Sunday, January 9, 2011

Rag Quilt for My Dad

 First of all, Happy New Year! I was pretty bad last year with keeping up with this blog, and my NY "resolution" is to try to do a better job with that in 2011!  I actually really like blogging and showing projects and how-to's and recipes, I just don't have a good handle on fitting blogging time into my schedule.  So that's what I'm going to work on in the new year.  That being said, for my first post of the new year, I thought I would show off the rag quilt that I made my dad for Christmas.  I really wanted to do more homemade gifts this Christmas, and I've actually had it in mind to make my dad a rag quilt for more than a year.  In fact, I bought the fabric right after Thanksgiving LAST year (in 2009), and just never got around to doing anything with it then.

To begin with, a rag quilt is really just a blanket made of three layers of flannel blocks that are sewn together with the seams on the OUTSIDE.  After all of the seams are sewn, you clip all of the seam allowances with special clippers.  Then when you wash the quilt, the seams allowances "rag" and they develop a wavy, soft, comfy look.  The HUGE advantage of a rag quilt is that it isn't anything like a traditional quilt, so it goes together in a very short period of time.  There are lots of people on the internet who say that they can make one in a weekend.  For me, that would be pretty ambitious, but it's true that these quilts are relatively fast projects.

I got interested in making a rag quilt after reading this blog post:  Rag Quilt  If you Google "rag quilt," you can find all kinds of pictures and posts and videos.  But, what I really loved about the blog post that I linked is that it gives MEASUREMENTS and ACTUAL DIRECTIONS.  Most posts give information about making a rag quilt, but they don't give specifics.  I like specifics.  They make my life easier!  After reading through all of Kelly's fabulous directions and looking at her photos, I decided to just make my quilt using all same-size blocks, instead of making some "4 square" blocks like Kelly did.  My reasoning was just that I wanted to keep things as simple as possible.  I also made my quilt a little larger than the ones that Kelly did, as my dad is a big guy, and I wanted something that he would really find useful.  So, my quilt ended up being made out of 8-1/2" blocks, with 8 rows of 6 blocks.  That's a total of 48 blocks, and since I was using three different prints, that's 16 blocks of each print for the front of the quilt.  The "middle" layer of the quilt I made out of white flannel, and the back (which is visible in the photo above) is a pale blue.

Here's a photo of my flannel squares all stacked up, after I was finished cutting:

And here is a close-up of the three fabrics that I chose.  Now tell me that that skiing moose fabric isn't the cutest thing you've ever seen!  One word of advice -- I chose a stripe (the moose) and a very "even" pattern (the red snowflake print) as two of my fabrics, and that probably wasn't the best idea for a novice like me.  The reason is that when you cut the fabric, it's easy for it to get off-grain just a little bit.  While those small variances wouldn't be noticeable in a small, all-over print, they are noticeable with plaids, stripes, and the like.  I did have this problem to some degree -- some of the red snowflakes squares are "off" just a little.  But, I decided to just not worry about it and maybe do a more careful job of picking prints next time.

As I said, you can read Kelly's blog for complete instructions on cutting and sewing a rag quilt.  She gives some tips along that way that are very helpful, too.  For example, it's definitely worth it to buy special "nippers" to clip the seam allowances, rather than using regular scissors.  The nippers are spring loaded, so they are MUCH easier on your hands and wrists.  These were a necessity for me, as I have arthritis in both my hands, but I'd recommend them for everyone.  They were around $20 at Jo-Ann's, and I used a 50% off coupon, so the nippers were less than $10.  Totally worth it. 

The other thing that is really, really helpful when doing a rag quilt is using a "walking foot" to sew the seams.  I resisted this idea, until I saw what a walking foot really does.  It helps keep all of the layers of fabric together as they are sewn together by the sewing machine.  That sounds like a small thing, but when you are sewing two blocks of a rag quilt together, you are sewing SIX LAYERS of flannel together!  Without a walking foot, it will be hard, if not impossible, for all those layers to feed into the machine evenly.  I have a Kenmore sewing machine, and I found a walking foot for it right at my local Sears store.  In fact, for $30, I got a boxed assortment of different feet for particular tasks.  Again, totally worth it.  If you can't find a walking foot for your exact sewing machine model, they do make generic ones, but I can't speak to how well those may work.  The big secret for me with the walking foot was to GO SLOW.  I got the best results when I sewed my seams slowly and carefully. 

Ok, last photo.  This is a picture of what the "ragged" seams look like when the whole quilt is finished and has been washed.

See how the seams get kind of wavy and raggy-looking?  Really a cute look!  Oh, one last comment.  Most people (including Kelly, I think) will tell you NOT to wash your fabrics before you cut, because you will get the best results with "ragging" when you have unwashed fabrics in the finished quilt.  I somehow didn't read this advice, and I washed everything before cutting my square.  I was worried about the flannel shrinking too much and I wanted to know the real size that my quilt was going to end up being.  I have to say that I don't think it probably made that much difference that I washed the fabrics first.  The clipped seam allowances still frayed and ragged beautifully.  So, I'd say to do whatever you feel most comfortable with as far as washing your fabrics first.  I think your quilt will come out fine either way.

So, the final bit of this story is that my dad LOVED his quilt!  My dad is at that age where he is very, very hard to buy gifts for.  He doesn't really go anywhere, and he leads a quiet life.  He lives far away from me, so it's not like I can take him to dinner or do personal things with him.  So all of the types of gifts I used to get him when he was younger just aren't good choices anymore.  I confess that I really wasn't sure how well the rag quilt would go over.  But, Dad told me that he likes to take a nap every afternoon, and he had been thinking that he needed to get a warmer blanket to throw across his legs when he napped.  Well, problem solved!  There's not much warmer than three layers of cuddly flannel!

Bottom line -- this is a pretty easy project and you end up with a GREAT finished piece, with big impact.  You do have to take your time when cutting the blocks and also sewing, but the end result is worth it.  I bought a TON of flannel and Jo-Ann's Black Friday sale this year, and I'm planning on whipping up a few more of these quilts to give as gifts next Christmas!


  1. Great job! Those moose are so cute and the quilt turned out fabulous.

  2. Great project! I can see why your dad loved it. If I ever loan to sew, I think I will have to try this.

  3. wow! Love the detailing around each square. TFS.

  4. LOVE how this quilt turned out. It is lovely. And I think that the 8.5" blocks throughout was a fabulous idea. I may have to steal it because I've got a college boy who wants a rag quilt, but I'm not too keen on cutting out the smaller square (it doubles the work!). Thanks for the tip and for the pictures - the finished quilt is just wonderful. I'm sure that your dad will cherish this forever.

  5. I can see why your dad loved it. Its beautiful. Such a special gift.
    I love that stack of fabric squares all neatly stacked ;)