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Quilter in Bazaar of Nishapur
Women of Gee's Bend, Alabama quilting, 2005.
Quilted skirt (silk, wool and cotton - 1770-1790), Jacoba de Jonge-collection MoMu, Antwerp / Photo by Hugo Maertens, Bruges.

Quilting can refer either to the process of creating a quilt or to the sewing of two or more layers of material together to make a thicker padded material. "Quilting" as the process of creating a quilt uses "quilting" as the joining of layers as one of its steps, often along with designing, piecing, appliqué, binding and other steps. A quilter is the name given to someone who works at quilting. Quilting can be done by hand, by sewing machine, or by a specialist longarm quilting system.

The process of quilting uses a needle and thread to join two or more layers of material to make a quilt. Typical quilting is done with 3 layers: the top fabric or quilt top, batting or insulating material and backing material. The quilter's hand or sewing machine passes the needle and thread through all layers and then brings the needle back up. The process is repeated across the entire area where quilting is wanted. A rocking, straight or running stitch is commonly used and these stitches can be purely functional or decorative and elaborate. Quilting is done to create bed spreads, art quilt wall hangings, clothing, and a variety of textile products. Quilting can make a project thick, or with dense quilting, can raise one area so that another stands out.

Quilt stores often sell fabric, thread, patterns and other goods that are used for quilting. They often have group sewing and quilting classes, where one can learn how to sew or quilt and work with others to exchange skills. Quilt stores often have quilting machines that can be rented out for use, or customers can drop off their quilts and have them professionally quilted.


Early functional quilting[edit]

The word "quilt" comes from the Latin culcita meaning a stuffed sack, but it came into the English language from the French word cuilte.[1] The origins of quilting remain unknown, but sewing techniques of piecing, applique, and quilting have been used for clothing and furnishings in diverse parts of the world for several millennia.

The earliest known quilted garment is depicted on the carved ivory figure of a Pharaoh of the Egyptian First Dynasty, about 3400 B.C.

The earliest known surviving bed quilt is one from Sicily from the end of the fourteenth century. It is made of linen and padded with wool. The blocks across the center are scenes from the legend of Tristan. The quilt is 122" by 106" and is in the Victoria and Albert Museum in London.[2]

In 1924 archaeologists discovered a quilted floor covering in Mongolia. They estimated its date as between 100 BC to 200 AD. There are numerous references to quilts in literature and inventories of estates. Crusaders brought quilted objects from the Middle East to Europe in the late 11th century. Quilted garments known as gambesons were popular in the European Middle Ages. Knights wore them under their armor for comfort and sometimes as an outer garment to protect the metal armor from the weather. The earliest known surviving European bed quilt is from late 14th century Sicily. It is made of linen and padded with wool. The blocks across the center are scenes from the legend of Tristan. The quilt is 122" by 106" and is in the Victoria and Albert Museum in London.[3]

Quilting has been part of the needlework tradition in Europe from about the 5th century CE. Early objects contain Egyptian cotton, which may indicate that Egyptian and Mediterranean trade provided a conduit for the technique. Quilted objects were relatively rare in Europe until approximately the 12th century, when quilted bedding and other items appeared after the return of the Crusaders from the Middle East. The medieval quilted gambeson, aketon and arming doublet[4] were garments worn under, or instead of, armor of maille or plate armor. These developed into the later quilted doublet worn as part of fashionable European male clothing from the 14th to 17th century. Quilting clothing began to be generally used in the 14th century, with quilted doublets and armor worn in France, Germany, and England and quilted tunics in Italy.

American quilts[edit]

In American Colonial times, most women were busy spinning, weaving, and making clothing. Meanwhile, women of the wealthier classes prided themselves on their fine quilting of wholecloth quilts with fine needlework. Quilts made during the early 19th century were not constructed of pieced blocks but were instead whole cloth quilts. Broderie perse quilts and medallion quilts were made. Some antique quilts made in North America have worn-out blankets or older quilts as the internal batting layer, quilted between new layers of fabric and thereby extending the usefulness of old material.

