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31. Anatomy of a Quilt Pattern

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Hi there. I’m Nicole Gilbert and you’ve joined the stop scrolling start sewing podcast. Are you new to sewing and want to start quilting, but have no idea where to begin? Each Wednesday join me as I share the ins and outs of that quilt life. If you don’t have a sewing machine, I have no idea how much fabric you need, or you’re just trying to figure out where the heck to stick that bobbin. This is the podcast for you.

Hey folks. Welcome to episode 31 of the Stop Scrolling, start sewing podcast. On today’s episode, we are going to take a dive into using and reading a quilt pattern. What to look for, what to expect, and maybe even a little bit of rules You need to know if you want to dive into making your own.

but first, a quick reminder, if you want to be featured on an upcoming episode of the stop scrolling start sewing podcast, head on over to wherever you listen to podcasts and leave me a review. I read every single one and they mean the world to me. They also allow me to reach more listeners every week. So thank you from the bottom of my heart.

Okay, guys, let’s get sewing.

All right. So first of all, for those of you who are not really familiar, I know that we’ve got some super beginners, which I love.

So a quilt pattern is basically a recipe for your quilts. Um, it gives you everything that you’re going to need, everything you’re going to have to cut and then how to put it all together. So it really is like a recipe for your quilt. Okay. Now let’s go over kind of different levels of quilt patterns, things that you should look for in a quilt pattern and kind of what those different sections of a quilt pattern like what they mean and what they do. So first, I want you to kind of get familiar with the sections of a quilt pattern, because it will make your life easier. Most quilt patterns are laid out the same way. Some have a few more sections than others, but in general, they’re the same. So up top, there is usually a photo of the finished quilt. Um, if you’re buying a quilt pattern, like from the quilt shop, like actually in a store and you’re like have in hand, like it’s a physical thing.

There will usually be like, uh, I call it like quilts in the wild kind of picture on the cover, like in, on a bed draped over the back of a chair. What have you. And then on the back is a nice flat. This is the whole thing, exactly what it looks like. Picture. If you are downloading a PDF, which is what I would say is happening more and more these days as we are all way more reliant on our computers and Pinterest is everybody’s best friend, you’re downloading a PDF version and it’s still the same way. Typically at the very first page of the PDF is, um, a visual of the quilts. However, in PDF form, typically it will just be the flat layout of what the quote will look like. Um, they do a little bit less quilts in the wild kind of a thing, unless it’s a quilt company who is still selling a lot of physical ones.

And then it’ll just basically be like a photocopy look of that in store version. So up top, you have the picture of the finished quilt then right below that is usually your fabric needs. Now some include all of the fabric and some quilt patterns include just what you need to make the quilt top. So keep that in mind and really read that heading out so that, you know, whether or not you’re getting all the fabric you need, or if you’re just getting, what’s going to make the quilt top. Um, a lot of times it will also include, you know, binding and backing and all of that kind of stuff. So keep an eye out for that. Um, another thing with the supply section, they will also let you know whether or not the fabric is precut friendly. So a lot of patterns are drawn up in a way where instead of cutting strips, you can use a jelly roll or a honeybun.

Um, and also there, you know, layer cakes, charm packs, because it’s got squares in it that are that five or 10 inch or that can break down easily. Also, um, uh, very popular thing is whether it’s fat quarter friendly, especially as more and more designers are coming out with these amazing curated lines. I mean, now everybody’s doing it, but before it used to be like three or four together, and now it’s like 45 together, um, which is amazing. But these patterns now are like fat quarter friendliest because you can get a fat quarter bundle of an entire line and you can do multiple quilts out of it. And it’s all coordinating and beautiful. So keep an eye out for that. Usually if a pattern is precut friendly, it will also tell you how that breaks down so that you can use yardage if you would like.

