Quilting Basics – Part I – Getting Started

Quilting Basics – Part I – Getting Started

Quilting Basics – Part 1

Quilting Basics – Part 2

Quilting Basics – Part 3

Quilting Basics – Part 4

Probably the question I get asked MOST is… how do you get your stitches so even. My glib response is usually… years of experience. Although that is true, there are tricks I've learned along the way that helped my skills improve.

Quilting is all about stitches. By definition, quilting is sewing 2 or more layers of fabric together, usually with some layer of batting in the center for warmth or to give the stitching depth. Whether you are quilting a patch to a ripped pant knee or sewing a large quilt, the techniques are the same. If this is your first go at quilting, I do recommend you start with a small, manageable projects. Bulk equals additional complexities.

So, today, we are going to make a practice piece. When you are done, you may decide to incorporate it into something else, but this project is all about process. We will be creating a free form design, then learning the basics of quilting.

solid fabric – use a light weight cotton or flannel (fabric should be washable in order to remove the tracing paper design)
light weight cotton batting – DO NOT use the "fluffy" type of battings
contrasting quilting thread or cotton floss (I used a fun variegated floss)
small chunk beeswax
copy of pattern or blank 8 1/2" x 8 1/2" piece of paper
safety pins and/or stapler
tracing paper and tracing wheel (the type with a "teethed" wheel, not a "smooth" wheel)

To get started we need a design. Remember in early elementary school when you were asked to draw a meandering line, never lifting pencil lead from paper, eventually ending at the beginning? Lovely little enclosed shapes were created as we crisscrossed over lines. Then we were instructed to color in all those odd little shapes creating a stained glass look. I always LOVED this project.

Now, you can either make a copy of a design I created, or let the spirit move you and draw your own. NOTE… you will be quilting all the lines you draw, so don't make the design overly complicated!  Also, keep your design at least 1" away from all sides.

Cut out your fabric and batting. Cut 2 – 8 1/2" x 8 1/2" squares of fabric for the top and backing, and cut 1 square batting the same size.

Take your top fabric and lay it on a hard surface with right side up. Lay a piece of tracing paper on top of it, with the wax side against the fabric.

Place your pattern on top and pin through all three layers. Now, taking your tracing wheel, trace the entire design. Press firmly and try to trace the design without lifting the tracing wheel. (If your pressure remains steady, you can actually turn the pattern with one hand while tracing your design with the other.) The wheel will create little holes in the pattern. If you do need to stop, carefully realign, trying to line up a tooth on the wheel in a hole it already created. (NOTE: Before tracing on your fabric, you might want to try tracing onto a piece of paper to get a feel for the amount of pressure you need to leave a good design.)

When you are done tracing, remove the pattern and the tracing paper. Your design should be easily visible if you applied enough pressure when tracing.

Now, sandwich your fabric together beginning with the wrong side of the backing up, followed by the batting, then the top with the design visible.

Pin the three pieces together. You can use straight pins. Not my favorite since they poke and catch your thread. I prefer safety pins. HINT AND CAUTION: you can use a stapler on some fabrics. Do not use on delicate fabrics or fabrics that snag easily. Staples are blunt ended, whether as pins have sharp points. A stapler can cut the fabric instead of moving the threads out of the way when going in. Always experiment on a scrap piece of fabric to make sure the staples do not damage the fabric when they are removed. The benefit of using a staple is there is nothing on the surface for the thread to get caught on. Of course, you can only use a stapler on small projects.

When quilting, you should use quilting thread, which is a thread heavier than regular sewing machine thread, but not as heavy as rug thread. You want a slightly heavier thread because it will hold up better and if you need to give a slight tug, the thread won't break. Plus, quilting is both a functional and decorative stitch. The heavier thread is more visible. You can also use cotton floss. If using a 6 ply floss, use 2 ply. Work with thread about 18" long.

Before threading your needle, slide your thread through the edge of a piece of beeswax. This serves a couple purposes. It strengthens the thread and helps prevent it from tangling. I ALWAYS wax my quilting threads, mainly because it really helps stop the thread from getting tangled, which can be so frustrating!  

Next time… stitching your piece.

