Saturday, September 7, 2013

Rustic Rag Quilt

As I've expressed before, I am continually inspired by my crafty family.  Everything I know about the art of making, I learned from those I love.  This week's post is no different.  Earlier this summer, at a family baby shower, I fell in love with a baby quilt crafted by my mother.  It was soft, bright, and looked like home.  As my cousins and I oooh'd and aaaah'd over the thing, my mom and my aunt were quick to mention how easy it was to make rag quilts.  So easy, in fact, that all three of us cousins took notes that very day.  Three months later (because of procrastination and lack of planning) I have my very own soft, homey quilt!  Cat loves it, J loves it, and it keeps my toes warm while we watch Supernatural!

To make your own quilt you will need:
  • Various amounts of cotton quilting fabrics (math comes in handy on this one)
  • An expanse of flannel equal to the total amount of square footage of cotton fabric you intend to use
  • Quilt batting (I used "Nature's Touch Cotton Batting" 1/4" loft)
  • Lots of thread, I suggest buying a new spool of your chosen color
  • Cutting implements (mat, rotary cutter, quilting square or sturdy straight edge)
  • Sewing implements (machine, scissors, pins, bobbin, etc.)
J and I began by planning the quilt out on graph paper.  We decided we wanted the finished size to be appropriate for use on the couch, but not large enough to cover a bed.  It's a total of 120 squares, each of which started at 6", but after sewing it together with a 5/8" seam allowance, the approximate size of the finished quilt is 57" x 47.5". 

Plan #1 is rarely the end result.
I had some fabric gifted to me by my aunt that I wanted to include, but knew there wasn't enough for the full quilt.  So, I started by cutting as many 6" squares out of the gifted fabric as I could get, playing with the layout based on that, and deciding how much additional fabric I would need.  Armed with my initial fabrics and lots of chicken scratch about yards and colors, I marched into the fabric store and picked up various fat quarters to fill out my stash.  With everything back home and cut out, I realized something had gone wrong.  There weren't 120 squares, I was out of fabric, and I was displeased with how a few of my fabric choices fit in with the overall quilt.

Flanked by the couch pillows that were my design inspiration.
Hard to tell on the carpet, but there are some definite "bald" spots in that layout. Not to mention, J and I agreed that the "gradual fade" fabric was just strange.  So, back to the store for more and better options!

During the first trip I had also picked up a gray flannel for the backing fabric and my batting.  To back a rag quilt, you cut an equal number of 6" flannel squares as you cut cotton squares.  Now, I'm terrible at math, which means I cut all my flannel and counted my squares, only to realize there were nowhere near 120.  That meant picking up additional flannel on the second fabric store trip.  But wait, there's more!  I ran out of flannel a second time and had to go back to the fabric store a third time.  Moral of the story, do your homework!  You would think that multiplying 6" x 6" x 120 and comparing that to how much fabric comes in a yard of flannel would have been easy.  Apparently I thought three trips to the store was easier.  Fail.

Once you've got 120 cotton squares and 120 flannel squares, you also need 120 batting squares.  These need to be smaller than the completed size of a quilt square.  For my purposes this meant approximately 4.5" square.  They don't have to be as precise as the other squares as they will be hidden in the quilt sandwich.

Lay each square out as a three part sandwich:  flannel (right side down) on bottom, batting centered in the middle, cotton (right side up) on top.  Put a couple pins in each square along two opposing sides.  You don't want them near the corners or the center, as that's where you will be quilting.

"I'm going to need a bigger mouth!"
Sew an X into each quilt sandwich from corner to corner across the center of the square.  You don't need to backstitch the ends as they will end up trapped in seams later on.  Once I'd completed all 120 squares, I laid out my pieces to determine the exact placement and pattern.  It was starting to look like a finished quilt!

Satisfied with my layout, I began stacking my pieces in rows.  I was careful to always stack in the same direction and mark the top square with what order the pieces needed to be sewn in.  The process for me involved post-it notes, pins and rubberbands.  It may look different for you depending on how your brain works.

I then began sewing a trillion 6" seams.  Rag quilts are unique, in that you want to sew each square together by placing the backings (flannel) together and sewing such that the exposed seam faces the top of the quilt.  I did this piece by piece to make long skinny rows, then went back to sew the rows together.  As I laid it out (to make sure everything was still in order), Cat became very interested and forced me to take a snack break.

Here is a close up of the quilt once I'd finished all the seams.  Little did I know, I still had a tedious step ahead of me.

After the quilt is pieced, all of the top seams need to be snipped to make the seams fray and give it it's unique "rag" quality.  This process is tedious, especially if you don't have springloaded scissors, which I don't.  J snipped half the quilt, as I had developed a bruise on my thumb from the scissors after finishing only about 25% of the process.  Cat also felt bad for me apparently, as he forced me to take another break by climbing into the quilt on my lap as I tried to snip seams.

At least we know he likes it.
I recommend taking your time with the snipping.  It's exhausting and tedious work.  Also, if you get in a rush, you're likely to snip through the seam, creating a hole in your beautifully constructed masterpiece.  We made snips about every 3/8" or so, but don't feel like you have to measure it out.  It's a rag quilt, it's supposed to look handmade.

Last but not least, the thing needs a couple rounds in a washer and dryer.  Make sure your lint trap is good and cleaned out before you begin, and that you clean it thoroughly in between as well.  Between the snipped seams, flannel, extra threads and fraying, it makes a huge mess of things.  But after the second bout with the dryer, the quilt came out soft, sweet smelling, and wonderfully warm.  I immediately wrapped myself up in my hard work and curled up on the couch for some R&R.


  1. I love your quilt! I'm fixing to do one for my grown daughter for Christmas - she loves quilts. Yours turned out great!

  2. I have just made a thin cotton one with batting and am thrilled. Now I am attempting to made one using polar fleece. I dont have a walking foot so wonder if my machine will cope with 4 layers. will use a ball point needle and I wont use batting in the middle.