Based on the response to the quilt I made from Juniper's baby clothes, a lot of you feel just like I did before I started: like you want to make a quilt or just get figure out how to use your sewing machine that hasn't done anything but gather dust in your basement for the last few years, but you're overwhelmed and not sure where to begin.
I have the perfect project for you: a doll quilt. Although Juniper's quilt was technically my first project, before I finished it, I made a doll quilt so that I could practice binding the layers together on something smaller. I loved how it came out, and so I made several more. I think it makes a great beginner project before tackling something bigger.
If you have a sewing machine and some thread, all you need to buy is a good rotary cutter or sharp scissors, a cutting mat, batting, and fabric that is so pretty that you let out a tiny squeal of delight when you first see it. I think it's worth it to spend money on fabric that you absolutely adore --- you only need small bits and scraps for the doll quilt, and the process is so much more fun if you're using fabric you love. Specialty quilt shops generally carry fabric by designers like Denyse Schmidt, Heather Ross, Amy Butler and Erin McMorris. I also recently found this etsy shop that carries tons of gorgeous prints. You can buy by the yard or in much smaller sizes, and for a doll quilt, you really don't need that much. (I got lucky and stumbled across a Crafty Planet booth at our local craft fair where they sold pre-cut one yard pieces by most of my favorite designers for $8.)
Lastly: you need a special foot for your sewing machine. I can't figure out the technical term for this is (please feel free to tell me in the comments, experienced quilters) -- but just throw yourself on the mercy of the lady working in your specialty quilt shop, and she'll show you what you need. You want a foot that helps the three layers of fabric (quilt top, batting, and backing) move along smoothly when you quilt it together. The lady in the store will know what you're talking about. Get the one she tells you to buy.
To make the quilt, cut the fabric into smallish shapes, and piece them together. I'm not precise about this but you certainly could be. I kind of make it up as go, laying the fabrics next to each other to see what looks best to me.
Once you have a quilt top you're satisfied with (mine are generally about 2 or 3 feet in length and width), cut the batting and fabric you want to use on the back (backing) to size of your quilt plus a few extra inches on each side. The backing can be a fabric you used in the quilt top or something more snuggly like a corduroy or flannel. Next, get out that quilting foot thing, and start sewing them together. You can quilt in a pattern, but that is too fussy for me, so I just tend to sew back and forth within each shape, or sometimes go in a circle. Experiment, and see what looks best to you.
[the doll bed was a birthday present from the Summers family]
When you're done quilting the layers together, it's time to make the binding. Binding is where it pays to be precise, so don't trust me to tell you how to do it. Get a cheap quilting book from the sewing store, and read the directions. It sounds tricky at first but it isn't so bad, and ends up being one of my favorite parts of the quilt.
Juniper loved this mermaid fabric so much that she begged me to make a doll quilt for her when I finished making one for her friend's birthday. I was happy to do it, because the fabric was a gorgeous orange and blue and the finished quilt is probably the only thing she possesses that isn't pink.
A doll quilt is a small project you can complete in an afternoon or two. It doesn't have to be perfect, and it might even look better with some crooked edges and mismatched seams. And if you have a girl (or a boy) under seven in your life, chances are she is going to love it. Doll quilts were my go-to gift this Christmas, and I think all of the kids were pretty pleased with them. I forgot to take pictures of a few that I made, so if any mothers of recipients out there (Amy, I'm looking at you) want to take a picture and send it to me, I'll post it here.