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How-Tuesday: Finish a Vintage Quilt Top

In honor of National Quilting Month, try your hand at turning a top into a finished quilt with this comprehensive guide.

Maybe you have been eyeing some vintage quilt tops on Etsy, or have an unfinished quilt top languishing in your closet. In celebration of National Quilting Month, we have invited Alexia Abegg, author of Liberty Love: 25 Projects to Quilt and Sew and co-owner of Green Bee Patterns, to share a tutorial on how to finish a quilt top, leaving you with a fine heirloom quilt.

Hello! My name is Alexia Marcelle Abegg. Today, I want to share with you a simple method for finishing a completed quilt top. You can piece your own top, or, if you love vintage quilts like I do, you can buy a vintage quilt top from your favorite vintage seller on Etsy. If you start with a vintage or antique top, be sure it is in good condition, free of any rips or holes, and is made from washable cotton fabrics. Let's get started finishing a quilt!

You Will Need:

Quilt Backing Fabric – Measure your quilt top to determine how much backing fabric you will need. If your quilt is less than 84" wide, you will need twice the length of the quilt top from 42" wide fabric. If your quilt is 85" or wider, you will need three times the length of the quilt top from 42" wide fabric. (Quilting fabric generally comes in 44/45" width, but only about 42" is usable width so I base this calculation on that amount.) Pre-wash your backing fabric. • Quilt Batting – Measure your quilt top and purchase enough batting to give you at least 3" overhang at each side of the quilt. My favorite batting is Warm and Natural cotton. • Masking Tape – to hold the layers of the quilt to the floor while you baste. • IronStraight PinsRulerScissors and/or Rotary Cutter and MatBinding Fabric – You will need to cut 2" wide by the 42" width of fabric strips to make binding. To determine your yardage requirement, measure all sides of the quilt and add them together (X), divide that number by 42 = (Y), multiply Y by 2. Divide Y by 36. This is how many inches of yardage you will need. Round up to the nearest increment of a yard (yardage is usually sold in eighth yard increments, with the minimum being 1/4 yard). Basting Supplies: 200+ safety pins, depending on the size of your quilt. I recommend a box of 500 — that has worked on every quilt I've ever made, up to a large queen size. • Quilting Supplies: All-purpose sewing thread in a color to match your quilt. I usually purchase 500 yards for a queen size, 400 for a twin, or 300 for a small baby quilt. If you want to be safe, purchase 500yds. A free motion, darning, or embroidery foot for your sewing machine and your machine's manual to instruct you on how to set your particular machine.


1. Gather up your supplies. 2. Iron quilt top, backing fabric, and batting.

3. Prepare the Backing Fabric. Cut backing fabric into the lengths required by your quilt top. My vintage quilt top required two lengths (shown here). Pin and sew the two lengths of fabric together along the long sides using a 5/8" seam allowance. The seam needs to be large enough to sew the entire printed selvage into the seam without any of the white selvage edge showing on the right side of the seam after it has been sewn. If 5/8" is not enough, increase your seam allowance to catch the selvage in the seam.

Trim the seam down to approximately 1/4". This will help the seam be flat and less noticeable, and will prevent the selvage from shrinking in the wash. Press the seam open.

4. Basting the Quilt Layers Tip: When basting a large quilt, a partner is helpful. Lay the prepared backing fabric wrong side up on a smooth surface, such as a hardwood floor, and tape the backing down around the edges every 6 to 8 inches. Lay the quilt batting on top of the backing fabric and smooth the batting. Safety pin the three layers of the quilt together using your safety pins. Pin in a 5" grid over the entire quilt top.

