Quilting Pointers

If you are new to quilting we encourage you to take a beginning quilting class at:
            The Granary
            1326 South Mary Avenue
            Sunnyvale, CA
You are welcome to sew every step of your quilt from cutting and assembling the top pieces, quilting through all the quilt layers and sewing on the final binding.  Often, you won't need to do every step because SVQFK members help one another.  Several volunteers have quilting machines that can sew fancy patterns on the assembled quilt.  Please launder your quilt before donating it to us.  We will sew on the Quilts for Kids label and add your first name so the child knows they have a friend who cares about them.

You may select a pattern from the Quilts for Kids, Inc. website or use a favorite.  Browse the web for free pattern ideas... any pattern becomes a child's pattern with kid-friendly colors and prints.  

    kid-friendly cotton fabrics
    thread (it need not match the fabric colors for piecing)
    low-loft batting (1/8 to 1/4")
    scissors or snips
    seam ripper (mistakes happen)
    sharp rotary cutter
    'self-healing' cutting mat
    acrylic ruler
    sewing machine 

We do not dictate precise sizes.  For a baby or small child aim for a width between 36-40" and length of 40-48".  This size can be backed with a single width of fabric.  For taller kids and teens, we appreciate wider and longer quilts, e.g.
50" wide by 66" long.  These may be made from less childish prints.  Again, no rules on dimensions.      

Rules Use only 100% cotton fabrics.  Don't use fleece, minky or other synthetics.  We can't accept hand-pieced, embellished, hand-quilted or tied quilts.  Don't use invisible thread.  Pre-wash fabric, especially solid colors.  Otherwise bleeding colors can ruin your beautiful quilt.  

: (not rules!) for sewing a SVQFK quilt:

Preparing the fabric

1.  You may choose to wash and iron fabric before cutting.  This will preshrink the goods (cotton shrinks ~3% or ~1” per yard) and wrinkle-free fabric lends itself to accurate cutting.  Washing is the best way to remove unstable dye, especially in red, blue, brown and black fabrics.   You don’t want to find out your colors run after your quilt is finished.  If you do not pre-wash, please include a Shout Color Catcher in the washer when you wash your finished quilt.  It will attract the excess dye.   Look in the laundry section of a grocery store for these. 

2.  Before cutting fabric find the straight grain -- parallel to the selvages.  Fold fabric lengthwise and hold opposite (parallel) selvages together.  Adjust between your fingers until the fabric falls from your hands without wrinkles.  This is the true lengthwise grain.  Place this length of fabric on the cutting table without moving the now-straight edges.  Remove the selvage with a rotary cutter by cutting ~0.5” to 1.00” inch from the edge of each side.  Selvages are tightly woven and if not removed, they will tug at the seams.  The resulting piecing will pucker -- seams cannot be pressed flat.   

3.  True the edges:  Fold on the true lengthwise grain, place the fold on an acrylic ruler's line and cut off edges making a 90º angle between fold and cut edge.  If cutting more than one layer of fabric be careful the grain is not distorted and the layers are atop one another.

4.  When working with pieces without selvages, test the two grains to determine stretching.  Lengthwise grain does not stretch.   When snapped quickly between your hands, straight grain makes a higher pitch snapping sound than cross grain.  When cutting triangles, try to have straight grain on what will be an outside edge.   Bias (diagonal) edges stretch mightily!  We highly recommend that beginning quilters stick to rectangles and squares until they have mastered accurate cutting and piecing.


5.  When measuring for borders of the finished quilt top, take the measurement at the center of the length, not the edges.  Outside edges are prone to stretching.   Cut two identical length pieces.  Sew and press the length strips before doing the same for the width strips.  If there is a slight difference in length between the strip and the quilt, place the longer or baggy piece down before stitching.  This is the "baggy bottom" technique.   The feed dog will ease in the excess.  This method will lead to true rectangles and square corners.

