In this tutorial, you’ll learn how to make a wholecloth quilt using Kantha-style stitches. A wholecloth quilt differs from the types of quilts you’ve probably made before because there is no piecing. Instead, two whole pieces of cloth are used for the top and back. That makes this type of quilt excellent for whipping up in a time crunch!
Kantha (KAHN-taa) is a type of embroidery used to repurpose old saris. This method of simple, straight running stitching was practiced by thrifty women in east and west Bengal (present-day Bangladesh). The history of Kantha quilts can be traced back several centuries and is closely tied to the social and cultural fabric of the region. In Sanskrit, the word “Kantha” means rags, but Kantha quilts aren’t usually made out of the actual rags. They are made of discarded fabrics, intended to keep people warm while repurposing unused scraps.
Kantha quilts are not just textiles; they are a reflection of the cultural heritage, creativity, and resilience of the women who have practiced this art form for generations. Today, Kantha quilts have evolved beyond their traditional use as blankets and are often used as decorative throws, wall hangings, and fashion accessories like scarves and bags.
There are a variety of Kantha embroidery stitches, each with its own unique style and purpose. The running stitch is the most popular embroidery technique used for Kantha work. And we’ll be using it to make our wholecloth quilt in this tutorial. It involves simple, straight stitches worked in a straight line or parallel rows to create linear designs.In the tutorial below I will walk you through for step-by-step instructions so you can make a wholecloth quilt!
The pieced quilt also featured in this photo is the Starling quilt pattern using Suzy Quilts PURE solids in Poppy, Spiced, Queen Bee, Thistle, Pearl, Shrimpy, Cerulean, Snapdragon, and Matcha with Glacier as the background. Find these fabrics on Etsy!
Starling is a fat quarter friendly quilt pattern!
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Materials to Make a Wholecloth Quilt
The finished size of the quilt shown in this tutorial is 54" x 42". If you'd like a larger size, adjust the fabric requirements until it is as big as you like.
- 1 1/2 yards each from 2 different fabrics for the top and back. I’m using Signature PURE Solids in Nova for the top and Boho Birds Honeymoon in flannel from Duval for the cozy back. Find these fabrics on Etsy!
- Cotton batting
- 3/8 yard of binding fabric, cut into (6) 2 1/2" x WOF (Get this Key West Bound binding fabric on Etsy)
- Pearl Cotton Thread size 8 in Ecru and Yokota Sashiko Thread in Light Blue
- Lecien Hidamari Sashiko Needles (comes with a needle threader)
- Hera marker
- Basting spray or pins
Step 1: Prepare the Fabric
Wash and press your fabric, especially when you use flannel as it tends to shrink. Make a quilt sandwich by laying down backing (right side down), batting and top (right side up). Baste as desired.
Step 2: Mark the Quilting Design
I like to work from the center out when quilting. The easiest way to find the center is to fold the top fabric in half, matching the short edges (your top should measure 21" x 54" when folded). Gently press with your finger to create the crease line along the fold.
Next, decide the distance between the quilting lines. I prefer it to be between 1/2" and 3/4". Start marking using your ruler and hera maker. Drag the hera marker along the edge of the ruler and press gently to create a mark. Do not press too firmly as you could damage the fibers.
I only create four to five lines in the center to give me an idea, and then eyeball it after that. This will create imperfect straight lines, which is the look I’m going for. But if it makes you nervous to do this without marking the lines, you can mark the whole quilt. After all, this should be a therapeutic project that you can use to enjoy the process, not a stressful one!
Step 3: Prepare the Thread
Cut a length of thread, typically 18-24 inches to prevent tangling. Thread one end of the thread through the eye of the needle (a needle threader might come in handy for this). Tie a knot at the other end of the thread to secure it.
TIP: To make a quilter’s knot, hold the tail of the thread with one hand, and use the other hand to wrap the thread around the needle a few times. Hold on to the thread loops around your needle, pull the needle away from the loops while holding the thread loops. You don’t have to hold it too tight, but there should be enough tension when you pull your needle.
Step 4: Start Stitching
Insert the needle in the quilt top layer about 1"-1 1/2" from where you want to start, catching only the top fabric. Carefully push your needle out to where you want to start. Gently pull the thread and pop the knot through the inside of the quilt. Check out Suzy's hand quilting video tutorial to see an example of how to get started!
To create running stitches, insert the needle through the back and push the tip of your needle up to the top at the desired interval. This will determine the length of your stitches. Note that by making the stitches closer together, the quilt will become stiffer in comparison to the stitches being further apart, which will allow more of a drape.
Pull the needle and thread through, ensuring that the stitches are even and consistent in length. Continue this process along your stitching line. This process is very similar to hand quilting!
I’m using two different thread colors, so I’ll be alternating the colors. But you can use only one color or as many colors as you heart desires. Once you find your rhythm, it’s time to turn on your favorite show and binge-watch all of the episodes while you’re working on 7,000 stitches or more…but it will be well worth it!
Step 5: Finishing the Wholecloth Quilt
Square up your quilt and trim off excess batting and backing, if any. Attach your binding and hand stitch to finish it, using this handy binding tutorial to help. I’m using binding fabric from the Duval collection, you can learn how to make your own binding with this reversible binding fabric here.
My quilt shrunk to about 40" x 50" inches after it was quilted and trimmed, so I ended up using only five strips of binding.
What I love about Kantha stitching is that it is very forgiving, which means it doesn’t have to be perfect. Kantha stitches are simply uneven running stitches, and you can make the stitches as dense as you want. Once you get the hang of it, enjoy the process and have fun with your one-of-a-kind creation!