Well, this rag quilt has taken me almost a year to finish, but finish it I did, finally. Although I would not recommend this particular DIY project for a beginner sewer, you could start with a small-sized one. Crib size would be much more manageable.
The process is simple, start with squares cut from assorted fabric. Preferred fabrics include flannels and quilting cotton because they fray well. Other fabrics, such as denim, could be used but they are not as soft. As my grandson’s room will be dinosaur-themed, I chose a white flannel with blue, green, and red dinosaurs on it as the main fabric. I complemented that with solid blue, green and red fabrics and a red polka dot fabric.
Wash all fabric first, then iron it smooth before you start cutting. Calculate how many squares you need of each fabric, keeping in mind that each finished square on the quilt requires three cut fabric squares. Because my quilt was so large, I actually used a spreadsheet to calculate how many of each I needed. Lots. Use a quilter’s template (a big plastic square that has dimensions marked on it for easy measurement) to measure and cut your squares. A rotary cutter works best. I did this step last spring when watching the Ottawa Senators in the NHL playoffs.
When you have all your squares cut, you then make the “sandwiches” using three squares in each. The lesson I learned here is not to use the solid red or polka dot red as a middle square (the few that I did bled through the white main fabric on top when washed). The last three pictures above show the sandwiches I used, with the last two overlapped to show the possible color combinations.
When your sandwiches are assembled, sew an X through each one to hold all three layers in place. Then sew squares together to make rows. It helps to have a pattern (that’s why I used a spreadsheet) to consult with to keep the squares in the right order within the rows. Sew using a 1/2 inch seam allowance, paying close attention as to which sides should be together. You must keep all the seams on one side of the quilt. This is trickier than it sounds because as a sewer you are trained to put the “good sides” together, leaving the seams on the “bad side” On this rag quilt there is no good and bad side.
When the rows are complete, you then sew them together to form the quilt. I laid my rows out on a bed (a floor or table would work if your quilt is smaller) to keep the rows in order. Be sure to sew around the perimeter of the quilt too, also using a half-inch allowance.
Next, using very sharp sewing scissors or a rag quilt cutter (below) snip into all (including outer edge) seam allowances, being very careful not to snip the actual seam. The next step is to wash the quilt (on a very low, setting equivalent to a hand washing) to encourage the seam allowances to fray. It’s called a rag quilt for this reason.
The final result is quite satisfyingly striking, even though I had a few discouraging setbacks. I learned these lessons the hard way:
- use heavy duty sewing machine needles, the first few I used kept snapping because of the thickness of the fabric layers
- wash all of the fabrics well first, before you start cutting the squares to cut down on “bleeding” (that’s where the color of one fabric soaks into another) The worst bleeders are red fabrics.
- use a plastic template and rotary cutter to cut your squares to ensure precise cutting. Any errors will show up glaringly when you join the squares and rows!
- do not use cotton thread, it breaks much more than polyester thread
- be very careful when snipping into seam allowances. If you mistakenly cut into a seam, your quilt will be full of holes after the first wash. I had to reinforce a few seams that my clippers got too close to by hand sewing them.