Sewing with Kids – Setting the Stage

Welcome to the first post in a series of tips on how to help your kids build some basic sewing skills while developing a love for stitching and growing a deeper connection with you in the process.

There’s a lot to cover, so the series will be split into four segments:

  1. Setting the Stage
  2. Hand Embroidery
  3. Machine Sewing
  4. First Projects

I’m so glad you’re interested in teaching a kiddo how to sew. It takes a bit of time and a lot of patience, but seeing a child’s eyes light up with joy as they build a life skill makes it worth the effort!


Setting the Stage for Successful Sewing

#1 – Know Your “Why”

Before you even pick up a needle or thread your machine, take some time to think about why you’re considering starting on the “teaching my kids to sew” journey. Knowing why you’re doing what you’re doing makes it easier to follow through with love and patience when things get tough, boring, or frustrating. It also lays the groundwork for how you’ll respond to your child when mistakes are made, as they often will be.

Are you looking to teach a basic life skill? Build connection with your child? Grow in patience yourself and teach patience to your student? Teach an art form? Aim for perfection in a particular skill or project? Some (or all) of the above?

This might seem like a silly, tedious exercise, but having explored your motivations will make the teaching process smoother, gentler, and more focused on your main goal. Whether that’s a set of highly skilled little fingers or a heart full of stitching memories.

You might find, too, that the only reason you’re thinking of teaching your child to sew is that you feel like you “should”. Speaking from experience, doing things simply because there’s some invisible “should” burden you, someone else, or society has placed on your shoulders, doesn’t lead to a great learning (or relationship building) experience.

Someone out there needs to hear this: You don’t need to teach your kiddos how to sew. They’ll be just fine with all of the other skills and love you pour into their lives!

If your “why” isn’t centered on a “should”, though, keep reading for more tips on creating a calm, confidence-building sewing experience with your kids!


#2 – Be Realistic

Have a realistic outlook and goal(s).

If you’re teaching a young child to hand sew, it’s not going to look perfect. If you’re teaching an older child how to use a sewing machine, the lines aren’t always going to be straight.

Please don’t expect perfection, especially at the beginning of the learning process. I’ve been sewing for years now, after learning as an adult, and I *still* don’t sew everything correctly. I suspect I never will.

You’re setting yourself and your budding stitcher up for major frustration and disappointment if you expect too much too soon.


#3 – Decide on Your Response

Considering the tips from the last two days will help you with today’s exercise: Decide ahead of time how you’ll respond.

If your child makes a mistake, how will you respond? When your student gets frustrated and wants to give up, how will you respond? When life gets hectic and you feel distracted and rushed during a sewing session, how will you respond?

Make the decision now to respond with patience and encouragement and you’ll be more likely to actually respond like that in the moment.

Note that I said “more likely”. Also don’t be hard on yourself when you respond negatively during a heated moment. Take a breath, take a break, model apologizing (if necessary), forgiveness (if necessary), and pick that needle back up with a fresh start the next time.


#4 – Use the Right Tools

Use the right tools. They make everything easier! Here are some of my favorites.

(The following contains affiliate links. While I appreciate your support of my small business by purchasing through these links, I always encourage people to check with their local quilt shops first!)

Handsewing:

Machine sewing:


#5 – Start with the Basics

Start with the basics. And stay with them until mastered (whatever “mastered” means to you).

For hand sewing, the basics are running stitch and then backstitch and whipstitch. For machine sewing, the basics are pinning, sewing straight lines, then pivoting at corners.

You can do lots of projects with just these basic skills! I’ll be sharing specific projects for the last post of this series.


#6 – Limit Distractions

When you sit down to sew with your child, make it easier for the two of you to focus by limiting distractions. If you have a toddler, maybe sew during his naptime. If you have a frequently buzzing phone, turn it on silent. You get the drift.

When I’m rushed and/or focused on other things, I’m more likely to get frustrated and impatient with my kiddos, and I’m betting I’m not alone in that!

With very young children, your sewing sessions won’t last more than 10-15 minutes, especially at the beginning. Carving out 15 minutes to solely focus on your child and the task at hand will set you up for success. Plus, it will plant a small seed in your child’s heart of feeling worthwhile and loved.


#7 – Encourage Independence

Let your child do as much as possible by him or herself.

Mastering a task is a great confidence booster at any age. Resist the urge to prematurely step in and take over when a stitch isn’t straight or your kiddo is doing something differently than you would. Instead, demonstrate and talk through the skill you’re working on, then hand over the needle and step back. You might be surprised!

Of course, help when asked and guide as needed, but encourage your child to fly solo and try to figure out mistakes on her own first.


#8 – Take a Break

Stop before it gets overwhelming.

Overcoming a bit of frustration is good for the brain and the soul but, too much can feel like a brick wall in the middle of the learning process. Learn to read your child’s (and your own!) signs of frustration, so you can stop sewing before the tears start or a blow up happens.

