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How-Tuesday: Finish a Vintage Quilt Top

Mar 12, 2013

by Julie Schneider handmade and vintage goods

Maybe you have been eyeing some vintage quilt tops on Etsy, or have an unfinished quilt top languishing in your closet. In celebration of National Quilting Month, we have invited Alexia Abegg, author of Liberty Love: 25 Projects to Quilt and Sew and co-owner of Green Bee Patterns, to share a tutorial on how to finish a quilt top, leaving you with a fine heirloom quilt.

Hello! My name is Alexia Marcelle Abegg. Today, I want to share with you a simple method for finishing a completed quilt top. You can piece your own top, or, if you love vintage quilts like I do, you can buy a vintage quilt top from your favorite vintage seller on Etsy. If you start with a vintage or antique top, be sure it is in good condition, free of any rips or holes, and is made from washable cotton fabrics.

Let’s get started finishing a quilt!

You Will Need:

Quilt Backing Fabric – Measure your quilt top to determine how much backing fabric you will need. If your quilt is less than 84″ wide, you will need twice the length of the quilt top from 42″ wide fabric. If your quilt is 85″ or wider, you will need three times the length of the quilt top from 42″ wide fabric. (Quilting fabric generally comes in 44/45″ width, but only about 42″ is usable width so I base this calculation on that amount.) Pre-wash your backing fabric.
Quilt Batting – Measure your quilt top and purchase enough batting to give you at least 3″ overhang at each side of the quilt. My favorite batting is Warm and Natural cotton.
• Masking Tape – to hold the layers of the quilt to the floor while you baste.
Straight Pins
Scissors and/or Rotary Cutter and Mat
Binding Fabric – You will need to cut 2″ wide by the 42″ width of fabric strips to make binding. To determine your yardage requirement, measure all sides of the quilt and add them together (X), divide that number by 42 = (Y), multiply Y by 2. Divide Y by 36. This is how many inches of yardage you will need. Round up to the nearest increment of a yard (yardage is usually sold in eighth yard increments, with the minimum being 1/4 yard).

Basting Supplies:
200+ safety pins, depending on the size of your quilt. I recommend a box of 500 — that has worked on every quilt I’ve ever made, up to a large queen size.

Quilting Supplies:
All-purpose sewing thread in a color to match your quilt. I usually purchase 500 yards for a queen size, 400 for a twin, or 300 for a small baby quilt. If you want to be safe, purchase 500yds.
A free motion, darning, or embroidery foot for your sewing machine and your machine’s manual to instruct you on how to set your particular machine.


1. Gather up your supplies.

2. Iron quilt top, backing fabric, and batting.

3. Prepare the Backing Fabric. Cut backing fabric into the lengths required by your quilt top. My vintage quilt top required two lengths (shown here). Pin and sew the two lengths of fabric together along the long sides using a 5/8″ seam allowance. The seam needs to be large enough to sew the entire printed selvage into the seam without any of the white selvage edge showing on the right side of the seam after it has been sewn. If 5/8″ is not enough, increase your seam allowance to catch the selvage in the seam.

Trim the seam down to approximately 1/4″. This will help the seam be flat and less noticeable, and will prevent the selvage from shrinking in the wash. Press the seam open.

4. Basting the Quilt Layers
Tip: When basting a large quilt, a partner is helpful.

Lay the prepared backing fabric wrong side up on a smooth surface, such as a hardwood floor, and tape the backing down around the edges every 6 to 8 inches. Lay the quilt batting on top of the backing fabric and smooth the batting. Safety pin the three layers of the quilt together using your safety pins. Pin in a 5″ grid over the entire quilt top.

5. Quilting the Quilt. I like to wind 5-6 bobbins before I begin so that I don’t have to stop and wind bobbins while I am quilting. Set your machine, according to the manufacturer’s instructions, for free motion and attach the free motion foot. Thread the machine with all-purpose thread. Place the quilt under the needle and unroll the edge until you have the center of the quilt under the needle. Keeping the roll to the right of the needle will help the quilt fit under the arm of your sewing machine.

Move the quilt around as you sew, keeping your stitch length even by how fast or slow you move the quilt. Create loops, squiggles, box shapes, zigzags … the possibilities are endless. Fill the entire quilt with your stitching, moving from one section to the next, continuously stitching. Check your batting instructions by the manufacturer to see how close or far apart your stitching can be and still hold the batting together. (For free-motion quilting inspiration, check out some of the resources at the end of this post.)