Star of Bethlehem Quilt, 1940 from the Brooklyn Museum

During American pioneer days, "paper" quilting became popular. Paper was used as a pattern and each individual piece of cut fabric was basted around the paper pattern. Paper was a scarce commodity in the early American west, and women would save letters from home, newspaper clippings, and catalogs to use as patterns. The paper not only served as a pattern but as an insulator. The paper found between the old quilts has become a primary source of information about pioneer life.

Quilts made without any insulation or batting were referred to as summer quilts. They were not made for warmth, only to keep the chill off during cooler summer evenings.

African-American quilts[edit]

African-American women developed a distinctive style of quilting, notably different from the style most strongly associated with the Amish. Harriet Powers, a slave-born African American woman, made two famous story quilts. She was just one of the many African American quilters who contributed to the evolution of quilting. The Gee's Bend quilting community was celebrated in an exhibition that travelled to museums including the Smithsonian.[5] The contributions made by her and other quilters of Gee's Bend, Alabama has been recognized by the US Postal Service with a series of stamps.[6] The communal nature of the quilting process (and how it can bring together women of varied races and backgrounds) was honored in the series of stamps.

During the American Civil War, slaves used quilts as a means to share and transmit secret messages to escape slavery and travel the Underground Railroad. A lack of written record on the topic has created debate among historians and scholars. However, an oral history has been told and preserved. [7]

Native American Baby in cradle board with baby star quilt

Hawaiian quilting[edit]

"Hawaiian quilting was well established by the beginning of the twentieth century. Hawaiian women learned to quilt from the wives of missionaries from New England in the 1820s. Though they learned both pieced work and applique; by the 1870s they had adapted applique techniques to create a uniquely Hawaiian mode of expression. The classic Hawaiian quilt design is a large, bold, curvilinear appliqué pattern that covers much of the surface of the quilt, and the symmetrical design is cut from only one piece of fabric."[8]

Art quilting[edit]

An art quilt – "Carved in Stone"

During the late 20th century, art quilts became popular for their aesthetic and artistic qualities rather than for functionality (they are displayed on a wall or table rather than spread on a bed). "It is believed that decorative quilting came to Europe and Asia during the Crusades (A.D. 1100-1300), a likely idea because textile arts were more developed in China and India than in the West."[9]

Quilting in fashion and design[edit]

A modern use of quilting: a stool upholstered with quilted and embroidered fabric from India.

Unusual quilting designs have increasingly become popular as decorative textiles. Industrial sewing technology has become more precise and flexible, and quilting using exotic fabrics and embroidery began to appear in home furnishings in the early 21st century.

Quilt Blocks[edit]

The quilt block is traditionally a patterned square of fabric that is repeated with plain blocks to form the overall design of a quilt. There are a variety of different designs for quilt blocks including the Nine-Patch, Shoo Fly, Churn Dash, and the Prairie Queen.

A Nine Patch is made by sewing five patterned or dark pieces (patches) to four light square pieces in alternating order. These nine sewn squares make one block.

The Shoo Fly varies from the Nine Patch by dividing each of the four corner pieces into a light and dark triangle.

Another variation develops when one square piece is divided into two equal rectangles in the basic Nine Patch design. The Churn Dash block combines the triangles and rectangle to expand the Nine Patch.

The Prairie Queen block combines two large scale triangles in the corner section with the middle section using four squares. The center piece is one full size square. Each of the nine sections does have the same overall measurement and fits together.[10]

Types and equipment[edit]

Many types of quilting exist today. The two most widely used are hand-quilting and machine quilting.

