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Crafts lessons: Cathedral Window Quilt Tutorial, Sewing patterns

Quilting, Sewing  |  September 26th 2011  |  0 Comment
cathedral window quilt

The Cathedral Window Quilt pattern is gorgeous. The Origami-like folding of fabric, the jewel like tones of the “windows”, the layers of fabric and stitching – all combine to create an amazing, complex looking quilt. The reality is that the process is not that hard, and with a little learning and patience, you can do it quite easily.

Crafts lessons: Cathedral Window Quilt Tutorial, Sewing patterns
cathedral window quilt

The Cathedral Window quilt is a quilt-as-you-go project, meaning that there is no backing or quilting to be done once you have finished the quilt top. The quilt simply grows and grows as you make it, and once you’ve done enough squares to be satisfied, it’s done. Brilliant. I am a woman of notoriously low patience, and I’ve taken to this quilt project with gusto and enthusiasm….. a good point for those of you out there that can’t possibly believe that you’ll have enough patience to make a whole quilt yourself!
First, a word about materials. Traditionally, these quilts were made predominantly from muslin, with calico or cotton scraps used for the “windows”, which meant that when the quilt was held up to the light, it created that “stained glass window” effect that the quilt does so well.
Muslin, however, won’t keep you warm at night, and this quilt works much easier if the base fabric you use is closely woven, keeping it’s shape well during the ironing and folding process.
By all means, use muslin if you want, but make sure you buy a muslin that is closely woven if you can. My first attempt at this quilt was made with a light weight linen, and it was an unmitigated disaster. The fabric just wouldn’t stay where I put it….. if in doubt, make a couple of squares and see how you go! Make sure you keep in mind that you will have to hand sew through at least four layers of your base fabric, so a light weight cotton is ideal.
This quilt works really well as a charm quilt, so any scraps of cotton prints you have lying around in your stash will be well served by this pattern…..otherwise, you can think about the design a little more if you want. This pattern calls for charm squares of about 3 1/2 inches square for the “windows”. You have the option of putting a different fabric in each window, creating a pattern, or doing what I’m doing, which is alternating rows of charm squares in bright prints with rows of the plain white cotton I’m using as the backing fabric. As with all quilts, imagination and individuality reign supreme. Do what you will!

quilt fabric pile
The pattern here is for a 9 inch square, which is folded and pressed into a block which will give you a 3 inch ‘window’. Four of these blocks sewn together result in a 9 inch block again, with which you will build your quilt.
Using this pattern, I have used 10 metres of white, 100% cotton broadcloth (double blocked, also known as quilters homespun) for the backing fabric. Even though my quilt is still in progress, I think this will give me a finished quilt the size of your average throw rug or lap quilt, enough to wrap around yourself, but not enough to cover the bed. A good rule of thumb is to buy fabric four times the size of the quilt you want to make. This should be more than enough to get your quilt made, and it’s better to have too much fabric than not enough!
I’ve also used random bits of fabric from my stash, as well as about a metre of cotton batting.

white cotton - pre quilt
If you want to make a larger quilt, I would recommend increasing the size of the starter block, so your quilt yeilds larger ‘windows’, and making the quilt grow faster.
Anyhoo – how the hell do I make it?????
Start off by measuring out a template for your starting block. Mine is 9 inches square. A general rule of thumb is to divide the size of one edge of your starting block by a third, and that’s how big one edge of the ‘windows’ will be.
Make your template out of medium weight card stock (like a manila folder), something that you can iron without any dramas. Do your best to ensure that the template is absolutely square.
From your backing fabric, cut out some squares, leaving an allowance of about 2cm around the outside of the template. I recommend cutting out six squares to start, which will quilt up into a nice, rectangular shape, and if you decide you hate it by the time you’re finished, you can make a cushion cover out of it.

Take one of the squares, and place the template on top of it.

You need to mitre the corners – do this by folding each corner over the template card and ironing it down.



The next step is the fold over the edges of the fabric, ironing them down to create mitred corners. This tucks all the raw edges inside the quilt, preventing any fraying, or raw edges in the finished piece. This is one of the steps I have devised for myself, just to achieve a neater finish. Don’t freak out of your corners aren’t perfectly mitred – they will be folded in again, and won’t affect to finished quilt too much.


Once the edges have been pressed, it should look like this:

Take out the paper template, and set it to one side.
Now you take the whole fabric piece, and fold it in half lengthwise – tucking all the edges in. Press flat.


Then fold the piece in half again, pressing flat again.


Unfold the square, and you’ll have a large square divided into quarters by creases from the pressing. This is your guide to the next step.


Take each corner, and fold in towards the middle, keeping those pressed edges tucked in neatly. Press flat.



Try as best you can to keep the outside corners neat – this will help the overall look of your quilt later on.


The first fold should look like this when finished:


Then do the same thing again – taking the outside corners, and folding them into the centre to make a smaller square – again, taking care to make the outside corners as neat as possible.



Press flat, and put aside.
Some people recommend loosely tacking the four pieces down, but I found this hindered my progress later on, I just stack them in a pile, facing down, like this:
(sorry about the change in the light – I took the next few photos in my sewing room, where the light is not so good….)


Repeat the steps for each of your squares.

Once you have a pile ready for sewing together, take two squares, and line up two triangles at the edges, like this:


Now you want to sew the two triangles together along the crease at the sides, matching up the corners as well as you can. Some people hand stitch this part, but machine stitching is totally acceptable, not to mention quicker!


Once you have stitched the triangles together, you are ready to start putting the ‘window’ in.
Pin down the loose triangles around the window, and flatten down the stitched together triangles, like this:


The centre of that diamond in the middle is where the window will go. You’ll need to measure that diamond shape to determine the size of the fabric for the window. On my quilt, the window is approx. 2 1/2 inches square. Make a template to the size of the window, and cut your window fabric a little larger than that, like this:


Here, I have made another modification – because I want my quilt to be as warm as possible, I have decided to include batting in this step. Basically I just cut a sqaure of batting to the size of the window, and insert it with the window fabric, like this:


Whether you decide to use the batting or not, is up to you – the next few steps remain the same.

Finger press the edges of the window fabric over, and place the fabric right side up on top of the diamond shaped window section of your quilt block.
Then, fold over each edge of the white backing fabric, so it ‘frames’ the window, pinning each side down as you go:



Now, stitch the ‘frame’ down, using whatever stitch method you prefer – if you are working with light weight fabrics and no batting, you can use your favourite invisible stitching method, like blind hem stitch. I have used a simple straight stitch on top of the fabric to get through the layers of fabric and batting, plus, I like having visible stitching – it’s up to you. If you want the quilting to show on the back of the quilt, make sure you sew through all the layers of fabric.

If you only want to sew through the top few layers, make sure to stitch the corners of each window down through to the back – this will help keep all the layers of fabric in place.


Once you have stitched the ‘frame’ down, your quilt block should look like this:


Once you have completed a few of these blocks, you can then start stitching them together, creating more and more ‘windows’ along the way. Your quilt grows and grows, with no backing or quilting needed – once you have sewn enough pieces together – the quilt is done!

cathedral window quilt

You can finish off the edges by adding in triangular shaped ‘windows‘, or simply stitching down the ‘frames’ with no fabric inside – it’s up to you.

Well, that’s it!