Quilt Anatomy: Panels, Fabrics, and Projects

Aug 16, 2021

Quilt Panels and Projects

Without a doubt, a beautiful handsewn quilt symbolizes the epitome of resourcefulness, family lineage and proud artisan heritage. Like the mysterious, storytelling hieroglyphic paintings inside a cave, or the rich, dreamy prose of a Shakesperian masterpiece, fabric panels are printed pieces of cotton, chenille or synthetic fabrics printed with designs to bring the quilt together to tell an easy one-of-a-kind story. Fabric panel designs can include cartoon characters, animals, nature scenes, florals, abstract patterns and solid colors.


During the Colonial period, American-made quilts were traditionally constructed using fabric panels. With limited sewing equipment, this was an easy way to construct a quilt quickly, and was a more cost effective way to produce many quilts. This simple technique not only allowed mothers to teach their daughters and granddaughters the grand tradition of quilting, it was the genesis of preserving many family traditions to come.


Community quilting was a way for families to connect and share in the joy of their artistry. Granted, these quilts were hand-sewn, but the bonding and educational experiences producing finely crafted fabric panel quilts lives on to this day which has quilting a very proud American tradition.


Once the quilting panels are sewn together with a fabric backing, filled heirloom cotton batting and some classic straight or running stitches, or the more fancy satin or zigzag stitching, the results always create a beautiful quilted masterpiece, everytime. Whether providing extra snuggly security in the baby’s crib, adorning a bed for extra warmth on the coldest of winter nights, or hung like a piece of art as a quilt wall hanging, the fabric panels are the foundation of the time-honored quilt.


The Basics


Quilting panels and fabric panels can be used interchangeably when describing the pieces of fabric used in the construction of a quilt. Typically, quilt panels are cut from a bolt of material, usually about ⅔ of a yard, cut between 24” or 36” wide, into squares or rectangles. Some prepackaged fabric panels are cut to a standard 24” x 42” rectangle.


For larger quilting projects, such as a California King bed quilt, or a quilt wall hanging, simply ask for the material to be cut to the larger desired dimensions. Keep in mind, extra batting will need to be purchased to fill the quilt corner-to-corner.


Other great projects to make using fabric panels include decorative tablecloths and aprons for cooking adventures in the kitchen. Lay your pattern down, trace and cut out the design using a rotary fabric cutter, and don’t forget to always use a self-healing cutting mat!


Unlike the more time consuming quilting projects, which require puzzling together small 18” x 22” fat quarters, fabric panels bring the quilt together faster with 2 large solid or printed fabric pieces cut into equal dimensions.


This style of fabric panel quilting is super easy to construct, and makes for a fantastic, creative pick-me-up, for any blank space in the home that needs an impressive quilt wall hanging! Brighten up a child’s bedroom with a favorite superhero fabric panel quilted wall hanging or liven up a wall in the family room or covered patio with a beautiful quilted sunset or landscape fabric panel quilt.


To assemble, sew 1” fabric loops, evenly spaced, to one end of the quilt. Next, run a dowel rod through the loops, cap the rod with artistic finials, and hang the quilt using a decorative cord and flat mounted hook and anchor, or to really make the room pop, consider hanging the quilt like curtains!


Fabric panels with solid or abstract designs make interesting wall hangings and great accent pieces, folded over an ornate high back chair, or draped across the couch. Fabric panels that feature a scene, like a farmyard or a zoo, with animals in the style of a child’s coloring book, make beautiful textured quilts for a child’s bed, or a favorite quilt to snuggle under during story time. Creating texture and dimension on a quilt is as unique as the individuality of a snowflake or fingerprint. Assemble all of the fabric pieces, then place the piece of fabric backing down, then the printed fabric panel on top. Fill with pre-cut batting, and pin the edges. Let the sewing fun begin!


Stitching random lines, patterns and curves, with the thread, on the surface of the fabric panel adds interesting three dimensional effects and a whole lot of charm. This type of quilt stitch is known as stippling. Stippling lets you meander across the surface of the fabric panel to create vast random designs and patterns or tighten up the stitches to make coordinated, evenly spaced designs.


To add dimension to an image printed on the quilt, use an echo stitch and trace around the shape of the character or images. This free-motion stitch is very popular with fabric panel quilts, and learning to sew and create these dimensions on the top fabric panel is a great way to practice sewing techniques for the more inspired and challenging quilt projects.


The Gentle Touch of Chenille


For a more elegant looking quilt, consider using a chenille quilt panel. Chenille is the French word for caterpillar, and chenille yarn looks like a super-soft fuzzy pipe cleaner. To manufacture the yarn, two strands are twisted together. The result of the twisting the yarn forms loops along the length of the strand. The loops are cut and produce a fuzzy pile, like a fine shag rug. The yarn is then sewn into a fabric.


Chenille fabric gives the appearance of extreme softness, like a luxurious bath towel; and because of the unique way the yarn is twisted together, the delicate fibers catch the light differently. Chenille fabric panels are great for both the upper layer of the quilt for its unique plush quality, or the underlayer of the quilt to provide extra softness and comfort.