6.  Follow the carpenter’s rule:  Measure twice, cut once.

Making your ruler safe

7.  Sandpaper dots or Invisigrip applied to the underside of rulers prevent slipping.

Cutting  When cutting striped or checked fabric it may be better to use the pattern to guide your ruler rather than the true grain.  Otherwise the stripe or pattern will appear crooked in your finished project.  This site teaches how to cut fabric.  

8.  Hold blade perpendicular to table and stand directly above the cutter.  Always cut away from yourself (as opposed to toward yourself).

9.  Roll onto the fabric from the thinner edge, not the fold. 

10.  Stabilize the ruler with fingertips or flat hand while cutting.  If you must move your hand for a long cut, stop the cutter while still in the cutting line, lift and reposition fingers without moving the ruler and resume cutting. Creeping or sliding fingers on the ruler may cause it to move.   

11.  Press hard enough to cut in one pass.   One quilting teacher taught students to cut as if cutting through the table itself.  NEVER SET CUTTER DOWN “FOR JUST FOR A SECOND” WITH THE BLADE EXPOSED.   Be fanatic about rotary cutter safety. 

12.  To enhance safety while cutting, finger guards may be attached to your ruler.  When applied to the ruler (adhesive and suction cup styles are available) fingers are protected on the far side of the guard

13.  Whenever possible, cut borders and sashing on the lengthwise grain, not the cross grain.  Cross grain stretches and your quilt may be baggy or rippled as a result -- a “lettuce-leaf edge”.

14.  When cutting many identical pieces re-align the ruler with the fabric grain every few cuts.  Slice off a sliver to true the edge as needed.  By not doing this, you may introduce a creep error resulting in distortion – the pieces cut first may not be the same size or shape as the last pieces or cut strips may have a bend in the middle.  


15.  When piecing/sewing together the top of the quilt, thread doesn’t need to match fabric.  Light-Medium-Dark is fine.  (Piecing seams won’t show.)

16.  Quilting seam allowance is ¼” unless pattern states otherwise.  A ¼” seam should actually measure a scant ¼” -- a couple of threads less than a true ¼”.  This results in a true 1/4” when the seam is pressed to the side.  It may seem unimportant, but a small error could mean a row of complex blocks is 1-2” too long or too short.  Practice on scraps until you get it right.  Stitching two 2.5” squares should result in a finished and pressed piece that is exactly 4.5”.   Don’t stretch to make it right – perfect your ¼” seam!

17. To ensure a correct seam allowance, one or more special piecing feet are available for every sewing machine.  Some throat plates are scored or have a hole on the throat plate.  An inexpensive solution is a short stack of post-it notes.  Or use painter’s tape – no residue. 


18. Press by placing and lifting the iron after each area is flat.  Do not slide or drag the iron as in ironing.  Sliding can stretch edges, especially bias and outer edges.

19. Some say no steam since more stretching may occur.  Others love steam.  Personal choice. 

20. Place seamed pieces on the ironing surface, still right sides together, darker fabric on top.  Press each seam before crossing it with another seam.  Press ‘as sewn’ to set the seam -- this means flattening stitches and fabric.  Then lift the darker fabric and press it away from the lighter fabric so the seam allowances will be lie under the darker fabric.   This is "pressing to the dark side."  Quilts can have dozens or even hundreds of seams; each will add to the bulk of the quilt.  Make a habit of pressing as you go.

21.  When stitching rows together or pressing patches where numerous pieces meet in a tight center, pressing technique may vary.  Borders are usually pressed toward the outsidet.  

Quilt Sandwich

22.  If you are planning to have your quilt quilted by one of our long-arm quilters, you needn't follow these steps.  Simply make sure the backing and batting are at least 2-3" larger than the top on every side We often have batting so check before cutting some of your own.

23.  Press the top and back.  Good quilting can't fix poor pressing.  Tape or pin the backing tightly to the floor or table with right side down.  Lay batting atop the backing, smoothing out all wrinkles.

