Thursday, February 27, 2014

How to Make a Baby Quilt

Since I have been writing about different quilting and sewing projects, I thought it might be fun to undertake a blog post that provides instructions on how to make a quilt. Over the past few years, I have been keeping rather busy making baby quilts. At this point, I think I have lost count. I do enjoy baby quilts for several reasons - most of all because I love celebrating the arrival of new babies. Baby quilts also go together much more quickly than larger quilts and help provide a sense of accomplishment.

The baby quilt pattern that I am about to share is a favorite standby. In part, because it does go together quite quickly. Another reason is that it offers a chance for some fun and creativity with fabric choices. This quilt is commonly referred to as a "Split Nine Patch" or a "Disappearing Nine Patch." Because the dimensions that I will share are for a baby quilt, I call this one a "Baby Split Nine."

The "Baby Split Nine" is a charm pack-friendly quilt. For those of you who may not be as familiar with quilting terms, a charm square is a 5 x 5 inch square of fabric. Many fabric designers put together "charm packs" of about 42 charm squares featuring the different fabrics in a given fabric line. If you find a fabric line that you like, but a charm pack isn't available, you can easily create your own charm pack by purchasing 1/6 of a yard of 7 to 10 different complementary fabrics from a given fabric line and then cutting them down into 5 x 5 inch squares. In the example below, I selected seven different complementary fabrics from the Camp-A-Lot fabric line from Riley Blake. I don't recommend using fewer than 7 different fabrics, because this is a quilt that really does benefit from variety.
Here they are cut into 5x5 inch squares ready to be combined to create the quilt:
Before I go any further, a fabric supply list might be helpful. Here is what you will need:

  • 45 5 x 5 inch squares of fabric. Note that I mentioned above that a typical charm pack only has 42 squares. Not to worry - you can cut 3 additional squares from the fabric that you will use for the inner and outer borders.
  • 1/4 yards of fabric for the inner border
  • 5/8 yards of fabric for the outer border
  • 1/3 yards of fabric for the binding. Hint: you may want to consider selecting a fabric for the back that also would also work as a color/pattern for the binding. If so, you won't need to buy extra fabric for the binding. You can just trim off the extra backing fabric once the quilt has been machine quilted. The choice is yours and really depends on your overall fabric choices. On some occasions, I've used the same color for both the back and the binding. On other occasions, I have used different fabrics for the back and the binding.
  • 1 1/3 yards for the back - the nice thing about this quilt is that its dimensions do not require you to piece the fabric for the back together. 1 1/3 yards allow for adequate overhang on all dimensions.
Now, here are the steps to assemble the quilt top:
  • For all sewing, use a 1/4 inch seam.
  • Sew the 45 squares into five nine patch blocks. This is where you want to have fun and just be random in how you arrange the blocks. That being said, if I have a "bigger" print or pattern, I try to place it in one of the four outer corners so that it will stay intact in the next step. With smaller prints, I try to make sure that they aren't always in the same position. Before I start sewing the blocks together, I often set them out on a floor or table for a quick review. Here is how I arranged the blocks for this quilt. You can see how I have moved the patterns around in each block and that some blocks feature more than one square of the same print. 
  • The next step is to cut the blocks into fourths. This is what adds even more variety to this quilt and gives it its distinctive appearance. Here is an example of one block that has been cut into its four equal pieces. After you have cut all five blocks into fourths, you will have 20 small blocks.

  • The next step is to arrange the 20 blocks into four rows of five blocks each. From the pictures below, you can see how the position of the "small" square is rotated as the blocks are sewn together. The second picture illustrates two rows sewn together. Note the ongoing pattern of rotating the individual blocks.
  • Once the blocks have been sewn together, it is time to sew the inner and outer borders to the quilt. 
  • The inner border strips are cut 1 1/2 inches wide. 
  • The outer border strips are cut 5 inches wide.
The following picture illustrates inner border strips that have been cut to 1 1/2 inches x the width of the fabric (WOF) which is about 44 inches.
Here are a few hints for cutting borders. Although they seem fairly benign, they can be a bit tricky and make the sides of the quilt "bow out" if you are not careful. Even though the cut strips will be longer than the sides of your rows of blocks for this quilt, I recommend cutting them to the exact length plus about 1/2 inch. This "extra" can then be trimmed off. For rectangular-shaped quilts, you will obviously have "long" and "short" sides of the quilt. I prefer the look of sewing the borders first to the "long" sides and then to the "short" sides.
  • Measure the length of your quilt at its middle to determine the appropriate length for the "long" sides of the quilt. 
  • Cut the border strips for the "long" sides of the quilt and sew them on (still using a 1/4 inch seam). 
  • Now, measure the width of the quilt at the middle to determine the appropriate length for the "short" sides of the quilt.
  • Cut those strips and sew them to the quilt.
  • Repeat the above steps for the outer border.
Just to make things tricky, here are some things to consider if you are working with fabric an outer border (or any wide border) that has a "direction" to it. The main thing is that you think about which way you want the direction to go. In the case of the quilt I am illustrating here, I chose to have the pattern go across the long sides of the quilt. As such, I cut two 5 inch strips  x the width of the fabric for the "long" sides of the quilt. So that the direction of the fabric would be the same on the short sides of the quilt, I cut the "short" sides along the length of the fabric. To accommodate the dimensions of the quilt, I had to piece them together, but you can get the idea from the pictures here.

