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.

23 comments

  1. garnigal // January 8, 2009 at 11:54 AM  

    The "special foot" is called a walking foot. It's also helpful when dealing with denim, leather or any other type of thick fabric.

  2. Misspudding // January 8, 2009 at 12:19 PM  

    I've always wanted to quilt! I don't have a sewing machine, but I've seen them at Value Village. Don't know much about used sewing machines, but if you could find any info on what's good to have in a decent sewing machine, I'd love to see that post some time.

    I'm good with a needle and thread, but I suspect that'd take forever to work a quilt with.

    Beautiful work, Wood! Looking forward to more of these posts. :)

  3. Carrie S. // January 8, 2009 at 1:12 PM  

    I don't have a ton of knowledge about what's good in a sewing machine, but I will say that older machines last so, so, so much longer. A lot of newer machines (unless they're high-end) have plastic interior parts that just wear out. I went through THREE new sewing machines while in college (mid-'90s) and finally dragged my grandmother's 1974 Kenmore out of my mom's attic. I'm still sewing on that machine, and I sew through everything; fabric, leather, vinyl, paper, cardboard, even astroturf!

  4. Kathleen // January 8, 2009 at 1:44 PM  

    That's so beautiful. I'm really glad you'll be showing us your sewing projects. I've been so lax about sewing and knitting, except for the many little aprons I sewed for nieces and such this Christmas. You're inspiring me to get out the machine again. My excuse has been having a 9 month old, but clearly you have managed to find some time with two little ones.

    Can't wait to see what you share with us next time.

  5. Heidi // January 8, 2009 at 2:19 PM  

    I'm excited about WoodCraft! I happen to be making a doll quilt this week myself. Thanks for the inspiration.

  6. Jenn (dish) // January 8, 2009 at 5:02 PM  

    I machine quilt with a darning foot. It gives you complete freedom to swirl at will. I like doing stipple quilting (if you haven't done it, it's the equivalent of doodling on fabric), and while I've never used a walking foot, I think it might not work as well for stipple. However, I really should get a walker for stright line quilting as I'm terrible at it with the darning foot...

  7. julie // January 8, 2009 at 5:06 PM  

    YAY ONE OF US ONE OF USSSSS

    Beautiful quilts! I love the current crop of fabrics.

  8. hillary // January 8, 2009 at 5:44 PM  

    I use a darning foot too for swirly quilting. It works really well.

    doll quilts are so fun! they're the perfect non-threatening size. I made a bunch to decorate my daughter's room and was so happy with how it turned out.
    http://www.flickr.com/photos/hillarylang/531878280/in/photostream/

    there's a great doll quilt flickr group - lots of inspiration in there
    http://www.flickr.com/groups/386698@N23/pool/

  9. Alana // January 8, 2009 at 6:32 PM  

    I think this was just the inspiration I needed to get started making a little quilt for my girl. I loved your idea of using old clothes and blankets that your daughter had as that way the quilt would be full of memories for you and your child. I like that you approach it in a very laid-back manner as I think I would go crazy if I had to follow a pattern. I can sew, but I just hate following directions!

  10. robin // January 8, 2009 at 7:08 PM  

    Nice work! I borrowed my mom's sewing machine to make my Christmas presents this year, too. Now I want one of my own, for sure.

    Love the little quilt idea, thanks for breakin' it down. And the fabrics are yummy.

  11. Emily // January 8, 2009 at 9:28 PM  

    That mermaid fabric is the bomb!

  12. Jacqui // January 8, 2009 at 10:21 PM  

    I've been lurking around the idea of quilting for a bit, making little darts towards it and then veering off to some other project but the idea of doing a little doll's quilt is far less threatening! I love the free-form piecing you've done too, although I was given a rotary cutter and mat for Xmas and I might need to get precise so I can have fun with that :) Love the fabric choices too, there are so many neat fabrics out there now doll quilts would be a perfect excuse to sample lots and frequently. :)

  13. springtreeroad // January 8, 2009 at 10:55 PM  

    beautiful, beautiful.

  14. swiftlytilting // January 8, 2009 at 11:01 PM  

    Funny enough, I've been browsing around craft blogs this past week and just yesterday decided that, yes, I'm going to find my old sewing machine (in parents' garage, yikes!) and make a quilt. I think I might try making some placemats first? Even smaller than doll quilts!

    I'm really looking forward to your posts now!

  15. Barb // January 9, 2009 at 7:20 AM  

    Sweet little doll quilts, Wood!

    Here's a link that shows you how to bind your quilt.

    http://www.heatherbaileydesign.com/BindingDirections.pdf

  16. Table4Five // January 9, 2009 at 12:17 PM  

    I got a sewing machine for my birthday 3 years ago, because I was going to make Kaitlyn a baby quilt. Which I never did. I always thought you had to sew the top and bottom wrong sides together, then turn it inside out so the seams don't show? Does that not matter? You really are making me feel like I don't have to be scared of my sewing machine!

  17. nrp // January 9, 2009 at 1:40 PM  

    Oooo how exciting! And timely. My 7-year-old daughter and I have spent the last week or so embroidering a menagerie of of insects on scraps of fabric and were just this morning talking about turning them into a doll quilt for a sweet tiny girl in our lives.

  18. ImmaculateConceptionJamaica // January 9, 2009 at 3:25 PM  

    carrie is right- older machines are way better and last longer, for exactly the reason she states, newer machines tend to have lots more plastic inside and out that can break easier- if you can get an old machine from your mom/aunt/grandma/craigslist, do it! although most older machines don't have the fancy threading pattern options many of the new ones do...

    oh, the joy of diy sewing- i can't wait to have a little spare time again- i just love the quilt you made up for juniper and we love quilts here, have so far relied on kindness of family and strangers for them!! love this new venue for you, wood!

  19. Jodie // January 10, 2009 at 11:18 AM  

    Even this post isn't enough to get me away from my books and computer to sew something. I've had a little used Singer machine for over 20 years. It's still in the closet. Maybe I need to find it a good home as my house isn't a crafty house (for me). My husband does Needlepoint... amazing beautiful needlepoint. I'm not the crafty one.

  20. Jennifer // January 11, 2009 at 9:40 AM  

    I love reprodepot too for fabrics and you can never do enough quilts. This came out so well Wood and the combination of fabrics is beautiful. I just finished a twin size, which I had never done and there is such a satisfaction in completing something like this.

  21. Kristen // January 12, 2009 at 12:12 PM  

    Wood, these are beautiful! I look forward to seeing all your crafty goodness.

  22. Julia // January 12, 2009 at 3:59 PM  

    Oh I'm so jealous you ran into the Crafty Planet!! We relocated to the NE from Minneapolis a year ago and I have YET to find any store that compares - in a great big artsy city! Have fun!

  23. mames // February 17, 2009 at 12:06 AM  

    heather ross is my absolute favorite fabric designer. she is of the mermaid patterns and so many others. and she has a book coming out soon. you might really like it.