What is the Difference Between Quilting and Sewing?

In this article we will be addressing all of the important differences between quilting and sewing as well as going over the differences between quilting and sewing machines.

What is the Difference Between Quilting and Sewing? Quilting refers to stitching together 3 layers of fabric like a sandwich to create a decorative quilt blanket while sewing refers to piecing fabric edges to create clothing, pillow cases, soft-toys, curtains, and more.

There are many aspects to both that I just can’t wait to share with you! But first…

What is Quilting?

Quilting is the art of making a quilt… usually a blanket, but can be also applied to bags and even clothing! A Quilt is usually made up of 3 layers:

  1. Quilt Top: A patchwork of colorful, off-cut fabric squares forms decorative top layer
  2. Batting: A layer of fabric wadding forms the warm, puffy insulation
  3. Quilt Backing: A plain backing fabric serves as the “underside” of the Quilt

quilting

The art of making a quilt is often done is social groups with the pieces of fabric carrying some sentimentality. It makes a great gift and is made with a lot of love.

What is Sewing?

Sewing refers to stitching together the edges of pieces of fabric (seam) OR finishing off a rough edge of fabric (hem) to create clothing and other items.

sewing

Can You Quilt on a Regular Sewing Machine?

OK, so firstly, sewing machines and quilting machines aren’t exclusively different. There is no such thing really as a “Quilting Machine” that isn’t also a Sewing Machine.

They are, for the most part, the same thing with certain features added or removed, depending on which of the two disciplines they focus on more. So you can absolutely quilt on a “regular sewing machine” and you can absolutely sew on a “quilting machine”. It’ll just become a lot easier when you have the right size, strength and accessories for the job.

See our list of the absolute best sewing machines for quilting.

It helps to remember that ALL machine quilting was once done on regular sewing machines, long before “quilting machines” where ever invented. But, if you are wanting to use a regular sewing machine for quilting, there are some factors you need to consider:

  • Size of the quilting projects. Quilting requires a bigger throat opening and preferably an extension table.
  • Machine durability. Quilting requires a strong machine which can stitch through 2 fabric layers AND batting.
  • Included feet. Does it included feet for say, free motion quilting?

Can you Sew on a Quilting Machine?

As explained before, there is no such thing as a “quilting machine” exclusively.

So, you can absolutely sew on your quilting machine. In fact, this is the easier choice if you plan on doing both quilting and sewing.

Just make sure it has all the requirements of a good sewing machine like:

  • Various foot accessories
  • Button hole stitching                                          

What are the Differences Between Quilting and Sewing Machines?

Quilting Machine

The major things you need to look for in a quilting machine is size of work space, speed, extension table and feet.

Throat Size

The throat is the length from the needle towards the machine itself. The longer the throat, the better for making bigger quilts. Ideally if you are shopping for a quilting machine, you want to look for approx. an 8-inch throat at a minimum to increase your work space for bigger quilts.

Extension Table

Some quilting machines come with an extension table. These are not necessary, but sure help to keep your project lined up a lot closer to perfect. Most machines that come with the extension table, have the option to remove them as well.

Stitches Per Minute

Quilting machines tend to have a much higher stitch per minute rating than sewing machines. This is very important for quilting to help get through each project quicker, especially for the binding, which is a lot of straight stitching. But most importantly the increased number of stitches per minute, also increases the machines durability. The motor is a lot stronger and is more capable of pushing through many layers of fabric with easy.

Foot Accessories

Although both machines come with a number of different feet, only quilting machines have a couple that are entirely specific to quilting. These are a free motion or “darning” foot and a quarter inch foot.

A Free motion foot is typically used for free motion stitching, where you are “free” to move the fabric in any direction while stitching to create decorative patterns. It helps keep your fingers from being injured from the needle, which is super helpful for accident prone people like me! It is specifically meant to help with free hand stitching on the machine. Also, this particular foot helps to make sure the stitch formation is correct by assisting in diluting stitch puckering, as well as minimizing skipped stitches.

A Quarter inch foot is used for attaching the top of the quilt. It is meant to help create a perfect quarter inch space from the edge of the fabric, to help with the perfect seam allowance needed for quilting.

Sewing machine

For a typical sewing machine, the size is quite different. All around, a sewing machine is smaller than a quilting machine. Aside from the size, a sewing machine has different feet included.

Typically, the size of a regular sewing machine is classed as ‘travel’ size since it can be moved around when needed. It generally isn’t longer than 12” in length, and doesn’t have a throat size much bigger than between four to six inches.

There are some feet that usually come with a sewing machine… A walking foot which is used for most sewing. A button hole foot, which assists in applying a correct stitch when making a button hole. And a zipper foot, which makes a world of difference when you are trying to attach a zipper to your project.

Quilting vs Sewing

If you want to dive deeper into quilting vs sewing, let’s explore the differences one by one…

Processes

In a way, quilting is just another type of sewing. But the processes are quite different. For quilting, the process typically includes creating a design, cutting and piecing, binding, applique, and layering. For sewing, the process typically includes alterations, cutting out a pattern, cutting the fabric, etc.

Layering

A quilt will always have 3 layers. The 3 layers are: the carefully designed top, the batting in the middle, and then of course, the backing. Sewing, however, is more simply put as just stitching 2 pieces of fabric together with a little bit of thread and a needle.

Lining

Quilting has that middle layer which is essentially a warm lining used for insulation. Most people use batting, but other materials can be used as well, such as Flannel or fleece. Nonetheless, sewing doesn’t usually require a middle layer, rescinding its appeal for extra warmth.

Machines

When quilting and sewing first started out, they were both done by hand. But now, typically both are done with the use of a machine. Quilting machines generally have a higher impact for use, and have many additions added to them. Sewing machines are a little simpler. Even though one could use a sewing machine to quilt, a quilting machine is much more capable. Thus, leading us to another big difference between sewing, and quilting.

Purpose

Last but certainly not least, the biggest and most obvious difference between the two is their purpose. Quilting is quite literally for quilts! Yes, it really is that simple! Haha. Although there are other things you could potentially ‘quilt’ (I.e. bags, decorations, etc.), quilting generally refers to making a blanket. Whereas sewing is generally simply referring to stitching two pieces of fabric together. Sewing is mostly used for making clothing items and accessories.

Conclusion

Even though they are similar in many ways, sewing and quilting have very unique characteristics and considerations which make them different enough to warrant their own machine, or at least a dual-purpose model like the ones found on our review article: Best Sewing Machine for Quilting.

I hope I was able to give a little insight on the differences between quilting and sewing. Thank you for taking the time to read it all!