Chenille fabric is ideal for a baby’s first quilt. Because of the way light interacts with Chenille fabric’s unique twist, it can make the appearance of the quilt look iridescent, even when no iridescent fibers are used to make the yarn. Chenille fabric can be made using cotton, acrylic, rayon and olefin.


Time to Quilt!


Once the main fabric panels are purchased, the fun part is deciding the overall design. The panel quilt pattern can include many design elements. For example, cutout shapes of other distinct and vibrant fabrics to create a gorgeous mosaic of accentuating color that can be sewn into the top layer of the larger fabric panel in rows or askew or any interesting pattern to create a patchwork design. If the quilt is for the baby’s nursery, consider incorporating cutouts of a teddy bear and ABC building blocks.


To create this look, simply sew the cutout designs onto the top layer of the fabric panel with a durable 50 weight complimentary colorful thread. When nearing the end of stitching down the cutouts, use extra batting to fill the teddy bear and building blocks, then stitch the rest of the cutouts to the fabric panel. These added touches instantly give the quilt fun dimensions, extra soft padding, is wonderfully tangible for little fingers to explore, and gives the newborn their own sweet-faced teddy bear to ogle, when a stuffed animal may be too overwhelming.


Babies Love Quilts


A quilt for a baby is a lifelong treasure. The gift of a quilt is special because they can incorporate fabrics unique to the creator. Quilts are a labor of love; a textile time capsule which preserves and celebrates the creator of the quilt in memoriam.


Standard baby quilt fabric panel measurements vary depending on the size of the baby. For a newborn, baby quilt fabric panels typically measure 30” x 40”, crib and toddler quilts, 36” x 52”, and throw/lap quilts 50” x 65”. Pre-cut batting can be purchased for baby quilt fabric panel projects and kits.


There are a myriad of panels featuring a fun array of pictures and colors, ranging from basic ABC & 123 designs, images of friendly and loving animals, angels, clouds and rainbows. Look for baby quilt fabric panels with vivid colors. Babies look longer at images and color patterns incorporating blues and reds, and purple and orange. Consider adding tassels around the edge, a colorful custom lace or contrasting colored border or a pattern of complimentary soft colorful knots, evenly spaced throughout the top fabric panel.


For a fun added finishing touch, consider purchasing several appliques to sew onto the quilt. If the baby’s room is turtle or princess or penguin themed, machine-made appliques are available for purchase online or at the local sewing and craft stores. Create your own applique with various pieces of colorful fabric, or look for online downloadable templates. Get super creative and embroider a personal touch or message on the quilt, like the baby’s initials or a symbol of affection, like a heart or a star. Friendly and inviting baby quilt fabric panels, encourage visual stimulation, and give the baby the ultimate sense of security.


1-2-3 … It’s Time to Quilt!


The timeless sentiment of a homemade quilt has been passed down to grand daughters from their great, great grandmothers and to the many generations in between for hundreds of years. The celebration of the quilt is quintessential craftsmanship Today, the art of quilting is for anyone who wants to learn a one-of-a-kind crafting experience. The choices of quilting are literally endless.


From the types of fabric panels, thread, embellishments, appliques, and sewing machines, there’s no shortage of the myriad of interesting and storytelling quilts that can be made. All it takes is the interest to learn, and some patience. Soon, enough a new quilt adorns the bed, welcomes a new baby, or is requested in the wedding registry as the happy couple’s first quilt for their new home.


Are you ready to quilt? Here are the basics. All the things you need to consider, and the tools to get that beautiful fabric panel quilt on the bed, or livening up a wall. Here’s the 1-2-3’s (and a few more to get you started):


1. Pick the appropriate theme for the quilt, the room it’s going to beautify, and most importantly, who the quilt is for. This part is fun! There are endless fabric panel selections to choose from. Maybe a fabric panel that celebrates a favorite vacation destination, a beautiful abstract cityscape, or animated zoo animals riding bikes! Buy good quality cotton fabric and consider a solid background fabric that is complimentary but neutral in color to the designs being cut and sewn to the background.

Choose a complementary contrasting solid color for the back of the quilt.


2. Batting - the best batting inside the quilt, provides the best insulation and comfort.


3. The tools of the trade: All of the following tools are recommended to make a fabric panel quilt:

  • Rotary Cutter - for larger curves and perfect lines, give your hand a break from the scissors.

  • Self-healing mat - the rotary cutters best friend and a must have!

  • Quilt Ruler - a simple piece of quilting technology that becomes more important as the quilts get more intricate.

  • Good quality scissors

  • Iron - a clean, designated quilting iron is essential. Ask Stitchin’ Heaven about their lovely selection of mini and full-sized irons.

  • Thread / Bobbin

  • Sewing Machine - take a tour of the elegant and sophisticated line of finely crafted Bernina sewing machines. Stitchin’ Heaven has their own Bernina Team to contact with any questions!


4. That’s it! Of course, before you start quilting, feel free to get all the right quilting answers, to all your quilting questions from Stitchin’ Heaven here: info@stitchinheaven.com. Don’t forget to subscribe to Stitchin’ Heavens YouTube channel for super-fun tutorials!


Make a piece of American tradition a part of your home, or try quilting as a new and rewarding hobby. Imagine the pride you’ll have when someone compliments the quilt in your home and you can say, “I made it!” Happy quilting!


Checkout our two videos below on Panels.