A quilt is a bed cover or throw made using three layers of fabric. The top layer is the visible part, usually made in patchwork. The middle layer is the insulation, known as wadding or batting. The third layer is the backing. These three layers are secured together with decorative stitching, known as quilting, and binding is sewn around the edges of the quilt to cover the raw edges of the fabric layers.
The top can be just one piece of fabric with the pattern being supplied by the quilting design. This is known as whole cloth quilting and these projects can sometimes be called Welsh quilts as this method of quilting was very popular with early Welsh quilters.
It is more common for the top to be made with patchwork pieces sewn together. The first quilters used scraps of clothing for these patchwork pieces, using the parts of a shirt, for example, that were still serviceable when most of the shirt was beyond repair. This was the original point of quilting – recycling fabrics so that they could have extra life providing warmth. Feedsacks were commonly used for these projects at one time.
As we have become more affluent, quilts have become a hobby rather than a necessity and many manufacturers now produce fabric specifically for making them. No matter what your likes or interests, you can be sure that you will find a fabric range to match the colours or motifs that interest you.
Before choosing the fabric for a project, it is advisable to decide on the quilt pattern as this can affect your fabric choice. Some patterns can cope with large patterned fabric, for instance, while it would be wasted on a quilt that used small patches of fabric that would not show the large pattern.
Quilt block patterns are widely available on the internet and there are many quilting books that advise on quilt blocks that look good together. They are often sub divided into categories such as four patch or nine patch. A pleasing quilt pattern can often be made by alternating two quilt blocks across the rows. Sometimes many more blocks can be used, as in a sampler quilt where every block is different.
When making the blocks, accuracy in both the cutting and the sewing is essential. A small difference in size between quilt blocks can become a large difference when multiplied across thirty blocks.
The wadding for the middle layer of the quilt was traditionally always natural fabric – cotton or wool or silk. There is a large range of waddings available now, including bamboo fibre which has additional antiseptic properties, synthetic fibres and even a wadding that is made from recycled plastics. They vary a lot in price and also in the way that the quilt feels when completed. This is known as the drape of the quilt. A baby quilt or a quilt made for a disable person must be made using natural wadding, but other than that the choice is down to the quilter.
The third layer, the backing fabric, is not seen as much as the quilt top but it is still worth taking time to choose a pretty fabric that matches in with the quilt top. It need not just be one fabric – some quilt backings are made using stripes of several fabrics. It is also possible to make reversible quilts which in effect have two quilt tops sandwiched around the wadding.
The three layers are secured together by quilting stitches. This may be as simple as straight lines of sewing along the seam lines or in a cross hatch pattern. At the other extreme, the quilting can be elaborate and complex designs of flowers and feathers which complement the quilt pattern.
The final stage of making a patchwork quilt is to bind the edges to protect them. The binding fabric is sewn to the quilt top on all four edges and then flipped to the back and hand sewn to the back of the quilt. This encloses all the quilt layers and protects them from fraying. It also provides a neat frame for the quilt and can be made from several different fabrics.