Thursday, July 28, 2011

How to Quilt Garments

{image source: Threads #121}
I suppose it's quilting week here at Chez Gertie! With the Stitch-Along beginning at the STC Craft blog yesterday, I've had a number of questions about how to incorporate quilting into your garment sewing. I'll start by saying that there are a number of methods, and I'm by no means anywhere close to an expert on this topic! I've been consulting my reference library for answers, and by far the best resource has been my Threads Archive DVD.

From what I can tell, the process is generally this: the separate layers of a garment (the outer layer and lining) are constructed separately, basted together with batting or flannel in between (flannel is thinner so it's sometimes used for garments), and then quilted. In the simplest iteration of this, you would have no darts or princess seams, as in this circle skirt:

You would cut out your fashion fabric, lining, and batting pieces first. Then sandwich all the layers (as I did in my Stitch-Along tutorial), baste them together thoroughly by hand, mark your quilting lines with some sort of removable chalk or pen, and then quilt away. Note: a walking foot is often recommended for this purpose to keep the layers from shifting or puckering. Also, use a longer stitch length, like 3.5-4mm.

A more complicated example would be the classic Chanel jacket.

In this case, according to Susan Khalje's excellent article in Threads #121, the wool boucle outer layer and charmeuse lining are constructed separately, basted together (there is no batting or inner layer in this case since the boucle is lofty enough on its own), and then quilted, leaving room at the edges to turn in the seam allowances. The seam allowances are turned in and stitched in place by hand with a fell stitch.

An article on shortcuts to a designer jacket (Threads #128), the author suggested bagging the jacket lining, and then quilting. This way your edges are finished before you begin quilting.

There's another fantastic article in Threads #55, which talks specifically about making shaped garments with quilting. Again, the suggestion is to construct each layer separately, with darts and princess lines, first. Then batting is cut to the shape of the layers, sandwiched, basted, and finally quilted. The edges can be finished off with self-bias tape.

But what of quilted details, like the channel stitched band on this Zac Posen dress?

I would imagine you could quilt the fabric first and then cut it out. Or perhaps you would cut two band layers, stitch the outer seam, bag it for a nice finished edge, and then quilt. What do you think?

A detail I especially want to try is a channel-stitched midriff band. I think the approach to take would be to cut all your pieces separately, quilt, and then stitch to the rest of the garment, being careful to trim down any bulk in the seam allowances.

In closing, there are many different ways to do this depending on the specifics of the garment. Just like any other project, you'd want to mentally sew through your process first to make sure your plan is a good one!

Any tips to add, readers?


  1. Hi Gertie, I enjoy your blog and thought I'd share another idea... its winter here and I've been making a duffle coat. To give the hood some extra body I used a layer of fusible padding them quilted a silk lining to the wool, leaving the seam allowances without padding to reduce bulk. The coat is almost finished, so I'll send you a photo when its done.

  2. I made a quilted garment many years ago. I cut out each piece, quilted, and constructed the garment. It was a bit tight. I think I gave it to my little sister.

    Afterward I read that each piece should be cut larger to account for the shrinking that quilting does, quilted, and then cut to the pattern for construction.
    The amount of shrinkage would depend on if filler was used, the thickness of the filler, as well as how much quilting was done.

    So, I was surprised with the Channel jacket construction. How is the shrinkage taken into account? Or is it even necessary if there is no filler and not too much quilting? Maybe someone who has made a Channel jacket can help me understand.

    I like being reminded of ways to embellish. Makes me think of different and hopefully unusual ways to use quilting. I really like this series. Thanks!

  3. When making a quilted garment that is going to be laundered, you would wash all of the fabrics before you start. Yes, shrinkage can be a problem in a quilted garment, so you have to account for it. The more quilting, the more the fabric will "shrink".

    So, any garment where you quilt the fabric first and then cut out the pieces should fit fine, but if you are assembling the garment and quilting after, you will have to account for shrinkage. Usually one size is enough unless the garment if very fitted.

    Incidentally, if you are quilting your fabric first (especially if quilting by hand), you should trace the pattern pieces onto the quilted fabric, and then stitch around the perimeter of each piece before cutting out just outside the stitching line. This way your hard work of quilting doesn't unravel during the construction process.

    Just some thoughts!

  4. Thanks for a bit more information. Per what Doreen said, my understanding also is that you have to start with bigger pieces than the finished product because quilting, smocking, etc., shrinks the fabric.

    Maybe you went into it before, I don't remember, but I've seen most quilting done with a hoop. My understanding is that you have to move it around the edges of the fabric so as not to leave permanent indentation. Still, the sewing line should be well inside the hoop.

  5. I also wanted to point out that the classic hand quilting stitch is not a simple running stitch in the manner of its execution.

    It's hard to describe, but it involves raising the fabric from under the quilt hoop with one or two fingers on one hand and using a finger on your dominant hand to push in and pop up the needle through the layers of fabric. It takes a lot of practice to produce even stitches.

