I want to make a really simple quilt. What do I need to know?

I’m thinking just basic 4x4" squares, no borders and in no particular design, with a slight edge around the outside. I don’t actually quilt at all, so I’m going to knot it.

Anything I need to know about fabrics, etc? I’d like it to be a little funky, a little fun, a little shabby chic. I only have a few scraps of material around, so I’ll be buying everything I need.

Any input appreciated–I know there’s gotta be good quilters here somewhere!


Fun! The main rule for the kind of thing you want is to stick with 100% cotton. Quilters generally use a 1/4 inch seam and press to the side, unlike when you’re sew clothes. This lets you nestle the seams together, and if you do it right, you get nice precise corners. (You’ll make a bunch of rows of squares, pressing each row to one side or the other. Then alternate them, so that the seams at each intersection nestle together and let you sew over them easily.)

If you go to a general fabric store, there will be lots of yardage for ~ $2.00/yard. This stuff is fine, but not as high-quality as the pricier goods. Look at how closely the fabric is woven for a hint as to quality.

Speaking of close weave, if you’re going to tie a quilt, don’t buy batik. It’s so tightly woven that it’s hard to hand-sew.

Pre-wash your fabric if it looks like it might bleed, or if you use different-quality fabrics. They will shrink differently. (Many quilters are fanatic pre-washers. I am not.)

For the batting, you can choose between poofy polyester and flat cotton (there are myriads of choices, stick with these two for now). Either will wear fine, but they act differently.

For backing, you can use regular fabric, flannel for coziness, or (gasp) a sheet. Don’t get one that’s too closely woven, or too coarsely woven.

You might want to peek into some quilting books, but you don’t have to. Have fun!

Sounds like a quilt I made out of scraps of fabric. At one point, I had over 200 different fabrics from all sorts of projects, so I just cut a square or two out of each and sewed them all together! Good use of scrap fabric.

As for fabrics, cotton weaves are best, but since it’s a scrap quilt, anything would probably do. If you’re buing fabrics, just go to the fabric store, go to the quilting cotton/calico section, and just pick out a bunch of fabrics you like and get like 1/4 yard of each (more or less depending on how many fabrics you get and how large the quilt will be).

It’s always a good idea to wash and dry your fabrics before sewing, to preshrink them.

Next, figure out how you want to cut the pieces. You could make a 4X4 template out of cardboard and just trace with a fabric pen and cut (you could do several layers, like 4 or 6 at a time, if you have good scissors). Or if you have a rotary cutter and cutting mat and clear quilters ruler, you could cut the squares out that way. It’s very quick and exact.

Next, sew 'em together. A 1/4 inch seam is standard. This makes it easy because you can just run the edge of your fabric along the presser foot, which is exactly 1/4 inch.

Here’s the order you would do it in. Let’s say you want to make a quilt that is 10 squares by 10 squares, so it would look like this:


(Obviously, IRL, your quilt would be square, not rectangular as in the above graphic.)

Start by taking a bunch of squares (Xs and Os) and sewing them together edge to edge in a line, forming a long strip. Make 10 strips that look like this:


Pres all the seams in the same direction.

Then sew all of those long strips together lengthwise, making sure the seams match up. Always use pins, or else it will look sloppy and seams won’t match up.

Now, you have the quilt top. Choose a fabric for the back, cut it to size, sandwich cotton batting between the two layers, smooth out and pin together (use quilters safety pins) then tie it with yarn. Then, you’re ready to bind the edges, and you’re done!

I can tell you more about binding, but I have to leave now, but I will come back later.

