April 23, 2008

A {NewNew} How To: Patchwork Blanket - Combat Global Warming with Style

While I was thinking about what to contribute to our Earth Day blogging, trying to come up with a project that anyone could do, the idea of patchwork blankets kept coming to mind. I thought maybe it was too late for a tutorial on making blankets as it is almost May, but here in NY it has still been very cold, and we just had a blog posts on Salvaged Designer Fabrics and on our Pre Earth Day Team Swap. It actually seemed to make sense. I have made these simple patchwork blankets for myself, for friends and family and so I decided to share this “how to that anyone can do” with you.

As a scenic and costume designer for theatre I have always had lots of bits of fabric from various projects around. Many of the pieces of fabric I had were too small to make anything out of, but too nice to throw out. Some reminded me of specific shows I had designed and I wanted to give them all a new life and save them from the garbage.

If you have access to a sewing machine and can stitch a straight line you can do this project. No patterns, very little measuring. Easy. Eco-friendly. Fab. Here’s how:

1) Gather your fabrics and decide on a theme or color palette. You can use any kind of fabric – You might have things around the house just dying for a new life. Here are some ideas:

Leftover fabric scraps
Vintage fabrics
Favorite shirt or blouse that got ripped or got a stain (concert t-shirts, etc.)
Your favorite sweater that you accidentally shrunk in the wash.
That article of clothing that doesn’t fit anymore. (must have shrunk too!)
That gift item that you were given but never used.
Any nice fabric bits that need a new life

2) Decide on the size of your squares. For this blanket you don’t need lots of the same fabric. For the blanket pictured I cut 7 & ½ inch squares based on the scraps I had available. I only have 1 square of some fabrics, 2 or 3 of others, it doesn’t matter – you can use whatever you have. To decide the size of your squares just look at the smallest scrap that you want to use and don’t make your squares smaller than that – it’s that simple.

3) Trace out your squares & cut. I cut a square template out of the cardboard from the back of a used notepad. Trace around your square template to get all your squares a uniform size. If you are careful in keeping your squares the same size everything will line up easier when you stitch it all together. Cut your squares out on your lines. (To see how many squares you will need see step #4)

If you are a beginner – here are some tips to keep this project simple: Use fabrics that are somewhat similar in weight and consistency. Don’t use fabrics that are too thick or heavy or too thin. Or, if you want to use a lighter weight fabric back it with something more stable, like a basic shirt-weight cotton. You can attach them together with a fusible product like “Stitch Witchery” or just attach them together as you zig or surge the edges. You can also back fabrics if you want to use something that is sheer or lacey. It’s best to keep woven fabrics “on grain” – this just means place your template so that the threads of the fabric are going the same direction as the edges of your template. This isn’t an absolute must, but will make it easier to stitch as your fabrics will be more stable and not give and stretch.

4) Decide on the size of the overall blanket. You can make this type of blanket any size you want. The one pictured is 8 columns/10 rows of squares - about 48 inches by 62 inches. It is narrow enough that I was able to use a single solid width of fabric for the backing. You can decide on your overall size based on what you want to use as your backing and how much fabric you have available or the size of blanket you want. Once you know the size of the blanket you want to make you can easily do some basic math and find out how many squares you need.

5) Zig-Zig stitch over the edges. Once you have cut out all your squares I recommend doing a zig-zag stitch around the edges or serge them if you have access to a serger, but don’t trim the size down as you surge so they will still all be the same size. This will help keep them from fraying and make the blanket more durable.

6) Compose your blanket design. I just lay mine out on the floor. If you have a tile floor you can use the tile grid as a guide to help you layout all your squares. I usually start by spacing out my lightest and darkest squares and then fill in with the other squares, but you can compose your blanket in any way you like. I like mine to be somewhat random, but I generally avoid having two squares of the same fabric very close to each other. You can arrange them in any way you like.

7) Stack it. Once you have placed all your squares to compose your blanket you are almost ready to start sewing. Take the first square of your first column and stack it on top of the next square down, then stack those two squares on the third one, and so on. This will make sure you keep it all in order and maintain your composition. When you have stacked your first column, just pin it all together with a large safety pin through a post-it note and label it “column 1” and continue to the next column. Once you have all of your columns stacked in order and labeled you are ready to sew.

8) Stitch your first stack into a long strip. Place you first square from the top of your first stack on your table and place the second square on top of it, with the faces together. (If there is a pattern or top/bottom to the fabrics be sure to maintain this as you stitch things together.) Stitch the two squares together ¾ from the edge. (the bottom of square #1 to the top of square #2, face to face) Continue like this going through your stack top to bottom until you have one long strip of squares. You may not even need to pin these if you are comfortable with sewing and depending on the size of your squares. If you are a beginner a few pins doesn’t hurt. (keep each of your columns marked with the number so you can maintain your composition.)

9) Repeat step #7 for each column/stack.

10) Press your seams open. From the back of your strips just press all of your seams open flat so that the seam allowances are pushed out away from the actual seams.

11) Stitch your columns together. Place column #2 (now a long strip) face to face on top of column/strip #1. You will probably want to pin things together here. As I pin things together, edge to edge and face to face, I make sure that I am matching up the four corners nicely. Once it is pinned, stitch the two strips together, ¾ inch from the edge as before.

12) Repeat step #10 until all of your columns are attached and you have the front side of your blanket as one nice, big patchwork.

13) Press your new vertical seams open, as you did before.

14) Top stitch (optional) At this point you may do some top stitching if you like, it’s a nice detail, but not necessary. From the front of your blanket stitch straight top-stitch lines to both sides of your stitch lines. As you stitch, make sure that your seam allowances stay pushed out away from the seam. Top stitching like this will keep those seams nice and flat. Top stitch both your vertical seams and your horizontal seams. It will look like this:

15) Attach a backing. At this point you are ready to attach a backing to your blanket. I have often used an interesting textured corduroy or something else soft with a little body in a similar weight to the front of your blanket. All you have to do is lay your backing fabric out on the floor (or table) face up and place your patch work face down on top of it. Line it up nicely and pin the edges together. Trim your backing down to be a little bigger than your patchwork front. Then just stitch around the outside, (with ¾ inch seam allowance as before) leaving about 12 inches open on one side. You now have an inside-out almost finished blanket. Pull the blanket through the opening so that it is no longer inside out. Admire.

16) Press the outside edge flat and make sure your corners are pushed out. You may need to trim the seam allowance at the corners down a bit to make them less bulky and then push them out with something pointy (but not sharp) so they are nice and square and crisp.

17) Stitch the opening closed by hand with a nice tidy stitch.

18) Top stitch around the outside as you topstitched on each side of your seams.

19) Admire your new fabulous eco-friendly hand-made one-of-a-kind blanket.

20) Make popcorn & get cozy under blanket. Enjoy!


fofolle said...

Beautiful work you do!

Martin T. Lopez (MTL) said...

thank you - hopefully I will figure out how to get the text to appear in the posting!

cakehouse said...

that is so beautiful, dl! love the colors.

love forever said...

i love it!
what a great way to use scraps!

magikquilter said...

Thanks Kathy for adding the photos to our group and for adding this link..it is really achievable and over here we are just going into winter so these blankets are really needed.

magikquilter said...

Okay sorry about calling you Kathy Martin, sorry I was getting mixed up with the first commentor....now I am even more impressed and understand the sublelty of fabric choice even better.

heritage patchwork said...

Kooks very nice and different from the rest of the plain ones.I really love them.

quilt said...

The placing of the samples and then stitching them in order is a very difficult task and any inability to do that will will mess up the look of the patchwork.