought it would have to be a patchwork quilt. And then, the idea of a book hit me.

This one is made of unbleached cotton, and the appliques are as many different textures as I could find, from soft fleece to bumpy corduroy, to scratchy linen. I hope baby likes reading it as much as I liked making it.

First pages
Original drawing, and the resulting applique


I was most proud of the cat's eyes

And finally, a special request for a friend: a couple of rounds of name bunting, for a pair of sisters. I love making bunting.

More exciting (?!) tutorials to come but for now, I have to finish this last thing that's been keeping me busy. I call it the Quilt of Doom and really, that's a story for a whole other post...