Saturday, August 26, 2023

Expedite your quiltmaking tasks with quick methods, tools, and "convenience fabrics"

Three cuddle quilts completed in a week's time! Although these are smaller size quilts, the following tips can be applied to any quilt that you want to finish more quickly. 

Three finished cuddle quilts for charity.
Finished sizes (from left): 41.5" x 46", 29.5" x 35", 34.5" x 36.5"

Making the Quilt Tops

I used three different patchwork methods to create the tops for these quilts. 

  • Big fabric patches of varying size
  • A two-fabric block
  • A fabric panel with added borders

Basted Cuddle Quilts. A two-patch block design (left) and a big patch design (right).

The Big Patch design

The quilt top on the right is the easiest and quickest to assemble.

  • Pull a variety of fabric prints (these happened to all be from the same fabric collection).
  • The blocks/patches are the same height but varying width. Mine were 9.5" in height by anywhere from 5.5" to 10" wide.
  • Arrange the blocks/patches so the corners DO NOT meet.

Sew the blocks into rows. Then, when sewing the rows together, you won't have to worry about matching corners and nesting seam allowances because the patches are of different widths. It's an easy sew.

Two-patch blocks using various fabric prints and batiks.

Two-patch block design

The quilt top above is fun and scrappy. It started with a handful of rectangles that were about the same size—around 6.5"-7" by (about) 3".

  • Pair the rectangles and chain piece them (on the long side) into 2-patch units. Do this in one sitting, or keep a stack of rectangles near your sewing machine and use them as "leaders" and "enders" while sewing other projects. (I did a little of both.)
  • Pick the smallest pieced block and trim this one to make it square. Trim all the others to that size. Mine ended up at 6.5" square.
  • Arrange blocks in a "rail fence" layout. Sew the blocks into rows and then sew the rows together.
Spinning the seams in the two-patch quilt top.

: If the seam allowances of each row are pressed in an alternating fashion (toward the unpieced unit), the seam allowances will nest at the intersections when sewing the rows together. Spinning the seam allowances at the block intersections will minimize bulk, allow the top to lie flatter, and avoid any big lumps that would interfere with your machine quilting.

Cuddle Quilt using a fabric panel. 41.5" x 46"

Fabric panels—the "convenience fabric"

The peacock quilt was made using a fabric panel. How much easier can it get? It's like a microwave meal or a TV dinner... no fuss, no muss. Just add borders (or not!) and it's finished!

  • I added a 4" border to the sides and a 6" border to the top and bottom. The borders made a nice frame aound the 4 "faux" quilt blocks.
  • The border measurements were intentional. They kept the top within a 44/45" width to accomodate a single piece of fabric for the backing (no piecing the backing fabric—another time-saver).
  • The larger top and bottom borders made the quilt rectangular (rather than square).

Spray basting the quilts

As mentioned in this post, spray basting is a fast way to get the quilt sandwich ready for quilting. If you have a quilting buddy to help you, it's even faster!

  • Read the instructions on the can of spray baste. It tells how much, how far, etc.

  • Account for any overspray: cover the floor around the area, lay down an old sheet beneath the quilt back, or cover/protect the table with newspaper.

  • Spray baste in a well-ventilated space.

Quilting the quilts: Free-form and free-motion

Cuddle quilts and charity quilts are great for experimenting and practicing your free-motion quilting. The recipients of your endeavors will love the quilt and appreciate your kindness regardless of your skill level. And how do you get better at FMQ? With practice!

Load several bobbins before you start quilting.

Here are time-saving tips for machine quilting:

  • I used the same backing fabric for all three quilts. Choose a matching thread and load several bobbins before starting. If your backing fabrics are different, you could use a neutral/blending thread in the bobbin for all.

  • Load one extra bobbin for adding the binding by machine.

  • I don't mark the tops. Just drop the feed dogs, hit the pedal, and quilt intuitively!
  • Start quilting somewhere in the middle (on a "busy" fabric) and meander around, moving toward the edges of the quilt sandwich.

Large flowers were free-motion quilted on this Cuddle Quilt.

  • Be inspired by the fabrics to come up with a quilting design. The big-patch quilt (above) was free-motion quilted with large flower motifs. The feather-and-swirl design was inspired by the peacock tails (below).

Cuddle quilt made with a fabric panel.
Free-motion feather motifs mimic the peacock plumes.

  • Quilt with a larger motifs to cover the top in less time.

  • Combine one or more motifs such as the swirls and circles (below). Sometimes you need a different motif to fill weird spaces, to change the direction of your quilting path, or just make the quilting more interesting—for you (the quilter), and for the viewer.

Free-motion quilting with large swirls and circles.

Machine binding

Hands down, machine binding is much quicker than hand binding. 

  • I periodically cut 2.5" strips of left-over or stash fabrics to make bindings. Sometimes they are from a single print, sometimes they are scrappy bindings.
  • I use a piece of double-sided, water soluble sticky tape (made for sewing and quilting) to keep the miters in place when machine stitching the top. Or use a basting glue (like Roxanne's Glue Baste It).
  • You could use the water soluble tape or basting glue to secure the entire binding to make the sewing go quickly.

Machine binding on Cuddle Quilts.

Adding a special detail

Just because a quilt is made with time-savings techniques and tools, doesn't mean you can't add a personal detail to make it special. Here are some ideas:

  • A scrappy binding can be a fun detail and echo the variety of colors that are in the patchwork.

Switch out the top thread with a variegated thread to add a special detail to the free-motion quilting.

  • I used a variegated thread on the turquoise border on the peacock quilt. It doesn't show well in this photo, but the sparkles of the reds and oranges in this variegated thread add a surprising detail.

Here are additional photos of the quilting and the finished cuddle quilts.

Border and corner free-motion quilting.

Feathers and swirls on the peacock panel quilt.

Free-motion machine quilting (back view).

Finish quilt sizes:

  • Peacock panel quilt: 41.5" x 46"
  • Two-fabric block quilt: 29.5" x 35"
  • Big patch quilt: 34.5" x 36.5"

Three completed cuddle quilts.

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