The project: A patchwork on one side, and fuzzy chenille on the other -- resulting in a nicely weighted and cozy blanket. For the purposes of this tutorial, I made a little doll quilt. You can choose your size -- from a baby blankie to an adult-sized throw.
Part 1: Design and cutting
Materials: Like all projects, it starts with the materials. In this case you want a bunch of nice cotton prints. If you are a beginner, it would be nice if they are all cotton and all about the same weight. Also -- chenille or other fuzzy/soft/thick fabric for the back, coordinating thread for the sewing machine, and perle cotton thread/large needle for tying the blanket. Equipment: sewing machine, cutting mat/rulers/rotary cutter, iron/ironing board, good scissors.
If you are a beginner and bothered by your squares not matching up perfectly, I'd recommend busy fabrics. Below is a picture of my first independent sewing project ever.
I was luckily attracted to busy, fun fabrics because it wasn't until later that I realized they really help to hide sewing "sins." Anyhooo, back to the subject at hand.
Preparation: Wash your fabrics. Some people debate this. I don't have any doubt. Wash them. Then iron them well.
Design: Now it is time to figure out what you are going to do. For this simple blanket, I chose to alternate a four patch with a large block. The small squares are cut 2.5 inches and the large squares are cut 4.5 inches. (They finish at 2 inches/4 inches then when you use a quarter inch seam.) For the recent blanket I did for my cousin, I did slightly larger squares -- 3.5 inches/6.5 inches cut respectively. You can choose your look, even going larger (4.5 inches/8.5 inches) if you'd like.
This is a simple "pattern" that results in a pretty busy and fun look -- good for a beginner. Here's another example. You could always do a "one patch" and just piece together blocks of all the same size.
Figure out your layout now - either in your head or on a piece of graph paper. You don't have to decide on colors, but you need to decide how big you want it so you'll know how many squares to cut. Make sure you remember seam allowance in your calculations. (If you use 3.5/6.5 cut squares, each square - either big or 4 patch - will finish at 6 inches. A 6 block by 6 block quilt will be 36 inches square when finished.)
Cutting: I use a cutting mat, rotary cutter, and a see-through plastic ruler for this. If you don't use these things, then do the best you can to cut your squares accurately however you can. The first step is straighten out one side by cutting along the grain of the fabric (usually the lengthwise grain.)
Next, flip the fabric around and line up proper measurement along the straight edge of your fabric - in this case, the 4.5 inch line. Cut along the outer edge to get a strip of fabric 4.5 inches wide. Note: a thin lined ruler is more accurate. The smaller the square you cut, the more accurate you need to be. Pay attention to where you put that line and do it the same each time.
Next use the same technique (straighten up one side of the strip, flip and then cut from the other side) to cut the squares. Note that this time you can line up both the left and bottom edges straight along the ruler lines to ensure that you are getting a square.
Cut all your big and little squares with the same technique. If you feel confident in cutting you can cut many layers of fabric at the same time so it goes faster.
Layout: Now that all your squares are cut, you get to have fun laying out your quilt. For this quilt I do straight rows. For Ian's quilt I purposely moved the rows around, resulting in a more random look. This is pretty fun but it does complicate the piecing so just make note if you are a beginner.
Throw them down on the floor/table/bed/design wall (yeah right) - somewhere where you can stand back and admire. This quite random layout actually resulted from careful placement - making sure that the colors were balanced throughout the layout. I like to look at my quilt through backwards binoculars - it is easy to see the colors and see if anything needs to be re-arranged. Once you have it laid out, you are just about ready to sew. (Note: the four patch squares will appear bigger than the other squares so your layout won't match up perfectly at this point. This is correct.)
If your squares aren't near your sewing machine then you'll need to transport them without messing up your layout. You can use post-its to number your rows and stack things up neatly. In any case, you might want to use a pin to mark the tops of the squares/four patches as you sew. As much as you think you'll remember, it is sometimes hard to remember where to put the pieces back into the layout.
Part II - Sewing a patchwork top
Time to sew! First up, sew the four patches together. For each four patch repeat the following:
Lay the top right square face down on the top left square and the bottom right square face down on the bottom left square.
Sew them together along the right side using a 1/4" seam allowance. Be as accurate as you can. (If you have never done it, use a ruler to measure 1/4" from where your needle enters the fabric. That is where the edge of your fabric should be. Mark that on your presser foot or your sewing machine. I used some blue painters tape.)
You can see that I often "chain piece" - that is, sew one right after the other without cutting threads in between (just take a few stitches to separate.) This is optional but saves time and thread.
Now, lay out the squares as you want them in your four patch then flip them upside down on your ironing surface. Press the top seam allowance to the left and press the bottom seam allowance to the right, as shown. (Or vice versa - they just need to be opposite) Take care not to pull on the fabrics as you iron so they don't get stretched crooked.
Now, put these two pieces of the four patch right sides together. Since you pressed the seam allowances in opposite directions, they will "butt up" against each other tightly when the middle seam is lined up. Check and see. Now put a pin in the seam allowance just forward of the middle seam. (Some people pin right in the seam but I was taught that the pin will slip around in the "holes" and not hold as tight.) You can put more pins in before sewing if you want but I think the fabric grips well enough. Just adjust as you sew. So - go ahead and sew this seam along the right side with 1/4" allowance again.
Press this seam it up or down - for this it doesn't matter. Usually it will "want" to go one way - just let it. Now you should have a completed and pressed four patch as shown in the first picture.
Repeat for all the four patches and you will have what is shown above. Note that the size of the plain blocks and the four patches are now the same. It is the magic of 1/4" seams!
Now, join the blocks together in rows from left to right using the same technique.
