How to make a patchwork quilt

A few months ago I made a quilt as a gift for special friends who were having a baby (see my post from July, Handmade and stitched with love - My first quilt). I set myself a challenge to learn new sewing skills and to make my first quilt. It would be the largest sewing project I had made to date (approximately 41in by 41in) and would be one of the most enjoyable projects I had ever undertaken! I was delighted with the finished quilt and I wanted to share with you how I created the patchwork quilt from start to finish. I hope that you will get an insight into how to make a quilt in the steps below and maybe have the confidence to make one yourself! I'll show you a few helpful tips on getting straight lines when you quilt, a great tip when securing binding and also how to make a lovely personalised label for your quilt too.

I am a beginner quilt maker so I have done my best to summarise how to make a patchwork quilt using what I learnt during this project. I used The Quilter's Bible by Linda Clements and videos on YouTube created by the Missouri Star Quilt Company to give me confidence to start.

Here are my step by step instructions on how to make a patchwork quilt...

Step 1 - Select a variety of cotton fabrics that you love

I spent a few weeks looking for fabrics that I thought would match baby Olivia’s nursery and would be colourful and interesting for her as she grows up. My favourite fabrics for this quilt were the Love U green owls by Moda, Love U Tortoise and Snail by Moda, Bugs Scatter by Makower and the Hungry Catterpillar Multicoloured polka spot. Shopping for fabric was so much fun, I could have kept on going and buying so many more fabrics but I was only just starting my fabric collection and it was proving to be quite expensive! In time I have discovered even more beautiful patterned fabrics for children that I hope to add to my collection when I make another quilt for a child.

Step 2 - Wash and press the fabric

The next stage is to wash all your fabric, dry and press. You will probably need to trim off loose ends in preparation of cutting the fabric. I liked washing the fabric, I was brave and washed it all together, in the hope that none of the fabric dye would run. It's a great way to freshen your fabric, get rid of any dust on the fabric and to allow the fabric to shrink before I pieced it together.

Step 3 – Cut out the patchwork squares
For this quilt I cut out 81 squares, measuring 4.5in by 4.5in (when sewn together in the patchwork quilt top they measure 4in by 4in), this includes the 1/2in seam allowance that you need. I used a rotary cutter, a non-slip ruler and my cutting mat placed on top of a table to cut the patchwork squares. The cutting stage takes patience and real accuracy, if you measure the squares incorrectly it will mean that when you piece it together the squares may not line up accurately. You want to leave plenty of time and concentration to get this stage accurate, I ended up doing this spread over a few days so that I didn't rush.
Step 4 – Plan your patchwork fabric arrangement

I may have worked a bit backwards for this stage of the quilt making process! Many quilters appear to plan their quilts properly before they begin. I wanted to have a randomly arranged patchwork quilt design with no specific pattern so I didn't know what I wanted the quilt to look like. I spent quite a bit of time arranging the patchwork squares on the floor until I was happy with the arrangement of the squares. It wasn't a quick process but was really good fun seeing what I could create and the different looks I could create with each arrangement. I took photos as I went so that I could review the different fabric arrangements I had made and decide on my favourite.


Step 5 – Prepare the patchwork squares

Once you have created an arrangement of fabric that you like you need to collate the fabric together ready to sew. I  decided to be as logical as possible by labelling each of the 9 rows and placing the fabrics on top of each other in the same way per row. I picked up the fabrics from left to right putting the next square underneath the last. This would ensure that the arrangement wouldn't change when I came to sew them together. I labelled each row with a sticky note and row number. I then gently pressed them flat again to ensure that they were accurate to sew. I securing the patchwork squares together with a safety pin and the label to keep the patchwork squares together an in the order that I wanted.
Step 6 - Sew the patchwork squares together row by row
I took each pile of patchwork squares in turn, sewing the patchwork squares together using a 1/4in seam to create a row of patchwork squares. I kept the row label on the first square of each row so I knew which order the rows should be assembled in. After each row was sewn I ironed the seams in one direction to set the stitches and in preparation for sewing all the rows together. Each row completed had seams pressed in the opposite direction, a technique which really helps when joining two rows together.

I pinned together each row to the next in lining up the seams as much as possible to ensure the patchwork square corners lined up neatly. Using a 1/4in seam I joined each row together keeping an ey on the seams and making sure that they stayed flat and in the direction that I had pressed them in. When the entire quilt top was sewn together I pressed the patchwork quilt top carefully to ensure that all seams were neat. I was delighted with the result and almost all my corners lined up!

