How To Make A Rag Quilt
What Is A Rag Quilt?
Learning how to make a rag quilt is easy and a great beginner’s project if you’re just starting to quilt. Both baby size rag quilts and blue jean rag quilts are very popular. Rag quilts are easy to make and wonderful to have close by to keep away the chill. Once you cut lots of fabric blocks and squares of batting, you’ll have a finished quilt in no time. (Did you know you can make rag quilts without batting?) Most of all they are comfy and soft making them perfect for wrapping yourself in just to relax.
Also, rag quilts can be a personalized memory quilt by using old shirts, blue jeans or even baby blankets and flannel sheets. They are a perfect beginner’s project for young sewers learning how to use a sewing machine. Your creativity is your only limitation.
Want to Learn More About Rag Quilts?
Be sure to sign up for my Free Rag Quilt eCourse. I’ll send you a daily email for a week that outlines everything you need to know about rag quilting. It’s a great way to learn some new & helpful rag quilt tips & techniques!
Flannel Rag Quilt with Improv Pieced Blocks
Rag Quilt Block Tutorial
The cover quilt above has been immensely popular. This was my first rag quilt which was made with a kit. No longer available, I’ve created a quilt tutorial to show you how to make the block. Once the blocks are made you can decide how to assemble and finish your rag quilt. Many of those options are covered below. Enjoy this rag quilt block!
Recommended Sewing Supplies:
- Sewing Machine Needles size 14-16
- Rotary Cutter, Self-healing Mat & Ruler
- Walking Foot keeps your top & bottom fabrics even while sewing
- Rag Quilt Spring Snippers A MUST to make clipping those seams easier
Get the FREE Quick Reference Tutorial!
Improv Pieced Rag Quilt Block
This improv block is a fun way to create a modern rag quilt. Since the block has two vertical seams, it needs to be cut 2″ wider for the seam allowance. Once pieced, just add 9” flannel squares for backing and an 8” square of batting.
How to Cut An Improv Pieced Block
In order to get a 9″ block after the seams are sewn, the diagonal cuts need to be no wider than 1″ difference from top to bottom. Therefore, if the bottom cut begins at 4″, the top cut needs to end no more than 5″ from the edge. Remember that the wider the angles, the smaller the finished block will be.
How to Cut An Improv Pieced Block
Each group of three fabric strips has three different colors and must be sewn in the same order it was cut. Since the seam is at a slight angle, the top and bottom edges won’t line up straight. There will be a small corner of the point extending where the strips join.
Continue working with three different fabric squares at a time until you have enough blocks for your desired quilt.
Don’t miss these awesome Tips!
Click to download your FREE Interactive Rag Quilt Tips List
Blue Jean and Red Flannel Rag Quilt
How to Make a Blue Jean Rag Quilt
This quilt is a compilation of the blue jeans my son wore as a teenager. We spent a fortune on these embroidered pocketed jeans over the years, and I wasn’t about to throw them away. It was fun to cut out different sections to include pockets, zippers and all the decorative pieces from each pair. The backing is an assortment of flannel which is almost as durable as the denim front. What amazed me is the weight of this quilt with all the added ‘hardware’ around the pockets and such. It turned out wonderful and he loves it.
What Is the Best Material To Make A Rag Quilt?
The best material for making a rag quilt is a woven cotton. If you’re upcycling clothing, first of all be sure it’s cotton as rayon and knits won’t fray around the edges which give this quilt its name. Making a rag quilt with cotton fabric is the most common method most quilters use. It’s durable and will endure years of use.
While woven cottons are the best fabrics to use in rag quilting, using cotton flannels makes them extra soft. Therefore, if you’re making a baby size rag quilt, you’ll definitely want to use a cotton flannel. There are a multitude of print selections and every new mom will love a soft, cuddly flannel rag quilt for their new baby.
Curated fat quarter or precut fabric bundles are a great option for rag quilt blocks. They provide a well-blended assortment of flannel fabric perfect for sewing together quickly.
I’ve used flannel, old blue jeans and also made two large lap quilts with a lightweight cotton fabrics. This red, white and blue quilt is one I made my brother-in-law. It’s the first one I made and was from a kit with all flannel fabric. It turned out great and still looks pretty good after many years of use.
Download FREE Pieced Block Flannel Rag Quilt Tutorial!
What Size is A Rag Quilt Block?
Rag quilt block sizes vary according to the size quilt being made and the weight of the fabric. They can range from a small 3” square of the lightest fabric, to a 10” block, or even a bit bigger for heavier fabrics.
