Saturday, July 21, 2012

Planning Your Quilt

This text heavy post for the We Can Do It! Skill Builder Sampler will discuss how to plan a quilt that will fit your specific bed and some basic tips on how to arrange the sampler blocks.

Planning Quilt Sizes
In real life you would have done this step before or at least during the making of your blocks.  It is what I did when planning the sampler and I will walk you through it now.

The first question to ask yourself is, "what size do I want my quilt to be?"  The answer to this question will differ depending on the quilt's intended use, bed size and personal preference.  If making a quilt for a specific bed it is vital to take the time and measure the bed.  General sizes for quilts are listed many places, but they don't take into account your specific mattress, box spring, bed frame and personal preference for length.

I measured my queen size bed (thin, no box spring) and found that a good length for the quilt would be 87x87 inches square.  I like to add 2 inches to take into account any shrinkage due to washing and quilting so I would make my quilt 89x89 and since that is just a really weird number to work with, I rounded it up to 90 inches square - better a bit too big than too small.

Each of the blocks is 12 inches square finished.  I have 36 blocks which gives me a 6x6 block layout.  If I sewed all my blocks together I would have a 72x72 inch square quilt.  Not large enough.

But, I want to have 2 inches (finished) of sashing between each block and around the perimeter.  (It will give the blocks a nice frame and some breathing room.)  That is 7 rows and columns of sashing at 2 inches (2x7=14) which would give me a 86x86 inch quilt.  We are getting pretty close to the optimal size for the quilt.

But I want to have a border to tie everything together.  If I want my quilt to be 90 inches finished I only have (90-86=4, 4/2=2) enough space for a 2 inch border, which I think would be a bit too narrow and look a bit silly.  I thought about it and figured I have never had a quilt that was too big - the only thing that bugs me is when they are too small for the bed, so I will plan for a 6 inch border on all sides (6x2=12, 86+12=98).  So even though I planned for a 90 inch quilt, as I figured out my layout I ended up with a 98 inch quilt.  That happens sometimes.

Alternatively, I could have taken out some blocks and had a 5x5 block layout.  (5x12=60 inches)
Six rows and columns of sashing (6x2=12).  60+12=72 inches so far.  90-72=18.  I need to add 18 inches to the quilt to bring it to size.  I can do that by adding 9 inch borders on each side and I would have a 90 inch quilt using only 25 of the sampler blocks.  A good option if you didn't make all of the blocks.

Skill Builder Quilt #2

Changing the size of your border is the easiest way to change the size of your quilt.  You can also change the width of your sashing.  "Momma Thomps" used a 3 inch sashing on her quilts that I think looks quite good and is an easy way to add more length and width to your quilt.

However, I have to admit something.  I don't want to make a queen sized quilt anymore.  We recently got another set of bunk beds and I want to make matching quilts for the girls.  Plus, I have some other queen sized quilts in the works (very old WIPs) that I think I would like better on our bed.

So let me run through the planning process again, except for bunk bed sized quilts.  Bunk beds are weird.  They have the protective slats on the sides and no box spring so the width is going to be different than a normal twin sized bed.  I measured the bunk beds and determined that I wanted a 50x74 inch quilt.

Blocks:  a 3x5 layout would give me a 36x60 inch quilt
Sashing:  a 2 inch sashing between each block and around the perimeter would add 8 inches to to width and 12 inches to the length.  That gives me a 42x72 inch quilt.
Border:  To make the quilt my planned 50x74 inches I would need to add a 4 inch border to each side and a one inch border to the top and bottom.  Hummm, I don't know about that - it might look weird.  If I add borders to make it a bit longer it would have more "tuck in" length and the unsymmetrical-ness of it might not bug me as much.  (Have I ever mentioned that I Hate making bunk beds?  Maybe some extra length would help them stay made better.)  For now I will plan on adding a 4 inch border to the top and bottom also, bringing the total quilt size up to 50x80 inches.  Before I add the borders, I will lay the quilt top on the bunk bed to see how it looks and check that I don't need to take away from my planned border size.

Laying Out the Blocks
Before you start cutting sashing and sewing your blocks together it is a good idea to lay all the blocks out and decide what order you want them in.  In most cases, you want the colors and designs spread evenly though out the quilt so it feels balanced and so that there are pops of color and interest through out the quilt.  You may also want to put your favorite blocks near the center of the quilt where they will receive more attention when the quilt is on the bed.

Here are all 36 blocks laid out in random order.  It looks pretty good, but it could use some work.  There are two log cabins right next to each other, a lot of orange on the left, two flowers at the bottom and a bunch of stars grouped in the middle.  Plus, I would like the Compass and Lone Star blocks be closer to the center where they can be seen better.

Most of the trouble spots have been taken care of, but if I was really going to make this quilt, I would probably leave it out for awhile and keep moving the blocks around until I was sure I liked how all of the blocks played together.  As it was, my husband wanted to move the table back so we could have dinner - different priorities I guess  ;)  - so I hurried the process along.

But, as I was planning on dividing the blocks up anyway, so it didn't really matter.  Colleen was drawn to the butterfly and flower blocks, so I pick out those and some reads-as-solid type blocks for her quilt.  I tried to evenly space the solid and more white/applique blocks.

 Aleah really liked the star blocks, so I pulled a bunch of stars for her.  I am still not sure about this layout.  I will probably come back and rearrange it when it is not almost dinner time.  I may have to trade some of Colleen's blocks with Aleah's to make it work.  These just aren't cohesive somehow.

 I knew I would have 6 left over blocks and I choose some of my favorites to make a small quilt for Kate's toddler bed.  I love these blocks together!  I hope I don't have to split up this group to "fix" Aleah's star quilt.

So to summarize, the next baby steps in putting the sampler quilt together are:

  1. Measure the bed the quilt will be going on.
  2. Determine sashing and border size based on the size of the quilt desired.
  3. Lay out the blocks to determine a pleasing layout.
  4. Take a picture of the layout and stack and label the blocks by rows. 
Next week we will talk about sashing.  How to determine how much yardage you need, how to cut and how to start sewing it all together.


  1. I'm with you on loving those 6 together! :-) I so desperately want to get my last 12 done so that I can reveal my layout. I need to get busy!

  2. I'm just about to put a sampler quilt together - I want it for the back of a sofa actually so just lap quilt size - so this was really helpful. I was going to put wider sashing in but now I think it will look better with narrower sashing and a wider border. Thanks so much.

  3. Lots of great tips in this post! I love your ideas and they will be great kids quilts :) I really like your layouts!

  4. Your blocks look amazing all together! Your girls are going to love them!

  5. Wow- these blocks are great! Love it

  6. Great Blog post Leila!

    To anyone looking to simplify your quilt planning (and you can easily use Leila's advise while using this app I just released ‘Quilter’, an iOS app to help layout/design/ and calculate yard requirements for quilts that I worked really hard on. I am trying to get some good feedback on how to make it a really useful quilting tool! Any feedback would be greatly appreciated. I hope it makes quilt design a less time consuming process so that you can dive right into the actual quilting!

    Thanks for taking a look!