How One Sewing Novice Made A Modern Patchwork Quilt

I think I’m possessed. What else can possibly explain the fact that I’m laying in bed at 12:52 and thinking these totally-foreign-for-me words: “I’m so excited about my quilt I can hardly sleep.” Seriously. The only explanation is some sort of unbeknownst-to-me lobotomy. I’m the girl who loves to use iron-on hem tape to make curtains and crib skirts (here, here, and here). I’m the girl who whined for about 2,000 words about just how cursed I am when it comes to sewing (here). Can I really be the girl who can’t sleep because of a quilt? Insanity.

But I am. Here’s what I’ve been up to. And it is by no means the right way to do this. I went rogue for sure. I don’t know proper form or correct terms and didn’t even take a class or read a book about quilting. I just took it one this-might-work step at a time and held my breath a lot. So to all of you fancy quilting experts, please don’t snort too loudly with laughter when you see how it all went down for me. I just made it with love. And a bit of wonkyness for good measure. You know, just so it’s obvious that it wasn’t made in a factory. Haha. It’s perfectly imperfect and then some. But I love it so much I can’t sleep. Total shocker. Anyway, on to the crazy feel-my-way-along-as-I-go process. It all started when I came across this gorgeous quilt and was immediately inspired.

I’ve always wanted to use all of the mixed and matched fabrics from Clara’s weekly photo project to create some sort of crazy birthday quilt…

… but I knew it had to be pretty darn simple for me to even have a prayer of pulling off my own wonky version of it. But the un-lined-up corners and white stripes interspersed with different textures and prints had me at hello. This I could do. Maybe. And if not it might not kill me to try, just to learn that it’s not quite within my skill level yet. So I trecked out to JoAnn Fabric and used one of those 50% coupons I always get in the mail to get two yards of white quilt-ish fabric for just $8 (the kind with a quilted cotton front and some thin batting already sewn into it on the back). I figured it would work as the white striped fabric between each strip of textured and printed fabric from Clara’s weekly shots and also as the backing for the entire quilt.

Then I washed all of the weekly fabric along with the new white quilted fabric so it was all nice and soft (and pre-shrunk). Then I had to iron a bunch of it because it was all ganked up from the washing process. Boo. That took a while but you know I did it in front of the TV at night after putting Clara to bed, right? Then I parked my butt on the sectional and cut out three inch by twelve inch strips of each of Clara’s weekly backdrops (except for some which weren’t fabric at all like the yellow rug, the shower curtain, the moving box, and a few other non-fabric items we tossed in there). When it came to the three inch width, I wasn’t exact with that since I liked the not-all-the-same-or-lined-up-look of my inspiration quilt from Pinterest). And I left out some of the crazier fabrics that I knew wouldn’t work that well so I was left with 27 different strips of around 3″ x 12″ fabric (I ditched things like the crunchy gold New Years fabric since I knew it wouldn’t be soft and cuddly like the rest of the blanket). And nobody loves a scratchy blanket. Especially the bean.

Then I cut out 30 three-inch-wide-by-12-inch-long strips of my white fabric. Those 30 strips left me with about two thirds of my yardage of white fabric to use for the backing, which was a pretty happy accident. Then I kept my arse firmly planted on the sofa and just started pinning away (one white strip got pinned to one printed strip, which got pinned to another white strip, and so on – for a striped look).

Nineteen strips made up each row (nine patterned ones alternated between 10 white ones)…

… which I would then sew together (using straight invisible seams from the back of the fabric, which I learned are the easiest kind from making my Sue pillows).

After creating three super long strips that were each about a foot wide and three feet long, I then laid all three of those super long rows next to each other to create this three foot by three foot square that looked pretty reminiscent of my inspiration quilt. I was shocked. It was kind of coming together. This is when I started entertaining the idea that my brain had been switched with a stranger’s.

Note: I originally considered straggering the printed strips like some of the rows on the inspiration quilt (theirs line up sometimes and don’t other times) but I laid it out on the floor the staggered way first and it looked too busy for my liking since my stripes were thicker and most of them had large-scale patterns so it looked kinda cluttered. I then laid them out in the above long stripes (instead of staggering them) and liked the clean and simple look a lot better. So that’s how the front pattern came to be.