Hand quilting is the process of using a needle and thread to sew a running stitch by hand across the entire area to be quilted. This binds the layers together. A quilting frame or hoop is often used to assist in holding the piece being quilted off the quilter's lap. A quilter can make one stitch at a time by first driving the needle through the fabric from the right side, then pushing it back up through the material from the wrong side to complete the stitch; this is called a stab stitch.[11] Another option is called a rocking stitch, where the quilter has one hand, usually with a finger wearing a thimble, on top of the quilt, while the other hand is located beneath the piece to push the needle back up. A third option is called "loading the needle" and involves doing four or more stitches before pulling the needle through the cloth. Hand quilting is still practiced by the Amish and Mennonites within the United States and Canada, and is enjoying a resurgence worldwide.

Machine quilting is the process of using a home sewing machine or a longarm machine to sew the layers together. With the home sewing machine, the layers are tacked together before quilting. This involves laying the top, batting, and backing out on a flat surface and either pinning (using large safety pins) or tacking the layers together. Longarm Quilting involves placing the layers to be quilted on a special frame. The frame has bars on which the layers are rolled, keeping these together without the need for tacking or pinning. These frames are used with a professional sewing machine mounted on a platform. The platform rides along tracks so that the machine can be moved across the layers on the frame. A Longarm machine is moved across the fabric. In contrast, the fabric is moved through a home sewing machine.

Tying is another technique of fastening the three layers together (and is not a form of quilting at all). This is done primarily on quilts that are made to be used and are needed quickly. The process of tying the quilt is done with yarns or multiple strands of thread. Square knots are used to finish off the ties so that the quilt may be washed and used without fear of the knots coming undone. This technique is commonly called "tacking." In the Midwest, tacked bed covers are referred to as comforters.

Quilting is now taught in some American schools. It is also taught at senior centers around the U.S., but quilters of all ages attend classes. These forms of workshop or classes are also available in other countries in guilds and community colleges.

Contemporary quilters use a wide range of quilting designs and styles, from ancient and ethnic to post-modern futuristic patterns. There is no one single school or style that dominates the quilt-making world.Regardless of your skill level all quilters know the importance of having the right tools when quilting. Having the right tools increases the fluid process of making a quilt and can even be improved over time with practice. Having the right tools will maximize efficiency and make the quilting experience one to remember. Hand quilters spend much more time on making the quilts compared to machine quilters because of all of the tools that are incorporated into the machine compared to the hand quilters’ ability to only use their hands. There are many other tools and machines to use to make quilts. Below is a list of the different tools and tips that can be used to make a quilt by hand or machine:[12] [13]

  • Fabric Markers

When making a quilt it is important to mark the fabric that you are cutting in order to have some kind of guidance when cutting the fabric. When marking the fabric it is advised that you use a “fabric marker” which is a marker that washes out when the quilt is washed or will fade away after repeated washes. [14]

  • Long Arm Quilting Machines

The long arm quilting machine is something that every quilter would love to work with. This machine makes it easier to make larger quilts because of the extended arm that is used. Being able to leverage the larger machine and not having to hold the material that is being used while quilting helps the process move along much faster and makes it easier on the quilter. [15]

  • Machine Quilting Needles

When quilting the most important tool that is used is the needle. Regardless of if you are quilting by hand or by machine, the needle that is being used is critical to the final result. Using the wrong needle can lead to puckering, bumps, or even the material being torn. There are many different styles of needles and looking at Sewing Needles will be a good guide. [16]

  • Pins and Thimbles

Understanding how Pins and Thimbles work is also very important in the process of making quilts. Many different combinations of pins and thimbles can be used in order get similar results and the exciting part is figuring out existing combinations as well as coming up with new combinations. Thimbles are not required but are always seen as good practice. [17]

  • Quilting Hoops and Quilting Frames

Many different options are available for quilting hoops and frames and the quilter has the option of which one they want to use. Looking at quilting hoops or quilting frames will be beneficial in making that decision.

  • How to Choose Threads and Cottons for Quilting

Choosing the right types of threads for a quilt can be difficult and beginners may need some assistance from an expert or more advanced quilter. The color, composition, and type of thread that is used will have a pivotal role in the outcome of the final quilt. [18]

  • Rotary Cutting – Cutters and Boards

What a quilter uses to cut the fabric is a vital step in the quilting process. It is very important each piece is perfectly aligned in order to prevent an uneven or sloppy appearance and to prevent rework. A rotary cutter offers even the shakiest of hands the ability to produce perfect even slices and minimizes the chance of error.

