Hand-sewn Scrap Quilt




Introduction: Hand-sewn Scrap Quilt

I have made quilts for many years and I really needed to use up some of the scraps that I have been accumulating.. This quilt is baby sized but makes a nice lap quilt in this same size. You can easily adapt this to any size and you don't have to use scraps.

I usually make my quilts by hand. Several times I have been asked by someone to show them how to sew a quilt. Since most people do not have easy access to a sewing machine, it is a good learn to 'hand sew' project. Once you know if you enjoy sewing, you can decide if you want to invest in special equipment like a sewing machine.

I just read through this 'ible. I was looking for all the misspellings. What I found was that this could look a little intimidating to a beginner. That was not my intent. Once you get comfortable with sewing, it really goes very fast and you will have an impressive skill. Keep your first project small--so you see success rather than frustration.

Step 1: Materials:

Fabric scraps
Cutting mat, ruler, and rotary cutter OR sharp scissors and ruler
Quilt thread
Quilt batting (one yard of 'by the yard') or a small package of pre-cut batting
One yard muslin OR other suitable backing fabric
Safety pins
Straight pins

Step 2: Cutting

The finished size of my quilt is 36 inches by 36 inches.

If I use 144 three and a half inch squares, the quilt will end up with 12 rows of 12 squares each.

If I use 81 four and a half inch squares, the quilt will end up with 9 rows of 9 squares. (For the sample I used in this 'ible, I used 27 different fabrics and 3 of each one. It makes for a fun little game to play with the baby as he/she grows. You point to one fabric and see if the child can find the matching ones.)

The basic rule is--cut your fabric into pieces that are one half inch bigger than the finished piece of the quilt.

I use a rotary cutter because it is so fast and the cuts are so perfect.

If you do not have one or know someone who does, I recommend that you use your ruler an a pencil to mark cutting lines on the back of your fabric. Use an appropriate color to make sure that you can see the lines.

If you are new to sewing in general or quilting in specific, you may need to buy fabrics. The rule for quilting is: 100% cotton only. Yes, you are allowed to break the rule but be aware that cotton/poly can be slippery and sometimes stretchy. You can buy large pieces of fabric or very small pieces at any fabric store. (I once watched my aunt buy 20 different fabrics but only 1/8 of a yard of each one. It was a lot of work for the employee who had to cut it but she didn't complain at all.) Most fabric stores have a supply of cotton fabrics that are already cut into quarter yard pieces--4 or 5 of these will make a baby sized quilt. If you buy new fabric for your quilt, be sure to pre-wash and dry the fabric before cutting. You want it to shrink BEFORE you use it. One more suggestion. If you are buying fabric for this project, make sure that you have enough variety in the colors or at least some contrast. (Too many dark colors together or too many light ones and you might as well not even bother with all the sewing--just use a bigger piece of fabric.)

This project could also be done using out-grown baby clothes. If you try this, I recommend that you avoid the stretchy things like onsies and sleepers. Try to keep the fabrics close to the same weight. It can be challenging to work with really thick and very thin fabrics together. (Yes, I have done it--sometimes successfully.)

Once everything is cut, I store all the pieces in a zip-loc bag along with the spool of thread, my needle, small scissors, and a couple of pins. The zip-loc goes in my purse for the next time I have to wait at the doctor's office or picking up one of the kids. I sew in the car on long trips. You will be amazed how much you can accomplish using these down times. I also keep a bag of pieces near the TV.

Step 3: Sewing

The size of your needle is not completely critical. You should use as small of a needle as you are comfortable with. Big needles are harder to pull through the fabric. They make a tiny needle called a quilter's between. I find them too small to work with--bad eyesight and the beginning of arthritis.

Thread your needle with quilt thread. This thread is thicker (and stronger) than all-purpose thread. I use it for most of my sewing, especially sewing on buttons. If you are using thinner thread, I recommend doubling up the thread--2 strands will be less likely to break.

Since mine is a scrap quilt, there are a lot of different colors of fabric. The color of the thread really doesn't matter much. If I am making a blue quilt, I try to use blue thread. Tiny bits of red thread might show on the final quilt but I don't worry that much about the thread color. You can just go with a neutral color--black or white. White is probably more traditional.

Most of the quilting books suggest using threads that are no longer than 18 inches. This is probably a good idea if you are a beginner. No sense frustrating yourself by getting your thread tangled up every few minutes. If you are an experienced sewer, use whatever length you are comfortable with.