24.  Use Low-loft batting:  1/8” or 1/4" only.  A cotton/poly blend batting is OK.  

25.  Place quilt top on the batting, right side up.  Cut backing and batting 2-4” larger than quilt on all sides. 

26.  Hand baste or pin every 4-6” starting from center of quilt and working toward the outer edges.   Please do not use basting spray -- it leaves residue on a machine needles and our longarm quilters won't quilt your top if it is prepared with basting spray.   If you will be quilting your own quilt and elect to use basting spray, always use good ventilation when spray basting.  Adhesive doesn’t belong in your lungs.


27.  Machine quilt only.  Quilts for Kids cannot accept hand-quilted or tied quilts.

28 Use a walking or plaid-matching foot.  This machine attachment has teeth so top and bottom fabrics feed at the same pace.  Proceeding without it will entertain disappointment… the top will end up longer than the back when you reach the far side of the quilt.  And tucks can form on the underside. 

29.  When quilting, it’s a good idea to alternate the starting point from one row to the next, allowing each row or column to offset any distortion created by the previous line of stitching.

30.  It is not necessary to mark every line of quilting before you stitch.  Some machines or feet have a bar attachment that is set at a measured distance from the needle.  If this is placed co-linearly with the previous line of stitching, you can’t go wrong.  Saves lots of time. 

31.  Stitching ‘in the ditch’ or diagonally from one corner to corner (in a quilt made of squares) will also allow quilting without drawing lines.  Use a large envelope or postcard to guide the stitching on long passes.  Gentle waves are easier to stitch than long straight lines. 

Binding       (NOTE:  We offer a "Better Bindings" class at The Granary in Sunnyvale, CA... check the schedule at the store:  408.735.9830

32.  QFK quilts will get lots of wear and washing.  Double bias binding is the strongest binding -- wear is distributed over many threads instead of a single thread on the edge.  In straight grain binding, when the worn thread ‘goes’, the binding will fray along its length.  In either type binding, use bias seams.  They are less thick because the bulk of the seam is diagonal along the width of the binding.  No two seams lie atop one another.  (Straight seams stack up making a lump.)  If you finish your quilt with rounded corners, bias naturally adapts to the curves while straight binding will balk; on-grain binding cannot be used on curved edges.  Plaids and checks look great when cut on the bias.  And stripes make a cheery barber pole effect on the bias.

33.  Two methods to make bias binding:  Cutting and joining bias strips or making continuous bias from a square.  Look here for instruction in making continuous bias.  In either method, press seams open.  Binding may also be purchased.   

34.  Cut bias 2¼” wide.  Square the leading end and fold binding in half lengthwise.  Press as sewn, them press a light lengthwise crease.   Do not remove dog ears.

35Trim quilt sandwich to square corners and straighten sides.   Batting should fill the binding.

36.  Prepare about 20” more binding than the perimeter of the quilt.  With wrong side up, place binding loosely around the perimeter to assure seams will not fall on corners.  

37.  Starting in the middle of one edge, leave a 10" tail and pin binding to the back of the quilt placing the raw edge of the binding even with the raw edge of the quilt.  Start the ¼" seam.  Miter corners as you reach each one.  Review this video demonstrating the mitered corner technique.   After the last corner stop stitching ~10” before meeting the starting point.  Square the starting tail by trimming at a 90 degree angle.   Slip a small cutting mat under the tails.    Smooth the tails and place them on top of one another other, overlapping the exact width of the cut binding (2¼").   Cut the longer tail exactly 2¼" beyond the shower tail (cut at a right angle to the binding.)   Place the tails right sides together at a right angle; draw and stitch a diagonal seam that will leave two right triangle scraps.   Press as sewn, press open and then press a light lengthwise crease in the binding as before.   Binding should fit perfectly.  Smile!  Complete stitching.   


38.  Check for pins!  All quilts must be laundered before we give them to children.  Please use a fragrance-free detergent and if you have not pre-washed the fabrics, toss a Shout Color Catcher in the washer.  It will absorb running colors.  Please use NO FABRIC SOFTENER in the washer or dryer. 


39.  Quilts for Kids volunteers will sew a label on each quilt.  This is the indication that it is ready to go to a child.  

40. You may attach a short message to go with your quilt – something like “I hope you enjoy cuddling with this quilt as much as I liked making it for you.”