How to quilt (wait, you’ve been quilting HOW long?)

Raise your hand if you learned to quilt by cutting out all the pieces with scissors and templates. Wow. You’ve been quilting a long time. In fact, chances are good you started quilting before 1979, when Mr. Yoshio Okada, founder of the Olfa Company, introduced the fabric rotary cutter to the marketplace. The Japanese company had been making snap-off blades for other uses (the name Olfa comes from two Japanese words that mean “break the blade”) when Mr. Okada had the idea to develop a rolling cutter. It’s not an exaggeration to say his invention revolutionized quiltmaking, and by the early ’80s, rotary cutters were being adopted by quilters everywhere.

Rotary Cutting: How to Cut Fabric with Rotary Cutters

Cutting triangles

Rotary cutters, acrylic rulers, and self-healing mats have become essential equipment for quilters, and few would dream of quilting without them these days. But knowing about the tools and knowing how to use them properly are not the same thing. That’s why we’ve added a free, downloadable article on Rotary Cutting to our How to Quilt page. You’ll find safety advice (always always always close the blade after a cut!), help with cutting basic shapes, and tips for keeping your long strips straight and even. And if you don’t know the difference between a half-square triangle and a quarter-square triangle, and which one should not be used on the outside edge of a block or a quilt, then this is required reading.

Quilting Vocabulary

straight grain vs bias grain

If you’re a newbie, you’re bound to learn something, but even those of us who’ve been quilting for a while (you can put your hand down now) might find it worthwhile to check out our How to Quilt articles. For example, our article on Quilting Vocabulary defines all the basic terms you need to know to understand a quilting pattern. Organized as a quilting dictionary, the article is full of useful terms and information. Need to define quilting for someone who’s never heard of it? (Hard to believe, I know!) Want a better understanding of the difference between straight grain and bias grain? Struggling to explain to a beginning quilter how a walking foot helps with machine quilting? It’s all here, in easy-to-understand language.

Piecing Quilts: How to Sew Seams, Chain Piece, Match Points, and Press for Success

Chain Piecing

One bit of advice I always share with new quilters—and even some experienced quilters—is to press, well and often. It doesn’t matter to me whether you use steam or don’t use steam (I don’t), as long as you do it. I consider pressing to be every bit as important as sewing an accurate 1/4″ seam, and that’s why I was delighted to find it included in our new article on Piecing, the third new article on our How to Quilt page. Careful pressing makes careful piecing look even better, and pressing can even rescue some not-so-careful machine sewing. And believe it or not, pressing every seam really does make piecing easier. No, really.

So, what else will you find in an article about piecing? How about some basic sewing how-to like stitching accurate seams, matching seam allowances, and chain piecing? You’ll also learn how to stitch perfect points when sewing designs with triangles. And the feeling of accomplishment you’ll get from getting those points just so? Priceless!

Whether you’re a recent convert who’s just discovering the sheer pleasure of quiltmaking or an experienced stitcher who can whip out a baby quilt faster than you can RSVP to the shower invitation, we hope you’ll make our How to Quilt page your go-to quiltmaking reference. We’re just getting started and we have a long list of topics we’re working on, but if you think we’ve overlooked something or would like us to consider a particular subject, just let us know by adding a comment below. We’ll be happy to add it to the list!

15 Comments (leave a comment)

  • Yes, I started quilting by cutting out each piece with scissors and a template- I even have "Uglie" the quilt to prove it. It is a collection of 70’s prints! Don’t know how many rulers I’ve gone thru once I got a rotary cutter. I have one of the first, a small one. But being a military family, it seems at least one ruler was broken each move!

    —Mary Ann Harpe on May 24, 2012
  • Raising my hand high but I didn’t learn to make a quilt until 1993 in Japan on a military base. Limited supplies available too so everything was mail ordered. So glad the rotary cutters got better. I have permanent scars as proof. LOVE the self closing, ergonomic, big blade, left/right handed one. All quilters can benefit from a refresher course. Thank you.

