How To: Sew an Heirloom Embroidered Quilt

I did something that I really didn't think I could do — I made a quilt! I'd never even attempted a quilt before, but wanted to rekindle an old family tradition celebrating the new addition of a baby with a quilt. I had no experience, I was on the verge of becoming overwhelmed, and not entirely sure of my plan, but once it was done, I realized that the biggest inhibitor was really just my own fear! So I've created this How To and am challenging you to attempt something you're not sure you can do.

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Quilts are not only the perfect cold weather comfort, but they also tell a story. When my grandmother would make a quilt for a new baby, she would recruit all willing and able family members to embroider a single square, and then assemble them into a baby blanket. I had one---it was called "pictures on." Yes, I was a literal child! So when we found out that my friend Rachael was pregnant, my best friend Christine (a DIY pro, mind you) and I decided to carry on this tradition.

Allow me to offer this disclaimer before going any further: Quilting is an artform that many people have mastered and dedicate long hours learning to do with skill and grace. I look forward to learning more, but intend to highlight the idea that even without much of that skill or grace, the beginning sewer can still create something beautiful and special! So, with respect to the fine quilters of the world, and motivation to the beginner quilters, please accept my technically-lacking, but enthusiastic How To!

So, we recruited the girls, hit up Sublime Stitching for some hip, beautiful embroidery patterns, and went to town. Many of us hadn't embroidered before, and we set about sewing our respective squares, surely making up stitches along the way. We cut our fabric into 7x7 inch squares, leaving room around the border for seams, but the size is really up to you. We learned along the way that lighter-weight and looser-weave fabrics aren't as easy to embroider as something with more weight and a tighter weave, but we managed to create some fun, beautiful squares.

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Once we finished our squares, Christine seamed them together with other colorful, patterned pieces of fabric, in a simple geometric grid. Once that was done, she added a simple 5 inch white border around the squares. In hindsight, we might have chosen a less sheer fabric, so as not to see stray threads underneath. The next step is to take this top layer, a layer of batting made for quilts, and a piece of fabric for the back of the quilt, and pin them together.

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This is where the quilt entered my hands. I then quilted these pieces together to create the body of the blanket. I went for a zig zag stitch across the seams of each square, to create a simple grid pattern. Clearly, if you have the time and gumption to get creative, this is the part where you can get very ornate with the stitches. Quilting with different patterns, contrasting thread, etc. can achieve some great effects! This is wehre I found out the value of pinning obsessively along the way, to prevent bunching and gathering of the fabric. I was seven seams in and realized that I wasn't doing it as perfectly as I thought...so I ripped them all out and began anew. My problem is that I'm an impatient sewer. This taught me to slow down and be more precise.

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Once that part was complete, the only step left was to bind the quilt. This is where you add a finished edge around the whole blanket. I had absolutely no idea how to do this! Enter: YouTube! Christine sent me this amazing video from the ladies at the Missouri Star Quilt Co. that explained the whole thing, very simply. I watched it twice, and then set out to bind the quilt. (They're a great resource if you get stuck on any part of the quilt.) This was the scariest part--I felt like I could ruin the whole thing with one mis-step! But as soon as I got going, it seemed like a breeze!

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Afterwards, there were a few little imperfections. (I would have been surprised if there weren't!) But these things add character to the quilt, and Rachael will be able to look at those imperfections and remember that we learned how to make a quilt for her!

The best part, outside of the happiness and tears that the quilt was met with, was the feeling I got when I finished. It was a task I didn't think I could do, let alone do fairly well! It reminded me that the backbone of DIY is the idea that with a little bit of knowledge, a great deal of determination, and some of creativity, you can do more than you think you can! And mistakes? Well, they just add to the charm.

Images: Jessica Tata

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