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My first (and last?!) Patchwork Quilt ~ How to make your own basic patchwork quilt with Free Tutorial

January 16, 2012
My completed quilt in the winter sunshine!

I’ve always wanted to own a patchwork quilt. I’ve seen many on my travels that have taken my breath away or inspired me, but have never been willing (or able) to part with that much cash for what is essentially a decorative ‘throw’. So, having spent the last few months making things for friends and family, I decided I wanted to make something for myself, and try to learn a new skill in the meantime.

I used this as a guide to the size, and adapted it to suit my needs and aesthetic desires. I’m not entirely happy with all the materials I chose, but, as I wasn’t sure whether or not it would work out, I didn’t want to spend an absolute fortune on fabrics if it wasn’t going to be THE quilt of the century. The fabrics I would avoid if I were to embark on this project again would be the slightly stretchy materials and the very delicate fabrics. I would also invest in a rotary cutter and magic mat (I’m sure it’s not called that, but hopefully you know what I mean!) as my cutting was a bit haphazard, to say the least! I knew this from the moment I set out, but thought I’d give it a go regardless. I’m kind of hoping this will be like many of my ‘firsts’ – when I look back (still lovingly!) at my first ever cushion covers or my first ever bags, while I’m still proud of those, I’m really pleasantly surprised at how much better I’ve become with practice. So maybe this won’t be my last, I’m not sure yet…

So, here’s how I did it ~ and here’s how to make your own ~ if you’re feeling brave!

My final quilt was meant to be a square, 210cm x 210cx, but it turned out to be 200cm x 206cm due to a few wonky edges and things! It still fits our bed and looks simply gorgeous (if I may say so myself!) and looks fairly professional too (as long as you don’t look too closely!)

Cutting the Quilt Squares

Each separate square was, before stitching together, 8 inches (just over 20cm)

I made 121 squares (11 rows of 11 squares) and used eight different fabrics; dark blue, royal blue, baby blue, gingham baby blue, white with baby blue flowers, baby blue polkadot, pink, patterned pink and one with roses. I wanted my overall look to be blue with splashes of pink to keep it ‘warm’.

I embellished a few of them – some with my family’s initials on them, and some other shapes – all appliquéd on. Pics 7), 8) & 10).

In addition, I made a few patchwork squares – some with three strips of fabric (each was 3 inches x 8 inches), some with two (each was 4.5 inches x 8 inches). These measurements allow for an 8-inch square once stitched together with ¼ inch seams. Pics 1), 2), 3) & 4)

I then went about creating the design/look of the quilt top  ~ this took a good few attempts until I was completely happy with it. The Little People were barked at to stay out of the way, as every time they ran past, the individual squares got swooshed away with them! Husband was on hand to make positive noises from time to time – poor thing!

I found that, ultimately, the best thing to do was to lay out all the bold colours first, so I started with the dark blues, having a sense of the size of the quilt, and laid them out sporadically (but had one for each corner as I liked the look of that), then I laid out the bold pinks, then the patterned ones and so on. Even when every square was laid out, I spent a good while ‘adjusting’ and swapping squares around until I was happy with my lot. It helped to stand on a tall stool to get a really good idea of what it would look like. Pics 5) & 9)

Piecing the Quilt Squares ~ Creating the Quilt Top

I gathered up each row in order from left to right, and pinned a numbered label on (also showing where the top left was ~ this was only really important because I’d included the initials of my family on five of the squares and I wanted each initial to be facing in the same direction). Then kept each stack of 11 squares separate ready for stitching. Pic 6)

Stack by stack, keeping the squares in the same order and right way round, I stitched the 11 squares into a row by laying the first two squares right side together, and stitching a ¼ inch seam, then unfolding those, and adding the third square and repeating until all 11 squares were stitched together forming a row. This was really satisfying to do! Pics 11), 12), 13) & 14)

Once all 11 rows were stitched, it came to stitching them together to create the top quilt. Really you should pin at this stage ~ to make sure the seams match up ~ but I am impatient and like to cut corners where I can. I had already come to terms with the fact that this was going to look very ‘handcrafted’ so just stitched them together in a similar fashion to the rows.Start with the bottom quilt rows first (rows #11 & #10) as your quilt can then drop off the table (or be propped up with a chair) as you progress through the rows until you have all 121 squares sewn together. Pics 15), 16), 18) & 19)

Ta daaaa! Although I wasn’t halfway through making the quilt, finishing the top patchwork quilt was very rewarding to see. Pic 17)

Pinning the Layers Together

Lay the top quilt face down ~ ideally on a hard floor so that when you come to pinning it, you can’t pin it to the floor! Use masking tape to tape it to the floor, stretched out in full. Pic 20) Add the batting layer next (and if you have more than one piece of batting to make up the size of quilt you want, butt the ends together and do a loose stitch to keep them from slipping) Pic 21) Then add the quilt bottom layer on top (right side up) and, starting from the centre of your quilt, use safety pins to pin all three layers together. You can get special quilting pins, but I used regular large safety pins – about 30 in all. Pic 22)

“Quilting” the quilt

Next is the tricky bit – ‘quilting’ the patchwork quilt together. Depending on the size of your quilt, of course, you’ll need to get to the middle squares of the quilt, and some amount of squooshing (sure it should be a word) is needed (see Pic. 27)! When not ”squooshing’, I rolled the two outer edges in and pinned them to the middle bit, again with safety pins, to keep them in place while you’re working on the middle. I have heard of someone using bicycle clips which I think would work brilliantly if you had any lying around. 

