/ / How to sew a Rag Quilt {the Ultimate Guide}

How to sew a Rag Quilt {the Ultimate Guide}

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The front of my rag quilt features Winter Garden from QT Fabrics

The front of my rag quilt features Winter Garden from QT Fabrics

Learn how to make a rag quilt – using any fabric you want. This is the ultimate guide.

Rag quilts are fast, fun to make, and so cozy! And contrary to what the ‘quilt police’ might tell you, you can use just about any fabric too! So pull up a chair and get ready to learn how to make a rag quilt. It’s easy, I promise!

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Fabrics for a Rag Quilt

Rag quilts get their name because of the fuzzy frayed seam allowances that show on the right side of the quilt. There are normally 2-4 (or more) layers of fabric in a rag quilt. So keep in mind that you want to want to use at least one fabric that will fray a lot so you get that frayed effect on the seam allowances. I love to use fleece on the back of my rag quilts because it makes them so soft and cozy! But fleece does not fray – so I am careful to use other fabrics that fray better for my other layers.

Here’s a quick guide for choosing fabrics for your rag quilt…

High fraying fabrics:

  • flannel

  • denim (old jeans!)

  • some silk (how about old scarves?)

  • some woven cotton fabrics (especially lower quality fabrics)

Medium fraying fabrics:

  • high quality quilting cottons

  • linen

  • cotton sateen

  • high quality silk (but it’s probably too expensive for this)

Low fraying fabrics:

  • fleece

  • stretch fabrics

  • most polyester fabrics

If you are in doubt about how much a fabric will fray, you can always cut into your fabric and see if the threads start coming apart. For a rag quilt, fraying is good! 

3 layers is a good start for your first rag quilt so pick three fabrics to start. You can decide on your next rag quilt if you’d like to try more or fewer layers. Make sure at least one of your layers is in the ‘High fraying fabrics’ list above. Then let’s get to it!


How to make a Make a Quilt

Important tools:

  • a heavy duty universal sewing machine needle (90/14 or heavier)

  • rotary cutter, mat, and ruler for cutting

  • a walking foot for your sewing machine (very helpful)

  • Spring-loaded rag quilt scissors (a must if your quilt is larger than mini-size, trust me)

Plan your rag quilt:

1. Choose to cut squares or strips. Both make ADORABLE rag quilts. For this quilt, I am using squares.

2. I planned 9 rows, each row with 8 squares. My squares are 8” when cut, and then finish at 7” (with a 1/2” seam allowance). So this finished quilt is a generous lap quilt size – about 56” x 63”.

If you are cutting squares, anywhere between 4” – 12” is great.

If you are cutting strips, anywhere between 3” – 8” is a great size.

Have fun and plan your quilt on graph paper, keeping in mind that you’ll lose 1/2” on each side for the seam allowance.


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3. Cut 3 layers of fabric (or more or less, if you prefer) for each square or strip. I cut 72 squares of each of my 3 fabrics, to make my 8×9 patchwork grid.

As you can see from the photo above, I cut 72 pieces of cream fleece, 72 pieces of white flannel, and 72 pieces of beautiful Winter Garden from QT Fabrics.


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Stack and pin your rag quilt layers:

1. Place the backing layer right side down on your work area.

2. Place your middle layer(s) on next (right side up or down – doesn’t matter).

3. Put your top layer on last, right side up. 


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4. Place a pin in the middle to hold the layers together. Repeat for all of your blocks or strips.

Note: at this point, some quilters like to sew an ‘X’ in the middle of the block to hold the layers together. That’s fine, but not necessary because we are not using quilt batting that has to be quilted in order to hold it’s shape. I prefer not to sew the ‘X’ because I like a cleaner look.


5. Lay out your squares or strips to plan how they will look when sewn together.


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Sewing the rag quilt together:

1. Start with the first two squares in your row (or the first two strips. Place the stacks wrong sides together.

This is a lot of layers and they often don’t line up perfectly – that’s just fine. Our 1/2” seam allowance is very forgiving!


If you have a walking foot (or dual feed foot) for your sewing machine, it makes sewing all these layers a breeze. Make sure your needle is size 90 or larger too, so it doesn’t struggle or break.

