how to make a group baby quilt

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This post has been a long time in the making.  I've been a part of so many group baby quilts over the years that I knew one day I'd have to share my foolproof "recipe" to make a crib-sized quilt.  In the United States, presenting special-occasion group-made quilts is as old as the colonial days.  My posse of girlfriends and I have been making baby quilts for 15 years; the first one being presented to my grand-daughter Annie when she was a newborn--the first grandchild of our bunch.  We've since made a dozen plus, and we've got it down to a science.  We are "all-in" for every one, because we know it will be our turn soon!  We give ourselves about 4 or more months from start to finish, and throw a group shower at the end when we present our quilt that was made with so much love.  Every baby quilt has been made for our children's children and since we all met when we were young mothers, we have quite a history.  I've know every child since they were little, attended every wedding, and now get to be part of celebrating the growing of their families.  Our children call the quilts, the book club quilts or the grandmother quilts.  Making, giving, and receiving them is a very sweet tradition, and one that we all, grandmothers, mothers and grandchildren, treasure. One day I'll make a post and share all the gorgeous quilts we've made over the years.  Today however, I'm going to show you exactly how we make a group quilt.  Bookmark this post so you'll have it handy if ever you find yourself thinking about being part of a group baby quilt.  Perhaps it will help you start your own tradition!  It's easier than you think, and very little previous sewing experience is required, just an old-fashioned can-do spirit! 

This will make a 40" X 52" (approximate size), 12 block quilt.  Since our group has made so many, we have decided it's best to make them all exactly the same size and in exactly the same way.  This consistency and familiarity makes participation easier for the less experienced sewers.

Below are the general directions:

To start, the new grandma-to-be and the new mom-to-be pick out a simple embroidery pattern from Aunt Martha's Transfers.  Usually the fabric store carries them, but if not, online shopping is easy. Tessa chose baby animals in cross-stitch.  Just for ease of making, we make all our baby quilts exactly the same: 12 embroidered squares connected with lattice strips and connecting blocks. However, they all look completely different because of their color choices and embroidery design choices. We've never made one that hasn't been adorable.

Go shopping: Next, with pattern in hand, head to the fabric store and pick out 3-4 fabrics: white for the blocks, a color for the lattice strips and another for the small connecting blocks, then finally the backing fabric. Use only highest quality 100% cotton suitable for quilting. The lady at the shop can help you figure out how much yardage you need.  Also, get a dozen or so DMC Six-Strand Embroidery Floss in at least 6 favorite colors.  Make sure you get black and red for the eyes and mouth if you are making animals.  You'll also need 3 packages of Wrights Bias Tape Wide Single Fold (do not get anything else, not even the quilt binding, trust me, the Wide Single Fold is best), thin baby quilt sized poly batting, and a spool of matching thread for piecing and one spool of white or off-white hand quilting thread. Also, everyone needs an embroidery hoop, several embroidery needles, several quilting needles, a threader, and a thimble.

The mother-to-be won't see the baby quilt again until it's finished!

Cut the Fabric: Machine wash and tumble dry all fabric.  Iron if necessary. Cut out the white squares large enough to fit the design, making sure to add plenty of extra room around each design--you'll trim them later. Using the package directions, carefully iron on the transfer designs. 

Embroidery: We are 6 women and always make a 12 block quilt, giving each of us 2 designs to embroider, than later, to quilt.  Invite your friends over, hand them each 2 squares and enough embroidery floss for each design, plus needles and other supplies.  Give a little embroidery lesson if necessary.  Give them a finish date, usually two weeks is sufficient.  

Assemble the Quilt: Gather the finished squares from your friends and cut them to their final size, adding a 1/4" seam all around.  Cut corresponding lattice strips and connecting blocks, also adding a 1/4" seam all around.  Machine or hand stitch your pieces together, see photo below.  When your quilt-top is pieced together it is time to make your "quilt sandwich".  Lay your backing fabric on the ground, wrong-side up. Lay the poly batting on top and smooth it out.  Lay quilt top over and smooth again.  Baste your quilt sandwich together with large basting stitches or basting pins.  Trim the backing and batting to within 1 inch of the top.  

Quilting: Set up a quilting schedule.  Each friend will choose a week in which she will hand-quilt two blocks and the surrounding squares and lattice strips.  Give a little hand-quilting lesson if necessary or send them to you-tube.  You may want to trace a quilting design lightly in pencil.  For this quilt, we quilted along 1/4" of every seam, and a simple heart in each square. The quilt is now gone for 5 weeks!  When one girl is finished, she takes it to the next girl and she works on it for a week, then passes it on, and so forth.

Binding: After all the quilting is finished the binding goes on.  Follow the directions on the package, and machine sew the binding to the edge.  Trim off extra fabric and hand sew the binding edge to the back. Machine wash and tumble dry quilt.  It's done!  Can you imagine we've done this 16 times!  I like to think we are old pros!  It's fun and very sweet, and hope you'll consider making this one of your new traditions! Note: quilts are very sturdy and meant to be used daily and washed often!  



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3 comments

  1. This is really neat. I am not, nor will probably ever be, a quilter. Sewing has never been fun for me, despite the fact that I have in the past made dozens of garments (go figure. either I am a glutton for punishment or else I just love clothes.) But I love the IDEA of a quilt and have always been in love with the Roly Poly Circus quilt designed way back in the 20s or 30s. It would fit so well into the design of your lamb one, and has a lot of the same charm. I wonder if you have ever come across it. (I'm not a grandma yet, but if that lucky event ever occurs I might be able to squeeze out a one block pillow of a baby elephant, say, and your clear instructions will come in really handy.) Thanks for the tutorial, Kristen!

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    1. The Roly Poly Circus is very famous from the 20s and is still made today! I collect the old patterns and do have the pattern even though I've never made it. The pattern can still be found here: http://pdfsr.com/isbn/9780967019703, but if you want to see the quilt made up, you can see it here: http://onlinequilter.com/Galleries/RubyMcKim/RolyPolyCircus/tabid/266/Default.aspx It's a classic and would be so fun to make! You should make it!

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  2. So nice to hear that it is still being made! I am afraid though that a pillow may be all that I can manage. But, a pillow has two sides and a child can still enjoy that! Thanks for the encouragement, Chloe

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