Whole Cloth Quilting – your coffee break guide

The simplest definition of a whole cloth quilt is a quilt made of a single piece of fabric and quilted, making the quilting itself the design. There is no patchwork or applique work on a traditional whole cloth quilt.

A  history of wholecloth quilting 

Whole cloth quilting originated in Wales, Northern England and the Scottish borders and was very popular in the 19th and 20th century.

Early whole cloth bed quilts which may appear to be a solid piece of fabric are actually composed of strips of fabric, since early looms could not produce widths of cloth large enough to cover an entire bed surface. These early quilts even if they are made from strips of the same fabric, be it wool or cotton, are referred to as whole cloth quilts.

As with current quilts, early quilts were made of three layers, a top, a filling and backing, the filling in this period was often wool. The layers were quilted by hand forming intricate decoration and design.

The first whole cloth quilts to in America were imported from Europe by the wealthy who had the means to purchase imported quilts.

In the earlier years of the 19th century quilts were more likely to be whole cloth quilts rather than pieced patchwork creations. Often the women would get together to have a quilting group where they worked on a quilt which would be stretched over trestles so that they could all sit round it and work on it at the same time.

Whole cloth quilting designs

Often it is possible to identify the origin of an early whole cloth quilt by it’s design, for example Welsh quilts can easily be recognised from the motifs and by the layout. If you can see spirals, then it’s definitely from Wales; paisleys, fans, hearts and leaves are also common.

The layout usually has a large circular central motif, and two or three borders, with the different areas separated by double straight lines.

A popular technique in whole cloth quilting is Trapunto, Trapunto is an Italian word used to describe the technique of slipping extra stuffing into certain areas of a quilt to create areas of raised motifs.

Modern day revival

This type of quilting is having a revival today and proving to be very popular, not just for quilt tops but for cushions and hangings. Today whole cloth quilts are more commonly machine quilted, regularly with free machining. However, they still follow the same principles of three layers and being made of one piece of cloth.

Whole cloth quilting tips

Many retailers now sell quilt tops with a quilting pattern printed on it so you can follow the design to easily make your first whole cloth quilt, but if you would like to do it the more traditional way there are a few things to remember…

When choosing your fabric ensure it is firm and has a fairly tight weave so that the quilting stitches can be seen and be sure to pre-wash to avoid shrinkage once quilted. Cut your wadding (batting) an inch larger all round than the size of the quilt. This is because the stitching will pull up the wadding to a certain extent.

Your choice of thread can make the design of your whole cloth quilt. In the quilt featured a heavy thread is used in a variety of colours, metallic and variegated to demonstrate the completely different styles that can be gained by the thread choice.

Mark the quilting design on the top layer. This can be done by marking with a marker pen or pencil and use a glue basting spray to join your three layers together.
The most important thing in making a whole cloth quilt is that you work from the centre both when basting/pinning and when quilting.