How to make your rag quilt
Making your quilt will take about five hours. If you don’t have much sewing experience, or if you need a tune-up, I pinned a few useful things (like how to thread a sewing machine, wind a bobbin, and chain stitch). Before we get going, make sure you have everything you need.
What’s in your kit
Your kit contains:
- 84 front and back organic fabric squares
- 42 middle organic flannel squares
- 1 spool of organic thread
- 1 box of pins
- 1 pillowcase for washing
Something missing? Email firstname.lastname@example.org
Other things you’ll need
- Sewing machine
- Flat surface for layout (bed, table, clean floor)
- Washer and dryer (you may want to visit a laundromat because there will be lots of lint)
List of steps
- Make quilt sandwiches
- Sew your sandwiches
- Design the layout of your quilt (ideas)*
- Sew each row
- Sew the rows together
- Sew around the perimeter
- Check your seams
- Wash and dry your quilt
* Note: Designing the layout of your quilt happens in step 3 because I think it’s an easier process. This assumes that you want each square to have the same fabric front and back. If you want to try a different layout on each side of your quilt, you can design the layout of your quilt’s front and back before you make your quilt sandwiches — just make sure your fabrics are oriented correctly, and make sure you have enough of each kind of fabric to complete your design.
Step 1: Make quilt sandwiches
Each quilt sandwich needs two pieces of the same designer fabric and a middle flannel piece, with the “wrong sides” of the front and back fabrics touching the flannel. Make sure the front and back fabrics are oriented the same way, so you don’t end up with an upside-down square on the back of your quilt.
Make all of your sandwiches at once, stack them up, and bring the stack to your sewing machine for assembly.
Step 2: Sew your sandwiches
Thread your bobbin with the thread from the kit. (You’ll need to rethread your bobbin twice more for this project. Don’t worry, you have enough thread — if you need more, let me know.)
Take one sandwich and line up the three layers with each other. I like to hold onto two corners and gently shake the square to help all the little pieces lay flat.
Sew a straight diagonal line from one corner of the sandwich to the opposite corner. (I just eyeball this part, but some people like to sew along the edge of a piece of paper to be sure the lines are straight.) Secure both corners by doing a small backstitch.
Once you have sewn one diagonal line across, chain stitch the remaining sandwiches — don’t cut the thread, just grab another sandwich, line up its layers, and continue sewing. You will end up with one long string of quilt blocks. Snip them apart and stack them up again.
Sew a second diagonal line across each sandwich (making an X across the middle). Chain stitch again, and snip the blocks apart when you’re done.
Step 3: Design the layout of your quilt
On a large flat surface, lay out your desired quilt pattern (here are some layout ideas). Play with the pieces and move them around until you are comfortable with the layout. When I have something I like, I take a picture with my phone. This way I can refer to it while sewing to make sure I am putting the correct pieces together!
Double check the orientation of your sandwiches. Collect each row by stacking them from left to right. You should end up with seven stacks that each contain six sandwiches. The leftmost squares from your layout should be at the top of the stacks. I sometimes use Post-It notes to number the row stacks (psst — there are some in your kit).
Step 4: Sew each row
Take one row stack to the sewing machine, and grab the top two sandwiches. With backs touching and the leftmost piece facing up, sew along the right edge just inside the fringe (the fringe should be to the right of the needle). Make sure the fringe lays flat, or you could end up with fringe on the back of your quilt. (Don’t worry if a little bit pops out the back — you can use your scissors to cut it off.)
Repeat for the next two sandwiches in that row, and for the last two.
Now that you have three groups of two blocks, reference your layout picture and sew the first two groups together.
Complete the row by sewing the last group on. Sew each row following these steps.
Note: Make sure all your fringe is on the front side! This is sometimes hard to remember if you are used to your seams being on the back — you want the fringe to end up on the front of your quilt, not the back.
Step 5: Sew the rows together
Grab your top two rows. With backs touching and the topmost row facing up, prepare to sew along the bottom edge of the topmost row.
Line up the seams. You can pinch and wiggle them together and feel them “lock” into place with each other. Pin once on either side of the seams. Do this across the whole row. Bring the two rows (now pinned together) to the sewing machine, with the topmost row facing up.
Sew along the bottom (pinned) edge of the topmost row just inside the fringe (the fringe should be to the right of the needle). Don’t sew over your pins — pull them out as they approach the needle.
Note: Make sure the back sides of your rows are together to keep the fringe on the front of the quilt!
Repeat for the next two rows, and the two rows after that. One last row should be left over. Sew it to the bottom of the third set of rows.
Now you will have two groups of two rows and one group of three rows. Sew the top two groups together, and then sew on the bottom group.
It is easier to sew the rows in groups like this to help keep the bulk of the quilt down until the end. Again, keep referencing your picture to make sure you have the pattern the way you want it.
Step 6: Sew around the perimeter
Sew around the entire perimeter of your quilt, just inside the fringe. I like to go around twice. Remember to start and end with a backstitch.
Step 7: Check your seams
Look at the back of your quilt and make sure you are happy with all of your seams.
If any seams are loose, you can tighten them up by spot sewing. Figure out where the loose spot is on the front of the quilt, and sew a little farther away from the fringe in that area.
If you have stray fringe in the back of your quilt, take your sharp scissors and cut very close to the back — being careful not to cut the back fabric. Sometimes fringe that strays to the back of the quilt makes fringe loops on the front. If you see any of those, just cut them open.
The fringe will fluff up with washing and disguise all of these fixes.
Step 8: Wash and dry your quilt
Before washing your quilt, put it into the pillow case that came in your kit. This will help prevent lint and threads from taking over your washing machine! Many people like to bring rag quilts to the laundromat for the first few washings, as there will be a lot of lint.
Wash your quilt, then take the wet quilt outside and shake as much of the lint off as you can. There will be a lot of lint. Did I mention there will be lint? Then shake the lint out the pillowcase. Put your quilt in the dryer (not in the pillow case). More lint will come out in the dryer.
If you are giving the quilt as a gift, wash it and dry it a second time the same way. The quilt will continue to fray and become softer with each washing. Expect wrinkles — they are a natural part of rag quilts. Your finished quilt will look something like this: