Christmas Present for Someone Important: An Heirloom Quilt for Sewing Novices

25 11 2008

Last year, I decided to make a jewel-toned velvet quilt for my folks for Christmas. This was nothing new; I’d been dreaming of this fantastic quilt I’d make for them for years. Only problem is, I didn’t know how to sew. I had made a shirt once, with a lot of help from a professional designer friend. I could sew on a button. But that was absolutely it. I had this clipping I’d saved from an August 6, 1996 issue of Women’s Day that boasted “How to Make a Quilt in a Weekend: It was her first big sewing project. And she made it in just 20 hours!”

I’d been imagining myself emulating the “her” in this article for more than a decade, although I should note that I retired the unsalubrious habit of reading women’s magazines not long after I cut out this clipping. Last year, the three of us in Chez Don’t Buy It actually did it. I did nearly all of the stitching, about half of the tying, and about a third of the cutting; DH did the sewing machine troubleshooting and bobbin care (it’s his machine, inherited from his mother, and only he had used it before) and the remainder of the cutting and tying, and Floppy (age 4 at the time) did the bit of stitching I didn’t do, which he proudly showed off to his grandparents.

These are the instructions copied from the Women’s Day clipping, complete with the copied diagram and smart remarks from yours truly:


Around-the-World Quilt

SIZE: 81½” x l01½”


· Six cotton fabrics (I used polyester velvets, not cottons; more slippery but worked fine), one light, one dark, and four shades ranging between them in allover (not one-way) prints:

1¾ yards A (for lightest squares and inner border; I used a heavy tan velvet with a burnout pattern);

¾ yard each B, C and D (middle shades; I used a blue velvet with embroidered snowflakes, a red velvet with allover gold embroidery, and a matching green velvet with gold embroidery),

2¼ yards E (a medium accent color for squares and middle border; I used a deep indigo velvet)

and 2 and 5/8 yards F (darkest squares and outer border; I used a plain red velvet);

· queen-size sheet for backing (my quilt actually turned out too large for a queen-sized sheet, and I had to let the seams out of the sheet and trim the quilt to make it work. I think a king-sized sheet would result in less frustration);

· queen-size quilt batt (After local farm sources didn’t pan out, I bought an alpaca-wool blend quilt batt from Back to Back Alpaca. Because wool “beards” – pills up on the outside of the quilt – it’s important to encase it in fabric within the quilt. You’re supposed to used cheesecloth, but I just encased mine in more old sheets. This is a hand-tied quilt, so don’t use a cotton batt);

· thread to match fabrics (whatever; I used leftover red thread for everything)

· 2 skeins of size 5 pearl cotton or embroidery floss for tying (matching colors; I used red);

· large-eyed embroidery needle

· masking tape (I didn’t bother. Probably should have);

· quilt pins (I didn’t know what these were. Any good sized package of pins will do);

· yardstick or T square;

· sewing machine (duh);

· rotary cutter and mat (optional, but I found them useful).

STITCHING NOTE: All pieces include ¼” seam allowance. To stitch, pin fabrics with right sides together and guide the fabric edges along the ¼” guideline on your sewing machine. If there’s no guideline (and there certainly wasn’t on my 100-year-old Singer), place tape on the machine and mark a line ¼” to right of the needle.

BEFORE YOU BEGIN: Prewash fabrics to prevent uneven shrinkage when cleaning the quilt. (I used washable velvets, and also prewashed the quilt batt). Wash dark colors separately, adding 2 tablespoons vinegar to rinse cycle. Press


1. Cut ¾ yard of each fabric and stack smoothly. Cut off the selvages. Measure and mark carefully to cut 7 strips 5½“ X 27” lengthwise (parallel to selvage edges) through all layers. (Yeah, right. I couldn’t cut through all six fabrics at once in a million years, even with a sharp rotary cutter and a mat. Plus you’re dealing with a lot of fabric here. I think I did three layers at a time. The cutting for this beast takes forever. Once I got to sewing, I turned the remainder of the cutting over to DH, who is a patient soul.) Guide cutter along ruler. Separate strips into piles of the same color and label A through F. (Really, do that labeling. I was careful to label, and still screwed up one color, which was a problem, since the amounts are all different, and I nearly didn’t have enough fabric for the borders because of the mistake).

2. Cut the following 44”-long border strips across remaining fabric: from A, 8 strips 4″ wide for inner border; from E, 10 strips 5″ wide for middle border; from F, 10 strips 6″ wide for outer border. Set aside. (Check your labeling; this is where I screwed up.)

3. Stitch the 27″ A-F strips together on

3. long edges, in the following order, to assemble 6 units:

· Unit1: A, B, C, D, E, F, A

· Unit 2: B, C, D, E, F, A, B

· Unit 3: C, D, E, F, A, B, C

· Unit 4: D, E, F, A. B, C, D

· Unit 5: E, F, A, B. C, D, E

· Unit 6: F, A, B, C, D, E, F

With strips in same order, press seam allowances to the left.