Step 7 – Add a border around the patchwork squares
I chose to use white fabric as a border to frame the patchwork quilt. I found an adorable white fabric with small white letters printed on it, I thought it would add a tiny detail to the nursery quilt and give some interest to the border. I cut the white fabric into strips measuring 2.5in by 41in so that the the patchwork would be fully surrounded by the white border. I sewed the border onto the four edges of the patchwork with a 1/4 in seam.
Step 8 - Attach the binding (part one)
This stage is sometimes completed after quilting takes place, but I wanted to try a different method. I cut four strips of green polka dot fabric, called Pam Kitty Ping Pong (what a great name!), measuring approximately 2.5in x 41.5in for the binding, this would be the same material as the backing fabric for the quilt. I decided to attach the binding to the front of the quilt using a 1/4in seam just like joining another border. I would then complete the binding after I had finished the quilting and finishing off.
Step 9 - Make a quilt sandwich
I chose to use a green polka dot backing fabric as well as the binding as I thought that the colour went well with the other fabrics I used, plus it would be quite practical at hiding marks, for example if the quilt was used outside on grass. I cut the backing material larger than the final size of the quilt, pressed it and taped the backing fabric right side down to the floor using masking tape. I then placed bamboo batting (wadding) cut larger than the quilt on top of the backing fabric then added the quilt top, right side up. Using curved safety pins I started pinning from the middle of the quilt smoothing out the fabric to secure the layers together as neatly and flatly as possible. It takes a few goes to ensure that all layers are as flat as possible. The piecing together of the three layers, backing fabric, batting and quilt top is called a quilt sandwich.
Step 10 - Mark the quilt with masking tape guidelines to help your quilting
Once pinned together I realised I now had to quilt! It is a really daunting task! Having seen so many designs in books where people have used elaborate repeating patterns and vermicelli quilting (so beautiful!) to provide stability for their quilt I started to feel really unsure about what I could do without destroying the quilt and all my hard work! I chose to quilt simple straight lines that were sewn on the diagonals of each square. I used masking tape to mark out the lines I needed to sew so that I had a guideline that they would help me machine sew as straight as possible without making any marks on the quilt.

Step 11 - Go for it and quilt!

I adjusted the tension on my sewing machine and quilted following the guidelines I created using masking tape. I created a practice piece before hand so I could be confident quilting on the actual quilt. In the photos below you can see the finished quilting! I chose to use a very light yellow thread for the quilting and I think it worked nicely with the pastel shades that dominated the quilt.

Step 12 – Stitch in the ditch

After completing the quilting over the patchwork squares I thought it would be best to stitch in the ditch between the patchwork squares and the white border to ensure that the quilt had even more stability. You can see that I used white cotton thread to stitch in the ditch.

Step 13 - Trim the quilt
When you have finished quilting you need to trim any excess backing fabric and batting so that you are ready to finish off the quilt. I used my rotary cutter and cutting board to try and make the trimming as neat as possible.

Step 14 - Attach the binding (part two)
I used the same backing fabric and binding as I loved the green spotty fabric so much! I had already added the binding to the front of the quilt with a 1/4in seam as if I was adding another border (see step 8). I pressed the binding fabric edge over to almost touch the quilt edge.

I then folded this folded fabric over again to create a neat edge to stitch to the back of the quilt. I secured it in place with hair grips as I couldn't find anything else that did the job as well!

I hand stitched the binding to the rest of the quilt using slip stitch. It didn't take as long as I thought it would do perhaps because I knew I had nearly finished the quilt and was so motivated to see the quilt complete!


Step 15 - Create a bespoke label for your quilt
I decided to create my own label for the patchwork quilt. I looked online at different options that you can buy and nothing fitted with what I was hoping to do, so I decided to make my own. I chose some pretty fabrics that I thought went well with the backing fabric. Using a plain pink fabric I used pencil to mark out a message, hand stitched the message using backstitch and green embroidery thread.
Next I needed to fix the label to the quilt, to do this I chose to use fusible webbing as I didn't want to try and stitch the label on to the finished quilt. I added the fusible webbing to the back of the plain pink fabric to stiffen it, leaving on the backing paper. I cut the message out of the plain pink fabric using pinking shears to make the edge pretty. The plain pink fabric with the stitched message measured 3in by 3in.

I then cut another piece of fabric to compliment the fabric with the message. I chose a pink spotty fabric that I had used in the quilt and added fusible webbing to the back of this fabric too. The pink spotty fabric square measured 4in by 4in.

Now it was time to stick all the fabric squares together to secure the label onto the patchwork quilt. I peeled off the layer of paper on the back of the plain pink fabric and ironed this with a hot iron onto the pink spotted fabric. I then peeled off the backing paper on the pink spotty fabric and positioned the label on the bottom right hand corner of the back of the quilt. I pressed this in place with a hot iron so that it was stuck  in place. I used quite thick fusible webbing that made the label quite stiff but I wanted to ensure that it wouldn't come off!

Step 16 - Time to wrap up the quilt

I used simple brown paper and pretty ribbon to wrap up the quilt that I was giving as a present. I didn't feel the need to buy patterned paper as the surprise inside was colourful and exciting enough!

Step 17 - Give your patchwork quilt away as a gift and make someone very happy!

Here is beautiful Olivia enjoying her first quilt! I created some instructions in a little card for Olivia (and for Mum and Dad!) about how to care for the quilt and how she could use her quilt as she grows up, firstly as a play mat then as a quilt for her bed to snuggle under.

I hope that you found these instructions about how to make a patchwork quilt useful. I loved making my first quilt and I'm sure that I will make more quilts in the future.

There is something really special about making your first quilt. I was drenched in a huge sense of satisfaction and emotion that the many months of making had culminated in creating a unique handmade present. I hope that Olivia enjoys using her pretty patchwork quilt and that it will be used and loved for many years to come. I've been really lucky to give away the first patchwork quilt I made to Olivia, as it is her first quilt too! It may even inspire Olivia to create her own one day or pass it on for someone else to enjoy!