Wednesday, 30 March 2011

Tutorial: How to make a patchwork quilt

The quilt featured in this tutorial is now for sale on Etsy here.
Over the last few months I've had a couple of emails asking me about quilting from people relatively new to sewing. Various questions have come up: how much fabric does one need to buy? How big should a quilt be? What order does one construct it in? They're all difficult questions to answer without knowing what pattern the person may end up working from. So for this post I've put together the instructions to make a very simple quilt, that will hopefully be just right for someone new to these things. It's a much smaller quilt than you might hope to eventually tackle, more suitable as a throw for a chair, a blanket to go over a pram or pushchair, or even to be laid out on the ground for a baby to lie on at a summer picnic. The reason why I've chosen to write a tutorial for a small quilt, is because this way the maker is able to sample all the different aspects of quilt-making (from cutting fabric, sewing it together, creating a quilt sandwich, quilting it and finally binding it) in a more manageable way. Big quilts are unwieldy, and hungry for time and fabric...overwhelming for a beginner. This simple quilt will allow you to use lots of different fabrics and can easily be made from scraps or old summer dresses.

Sanity warning: I think that what's intrinsically lovely about a homemade quilt is the love and care that has gone into making it, and once your family or friends are snuggled beneath one of your quilts any slight imperfections will only add to the charm, so do try not to become dispirited if perfectly aligned seams elude you at first. How easily a quilt comes together is largely determined by how accurately you have cut the fabrics and by always being sure to maintain a consistent seam allowance as you join pieces together - everything will feel much easier if you keep these two things in mind.

The final quilt will measure roughly: 30" x 36" (77cm x 92cm). All measurements include ¼ seam allowances.


Scraps of beautiful cotton fabric totalling roughly 1¾ yards for the quilt top
Quilt batting 34" x 40" (I used Hobbs Heirloom, but any good quality batting will be fine)
Cotton fabric for the back of the quilt 34" x 40"
Fabric for binding the quilt edges - approx ¾ yard.
Quilting pins and/or quilter's 505 spray (this acts as a spray adhesive)
Cotton thread
Lightweight masking tape
An iron and ironing board
Rotary cutter, self-healing cutting mat and omnigrid (these make things make cutting out all the fabric pieces easier and quicker, but are not at all essential)
¼" foot for your sewing machine (this is a foot that you can attach to your machine that guides you, so that every seam has a perfect ¼ seam allowance. Again, this is not at all essential, but it will make things easier and your squares are more likely to align perfectly).
Above shows the quilt design that you'll be creating. It's basically a series of squares sewn together, each made up of three rectangles. The interest comes by alternately placing each square so that the rectangles within in it run in different directions.

First select your fabric. I used about 12 different prints for my quilt top, but really you can use as many as you would like as long as you have at least 6 different fabric patterns. In my quilt I've used the same fabric for the central rectangle of every square as I like the sense of continuity this gives. If you'd like to do this too, then you'll need to cut 30 rectangles from this fabric.
Cut each rectangle so that it measures exactly 6½" x 2½". You will need to cut 90 of these rectangles in total. 

Lay out three rectangles. Take two of the pieces and place them face-to-face (so that the printed sides are together) and sew together with a ¼" seam along the long edge. It's important to try to sew with an accurate ¼" seam as otherwise your squares won't line up properly later. (If like me, you've decided to use the same print at the centre of every square, you'll need to be mindful of this when joining your pieces).

Now take the third piece, place face to face with one of the joined rectangles and sew together along the outer raw edge, again using a ¼" seam.

The three rectangles should look like this from the reverse. It's essential that you press all the seam allowances to give a nice finish. I tend to press them to once side, keeping them all going in the same direction. Your finished square should look like this once pressed.

You now need to create 29 more squares, just like this one, until you have 30 in total. Lay them out on the floor as you go, playing around with the distribution of colour and pattern, so that you can create your squares mindful of what your quilt still needs to create a good balance.

Once you've pressed all the squares with an iron and decided on your layout it's time to begin sewing the rows of squares together. I tend to turn one row over at a time, labelling them with numbers to be sure they they end up being sewn in order correctly. It's frustrating to gather them up and then realise that you can't remember quite which square was meant to be going where.

Place two squares face to face, sewing along the raw edge with a ¼" seam where they are to be joined. Then join another square on, until you have completed the first row.

Be sure to press the seams again, once you have completed joining each row of squares.

Once you have sewn all the squares into rows, it's then time to sew the rows together. Pinning is important here. Your focus is not pinning from one end to the other, but rather on making sure that the seams line up: the aim is for the seams to align wherever the edges of two squares meet along this edge. Thus, I tend to first pin each intersecting seam together, before placing more pins at other points. Below the Crisis Management step is a photo of the intersecting seams aligning.

