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 fabric.

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 and there.

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 to sew.

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 powerful.

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 helpful.

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, ignore them.

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 the same.

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 fine.

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 register your panel with September 11 Quilts. For regular updates, visit this website.


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