    Stephanie on May 24, 2012
  • My hand is raised high!!! Thank goodness for Mr. Okada!

    Karen Johnson on May 24, 2012
  • I made my first quilt in 1985, when a neighbor invited me to join the neighborhood quilt group.
    Everyone was using the very tedious trace-the-template and scissor method back then … I remember a couple of years later when we first saw and tried the Olfa Rotary cutter … it was like going from a Volkswagen to a Ferrari !!
    If the rotary cutter hadn’t come along, I seriously doubt I’d have continued with quilting … so glad it did, 25 years later !!

    —Aggiequilter on May 24, 2012
  • Hand raised here! My grandmother taught me to cut out square with a cardboard template and scissors in 1978! I am a 4th generation quilter and I own at least 5 rotary cutters and oh at least a dozen rulers, several mats in all sizes. I have converted template patterns to rotary patterns for a class I teach at my church. I am proud to say I’m a QUILTER!

    —Marie Atkinson on May 24, 2012
  • Yes, hand raised here too! I love with Maria Atkinson comment.
    It is so wonderful with your 4th generation.
    I want to here your generation story.
    So Grate!

    —Montha on May 25, 2012
  • the first quilt i made of any size, in the early 80’s, was a log cabin and i *ripped* fabric to get my strips….Barbara Johanna was trying to help, but thank goodness for rotary cutters !!

    —marlene on May 25, 2012
  • My hand is up! I made my son a big twin size quilt in 1978. It was all triangles cut by hand from a cardboard template. The picture was on the cover of Good Housekeeping. I think Debbie Reynolds was also on the cover! That was the last quilt I made until the late 1990’s! Thanks, Mr Okada!!! Now I’m the president of my quilt guild and teaching all my grandchildren to sew and start quilting…

    Linny on May 25, 2012
  • Hand raised high! I start

    —Jeanette Smith on May 26, 2012
  • Hand raised high! I started my first quilt when I was about eight years old. I had watched both my Grandmas, my great grandma, and some of Mom’s sisters making quilts. My mom was NOT a quilter! BUT… she let me have some scraps and I set to work cutting some pieces & stitching them together by hand. (Some of the scraps were feed sack prints!) So I made a doll quilt. It was about 10″x15″.
    I sewed the next one on Mom’s machine. It was about 20″x24″ or so, and another doll quilt.
    I continued to make a few more quilts over the next few years. From the sixties through the 80’s. I learned about the rotary cutter in 1990 and there was no turning back from there on.
    In January 2011, I helped begin a quilting group in the church that I had recently transferred my membership to. So now we are teaching a few new quilters and enjoying the modern quilting methods together!

    —Jeanette Smith on May 26, 2012
  • How timely could this article be. While our grandson recuperates from a broken leg, I’m teaching him to quilt. Today he had a problem with the rotary cutter. I’m sending him this link.
    Thank you.

    Bev Andersen on June 10, 2014
  • Another hand up. I need instructions for rotary cutters to make sure I can cut cloth instead of my fingers.

    —Kathy Gant on June 11, 2014
  • Hands up for me too, 1985, using scissors and templates. I remember when I got my first rotary cutter and tried it out, before I knew it, I had cut up all my stash!!! Needless to say, the next few years were spent putting together log cabin quilts with all the strips I cut!!! And when I was sick of log cabins, I gave the rest of the cut strips to a friend, and she made log cabins!! Oh man, that wasn’t yesterday!!!

    —Heather Bryenton on July 8, 2014
  • I am handicapped so I do everything I do from a wheelchair. I love the rotary cutter but I have one hard time using it and obtaining straight lines. Do you have any suggestions. Thank you for any help you can give me. I have a table that I can roll up and fit my legs under, but no matter what I do I get cuts that are not exactly straight or accurate.

    MaryAnn Benz on July 15, 2015
  • My great-grandmother taught me to quilt when I was 8 years old, on her old black Singer sewing machine. I am now 48 years later picking it up again, using the rotary cutter and making my own templates from assembly instructions in the magazines

    —Jan on March 16, 2018

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