Saturday, December 31, 2011

Anatomy of a Rag Quilt - a step by step tutorial

Rag quilts are a fun, fast, and easy way to take a step into the world of quilting. Unlike a traditional quilt which can take weeks or months to complete a rag quilt can be easily completed in a weekend. So what is a rag quilt? A rag quilt traditionally was made from rags or scrap fabric as the name implies. While a traditional quilt has all it's seams neatly tucked away inside of the quilt a rag quilt is sewn with exposed seams which are then cut into to produce a soft, frayed effect between blocks. With each washing the seams will fray and soften more making it a wonderful quilt to curl up with on a cold winter day!

Step 1: Decide on your quilt size, there are some great references out on the web which will help you decide what the finished measurements need to be for different bed sizes.  I usually do lap quilts which are about 48" x 56".

Step 2:  Decide on a square size for your pieces.  You can also use other shapes besides squares, in fact, rag quilts can be made with just about any traditional quilt pattern.  I used 6 1/2" squares because I have a template that size but I've also done larger squares (9 1/2") for my queen sized bed.  Remember that the seam allowance for a rag quilt is larger than for a traditional quilt and can be anywhere between 1/2" and 1" (personal preference, I like my seams a little smaller so I use 1/2" seam allowances, if you want a fuller frayed seam use either 3/4" or 1").  Your batting will be cut into a smaller square so that it is not in the exposed seam allowance.  Because I use a 1/2" seam allowance on each side of my 6 1/2" squares, my batting will only be cut into 5 1/2" squares.

Step 3:  Do the math!  My least favorite part but a necessary evil.  Since I was doing a lap quilt I used 63 squares (7 squares by 9 squares layout).  Each square is 6 1/2" and 1/2" on each side needs to be subtracted for the seam allowance leaving me with 5 1/2" finished squares.  So, my finished quilt will measure 38 1/2" by 49 1/2". 

So let's say you want to make a quilt for a twin sized bed which has a mattress size of 39" x 75", you will want your quilt bigger than that so that it hangs down enough to cover the depth of the mattress, say 50" x 85".  We then need to take those numbers and divide by the finished square size to determine how many squares you need to make.  50/5.5=9.09 (we'll just call it 9) and 85/5.5=15.45 (we'll round up to 16).  We will need 144 squares to make a twin sized quilt (9 x 16).  This means we will need 144 squares each of the top fabric, backing fabric, and batting.

Step 4: Choose your fabrics. Rag quilts are traditionally made with cotton which frays nicely. I've also made them from flannel which is extra warm and snuggly but the exposed seams will not fray as much. Some also like to use fleece which will not fray at all and the exposed seams will be more like fringe. The quilt in the pictures was made using 24 different fat quarters of 100% cotton plaid fabrics. I chose lots of pastel colors as this was made for my 8 year-old neice. (I only used 1/2 of each fat quarter). You will also need fabric for the backing and some sort of filling (I use batting but a lot of people like to use a layer of flannel as batting).

Let's use our numbers from the twin bed in step 3 and figure out how much fabric we would need.  We determined that we needed 144 squares each measuring 6 1/2".  If we purchase cotton that is 42" wide we can cut 6 squares accross the width of the fabric. So 144/6 is 24, 24 x 6.5 is 156.  We need a 156" x 42" of fabric.  A yard is 36" so we need 4 1/3 yards each of the fabric for the top and backing.  Batting can simply be purchased in the bed size and then cut into squares. 

Step 5:  Gather your supplies.  In addition to your fabric and batting you will need: scissors (spring-loaded scissors will save your hands!), rotary cutter, cutting mat, square template (I purchased a 6.5" square for less than $10 but you can also make your own from thick cardboard), thread, sewing machine, iron & ironing board.
These spring-loaded scissors are made especially for rag quilting.

Step 6:  Cut your squares.  First iron your fabric but I do not recommend prewashing the fabric for rag quilting.  Using your cutting mat, rotary cutter, and template cut the needed number of squares from your top fabric, batting, and backing fabric.  You can usually cut 4-8 layers at a time depending on how sharp your rotary cutter is and how thick your fabric is.  This is tedious so I do it on the floor in front of a good movie!

