I frequently get asked by folks wanting to learn how to make a quilt “where to begin”, and after many promises to write a tutorial I’ve finally carved out some time to do so. The first quilt I ever made was a simple patchwork quilt composed of 4” squares which is indeed a good beginner project. Almost as simple as that is the 9-patch block which is what I decided to write about here. Let’s make a 9-patch quilt!
*ROTARY CUTTER, CUTTING MAT & RULER
HERA MARKER, OR MECHANICAL PENCIL OR WATER-SOLUBLE FABRIC MARKER
IRON & IRONING BOARD
The first step is to come up with fabric. If this is your first quilt I would suggest making a doll size or baby/crib size quilt. Smaller quilts are easier to wrangle and less of a commitment. To make a small quilt you’ll need only a couple yards of fabric. To make my 9-patch doll size quilt above, I used naturally dyed scraps I had leftover from other quilts. This block is a good one for using up scraps if you have them. If not maybe you have some old clothing or bluejeans you could use? Of course you can purchase some fabrics at your local fabric shop or thrift store.
Once you’ve selected your fabrics it’s time to cut them into squares. Larger squares are a little easier to work with when you’re first learning. If you’re making a doll size quilt then 2” squares would be a good size, and if you’re making a baby/crib size quilt maybe cut your squares to 3”. I had really small scraps to work with so I cut my squares to 1.5”. It doesn’t really matter what size you cut your squares, as long as you cut them all the same size. The squares in the photo above are from another quilt I made which was much bigger. For a small quilt you won’t need this many squares. Begin by cutting a dozen squares of each color and then cut more as you need them so you don’t end up with a ton of leftover squares.
If you want to do the same 9-patch layout that I did then you’ll need some neutral background fabric as well— which I will refer to as “spacers” going forward. We’ll determine the size of those blocks once you have sewn up your 9-patch blocks so don’t worry about cutting them right now.
When you cut your 9-patch squares you need to be precise. It’s handy if you have access to a rotary cutter and mat. There are many tutorials on YouTube that explain how to cut squares with a rotary cutter so I won’t cover that here. To find a tutorial on this go to YouTube and in the search bar type in something like “how to cut patchwork squares”. If you don’t have a rotary cutter and mat you can simply use scissors to cut your squares.
The 9-patch block is literally 9 squares sewn together- hence the name 9 patch- and we begin constructing the block by sewing the squares together into rows of three. I decided to use black in the center of every block. That was really the only rule I stuck to. My color theme for this quilt was varying shades of blues and purples and natural cotton spacers. To begin, choose 9 of the squares that you cut and lay them out on a surface:
Pin the squares in the top row together, matching each square corner to corner with the right sides of the fabric facing each other, and using a 1/4” seam allowance sew them together. Go slow when you’re sewing to be as accurate as possible with your 1/4” seam allowance—seam accuracy in quilt-making is key! Remove the pins as you approach them rather than sewing over them to avoid breaking your sewing machine needle. Repeat this process for the middle and bottom rows. You now have 3 rows of 3:
Take your three rows over to the iron and press your seams open. Pressing seams open is a bit controversial in the quilting world but I’ve found that it helps with accuracy and also with matching up seams which is the next step.
To finish the block sew your 3 rows to each other. To do this begin by pinning the top row to the middle row. See photo below: Put your top row on your work surface with the right side of the fabric facing up. Place the middle row on top of the top row with the right side facing down, and match up the seams. The right sides of both rows need to be facing each other, and the top edges of both rows need to be lined up flush to each other. Put a pin directly through the center of the open seam:
Then push the pin into the center of the seam of the bottom layer:
Now bring the pin back up through the center of the seam from back to front on both layers. This will ensure your seams are lined up like a pro:
Repeat these steps to sew the bottom row to the middle row which will complete the block. Once your block is all sewn together, take it over to the iron and press your seams open:
Great! You made your first 9-patch block!
Once you have a good amount of blocks made, you can lay them out and play with your design. Lay your blocks out as you make them, and continue making more until you’re satisfied with the size of your quilt. Below is the final design I decided on for my quilt:
Another design option could be to eliminate the spacers (this of course would require sewing twice as many 9-patch blocks because you’d be eliminating the neutral spacers):
In the design option below I laid the blocks out on an indigo background to see what indigo spacers would look like:
The possibilities are endless! When I’m contemplating a design, I’ll lay out many different designs as above and take photos of each design as I go. In the end I can scroll through my photos to help me decide which one I like best. Seeing the design from the perspective of a photo is always incredibly helpful to me!