First of all, consider the rag quilt size you want. Rag quilt sizes may vary to fit any need, from a lap quilt to covering a large size bed. Popular baby rag quilts can be small enough to tuck an infant into their car seat, or large enough to keep baby comfy on the floor while learning to crawl.
Once you decide on the quilt size you’re making, it’s time to figure out the rag quilt square size to cut. Your rag quilt square size also depends on the weight of the fabric used. Lighter weight fabric will allow for a smaller square, whereas heavier fabrics will create very bulky seams where they join. So plan on using a larger square block for heavy weight fabrics like denim.
Rag Quilt Blocks Are Cut Larger
Keep in mind, that rag quilt seams are exposed on the top of the quilt. The block size of a rag quilt must include the extra ½” seam allowance on all sides to create the raveled fringe. Your rag quilt block size will be cut a full inch larger than the finished size will be.
Now figure out how many blocks your quilt top will have according to which dimension block will work with your quilt. Then do the math and start cutting squares.
A 60”x72” lap quilt with 6” finished blocks will require a total of 240 fabric squares. You’ll need 120 squares measuring 7”x7” for the top, and 120 squares measuring 7”x7” for the back. Additionally, you’ll need to cut 120 squares of batting measuring 6”x6”. You need to plan on 5 yards of fabric for the front and 5 more yards for the back.
For a scrappy look, use fat quarters. Stack them on top of each other and cut multiple squares together. Fat quarters also work great for the backing fabric. Rag quilts provide so many options to try!
How to Sew a Rag Quilt
Sew Rag Quilts with A 1/2″ Seam Allowance
Sewing a rag quilt is very easy and uses a different process than regular patchwork quilting. Most rag quilts are made with 5” to 8” squares. Since the seams are exposed and are what make the frayed rag edge, rag quilts are sewn with a ½” seam around each block. With the backing fabrics facing each other and the top fabrics right side out, sew your seam along one edge at a time.
Also remember that rag quilt blocks are sewn together with all layers at once. It’s easiest to pre-stack your fabric into three piles. The top fabric, the batting square, and the backing fabric. This allows you to grab what you need as you sew.
The best part is once the blocks are sewn together, the quilt is finished. There’s no additional backing or quilting required. How awesome is that for a quick project!
Why Use a Walking Foot for Rag Quilting
An even feed walking foot is a wonderful tool for quilters. Many quilters only use a walking foot for quilting lots of straight lines. But they are indispensable for rag quilting. Just try it and you’ll be amazed by how much easier all those layers are to sew.
A walking foot helps to feed the top layer of fabric at the same rate as the feed dogs move the lower layer. When you have lots of thick fabrics, it’s very easy for the layers to shift and slide around. Once you get to the end of your seam, you’ll find it very difficult to keep your edges even.
Using a walking foot also helps to keep the weight of the fabric moving along evenly. Whereas a regular pressure foot will just let the layers slip where they want. That creates a lot of stress on your hands. I definitely recommend that you use a walking foot for every step of this project.
How to Quilt Your Rag Quilt
The quilting is done before your rag quilt is sewn together. Make three piles to pull from as you sew. First a pile of backing fabric squares, a pile of batting squares, and a pile of the top fabric squares. To begin, lay out a piece of backing fabric with the right side facing down and the wrong side facing up. Next, center a piece of batting on top of the backing and then add the top fabric with right side facing up.
This is where you will love sewing with a walking foot. If you must, you may pin these together as you go, but honestly, don’t waste your time. This is a rag quilt. It is going to be frayed along every seam and nobody will see how straight your squares are. I promise! Besides, your walking foot will do all the hard work.
Let the Sewing Begin
Begin sewing diagonally across each square from corner to corner. As you reach the bottom corner, have the next layered block ready to feed into you machine. Just keep sewing until the entire pile is sewn. Now do it again, sewing from the opposite corner through every square.
You’ll be sewing a large ‘X’ across each square. This is what stabilizes the block and holds the batting in place. DO NOT take a shortcut and skip sewing the second diagonal line. I made that mistake and the batting just doesn’t stay put and tends to bunch up. The “X” ensures everything stays in place where it needs to be.
How to Sew Your Rag Quilt Blocks Together
Now your choice is to assemble your rag quilt randomly or laid out in a specific design. Be sure to take a photo of your layout so you can refer back to it for reference. Either way, you’ll begin to sew your quilted blocks into rows. I chain stitch them in a continuous length which makes it easier to sew the rows together.
