GC Home | Register | Shop | Learn | Business | Around Town | Info

The Art of Quilt-making, Part I
by Mary Asper, Green Mountain Designs
A Seasoned Quilter Shares Her Tips


In this article, Mary Asper of Green Mountain Designs shares her tips for successful quiltmaking. Although it is written especially for the beginning quiltmaker, even more experienced artisans may find valuable information.

The article will appear in several segments, beginning this month with Tools: What do you really need? And Fabric: How to build a stashHow to prepare it for quiltmaking. In following articles, topics such as Color: How to do it well and A Quilter’s Glossary will be covered.


Welcome to the Art of Quiltmaking!

Welcome, and congratulations for deciding to become a quiltmaker! You’ve come to a place with warm, caring people; a wealth of beautiful color, texture and pattern; an art that will challenge you, stretch you and give you immense satisfaction. All this – just in quiltmaking? Yes, and even more!

This article will give you a head start on your new pursuit by giving you some basic knowledge that will put you on a successful road. You can use it as a "quilter’s companion" as you shop for your tools, fabric and patterns. It will help you decipher the jargon you hear in quilt shops and at quilt guild meetings. Hopefully, it will encourage you to explore and discover the wealth of beauty, knowledge, skill and camaraderie that the world of quiltmaking offers.

 TOOLS: What do you really need?

Mary’s Tip: Choose tools that will make your work simpler or more accurate, and always buy the best quality.

There are tools available for every possible quiltmaking need. How do you choose the ones you really need?

  1. Buy the best quality you can afford. The better your tools, the easier your work will be and the more you will be pleased with the finished result.
  2. Be sure to buy tools that will fit your hand and work comfortably for you.
  3. Often your local quilt shop staff will be able to help you make a better choice because of their knowledge of the product.
  4. What you REALLY need to get started:
  1. A self-healing mat for use with a rotary cutter. I consider 24 X 36 to be the optimum size; that way you can cut a width of fabric without folding it.
  2. A 6" wide by 24" long ruler marked with 1/8" lines – preferably with different colored or textured lines for each 1/8", ¼", ½" and 1 inch. My favorite brand is Omnigrid.
  3. A large rotary cutter with a sharp blade. The very small rotary cutters are for cutting around templates only. My favorite size is Olfa’s Xtra Large cutter – that is also my favorite brand. Rotary cutter come in several different shapes and styles; choose the one that fits your hand the best.
  4. Very sharp, pointed fabric cutting scissors. Don’t skimp here; they’re your most faithful companion! My favorite brand is Ginghers, 7 inch knife bent.
  5. A small assortment of fabric marking tools – don’t include the washable or fade-away blue markers. The best ones are: Quilter’s Ultimate Marking Pencil; Clover’s Chalk-O-Liner; Clover’s Chalk Marking Pencils; Berol Fabric Marking Pencils and a small sliver of soap (Ivory or other pure soap) for those really difficult to mark fabrics!
  6. A small assortment of hand sewing needles in sizes that you are comfortable using; betweens/sharps for hand piecing; appliqué needles and quilting needles.
  7. Good quality all-purpose sewing thread in a medium neutral gray. Don’t succumb to the $5 for a dollar threads; they’ll ruin your sewing machine and your quilt. Again, buy the best quality you can afford. Your local quilt shop can educate you about thread choices.
  8. A sewing machine that at least does straight stitch and a good zig-zag, in good running condition, cleaned and oiled.

Those are just the basics, but you’ll be able to get started with these things. As you grow as a quiltmaker, choose tools that will make your work simpler or more accurate, and always buy good quality – the end result will always justify the price! 

FABRIC: How To Prepare It For Quiltmaking

Mary’s Tip: Don’t pre-wash unless you have to, and then pre-wash everything that goes in the quilt!

The debate rages: to pre-wash or not to pre-wash? Opinions are fierce and varied. Here are a few common sense tips to help you answer this question for yourself.

  1. To test for colorfastness, cut a small strip from your fabric and soak in a sink of tepid water. If you’d like, you can add a piece of muslin or an old handkerchief. If the water becomes colored, or if the muslin or handkerchief is picking up dye, the fabric is not colorfast.
  2. If any of your chosen fabrics are not colorfast then you must pre-wash. If you pre-wash any of your fabrics you must pre-wash them all; unwashed fabric will shrink differently when you wash the quilt and could cause your patchwork to pull apart.
  3. To pre-wash, simply throw your fabric in the washing machine with soap (e.g. Ivory, Orvus, Woolite) rather than detergent. I prefer to not add fabric softener; this is another controversial topic! Dry in a medium heat dryer until almost dry, then iron the rest of the way. This keeps you from having to deal with wrinkles.
  4. Be especially careful of batik fabrics and those imported from Africa and the Orient. These absolutely gorgeous fabrics may not have stable dyes and could cause you real problems! As a rule it is best to set the dye in these fabrics with a product like Retayne. 2 Tablespoons of vinegar to a sinkful of cold water will also do the job.

Personally, I do not pre-wash anything except batiks and African fabrics and I’ve never had a problem with dye escaping to areas where it doesn’t belong! Because I do not pre-wash, my garments and quilts do not ever see the dryer; they hang to dry. I like the crisp feel of new fabric when I piece and I do not enjoy my washing machine all that much!

A note of caution: fabrics do contain chemical finishes and preservatives. If you have a sensitivity to these, you must pre-wash before doing anything with your fabric! If your eyes itch, your nose runs and you sneeze when you get around fabric, you have a sensitivity!

What’s a "stash" and how do I build it?

Mary’s Tip: Don’t sacrifice quality for price. Buy enough when you see it!!

A "stash" is a quilter’s palette of fabrics. Variety of color, pattern and texture is the key to a useable stash.

1. Buy the best fabric you can afford – don’t sacrifice quality for price. The quality of the fabric you use will determine the quality of your finished product.

2. Join online swaps to build your stash. Check out online quilting pages for ongoing swaps. (Editor's Note: we have a list of links, including links to quilting-related resources on our links page.)

3. Start a swap of your own with a group of friends. Swaps can center around color, theme or texture. 

4. Stock up on sales at local quilt shops.

5. Don’t be fenced in to your favorite colors. Your future quilts will want to be many different things, so you should have lots on hand to supply them. As a growth exercise, encourage yourself to collect some variety of colors that you really dislike.

6. How much? A fat quarter is the minimum for any fabric, but if you really like it you’d better buy at least a half a yard. If you think you’ll like using it for borders buy at least a yard. If it would make a good back, three yards is a good amount.

Back to the Get Creative! Conference Center

Back to Meet the Get Creative! Experts