This is the point at which I stood and stared at that giant not-perfect-but-pretty-great striped patchwork-ish square of baby blanket happiness for about an hour. I was in total shock that I hadn’t sew-cried or screamed into a pillow yet. Next it was time to iron down all of my seams on the back since I’ve heard that after stitching fabrics together a huge part of making non-bunchy quilts is to iron the back seams so they lay flat (because once those back seams are covered with quilt backing, it’s not exactly easy to iron them flat).

Then after each row was ironed so the back seams laid flat, I pinned one row to another row (with the ugly side out, so once it was stitched the seam would be invisible from the front)…

… and after a quick pass through Oh Brother (my trusty sewing machine) I was left with this:

And may I just say that my sewing machine is so great (it’s a Brother XL2600I that I found on Amazon for $89 with great reviews that I affectionately call Oh Brother). It was all totally user error that was tripping me up in the beginning and I would definitely recommend it. So far at least. It might revolt on me next week. You never know…

Then I repeated that process and added another row (which I again pinned from the back and stitched so the seam was invisible from the front).

That big smile above is what proud looks like. I couldn’t believe I hadn’t a) sewn my finger, b) created a giant nest of string like I did during my first sewing attempt, and c) thrown a maimed quilt on the floor and stormed out of the room. Holy bananas. My plan was actually working. And I wasn’t even cursing.

Here’s the back-view (also note that Burger is kindly showing you a chihuahua back-view):

After I ironed those new back seams that I had just created by joining those three long rows, I took the backing and the front of my quilt and faced the good sides towards each other on top of each other (so it was like a sandwich with the good stuff in the middle). Then I pinned around three of the four edges and I used my sewing machine to stich around them while keeping it all inside out like this. Yup, I basically made a giant pillow sham just like I did here with my Sue pillows. I even stitched a bit of the fourth side closed on each end (leaving just the middle portion open so I could flip things right-side out again.

Then I flipped it right-side-out and hand stitched the unsewn middle of the last edge closed (with my butt parked on the sofa in front of the TV of course):

It was definitely starting to look quilt-like, but it was sort of like a pillowcase that had been stitched closed with nothing in it. If you pulled on the backing with one hand and the quilted front with another hand, you could balloon the whole thing out since nothing was holding them together except for the stitching around the edges. So here’s where I actually started to feel like I was quilting. I also started to sweat profusely because I was about to dive into seams that show on both sides of the quilt. No more hidden seams done from the inside. I actually had to stitch down from the top of each white row of strips to the bottom, and the little white seam would definitely be exposed, so any ganked up thread or knotted nests of string would ruin the whole effect in a hot minute. And I would probably have had a full blown meltdown after all that work if things suddenly went south. So I gritted my teeth, held my breath, crossed my fingers, decided I needed them and uncrossed them, and tried to take it slow and steady.

Lo and behold, I was left with this.

And I was also left wondering who the heck took over my body and made a friggin quilt. Insane. It’s definitely not perfect, but a week ago I would have bet you a million dollars that I couldn’t ever sew two strips of fabric together, much less make a quilt (albeit an imperfect one). And I actually love it in all of its not-quite-perfect glory. Hopefully that will remind Clara that it was one of my first attempts at sewing, which she brought out in me (because before she was born you couldn’t pay me to use a sewing machine- let alone convince me to buy one and attempt a friggin quilt, but for some reason she made me want to make her something meaningful with all of her weekly fabrics). In case I’m not hitting this hard enough, I am shocked that I actually made a quilt. Seriously, almost speechless.

Oh and in the spirit of Burger sharing his hindquarters above, here’s the finished back-view:

Now I get to give it to Beaner for her b-day and I hope that she’ll always have it and know that her entirely undomestic mom (you think I’m kidding, but John does the cooking and the laundry around here) was possessed by some other-worldy being and whipped up a quilt to commemorate her big one year birthday. I’m not gonna lie, there were some victory laps around the house. And yes, John sang the rocky song while I ran around waving my quilt in the air.

In summation: Word to Oh Brother (yes, I just hit you with a word to your mother slash Brother sewing machine joke). Booyah.

