Quilt Construction




I love to make quilts and it's much easier than most people think. This Instructable includes tons of photos and complete, clear instructions for constructing a simple doll quilt. The same process can be used to make a quilt of any size.


For more quilting fun, swing by the blog: http://underconstructionblog.typepad.com

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Step 1: Supplies and Tools

20 4 inch squares of cotton fabric*
1 piece of cotton fabric approximately 16x18 inches (for back)
1 piece of batting** (flat stuffing to put inside the quilt) approximately 16x18 inches
2 yards of embroidery floss
all purpose thread

sewing machine (or needle and lots of time)
large, embroidery needle
small sewing needle
seam ripper (most likely)

*make sure your fabrics are pre-washed and dried so you are certain the dyes are set and the fabric won't shrink after your quilt is complete

**I like to use a thin, cotton batting which can be purchased by the yard at the fabric store. Buy 1/2 yard for this project (18 inches). You can also purchase polyester batting. Choose a very thin weight (3-5 ounce). Alternatively you could use a scrap of flannel inside your quilt--make sure your flannel is plain (no pattern to show through) and pre-washed.

Step 2: Decide on a Layout for Your Quilt Top

I used 4 squares each of 5 different fabrics to make up my 20 squares. You could use 20 different fabrics or make a checkerboard with 2 different fabrics. Regardless, you'll want to make a plan by laying out your squares and deciding how they will be arranged. For the quilt, make a rectangle that is 4 squares wide by 5 squares long.

If you can't decide on a layout, just start sewing and let fate be your guide.

If you want to do something a little more complicated, now is the time to decide. You could cut each square into half or into quarters or triangles. Note that the more pieces you cut each square into, the smaller your final quilt will be because each time you sew pieces back together you lose 1/4 inch in the seam allowance. See the end of this instructable for a few ideas for modification.

Step 3: Notes Before You Start to Sew

Now you are all set to sew....but a few notes first:

--The only critical thing about quilting is seam allowance. It is important you keep a consistent seam allowance. One quarter (1/4) inch is ideal but for this project it is more important that it be consistent than be exactly 1/4 inch.

--Always, always, always sew with pretty sides together. In other words, when you put together the two pieces of fabric to sew, the good (pretty) sides of the fabric should be facing each other. If you get confused, pin the fabric before you sew and open it up to check that it looks right.

--For machine sewing, use 10-12 stitches per inch. On my machine, this means set it at 2 or 2.5.

--With quilting (unlike other sewing projects) you do not need to back stitch to lock the stitches at the beginning and end of each stitch line.

--If you are hand sewing,* use a small running stitch and the same 1/4 inch seam allowance as for machine sewing.

*There is an interesting article about hand sewing here: http://agnews.tamu.edu/dailynews/stories/CFAM/May0803a.htm and hand stitching instructions here: http://www.sewing.org/enthusiast/html/el_handstittch.html

Step 4: Begin Sewing Rows

To keep your layout organized as you sew your quilt together just leave it set out in order on your work surface.

To assemble your quilt top, you will sew your squares into 5 rows of four squares each and then sew the rows together.

To start, stack squares 1 and 2 (see notes on second photo) pretty sides together and sew along the edge using your 1/4 inch seam allowance. 1/4 inch is approximately the distance between your needle and the edge of the presser foot on your sewing machine (measure to be sure).*

You can pin the squares together but I find that it is not necessary. Try it yourself, the less you pin, the more time you save. Just hold the squares with one hand and guide your fabric into the machine with the other. If you find they don't stay stacked, use a pin.

  • If you have trouble sewing a straight line, you may want to purchase a magnetic seam guide. Just search that term on amazon to find one for a few dollars. I found this tool very helpful when I was learning to sew.

Step 5: How to Use a Seam Ripper

I'm not sure where this fits, but at some point you might need to take out a seam. That's when you pull out the seam ripper (see photo for what this tool looks like) This tool is designed to take out stitches without damaging the fabric.

I actually don't know the "real" way to use this tool but this is what has been working for me for a decade.

For quilt squares, since you didn't back stitch, you can gently start to pull apart the fabric pieces at the end. Use your left hand to hold them apart while using your right hand to push the seam ripper through the line of stitching. The red ball should go under the fabric and ride along the bottom of the stitches and the sharp edge inside the "u" of the ripper cuts the stitches.

The sharp point is only used from the top of the fabric to cut individual stitches.

Step 6: Chain Stitching and Adding to Your Rows

Because you don't have to back stitch, you can save time and thread by "chain stitching" your quilt squares together. This means that as you sew 2 squares together, just after the end of the set of squares passes the needle of your machine, instead of cutting the thread, feed in the next stack of squares and continue sewing. See photos below to understand how this should look.

