Homemade Quilt Labels – A Tutorial

Do you attach a label to each of the quilts you make? Or maybe you think you ‘ought’ to attach a label but don’t quite get round to it? If you are thinking labels are unnecessary then spare a thought for the next generation in your family or a quilt historian – imagine their disappointment at not being able to confirm who made the quilt and their longing to know when and where the quilt was stitched together. Quilts passed down through a generation or two become a bit like old family photographs: If they are not dated and the names of the people in the photo are not recorded they become difficult to identify and place, a frustrating mystery!

The very first quilt I made couldn’t be declared a finish until a label had been attached. This wasn’t a self imposed rule but the final instruction given by the local quilt group members, Chris and Flip, who guided myself and three or four other newbies through a patchwork quilting beginners course. We were left to our own devices when it came to making the labels. I chose to hand stitch the label for my little quilt. This is – and always will be -the most elaborate and time consuming label I have ever made!

My first quilt, labelled and dated, 2010. In late 2014 I opened this blog. In 2015 I wrote about the history of adding labels to quilts and a little bit about how I was making labels at the time. My technique has evolved over the past five years so I thought I’d share my label making process and hope you will find some helpful tips and ideas in this tutorial 🙂 First I’ll explain the label making method I use then I’ll share several ways to attach a label to a quilt.

Making a label

You will need:

  • A computer and printer.
  • Piece of light coloured fabric – I tend to use calico – 7″ x 5″.
  • Light source – a light box is ideal but a window will do!
  • A fine tipped permanent marker – I generally use a Pigma Micron pen with 0.45mm tip.

I have a quilt label template saved on my computer. I name my quilts and add details such as the name of the designer, my name as maker, where I made it and when. I also make a note of the materials and wadding used along with brief washing instructions – I hope this gives the recipients confidence to stick the quilt in the washing machine when necessary!

The font used is obviously personal preference but do consider how easy/complicated it will be trace onto fabric. I use AR CENA (sizes 28 and 24) and Arial (18).

Once I’m happy with the layout of my label, I print it onto ordinary computer paper – the printed area takes up less than half an A4 sheet. I cut away the bottom half of the paper to make it easier to handle on my small light box.

Time to trace the printed information onto the fabric. As I’ve said I do have a light box so I make use of that but the print-out can be taped to a window to take advantage of daylight back-lighting.

Centre the fabric over the words and tape in place to prevent shifting as you are tracing. Tracing onto fabric isn’t like tracing on to paper. I find short strokes and going over thicker lines several times with my fine marker gets best results. Once finished, lift the fabric away from the light source and check the writing is readable before moving onto the next stage.

Variations: Symbols as well as words could be traced onto the label; space can be left for a handwritten message or signature; and, of course, the label size can be adapted to fit with the quilt size and personal preference.

At this stage I usually trim my fabric label and sew a 1½”-2″ border all around it. I like to use leftover fabrics from the quilt top as a way of forming an association between the back of the quilt (where the label will be attached) to the front of the quilt.

Attaching a Label to a Quilt

I use several different methods to attach handmade labels to my quilts. The first two involve adding the labels before quilting.

1 Integrating the label into a pieced backing (this is my favourite method). Adding the label before quilting allows it to become part of the quilt rather than an addition at the end (this also provides ease of identification and some security if the quilt is going to exhibitions and shows).

I tend to add the label to a piece of fabric that will be in the bottom third of the backing. I use seams about 3/8″ wide as I do when sewing the other pieces of the backing together. I press the seams open.

2 Stitching the label to the backing before quilting. If my backing is a whole piece of fabric I prepare the label by pressing a quarter inch of fabric to the back of the label all around to hide the raw edges. Next I pin the label in place on the backing (remembering not to to do this too close to the edge as the backing will be trimmed by several inches when quilting is completed!)

I-Spy Quilt backing and label by Allison Reid

I then machine stitch the label to the right side of the backing using a zig-zag or blanket stitch.

3 Attaching the label to the binding after quilting. I especially like doing this using a broad strip of a label to fit diagonally across a corner of a quilt. Once the lettering is traced I stitch the top and bottom edges of the label together to make a tube. I then pin it in place across a corner of the quilt before stitching the binding around the quilt. The binding stitches attach the label firmly to the edges of the quilt.

As a finishing touch I hand stitch the top and bottom edges of the label to the quilt back to stop them gaping.

4 Attaching the label to a completed quilt (my least favourite method). I prep the edges of the label as in method 2 above but hand stitch the label to the backing once all the quilting is completed and the binding attached.

Dashing Stars label and binding by Allison Reid

I hope you’ve picked up some useful tips from this explanation of methods for making and attaching labels to quilts. Do share your tips and links to other methods in the comments box below. Thank you!

Linking this post with Susan for Midweek Makers, where there’s always an inspiring gallery of works in progress from around the world on view.

Allison