Quiltmaking Instructions and Suggestions
written with non-quilters and non-artists in mind
by Sarah Roberts
You don't have to be an expert quilter to make a panel for September 11
Quilts. If you have a person you want to remember, a survivor you want
to pay tribute to, a memory or response you want to express, you can do
so. This article is intended to help you.
Things Everybody Needs to Know
The quilts should be 36" by 72" or 36" by 36". This size is firm, because
the quilts won't fit together if they are all different sizes. However, you
could always divide the panel and share the job with a friend or family
member. The 36" by 72" panel is in the shape of a rectangle twice as long
as it is wide. If two people make 36" by 36" panels, that would be
perfect. The two panels can be joined to complete the quilt.
Please make your quilt from fabric, or other durable materials. You may
attach buttons or metal or plastic charms or trinkets, but no paper or
leaves or cardboard or photographs or anything else that can't be
kept or folded. Knitted fabrics stretch and should not be used as the
main, weight-bearing structural part of the quilt. The same applies to
very delicate fabrics. They may be attached to the quilt for
decoration, but the main body of the quilt should be fairly strong woven
Next, please make your panel with no edges of fabric that can unravel.
Most quilts have a top, a back, and batting or stuffing in between the
two, for warmth. (The quilting is the stitching that holds the layers
together.) The outside edges are covered with a binding, or the backing
is folded up over the front. Other edges of fabric that might unravel
are covered by the backing. For the September 11 Quilts panel, batting
is not necessary. It will help stabilize your quilt, though.
You should have a backing on your panel, UNLESS it has nothing to hide
on the back of it. For example, if you decided to paint a design on the
fabric, AND you have chosen a strong and sturdy fabric such as canvas
for your quilt, you may simply hem or bind the edges of
your single layer. HOWEVER, if there are any stitches or cut edges of
fabric on the back of your quilt top, you should use a backing fabric.
You should fasten the backing to the top at the edges all the way around
the quilt, and here and there in the middle of the panel so that it can
be laid flat easily. You may use hand quilting or machine quilting, or tie
the top and backing together with single stitches of yarn, knotted here
The quilt will be temporarily joined to other quilts and exhibited flat,
but it will also be exhibited individually on walls. You will need to
make a 4" sleeve on the back of the quilt for hanging.
If You Don't Know How to Make a Quilt
If you don't know how to sew, do not be discouraged. Look for people in
your area to help you who know how to make a quilt or at least know how
First, go to your local library and look for books on quilts and how to
make them. These books may be all the help you need! Most libraries
have books with pictures of quilts, and they may give you an inspiration
or an idea. Even if you don't see anything that you want to make, you
may be inspired. Your quilt doesn't have to be perfect to be
beautiful. Some people make quilts with lopsided hearts and stars and
uneven quilt patterns on purpose. You may also see some very simple
quilts that are very striking. Yours doesn't have to be fancy to be
At the library, you may also find magazines on quilts and quiltmaking.
These will include advertisements for books on quilting, quilt shops and
catalogs. If you don't have a quilt or craft shop or a sewing supply
store in your area, you can send away to catalogue companies for
supplies. However, when you shop in person, the sales clerks can be very
Do not be intimidated by expensive sewing equipment. Some of the most
beautiful quilts were made with paper or cardboard patterns, scissors,
needle, thread, thimble and a homemade quilt frame. Most of the
equipment you see or read about is designed to make things easier or
faster for those who are less skilled or those who don't have much time.
So, equipment is optional. There are, however, a few exceptions. You
will need certain items.
You will need special scissors to cut fabric. Scissors that have been
used to cut paper or cardboard are not sharp enough to cut fabric
cleanly. Sewing scissors are inexpensive, and if you never want to sew
again after you finish your quilt you can use them for paper.
Some techniques require a sewing machine. If you do not have one, and
cannot buy, rent or borrow one, simply use other techniques.
If you are doing hand sewing for more than an hour or two at one sitting
every day, you should have a thimble. I never learned to use a thimble
until I took up quilting, and I still cannot use a traditional metal or
plastic one. I use a leather thimble with a piece of metal under the
leather to protect my finger. Find what works for you.
Next, if you are hand quilting, you must use quilting thread, not
regular sewing thread. Quilting thread is stronger and less likely to
break from the weight of the fabric. I also recommend that hand sewing
be done with cotton or polyester thread, not cotton wrapped polyester
thread, because it knots when sewing by hand. Cotton wrapped polyester
thread is good for the sewing machine, though.
For hand quilting (these are the stitches that hold the fabric
together), many people use a quilt frame or hoop, but some people simply
quilt on their laps. For machine quilting you need a sewing machine.
You can also choose to tie the quilt with a large needle and some yarn,
rather than quilting the panel. Tying is easiest for beginners.
If you have a quilt frame, or can borrow one, you could have quilting
bees and invite other quilters over. This could be a beautiful way to
share memories and help each other deal with grief.
Starting a Quilt
First, think about what you want to express in your quilt. Do you have
a picture in your mind? If so, look at all the quilt techniques possible
and then decide which ones most closely resemble your mental image, and
which ones you think you can do.
The two major 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 different techniques.
If you are like me, you don't have a picture in your mind, just
feelings, and maybe words. I am going to make a few suggestions before I
move on; they are personal suggestions, and if they don't appeal to you,
If you are memorializing one person, you could talk about him or her
with friends and family members. Share stories and look at his or her
belongings and photos.
Maybe you would like to use some favorite clothes that the person wore.
This is one possibility for your memorial quilt. On the other hand, you
could sew a whole garment onto the quilt.
