Are you ready to make your first quilt? A baby quilt is the perfect size for learning, and this one couldn’t be easier. Follow the step-by-step photo instructions using pre-cut materials to make the easiest (and cutest) rainbow baby quilt.
Quilts can be made by hand or by machine. This tutorial shows the entire quilt process, from beginning to end, made with a domestic sewing machine.
All the materials are pre-cut, so you don’t even have to measure! They are linked for quick sourcing as well, so you can make a quilt exactly like ours.
There are four major steps in the process to make a quilt:
Piecing – Piecing involves sewing pieces of fabric together to form the top of the quilt. This step can be as simple or involved as you’d like. This tutorial keeps the piecing step easy with stripes of colored fabric that have already been cut and purchased as a jelly roll.
Basting – Stacking the layers of a quilt together and securing them is called basting or sandwiching. The difference between a quilt and a blanket is that a quilt has multiple layers. They are typically made up of a pieced top, batting for the center, and a backing.
Quilting – Quilting is the act of sewing all the layers together. This can be done by hand or with a sewing machine. This tutorial uses a straight stitch on a sewing machine.
Binding – The narrow fabric that goes around the perimeter of the quilt, encasing all the layers, is called binding. It is a tidy way to finish the edge so the layers within cannot be seen.
To make a rainbow baby quilt, you will need the following supplies.
The top of the quilt is pieced using a single jelly roll in rainbow colors.
Cotton batting, rather than polyester, is recommended for a soft and warm quilt. It is available in various sizes. The size linked below is enough for a single baby quilt.
If you plan on making multiple quilts, batting can be purchased by the bolt. This option is more economical in the long-run.
A knit fabric was chosen for the backing to keep it soft for a baby’s skin. Quilting cotton is also a great choice.
For your first quilt, it is recommended to purchase binding. You will need two packages for a crib sized quilt. As your skills progress, you might want to try making your own binding.
Safety pins are needed to baste your quilt layers together. There are pins made for quilting that have a curve in them. They make it slightly easier to grab all the layers. However, large safety pins work fine too You will need about 100 for a baby quilt.
Sewing clips are used to hold binding in place, especially during hand sewing.
A nice pair of fabric shears are worth their weight in gold for any sewing project. Make sure you only use them for fabric!
Thread nippers are also great for trimming threads without the risk of cutting into fabric by mistake. (We’ve all done it.)
Choose a thread color that will work for all the fabric and steps in your quilt, from piecing to quilting to binding. In this case, we use black thread throughout.
An iron is needed to press the quilt top and connect binding. A small iron is perfect for pressing seams when sewing, but any size will do.
A walking foot for quilting the quilt is also recommended. It moves all layers of the quilt evenly through your sewing machine, and eases strain on the body. This foot is available for most sewing machines. Be sure to purchase the right brand for yours.
Now that you have gathered all your supplies, let’s start piecing the quilt top.
Step 1 – Piecing
Begin by unrolling the rainbow jelly roll to reveal all the strips of colorful fabric. Lay them out in the order you would like for your final quilt. This can be done on a table or the floor.
Then stack the strips on top of one another, in order, so that you can easily move them to your sewing machine.
Take the top two fabric strips, full opened, and stack them on top of one another. Line up the side edges that have been cut with pinking shears (zig zag).
Don’t worry if the length of the strips do not match. Jelly roll strips are often cut to various lengths. We’ll deal with that later.
Now sew along the edge of the strips using a 1/4″ seam allowance. You do not need to back stitch at the start or end of sewing. It isn’t necessary and helps piecing go faster.
Open up the seam you just made.
Then add the next strip of fabric on top, lining up the right edges.
Sew along the edge again with a 1/4″ seam allowance.
Continue opening up the seam and adding fabric strips until you have sewn all the jelly roll strips together.
The front will look wrinkled, but you can start to see your quilt coming together.
The back will have lots of seams sticking up.
Next, press all the seams ‘to the dark side’. That means you want to press the seam flat against the darker color of fabric. Then it will have less chance of showing through the top of your quilt.
As noted above, strips of fabric included in a jelly roll vary in length. Don’t be surprised if one side of your quilt top looks terribly uneven like the photo above.
Fold the straight edge to meet the shortest fabric strip. Then cut the remaining strips to size so that both edges are straight and square.
Now take some time to trim all the excess thread from both sides with thread nippers. You don’t want them to get stuck between the layers of your quilt, so this is worth the effort.
Step 2 – Basting
With a baby or crib sized quilt, you might be able to baste your quilt on a table. For larger quilts, and in this example, we are basting on the floor.
Lay the polka dot backing fabric on the floor facing down. The backing fabric should be at least one inch larger than your quilt top, all the way around.
Then smooth out the wrinkles as best you can. If your surface is slippery, you can secure the backing to the floor with painters tape.
Next, roll or place batting on top of the backing fabric. Here the batting is doubled over on the roll, and it was left that way for quilting. Double batting shows the stitches better and makes a warmer quilt.
Now lay the pieced quilt top, right side up, on top of the batting. At least one inch of batting should be exposed all the way around the quilt top.
Beginning in the center, pin all the layers together with curved safety pins. Smooth the top as you go, and continue to place pins no more than 6″ apart.
