2 weeks ago we took a look at the fabrics used in quilting, this week we’re going to look at the different parts of a quilt, such as what goes in the middle between the pretty fabrics, and what holds it all together.

Quilt Top

This is the upermost layer of a quilt, the visible part with the pretty patterns and things on it. Quilt tops can be pieced, ie a number of different bits of fabric sewn together, or wholecloth, where the patterns are created by thread during the actual quilting process on what appears to be a single piece of fabric. Pieced quilts can be constructed using techniques in the following categories:

Block Quilts

These quilts are made up of a grid of pieced ‘blocks’ where the edges of the blocks are either parallel to the edges of the quilt, such as in this Economy Block Christmas quilt:

Or ‘on point’ where the blocks are at a 45 degree angle to the edges of the quilt, such as this one by Cheryl Brickey, made for the Quilter’s Planner (photo used with permission)

Blocks can be directly adjacent to each other, or have ‘sashing’ in between, which means that there has been a strip of fabric inserted between each block. Sometimes, if sashing is used, there are also ‘cornerstones’ created, which are squares of fabric which touch the corner of each block where the sashing meets, and contrast in colour to the sashing itself.  I actually used snowflakes in one quilt, but I cannot for the life of me find the photo of it (I’ve searched for hours, I think I’m losing my mind…)

Blocks can all be made from the same pattern, as in the Economy Block quilt pictured above, or they can be what is referred to as a ‘sampler quilt’ where each block is different, such as the Modern Building Blocks quilt below.

Traditionally blocks are square, and the most common sizes are 12″ or 6″ finished (which means the size the block is when sewn into the top) however in recent years there have been more and more patterns emerging with blocks which are bigger, and even those constructed with a mixture of block sizes, such as these two patterns below:

Modern Building Blocks, by Moda:

Or My Small World by the queen of mixing blocks, Jen Kingwell (which I supersized):

There are also more modern quilts where blocks are shapes other than squares such as this one from the Modern Triangle Quilts book, by Rebecca Bryan, where the blocks are triangular (you can see my review of this fab wee book last week):

Medallion Quilts

These are almost a subset of block quilts, as they are created by adding borders of blocks and sometimes sashing around a large central block. While the centre block can be very complex, those in outer rounds tend to be simpler due to the time taken to construct all the blocks required. This example below was done by Brit Bee, where we all designed our own centre, and then passed the top around for people to add borders which were the same for every quilt.

‘Shape’ Quilts

These are quilts constructed entirely of pieces of a certain shape, such as triangles, hexagons etc. Depending on the shape in question, the top can be assembled in strips, or require special piecing techniques such as Y seams for hexagons, curves for single or duoble wedding rings, or for quilts like the clamshell one below, the shape tesselates and is joined accordingly.

Or this one ‘January Block’ that I made as a mini:

Improv Quilts

In these quilts there are no rules, so there are no specific sizes or shapes of pieces being used. In the quilt below I randomly cut strips to create the centre cross, and just popped in the picture pieces in the corners. In this way it more resembles a giant block, but people who are less OCD than me make improv quilts with considerably less constraint!

Applique Quilts

If piecing isn’t your bag, you can also go for applique, like this one from Missy Carpenter from Traditional Primitives, where she has a mixture of hexagons and shapes to make up her Life In The Midwest pattern:

Art Quilts

As the name might suggest, these quilts are more like a piece of fabric art than a regimented set of bed linen. They can be made from a mixture of blocks, pieced sections, applique, painted sections and more, and the quitling can also be used to add to the design, or even create the entire design. Whilst it is one of those things on my list of things I’d like to do in a big quilt, the closest I’ve got is to a mini or two (and probably the closest I’ll get until I retire, which is in more years than I’d care to imagine!)

Wholecloth Quilts

These are quite special quilts in that the top is actually a single piece of fabric (or if a big quilt is desired a few pieces of the same fabric are joined together to make it up to size) In this case the quilting is the entire design of the quilt, and it’s an amazing artform, which in more recent years has been dominated by long arm quilters, who have machines capable of travelling over large surfaces rather than trying to manipulate your quilt through a small domestic machine.  Alas I don’t have one of them in my arsenal right now, but one day, when I have a long arm and all the time in the world…

Quilt Backing

This is simply the fabric that goes on the back, or underside of the quilt as you look at it. It can be wideback (where the fabric comes in an extra large width, often 108″), or pieced, either in 2 or 3 simple strips, or, if you’re feeling like you haven’t done enough complex piecing on the front, you can do more on the back. Sometimes people use leftover blocks from the front, or maybe ones that didn’t quite fit on the front, to piece into the back of the quilt. You should aim to have your backing between 2″ and 4″ bigger than your quilt top all the way around (ie 4″-8″ wider and 4″-8″ taller than your quilt top dimensions). This allows for slight movement during quilting, especially if your quilt top has not been perfectly flat to start off with, as the top may spread a bit when quilted.


So, you’ve made your top with one of the many options above, and you have your backing, but now you need to add the bit that will keep you warm. Batting, or wadding as it’s referred to in the UK (which is a word I hate, I can’t explain why other than it tastes wrong, so I don’t use it!) is the warm bit that goes in the middle. In modern day quilts batting is often made of pure cotton or a cotton/polyester blend, where the fibres are mashed into a big mat (wasn’t that a technical description ;o) ). Other fibres that are becoming more common include bamboo and wool, but in general they all come either as pre-packaged precuts or on a big roll around 90″ or 120″ wide (it is usually folded in half on the roll for ease of handling) It can be bought by the precut/yard/metre in quilt/fabric shops, or by the roll if you think you’re going to be particularly prolific. There is such a thing as 100% polyester batting – do yourself and your quilt a favour and don’t use it! It will not move nicely with your top and backing if they are all cotton, not least when washed as they won’t shrink at the same rate. Like your backing, you should aim to have your batting between 2″ and 4″ bigger than your quilt top all the way around (ie 4″-8″ wider and 4″-8″ taller than your quilt top dimensions)


This is the bit that gets wrapped all the way around the edge. To make the binding, fabric is cut into strips and joined together to make a piece long enough to go all the way around the quilt, with a little leftover to allow for a join at the end. We’ll look more at the different types of binding in a few weeks.

There are many bias tapes available, but I don’t use them on quilts as the most readily available ones tend to be a rough polyester and can be quite see-through. They are useful on bags and other small items that you’re not going to be cuddling up to though.