You will end up with a little chain of squares coming out the back of your machine all connected by thread. Now snip apart (being sure to keep them in order) and lay them out again on your work surface.

Next add square 3 to the first row (made up of square 1 sewed to square 2). You can see in the fourth photo below how I arranged the 2 square sets and flipped squares 3, 7, 11, 15 and 19 over onto the patches. I stacked them in order and set them next to the machine so I could chain stitch them and keep them in order.

Step 7: Continue Until Your Rows Are Complete

Continue to add squares to each row until each row has 4 squares attached (just like the photo).

Now press the rows with the iron being careful not to distort or stretch the fabric. Press the seam allowances to the same side and , ideally, in opposite directions for each row (see photos in the next step)

Step 8: Sew Rows Together

Now you really do need to pin to ensure that the joints of the squares line up perfectly.

After pinning, carefully sew the rows together using a 1/4 inch seam allowance and removing the pins just before your needle reaches each one. This is where you will find out if your seam allowance was perfectly even. If not, you will need to pin the joints evenly and slightly stretch the fabric to make it match up.

Continue to add rows one at a time until all 5 rows are joined.

Step 9: The Quilt Top Is Done!

Once all your rows are attached, congratulations, your quilt top is done.

Press your patchwork top carefully with the iron and get ready to assemble your quilt. You should also press the backing fabric for your quilt.

Step 10: Layer and Pin Quilt Parts

This is the simplest way to assemble a quilt and it works especially well for a small quilt such as this.

Lay out a piece of batting a few inches larger than your quilt top. Stack on your backing fabric pretty side up. Note that your backing fabric should be slightly larger than your quilt top (in the photo below, my backing fabric is too small, it should hang out from the edges of my quilt top).

Place your quilt top on the backing pretty side down.

Pin around the edges as shown with pins at points "A" and "B" where you will start and stop sewing.

Step 11: Pin Around Edges, Pivot at Corners

Starting at "A" stitch around the quilt using the back of your quilt top as a guide and maintaining your 1/4 inch seam allowance.

At the corners, stop sewing 1/4 inch from the edge of the quilt top and use the wheel on your sewing machine to plant the needle into the material. Lift your presser foot and pivot the quilt 90 degrees. Lower presser foot and continue on with a perfect corner.

Step 12: Trim the Batting and Turn Right Side Out

Trim excess batting and backing so it is even with the edge of your quilt top. Clip corners at an angle to reduce the bulk.

Next reach in between the quilt front and back and turn the quilt right side out. Carefully poke the corners out using your scissors or a knitting needle.

Step 13: Stitch Hole Closed

Using a needle and thread (not a machine) stitch closed the hole left from turning the quilt. A "blind" stitch is a good choice but a little more complicated than the simple whipstitch shown in the photo. To start sewing, make a knot at the end of the thread (directions here: http://heatherbailey.typepad.com/photos/my_favorite_knot/index.html ) and lodge the knot into the batting. Pull the needle out through the front of the quilt. Fold in the raw edges of the quilt front and back (you may want to pin) and stitch as shown in photo looping from front to back. Knot off at other end again hiding knot inside the quilt.

Step 14: Prepare to Tie Your Quilt

Traditionally the batting layer inside a quilt was held in place with quilting--tiny hand stitches made through all three layers of the quilt, often in a decorative pattern. Hand quilting can be a lot of fun but it takes a great deal of patience (and skill). Machine quilting is another option but I find that it's easy to make mistakes and puckers.

For a simple project, tying the quilt with embroidery floss is really the the easiest solution and the bits of floss add a nice decorative touch.

To tie the quilt, use the large embroidery needle and thread the needle with the full thickness of the embroidery floss. Use some spit to stick the strands of floss together before threading the needle.

You'll want to make a tie at each intersection where four squares meet. Take a stitch diagonally across the intersection such that about 1/4 inch of the needle shows on the back of the quilt (the stitch is about 1/4 inch wide).

Pull about 2 yards of floss through and, without cutting the floss, take a stitch at the next intersection. Continue until all stitches are in place without cutting the floss (this saves rethreading the needle over and over).

Clip the floss between each stitch.

Step 15: Tie the Quilt

Using a surgeon's knot, tie your quilt. Left over right, and again. Cinch down. Left over right and again. Cinch down. See the video for clear instructions.

Once the ties are done, trim the floss to approximately 1/2 inch.

Step 16: All Done!

Congratulations--enjoy your quilt! (even if your kid doesn't like it)

If you want to try something a touch more complicated, click to the next step for variations on the original design.