Um, so it, it kind of goes both ways. Uh, it’s a little harder to, not that it’s difficult. You do have to do a little bit more math. If the fabric is only if the, the fabric requirements are only listed by yardage and you want to use a precut, you’ll just have to have to do some math to transfer that over. So let’s see. Okay. So after you’ve got that section, usually right after that section, there will be almost, I call it the disclaimer section, but it’s like the rules that you should know according to this pattern and that next section, what they do is they actually break down kind of the assumptions that they’re making. So it will say, you know, WOF equals with a fabric, almost every single pattern will say that it will also say WOF assumes. And then a number, because as you have probably seen in your fabric journey, some with the fabric, meaning salvage to salvage is 41 inches sums 45 inches and kind of everything in between.

And so their pattern, they will often say, you know, cuts to and strips by with the fabric and then sub cut and into however many into 10, whatever. And it will be assuming a width of fabric of 42 inches. So when they say you’re going to get 10 out of that strip, it’s assuming you have 42 inches to work with. So if you only have 41 inches, you might not get that many out of it. So again, that’s another place where you might have to do a little bit of math. So we want to keep that in mind as well. Um, another common thing to see in that section is HST equals half square triangles. RST means right. Sides together. Um, and yeah, usually, I mean, it’s, it’s usually along those lines, there are so many things that could be in there, but those are probably the most popular ones that you’re going to see over and over again, in that section, after that will come the cutting section and in the cutting section, I have seen it broken up in so many different ways.

I’ve seen it broken up by each fabric. This is what you’re going to cut out for each fabric. And I’ve also seen it cut out by block. This is what you’re going to cut out for each block. Um, I find the ones by fabric to be more efficient, uh, both timeline-wise and organizationally for myself personally. Um, but both work. And I do tend to see more of the cut by block when you’re using a precut. So that is just something to keep in mind, um, that that is another way that that can be broken up, but it’ll just be your cutting directions. Typically it will ask you to cut a certain number of strips by a certain width, and then it will say, sub cut those into whatever, whatever you need. Um, and it’s, it’s pretty, pretty straightforward in the cutting section. And then after the cutting section is your piecing section, and this can be broken up again by block or by row, depending on the type of quilt pattern that it is.

And typically they will instruct you how to do all of one type of block. And then all of another type of block, if there’s multiple different types of blocks in your, um, pattern. And so you can zip all the way through the one type of block, then zip through all the other types of blocks, and then you’re done or by row, depending on how your patterns laid out. And then the last portion will be your assembly and that’s like your row assembly and then your whole quilt top assembly. Um, and how that’s typically laid out is that it will be almost like a digitized version of the finished quilt. And like the top three rows will be broken up, like up off of the quilts. So it’s like independent rows. And then maybe that top row is separated up by blocks. So that, that way, when you look from the top row to the bottom row, they’re getting more put together.

And so you can kind of follow that process like, okay, these are the ones they want joined first. Then this is going to get joined and then all the rows get joined together. So that is your basic quilt pattern layout. Some interesting other things that are sometimes included sometimes not. Um, oftentimes you will see pressing directions, um, because we can press to the dark side, we can press open or we can do whatever works best for the given pattern. Now I personally always was into the dark side until very recently, and I have, I’ve switched, I’ve switched teams, and now I am a press open person myself. And I find that that works kind of with everything. So I probably will always press open, but oftentimes some patterns will tell you to like, press all the seams on this side of the block, in this direction and all the seams on that side of the block, in that direction.

And so what that does is just allow for more easily nested seams. Once it comes time to put your, all your blocks together. So if you are not confident in your choice of how to press your seams, I definitely suggest following the pattern makers directions because they know what they’re talking about. And they did it for a reason that way. And so I would definitely like, it’s one of those things like, you don’t need to rock the boat if they’re doing it and you’re not confident. And they say, this is the way to easily do it, try it that way. Mike just work out for the best. So let’s see. So now we know exactly what you can find in a quilt pattern, like the basic sections. Now, when you’re working with the quilt pattern, I think the first rule you should always do before you do anything before you shop, before you cut before you piece anything is to read the pattern from top to bottom, because it really will help you get kind of like a big picture of what the project’s going to be and how it’s going to shake out, especially when it comes to things that you might feel like you already know.

So a big thing with that is like flying geese.

