Is this quilt crazy?
November 12, 2014 8:10 AM   Subscribe

I would like to make a person a quilt for Christmas. I have basic sewing knowledge but I have not done any quilting beyond sewing squares together to make pillows. Is this a feasible project, and where do I start?

I have several prints I would like to use, because they reflect a passion this person has. I don't care if the quilt pattern is particularly complex but I'm not sure what the simplest pattern is. I would like this to be an attractive piece. I'm okay with it not being full-sized.

If it's possible to make a quilt in this amount of time, where do I start? What materials do I need (I have a sewing machine)? What pattern might work well simply for displaying the chosen fabrics?
posted by chaiminda to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (21 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: I'm not a quilter, but my mom is, and this seems like a recipe for misery to me. I don't think you want this much pressure, time-wise or performance-wise, for your first quilt. Maybe buy a present for this person and have a new goal of making a quilt for him or her for next Christmas.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 8:13 AM on November 12, 2014 [7 favorites]

You will not finish it for this Christmas. A good rule is that the beginning of October is the latest time to start a handmade Christmas project, and then only if you already have the skill.

If you stick to potholders or something small, maybe. Otherwise start planning for next Christmas. (Sorry. I am a veteran of handmade Christmas, a month and a half may seem like a lot of time but it really isn't.)
posted by blnkfrnk at 8:16 AM on November 12, 2014 [3 favorites]

Best answer: Jumping in to say: you can totally do this, especially if you aim for a lap-size (a little under 4x5') version and aren't afraid to put in a couple of long weekend days or focused evenings.

Aside from a sewing machine, fabric, and thread, you'll need an iron and ironing board, a bunch of safety pins for basting, straight pins for holding your quilt pieces together, batting, and (if you don't want to make your own) pre-made double-fold bias tape for binding your quilt.

Pick a simple design: something that uses large rectangles or squares (no triangles or curved pieces). Something like this or this would be the easiest; one step up in difficulty would be an easy four patch quilt.

Good luck!
posted by rebekah at 8:27 AM on November 12, 2014 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Well, I can knit a pair of socks or a hat in a day. But point taken.
posted by chaiminda at 8:27 AM on November 12, 2014

Best answer: Question 1: How big a quilt do you want? I am assuming not bed-sized (which is BIG -- 70x90 for a typical twin bed) but rather lap sized. However, within lap-size or throw-size, there is usually still some variability. For an adult recipient I'd suggest at least 50" by their height.

The absolute SIMPLEST pattern is to just sandwich your fabric with the batting and quilt. It's called a wholecloth quilt and it can be very nice indeed, esp. if hand-quilted. There are two very nice quilts in Last Minute Patchwork and Quilted Gifts that work like this -- the hand-quilted baby quilt and the Six of One, Half Dozen of the Other, which is a bit of a variation on whole-cloth because you combine two prints before sandwiching and quilting.

Second-easiest would be buying a several packages of charm squares or a jellyroll (available on Etsy or from your Local Quilt Store), stitching them together, and then using your fabric as the backing fabric. This eliminates the cutting step, which will save you a lot of time.

Whether you CAN do it? Yes, I'd say it's achievable. I would go for it if (a) you have a fair amount of time available, (b) you are either good at understanding written directions/finding tutorials, or you have an experienced quilter to ask, and (c) you enjoy crafting under time pressure. (Some people do, some people don't.)

Rachel from Stitched in Color did an excellent quilt-along a while back that has some very helpful tutorials for beginning quilters. I would recommend it, even if you use a different pattern. The tutorials include materials lists.

You'd also have a much easier time if you either sent the quilt out to a long-arm quilter, or tied the quilt instead of quilting. I think you're too late to get the quilt to a long-arm quilter by now, though, because Giftmas is their busy season. Most of them are already at 2-4 week TATs and I think those will be even longer by the time your top is done.
posted by pie ninja at 8:36 AM on November 12, 2014 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Quilts are very large, and have a lot of steps to the process. You could definitely make a patchwork out of the fabric that you have. I'd recommend something that's just a grid of squares, like the patterns rebekah linked. You may get frustrated if your squares aren't coming out exactly square and not lining up exactly right, and not lying exactly flat, or you may be okay with that level of imperfection; but the probability that you will get it perfectly right the first time is somewhat low. It'll take a full weekend day of making decisions and plans and washing and ironing and cutting, another weekend day or two of sewing, or several long evenings.
Then you need to get the front, and the back, and a layer of batting all sandwiched together without creating scrunched up parts, puckers, etc. That's possible to do, if you have a big area of your floor that is flat and clean (i.e. big enough that you can walk/crawl a full path around the quilt without moving it, because when you move it, the layers shift), but may take a couple of tries to get all your safety pins in the right place. This will take one long evening for each attempt.
Then you have to sew the quilting on your machine, which has to be a strong enough machine to punch through the layers of fabric and batting, and will take another couple of full weekend days or entire week of 4-hour evenings. Then you have to sew the binding on, which isn't super-tricky, but I doubt I could do it in an evening.
A lap quilt is a good size to start with, not just because there's less surface area that you have to do your crafty work over, but because you can use standard 54" wide material to be the backing, without having to piece anything together for the back, and because it's more forgiving of slips (a huge quilt can multiply a small alignment error at one edge to a huge issue at the other edge).

