You’ve made your first quilt top, congratulations! ✨ This in itself is a BIG deal so take a moment to revel in the glory of your creativity. I know what you’re thinking though…. “But how do I quilt it?” Fair enough. What nobody tells you is that making the quilt top is only half the project; basting, quilting and binding is a learning curve of its own! Don’t get discouraged or overwhelmed though.
Thanks to the power of the internet, learning how to finish your quilt is as simple as clicking a button.. Or hundreds of buttons. There are so many ways to finish your quilt that its easy to get overwhelmed and lost in the sea of information. How do you know which methods are beginner friendly and which ones you should work up to?
Here’s a short list of my favorite tutorials for basting, quilting and binding as well as some insight on why I recommend them.
Follow me on Pinterest for an ever-growing repository of links for new quilters!
Quilt basting is the process of layering the quilt top, the batting and the backing fabric and securing them together in preparation for quilting. There are two main methods for basting, pinning and spray gluing. With either method, you will need enough space to be able to walk around the quilt top. If it fits on your dining room table, great. Otherwise you’ll probably need to find a large, clean area of floor where kids and pets won’t run over your work. Easier said than done.
Uses safety pins to keep all three layers together.
Pros: Cheap, ideal for wall hangings and small baby quilts.
Cons: Time consuming, may cause hand cramps and back pain. Usually requires sitting on the floor and doing a lot of reaching. Not ideal for anyone with arthritis, low back pain or short attention spans like me.
Beyond being the more cost-effective method, I can’t honestly can’t think of any other redeeming qualities of pin basting. It’s hard on my back and my hands and it takes FOR-EV-ER to do it right. Doing it half-assed is as effective as not doing it at all. An improperly pin basted quilt will puckers shift and might even rip the fabric.
Uses a spray adhesive specifically made for adhering fabric to itself.
This video shows a hyperlapse demonstration of my spray basting method using a table and spray baste. I think this baby quilt was finished in less than 20 minutes. I’ll be writing an entire article about this soon but in the meantime, try out both methods and see which one you like the most!
I liked this link: https://newquilters.com/spray-basting-quilt/
Pros: Fast, more secure, easier on your body.
Cons: More expensive than pins, spray can have a strong odor and/or release CFC’s into the air, some brands don’t work well.
As you might have guessed, spray basting is my preferred method. I’d rather have a root canal than pin baste a quilt. Yes, it costs more, but what is your time worth? If I can spend 20 minutes basting a quilt, which gives me more time to make quilts, or be present with my family, then it’s worth it to me.
I can usually baste two throw size quilts basted with one can of this brand, which I like because it doesn’t stink and sticks really well. (Tip: make sure you get the big can for the best value; anytime you can find it under $20 is a steal!)
Quilting is the process of securing the top, batting and backing fabric together with stitching. This prevents the batting (the middle layer that provides the warmth) from shifting and creates that soft texture that makes you want to wrap up in it! Here are the most beginner-friendly ways to quilt that quilt.
On a sewing machine, there are a pair of little metal parts, called the feed dogs, that reach up and grab the fabric as it moves under the presser foot and “feeds” them through. A walking foot is a presser foot with an additional set of feed dogs built in. Having two sets of feed dogs, upper and lower, helps move more layers through evenly, so that the bottom fabric (the quilt backing) and the top fabric (the quilt top) and the batting (the middle layer) move at the same speed. A walking foot is what turns a sewing machine into a quilting machine.
Jacquie Gering is the undisputed queen of walking foot quilting and I’ll arm wrestle anyone who wants to argue about it. 😊 If you’re going to learn how to quilt, I recommend learning from her.
Pros: Secure, faster than free motion, easy to learn. A great way to use the decorative stitches on your machine.
Cons: Many machines come with a walking foot, but if yours doesn’t than you would need to buy one made specifically for your model of sewing machine. Check with your local quilt shop.
This method is simple, easy to learn and will look good even if it’s your first time. Don’t worry about wobbles and bobbles and wavy lines, as soon as you wash the quilt any imperfections in the stitching will disappear as the fabric shrinks up and the stitches sink down into the batting. As with all things in quilting, the more you do it the easier it gets.