    I took a session on this at the City Quilter in New York City and some books were recommended. One was Learn to Do Hand Quilting in Just One Day. Hint: It takes more than a day.

  6. 1. Start all rows of quilting from the same end. This is absolutely critical in channel quilting, as the the material may/will shift.

    2. As well as stitch length adjustment, be prepared to adjust tension.

    3. Depending on the fabric, regular sewing thread may not work or be visible during the quilting. Try quilting or button hole thread, or even try threading two strands through a single needle.

    4. Machine quilting can use some decorative stitches; the simple ones are recommended. I saw a 1940s silk wedding dress decorated with quilting at the neckline, cuffs, and hem; the quilting alternated straight and scallop stitching.

    5. Often unconsidered lining for light quilting projects - flannel.

    6. If you want really flat quilted fabric, prewash everything before the quilting. If you want puffiness, don't prewash some or all layers before quilting, then wash. Natural fabrics such as cotton tend to fluff and puff better than mixes.

    7. Avoid silk fabrics for first quilting projects.

    8. Yes, it's perfectly ok to baste before the machine. Just don't sew over the basting.

    9. The quilting creates a warmer fabric, even if the layers are thin.

  7. Quilting doesn't just shrink the size of the pattern piece, it also takes away any natural 'give' your fabric has, which is why a fitted garment may end up fitting differently. Of course this is a real bonus in a situation like the channel quilted trim around a low neckline as it will help to keep the neckline taut. I've done this a few times and yup, the way to do it is to bag the outer seam, insert a fine batting like flannel (trimmed of seam allowances), quilt, and the attach to garment, using a facing or bias cut strip to enclose the raw edges.
    A cheater's suggestion would be to take fabric, backing and batting along to a long arm quilter and get them to do an all over quilting stitch, then cut the whole thing out. Long arm quilters generally have an incredible array of computerised patterns to choose from. And over hhere it is very reasonable to have it done too. :)

  8. I have to concur with all of the tips everyone has said so far. Technically, I haven't made a quilted garnment but I've made a ton of quilts. You can use different batting to create different effects, you can also use flannel, wool, sweatshirt material, and even fleece, depending on what you're going to use it for and the desired effect.

    Also, make sure to make whatever you're making a size big as the more quilting you do, the more it will 'shrink'.

    If you plan on doing a lot of piecing, you could work darts into your design without anyone even noticing.

  9. Gertie, I'm a quilter as well as a garment sewer. The principles behind quilting a garment are the same as quilting a quilt. And just so you avoid my fumbles when I was moving over to quilting--

    Don't baste. First of all, you're machine quilting. That means that the foot with catch on the hand basting, and you need to have even tension all over. You need a wide, flat surface, and you need to pre-quilt the fabric and lining before you cut out, because quilting takes up fabric.

    Take the bottom and tape it to your surface with masking tape. Make sure to stretch it taut. Then lay your middle layer over it, then your outside fabric on top, right side out.

    What you need is a lot of safety pins to go around the outside, and a bottle of spray adhesive. Working in sections, fold back the top two layers and, working at a 45 degree angle and about an inch away from the lining, spray the adhesive on the wrong side of the lining. Next, put the middle layer on it and smooth it down so that it'll stick. Then move to your next section and repeat until all the middle is stuck down. Then repeat the process with the top layer. After all that is done, pin around the outside with safety pins before removing the tape.

    Quilt it (you might want a silver point to draw where you're quilting and what pattern you're using), and then cut out your pattern after it's been quilted.

  10. On a Channel jacket made in Kahlje's style, the loose lining pieces are machine quilted to each matching shell piece BEFORE ASSEMBLY. After each piece is machine quilted the fashion fabric only is seamed. If the fit is approved the lining seam allowances are then hand-stitched closed. It's not as complicated as it sounds.

  11. Thank you , Bunny, for the explanation. I can see why shrinkage is not an issue in a Channel jacket.

  12. True Confessions: This was one of my favorite issues. I still dream of making that quilted silk vest. And I am NOT at quilter.

  13. hints: when using flannel - prewash and dry it several times.... it shrinks, and shrinks, and shrinks!

    Quilting your fabric to unwashed flannel, then washing and cutting and assembling will give you very interesting textures.

    Quilting to flannel that has been placed on the bias rather than the straight of grain can retain some drape.

    If you want to quilt on silk - hit it with enough layers of spray starch that it is as stiff as paper to keep it from wiggling around while you quilt.


  14. Summer has FINALLY arrived here in the Pacific Northwest, so your post coincided perfectly with my complaints about heat and longings for Autumn and Winter. The rest of my day will now be spent laying in front of the air conditioner, dreaming of quilted circle skirts and wool tights. Of course when it comes time to wear them, I'll be dreaming of playsuits worn at the riverside. Anyway, thanks, this was helpful and informative; I'm thinking of silk batting initially.


Thanks for your comments; I read each and every one! xo Gertie

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