Love quilts but the idea of cutting hundreds of tiny squares makes you panic? Maybe the complicated arrangements of squares makes your head swim? Don’t worry, this rag quilt is perfect for a beginner and uses large 18″ squares to create a quilt perfect for curly up and watching TV on the couch. It’s also a great quilt for gift giving!
I’m far from an experienced quilter but this style rag quilt works up easily and quickly enough I don’t get discouraged as I am working. Remember, your stitches don’t have to be perfect (even if every time you make a mistake you remember seeing your grandmother grab nine perfect stitches on her needle in one motion like I do) and the rag quilt style is very forgiving on how your joined edges look. The more it is washed, the more the edges fray and become uniform.
1/2 yard of each of 6 different fabrics – 45″ bolts (this allows extra fabric for straightening bad cuts from the store)
2 yards of backing fabric – 90″ bolt (I used unbleached muslin. If you use a fabric that comes in 45″ bolts you’ll need closer to 2 1/2 yards because of fabric shape.)
2 yards of batting (Cotton or synthetic is up to you.)
Thread (I use invisible thread so I don’t have to worry about matching fabric colors.)
Cut Your Fabric
Use your rotary cutter, straight edge, and cutting mat to cut 15 squares of the top fabrics sized 18″ each. Then cut 15 squares sized 18″ each of the backing fabric. Now cut 15 squares of the batting sized 16″ each. Why 16″ on the batting? Because you want just the top and bottom fabrics showing in the seams. It will make sense as you start to sew.
Pick two top fabric squares and cut them in half. Do the same with two backing fabric squares and two batting squares. Yes, this will result in a slight offset on some row edges. We’ll trim this at the end.
Fabric Piece totals: 13 – 18″ squares of top fabrics, 4 – 18×9″ rectangles of top fabric, 15 – 18″ squares of backing fabric, 15 – 16″ squares of batting
Pin the Fabrics
Pin together a “sandwich” of a top fabric, batting, and backing fabric squares. I start by pinning in the middle and then add pins at the corners and in the center of each side. Be sure to smooth your fabric as you go so that the fabrics all remain straight.
Quilt the Sandwiches
There are a lot of ways to quilt the squares (sew over them so they hold together and the batting doesn’t shift). For squares this size I sew and X shape from corner to corner and then sew across the square again from each side. Sewing the X first helps you center your side stitches easily as you’ll have the center of the square marked for you. The two fabric rectangle sandwiches will look slightly different but the same process can be followed.
Note that as you sew the straight lines from the sides the fabric will try to bunch as you approach the center X junction. As you sew, be sure to take your time and adjust the fabric to minimize bunching.
When sewing the quilting seams on these sandwiches, it is not absolutely necessary to lock stitch (use the reverse button on your machine for a few stitches before sewing forward again) but if you DO lockstitch as you reach the batting it will make a more secure quilt and help insure against raveling when you clip edges later.
Assemble the Quilt
The quilt is assembled in five rows of three. By sewing in rows rather than columns we have shorter seams to work with and less chance of shifting fabric becoming uneven. Rows 2 and 4 will include the rectangle pieces. Use the diagram shown here (click diagram for larger PDF if you would like to print the layout) and layout your fabrics in a pattern you like. You will use a 1/2″ seam allowance throughout the assembly.
Pin one side of your first two squares together backing sides together. Remember, this is a rag quilt, we WANT the seam to show on the front of the quilt. Sew down this side of the square with an 1/2″ allowance. I find it is easiest to keep this line straight if you put a piece of painter’s tape on my sewing machine to lengthen the measurement markings across the width of the machine base. Like when you quilted the squares, it is not absolutely necessary to lockstitch but I find it works best for me if I lockstitch where the batting begins.
Add the 3rd square of the first row to the newly sewed blocks using the same pinned with backing sides together method. See photo for example (corner is pulled up in photo to let you see the sides more clearly).
Assemble each of the 5 rows in this manner. Remember that rows 2 and 4 have the half squares (rectangles) on the ends so those rows are rectangle-square-square-rectangle.
Once all rows are assembled, you will sew the rows together. I like to lay the quilt out again to make sure I have the rows in the right order before starting this. Pin row 1 and 2 together with backing sides together just as you did when assembling the rows. Because this quilt uses offset blocks, there are no difficult to line up four corners to worry about. Again use a 1/2″ seam allowance. Be sure to use plenty of pins and hold your fabric well so it doesn’t crawl as you sew the rows together. NOTE that your edges will not line up between the two rows exactly. This is because there are extra seams in the rectangle rows. Just center the rows and then trim the excess after the entire quilt is assembled before sewing the edging seam.
Repeat the process to add row 3 to rows 1 & 2. Repeat with each row until quilt is assembled.
Once the entire quilt is assembled, sew a 1/2″ seam allowance around the outside edge of the quilt. REMEMBER to trim any excess fabric to align the edges before sewing the final outside seams.
Clipping the Edges
Now we help the edges fray. Using your scissors (snub nose scissors help but are not required) clip 1/4″ deep into the edges of the quilt all around the quilt and every seam in the quilt. There is no exact placement, just roughly every 1/2″ or 1/4″ apart. The most important thing is to not cut into your seams. If you cut into a seam, you’ll need to resew that seam. Most people (myself included) complete the clipping while watching TV or listening to music. Even with spring loaded scissors, don’t expect to be able to complete all the clipping in one sitting. It is very tiring on the hands.
Washing and Drying
Once the quilt is sew and clipped, you need to wash it to start the fraying process. If you have a delicate plumbing situation in your house I recommend going to a laundromat. Otherwise, one rag quilt wash should cause problems (at least it hasn’t at our house). The first wash I don’t use laundry detergent, I use a cup of plain white vinegar to help soften the fabric.
Before drying, I like to check the seams of my quilt to make sure nothing pulled out in the wash. If so, resew it before drying (where the fabric will draw up some).
When drying your rag quilt, there will be lots of strings coming off of the quilt. I generally run a half cycle, clean the lint filter, and then finish the dry cycle.
Enjoy Your Quilt
You are done! When your quilt is dry you have a rag quilt! The edges will continue to fray some for several wash/dry cycles so don’t put it in with anything you don’t want strings on for a while.