Finish with a label

The final instruction at the end of the beginners quilt course was, “Make a label to sew to the back of the quilt”.  As a newbie to quilt making I did as instructed by Flip & Chris, choosing to create a label by transferring my limited ’embroidery’ skills to the newly revealed world of patchwork and quilting!  It has to be the most elaborate label I’ll ever make!

Now, several years into this P&Q passion, I’ve been under the impression that our course tutors and quilt book authors remind us to make and attach labels because that’s the traditional way to complete a quilt. Surprise!  Surprise!  Doing a little research around the history of quilts I’ve discovered that Victorian quilters didn’t add labels!  Many ‘utility’ quilts had no makers mark or information added and other, more decorative quilts, might just have a makers initials and maybe a date embroidered into a corner of a block (or even hidden inside the quilt!).

In the middle of the 19th Century indelible inks became available and writing on quilt tops became popular.  ‘Signature’ quilts made of a variety of blocks contained the names of individuals, verses, messages and dates. Whilst the names etc add interest, for modern historians, they can just deepen the mystery of the quilt as there is often no way of discovering if all those named actually made a block or if the quilt was made by one individual as a kind of memory quilt. I first read about signature quilts in a Jennifer Chiaverini novel – I think it was ‘The Runaway Quilt’?  If my memory serves me right, in the story this was constructed by local women as a fund raiser. ‘Friendship’ quilts had signed blocks – usually all the same block – sometimes created by lots of people, sometimes created by one person and signed by many.

So, when did quilters begin making labels and sewing them to the backs of quilts? According to Judy Anne Breneman the answer is ‘not until the late twentieth century’! Well! Bless my cotton socks!  We are the generation creating a ‘new tradition’ (if you know what I mean!).  Most advocates agree the information on a label should include the makers name (and the name of the person who quilted it, if different); date the quilt was finished; and the location where it was made.  Additional information could be the recipient’s name; the inspiration behind it’s making; name of the pattern and designer; fabric details; and washing instructions.

This weekend I finished a quilt by sewing a label to the back.  My usual method for making labels is far less elaborate than the first one I made! Now I create the wording and chose a font on a computer, print it onto paper and then, with the help of a light box,  I use an indelible pen (a link back to those Victorian signature and friendship quilt makers!) to trace the lettering onto calico.  A few left-over fabric scraps create a border around the calico before the label is then stitched in place by hand.


More information about the history of marking and labeling quilts can be found at:

Information about modern methods of labeling can be found at:

This includes a link to Diane Knott’s tutorial which is a clear explanation of a similar method to the light box one I use (she uses freezer paper as a stabiliser).

An explanation of how to print labels directly from a computer and some free downloadable labels can be found at:

I think that creating informative labels for our quilts provides a lasting link for families, collectors and historians. Do you add a label to all your quilts?  Or maybe only to some? What’s your preferred method for creating labels?

I’d love to hear from you – and maybe see some photos of the labels you’ve made.



16 thoughts on “Finish with a label

  1. Making labels is my least favorite part of the whole process. However I know it creates a record of information that even the owners may be glad for later. I always imagine one of their children saying, “Where did you get this?” I don’t label every quilt. Certainly when I started I did not label most of them. But I try to label them now as I give them. Since I give them to specific people (except donation quilts) I put their name and occasion for the gift, if there is one. I add my name and hometown and at least the year it was made.

    I do like the idea of printing the label information and tracing it with pen. My handwriting is not wonderful, but certainly it is better than nothing.

    Thanks for the post.

    • Yes! I think it is that ‘record of information’ that makes attaching a label to a quilt a worthwhile exercise. Some quilters incorporate a label into a pieced back so it’s in place even before the quilt sandwich is put together – perhaps that’s less painful than having to add it right at the end of the process?

  2. Hi Allison, you’ve given us some interesting info on labels. Your first label is really special, I was surprised to read it was your first embroidery. While I was aware that labelling of quilts is a proper way of finishing quilts I am sadly neglect in this practice. I’m not sure why – maybe the ‘unknown craftsman’ ideal ? I made a label in a similar manor to which you are presently making labels for the quilt I made for my Mother and gave to her for her 90th birthday. Feeling like I really should be putting something on my sewn projects I recently purchased tiny little labels I sew into the binding. These really suit my personality – they fullfill the obligation but are very unobtrusive and also include simple care instructions.

    • I think it’s quite right to choose to label a quilt in keeping with how you feel comfortable – after-all the quilt is your creation full of choices you’ve made. I was really surprised that making labels for the back is a modern convention! Thanks for your comments 🙂

  3. Thanks for such an informative post, I enjoyed reading it. I make labels from spare fabric, writing on them in fabric pen and hand-stitching the label to the back, or else write directly onto the back of a quilt. If it’s a wall hanging, I’ve taken to writing the details on the corner hanging pockets I add to the back.

      • My Mum does family history research, and I know she would love to come across a quilt with details of maker etc. and know a little bit more about someone in the family history than their name. So, I try to label with that in mind.

        • Yes! I think it’s good to label with that in mind. My parents have family photographs with individuals who no one now recognises – such a shame no names or dates were written on the back.

  4. I don’t label quilts as a habit, but I really should. I think its a great thing that the history of our projects isn’t lost as the older quilts are. How interesting that its a new tradition in such an old hobby.

    • Yes! See Hope Nelson’s comments for similar reason’s for labeling. Perhaps thinking along these lines will make making and attaching labels less of an end of project chore and more of a pleasure?


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