For someone who has never sewn before, the mere thought of making a quilt of any kind is intimidating. But if you have access to a sewing machine, and if you can sew a straight line, then making a rag quilt is EASY. Literally, sewing a straight line is the only talent you need. It’s not that making a rag quilt is too difficult, it’s that it takes time and that is a luxury that most people don’t have. That’s when a shop like mine, or others, is convenient. But here is how to do it yourself and make your own… if you have the time.
A rag quilt is called such because of the way the seams are sewn. Seams are usually sewn with the right sides of the fabrics facing each other. That makes the rough edges hidden. But with a rag quilt, the seams are sewn with the wrong sides of the fabric facing each other. Once the seams are sewn and cut and the quilt is washed, those rough edges fray (or rag) and create a fluffy border around each square. The great thing about this style quilt is that it can be any size you want, and your seams don’t have to be perfect. My throw size rag quilts are 53″ x 65″ and that includes a border (which most rag quilts do not have) and my baby rag quilts are 36″ x 36″.
Briefly, here is how it is done. The quilts are layered into 3 layers: the top, the back, and a layer of something in between. Uniform sized squares are cut, sewn together in rows, then sewn together to form the quilt. Long strips are sewn on each side to make the border, then the quilt is cut, washed, and trimmed. That’s it.
Now lets get started!
First, you need to select your fabrics. Try to use 100% cotton or flannel fabric as these tend to fray (rag) more as they are washed. Not all fabrics do that. You will also need scissors (or a rotary cutter and mat), thread, and batting to go in between the front and back layers (you can also use an extra layer of flannel). And, obviously, a sewing machine. That’s it… that’s all you need to get sewing.
Once you have your fabrics, cut 7″ squares out of the front and back fabrics. The number of squares depends on how big you want your quilt. My throw size quilt takes 80 squares (8 x 10) and my baby quilt takes 25 squares (5 x 5). Remember to allow for the seam space, so a 7″ square will end up being only about 6″ when done.
If you are using batting as the layer in between the top and back: Cut the batting slightly smaller than the 7″ squares. I suggest about 5.5″. The reason is that you do not want that extending into the seams. Take a piece of the bottom fabric (right side down) and place a piece of batting in the center. Next, place a piece of the top fabric (right side up) and place it over the other two pieces. Starting in one corner, sew a straight line to the opposite corner. Repeat this with the other corner. When done, you will have a sewn “X” through the pieces. Doing this ensures that the batting won’t move or wad up during washing.
If you are using another layer of flannel in between the top and back: Cut the squares to also be 7″ as these are fine to extend into the seam area. They will rag even more using flannel. It is not necessary to sew the “X” in these squares since all pieces will be held in place by the side seams, but doing so adds a more quilted look to the squares. The choice is yours.
Once all the squares are assembled, lay them out in the pattern you chose. Then, working one row at a time, take the first two squares and place them with the back sides together. Sew a straight seam (allowing about 1/2″ seam allowance) down one side. This seam allowance will be cut later for ragging. Continue sewing the squares together in order making sure you place the back sides of the quilt together each time. Once the first row is done, I usually cut all of those seams at this time. CAREFULLY make small cuts from the raw edge close to the seam. Cut them about 1/4″ apart. DO NOT CUT THE SEAM ITSELF or this will come undone during use. Once all the cuts are made, continue to sew and cut the remaining rows. Once all the rows are finished, again lay the quilt out in the pattern you chose. Next, sew the first row to the second row, carefully cutting the raw edge when you are done. When all rows are sewn, you should have a large quilt of sewn squares. There are two options at this point. Most people tend to sew a seam around the entire perimeter of the quilt, cut the rough edge, and call it done. To do this, simply sew a straight seam, leaving 1/2″ seam allowance at the edge of the quilt, and then carefully cut the rough edge as you did before. Once this is done, your quilt is ready to be washed. However, I like to give my quilts a rag border. I think that doing this gives the quilt a complete and finished look.
To sew a border, cut two pieces of front fabric and two pieces of back fabric to the size of the width of the quilt. Also, cut a piece of matching flannel the same size and it will be used as the layer in between (I do not recommend using batting in the border). Layer your fabrics with the top fabric right side up, the back fabric right side down and put the extra flannel in between. Starting at one corner of the quilt, sew the border pieces to the quilt’s edge with the back fabrics facing each other leaving the 1/2″ seam allowance. There is no need to sew the border pieces together, as we did with the “X” in the squares. Once one side is done, do the same thing to the opposite side of the quilt. Trim the edges so that the end of the borders line up with the edge of non-bordered quilt side. Next, cut two more border fabrics (all three pieces) and sew them to the last two sides of the quilt. Trim the edges evenly so they are square. Sew one final seam around the entire edge of the quilt leaving the 1/2″ seam allowance. Carefully cut all the rough edges outside the seam you have just sewn, making sure you do not cut the seams. Once these final cuts are made, your quilt is done! Double check to make sure all seams are cut so they will all rag. Wash the quilt in cold water with no detergent or softener and then dry on low heat. CLEAN THE LINT SCREEN DURING DRYING as it will become clogged quickly. Rewash the quilt using detergent or softener if you choose. Again, dry it on low heat while cleaning the lint screen often. Trim any strings (there will be a few!) and your quilt is ready to use. It’s that simple!