6. Prepare your Quilt for Binding. Set your machine for straight stitching.

Trim the excess backing and batting with scissors or a rotary cutter, ruler and mat. If your quilt is slightly irregular at the edges, you can either cut with scissors and allow the edges to be irregular (as I have done on this quilt) or you can cut with the rotary cutter, using the ruler to square up the corners of the quilt top. I personally like the personality and charm that comes with flaws like this.

Cut your binding fabric into 2″ strips, cutting across the width of the fabric (from selvage to selvage).
Place one strip onto another fabric strip end to end, with the printed side of the fabrics facing each other, at a 90° angle. Mark a line from corner to corner 45° from the cut edge of the fabric strip. Pin the strips together and stitch on the marked line. Repeat, joining strips end to end, to make continuous binding. Trim the seams down to about 1/4″ and press the seams open. Fold the binding in half, wrong sides of the fabric touching each other, all the way down the entire length of the strip and iron.

7. Bind Your Quilt. Leaving about 10″ of binding free, begin sewing the binding to the front of the quilt with the raw edges of the binding aligned with the raw, outside edges of the quilt, using a 1/4″ seam allowance. Start sewing the binding on about 20″ from a corner of the quilt.

When you reach a corner, stop sewing 1/4″ from the corner and backstitch. Remove the quilt from the machine. Fold the binding up and away from the quilt at a 45° angle as shown in photo #4 (sew binding to quilt).

Fold the binding back down towards the quilt, aligning the fold with uppermost edge of the quilt as shown in photo #1 (miter corners) and align the raw edges of the unstitched binding to the raw edges of the quilt. Pin in place.

Begin sewing again 1/4″ from the corner of the quilt, backstitch, and sew the binding to the entire quilt edge, mitering at each corner.

Stop sewing when you reach 10″ from the start of your binding stitching. Overlap the ends of the binding by 2.5″ and trim. It is ideal if the the overlap is centered in the section of the quilt’s edge where the binding has not yet been sewn to the quilt.

Unfold the ends of the binding and place them with the printed sides of the binding facing each other, letting 1/4″ of the binding extend over each of the cut ends. Be sure the binding is not twisted before pinning the ends together.

Mark a stitching line just like you did when joining the strips together before stitching them to the quilt. Sew the ends together on the marked line. Trim the seam allowances down to approximately 1/4″ and press the seam open.

Fold the binding back together with the wrong sides facing each other and sew the remaining seam of the binding and quilt.

Wrap the binding around to the back of the quilt and hand sew the binding to the quilt back. At each corner, first fold one side, allowing the corner of the binding to create a little 45° angle, then fold the other side over, also allowing it to create a small 45° angle. This will give you mitered corners. Hand sew the entire binding down to the quilt back.

Congratulations! You now have a finished quilt. You can wash it if you prefer, and let it air dry or dry in the dryer on low heat. Snuggle up and enjoy!

For some additional inspiration, check out these sites:
Monkey Do
Lucy and Norman
Oh Fransson
Red Pepper Quilt
Sometimes Crafter

If you finish your own quilt top, share a photo with us in the Etsy Labs Flickr group. A big thank you to Alexia Abegg from Green Bee Patterns for sharing this project with us. For more sewing ideas, check out her new book, Liberty Love, available from Amazon or your local independent bookstore or right here on Etsy.

More Things to Make | Quilts | Craft Supplies on Etsy


  • sandrostumpo

    Sandro Stumpo from GalleryDiModa said 7 years ago


  • LivingVintage

    LivingVintage from LivingVintage said 7 years ago

    Awesome! Love your Liberty book too.

  • AlisaDesign

    Alisa from AlisaDesign said 7 years ago

    Awesome patterns!

  • VintageMarketPlace

    VintageMarketPlace from VintageMarketPlace said 7 years ago

    ooh I took a finishing class years ago at a quilt shop and it was the best thing ever. Great to know how to do this. Amy

  • mkasonen

    Merle Kasonen from Mekadorn said 7 years ago

    It reminds me my childhood, the sawing machine sound late at night… My mother still makes the most wonderful ones. Sadly I can not :)

  • valeriephoto

    Valerie from valeriestitchery said 7 years ago

    Wow! Thanks for the step by step. The finished product looks great!

  • MegansMenagerie

    Megan from MegansMenagerie said 7 years ago

    Great pattern! It's beautiful!!!

  • mattyhandmadecrafts

    Matejka Max from NattyMatty said 7 years ago


  • ThreeBarDGifts

    Monica from ThreeBarDGifts said 7 years ago

    I love to quilt! I have two tops ready for quilting and I have another one that I'm piecing! I have always hand quilted my quilts but someday I'd like to learn to use my machine for quilting.