Try to end sewing sessions on a positive note, even when emotions are running high, by saying something like, “I can see this is starting to make you upset. Why don’t we take a break and try again next time? I’m so glad I got to sew with you today!”


#9 – Be Encouraging

Last tip before we get into the specifics of sewing – BE ENCOURAGING!

Teach process over perfection.

Building a life skill takes time, practice, materials, energy, and, most of all, encouragement from people in a child’s life.


Together we can find more ways to reclaim fabric
and breathe meaning, joy, and life into our sewing.


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How to Bind a Quilt Using the Backing

**Check out this post for an overview of our T-Shirt Quilt Sewalong**

In Weeks 6-8 of our “How to Sew a T-Shirt Quilt Series“, we squared, basted, quilted (or tied), and bound our quilts. During these weeks I showed you the more traditional methods of basting, quilting, and binding.

However, as with most of sewing (and life!), there’s more than one way to do something!

In this post I’m going to be showing you how to bind your quilt using the backing. I use this method quite a bit when working with minky backing, because it’s such a forgiving fabric. I know a lot of people get annoyed with its shifting, stretchy nature, but I actually enjoy working with minky! You can use any type of backing material with this method, though.

When using the backing of your quilt for binding, the changes come in all the way back during the basting process:

  1. Square up your quilt top as you normally would (detailed instructions for this are in this post on basting).
  2. Trim your batting so that it is the exact same size as your quilt top.
  3. Trim your backing fabric so that there are 4″ of overhang on each edge of your quilt top (to get this number, add 8″ to the length and 8″ to the width of your top).
  4. Baste and quilt as you normally would.
  5. Follow the steps below for binding.

Trimming

Lay your quilt out on a large, flat surface. (The quilt I’m using for this tutorial was completely sewn by my seven year old – isn’t it adorable??)

**Don’t worry about my backing being two different colors. We had to piece together two pieces of fabric to make a backing large enough for the finished top.

Place your cutting board underneath the quilt sandwich, and find a corner of the quilt that looks the most “square” to your eye.

Using your quilting ruler, line the edge of the quilt top up with the line 1″ away from the edge of the ruler. Trim along the outer edge. This will leave you with a 1″ overhang of backing fabric.

Continue shifting your ruler and trimming around one edge of the quilt. You may need to shift your cutting board from time to time as well.

Do this on each side of the quilt, square up the corners as you go.

Once you make it all the way around, trim the final corner and you’re ready to bind!


Binding

Remove the cutting board and make sure the quilt is laying flat. Starting on one edge, fold the overhanging backing fabric in half lengthwise so that the edge of the backing fabric meets the edge of the quilt.

Fold the backing fabric in half again so that it overlaps that quilt top by about 1/2 an inch. Pin or clip in place.

Continue folding and pinning all the way down the first straight edge.

Leave a few inches unclipped on both sides of the corners.

Hold one edge out flat while keeping the other edge folded over on itself twice.

Fold down the corner of the folded backing so that it creates a 45 degree angle and is lined up with the edge of the quilt top.

Fold the still flattened edge inward twice to complete the mitered corner. (The first fold will bring the edge of the backing fabric to the edge of the quilt top. The second fold will bring the backing fabric up over the quilt top and in line with the rest of the binding.)

Pin on clip to secure. You can see I use a lot of clips on this part!

Repeat these steps all the way around the quilt top. I used a ton of clips because I was working with a minky backing, and I’m an “overclipper” by nature.


Sewing

You’re now ready to start sewing down the binding. You can do this by hand or machine. I’ll be showing you how to sew it down with your machine in this post because this is a blanket that will be getting lots of use and washing!

Attach a walking foot to your sewing machine. Beginning along one of the straight edges, sew 1/8″ away from the interior folded edge of the binding, backstitching to start. Continue along the straight edge until you reach the first corner.

You have a couple of options when you reach the corner. You can do a simple pivot and continue along the next edge. Or you can reach the corner fold, pivot halfway, take a few stitches up and down that fold, then come back to 1/8″ away from the next edge and continue stitching.

I take those extra stitches along the fold to add a little bit more strength to the stitching there, but it’s not strictly necessary.

Continue stitching along all four sides, backstitching when you reach you first stitches.

Trim any loose threads and your quilt is complete!

If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to comment on this post or message me on Facebook or Instagram. I love having a chance to help people find joy and new skills in sewing!


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How to Bind a Quilt – T-Shirt Quilt Series Week 8

**Check out this post for the series overview and printable checklist!**

In Week 8 of our T-Shirt Quilt Sewalong, it’s finally time to finish and bind our quilts!

First, a few notes about choosing a binding fabric. I use quilting cotton for the quilt in this tutorial, which is the most commonly used material for binding and probably the easiest to work with. As far as color choices go, the sky is the limit. My backing fabric is black and my quilt top is multicolored. I often just use my backing fabric for binding, but there wasn’t enough left this time, so I chose a neutral-ish fabric instead. You can do whatever color/pattern you like with you backing and top!


