How to Sew a Baby Quilt Content from the guide to life, the universe and everything

How to Sew a Baby Quilt

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Finished quilt with back showing

Making a quilt can be easy, or it can be absolutely maddening. The entry is written as a result of the idea of a quilt as a new baby gift, rather than buying a more usual present.


Quilts can vary in size from tiny display samples and coasters, to king-size bedspreads, but this entry is about the making of a rather large baby quilt, 100 by 150cm.

Fabric Selection

Choosing fabric can be a lot of fun, but has the potential to become very expensive. Avid quilters collect fabric for their 'stash', which may or may not end up in a finished project. It is suspected that some even prefer fabric collecting to actual quilting, but this has not been proven. You can also see what your linen cupboard holds - who knows what may become useful? More often than not, quilters prefer to use 100% cotton fabric, but as long as the fabric is well washed, reasonably colour proof, and not stretchy, you should be OK. Fading colours isn't so bad, but don't use colours that run (or 'bleed').

This example uses old cotton bed-sheets, in printed patterns; four different patterns will be needed. As these sheets will have been washed many times, the pieces will not bleed or shrink.

Quilt Design

Experimenting with the quilt design

This design is made from simple 45 degree triangles, which ensures that there will be no difficult angles to sew together. Square pieces would be even simpler.

It is very useful to play with different arrangement of the pieces, you can use paper and crayons, or your favourite drawing software. Rotate, change places, and so on.

The smallest unit of this quilt has one triangle of each fabric, and these units are rotated and combined to bigger blocks. Six such blocks make the whole quilt.

Of course, you can also start by choosing a design, perhaps from a book or a website, and pick your fabric to match the design. This final pattern showed here just happened to 'work' for this particular baby quilt.

Calculate Your Fabric Needs

Beware. This can be tricky, and usually requires the use of mathematics. Decide on what seam allowance you will use. Some sewing machines have a nice stitching guideline for a quarter of an inch, which makes the decision easy. One centimetre is also a common allowance, if you are metrically inclined. For squares, simply add two allowances to the length of the side.

For this example, the triangles are cut from a square, to gives four triangles (cut across from corner to corner)

The longest side of the finished triangle should be 25cm, and with allowances that makes 30cm for the longest side, so make the square 30 by 30cm. Each colour needs 24 triangles, so 6 squares are needed. (Minor rounding of decimals has been applied. You try making sure the square is 29.8cm... No? 30cm will be just fine.)

For the 6 squares, you would need 60 x 90cm. That would mean you need to be very very careful when cutting those squares. Instead you can get 70 x 100 cm, and cut that into six pieces of roughly the same size, and move to the next step...


Cutting pieces for quilt

But first iron the fabric. (This again assumes that you have washed and dried it). Ironing will make the fabric lie a little flatter and be easier to control.

With cutting, you really want to be careful. An easy way of getting the pieces uniform is to use a cutting mat, rulers and a rotary cutter.

The six fabric pieces are stacked, and the edges trimmed to measure. Then cut diagonally across, corner to corner, and finally the large triangles are also cut in half. By using a ruler, it's easy to find the perpendicular to the hypotenuse, and you don't have to measure.

If you don't have a rotary cutter and a cutting mat then a ruler, pins and scissors will do, but prepare for aching hands and less uniform pieces. The right tools make the work twice as fast, as is true for most craftspeople. Now, the rotary cutter may look like your average pizza slicer, but it most decidedly is not. It's razor sharp, and will snip any hair, piece of clothing or body that gets in the way. Ponytails, and shirts of curious spouses have been lost. As blood on your fabric is really not recommended, keep those fingers clear. Do press down hard on the ruler though, to prevent the fabric from slipping and being skewed. And don't cut through more than perhaps eight layers of fabric. You risk missing a section and having to go back, which always ends up in a little fraying. Fewer layers, and a decisive cut is preferable.


Sewing the pieces together is called piecing. Most people prefer using a sewing machine, but it can be done by hand, for more meditative work. Both ways have their charm. If you use a sewing machine, use long stitches, 4 mm is good. Since the layers will be quilted together at the end, the seams won't be very strained. And since the raw edges will be hidden, you don't have to use the zig-zag seam to secure them.

Marking seam allowance

Just put two pieces face to face, and sew along the edge, keeping the seam allowance to the measure you have previously decided on. If your allowance is consistently 1 mm off, it can add up to centimeters on a large quilt. You can use a piece of scotch tape to mark the right allowance.

Pressing the seams apart will make the top layer flatter, but you don't have to do it.

Seams pressed apart

Assemble the basic units. Now you have the perfect opportunity to check the design! Lay out the units as you planned, and have a look. Rotate them to make variations - all blocks in the same direction, alternating directions. Once you have made up your mind, put blocks together by joining four units, and then add the blocks up to make the final quilt. 


Quilt sandwich layers

Also known as 'sandwiching', this is where you layer the pieced top with batting1 and a backing fabric. 

The batting can be synthetic or natural material, depending on your preferences, and the thickness can vary too. Consider where you want to use the quilt, if it's to be flexible or more rigid, warm or cool.

The backing fabric is often a white or solid colour cotton, but patterns also make for nice effects. The backing will also show the quilting technique nicely.

Align the fabrics and the batting, and use safety pins to hold the layers in place. Taping the layers to the floor works really well to keep them in place while you put the safety pins in place.

You will move the fabric around a lot, in the next stage, so some extra pins pay off.


Quilted diagonal lines

Again you have to make a few choices: quilting by hand or by machine, free form or straight lines, white or neutral thread, or even a bright contrasting thread. Whichever way, this is the stage where you make sure the layers don't slide around. In this case, the quilting seams are at the edges of the triangles. Quilting diagonally across the whole quilt makes for a nice pattern on the back, and the seams are close enough to keep the layers down.  


First seam for binding

The raw edges need to be covered up, to make them sturdier and prevent the fabric from ripping and the batting from falling out. You can buy ready made bias binding, and you should choose a fairly wide type. Good fabric stores will have a decent selection of colours, which may match your quilt. You can also make your own bias binding, which isn't all that complicated, but the explanations would be enough for another separate Entry.

An inch wide (2.5cm) binding (with the sides folded in) or two inches (5cm) unfolded is ok for a thin quilt and about 1cm binding. You need more if the quilt is thick. Bias binding will often have one of the folds a little narrower than the other.

Start on the front of your quilt, and trim the edges to be straight and free from fabric corners sticking out. Take the binding, and choose the most narrow fold. Unfold the binding, and align the raw edge with the edge of the quilt. Sew a straight seam in the folded line.

Stitching binding in corner

Corners are a little tricky, but with some fiddling you will be able to do it Where the ends of the binding meet, just leave a centimetre outside the actual quilt.

Then fold the binding again, and tuck around the edge. Pin safely. The end corner is not very hard: and the other corners are now easy:

Stitching along the binding

Pin safely. If you now sew just inside the fold, on the front, you should be able to sew through the folded binding on the back side, creating an almost invisible seam on the front, and a seam visible near the edge of the binding on the back.

And now you are Done!

For the really ambitious, you can consider tagging the back with date, and name, so that future generations will have some clues about your masterpiece - because it will be an heirloom!

1In UK, this is known as 'wadding'. The author learned about quilting in the USA, which is reflected here.

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