  • MayAvenue

    Margaret Kelly from MayAvenue said 7 years ago

    I've actually wanted to make a quilt recently but been a bit intimidated of the idea. This step by step with photos is super helpful! I love your little dots quilt pattern, it's lovely!

  • btaylorquilts

    Briana Taylor from btaylorquilts said 7 years ago

    nicely done! Great instructions and fun to look at. I still have an old top from a friend of the family who passed away a few years ago, which she never finished. I'm so busy making new quilts though!! Maybe this will give me the inspiration to finally do it!

  • WhisperingOak

    Quality Handmade Items from WhisperingOak said 7 years ago

    Well written instructions and the pictures along with it are very helpful. I just enjoy making quilts and make wall hangings for the different areas of the house. I change them with the seasons to make my year happy and all seasons unique.

  • CharmingShopLove

    Marissa Howes from CharmingShopLove said 7 years ago

    Thank you for the easy instructions. It was very well written and the pictures are so helpful. I will be trying this!

  • meanjeanarts

    Jean from Meanjeanarts said 7 years ago

    Thanks for the detailed instructions. I always seem to have trouble in binding a quilted piece. I intend to put this information to use with, hopefully, more successful results.

  • northstudio

    Krissie VandeNoord from northstudio said 7 years ago

    One word of caution if you are working with a true vintage quilt, adding even one stitch to it makes it a "new quilt" as far as value and official heirloom status. So if that is something that is important to you, you might want to find another way to make use of or display it rather than finishing it. If you just want a pretty old looking quilt to use this works!

  • AThymetoSew

    Arlene from AThymetoSew said 7 years ago

    Thanks for this amazing post!

  • fallingforpieces

    Jill Stemple from FallingForPieces said 7 years ago

    I would really caution against trying this on a true heirloom antique top if you've never quilted before. FMQ is really challenging, I've been hand quilting for 20 years and I mostly avoid it because it takes a lot of practice and skill to do it nicely. Much better to practice on plain fabric or perhaps quilts for charity before chancing ruining an antique. Just a word of caution. Very good instructions for the process though.

  • KMalinka

    Natalia from KMalinkaVintage said 7 years ago

    I love quilt! Awesome post!

  • jenkeppie

    Jen from jackandpoppy said 7 years ago

    Thank you - this is definitely on my to-do list, it's quite a daunting thought taking on such a big project, perhaps I'll start with a baby's quilt! :-)

  • lovelygifts

    Linda from lovelygifts said 7 years ago

    Very nice!

  • SimpleTraditions

    SimpleTraditions from SimpleTraditions said 7 years ago

    I am starting a new quilt for my son to replace his blankie, that is literally falling apart. I have been fearful of a couple steps, so thank you SO much for this!!!

  • SimpleTraditions

    SimpleTraditions from SimpleTraditions said 7 years ago

    I am going to be starting a quilt for my son to replace his blankie, which is literally falling apart. (He loves it VERY much). I was a little nervous about a couple steps, so thank you so much for this article!


    VINTAGE NOW from ESTATENOW said 7 years ago

    Love the Patterns, Very lovely..

  • misponko

    Liudmila Rosario Ponko from PonkoWorld said 7 years ago

    so cute!! Love it!

  • jessgreenleaf

    Jess Greenleaf from GREENLEAFblueberry said 7 years ago

    How wonderful to see a post on quilts! Quilting is the epitome of functional art. My grandmother made so many, and my family has others that have been passed down through the generations that we still use. One of these days I'll learn...

  • auntjanecan

    Jane Priser from JanePriserArts said 7 years ago

    Great tutorial!!! I love quilts.

  • thisthatotherthings

    Judy from NimblesNook said 7 years ago

    I've been wanting to take up quilting. I just started a quilt board on Pinterest. Thanks for the info.

  • PrayerNotes

    Prayer Notes by Cynthia from PrayerNotes said 7 years ago

    Beautiful work! My grandmother was a quilter. She was very good and she had so much patience. Maybe, I will try it, one day....

  • AKingsThings

    Pamela King from AKingsThings said 7 years ago

    Great and me inspiration!

  • CafePrimrose

    Amanda Gynther from CafePrimrose said 7 years ago

    Totally fantastic!

  • FranceGallery

    France Gallery from FranceGallery said 7 years ago

    Very pretty!

  • richardlithgow

    Richard Lithgow from RichardLithgow said 7 years ago

    This is cool!

  • bebymarcy

    Marcy Langworthy from ManhattanHippy said 7 years ago

    I have a beautiful quilt top that I lugged all the way back from India four years's been stuffed in my closet all this time. You've inspired me to do something with it! Happy Spring Everyone!