Crisis Management: If your seams are drastically off, take a deep breath and go and have a cup of tea. Once strengthened by its restorative powers come back to your sewing with the conviction that your quilt will still look beautiful because you've no doubt chosen fabrics that you love. You can either remedy the seams by rechecking them, unpicking a little and making sure each really is a perfect ¼" or you can accept that this is a forgiving pattern and that in the melee of bright colours coming from all angles, your mistakes will very likely be swallowed up when you are not focusing on them. In which case you should just sew from edge to edge and ignore how the seams intersect one another visually.

Continue sewing one row to another row, being sure to press the seam in between each row.

You should now have a finished quilt top. Hurrah!

Now it's time to make a quilt sandwich. So often in sewing we make things with the fabrics facing one another to create a neat outer-edge with the seam hidden away inside. However, when creating a quilt we don't do this, as the raw edges will later be finished with binding, so pay close attention to which direction your fabric should be facing - it may go against your instincts as to what would normally be right. First take the piece of fabric that you had reserved for the back of the quilt, making sure it is well ironed. Place it on the floor with the fabric facing away from you. Tape the top and bottom to the floor using masking tape, smoothing out wrinkles as you go, before taping each side down. It's important to get this as smooth and wrinkle-free as possible, without pulling the fabric so tight that natural line of it is distorted.

Once you are happy with that, take some Quilter's 505 and spray it liberally over the fabric, before smoothing the quilt batting over the top of this.

The batting will tend to hold creases from where it was folded, but as long as you have smoothed them out, don't worry that the crease lines are still visible (as above). Batting does not need to be ironed. Finally spray this batting with 505 spray, and lay the quilt top, right side facing up toward you, centrally on top of the two layers. You'll notice that the quilt top is smaller than the bottom two layers - this is intentional as otherwise it is very hard to align the layers perfectly. Smooth out any wrinkles, until your quilt top sits perfectly flat.

Despite the fact that the quilt sandwich is held together with basting spray, I like the extra insurance policy that quilting pins offer to ensure nothing moves around later while you're quilting the sandwich. Quilting pins are a little different from safety pins - they have a curve in them so that when you stick them in they are naturally more inclined to resurface for fastening. Pinning when the quilt top is stuck down to a carpet is not always the easiest task (and I am no stranger to pinning the quilt top to the carpet itself), so if you have a non-carpeted surface you may find this much easier.

Always, always, start pinning from the centre and work your way outward, pinning in concentric circles. This means that any extra fabric is pushed to the outer of the quilt, rather than being allowed to bunch up toward the centre.

Once your quilt sandwich is finally pinned, unpeel the masking tape and free the quilt from the floor (a little at a time if you have been pinning it over a carpet...that way if you find you have accidentally pinned the quilt to the carpet at any point you may release it without damaging either party!).

How you quilt the layers together is very much down to personal preference and accomplished quilters often use a free-motion stitch that undulates across the quilt in loops and swirls. However, by far the simplist method is to 'stitch-in-the-ditch'. This simply means to machine across the quilt so that your stitches fall into the 'ditch' created where two fabrics have joined at a seam. In this case, I have quilted in vertical and horizontal lines across the entirety of the quilt following the outer edges of the rows and columns of squares. You may find that the quilt is hard to maneouvre and feels 'slippery'. This is normal and is another good reason for beginning with a smaller quilt, as this sensation is only increased when working with a larger quilt where quilting gloves can be a good investment to give you some extra grip on the fabric. Once the quilt is fully quilted, you can then square up the quilt, cutting off the unwanted bits of backing and batting that show around the edges.

Finally you must create a binding to finish the edges of the quilt. Although it's not strictly necessary here, as the method we are using does not require the binding to go around any corners, it's good practice to create your binding at a 45 degree angle to the edge of the fabric. This is where the greatest amount of stretch and play can be found in the fabric and means that the long binding strips will be easy to apply. If you have an omnigrid you can find this point easily by aligning the edge of the fabric with the line that is marked at 45 degrees. Now simply cut along this line.

To cut the binding strips start working diagonally at a 45 degree angle across the centre of your fabric creating strips that are 2½ " wide. You will need to produce an amount that when joined together will create approximately 4 yards of binding (so this will be several strips).

Once you have cut your strips, you may find that having cut them at a 45 degree angle, each one has a pointed end. Cut this off as shown above to produce a straight end. Next we must sew the strips of binding together, to create one long binding strip. To do this take two strips of binding. Place them face to face at right angles to one another, as shown below.

Pin in place and mark a diagonal line in the direction shown above between the top right hand corner of the upper binding strip and the bottom left hand corner of the binding strip that is partially covered. Keeping the fabrics placed as they are in this photograph, sew along this line. Once you have sewn along this line, cut the surplus fabric off quarter of an inch away from the line of stitching.

Now fold the fabric out to reveal the fabrics that should be neatly joined together. Press with an iron.

Continue to join the binding strips in this way, until you have approximately four yards of binding, pressed and ready to use. Now it's time to attach the binding to the quilt. Start at one corner and with right-sides-together (this means face-to-face), align the binding strip with the top edge of the quilt and then pin along the long edge of the quilt.

