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How to make a simple quilt with scraps and daring

2012 August 20

This guest post from our mother Beth tells the story of her first foray into full-size quilting. Aurora and I have dabbled in a good number of handcrafts, but our mother Beth has mastered many more. Today’s post comes from her, the woman who taught us how to cook, sew, knit, crochet, and do the perfect guinea pig imitation. Squee, squee, squee!

Last fall I decided I wanted to make a quilt to replace the sleeping bag that was functioning as a quilt on my bed. I didn’t have much quilting experience; I had sewn patchwork pillows for Christmas decades ago, using a pattern from a magazine; I had designed and executed a lap-sized quilt with Christmas fabrics that I machine quilted many years earlier, and I had made a couple of crib-sized quilts which were tied, not quilted.

quilt top and gnome

Though I had never made any full-size bed quilts, I had a sewing machine and sewing supplies, so I was all set.

sewing machine

While shopping with my daughter at a second-hand store, a bag of fabric remnants caught my eye. It was advertised as material for quilting, and the fabrics looked colorful and cheerful. And it was three dollars. How could I lose?

But what to do with it? Luckily I work at a library, and shortly after I bought the fabric I came across the book Cut the Scraps: 7 Steps to Quilting Your Way Through Your Stash by Joan Ford. Just what I needed! The author advises cutting remnants of fabric into three different sized squares: as many 5” squares as possible, then as many 3 ½” squares as possible, then as many 2” squares as possible. These are sizes that all fit together in different ways when sewn together with ¼” seams.

It took a while, but I cut it all out (hooray for rotary cutters and mats!), and I ended up with stacks of fabric squares:

fabric squares

The next step was to decide on a pattern. With a bunch of squares, a basic nine-patch design seemed good. I wasn’t sure if my patterned fabric would make enough squares for a whole quilt top, plus the patterned fabrics weren’t very different in value (lightness/darkness) so I decided to intersperse them with lighter, yellow squares. And I decided that on half of the nine-patch blocks, the middle square would be made up of smaller squares. I didn’t want to repeat patterns in a square, either.

Here’s what one square looked like before sewing:

exploded quilt block

The middle squares got put together first, like so:

middle square partway sewn

With my trusty little Ikea ironing board set up on my kitchen counter, I ironed as I went:


Then I sewed the squares into strips.

squares into strips

And the strips into a block.

strips into blocks

But how to put the blocks together? I had twenty quilt blocks, each 14” wide. I figured that laying them out 4 across and five down would make a full-size quilt if I put 5” strips between them and around the edges. This necessitated another trip to the fabric store to get the extra fabric for the strips, which I decided should be blue. (I like blue and yellow together.)

At first I thought that all of the strips would be blue, but when I laid out the squares, I realized that they really needed to have patterned squares diagonally between them; otherwise, the squares just floated on the blue in a boring manner. I laid out the squares and moved them around until I found a way that alternated the blocks with the pieced middle square with the blocks without, and in which none of the corners that were coming together matched.

I did not plan all this out ahead of time, so I guess that might have been impossible, but I did find a way. Phew. I added the extra squares between (they also didn’t match any squares they touched), and then it was just a matter of SEWING.

And more sewing. And then some more sewing.

When the whole top was sewn together and ironed, it was time for the batting, backing, and basting. I bought a natural cotton batting (full-size), some natural muslin for the backing (it comes so wide it didn’t need to be pieced), and quilting safety pins for the basting. My living room floor is just about big enough to lay it all out, so I did, smoothing the layers out the best I could, and pinning.

I had decided to machine quilt, because I wanted it to be done within my lifetime (which ruled out hand quilting, for me), and because although tied quilts are okay, I wanted the pattern that machine quilting would give.

quilt with backing and binding showing

I was a bit dismayed to read in quite a few places online that I should really have a walking foot for my sewing machine if I wanted to machine quilt. I decided to damn the torpedos and go full steam ahead with my regular foot, because gee whiz, I wasn’t going to be giving it as a gift or entering it in the county fair or selling it or anything. I would be brave, foolhardy, and daring.

But although I had considered doing some of the quilting in curves, I decided in the end that I wasn’t THAT daring. Straight lines for me!

And here’s how it all came out, after all the quilting (diagonally through all the squares, which took a lot less time than I thought it might and only caught the backing fabric awkwardly in a couple of places) and binding (made by turning the backing over to the front):

quilt on bed

Nice, huh? My cat likes it, too, and I even made a pillow to match:

pillow, bed, cat

And I finished it all within seven months of starting!

3 Responses Post a comment
  1. Alice permalink*
    August 20, 2012

    I love the color combinations. And the little teapot design.

    Do you think you’ll make another quilt?

    • Mama permalink
      August 20, 2012

      I wouldn’t rule out making another quilt someday. The bottom line was it really wasn’t too hard or time-consuming. I do recommend getting on the Joann Fabrics mailing list and using their 40% and 50% off coupons–I got all my supplies that way. Nice.

  2. August 22, 2012

    So pretty! I need to get myself a sewing machine. Ahhh, so many projects, so little time. (read in a Gene Wilder voice, please)

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