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How to make a rag quilt

Updated on August 19, 2013

Fast patchwork quilt

This is my first proper quilting project. I have made some very small items, such as fabric journals... and once upon a long time ago, a baby's cot quilt. This time I was inspired by a blog, Scrumdillydilly, where JW posts photos of her bed, each month, when it receives a makeover. I love the mismatched pillowcases and covers and wanted to reproduce her colorful nest.

I hadn't heard of rag quilts before (we are very behind in the UK) and fell in love as soon as I spied a few on Pinterest. I had to have one! Some other reasons why I haven't quilted before is that it all looks like very hard work, including loads of math. Then there is the binding and the actual quilting... too much for lazy me! A rag quilt seemed like the perfect answer for someone like me who's not too fussy about the details.

© This page was created by TheRaggedEdge. All rights reserved. Images are my own, except where indicated otherwise.

Quilt by TheRaggedEdge
Quilt by TheRaggedEdge

This is the quilt I made in a week. It is reversible and very cosy. Warning: using the heavy fabrics that I did makes it extremely heavy and difficult to handle. I ended up making it in two halves and joining them at the end.

Fabric gathering

This was the longest part of the project. I haunted eBay, thrift shops and my mother's closets until I had collected enough fabric.

My quilt had to be big and I worked out that I needed 144 squares at 8.5 inches to reach the necessary size. The reason I chose 8.5 inches is because I managed to get hold of a lot of fabric samples that were exactly this width.

However, it's not just 144 squares - the reverse needs to be considered as well because the quilt is reversible - yay! And, and not only that, there has to be an inter fabric too, so all-in-all I needed 432 squares - argh. Luckily that was the only math I had to do.

The inner fabric should be flannel, so I picked up a couple of flannel sheets for next to nothing in the thrift/charity shop.

My main fabrics were gathered almost willy-nilly. I didn't really give any thought to the colors, except I knew I would use lighter ones on the back and bright prints on the top. I chose to use soft furnishing cottons, rather than dress-weight, for durability.

Cutting edge stuff

Cutting squares with a rotary cutter
Cutting squares with a rotary cutter

I spent about 10 hours over the course of a few days cutting fabric squares. I couldn't have managed without a square quilting ruler and a rotary cutter. This was my first experience of using either. I was careful to 'square up' the fabric to avoid stretching and distortion. I included selvedges as I knew they would form part of the 'ragged edges' and any print would be disguised in the ragging process.

A rotary cutter and quilting ruler are essentials

Essential tools

Fiskars 60-Millimeter Titanium Softgrip Comfort Loop Handle Rotary Cutter
Fiskars 60-Millimeter Titanium Softgrip Comfort Loop Handle Rotary Cutter

Can't manage without my rotary cutter. This one looks much better though!

Quilt in a Day 12-1/2-Inch by 12-1/2-Inch Square Up Ruler
Quilt in a Day 12-1/2-Inch by 12-1/2-Inch Square Up Ruler

Mine is 9 x 9, but this one would be even better.


Making sandwiches

Not the eating kind - though my family did have to scavenge for themselves quite a bit while I was immersed in my quilt!

Fabric sandwiches consist of the backing fabric, the flannel and the top fabric placed together neatly and accurately. I piled them all up ready to sew.

Complete the sandwich by stitching a simple cross from each corner. Get the music going and your foot to the pedal and they'll be done in no time. I used a standard quilting needle for this.

Oh, a word about thread... if making an item that you hope will last for years, then pure cotton thread is the best choice. It is a simple matter to repair any loose seams when necessary. If you use polyester, then the thread is so strong that it can tear the actual fabric over time and ruin your beautiful quilt.

Yum.. sandwich

Fabric sandwich
Fabric sandwich

This shows the back of a fabric sandwich. I had decided to use all light colored fabrics for the reverse side of the quilt. I didn't even clock that there was a green theme going on - I have no idea how that happened as the fabrics came from several sources. Magical.

A big pile of sandwiches

I needed 144 in total. The patchwork quilt they are sitting on was made by my daughter-in-law. It is so neat and accurate - I knew I could never measure up to that standard so I had to do my own thing.

Sewing those sandwiches into strips

Making strips
Making strips

Before you can sew your squares together, you need to work out the layout. If you have enough space you can simply lay the squares out on the floor and move them around until you are happy. I didn't have enough floor space and not only that, our trainee guide-dog pup was lying in wait for anything that looked like it needed a good shaking, so I was restricted to the dining table. Just make sure you haven't got two identical squares adjacent - unless you want them to be. Of course there are two 'bad' squares in the first two strips I sewed!

Start by taking two squares, lay them with their backsides facing. Sew along one side leaving a generous seam allowance (for later snipping). You should be able to sew these without pinning them.

Take the next square, lay it face down on the wrong side of the second square, line up the edges carefully and sew.

I switched to a denim needle for this stage.

