Category Archives: quilting

My First Quilt is A Rag

The title sounds dismissive, but I’m actually so proud of it! A rag quilt is not made from rags, but gets its name from the exposed raw edges that become frayed or ragged from washing. In the book Quilt As You Go by the British author, Carolyn Forster, it is referred to as fringed quilting. The frayed edges take on a ruffled look. I had been vaguely aware of rag quilts, but not at all interested. Then I became obsessed and just had to make one. I wanted to get going right away so didn’t start with a pillow cover as I had planned, although I’d still like to make one in the future.

Let’s go back to the beginning. The fabrics that fray the most are 100% cotton, flannel, and denim. Some rag quilters also use fleece or minky as a backing even though they don’t fray. I used 300 eight inch squares for 3 layers: I cut 250 squares myself and used a pack of 50 precuts I bought from Amazon as well. That’s a lot of cutting! The seam allowance is a generous 1/2 inch so the finished size of the squares will be 7 inches. My layout was 9 squares wide and 11 squares long for a finished quilt of 63 x 77. I used the 100th square as my test square, which I washed to get a preview of what the quilt would look like. My top layer is composed of 99 different pretty woven cotton prints, mostly floral and also some novelty prints included like the ones below, half cut from my own stash. I wanted prints that are fun and happy. The quilt would have had a more unified look if I had just used the pastel florals but I have been collecting fat quarters and bits of fabric for years so wanted to use what I had on hand as much as possible.

I bought 5 yards of flannel for the backing, and the flannel in the center was cut from an old sheet. I prewashed the new flannel and rewashed the old flannel, but I did not prewash my top cotton fabrics.

Next, I sandwiched the layers and quilted an X through them. I attached my walking foot and eyeballed the lines to sew without marking them.

Then I decided on the layout. I was unsure how best to sew the squares together. I first thought to sew in long strips, while the book suggests to sew the squares as 4-patches. I don’t think it matters too much. I started with 4-patches to help keep the seams of the squares matching up together. This is only seen on the back, so again, it doesn’t matter too much. The fabric on the back is important for contributing to the color of the ragged borders on the front.

The squares are sewn wrong sides together, and look like this. Weird!

I then attached them in bigger sections, and began to cut the seams allowances without cutting into the stitches. The snips are close together, between 1/4 and 1/2 inch apart.

I have a spring-loaded scissors of the type recommended to make the large number of snips needed, but it had dulled and wasn’t sharp enough. I used the the newer and very sharp Fiskars scissors in the photo, and my hand held out.

The exciting part is the first wash. I was a little scared of this, as I no longer have a laundromat in my area, and had read about the possibility of clogging the washer. I don’t have a dryer so no worries there. I have a top loader machine and meant to check on the quilt during the wash cycle, but I was doing something else and forgot. I didn’t have a problem, whew!

I washed it twice, and then hung it on the line and ran my hand up and down the quilt knocking as much of the fluff off as I could and watching it blow away.

I didn’t need to use a lint roller over the surface. The individual squares looked lint free, maybe because I didn’t use a dryer. But…little threads got all over the carpet while I was working on it, and carrying it around, and they were very hard to vacuum up. Rag quilts are very messy!! I read that they continue to shed until they are washed 3 to 6 times, and I also read they shed for a year or more. So we’ll see.

I have read rag quilts are quick to make, but that wasn’t my experience. It was much more physically exhausting than garment sewing. First I had to cut up all the fabric. The quilt was also heavier than I thought it would be, and once most of it was put together it was hard lifting it up and running it through the machine. Then I cut all those snips. My machine also got quite a workout sewing through all the layers. I bought a pack of 16 and 18 size needles, but I still broke a needle.

On the plus side, they’re fun to make! I love the texture, and the piecing doesn’t have to be precise. This project ticks my boxes of sewing goals for this year : try something new, enjoy the process, and use textiles I already have. And yes, it is my first completed quilt.

I absolutely love my ragggedy rag quilt! It’s pretty, but still an everyday quilt that will be able to withstand digging from little paws.

