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The beginner's guide to patchwork

  1. Read time: 7 minutes
  2. Written by: Crafters

Patchwork is a craft that is loved across the globe and is a great way to create unique and personal quilts, cushions, bags and so much more.

It can seem complex, but there are some innovative tools and products out there to help nowadays. So even if you're a total beginner, take a look at this guide to this fabulous, colourful and creative technique!

What is the difference between patchwork and quilting?

You'll usually find patchwork as part of a quilting project, but sometimes, the lines between patchwork and quilting get a little bit blurred, so let us break it down for you.

Patchwork is the process of sewing pieces of fabric together to form blocks, panels or quilt tops. They can feature various designs, textures and colours, so this truly is a craft that is for the bold and adventurous. Most of the pieces are precisely cut to size and measured meticulously, so the final piece is as accurate as possible and can be used in a quilting project.

Quilting is the technique that comes after the patchwork is complete. It refers to the forming of the finished item, whether it be a quilt, table runner, cushion or wall hanging, so once the patchwork is finished, you may add wadding and a backing piece. These will all be stitched together and quilted with simple stitches or intricate designs.

The three traditional patchwork structures

While patchwork is all about experimenting and creating from your imagination, there are three structures that patchwork fans tend to follow:

Blocks - patchwork blocks are squares that are pieced together from repeating shapes that create patterns within the square. Some of the most common blocks include Log Cabin, Drunkard's Path, Tulip and Nine Patch. The blocks are usually stitched together with contrasting fabric in between to separate them and form an interesting finish.

Overall - overall patchwork designs are characterised by pieced geometric shapes that are stitched together to form a larger project that can be random or composed. Some of the more popular designs are Clamshell, Starburst and Needle Weave.

Strip piecing - this structure involves stitching pieces of fabric together in repeating patterns and long strips, then stitching the strips together lengthwise. The patchwork strips can be alternated with strips of contrasting colour, which would heighten the design. A typical pattern is Four Patch.

Five essentials for a beginner's kit

  • Fabrics – building up your fabric stash is a huge part of the fun! But make sure that you choose the best quality fabrics possible, so that your patchwork projects can be as professional as possible.
  • A sewing machine – while it is possible to complete small patchwork projects by hand, especially if you're paper piecing, we recommend picking up an entry level machine that will help you to create quilts much more accurately and quickly.
  • Threads – try to use the same fibre content as your fabric, so pair cotton fabrics to cotton threads, poly with poly and so on, but don’t get too hung up about it! As with your fabric, choose the best quality that you can.
  • A rotary cutter – while scissors are great for smaller pieces of fabric, you should use a rotary cutter to slice your way through larger fabrics. A good rotary cutter will also help you to achieve cleaner cut edges and slice through a good few layers of fabric.
  • A cutting mat – a good quality cutting mat is absolutely essential if you’re using a rotary cutter. It will help you to protect your work surface from becoming damaged and provide you with measuring lines for accuracy.

Beginner's patchwork glossary

Applique – a technique where fabric shapes are cut and sewn on to a fabric block or quilt top. Usually, a fusible material is ironed to the back of the shape and ironed on top of the fabric block.

Backstitch - a stitch used to secure the stitching at the beginning and end of a seam. You will usually stitch four forward and four back, then proceed with your seam or trim it off.

Charm Pack - a variety of fabrics line cut into 5.5"-6" squares.

Fat Eighth - a quarter yard of fabric that is cut in half at the fold, measuring 9" x 22". It produces a fatter square piece of fabric, providing more options for use.

Fat Quarter - a half yard of fabric that is cut in half at the fold, measuring 18" x 22". It produces a fatter square piece of fabric, providing more options for use.

Foundation Piecing - a method used for joining together small pieces of fabric to form a more complicated pattern or design. It is done using foundation paper rather than templates for the construction.

Jelly Roll - fabric that is already cut into 2.5" strips and wound into a roll. Used for strip piecing and other various patterns, cut from each fabric in a specific fabric line.

On Point - a block that is placed at a 45 degree angle, diagonally, on the quilt top. You must be careful when piecing this style quilt because it is very easy to stretch the bias and distort the quilt. Proper pinning is a must!

Piecing - a process where you sew your fabric pieces together to form a block, garment or quilt.

Pressing – an iron is used to press a seam open directly after setting seam.

Right Side – the “front” side of the fabric, usually distinctly printed side of the fabric.

Seam Allowance – the fabric on the right of the sewing line from the raw edge. This process keeps the edge from fraying and it maintains a secure seam.

Stitch-in-the-Ditch - a quilting term used to describe the method of stitching along existing seams in a patchwork piece or quilt top in order to quilt it together with the batting and backing.

Tension – the amount of “pinching” done to your thread as it flows through the sewing machine. Thicker fabrics need a higher tension or a firmer pinch, and thinner fabrics need less tension or a lesser pinch.

Wrong Side - the “back” side of the fabric - usually the opposite side of a distinctly printed fabric.

Advanced patchwork tools

  • Build-a-Block Patchwork System – this is a set of dies that has been designed to help you create all the elements you could need for your patchwork blocks. All you need to do is sandwich your dies and your fabric between your cutting plates, and roll them through a die-cutting machine for precise shapes.
  • Patchwork Dies - as well as Build-a-Block, we have an assortment of individual Patchwork Dies to help you achieve shapes like the Apple Cores featured in the project above. They're great for taking all of the effort from measuring and cutting!
  • Spray Adhesives - we have specially formulated spray adhesives that are ideal for fusing fabrics together or temporarily sticking patterns to fabric. They would be highly useful for patchwork, so take a look.

We hope that this beginner’s patchwork piece has given you some of the advice and encouragement needed to help you get started!

We’d love to see your finished projects on social media. Share your photos with us on FacebookTwitter or Instagram using the hashtag #crafterscompanion

  1. Sewing & Needlecraft
  2. Beginners Guides
  3. Quilting

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