My Basic Quilt

Since I am going to be using up scraps this month, I thought I would start by showing my basic technique for a quilt.  Think of it as the “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star” of my repertoire. That way, when I take off with creative riffs of scrap-using, you will know where I started from.

When I first started quilting, my mom gave me a little leaflet on quilt-as-you-go log cabin blocks.  I loved the neat crisp look.  Lucie the Happy Quilter has a great tutorial on that method here, and I could have used the extra help back then.  I  made a lot of these blocks, but I just never could get them joined properly.

log cabin squares

It’s all fun until you have to line up layers of corners. Especially if you are not the detail-oriented type to start with.  And you decided to use different thicknesses of batting.

So I moved on to making crib quilts that were just one giant (dare I say “Texas-sized”?) block.  Crib size (36″ by 45″)  is about the largest size I can handle easily on my machine.  I use a walking foot to help move all the layers through with even tension.

I like this method for quick, utilitarian quilts.  Here’s how it saves time for me:

  • less fabric prep – I don’t wash the fabric ahead of time – the sizing gives it more body while I’m working on it
  • less pressing
  • less obsessing over lining up corners
  • no separate basting step

Here is the backing fabric for my sample quilt.  I like a busy fabric so any little stitching irregularities aren’t as obvious, and I choose coordinating fabrics for the front.

backing fabric

Nancy Wolff design for Robert Kaufman fabrics

possible choices

Fabrics that might look good with the backing fabric.


I think the final quilt will look something like this.

First, open up the batting and let it relax its fold lines.  The batting will be handled more than in a traditional method, so it needs to be of good quality.  I’ve tried several different kinds, and my favorite to date is Warm and Natural.


Relax!  Relax!

I used to mark a grid of sewing lines on the batting with a light-colored permanent marker, but I just learned a short cut from an interview that Anna Brauer gave in Quilting Arts –

Choose a piece of backing fabric and iron it.  Then fold the backing fabric in half with right sides together, and press the fold.  Lay the folded backing fabric on top of the batting across the middle, pin, and use the fabric fold as a guideline for a stitching line across the middle of the batting.  Use a thread color that will show up easily.

folded backing

The backing is folded on top of the batting as a guide for a stitching line in the middle of the quilt – no measuring required!

stitching line

The stitching line across the batting. You can see the backing fabric through the batting.

Then you can flip the backing fabric open and smooth it out against the batting.  Then flip the backing and batting over, and pin them together with safety pins out at the very edge- I use just four on each side.   The batting will cling pretty well to the backing fabric, but you want to keep an eye on it to make sure it’s not puckering.

You will start in the center of the quilt.  I usually use a fairly big panel of a fabric I really love.  Placing it is the trickiest part of the whole quilt – but it’s not that bad.  Again, you press your panel in half, and place the crease against the stitching line.  Measure from each side of the panel to the edge of the batting – you want equal distances on each side.

placing the center

The folded center panel is set along the stitching guideline.

Once you are happy with the placement, open up the center panel and pin it in place.  Then line up a strip of fabric right side down on top of the center panel, with the two edges lined up.  Pin in place and then bring the whole thing to the sewing machine, and sew through the fabric strip, center panel, batting, and backing all at once.

When the strip is sewn, flip it open.  You can press if you want (if you’re using polyester batting, BE CAREFUL – the iron will melt it), but I usually don’t.

first stitches

The backing fabric is rolled up with the batting on the right, as I take the first stitches in the middle of the quilt.

first fabric strips

The top and bottom of the central panel are now tacked down with yellow strips.

top stitching

I just learned from Lucie the Happy Quilter to top stitch the framing strips as I go.

second set

The second set of framing strips are placed right side down, pinned in place, and sewn.  I use a very generous seam allowance to make sure I catch the bottom fabric in the seam.

second set open

The side strips are flipped open.

top stitch detail

Detail of the top stitching. The yellow strips are not exactly lined up, but it doesn’t matter because they will be covered up.

Just repeat these steps over and over as desired.

row three

The central panel is now surrounded by three different fabrics.

Okay, at this point it’s pretty cute, but if we continue along these lines it will end up looking very very predictable.  So this is where the fun starts.    I start putting together scraps into all kinds of blocks, sew the blocks together, and handle the whole section the same as if it was just one strip of fabric.  At this point, it is not “quilt-as-you-go,”   it is more just “baste-as-you go.”

side blocks

Trying out side blocks.

top blocks

These squares might look good on the top.

log cabin squares

Or maybe log cabin blocks would look good.

Here’s what it looks like with the scrappy blocks added around the center.

in progress

The basic quilt, about half done.

I only need to add a few more sections, do some free motion quilting all over, bind the edges, and it will be done!