Walking foot quilting can be as simple as sewing a grid, or you can get creative and try different designs like the one above. I learned how to quilt that design using the book Walk and was blown away by what can be done with a walking foot. There’s a follow-up book to this one, but start here.
There is a special type of sewing machine called a “longarm”. It’s a giant version of your home sewing machine (also known as a “domestic) and is attached to a frame. The machine makes passes across the quilt top on the frame. Longarm quilters use the machine to trace a design with stitches onto your quilt. Sometimes the design is on paper, but more often than not a computer attached to the machine stores the digital design and tells the machine where to quilt. This is most commonly known as “edge to edge” quilting or E2E for short. (There’s also “custom quilting” which is usually done without a computer. Custom quilting is seen most often on show quilts because it’s considerably more expensive E2E.)
Here's a primer on longarm quilting: https://suzyquilts.com/hiring-a-longarm-quilter-an-in-depth-guide/
Pros: You don’t even have to baste the quilt! The quilter carries the batting so all that’s needed is your quilt top and backing. When the quilt is returned to you, just bind it and you're done!
Cons: It costs more than doing it yourself. Prices usually start around $.03/square inch or about $108 for a 60” x 60” quilt, plus shipping.
If you don’t have the time or desire to quilt your own quilt top, I highly recommend this option. Here are a few examples of E2E quilts that I’ve had quilted by Katie at Modern Textiles. Tell her I sent you!
Binding is what goes around the edge of the quilt to “seal” it all together. Making it is relatively easy but deciding which way to attach it can be a little overwhelming. There is no one right way to do it, but here are a couple of beginner-friendly options to start with.
Machine Binding (fold to the front):
In my own opinion, this is the most forgiving machine binding method because the binding frames the quilt top and you can see where you're stitching on the front. The stitching line that shows up on the back of your quilt might be a little wavy, but it’s on the back so who cares? It’s also a great excuse to use some of those decorative stiches on your machine.
Pros: Frames the front of the quilt, easy to see where you are stitching.
Cons: Stitches show on the back.
Tip: When sewing binding you’re going thru five layers of material (the top, the batting, the backing and double folded binding. For this reason, I recommend using a walking foot and a new sharp needle.
Big Stitch Binding by Hand:
WAIT! Don’t keep scrolling! Hear me out… I loathed, L-O-A-T-H-E-D hand sewing when I was a kid in 4-H and in junior high home economics class (the three times I actually went). As an adult, I couldn’t sew a button on anything if my life depended on it. My point is that I thought I hated all things hand-sewing. I still do actually but “big stitch” hand quilting is completely different. Instead of trying to make lots of tiny stitches, big stiches are used with a chunky thread. It is such a forgiving technique, and a perfect introduction to hand quilting later.
Eliane from Patchwork and Poodles has the best blog post about big stitch binding AND a video in case you prefer to watch rather than read.
Pros: It’s not supposed to look perfect, the imperfection is the whole point. When you wash the quilt, you won’t be able to tell what the stiches look like anyway. It’s also relaxing once you get the hang of it, great for road trips (if you’re not the driver). Unlike machine binding, the stitches don’t come through to the other side of the quilt. It’s also great practice for learning big stitch quilting later on.
Cons: Not as fast as machine binding, poking yourself. It takes some practice to find your groove and get in the flow.
There are few people out there, bless their hearts, that have spent a good chunk of their lives filming tutorials for every part of the process of making a quilt. I don’t know where they found the time, but I do know writing and filming the steps takes a long time. Bookmark these links or add the videos to a playlist for reference later.
Fat Quarter Shop - The Ultimate Beginner Quilt Series
Craftsy: I used online classes from Craftsy and I think it’s the fastest way to learn the basics without going to an in-person course. They have sales on their video courses often, so it’s not necessary to buy a membership if you don’t want to.
This is one of the most comprehensive courses on the website, and I’ve learned a lot from Christa since taking this class as well. Here’s the quilt I made while taking her course:
One word of caution… there are SO many courses here that it’s easy to be tempted to take classes that are a little above the beginner-quilter level, even if they say they are for beginners.
In the coming months, I'll be sharing a few of my own tutorials for finishing your quilts. Which one would you like to see first?