To chain sew your blocks, select 2 blocks and lay them back to back with the right side facing up. Begin sewing at one end and sew a ½” seam from top to bottom. Instead of cutting your thread, simply feed your next square in and keep sewing. Repeat until you have 12 block sets sewn and connected.
Go back to the block you started with and open it with the wrong side facing down. Lay another quilted block underneath with the right side facing down. With the right sides on the top and bottom, sew your blocks together with a ½” seam. Continue to chain stitch, adding another block to each row as you move to the last row. Go back to the top and do it again. Once all the blocks are added, you should have 10 rows with 12 blocks each.
How to Sew Your Rag Quilt Rows Together
As you are chain sewing the blocks together, you’ll see the exposed seam on the quilt top side. Without cutting any threads, begin sewing each row from side to side, being sure to keep the back of the blocks together so your seam is on the side of the quilt top. Your previous chain stitching is holding all your blocks in place while you sew each row together. This is a very easy and efficient way to assemble any kind of block pattern.
For light weight fabrics, you may sew your rows together with the seam allowances facing opposite directions, so they nest together. Heavier fabrics work a bit better if the seam is opened when it’s sewn. That way the blocks lay smoother and flatter.
Trimming Rag Quilt Edges
Once all the sewing is complete, it’s time to even up the edges. If a row or two is a bit longer, just give it a trim to match the rest. It’s not necessary to get too precise here as there will be lots of raveling to come.
How to Finish a Rag Quilt Edge
Finishing A Rag Quilt Edge Without a Border
Once all the blocks are sewn together, your last step is to sew around the entire quilt ½” from the edge. Then sew around a 2nd time to keep the edges secure. That’s all the sewing required. Now it’s time to clip and wash your your rag quilt for the final reveal!
Do I Need to Add A Rag Quilt Border
When I make any quilt, I intend it to last a very long time and endure plenty of use and abuse. My recent rag quilts are always finished with a narrow border. A 2”-4” border is easy to add and will stabilize all those seams around the quilt’s edge. Since the threads have been cut close at the end of the seams, these are the weakest points on your new quilt. Adding a simple border around your whole quilt will reinforce these seams and hold everything together just a bit better.
Adding a border to a rag quilt is quite easy. Simply cut fabric strips of the width you desire equal to the length of your quilt edges. You will need two strips per border and a piece of batting cut 1” smaller. One fabric strip will be on the bottom with the right side facing down, then the batting layer with the 2nd fabric strip on the top, right side up.
First quilt the borders from one end to the other. A narrow border will only require one or two lines of straight quilting from one end to the other. This quilting will hold everything together nicely. Then sew a line of stitching ½” from the outer edge and repeat a second time for each border strip. This will reinforce the outermost edges.
Once the borders are assembled and quilted, sew them on to the quilt, with wrong sides together. This keeps the seam to the top side or your quilt the same way as the blocks were assembled.
What Are Rag Quilt Scissors
This brings us to the importance of a very sharp pair of rag quilt clipping scissors. Rag quilting requires a lot of clipping. These spring tension rag quilt scissors make the job so much easier. The beauty is that the spring in these scissors cause the handle to slightly bounce back after each cut. This eliminates undue stress on your hands from repeatedly opening and closing the scissor handles. Your hands can get tired very quickly without this wonderful bit of help.
How to Clip A Rag Quilt
Now get your super sharp scissors and a good movie because this next step will take a while. Along every seam, clip ¼” into the ½” seam allowance, approximately ½” apart, including the outside edges. Be sure not to cut into the seam allowance which will loosen where the blocks are attached. It’s a lot of clipping, but this is what results in the frayed edge that gives the rag quilt its name.
Download This FREE Printable Rag Quilt Clipping Tutorial
The Final Touch
Now let your washing machine do the rest of the hard work for you. Run your finished quilt through a complete cycle with a good long rinse. If you have time, add a 2nd rinse for good measure. The agitation of the cycles will loosen the threads allowing them to slip out easily.
Next give it about 20 minutes in the dryer. Empty the lint trap so it doesn’t get overfilled. Then let it dry thoroughly in the dryer to collect all those threads. Take it out, give it a good shake, and trim any knots of threads that may have developed along the seams.
You now have a beautiful rag quilt for snuggling. Watch out though, everyone else will want one too!