Keep going until you have your 12 (or however many you need in a strip) squares all sewn together.

A pressing issue

Pressing strips
Pressing strips

Once all your strips are sewn, it's time to press them. Only on the back, please. Make sure the seams underneath are all lying in the same direction. On the second strip, make sure they lie in the opposite direction. The reason for this is that when you sew the strips to each other, you don't want to be sewing through any more layers than is necessary. If your seams all went the same way, your poor sewing machine would have to deal with 12 layers of fabric!

Have to mention my own machine here. It's a Singer Quantum Stylist and it's magnificent... and at one point, when I did get the seams wrong, it chugged right through those 12 layers with nary a grumble.

I must add here, that you need to keep all your strips in order -- you don't want to mess up all that careful laying-out you did.

PS Please to ignore the Thomas the Tank Engine towel I'm using as a ironing cover there. I abandoned my ironing board a long time ago when I realised that pressing clothes was a waste of my life.

Pin the strips

Time to assemble the strips. As my quilt was so large, I decided I would make it in two halves to make life easier. So, two quilts consisting of six strips of 12 squares each.

Lay your first two strips down, the first face down, the second, face up. Wrong sides together. Line up the seams, making sure the seam allowances are lying in opposite directions. Pin at the seams and also pin at the center of each pair of squares. It's quite tough getting those pins in.

Stitching fabric strips together

Sewing fabric sandwich strips
Sewing fabric sandwich strips

It's getting exciting now! Sew your first two strips together, removing the pins as you go. Say, 'Ouch!' quite often.

Repeat the pinning and sewing with the third strip, and so on. If your quilt is huge, stop at six strips and start over with Quilt Part Deux.

Eventually you will have your entire quilt sewn, or, like me, you will have two smaller quilts.

Sew the edges

Sewing the edges
Sewing the edges

One final sewing task is to sew right around the edge of the quilt/s leaving a generous allowance for snipping. This will prevent the fabric fraying more than you want it to.

Cut, Sew, Quilt As You Go

If you want to expand on this rag quilting technique, then have a look at the projects in this book.

Snipping time!

Edge snipping
Edge snipping

I have seen mention that spring-loaded fabric snips are best for this taxing job. However, mine weren't very good at all so I resorted to scissors. Yes, it does make your hand ache, and if you can enlist help, then do so. I managed to do all mine on my own and my hand seemed to become used to it.

Every single edge and seam allowance must be snipped about three-quarters of the way to the line of stitching/seam. It's up to you how close together your snips are; mine were about 3/4 inch apart.

When you have finished, place your quilt (or half quilt) into the washer. Wash on a fairly gentle cycle with a medium spin speed. Take quilt out, sigh because none of the fluffy ragging has happened. Put it back in washer, turn up the volume to 40C temp and 1000 spin speed. I was too nervous to put it on max spin just in case the weight broke my washer.

Sigh again when you see how much lint has plastered the insides of your washer. I line dried my quilt/s but you can gently tumble dry if you want.

I sewed my two halves together at midnight and pressed the reverse side again the next day. From start to finish the project took a week, spending two to three hours per day.


Reversed side of rag quilt

Reverse side of quilt
Reverse side of quilt

A nice alternative for spring perhaps?

Finished quilt!

Finished rag quilt
Finished rag quilt

Quilt gallery

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Do you quilt?

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    • myraggededge profile image

      myraggededge 2 years ago

      Thank you, MG. Following your green finger hubs too!

    • MG Seltzer profile image

      MG Seltzer 2 years ago from South Portland, Maine

      I got pulled into your list of Hubs by the word "Zentangle," and then I saw this quilting article. My friend Tami will really enjoy this and I am sending her the link right now. I am bookmarking the Zentangle-related Hubs to come look at later today. Thumbs up on this and I'm now Following! Thanks for the good quality writing/photos.

    • profile image

      nonya222 3 years ago

      I never saw this technique before. Looks like fun, thanks for sharing!

    • myraggededge profile image

      myraggededge 3 years ago

      @GroovyPixie: Thank you, GroovyPixie. It's hard work by hand, unless you restrict yourself to baby-sized quilts or art quilts. You could try getting a sewing machine from Freecycle? Good luck!

    • profile image

      GroovyPixie 3 years ago

      Its beautiful!! I want to learn how to make a quilt by hand... i don't have a sewing machine. Im worried it would take many years by hand lol you make it seem so easy!

    • kimberlyschimmel profile image

      Kimberly Schimmel, MLS 4 years ago from Greensboro, NC

      I used this rag method to make a picnic blanket from patches of old jeans--very durable.

    • myraggededge profile image

      myraggededge 4 years ago

      @ChocolateLily: Much easier than it first appears... and hardly any maths!

    • profile image

      ChocolateLily 4 years ago

      Lovely! I'd like to make one, but haven't gotten up the courage yet.