Friday, August 5, 2011

Rag Quilts - Making Me Look Craftier than I Am

I am not a very good seamstress. I will admit it. But I have a love for fabric and I love my sewing machine. So...I have tried my hand at a few projects. Right now I have a hand-sewn quilt in the works (I'll post pictures of it at a later date).  Prior to attempting the current project I've sewn a few blankets and mended some clothes, but nothing terribly major. My one claim to fame in the sewing department is my photo rag quilts.

I learned the rag quilt technique from my friend Kari about eight years ago. I decided it would be even better to put photos on the quilt and make it a nice cross between sewing and scrapbooking. In December of 2005 I put my theory to a test. I made a photo rag quilt for my then mother-in-law with pictures of all of the grandkids. It turned out pretty good if I do say so myself. Unfortunately I failed to take very good pictures of the finished product so a limited view is all I have available. (Don't worry...I have photos of one in all it's glory later in the post.) I still think you can tell that it's pretty darned cute.

I felt pretty good about the result of that quilt, but felt slightly guilty for not making one for my own mother. So when Mother's Day 2006 rolled around, I made my mom a photo rag quilt of our family - her siblings and us kids all as children along with photos of her and my dad when they were dating and our family together. I don't think it turned out too bad and she seemed to like it.

I liked the fabric so well from the first one and had enough of the pattern left over that I kept the basic design the same. This time though, I put the pictures in sepia to go more with my mother's Tuscan style decorating.

The photo of me as a baby that I used in the quilt. Wasn't I cute?

It was by the time that I finished this second quilt that I learned a valuable lesson...jean material bleeds. The blue color slightly tinted the photographs and while it gave them a somewhat more rustic feel, it was not what I had planned.  (There was one other small error as I made the unfortunate decision to include one of my engagement photos of myself and my now ex-husband. Maybe one of these days I'll be nice enough to change out the square for her.)

Darn jean. Faded and slightly dyed photos. Just makes the whole thing look older than it really is.

By the time I decided to make my next rag quilt, I had discovered color catchers.  The fabric "washcloth" goes in with the load and sucks up all of the loose dye. Fantastic! At about $4 each, they're well worth the money. They're reusable for around twenty loads. I've kept the ones I've used since and use them whenever I have an iffy item that I don't trust to play nice with the other clothes in the batch.

There are now Shout Color Catchers, but I don't know that I would use them regularly. The commercial shows the lady putting red blouses in with whites. That's a little ballsy if you ask me. No way I'm risking my clothes and trusting in a 20-cent piece of fabric paper to save the day.

How much would you trust these guys?

So after this quilt I had a nice little lull of a couple of years. Then Collin and I got together and there came a Christmas when we had NO idea what to get his Mother. Rag quilt to the rescue. In about a week's time I busted out a quilt with photos of Darian. Surprise, surprise I forgot to take a final picture. You'll just have to imagine it. Basically it's the same as the one I made for my mother, but with pictures of Darian instead. And...luckily enough...I made one for Collin's Grandma Jean last Christmas using some of the same photos. I did finally run out of my lovely star fabric though, so we had to change gears. I ended up going with a brown polka dotted fabric that I love.

This time not only was I smart enough to take a final picture, I also documented the process. Go me! So now I can actually explain to you how I make them.

Obviously, the first step is picking out your fabric.  The fabric needs to be of a type that will fray easily, otherwise you won't get the rag edges. I like to use a combination of the jean and a patterned fabric. That way, if my patterned fabric doesn't fray completely, the jean tends to do the job.

The next thing to do is determine the size of your quilt and the number of photos. I've done a few different sizes.  This last one I used 6" photo squares and 7" fabric squares. That way I had a 1/2" seam all the way around each square to use for the frayed edges. Cut out all of the squares for front and back and then sew together with batting in the center. I use a low loft batting, but any type will do. I then sew them together with an "x" across the center in order to hold the batting in place and leave the majority of my edges free.

One square of each type ready to assemble.

The next thing I do is prepare my photos. I haven't been brave enough to try color photos so I generally convert mine to either sepia or black and white (I tend to like the sepia better). These are printed onto iron-on fabric paper - pretty much the best thing ever invented. One side is fabric, the other is a slick iron-on surface. These are then ironed on to whatever fabric you've decided to use as the backing. I like to use the jean ones.
Isn't he handsome?

After this it's all about the sewing.  I sew each row individually first, alternating pattern and photo. The squares are sewn together so that all of the seams face out. When it's all sewn you should have all of the seams on the side of the photos and the other side should be a smooth quilt.

Individual squares

I've found that I always have to draw myself a blueprint first so that I make sure I put the photos in the order I want and also get enough squares in each row. 

Single rows

Once the rows are sewn, then I double them up. Then the two rows become four.  Finally, I sew the two halves together. That step is always a bear. My poor sewing machine gets pretty worn out by then and I generally plan on breaking at least one needle and jamming up my thread at least a dozen times.  (There has been swearing on occasion.)

Multiple row sections

After the sewing is complete comes the really labor intensive part. What? You thought it was over? Nope. Sorry. Once they're sewn together, bust out the scissors. Now it's time to snip the edges. Every edge of every square needs to be clipped to near the seam so that a bunch of little frays surround each square. I cut them to about 1/2" sections.

Finally, once the snipping is done and you've removed the piles of thread that will be covering you, the couch or chair you're sitting on and the floor surrounding you for a 4 ft. radius, it comes time to wash the quilt.  I take mine to a local laundromat so that I can use the large capacity heavy duty machines.  I don't use any soap.  I just toss in the dye catcher and run it on a regular cycle in cold water. There have been a couple of times where I've had to run two cycles when the fray didn't get completed. After that I tumble dry it. And...voila! Finished product!

All done! Phew! (Don't mind my crappy camera angle.)

Now...maybe one of these days I'll actually make one for myself.


Post a Comment

Other Posts You Might LIke

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...
01 09 10 11 12
Blogging tips