The world of patchwork quilting is a pretty daunting one. All of those perfectly cut squares, sewn in perfect lines, into perfect angles, into a perfect quilt…. I have neither the patience nor the skill to pull that off, and my quilts are usually haphazardly wonky and misshapen.
Luckily, this can still look pretty awesome, and it’s really easy to do. Quilts make great presents, and are wonderful for using up old material and practicing sewing skills. You could make a nice big quilt as a wedding present, a little, soft, fleecy quilt for a baby or even a rugged, likely-to-be-torn-up quilt for a dog or cat.
Getting your supplies right
Firstly (and this is the fun part) find/buy some nice material to make your quilt from. My last quilt was made from a mixture of old patterned clothes and bedsheets so it doesn’t have to be an expensive project, but going into a fabric shop and choosing your colours and patterns can be very exciting and inspiring. If you are buying fabric, try a mix of patterns with some solid colour blocks – you can use as many different fabrics as you like, so go nuts!
How much you need to buy will depend on the size of your quilt, but don’t forget that you’ll need seam allowance on each square. I usually just buy a few metres of each, then wing it. If it’s a one-off fabric, it’s best to err on the side of caution and buy more as you won’t be able to nip back and get it if you run out.
You’ll also need to grab some wadding to match the size of the quilt you want to make, a backing material that’s slightly larger than the quilt size, and something to edge with – either another material, some wide ribbon or wide bias binding. You’ll also need the usual thread and pins – you can get special long quilting pins.
Preparing your fabric
When you get your fabric home, run it through the washing machine and then iron it when it’s dry. This will get any shrinkage out of the way before you sew it all together, and that way your quilt can be happily washed without mishap. As always, avoid putting darks and lights together as you don’t want to ruin your material before you’ve even started.
Once your fabric is lovely and dry and flat, decide what size squares you’d like to use, then add an inch in each direction. For example, if you want to use 5in squares, you’ll need to cut 6in squares to allow for the seam. Cut the square out of a piece of thick paper and use it as a guide to start cutting your patchwork squares from the material.
I used to fold the material several times until I had a long tube the same width as my square, and then cut down the sides. I’d then fold each strip and cut again, and I’d end up with hundreds of oddly-shaped squares that weren’t of too much use to me, I’d recommend being a little more careful and cutting each square out individually, even though it takes a long time. “Proper” quilters use a cutting mat, ruler and rotary cutter which I’m considering investing in as they’d most likely make my sewing projects a lot easier. If you have pinking shears, use these as it’ll stop any fraying.
Voila, you have stacks of squares! Now you need to lay them all out in the pattern you’ll be sewing them in to. Lay the whole thing out so that you can mix and match the squares to avoid duplicates next to each other. You could try stripes of pattern, diagonals or a completely random jumble. TAKE A PICTURE: you might need it later to remember where you’ve got to.
Now to start sewing!
When you’re done, gather each line into a stack in the right order. Take your first stack, set up your sewing machine, and start by placing the first two squares together with the pattern on the inside. Sew down one edge, just over a centimetre in from the edges of the material. Don’t worry about securing the edges as these will be sewn over later down the line.
Open the squares like a book, and place the third square face down on the second square. Sew down the join again, open and repeat with the fourth square. Keep going until you’ve reached the last square in your first row.
Lay your row out, and start on the second. Keep going until all your rows have been completed (note: this will take ages. This is where your photo comes in handy, so you know where everything goes if you have to keep packing the material away in-between sewing sessions.)
Once your rows are done, lay them all out in the correct order on the floor. If you’re as haphazard at sewing as I am, they will all be different lengths so place them centrally to each other. Flip your top row down so it is face down on the second row and pin along the edge, smoothing as you go. Sew along the edge, unpin and place in the correct order with the other rows again. Place the third row face down on the second, and do the same thing. You’ll basically be sewing a very long version of what you started with, the line of squares.
Turning it into a quilt
You should now have the front of your quilt. Place your backing material face down on the floor, and use masking tape to stretch it taut if you can. Place the wadding on top, and then your quilt topping right side up. Pulling tight as you go, start to pin the layers together. It’s worth starting from the middle to eradicate any bumps.
This is usually the most tricky bit, as something will inevitably wrinkle somewhere. Once you’re all pinned up, use your machine to sew along each row and column that you’ve already sewn to bring everything together. You’ll end up with a criss-cross pattern on the backing material, so perhaps use a contrasting thread in your bobbin. Cut any excess fabric from your wonky rows from the sides.
If you are using ribbon to edge your quilt, fold it around the edges of the quilt sandwich and pin into place. Tuck the excess on the corners underneath to create a neat fold. Iron the edges so they are straight (with a cool iron!) and then sew into place. If you are using material, create a length of ribbon with the edges folded under and do the same thing. Another option, as shown below, is to create a backing to the quilt that is a few inches larger than the front – you can then hem the material and fold it round and on to the front to create a neat edge.
Make sure you’ve got all of your pins out, and you’re done! Enjoy being tucked up cosily under your quilt, or wrap it up in tissue paper and ribbon and give it as a gift.
If you make a quilt, show me a picture – I’d love to see! (Tweet it to @TheHighTeaCast!)
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