The more pins you use, the less chance there is of wrinkling the fabric during quilting. However, removing pins as you sew can become time-consuming (and annoying) in the next step. Just make sure everything is secured all over the quilt top.
The photos above and below show the quilt top and back after basting is complete.
Now it is ready to quilt.
Step 3 – Quilting
Quilting can be done on a long arm or domestic sewing machine or by hand. This rainbow baby quilt was made using a domestic sewing machine, the Juki TL-2000Qi to be exact.
Take a few moments to set up your quilting area. Sit in a comfortable chair with your sewing machine at a elbow height. Quilting is repetitive and takes more muscle than people realize, even thought they are seated.
Keep a container handy to place safety pins in when they are removed as you sew. Thread nippers are helpful to keep within reach as well.
We will be quilting with a straight stitch, rather than free motion quilting. A walking foot is recommended to feed the thick layers of fabric through the sewing machine with ease.
Go ahead and install the walking foot and thread your machine.
It is best to begin quilting at the center of the quilt, and work your way out. The easiest way to do this is to roll up the end of the quilt that will be fed through the throat of the sewing machine.
Line up the left side of the presser foot with the center seam of your quilt top. Begin sewing in the batting, just off the edge of the pieced top..
Let the stripes of seams guide your sewing into straight lines. Continue sewing off the edge of the quilt top and onto the batting at the other end of the seam.
Then cut your threads, and move to the next seam to the right of the line you just sewed.
Continue this process until you have sewn along both sides of every seam, unrolling the quilt as you go. Then, flip it over and repeat on the other side.
No quilt is perfect. There will be some tucks or mistakes made along the way. Don’t stress. That is part of the handmade process.
Now it is time to trim any excess batting and backing, and make sure the quilt is square.
You can use fabric shears or a rotary cutter along with a self healing cutting mat and acrylic ruler for this step.
Cut just outside the quilt top all the way around.
Then fold your quilt onto itself, or use a T-square, to square up the corners.
Your quilt is now readying for binding – the last step!
Step 4 – Binding
Binding is the thing piece of fabric that encloses the finished edge of a quilt.
Binding is folded onto itself several times.
Open it up one end completely in order to connect two pieces of binding.
Lay one end perpendicular to the end of the other piece of binding with right sides together.
Then use a straight edge to mark a diagonal line from the top left corner to the bottom right corner where the pieces of binding meet. Pin in place.
Next, sew along the diagonal line.
Trim the binding away to the right of your stitches.
Open the seam to reveal one continuous piece of binding.
When the binding is folded onto itself, as it came in the original package, your seam should look like this.
To attach the binding to your quilt, open it up and align it to the edge of the right side of the quilt, with right sides together.
Use sewing clips to hold the binding in place, at least to get started in the beginning. You can secure it all the way around, or align the edges as you sew.
You want to begin sewing about 6″ down from the edge of your binding. This will leave room to connect the ends.
Stitch along the rightmost fold line, removing clips or pins as you go. A walking foot is still best.
When you approach a corner, stop 1/2″ from the edge. Then lift your presser foot, and turn the quilt so that the corner is closest to your body.
Now sew to the corner and off the quilt.
Pull the binding, that has not been sewn yet, up to meet the opposite, sewn edge. It might look strange at this point, but it will make sense when you sew the other side.
Continue to sew from the bottom of the stitches – the stop where you raised the presser foot to turn the quilt.
Stitch all the way around the perimeter of the quilt, treating the corners as described. Stop about 6″ from where you started to sew.
Smooth both pieces of binding one over top of the other by a several inches.
Use the loose end of binding – you probably have way more than you need – to measure where to cute. Lay the end perpendicular on top of the binding, aligning the top edge with the end of the bottom binding.
Cut the top binding along the bottom edge of the loose binding you were using as a measuring tool.
Now draw a diagonal line from corner to corner, exactly how you joined the two pieces of binding before.
Sew along the diagonal of the binding only – not the quilt. You will need to pull the binding away from the quilt.
Then cut off any excess binding to the right of the seam.
Then continue sewing along the rightmost fold line until bind has been attached to the entire perimeter of the quilt.
Now it is time to connect the binding to the back of the quilt.
Pull the binding up and over the edge to the back side. Fold it back onto itself so that it looks like finished binding. Clip in place.
Continue folding the binding over and clipping it in place. Your corners should reveal a mitered edge when you do this, as shown below.
This is what it will look like from the back. The edge of the binding will just cover the line of stitches you made from the front.
You have the option to finish the binding by machine or by hand. Stitching by hand gives you more control and a seamless look. However, it can be time consuming.
Sewing by machine will show the stitches, and there is a chance that you won’t catch all of the binding.
If you choose to finish the binding by hand, use a slipstitch as described here.
To sew the binding by machine, stitch along the left edge of the binding on the top of the quilt.
Caring for Your Quilt
Congratulations! You completed your first quilt. That was quite a feat.
Take care of your quilt by including Color Catchers in the washing machine during the first couple of times it is laundered.
Quality fabrics shouldn’t bleed, but it is better to be safe than sorry. It would be awful to ruin all that hard work in the wash.
The quilt will come out soft, wrinkly and ready for baby to enjoy.
Don’t forget to pin this project for later, and check out some other great sewing tutorials for beginners below.