Good luck! :slight_smile:

You can’t make an easier quilt than what you’ve described. Sewing squares together is easy, as you don’t have to match points in between the intersections, as you would if you’d be making star blocks, for instance. I prefer using 100% cotton fabrics, you can find some wild prints, geometrics, etc. in cotton, just keep looking. Since it’s your first project, buy exactly what you want. Carefully cut all squares so they are the same size. Using a rotary cutter, acrylic ruler and cutting mat will make it easier. These items can be found in many fabric/quilt shops. Do you sew? Can you operate a sewing machine? You can piece by hand, but using a machine is faster, more accurate and quite a bit sturdier. Lay out your squares in a pleasing design, then sew all the squares into long strips, being careful to keep your pattern as you’ve laid it out. Then sew the long strips into one complete piece, now called a quilttop. You must now have a backing fabric and a cotton or polyester batting that are a few inches bigger than your top. Layer the three pieces thusly: backing, right side down, then the batting[there’s no right or wrong side with batting] then the top, right side up. You can use masking tape to hold down each layer, stretching them slightly as you build what is referred to as a “sandwich”. Tie the sandwich, using embroidery floss, or perle cotton, or even yarn can be used, every 4 to 5 inches in both directions. If the quilt is 48inches square, you should do approximately 144 ties. Since you won’t be quilting the 3 layers, the tying is the only that’ll keep the layers from separating. A binding must then be sewn to the raw edges, after trimming them even with the quilttop, then turned to the back and sewn in place. It sounds like a lot of work, and it is, but it’s extremely rewarding. I can make a small quilt in 2 days. Don’t worry about how long it’s taking. Just proceed at your own pace, and before long you’ll have a unique creation. If you know someone who sews/quilts, an afternoon spent with them can be invaluable. Post again with any questions, or email me.

Some more thoughts. Dangermom made a good point about having the seams on the strips pressed in opposing directions, to get precise matching of seams. But still, pinning is always the best idea.

Some fabric stores sell “fat quarters,” which are pre-cut 1/4 yards of different quilters calicos. They are usually cheaper and easier than getting individual bolts and having it all cut. Sometimes, they sell them as a group of matching colors/patterns.

Also, it’s a great idea to use a sheet as the backing. An old sheet you have or a cheap sheet from Target or something.

Hey, this gives me an idea: we should have a SDMB quilters fabric exchange. I have so many scrap fabrics that I could stand to clean out my collection a bit.

I have saved every single graphic T-shirt I have ever owned, for the express purpose of making some oversized, memory covered quilts one day. I figure just cut the picture out of the front, and put them together. I won’t worry too much about the sizes and shapes, seeing as how I will have lots of leftover fabric from the rest of the shirts to fill in holes with.

I’d recommend using a lightweight iron-on stabilizer, to minimize the stretch factor of t-shirt fabric. Iron it to the reverse side of the image you want, THEN cut it out. You can then proceed to sew them into a top, using sashing, or not, as you wish.

-deva- that is exactly the quilt i am thinking of doing. i have a large bag full of cut up tees and sweats. i’m thinking of twin sheet in a solid colour for the back.

would y’all suggest sewing the bits and bobs of cut shirts together using one sheet as the back? or should i app. them onto a sheet and then use another sheet as the back?

Really simple? Use really big squares. Two feet by two feet sounds about right. :cool:

Thanks for all the hints and ideas. I can sew, and have done some pretty complicated things dress-wise, but never actually finished a quilt except for a couple of very small ones when my oldest son was an infant.
Once I made a quilt top, even–figured out all by m’lonesome how to make various patches and sewed them altogether, then lost the whole blessed thing somehow.

This will be fun. I’ll probably have to post to keep myself motivated. :slight_smile:

Re: the teeshirt quilt. My friend took her all of her daughter’s team jerseys and sports shirts to an Amish quilter hereabouts, and had a huge quilt made with them. It was amazing!
Also saw this on some afternoon talk show: A woman whose young children had been died, and her friends took some of their milestone outfits (the sleepers they came home in, a bib, that sort of thing) and appliqued them on a memory quilt. She took great comfort in it, and in the love that went into creating it.

Thanks, everyone! I’ll keep you posted!

I have a couple of questions. (And I haven’t even fetched my sewing machine from the fixit store yet!)
Do I backstitch each piece? I received some quilt squares from an eBayer (they are quite the ugliest things I’ve ever seen) and none of them are backstitched. Wouldn’t the pieces fall apart when I wash the thing, if I don’t do it?
And, how about size? I suppose there are standard sizes for different types of beds? I like BIG quilts, but some general guidelines would be good…

Oh, I can’t wait until payday! Gonna ransom my machine and go buy some material!

