Julie’s Quilting Basics

Quilting Basics; From Julie Plotniko

To make quilting easy and accurate we must address the three basic steps to any quilt.


Safety First

A few simple rules will help keep you safe so that you can enjoy quilting for many years!

1) Hold your rotary cutter by the handle only and never put your fingers close to the blade.

2) Close your rotary cutter after each and every cut.

3) Never lay an open rotary cutter down on the table or hold one open in between cuts.

4) Keep the hand holding the ruler centered on the ruler with all fingers at least one inch away from the edge of the ruler.

5) Always cut away from yourself, never towards.

6) Remember, like the knives in your kitchen a sharp blade is safer to work than a dull blade. Change your blade after every full sized quilt or every third small project.


Step One: Accurate Cutting with A Rotary Cutter

AKA Preventing the Dreaded “V”s and “WOW”s

Working with the true straight grain of your fabric will make sewing your pieces together easier and more accurate. If you straighten an edge using only a single fold or the selvedge edge as your guide then you are more likely than not to get strips that have a “V” or “WOW” in them.

All sub cuts made from the resulting strips will be slightly off grain making them want to twist as you feed them through your sewing machine. To prevent this place the fold of your fabric towards the top of your cutting mat.

Fold the selvage edge towards but not all the way to the fold at the top of your fabric.

Measure from fold to fold with your quilting ruler.

Use an easy measurement to view on your ruler such as anything on the ½” or 1” line.

When you get the same measurement across the length of your fabric then you are “On Grain” and ready to straighten an edge. Don’t try to straighten more than between 25” to 30” at a time. It’s better to re-measure and re-straighten as required. Now…use one of the long horizontal lines on your ruler to line up to the bottom fold of your fabric. The other lines should be square to your top fold.

Trim a little bit of fabric off the side to “straighten an edge.

If you are right handed you will straighten from the right and cut your strips from the left.

If you are left handed you will straighten from the left and cut your strips from the right.

When cutting your strips be sure that the line you are measuring ON TOP of the straightened edge.

If your measurement line is on the outside of the cut edge you will ”lose” approximately 1/8” of fabric.

It doesn’t seem like much but by the time you have cut eight strips you have “lost” an inch in the accuracy of your measurements.

*Hot Tip: If you square your body to your ruler it won’t slide out of place and you will not need as much pressure to make your cuts. This is accomplished by simple physics in that all your weight is automatically transferred down into the table so that your ruler stays in place and your cutting hand has more power without more pressure. To be sure that you are square to your ruler stand with your feet flat and side by side and line your “Belly Button” up to the hole in your ruler. It’s easy to remember because it will make you laugh…and it works!


Step Two: Accurate Sewing

Use 50 weight cotton and a sharp needle when piecing cotton.

Good needle choices include size 75 / 11 Quilters, size 70 /10 Jeans Denim or size 80 / 12 Microtex Sharp.

If your fabric is a blend of cotton/poly use cotton/poly construction thread.

If quilting with polyester, piece with polyester thread.

Piece your quilts with a scant or “Quilters” ¼” seam allowance.

A measured ¼” is the measurement that is on a ruler.

We sew with “just under” a measured ¼” to allow for the width of our thread as well as the fold over of the fabric in our seam allowances.

You may need to adjust how scant your seam allowance is according to the thickness of both your fabric and thread as well as whether you are pressing your seam allowances open or to one side.


“Driving a Straight Road”

Look ahead to where you want to be sewing. Keep your eyes in front of the needle. If you look at the needle (it can’t jump out and get you) then you will drive a crooked line. Look to where you want to go and you will stay on the straight and narrow.


Step Three; Pressing Matters

It’s quite simple really.

Press, don’t iron. Let your iron do your work for you.

Set your seams from behind by putting heat and steam (if desired) on top of the seams before trying to press them open or to one side.

Use the weight of the iron to either push the seam to one side or press the seam open.

When pressing the seam to one side, have the fabric you want the seam to lay towards facing up and push the top fabric towards the seam allowance. For instance we normally press towards the darker of the two fabrics so we would have the dark fabric on top.

Your seam allowance will be pressed to the correct side with no little creases.

Now let’s start our “Mystery”!


The A to Z of Quilting Terms

batikBatik: A fabric printed by a method of hand-printing textiles. The parts not to be dyed are coated with wax or dye resist prior to the application of dye. This process is often repeated several times on the same fabric creating beautiful, complex fabric.

Batting: The fluffy layer in the middle of a quilt sandwich between the top and the backing. Batting can be cotton, polyester, silk, bamboo, wool or a blend of fibers. Batting is used to add warmth, puff and durability to a quilt.

Background Fabric: A fabric that allows the design of a pieced quilt to be what your eye sees first. Never the star of a quilt but always important.

big stitchBig Stitch Quilting: Hand quilting with large thread (such as Perle Cotton) and a large needle. Gives a funky “country” look.

