Here at Suzy Quilts HQ, we are always happy to help new quilters learn skills, like how to read a quilt pattern. Making that first quilt can be intimidating. What does WOF mean? What’s the right side of the fabric? What are sub-cuts? Learning how to read a quilt pattern can feel a bit like learning a new language, and that can become a barrier for beginners.
Today, we’re sharing our best tips for reading quilt patterns. With the release of the new Voyage pattern, it's the perfect time to learn! Many of these tips are great for beginners, but are also helpful reminders for seasoned quiltmakers.
We answer a lot of email questions about Suzy Quilts patterns, and sometimes those questions can be answered by making sure you’ve carefully read the quilt pattern and noticed all the helpful blurbs and pieces of information added to each one. There’s always so much great information packed into each pattern!
Every Suzy Quilts pattern is tested by a dedicated team of specially selected testers who not only read every word of each quilt pattern, but also make a quilt so they’re sure every measurement and step is correct. With all of these helpful eyes on each pattern, we always hope information is clear and easy to find. But sewing your first quilt pattern can still be a challenge!
Read on for our best tips for how to read a quilt pattern. Whether you're a beginner of have been quilting for decades, you’re sure to find something helpful.
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Tip #1: Print out the pattern to keep track of your progress.
It can be easy to lose track of where you are in a quilt pattern, especially if you take lots of breaks. Raise your hand if you’ve ever started a quilt pattern, then gotten excited by another quilt pattern, and taken an extended break! It happens to all of us.
Tracking your progress can help you jump right back in, whether you’re stepping away for a snack, or pulling a quilt out of your works in progress (WIP) pile weeks or months after starting it.
One of the great things about downloadable quilt patterns is that you can print the pattern off as many times as you’d like! It’s one of the reasons we love PDF patterns at Suzy Quilts. That means your pattern is perfect for taking notes, crossing out steps you’ve finished, and tracking your cutting on the cutting diagrams. Write all over that print out of your pattern, because you can always print a fresh one – even if it's just a single page that needs to be replaced!
Tip #2: Read the entire pattern before starting your quilt.
Oftentimes, questions you may have about the pattern can be answered on a later page. Maybe step 2 is the foundation for step 18, and if you’re working step by step, that might not make sense. By reading through the entire pattern before you start, you’ll see that and be able to understand step 2 better while you’re quilting!
Along those lines, make sure to read all of the text too! Even the most advanced quilters can miss instructions in a pattern by skimming it or looking primarily at the diagrams. Quilters tend to be visual people, but the text in the instructions is there to help you, so you might miss something useful by skimming.
Tip #3: Review common sewing terms and tools.
Most Suzy Quilts pattern have a box near the Fabric Requirements section called “Tips.” That box has a brief list of sewing terms and their definitions that will be used throughout the pattern. Make sure to read that, especially if you are new to quilting!
You can learn even more sewing terms in this Suzy Quilts blog post that has a comprehensive glossary. Learning these common terms will make you a pro in no time.
Tip #4: Look for asterisks in the pattern.
You know, one of these*
When any instructions have asterisks, it means there is helpful and related information later in the pattern, usually lower down on your current page. In Suzy Quilts patterns, asterisks most often appear in the fabric requirements or cutting instructions sections.
In the fabric requirements section, an asterisk may indicate a different cut of fabric that can be used. For example, if you have the new Voyage pattern, read the text after the asterisk for the Baby size fabric requirements. In the cutting instructions, asterisks usually indicate information about sub-cutting or helpful tips that will make your cutting easier.
Don’t miss out on this added information! Any text that’s in a pattern is there for one special reason, and that’s to help you make the quilt. We’re here to help you!
Tip #5: Want even more help? Follow the links!
Another benefit of PDF patterns is they often contain hyperlinks with even more information to help you make your quilt. Suzy Quilts patterns have links to blog posts about techniques or instructional videos for how to make a block start to finish.
You can usually find links in two places in Suzy Quilts patterns. The first is in colorful banners near figures. Those links will relate directly to the figure they’re near. The second is in the instructions themselves. So, if you skim the instructions or focus mostly on the figures, you may miss a helpful link!
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Tip #6: Notice the common elements of a pattern that are included in every Suzy Quilts pattern
Every Suzy Quilts pattern will always contain the follow information:
- Fabric requirements
- A brief glossary of sewing terms used
- Cutting instructions
- Cutting diagrams showing you the most effective way to cut your fabric (if necessary)
- Hyperlinks to blog posts or instructional videos
- Step by step instructions for making blocks and assembling the quilt
- Diagrams showing the layout for each size of quilt
More recent patterns even have coloring sheets so you can plan your quilt and examples of other color variations! As you’re making your quilt, if you haven’t seen the above information yet, know that you will on a later page of the pattern. That’s why it’s a great tip to read the whole pattern before starting!
Tip #7: Check the Suzy Quilts website when you have questions
There are two quick ways to find information on the Suzy Quilts website, which is full of resources for quilters of all experience levels. The first is to use the search bar. You can find that at the very top left of each page of the website - just look for the magnifying glass next to the Suzy Quilts logo. There is also a search bar you can find by scrolling any page down and looking below the brief bio of Suzy.
