Quilting is something that I absolutely enjoy. I’m a beginner yet, so it’s constantly challenging and fun and creative all at once. The one problem I have, however, with every quilt I make, is the fact that it is awful hard to machine quilt on just your regular, run of the mill sewing machine. It’s a giant workout, constantly pushing, pulling, and trying to keep track of a big rolled up hunk of quilt shoved into a regular sized sewing machine. As much as I would do just about anything for one of those giant, crazy awesome long-armed sewing machines specifically meant for quilting, I’m not really thinking that is going to happen any time soon. (I mean, really, what’s with these kids needing to eat all of the time? They are totally killing my sewing machine dreams!)
So as I was searching for a better solution to my quilting dilemma, I came across the idea of quilting as you go. The basic idea is to quilt all of your layers together, as you are piecing your quilt, so that you are working with smaller, more manageable pieces. There are many different ways you can do this, but the basic idea is all pretty much the same: you stack your pieced block, with batting and backing cut to the same size, sandwich them together and quilt them first, and then actually join blocks together.
Step 1: Make a Plan
The first step is to make a plan. Decide on the size and design that you would like your finished project to be, and figure out the yardage you would need for that size. This would go pretty similarly to your regular quilt project, the only difference would be is that your backing will all be pieced, so it won’t be necessary to have straight yardage for your backing. (That means you can use scraps!! Woohoo!)
Step 2: Sizing Your Blocks, Batting and Back
For my project, I decided to make a baby sized quilt, approximately 36” x 45”. My design used 4 blocks across, and 5 rows, all of which were 9” finished size. I will use this as an example, but you can certainly use different sizes/patterns to work within your project.
Once I pieced my top blocks, I trimmed them to be 9” PLUS seam allowance. I would really recommend using at least half of an inch around each side of each block. (I only used ¼”, and drove me totally bonkers and didn’t work out as well as I would have liked.)
When you have your top blocks trimmed, you will need to trim backing squares to be the exact same size as the top.
Once you have your top and backing cut, cut your batting to size. This part is a bit different… you want your batting to not have any seam allowance at all. If batting is running into your seam, you’ll have far too much bulk in your seams. For example, in my quilt, my batting squares were each 9” even.
Step 3: Make a Sammich.
(Not the eating kind, unfortunately.)
Once you have all of your blocks pieced and trimmed to size, you need to stack your sandwiches.
To stack them, you will need to start by laying your backing fabric, wrong side up, on your work surface.
On top of this, place your batting square. Make sure to place it in the center, with an even seam allowance around each side.
Once you have your batting placed, place your top block over it, right side up. Be sure to line it up carefully with your backing square below.
When you have all of your layers positioned, you need to baste them. You can just pin them, as I have done, or spray baste… whatever gets the job done. Usually I hate using straight pins to baste a quilt, but these small blocks require so little that it’s not a big deal to me.
Step 4: Quilt!
Once you have your layers basted, you will need to quilt your blocks.
How you quilt your blocks is entirely up to you. You can use straight lines or free-form quilt it… basically do whatever you are most comfortable with. The most important thing to remember is to not sew into your seam allowance. I did this in a few places, and it was a big pain in the rear end in later steps. It may not be a bad idea to take a marking pencil that is easily removed and mark around the edges so that you know where to stop.
Step 5: Join Your Blocks
Once you have a big ol’ stack of quilted blocks, you actually get to start joining them together!
To join squares, place two blocks, right sides together. Carefully pin JUST the top layers together. You do NOT want to sew through your backing fabric. I found it easiest to either pin or press the backing out of the way while I stitched the tops together.
Step 6: Press Your Seam
Once you get the two blocks joined just at the top layer, press your seam. Then smooth the backing fabric back over the back of the seam, folding over one edge and pinning.
Step 7: Finish Your Back Seams
When you have your row all joined together, you need to go back and finish your back seams. You could, carefully, line up and pin your backing a machine stitch it all down. I chose to stitch this by hand, just because I didn’t want the fuss of hiding seams and lining things up perfectly. (I know, lazy, right?) I stitched as neatly and as invisibly as I could, and for me, it was easier.
I would definitely suggest that as you stitch your back, make sure not to leave your seams open on the top and bottom, so that when you join your rows together, you will be able to open your layers straight across.
Step 8: Join Your Rows!
When you have all of your rows stitched, you can sew them together using the same techniques that you used to join your blocks into rows. And, just as you finished the back of each row, finish the seams that you use to join the rows together.
Step 9: Finish It!
And that’s the basic idea! Once you have your quilt assembled, you bind it just as you would a regular quilt.
This technique is so easy, and it really opens up a lot of possibilities for more complicated quilting designs on a basic model sewing machine. I could even see doing much larger projects than what I am used to, since I won’t have to worry about forcing a full sized quilt through my machine. It is also lends to scrap quilts, which are always fun and a great way to use up fabric that you’ve had laying around for awhile.
MarkMine made it!