Binding: A strip of fabric sewn over the edges of the quilt layers to enclose the raw edges, add strength, and decorate the edge. Like the frame on a picture this can blend with your last border or be the final accent.

Blocks: A unit or portion of a quilt. Usually square. Normally there will be multiple blocks in a quilt. A quilt block can be a single piece of fabric or pieced using many pieces of fabric.

Borders: The frame around the center of a quilt. Borders may be pieced or un-pieced fabric. A quilt top can have no borders, one border or many borders.

chain-piecing-for-efficiency-quilt-technique-1Chain Piecing: This technique is used when sewing together many quilt pieces that are identical. For example when sewing a large number of five inch squares together you would feed these pieces through your machine in pairs, right sides together, sewing consecutively without cutting the thread. The joining thread is cut after all units have been sewn together. This saves time and thread and keeps all of you pieces together so they don’t get lost.

Cut On The Diagonal: Cut a square in half from point to point (45 degree angle).

Directional Print: Printed fabrics where there is a clear direction to the print, either straight or at an angle.

Fat Quarter: A cut piece of fabric which is made by cutting a half yard of fabric in half vertically. The piece is therefore approximately 18″ x 22″.This allows for cutting larger squares or pieces than a standard quarter yard which is 9″ x 44″. Buying Fat ¼’s is a wonderful way to collect fabric for Scrap Quilts. See previous Blog entry June 2013

feed dogFeed Dogs: The mechanical teeth under the needle area of a sewing machine which move to pull the fabric through the machine.

Finished Size: The final sewn measurement or dimensions of a completed block or segment. For example, A 12” finished block measures 12 ½“ before it is sewn into a quilt because it still has its ¼” seam allowance.

Four Patch: A quilt block or unit consisting of four equal segments, two across and two down.

Free-Motion Quilting: A method of quilting where the feed dogs of a sewing machine are lowered or covered and the quilter controls the movement of the fabric under the needle.

fabric-grain-01Grain: The threads running through a woven fabric. The lengthwise grain runs parallel to the selvedge while the crosswise (also called widthwise) grain runs perpendicular to the selvedge.

Half Square Triangles: (HST) A triangle that is created when you cut a square from one corner to opposite corner (45 degree angle). The Straight of grain is on the short sides of the resulting triangles. Each square yields 2 half square triangles

Half Square Triangle Units: (Also called HST) A unit that consists of two half square triangles of different fabric sewn together to form a square.

Hand-Quilting: A small, even running stitch that is made through all three layers of a quilt to hold them together and arranged to form a quilting pattern. See also “Big Stitch Quilting”

Stitch in ditchIn-The-Ditch: A style of straight line quilting where the stitching lies almost in the seams of a block, border or segment.

Layout: The arrangement in which blocks are sewn together to make a quilt. A straight set layout occurs when quilt blocks are simply sewn next to each other in rows and the rows are set together. An on-point quilt is a straight set layout with the blocks set on a 45 degree angle.

matching pointsMatching Points: Highly sought in quilting. Piecing so as to make sure that the corners of blocks or the points of triangles match at the seam line so that the points are not cut off by the seam.

Mystery Quilt, AKA “ A Lot of Fun”: A quilt pattern written in steps and revealed one part at a time to hide the final appearance of the finished quilt.

Nine Patch: A block consisting of nine equal segments set in three rows of three. Segments may be pieced or un-pieced.
Notions: Small accessories such as scissors, needles, thread, seam ripper, marking tools etc.
Notions make sewing and quilting easier. Just buying new notions make us “Happy”. Pretty notions make us “Very Happy”!

Needles: Sharps have a sharp point which pierces the thread of woven fabrics.
A Quilting Needle 75/11, Jeans Denim 70/10, Microtex Sharp 80/12 or Janome Blue Tip 11 would all be good choices to piece your Mystery Quilt For detailed information on needles please see our previous Blog Post; Needles 101 from Feb 2014 and Needles 102 from April 2014.

On Point: A block or square of fabric that is placed at a 45 degree angle, diagonally, on the quilt top or within a block.

Patchwork: needlework in which small pieces of cloth in different designs, colors, or textures are sewn together. Usually layered with a batting and backing then quilted to be made into a quilt or other project.

Piecing: The process of sewing fabric pieces together to form a block, unit pieced item or quilt.

pin bastingPin-baste: Safety pins are used to hold together the three layers of a quilt in preparation for quilting. Be sure to use stainless steel Quilting Pins.

