Sew Better: Rag Quilt Tips

rag quilt tips

It dawned on me the other day, while doing what felt like my gazillionth rag quilt, that I have learned a lot about sewing and quilting through these blankets. Of course, I can’t learn anything the easy way. All the helpful hints I have picked up along the way have been a result of a huge mess. Can anyone picture me buried underneath a rag quilt with a seam ripper? Cause that was about the extent of it. So, I thought I might give you a little heads up about some sewing/ quilting tips that I have found to be especially helpful while.

1)  Pick your flannel wisely. I have bought a very cute print only to find that it was printed VERY crooked on the fabric. The design was looked like “)” this. You can imagine my frustration.

monkey rag quilt

Remember the monkeys? I ended up hand cutting each block out and tilting the them sideways just to try to make this cute fabric work in the rag quilt. As you can see I was able to save the quilt, but it took way to much aggravation to do so.

2) Press fabric before beginning, on the “dry” heat setting and use spray starch. Flannel is most commonly used in rag quilts and it is very, very easy to stretch it out of shape.

rag quilt

3) Use a walking foot while sewing all parts of your rag quilt. I think I paid less than $20 for mine and it has become an invaluable tool for sewing rag quilts along with many other sewing projects. You just cannot sew flannel with out it.  Remember, I said it was stretchy.

walking foot

4) When quilting blocks for a rag quilt the best way I have found it to quilt an “x” on each one. Maybe you are all much more talented than I am, but I can not quilt a straight diagonal line if my life depended on it. The idea of marking lines on each block makes me my hand ache in agony, so I cheat a little. I use a piece of paper as my guide to make it straightly to each corner.

easy rag quilt

easier rag quilting

5) When you are sewing your rows together, to avoid bulk and ensure perfect seams, butt your fabric together. Pin on each side of the seam.

perfect quilt seams

6) Spring- loaded scissors are your friend. Especially if you end up having 4 baby quilts to do in a matter of a month for 4 expecting moms.

rag quilt scissors

7) It is a good idea to throw in a color catchers when you are washing any kind of quilt. Red flannel may or may not have bleed all over a rag quilt I just spent way too long working on. (tear, tear)

8) This one is the purely a preference, but wash it at the laundry mat. It is not that big of deal, take a book, relax, and sit there knowing that you didn’t have to risk messing up your washing machine by stuffing it in there and the lint from the blanket isn’t going to kill your dryer.

Rag quilts are a lot of fun, and really aren’t that hard. I have just found  that these tips help me get more professional result with the least amount of frustration and time.

Did I miss anything? I would love to hear any tips you might have.



  1. Kaara says

    Thanks for the helpful tips! I’ve been thinking about eventually making a blanket or quilt. The intimidation machine… I mean sewing machine… Scares me sometimes, but I’ve been practiceing more and more.
    I’m a new follower on Facebook, follow me back on my blog if you’d like 😉
    Have a great day!
    xoxo- Kaara

  2. Janet says

    I have made many of these quilts and when washing them I take my hose of my washing machine out of the wall and put a leg of a pair of nylons around the hose and secure it and I put it in the sink next to the machine ( I suppose you could put it back in the wall) that way all the lint gets caught in the pantyhose and does not go down the drain and clog it up….

  3. Janell says

    Great tips and as a beginner, it is helpful! Got a silly question for you though…what is a color catcher? I’m making my first large one and I have red cotton flannel blocks and am afraid of it bleeding and wrecking the quilt….

  4. Theresa Morgan says

    Hi I am doing my first rag quilt, someone told me I should sew my blocks together with a stretch stitch but I don’t have this stitch on my machine,I have got a walking foot so is there another stitch I could do please.

  5. weekendnomad says

    Hi Brenna: Great blog:) I was wondering if you have ever mixed flannel with other smoother/regular cotton fabrics? Do they cause problems whilst making a rag quilt? Does it look “off” if most of the fabrics are flannel and one or two are non-flannel cotton-based?
    Thank you!

