What is quilting?

Quilting is actually the stitching through of a number of layers of textiles.  It is usually a layer of fabric, with an insulating material and then another layer of fabric.

The history of quilting goes back to early pioneer days and Mary Queen of Scotts also enjoyed this craft.

Blooming stripes printed quilt top – also available in a pattern.


The quilt top is the part of the quilt that we usually spend most of our time on.  It is generally patchwork made in various patterns using traditional and contemporary blocks.

There are a number of ways that the patchwork can be done:

  1. English paper piecing
  2. Foundation paper piecing
  3. Templates

English paper piecing is generally done by hand. A template is cut and fabric basted to it.  Each of these pieces is then handstitched together.

Foundation paper piecing uses a paper template to stitch your fabric to and allows for greater accuracy and consistency.

Templates are cut from paper or cardboard and used to cut your fabric.  They may or may not have a 1/4″ seam allowance – more on the seam allowances later!

We also have whole cloth quilts made from solid top fabric, insulation and backing fabric.  Interesting designs, trapunto, etc are used to stitch these.  Modern quilts are also made using this concept with custom printed fabric – lately, these are also referred to as cheater quilts.

Daindelina is a printed quilt top – quilted with couching detail.


We use batting to create warmth and softness.  Batting is made from cotton, bamboo or polyester and has different lofts.  Some quilters like to use a combination of cotton and polyester to add weight to the quilt, and this will make it warmer too.  I use lightweight polyester because it is more cost effective and easily available.  Cotton and bamboo batting is mostly imported to South Africa which makes it very expensive.

I also use minki without a backing fabric – so the quilt is only 2 layers.  The minki gives warmth against your skin, but the quilt is still lightweight.  In Africa, this works really well!

I also use winter sheeting in rag quilts for the insulation layer to add body to the rag and it makes the construction of the quilt a bit easier.


Fabric comes in a variety of widths, however, quilters cotton is generally only 45″ wide.  When you walk into a fabric store, they will have special backing fabric that is made much wider so that you can have a single piece of fabric to use for your backing.  It also comes at a price!

This introduces the pieced backing.  Leftover pieces of fabric are stitched together in a minimalist pattern to create a backing for the quilt.  There are a few issues that can creep in when you use a pieced backing.  Foremost is the added complexity of matching up seams if you want to stitch a pattern that will work for both the top and the backing – very complicated!  It also adds additional density which may affect the quilting result.

The alternative to a pieced backing, or avoiding the expense of large backing fabric, is to use sheeting.  Polycotton does work just fine!  And it is readily available at widths of up to 110″ (2,8m).

Make this quilt in a day


Quilting is the actual stitching of the layers together to create one combined piece.  Never refer to it as a blanket!  Unless you’re Afrikaans in which “lappieskombers” (roughly translated to bits-of-fabric-blanket) is most appropriate!

Hand quilting is still done by some quilters.  The layers are stitched together by hand using a straight stitch.  It is very time consuming, but this is a great way to build community when many hands work together to stitch the quilt.

Machine quilting is done on home sewing machines as well as longarm quilting machines.  With the addition of computerised quilting machines, the availability of intricate patterns has become unlimited.

I started quilting on a home sewing machine and made large quilts this way too.

Quilting on my men’s necktie quilt

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