There are multiple ways to make a flying geese block. We’ve all seen it. You know, you could make the four by one flying geese. You can make a traditional, single flying geese. Um, but the pieces you cut and the sizes of the pieces you cut will be different depending on what one you’re making. So we don’t want to make any assumptions because the amount of fabric that you’ve purchased and the cuts that the pattern dictates will directly correlate with this style of block that you’re making. So let’s not make assumptions of what the half square triangle assumption, uh, construction’s going to be, or the flying geese construction, because those can change different patterns. We’ll ask to do it different ways. And some of you might be like, well, duh, I know that, but for some that are not as familiar, they’ll be like, well, that’s how you make a flying East.

So now I’m confused. Where do I start? I’ve got a bunch of squares. Where’s my rectangle. Do I have to slice this in half to do that? And it’s like, Whoa, no. So really, really read our directions from top to bottom before we do anything also really look. So some quilt patterns will refer to fabrics as fabric a fabric, the fabric, see other quilt patterns are made directly with a specific fabric line in mind. And so it will specifically say like pink posies, yellow stripes, blue polka dots. And that is how they refer to it. I don’t prefer one over the other, but I do like to really visualize, because sometimes it’ll just say like dark fabric, a dark fabric B, and I really want to see exactly where those different fabrics are going to land in the quilt before I pull what fabric I want to use, because I want it to look good, like really, really good.

Um, because you can pick all the right colors, but if you put them in the wrong places, kind of falls flat, you know? So that’s another great reason to really read your FA your pattern from top to bottom. Um, another thing to look for is that patterns often will have an experience level associated with it. So that could be beginner. It could be intermediate, it could be advanced start with something simple. If you are not familiar with following a quilt pattern. Um, I know many of you are beginner quilters, and you might consider yourself not a beginner, but you’re still doing like five inch square S you know, strategically placed you’re, you’re doing strips. So you’ve got all of the quilting basics under your belt, but you’re not really chugging along. You’re not, you’re not really, um, proficient in making some of the more technically advanced quilts.

They’re not necessarily advanced skill levels like English paper piecing, but they, they have some more technique, um, being utilized. So really pay attention to that. Um, I want you to start with something a little bit more simple. Um, I don’t want you to jump like right into advanced English paper piecing, or just because like, nobody needs that kind of struggle in their life, but at the same time, I don’t want you to just settle with always making strip quilts and charm pack squares. Like I want you to venture out because I know right now I’ve got students, um, who graduated the modern quilters Academy and are doing a solo along with me. And they actually are doing a quilt pattern that when I showed them the quilt pattern, they were like, Oh, heck no, that is way too advanced. And I was like, no, no, no.

I taught you how to do every portion of this. So there’s no reason why you can’t succeed and they’re doing it. And they were like, I cannot like legitimately more than one of them has said to me. I cannot believe I know how to do this. So I do want you to have a little bit of a stretch goal when you choose your patterns. Okay. Promise. Okay. Because I’m here for you. If you have any questions, please like reach out. I am always happy to help. So, um, that’s kind of like the real basics of quilt patterns. Now, I also want to just talk a little bit about where you can find them. I know I said, you can get them on quilt shop. I know I said, you can get them on Pinterest. So there are a ton of free quilt patterns to be found on Pinterest.

You just have to look. Um, and typically I have noticed that quilt patterns that are free for the most part, tend to lean towards the beginner intermediate. So it’s a great place to start without having to invest magazines. I suggest everybody who’s new to quilting, subscribes to a quilt magazine. And there’s so many out there for all different types of quilts. Um, but I did a solid year where I, and it was just one year, but I subscribed to five different quilt magazines. And my husband was like, what in the world are we getting in the mail right now? Because we were getting all of the things, but what’s amazing is then I, then I stopped my subscriptions at the end of the year. I know don’t yell at me. I feel like there’s somebody at like American patchwork quilting, like yelling at me right now.