    • says

      I haven’t, but my mother-in-law has and they turned out great. I think the two different fabrics gave it such a nice texture and look. They have been washed several times and have had no problem holding up.

      • weekendnomad says

        Bless you!!! Thank you for taking the time to reply. You don’t know how much that means. I have noticed how wonderful you and your fellow sewing-blogger goddesses are! So kind and thoughtful and ready to share. It makes a difference for all of us…beginners or pros! Keep on creating these beautiful pieces of art and Happy Mother’s Day! Cheers!

        • says

          Yes, they do shrink at a different rate, so be sure to wash and dry both fabrics before starting on the project. After washing and drying it should shrink about as much as it is going to.

  6. says

    I’m about to start my first ever quilt and I have been wondering how to make a straight line to make the cross. Genius! I can’t sew straight without guides.

  7. says

    All the info I just read throught was very helpful. I have never made a rag quit & my daughter onces one. But I didn’t know it would be made of flannel. Glad to find out before I messed up alot of material.
    Thanks for all the tips

  8. Jamie says

    Just curious if you have trouble with pieces of the frayed strings sticking to the flannel and what you do about it. Thanks.

  9. weekendnomad says

    Thanks for the awesome tips.

    I was wondering if you have ever had any batting peeking through the “ragged” edges (from sewing too close to the edges of the batting inside the “fabric-batting sandwiches”)…will this cause a problem? Does it just fall apart and get in the lint trap?

    Thank you!

    • says

      Actually my mother-in-law has had that happen and has never had a problem. You can see it a little, but it hasn’t fallen apart or caused any problem.

  10. Sallie says

    Hey Brenna, I’m probably going to sew my first rag quilt soon, so your tips were very helpful! It’s always better to learn from others’ mistakes, eh? I was wondering, since you make so many, if you sell them? And if you do what do you find is a good price that people are willing to pay for them?

    • says

      I honestly haven’t sold them. We had a baby boom last year and they were all gifts. I don’t have any idea how much I would charge, but I would recommend going on Find a rag quilts similar in size to what you think you will make yours, and see how much a few people are charging. Hope that helps.

  11. Margi says

    I have my squares ready to sew together…this is the first rag quilt (or any quilt!!!) that I have ever attempted. When I sewed my x across each square diagonally, they didn’t always go from corner to corner!!! Yes, I have trouble sewing a straight line!! Do I need to go back and rip those stitches out and redo, or will it really make a difference in the long run??? I know now to use the paper to line up to make these straight but am hoping I can wait until “next time” to do that:)

    • says

      Margi, it is purely a personal decision. I can’t sew a straight line for the life of me, so I understand. You wont have a problem sewing the block together, or with the quilt. It will hold up just fine. The only thing that is a problem, and this is purely personal preference, is that the quilting lines wont match up. Your “x” lines wont touch necessarily. But, I can tell you even when to sew straight and try to match it up, it doesn’t always happen. So, in my personal opinion, I wouldn’t worry about it. If you can live with the stitching being off a little, keep going. There is no sense making yourself nuts and taking the fun out of it.

  12. Margi says

    I think I will just let it be this time…then I can really see improvement (hopefully) on the next one. I agree that there is no need to get all flustered and upset while doing this or there may not be a “next time”!!
    Thanks for the advice.

  13. Darlene says

    I just sewed my sandwich blocks in rows. Now I want to start sewing the rows together. When I match up the seams do I open them up on each side and sew or do I fold one to the left and the other to the right? I didn’t know if opening both side of the seams and sewing them would make them weaker as time goes on and repeated washings. Your pics are good but I still really couldn’t tell what you prefer. Thanks!!!

    • says

      I fold one to one side and the other to the other side. Since you cut all the seams up in the end you are right, you really can’t tell which way they go. I think is the easiest just to fold them each to opposite sides. Let me know if you have any other questions.