  • SHM2013

    Silvia from MarinaBosettiDesigns said 7 years ago

    I wished I had the patience to design and make a quilt. Quilts are so special!

  • kcparade

    Kim from TimeNSeasonTreasures said 7 years ago

    I am impressed...Wonderful information and beautifully laid out.

  • FiberContent

    Robin Smith from FiberContent said 7 years ago

    Great tutorial Alexia--and I love your new book. I feel lucky to have learned some of these techniques from you in person!! Thanks for this fabulous tutorial.

  • BonTons

    BonTons from BonTons said 7 years ago

    Oh lovely. I need to make myself a new quilt

  • smileskull

    smileskull from smileskull said 7 years ago

    Oh dear, you're very creative, it looks very lovely. Thanks for all techniques.

  • raeine

    Lisa Schramek from raeine said 7 years ago

    This tutorial has some great photos and descriptions! I enjoy tying some of my quilts- just like my great grandmother did. They are loftier that way and usually after all the piecing I want to stay away from the sewing machine. Most fabrics shops sell big curved needles that work with yarn and make tying easy.

  • accentonvintage

    accentonvintage from accentonvintage said 7 years ago

    Great instructions!

  • aressa

    aressa from OriginalBridalHanger said 7 years ago

    I admire people whom have the patience to create these lovelies....They are beautiful.....Nice tutorial too!

  • sukran

    Sukran Kirtis from SukranKirtisJewelry said 7 years ago

    Stunning work. Great to see "quilt' as an article here.

  • jwlc

    Josephine from MettleMakes said 7 years ago

    Ahh~ I needed this for the next project! Thank you :) So impressed by grandmothers and quilters the world over!

  • BaanButterfly

    NA from Sawasdeekaa said 7 years ago

    WOW......interesting! :)

  • abenakcreation

    Virpi Irene Bendandi from ABenakCreation said 7 years ago

    Well done tutorial. Nice, clear photos and instructions. Makes me want to try my hand at quilting!

  • DeepSilence

    Sonja Bikić from DeepSilence said 7 years ago

    So interesting.

  • LinaNstich

    Lina Rodogianni from LinaNstitch said 7 years ago

    All those colors!!! So beautiful! Now i feel like quilting!

  • VintageGirLNY

    Lindsay from VintageGirLNY said 7 years ago

    This is great!! I have a gorgeous old quilt top ive been hanging on too, now maybe I can finish it!! thank you! Beautiful !

  • matildecanepagonzale

    Matilde Cánepa González from matildecanepaArtnow said 7 years ago

    Thanks for sharing your method. My mom made ​​us quilts using fabric cuts. It was so beautiful!. .   I did remember in your job

  • BeetrootPress

    Sarah Papworth from BeetrootPress said 7 years ago

    This is perfect for me, as I was reading how to sew a hexagonal quilt top last night, but no instruction on how to finish the quilt. Thanks very much!

  • TheQuiltingViolinist

    Linda Hall from TheQuiltingViolinist said 7 years ago

    Great post! Hooray for quilting!

  • janicewd

    janicewd from janicewd said 7 years ago

    Beautiful designs and a great use of colorful fabrics. Pretty.


    Susan Pauley from SPAULEY said 7 years ago

    I finished my mother-in-law's "Wedding Ring" quilt top in the early 70s. She pieced it in the early 30s. I embroidered our names and the years we each worked on the quilt on the border. Last year, I gave the quilt to one of her grand daughters, my niece, who has two daughters. One day, one of them will get the quilt.

  • MagpieQuilts

    Ann from MagpieQuilts said 7 years ago

    Great post! Beginners may want to try free motion quilting on a smaller project before attempting a full size vintage quilt as it is not an easy skill to master. Happy quilting month!

  • SharonFosterArt

    Sharon Foster from SharonFosterArt said 7 years ago

    Thanks so much for this. I have a quilt left to me by my grandmother that I have repaired and had no idea how to finish. Really appreciate!

  • lmouer

    Lynsey from lmouer said 7 years ago

    What a great post! The steps are very well put together. Thank you for sharing. Can't wait to finish my grandmother's quilt!

  • H88255

    H88255 from HillarysSuperfoods said 7 years ago

    I love quilts!