If you have a question while you’re working on a pattern, chances are there’s an excellent blog post about it! Say, for example, that you’re not sure how to baste your quilt. By typing “baste” into the search bar, you’ll get lots of posts, including one called How to Baste a Quilt!
The Suzy Quilts Patterns facebook group is also an excellent place to find help from a community of over 11,000 quilters who love making SQ patterns. If you haven’t joined, you’re missing out on a supportive and eager group that loves sharing tips and tricks, offering their opinions on quilting and fabric choices, and cheering on other quilters!
Now You Can Read a Quilt Pattern Like a Pro!
By following these tips, you should be able to read and understand any Suzy Quilts pattern! But we all know the best part of any quilt pattern is making the quilt, so go cut up some fabric and get started!
Do you still have any questions about reading quilt patterns that we didn’t answer in this post? Let us know in the comments - we are always happy to help, and maybe we’ll do another blog post with more advanced pattern reading tips!
*If you came down here to check on the asterisk from the first sentence of Tip #4, give yourself a pat on the back! You’ll never miss one in a Suzy Quilts pattern.
16 thoughts on “How to Read a Quilt Pattern: 7 Tips for Beginners and Pros”
This fabric bundle is swoon worthy! Is this a curated bundle from somewhere? Would love some information on it!
Aren’t they beautiful fabrics? Just used them in a quilt and they’re so soft. I don’t remember the color names, but these are peppered cottons by Pepper Cory. I got them from one of my favorite shops, Lamb and Loom.
Thank you! I was just looking at the Lamb and Loom website and was wondering if these were part of that collection. I’ve heard great things about the peppered cottons!
Peppered Cottons are truly lovely and their texture is beautiful! But beware, they fray and shrink. They don’t fray as much as linen so ¼ inch seaming is ok. But check and see how others are either pre-washing or not. I did not. My quilt looks ok, a little more puffy and wrinkled. I used a 100% cotton for the backing, maybe I should have used the same fabric content instead and then the shrinkage would be more even.
I’m a big proponent of pre-washing for this reason! I like to sew around the raw edges of any fabric I’ll be washing to keep it from fraying too much in the wash. Works great!
I did not know that Suzy Quilts was more than one person!
Hey Alexandra! I started working for Suzy in January as Communications Manager and Creative Contributor, so I’m new! We do have lots of very talented contributors to the blog too, some who have been blogging at SQ for a long time. When you read the blog, you’ll always see who wrote it at the top of the page. If there’s no author listed, that’s a Suzy post!
These are excellent comments. Each quilt pattern writer has a different way of attacking the writing of their instructions, some are not so organized in thought. Some the measurements are not so precise. Some people like me have a different way of visualizing and puzzle assembly which makes some of these instructions hard to follow. Personally marking up a pattern instructions with hints and tips as I go helps if I want to use this pattern again. I find labeling all pieces as they are cut the best way to make less mistakes. Sometimes I cut as I go as too many piles on the table for future use as I sew can be messy so that’s why I find reading everything over a few times before I cut in. If it is pieces that I need to use at the end as I’m assembling, I cut them later. When I make pouches or smaller items, I found labeling each section as I cut to be helpful and like you mention, check off as you go what has been done. ByAnnie patterns is good like that with little labels for each size you are making and what size that piece needs to be. Also reading before cutting, you can set up your directional fabrics properly. This I found beneficial for making pouches with multiple panels but also works with quilts with HST and flying geese. I find mismatched plaids and checks, fabric design with prints that have a certain pattern need to be matched or it becomes an optical illusion. Not every quilt or pouch needs to look scrappy. Taking the time to study the pattern and the fabrics you are using, the outcome will be less frustrating and you’ll have beautiful results.
Labeling pieces once you start making your quilt is always a great recommendation!
Fantastic tips! Thank you for sharing your knowledge with us.
You’re welcome, Christiana! Glad this was helpful!
I like to prewash too. I bought a serger to prevent fraying. It takes more time to prewash so I understand when someone just can’t wait to cut & sew! The only time I don’t prewash is with precuts smaller than a fat quarter.
I totally get it too, Julie. It’s so hard to add in that extra time! It’s worth it for me – I’ve learned the hard way!
I want applaud your talents and skills, Suzy and Laura. As a graphic artist, quilting has always fascinated me as an art form. You guys elevate the creative possibilities, share your enthusiasm and expertise while engaging and honoring your followers and fellow fabric artists. I found your blog quite by accident as I was searching web images for quilt designs. What caught my eye was your name, SuzyQ. My family calls me that. That is a small coincidence but it was your clean and professional web pages that made me return again. But it is for the reasons I mentioned earlier that I return again and again and again!!
What an incredibly kind comment! I’m so happy to be part of the SQ team and I’m learning more and becoming a better quilter all the time. Suzy has built a fantastic resource here. It’s a delight to share what I know about quilting with others, especially beginners. I have a soft spot for beginner quilters! Thank you thank you thank you, and I’m glad you’ll keep coming back!
This is very helpful, thank you. The one tip I would add is go back to the original pattern’s website to see if there are any corrections to the pattern BEFORE you start cutting. Maybe during the reading the instructions step.