Keepsake Quilts - My Top Tips

For over three years now I have been creating keepsakes quilts alongside selling fabric. I love making them and have so far made over 170. They have taken a bit of a back seat in the last few months, but that's 2020 for you. I have been thinking about writing about them for a while so, when Bosal got in touch and asked if I could try out some of their products, it was a great opportunity. These tips are intended for personal use only but, I would rather they were done well and hopefully this blog will help. They are the most precious clothes you own, and you don't want to rush into it. I have learnt a lot over the years so I thought I would share my top tips with you to help you create your own perfect keepsake.


EQUIPMENT

  • Rulers - I use a long 6" x 24" and a square 6" x 6" ruler. For accuracy I would recommend you invest in a quilting ruler of some kind.

  • Rotary cutter - again for accuracy, I would invest in a rotary cutter. I use my Tula Pink one, but I have also got on well with Olfa.

  • Cutting mat - essential if you are using a rotary cutter.

  • Interfacing - for this blog I have used the cotton fashion fuse interfacing from Bosal which is designed especially for jersey fabric and therefore perfect for a t-shirt quilt. In the past I have tried lots of different interfacing and would recommend a medium weight, cotton based one.

  • Sharp scissors

  • Iron and ironing board

  • Sewing machine

  • Wadding

  • Walking foot for sewing machine (optional)

  • Curved safety pins - or pins if you don't have them

  • Backing fabric

  • Binding


PICKING YOUR CLOTHES


It can be really tempting to pull out all the designs with motifs and large fun images on but, make sure you throw in a few patterns and plains too. It helps break the quilt up and helps your fun items stand out more. I use all sorts of items from baby grows and bodysuits to t-shirts, dresses, trousers, hats, and socks. I have used coats and sleeping bags too.

Before you start cutting up your baby's first baby grow, I would recommend making a practice quilt, especially if you are new to sewing. Most people end up with dozens of baby grows that are too worn or stained to sell or give away so have a rummage and see what you have to play with. I am sure if you asked on a local parent group on Facebook, there will be lots of Mums and Dads happy to help do some destashing. Before I made my first quilt for someone else, I made two practice quilts with George's clothes. I still have them, and I love to compare and see how far I have come.


The practice quilt will help you understand how the material handles on your machine. I don't use a stretch or jersey needle. I use a standard 90 needle that I use for most of my sewing projects with no trouble. Your machine might behave differently so have a practice, even if it is just a few squares or a cushion.


PREPARATION

  • Preparation is key. The first thing you will need to do is wash all your clothes in the same wash. Once they are all in the quilt together, they will have to be washed together so don't split the colours and whites. Put in some colour catches in this wash and the first few times you wash your quilt to be on the safe side. Always wash and dry as per your most delicate item, usually 30 degrees and line dry to be safe.

  • Cut your interfacing into 6" squares. I have found that most of the designs on baby clothes fit nicely into a 6" square. It is obviously entirely up to you how creative you are with the sizes of your patches and you may want to do some additional planning around the design. Occasionally I will make a patch slightly wider or taller, so important details aren't cropped out. The size you make them is up to you but I tend to make a medium one 6 x 9 = 54 squares which ends up being around 80cm x 120cm and larger ones 8 x 12 = 96 squares which works out 120cm x 180cm.

  • Cut up your clothes. This is the scary bit, but I promise if you take your time it will be fine! Cut your items up the seams so they open out flat and are easier to work with. Some items might have lining that you will need to cut out. For sleepsuits just undo all the poppers. For larger sizes, if you want to get several patches out of it, you can cut down the seam of the sleeves too.


INTERFACING


For plains, patterns and anything that doesn't need to be fussy cut, simply place the interfacing, shiny side down onto the wrong side of your fabric. I always place the interfacing to the edge. Don't just plonk it in the middle. This will help you make the most of your material if you want to get more than one patch and allows for mistakes. Iron on depending on the interfacing you are using. The Bosal cotton interfacing I used needed to be sprayed with a little water, but I just put it on steam, and it worked fine. This is another thing you will need to practice first. Some I have used need no steam and medium to low heat. Also, keep in mind the material you are using. If it is a shiny dress or raincoat you will need a much lower heat.

