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How a Non-Quilter Can Make a Quilt

January  8, 2016

Have you ever gotten the knack of something incredibly simple and felt a surge of accomplishment that leads you to believe you could master something much more complicated as a result? Please say yes.

In my case, I'm quite capable of mending small holes and replacing buttons. In my mind, that translated into an inflated sense of sewing confidence and I decided to make a quilt.

Not my quilt. Photo by Mark Weinberg

My husband and I celebrated our 10th wedding anniversary this past summer. Other than a couple years spent in Japan, our story is set in Ann Arbor, Michigan: We met here, we fell in love here, we bought a house here, our daughter was born here—it is home.

Thus, a quilt mapping out special spots in our beloved city seemed like the perfect way to celebrate a decade of marriage. And because my overconfidence has its limits, the Haptic Lab DIY Quilt Kits* seemed like the way to go for my first foray into quilt-making—it was kismet, since included amongst their offerings of hip cities like Austin, Brooklyn, and Seattle is “the best college town in America.” Their words, not mine (though I agree).

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Top Comment:
“I was just looking at the DIY A2 pattern thinking it would be a perfect gift for Christmas 2017 but I'm a little nervous as I have limited sewing experience. How was this for you as a novice seamstress? Do you think I could power through it with enough patience and determination? Would love to see pics of the final product! Thanks!”
— Madeline
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*Note: This is not a sponsored post, Haptic Lab has no idea who I am, I just happen to like their products.

Gathering supplies, applying the basting spray, and pining on the map template

I chose Haptic Lab’s option of getting the materials along with the map template (shown above, left), so two weeks prior to our July anniversary I opened up my package with cotton fabric (one piece each for the top and the bottom), cotton batting (for the middle), bias tape (for the edges), hand-sewing needles, quilting thread, embroidery thread, and safety pins. If you’d rather, you can also choose just to purchase the map template, and then visit your favorite local sewing shop for supplies. I opted to pick up a few extra colors of quilting and embroidery thread and quilt basting spray, the latter of which isn’t necessary, but as a first-timer, I found it helpful for keeping all of my layers together.

To start: Iron your cotton fabric pieces to get out any wrinkles, and then spread the piece that is going to be the back of the quilt out on a flat surface, like your (clean) floor. Then spread the cotton batting on top of that. If you’re using the basting spray, fold half of the batting back on itself, lightly spray it with basting spray, then fold it back down onto the cotton fabric, and repeat with the other side (shown above, center). You could try to spray all of the batting and put the cotton on it all at once, but even with a small quilt like mine, doing it in two parts helps to ensure smooth surfaces.

Then spread the top piece of cotton fabric over the batting, and again, if using batting spray, attach the top layer of fabric in two steps—first folding the cotton fabric back on itself in half, then spraying the batting, then smoothing the cotton onto the batting, and repeating on the other side. Now that you have a quilt sandwich, spread the map template out over the top​ and secure it to the quilt with safety pins, spaced out across the surface (shown above, right).

Sew many stitches, sew little time.

Now you're ready to start sewing! Work your way from the center, out. It might feel strange at first, but Haptic Lab recommends keeping your weaker hand above your quilt project and your dominant hand below while stitching—you'll sew faster. For the most part, you can make use of two basic stitches, a running stitch and a back stitch (shown above). Plus, each map template has a legend of recommendations for the thread thickness and stitch lengths to use to create different map features and keep your quilt visually interesting.

Burying your knots is a technique that will help keep the back of your quilt looking as tidy as possible. Anytime you're getting near the end of a length of thread, tie a knot in the thread, as close to the fabric​ as you can. Keep the needle threaded, and push the needle back into that layer of fabric and the batting—not all the way through to the other side!—and back up again about an inch or so away. Gently tug on the thread: The knot will go through the fabric and be hidden in the batting layer. Snip off the remaining thread close to the fabric and carry on. Need a visual?

Once you’ve stitched all of the features of your quilt, you can carefully tear away the template (shown below) to reveal the finished sections. If some of your stitches become loose after removing the template, tighten them by gently pulling the thread from the backside.​

Hail to the quilters valiant!

At this point, you can add additional details to the quilt with embroidery stitching. So far I’ve added our house, and I plan to add a few other features as well, like our running route and the locations of previous homes. I’ve stuck with basic straight stitches and back stitches for these, but Haptic Lab points you to Rocksea.org’s picture dictionary for fancier embroidery stitching inspiration. If you want to add in large or elaborate designs, consider using a removable marking tool to sketch them out before you start sewing.

