Quilters of all skill levels enjoy making rag quilts, and many regard them as an excellent choice for beginners.
What is a Rag Quilt?
Rag quilts have exposed seams snipped to create a fluffy texture on the top. Anyone who enjoys a warm throw or lap quilt will love the cozy softness and weight of a rag quilt, and they are especially nice for children.
Snipping exposed seams is typically done after all the sewing is completed. It isn't difficult, it just takes a while. However, the time required for snipping is easily offset by the ease of actually quilting your rag quilt.
When we speak of "quilting," we are technically describing the stitching of all three layers of a quilt together - the top, the batting, and the backing. This quilting of all three layers is more manageable with a rag quilt. Each "block" or "section" that you assemble is pieced and quilted on your home sewing machine. Some may use a free-motion quilting method, while others might stitch their three layers together with a simple "X" across the block or section. Imagine how much simpler this is than trying to quilt, for example, a queen-sized project on your home machine. With a rag quilt, there is no need for longarm quilting. Even a novice gets to complete her project from start to finish.
Above: Log Cabin Rag Quilt Pattern
Above: Sweetheart Rag Quilt Pattern
Are Rag Quilts Less Expensive to Make?
With no need for longarm service, a rag quilt is potentially a less expensive project. Add the fact that many quilters use inexpensive flannel or repurposed cotton fabrics such as clothing, and you might discover rag quilts to be wonderfully economical.
"I love making rag quilts as I am a novice quilter," Kelly Conway (the Dollar Store Crafter) tells us, "and I find rag quilts easy to make. I also love to post ideas and projects to share from other quilters, especially ideas with a now why didn't I think of that theme." Kelly points out that old or worn baby clothes can make perfect fabric for a child's rag quilt, with one of the most popular patterns being a teddy bear.
Like the teddy bear quilt above, rag patterns sometimes offer interesting shapes that one might not otherwise consider for a quilt. The Simplicity pattern company has offered some adorable patterns for children over the years in shapes that kids will love. Simplicity currently offers patterns shaped as cute animals, castles, and butterflies. One of their most famous patterns, #4993 Puppy/Kitten/Bear, has been out of print for years but is so sought after that original copies can run as high as $50 on eBay. As of July 2017, Simplicity claims they intend to re-release pattern #4993. Should we hold our breath?
Many of Us Love, Love, Love Rag Quilts!
We chatted with a few avid rag quilters to get their thoughts on this fun technique.
Winnie Zwicker Cairns started sewing in 2003. Soon she found that projects that included embroidery were her favorites, and she purchased an embroidery machine. Initially, she wasn't really interested in rag quilting until a family member asked her to try one. "Soooo, my first rag quilt emerged," Winnie says, "and I got hooked."
Winnie has lost count of the number of rag quilts she has made. "I love that I can incorporate embroidery into the rag quilts."
Quilts by Winnie Zwicker Cairns:
Donna LeBouef Bordelon has been making rag quilts for twenty years. She first made the popular "Teddy Bear" for her niece's baby shower and it was a hit! Donna tells us, "I can't go to a baby shower without the bear quilt. The girls that have invited me to their showers can't wait to get theirs." Some pregnant friends have gone so far as to run into Donna in a store and excitedly ask, Are you making a quilt for my baby?!? Donna is happy to oblige and includes the baby's information on the paws of the teddy bear.
Quilts by Donna LeBouef Bordelon:
Ellie Fish Beran began making rag quilts three years ago and first made a fish for her great niece (below). "Rag quilting is pretty easy for someone just beginning quilting," Ellie offers. "The hardest part is picking the fabric."
Quilts by Ellie Fish Beran:
Donna points out that 100% cotton fabric and batting will provide a very soft quilt. She washes and dries her new rag quilts three times. After each drying, she shakes the quilt outdoors. "I find this is the easiest way to get rid of all the loose threads."
Ellie tells us, "I use a pair of rag snips then I brush the seams, then wash and dry until I can get the fluff I want." She also points out that she likes a 1/2" seam allowance.
Rag quilt scissors, often referred to as "snips," will provide proper leverage for easy snipping of your exposed seams, creating nice clean cuts. Quality snips will typically cost between $25 - $40, although we've seen models as low as $15.
Most rag quilts are suitable for beginners, but a true "newbie" (or someone looking for a particularly fast and easy pattern) might want to try our Log Cabin Rag Quilt. The instructions even include a section for beginners, explaining the exposed seam creation in detail. This pattern finishes at 51" square, an excellent lap quilt.
Above: Log Cabin Rag Quilt
When you quilt your project to stitch the three layers together (top, batting, backing), decide if you want a free-motion appearance or if the "X" method is fine for your quilt. If you wish to try free-motion on your quilt - even if you've never done this on your domestic machine - just practice a bit and you might discover you have a knack for free motion. If you do choose the "X" method, your work will be relatively easy.
In either case, marking your fabric for quilting could be very helpful. It supports having straight "X" lines, and it can guide you nicely during free-motion so that your curves are smoother and your stitch lines are properly spaced.
A Blue Line Eraser kit is great to prepare your project for quilting. A special blue pen allows you to draw on your fabric, and the "ink" is then easily removed with an "eraser spray." There is also an "eraser pen" which allows you to remove small areas of the blue ink with precision. Please always test the product on a scrap of your fabric.
Quilter's fabric gripping gloves might be helpful when quilting on your domestic sewing machine. These gloves are form-fitting and avoid slipping, while still allowing you to handle thread, pins, and scissors.
Simplicity offers a few rag quilt patterns, like the fox shown above.
Above: Puppy Rag Quilt
One of Simplicity's most popular rag quilt patterns, the Puppy-Kitten-Teddy Bear #4993, is surprisingly no longer available through Simplicity, but you can sometimes find originals on eBay. Originals can be rather expensive, often reaching $50. UPDATE: As of July 2017, Simplicity claims that they will re-release pattern #4933.
The Spruce offers several free rag quilt patterns.
Love to Sew Studio offers information and tutorials on rag quilts, including some unique items like "raggedy heart coasters."
Above: Sweetheart Rag Quilt
Speaking of "hearts," our own Sweetheart Rag Quilt pattern makes a large 46x68" quilt that is customizable and includes stencils for the full alphabet so that you can create any short message you like - just like the popular sweetheart candies.
Facebook groups provide supportive communities - you can get feedback on your projects, see the beautiful work from other members, and share and receive tips. The Rag Quilting group has more than 4,700 members. The Love of Rag Quilting group has more than 2,400 members. Be sure to read the rules of the groups when joining.
Do you have any tips or resources for rag quilting? Please comment below.
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