Making the Binding

Once you choose a fabric, cut 2.5″ wide strips to a length equaling the perimeter of your quilt plus 20″ inches. You can get this measurement by adding your quilt’s length + length + width + width + 20.

Unless your quilt is very small, getting enough binding will require piecing together the 2.5″ wide strips until you get to the length you need. To sew the strips into binding, place two strips right sides together perpendicular to each other (as shown below). It might be a good idea to iron yours a bit better than I did mine here :).

Draw a line with a washable marker or pen from outside corner on the top fabric to the outside corner on the bottom fabric (making a 45 degree angle). Clip or pin in place then sew along the line you drew.

Open the fabric to ensure you sewed correctly, then trim off the excess fabric triangle.

Press the seam open. Continue sewing strips together until you get to the length that you need. Make sure you’re always sewing right sides together!

Now that you have a super long strip, fold it in half along the length WRONG sides together and press. Now you’re *almost* ready to bind!


Squaring

Before sewing on the binding, you’ll need to trim off the excess batting and backing from your quilt sandwich and square it up one more time. Check out this post for a a refresher on how to square a quilt top.


Binding

Now, you’ll need to decide which side you want to sew your binding on. For this quilt, I sewed the binding on the backing side first, then wrapped it around to the front and used my machine to sew it down. This will leave a line of stitching on the backing. You can sew it on the opposite way, too, and have the bobbin stitching on the front instead, like in this post.

Whatever you decide, leave a 10″ tail and then start clipping on your binding. Line up the raw edge of the binding fabric with the raw edge of the quilt (front or back depending on the look you’re going for).

Put on your sewing machine’s walking foot and start sewing with a 1/4″ seam allowance, backstitching to start. Leave that 10″ tail loose. Continue sewing until you near the first corner. When you get a few inches away from the corner, put a small mark 1/4″ away from the end using a washable marker or pen. Then continue stitching until you reach that mark, where you’ll backstitch and cut your thread.

Pull the quilt out from under the presser foot. Fold the unstitched portion back on itself at a 45 degree angle like in the picture below.

Keeping that 45 degree crease, fold the binding back on itself again so that it forms a square lining up with the corner of the quilt.

Clip several inches of the loose binding to the quilt, raw edges flush, after the corner. This will leave a fabric flap at the corner, as shown below.

Press the flap down and put a mark 1/4″ away from the edge on unsewn side. Backstitch at that mark to start, then continue sewing with a 1/4″ seam allowance.

Here’s a photo of where to start stitching on the second side.

Continue sewing that entire side until the next corner. Repeat this process at the three other corners.

When you’re about 12″ from where you first started sewing, backstitch and cut your thread. You’ll have two loose tails of binding and about 12″ of unsewn space on the quilt.

Time to sew the loose tails together so the binding is continuous around the entire quilt. In this tutorial, I use a cheater’s method. Seasoned quilters may develop an eye twitch when reading on. For the traditional method, check out this post.

Okay, for the cheater’s method fold back your loose tails so that the folds meet along the edge of the quilt and lie flush with one another.

Trim off the excess fabric, leaving a couple of inches on each tail.

Open one tail and fold the short edge back on itself (wrong sides together) about half an inch. This doesn’t need to be exact. Press into place.

Place the opposite binding tail inside the long fold of the loose tail you just pressed.

Clip the binding in place along the raw edge of the quilt.

Sew it down with a 1/4″ seam allowance, completing the continuous binding.

Flip the quilt over and pull the folded edge of the binding up and over the raw edge of the quilt. This will encase all the raw edges.

Clip in place along the first straight edge.

Sew as close to the folded edge of the binding fabric as possible. 1/8″ works well here. The goal is to sew to the left of the stitch line you just created sewing the raw edge of the binding.

Pause, needle down, when you come to each corner. Do not cut your thread. Your corner should look like the photo below, with the folded edges of the binding fabric popping up around the corner of the quilt.

Fold the right edge of the corner down, as shown below.

Then fold the bottom edge up, creating a mitered corner. Clip the fabric in place and continue sewing along the edge of the folded binding fabric, keeping your needle down and pivoting at the corner.

Continue around the entire quilt, backstitching at the end, and you’re all done!

I’m happy to answer questions about binding your t-shirt quilt in the blog comments or on Facebook/Instagram. It’s been great sewing along with you all!


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How to Machine Quilt – T-Shirt Quilt Series Week 7

**Check out this post for the series overview and printable checklist!**

It’s finally time to quilt our quilts! Or tie them. Whichever you prefer.

Which brings up our first topic: How do you decide whether to permanently bind together your quilt sandwich with stitching or tying?

Quilting means you’ll be using your machine (or hand sewing if you’re like some awesome people in my life) to stitch your quilt top, batting, and backing together. This can give a longer life to your blanket as the stitching generally holds up better when washed frequently. However, machine quilting takes a longer time than tying, can be difficult with a large quilt on a domestic machine, and you’ll need a walking foot for the best results.