2. Sew the first two blocks together with a 1/2” seam allowance. Backstitch at the start and stop.


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3. Open the layers out – cute!


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Continue with steps 1-3 above to sew all the stacks together for your first row.


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And then make the rest of the rows in your rag quilt.


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4. Once all of your rows are sewn, sew the rows together with a 1/2” seam allowance as before. Finger-press the seams open as you go for a neat appearance.


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Making a rag quilt can get bulky toward the end, so make sure you have enough space.

See how beautiful the back looks in a single color of cozy fleece?


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5. After all of your rag quilt pieces are sewn together, sew around your quilt 1/2” from the edge. This will be a guideline for clipping the outer edge, plus it will hold those layers together.

You could also bind your rag quilt with regular quilt binding – in that case this step is not necessary.


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Clipping the seams!

Now you are going to be so happy you have those spring loaded rag quilt scissors! Clip all of the seam allowances (and the edges if you are not using traditional binding). I like clipping into the seam allowance with my clips about 1/4” apart, but if your hands can’t take it 1/2” apart is fine too! Put your favorite movie on and enjoy!

Take care not to clip into the stitching, but if you do, it’s easily fixed by folding the seam wrong sides together again and sewing across the clipped stitches.


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Your rag quilt looks beautiful now, but it’s not finished until you wash and dry it to fray all those clipped edges.

Enjoy your handmade rag quilt! Come back and tell us in the comments what fabrics you used (and how many layers) and how it turned out. We’d all love to know!


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Make sure you ask for this gorgeous Winter Garden collection from QT Fabrics at your local quilt shop.

xoxo,


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36 Comments

  1. You made a beautiful rag quilt, Caroline! I especially like the Winter Garden selection you used.

  2. My friend and I just finished several rag quilts using Halloween and Christmas flannels with various flannel solids on the back. Thanks for the steps and hints

  3. Karen Payton says:

    So beautiful thank u for the pattern. I want to make these for my kids for Christmas. How much if each fabric should I buy?

    1. It depends on how large you want to make your rag quilt, and the width of the fabrics. My rag quilt above required exactly 4 yards each of the quilting cotton and flannel (which were 40” wide). You might want to purchase a little extra in case the fabric is not cut exactly straight at the cutting counter. The fleece that I bought was 58” wide, so I only needed 2 1/4 yards.
      Your kids will love them!

  4. I recently saw a Rag quilt made only two fabrics and have made only that way. The demin and flannel would have been too heavy with a third fabric.

    1. My rag quilts that have 3 layers (fleece, flannel, and quilting cotton) are about as heavy as a store-bought comforter. They are warm and cozy and especially fun to snuggle up with. I’m sure your 2 layer quilts are great too! xoxo

  5. Kathleen March says:

    Great tutorial. I like the idea of not needing to quilt the fabric to make it hold its shape (for once). I also think I might piece together smaller scraps to make the 8" squares, to get a really scrappy effect.

  6. How do wash it? In your home washer or I’ve heard that some people go to a laundromat since there is so much lint. Do you use soap? Wash more than once?

    1. Before taking the final pictures, I washed this rag quilt once in my front loading washer and dryer with a small amount of detergent. There was a lot of lint in the dryer trap, but not enough to cause alarm (about the same amount as after my husband does laundry and never cleans it out, lol). Rag quilts continue to get better and better with each washing too! xoxo

  7. I have heard of many doing rag quilts with Homespun fabrics. Just wondering why you did not mention Homespun’s in the list of fabrics to use.

  8. Karen Payton says:

    Thank u for answering my question so quick! I love your blog your doing a great job…God bless!

  9. Karen Dowd says:

    I have sewn a couple of denim rag quilts with flannel back and denim front, they were very heavy and very sturdy. I have also sewn a couple of baby quilts with three layers of heavy flannel,squares, and i have sewn some baby quilts with strips with just two layers of flannel. I think i liked the two layer baby quilts because they were so much softer than the three layers, not as stiff. I have never tried the spring loaded scissors!

  10. Thank you for inspiring me to make my first quilt! I’m using a walking foot but I’m still having a problem with the layers shifting. Would increasing or decreasing the pressure of the presser foot make a difference?

