Lessons learned by a first-time quilter.

A million years ago, when I shared my first quilt I promised a "lessons learned" post. Well, here it is. Let's jump in...

Lessons Learned:

Quilts can be expensive. Maybe the quilts of the pioneer days made use of fabric from old clothing and such, but the typical modern quilt is expensive.  It's been a while since I did the math, but my first quilt cost somewhere between $150 and $200 (but a fraction of the supplies, like bent safety pins and extra bobbins can be reused).  It's funny because I was planning on getting Elliott a duvet from Pottery Barn for her bed, but I thought it would be too expensive by the time I purchased the duvet cover and a reasonably priced duvet (from Ikea).  I'd have been better off with that purchase, especially when you consider the unknowns of making your first quilt (i.e. Will it even be usable?).  However, no mass produced duvet cover, no matter how classy it may be, can compare to even the most humble of homemade quilts. That's a fact, Jack.

Move fearlessly forward.  Go ahead, bite off more than you can chew--you are smarter than fabric, after all. Go big or go home, y'all.  And get acquainted with your seam ripper, if need be.  No biggie.

You don't need a whole lot of special supplies. You may want to make sure that your sewing machine is serviced and in great working order and that you have the necessary feet to make quilting easier, but other than that, I'd try to make the best of what you have.  I am still feeling silly for buying a million bent safety pins when oddly enough the large-sized plain ones I already had were actually easier to use and yielded great results. (One reader has said that this safety pin thing was not true in her case and that the bent ones were worth using.  So, take my thoughts with a grain of salt!  I am a total noon after all, sharing only lessons from my first quilts.)

Learn the capabilities of your machine and be prepared to buy a new foot or two. If you plan to free-motion quilt, you'll need to make sure your machine is capable of it and that you have a proper foot.  For my vintage machine (Singer 401A) I had to buy the darning/embroidery foot which, including shipping, was under $3. Straight line quilting would also be awesome for a first-timer (in fact, that's probably a better route to take) and a walking foot makes it a cinch.  But fancy quilting gloves, specialized cutting rulers, etc. can hold off be purchased if your passion grows (and don't be surprised if it does).

Take time to think about what {you} value in a quilt.  I wish I'd know that patchwork is more my style, not so much the route that I took with my first quilt.  In fact, I'm currently saving all of my girls' cotton clothing (not knit cotton, more like the stiff quilting-type fabrics) to make a quilt with once girl #2 has grown out of the clothing.  Laura Ingalls Wilder-style.  I think it'll be super-cool to make a quilt from clothing that both of my girls have spent their first few years wearing. Live and learn, right?

Read about Leah Day and be confident.  In a few short years, this young woman has revolutionized free motion quilting.  Certainly us newbies can figure this out too, at least to a small degree.  She's amazing, and I'll bet she doesn't even have a gray hair yet.  Lucky.

{Wavy Line Whole Cloth Quilt}

Consider whole-cloth if you want some fun practice but you're not ready to tackle something massive. Whole cloth quilting is basically sandwiching two pieces of uncut, un-pieced, unharmed fabric and quilting away.  I found it to be good practice for the actual quilting process, as well as binding practice. Goodness knows I need more binding practice before I tackle another massive quilt.  I've now made two whole cloth quilts as baby gifts, and I'll definitely make more in the future. Whole cloth quilting is significantly less expensive than traditional quilting because there's no waste--so it's a smart choice if you're on a budget and don't have access to scraps.

{Intersecting Lines Whole Cloth Quilt}

So, those are my thoughts. Hopefully it's been helpful if you're considering starting a quilt.  If you're an old pro, maybe you disagree.  Feel free to lovingly share in the comments!  Gone are the days of the quilting bees where us can learn under the wing of the pros, so the Internet proves useful in connecting novices and seasoned professionals.

Go forth and quilt!


  1. Great tips! It's been ages since i made a quilt, and you're making me miss it. I love your quilts!

    1. Awww, thanks Rachel. I feel like it's going to be a while before I quilt again. Crochet is just so much more portable and easier to work on in stolen moments, right?

  2. Since you're talking mostly about the beginning/decision making/choosing phase of a new quilt, a couple of pointers:

    Get or use fabric with no more than 50% synthetic. i.e. polyester, rayon, etc. If you use a fabric with more, expect the fabric to pill.

    You can use knits (remember the pilling) in a quilt, but you must back them with another, preferably prewashed cotton so it doesn't stretch or distort your quilt. A life-long quilter? I don't mess with them.

    When you get the brilliant idea you're going to make a T-shirt quilt -- it's cotton, right? -- because it's knit, you must back it. You can use iron-on interfacing, but it must be fabric. The pressed synthetics won't last.

    There you go. A couple of things to think about!

    1. Thanks for the the pointers! So far, I've stayed away from knit fabric in general because my few experiences with it have been intensely frustrating. And I agree with you about steering away from synthetics. Though they're less expensive, cotton is just so cozy! I choose cotton batting too, and I'm happy with that choice.


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