You will be sewing a straight line 1/4 inch from the edge of the piece. I have done this for so many years that I can 'eye-ball' it. Beginners usually find it easier if you draw a pencil line first. This worked very well when I was sewing a quilt with my son's kindergarten class. Draw the pencil line on the back of the fabric. Use a color that you can see easily.

Since you will be sewing through 2 layers of fabric, you only need to mark the pencil lines on half the pieces. Align 2 pieces of fabric with the right sides (the prettier side of the piece) facing each other. Once the quilt is finished, this will be the top side.

Tie a knot in the end of your thread. Start your seam by inserting your needle 1/4 inch from the corner of the fabric. Make a running stitch along the pencil line. Try to make the stitches as small as you can. You can load up 4 or 5 stitches onto you needle before you pull the needle through. (I had the kindergartener's flip the fabric over to check and see if they were making a nice dotted line with the thread on both sides. This lets you know that you are catching both layers in each stitch.)

After I pull the needle through, I unusually take a small back stitch which helps me keep my stitches tight and makes for a more secure seam. A back stitch starts just 'before' where the thread is coming through the fabric.

Each seam ends 1/4 inch from the corner. At the end of each piece, make 3 or 4 back stitches to secure the end of the thread. You can cut the thread, tie a new knot, and sew the next piece. I usually skip cutting the thread. I just tie another knot and sew the next piece. This leaves the pieces chained together and keeps me from dropping them all over the place.

I try to mix up the different colors as much as I can on a scrap quilt but you can organize a pattern.

Step 4: Pressings and More Sewing

Once all the pieces have their first seam, it is a good time to get out the iron. When you sew clothing, seams are usually pressed 'open'. Not so for quilts. Press both layers of fabric to one side. For a scrap quilt, it doesn't matter which way. If you are checker boarding a light and a dark fabric, press to the dark--a rule from back when I used to read quilt books. If you left the pieces attached together, now is a good time to clip them apart.

Take 2 pieces, hold them, right sides together aligning the previous seam, and insert a pin to meet the seams aligned. Sew this seam starting a quarter inch from the corner and ending a quarter inch from the end. I usually only use pins at intersections but you may find it comfortable to pin more places--especially if you are working with bigger pieces. Be sure to pull the pins out. They get in the way of the iron (not to mention how hot they get if you iron them anyway).

Sew 32 of these pairs of pieces into 16 sets of 4 (2 by 2 of the original cut squares) and 8 pairs of pieces into 4 strips of 4 (1 by 4 pieces). Then it is time to press again. If you do it right, at each center where the 4 corners come together, the pressed seams will spiral. This is a good thing because you are cutting down on the number of bulky spots in the finished quilt.

Continue pinning pieces together, sewing seams, and pressing. Occasionally check your progress by looking at the front of the quilt. Count to make sure you have the right number of pieces per row and the correct number of rows. Taking seams out is a pain but occasionally it is necessary.

When everything is stitched together, give it one last pressing. This is the last chance you will have to press any seams flat.

Step 5: Layering Your Quilt

A quilt has 3 layers--the top (which you just finished), the batting (the fluffy middle part), and the backing (traditionally muslin but lots of different fabrics work).

If you haven't already done it, pre-wash your backing fabric. Dry it and iron out any wrinkles.

Lay the backing fabric down first. This is a small quilt and you may be able to use a table but since I often make larger quilts, I usually do this on the floor. Non-carpeted floors work better. (I hate it when the quilt gets pinned to the carpet.) If you are using a printed fabric for the back of the quilt, make sure the good side is facing the floor or table. Smooth out any ripples. Masking tape will hold the backing in place but I usually don't need it for a small quilt.

The next layer is batting. Unfold or unroll it carefully so that you do not stretch it. Gently pat out any ripples. I used scraps of batting, so I had to whip stitch the pieces together.

Carefully place the finished top over the batting layer. This requires a little patience. Make sure that there is batting and backing everywhere under the top. If there is an edge or corner that is not aligned, carefully move the top. Be sure that you are not messing up the lower layers.

Once you are certain that nothing needs to be moved again, it is time to use the safety pins. Start near the middle and pin through all the layers. Keep your pins 4 or 5 inches apart. This is to keep all the layers from shifting while you quilt.

When you get to the edge of the top, put a few extra pins in. The edge will be the last part quilted and get tugged on the most while you work.