Pressing: An iron is used to press a seam to one side or open after setting the seam. The weight of the iron is used to do all the work while the iron is kept very still. (Not to be confused with ironing. Ironing moves the iron briskly back and forth over the fabric. This would cause distortion of the small pieces used in quilting) Good pressing is a necessary to obtain accurate results when quilting. See previous Blog post July 2013

Quarter Inch Foot: Presser foot that has a guide to achieve the ¼ inch seam.

quarter inchQuilters Quarter Inch: A measured ¼” is the measurement that is on a ruler. Most patterns, books etc. will tell you to use a ¼ inch seam allowance to piece your quilt. It is assumed that quilters know to piece with a “scant” or “quilters” ¼ inch. As quilters we sew with “just under” a measured ¼ inch to allow for the width of our thread as well as the fold over of the fabric in our seam allowances. You may need to adjust how scant your seam allowance is according to the thickness of both your fabric and thread as well as whether you are pressing your seam allowances open or to one side. The moveable needle position in straight stitch on our computerized sewing machines allows us to fine tune the ¼ inch seam to achieve perfect results for every project. If you do not have a computerized machine there are a variety of ¼” guides available to help you sew an accurate seam. If no guide or ¼ inch foot is available for your machine I find that a piece of Moleskin (a thick cushy adhesive bandage), available from any drug store, stuck to the bed of your machine to the right, front of your needle, will allow you to sew more accurately than a flat tape such as masking tape.

Quilting: The process of making a quilt or quilted item. Also refers to the process of sewing the three quilt layers of a quilt or quilted item together. Quilting may be done by hand or machine using straight line, curved line or decorative stitches. The resulting quilt is warmer, more durable and of course even more beautiful than an un-quilted item. Care should be taken to have the style of quilting suit the style of the quilt.

Quilt Sandwich: The three layers of a quilt consisting of the quilt top, batting and backing. This is what a quilt is referred to before binding is put on.

Quilt Top: Your finished quilt before it is quilted. The top layer of a quilt sandwich.

Right Side: The “front” side of the fabric. The “pretty” side.

Olfa-rotary-cutter-60mmRotary Cutter: A cutting tool for quilting that has a very sharp round razor like blade. Rotary Cutters must be used on a Rotary cutting mat and are used in conjunction with a quilting ruler (rotary ruler).

Rotary Mat: Cutting surface that is self-healing. Used with fabric and rotary cutters.

Rotary Rulers: Rulers made from Plexiglas type material.. These are available in a variety of shapes and sizes. The correct ruler adds to the success of any project.

Sashing: An inner “border” that runs between quilt blocks. Used to separate the Blocks, framing them and making the quilt larger.

scrapScrap Quilt: (Or Scrap Style) A quilt made of many different fabrics that are often left over from other projects. Fat ¼’s are often used to create a Scrap Style quilt.

Seam: The stitching line where two pieces of fabric are joined together by sewing them with thread.

Seam Allowance: The fabric on the right of the sewing line from raw edge. In quilting it is generally a ¼ inch.

Seam Ripper: A tool used for picking or ripping out incorrectly sewn stitches. One of your most important tools in your kit. You will become good friends.

Segment: A portion of a block or section. Also called a unit. A segment is usually un-pieced while a unit is usually pieced.

659px-Selvage_edgeSelvage: The finished edge of the fabric that prevents fraying. The Selvage should always be cut off before starting the process of cutting your pieces. Often contains the name of the fabric line, company and dye dots of the colors that went into the fabric.

Setting the Seam: To set a hot iron on the seam before pressing it to the side or open. Preferably with steam. Setting the seams will allow the thread (cotton) to relax into your fabric and become more secure. This will give a flatter, more professional look to your pressing as well as better accuracy when matching seams.

Setting: The arrangement of blocks and pieces in a quilt. A straight setting is when blocks are placed in vertical and horizontal grid like design. A Diagonal setting is when blocks are set on point in diagonal rows, often with setting triangles.

grainillustrationStraight of Grain: The weave of the fabric that runs lengthwise and crosswise through the fabric. The Lengthwise grain has the least stretch (or give) while the widthwise grain has some stretch.  The bias has a great deal of stretch and as a result is more easily distorted. The crosswise (widthwise) and lengthwise straight of grain are used in piecing to add stability to a quilt.

strip piecingStrip Piecing: A technique` where strips of fabric are cut and sewn together. These “strip sets” are then cut into segments to stitch a block. This is a speed technique` used for many types of quilts. This term also refers to the patchwork technique` of cutting strips of fabric that are then “sub-cut into the various segments for a quilt. For instance a pattern may ask you to cut a 6 ½” strip x WOF and then sub-cut this strip into 6 ½” squares.

Sub-Cut: A secondary cut, usually to a previously cut strip. Thread (Piecing): Usually 2 or three ply 50 weight cotton in a neutral color that blends well with your projects fabric colors. Polyester thread should not be used unless you are using polyester fabric.

