What Makes a Quilt a Quilt?

The definition of a quilt is actually very simple: any covering made from layers of fabric with lines of stitching going across them. Most of the time, you’ll see quilting with three layers: the top, which is made of fabric, the middle, which is made of batting (loosely held-together fibers that make the quilt warm and give it thickness), and the backing or back, which is also fabric. Quilters often refer to this as the quilt sandwich!

If you’re a quilter, you probably already know what counts as a quilt and what doesn’t, but for those who aren’t familiar, here are some things a quilt is not:

  • A blanket: Often blankets are only one or two layers. Most significantly, they often lack batting and the stitching across their middle that makes a bed covering a quilt. Examples of a blanket include afghans and most fabric coverings you’ll come across. Non-quilters beware — some quilters hate when you call their work a “blanket”!
  • A comforter: These are filled with down or other stuffing material and tend to be thicker than a quilt. Although they have three layers and have the stitching going across to keep the filling in place, they lack batting, as stuffing material is not a fabric layer.
  • A duvet: A duvet is stuffed like a comforter but does not have the stitching to keep the material in place. It also comes in two pieces, as it requires a duvet cover (which is also not a quilt). Since they lack batting and stitching, duvets do not fall under the category of quilt.

Quilts can be made by a variety of methods. They can be made completely by hand, or they can be stitched by machine. Within the latter category, they can be made with a regular sewing machine or with a longarm quilting machine, a very large and niche machine for making quilts.

Types of Quilts

Quilts, with their long and fascinating history, have possibilities far beyond simple bed coverings. While they are often used as coverings for a bed or couch, you may also see a smaller quilt, known as a lap quilt, kept off to the side to be used when extra warmth is needed. These lap quilts (or lapghans) are perfect for snuggling under when watching TV or reading and can provide warmth and comfort for wheelchair users. They take less time than a full-size quilt, and so are less labor-intensive. There are typically size specifications for what qualifies it as a lap quilt.

You may also see quilts such as wall hangings, mini quilts, or kitchen quilts, usually made for a special purpose, like table toppers or mug rugs. Of course, you can hang up any quilt to brighten up a room, but mini quilts are generally made for décor purposes. Home décor projects like wall hangings typically have straps to make hanging easier.

Some decorative quilts commemorate an event, such as a centennial quilt (in celebration of an event or person’s 100th birthday) or a quilt of valor (a quilt from the Quilts of Valor Foundation, which honors service members). These may or may not be used for keeping warm. Additionally, t-shirt quilts or memory quilts are popular as keepsakes, and are most often made from pre-owned garments, like t-shirts, flannels, or denim.

Lastly, you may see art quilts, in which quilting techniques are used in the creation of a beautiful piece of art. The Art Quilt Association describes these special quilts as “an original exploration of a concept or idea rather than the handing down of a ‘pattern’. It experiments with textile manipulation, color, texture and/or a diversity of mixed media” (“What Is an Art Quilt?”, cvquiltguild.com). For examples of an art quilt, check out Sanford Biggers’ work!

Now that you know the differences between the types of quilting projects, the next step is to choose the project that works best for you! Check out this issue, and past issues of We Like Sewing, to find your next quilting adventure.


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