Saturday, May 19, 2012

Rag Quilts - Tips & Hints

I love making rag quilts, but most of what I've learned about making them I learned by . . . making them.  Every time I make a new one, I learn a little more.  Some of the hints work for all types of rag quilts and some are specific to flannel rag quilts.  Here's a few things I've learned to give you more time to sew, and less time to "learn".

Tips for flannel rag quilts:

  • Wash the flannel before cutting.  This is a subject of great debate, and I don't have a specific opinion.  However, if your flannel has sizing in it (feels a little stiff), definitely wash it ahead of time.  With cotton, you always want to wash and dry it first.
  • Be careful with your sewing machine.  Flannel can be tough on a machine.  Brush out the lint OFTEN (especially around the bobbin case) and change the needle at least once during the project.  You may also want to oil the machine, especially if your machine starts to make "chunk" sounds.
  • You don't have to use a piece of fabric between the layers.  Flannel is thick enough without a middle, but your quilt will be more lightweight.  If that's not your goal, use another piece of flannel in the middle, or for real "cushiness" use fleece.  (If you do that, be sure to read the tip above about your sewing machine - read it again and again)
  • DON'T make the middle piece of fabric the same size as the outside pieces.  In using flannel, it will get too thick - 6 layers to sew - which is not good for your machine.  Make the middle piece about an inch less around the edges than the outside pieces.  If you are creating a rag quilt with cotton, you can plan the colors of the middle fabrics so they contrast when you "rag" the quilt
  • Don't worry too much about cutting the squares perfectly.  Flannel is very forgiving.  I'll say it again - flannel is very forgiving.  That's why I started with flannel rag quilts.  By the time you sew them together and rag them, you won't notice if the squares are perfect.

Tips for all rag quilts:

  • Use 1" seam allowances for the best "ragging" effect.  That means you need to cut the squares larger.  Consider - a 5" square will result in a 3" square with ragged edges.  If you're trying to achieve a specific size quilt, do your math - carefully!

  • Wash, wash, wash.  The more you wash a rag quilt, the better the effect

  • Think about using decorative stitches for the "X" on each square.  You can also use different colored thread on the needle and the bobbin.  That way the stitches don't have to be the same color on both sides.

  • When you sew the "Xs" keep the "wrong" side up.  The "wrong" side is the side with normal (not ragged) seams.  By having that side up when you make the "X" you can keep an eye on it.  After all, it's the side that will show the seams the most.
  • Sew the individual pieces using a "flag" technique.  Sew one of the diagonal lines and then add the next block without cutting the thread between them.  This will create a "flag banner"

Don't worry about overlapping corners - they are going to get cut and ragged anyway.  This makes the process go so much faster and you will use less thread.  After you sew one diagonal on all the squares you can cut them apart and start all over again with the other diagonals.

  • When sewing the blocks together, use a zig zag stitch - that will give you your best chance of keeping the squares even

  • I get this question a lot - how do you "rag" the corners?  Decide which direction you want to use and go all one way.  Again, rag quilts are very forgiving!
  • Finally, there is one tool you MUST have!  In order to rag the quilts, you can use scissors, but your fingers will go numb pretty quick.  You need spring loaded snippers.  You can find them in any fabric store that sells scissors.  
Have fun - don't be intimidated - here it comes - rag quilts are VERY forgiving :)



  1. Love rag quilts, very pretty.

  2. Thanks for the tips. Do you find that sewing the x's is necessary when not using an inner layer?


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