So give it a try if you want. It will take a lot of time. You could do the classic crafter's gift of wrapping up the top of the quilt, with the promise of finishing it by Easter.
posted by aimedwander at 8:37 AM on November 12, 2014

Best answer: depending on how large it is and how simple you're willing to go (and whether you're willing to outsource the actual quilting) and how much time you're willing to spend on it, you might be able to do it.

The simplest possible quilt would be a lap-sized quilt with a top made out of squares, like this. I think that if you're already crafty, you could probably do this in a couple of solid weekends.

The hard parts of quilting a very simple pattern like this are 1) making the precision cuts needed to make sure the squares all line up, 2) sewing the seams (which are all straight seams with a 1/4" seam allowance) as precisely as possible. Otherwise even tiny errors multiply rapidly and the quilt top gets wonky. 3) the actual quilting and 4) binding the quilt.

If you are willing to use some pre-cut squares (large ones are called layer cakes and smaller ones are usually called charm packs) to minimize the amount of fabric you need to actually cut, you might be better off. You could get a layer cake or a few charm packs in solids that complement your chosen prints. It's usually better not to cram too many focus prints together in a quilt top either--using solids or complementary unobtrusive prints can help feature your chosen fabric.

Once the quilt top is done, you need to make a quilt sandwich with your batting and backing fabric (I would advise using a whole-cloth back rather than piecing it, pin it all together, and quilt it. You can totally just quilt along the seam lines or just do long straight quilting lines.

Binding is a little trickier, but not hard. There are also services that will do the quilting and binding for you for people who just like making the quilt top.

These skills are not hard for someone who knows how to use a sewing machine, they just take practice. So I would strongly advise either buying a book on quilting (Elizabeth Hartman's "Practical Guide to Patchwork" or the Better HOmes and Gardens Complete Guide to Quilting are good ones) OR taking a short class. A lot of fabric stores have "learn to quilt" workshops where you'll get practice with the techniques. If you can't take a class, you definitely need to practice precision cutting and seams with some fabric you don't care about because those things will make the difference between something that looks beautifully simple and something that looks like a first quilt.

So anyway--I think that for someone like you, you could probably do this with a couple of solid weekends of work, especially if you know someone who can help you.
posted by The Elusive Architeuthis at 8:38 AM on November 12, 2014 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I'm going to disagree a little here. If you can sew blocks together, you can make a simple quilt pretty easily and quickly.

Figure out what size you want the quilt to be, roughly. Then figure out what size you want the individual blocks to be. A "throw" sized quilt would be about 40 x 60 -ish and if you use 6" blocks that would be 7 blocks across (42") by 10 rows down (60"). A total of 70 blocks.

Get your blocks cut and lay them out. You can also do alternating blocks of your print and neutral (white or cream or a tone on tone print) if you don't have enough of your prints.

Cutting is probably 4-6 hours. Laying out and then sewing the squares on the top is likely another 6-8 hours.

Get a woven (not a knit like a fleece) blanket from resale to use as the center (you can also use quilt batting, but it's more expensive and a little harder to work with), and then a sheet to use as the backing. Get commercial quilt binding to do the edges (it just wraps around all the layers and you stitch it down to secure - lots of pinning but the process is simple).

Then, don't "quilt" it in the conventional sense but rather tack it down with heavy duty thread (through all the layers) at points that make sense in the pattern. (Mostly called tacking or "tufting" although tufting is technically a bit different.) You can also quilt it along the seam lines (BEFORE you bind the edges) but that will take a lot longer and demands more time and precision.

Agreed that taking pains to get your squares all exactly the same size and also that they line up perfectly is key. I'm a good sewer doing straight lines and I could, if necessary get all this done in a single weekend (two very long days) but you're likely looking more at 4-6 days work if you do 4-5 hours per day.

You don't need to take a class. YouTube and Pinterest are FULL of great tutorials and tips about getting started with simple quilts.