Hi Lea Louise, I’ve made several rag quilts for babies in the past but now wish I’d read your information beforehand. Your instructions are very clear and easy to follow. I’m going to try using a third layer of fleece instead of batting and see how it turns out. Thanks again
You don’t talk much about the batting. What kind do you use?
Lea Louise says
My batting choice is all about the price, Marilyn! I prefer low loft or light weight batting, but I buy what’s on sale. There’s not been a problem with any product I use. Although the higher end battings tend to be easier to work with. Both in handling it and quilting through it. Happy Quilting,
Alice McCoy says
Hi my name is Alice. I loved your instructions! I have a question about how many layers can I use to make a rag quilt. Would be possible to make it using only one layer,?
Lea Louise says
Yes Alice, absolutely you can use just one layer. The finished quilt will be very lightweight if you use flannel or regular cotton but it still works. Also, the frayed edging most likely won’t be as thick as when using multiple layers. Check out my Easy Blue Jean Rag Quilt post and you can see an example of a single layer rag quilt I made with denim. Have fun making your quilt!
Alice McCoy says
Thank you Lea. Appreciate your help.
Alice McCoy says
The easy blue jean rag quilt it’s great tutorial and it clarified many of my questions. Thank you for sharing your knowledge.
I’m making this Rag Quilt out if Flannel for the Top.
Now the customer gave me A Blanket for the Back. .
Do I Cut this Blanket down to the Size of My Square Flannel Peices
Can I Sew the Sq. FLANNELS TOGETHER..
AN Then Lay The Blanket right sides together sew Around..
then Turn back out ..?
Or Do I need to put Batting under the Flannel..with Another Square..
Lea Louise says
Hi Kim, you’ve outlined your options very well. Your first option would work fine though check out my ‘How to Make a Flannel Rag Quilt’ before you start. This is a strip rag quilt that is really quick because it’s assembled by row. My thought is that you sew your flannel blocks into rows. Then cut your blanket strips to the size of your row. Layer them together and assemble your rag quilt by rows rather than individual blocks.
My concern with your second option is when you sew it together just on the outer edges, it’s not connected along any inner seams. Therefore when it’s washed, it could become distorted and difficult to get back into shape. If you use this method, sew along a couple seams from the top side to keep the layers attached together.
Your third option for batting is my least optimal choice. Batting has become more of an option in rag quilts today. I choose to use flannel as a middle layer and it works fine. My concern for you is if the blanket is heavy the finished quilt will be very heavy after adding additional batting.
The one consideration for leaving out the batting is that you don’t get the quilted effect. Rag quilt squares with batting require a sewn ‘X’ on top to hold it all together. It is also what gives the block its quilted dimension. So using either of your first two options without batting will result in a smooth, flatter quilt top.
My advice would be to use option 1, assembled in rows without batting. Let me know what you decide and how it turns out!
Thanks for your email,
Which rotary cutter do you use? I bought the Olfa – it will not cut. I have used several blades. Help
Lea Louise says
Hi Sharon, my cutters are Olfas and I’ve not had any problems. It’s possible you may have gotten a bad one. Does the blade spin when you attempt to cut your fabric or is it locked in place? There is a plastic ring on some models that acts as a lock washer of sorts and if placed improperly it just lets the blade spin freely. But please be careful checking the blade if you’re new to using them. They are incredibly sharp! I would suggest going back to where you purchased it and ask them to try it in the store. Another option is to check with Olfa either by phone or via online chat. They may have some helpful info to offer.
Julie Shenkle says
I have started making a rag quilt for my bosses birthday later this month. I was just following a pin she sent me sometime ago on PINTEREST , which was large rectangle blocks sewn together in pairs of two and every other pair was turned the oposit direction, meaning in a single row the pairs were horizontal and then the next pair was to be vertical, but when I turn my blocks horizontal along side the vertical blocks they do not come together evenly….I have an inch or should I say 1/2 inch on either side of the block. I made my blocks 9×18. I’m not sure what or where I have gone wrong and was wondering if you might be able to give me some direction.
Thanks so much,
Lea Louise says
Hi Julie, I love the idea of your quilt layout and may have to try one myself! The minor glitch you’re facing is with the seam allowance used when joining your pairs of rectangles. Using a 1/2″ seam allowance will reduce your finished block size by a full inch. So when you are sewing two 9″ x 18″ rectangles together, your finished block measures 17″ x 18″. Your rectangles need to be cut with the additional 1/2″ seam allowance to get a square after they are sewn together. There’s an easy remedy here and you have two choices at this point. If all your rectangles are already cut out, trim them to measure 9″ x 17″. That way when they are sewn together they will be a 17″ square. Alternatively, if you haven’t cut out all your rectangles yet, cut them to 9 1/2″ x 18″. This will give you an 18″ square to work with. Either way will give you great results! I’d love to see a photo of your finished quilt.
