Tuesday, January 24, 2012

A Charming Baby Quilt (Part 1)

The infamous "Q-911" quilt is on hold while I wait for some stabilizer to arrive.  I decided it was the best bet for getting the text quilted into the sashing.  But fortunately, I just received some fabric that I'd ordered to finish the borders of a new baby quilt.

A few months ago I got a package of pre-cut 5" squares (often called "charm packs") of unusual baby fabrics -- one of those Daily Deals where the shipping ends up costing more than the fabric.  It had 8 fabrics in 3 colorways (pale blue, green and off-white) with 2 shades of orange and chocolate brown in most of the prints.  I loved the idea of using pre-cut fabric, which I had never done.

It was a small pack -- only 21 5" squares -- so I was fishing around for how to use them.  Then I ran across this fun and easy idea on a website called Nancy's Fabrics.   Nancy's directions are much less complicated than mine, but she's really talking about how to use the fabric and doesn't get into the details of sewing. 

Make the 9-patches

I didn't use the solids on the right
1.  Arrange the squares into 9-patches (3 across, 3 down) in whatever order you want and stitch them together to form a patch. In my case I'd only get 2 patches, so I bought two more packs (not Daily Deals!).  This gave me six 3x3 patches with 9 squares left over.  I used the all printed fabrics and set aside the solids.  I tried to arrange the fabrics so that no patterns or colorways were adjoining.

2.  Start sewing!  I chain-sewed the patches, but I only used the fabric from one package at a time, so I wouldn't get lost.

The first two columns are sewn.
Keeping the squares in the order you've chosen, first sew pairs of squares, right sides together together without stopping to cut the thread between pairs.  I sewed the first 3 squares for the second patch in the same strip, so I had two strips of 6 squares each.  Without cutting apart the squares you've already sewn, sew the remaining squares onto the open edge of the second strip.

Squares from one pack stitched together.
Now cut the threads so you have 2 patches of 9 squares, each 3x3.  Leave the rest of the threads uncut.

 3.  I am a great believer in pressing.  Lots of quilters just finger-press along the way, but I find that pressing with an iron really helps make the sewing more accurate -- more on this later -- and you can spot anything that needs fixing before it become impossible to correct!  Press the seams in the first row of your patch to one side.  Press the seams in the next row to the other side.  Press the last row the same as the first.  OR press the seams in the first row toward the middle, the second row to the outside, and the last row same as the first.  Your goal is to have the seams going in opposite directions for when you sew the rows together.  This sounds complicated, but really, it's not!  And it's worth the extra effort.

Seams pressed in opposite directions.

One 9-patch sewn.
4.  Stitch the rows.  For each patch, fold the top row down over the middle row, right sides together, matching the seams. This is where your pressing pays off.  The already-sewn seams will be going in opposite directions, so they will just lie right down and nestle into each other.  Feel where the seams meet when they aren't aligned, then check them visually and feel again.  You can notice how flat they feel.   Got it?  Sew the horizontal seam.  In the same way, fold the bottom row up over the middle row and sew. 

Make and sew your blocks

 1.  After you've made your 9-patch squares, get out your mat and rotary cutter and cut each patch into quarters.  As you can see, each smaller block has one full-size (5") square, one quarter-square, and two rectangles.  I got two 3-patches out of each package of fabric, so I ended up with 24 blocks.
9-patch cut into four blocks

2..  Now, after squaring up your blocks, re-arrange them to create your quilt.  The directions on Nancy's website suggest several possible arrangements, but I decided to go with just a plain 2:3 rectangle with no sashing between the blocks.  I started playing around with the blocks, sticking with my two original criteria (no adjoining patterns or colorways).

I was pretty happy with the way most of the seams in the patches matched up, and I knew that with all the different patterns rolling around the quilt top, the final seams probably wouldn't be all that noticeable.  But I still wanted them to match as well as possible.  Then it hit me!  I added another requirement to my layout:  no seam matching between blocks! 

No seam-matching required!
This was actually pretty easy.  I'd already laid everything out by color and pattern, so I just started turning each block so that no seams had to match in any direction.  I had to swap a couple of blocks to keep the patterns and colors distributed, but it worked.

3.  Sew your blocks together using the same chain-sewing technique that you used to make your 3-patches.  When you sew your long seams (columns), you won't have to match a single seam.  And when you sew your rows, you only have to match the 3 vertical seams that you just sewed.  And of course, you remembered to press them first, in opposite directions, so your seams will be lovely.

Pre-cut, but not pre-accurate.
One thing I learned in this project was that the pre-cut squares aren't necessarily cut any more accurately than I could have done myself.  Yes, they were exactly 5".  But check out the brown checked fabric on the left.  As you can see, the cut edge on the bottom isn't cut straight across the line of the checks.

Also, beware mixing pre-cuts from different manufacturers.  These were all the same, but the sizes of the squares may differ, even just a little, between manufacturers.  That's OK, as long as you know it and account for the differences.

That's it for today.  Time to get the border fabrics cut and sewn.  I'll be back with Part 2 in a few days.

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