Quilt As You Go Placemats

My current obsession is the quilt-as-you-go technique. I bought the book Quilt As You Go by Carolyn Forster and love the variety of techniques. There are 14 techniques including chapters on stitch-and-flip, piecemakers quilting, manx log cabin, potholder quilting, japanese reversible patchwork, envelope quilting, cathedral windows, siddi quilting, applique quilting, lined circles, fringed quilting, and pojabi patchwork. I have also taken 2 Craftsy classes on QAYG, and watched YouTube videos.

I want to try almost every technique in the book except Suffolk puffs – Americans call them yo-yos. A quilt made from yo-yos would not stand up to digging paws and the openings look like they would make good spider homes.

I decided to try some of the techniques by sewing small projects such as placemats or pillow covers before attempting a larger quilt. The first method I tried is called piecemakers quilting in the book. It is also called a 1 hour serger quilt or a quilt as you go serger quilt. If it’s not done on a serger the ends can be finished with a zigzag or overcast stitch to reduce bulk.

I pieced 2 1/2 inch strips for the top of the placemats of different lengths for interest. I also cut 2 1/2 inch strips from the batting and backing. My finished placemats are about 12 by 16 inch, but I started with longer strips so they could be trimmed.

Every row is sewn with 6 layers: 2 top strips, 2 backing strips, and 2 layers of batting. You start with a conventional quilt sandwich: the backing wrong side up, batting, and the top strip right side up. Then you add your next row before sewing by putting a backing strip right side together to the first backing, a top strip right side together with the first row top strip, and then a batting strip on top.

So your layers are: batting, top RS down, top RS up, batting, back RS down, back RS up.

You sew the layers with a 1/4 inch seam. I found this hard to do on the serger because I have less control than on the sewing machine. I used clips to hold the layers together but I also had trouble catching all the layers a few times. You don’t have much room for error with a quarter inch seam so I took a slightly bigger seam allowance to compensate. I had trouble sewing with the less stable batting on top and found it worked better when I turned the layers over so that the batting was on the bottom against the feed dogs.

After you sew your seam you open the layers up. You have two rows sewn together to which you can add quilting. Then you add your next row to the second strip by putting another backing strip right sides together to the back, a top strip right sides together to the top and a batting strip on top. So you’re always sewing with the bulk to the left as you add rows.

I experimented by adding decorative stitching and attaching the binding by machine without any hand sewing. You can’t beat a beautiful traditional binding but you might come close. My ends aren’t straight so I need more practice with the binding.

I sewed the first placemat with wavy quilting, but I didn’t iron out the layers before sewing so there is a ridge. It doesn’t ever seem to work out to forego pressing yet I keep on trying.

This is an easy technique if you can catch all the layers and don’t need a precise join. For a quilt, its drawback might be a bulky seam. Another common QAYG technique uses sashing strips which are sometimes finished by hand sewing. This technique is much faster for a quilt that can be sewn together in rows. Some might find it less aesthetically pleasing to have a backing with many seams. I’m not sure yet which method I would use for a full sized quilt.

Next up: My first bed size quilt!!

2022 Sewing Goals and Make Nine

My Make Nine Challenge for 2022:

1) New Look A6284 – I love the square neckline, gathers, and all of the views, but I plan on making the short sleeve top with vintage fabric from an estate sale.

2) McCalls 6962 – I call this the butterfly top. It’s a shape that intrigues me yet might look big and awkward when worn. I hope a 2 yard cut is enough fabric or it might not get made. This is the line drawing:

3) Zero Waste Cropped Shirt by Birgitta Helmersson – This will be my first attempt at a zero waste pattern, although I’ve made a few other things without pattern pieces. I have a striped cotton/linen for this pattern.

4) Allegro by Love Notions – I’ve used this pattern before. This time I plan on making spring capris.

5) Quilt – This will be my year of the quilt; I actually have 3 in mind. I am excited about several different quilt-as-you-go techniques because I believe I will be able to finish a quilt (larger than a wall quilt) for the first time. I plan on a rag quilt with a flannel back, a stitch and flip with joining strips, and a strip quilt with 10 inch squares. I am going to make placemats or pillows to practice the techniques first. I also love the idea of a fusion quilt with quilted squares joined with crochet.

