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Patchwork & Quilting - A Beginners Guide

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Family Quilts - Karen Tribett

Family Quilts - Karen Tribett

One of the loveliest American crafts is patchwork quilt making. In the days gone by, young brides were expected to have a trunk full of patchwork quilts ready for their new home.

To accomplish this, neighborhood friends would gather with the young woman in sewing bees, with each guest bringing along a block of patchwork quilting for the young woman to sew together.

American quilts combine the twin arts of patchwork and quilting and produce a result that is not only beautiful and individual, but warm and serviceable as well.

Each patchwork quilt is made up of three parts.

First there is the top layer. This can be one piece of fabric with applique or patchwork motifs sewn on it, or completely made of patchwork pieces sewn together.

Another way of making the top layer, is to sew together blocks, as described in this hub. Each block either has a design appliqued onto it, or is made up of patchwork pieces.

The second layer is the batting, or filling, and the third layer is the lining, or backing. The original purpose of patchwork quilting was to keep the three layers together to form a warm, cozy covering.

Planning a Quilt

The design should be in scale with the size of the bed. The blocks of patchwork or applique should be larger for a large bed, smaller for a small one. Remembering this, measure the the top of the bed, complete with pillows and other coverings. This area should be covered completely with the overall design.

Now decide how much you want the quilt to overhang around the sides and bottom., You can continue the main designs around the edge, or leave them plain and just decorate with quilting, or make a special border design in patchwork or applique. Divide the whole of your measured area into appropriately sized squares.

To estimate the amount of fabric you will need, work out how much of each different fabric you will need for each block of your chosen design. To do this cut out the cardboard patterns (see below) and if you are using three colors, draw the number of shapes in each color on three pieces of paper, instead of fabric, not forgetting to allow for seams. Multiply the amount of each fabric for each block by the total numbers of blocks you will need. This will give you an approximate guide.

Enlarging Patterns

To enlarge a design, rule squares of equal dimension in pencil on the drawing of the design. If the book or magazine with the design is not your own, trace the design first, then draw the squares on the tracing.

Next cut a paper square the size you wish your complete block to be. Rule into the same number of squares each of which will, of course, be larger. This will enable you to copy the design from the small squares onto the larger squares in the right proportion and so enlarge the design. You can make designs smaller by reversing the process.

Four Traditional Designs for Blocks

Four Traditional Designs for Blocks


In the figure shown, there are four traditional designs for blocks. There are many more designs available out there, but for the purpose of this hub I am going to focus on these four.

The designs are made as follows:

Turkey Tracks - Top Left

The block is divided into nine equal squares. Five squares are plain. The corner squares are divided into four diamonds, three triangles and one small square.

Robbing Peter to Pay Paul - Top Right

Divide block into four equal squares. Draw arcs with compass.

Dresden Plate - Bottom Left

Draw a small circle for the center, a larger one for the outside. Divide the space between the circles into twenty equal parts. Sew together and applique to block.

The Compass - Bottom Right

The block is divided into four equal squares. A circle is drawn in the center and three triangles are drawn in each corner.

Cutting Patterns & Patches

According to the design you are using, make a cardboard pattern of each shaped piece. It is a good idea to make several patterns of each piece as the cardboard edges 'fray' with repeated use and should then be discarded and replaced by new ones.

Press all the fabric you are going to use. Lay your cardboard pattern on the wrong side of the fabric, making sure each piece is placed in correct relationship to the straight of the fabric. Mark around with pencil. Cut out each piece, leaving 1/4" extra all around for seams. To keep patches tidy, grade them into shapes and colors and string together through the centers on a piece of thread with a knot at one end.

If making applique blocks, make patterns and cut out pieces as for patchwork. Then sew in the usual way onto blocks of the required size.

Sewing Together

To sew patchwork pieces together, place right sides facing and make tiny running stitches along the pencil-drawn lines. Do not press seams open, but press to one side.

Sew the blocks, patchwork or applique into long strips of the required length in the same way. Now sew the long strips together, making sure the blocks are even with each other. The blocks can be stitched together by machine.

Preparing to Quilt

You can obtain cotton batting in large sheets especially prepared for filling quilts. The lining, or backing, for quilts should be a soft loosely woven fabric. Sew widths of fabric together to make the required size. The lining and the batting should be basted together. The easiest way to do this is on the floor! Smooth the lining flat,then place the batting smoothly on top. Starting in the center, each time, make lines of basting stitches outward toward the edges. Eight lines should be sufficient. Now baste together the layers several inches in from the edge.

Figure 2: Quilted Border Designs

Figure 2: Quilted Border Designs

Figure 3: Quilted Motifs

Figure 3: Quilted Motifs

Quilting Designs

Attractive designs can be achieved just by working a line of quilting around the main outlines of the applique or patchwork motif.

The strips shown in Figure 2 can either be used around the borders of a block or around the border of a complete quilt.

Figure 3 shows a number of motifs that could be enlarged for plain squares not decorated with applique or patchwork. Or they could be used small to fill in spaces in applique or patchwork block.

Transferring Designs Onto Fabric

Quilting designs are transferred to the right side of the top layer. Simple, all-over designs like diamonds or squares can be made by ruling lines on the fabric. For shaped designs like those in Figures 2 & 3, you will need to make thin cardboard patterns of the outline shapes and draw around them onto the fabric, overlapping where necessary to make the design. Enlarge the designs as explained above.

There are a number of methods of drawing or marking the design on the fabric.

  1. You can draw the design on paper and use dressmaker's carbon and a dressmaker's tracing wheel.
  2. Use a yarn needle held almost horizontally to draw around a pattern, so making a crease.
  3. A pencil, tailor's chalk or even a piece of soap sharpened to a point can be used to draw around a pattern.


Lay the top cover of the quilt,with the quilting design marked on it, on top of the batting and lining already basted together. Baste the top layer to the second and third layer in the same way you basted the batting and lining together.

The stitch used for quilting is a small running stitch. Begin with a knot, pulling it up through the lining, so that it embeds itself in the batting. To finish make a back stitch and run thread through batting before cutting off.

To Finish

Trim the edges of both the top cover and the lining so that they extend 1/2" beyond the batting all around. Turn 1/4" of each to center and overhand stitch around the edges.

If preferred, the edges can be bound with strips of fabric.

These are just some simple instructions and ideas to get you started. There are lots of patterns available on the internet as well as a variety of fabrics to choose from.

Thanks for stopping by & Happy Crafting!

© 2012 Dawn


Kelly Ann Christensen from Overland Park, Johnson County, Kansas on January 26, 2020:

Thanks for the enjoyable hub. I was in the middle of making a nice quilt a few years ago, but have now lost the nice material I purchased to make it, and the sewing machine. So, maybe if I ever get my life back I can once again purchase the material, supplies, and sewing machine to start another one.

KerryAnita from Satellite Beach, Florida on December 06, 2012:

Wonderful hub! I think that quilting is such an under appreciated art form. My mom is a quilter and taught me before I was 7 how to quilt. She is an excellent quilter and recently went to an authentic quilt show while she was visiting the blue bridge mountains. I have since gotten more into crocheting and knitting as my crafting love, but I definitely have an deep appreciation for those who can make quilts like these patchwork quilts.

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