Making A Quilt: How To Half Ass it And Look Like You Know What You’re Doing (Part 1)

I started to make a quilt a few weeks ago. I have no experience doing such things OR anyone to learn from or work with. This was just a whim – an “I bet I could do that” lark that has subsequently become a new passion.

Do you want to know how to start your own half ass quilt? Keep reading and you will know just how to get started. 😉

Why quilting? Why not. I have always been drawn to the fiber arts and the past few years have led me into various dye, nature printing explorations, and a renewed love of fabric and sewing. When it comes to quilting, the sheer size of the project has long seemed pretty terrifying, especially when practically all my work (ever) would be considered pretty dang tiny compared with most modern day artists.

As an embroiderer, I prefer to hand stitch and control texture and color in a very slow and methodical way (on a very small scale) so working on a giant bed-sized work of art is daunting to say the least. But, there is no time like Covid – at least if you are fortunate enough to work from home and have a few hours each day available.

4″ tester blocks with various dyed samples to develop color scheme.

Would you like to make your very own potentially misguided quilting project? Here’s a crash course in how to get started.

1) Decide you want to make a quilt. This is particularly appropriate if you can barely sew more than a pillowcase or simple zippered bag. Dream big.

2) Look at pictures of quilts on Pinterest to get ideas. Stress a bit and wonder if you are actually thinking of doing this or not. Fret about the cost, the lack of know-how, the current never-been-cleaned state of your sewing machine, and boldly forage on. It is a good idea to simply pin your inspirations and avoid getting bogged down by actually viewing the links or watching the videos – it will only knock your feeling of confidence.

3) Dig out scraps of fabric from your stash. I am sure that you have had that one you have been adding to for years (while rarely following through on any of the intended projects envisioned at the time of purchase). Don’t worry about washing those fat quarters.

4) Procrastinate. Stare at the fabric you have and search on Pinterest for couple of weeks and agonize over your ideas and decisions.

5) Buy a few tools. Start with stuff that looks cool and possibly helpful like a rotary cutter, cutting mat, and large see-through ruler that looks like graph paper and a ruler had a baby. Lay your tools out next to your carefully folded fabrics and stare at them as you sip your coffee.

Tools collected to create tester blocks. A rotary cutter is essential!

6). Do some research. Go online and order a decently reviewed quilting book you’ve never seen in person and hope for the best. I would suggest that you look at books on string quilting because it’s perhaps the most brilliant (and lazy) form of quilting there is. Seriously, it is amazing. You might consider String Quilt Style (nope, no affiliate link or kick-back here) because those shiny bright orbs of color elicit joy and wonder at the bounty inside.

7) Prep. Stare at your tools and fabric some more while you wait on your book to come in. Consider washing your fabrics but get distracted by some mess one of your kids/animals made and forget to do so.

8) Do more research. Rejoice when your book arrives! If you got the String Quilt Style book I did you will be delighted at how simple everything seems! Skip the initial chapters which provide you all the practical data and instructions and look longingly at the pictures of finished quilts.

9) Get any necessary supplies. Decide that all your fabrics suck and use the excuse that you are now practically an expert (you did skim the book, after all) and go buy new fabric. Stare at the choices for hours then decide that fabric is ridiculously expensive. Does one really need “quilting cotton”? Why not just go with white muslin and some packages of RIT dye. Much more affordable.

Dye tests.

10) Preshrink your fabric. Smugly pre-wash all your cheap white 100% cotton Muslin and then spend a weekend dying it in creative ways until you have enough of a spectrum of fabric choices to satisfy your creative vision.

Lovely dyed fabric stacked and ready to go.

11) Do any additional preparation that is necessary. Realize that you did not rinse the dye out to well enough. It’s okay, you likely got distracted by the sound of “mom” being repeated endlessly or the sudden silence throughout the house that most certainly did not mean anything good. Rewash the fabrics in the washing machine again – use hottest settings and extra rinse cycles and pat yourself on the back for catching this nightmare before it ruined your quilt later on.

