Traditional Quilting Processes Traditional quilting is a six-step process that includes: 1) selecting a pattern, fabrics and batting; 2) measuring and cutting fabrics to the correct size to make blocks from the pattern; 3) piecing (sewing cut pieces of fabric together using a sewing machine or by hand to make blocks) blocks together to make a finished "top"; 4) layering the quilt top with batting and backing, to make a "quilt sandwich"; 5) quilting by hand or machine through all layers of the quilt sandwich; and 6) squaring up and trimming excess batting from the edges, machine sewing the binding to the front edges of the quilt and then hand-stitching the binding to the quilt backing. Note: If the quilt will be hung on the wall, there is an additional step: making and attaching the hanging sleeve.
- Piecing: Sewing small pieces of cloth into patterns, called blocks, that are then sewn together to make a finished quilt top. These blocks may be sewn together, edge to edge, or separated by strips of cloth called sashing. Note: Whole cloth quilts typically are not pieced, but are made using a single piece of cloth for the quilt top.
- Layering: Placing the quilt top right side up atop the batting and the backing, which is right-side out.
- Quilting: Sewing the three quilt layers together, using stitches in decorative patterns, called motifs, or in utilitarian patterns, such as straight lines, using bigger stitches.
- Borders: Typically strips of fabric of various widths added to the perimeter of the pieced blocks to complete the quilt top. Note: borders may also be made up of simple or patterned blocks that are stitched together into a row, before being added to the quilt top.
- Binding: Fabric strips cut on the bias or straight of the grain, sewn together, making a long strip that will fit the perimeter of the quilt, which is typically machine sewn to the front side of the edge of the quilt, folded over, and hand sewn to the back side of the quilt.
- Quilting: Stitching through all three layers of the quilt sandwich, typically by hand or machine in decorative patterns, which serves three purposes: 1) to secure all three layers to each other, and 2) to add to the beauty and design of the finished quilt, and 3) to trap air within the quilted sections, making the quilt as a whole much warmer than its parts; for example, a single layer or all three layers used separately. Quilting is usually completed by starting from the middle, and moving outward toward the edges of the quilt. Examples: simple or complex geometric grids, "motifs" traced from published quilting patterns or traced pictures, complex repeated designs called tessellations, or stitching within the seam line itself, i.e., stitching in the ditch.
Note 1: Quilting can be elaborately decorative, comprising stitching fashioned into complex designs and patterns. The quilter may choose to emphasize and add to the richness of the quilting, by using threads that are multicolored and/or metallic, or that contrast highly to the fabric. Conversely, the quilter may choose to make the quilting disappear, using "invisible" nylon or polyester thread, and stitching in the ditch (in the seam line). Some quilters draw the quilting design on the quilt top before stitching, while others stitch "freehand."
Note 2: While the majority of quilt tops are pieced from many smaller patches of fabric (patchwork quilts), in which the patterns of individual blocks, or the pattern created by combining the blocks is the emphasis, whole cloth quilts typically use a single, non-figural piece of fabric and the elaborate quilting is the emphasis. Polished chintz, sateen or other shiny fabrics are often used in whole cloth quilts to aid in emphasizing the intricately detailed quilting stitches.