Making quilts with linen fabric is very similar to making quilts with cottons. It does require a bit of extra attention and patience, and the result is a soft, squishy work of useful art that will provide warmth and joy for years to come. Totally worth it.
I have developed a few techniques that are helpful when working with linen. Since linen is a natural fiber with a looser weave than cotton it requires a bit more TLC.
Also worth noting: there are many ways to make a quilt, and they're all right! These tips have worked for me over the past few years as I've made quilts with linen exclusively. If you have a different way of working - amazing! Please chime in the comments so we can all compare notes.
You don't need any special tools for making a quilt with linen. The same supplies used for cottons or any other fabrics will work. Here's a brief list of helpful tools for quilting in general:
Self Healing cutting mat — as large as you can afford and store
Rotary cutter + fresh blades — new blades do help when cutting your linen, you'll be able to get a cleaner cut with less fray
Clear quilting ruler — 15" or larger is useful
Iron — you'll become one with your iron during the piecing process
Hera marker or butter knife — for marking your quilting lines
Safety pins or basting spray
Walking foot for your sewing machine model — for machine quilting
Embroidery needles — for hand quilting
Leather thimble — for hand quilting
Pearl cotton thread #8 — for hand quliting
Rotating cutting mat — super helpful when trimming your squares
Wool pressing mat - I don't have one of these, it's next of my list of tools to aquire
Perfection is not the goal
First, set some realistic expectations. A linen quilt has some built in character and quirks simply due to the nature of the fiber. Your piecing will not be perfect, and perfection is not the goal. Mistakes are usually the best part about our work—and so I try to embrace them, celebrate them, and see what new creative magic they bring.
I also find that it's not helpful to evaluate something when I'm in the middle of making. I can't see the finished result, I can only see the silly mistakes and the annoying parts of the process that I would prefer to skip. But, when the project is completed I never see these things. Or, I can see them in the context of the entire piece and loose their glaringly obvious "I'm a mistake" quality. Learn to love the wonky piecing and trapezoid blocks, it'll make the process much more enjoyable :)
Do not pre-wash your linen
This may be very obvious to seasoned quilters. As a garment sewist who came to quilting later, this did not even occur to me and I spent a lot of time getting my linen fabric cut and ironed before I could even start piecing.
Most commercial fabric contains sizing to increase crispness, smooth texture and create weight. You can use this to your advantage and have a stable linen surface to work with from the start. After your quilt is complete you can wash and tumble dry to get that iconic quilty texture.
Starch is your bestie
Truly, your best friend. I always starch and iron my linen as a whole before any cutting happens. If needed I will re-iron and starch the pieces after they are cut to make sure my measurements are accurate. It will also help give your linen some extra stability and keep it from shifting during piecing. Being precise in your cutting step with pay off in all other steps in the quilting process.
Press it real good
Your iron is also your bestie. All seams need to be "set" after they are sewn. The good thing about linen is that is a natural and malleable fiber. Once a seam is set it will not budge. I like to press the seams as sewn, then press to the side directed in the pattern from the back and front. Use the steam setting on your iron to really get a good clean press.
Go with the flow
Get in the zone and go with the flow! The rest of the quilt making process is the same as any other quilt. I make quilts because it puts me into a state of repetitive creative flow that is both relaxing and rigorous. My hands are engaged but my mind still has capacity to think about other things. Put on music, a podcast, movie or TV show and make it happen!
Ramona Quilt by Penelope Handmade - Jennifer has a lot of really great quilt patterns that are both modern and traditional, and they're also great for beginners!
Cloud linen in