Quiltmaking Instructions and Suggestions
written with artists in mind

by Drunell Levinson

The stereotypical notion is that quilts are bedcovers and/or decorative objects. While both perceptions are true, quilts are also an artform with unlimited potential that provide artists with new media and techniques, and new forms of expression.

September 11 Quilts is a memorial project open to all artists. No matter what media you typically work in, you can adapt your ideas to quilts. Creating a quilt is the same as creating art in other media. First, think about what you want to express in your quilt, and how you want to express. Look at all the techniques possible and then decide which ones will help you complete your project. It is our hope that you will use your media to redefine traditional definitions and stereotypical perceptions of quilts. Please remember, though, that the making and exhibition of the quilts is intended to help us mourn. The idea is to memorialize some aspect of the September 11, 2001 tragedies or your feelings about the events. In the process, you should also incorporate sewing into your work.

Things You Need to Know to Submit Work For this Project

  • Work submitted should possess the basic structural characteristics of a quilt. Please use fabric (this includes canvas), or other durable materials such as vinyl. The quilt must have two (or more) distinct layers. Two distinct layers means a top and a back (or bottom). This is a requirement, unless you are using canvas of the sort that artists use to paint on. Two layers in this case might include canvas as the foundation, with another layer of attachments or other things. You may also use ready-made objects, but please do not use perishable items, and do not use objects that can't be folded or rolled. Secure attachments to all layers. It is also important that you avoid sharp objects such as glass and staples. Grommets are acceptable.

  • The quilts should be 36" by 72" or 36" by 36". A standard size is necessary because the quilts will be temporarily joined in sections and displayed on the ground at some of the exhibition venues. If for some reason your work does not conform to this size, it may be excluded from exhibitions when the quilts are temporarily joined.

  • It is not necessary to use batting for your September 11 quilt. Depending on the materials that you use in your quilt, though, batting can help to stabilize your work, and it can also be used to create a "puffy" effect.

  • Although the quilt will be temporarily joined to other quilts and exhibited flat, quilts will also be exhibited individually on walls. You will need to make a 4" sleeve on the back of the quilt for hanging.

Things That May Be Helpful to Know

What is a Quilt?

A traditional quilt is an object that has a top, a back, and batting or stuffing in between the two. Batting is a puffy substance that is available in cotton and in polyester, and it is used in traditional quilts for warmth. Quilting is the stitching that holds all the layers together. Artists have reinterpreted this traditional definition by using, for example, two layers of fabric. Others do not use fabric at all. The choice is up to you.

What kind of Equipment will I need?

Some techniques require a sewing machine. If you have one, your work might go faster. A sewing machine is not necessary to make a quilt, though. You can make a quilt using the following basic materials, in addition to your fabric or other durable material:
  • Special Scissors
  • Thread
  • Needles.

Special scissors are necessary to make a quilt because scissors that have been used to cut paper or cardboard are too dull to cut fabric cleanly. Special scissors means new scissors, or scissors that have not been used to cut paper, or anything other than fabric. These scissors can be inexpensive, but they must be sharp.

Many quilters use special threads, such as quilting thread or cotton-covered polyester thread. Quilting thread is particularly popular for those who hand sew, because it is strong. Cotton-covered polyester thread is popular for machine sewing and quilting. There are also threads that produce decorative effects, such as embroidery thread and metallic thread. The choice of thread is up to you. That choice will help you to produce your own unique work of art.

You can find traditional materials to make your quilt at a quilt shop or sewing supply store, or on line. Non-traditional materials can be found everywhere.

What sewing techniques can I use to make a quilt?

