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How a Non-Quilter Can Make a Quilt

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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.
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).

*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.
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!
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!

Tags: Home Decor, My First Time