I always backstitch. Only takes a coupla’ seconds, and it helps to keep the blocks square. If you don’t want to, shorten your stitch length[this’ll give you tinier stitches, less apt to give way] Some sewers don’t backstitch. They say the extra bunch of stitches at the end of the seam makes it bulkier, and harder to rip out if you have made a mistake. All you seams will eventually be crossed by other seams, locking them in place. So as long as your not doing a Tarzan swing with them, don’t worry about it too much.
Blocks made by other sewers are usually quite variable. Seam allowances and cutting sizes can be off just enough to make them worthless, or too much trouble to re-configure. I don’t recommend washing completed blocks. The unprotected seams are at the mercy of over-zealous washing machines, and even hand washing can bring tears. I’d wait 'til the quilt was complete, then wash. The blocks may shrink a bit, but I like that old-fashioned look anyway.
I make my baby quilts 48" square. This generous size allows many patterns to be shown to their advantageand provides extra years of use since the child doesn’t outgrow it as quickly] Sometimes I scale down large blocks to get more of them into the quilt. 25 blocks of a Single Irish Chain is much more attractive than just a nine block one. The math is not difficult, since you can usually breakkdown a block to squares, rectangles, 4-patches, half-triangle squares, etc and just cut them smaller. As long as a bed quilt doesn’t actually touch the floor, it’s not too big. You have to be a bit more dimensions-minded if you’re making a wallhanging for a specific site. A general-purpose quiltmaking book will give you standard sizes. My advice is to measure the bed, taking into account mattress thickness, and it’s height off the floor. You can make it with a generous overhang, or be a bit more conservative. Will the blocks be as wide as the bed, and the borders hang down the sides. Is there a footboard? Do you need more length to provide a generous tuck uner the pillows? Don’t let all this stuff flummox you. Graph paper and a pencil is your friend here. Have fun. Post again when necessary.
Hit those after Thanksgiving sales at the fabric stores. GO GO GO!!!

Wow, bodypoet, how’d I miss this thread?!?

Everyone has given you excellent advise, so far. The one thing I’d add is BE CONSISTENT when you stitch. It really doesn’t matter what size seam you use as long as they are all the same size so the blocks fit together.

Quarter-inch seams are “normal”, but I’ve used larger (up to a half inch) when working with huge (60"!) blocks.

Don’t bother backstitching – when the next row of blocks are added, the seam end will be covered. The border (your “slight edge around the outside”) will cover the edges of the last row of blocks. And when you quilt the entire thing together, all of the inner seams will be stabilized and the fabric won’t fray.

A couple more pieces of advise, some learned the hard way:

  • I used to like the 100% polyester batting, because it was so easy to work with. I’m now using Hobbes Heirloom (80% cotton, 20% poly, I think) and won’t ever, ever, ever go back to a poly batt.

  • When you’re ready to put your layers together (the “sandwich”), find a big, open piece of floor. Lay your backing fabric out, and using masking or blue tape, tape the corners to the floor. (Your backing fabric should be a couple inches bigger than your top, btw.)

  • Unfold your batting, flop it onto the backing and, using a yardstick as a trowel, smooth the batting over the backing. Try to get it as flat as reasonable, but don’t worry if there’s some undulation.

  • Do the same thing with your top. Try to get your top more-or-less centered over the backing so that the grain lines run pretty much the same direction.

  • Now the fun (ha!) part: get yourself a big ol’ pile of safety pins. (In fact, start buying small brass safety pins now – you want the ones that are a little over an inch long.) Get some white athletic tape and put strips around the thumb, index, and middle fingers of your non-dominant hand. This will keep you from getting blisters as you close those pins!

  • Sit in the middle of the quilt. Dump the safety pins onto the quilt, and start pinning.

  • I pin so that, whenever I put my hand down, my palm touches at least one pin. So maybe 4" apart. Ish. If you’re using 4" (finished) squares, stick one in the middle of each square. Vary the direction you pin, so that the pins aren’t all running in the same direction.