When tying a quilt, you’ll use yarn or embroidery floss to tie knots 6-12″ apart across your quilt sandwich. All you’ll need is your hands, thread, and a large needle (I use a chenille size 20 or so) to get through all the layers.

For the t-shirt quilt I’ve been working on during this particular sewalong, I decided to machine quilt, so that’s what this tutorial includes. However, here’s a great post if you’d rather tie yours, and I also have all of the steps on the T-Shirt Quilt Action Plan Checklist! Perhaps I’ll be back someday with my own “tying tutorial”.

Machine Quilting

Some things to think about before starting the quilting process:

  1. Make sure your sewing space is large enough that your quilt won’t hang off the edge too much, creating tension or drag when going through your machine.
  2. Check out which type of needle you’re using. I used a ballpoint 80/20 for this quilt because both the top and backing fabrics are knit.
  3. Attach a walking foot to your sewing machine if you have one. This keeps the fabric layers from shifting and stretching as you quilt.
  4. Adjust your stitch length. I go up one to two stitch lengths for quilting (compared to piecing).
  5. Decide what type of quilting you’ll be doing. For patchwork quilts, I always stitch in the ditch to start and do a simple motif to let the t-shirts or memorial fabric shine. But there are loads of walking foot designs out there and free motion tutorials here and here if you’re interested in those!

Now, off to the races!

As I mentioned above, I like to stitch in the ditch to start off patchwork quilts. That means stitching in each seam. For this quilt, I’ll stitch the three long seams top to bottom, and the 4 long seams side to side. Many quilters stitch the middle seam top to bottom, then the middle seam side to side, before quilting the rest. This is called anchoring your quilt. I live dangerously and just do whichever seams I feel like in whichever order seems easiest at the time.

To get started, decide which seam (or area if you’re not stitching in the ditch) you’re going to sew first. Roll up both sides of the quilt and leave just that area exposed. Roll tightly enough that the quilt roll can easily fit through the throat of your machine. I often also roll up the side that’s on the opposite side of the machine for easier handling.

Alternatively, you can just roll up the side that will be by the machine and leave the rest of the quilt in a pool on the table. I go back and forth with which method I prefer.

Whichever you choose, toss the bulk of the quilt over your shoulder or on your lap to start your first seam. You may want to go slowly at first because the quilt will feel heavy as it begins to feed under the presser foot.

Stitch with the needle hitting on the lower side of the seam (the side that does not have the fabric pressed to the side under it) when possible. It won’t always be possible.

When my points aren’t perfect (gasp) as you see above, I jog over in the ditch by shifting my quilt sideways and stitching along the off centered point until I hit the seam again that I’m currently sewing. You could just keep stitching straight and pretend like that imperfect point isn’t there, though ;).

Speaking of quilty imperfections, you might want to go a little more slowly than I did here when stitching along your seams. It takes longer, for sure, to keep that pedal speed down, BUT you’re less likely to end up with wandering stitches like in the photo above.

Once you’ve stitched all of the seams, that might be enough quilting if your blocks are small enough! However, the packing on the batting I used told me to keep my quilt line no more than 8″ apart. My blocks are 12″ each, so I had to add in some more quilting. I decided on a simple crisscross pattern through each of the blocks. To keep my lines straight, I used a water soluble pen and my trusty ruler to draw the lines just where I wanted them.

Time to roll the quilt on the diagonal and sew a bunch more lines.

Don’t worry if your t-shirts start to look crinkly during this process. There’s a lot of rolling and creasing going on, but the quilt will wash up nicely after. If you’re seeing a lot of dragging along the quilting lines, though, that might indicate that you didn’t baste taughtly enough or your need to less the pressure of your presser foot.

All done! That’s a lot of X’s. My kids would call this “crisscross applesauce”.

It may be stretchy and leave a lot of fluff around the house after cutting it, but I love a good minky quilt back. *Happy sigh*

Now it’s hanging out on our spare bed, waiting to be bound. Until then, I’m happy to answer questions about quilting or tying your t-shirt quilt in the blog comments. Come back next week for our last mission – binding!

Next Post >> Week 8 – Binding


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How to Baste Your Quilt – T-Shirt Quilt Series Week 6

**Check out this post for the series overview and printable checklist!**

In Week 6 of our T-Shirt Quilt Sewalong, we’re going to square up our quilt tops and baste together a quilt sandwich.

I like to do both of these steps on my kitchen floor. Not only does it give me enough space to completely spread out my quilt, but it forces me to do a thorough mopping first because I don’t want my hard work getting dirty. Win win :).

You can use a table, too. Just make sure that, if the quilt top has to hang over the edge of the table, it’s not creating any tension in the fabric which could cause your cutting or basting to be off.

Okay, on to squaring up the top you’ve worked on diligently for the past few weeks!


Squaring

First, lay the quilt top out on a flat surface. (Isn’t it handy that my kitchen floor has straight lines already on it??)

Bring your cutting board, ruler, and rotary cutter down to the floor (or on to the table). Choose a corner to start with. I like to start with the corner that looks the most “square” or even. Try to line up the edge of the top with a line on your cutting board if possible. Next, line up your ruler with a seam, the long edge along where you’ll make your first cut.

