A quilt for a much loved toy

A doll’s (or teddy’s) quilt is a great project for a child: it is exciting, creative, and impressive yet perfectly manageable. They can do the whole thing by hand or by machine, or with a combination of the two, as Ilse did.

To begin, decide how large you’d like the quilt to be. Then divide this area into equal squares. Add a couple of centimetres to the side of each square, as a seam allowance. Then measure out the square on a bit of cardboard, and cut it out. This is your template.

We used a 10 x 10 cm template, and cut 24 squares out of cotton. Old shirts and summer dresses are ideal, or you can buy quilting fabric. Ilse and Seb’s quilts are four squares wide and six long. They thought a lot about their designs as they went: Ilse’s quilt has a border of alternating blue and green fabrics, with another alternating pattern of bicycle fabrics in the centre. Seb went for a ‘random’ mix, but balanced the light and dark squares when he was laying it out. Just let them play with the squares, and be prepared to let them cut a few extra if they need to.

Pick two squares which sit side by side, and pin them along one edge, right sides together. The child just needs to thread a needle (they may need help with this) and sew a simple running stitch – up down, up down, along the fabric, like a series of little dashes – to join the two. The seam should be about a centimetre from the edge; you can draw a line for them with a piece of chalk if you think they’ll need a guide. Repeat, adding a square each time until the row is complete.

When they’ve sewn all their rows, they should have six strips of fabric. Iron these on the wrong side, pressing the seams open if their sewing allows. If not, just press the seams to one side. It really doesn’t matter if their sewing is all wobbly. Once it’s all ironed and made up into a quilt, those quirky seams will add to the charm.

Now they need to pin the right sides of two adjoining rows together. Sew a line of running stitches a centimetre from the edge. Repeat this step until all the blocks are sewn together, then iron the whole quilt top in the same way as before.

Help your child choose some backing and filling. We used a double thickness of some old heavy curtain fabric. You could use a faded hand towel in the middle, and another piece of cotton for the back. And of course you can buy proper quilt batting. I like to use something with a bit of heft – it makes the quilt seem more cosy and real.

Without trimming any of the fabrics (unless they are ridiculously large) pin the three layers together. You should have the backing at the bottom, under the filling, with the patchwork top as the uppermost layer of the sandwich.

Choose how to quilt it: they can sew along some of the lines they’ve already stitched, or in any other sort of pattern. You can use a matching or contrasting thread, or buy colour changing thread for fun. They can quilt by hand or by machine. I helped Ilse quilt hers on the machine, and we simply sewed along each row in cream thread, so that it wouldn’t show up on the back, which is a cream herringbone. You are sewing through all three layers, so as to hold them together. Then trim the edges of the quilt into an even rectangular shape.

The easiest way to finish it is, in my opinion, with bias binding. For those of you who have not used this before, it’s a length of fabric which has had each long side pressed in towards the centre, then the whole thing has been folded in half lengthways. Buy some fairly wide binding: it is much less fiddly than the narrow stuff.

Open it out and pin it all the way around the edge of the quilt so that the outside edge is touching the outside edge of the quilt, and the folds make it want to turn upwards. This feels wrong but is right. Sew it to the quilt, along the outermost fold. Once you’ve done this, you’ll see that the binding then folds neatly over the raw edge, enclosing both its own edges and those of the quilt. Pin this in place. You can machine this, but the neatest thing is to sew the back down by hand, with invisible stitches just catching the underside of the binding and securing it to the quilt.

If your child has a name tape, or even better, a ‘Made by…’ tape, now is the time for them to sew it on with pride. A first quilt is a big achievement. Celebrate as the seasons dictate, with a trip to the ice cream van or for hot chocolate in a steamy-windowed cafe. Then start planning your own…