There will be some items that you need to fussy cut to make the most of the design. A lot of items you can see through from the reverse, but others may need more planning. This is where the 6" square ruler comes in handy. Place it over the design until you find a position you are happy with. Use a pin on two sides to mark where the square needs to be lined up to. You can now iron your interfacing onto the back knowing it will be in the right position.


CUTTING


Use your 6" ruler and rotary cutter to cut out your squares. I usually cut on the reverse unless it is a fussy cut item.


ARRANGING


When you have all your squares it is time to arrange them. There are a few things I like to consider when arranging the squares.

  • If you have faces or animals, I always think it is nice to have them looking into the quilt. It keeps your eyes bouncing back into the quilt.

  • Try to space the standout motifs, bold colours, and stripes.

  • Take a picture of your layout. Strangely I find it helps spot stand out squares that need swapping.

  • Try to avoid duplicates or stand out colours in the same rows and columns.

  • Take a picture of your final layout so you can refer to it when it comes to sewing it together.

On this one you can see that the bee and dinosaurs look into the quilt. The eyes of the spider are also looking into the quilt. This one has a name appliqued on, so I placed the fairy, so it looks like it has abracadabrad the name. I felt like the sun needed to be in the top corner and I have planned plain squares behind where the name will be. I spent a long time debating over the busy blogging patch. I cut it wider initially, so it wasn't cropped but because it was so dark, it stood out a bit too much. With items like this you have to make a judgement call. You know what it says still, and it still provokes the memories and that is what is important.


PIECING


When it comes to sewing, sew rows together first. Press your seams open.


Lay out your sewn together rows and pin them with seams matching. Pin at the seams. When all your rows are sewn together, press your seams open again.

With this particular quilt I added a border. I used some plain mint cotton. I cut the cotton 5" wide and the full bolt width. Sew long sides on first, press and then sew top and bottom. 4 strips was enough for a medium sized quilt.


QUILTING


I back my quilts in a few ways. I make blankets by just backing with a minky fleece. For the quilts I layer the quilt top, wadding and cotton. Either way, you need to find a large area. I roll up the quilt top and wadding on some long fabric rolls. Pool noodles work well to, but this isn't essential. Lay the backing face down and then line up your wadding and quilt top at the edge, leave a little overhang. Keep smoothing out the quilt as you go.

To baste I always use curved safety pins. You can use regular pins, but I find safety pins don't catch and can't get lost. The last thing you want in a quilt made with baby clothes is a lost pin. Make sure you use plenty of pins. I usually do one in the centre of each square.

When it is time for quilting it is up to you how you do it. I tend to stitch in the ditch but occasionally I will sew diagonal lines across the quilt. If you want to do free motion, you will need a free motion foot. You don't necessarily need a walking foot, but it will help keep the layers from shifting. It also really helps to have a walking foot if you have motifs as sometimes the foot can stick to them. I have made plenty with just my regular machine foot.


APPLIQUE


Adding applique can really help finish off and personalise a quilt. Draw your shape or letters onto the right side of interfacing but make sure it is in reverse. Use wonder web to iron on top of that, peel it away and cut around your shape. Place them where you want them and iron them into place. This won't hold them forever so you will need to sew them on. I tend to use a free motion foot and top stitch around the edge after I have quilted the main quilt. If you want to hand stitch or use a blanket or zig zag stitch around the edges, you will need to do this before you quilt your layers together.


BINDING


The last thing you need to do is bind your quilt. Make sure you trim and square up your edges first. Using a ruler and rotary cutter will help for accuracy. I make my own binding to match the backing, but you can buy it if you prefer. To make my own I cut 2" strips, sew them together on a diagonal. I iron in half first and then iron over one edge to the centre. I don't cut the fabric on the bias when making binding for quilts because they don't need to stretch around any corners.

There are several ways you can bind a quilt, this is just what works for me. I don't trust my hand sewing will withstand den building and kids pic nics so I always machine stitch mine on. I sew onto the back first and then press to the front and then stitch the front.


I hope you have found this blog helpful and I would love to hear if you gave it a go. If you are still feeling a bit daunted by the prospect and would like those clothes to appear magically made up for you, head over to my Crafts by Katie website. I also have a gallery on the website, Facebook and Instagram pages, if you just want to look for some inspiration.


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