What is quilting?

What is quilting?

Quilting is an art form that involves stitching together multiple layers of textiles, typically consisting of a layer of fabric, an insulating material, and another layer of fabric. This craft has a rich history dating back to early pioneer days and was even enjoyed by Mary, Queen of Scots.

The Quilt Top

The quilt top is where quilters spend most of their time. It's generally made of patchwork in various patterns using both traditional and contemporary blocks. Here are some popular methods for creating patchwork:

1. English Paper Piecing: This method is usually done by hand. Fabric is basted to a paper template, and each piece is then hand-stitched together.
2. Foundation Paper Piecing: This technique uses a paper template to stitch your fabric to, allowing for greater accuracy and consistency.
3. Templates: These are cut from paper or cardboard to use for cutting your fabric. They may or may not include a 1/4" seam allowance.

english paper piecing in progress

Additionally, there are whole cloth quilts made from a solid top fabric, insulation, and backing fabric. Techniques like trapunto and custom printed fabric designs (often called cheater quilts) are also popular in modern quilting.


To create warmth and softness, quilters use batting, which can be made from cotton, bamboo, or polyester, each offering different lofts. Some quilters prefer a combination of cotton and polyester to add weight and warmth. Lightweight polyester is often used because it is cost-effective and readily available. Cotton and bamboo batting, mostly imported to South Africa, can be very expensive.

photograph of different batting

For a lighter quilt, minki fabric without a backing layer can be used, providing warmth against the skin while remaining lightweight—a great option in Africa. Winter sheeting is also used in rag quilts to add body, simplifying the construction process.


Fabric for quilt backing comes in various widths, but quilters' cotton is generally 45" wide. Special backing fabric, which is wider, is available in fabric stores, though it can be pricey. Alternatively, pieced backing involves stitching leftover fabric pieces together in a minimalist pattern, though this can complicate matching seams and add density.

Sheeting, especially polycotton, is a cost-effective alternative for backing fabric, available in widths up to 110" (2.8m).



Quilting is the process of stitching the layers together to form a cohesive piece. Never refer to it as a blanket! Unless you’re Afrikaans, in which case "lappieskombers" (bits-of-fabric-blanket) is the appropriate term.

Hand Quilting: Some quilters still stitch layers together by hand using a straight stitch. Though time-consuming, it fosters community as many hands work together on a quilt.

Machine Quilting: This can be done on home sewing machines or longarm quilting machines. With computerized quilting machines, the range of intricate patterns available is virtually unlimited.

I began my quilting journey on a home sewing machine, crafting even large quilts this way. Whether you're quilting by hand or machine, this timeless craft continues to evolve, offering endless possibilities for creativity and connection.
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