How To Make 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.
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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.
Blue Jean and Red Flannel 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.
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 very sharp scissors. 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.
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 link 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!
Flannel Rag Quilt with Improv Pieced Blocks
Improv Pieced Block Tutorial
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.