6) Nino Open Jacket – This is a free pattern from Fabrics Store that was called the Hana Kimono Jacket when I saved the pattern to my computer. They also have two other free jacket patterns I like: the Mariana Notched Collar and the Paola Workwear Jacket, so it depends on which pattern best suits my fabric. You must register with the website to download the free patterns.

7) Butterick 6683 – This is a caftan pattern. I like the top too, but am thinking of making the short caftan using another one of my rayon sarong rectangles.

8) Simplicity 2642 – I was thinking of making the short sleeved dress, but I might want to omit the elastic under the bust. The main motivation to make this is matching fabric I want to sew with this pattern.

9) McCalls 8029 – This is a cape. This looks like an easy pattern and the shape is interesting. It reminds me of when I used to wear a poncho in the early 70s.

Sewing goals and direction for 2022:

The main things on my mind are trying new things, and process over product.

Last year, I was very focused on making everything on my list, but this year’s list is just an example of patterns and ideas I find interesting, and may want to make. After the last 2 or 3 years of sewing, I don’t need hardly anything more to wear. My motivation is much more about having fabric and patterns I want to enjoy using, to experiment with various techniques, and using sewing and other needle arts and crafts as a creative outlet to pursue whatever strikes my fancy.

Adventures in Quilting: Patchwork Placemats

Some say that sewing clothes is not cheaper than buying them. Well, it is in my case. I have managed to sew for cheap using thrifted fabric and patterns, discounted, and free patterns. I also get “free” fabric (and often free shipping depending on the seller) from Amazon with credit card points. I can make a top or shorts that I will wear for years from one yard of fabric. I can make pants and most everything else with only two yards. Quilting is a more expensive hobby. You need yards and yards of fabric, and then more fabric to coordinate with the main fabrics. Piecing is only the beginning, and there are many more steps to completion. Machine quilting is so awkward and difficult that some quilters are not even quilters – they send out for the quilting to be done professionally. While I will never be primarily a quilter, that doesn’t stop me from having quilting aspirations from time to time. I’ve collected a large number of fat quarters and fabric odds and ends over the past 15 years. Mostly, I have ideas and plans that never come to fruition.

Years ago, I bought some fabric pieces at the thrift store, including a stack of fabric cut into 4 x 6 inch rectangles. Some were already pieced together in a long sequence. The fabrics look dated and ugly together. It has been said if you don’t like a fabric you haven’t cut it small enough.

From the pile, I noticed some fabrics that coordinated together and would make impressionistic American flags. I decided to make placemats for the patriotic summer holidays. I bought a yard of navy stripe fabric for the backing, and navy for the binding.

They took me a long time to finish. I started last year, and the stitching looked so bad due to tension problems, that I gave up, and put them away.

In addition to the problems with my machine, my attempts at quilting were atrocious, and caused major distortions.

I also had tiny stitches from holding on too tightly while quilting. These placemats just looked sad!

I wanted to finish them this year. I started by spending an entire afternoon removing all the quilting. I was still having problems with finding a quilting pattern that I could sew well. I finally liked the way they looked when I changed to a chevron pattern. Each rectangle contains three lines of diagonal stitching. They finished at 12 1/2 by 16 1/2 inches. Done is good! And I am pleased with them.

I have watched various quilting videos over the years. Right now, I am a fan of Karen Brown of Just Get It Done Quilts. Karen has a website and You Tube Channel. I especially like her concept of an ugly quilt. Maybe I could make one of those! The idea is that a quilt that isn’t seen as perfect or special will actually be used and not just stored away. These everyday quilts aren’t just bed quilts, but can be used on the couch, in the yard, at a park, for the dog, etc. My dog digs and scrumples bedding so I wouldn’t have to worry about him wrecking it.

I also like watching the way Karen stacks fabric, makes blocks, then cuts them up and recombines them. Karen has great ideas for simple blocks and scrappy blocks. None of the quilts she makes are actually ugly, but I think I could manage that.

So, should I make something ugly from the rest of these rectangles and this long pieced strip?