Take a deep breath and trim off any fabric that does not line up. It might just be a tiny amount, but it can make a big difference in the end!

Shift your cutting board, if necessary, and continue trimming around the edges of the quilt. Keep about 10″ of your ruler flush with the straight line you’ve already cut each time to ensure you’re keeping everything nice and lined up.

At each corner, line your ruler up both with a seam further down the quilt and with the corner you already cut. This will make for a square corner.

Once you’ve trimmed all the way around the quilt top, fold it over on itself. If it’s a patchwork top, you can line up all of the seams with one another and double check that all of the sides lie flush when folded.

You’re now ready to baste.


Basting

Basting is how you make a “quilt sandwich” so you’re able to quilt or tie your blanket without the fabric bunching and shifting. A quilt sandwich is your backing fabric on the bottom, batting in the middle, and your quilt top on top. You want the backing fabric to be 8-10″ wider and longer than the quilt top. Your batting should be 4-6″ wider than your top. This will give you ample space in case your quilt top shifts.

In other words, don’t do what I did in the photo below. The price was right, and I bought a quilt backing that was less than 2″ wider than my quilt top. It turned out okay in the end, but it was a stressful basting session ;).

You’ll need a roll of painter’s tape and spray adhesive and/or safety pins.

Lay your backing fabric right side down on your basting surface. Use the painter’s tape to tape down the edges. Make sure the fabric is smooth and pulled far enough that there aren’t any wrinkles, but softly enough that you’re not causing any tension in the fabric.

Grab your batting and shake out any wrinkles. I actually will lay my batting out flat on a bed for a day or two before using it. This releases some of the wrinkles from packaging.

When I’m basting a small quilt (this one is 48″ x 60″), I lay the entire piece of batting on top of the backing, then fold back half. If you are doing a larger quilt, I highly recommend using a pool noodle or small board to roll out the batting and quilt top instead. Here’s a great tutorial I’ve had success with for that method.

Once half of the batting is folded back, use spray adhesive to spray both the uncovered backing and the batting. Carefully lay the folded batting back down on the backing fabric, smoothing out any wrinkles as you go. Repeat with the other half of the batting.

Once the batting is secured, repeat the process with your quilt top on top of the batting. If you quilt is small enough, you can use the same method and fold back half of your quilt top or you can roll your top onto your batting and spray row by row.

A couple of things will make this process easier. First, take your time and go slowly. Smooth out wrinkles as you go along. The adhesive isn’t permanent, so you can also lift up the top (or batting) and easily reposition it if things get wonky.

Second, pay attention to your seams. If all of your long seams are pressed the same way it will be easier for you to make sure they’ll be laying flat as the top is basted into place row by row.

Finally, use your fingers to check the seams to make sure they’re laying properly. You can press them into place as needed.

And there’s your quilt sandwich! You can start quilting with it just like this. Since I used a stretchy minky backing as well as a t-shirt top, though, I like to add some pins in as well. Some people purely spray baste, some purely pin baste. I do both when things are stretchy and prone to shirting! A little extra time at the beginning can save a lot of frustration at the end.

Since we’ve already spray basted, you don’t need to put your pins as close together as if you weren’t purely pin basting. I like to do one in each block around the sides and then fill in one or two a block in the middle sections.

Here’s a timelapse video of me basting a memory quilt. I didn’t use any batting for this one because I had a heavy back and a heavy top, and I used a pool noodle to lay out my top because it was so big!

I’m happy to answer questions about basting your t-shirt quilt in the blog comments or on Facebook. “See” you next week when we start quilting!

Next Post >> Week 7 – Quilting


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How to Assemble the Quilt Top – Part 2 – T-Shirt Quilt Series Week 5

**Check out this post for the series overview and printable checklist!**

It’s Week 5 of our T-Shirt Quilt Sewalong! Time stitch together those rows you sewed last week and finish your quilt top.

First things first, no matter which layout design you’ve chosen, lay your sewn rows out on a floor or table to double check three things:

  1. All rows are the same length.
  2. You have the rows in the order you want them sewn.
  3. Your seams are pressed in the correct direction. (For patchwork quilts, you want the direction to alternate by row.)

Now, find your layout design below for specific instructions on the next steps!

Quick Note: As with last week, you’ll be using a 1/4″ seam allowance for all of your sewing. If you’re new to quilting, here’s a great tutorial for how to get a consistent 1/4″ seam.


Simple Patchwork & Other Layouts with Consistent Blocks Widths

For a standard patchwork quilt, or an uneven rows/columns quilt or pieced patchwork quilt that has blocks of equal width, make sure your rows have seams pressed in alternating directions. Check out the photo below for a good visual. This is an important step for matching up the seams and blocks when the rows are sewn together.

With your top row still laying face up, flip your second row up and over to lay face down on top of it. This will put their right sides together.

