Quilting a Cardigan Jacket with Claire Shaeffer

Why quilt? What is the purpose of quilting the cardigan jacket? Where do you place the quilting rows? Should they be vertical or horizontal? Do you quilt by hand or machine? What if the quilting shows? How do you mark the quilting rows and control the fabric layers? What kind of thread do you use?

The quilting was an easy-to-see feature that set the Chanel suits apart from the copies. In the 1960s, Vogue Magazine described quilting as a Chanellism. Most suits were machine quilted, but a few were hand quilted when the fabric was beaded or embroidered.

The quilting had three purposes 1) to hold a soft lining in place, 2) to preserve the jacket’s shape after the sections had been shaped with heat and steam, and 3) to add body to the unstructured jackets. Very few of the jacket fabrics were loosely woven. Most jackets and skirts were quilted on the vertical grain like the jackets here, but a few were quilted horizontally.

The quilting pattern is determined by the fabric design. The rows can be as widely spaced as 7.5cm (3”) or as close as 3cm (1 1/8”); and some rows are not parallel because the quilting follows the fabric pattern. There is a plaid suit in the Victoria & Albert Museum that is quilted in rectangles.

The quilting threads can be silk and/or cotton. Some jackets have silk or cotton threads on the needle and bobbin while others have silk only on one layer. A slightly longer stitch length (3.5 – 4mm) is generally most attractive.

Generally, the jacket front and back sections are quilted before the jacket is assembled. The jacket seams are stitched and the lining is finished by hand. The sleeve sections are smaller; they are first sewn together except at the sleeve centre so the sleeve can be quilted flat. Lastly, the centre seam on the sleeve is stitched and the lining is finished by hand.

Mark each row with long basting stitches beginning about 5cm (2”) below the shoulder and neck edges and ending about 5cm (2”) above the hem. These unstitched sections allow space for you to finish the seams and hem.

Claire’s Hint: I always use soft white basting thread. The threads in the photo are coloured so they can be seen easily. If you don’t have a soft basting thread, hand embroidery thread is a good substitute.

Use diagonal basting stitches to baste through all layers. Place the diagonal stitches so the quilting rows are in the centre of the diagonal stitches. The diagonal stitches will hold the layers together, but they will be easy to remove after the quilting. (see below photo)

Thread your machine and stitch the quilting rows next to the straight bastings.

Claire’s Hint: I always practice on some scraps first.

Remove the bastings. Carefully pull the thread ends in between the jacket and lining; knot the ends and trim.

Note: All photos are from my book–The Couture Cardigan Jacket, published by The Taunton Press.

This jacket was lined with silk gauze; the easy to see quilted rows 7cm (2 ¾”) apart.


The vertical quilting does not show on the photo, but it is easy to see on the jacket. The jacket has a soft China silk lining.

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