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  1. Argh! This summer my grandma passed and since my mom doesn’t craft at all, I was given the task of going through my grandma’s sewing room and take, share or chuck everything in it. I was on this total reduce clutter thing. A VERY BAD TIME to have gone through my grandma’s stuff. As the weeks passed, I started regretting how much of her things I gave away. If I didn’t know what it was, and couldn’t see an immediate use for it, I boxed it up. I KNOW there was a tracing wheel and tracing paper that I got rid of. Just couldn’t thing of a use for them. Add one more thing to my “wish I hadn’t thrown it out” list. I guess I’m not a reduce clutter kind of person!

    I’m going to assume the wheel is used not only to transfer the design but also as a guide for sewing? Off to pick up a tracing wheel and tracing paper 😉

    1. both are fairly inexpensive and be be found in almost any chain craft store or on their online sites, and if you don’t want to go that route, at any small craft store too.

      1. some very useful ideas thanks

        1. enjoyed this part 1. never seen this before.. will check out the rest..i am a beginner and love quilting so far.. thanks for the site..

  2. I have found that a dryer sheet works well for keeping thread detangled as well. (although I LOVE the smell of beeswax much more than dryer sheet)

    1. Hmmm… never would have thought of that. We don’t use dryer sheets but for anyone that does, it might be worth a try. Thanks for the suggestion 🙂

  3. I haven’t done hand quilting yet, but I’ll remember to pull out my beeswax block for then. I don’t use my beeswax much though. Here are a couple of tips if you don’t have beeswax:

    With cotton from a spool in particular, is that you always thread the end that comes off the spool first (not the end you cut). So that I don’t mix this up, I usually thread my needle, then cut my length.

    If you’re using embroidery thread, I similarly find the “right” end to start (the side that will allow you to pull a length without tangling generally) and always thread my needle onto the first end. Before you thread your needle though, you’ll also want to “relax” the threads by taking each of the strands and separating them. If you are only using 2 or 3 strands (ie for embroidery) I try to keep the threads laid so I remember which end was the “right” end to thread to the needle.

    1. Thanks so much for sharing this tip. Someone told me about this years ago and I totally forgot about it. Great idea to thread your needle first, because when the thread is off the spool, it is impossible to tell. Just took a quick peek at your blog. Some fun things going on there 🙂

  4. I’m So in love with 505 Basting spray I used this for the first time on my last big project. It was all hand appliqued and I was afraid to machine quilt it. So I Hand stitched for 3 weeks 🙂 I used 505 and it really did a great job holding it together so I could get it on the frame. Used it for 3 small projects since and I’m still in love with it.

    I was told it dissipates after 2 days but it held for more like 7 days… Which was a bonus.

    1. I have never used 505 Basting Spray, but after your high praise it sounds like it is worth a try. Just curious… have you used it with felt does it ever "gum up" your needle? Thanks so much for sharing 🙂

      1. I’ve used 505 a lot, especially for large quilts. It works wonderfully and if you don’t overspray (which isn’t necessary) and if you wait til the next day to start sewing the needles go through fine. I’ve quilted the same day and it’s fine, too, but I think it was recommended to me to wait til the next day. I’ve used other basting sprays and they don’t work well at all and gum up needles.

        1. Thanks so much for the additional info. Definitely going on my shopping list 🙂 Thanks!

      2. I use 505 all the time and machine quilt with it frequently. It does not cause any problem except that I do notice a little residue at the top middle portion of the needle that I frequently remove. Otherwise it works wonderfully. I also have a habit of pinning as well just to be on the safe side.

    1. They were done a long time ago. I just added links to parts 1, 2 and 3 so you can easily go on to the next part. Hope you find them helpful.

  5. Nice tutorial about how to quilt. I like your meandering art school line idea & also the stapler idea. I never thought about using a stapler. Interesting. Have a super day!

  6. Since many months i wonder how to start quilting but with your tutorial everything is easy in this topic. Great work! 🙂



    1. Thank you so much for taking the time to share your thoughts. We love to hear that the work we do on WFA helps others. Keep us posted on your successes! ((hugs)) ~Kimara~


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