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.)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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."