  • Working in a kind-of-circular motion (and taking the time to shoo the cats out of the way), pin out to the borders.

  • STOP occasionally to give your back a break. Scrunch your shoulders back. Swing your arms over your head. Un-crick your neck. Quilting is supposed to be fun, and you’re not supposed to hurt yourself!

A pal opens a beer when she starts making her quilt sandwich. She doesn’t describe her quilt sizes in inches; she describes sizes by how many beers it takes to pin. A bigger-than-king is a “six-beer quilt”

My goodness, I got long-winded! But I do enjoy quilting!

<on preview> quilterguy backstitches, I don’t. Do what feels right to you – the point is to play with fabric and color! Part of the fun of quilting is that no way is “right” if you’re having fun with fabric :slight_smile:

I think I might like to try this too.

I’m unclear on how/when the backing is sewn to the top… after the pinning?

That’s right, Ca379. The pinning is what holds everything together and keeps it from shifting as you sew the layers together.

I’m a machine quilter, so I sew the layers together with my sewing machine. Others quilt by hand. Some use hoops to help keep the pinned layers in postion, others just work with the pinned sandwich loose in their laps.

Ideally, when all the layers are sewn together, the top and bottom fabrics will have no tucks or pleats.

It’s good to have ideals.

Err… that’s Ca3799.

Apologies for misspelling your name!

I don’t generally backstitch unless I need something to hold together for awhile. Mostly at the edges of the pieced top, where the borders will go, and at the border seams.

One thing you can do that speeds up the process is chain piecing. Essentially, you get a pile of pieces that need sewing together, and shove them all through at once without stopping. Put the first set through, don’t stop sewing, let a few stitches run on air, and put the next set through. Clip them all apart afterwards. Assuming your machine doesn’t object to the procedure, you can do that for a long time and get what looks like a string of flags.

In the advanced version of this, you can get the quilt top rows sewn together, and without clipping, sew the columns which are now nicely in place. That is best shown in person, but if you peek into some books at the fabric store, you might find a diagram.

A baby-quilt size batt is 45x60, and only costs a few dollars. If you make a top that is larger, you’ll have to buy a twin batt and cut off a lot, which may be OK with you or may not. Or some places sell by the yard, too; I think those are usually 60" wide, but I don’t recall.
As quiltguy said, blocks from other people can be…variable. I personally dislike working with other people’s blocks–well, I’ve been known to collaborate with my mom for relatives’ quilts, but I didn’t always enjoy it. I currently have a pile of 9-patch blocks from a bunch of people at church that were put together for humanitarian aid quilts, and they’re nearly impossible to work with. I should really do something with them, but every time I try, I just wind up depressed and thinking that if I needed humanitarian aid, I’d really prefer a nice quilt with actual matching fabric, not whatever mess I’ll be able to get out of these ill-begotten things.

I think I’d best backstitch, then. I use my quilts heavily and wash them all the time, and of course the littlepoets will need to use them for picnics and forts and such.
I think I can do the chainstitching thing, too…I think I’ve seen it done, and can envision it, at least. We’ll see, when I’m actually doing it!

Re: these quilt blocks I bought. There are actually enough to make an entire quilt, I believe, if I were so inclined. They are well and truly ugly, as if someone randomly picked colors and patterns and put them together. They’re fairly neat and square, but oh! the color choices make my head hurt.
They looked nicer in the auction, what can I say? :wink:

Does anyone have pictures to share? I wanna admire!!

Thank you thankyouthankyou!! The SD is a blessing.

Bodypoet, just to clarify, I meant that I backstitch when I need something to hold together until I get it sewed to something else. I’ve found that the way the seams cross over each other in a block will hold a quilt together through (…counts on fingers…) 10 years and counting of serious use. I have yet to have a quilt come apart because I did not backstitch.

The quilt top is almost done! I have another 3 or 4 rows to add, then I can get the other stuff to finish it.
Sage is terribly excited and has been carrying the thing around with her since it had the first 3 rows.
When I get done, I’ll post pictures. I can’t wait to make another one…my 5 year old has already put in his request for a green one. :slight_smile:
Thanks, everyone!