You should totally do this. Your friend will love it.
posted by anastasiav at 8:45 AM on November 12, 2014 [2 favorites]

I agree with anastasiav. My mother-in-law and I made 6 twin-bed sized quilts in a few weekends. We did not use a complicated pattern; we barely used a pattern at all. For the top, we sewed blocks in rows, alternating solids and patterned fabric:


until we had the length we wanted. Then my MIL sandwiched the top with batting and backing, and sewed that. Then she put on the bindings. Finally, instead of quilting the layers, she used yarn in the center of each square.

One Saturday to piece as many tops as we felt like working on. Then another Saturday to do the rest. In the evening, she would sandwich and sew.
posted by cass at 9:03 AM on November 12, 2014

Best answer: It really depends on the size of the quilt, the size of the pieces in the quilt, and how you want to quilt it. I think it's totally possible.

I've made 5 queen sized quilts and two baby quilts (3'x3'). The quickest I've put together a queen, starting from cutting the pieces to sewing on the last strip of binding, is a month and a half with working at least an hour or two every day and a few hours on the weekend and the pieces were about 8" in size (varying shapes). I made the baby quilt in a week and it had 6" square pieces with some hand embroidery done.

I'd suggest making a baby or lap quilt since this is your first and you want to be done by Christmas. The easiest would be to cut pieces that are square or rectangular for the top so they come together fast with all straight lines. You can use scissors, but using a rotary cutter, a cutting mat, and a solid ruler helps with this and makes the process go fast because you can slice through several layers at a time. If the seams don't all line up, it's ok - part of the charm of a homemade quilt :) The back of the quilt can be a single sheet of fabric that coordinates with the top.

When you're ready to sandwich, use a thin cotton batting. Warm & Natural is my favorite. Purchase a can of spray-on, washable fabric glue to make your layers just tacky enough to stick together and make the quilting easier.

The quilting and binding will be the trickiest for a first-timer. If you decide to machine quilt it, you'll want to buy a walking foot that fits your machine and sew a few lines through all layers across the quilt (the batting package will tell you how far apart your quilting lines can be). Or you can hand tie it which is where you make a series of knots with embroidery thread at regular intervals all over the quilt. You can make your own bias binding (time-consuming and a little tricky) or purchase binding at the fabric/craft store (easiest) or fold the back of the quilt over to the front (kinda hard because you have to cut your batting and top together, then sandwich, the cut your back just big enough to fold over nicely).

Basically, these are your steps:

--Cut squares of fabric (might take a few days).
--Sew squares together until you have the size of quilt you want (if you go small, this will take a day or two).
--Choose fabric for backing and cut a size slightly larger than your quilt top. Tape or weigh down the corners to a flat surface to keep it from shifting and spray it lightly with glue.
--Lay down the batting in a similar size. Spray lightly with glue.
--Lay down your quilt top. It should be slightly smaller than the batting.
--Sew or hand tie all layers together.
--Cut off the excess fabric so all the layers are the same size.
--Sew the binding on.
--Wash and dry the finished quilt.
--Pull the quilt out of the dryer and revel in your accomplishment in all its warm, soft, wrinkly glory!

Feel free to memail me if you have questions or need any details explained or further recommendations.
posted by E3 at 9:05 AM on November 12, 2014 [3 favorites]

Best answer: A few years back, I did a dead-simple quilt within a couple of weeks (during which I was working a full-time job!) using a sewing machine, with no hand sewing. If you scroll past all the cat photos on this blog entry, I go into detail about how I did it.

It's not the most beautiful thing in the world, but it's MINE and I MADE IT.
posted by telophase at 9:21 AM on November 12, 2014 [1 favorite]

And to add: the walking foot on my sewing machine was essential for the quilting to work correctly. A couple of years later I made a similar one for my mom using fabric she'd bought when we were in Africa, and I forgot to bring the walking foot when I brought the machine to her house to finish it up. I did manage to quilt it, but with a lot of invective and it looks a bit wonky.
posted by telophase at 9:23 AM on November 12, 2014 [1 favorite]

As a beginniner sewer, with a totally un-special Brother sewing machine from Target (no quilting arm, no walking foot), I made Amy Butler's Brick Path quilt (scroll down) in a queen size in about 40 hours. It's gorgeous, has been on my bed for several years, and I love it. This is totally, totally doable. And that pattern is now free!
posted by BlahLaLa at 9:36 AM on November 12, 2014

I am a rank amateur -- I can thread my machine and sew a straight seam, and that's about it -- and I completed a 50" square Amish Bar quilt (similar to this one) in a 1 day, 10-hour workshop. I did not do a separate binding, but instead did a flip & quilt edge. I used a regular sewing machine with no special feet or arms.

