Toddler-size Quilt and a Look at My Quilting Process

Before my daughter was born, I made curtains, nursing pillow covers, and a crib organizer from coordinating fabric for her room. Two of them — a pink floral stripe and a yellow with subtle white vines — were from the Simply Sweet collection by Barbara Glass, and one was a lime green with white polka dots that I found at a fabric store. I loved the way the colors looked together. I didn’t want mushy pastels or anything babyish for her room, and the bright colors would be exciting, cheerful, and still suitable for her when she grew into a toddler.

The final piece I wanted to make for her room was a quilt. I’ve never quilted before, but after reading a few guides, I figured that it wouldn’t be too difficult. I started on the quilt while I was still pregnant and managed to piece much of the top together before my daughter was born. The craziness of having a newborn kept me from finishing it, and shortly before her first birthday, I picked the project back up again and decided to finally finish it.

Before I get to the meat of this post, I should acknowledge that because this is my first quilt and I’m entirely self-taught, I made a lot of foolish mistakes and used the wrong tools. Experienced quilters will probably laugh and shake their heads at this project. That’s fine. I’m not embarrassed. I’ve already made a couple of patient and kind clerks at quilters’ shops shake their heads and smile at my newbie ways. Hey, I’m learning! And the important part is that I’m really learning; I’m applying the advice and instructions I’ve received to my work instead of calling poor techniques “my unique way of doing things” and passing off shoddy work as “modern and quirky.”

Anyway, this is my first hand-drawn layout, complete with scribbled notes and calculations. The design is very basic because I didn’t want to do anything too difficult for my first quilting project. I had stitched the squares together in rows but I wasn’t happy with it because the colors seemed to run together. It needed some white space. I went back and forth, trying to figure out whether to remove a row or two to keep it the same size or just add the white space and make it bigger overall.

I ended up just trimming down the squares and inserting the white space. I had to trim the squares anyway because I quickly discovered that ripping out all the stitches in those little squares apart was tedious and annoying! I wanted to get to the fun part quickly, so I cut them apart with my new rotary cutter and self-healing mat. I don’t know how I went for so long without those wonderful tools! In hindsight, it was a bad idea to cut out all those squares with just a ruler, a pencil, and a pair of scissors. So yes, always use a rotary cutter and mat for quilting.

Here’s part of my revised layout. I added white space and small squares in between the diagonals of color, which kept the colors from running together and really opened up the design.

Cutting the small squares. And yes, using the wooden ruler I’ve had since third grade was a rookie mistake. I’ve since upgraded to a very nice clear plastic quilter’s ruler.

Stacks of squares and rectangles. My calculations were off for the white, so I had to go back and cut more after I started arranging the pieces.

I followed my layout guide and stitched the squares together row by row. I also pressed the seams open.

Then I arranged the rows properly and checked again to make sure that everything was correct.

Next, I sewed the rows together. I noticed that even though I’d cut everything with the rotary cutter and mat, some pieces were still slightly off. I put the seams together as much as I could and eased in the difference.

I stitched the rows together and carefully folded the completed sections as I worked my way down.

Then I ironed the new seams open and flat. See how nice that looks?

Here’s the completed top.

Making the quilt sandwich: top, batting, backing. Mmm, sandwich. It was a bit of a pain to get everything flat and smooth. What worked for me was to neatly roll out each layer, rather than trying to drape it across. I left some excess material around the edges as insurance.

Next was the most physically demanding part: putting in the pins. I ended up spreading the quilt on the floor and carefully crawling around and on top of it while putting a safety pin through the layers in the middle of each large square. My husband had to wrangle my daughter because she wanted to play with the quilt so badly! Once the pinning was done, I trimmed off the excess batting and backing (this picture was taken right before that step).

Another really challenging part: quilting the whole thing with my awful Singer Simple. Now that I have my Janome, I really wish I’d just upgraded my machine before doing this part! I stitched in the ditch, as they say, and followed the seams to make each square puff up. I kept the sides rolled up like a scroll as I fed the quilt through. I couldn’t follow the seams perfectly because my machine is so awful. The weight of the quilt kept making it shift and the wimpy presser foot struggled to hang on. When I started a new line, I had to drape the excess over my shoulder.

After doing all the quilting, I removed the safety pins. It’s starting to look like a quilt!

Back side. The safety pin holes are still visible, but they’ll wash out.

When I started to add the binding, I realized I’d made another mistake. Instead of making my own bias binding, I bought ready-made binding. The ready-made binding was scratchy and stiff, even after being washed, so I abandoned it and made my own.

Adding the pink binding. I’m glad that I went with pink instead of white because it really brings out the pink in the floral stripe fabric!

Adding binding is pretty easy. Stitch it on one side, flip it over, tuck it under, then stitch again. Some people prefer to neatly stitch the edge on the back by hand, but I hate doing that, so I just stitched it on this way. I mitered the corners but didn’t take any pictures of it. Mitering is pretty easy if you are careful with it.

And here’s the completed quilt! Washing it after finishing it really enhanced its quiltiness. I love the way the small squares make the colors skip across the quilt!

Washing also made the back of the binding curl a bit, so I can see why some people stitch the edge now.

I’m happy to say that this was a big learning experience and my daughter loves her quilt. I don’t know if I’ll make another quilt again, but if I decide to, I have a machine that can handle it now! I expect my next quilt to be much better!

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