The two most popular quilt techniques are piecing and appliqué. In general, piecing is best suited to straight lines and abstract, geometric patterns, while appliqué is used for curved, free-form lines and for pictures. There are many exceptions to these statements, and there are other quilt techniques, such as fabric painting, stenciling, photo transfer, fabric dying, writing on fabric, embroidery, etc. There are also many different kinds of piecing and appliqué, and many quilts combine multiple techniques. The idea of this project is for you to create your own definition of a quilt, while expressing your own feelings. Try to incorporate the medium that you typically work, with sewing, to create new ways of making quilts. Look, for example, at the quilts on the website made by Baju Wijono and Kay Wood. Both artists are painters and both artists have used their medium, with sewing, to create new forms of quilts. Other artists have used photo transfer and laser techniques. Take a look at the website. You will find many examples of quilts that do not conform to traditional perceptions.

If you are using two distinct layers for your quilt, such as a whole piece of fabric for the top and a whole piece of fabric for the back, you should fasten the back to the top at the edges all the way around the quilt. To do this, place the bottom layer of fabric on the floor or table with the wrong side of the fabric facing up. Place your batting in between, if you are using it, and then place your top layer with the right side facing up. Be sure to smooth all layers so that there are no wrinkles or bumps in between. It is a good idea to temporarily safety pin or hand baste these layers together if you have the time. If you do not do this, you could wind up with lots of extra fabric in places that you don't want it and your quilt will not lay flat. The quilt also may not retain its square or rectangular shape. After you have smoothed and secured all your layers, fold the edges of the fabric towards the inside of the quilt, enclosing the batting. Then sew around the folded edges of the quilt to secure the seam. Another way, and perhaps the easiest way, to enclose the edges is to cut the back layer of fabric about three inches larger than the top. Then fold the back layer of the quilt towards the front. Then fold in the raw edges so that they do not unravel, and sew along the folded edges on the front of the quilt. Carol Beron chose to leave her edges raw to create a unique effect. Her fabric is a very sturdy canvas, though, and it consists of multiple layers of fabric and batting. This is not the kind of canvas that artists paint on, but the combination of durable materials results in a lasting, sturdy work of art.

You can also choose to bind your quilt rather than just folding the edges inward, but binding is something that might be better left to those who are familiar with sewing techniques. If you want to try it you have two choices. You can buy binding at a fabric store, or you can make your own. The technique to attach the binding is similar for either kind, but it might be a good idea to check the package directions if you buy your binding. To make your own binding, cut out strips of fabric 2½" wide and attach the strips together to make a piece long enough to go around the entire quilt. Fold the strips in half, lengthwise and iron it. Pin and sew the cut edge to the front of the quilt placing the cut edges of the quilt and the cut edges of the binding together, facing the same direction. The folded edge will be unattached, facing the center of the quilt. When completed, turn the folded edge around to the back of the quilt, and attach the binding to the back. You can do this by hand or machine. You will also have to enclose the ends of the binding in some fashion. As I mentioned, though, this process might be best left to expert sewers.

To finish off your quilt, you need a 4" sleeve on the back. As I mentioned, although the quilts will be exhibited flat, many will also be hung. The sleeve is used to hang the quilt. The easiest way is to attach the sleeve after you have completed the quilt. To make the sleeve, cut a 5" strip of fabric, about 1" shorter than the width of your quilt (71" inches or 35" inches, depending on the size and/or direction of your quilt). Turn the edges in twice, about ¼" each time, and stitch them down by machine or by hand. Attach the top of this strip by hand, right below the binding (or about ¼" from the top) on the back top side of your quilt, leaving open the short edges. Make sure your stitches don't show through the front of the quilt. Then smooth out the sleeve to ensure that it is completely flat, and attach the bottom of the sleeve to the quilt. A rod will be inserted through the sleeve for hanging.

If this is not enough information for you to begin your quilt, books on how to make quilts are very helpful. Find one that suits you, or just make up your own techniques.

The important thing to remember is that this project is a memorial for the September 11, 2001 tragedies. The purpose of the making and the viewing of the work is to help us remember the events and those who lost their lives.

Don't forget to register your panel with September 11 Quilts. For regular updates, visit this website. Organizing this project is one of the most rewarding things that I have ever done. Thank you for helping me to make this project a reality.


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