Step 6: The Actual Quilting

The process of sewing through all the layers of the quilt is called 'quilting'.

Quilting is again just a running stitch. I usually keep the quilting pretty simple for a scrap quilt. There are all sorts of fancy things you can do but for a beginner, I recommend just a simple line of stitches right at the existing seams. This is called 'stitching in the ditch' and does not require much thought. Focus on trying to make your stitches the same size. People will see these stitches.

You can use the same quilting thread from earlier or you can use something thicker such as a thin crochet thread. It can be the same color as your backing (blends in) or a contrasting color (if you want to show off the fact that the quilt was made by hand).

I stitched straight across the quilt so I cut the thread 4 or 5 inches longer than the width of the quilt. This way I did not need to worry about starting a new thread in the middle of the quilt. Each row of stitches will start and end at the edge of the quilt. Very easy for a beginner.

Tie a knot at the end of the thread. (I keep saying this because sometimes I forget to do it.) Start near the middle of one edge of the quilt. This allows you to work out any unfortunate bubbles in the quilt--in case you did not notice them at the pinning stage. (If you notice any ripples while you are quilting, lay the quilt on a flat surface, remove only the necessary pins, smooth out the problem, and repin.) Make a running stitch through all the layers. Make a few back stitches at the other edge of the quilt.

Quilt in the next seam working toward the side edges.

Take the safety pins out as you get to them. I store the pins (opened) in an empty prescription bottle. If you close the pins now, you are just going to have to spend time opening them the next time you want to use them.

When you gave quilted the up/down lines, start on the left/right lines.

Step 7: Binding

The binding of a quilt is the long strip of fabric that wraps around the cut edges around the outside edge of the quilt.

Most books suggest cutting the binding 2 inches wide but I usually use 2 1/2 inches. Fold the strip of binding in half, line the cut edges with the edge of the quilt top. Sew this again using a 1/4 inch pencil line (if necessary).

Join extra strips of binding as necessary. Lay one end of the strip over the end of the next strip. It may feel strange by lay them perpendicular to each other. By sewing these at a 45 degree angle, you eliminate unnecessary bulk. Before you trim off the corner, check to see that the strip runs straight.

When you get to the corner, stop 1/4 inch from the corner. Fold the binding at a 45 degree angle to the right. Then fold the binding to the right and continue to sew it to the edge of the quilt.

Cut off any extra batting and backing.

Wrap the folded edge of the binding to the back of the quilt and stitch it down.

Step 8: Other Designs

I have bins of cut scraps ready to use.
One bin each of the following:
--3 1/2 inch squares
--4 1/2 inch squares
--2 1/2 by 4 1/2 inch rectangles
--2 1/2 inch squares

From these few sizes, you can combine them in many different ways.

I have several quilt tops done and waiting to be quilted and several zip-locs ready to be sewn all the time. You never know when you will be stuck in a waiting room.

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    Question 1 year ago on Step 6

    ❤️ your instructions. Front of quilt are quilted squares. Other side will be one unquilted solid print. Both sides surrounded by solid borders that I want quilted. (This border is not the same as the binding.) How do I do this? Thank you in advance


    Answer 1 year ago

    I would probably sew a strip of the boarder fabric on the front and back of one side. Cut a piece of batting to fit. Baste the edge of the batting to the edge of the quilt. Then flip the front and back pieces into place and quilt the border. Do this for each of the 4 sides.


    Question 2 years ago

    I have read and reread your tutorial. I’m a newbie and cNt wait to get started. Did you do a video of this tutorial

    Emma Prezant
    Emma Prezant

    Question 2 years ago on Step 4

    Do you have to press the seams because we do not have an iron.


    3 years ago

    Thank you for such clear simple instructions. Love the idea of ziploc scraps ready bags!


    3 years ago

    I have searched all over the internet for a tutorial like this, so thank you!! I'm very new to sewing and I am attempting to make some quilted coasters out of scraps. I have one question from your tutorial: when you make more than one back stitch, do you make them all on top of each other or do you trace backwards several stitches? Then do you go forward again so the knot is at the edge? Thank you!


    Reply 5 years ago

    Thank you.

    Penolopy Bulnick
    Penolopy Bulnick

    6 years ago

    Love all the colors and I'm simply amazed you could hand sew this :D


    Reply 6 years ago

    This quilt was made from scraps. I have been quilting for 25 years so I have a lot of scraps. With practice it doesn't even take that long.