Now you’re going to “nest” the seams. Line up where the rows’ seams meet and make sure they’re flush with one another. You may need to apply a little pressure with your fingers until you feel the seams nest together. Make sure all of the seams along the side you’ll be sewing match together like the one below.

512

Use a clip or a pin to keep these seams nested while you clip the rest of the row before sewing.

Clip or pin along the rest of the side to be sewn. I use a lot of clips when sewing with knit fabrics. Even if they’re stabilized, they shift a bit more than a regular quilting cotton!

Quick Note: I like to stop here and pull back the top row for a quick check that I’ll be sewing along the correct side. I’ve been known to pin the wrong seams together!

Sew along the clipped edge, slowing down when you get to your nested seams. I like to sew with the top seam facing away from me. This allows me to pause and make sure the seam allowance doesn’t get flipped under itself when it passes under the presser foot.

Sew slowly over the seam. Whichever side you have up, make sure the seam allowance stays flat under the presser foot.

After you’ve sewn the entire row, press the new long seam in one direction. The back of your top should look like the photo below with seams pressed in alternating directions row by row, but the long seams all pressed in the same direction. Pressing all of your long seams in the same direction makes for an easier basting process down the road!

Hopefully, when you open your rows, you’ll end up with some pretty points! Not all of your seams will match perfectly, though. Well, unless you go super slowly, check your trimming a million times, and don’t have either a preteen keeping a constant stream of conversation in your ear or a toddler on your lap.

Don’t get discouraged if it’s not perfect. Sometimes little imperfections bring the handmade touch to your project. The point, here, is to sew joyfully!


Uneven Rows or Columns with Varying Block Widths

Some of the above steps do not apply if your quilt doesn’t have seams that need to match up. If you’ve chosen an Uneven Columns with Varying Block Heights/Widths or a Wonky Pieced Patchwork Layout (both shown below), you don’t need to worry about nesting your seams and making perfect points. That’s part of why I love these layouts!

For these types of quilt tops, lay the rows down in order after you sew them to see where you seams will line up. You can always change around what order your rows are laid out in to avoid having seams match. Last week you chose whether to press these seams open or to one side. Either way works.

Now, once you ensure all rows are the same length (and adjust by trimming if necessary), pin your rows together and sew with a 1/4″ seam allowance, row by row. Afterwards, press your newly sewn seams open or in one direction as described in the patchwork method above.

Next Steps

That’s all for this week! Next time we’ll talk about how to square up your quilt top and baste it for quilting or tying.


For another take on the Pieced Patchwork method, I took some of my t-shirt scraps and smaller logos to make a mini quilt top I’ll be turning into a pillow cover. Here’s a quick video of how I worked from scraps to a completed top.

Next Post >> Week 6 – Basting


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How to Start Assembling the Quilt Top – T-Shirt Quilt Series Week 4

**Check out this post for the series overview and printable checklist!**

By now, you have your t-shirts cut and stabilize, your layout finalized, and your blocks trimmed to the exact size you need.    

Time to *finally* start sewing!

This week we’re going to start sewing the t-shirt blocks into rows.  Next week we’ll sew those rows together and finish the top.

Quick Note: You’ll be using a 1/4″ seam allowance for all of your sewing this week and next. If you’re new to quilting, here’s a great tutorial for how to get a consistent 1/4″ seam.


Simple Patchwork

There are lots of wonderfully done tutorials (like this one) out there for how to sew up a patchwork quilt, so I’m not going to make you read through a ton of directions here, too. Quite simply, this week for your patchwork t-shirt quilt top, you’ll be sewing you blocks into their rows. Make sure to use a consistent 1/4″ seam allowance as mentioned above. Once you have your rows, press the seam allowances to get ready to finish assembling the top next week. You want to alternate the direction you press the seams row by row. I added arrows below to give you a visual.

Then that’s all for this week! Next week we’ll talk about techniques for sewing the rows together and finishing your top.


Uneven Rows or Columns

If all of your blocks are the same width, following the patchwork directions above to sew your blocks into rows using a 1/4″ seam allowance. Because all of your blocks are the same width, you’ll want to alternate the direction you press the seams row by row. This will give you nice “points” where your blocks come together next week. I added arrows below to give you a visual.

One nice thing about this layout is that all of your blocks don’t have to actually be the same width. As long as all of the blocks in your rows are the same height, you can sew as many different widths together as you need to end up with equal rows. This gives you the opportunity to use a wide variety of logo sizes!

Quick Note: You can also flip this layout on its side and have blocks that are all the same width within their respective rows, but varying heights instead.

For this layout, you still start by sewing your blocks into rows using a 1/4″ seam allowance. Lay the rows down in order after you sew them to see where you seams will line up. If you discover that, like in the picture below, you don’t have seams lining up directly with the seams in the rows directly above or below, you don’t need to worry about which way you press your seams! You can always change around what order your rows are laid out in to avoid having seams match up.

Once your blocks are sewn into rows and pressed, that’s all for this week! Next week we’ll talk about techniques for sewing the rows together and finishing your top.


