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A quilt is a wonderful textile creation made by piecing together three layers of cloth.

The bottom layer is called the backing. It is a plain piece of fabric. The center layer is called batting. This is the filling that gives the quilt its warmth.

The top layer is where quilting meets art. This layer usually features a pattern or picture made by sewing many different pieces of fabric together.

The three layers are held together with stitching. This stitching can be done on a sewing machine or by hand. This is called quilting and this is what gives this craft its name.

All around the edge of the quilt is the binding, which finishes the edges of the quilt just like a picture frame finishes a picture.

It takes a long time to make a quilt -- hundreds of hours! First, quilters have to design or select the patterns. Then they have to buy their supplies, including fabric and thread. Then they have to cut, baste and sew fabrics by hand or with a machine.

Each step demands patience, skill and a steady hand. Hand stitching each piece and cutting and piecing together the quilt is exacting work.

Picking the right fabric can also be challenging. It takes a while to learn which fabrics and colors look good together. Sometimes the nicest quilts have the most unexpected color and fabric combinations.

"I especially love unusual color combinations and love to see the surprise on my family and friends' faces when they realize the 'ugly' fabric I brought home made such a beautiful quilt," says Chicago quilter Jennifer Neuman.

Quilting is a great hobby for people who enjoy indoor crafts. You can spend long periods of time indoors piecing together patterns, cutting fabrics or sewing the sections of a quilt.

Many people like quilting. The American Quilter's Society has more than 50,000 members. Not everyone belongs to a quilting group, however.

"For every one quilter who belongs to a quilting organization, there are probably four who don't," says quilter Josh Hunter.

Since quilting is the kind of activity most people can do in their homes and learn from other family members, it has traditionally been a solitary craft. But thanks to the growth of quilting classes and an online quilting community, this tradition is changing.

"Guilds and classes are becoming a much more common occurrence," says Hunter. "We are getting to be more of a community."

Quilters need the following tools:

  • sharp scissors
  • see-through ruler
  • cotton sewing thread
  • sharp, thin needles for sewing
  • thimble
  • very fine pins
  • paper or plastic from which to cut out pattern pieces (templates)

All of this equipment should cost no more than $40. And some of it, like the ruler and scissors, will only have to be purchased once. The cost of the fabric for a quilt can vary a great deal, but expect to spend between $35 and $85.

If you want to learn how to do machine quilting, you're looking at a much more expensive hobby. Standard sewing machines cost anywhere from $75 for a used model to $200 to thousands of dollars for a new machine. These are used to sew the pattern or picture for the top layer of the quilt.

Then there are quilting sewing machines that are used to do the actual quilting -- remember, that's where the three layers of the quilt are stitched together.

Machines designed exclusively for quilting large quilts can cost $20,000 or more! Usually, only professional quilters use these since they're so expensive. Don't worry if you can't afford one of these machines. Just get together with some friends and hold an old-fashioned quilting bee!

There are a number of ways to make a living though quilting. Some people, like quilting enthusiast Joanne Donahue, produce quilting instructional books. Other quilters may enjoy teaching classes or working at fabric or crafts shops.

Getting Started

So you're interested in quilting. Great! You're on the road to a challenging, lifelong hobby.

This quilt is called Autumn's Watery Reflection. The leaves were painted on after the quilt was completed.
Courtesy of: Sandra Blank

One way to get off to a good start is by taking quilting classes. A few lessons will teach you the basics. You'll save yourself a lot of time by learning the shortcuts and the proper methods in the beginning.

"I think classes are especially great for beginners because they can help you get past any frustration. They are readily available at community colleges, library groups, guilds and of course your local quilt shop," says Donahue.

If you have any trouble finding quilting classes, contact your national quilting association to inquire about guilds or clubs in your area.

If you still can't find any quilting classes in your town, post a newspaper advertisement explaining what you want to learn and what you can afford to pay. "There are lots of very skilled quilters who don't belong to any groups and would probably love to teach you how to quilt," says Hunter.

Regardless of where you get your instruction, the best way to get into quilting is by starting small and simply. Try using a pattern with squares or rectangles rather than triangles or circles, which can be more difficult to sew.

Many quilters also choose to make small, picnic-sized quilts or wall hangings to begin with -- they won't take nearly as much time as a full-sized one.

"If you start too large, it's easy to get discouraged and give up. If you begin with a small piece, then you'll have a completed project in a much shorter time," says Hunter.


ABC Quilts

American Quilter's Society
P.O. Box 3290
Paducah , KY   42002-3290


Worldwide Quilting
Links to other quilting sites, addresses for North American quilting guilds and stores, and advice on technique

Design Board
Download images of quilting patterns and view pictures of other people's creations

Quilting How Tos
Learn some tips

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