This is totally doable. It sounds like your carefully chosen fabrics will do a lot of work for you in this project, so you don't need to get fussy with the design. Good luck!
posted by apparently at 10:03 AM on November 12, 2014

I would totally say do this, but then again, I would totally wrap whatever I had finished, give it to the person for Christmas and then take it back and finish it. I did that last year when I decided (a week before Christmas) to make quick quilted potholders for everyone I knew. If you want to memail me for help, I'd love it.

Some tips: Definitely spray glue the layers together. I've tried pinning the layers and it makes it so much harder.

If you choose a quilt design with a lot of white, it helps out if your colored fabric isn't perfectly color coordinated. I do half white and then put whatever fabric I want. I've done one like this and one like this. (The triangle one is easier than it looks because there's a method to make four blocks at once and I simplified it further after I made a zillion the hard way.) You want a design that can look crooked and have it be okay. The stripy one above hides a lot of mistakes and is all straight sewing.

Of course, simple squares are easier. If you do a bunch of squares, here's a tip I realized the hard way. Say your quilt is going to be squares in a 12 X 15 design. Don't sew 15 rows of 12 blocks. They will never match up at end. Sew the blocks into 3X3 squares first and then sew those blocks together. You'll have much more luck getting the corners to end up close together. When sewing two sections together, pin the middle squares together and then work out to the edges. Don't start on the left. Problems will add up before you get to the other side. If you start in the middle, you can space the problems out.
posted by artychoke at 11:39 AM on November 12, 2014

It depends, but I'll just say that I'm not a novice quilter (I've made a number of baby quilts and have used the big long-arm machines for some of them) and I started my twin-sized Christmas quilt gift two months ago. I think you will find this an incredibly frustrating and stressful project.

That said, if you decide to go ahead with it, a nine patch pattern is one of the easiest (just squares) and you can make it a little more interesting by doing a Sudoku pattern. You can stitch in the ditch to do the quilting (a walking foot for your sewing machine is a good idea but maybe not totally necessary).
posted by peanut_mcgillicuty at 12:00 PM on November 12, 2014

Tying will be faster but less durable than quilting. Don't bind the edges until you have done the quilting or the tying, though. There is a method called quilt-as-you-go that can turn out nicely. Search for it and you will see some variations on how the final piece is put together.

If you really want to show off the fabric, another thing to search for is "fussy cutting". You probably want to add some solid colored fabric that matches one of the colors in the pattern. Don't pick the most common color, but one of the second or third most common colors.
posted by soelo at 2:55 PM on November 12, 2014 [1 favorite]

Go easy on yourself. Pick a pattern with staggered rows so you don't have to match seams or points. :) For example cut fabric 6.5". X 12.5" and sew them in a long strip the length you want your quilt to be. On the next row, cut one of those 12.5" blocks down to 6.5" and let it be the starter for the next row. Sew it together like the first, then sew the two strips together. You won't have seams to match at all. :) Continue until the quit top is finished. I won't go into the sandwiching, quilting, and binding since I see others have touch on that.

Another recommendation is to just make a quilt that's perfect for a lap quilt or napping quilt as I call them. Fabric is expensive and in case you get stumped along the way and pitch it aside for awhile, you won't be out hundred $$. That being said, I buy from good quality fabric stores. If you sew with mixed fabric content that will make things very difficult. Starch is your friend. :)

Good luck!
posted by OkTwigs at 3:57 PM on November 12, 2014

I just finished my first hand-stitched quilt and it's a lap-sized cover and it took me SIX MONTHS! And I worked at it quite seriously too. Sp definitely use a sewing machine. You should pick an easy pattern with not too many intricate details. You should check out Purl Bee for inspiration for easy quilts (and their kits which are cool):

Something like this you could finish easily for Christmas, and change the colours to your liking:

or this one but bigger:

Good luck and please post a picture when you're done, I'd love to see it!
posted by Sijeka at 5:32 PM on November 12, 2014 [1 favorite]

My vote would be to put your effort into sewing the patchwork top (which you can totally do, possibly with a quilting book from the library for ideas) and then have a pro do the actual quilting. I do not think this is a cop out.

I cannot confirm or deny whether, some Christmases ago, I sewed a quilt of the homeland security threat chart for my mother (a row of red blocks, a row of orange blocks, etc, bordered with plain brown...). Outsourced the quilting and it was totally worth it. Still a LOT of work, but not overwhelming and she loved it. I mean, assuming this actually happened.
posted by telepanda at 6:05 PM on November 12, 2014

Want the look of a quilt combined with something that is easy and giftable? You want to make sets of Criss Cross Coasters for all of your friends! These are so fun to make and they come together like magic.

I think that a quilt, while it could be done, would be challenging to do in the next 40 days.
posted by Ostara at 7:15 PM on November 12, 2014

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