Monday, January 9, 2012

Quilting 101 -- Lesson 1 -- Choosing a Design

I recently decided that I would like to do a series of blog posts that would include step-by-step instructions on how to make a quilt.  Maybe this will inspire some of you to make that first quilt you have been dreaming about but weren't exactly sure how to begin!  Let's get started....

The first thing you need to do is choose (or create) a design.  For a first quilt, I would strongly recommend a very simple design -- such as a quilt that is mainly squares.  Once you learn the basic techniques, you can branch out into using triangles and other more challenging shapes/designs.  You can find ideas in quilt magazines and books.  You can also do an Internet search to look for pictures of quilts that you like.  

A good idea is to start a collection of pictures of the quilts that you come across that you really love -- no matter how difficult the design appears.  I do this by tearing pages out of magazines and catalogs and then organizing them in a binder with sheet protectors.  Later, having this reference can really come in handy as you think about color combinations and fabric selection.  It can be very overwhelming at first, so having a collection of pictures can help you pinpoint exactly what styles and color combinations you are drawn to.

I have chosen a very simple nine-patch block for this tutorial.  The design below shows you what the finished quilt will look like.  (I am purposely leaving the color out of this diagram, so you can try and visualize your own color combinations when you look at this).

So, what you  need to be able to do when making a quilt is to "see" how it is broken up into its smaller components and then put back together into the whole.  A "block" is the name for the pieced units that are put together to form the top of the quilt.  The quilt above is comprised of 35 blocks -- the nine-patch blocks (18) and the plain blocks (17).  The plain blocks are simply the larger white squares.  They are not pieced.  They are just cut from a single piece of fabric.  You can't get much easier than that!

The nine-patch blocks are the ones that look like this:

Each one of these is made up of nine smaller squares sewn together into one larger square that is the same size as the plain block square.

Now, I hate to disappoint those of you that dislike math, but I must disclose the fact that there is no way you are going to get around doing some math when it comes to quilting.  It's simply a fact of life for us quilters.  The good news is that the simpler the design, the simpler the math will be too.

One basic thing you need to know about piecing a quilt is the standard seam allowance -- 1/4".  What this means is that you must factor this into account when determining the size you will need to cut your pieces of fabric.  How do you do that?

First, determine what size you would like your finished blocks to be.  This is typically based on what size you want the finished quilt to be -- whether you want it crib-sized, king-sized, or somewhere in between.  The quilt we are going to make will be approximately 38" x 50" -- the perfect size for a baby quilt!  Each block needs to be 6" when finished, so we need to add the seam allowance to that number.  Because we are working with squares, we must double the seam allowance (it will be needed on all four sides of the square).  This means that if you want a finished block of 6" square, you must cut the fabric 6 1/2" square.  Why?  Because you will lose 1/4" from EACH side as you sew your pieces together -- cutting the squares 6 1/2" factors in the seam allowance.

Now, that's fairly simple if you are just cutting a block from one piece of fabric, but what about when your block is pieced, as in the nine-patch blocks for our quilt?  First determine what size the finished block needs to be -- in our case that would be 6".  The nine-patch block is made up of 3 rows of 3 squares each.  So, divide 6" by 3 to get 2".  The finished size of your smaller squares will be 2".  So, what size do you need to cut those squares?  They need to be cut 2 1/2".
To summarize all of this -- you will need to cut 17 squares that are 6 1/2" and 162 squares that are 2 1/2".

So, now you know some basics about getting started.  But, what about the fabric?  How much do you need?  What kind of fabric works best?  What colors should it be?  I will address all of these questions and more in Lesson 2.

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