    1. Yay for your first quilt! First make sure that your walking foot is installed correctly (see the link above to my Walking Foot post). Second, sewing 6 (or more) layers together at the same time is bound to cause some shifting. As long as none of the layers shift more than 1/4”, you’ll be fine. Just do your best and have fun. This project is very forgiving!

      xoxo,

      Caroline

      1. I did it! It’s not perfect, but it’s going to be so cozy. Thanks again, Caroline.

  11. What is the finished size of your quilt?

  12. Love your quilt!! I’vs made two rag quilts so far. The problem I’m having is the squares on the back of my quilt get out of line just a little. How can I keep them straight? No matter how hard I try to line up the seams when sewing the rows together, I still have some blocks that are off. The front looks great!🤷‍♀️

    1. Hi Vickie,
      That seems to be the case with rag quilts. Using a walking foot definitely helps, but when you are sewing together 6+ layers, something always shifts! xoxo

  13. Mariette Forget says:

    Hi and thanks a lot. I know there are a lots of ways to make rag quilts but I think I will use your way for my first one. I love your choice of colors and fabrics. Have a great day! 😎🌸

  14. priscilla says:

    I haven’t made this yet, as I’ve been watching videos and reading tutorials to find the simplest most basic version for my first project. Yours is the winner! Instructions are so easy to understand. I don’t feel intimidated to try a rag quilt after reading your tutorial. I know I can do this. Thanks!

  15. jan broughton says:

    I’ve made two of these and they are lovely.However when I wash them the colors fade or bleed. How do I keep this from happening>

    1. Hi Jan,
      I always use high quality quilt shop fabrics which are much less likely to fade or bleed – in fact I’ve never had it happen when using them. Bleeding can also be prevented by using a product called ‘color catchers’ in the wash if the fabrics are bold or red (especially red). Good luck!

  16. I have made many rag quilts using this method and given a good number as a baby gift. The ones I’ve made have been flannel on the top and bottom with quilting batting in the center so I did use the X through the center of each block. The 3 layers with the batting in the middle does make for a stiffer quilt and I’ve found that stiff is better for larger sizes but not the typical small baby blanket. A friend has a two layer one with a denim back that’s twin bed sized and I do like how that one feels. I’ve been saving all of our old jeans to cut up to make one.

    I have also seen this method used to make a water resistant picnic blanket. For that one, the top was denim and the bottom was made from a plastic shower curtain. Jean pockets were sewn on the top and functioned as a place to put your napkin so it didn’t fly away.

  17. What kind of sewing machine do you use. I am using the right needle but machine is not handling the thick material. I also using a walking foot.

    1. Hi Carol, When I was making that particular rag quilt, I was using my Janome Horizong 14,000 and the dual feed foot. I have also made rag quilts using my Juki TL2010Q (with the walking foot on). You could try adjusting the presser foot pressure – there is sometimes a dial for that. Thick fabrics sometimes require less pressure. Good luck!

      Caroline

  18. Definitely need to try this one! Would Minky be a good option – not sure how it frays but could make a big mess?

    1. Minky would be beautiful and cuddly! Yes, it does make a mess so keep a vacuum handy. Also be sure to use a walking foot to keep it from stretching as you sew.

  19. Shari Tuttle says:

    I made your rag quilt using the pattern above. I used cotton for my top layer, flannel for my middle layer, and fleece for my bottom layer. Neither the cotton nor the flannel frayed when I washed it. I did use one quarter inch snips, possibly even a tiny bit narrower. I have washed it a second time and they still have not frayed. Any suggestions?

    1. You must have used high quality fabric! You can rub the seams with a nail file to encourage fraying. With multiple washings, eventually it will fray. 🙂

  20. This pattern was fun to work with. I used quilting cotton and 2 layers of flannel. It turned out beautifully. I did learn that the flannel as a backing does make quite a mess to clean up after washing. The frayed fiber sticks to it. Otherwise it turned out great. It is a child size and I plan on making a larger one in strips next. Thank you for the instruction!

  21. Thanks for all the tips! I love the idea of not using batting. Did you prewash the flannel (middle layer)? I’ve heard that people do that when using flannel as batting in a regular quilt but wasn’t sure about the rag quilt. What are your thoughts?

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