Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Heirloom Chenille Baby Blanket

This is my first post here at Quilting in vivo. I created this blog as a space to record quilts and projects that I have sewn and to document the process by which they were made. With the invention of Pinterest, my quilting has ramped up significantly thanks to an easy way to find and store tutorials for projects. As a biologist, I thrive on protocols- directions for how to perform an experiment from start to finish. Well-written protocols are absolutely essential to experimental success. When trying a new-to-me experiment, I enjoy looking at several protocols and taking the best information from each one to create a custom protocol (this often takes many tries/variations). The same goes for sewing- I find protocols tutorials online and put my own spin on them, adapting them for my set up and specific needs. Perhaps some of the tips and tricks I have found that work may also be of interest to you?

     This quilt arose when I found out that a dear childhood friend of mine had a little baby girl. H. and I grew up across the street from one another and went to school from grade school through 12th grade- we even got tattoos together when we turned 18 (much to her older police officer brother's dismay I might add...)! H. is a world traveler- she went to college in New Zealand (where she met her husband) and has traveled all over the globe. H. and her hubby now live in Switzerland and although we don't get to see each other often, the internet makes keeping in touch much easier!

     To celebrate H.'s new baby, I knew I wanted to make a quilt of some sort. To find inspiration, I trolled through my Pinterest board, 'sewing fun', for inspiration. This tutorial for an heirloom chenille baby blanket from Aesthetic Nest (Aesthetic Nest baby blanket) had caught my eye a few weeks back and I had been dying to try the technique. I have a great propensity to stock up on hoard fabric remnants from the remnants bin at JoAnn Fabrics. I had this lovely gray/purple/green flower print home decor fabric that I thought would be perfect- not too girly, with a bit of a modern flair.

[ ironing fun ]
   I also had several different remnants (all from JoAnn's) of pink-themed flannels for the backing of this blanket. The tutorial called for three different flannel pieces. Again, I chose these fabrics from my remnants stock pile.

[ flannels from my stash ]
     While the tutorial used a 45"x45" cut of fabric, I used something slightly smaller, about 36"x42" primarily because some of my remnants were smaller than the 45"x45" mentioned.  I layered the flannels such that the light pink with gray fabric was the top layer, the dark pink was in the middle and the light pink with birdies (hard to see in this photo) was the bottom layer, closest to the front fabric.
     After ironing all fabrics, I squared the fabrics up to the size of the smallest fabric piece that I had, keeping the front/home decor fabric a bit larger than the flannel pieces as advised by the tutorial. If you have never squared up fabrics before, this is a fantastic tutorial. I then pinned all of the fabrics together with straight pins and used my ruler and a blue washable fabric marker (this exact one) to draw a line on the flannel side at a 45° angle from the bottom left corner to the right side of the fabric. Because I used a rectangle instead of a square like in the tutorial, I probably should have drawn two guide lines to keep things extra straight but it ended up working out just fine.
 [ all squared  up and ready to go ]
After pinning the fabric and drawing the guideline on the flannel side, I used my walking foot to stitch along the line. As the tutorial recommended, I then flipped my fabric over and sewed the remaining lines on the home decor fabric side, since those stitches will be visible. I quilted my lines 1/2" apart, which was exactly the width of my walking foot.
 [ the quilting begins ]
I quickly discovered that straight pins were not the best way to keep the fabrics together, mainly because I kept pricking myself with them, so I switched to safety pins (like you would use to baste a quilt together) mid-way through.
[ safety pins > straight pins ]
Stitching the straight lines was easy, but felt like it.took.forever. I ended up stitching all of the lines in two 1.5 hour shifts.
[ rows and rows and rows ]
 For some reason, a few of my lines had a slight curve to them, but I knew once I trimmed all of the flannel on the back, it would not be very obvious. In the tutorial, she recommends using either scissors or a nifty little fabric cutting tool from Olfa. I was tempted to purchase it, but on a post-doc stipend, I knew it wasn't a wise purchase since I won't be making these blankets all time.
[ Goldilocks and the three scissors? ]
I have three pairs of sewing scissors (all Gingher brand). I felt like Goldilocks trying to pick the correct pair of scissors for cutting the flannel. The biggest pair was too big and didn't fit well in the 1/2" channels I had sewn. The middle pair would have been perfect, but after years of abuse, they are quite dull and didn't handle the three layers of flannel well. So, I ended up using the smallest pair (which are also my newest, and therefore sharpest) to trim each channel. Overall, the scissors worked fine and I didn't regret not purchasing the special chenille cutter.
[ snip snip ]
Fortunately, trimming the channels went much more quickly than sewing the lines to create them. In the magnified view above, you can see how the front fabric is slightly larger than the flannel fabrics- this makes it much easier to just trim through the flannel 'channels' and not accidentally clip your front fabric (*I had nightmares I might actually do that after the hours and hours of straight line sewing).
[ after the cuts ]
After cutting all of the channels, you need to square up the quilt. This is another great tutorial if you have never squared a quilt up before. Once the quilt is squared up, you will need to bind it. I loathe binding. It is a mental battle every.single.time. I only machine bind because I lack the patience and time for hand sewing. I have tried several different binding tutorials (found here, here and here) and while all of the different approaches work, it drives me bonkers that some sort of error is always visible. If I start the binding on the back of the quilt, and wrap it to the front of the quilt (like this), inevitably my stitching is crooked, doesn't always stay on the binding and meanders onto the backing fabric. If I start my binding on the front of the quilt (like this), and wrap it to the back of the quilt while stitching the ditch between the binding and the quilt top, I often don't 'catch' the binding on the back- and I won't even go into how bad my mitered corners turn out. But I digress... For this quilt, however, I knew putting the binding on the back to start and wrapping it to the front would be the best approach. By stitching the binding down on the front side, any meandering/crooked stitches on the back side of the quilt will essentially be hidden by the ruffled flannel.

[ binding binding binding ]
I chose an ivory flannel (again from my remnants stash) for the binding. Then came time for the magical part- turning the backing from cut-up flannel to cute and soft ruffles. I should note that none of my fabrics were pre-washed. In the tutorial, she did not pre-wash her fabrics, though she did say she received comments from folks whose fabrics bled during the first wash. I washed the blanket with a few towels on warm and even after the wash, you could see the change starting to happen!
 [ fresh out the washer ]
Then, I dried the quilt on regular heat and I was amazed at the finished project. It looked soft and cuddly and exactly like the tutorial at aesthetic nest said it would!

 [ voila! ]
I was very pleased with the final product and would definitely make this again. Next time, I think I would choose a solid flannel for the top piece of the backing- the gray circles looked a little odd/hard to recognize once the fabric was washed. I combined this blanket with a swaddle blanket (using this tutorial and 1 yard of gauze fabric I scored in the remnants bin at JoAnn's a few weeks ago) and a sweet little giraffe stuffed animal (unfortunately the link for this tutorial is no longer active!).


  1. Amazing! You make this protocol seem straightforward enough that even I could do it :) If only I wasn't in afraid of/angry at/in a mutually antagonistic relationship with my sewing machine...

  2. Thanks Sarah! Too bad we don't both live in Nashville anymore- I could help you with your sewing machine!

  3. I was really impressed by this quilt, and I am equally impressed by your blog post on it! Good job!

  4. Love this quilt and love the blog, Linds!! So amazing that it just ruffled up on its own, too.