Don't hesitate to write on the quilt, if words are what come to you.
Just use permanent fabric marker. There is nothing wrong with a whole
quilt being something that you wrote, or something that you read, or
something that the deceased once said or wrote or loved to read. Add a
border, if you like. Words work well with images. Museums use captions
to help people understand what a work of art is about. Consider writing
a caption. You could use embroidery instead of fabric marker if you are
familiar with the technique. You can also make letters using foundation
paper piecing, a sewing machine technique.
If you want to transfer photographs, you can buy photo transfer paper to
use in combination with a photocopier. You can photocopy black and
white or color pictures onto the paper and iron them onto fabric. There
are many books with ideas and directions on how to make quilts using
pictures; The Photo Transfer Handbook: Snap It, Print It, Stitch It by
Jean Ray Laury is one. You can also buy photo transfer paper and even
fabric that will fit right in your home printer. Photo transferring
may be a very appropriate technique for your project.
If the person you are commemorating had a favorite color, you can
incorporate their favorite color in your memorial quilt.
Sometimes the best way to memorialize a person is to make the most
beautiful quilt you can make, even if it doesn't refer directly to that
person. You could write "In Memory of" or "Dedicated to the Memory of"
in the border.
Look through pictures related to the events of September 11th and find
one that moves you. Then find a way to express what is most powerful
about that picture to you. This might include replicating a detail of
the photograph in fabric, or using the colors of the photograph, or
making an abstract version of the photograph.
Your quilt might also include a collection of images related to someone
who died. There are many traditional quilt patterns available that have
names that might be meaningful. For example, some patters are named
after states where the person may have lived. Patterns are also
available that incorporate houses, animals, mountains, sailboats, etc.
There are also patterns with alphabets and numbers.
Choice of Techniques
I make pieced quilts, but many people find that difficult. I gather it
has something to do with the seam allowance. The seam allowance is the
fabric that is left around the edges and tucked inside when sewn. If
you know what I am talking about, leave at least ¼ " seam
allowance. If not, find a good instruction book before you try piecing
for your quilt.
A pictorial quilt is an obvious (though not the only) choice for this
project, and appliqué is the obvious (though again not the only) choice
for a pictorial quilt. Appliqué is a technique in which pieces of fabric
are cut out in the intended shapes and applied to the top of a
background fabric by sewing all the way around them.
Some people find appliqué difficult, and others find it easy and fun. The
hard part for me is that the edges of the piece being applied have to be
folded under so they don't ravel. This can be done ahead of time by
basting them down or with an iron, or with your fingers and the tip of
the needle as you sew (called "needle-turn appliqué"). Either way is
hard for me, especially at corners or tight curves.
There are a few ways to make appliqué easier. One way is to appliqué
fabric that can't unravel, i.e. felt. Felt is available in a range of
colors, both solid and heather, but no prints, stripes, or plaids. Also,
if you stitch very close to the edge of the felt, your stitches may pull
out. So appliqué felt with a blanket stitch, a running stitch about a
quarter inch in from the edge, or a moderately wide machine zigzag
stitch. Felt, however, does not wear well. If you want your quilt to
last, I recommend that you choose another technique or another fabric
that does not unravel.
Most fabric stores carry a product called fusible web. It is a thin,
fibrous looking mess, but with the right temperature iron it will glue
one fabric to another. The edges should be sewn down with machine
zigzag stitch. I have never used this technique, but have seen it used
successfully. It stiffens the fabric, and the line of zigzag stitching
looks like a wide solid line around the edge of the appliquéd piece, so
choose your thread color carefully.
Some people recommend using spray starch; some use heat-proof template
plastic and iron the edges of the fabric over the template. Products
such as "No Fray" and "Fray Check" can also be used to reduce fraying
and eliminate the need for folding under the edges in appliqué. These
products should be used after you have completed your sewing.
A good instruction book is recommended. There are many techniques and
products that you can use for appliqué. Find the one that suits you. I
might even find one that suits me if I had the patience to try them all.
Finishing Your Quilt
To finish off your quilt, you need a 4" sleeve on the back, and you
need binding. Although the quilts will sometimes 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, but you can
also incorporate the sleeve into your binding.
To attach the sleeve after you have completed the quilt, cut a 5"
strip of fabric, about 1" shorter than the width of your quilt
(35" or 71"). Turn the edges in twice, about ¼" each time,
and stitch them down by machine or by hand. Attach this strip by hand,
right below the binding on the back top side of your quilt, leaving open
the short edges. A rod will be inserted and used to hang the quilt.
I always make my own binding. I cut out fabric on the bias, 2½"
wide, and fold it in half lengthwise. I sew the cut edge to the
front of the quilt and turn the folded edge around to the back of the
quilt. Then I attach the binding to the back of the quilt by hand. You
can also buy quilt binding in packages at the fabric store. If you have
all straight edges (which you should for this panel), you don't
necessarily need to use a bias binding. The fabric can be cut on the
straight of the grain. The technique used to attach any kind of bias is
Perhaps the easiest way to complete the edge of a quilt is to fold the
backing fabric up over the front, then turn the edges under once more so
they don't unravel. In this case, the backing fabric would need to be
cut larger than the front so that you would have enough fabric to turn
to the front. Fold the corners carefully so they aren't bumpy, then pin
or baste in place. I sew this on the machine, but hand sewing works just
Books on how to make quilts are very helpful. I recommend that
you find a book that includes a chapter on how to make bindings.
Finally, don't forget to
your panel with September 11 Quilts. For regular updates, visit this website.