Step 17: Triangle Variation

By using the exact same materials (10 red squares and 10 cream squares) you can make any of these triangle quilt variations.

Step 18: How to Make Triangles Out of Squares

Stack two contrasting squares good sides together and mark a diagonal line across the back of the lighter fabric. Pin in place. Use the pencil line as a guide and sew on both sides of it using a 1/4 inch seam. Cut apart on pencil line. Press open putting seam allowance toward darker fabric. Arrange as in previous step and continue with standard construction instructions.

Step 19: Horizontal Stripes Variation

I really like this variation. To make it, cut each of your 20 squares into 2 or 3 pieces creating random width rectangles. Start with four pieces and, using the chain stitching technique, keep adding rectangles to create four strips of approximately even length. The strips will be the exact width of your original squares (4 inches). Once the rows are complete, trim them to the same length and sew the four rows together. (you could make 3 rows instead, for a longer, narrower quilt)

Because all this sewing makes the quilt top quite small (approximately 12x14 inches), I cut narrow (1.25") strips off the backing piece to create a skinny border. Just be careful that your quilt top stays smaller than the backing piece.

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    22 Discussions


    4 years ago

    I am making my first quilt for my daughters baby. Not a baby quilt but more of a child quilt. Anyway, I did an equally eye-catching design on both sides and they are also equal in size. Is that going to be a problem? I was going to send it out for "quilting" and now I've seen a couple put together beginning with a backing much larger than the front! EEEK!! I've already put so much work into it.


    8 years ago on Step 5

    Thank you! You have just saved me countless hours. I never knew quite what that ball was for and have been using one of these for years.


    8 years ago on Introduction

    I'm planning to make my first quilt, these instructions are very helpful, thanks!


    9 years ago on Introduction

    this is such a great instructable. i'm finishing up my first quilt and although the process is simple, your tricks made it so much simpler. especially ironing the rows in opposite directions, the "perfect corners" trick, and your method for tying knots for hand sewing. thank you!


    10 years ago on Step 2

    you could easily strip piece these together, i love that orange and the blue! and the wavy stripes!!


    10 years ago on Introduction

    can anyone share with me a quilt pattern called "Turning 21"?


    11 years ago on Introduction

    Great Instructable. I have been planning a tshirt quilt and I think your method will work wonderfully.

    3 replies

    Reply 11 years ago on Introduction

    for your t-shirt quilt, one tip, put iron on interfacing on the back of the t-shirts before cutting them out. It reduces stretching.


    Reply 11 years ago on Introduction

    Thanks so much! I am a complete novice at quilting. Do you think I could use fleece as the backing and as borders between the tshirts, or would that also stretch? Should I use interfacing on the fleece as well?


    Reply 11 years ago on Introduction

    Personally, I would not use fleece as borders between the shirts (or, if you do, DON"T interface the shirts and just resign yourself to a puckery quilt). Stretchy fabrics are hard to incorporate into quilting, especially for a novice. Fleece on the back would still be a pain but MUCH easier than on the front. If I were you, I'd use pre-washed quilting cotton in between your interfaced shirts and if you're in love with fleece, fleece on the back with no interfacing on the fleece and no batting in the quilt. Good luck!


    11 years ago on Introduction

    Cool methodology!! I have been sewing for years but am new to quilting. I just finished my first quilt. My wife has been quilting for years so I learned from her. Your method of sewing and inverting the quilt is cool. Eliminates the need for binding and make things go much quicker. I also love your description for lining up the seams. It is what I did in my Radiant (Morning) Star. Worked great. Have you ever sewn a small border on both sides so it looks like binding when it is done ?? If someone cannot make a quilt with these instructions they just don't want to make a quilt. GREAT JOB!!

    1 reply

    Reply 11 years ago on Introduction

    Thanks for the nice feedback. I haven't done that with a border but i think it would work...you may need to top stitch after.


    11 years ago on Introduction

    This is so awesome!!!! Thank you so much!! I'm new to sewing/quilting, tho I've made a few things. They were not the best looking! You have encouraged me to try again!! Thank You, Thank You!! Give yourself a warm Texas hug!!!


    12 years ago on Introduction

    Thank you for this instructable! It is very clear, and I'm going to start as soon as I pick up some fabric!


    12 years ago on Introduction

    Thank you so much for your instructions!!! I had one failed attempt and after seeing your instructions, you've sparked my interest again! I already started and it looks great so far! YIPPY!


    12 years ago on Introduction

    Every other set of instructions I've come across for quilting are disgustingly complicated. This is EASY! My great grandmother used to make quilts. Now I know how too!