Step 7:  Determine your layout.  I use my living room floor.  The pictured quilt used a random layout of the 24 different fabrics where my only concern was not having the same fabric directly next to each other.  My backing fabric on this quilt was plain white muslin so I only needed to layout the front, you can make a two-sided design.  When making a two-sided design I layout my backing design first, then layer a square of batting on each and then my top design.  This way I have my square "sandwiches" ready to go.

Step 8:  If you didn't already do it in step 7 make your quilt "sandwiches".  You will layer your backing square with the right side down, batting, and then your top fabric with the right side facing up.  Your wrong sides of both fabrics will face the batting.  You can pin the layers if you wish. 
Squares need to be sandwiched with the backing, batting, and top layer.  The batting is cut smaller so that it won't be in the exposed seams.

Step 9:  Quilt your sandwiched squares.  I usually just use my sewing machine and a straight stitch to make an X over the square, the pictured quilt has only a single diagonal accross the square that I used to create a quilted design on the finished quilt.
A single diagonal line sewn from corner to corner through all 3 layers.

This photo shows a traditional stitched X through the 3 fabric layers.

Step 10:  Take your pile of quilted squares and double-check your layout.  As I mentioned above I wanted mine to create a secondary square pattern with the diagonal quilting so I had to lay this out again.  I then pile the squares up for each row with the square on the left side on top.  This makes sewing rows of squares together a no-brainer.

Each row of squares is piled on top of one another.  I turn each row a bit when stacking so that I can easily tell when I need to move to the next row.

Step 11:  Sew each row of squares together with your top sides facing out and your back sides together (opposite of normal sewing).  When I finish a row I lay it out on my living room floor so that I can easily keep the rows in the correct order.  Remember to use the seam allowance that you decided upon.
Sew with right sides facing OUT
Step 12:  Line up your finished rows and sew together (pin as needed).  You can either sew two rows together and then sew the next two together or just keep sewing the next row onto your previously sewn rows.  This is personal preference and may depend on how much space you have at your machine.  Do whatever works best for you.  I personally just keep adding the next row on.  When all the rows are sewn together we will add our seam allowance to the outside by stitching around the outside of the quilt with the same seam allowance used (1/2" in my case).  This replaces the binding process used to finish the edges of a traditional quilt.  When done trim all of your threads.

Step 13:  Once your quilt is completely sewn together it's time to work the ragging magic on all those exposed seams.  Using your spring-loaded scissors snip through the seam allowances almost to the seam (take care not to cut through the seam) every 1/4".  This doesn't have to be exact, just estimate the 1/4".  Get comfy because this will take awhile.
This is what your seam will look like after you cut into it but before washing.
Step 14:  Now that all your seams have been cut (including the seam allowance around the outside, it's time to wash the quilt.  No need to use soap or softener.  Use a normal cycle with warm water and dry on normal as well.  You will want to check your lint filters frequently as this produces a lot of lint.  Some people prefer to go use a commercial machine at a laundromat for this.

Step 15: Enjoy!

Friday, December 30, 2011

Crochet Terms: Front Post and Back Post Stitch Tutorial

Many patterns refer to making front post or back post stitches.  These confuse many, many newer crocheters or even intermediate ones who haven't come accross this terminology.  So what are front post and back post stitches and why do we care? 

A front post stitch is a stitch made by inserting the hook from the front and around the post (the up and down part) of the stitch in the previous row instead of through the loops of the stitch in the previous row.  A back post stitch is made by inserting the hook from the back side and around the post of the stitch in the previous row.  The stitch is then worked the same as if the hook had been inserted through the loops of the stitch in the previous row.

These are often referred to in crochet patterns as a fp or bp with the stitch name.  For example, a front post double crochet is a fpdc.

 bpdc-back post double crochet (insert the hook around the post of the stitch in the prior row by inserting the hook from the back and around the stitch)
 fpdc- front post double crochet (insert the hook from the front and around the post of the stitch in the prior row)

What do we use front and back post stitches for?  The answer is purely produces a woven looking texture to the crocheted fabric.