5. Quilting the Quilt. I like to wind 5-6 bobbins before I begin so that I don't have to stop and wind bobbins while I am quilting. Set your machine, according to the manufacturer's instructions, for free motion and attach the free motion foot. Thread the machine with all-purpose thread. Place the quilt under the needle and unroll the edge until you have the center of the quilt under the needle. Keeping the roll to the right of the needle will help the quilt fit under the arm of your sewing machine. Move the quilt around as you sew, keeping your stitch length even by how fast or slow you move the quilt. Create loops, squiggles, box shapes, zigzags ... the possibilities are endless. Fill the entire quilt with your stitching, moving from one section to the next, continuously stitching. Check your batting instructions by the manufacturer to see how close or far apart your stitching can be and still hold the batting together. (For free-motion quilting inspiration, check out some of the resources at the end of this post.) 6. Prepare your Quilt for Binding. Set your machine for straight stitching.

Trim the excess backing and batting with scissors or a rotary cutter, ruler and mat. If your quilt is slightly irregular at the edges, you can either cut with scissors and allow the edges to be irregular (as I have done on this quilt) or you can cut with the rotary cutter, using the ruler to square up the corners of the quilt top. I personally like the personality and charm that comes with flaws like this.

Cut your binding fabric into 2" strips, cutting across the width of the fabric (from selvage to selvage). Place one strip onto another fabric strip end to end, with the printed side of the fabrics facing each other, at a 90° angle. Mark a line from corner to corner 45° from the cut edge of the fabric strip. Pin the strips together and stitch on the marked line. Repeat, joining strips end to end, to make continuous binding. Trim the seams down to about 1/4" and press the seams open. Fold the binding in half, wrong sides of the fabric touching each other, all the way down the entire length of the strip and iron.

7. Bind Your Quilt. Leaving about 10" of binding free, begin sewing the binding to the front of the quilt with the raw edges of the binding aligned with the raw, outside edges of the quilt, using a 1/4" seam allowance. Start sewing the binding on about 20" from a corner of the quilt. When you reach a corner, stop sewing 1/4" from the corner and backstitch. Remove the quilt from the machine. Fold the binding up and away from the quilt at a 45° angle as shown in photo #4 (sew binding to quilt).

Fold the binding back down towards the quilt, aligning the fold with uppermost edge of the quilt as shown in photo #1 (miter corners) and align the raw edges of the unstitched binding to the raw edges of the quilt. Pin in place. Begin sewing again 1/4" from the corner of the quilt, backstitch, and sew the binding to the entire quilt edge, mitering at each corner.

Stop sewing when you reach 10" from the start of your binding stitching. Overlap the ends of the binding by 2.5" and trim. It is ideal if the the overlap is centered in the section of the quilt's edge where the binding has not yet been sewn to the quilt. Unfold the ends of the binding and place them with the printed sides of the binding facing each other, letting 1/4" of the binding extend over each of the cut ends. Be sure the binding is not twisted before pinning the ends together.

Mark a stitching line just like you did when joining the strips together before stitching them to the quilt. Sew the ends together on the marked line. Trim the seam allowances down to approximately 1/4" and press the seam open.

Fold the binding back together with the wrong sides facing each other and sew the remaining seam of the binding and quilt.

Wrap the binding around to the back of the quilt and hand sew the binding to the quilt back. At each corner, first fold one side, allowing the corner of the binding to create a little 45° angle, then fold the other side over, also allowing it to create a small 45° angle. This will give you mitered corners. Hand sew the entire binding down to the quilt back.

Congratulations! You now have a finished quilt. You can wash it if you prefer, and let it air dry or dry in the dryer on low heat. Snuggle up and enjoy! For some additional inspiration, check out these sites: Monkey Do Lucy and Norman Oh Fransson Red Pepper Quilt Sometimes Crafter

If you finish your own quilt top, share a photo with us in the Etsy Labs Flickr group. A big thank you to Alexia Abegg from Green Bee Patterns for sharing this project with us. For more sewing ideas, check out her new book, Liberty Love, available from Amazon or your local independent bookstore or right here on Etsy.

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Julie Schneider

When Julie Schneider isn’t writing and editing, she’s carrying on her family’s pun tradition, making custom GIFs, or scheming in her cozy art studio. Keep up with her latest projects on Instagram.