Making NotQuilts (Part 2)


Sewing-projects-IntroLast week, I described a NotQuilt, a blanket which uses a repurposed blanket as the middle layer between the backing fabric on the bottom and pieces of fabric sewed into the top layer. It is not a quilt, hence the name, but it fulfills the function of a quilt, lets me use bits and pieces of fabric like a quilt, and lets me express my creative side.

You’ll see what I mean over the next two posts, where I’ll talk about the NotQuilts I’ve made for ourselves, and my family and friends.

Now, I want to get into the process by which I make a NotQuilt.

First, it’s important to match the weights of my fabrics. A flannel NotQuilt should not have non-flannel fabrics. A polyester double knit NotQuilt wouldn’t be anything in the fashion top besides polyester double knit. Doing this makes it easier to sew the layers together and it keeps the NotQuilt from having heavy spots that will weigh on the sleeping body unevenly and could tear apart in the wash.

Second, the middle layer does not consist of batting. I recycle blankets, comforters, bedspreads, mattress pads, and anything else I run across. An old acrylic blanket works very well, as it is made to be washed repeatedly. I get old blankets and bedspreads from yard sales, Goodwill, trash heaps, and as pass-alongs.

I’ve also repurposed bedspreads and comforters. We’ll be addressing the challenges using them later when I write about the cat comforter and the sofa bed bedspread conversion.

Another excellent filling is a dead electric blanket. It will need surgery first. Grab some scissors, wire cutters, and pliers (maybe). Spread the blanket on the floor so you can see the wires. With the wire cutters, cut away the electrical parts right up against the fabric of the blanket. Look where the wires run. At the top and the bottom of each wire loop, snip open a small hole. With the pliers, pull enough of the wiring to cut it at the top and the bottom of each wire loop. Then pull, gently, the entire piece of wiring free from the blanket. Look over the blanket closely to be sure you got all the guts. They will break your sewing machine needles, so get them all.

The wiring can be given to your handy son who will strip it for the copper or it can be recycled or thrown out.


No matter what the source, wash the bedding in hot water before you start. This is your last chance to preshrink it and remove any unwanted dirt or critters.


If there is a large fabric label, get out your seam ripper and remove it. It will get in the way of the sewing.

Many blankets come with bindings. These are made of the cheapest acetate, and they often collapse long before the blanket does. I remove them, although you don’t have to.

So long as you’re on the clean floor, check to see if the blanket is square. It’s not necessary, but I like to neaten it up. Get your yardstick and chalk. Spread it out nice and even, mark the straight edges with the chalk and trim.

Once the blanket is ready, it’s time to consider how you want the top to look. Do you want it to look totally random, or have a theme?

Backing Up Your NotQuilt

It’s time to sew the backing onto the blanket. Lay it on the floor and pin a big piece of fabric to it. Don’t worry if the piece of fabric isn’t big enough to cover the entire back. I prefer to add strips around the edge as I’ll explain below.

I also don’t worry if the fabric hangs in the middle. So what? I’m not competing for a prize at the county fair.

Try to keep both layers smooth and even as you pin it with a million pins, and then sew together the layers.

I then go back upstairs to my clean carpet, lay out the blanket and pin the second piece of fabric on. It should overlap the first piece and if you’re not using the selvedge as an edge, iron the raw edge under before pinning. Don’t leave any raw edges exposed, other than those at the edges; they’ll be enclosed when the binding is installed. It may take several pieces of fabric to cover the entire back of the blanket.

making notquilts

Click to embiggen.

Once the backing is in place, I trot back upstairs with my blanket. If I want a geometric design of strips to enclose the fabric patches, I snap chalk lines onto the surface. Then I cut or rip long strips of fabric, pin them then sew them down. While pinning, take care to keep all the layers smooth and use a lot of pins.

When a set of framing strips are sewn down, pin on the next set. These strips will have raw edges that will be covered up later.

Once the framework is in place, sort through your scraps and begin sewing pieces down. If the edges show, turn them under and iron down the raw edges. I prefer doing this in sets of five to ten patches until all of the pieces are sewn on.

I try hard to minimize the wrinkles and tucks, but there will be some. I’ve found that it’s best to not make the patches too large, not much bigger than say 12 inches by 12 inches. Patches that are too small become difficult to sew.

The hardest part of making the NotQuilt is maneuvering the big heap of fabric through the sewing machine. This is why I generally don’t sew more than ten patches down at a time. The pins get in the way and since you overlap and overlap, you have to do the bottom pieces first.

This method does lead to a certain random craziness in the design. You don’t know exactly what the finished product will look like.

When the blanket’s surface is covered with patches, it’s time to add the binding. This is done like any other quilt, wrapping the edges in fabric. I don’t miter my corners as I can never get them to lay flat so I square them off instead.

Repairing NotQuilts

NotQuilts are very easy to repair. If a hole or worn spot appears, sew the patch right on top! It will blend right in. You can patch the back, too, and all you see on the front is more stitch lines.

In addition to using up scrap fabric, old sheets, and salvaged blankets, I use up all those partial bobbins and half-empty thread spools. I try to keep to a color family, so that if I’m making a NotQuilt with mostly blue fabrics, I’ll empty out all my partial bobbins of blue and won’t use the red ones.

Planning Your NotQuilt

My first few NotQuilts had some pretty crazy designs. I just sewed on patches, discovered I needed a backing fabric, sewed that on, and then bound the edges.

Now, I plan my NotQuilts. I decide what colors I want. Mostly blue? Autumn colors? Do I want to use up all the flannel scrap? What do I have hanging around that I have a lot of? What needs to be used up? Is this going to go to a specific person?

My nephew Robert’s NotQuilt was made as a gift. Being as he is a happening kind of guy, I knew that he wouldn’t want a quilt that looked like something his grandmother would have made or his mother would have bought. It couldn’t be old-fashioned, old-timey, nostalgic, country or twee, or in any way look like the traditional idea of a quilt. He mentioned he was okay with purple and black. He likes tech.

So I looked over my scrap collection, consisting of many, many Rubbermaid bins sorted by color, and I had mucho scraps with skulls on them, many of them with black backgrounds. I can work with this. I go to Jo-Anns and there on the remnant counter was two pieces of abstract material, a few yards of one and a bit more of the other. The background was white; one piece with triangles of yellow, gray, and black, and one piece with triangles of purple, gray, and black. It was perfect.

So I laid it out, sewed it up, and here is the finished item.

making notquilts skulls tech

Detail from quilt. Click on it to embiggen

There is nothing that says ‘I’ve seen this before’ with this quilt and if you didn’t look close, you would never know it was a NotQuilt instead of a traditional quilt.

I did something similar for my brothers-in-law, Stan and Michael. They got autumn colors as that is what they requested.

Click to embiggen.

Click to embiggen.

But back to my point, this is how non-quilters can turn out something that looks like a quilt, acts like a quilt, uses all scrap and leftover fabric, and can be washed and repaired. You don’t need a quilting frame, a specialized machine or the space they require.

You do need a sewing machine, an iron and an ironing board, and plenty of pins. A walking foot for your machine will be very, very helpful in controlling wrinkles and creeping fabric. It isn’t necessary — I made the first few NotQuilts without one — but it makes your life easier. Use more pins if you don’t use a walking foot.

I’ve made a bunch of NotQuilts, and while they won’t win any prizes at the county fair, they do what quilts are supposed to do. They keep us warm, they wash well, and they didn’t cost me much other than my time. Win!