  • Quilting Templates

Quilts can have many different templates and they can have a large impact on the final result. There are a number of mediums that can be used and depending on the usage, size and style they will give your quilt a varied look. Templates are generally considered the basis of the structure of the quilt, like a blueprint for a house. If used properly it can help quilters produce a quilt of their liking and give them a sense of satisfaction and vision for future quilts they want to make. [19]

Processes and definitions[edit]


Traditional quilting is a six-step process that includes: 1) selecting a pattern, fabrics and batting; 2) measuring and cutting fabrics to the correct size to make blocks from the pattern; 3) piecing (sewing cut pieces of fabric together using a sewing machine or by hand to make blocks) blocks together to make a finished "top"; 4) layering the quilt top with batting and backing, to make a "quilt sandwich"; 5) quilting by hand or machine through all layers of the quilt sandwich; and 6) squaring up and trimming excess batting from the edges, machine sewing the binding to the front edges of the quilt and then hand-stitching the binding to the quilt backing. Note: If the quilt will be hung on the wall, there is an additional step: making and attaching the hanging sleeve.

In China[edit]

A lattice of thread is being created atop a layer of batting.

Throughout China, a simple method of producing quilts is employed. It involves setting up a temporary roadside site. A frame is assembled within which a lattice work of cotton thread is made. Cotton batting, either new or retrieved from discarded quilts, is prepared in a mobile carding machine. The mechanism of the carding machine is powered by a small, petrol motor. The batting is then added, layer by layer, to the area within the frame. Between each layer, a new lattice of thread is created with a wooden disk used to tamp down the layer.[2]

About 4 of these can be produced by a two-person team each day. They are sold to local shops for 60 RMB or more depending on size and thickness.


  • Piecing: Sewing small pieces of cloth into patterns, called blocks, that are then sewn together to make a finished quilt top. These blocks may be sewn together, edge to edge, or separated by strips of cloth called sashing. Note: Whole cloth quilts typically are not pieced, but are made using a single piece of cloth for the quilt top.

Pieced Quilt- Pieced quilts are also known as Patchworks. They consist of geometric shapes taken from different fabrics and are sewn together. After that process, it is referred to as a quilt top. The quilting patterns generally follow the design of the geometric patterns. The quilt ends up being a mixture of different fabrics and geometric designs and shapes that are organized in some fashion. [20]

  • Borders: Typically strips of fabric of various widths added to the perimeter of the pieced blocks to complete the quilt top. Note: borders may also be made up of simple or patterned blocks that are stitched together into a row, before being added to the quilt top.
  • Layering: Placing the quilt top over the batting and the backing.
  • Quilting: Stitching through all three layers of the quilt (the quilt top, the batting, and the quilt back), typically in decorative patterns, which serves three purposes:
  1. To secure the layers to each other,
  2. To add to the beauty and design of the finished quilt, and
  3. To trap air within the quilted sections, making the quilt as a whole much warmer than its parts.
  • Binding: Long fabric strips cut on the bias that are attached to the borders of the quilt. Binding is typically machine sewn to the front side of the edge of the quilt, folded over twice, and hand sewn to the back side of the quilt.

Quilting is usually completed by starting from the middle, and moving outward toward the edges of the quilt.

Quilting can be elaborately decorative, comprising stitching fashioned into complex designs and patterns, simple or complex geometric grids, "motifs" traced from published quilting patterns or traced pictures, freehand, or complex repeated designs called tessellations. The quilter may choose to emphasize these designs by using threads that are multicolored or metallic, or that contrast highly to the fabric. Conversely, the quilter may choose to make the quilting disappear, using "invisible" nylon or polyester thread,thread that matches the quilt top, or stitching within the patchwork seams themselves (commonly known as "stitch in the ditch"). Some quilters draw the quilting design on the quilt top before stitching, while others prefer to stitch "freehand."