Your quilt will be quite heavy and will drag on your stitching unless you can prop it up – either on a large table or you can improvise with an ironing board etc to help take the weight.

I used the ‘darning’ or ‘free motion’ plate on my machine to get some squirls going, although free motion isn’t advised for beginners (which I class myself as, too), and after unpicking a few very dodgy-looking squirls, with great loops on the underside of the quilt (regardless of how many times I adjusted the bobbin threading), I began to understand why. Undeterred, and pinning (do you see what I did there?!) my hopes onto the belief that a bit of wonkiness adds to the charm, I carried on with full-on circular squirls and whirls ~ Pic. 24).  It’s important to test a bit first so you know that the tautness is correct, and then do two or three stitches in one place to form a sort of knot before setting off on your squirl adventure. I think that, on the whole, you just have to go for it and hope for the best!

My backing was dark blue predominantly, and I found that it is a very forgiving colour when the stitching is a bit wonky and when there are some rather large loops which there were, more times than I care to mention! I tried to use different colour threads top and bottom (to match the two different layers) when doing free motion stitching, but I couldn’t get the tension right and the light-coloured top threads were showing through underneath, so I ended up using the same, dark thread for both top and bottom threads when using free-motion stitching.

You can also quilt together with straight stitches by sewing ‘in the ditch’ i.e. between the squares (which is much, much easier if a little more boring and conventional). Pic. 25) You are supposed to use a ‘walking foot’ or an ‘even-feed foot’ for this, as it grabs the material from the top and bottom at the same time and stops the fabrics from shifting at different rates, but my normal sewing foot seemed to work fine with this. I’ve done a combination of sewing in the ditch and doing some free-motion sewing; the former around the lighter-coloured squares. I also did some criss-cross patterns with matching threads on the lighter-coloured squares. You can see examples of the different quilting patterns I made with Pics 26a) – 26f) and you can click on each picture to see an enlargement.

Finishing Off – Binding the Quilt

Once you’ve quilted as much as you can cope with (my vague rule of thumb was that at least one square in every cluster of four should be quilted on, and every square should be quilted in the ditch at least, and I left the nine middle squares clear, with just having been quilted ‘in the ditch), then it’s time to ‘square off’ and bind.

I used masking tape again to secure the quilt to the floor Pic. 29) so I could be sure of straight lines. I then cut away any extra wadding or fabric. Be sure that both top and bottom fabrics reach to the edge, which, if you’ve used a walking foot and had the right measurements in the first place (ahem), shouldn’t be a problem!

Then, unfolding the binding, lay it out on the quilt, right sides together and raw edges matching, pin in place along one side, starting a few cm in from one corner Pics. 30 & 31). My advice would be to use more pins than you think you’ll need, then add more again! The right ‘finish’ makes all the difference. Top tip though – make sure you’re starting on an edge that makes sense for stitching with your machine (so you should start laying your binding on the top righthand corner of your quilt), so that the rest of the quilt can hang freely away from your machine when stitching.  

When you get to a corner, fold the binding up away from the quilt at a right angle to where you’ve pinned it Pic. 33), to create a diagonal line to the corner, then fold it back down on itself, squaring it off to start laying it back down the next side Pic. 34) and pin again in place Pic. 32).

Repeat on all four corners, and when you get back to the start, fold the start of the binding in 0.5cm and, after trimming the end of the binding length, tuck it into the starting fold before pinning in place and stitching straight over.

Turn the quilt over and, using the stitching from the first side of binding which will now be showing through, fold the binding over the raw edges of the quilt and stitch over the previous stitching. Pic. 35). Make sure you don’t catch your squares fabric when stitching by holding it clear as you go. Double stitch back on yourself when you get to the start of your binding, and trim any loose threads.

Front and Back of Quilt with binding.

You are done! Made By Yours Truly! This one definitely deserves a good amount of sit-back-and-admire time!

My lovely quilt!

8 Comments leave one →
  1. January 16, 2012 16:49

    Wow! I am so impressed! Really I am. You have inspired me to get my shoe box full of 725 squares of fabric down and actually start making my quilt! My biggest worry is that all the seams won’t match up, but yours looks really good even though they don’t all match up so it doesn’t matter does it, to the overall effect?

    Well done!!!

  2. January 16, 2012 17:09

    Wow! This is amazing, and great tutorials too. I bought wadding today for DD’s rainbow quilt so just have to get on and finish now…

  3. January 16, 2012 17:14

    Thank you ~ I don’t mind all my wonky squares (which is a good thing luckily!) and genuinely think they add to the charm. The rows themselves are straight, and I think that, especially if you’re also going for a monster quilt (with 725 squares – wow!), it won’t matter at all if they don’t all match up.

    Look forward to seeing yours too…

  4. butterflyexperience permalink
    January 16, 2012 17:21

    What a beautiful quilt!!
    I am inspired 🙂

  5. January 16, 2012 18:24

    That is absolutely gorgeous. And inspiring! I love the applique squares.

  6. January 16, 2012 19:09

    Lovely! What a lot of work. I’m with you on the cutting thing, I can be a bit slap dash. You must be v pleased with yourself.

  7. January 20, 2012 05:36

    Thank you all for your kind comments. I may even attempt another quilt one day (but a lot smaller, and hopefully a little bit neater!)


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