Now, press the seams allowances you have just sewed on your rows. (Don't mess with the four patch seams that you have already pressed.) Press the seam allowances on the first row all to the left and the seam allowances on the second row all to the right, alternating like this for all the rows.
Now, pin two of the rows together. As before, since you have pressed the seam allowances in opposite directions you will butt these up together and pin in front of them. If these are lined up first, your quilt will go together well. Once these are pinned you can gently stretch or ease your blocks together, using pins as necessary to get the rows to line up on the outside edges.
Sew the rows all together in this manner. Then iron these new seam allowances down from the back, taking care not to mess with the old seam allowances that have already been pressed. I like to gently press again from the top to make sure everything is smooth.
Done! A completed patchwork. Oh, there are tons of tips and shortcuts that I've left out - but you don't care because you've just made your first patchwork. Isn't it lovely?!
Part 3: Adding the chenille back
Now that your front side patchwork is complete you are ready to sew it to the chenille back. There is really no mystery here. You just sew them right sides together and then flip and topstitch. But for this tutorial I will go into detail as if this were a secret skill.
I like to cut my chenille about an inch larger than the front so it will be 1/2 inch larger on each side. Lay the patchwork face down on the chenille so right sides are together.
Pin these pieces together leaving an opening big enough to stick your hand in and turn it inside out -- usually about 8-10 inches. I like to mark my start/stop points with two pins to remind me to stop sewing.
Sew the pieces together using a generous 1/4" to 3/8" seam, following the edge of the patchwork. I use the edge of my walking foot presser foot. I like to use the walking foot because the chenille is more stretchy than the cotton patchwork and it helps to feed it through.
If you don't have a walking foot for your machine, it will still work. Since you made the chenille bigger, you have some room for error so to speak. You might just want to add more pins. Sew from start point to stop point leaving an opening - and backstitch to secure your stitches at the beginning and end.
Now trim away the excess chenille and carefully trim the corners so they will poke out better. Flip it right side out and poke the corners out.
Now you need to prepare for topstitching around the edge to secure the shape of the blanket and to close up the hole. Fuss with your edges to make them flat and even and then press them lightly. I usually add a few pins to keep everything lined up. At the opening, turn your fabrics under to meet each other and add pins and press. Just fuss with it until it looks even - you may not even be able to tell where the opening was! Now you are all ready for topstitching as seen below.
*If you are feeling particularly saintly, you can baste the edge seams here instead of pinning. Just take really big stitches through the pressed seam allowance all the way around including the opening. My mom recommends this and especially if you don't have a walking foot, it probably does hold better -- so you don't get back rolling to front/front rolling to back issues. It really doesn't take that much longer either.
I use my walking foot again to do the topstitching but it works without it too. Just sew a continuous line of stitching along the edge of the top about 1/8" in. Start a few inches in front of the opening, then sew through the opening and on around the quilt. Oh - and backstitch at the beginning and end to secure the stitches. Mmmm. Chenille. So soft.
You are just about done! Kuddos.
*I have heard that some people have difficulties finding chenille. I'm sorry 'bout that cause I can't seem to stop using it. I have made this same type of blanket using a flannel back and the technique works the same though the edges are a little more rippled because the flannel doesn't have the weight of the chenille. For the flannel one, I used a zigzag stitch to topstitch and that seemed to help the look. I'd say experiment with other fabric you can find -- denim? terry cloth? polar fleece? corduroy?
Part 4: Tying your blanket
To add ties to your blanket you will need some thread, a needle, and scissors. I always use pearle (perle? pearl?) cotton thread (Joann's, etc.) but I've seen quilts tied with regular embroidery floss, yarn, etc. I like to choose the color to match the chenille so it doesn't show on the back. The needle just needs to have a large enough hole to put your thread through -- some sort of embroidery needle I guess (I don't remember what kind I use - how's that for a help!)
Cut a long piece of thread - so you can take a lot of stitches at once. If it is a big throw quilt I cut enough to tie a whole row at a time.
I like to put my ties on the seams because they are less noticeable. I like to straddle the seam with my stitch and I try to catch the seam allowance too. Take a stitch that is 1/4 to 3/8" long. (Mine always end up at least 3/8" long cause the needle is thicker I guess.) Make sure to leave a 3-4 inch tail.
***NOW - take a backstitch here - another stitch going in and coming up the same place.
Now, go on to the next place you want a tie. Don't cut your thread. You are just going do the same thing as you did above for the next stitch.
(I usually place my ties anywhere from 4 to 6 inches apart - depending on the design. It isn't critical with this type of blanket because you aren't trying to hold any batting in place -- the ties just function to keep the back and front together.)
Before pulling your thread snug on the second tie, you will probably want to ensure that you leave a little slack in the thread between the stitches as shown above. This will allow you to have more thread to hold on to when you go to tie the knots, making it much more comfortable. You'll get a feel for how much you need.
Go ahead and repeat this process for the whole row of ties -- or for as long as your piece of thread lasts.
Now, make a cut in the thread equidistant between each tie location.
Use a square knot to secure your tie. This knot is -- Right over Left and tie; Left over Right and tie. The trick is that the original "Right" becomes the 2nd "Left." Use the link if you don't get it. Or, ask a boy/girl scout.
Once your knot is tied, trim your thread to the desired length. I usually aim for about 1/2 inch long.
Repeat the procedures above for all your ties.
That's it. (Although truthfully I do one more thing. I always wash my blankets/quilts at this stage to do a durability check, especially if I am giving them away.)
You are done. Congratulations. See, it wasn't so hard!
Now, it is time to put the dolly to bed -- or in Bea's case, the baby bat.
Hope this tutorial helps you make a great blanket.