Thread (Quilting): A thread that works with the type and style quilting to be done in a color that compliments your quilt.

Tone On Tone: A printed fabric that “reads” as a solid from a slight distance.
Unit: A portion of a quilt block or section. Sometimes referred to as a segment. A unit is usually pieced while a segment is usually un-pieced.

Value: Value refers to how light or dark a fabric is in relation to another fabric. Value of a given quilting fabric can change depending on the fabrics it is compared with.

Walking Foot: A presser foot attachment (built in on some machines),that evenly feeds the top and bottom layers at the same rate. Used for straight line quilting the “Quilt Sandwich”.

WOF: Width of fabric from selvage to selvage. Most strips are cut WOF.

Wrong Side: The “back” side of the fabric, the opposite side of a distinctly printed fabric.

Yardage: The amount of fabric required to complete a project.

Choosing Fabric

Choosing fabrics for a new quilt can seem like a daunting task, however, there are a few simple ‘rules’ that can take your quilts to the next level.

First, think of fabric choice in the same way in which you think of an outfit. Choose one fabric as the focus and then choose ‘accent fabric’ which will enhance or compliment your initial choice. By choosing one main focus you will not have competing fabrics. Once you have your focus piece you can better design the rest of the “outfit”. Try not to stress about every fabric choice individually, as it is the sum of the parts that creates a beautiful quilt. Remember to always take a few steps back (literally) and look at your choices. Fabrics at close range can be overwhelming, choose fabrics that you like together, then stand back and take them all in as a whole (bare in mind the final product of your quilt, is it a wall hanging? what type of lighting? The more you know about your finished product the better you will be able to choose the fabrics).

Two of the main focus areas when choosing fabric should be VALUE and SCALE. Think of value in terms of where the fabric colour would fall on a line of white to black, therefore you want a variety of light, medium and dark, as for scale you also want a variety of large, medium and small.

Fabric ScaleScale seems to be an easier concept for people to grasp, think of scale as the texture of a fabric. Texture, whether tactile or implied in design, is always welcome in any quilt, however, too much is overwhelming and too little leaves something to be desired. Start by choosing fabrics and prints that you like, then divide them into small, medium and large scale print, from here you will be able to better decide which prints work together and which prints take away from one another. Try not to be too “matchy” with your textures, as our eyes are often drawn to the unexpected. Moreover, if all you choose is large floral prints, even if the colours are different our eye will draw parallels in scale and much of the quilt techniques will be lost in the design of the fabrics, rather try to offset large print with solid colours, different textures or small and subtle print designs.

Value is often harder to wrap ones head around. Value is what makes a quilt ‘pop’ though colour is often how it gets described. Try to imagine that you’re looking at your fabric through a black and white lends and everything in grayscale (or better yet grab your camera, or camera phone and snap a black and white photo of your fabric), how close to white or black is your fabric? Now try to find a range of “grays” to make your quilt pop!



Now let’s think of your colour wheel. The colour wheel can be an excellent way to establish your fabric choices. The colour wheel divides all colour into 12 “pure” colours, which are distributed in the same order around a wheel. This wheel can provide a great background for your fabric choices. The colour wheel can seem a little complicated at first, but it is actually quite straight forward. The following are the basic principles to remember:


Primary Colors: Red, yellow and blue
In traditional color theory (used in paint and pigments), primary colors are the 3 pigment colors that can not be mixed or formed by combination of other colors. All other colors are derived from these 3 hues.



Secondary Colors: Green, orange and purple: These are the colors formed by mixing the primary colors.



Tertiary Colors: Yellow-orange, red-orange, red-purple, blue-purple, blue-green & yellow-green
These are the colors formed by mixing a primary and a secondary color. That’s why the hue is a two word name, such as blue-green, red-violet, and yellow-orange.

ctheory_leafAnalogous colors are any three colors which are side by side on a 12 part color wheel, such as yellow-green, yellow, and yellow-orange. Usually one of the three colors predominates. To spark an analogous quilt, use an accent color which is directly across the color wheel from the center analogous color. For example, yellow, orange and blue-violet.

ctheory_orchidComplementary colors are any two colors which are directly opposite each other, such as red and green and red-purple and yellow-green. In the illustration above, there are several variations of yellow-green in the leaves and several variations of red-purple in the orchid. These opposing colors create maximum contrast.


The colour wheel can also be divided into warm and cool colours. cool-warm

Warm colors are bright, passionate and energetic, and tend to be eye-popping colors. Warm colors include: red, orange, and yellow, and variations of those three colors.

Cool colors give an impression of calm, and create a soothing impression. Cool colors include: violet, blue, and green.

Again the warm or coolness of a print or colour is only something to keep in mind when choosing the overall feel of a piece, like all other aspects of colour, there are not hard fast rules and colour is meant to be played with! Have fun with it and happy quilting!


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