Sewing with Kids Quilt Tutorial-Caleb's Quilt

I love to sew.
By nature I love to teach.
And since my kids are growing up, I want to take the time, let the house get messy and use my talents to give them a love for sewing before they jump the coop. And while I'm at it, I'll let you watch over my shoulder so you, too, can teach your kiddos - or yourself - to enjoy sewing.

And, please, please...
If something doesn't make sense, or if it seems I skipped a step, do let me know. Any questions are absolutely welcome! If you are still intimidated by such a feat and you are local, give me a call. Maybe we can get a group together to do a class in my home.

 Also, I divided it out in days. This is pretty much how Caleb and I did it. Making this in different chunks helps the project remain a fun endeavor for all. Each step ends with good results keeping them begging for more. Sort of like how great books tempt you to read on by ending each chapter with a hint of what morsel of adventure is to come.
Day 1

To begin, I sat a while with pencil and paper and came up with this basic pattern. I wanted to incorporate rows of printed fabric, and rows of solid fabric. Using solid colors as much as possible helps to both keep the cost down and create interesting design.

Day 2 

Then we went to the fabric store. I have to say I didn't let him choose just anything. After deciding on one or two favorite prints in colors I could enjoy around the house .No cartoon characters or tacky stuff. I showed him how to take that bolt of fabric and walk around holding it up to other fabrics in order to find similar color families. It definitely took guidance from me. And a lot of time. Try to go when it can just be the two of you and when you are not in a rush. Make a 'date' of it. For this quilt, we used 8 quarter yard strips of prints. (*You will need to be able to cut at least 42 5"x9" blocks out of a mix of fabrics if you are using scraps) At home, we left them stacked neatly on the table till we were ready for our next sewing adventure...

Day 3

 A few days later we cut all the blocks. Here Caleb is making the edge of our first strip even.

 Here we are cutting it in 5" increments on a strip that is 9" wide making blocks 5"x9". Notice I am helping to hold the ruler while he cuts. It has a tendency to slip leading to crooked lines. Plus, I just plain old feel better being there when a razor blade is being used. It's that mom thing. I didn't walk away to pick up around the house during this step!

 Here he is with a beautiful stack of blocks. We only needed 50 5"x9" blocks, but we cut a few extra to help when we lay it all out.  But that is for another day!

So far, so good.

Day 4

Next we arranged the blocks in 3 rows of 14 on the kitchen table, trying to make sure 2 of the same fabrics were not next to one another horizontally or vertically. A fun little puzzle. This is where having extra blocks came in handy.

We stacked up each row:

Then labeled the stacks - row 1,2 and 3:

It will be a few days before we move on.
 The sun is out and I think this boy wants to surf! 

Day 5

Today is the  first day to sew!
Hint #1 - Put a piece of painters tape on the machine to use as a guide for the seam allowances.
Hint #2 - Use wider allowances. All my allowances on these quilts are 1/2 inch. Usually quilters use 1/4 inch allowances, but since new sewers don't always go straight, the wider allowance helps a bit.

Hint #3 - After explaining how the machine works, let them go for a test drive on a scrap piece of fabric till they feel comfortable.
Hint #4 - I find it is helpful to first sit down at the machine and sew a strip of blocks together while they watch, then sit next to them in a chair watching and helping as needed until they are ready to continue unattended.
Hint #6 - This isn't the old fashioned days of sewing where everything has to be "practically perfect in every way" like Mary Poppins would of course do it in home ec class, so relax and let them do it. This is a pretty forgiving pattern, so it won't really matter if the seams aren't quite even.

Next, we stacked our three piles to the left of our machine. The 3rd stack was first, the 2nd stack next and stack #1 was closest to us. Notice that I put 3 safety pins on the top stack, 2 on the 2nd stack, etc. This helped me keep track of which pile was which (I have a short memory these days - Too many much more important things to keep track of, I say!) It also helped us remember which block would be on top of when the row was completed.

Here you can see that we take a fresh block from the stacks on the left and add them right sides together to the growing strip on the right. But definitely do whatever system of joining blocks that is the easiest for you.

You now have 3 strips of blocks sewn together.  

Day 6

Are you still with me? I hope so! 

Today it's time to finish the quilt top! I purchased about 2 yards of 45" solid fabric. Now you can cut your solid fabric into six 6" wide strips each being about 59" long, or however long the 3 pieced , or 'coin' strips ended up being. I made them longer than I actually needed, allowing for differences in the new quilter's seam allowances.

Choose 8 of the remaining 5"x9" pieces that we used earlier.
Sew four sets of two together to make the 4 corner pieces.

Now, lay out the strips like so:

Now sew it all together. First the 7 strips across the middle, like the picture below,
then the top and bottom strip after attaching the corner blocks.

Stand back and ooh and aah! My kiddo was quite impressed that he could make such a thing! But to avoid burnout, we put it away for another day...

Day 7

Today Caleb made the back of his quilt:

First, using some remaining scraps of various widths, sew a strip of them together that will stretch across the width (shortest length) of the quilt, like a stack of coins. Iron the strip, seams open. Next, sew the backing on either side, placing the strip as desired. Caleb placed it unevenly, with more of the blue beneath the coins than above. We used 2 pieces each 60" in length for the blue, sandwiching the coin strip between. Iron again, pressing edges inward and you are ready to put it all together on another day.

