Publisher’s note: This article assumes a knowledge of quilting somewhat beyond the basics.
Start with a Picture
I usually start with a picture that I like and that I think could be converted to a quilt. If I don’t have a line drawing of the picture, I create one. I will print out a copy of the original photograph for reference.
Transfer to Paper
Next, using a sheet of paper as large as the quilt you want to make, either transfer the line drawing by sketching it onto the large sheet of paper OR blowing it up in some photo editing software and print out the separate letter or legal sized sheets and tape them together.
Next, the fun part (or challenging part, depending on your point of view), finding fabric for each area of your quilt. The fabric you use could be very similar (if you can find it) to the different elements of the quilt or different for a more abstract look. I personally like to be as realistic as possible. I have found, however, that getting fabric to match is very challenging.
When I find fabric for each element of the quilt, I usually make a guide sheet. I use a small piece of each fabric and attach it to a sheet of paper and number it. This is a good way to keep track of what goes where. I can transfer the numbers to the large sheet of paper with my line drawing on it. Finally, I usually staples the guide sheet to the printed photo, to keep them together.
Before you start sewing, the next step would be to transfer the design to medium weight interfacing. Using a pencil (#1 or softer), drawing on the glue side draw each part of the quilt. You can pin the elements to the paper as you go.
Prepare Quilt Pieces
Next, iron the interfacing to the wrong side of the fabric and cut out each piece. You may want to leave a small seam allowance around each piece as you would do if you were hand appliqueing each piece. However, the pieces to be machine applique may (or may not) not need the seam allowance and can be cut off later as you create your quilt. Pin the fabric backed with interfacing where you had the interfacing pinned. After you are finished with this part, you’ll have a good idea how your quilt will look. It is now that you can make substitutions and use different fabric for the different elements if they aren’t matching your image of the quilt (or don’t look near enough like the photo you are using as a guide).
Machine and Hand Applique
I have used both machine applique and hand applique in this quilt; there is more machine applique than hand applique. Machine applique is basically using a satin stitch on your sewing machine. The hand applique technique I use is called needle turn applique. You will have to decide which you prefer to use. Hand applique is very nice but it is very time consuming. You may want to use a lot of machine applique, it is an easy way to create definition, lines, and attach two separate pieces of fabric.
This quilt has a large border surrounding the main image. You may want to decide on the border and binding fabrics at the same time you decide on all the other elements in your quilt. Cut and apply the border. Press the quilt top. I like to use spray starch at this point to help flatten the quilt.
Put It All Together
When your quilt top is completed to your satisfaction, the next step is to put it all together. The three elements involved are: the quilt top you just completed, the batting (I like cotton but there are other types to use as well), and the backing. I think the quilt top, border, binding, and backing fabrics should complement each other and/or some of the fabrics used in the quilt top should also be used for the border, binding, and backing. If you do not have enough fabric to use on any of these three elements, similar and complementary fabrics can be used. Put all three layers (quilt top, batting, and backing) together. I use curved quilting safety pins to hold all three layers together. Next, I like to use stitch-in-the-ditch method of attaching all three layers.
Just before you put on the binding, you may want to attach a hanging sleeve to the back of your quilt. This will make hanging you quilt easier and you can hide the seams in the binding when it is applied. I like to machine stitch the binding to the front of the quilt and hand stitch it down on the back. I usually press using spray starch one more time.
Congratulations! You did it!