Tuesday, February 05, 2008

How to Make a Quick Crib Quilt, Part I

Crib quilts are fun to make. It's nice that they are so SMALL -- it makes them easy to handle, and they go fast. Plus, there is no reason to get all fancy about a piece that is going to be repeatedly barfed on and then, later, dragged through mud puddles. You can be more relaxed and experimental with a crib quilt than with something you are making for grown-ups, where you run the risk that people are actually going to be looking at your work for years to come.

If you are an experienced quilter, remember: most parents will be stunned and delighted that you made their child a quilt, but will have no particular sense of its relative quality. And the baby, of course, has no idea what's going on. The crib quilt is therefore an opportunity to showcase, shall we say, your fastest work.

A crib quilt is also a great place to start for a newbie. Are you a newbie? Do you have a sewing machine? Splendid. Let's shred. (If you are an experienced quilter, you can read along if you want to, but really, you already know all of this stuff.)

Step One:

Get a bunch of fabric squares that are all the same size. (Time: Variable)

I cut low-end fabric scraps into 3", 4", 4 1/2", and 5" squares and keep them on hand for exactly this kind of thing. I keep an eye out for juvenile and pictorial scraps at the right scale, and once in a blue moon I'll even buy an eighth of a juvenile fabric just so I'll have some some animals, buildings, vehicles, and other whimsical images on hand for crib quilts and fabric blocks. Kids groove on the images, and they give the quilt some value as a vocabulary-builder when its owner first starts talking.

If you don't have a fabric collection on hand, you'll just have to cut your squares, unless you know me in real life, in which case you can just use some of mine. I've got tons. If you actually go out and BUY fabric for a crib quilt, I encourage you to get the cheapest material you can find. There's no point in shelling out for premium quilting fabric; it's not going to look any fancier than the buck-a-yard sale stuff from JoAnne's after a few dozen barf-and-wash cycles.

Step Two:

Lay out your squares. (Time: 30 minutes)

This is the fun part. I went for kind of a dark/light checkerboard effect here, but any kind of pattern seems to work fine. I've done crib quilts with jumbled jewel-tone squares and one with no pattern whatsoever, and they ended up fine. Keep moving pieces around until it looks good. It's never a bad idea to go away and do something else for a while, and then come back and see if you still like it.

Step Three:

Keep the squares organized. (Time: 15 minutes)

Once you are satisfied with your design, you'll have to have a system to keep your layout intact (unless you are going to sew them together immediately, which would be perfectly acceptable. I'm not the boss of you). Here, I'm keeping each of the eight columns together. I've turned each into a stack, making sure to pay attention to which way is "up" for each piece, and to be consistent about having the top of the quilt be the top of the stack. I pin each stack together, along with a number that is faced right-side up (it's a good idea to underline your 1's, 6's, 8's, and 9's). On stack one, I note that it is the left-hand column.

Step Four:

Sew strips together. (Time: 5 minutes/strip)

This should go quickly -- it's just attaching each piece to the one above it with a quick, short seam. (For each seam, you put the two "good" sides together and sew a straight stich 1/4" from the edge of the fabric -- the infamous "quarter inch seam allowance.") You'll end up with a bunch of really long, skinny strips of pieces.

Step Five:

Press seams open. (Time: 1 minute/strip)

On the back side of each strip, you need to press each seam open and flat with an iron. But here's where things get controversial. Most quilters will tell you that you then need to "press it back closed," ironing both edges over to one side or another in an alternating pattern from strip to strip. But I don't do that anymore. I press those seams open and leave them open, and find this gets me better results in the long run. I'm definitely in the minority on that score, though.

Some experts say that you should not use a steam iron for quilting. This is because they are silly. Steam not only makes the iron more effective, it also produces a highly satisfying hissing noise and dramatic clouds of vapor, and you wouldn't want to deprive yourself of that.

Step Six:

Pin Strips Together. (Time: Variable)

Now you need to start sewing those strips together. The length of time this takes is going to depend on something that seems a little esoteric at first: how concerned you are with your corners meeting up precisely. This is something that quilters tend to get pretty exercised about. Me, for instance, I don't like my corners to be off by more than two thread widths.

To make that happen, I use special, extra-fine pins to attach the strips together, with at least one pin at every place where seams are going to meet. It takes a while, and is not an especially exciting part of the process. If you are a beginning quilter, you can aim for a lower standard and speed up the process a little. If you decide to "go for a rustic look," or if you just don't give a damn, you wouldn't really have to pin at all. You could just wing it. I've never done that, but it sounds very liberating.

