First Full-Sized Quilting Experience

  • Difficulty Rating: Intermediate
First Full-Sized Quilting Experience

My son recently decided he was ready to redecorate his room. At age 8, he's beginning to feel the need to be more independent and have a say in choices that affect him.

We decorated his room with a cowboy theme when he was around 3 and he was ready to break away from his baby days.

We talked about what he wanted. After I ruled out black walls (or repainting period) and camouflage fabric, we agreed on keeping the bedding non-themed with a red, white, and blue color scheme. Doing so, it could fit in with whatever he was interested at the time allowing us to easily change his room with accessories as he desires over the next few years.

My son is maturing and testing new waters and I thought it was time I tried that myself. In the past, whenever I wanted a new quilt I simply told my mother-in-law what I wanted and she made it for me. She's been a quilter since she was a very young girl and loves to reminisce of the hours she spent with her grandmother learning. Her quilts are made entirely by hand, from the piecing to the quilting. While I admire the skill and beauty of a quilt made entirely by hand, I'm not patient enough to piece mine by hand when I know a machine can do a job, which won't be seen by anyone, much faster. I decided to combine the efficiency of using the machine to piece my quilt and the beauty of hand stitching by hand quilting some of it.

I've made several wall quilts so I felt confident I could start with something a little more advanced than a basic patchwork quilt. However, with it being my first full-sized quilt, I didn't want to make the design too complicated and risk becoming frustrated with the amount of time needed to complete it.
After looking through many books and ideas online, I adapted a quilt from the book Quilts In the Sun by Kaffe Fassett to fit my needs. It still has the look of a patchwork quilt, which I love. Piecing each block together, rather than using a single square of fabric, provides a frame around each block making it slightly more advanced. I thought I would share the process of making my first quilt, including both the successes and the mistakes I made.

will's quilt piecing 1

For this sample block, to make understanding how the frames are constructed easier, I used 2 different fabrics. For the actual quilt, I used the same fabric on all 4 sides of the frame. I began by stitching the 2 shorter rectangles of fabric to the sides of the square center panel. Next I stitched the longer rectangles to the top and bottom of the center panel (and the now attached sides).

will's quilt piecing 2

Once the pieces for the block were stitched together, I used the 45mm Comfort Grip Rotary Cutter and the 6.5 x 24.5 inch Acrylic Ruler, along with the grid on the 18.5 x 24 inch cutting mat to square it up.

will's quilt piecing 3

Beginning with square blocks, combined with careful, accurate sewing of my seams made aligning the squares and stitching them together a piece of cake.

will's quilt basting

When it came to basting the quilt, I read many different opinions on whether it was best to use safety pins or to use hand basting. Reading that safety pins would add a lot of weight to the quilt, making it more difficult to maneuver when machine quilting, I settled on hand basting. Since the basting alone took me an entire day to complete, I've decided I'll try safety pins next time and make my decision on which method I prefer to use from that point based on my own experiences.

will's quilt machine quilting

After basting the quilt, I completed the machine quilting. I kept the quilting extremely simple, using straight lines only that ran parallel to my seams.
Having worked with small quilts before, I knew using a regular presser foot on my machine caused my top layer to pass through the machine differently than the bottom layer. This caused the layers to get misaligned and often times, even with stopping periodically to raise the presser foot to relieve the tension on the fabric, I'd end up with bunched up fabric on my top layer by the time I reached the edge of my quilt. I invested in a walking foot for my machine and I had no problems with the material bunching up. It was a great investment!

Instead of dragging along the fabric the way a presser foot normally does, the walking foot is designed to feed the top layer of fabric through, just as the feed dogs of the machine do for the bottom layer.

will's quilt machine quilting 2

I started off with great results!

will's quilt machine quilting 3

I also had some not-so-great results.

will's quilt machine quilting 4

I progressed to downright awful results and found myself considering my earlier success beginner's luck. I'd lost the nice even stitch length I started with. In fact, my stitches weren't even distinguishable. I ripped out stitching, restitched, and ripped out more until I'd used an entire spool of thread. In frustration, I took my machine and the quilt to our local quilting shop and asked someone more experienced to try quilting on my machine. She immediately diagnosed my machine with a tension problem and referred me to a machine repairman. I was relieved to hear there was still hope, that it might not be impossible for me to learn to machine quilt! I also learned I should have asked for help a lot sooner rather than spending a day becoming so discouraged.

will's quilt machine quilting

The hand quilting stage went much smoother. It was a slow process, taking me nearly an hour to quilt each star. There are 30 stars on the quilt so I did a lot of quilting while watching TV. Small stitches are desirable but this being my first quilt, even stitching was my focus this time around. Hopefully my stitches will become smaller the more I practice.

I did not transfer my pattern to my quilt with a writing implement, nor did I use freezer paper to create a temporary template, both of which are common ways to assist a quilter in stitching desired shapes and patterns on a quilt. I followed the advice found in the book One Line At A Time by Charlotte Warr Andersen and printed my template on a full-sheet sticky label with peel-off backing. This worked wonderfully!

will's quilt binding

When it came time to do the binding, I cut my binding on the bias (cut at a 45 degree angle to the selvedge) of the fabric rather than the cross grain (90 degrees to the selvedge) or the lengthwise grain (parallel to the selvedge). While binding cut on the bias is a more involved process, I wanted the durability it provides so sacrificing extra time was worth it to me. I tried a process new to me that allows you to sew only 2 seams to create yards and yards of continuous bias binding rather than cutting individual strips and sewing them together one at a time. It took some time to follow and understand the directions but, now that I've done it once, is a process that will definitely save time in the future.

Attaching the binding seemed to go smoothly until I reached the end and discovered I had gotten it twisted on itself slightly. I realized that in my effort to be consistent and hand stitch the folded edge of the binding down at the exact same distance from machine stitched line (you can see it peeking out from under the binding between the clips), I didn't consider that the machine stitched line was not perfect all the way around the quilt, nor was the binding folded perfectly in half all the way around. It had gotten off slightly as I stitched it to the quilt initially. I should have followed the natural tendency the binding wanted to lay as I folded it over to the back of the quilt rather than forcing it to lay as I wanted it to. It's not a mistake that drastically affects the look of the quilt and no one else is likely to notice but it's still a lesson learned for future quilts!

I should mention these binding/hem clips are fabulous! They are much quicker to use than pinning and you don't get stuck by pins as you maneuver the quilt.

will's quilt finished

Once I finished the binding and laid the quilt out on my son's bed, the smile on his face and his excitement about sleeping under it the first night made all the time invested and the discouraging moments during the process completely worth dealing with. If you're timid about making your first quilt for fear of making mistakes, I hope you'll decide to give it a try. Keep in in mind that while your quilts might not be perfect as you're learning, someone in your life is going to enjoy and appreciate the end result!

Supply List

Fabrics suggested in chosen quilt instructions, thread for piecing, thread for basting, thread for quilting, full-sheet sticky label with peel-off backing, needles, walking foot for sewing machine