Now sew exactly 1/2" from the long edge, from one end of the quilt to the other. When you reach the end, carefully cut the excess binding off, so that the bottom of the binding aligns perfectly with the bottom of the quilt.

Now sew another binding strip on in the same way on the opposite side of the quilt. It should look like the photo below:

Once complete, it's time to put the two final binding strips on, but this time, first fold outwards the binding strips that are already attached to the quilt.

With the binding strips folded outwards attach the final two bindng strips as below, aligning the top edge of the binding to be joined with the top edge of the binding that is already joined. Cut off any excess binding when the strips are sewn on.

The binding should now look like this:

To finish the binding. Turn the quilt over, as pictured below:

Now fold the edge of the binding inwards, so that it meets the raw edge of the quilt.

Fold in once more, so that the folded edge just covers the line of stitching. Pin in place and repeat on the other side, so that a neat corner is created.

Now turn on the radio or curl up in front of the television and hand sew the reverse side of the binding in place. Use a whip stitch or a ladder stitch, going through only the upper layer of fabric, so that your stitches aren't seen on the front of the quilt.

You're now finished. If your quilt is made from 100% cotton, you should feel free to wash it at 40 degrees and tumble dry as frequently as you need to. The first time you wash it, you may find that the fabrics shrink very slightly, which can give you an attractive slightly dimpled, puckered look that so many heirloom quilts seem to have - this is generally considered to be a positive thing (although, if this really isn't your thing it can be avoided by laundering all your fabrics prior to cutting them).

I hope you might enjoy making a quilt from this tutorial  - please do add any finished photos to the Flickr pool or email them to me - I'd really love to see.

And if you don't feel quite ready to make your own, but would still like a small quilt of your own, then you can find the one featured in this post for sale here on Etsy.

Florence x

Thursday, 24 March 2011

March of the Tools: colour charts

Today's March of the Tools post is all about colour charts. I actually thought that I'd already written about them, but when blogless Keely wrote to me enthusing about her new Kona colour card and asking if it might be a suitable subject for a 'Tools' post, I found that the original post had only ever existed in my imagination. So thanks go to Keely for the inspiration for this post.

I first purchased a Kona colour card last year when I was trying to finalise colours for my father's quilt and out of all of my charts (yes, there are others...oh dear) it is the most extensive. A quick body check this morning reveals that I can chart colours from my ankle to just beneath my bust when I hold it up against myself, which gives you some idea as to the proportions of this chart, or for those already in possession of the colour chart, an idea of just how small I am. Don't let this put you off though, Kona have thought of everything: you are not left with an unwieldy body's worth of colour samples, as it conveniently folds up.

When trying to choose fabric, I often work myself into a state of Decision Paralysis, so having a chart that takes all the uncertainty out of buying colours online is invaluable. Thus, it's a completely practical tool. However, in this instance the practicality is entirely secondary to the beauty - just like Farrow and Ball, Kona colours have a subtlety to them that makes them utterly appealing to look at and study for hours on end. If it wasn't so heavily branded I have little doubt that this chart would be framed upon my wall.

But colour charts needn't be limited to quilting. I've frequently referred to my Berisford satin ribbon chart, as well as my velvet ribbon chart, especially when choosing the colours for this woven velvet cushion below.

There's something so lovely about the colours on these cards all lined up together like sweets in a sweet shop that however beautiful they may be in isolation, they seem to sparkle more in unity.

Satin ribbons to the left, velvets to the right.
I think this goes applies to most things from piles of jumpers in the Boden catalogue to rows of lipsticks and nail polishes. Once someone has eaten all the turquoise smarties from the tube, part of the fun has been stolen. Perhaps that's why seamstresses seem to have such an obessission with sneaking contrast linings, bindings and pockets onto goes some way to retaining colour fusion loveliness.

Florence x

Wednesday, 23 March 2011

March of the Tools: no peeling necessary

This March of the Tools post isn't actually related to sewing at all (but that's officially allowed, because I've seen Heather herself featuring silicone spatulas), but when I found out what my ten-year-old humble garlic press was capable of last year I've been delighted ever since and so wanted to share this discovery with you. Last year, I was browsing Jamie Oliver's cookware and noticed that his garlic press was marketed with the claim that you didn't need to peel the garlic before crushing it in his press. This seemed like such a jolly good thing that I began lusting after his garlic press thinking of how liberating it would be to never be cursed with garlic scented fingers again. But then I began studying his press and realised that it looked identical to my own...and so that night I tried pressing the garlic without peeling it first and made a miraculous discovery: any good quality garlic press will extrude the garlic from the skin without peeling it first!

Place the unpeeled garlic in the press
Squeeze down until the all the garlic has made a successful bid for freedom

....and admire the empty skin left inside the press, before removing with a knife to avoid finger contamination.
There's every possibility that you may all reply that you've been crushing garlic this way for which case I've arrived obscenely late the garlic crushing party, but along the way I did find out another trick: if you run your hands over your stainless steel kitchen tap after touching garlic the steel removes any odour from your fingers. But tap fondling always made me feel a bit's just better this way.

Florence x
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