Psst- My jazz hands even excitedly created a new category called “Sew Excited” a la Jesse Spano (get that reference here). So you can see the whopping three posts in there by clicking the Topics tab up near our search bar and scrolling down to find it.

Psssssst- We went Nursery Crashing over on BabyCenter this morning. Get in on the fun here.


  1. Valerie says

    Looks fantastic! Did you have trouble sewing the white lines that were more towards the middle of the quilt? (the lines securing the front to the backing) Did you just bunch up the fabric on the side to get it through the machine smoothly? I always have trouble with that part and have accidentally sewn stuff to itself before. :S

    • says

      A woman at Joann told me the tip was to roll up the excess on the side (like a yoga mat) which helped it all slide right through without any bunching! Such a great tip.


  2. says

    Wow. I would have been screaming into pillows after 10 minutes, and I have been known to sew some straight lines on poorly constructed pillows and/or curtain panels like a madman. Color me impressed, if I didn’t already think you were cooler than me this certainly would have cemented the deal. ;) It’s beautiful, way to go!

    • Sandra says

      OMG! I love this! And the quilt, too! And speaking of “birging,” I found a new word from the link (love me some big, crazy words): “deindividuation.” So awesome!

    • Ashlyn says

      As a fellow social psychologist, can I just say that it has totally made my day–heck, my month!–that there was a social psych reference on my favorite blog? Totally cemented for me now–no other blog will ever top this one!

    • says

      Just thought I’d reply to this too since my husband is a social psychologist, and I just spent the weekend at a psych conference with him! Too funny!

  3. says

    Ah, I knew you’d come around to sewing someday! In fact, right before you introduced Oh Brother, I was thinking I should send you an email to suggest you try some sewing. It’s totally addictive though. I wanted to make a quilt, so I did in January… and have since made more quilts, stuffed toys & crayon rolls for my niece & friends, reusable coffee sleeves, and my very first shirt (which looks like it came from a store!) last weekend. Get ready for fabric to take over your spare room!

  4. julie g. says

    Outrageous Sherry – what a wonderful keepsake and true example of a mommy’s love. Congratulations on tapping into yet another skill you did not even know you had!

  5. says

    Congratulation! This is great. Everytime I am wondering how can I sew like this blanket.
    and I realy understand you.
    Thank you for your tips..

  6. says

    It looks AWESOME! Congratulations on your first quilt! Oh, and welcome to “the dark side.” You’ll find we quilters are a fun friendly bunch!

  7. Kaisa says

    That’s a gorgeous quilt! Great job Sherry!!
    Have you thought about embroidering (by hand) something on the back with initials or the birth date?
    Good job! :)

  8. says

    When I was in Home Ec way back in 8th grade, we had to sew pillows. I accidentally made mine into a triangle instead of a square. Your post gives me hope that I too might be able to make something like this for my daughter! Haha, I love it!

    • says

      I remember making pillows in 8th grade home ec, too! Somehow, I bribed my friend, Tim, to finish mine. Yes–a BOY finished sewing my pillow for me because I just couldn’t get the machine on my side. It’s taken more than a decade to get back on the sewing wagon after that–but I’m heeeerrreeeee!!

      Chris Loves Julia

    • says

      Haha, I love it. I keep telling John he has to learn how to sew now (I think he’d be better than me) but he’s sew not interested. Har-har.


    • says

      Oh, of course I’ll thank the academy. And I must give a major shout out to my old job since I started reading your blog when I didn’t want to work, hahaha.

    • Alicia C. says

      @Sherry, I got a hand-me-down machine from a friend of my mom’s and it has been in our guest room for two years now. It is great at holding up my jewelery box but I dont know how to use it. My very manly husband has already used it dozens of times. Talk about making me feel like an under achiever! :) This has definitely given me the inspiration to tackle learning though. I have a box in the attic of fabric I have been saving for a quilt. Guess I’d better get started! Speaking of fabric, did you get all of that fabric from JoAnn’s? I am desperately in love with some of it!

  9. Angela Rose says

    I just want to say this made me so happy … don’t know how to explain it, but if I tried – I would says its just so stinkin’ special and cute and funny and your little lady is so blessed to have parents that love and adore her the way you two do.

    All in all, it just makes me happy to know there really is wonderful in the world :)

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