Monday, April 1, 2013

Welsh Quilt Marking Tutorial - Getting Started

When I discovered Welsh quilts almost twenty years ago, there was very little information in print on how to mark these quilts.  As I studied them and figured out the marking process (the best I could), I discovered that I had to rethink the process and separate it so to speak from what I had already learned as an American quilter and product of the American quilt revival of the 70's.  The best I can do as a quiltmaker is to create a quilt that is inspired by traditional Welsh quilts because I'm creating my quilts in different circumstances.  I've learned differently, the materials are different and I've been influenced by traditions from outside Welsh quiltmaking such as the modern emphasis on perfection.  If anything, Welsh quiltmaking can be a pleasant escape from modern perfectionism.  However, don't get the idea that I see Welsh quiltmaking as a shrine to the past.  I enjoy working in the very traditional style but I've taken everything I've learned in the process and applied it throughout my quiltmaking.  Welsh quiltmaking is my dominate influence now, it's influence is present throughout everything creative that I do.

Right from the beginning, I worked on graph paper to design and I tend to think that my Welsh ancestors would've used it too.  So, to get started, I ask myself a couple questions.  How big will it be, how many borders and so on.  When I work on graph paper, I can figure out options for enlarging it.  For example, if the corner blocks are 4x4 squares on the graph paper, I can figure that one square will equal 1" and then figure the square to be 4"square and so on.  However, the best way to get started is to figure the overall outside dimensions and work towards the inside.

This picture shows a page in my sketchbook with the basic design for the quilt I'm working on at this time.  This give me an outside dimension, the width of the outside borders, an additional set of borders because the quilt is a rectangle and the circle in the center.  I will often try out different patterns in different spots.  Sometimes I use what I sketch in but often times, the design takes on an organic nature and a life of it's own but the design on paper is still a good way to get started, even if you don't stick with it.  You can see where I've written notes around the outside which will help me remember ideas.  I've also included the double lines (lower left corner of sketch) to tell me which side of the dividing lines I plan to put the lines which are a key feature of Welsh quilts.  The double lines define the borders, ect.  Resist the temptation to leave them out, they define the design and are worth the extra marking and quilting.  The double lines are also helpful in defining any pattern that you want to stand out a bit such as a leaf or heart.  Patterns not double lined tend to blend together... more on this later.

Now it's time to choose fabric.  The fabrics shown in the picture are both cotton sateen.  The red will go on the front and the floral will go on the back.  I really like florals on the backs, they show the texture differently and hide imperfect stitches.  When florals became popular among the Welsh quiltmakers, the quality of the quilting tended to take a turn for the worse because the stitches and patterns didn't show up as well.  But, I can put it on the back and enjoy it there.  When planning your quilt, quality of the fabric does matter... use the best you can afford.  Sateen works best with sateen, you can put regular, flat cotton on the back but it gives differently and I find that it needs closer basting.  If you plan to use sateen, expect to hand baste it.  Sateen is made up of finer fibers and can suffer from holes left behind by safety pins or other quick methods.

So, go make sketches on some graph paper, choose your fabric and get ready to start marking your top. 


  1. Thank you for showing your process. I always find that fascinating. I couldn't agree with you more about the current obsession with perfection. While correct technique and neat quilts are strived for, I fear that creativity and whimsy are completely lost. Who put that fear into quilters (women mostly of course) that if it isn't perfect - it's wrong? As a hand quilter and someone who teaches hand quilting - I find this so disheartening. It also puts the end product as the only goal - and not the journey that gets you there. Okay, I'm off my soapbox now. I love your blog, by the way.

  2. Oh this is so exciting! I have my fabric picked out and will pull the graph paper out! I have several welsh quilt book and will flags designs that grab me. Then start some sketching!

  3. Thank you for this post! As a wholecloth quilter and dedicated hand quilter I feel very encouraged to keep on my own way of creating my quilts. Welsh and North Country wholecloths inspire me a lot and I love to see all these details obviously marked and quilted freehand. I'm looking forward to your next posts!