Introduction: How to Make a Patchwork Quilt

About: Musician, mother, lives in New Jersey

I used to be afraid of the sewing machine. I'm not sure what made me more afraid, the potential to injure myself by puncturing my hand with a very sharp, speedy needle or ruining some kind of amazing fabric. Oh, and I'm quite bad at math. Three strikes.

My Granny Molloy sewed. She made me dresses for school pictures and classy pantsuits for herself to wear to church. She passed away and I inherited her sewing machine. And I filled my closets with her clothes being somewhat devastated over losing her.
Then I fell in love and got pregnant. And a friend showed up to my house with a bag of fabric and said we were going to make a quilt for my baby.
The fabric was beautiful and inspired me to abandon fear and try it out. I discovered that cutting 4 1/4" squares and lining them up in rows and sewing them together easily made a beautiful patchwork quilt. And it's okay if they don't perfectly line up, so that solves the math problem and my all around 'slightly lazy' issue. Best of all, I found good use for all those clothes I hoarded when my grandparents were gone. I cut squares from their suits, dresses, pajamas, handkerchiefs and pillow cases. It saddened me my kid was never going to know them. But their love is sewn into this blanket that tucks her in every night.

A quilt has three layers. A top layer, which is the decorative part, batting in the middle (makes it heavier and more like a blanket) and the back.
You can make yours any size. A throw for your sofa, a small baby quilt or a larger one if you feel adventurous. For my daughter's, I eyeballed it (lazy) and made an almost twin size quilt. It's an odd shape but anyone who sees this thing goes bananas. They're enchanted by the mix of fabrics and colors.
I've made smaller baby quilts for pals and make it a habit to collect some kind of heirloom to add to them. People love a handmade gift. And if you stick something in there from a dead person they lose their marbles and cry rivers of tears.

Here's what you need:

Fabric - I love using as many different varieties and colors possible. Cotton is best to work with and washes easily. You can eyeball how big you want your quilt to be and add or subtract as you lay it out. Also, the beauty of fabric shops is the people who work there are good at math (score) and can help you figure out what you need. I like to buy a lot of different quarter yards of fabric. The size of your quilt will tell you how much you need.
Get a nice contrasting fabric for your binding (the border of quilt) and another color for the backing.
You'll want your backing fabric to be about 3" bigger around all edges of the top layer of your quilt. I wait to buy my binding and backing fabrics until the top piece of my quilt is done.

Machine - I use a Janome Jem Gold and love it. It's small, light and relatively inexpensive.
Thread - light color for light fabrics, etc. though it's not really going to show.
Inspiration - I love the blog especially for helping with color concepts! She's amazing.
Basting/quilting pins (curved safety pins)
Regular pins for attaching your fabrics before sewing
Rotary mat
Rotary cutter
Embroidery thread for tying your quilt
Masking tape

Once you've washed and dried your fabrics, iron them.
Measure on a rotary cutting mat and with a straight edge ruler, cut the fabric in 4 1/4 " strips using your rotary cutter.
Once you've cut your strips down into 4 1/4 squares you'll be ready to assemble the top piece.
Those who are experienced will tell you that cutting is the hardest part!!

Now you've laid out all your squares to decide which color and print go where. This is a good time to take a break. Make a cup of tea and come back to it with fresh eyes. There's really no symmetry to a patchwork quilt so you have the freedom to do whatever you like.

No you're ready to start sewing. Place two squares right sides together and sew 1/4 inch down one side. Iron that and sew the next one. Continue until you've made a row. Mine is 12 squares wide, 15 squares long.
Once you have sewed your squares into a row, you make another and then attach rows together until you've completed your top piece. Turn your piece wrong side up and iron the inside seams flat. This helps the quilt to lay flat when you piece it together.

Now tape down your quilt backing, wrong side up. Make it really taut. Lay your batting down and smooth out like a pie crust. It's delicate so be gentle.
Now lay your top quilt piece down, right side up. Starting at the center of your quilt, pin with your crooked quilting safety pins.
The crooked shape helps you to hook all three layers together. Pin every few inches. Trim down the excess fabric of your batting and backing fabric to a quarter inch past the top quilt layer. Now you're ready to sew on the binding. There's a great binding tutorial here:

Once the binding is attached you can remove the pins and tie your quilt together. You're almost done!!!
I take embroidery floss or yarn and thread a quilting needle (the bigger the needle the easier it is to pierce through all layers). And poke it through from the top to the bottom and back up to the top. I did this in each square corner for extra sturdiness. Double knot every tie. Voila!