Thanks so much for you quilk reply to my deliima, I so appreciate it. I do have all my blocks cut out and my batting sewn between, but your directions are an easy fix as I was thinking a may have to start back at square one and waste what I’ve already done. I will definitely send you a pic of the finished quilt😇.
Lea Louise says
So glad I could help Julie!
Please expand..if the 3 layers are the same size block for a rag quilt..what do you do with the batting that wont fray..and is showing on the seam allowances? Do you trim away the extra batting?
Lea Louise says
The three same-size layers refers to the Crib Size Baby Rag Quilt which has a link above. The three layer method uses flannel as the middle layer in place of batting. So all three layers are cut the same size and sewn together. You don’t need to quilt the block or sew an ‘X’ as the side seams will hold all three layers just fine. This is a great way to make soft, lightweight baby quilts. Omitting the batting also speeds up the cutting and sewing process.
I hope you enjoy trying this new method,
Pippa Kelly says
Hi I found your blog really helpful and hope you can help me before I start! I am wanting to make a denim rag quilt for my son to use when he leaves for University. I want to add all the badges from his school (blazers etc). I decided not to use batting as he is always too hot – what do you suggest to back it and should I do this as squares or use a single backing sheet and anchor it by hand?
Lea Louise says
Hi Pippa, here’s an easy way to make a denim rag quilt. Check out this article How to Make Easy Blue Jean Rag Quilt for some wonderful shortcuts. You’ll also see that a backing isn’t necessary. Have fun and let me know how it turns out.
Felicia Bernal says
Hi Lea Louise, I am about to attempt my first rag quilt for my grandson coming in August. I notice on some blogs that the corners of the blocks are cut away. Does that make it easier to assemble them or can they be just square without the corners notched?
Lea Louise says
That’s a great question Felicia! There’s no right or wrong way to trim or clip your blocks. It’s simply a matter of personal preference. I don’t cut the corners off because I like the fuller frayed edges. Some quilters have trouble sewing through all the layers where the blocks join which may be one reason to trim those corners. But if you use a good, strong needle, I use a size #16, then you shouldn’t have any trouble.
I hope this helps,
Mary Lou Lieb says
Hi Lea Louise,
I have made 6 rag quilts & enjoy the patterns very much. I made two of them for my youngest grandsons using their receiving blankets I made for them. I had 26 total so that made for cute blankets. Used juvenile prints for backing with batting in the middle.
I made a specific college logo one for my grandson who loves it. His sister will be attending college soon & I would like to make one using the pattern that you made for your brother-in-law with the red, white & blue rectangles.
Would it be possible to elaborate on that particular quilt as to size of blocks, rectangles, etc. I would appreciate any help you could give me.
Lea Louise says
That’s a lot of rag quilts Mary Lou, and I love the idea of the receiving blankets, too! The RW&B quilt was made from a kit that goes back quite some time. But I think I can explain it easy enough to you here.
You’ll start with an equal number of 6″ x 8″ rectangles in three different colors. Layer one rectangle of each color together. Make two cuts from top to bottom that are slightly angled. Be sure to keep them equally spaced apart so you still have your 1/2″ seam allowance for each seam. Next you will take the left cut piece from the top pile and the 2nd layer piece from the center pile. Sew these together along the long edge where they join, right sides together. You will use a 1/2″ seam allowance. Then take the bottom layer of the third pile and sew it to the other side of the center strip.
Your resulting 6″ block with have three different color strips of fabric. Each triple fabric layered group will result in 3 individual blocks. What makes this such a fun pattern is how they all turn out a bit different. Once all the blocks are crosscut and resewn into strips, those 6″ blocks are sewn together as a traditional rag quilt would be. There is a lot of extra sewing, but the results are so worth it!
Have fun with your next quilt, and let me know if you have any other questions once you get started. It really goes quite easily once you get the initial cutting figured out.
Love your site.. Was worried that I wouldn’t be able to make a rag.quilt, but your directions were easy to follow. Happy sewing 😊
Lea Louise says
Hi Stella, I’m so glad my directions were easy to follow. Rag quilts are a great project and in large part because they can be quite easy to make! Enjoy your quilting,