Step Seven:

Continue Pieceing. (Time: About as long as Step Six)

Once you have sewn all of your pairs of strips together, you just take out the pins, press the new seam open (and press it back shut, if you want to), and then pin neighboring pairs together to continue assembling the quilt face. The nice thing about this process is that it accelerates as you go. In this example, for instance, we started with eight strips, so I had to pin four pairs together. After that first round, I only had to pin two pairs of pairs. That second round left two chunks of four columns each, so it was just a matter of pinning those two pieces together, and....

Voila! The main area of the quilt face is finished!

However, it's still very thin, small, and fragile. As it stands, it's not gonna keep a little punk, er, that is, a beautiful precious baby, very warm. We still have some work to do.

So, tune in next time for "How to Make a Quick Crib Quilt, Part II: The Revenge."


Anonymous said...

HI, I'm enjoying your blog (a friend sent me your url). I just have to take issue with one thing you said -- " I encourage you to get the cheapest material you can find. There's no point in shelling out for premium quilting fabric; it's not going to look any fancier than the buck-a-yard sale stuff from JoAnne's after a few dozen barf-and-wash cycles."

I have to say that using really cheap fabric is likely to have two negative effects on the resulting baby quilt.

First, the maker may never make another quilt after the frustrations of working with cheap crap.

Second, even the baby might notice that the NEW baby quilt that results when using cheap crap fabric looks like it has been barfed on. :)

Keep up the great teaching!

:) Linda

atet said...

LOL...love your post here. You're right, it is going to get barfed on. I will say though, using better fabrics does occassionally mean that the quilt looks better after those washings than using really cheap fabrics. (yep, I've done both -- and for me it usually depends on how much I like the parents) I can't wait to see the revenge!

Jeanne said...

Crib quilts are great because they are small so I don't have to "quilt-wrestle" while stitching and they are a great way to use up some of the fabric orphans... And checkerboards are great -- not too fancy. Fancy designs make parents want to keep it "nice" by keeping it away from the kid. I always tell them it's not theirs, and it's meant to be dragged around, barfed on, spilled on, etc., so give the kid the quilt, already.

That being said, I'm also on the don't-use-the-cheapest-fabric-you-can-find side -- at least, not the absolute cheapest fabric. I'm no stranger to JoAnn's but I look for the better end of cheap -- some of the more "expensive" stuff isn't bad for quality. I want the quality of the fabric to be nice because I don't want the quilt to start coming apart after a few washings. I want it to last long enough to turn into a tent or a cape, or be used for a doll party picnic, etc. Besides, the cheap stuff is no fun to play with!

Meanwhile, inquiring minds want to know -- how do you press your seams open using all that wonderful and dramatic steam without burning your fingers? Tell all, please!

Rebel said...

I know this is how you're 'supposed' to do quilts like this... but I totally don't. I'll have to blog about how I do mine.

Thank you for reminding me about the barf factor. I was recentently went back and looked at some of the baby quilts I made and was thinking "wow - this really sucks!" but you're right, most blankets get puked on (or worse) and laid on the ground for the kid to roll around on etc. I feel better now.

Rebel said...

And just because I feel like jumping on the bandwagon I'll join in and say "don't use super cheap fabrics" But I know what you mean - don't use Kaffe Fassett $11 a yard prints when you can get some basic calicos for less than half that.

loulee1 said...

What they said! But, if it makes you feel any better the backing fabric I used on mine was in the sale bin!

Bethany said...

Finally! Someone who isn't a fabric snob! I can buy whatever fabric I like and if the person doesn't like it,..well..they don't get another one from me then.

I love all kinds of fabric, but depending on the usage of the quilt also dictates the fabric I use.

Bridget B. said...

I'm personally a big fan of the "buy 100% cotton on sale" club . . . and I love the tutorial! Reading it was really delightful . . . I read the part about the iron out loud!

Michael5000 said...

Thanks for the thoughts, y'all.
For continuation of the debate on premium vs. discount fabric, move on to the next post.

How do you press your seams open using all that wonderful and dramatic steam without burning your fingers? Tell all, please!

A good quilting steam iron -- and ALL steam irons, I assume -- are engineered so that there is not a strong blast of steam directly forward. Since I'm using the iron's "nose" to open the seam, the index finger I'm using to prop the seam open doesn't usually get too cooked.

Occasionally you scald yourself a little, but then sometimes you touch the iron directly and burn yourself, too. Or jab yourself with pins, rotary cut the side of your finger off, or catch the seam ripper underneath a fingernail. The craft is not for the faint of heart. This is why my mother taught me the First Rule of Quilting, which is of course....

all together now....