  • Iammie

    iammie from iammie said 7 years ago


  • smelltheclouds

    Laura from hastypearl said 7 years ago

    The greatest gifts I've received from family are my heirloom quilts. Then my greatest gifts to have given were also quilts. Touched by hands of people we love....quilts....with on forever! Great posting.... Laura

  • FantasticaIdea

    Roberta from FantaIdea said 7 years ago

    This is a perfect tutorial. Thanks a lot! I'm gonna try it, or maybe I can just buy one from you... ;)

  • DeathByVintage

    Jypyse from DeathByVintage said 7 years ago

    Time to finish the small quilt I began working on 3 years ago!

  • nativestrandsjewelry

    Rachel from PeppersJewelry said 7 years ago

    I love quilts! Thanks for the tutorial.

  • swurme

    Samantha M. Wurme from swurme said 7 years ago

    I have one to finish in my closet. Thanks for the tips!

  • FabricFascination

    Kym from FabricFascination said 7 years ago

    It looks great! I inherited some quilt tops from a friend's step mom, plus my favorite thimble. Among the tops is a Dresden plate quilt made from mens shirts just begging to be finished.

  • msbibliotecaria

    Adriana the Librarian from labiblioteca said 7 years ago

    Awesome tutorial! I am a quilt junkie and have been tempted by many vintage quilt tops, but there is no way I could finish one. I so admire those artisans that have the patience and talent to craft such gorgeous and heirloom pieces. Shopping for quilts on Etsy and during my estate sale hunts are some of my favorite pastimes and I look forward to growing my collection :)

  • GeorgieGirlLLC

    D George from GeorgieGirlLLC said 7 years ago

    Fantastic step by step! I have started a "True Lover's Knot" quilt and have six blocks from men's dress shirts, I will have to revisit this post once I get closer to the end. Thanks for the post!!

  • rebeccagoebel

    Rebecca Goebel from OctoberNative said 7 years ago

    Thank you for sharing .. I would love to try this someday -- Saved It!!

  • FreakyPeas

    FreakyPeas from FreakyPeas said 7 years ago

    I am always amazed by the making of a quilt. Something I can not wrap my brain around.

  • jursvi

    Jursvi from jursvi said 7 years ago

    woohoo :) Amazing post :)

  • BambuEarth

    Amber from BambuEarth said 7 years ago

    Thanks so much for the tutorial! I always wondered how to make quilts. They are so special to have passed down from family. Great instructions too:)

  • papooseclothing

    Ashley from papooseclothing said 7 years ago

    I absolutely love quilts, I think I have one on every chair and couch in my living room!

  • GracefullyGirly

    Kimberlee from GracefullyGirly said 7 years ago

    I just started to learn to quilt and I'm hooked! I haven't gotten to this step in the process yet because I'm still sewing the top together, but I'll be back to re-read it for sure! Thanks!

  • janicewd

    janicewd from janicewd said 7 years ago

    These are beautiful. And what a fun way to put fabric, textures and color all together in one. Quilts are everlasting too.

  • lkmccray

    Linzee from lkmccray said 7 years ago

    Great tutorial, but I would urge caution when washing and drying vintage quilts and tops. Some fabrics, particularly reds, will run when wet. Test a little sample before washing the entire thing. And some old fabrics will simply disintegrate when washed. Air drying, as suggested, also has fewer risks than machine drying.

  • sdrafke

    Suzette from Suzetteupcycled said 7 years ago

    LOVE LOVE LOVE all your creative ideas....HOW beautiful! Your work is truly inspirational! LOVE the Diamond ring pattern!

  • sarahjanesullivan

    Sarah Sullivan from PaperAndPastel said 7 years ago

    Wow, I am so envious of those who can quilt! I would really love to try one day but I'm afraid even the simplest of machine sewing takes a lot of motivation to finish :)

  • ASParkerJewellery

    Amy Sarah Parker from ASParkerJewellery said 7 years ago

    Oooh I can't wait to make my own quilt!! :D

  • kathleensparrow

    kathleen sparrow said 7 years ago

    your quilting instructions are very clear . thank you. my first love is quilting

  • kathleensparrow

    kathleen sparrow said 7 years ago

    the instructions are very clear for quilting thank you quilting is my first love i love vintage patterns civil war era crazy quilts.

  • SandyPerri

    Ralph Perri from TheGreenShedPottery said 6 years ago

    Thank you so much! Excellent instructions -- I'm attempting to learn so that I can back a quilt made by my grandmother well over 60 years ago! Sandy Perri I Love Etsy!

  • coolamonpark

    coolamonpark said 6 years ago

    Very clear instructions, thank you, I can't wait to make another quilt top so I can apply these instruction and be able to do my own quilting. Excellent blog!

  • infinitlit

    Flair Nouri from FlairPaintings said 3 years ago

    I love your patterns!!!

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