A favorite quilt can bring its owner comfort, warmth and security. It can be an heirloom that is passed down to future generations, reminding a family of their history. I am a self-taught quilter who has been quilting for the last 15 years. As a member of the Quiltsy Team here on Etsy, I participated in quilting the giant quilts for Etsy’s new office.
In this quilting installment for the Facts and Fancies series, I’ll give you some insight into the different materials used in quilts and the varying styles and techniques of quilts.
Before we start, Webster Mirriam’s dictionary defines a quilt as “a bed coverlet of two layers of cloth filled with padding (batting) held in place by ties or stitched designs.” While this holds true for most, not all techniques considered quilting fit this definition, and I will introduce you to those, too.
A baby quilt by theloveliestbloom
Size: Measure It Out
It is important to know your sizes when buying a quilt for a bed. Before purchasing a quilt, you should take the mattress size of your bed and measure all around the bed for the amount of overhang you would prefer and add those measurements to the mattress size to get the quilt size you need. You can find the standard dimensions for mattresses here.
Photo by Leslie from curlycrafter
Fabric: Color, Pattern, and Combination
“I am inspired by fabric; a new line of fabrics is like a flower garden in full bloom, choosing the right combination to make the perfect bouquet.” — Carlene Westburg of quiltville
Most quilters like to use 100% cotton quilting fabrics. There are different grades of fabric in the manufacturing process. Normally, a mill will run tests on new designs to test for colors. This fabric is often sold to discount stores at a lesser price. Keep in mind that this test fabric often has a lower thread count and will shrink more and the colors may bleed and/or fade due to this. Most quilt shops sell the better grade with higher thread count. This fabric is more expensive, averaging about $9/yard in the U.S., but if taken care of properly, it can last for centuries and is well worth the investment.
Recycled materials are increasing in popularity with the push towards more environmentally friendly products, though upcycled quilts have been, for quite some time, a traditionally thrifty way to make do with fabric scraps.
MamakaMills‘ quilt made from repurposed men’s shirts
Photo by Ashlawnfarms, who sells batting supplies
Batting: Know Your Quilt Inside Out
There are many types of batting available for the middle of a quilt. These varieties help define the form and the feel of a quilt. I’ll lay out some of the pros and cons to consider for your particular needs.
Cotton is the most popular. It is soft, washable, breathable, cool, comfortable and relatively affordable. It does shrink and will give you a puckered, vintage look when washed and dried in a machine.
Cotton/Polyester is loftier than cotton and shrinks less. It is also more stable than and has the breathability of cotton.
Polyester is lightweight and puffy. This is the batting to use if you like a sleek and modern look. It is the least expensive, non-allergenic and non-shrinking. The down-side is that it doesn’t breathe and has the most impact on our environment due to chemicals.
Wool is more expensive, and it is light and fluffy and naturally flame-retardant. Some of the negatives are allergies and moths. If it is not hand washed and laid flat to dry, it will felt.
Bamboo is the most recent addition to the batting industry. It is more expensive, but it has the breathability of cotton and is machine washable. It also has less impact on our environment because bamboo does not need chemicals to grow.
Photo by sarahsquiltsncrafts
An Investment of Time and Materials
Have you ever wondered why quilts are priced as they are and why their prices can vary widely? An obvious pricing variable would be the grade of materials used in a quilt, but let us consider the amount of materials needed and the hours of labor performed. A baby/toddler quilt uses approximately 4-5 yards of fabric for a 45”x60” quilt. A king-size quilt uses approximately 14-16 yards of fabric. Multiply that by the price per yard and add the cost of other supplies needed, such as batting and thread and you have a figure for supplies only. There is no standard for hours of labor in a quilt, as it varies greatly depending on the quilter. Some smaller quilts with very basic patterns may take 5 -10 hours to make, while more detailed and larger quilts can take hundreds of hours!
Styles and Techniques
There are so many types of quilts you can find on Etsy. Here are some of the techniques you’ll see referred to as you browse Etsy’s Quilt Category — don’t hesitate to explore the experiments going on in today’s quilting world as well as the time-honored traditions!
Handstitching photo by Lucy, more on her lovely blog Quilting with the Past
A hand quilted quilt is just as the name implies. No machine is used and the quilter stitches the three layers together, by hand, using a running stitch. A machine quilted quilt is quilted on a standard sewing machine or a commercial grade quilting machine, which can accommodate larger quilts with easier maneuverability and can be finished in less time. The other option is to tie the quilt. The quilter uses embroidery floss, yarn or another type of string to tack the three layers together in a grid using a knot.
Photo by Sue from andrusgardensart
An appliquéd quilt, such as this Tree quilt by allthenumbers, uses the process of sewing one or more smaller pieces of fabric onto a larger background. This appliqué can be accomplished by hand or machine using various decorative stitches.
A crazy quilt is made of irregular scrap pieces or blocks of irregular scrap pieces, and these are often embellished with embroidery stitches and do not usually have a layer of batting. They may consist of different types of fabric, such as cotton, velvet, satin, etc. Check out this Cat crazy quilt by clubaloha.
A quilted fabric postcard can be mailed using one self-adhesive first class stamp. They have a top layer, a filling and a back, just like a quilt. The minimum card and letter size for US Postal Service mailings is 3 ½” x 5”. Most quilted fabric postcards measure 4” x 6”.
In an art quilt, the artist applies art principles — and sometimes art experience from other areas, like drawing, painting and photography. These often include different textures of fabric and stitching, as in bbusbyarts‘s Urchin II quilt, made with iridescent silk dupioni. The quilter often intends for you to hang the piece on your wall, as you would a painting or other decorative art.
A rag quilt is usually comprised of flannel or homespun material with raw edges of seam allowances that are exposed and then cut to form a soft fringe. roryunraveled, who made the twin rag quilts below, told me that “Rag quilts (the way I make them) are reversible — no official ‘front’ or ‘back’ like traditional quilts. Choose to display the clean, finished side folded at the end of your bed or snuggle with the comfy, raggy side while reading a book — whatever you’re in the mood for at that moment. And babies just can’t get enough of those frayed, fringy edges.”
A patchwork quilt is made by sewing patches of different fabrics together, usually in a pattern or formation.
Patchwork quilt by Quiltville
A cathedral windows quilt has this distinctive look you see in my pillow cover at right. This technique has no batting and rarely a backing, but has been considered a favorite type of quilt by many quilters. I love making cathedral window projects because of the origami-like technique, the stained glass window effect (especially when done with batiks), and the portablilty of the project — due to the large amount of hand sewing required.
Covering It All
Whether you are searching on Etsy for a quilt that reminds you of nights spent at Grandma’s house, as a child, or something a bit more modern and artistic, I hope that you have gained the knowledge you need to find the perfect quilt for you.
Here’s one happy customer:
This photo shows Daniel “relaxing in his nice tidy room, with our lovely new Sky Parlour Quilt from skyparlourquilts! We chose fabrics that matched all our bedding, and they’ve tied together beautifully. Even the stitching is all hand-guided, in a matching heraldic pattern, PLUS it’s in the prettiest graduated thread that is pink, orange and purple. Love!”
Tell us your quilt stories in the comments below!