4. Stack units in order, faceup, with Unit 1 on top and Unit 6 on bottom, seams aligned. Pin smoothly. Trim any uneven edges.

5. Cut from stacked units, four 5½”-wide strips at right angles to the seams to have 4 piles of 6 strips of different-colored squares. Keep the four piles separate, one for each quarter of the quilt top.

6. Lay out the strips, with right side facing you, on a clean area large enough for the quilt (like the dining room floor, once you’ve moved the table into the living room), following the assembly diagram below, for the upper half.

6. (Tip: The strips follow the color sequence of the units from bottom to top.) Leaving room for the center horizontal row, turn the chart upside down to lay out the lower half. Use the 2 remaining strips for the horizontal center row, cutting off the excess squares and adding one for the center.

7. Stitch strips together, matching seams, assembling upper half, then lower half. Stitch each half to the horizontal center strip (the fun part).

8. Borders: Stitch inner-border (A) strips end to end in pairs to make 4 long strips. Stitch E and F border strips in pairs the same way. Add a third strip to 2 of the E and F borders to make them long enough for quilt sides.

9. Stitch the A borders, with seams centered, to the long edges of the patchwork. Trim ends even with patchwork. Attach top and bottom A borders; trim. Attach E borders, then F borders in the same way. Press quilt top, pressing seam allowances to one side.

10. Press the backing sheet (and the inner sheets, if you’re using them to encase a wool or Alpaca quilt batt). Lay it on the floor or work table facedown and secure corners with pins or tape. Spread the batt over the sheet (and the casing sheets over and under the batt, if necessary) and add the patchwork, right side up, on top. Pin layers together, then trim batt (and casing sheets) even with the quilt top. Trim backing ½” larger than the quilt top all around. (This step created a lot of problems in my house. Use a king-sized sheet to avoid this problem. Also be sure to check your patchwork for holes in the seams from imperfect sewing before you sew anything down.)

11. Pin layers together at corners of squares where ties will go (dots on assembly diagram), starting at center and smoothing fabrics as you work outward.

12. Fold the backing over the batt on the long quilt edges, turn under l/4″ on the edge of the quilt top and pin as you go. (I used larger allowances – more like an inch total, turning under ½”. Precision didn’t seem to matter a lot here.) Repeat on top and bottom edges.

13. Stitch, with medium-length stitches (about 10 per inch) along seam between the outer and middle borders, through all layers. To end off, stitch over first few stitches, pull thread ends to back; tie and trim. Stitch around quilt, 1/8″ from edge (more like ¼” in my case).

14. Tie at pinned corners of squares as follows, starting at the outer A corners next to the inner border: Thread needle with 2 strands of pearl cotton or 6-strand floss; do not knot end. Insert needle through quilt from front to back, leaving 3″ thread on front. Take a ¼” stitch from back to front and tie threads in a square knot. Clip ends to ¾”. Tie corners of center square, then remaining pinned corners.

Here’s the Women’s Day diagram to help you picture how this works (as well as a picture of my finished quilt top, which is also, incidentally, the image on the blog title bar):

I’m not much of a seamstress, but sewing this beast extinguished any remaining fear I had of the sewing machine, and now I can sit down and mend clothes and make various odds and ends without much drama. It wasn’t nearly as difficult as I’d imagined. “Not as difficult as I’d imagined” may be one theme of this blog, actually. But if you want to make this quilt for Christmas, I’d suggest that this coming weekend, when you’ll be sitting home anyway not buying things to celebrate Buy Nothing Day, would be a good time to start.




4 responses

25 11 2008

I just wanted to thank you for posting this. I’ve been wanting to try a quilt for a long time and have never really had the guts to do so. (despite buying a box of prematched quilt fabric at a yardsale, and various quilting books over the years)
Seeing your little commentary made it seem really do-able.
I’m bookmarking this on my blog so I can do it when I have some spare time. I seems to have the worst trouble making things for myself. lol

6 12 2008

I’m glad you liked it! Would love to see pics when you make it, too. Thanks for stopping by!

23 12 2008

Thank you for posting this. I have wanted to find this online somewhere for at least two years now. Now I can refer people here to see this super easy quilt for themselves.

I also found that I needed a king size sheet for the backing. Love that idea.


22 07 2009

Do you have any tips on where to buy an old fashioned treadle sewing machine that doesn’t use electricity? I already have a loom and am thinking of trying home sewing and natural dying for gifts, but I don’t have a clue where to get a treadle sewing machine. My family used to have one, but in my parent’s divorce, my dad took it and he apparently sold it… I see your sewing machine was inherited My hand sewing skills are very limited! Sorry if this post is a while back! I just found your blog today and it is interesting!

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