Pieced Patchwork

A pieced patchwork top will take a little bit more time, but the variety in layouts guarantees you a unique quilt! This week, start by assembling your smaller pieces into their larger blocks (the circled sections in the image below). Follow up by measuring and trimming as needed to get to your final block size. Make sure to press these blocks well before trimming for an accurate measure. 

Once you have your smaller pieces sewn together, sew your blocks into rows. Finally, you can press your seams alternating directions or you can press them open if they feel too bulky where the blocks meet.

Here’s a quick video of how I sew my blocks into rows!

I’m happy to answer questions about sewing your t-shirt quilt top, just send me an email or comment below!

Next Post >> Week 5 -Quilt Top Assembly Part 2


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DIY Quilt Block Template – Trimming Made Easy!

There are endless types of quilting rulers out there. One in every shape and size imaginable.

But even if you’re tired and frustrated with trying to line up quilt blocks using the simple straight ruler that came with your cutting mat, you don’t need to go out and buy a new ruler size or shape. Try this DIY template first!

I like to make my own template when working with patchwork quilts that require multiple fabric cuts all in the same size. It’s been especially helpful during t-shirt quilting when I need to center graphics. All you need is a firm medium such as a cereal or cardboard box, manila folder, cardstock, or any other thick paper. I used a manila folder for this 5″ x 5″ template.

First, use a straight edge ruler to trace the block size you’d like. Don’t forget to add in your seam allowance in your measurements here if you haven’t already.

Second, cut the cardboard down to your desired block size.

Third, draw two lines. One across the center of the block lengthwise and and one across the center of the block widthwise.

Finally, for easy centering with your DIY template, cut a hole in the direct center of the cardboard so you can see design placement. I use my rotary cutter to make my centering hole. If you don’t want to risk dulling your blade, you can use scissors. And if you don’t want a hole in the middle, just use the lines you already drew to help with the centering process.

My 5” self made template with a centering hole is shown below. It makes centering and cutting a lot faster! This trick works, too, if you don’t have a rotary cutter. Simply trace around the cardboard template with a marker or pen and then use scissors to cut along the straight lines you drew.

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How to Stabilize Knit Fabric – T-shirt Quilt Series Week 3

**Check out this post for the series overview and printable checklist!**

Time to stabilize, finalize your layout, and trim down those blocks! This part is a bit tedious, so throw on some good music or your favorite podcast while chugging away.


How to Stabilize Your Shirts

If you haven’t decided how/if to stabilize your shirts, read this post on how to choose the best method for your quilt.  After you’ve chosen a stabilizing method, find its tutorial and short video below.


None.  No video needed.  Just trim your shirts down to the size you want and get to work! I highly recommend using a walking foot on your sewing machine for this method.


Tissue paper.  Try this on fabric scraps first before committing!  Use the cut off sleeves of your t-shirts for practice.

  1. I recommend putting a walking foot on your sewing machine.
  2. Grab a piece of tissue paper.  It doesn’t have to be new, just make sure the color is light enough that you’ll be able to see the edge of your fabric through it.
  3. Place the piece of tissue paper under your knit fabric (flush with your seam), between the fabric and the feed dogs.  OR sandwich your knit fabric between two pieces of tissue paper.
  4. Sew your seam as normal.
  5. Rip the tissue paper out of the threads when you’re done.

Starch.  Try this on fabric scraps first before committing!  Use the cut off sleeves of your t-shirts for practice.

  1. Choose a heavy-duty starch.
  2. Starch each shirt piece two or three times, letting the starch fully dry between applications.
  3. Attach a walking foot to your sewing machine before sewing seams together.

Sew-in interfacing.  This is an inexpensive method, but time consuming.  Try it out with scraps before committing!

  1. Attach a walking foot to your sewing machine.
  2. Trim each shirt piece and interfacing piece with an extra ½” or more margin.
  3. If you are using quilting cotton as your sew-in interfacing, make sure you choose a color/pattern that will not show through your shirts.
  4. Place your t-shirt piece right side up on top of your interfacing.  Pin in place or use a spray adhesive to hold the pieces together for sewing.
  5. Sew the t-shirt design and interfacing together.  You can sew an “X” from corner to corner, a grid, or an all over free-motion design. If you’re hesitant about the thread showing, you can use invisible thread!
  6. Trim the sewn piece down to the desired size for your quilt block.

Fusible interfacing.  Fusible interfacing comes in different weights and has a bumpy side, which is actually little dots of glue.  See this post for more info on interfacing types.

  1. Trim each shirt piece with an extra ½” or more margin. 
  2. Trim each interfacing piece just a tiny bit smaller than the t-shirt square (this will save you from accidentally fusing to your ironing board). 
  3. Lay your t-shirt piece right side (design side) down on your ironing board. 
  4. Lay your interfacing bumpy/glue side down on top of it.  Add a damp cloth to help the glue set better and to save your iron from getting glue gunk on it. 
  5. Make sure everything’s lined up then iron away!  (Follow your specific interfacing’s manufacturer’s instructions for this, of course.) 
  6. Trim your shirt piece down to its desired size once the fabric has cooled.

