Most people think of quilts as many colorful blocks or patches of fabric sewn together to make a large blanket. The piecing technique is actually more complicated. Piecing requires you to cut the fabric into regular shapes and sew them together in a geometric pattern to form blocks. You may either sew them by hand or use a sewing machine. While the sewing machine is quicker and more durable, hand sewing is a more traditional way of quilting.
You will want to create a template to keep your shapes identical in shape and size. An accurate template will allow your fabric shapes to fit together perfectly, block after block. You can purchase templates that are made from plastic, or you can make your own.
To make your own templates, transfer the design onto a piece of paper and cut it out using sharp scissors. You will then glue the paper cutout to a piece of cardboard. Cut out the cardboard template a 1/4-inch larger, all the way around your shape. This will give you the seam allowance. Go over the cardboard cutout with a thin layer of clear nail polish or varnish. This will help to protect it from being cut when you are cutting your fabric.
If you would rather make a plastic template, place a piece of clear plastic over your design and draw around the shape. Leave a 1/4-inch seam allowance around the shape as you did before and cut out your shape from the plastic. You should always make a new template for each shape that is required for your project.
After creating your template, place it on the fabric making sure to line up a straight edge with the grain of the fabric. Using a quilter's pencil or tailor's chalk, draw around the template onto the fabric.
If you need several pieces of fabric cut into the same shape, fold the fabric into several layers, accordian style, and lay the template on top of the layers. The best way to cut your fabric is with a rotary cutter and a self-healing cutting mat. Just be careful, the rotary cutters are very sharp!
If you are going to use backing papers or iron-on interfacing, you can attach them once the fabric is cut. Before sewing the pieces together, lay them out and make sure your are happy with the design you have chosen and the colors of fabric you are using. If you are pleased, you may begin piecing.
To begin the piecing technique, place two of the shapes that are going to be next to each other in the block right sides together and pin. You will want to pin the corners first and then place a pin in the middle of the shape on the seam allowance. You will then join each patch with a small whipstitch by inserting the needle into one corner and continuing to sew across to the other corner. Remove your pins as you sew.
If you have decided to use your sewing machine, the piecing will go faster if you use the Continuous Piecing Method. To use this method, pin the shapes right sides together in pairs. Place one pair into the sewing machine and machine stitch along the seam line using the foot as your guide.
When you get to the end of the seam line, do not remove the piece from the sewing machine. Instead, sew a few stitches past the piece and place another pair into the sewing machine and start sewing it along the seam line. You should have a short piece of uncut thread between each pair.
Continue with this technique until you have sewn all of the pairs. When you are done, cut each thread that is left between the pairs in half so that you have separate units. You will want to join enough pairs to make one patched block.
Once the pairs are sewn and cut apart, press each piece over the seam line, leaving the piece together as it was in the sewing machine. Then you will want to press the piece open making sure you press the seam allowance to one side to avoid bulk. Do not press the seams open.
After you have complete a block, continue cutting, sewing and pressing the fabric to make as many blocks as you need. After all the blocks are made, sew them together in the pattern you have chosen to make your quilt top.
Once your quilt top has been completed, layer it by placing the batting on top of the wrong side of the quilt back, and placing the quilt top on the backing, right side facing up. Baste the layers together with either thread or pins and quilt as desired.
Whether you are using a sewing machine or hand-sewing to do the quilting, you will want to use a hoop or your hands to keep the fabric taut and you will need to stitch slowly to keep the quilting lines straight and unpuckered.
Quilting will get easier and your stitches will become straighter and more evenly placed the more you do it. Learning how to piece your blocks so they will fit together perfectly is the first step in a life long enjoyment of the craft.