Backstory/Intro: I have a friend who is colorblind such that bright shades of orange and green appear the same to him, as do deeper blues and purples because the red content doesn’t factor in the same way. Normally I just mercilessly exploit this at his expense, but I wanted to try doing something nice for a change and making a quilt design that would actually look cooler to him than to other people. This is my process of quilt design and implementation.
Pro-tip: Start planning things early. But if you come up with (what you think will be) an awesome idea three days before you are flying back to school, do it anyway. It'll be worth it.
Step 1: Ideation and Design
With only three colors (as shown on the left), this super simple quilt pattern that I found flipping through an excellent book titled Quick Colorful Quilts has clear zig-zags of blue and orange. I decided to modify the color scheme to four colors for zig-zags of orange/green and purple/blue that will show up distinctly for my friend but just look colorful to the rest of us. Many thanks to Microsoft Paint for its irreplaceable assistance in my design process.
Pro-tip: Play to your strengths. If you are like me and your sewing abilities are somewhat limited, go for a design comprised entirely of straight lines. These are significantly harder to screw up too badly and therefore necessitate spending an hour pretending a fork is an adequate seam ripper.
Step 2: Do the Math, Get Your Materials
To fit the dimensions of the dorm beds at Olin College, I determined that a good quilt size would be approximately 5’x6’. Although the book in which I found the pattern suggested smaller 9” squares, I decided that doing a 5x6 square quilt with 1-foot squares would be simpler. Thus if you have similar dimensional requirements you will need 15 strips of each of your four zig-zag colors and 30 of your middle contrast color. With a ½” seam allowance all around, you’ll need 13”x5” for each strip. Most bolts of fabric are about 40-42” wide, so fitting three 13” strips across that length is reasonable. If you want to add a 2” border around the perimeter of both sides of the quilt then that’s another 6’x2 + (5’+2”+2”)x2 ~= 22.66’ of 5” strips for that. After several iterations of designs for a reverse side of those colorblindness number-in-the-circle tests and tetris patterns, I decided to be lazy and use a fleece throw for the quilt backing (see Step 6: Ask for Advice, Get a Fuzzy Blanket), so that’s all the math we need!
Rounding up for a healthy margin of safety, that brings us to our total materials list:
- 1 yd each orange, green, purple, and blue patterns (or other colors as appropriate to your color-sighted-ness or lack thereof)
- 2 yds contrast color for the middles of the squares
- 1.25 yds whatever color you like for the borders
Tools of the Trade
- Scissors, preferably crafted for your choice of dexterity or sinister-ness
- Tape measure/yardstick/cardboard with measuring lines on it
- Writing utensil of choice for marking dark fabric (silver sharpie, crayon, red pencil)
- Sewing machine and thread
- Pins, a million or so should be sufficient
- A few hours of free time (should be available somewhere on Amazon)
Pro-tip: Fabric stores with lots of choices are dangerous and often expensive. Especially if you’re not entirely sure what you’re looking for when you get there. Sale prices are good.
Step 3: Measure, Cut, and Sew
Measure out five 5” strips of each of your four colors and ten 5” strips of your contrast. Sew them together into triple strips, either blue-contrast-orange or green-contrast-purple (orientation doesn’t matter at this point, assuming you don’t have any directional fabric patterns).
Pro-tip: Sharp things are sharp. Like pins.
Step 4: Measure, Cut, and Sew Again (Remix!)
Cut your long triple strips into squares, which should be approximately 1’x1’, plus your ½” seam allowance on each side. Sew these squares into five 6-square-long mega-strips, making sure to alternate your pattern consistently. Then sew these mega-strips together so that you have your whole grid pattern. Personally I get overwhelmed when I have a whole bunch of fabric going through the sewing machine all at once, so I sewed together two mega-strips and three mega-strips separately so I could deal with less fabric at a time.
Pro-tip: Patterns that are easy to remember make things easier. For example, in order to ensure that I was sewing everything in the right direction I just incessantly repeated to myself “green on the left, orange on top” and I didn’t end up with any reversed squares.
Step 5: Visit the Borderlands
Cut four 5” strips of your border fabric to 6’, 6’, 5’2”, and 5’2”. For ease, you are just going to sew these borders to the colorblind-zig-zag-pattern side of the quilt, and deal with the corners and the sewing-to-the-reverse stuff later on. So just sew the 6’ borders all the way along the quilt, and sew the 5’2” sides most of the way along, leaving space at the corners to sew up later.
Pro-tip: First iron things so that they will be somewhat closer to smooth once your final product is completed. Just remember that hot things are hot. Like irons.
Step 6: Ask for Advice, Get a Fuzzy Blanket
So I originally had this plan for making a reversible quilt with some kind of Tetris design or something on the back, but in the back-to-school rush I pretty much ran out of time for that. At the same point in time, I realized that I in fact had no idea how to quilt (referring to the part where you actually sew through all the layers so it stays together and stuff). This prompted me to ask for advice from a friend who has authentic quilting experience. She informed me about the miracle that is “stitch in the ditch.”
To execute this excellent practice, first buy a giant fuzzy blanket on super sale from your local discount store of choice. Then cut to size (I only had to cut off a strip in one direction because the blanket I found happened to be the exact right width). Flip both sides so the quilt is inside out, then sew most of the way around the edges of the border, leaving a gap to flip it back right side out. Finish the gap by sewing through both sides of the border.
Now what you are going to do is flatten out the two sides of the quilt and pin them together along two “ditches” or seam lines in the main quilt pattern (or more if you want the sides to stay together better), then sew all the way through both layers along the ditches.
Pro-tip: Having friends is awesome. Having friends that you can ask for advice about things is even more awesome. Having that advice make your life a whole lot easier is priceless.
Step 7: Finish Strong and Enjoy!
Next close up the corners by folding the extra 2” on the 5’ sides around the edges of the 6’ sides’ borders and top stitching across the exposed outside edge and overlapping edge at the top of the 5’ side at each corner. If that instruction didn’t really make sense, it is because I kind of just made up what I thought looked reasonable and sewed back and forth a few times so that it would stay; you can do the same if that floats your boat.
Then fold it up, find some space for it in your bag to take back to school with you, and present to your colorblind dorm-dweller of choice! Immediately negate sentiments of goodwill by asking recipient to name the colors used in the quilt.
Pro-tip: It can be difficult to safely navigate a wrapping bow through the trials of airport security, air travel, and lugging a duffel bag around for hours. I recommend using a strawberry carton, it worked out okay for me.