I did stop because I was just like inundated with so many magazines. But in getting that many magazines, I have stacks and stacks of magazines. And every magazine has multiple quote patterns in it. And not only that, but you learn things because those types of magazines are there to teach you skills, to introduce you to new notions, to introduce you to new techniques so that you can, I mean, ultimately learn new things and buy more things because that’s kind of the point of magazines, but in the best possible way, because they’re just investing in your, by investing in the magazine, you’re also investing in your skills and expertise, which I think is just great, but that’s a great way to get quilt patterns, obviously quilt pattern books. You go into any quilt shop into Joanne’s into hobby lobby. You will find books with any theme and you will find so many, uh, beautiful quilt patterns that fit any aesthetic, anything you’re going for, if you’re going for traditional, if you’re going for, um, civil war replica, if you’re going for modern, there’s so many, um, if you want to find just books on jelly, roll quilts, or honey buns or fat quarters, like the sky’s the limit, you could find books.

Um, but there are, there really are just so many great ways to find quilt patterns, but I definitely think, uh, the easiest, the most accessible and the most inexpensive quilt patterns you will find on Pinterest. Um, another excellent place to find them is, um, at fabric online fabric stores, like the fat quarter shop or at the individual fabric retailers. So at Moda, at free spirit fabrics at Robert Kaufman at keepsake, any of these have a ton of patterns, especially because their fabric designers typically release a pattern to go with the fabric collections. So that’s like a whole nother can of worms, but you’ve got options. Now on top of that, I want to just dive a little bit. And to those of you who are thinking of designing your own patterns, this is not a, actually I take that back. I was about to say, this is not a beginner skill, but I take this back because anybody can do this skill.

You just have to follow a few rules and be willing to make mistakes as long as you and mr. Seam ripper are buds. You’re good to go. So I suggest using graph paper because those little squares mimic quilting, like you wouldn’t believe. And we want to keep in ride, keep in mind the Cardinal rule of quilting. And what is that role always? So with the quarter inch seam allowance, which means for every distance that you’re measuring in your final quilts, you will have to add a quarter inch on each side or a half an inch in each direction. However you want to look at it. So if you want a four inch finished square, you need to cut four and a half inch squares. You see where I’m going with this. Um, if you want to use four squares to make one four inch finished square, you’re going to need to cut for two and a half inch squares.

You see, you see what I did there. So that is basically, if you can follow that rule, you can draft, uh, a quilt pattern. Now, will it be a basic quote pattern? Heck yeah. The first time out, if you come at me with a beautiful multi-dimensional star quilt, first of all, you’re a genius. And you’re like the Queen’s gambit level genius. Are you guys watching that by the way on Netflix? It’s amazing if you haven’t seen it, it’s so entertaining. Anyway, you’re like that level of genius, if you’re able to do that. Um, but it will be a lot of trial and error. You will be able to figure it out. Um, but I do suggest you try it. I really, I could kick myself for earlier almost saying that this is a beginning, not beginner friendly. It’s not easy, but I do not want to discourage anybody from trying it. Like, just try it. What’s the worst thing that could happen. You mess up, you know how many quilts I’ve messed up? Holy cow.

Huh? All right, guys, there, you have it. You have completed another episode of the stop scrolling start sewing podcast. Thank you for spending your afternoons with me. And I appreciate you guys more than, you know, so make sure that you never miss an episode by hitting subscribe wherever you listen to podcasts. Now, stop scrolling and start sewing.

Quilt Love

Noelani T.

I worked with Nicole in a one on one environment on a large quilt. I have limited sewing experience and...

Noelani T.

The Modern Quilters Circle

Noelani T.

I worked with Nicole in a one on one environment on a large quilt. I have limited sewing experience and Nicole’s expertise was invaluable for this large project. Nicole is very patient and explained the different steps and their purposes clearly. She improved my original idea to better accomplish my overall goal. I highly recommend Nicole as an instructor and would personally have another session in a heartbeat!

Michelle L.

I seriously didn’t even know the names of parts of my sewing machine before I worked with Nicole. She walked...

Michelle L.

The Modern Quilters Circle

Michelle L.

I seriously didn’t even know the names of parts of my sewing machine before I worked with Nicole. She walked me through everything step by step. And it was amazing. She taught me the ins and outs of my machine and how to add each basic concept together. It was invaluable, because now I can figure things out and get creative without fearing the dreaded unravel!
The Modern Quilters Circle