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.