Layout and Trim Your Blocks

Once you have your t-shirt quilt blocks stabilized, place them in your chosen layout to double check sizing and fit. Make any needed adjustments. You will need to trim down your blocks at this point if you cut them a bit oversized for interfacing like I do.

Use your rotary cutter and mat to make sure you designs are centered before trimming. If your blocks are all the same size, you can even make a cutting template out of a cereal or cardboard box, manila folder, cardstock, or any other firm paper to make this go more quickly! Just cut the cardboard down to your desired block size and trim around it. For easy centering with your cardboard template, cut a hole in the direct center of the cardboard so you can see design placement. My 5” self made template is shown below. It makes cutting a lot faster!

**Here’s a quick tutorial on making your own template for more in-depth instructions.**

The cardboard template trick works, too, if you don’t have a rotary cutter. You can trace around the cardboard with a marker or pen and then use scissors to cut along the straight lines you drew.

Don’t forget, you can check in with me in the comments here (or on Facebook or Instagram) if you have any questions. Happy sewing!

Next Post >> Week 4 – Quilt Top Assembly Part 1


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How to Layout and Cut Shirts – T-Shirt Quilt Series Week 2

**Check out this post for the series overview and printable checklist!**

Once you have all of your supplies gathered and have chosen a stabilizing method, it’s time to get to work! This week we’ll be choosing a layout and cutting our shirts into oversized blocks.


Quilt Layout Basics

To make a rough, but educated, decision on the size and design of your quilt, fold your t-shirts to showcase the design you want from each one and arrange on the floor.  Are you using shirts that all have a large design on the front or back?  Choose a block size that will fit both the largest design and the smallest shirt and make a patchwork quilt with all equal sized blocks.

If you’re hoping to showcase designs of different sizes (perhaps there’s a logo on the sleeve or a smaller design on the back), you can choose one of two layouts with varying block sizes. The first possibility is a layout with uneven rows, but equal columns (or vice versa).

The second is what I call “pieced patchwork”. This layout is kind of like a puzzle pieced together, except done row by row or column by column.  This is my favorite layout because it lets me use a variety of design sizes from shirts, but still isn’t too complicated. 

Choose either the basic patchwork or uneven layout from above, then sew smaller shirt pieces together to get to the block size you’ve decided on.  Some blocks may be just one shirt design, some may be two or more shirts sewn together.  When trimming your shirts for this layout, make sure to adjust your seam allowances depending on how many shirts you’ll be sewing into one block!  For example, if you want to have a finished block size of 10” x 10” for your quilt, you will need a 10.5” x 10.5” quilt block to start with.  When sewing a four patch (four shirts into one block), each small piece will need to be 5.5” x 5.5”.

**Note:  For our sewalong, we’re going to stick with quilt layouts that do not have sashing.  Sashing is a fabric border around each t-shirt quilt block.   If you really like the look of sashing, though, here’s a good tutorial for you!

Once you decide on a layout style, take a picture before picking all of your t-shirts back up.  No matter how much you think you’ll remember the layout, it’s always nice to have a picture to refer back to!

Another way to keep track of your chosen layout (and one that makes it easier to make changes in dimensions) is to sketch it out on a piece of graph paper.  If you don’t have graph paper handy at home, here’s a 1/2″ square printable sheet  or a 1/4″ square printable sheet sheet you can grab.


How to Cut Your Shirts

Once you’ve decided on a block size (or approximate sizes), you can start cutting the shirts down to the pieces you intend to use for your quilt.  The video below shows three ways to start the cutting process.  You can use a pair of scissors or a rotary cutter for this step.  

Make sure to cut the pieces larger than your final block size!  You will be trimming them down later during the stabilizing process.  The goal here is simply to cut off the extra fabric you do not need (usually the back side of the t-shirt).  This makes it easier to lay the designs flat for centering and trimming.

Here is my 3 step process:

  1. Cut off both shirt sleeves, including the sleeve seam.
  2. Cut from hem to armpit on both sides of the shirt.
  3. Cut across the shoulder seams. 

As with the last shirt shown on the video, if you do not have a design on one side of your shirt, you can trim through both the front and back parts of the t-shirt at once using the block size you decided on for your layout for reference.  Trim these blocks a couple of inches bigger than your final block size.  You will be centering and trimming again after stabilizing. 

Cautious types, lay the shirt pieces out again to double check your layout and finalize what size you’d like each piece to be.  Note the size(s) either on a photo you take of the layout or on your grid sheet of paper.  You can skip this step if you’re a risk taker ;).

If you haven’t already, cut the designs out of your shirts with a couple of extra inches on each side.  It’s better to go too big at this point than too small!  You can do this with your rotary cutter and ruler or a pair of scissors.

I’ll be back next week for stabilizing and trimming. Send me a message with any comments or questions in the meantime!

Next Post >> Week 3 – Stabilizing and Trimming


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