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How to Quilt with Fabric Panels: Tips and Tricks

Tips for Quilting With Fabric Panels


Quilting with fabric panels is a way to add color and a fresh look to quilted items. Quilting with panels makes it easy to incorporate pictures and unique quilt pattern designs into the quilted items you make. You can also make creations as large as you like by stitching up a full-size quilt. Or, you can express your creativity by tackling a smaller project that uses printed fabric panels.

Two women quilting with fabric panels

Types of Projects That Use Quilt Panels


Quilt panels can be used to make several styles of quilts. A themed quilt pattern is one example, such as a bear quilt with wildlife-themed panels paired with a bear paw themed border. A beautiful attic window quilt pattern is another style that can be created with these panels.


In addition to using fabric panels to make a quilt for a bed, your favorite fabric panel can be used to make a variety of interesting projects. Some smaller quilt pattern projects you can use printed fabric panels for include:

  • A baby quilt

  • A lap quilt

  • Creative fashions

  • Holiday decor

  • Placemats

  • Small panel quilts

  • Table runners

  • Throw pillows

  • Wall quilts


5 Tips for Quilting With Panels


It’s okay to keep things simple when you’re quilting with fabric panels. The image is already on the panel, whether it's preprinted or a pieced quilt pattern. So to get started, think of it as being similar to making a sandwich or layering. The fabric quilt panel is the top layer, the batting is the middle, and the backing fabric is the bottom layer.

  1. Spread out each layer so it’s flat and smooth before placing the next layer on top.

  2. Pin or hand baste the layers together so nothing can easily shift or wrinkle.

  3. Work on a surface that’s large enough for the panel and layers to spread out completely.

  4. Avoid twisting or tugging at the fabric when stitching around the design on the panel.

  5. Take the time to watch or read a quilt panel tutorial for important details.


How to Cut Fabric Panel Sections


You can use either scissors or a rotary cutter and straight edge to cut fabric panel sections. To make the quilt pattern cutting process easier, spread the panel out on the table without ironing it. If the fabric panel looks a little lopsided or has been stretched out of shape, gently tug on the panel from the opposite corners. This puts tension on the fabric fibers while you pull it back into shape.


You might have to try a few times to get the printed design to look right. In order to get the quilt pattern looking perfectly square, use a small square to make sure the corners and edges of the design are straight.


If you want to press the fabric panel after straightening it, make sure you don’t drag the iron across the fabric. Use a damp pressing cloth and lightly apply the hot iron, then remove the pressing cloth by gently peeling it away.


If you’re using a rotary cutter, align the straight edge where you want it on the quilt pattern. Then, roll the cutter blade alongside the straight edge to free the printed design from the rest of the panel. If you’re using scissors, carefully cut along the outer edge of the design.


Tips for Choosing Panel Quilt Patterns


Your desired color scheme is often one of the first considerations when choosing fabric panels. For example, if you know you want to stick with warm but neutral hues, you can choose a quilt pattern that has a lot of brown and some vibrant orange or yellow accents.

A favorite theme is another consideration. For example, you could choose panels that feature nature scenes if you want to make a wolf-themed quilt or a bear quilt. Floral panels are another option for a quilt or wall quilt. Additionally, you could try a zoo themed fabric panel or a nursery themed panel for a child’s quilt.


In addition to the quilt pattern on the panel, take a look at the fibers used to make it. All-cotton panels are fairly standard, though you can also find panels made from a cotton-synthetic blend. All-cotton tends to be the most breathable. However, a cotton-synthetic blend can sometimes be less likely to stain, which can be helpful for something like a heavily used child’s quilt.

hand sewing panel quilt patterns

How to Sew Fabric Panels by Hand


Hand quilting with panels is a way you can get into quilting with panels if you don’t have a sewing machine. If you do have a sewing machine, it can still be fun and satisfying to try hand quilting. Gather everything you need first so you can sit down and relax during your quilting time without getting up frequently for supplies. Needed supplies include:

  • Layered backing, batting and fabric panel

  • Hand quilting hoop

  • Thread that’s coated for hand quilting

  • Hand quilting needles

  • Scissors or snips

  • Thimble

Place the layered fabric between the pieces of the embroidery hoop. Gently slide the hoop sections together so the fabric layers are caught inside of it. The fabric layers should look smooth with no wrinkles. They should also be taut so they don’t move around much when you’re quilting.


Put the thimble on your strongest finger. Push the threaded needle straight up and down through the fabric, making tiny, close stitches. Pull the thread so it’s snug before making the next stitch. Follow the lines on the panel quilt patterns for the best effect. Snip off thread tails as needed.


