What Is A Quilt?
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Learn How To Quilt

What is a quilt:  a thick blanket, a wall hanging, a table runner, a jacket, a lap warmer, a conversation piece, a large purse... Exactly what is a quilt?

This is how to quilt:  A quilt in simple terms is an item composed ot three layers (a top or facing layer, a filler layer, and a backing layer) that are sewn together.

Most people think of bed coverings when they think of quilts, and they are right. The typical bedding quilt has a quilt top, a layer of batting, and a layer of material for backing. Before the sewing machine the answer to the question of how to quilt was simple.  It is sewn or tied together to make a heavy blanket.

When I was a child, two elderly neighbor ladies made quilts for my brother and I.  They were fantastic.  For years, long after I was married and had children of my own, I would not sleep without my quilt.

The process of joining these layers together is called quilting.  You can learn how to quilt very quickly and easily, but it will take much longer to master all the finer details.  The most common practices are to either hand sew or machine sew the layers together.  Therefore we have the terms, hand quilting and machine quilting.

We define quilting as: "The process of sewing the three layers of the quilt together is called quilting. It may give many different appearances with designs, hand stitching, and various machine quilting stitches."  Needle and thread connect the layers together forming a complete piece.  This is how to quilt.

Quilting may be strictly practical or functional using simple straight stitching or even tying techniques; or it may involve elaborate decorative designs.

A quick functional way to finish a quilt is to use a hand sewing technique called Tying or Hand Tying.   The three layers are prepared and basted. The quilter uses a hand sewing needle with a large eye and thread or yarn. Square knots are used to finish off the ties, which are placed 3-5" apart all over the quilt. Comforters unlike most quilts have less frequent ties to hole them together giving them a puffy appearance.

When we look at quilts, there is often a sense of nostalgia, because for hundreds of years, quilts were made simply to keep people warm. They were a necessity.

Today making quilts is an art. Gifted quilter's are called fabric artists instead of the outdated seamstress or quilter.

Bed quilts are popular, but quilted clothing, wall hangings, home decor, and   purses are also very common quilting applications.

Handmade quilts may sell for hundreds of dollars and hang on museum walls, not just bed frames. Amish quilts from Pennsylvania and Ohio are especially sought after, as are vintage and antique quilts.

Since quilts are most often made of natural fibers, they require care to maintain their beauty and quality condition.  If you are lucky enough to have inherited or purchased such an heirloom, taking proper care of it will maintain and perhaps increase its value. Do not store quilts in  plastic bags, cardboard boxes or wooden trunks. Quilts should be aired at least twice a year, but not in direct sunlight. Very old quilts should be aired flat to avoid stressing the stitches. There is always a risk in washing antique fabric. Spot test it first. If you are using a machine, wash in cold water with a mild detergent and a gentle cycle. Dry your quilt on a flat surface. Using a fan and rotating it will speed up the drying process.

Quilts throughout history tell the stories of their times and makers. This is especially true during the depression when fabric was scarce. Some historians even believe secret messages and codes were hidden in handmade quilts at different times throughout history. One such story relates to the Underground Railroad. A certain quilt pattern would mean it was safe for escaping slaves to continue on their journey. Not all historians believe this theory, however it is true that signature quilts were a popular method of raising funds both before and after the Civil War. Signatures were added after a donation was made. These quilts were also known as friendship quilts.

While not all historians agree on this usage in the past, it is becoming increasingly popular today. Memory quilts and t-shirt quilts are popular and treasured gifts. Technology has even made it possible to add photos to fabric. Quilts are still used to raise money at raffles and charity events. Quilt guilds are being created and growing at a rapid rate, preserving and passing on treasured patterns and techniques.

So, What Is A Quilt?

A quilt in simple terms is an item composed of three layers (a top or facing layer, a filler layer, and a backing layer) that are sewn together. Sewing them together is how to quilt.

But it can be so much more.  A quilt can be a treasured heirloom, a symbol of culture and history, a warm comforter, a beautiful wall hanging, a purse, a jacket, so much more.  A quilt is indeed what you make it.

Donna Trumble is a professional designer, seamstress, author, sewing educator, and sewing business owner.   She leads several Sewing Show And Tell groups in her stores guiding participants to shop sewing machines and learn about sewing and quilting.



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