Once the borders have been attached, the next step is to take the quilt top and back to be machine quilted. Many local quilt shops have individuals who provide machine quilting services or can refer you to a local machine quilter. You also will consider what type of batting you would like to use. I have had baby quilts finished with either a poly-down batting and a lightweight 80/20 batting. I don't know that I have a strong preference for one or the other. Both result in a nice quilt.

The next step is to attach the binding. You can create either a single-fold or double-fold binding. I prefer a double-fold binding because it is more durable for a quilt that is intended to be well-used.

  • Cut strips 2 1/4 inches wide and cut the ends at a 45 degree angle. As shown in the picture below, be sure that the angles on the two ends are parallel to one another. For this quilt, you will need to cut 5 strips. Sew the strips together.
  • Once you have sewn the strips together, fold them in half, wrong sides together.
  • Sew the folded binding to the top side of the quilt, using a 1/4 inch seam.
  • Fold the binding over to the back of the quilt, pin it down, and attach it using a blind stitch. I prefer hand stitching mine down. It takes time, but I think it provides a neater finish.

 Here are some up close pictures of the blocks and machine quilting for this baby quilt. My machine quilter never ceases to amaze me with her work. I love the edge-to-edge camping design that she chose for this quilt.

A closing thought on babies and the source of my motivation for sharing these gifts with them before I close out this post …

Behold, children are a gift from the LORD… Psalm 127:3

Friday, February 14, 2014

Celebrating the Olympics with Borscht

I absolutely love the Olympics! I'm not certain whether I enjoy the Summer or Winter games more. I'm always happy to have the television on whenever the games are being broadcast. I first became enamored with the Olympics in 1980 when I was in the 7th grade. I was especially enthralled with figure skating and had my own dreams of becoming an Olympic champion. For good or for bad, that dream was not to be realized. I did experience an Olympic dream in 2002, when I was able to attend the ladies' figure skating free skate event when Sarah Hughes won her gold medal. I was sitting in the less expensive seats in upper bowl of the arena, but I was still thrilled to be there. What saddened me was that the much higher priced lower bowl seats were essentially empty until about halfway through the event when the more highly ranked girls were ready to take to the ice.

I still continue to watch every moment of figure skating that I can. Already during this Olympics, I have been amazed by exquisite performance of the Russian pairs champions which was so reminiscent of the past champions from the Soviet Union. Watching Evgeny Pleshenko's expression as he came to the realization that he would need to withdraw from the men's singles competition because of injury was heartbreaking. I was also amazed at Jeremy Abbot's courage to get up after a dramatic, clearly painful fall and complete his short program flawlessly.

As an "event," the Olympics also provide an opportunity to try new recipes with an international flair. Fortunately for me, my family is willing to humor me in this endeavor. During the Torino games, I came upon a wonderful recipe for baked ziti. During the London games, we enjoyed a dinner of bangers and mash as well as a tea party or two. 

Growing up during the Cold War era, I have always been somewhat intrigued by the Russian-speaking countries and their culture. Over the past several years, I have spent time in Russian-speaking countries. I've worked to learn the Cyrillic alphabet to be able to read in Russian. I've also found myself applying some of my German language skills in my endeavors to learn Russian. Although most people don't think of Russian cuisine as something they are eager to try, I have enjoyed most of the foods that I have served. I have enjoyed borscht (beet soup) during my travels, but I have never prepared it myself until now. The verdict from last night was that it was a success.

Before I proceed to the recipe, I will humor you with a few pictures of Olympic memorabilia just to illustrate what an Olympic "junkie" I truly am. This picture highlights some of my items from the Salt Lake games, including my pin collection and cowbell. Yes, my boys and I were avid pin traders, and we rang our cowbells and cheered when we attended the 4-man bobsled event. The orange zipper bag is from the closing ceremonies.

I'm not sure how many of you will recognize this second picture. These are stickers from Chiquita bananas (yes, really) that I collected during the 1980 Lake Placid games. At the time, I didn't know what to do with them, so they ended up being stuck to a plastic sandwich bag. Most of the time, I keep them in my Olympic memorabilia box. Yes, I really am that pathetic. 

Now on to my newly-found recipe for borscht:

8 cups of beef broth
1 pound of bone-in beef shank
1 large onion
4 large beets
4 carrots
1 large baking size russet potato
2 cups sliced cabbage
3/4 cup chopped fresh dill
3 tbsp red wine vinegar
salt and pepper to taste
sour cream for garnish

  • Bring 4 cups of the beef broth, the beef shank, and the onion (peeled and quartered) to a boil. Reduce heat, and simmer for about 1 1/2 hours or until the meat is tender.
  • Remove the meat and trim to remove the bone, fat, and sinew. Chop the meat into small pieces, cover, and refrigerate.
  • Allow the broth to chill for several hours and skim off the fat.
  • Peel and chop the beets, carrots, and potato. Add to the chilled broth along with the additional 4 cups of broth and bring to a boil. Simmer until the vegetables are tender, approximately 30 minutes. 
    • Note: I have typically cooked beets by trimming the tops, boiling them, and then peeling them. For this recipe, I followed the instructions and went ahead and peeled them using a potato peeler. I then cut them up into fairly small pieces as shown in the picture below:

  • Stir in the meat, cabbage, and 1/2 cup of the dill. Simmer until the cabbage is tender, approximately 15 minutes. Season with salt and pepper to taste, and add the vinegar. 
    • Note: at this point, we also found that we needed to add another cup of beef broth.
  • Ladle the borscht into bowls and garnish with a dollop of sour cream and the remaining dill.
  • Serve with warm bread and enjoy
If you will excuse me now, it's about time to turn on the Olympics!