Quilting in America began as a matter of economics and necessity in the homes of the poor and the slave quarters of the deep South. Innovative women developed long-standing techniques that have been passed down through families and cultures for hundreds of years. Early Americans made use of whatever scraps they had at hand to craft warm quilts for their families, including discarded grain and feed sacks, clothing beyond normal repair and old horse blankets. The techniques developed by those groundbreaking quilters still prove invaluable today.
Wash all the quilt fabric, top and backing, to avoid shrinkage during future laundering. This will eliminate any commercially applied chemicals or fabric treatments. Dry the fabrics by air or in a dryer, then iron them on as high a heat as is appropriate to remove all wrinkles. Quilt batting does not have to be pre-washed or dried before use. Lay out the prepared fabric on a large, flat surface for cutting.
Precision cutting is half the battle in putting together a professional, eye-catching quilt that lies flat and smooth. Tools include a quilter's square or straight-edged metal ruler, a ruled cutting mat, an iron and a sharp rotary fabric cutter. Trim a straight edge on the fabric using the mat and ruler as guides before measuring and cutting quilt pieces. Hold the rotary cutter firmly on the fabric if moving the ruler or square is necessary to keep edges sharp and straight. Cut with the grain and add a 1/2-inch seam allowance to the measurement of each piece. Press each square, triangle or strip after cutting.
Piecing together a quilt involves sewing squares, triangles or strips of fabric together so the finished quilt results in an eye-pleasing pattern, particularly when contrasting fabrics are used. While some quilters prefer to hand-piece fabric squares together, machine quilting is faster and just as accurate. Always press the seams open or to one side using firm, even pressure after each piece addition to keep the fabric smooth and squared.
The actual quilting process is the next step. Techniques can include stitching a simple geometric pattern through all the quilt layers, using a printed pattern, or creating a freehand design. Transfer patterns onto fabric using a water-soluble marker or tailor's chalk. Choose an invisible sewing thread or one that matches the backing fabric, and baste or pin the quilt layers together. Quilting out from the center will help keep the quilted layers smooth.
Binding or finishing a quilt entails trimming all the raw edges evenly and covering them with a matching or contrasting fabric. While commercially produced bindings are available, seasoned quilters create bindings from scraps or measured lengths of fabric. A self-binding quilt is made by using a larger piece of backing fabric, then folding and stitching it onto the quilt. Corners can be mitered or squared according to taste, with the fabric strips cut either on the bias or on the grain.
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