Quilting is often combined with embroidery, patchwork, applique, and other forms of needlework.

Specialty styles[edit]

  • Foundation piecing – also known as paper-piecing – sewing pieces of fabric onto a temporary or permanent foundation
  • Shadow or Echo Quilting – Hawaiian Quilting, where quilting is done around an appliquéd piece on the quilt top, then the quilting is echoed again and again around the previous quilting line.
  • Ralli Quilting – Pakistani and Indian quilting, often associated with the Sindh (Pakistan) and Gujarat (India) regions.
  • Sashiko stitching – Basic running stitch worked in heavy, white cotton thread usually on dark indigo colored fabric. It was originally used by the working classes to stitch layers together for warmth.[21]
  • Trapunto quilting – stuffed quilting, often associated with Italy.
  • Machine Trapunto quilting – a process of using water soluble thread and an extra layer of batting to achieve trapunto design and then sandwiching the quilt and re-sewing the design with regular cotton thread.
  • Shadow trapunto – This involves quilting a design in fine Lawn and filling some of the spaces in the pattern with small lengths of colored wool.
  • Tivaevae or tifaifai – A distinct art from the Cook Islands.
  • Watercolor Quilting – A sophisticated form of scrap quilting whereby uniform sizes of various prints are arranged and sewn to create a picture or design. See also Colorwash.
  • Thread Art – A custom style of sewing where thread is layered to create the picture on the quilt. See this picture for an example (http://www.agww.net/html/agww_merchandise_2.html).

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Johnson, Julie. "History of Quilting". Retrieved 28 March 2014. 
  2. ^ Johnson, Julie. "HISTORY OF QUILTING". Center for Great Plain Studies. Emporia State University. Retrieved 31 January 2014. 
  3. ^ http://www.emporia.edu/cgps/tales/quilte~1.html
  4. ^ [1][dead link]
  5. ^ Fabric of Their Lives
  6. ^ Quilts of Gee's Bend commemorative postage stamps[dead link]
  7. ^ http://www.osblackhistory.com/quilts.php
  8. ^ QUILTS. (2003). In The Encyclopedia of American Folk Art. Retrieved from http://www.credoreference.com/entry/routfolkart/quilts
  9. ^ Bial, Raymond (1996). With Needle and Thread. Boston, New York: Houghton Mifflin Company. p. 18. 
  10. ^ Johnson, Julie. "HISTORY OF QUILTING". Center for Great Plain Studies. Emporia State University. Retrieved 31 January 2014. 
  11. ^ Barb Robson, Quilter: Stab stitch quilting
  12. ^ "Quilting 101 – Quilt making tips and resources". Quilting. Retrieved 28 January 2014. 
  13. ^ Cox, Meg. http://online.wsj.com/news/articles. Retrieved 28 January 2014.  Missing or empty |title= (help)
  14. ^ "Quilting 101 – Quilt making tips and resources". Quilting. Retrieved 28 January 2014. 
  15. ^ "Quilting 101 – Quilt making tips and resources". Quilting. Retrieved 28 January 2014. 
  16. ^ "Quilting 101 – Quilt making tips and resources". Quilting. Retrieved 28 January 2014. 
  17. ^ "Quilting 101 – Quilt making tips and resources". Quilting. Retrieved 28 January 2014. 
  18. ^ "Quilting 101 – Quilt making tips and resources". Quilting. Retrieved 28 January 2014. 
  19. ^ Cox, Meg. http://online.wsj.com/news/articles. Retrieved 28 January 2014.  Missing or empty |title= (help)
  20. ^ "Quilting 101 – Quilt making tips and resources". Retrieved 28 January 2014. 
  21. ^ Sharon Pederson,(2005). Sensational Sashiko, Japanese Applique and Quilting by Machine. p.5, Martingale & Co., Woodinville,WA
  • Colby, Averil. Quilting. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1971.