Make an Easy Applique Rag Quilt – tutorial

Several years ago my mother-in-law made us a fantastic flannel rag quilt. We use it all the time, and every time I look at it I think that it would be super easy to add applique to that style of quilt.

I finally did it!

And it was just as fun and easy as I thought. 🙂

I made mine using the Bunches of Bears quilt pattern, but you could use any quilt pattern you like. All the square quilt blocks in my own patterns are already sized for 10 inch blocks. If you’re using someone else’s pattern you may need to enlarge or reduce the images.

So let’s go!

My quilt is nap sized – 50 x 60 inches – perfect for using on the couch. It’s 5 blocks wide and 6 blocks tall and the blocks all finish at 10 inches.

You can resize the pattern by changing the size of the blocks or by changing the number of blocks. 🙂

I used ten flannel colors (one of each color in the Dash Plaid collection from Dear Stella Fabrics) and bought one yard of each.

I prewashed my flannel. I think people don’t usually do that for rag quilts, but flannel is notorious for shrinking a lot and I didn’t want the shrinking to distort the applique. Don’t use fabric softener in the wash – it can resist the fusible adhesive. Dryer sheets are fine.

Each block is three layers of flannel, so you’ll need to cut 90 blocks, each 11 inches square. You can get nine from one yard of fabric.

Sneaky tip – if you have some ugly flannel that you can’t figure out how it got into your stash, cut 30 of the squares out of that and hide it in the middle of your layers. 🙂

Applique 30 of the squares using any method you like. I used my favorite fusible adhesive method. There’s a video tutorial here. I use these Heat & Bond Lite printable fusible adhesive sheets and all my fabrics are from the Warm Neutrals fat quarter bundle. You could use flannel here too if you like, but I love my Warm Neutrals. 🙂

When you position your faces, line up the bottom edge 3/8 inch up from the bottom edge of the block. That way, when you sew the blocks together using 1/2 inch seam allowance, you’ll catch the bottom edge of the applique in the stitching and it will be nice and secure.

Fuse the face into place.

Layer a second square of flannel behind the one with the applique (both facing right side up).

Stitch down all the edges on your applique. Outlining through both layers of flannel adds just a little bit of poof and dimension to your block – not as much as quilting with batting, but similar.

I used the “scribbly” method of going around each bit three times with regular weight black thread and a simple straight stitch. There’s a post here with more detail about that, and one here with more info about using a heavier weight thread if you prefer that.

This post has tips for stitching the tight curves around the eyes, and also for stitching the mouths. And this one has tips for making dark eyes show up on dark faces, like this cutie.

After you get all 30 blocks appliqued, it’s time to sew them together. This was actually the hardest part, because it’s backwards from any other kind of sewing you’ll do normally.

Add a third layer of flannel to each block, this time with the right side facing the back of the quilt. (It’s going to be come your quilt back.)

Using 1/2″ seam allowance, sew two blocks wrong sides together so that the seam allowance is on the right side of the quilt.

Here’s what it looks like from the back.

See? That last layer of flannel makes a nice quilt back, and you have a nice clean seam.

I joined all of my blocks into rows of five, then sewed those rows together for the finished quilt.

The intersections can get very bulky, so I snipped into the seam allowance 1/2″ from each edge and sewed my crossing seam through that slit so I wasn’t stitching the seam allowance down.

And look – my seam secures the bottom edge of each bear, just like I planned. 🙂

I found it helpful to use my quarter inch foot, but adjust it out to 1/2 inch for sewing all those layers together.

I also lengthened my stitch to 3.0 and reduced the pressure on my presser foot to keep the layers from creeping. If you can’t make that adjustment on your machine, just use a lot of pins or clips, as if you were sewing napped fabrics together.

Once all the blocks are sewn together, sew all the way around the outside edge of the quilt, one half inch in from the raw edge.

Now it’s time to snip all those seams.

Snip 1/2 inch apart all along all the seam allowances, almost up to the stitching line. Be very careful not to cut into your stitching. If you slip and snip it, repair it now by sewing over the snipped seam.

If you’re trying to snip with regular scissors, you’ll need to take a LOT of breaks. They’re really not designed for this kind of work.

If you can afford to buy a special set of snips just for this kind of work, it is absolutely worth it. I tried several brands and these Fiskars Easy Action Tabletop Rag Quilt Snip were by far my favorite. I liked them so much that I’m going to add them to the shop. They have a spring action, so their default setting is open, which saves a surprising amount of strain on your wrist. They’re super sharp, and the blades are slightly serrated, so they really grip the fabric well, helping them cut right up to the tips of the blades without “pushing” the fabric out at all.

Even with the fancy snips I took a break between snipping the horizontal and vertical seams. It took about two hours total.

Don’t forget to snip around the outside edges too.

When you’re done snipping, throw it in the wash and tumble dry.

Ta daa!

All those snipped edges fray in the wash and you get a really soft, fluffy ridge between each block. This blanket is just begging for someone to snuggle under it.

If you make an applique flannel rag quilt, we’d love to see it! Post a photo in the Shiny Happy People group so we can all oooh and aaah. 🙂

Happy stitching!

Best,
Wendi

5 COMMENTS

  1. Janet M SAYS...

    I have made some of these before, but used batting and an X across the block. I have been asked to make a memory t-shirt quilt for a family that just lost the Dad. They are also a family that LOVES cats. I have your cat pattern and think this might be good. How do you think it would do to have 2 layers of flannel with t-shirts as the backing square?

    • I think it would work fine, but it will look a little different because the t-shirt layer won’t fray. You might want to make a tiny sample (just four squares with scraps), snip it and toss it in the washer and dryer just to make sure you’re happy with the final look before you commit to a whole quilt.

  2. Lynda Wolfe SAYS...

    I’m now on my 3rd appliqued rag quilt. I have found that snipping as you go is much easier on the hands. I sew the 1st 2 rows together and snip the first, then another row and snip the row before it. I have also found if you brush the seams with a stiff vegie brush prior to washing it rags better and you get a ton of fluff out before it gets into your washer. I stuff my rag quilts into a large pillowcase and tie the top before putting into the washer

  3. GramB SAYS...

    Thanks for the great post Wendi! I am about to begin a project similar to yours but bed size and 12” blocks. I’ll have appliqué on every other block. I was planning to do as you did, appliqueing through the first 2 layers of the 3 layer block. Will that back layer sag without anything to tack it to the first 2 layers? A traditional X through the block would detract from the appliqué. Thoughts? Thanks!

    • I suspect it would be just fine. My 10 inch blocks have no sag at all, and flannel is really clingy. I think you could go up to 12 inch blocks with no problem, but you could always make a little test square of four blocks and toss it in the washer and dryer a few times just to make sure.

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