Once you’ve settled on a design, lay your blocks out just how you want your quilt to look. Keep in mind that your quilt will be quite a bit smaller once you sew the blocks together because of the inches you’ll lose in seam allowances. You might want to move your blocks around until you’re happy with the way the colors flow (again taking a photo and looking at your work from the camera’s perspective can be very helpful here).
If you will be using neutral spacer blocks between each 9-patch then it’s time to determine their size and cut them. Measure the finished size of one of your 9-patch blocks. Your 9-patch blocks and spacer blocks need to be the same size, so with your rotary cutter or scissors, cut your spacers to the same size as your 9-patches. Refer to the first photo of this post to see how I laid my design out if you’ve decided to use spacers. Basically, you rotate beginning (and ending) each row with either a 9-patch or a spacer block. To complete your quilt top you sew the blocks into horizontal rows:
Finally sew the rows to one-another, matching and pinning your seams with right sides together, just as you did in constructing your blocks. Press your seams open as you go. When your quilt is complete give it a gentle press, and there you have your quilt top!
Alright! Now let’s turn this into a quilt. Technically a quilt is a blanket consisting of three layers- the top, batting, and back- held together by stitches. The next step in the quilt making process is to create a back. Measure your quilt top and add about two inches to both the length and the width. This is the size you should cut your quilt back to. For the back you might just use a single piece of fabric, or you may want to get creative and piece together a back. The possibilities are endless. I used a piece of indigo dyed fabric which ended up being just a tiny bit too short, so I sewed a strip of vintage calico fabric to it to extend it.
The next step is to make what is called a “quilt-sandwich”. With masking- tape, tape your quilt back to a hard surface with the wrong size facing up:
Cut a piece of quilt batting about the same size as your quilt back. Place it on top of the back and smooth out all the wrinkles:
Now place your quilt top—with the right side facing up—on top of the batting and again smooth out the wrinkles:
Mmmmkay! You’re getting there! The next step is to mark the quilting lines. These lines will guide you when you’re quilting either by hand or by machine. I like to use a Hera marker to do this because it doesn’t leave any marks that need to be removed in the end, the lines it makes are visible on both light and dark fabric, and it never runs out of ink, chalk or lead- because it doesn’t have any. If you don’t have a Hera marker you could use a water soluble fabric marker, a chalk pencil, or even a mechanical pencil. In the photo below from left to right is a Hera marker, a chalk pencil, and a mechanical pencil:
On this small quilt I simply eyeballed the lines. On a larger quilt you would want to use a yardstick or something to help you mark your lines straight. Or maybe you don’t want to make lines? You can make whatever pattern you want, or even do the quilting freehand without marking it. Again, the possibilities are endless. In the image below you can see the quilting lines I marked with the Hera marker:
Now to finish the quilt-sandwich you need to pin all three layers together. Use safety-pins to do this. Place them about every 4-6 inches. Smooth the quilt top out as you place the pins to ensure there are no wrinkles.
Remove the tape and there you have your yummy quilt-sandwich all ready to be quilted. I like to hand-quilt my quilts, but you might want to save time and quilt yours by machine. I’m sure there are many tutorials to be found on YouTube which explain how to machine quilt. If you’re interested in hand-quilting, I have a tutorial on Instagram— you can find it on my Instagram profile page @farmandfolk filed in my story highlights under “TUTORIAL”. If you use that tutorial make sure to read through all the questions and answers following the video. If you have any questions you will most likely find an answer there, but if not feel free to leave me a comment here. If you use this tutorial to make a quilt please post your project on Instagram and use the hashtag #farmandfolktutorial so I can see your quilt and share it to my Instagram stories. Also if you find this tutorial helpful please share it on Instagram!
I’ll write another post very soon explaining the final step in the process of quilt-making, which is creating a binding to enclose all the raw edges along the perimeter of your quilt.
If you have any questions please leave them in the comment section of this post and I’ll do my best to answer them.