12) Iron your fabrics thoroughly. Iron and re-iron all your fabrics. Curse repeatedly as you remind yourself why you hate ironing AND should not have allowed your child to make those stained glass crayon things with wax paper a few weeks ago. Drink a lot of coffee. Dig out an empty travel spray bottle and try to spray the fabric into submission. Give up half-way through and eat a snack with your kid. Make another cup of coffee and finish the chore.

Old (17 year) cat helper.

13) Document your progress. After at least a week of starting at your beautiful fabrics make sure you take the time to document them copiously on social media – artfully arrange your new supplies and/or solicit the help of a cute furry animal to make it look better and ensure that people think you are making much more progress than you really are.

14) Take any notes that you might need to reference handy. Finally commit to cutting your fabrics up. It will hurt them more than it will hurt you – it’s okay, I promise. Look back at your book and decide which type of pattern you’re going to reference but largely ignore. Take vague note of the size of your blocks and the size or length of the strips.

15) Cut your fabric. Grab that new rotary cutter and mat and start hacking – I mean carefully and strategically cutting – some strips. It’s good to be on your third cup of coffee (at least) while you do this. The caffeine shakes only help with your accuracy and safety while you swoosh that little round razor blade by your fingers. You do not have to be mathematical – throw in some intentional angles to ensure that screwed up cuts look thoughtfully artful.

Fabric strips all cut and ironed and ready to piece.

16) Cut your paper block templates. Cut several pieces of computer paper to one of the sizes you’ve seen listed in your book – maybe 8″. Go ahead and use your rotary cutter – it’s just a few sheets of paper. Paper is much easier on a blade than fabric, right? Realize that you need to probably read the instructions more carefully after you have done so. Curse a lot under your breath. Go and re-cut ALL the pieces to 8.25″ to include the 1/4″ seem allowance you forgot the first time. Curse a lot more and open an adult beverage of choice – you’ve had enough coffee for goodness sake. Then re-cut more squares AGAIN when with the added 1/2″ inch when you realize that you didn’t double the seem allowance. Curse even more at your stupidity and then tell your kid you thoughtfully (and intentionally) cut the messed up squares of computer paper so they could make origami cranes and fortune tellers.

The back of a finished string block before trimming (favorite part).

17) Review your notes. Break out the chocolate you purchased for your kids lunch treat (hide doing so or they will want some, too). While you secretly munch chocolate and drink your adult beverage, look more thoroughly at your book. Discover that the first section you skipped over previously is actually quite helpful… this is a good opportunity to “forget” to start dinner and have the excuse to order pizza. Everyone will understand. And you get pizza – win/win!

18) Make a few test blocks. Several days later (maybe even a week) tentatively follow the step-by-step pictures about how to create your quilt block. Play around a little with some tester pieces that you will undoubtedly use in the finished quilt (because let’s face it, they will). As you go you will start to feel an unrealized tension start to recede between your shoulders… you CAN do this after-all. You WERE NOT an idiot for blindly throwing yourself into something so complex. Completely lose track of time as you go and forget dinner again – go on, order Pizza again – you earned it. Don’t forget to document your efforts and pizza on social media.

19) Check your progress as you go. Realize you have to make a million blocks. Contemplate giving up. Lay out the 10-12 blocks you have managed to make and feel so satisfied that you dismiss any ideas about giving up. Document it on social media to hold yourself even more accountable.

22 blocks and counting… progress!

20) Continue to work on your blocks. Find time to periodically make 5-8 blocks at a time until you have enough… don’t worry about reading ahead in your book about things like batting and binding… there is plenty of time for that later…

I will check back with you when I wrap up the 80 blocks I am currently working on. I have 30/80 at this point and…. so far so good. Good luck as you get started on your very own half ass quilt!

Disclaimer: This post is NOT intended to actually instruct anyone in the art of making quilts. This post is a humorous tongue-in-cheek review of how I am personally bumbling through making my first quite and is for entertainment only.


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