Finally, trim and square up the edges of the quilt as necessary and finish the edges of the quilt by sewing on the bias tape—access to a sewing machine would ideal here. This step isn’t shown, because if you've been reading closely, you caught that I started this quilt two​ weeks before a July anniversary—it’s now January and my quilt still isn’t quite finished. While making a quilt certainly doesn’t need to take months, even a simple quilt will likely take many more hours than anticipated: Plan accordingly.

Has a false sense of skill ever gotten you into a larger-than-originally-anticipated project? Tell us about it in the comments!

21 Comments

Madeline January 29, 2017
I met my partner while we were both attending U of M. She is from Ann Arbor and misses it so much. I was just looking at the DIY A2 pattern thinking it would be a perfect gift for Christmas 2017 but I'm a little nervous as I have limited sewing experience. How was this for you as a novice seamstress? Do you think I could power through it with enough patience and determination? Would love to see pics of the final product! Thanks!
 
Author Comment
Lindsay-Jean H. January 30, 2017
Hi Madeline - I absolutely think you can pull this off for Christmas this year. You really don't need a lot of sewing experience, it's more the patience, determination, and time -- and you've got all of the above! Go for it!<br /><br />I'm sorry to say that I don't have final photos to share, however. Don't let that scare you off though! Right after I wrote this post, I started writing a cookbook, and that consumed all of my spare time last year, so I'm just now ready to return to my quilt. Maybe we can both finish them this year! :)<br /><br />Good luck and Go Blue!
 
Melinda July 31, 2017
I see this was a while ago ... but I started the large size Haptic Labs Northern Sky quilt last year. I had never sewed before (not even a button!), and it's so much fun and it looks surprisingly good and is almost done. I just did lots of internet research to learn how to tie knots/bury knots. Doing the DC one next! I say go for it!
 
Author Comment
Lindsay-Jean H. July 31, 2017
Oh I love the Northern Sky quilt! Good for you for tackling another one, the next one I get from Haptic Labs will be a completed one :)
 
Jessie April 24, 2016
I volunteered to make a crocheted blanket for an acquaintance. Queen-sized, I thought it'd be done in a couple of months, in time for a Thanksgiving reveal. I sent it about 2 months ago, over a year later! Sometimes life, sometimes health gets in the way of plans! I think it's more important that goals are accomplished.
 
Carole R. March 21, 2016
I'm always starting projects and rarely finishing them, but your instructions give me hope. Personalizing the project really appeals to me! Thanks!
 
Lane March 21, 2016
Hi. This is really a cool idea. Born in A2 and a U of M graduate. This project looks like a really fun one for me to tackle. Thanks.
 
Ethel L. January 23, 2016
I have been meaning to finish the Woman's Day Daisy afghan for about 30 years! I just noticed it- pristine in its plastic box- when I was clearing a closet of my now adult children's left overs! Perhaps you have inspired me!
 
Author Comment
Lindsay-Jean H. January 25, 2016
I bet you stumbled across it in that closet because now is just the right time to finish it. You can do it!
 
Tatiana January 11, 2016
Thanks for sharing this. These kits are awesome. I also went to UofM, but I think I'd start with the SF quilt since that is where I met my husband and it's the area we live in.
 
Author Comment
Lindsay-Jean H. January 11, 2016
Let us know how it goes and Go Blue!
 
Starryartist January 11, 2016
Quilting is like cooking....you sometimes follow a pattern, recipe, but then again you can follow your heart, taste. I've been enjoying both for many years and getting lots of enjoyment from both. It's just letting your creativity shine.<br />
 
Author Comment
Lindsay-Jean H. January 11, 2016
Beautifully put.
 
peg D. January 10, 2016
I'm sorry, is this Food52? What the heck?
 
Author Comment
Lindsay-Jean H. January 11, 2016
Hi Peg, it sure is! We added new content categories this past year, including Home & Design as well as Travel.
 
SummerPlum January 9, 2016
I'm working on a Boston quilt, and have the luxury of tackling an hour or so of embroidery a day. It's a long, slow process but I am sure it will be worth all that work. These city quilts are awesome.
 
Author Comment
Lindsay-Jean H. January 9, 2016
That sounds like a lovely way to spend an hour a day!
 
Jennifer S. January 8, 2016
It took me 175 hours (I kept track) to do my quilt of he world! <br /><br />I just ordered the large size of the constellation parttern! Excited to get started! Your quilt is looking fabulous!
 
Author Comment
Lindsay-Jean H. January 9, 2016
Wow, that's impressive! I gave up keeping track around 30 hours. The constellation ones are beautiful!
 
Brady E. January 8, 2016
Don't feel bad, I'm two years into my Haptic Labs star quilt! I'll get it done eventually!<br />
 
Author Comment
Lindsay-Jean H. January 9, 2016
Oh that makes me feel better, thank you for sharing!