Free sewing course from scratch (3): Fabric!


You’ve finally decided to learn how to sew, where before you thought it was an impossible task on top of everything else you have to do throughout your days. You’ve begun prioritizing and you know you’ll find the time to do it, well done. If your best friend wants to join in, you can turn it into a quilting bee, an evening with a friend, chatting away while sewing.

But now you can’t wait to start the basic sewing lessons, because you want to create your very own first cherished, heirloom quilt, one that will warm your heart, once finished. So you are eager to have the necessary fabric in your cupboard and want to be ready for that part of the lessons, where we start making a quilt. I did promise to give you already a slight hint of what you’ll need, so here we go.

The quilt project we’re going to start (once you learned the basic use of your machine, sewing first steps) is ideal to use up scrap fabric, making it a cheap, first sewing project. Let’s be honest, when you start sewing, you won’t have stacks of different fabrics to choose from. The shops will lure you and you will be drawn like bees to honey, towards all the lovely fabrics. You’ll spend too much! You’ll even find cute “made by” labels, to sign your quilt. I’ll show you other ways and then it is up to you to decide what you choose.

I would seriously advice you to ask around, most people have loads of fabric, leftover scraps of material, or favourite clothes from days gone by, just lying around waiting for you to do something with it. Go for colours and patterns you like, gather them together. Choosing the right colours is crucial, it is your quilt and has to be to your liking! The Amish have done it for years and continue to do it today, using old clothing, to create their keepsake quilts.

The main picture shows you the different fabrics (some leftovers, some new ones, all non ironed or prewashed), my daughter in law gave me, to work with and combine in the quilt for my granddaughter. Obviously, the heart shaped pattern fabric will have to become the quilt backing (it’s the biggest piece). This picture shows you her simple quick drawing (how she wants or views the scheme of the quilt) and some of the picture ideas (from the internet), she wants to be incorporated in the quilt. Remember you can choose your own pictures, go for simple characters. Before I can ever start, there will be a lot more work and planning to do and decisions to be made! This is her rough idea of what she wants, certainly not a basic plan for a quilt.


Remember a quilt resembles a sandwich, having a top (decorated part), a back (quilt backing) and a filler/ batting/ wadding (the fluffy material that adds warmth to your quilt) in the middle. The fillers are sold in different “lofts” (thickness). You can also just use a fleece as filling. Searching online you’ll drown in all the technical terms of quilting and certainly in the, for beginners, often complicated ways you are told to calculate how much fabric you’ll need. Words as lattice, shashing, borders or corner squares will sound weird and wonderful for a beginner.

All you need to understand is that “borders” outline the whole quilt, lattice or sashing means the fabric frame around each quilt block, corner squares are the squares where the lattices meet. My daughter in law didn’t draw the corner squares!

Sewing things together means you need to have seams, so you will have to count in seam allowance. To avoid fabric waste, most instructions will tell you to use only 0,5cm, for a beginner take 1cm, don’t make it too difficult on yourself! Don’t bother too much about fabric waste for this first quilt, just try to make one!

Of course we have to know the following:

What is the size of the finished quilt? (important for the back fabric and batting purchase)

How many blocks are there in our quilt?

How wide are the lattices?

What is the size of the corner squares?

How wide is the border?

I’ll guide you, step by step, through these questions, when we’re ready to start and will give you enough time to find your fabric. In the mean time, I want you to gather fabrics from your cupboards, from friends, think which colours would go well together or which ones you’d like to use or not!

Which favourite piece of your gran’s, child’s clothing etc. would you like to integrate in your very own quilt, just to make it that tiny bit more special?

The second thing I want you to do, if you have or get new fabric is to pre-wash and iron the fabric. Fabrics are often treated with chemicals (formaldehyde) to limit insect damage, fabrics can shrink or bleed (vintage fabrics often do)! Wouldn’t it be heartbreaking that during the sewing, you turn out to be allergic to the chemicals used in the fabric or once your quilt is finished, you ruin the quilt by washing it and seeing parts of it shrink, where other parts don’t, or see colours bleeding all through your work? Prewash the whole fabric and allow for shrinkage, using a cold water program (or low heat), baby shampoo as washing product and add vinegar instead of washing softener (will keep the colours). Then iron it all, it’ll be easier to cut afterwards!

Still fearful? Well it might be nice to know (although it is considered by some a myth) that the Amish, known for making the most simple, but exquisite, quilts in the world, put a mistake, or some fabric that doesn’t quite match, in every quilt they make, to give it identity. To be honest, you don’t have to plan them, they come quite naturally, they creep into everybody’s quilts, no matter what people claim, but I do like the thought! Anyway check any quilt, you’ll see that the small stitches will never all be identical, uniform or perfect.

Our project will be a simple one, once you get the hang of it, we’ll continue later with a more difficult project and then you could get used to calculating exactly the fabric you need and go ahead shopping then!

So, go on a fabric treasure hunt, do the prewashing and ironing and patiently wait till 2015 starts, basic sewing lessons first of course!

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