How to make a quilt with your kids

A fun project, particularly for girls, although boys may enjoy it too, is sewing a basic quilt. My siblings and I grew up knowing how to sew because my mom was an excellent seamstress, but the art of sewing seems to be getting lost nowadays. Certainly there are plenty of people who still do, but it isn’t often taught to children anymore, and that’s a shame, because it can be fun and rewarding.

If you have a sewing machine, you can teach your kids the joy of making something on their own, if they’re old enough. If they enjoy it, maybe they’ll graduate to making clothing. But a basic quilt is a good place to start and is relatively simple.

basic quilt
Design the quilt

First, gather plenty of fabric. We always used clothing that we had outgrown or was so worn that it weren’t presentable anymore. One advantage to that is then your “memory” quilt is a keepsake, with the pajamas you wore when you were 8 and your favorite shirt in junior high. (If you buy new fabric, wash it first.)

Cut them into squares as large or small as you want. We usually make the squares approximately 4 to 6 inches because it’s easy to get several of those out of a garment and they are manageable for learners.

Lay them out on the floor, creating whatever pattern you desire. You could do one fabric all along the border or two fabrics alternating. (There will also be a small border made of the backing fabric if you follow the instructions below.) The next row could be another two fabrics or you could do it completely random. You could make a starburst pattern, a large monogram in the middle, whatever you like.

Sew together the top

Once you have them laid out, then start sewing. Take the first two squares along one edge and put them face to face, sewing along one edge with an approximately 1/4-inch seam.

Repeat this with the next two squares. Then sew the sets of two squares to each other as well until you have an entire row. Do the same to make a second row.

Before sewing the two rows together face to face, you need to open those seams so they will lie flat. Set up the ironing board and iron the seams open. Do the same on each successive row, and when you sew two rows together, the seams will all be nice and flat.

Keep going like that until you have the entire face of the quilt sewn together.

Add backing and batting

Now cut your backing fabric. Generally this is just one solid piece of fabric, often something nice and soft like flannel, and make sure it coordinates with the colors on the front. If you want a nice border that shows on the quilt top, make it two or three inches larger than the quilt top on all sides.

Lay the backing fabric face down on your work surface or on the floor. Place a piece of batting the size of the quilt top on the backing fabric. Then lay your top down, right side up. Make sure everything is nice and flat without bumps or wrinkles.

Now all that remains is to attach the three parts. To do that, first pin them together at regular intervals so they don’t shift, working from the middle out.

Then fold the backing fabric about half an inch and then fold it again over the top of the quilt and pin it down along all sides. You’ll have to pleat the corners.

Then stitch the top of the quilt along that border. These stitches will show, so try to keep it nice and straight. Older children should be able to do this step, but younger ones will need help, or you may prefer to do it for them.

Finishing touches

Next, you’ll need to make stitches in various places on the top so the batting stays in place between the two layers. This can be accomplished in several ways. One common way that would be good practice for children is to sew a button at the intersections of four pieces; not necessarily at every intersection but at intervals.

Or if your sewing machine has decorative stitching, you could run the whole quilt through the machine, doing the stitching either all over or at intervals. You could also do a series of tiny hand-sewn stitches if you don’t want or need the decoration of stitching or buttons. Another option is to thread some matching yarn through a large needle, put the needle down through the quilt, back up, and then tie off the yarn.

If this first project goes well and the child enjoys it, they could try something a little more ambitious the next time, such as making each square out of two triangles so as to have even more options in making an interesting pattern.

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