Day 8

Today, Caleb puts it all together!

Here he is taping down all the layers on my nice clean floor. Umm. This is one way to get me to mop! First, tape down the front of the quilt with the right/happy side down, stretching it nice and flat as you go. Next tape down the batting, smooth and wrinkle-free. Lastly, tape down the back of the quilt with the right side up. Now you have your 'quilt sandwich'.

In the picture below you can see all three layers are taped down, and now Caleb is pinning it together with safety pins. I helped Caleb with the pinning while we watched, well, mostly listened to, a good movie. The pins are 6-8 inches apart.

Now he is ready for the quilting...

Day 9 thru 12

We started this next step by drawing a line down the middle of the quilt with a chalk marker. You can use any kind of erasable pen specially made for quilting.

 We set up my machine at the kitchen table, fitted with a walking-foot attachment. The machine is pushed far to the right, giving room for the quilt to lay on the table as he sews. We also set a high stool next him, close to his side to help take some of the weight, so it didn't pull away from the machine. I sat with him for quite a few rows, coffee cup in hand, guiding the quilt, until he became comfortable enough to quilt on his own.

He quilted one half of the quilt starting at the chalk line, continuing to the edge before beginning the second half, and removing safety pins as he went. It took him about 2 sittings to complete each half. I wanted it to be a joy for him, rather than a chore.

When using the walking-foot to quilt lines, it is important to begin each row at the opposite end in order for it to not all get pushed in one direction. For example, row 1 begins at the top, row 2 begins at the bottom, and row 3 begins at the top again.

Also, knowing my 13 year old would probably not have the patience or skill to make straight lines (neither would I), I thought it might be nice to make them intentionally and dramatically crooked. I like how it turned out.

 Day 13
We are almost there! Today we sew on the binding.

(If you are just now joining us, you can see what we have done so far here)

 Today, Caleb begins by cutting seven 3" strips of our 45" width binding fabric:
We used a Kona Cotton 

He sewed them into one long strip, right sides together:

Next, he ironed all seams open:

 Then we ironed the long strip in half all the way along making one very, very long 1 1/2" strip with happy sides out. This was then sewn along the edge of the quilt all the way around. Be sure to start with about a foot of the binding hanging off. This helps at the finish when joining up ends.

Since I sewed my finger recently on this powerful not-going-to-stop-for-anything machine, he was a bit nervous. You can see him holding it quite far from any needle action.

I still have the blue painter's tape on the machine as a guide.

Caleb chose to not use pins, but rather to arrange it by hand as he went along. Do what ever you think is best for your child's sewing ability.

And, he makes faces while sewing, too!

I told him so:

Now, the directions for corners:

When you come to the corner, stop about 1/2" from the edge. Stop with your needle down. Pick up the pressure foot, and pivot, then back up off the edge.

Remove the quilt from the machine and trim threads.

This doesn't make sense, but it really works. Trust me. Caleb did :)
Now fold back the strip, off the quilt in the direction you just backed off, making a perfect little triangle:

Then fold it back straight along the edge in the direction you will continue to sew. You will be able to feel that perfect triangle under your thumb:

 Now put the quilt to the machine again. Begin sewing 1/2" from the edge, being sure to not catch that 'triangle' you folded underneath. You will begin stitching just after that triangle, keeping it free:

Here you can see the blue painter's tape that helps guide Caleb's straight stitching:

When you get all the way around to the beginning, stop sewing about a foot from where you began.
Remove the quilt from the machine again. Lay the binding around, and mark where it will meet with a chalk marker.

Do this on both ends. This marks where it will be joined:

Now open it up, pinning where the chalk meets, and stitch.
Trim off excess. Caleb had a lot of excess. Better safe than sorry, I say:

Next, fold the strips back together and finish sewing the binding on to the quilt:

Umm. Caleb was pretty excited at this point! Almost done!

Day 14 - Finish!

Snuggle up on the couch, turn on a good movie, and hand sew the binding - together. Just fold it over and slip-stitch it down. We used dull scissors since we were sitting on the couch. He also used 2 bobby pins to hold down the binding, moving them as he went along, instead of the usual pins. I thought this might be a bit too tedious, so I joined in to help him.

 Guess who slept happily covered in his own quilt last night! 
He thanked me for helping him make it. So precious.

I hope he always remembers our time making a quilt together. I know I will.


  1. What a terrific memory! I have a 5 year old niece who is totally into 'art craft' and I've been thinking about introducing her to my love of quilting. She received a quilt from me for her 2nd birthday and always reminds me that it's "my quilt". I would love to do this with her --- thank you for the newbie tips (like the 1/2" seam allowance) and the reminder that it doesn't have to be perfect. *grin*

  2. I love the quilt. And your tutorial is fantastic. Great pictures. I tip my hat to you.

  3. I cannot wait for my kids to be old enough to have a quilting adventure with me! Thanks for the idea.


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