When to Prewash a Printed Panel for a Quilt


The decision to prewash a printed fabric panel or use it right off the bolt when quilting with panels is typically a matter of personal preference. However, there are reasons that show in the finished quilt for choosing each approach.


Reasons to prewash a fabric panel include:

  • It washes out chemicals used in producing the panel.

  • It preshrinks the fabric and keeps it from shrinking after your quilt is finished, which is helpful if you want your quilt to have a smooth finish after laundering.

  • Prewashing can wash out excess dye or set the dye.

  • It can help keep bright colors from bleeding on your finished quilt.

Skipping the prewash step when quilting with panels also has advantages, including:

  • You get to work with crisp fabric that’s easy to cut and stitch when you don’t prewash.

  • You get the satisfaction of jumping right in and working with your new fabric panel.

  • You get a different finished effect on your quilt when you complete the quilt first — the quilted fabric shrinks for an almost instant vintage look.

When to Iron a Quilt Panel


Fine cotton printed fabrics can get stretched out of shape on the bolt or during prewashing. That's easily fixed when you're quilting with panels. If that happens to the fabric panel you’re using for your quilt pattern, you can pull it back into shape. Then, use your hot iron and a damp pressing cloth to press it flat and help your quilt panel hold its shape.

Additionally, if you’re quilting with panels that have been prewashed, consider ironing with spray starch. Applying a light layer of spray starch and ironing fine cotton printed fabrics can restore the crispness that makes a fabric panel easier to cut and sew.


Choosing Batting for Quilting With Panels


Quilt batting comes in a variety of thicknesses and types. Quilt batting thickness is also called loft.


When to Use Low Loft Batting: When you’re quilting with panels to make decor items, like placemats, table runners and wall hangings, consider a low loft batting. Low loft batting will give your decor items a flat appearance that showcases your quilting work.


When to Try High-Loft Batting: When you’re using your quilting fabrics to make a panel quilt for a bed, consider high-loft batting to give it a plush, puffy appearance.


Types of Batting to Consider at the Quilt Store:

There are a few additional types of batting other than the ones listed below to consider for quilting. However, these are the types most likely to be appropriate for using when quilting with panels.

  • Bamboo: Benefits of a bamboo fiber batting include almost no shrinkage, it’s breathable and it’s eco-friendly.

  • Bonded: An advantage of bonded batting is that it has adhesive coating so it sticks to your quilting fabrics and doesn’t shift around when you’re working.

  • Cotton: When your quilt pattern features fabrics made from pure cotton, soft and breathable cotton batting can pair well with it.

  • Polyester: For batting that is mold-resistant, is warm and holds its shape when you’re quilting with panels, consider polyester.

  • Poly/cotton blend: Consider poly/cotton blend batting for quilting with fabric panels to get a result that combines cotton’s breathability with the warmth and loft of polyester.


Thread Options for Sewing Fabric Panels


If you’re sewing by hand to make a panel quilt, try a 40-weight quilting thread. Lighter thread might break when you pull it through the layers of quilting fabrics. Heavier thread stands out from the traditional appearance you typically want when making a wall quilt, throw quilt for the sofa or bed quilt.

  • Look for all-cotton quilting thread to machine sew when quilting with panels that are all cotton or a cotton blend.

  • Silk and metallic threads can be used for quilting with panels and fine cotton printed fabrics when you want to create a unique finished effect.

  • Rayon, nylon and wool quilting threads are usually used to add decorative touches and visual appeal to quilting projects.


Needles for Quilting With Fabric Panels


If you’re hand sewing when quilting with panels, whether to make a wall hanging or full-size bed quilt, look for betweens when you visit the quilt store. These quilting needles are short and have a small eye. The shorter length makes these hand quilting needles stronger for pushing through multiple layers.


Whether you’re using a quilt kit or pattern panel for machine quilting, look for needles that are labeled as machine quilting needles when you visit the quilt shop.


4 Advantages of Quilting With Fabric Panels

  1. Quilting with fabric panels offers new quilters a way to enhance an easy quilt pattern and turn it into a stunning complete quilt.

  2. Quilting with panels is a fun way for an experienced quilter to practice quilting skills and make a perfect handmade gift.

  3. This quick quilt idea can be paired with a more complicated border made from quilt blocks to create a unique quilt pattern effect.

  4. You can use panel quilt patterns to quickly turn your favorite fabric panels into an amazing quilt.

Ready to learn more about quilt patterns and quilting with panels? Browse through some of our helpful blog posts on Stitchin’ Heaven for fresh quilt pattern ideas and tutorials. Or, sign up for one of our great Stitchin' Heaven retreats for an immersive learning experience working with others who love quilting.


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