Most quilting these days is done from a printed pattern rather than simply sewing together scraps as was done in the old days. Quilting really was a way to use every last little piece of old clothing, grain sacks, anything cloth that was around the house and could provide warmth in the winter.
Those old quilts are beautiful in their way, but now that fashion fabrics and beautiful prints are widely available and not very expensive, quilters can buy fabric with a particular pattern in mind and create stunning works of art. If you've never quilted with a pattern before, here are some tips.
Choosing a Quilting Pattern
If you've never quilted at all before, check out Beginner Quilting for some basic quilts without a pattern that you can try. If you're ready to graduate from basic squares, read on.
The easiest patterns in terms of cutting, piecing and having the pattern come out the way it is supposed to are those that are composed of all straight lines. Squares and half-squares (triangles) provide a lot of variety without the difficulty of piecing curves.
Working with strips, as in a Log Cabin quilt, is also pretty simple because you can cut the strips using a rotary cutter for extra accuracy. Of course, you can also cut triangles and squares using this great tool that looks like a pizza cutter and, with the help of a plastic ruler, lets you make accurate cuts in more than one piece of fabric at a time. (Using a cutter requires some skill as well, so you might want to practice on one piece of fabric before stacking to cut.)
As you become more comfortable with straight stitching, you can move on to more complex patterns. Quilts with curves and quilts with smaller pieces (meaning it takes more of them to fill up the same space) are more difficult than those with large, straight surfaces.
And when you are a quilting expert, you can create your own (or find patterns for) mosaic patterns, landscapes, even portraits sewn in fabric.
Finding Quilting Patterns
There are many wonderful resources for patterns, from books and magazines to websites. Here are some places to look for quilting patterns, no matter what your skill level.
- Free Quilt Patterns has links to nearly 900 pages with quilting patterns on them. What's available on each site, from round robin patterns to blocks, small projects to redwork to mystery blocks, is explained on the page so you don't have to click on a lot of links that don't have what you're looking for.
- Free Quilt has patterns arranged by motif, from baby quilts to cats and dogs, novelty quilts to Christmas quilts. Again these are largely links to other sites but they are well organized so you can find what you are looking for quickly.
- Quilters Cache has nearly 50 pages of quilt blocks and patterns, which can be browsed by page number or through an alphabetical list. Another great feature is that you can search for blocks by size. If you're planning a miniature quilt, find one inch blocks. Or if your tastes are bigger, there are many patterns with up to 24-inch blocks.
Using a Quilting Pattern
Many of the patterns you will find online or in books require repeating a block over and over to make a full quilt. If your pattern only tells you how much fabric you need to make one block, you'll have to do a little math to figure out, first, how many blocks you need to make a quilt the size you want and second, how much of each type of fabric that will require. If you're not comfortable with math, find a pattern that explains how much fabric is needed for the whole quilt. Buy as much fabric as you need, as well as thread to match (if using multiple colors, go with a thread that matches the main color used). Wash all the fabric together to make sure none of it bleeds on the other pieces (since they are all going to be in one quilt, they need to all play well together). Press your fabric and prepare for cutting according to the pattern's directions.
Many patterns available today make use of rotary cutting because it's so much faster than cutting out every single piece by hand. If you're not comfortable using a rotary cutter or simply don't have one, you can use fabric scissors to cut out each individual piece in the same way described. It will take a lot longer but you'll still have all the right pieces at the end.
Read and follow the directions carefully. If the pattern suggests that you piece the parts of a block in a certain way, there's probably a reason for it. Before choosing a pattern, read it and make sure you understand everything that you are going to need to do to make your quilt. If you need to learn more before working on that project, try something easier or ask for help at your local sewing store.
Remember that other quilters will be happy to help you if you have problems or need advice. So don't be afraid to try something new and have fun working with the many wonderful quilting patterns that are out there.