Things I Have Learnt About Patchwork and Quilting

“Tumbledown” – my log
cabin quilt

I have been asked for some hints for doing patchwork and quilting. Now, I do not profess to be any kind of expert but I am happy to pass on tips that I have picked up. If, while you are reading this you see something that you think can be improved upon, please do let me know in the comments. I certainly shan’t be upset or offended. I think it’s great to share knowledge with others and to learn from other people – it’s part of what makes doing any type of craft so enjoyable.

So, here we go…

Quilter’s Rulers, Rotary Cutter and
Self-healing Cutting Mat

Say hello to your new best friends: rulers, rotary cutter and self-healing cutting mat. 

Accurate measuring and cutting of your fabric is absolutely essential. There is an old adage “Measure twice, cut once” and it really is excellent advice. It is very easy to make a mistake when measuring: it may be because you are in a rush to get the fabric cut, or someone interrupts you while you’re measuring, or you misread the ruler or one of any number of reasons. Once you have cut the fabric there’s no turning back so you’d better make sure it’s right first time!

My two favourite rulers are both acrylic. The first is the 12.5 x 12.5 inch square from Creative Grids. What I love about it is that it is non-slip: the pale grey circles you can see on it in the picture above are areas of non-slippiness [that’s probably not a proper word, by the way!] which make it so much easier to use as it stays in place during use. The second is my 24 inch x 6.5 inch ruler which my adorable Zio Mimi bought for me while I was in Australia last year. It is made by Sew Easy but other companies make similar ones. The 24 inch ruler is long enough to enable you to cut an entire width of fabric which has been folded in half.

You need a self-healing cutting mat – I find that the A3 size works well for me. 

You also need a good, sharp rotary cutter. When you use the rotary cutter ALWAYS cut away from you and replace the blade cover as soon as you have made your cut, to avoid accidents. Do not roll your cutter backwards and forwards on the cutting mat as it will damage the surface of the mat, even a self-healing one.

Selection of fabrics

When it comes to fabric, do not mix different fibres in the same piece of patchwork. Cottons and polycottons react differently when worked: if you use them together your patchwork will have a rumpled appearance.

Do not sew on the selvedge of your fabric. It is often woven to a different tension from the remainder of the fabric and will give unpredictable results.

Always work with the grain of your fabric, placing your templates at the correct angle in relation to the grain to take account of the way the fabric stretches in each direction, including on the bias.

Plan your design before you begin to cut your fabric – I find it useful to draw a plan of my design that I can follow as I piece it together.

The Sewing Machine

Use a new needle in your machine for your project. It is a good idea to get into the habit of changing your needle after around eight hours of sewing. If your needle is blunt it will affect the movement of your fabric through your machine.

In patchwork it is vital to use a consistent seam allowance. The seam allowance for patchwork is most usually a quarter of an inch (patchwork is worked in inches, not centimetres). It is a good idea to mark the quarter inch seam allowance on your sewing machine using sticky tape as an easy-reference guide while you sew.

Don’t rush! Take your time pinning the fabric pieces together and stitching them. Accuracy is vital. If you rush when you stitch you are likely to be less accurate and have to make a lot of use of your stitch unpicker!

Pressing seams
[photo from]

Press the seams as you go. This makes it much easier to keep control of what you are doing and to check that everything is neat and accurate. The jury is still out on the direction in which seams should be pressed!


Relax. Keep your shoulders away from your ears! If you are tense it will be more difficult to control your work and, certainly, far less enjoyable.


8 thoughts on “Things I Have Learnt About Patchwork and Quilting

  1. A 1/4″ foot for your sewing machine is a boon for getting consistently accurate seems. I find taking a photo of the layout of my blocks before piecing them together helps to decide if the placement is right and it is a good reference point when piecing too. Good helpful blog Dina, i think you've got it covered!


  2. Thank you for this Dina – as always, informative and helpful. I will do a big patchwork very soon, I just have to catch up on everything else first!! But thank you again for the blog, I will keep it to use as a reference when I do get started on mine.


  3. I agree with Linda that a 1/4inch foot is essential. You mention renewing your needle after approximately eight hours of sewing: Don't forget to clean/service your machine regularly and REMOVE the fluff that accumulates below the plate and around those hidden working parts


  4. Thank you, Dina, for good tips. I have a tendency to roll my cutter backwards and forwards. Must stop that. I also find my shoulders right at my ears quite often. It's a great reminder! 🙂


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