  14. Cheryl says

    I have made many rag quilts with the front always cotton sometimes flannel in the middle but mostly cotton. The backs are always flannel. A friend of mine told me I would be sorry as over time & washing the flannel would bunch up on the back as different rate of shrinkage. I don’t see that happening yet. I NEVER PRE WASH EITHER. I have sold several & don’t want any one upset with me over something I may have caused. They look fine to me. I have won three Blue ribbons for three different quilts at the fair. So the judges must think they are OK.
    I have never sewn much so Rag Quilts are my first real experience with sewing. I just love making these quilts. Thank you for any input on this matter for me…..

    • says

      Cheryl, I think it is very common to use cotton on front and flannel on the back. I have seen tons of quilts like that. I have never seen any problem like that with ones I have done or seen, but I do pre- wash. But, usually when people have problems with shrinkage is in the first few washes. So, if you have been doing that for a while and they have been just fine after the first few washes than I think that you are in the clear. I hope this helps. Let me know if you have any other questions.

    • Jenny says


      I’m not sure if you still watch this board, but when you say you don’t prewash your blankets, do you mean before you sew or before you sell? I’ve not prewashed my fabric and now my blanket is made and I’m trying to figure out if I should wash it before I set it out to sell. Thanks for your help (or anyone else who has insight!)

  15. Nancy says

    I started making rag quilts a year ago. I appreciate your tips because there is always room for improvement. And I am always looking for ways to do things better and easier. My quilts are three layers of flannel but I am intrigued by comments that most quilts are made of cotton fronts and flannelette backs. What kind of cotton do you use? I assume it is not a polyester/cotton blend.
    I look forward to your response.

    • says

      Just a quilters cotton. I would keep it 100% cotton, I think that does the best with the flannel. Thank you for your kind words, glad you enjoyed the tips.

  16. Debbie says

    If you don’t want to spend a lot of $ on the batting, I have used an inexpensive blanket from Wal-Mart ($10.00), and cut it up and used it instead! You can actually get two full sized quilts done with one cheap blanket! And they’re often a little thicker, and sturdier than the batting. Thanks for all the tips!

  17. Arlene says

    I have made several of these quilts and I use flanelette instead of quilt batting, then I don’t have to quilt an x across the block. My blocks measure 7 inches before sewing. I also use a rotary cutter for cutting all the blocks. It’s easier on my hand and I can cut 8 layers at a time.

  18. Diana says

    I finished a rag quilt I was making for a friend this weekend. It turned out great! I washed it a couple times to get the raging started and then decided to wash it one more time before I gave it to her. I pulled it out of the dryer and it had split in half. I sewed it back together and washed it again. It completely fell apart. A total loss! You can rip the squares off like a piece of perforated paper. I discovered that the thread I was using is 100% rayon 40wt. I guess it’s used for embroidery and stuff like that. NOT QUILTING! I think I was drawn to the Sulky brand because it was shiny. It also said on the top that it is Silky, Shiny, Strong & Washable. I am a novice at sewing and I guess I thought thread was thread. To say that I am sick to my stomach is a total understatement. So off to the fabric store I went again last night to get more fabric and 100% cotton quilting thread. Have you ever heard of this happening?

    • says

      Diana, I’m so sorry that happened! I haven’t heard of that before. Honestly I hadn’t really thought about it, but I guess now I can see how that would be a problem. Good Luck on the next one!

  19. Jane Seal says

    I have made several rag quilts out of homespun on the front and back and batting in the middle. If you prewash the flannel does it still ravel ok in the finished quilt?

  20. Maryann says

    I just made my first rag quilt made of 5 prints. One is a red marbled flannel. I was worried it would bleed so I tested it by snipping off a block, letting it soak in water, and checking it after 30 mins to see if the water was clear or not. It was clear from what I could tell, so I washed it (no color catcher since I don’t have any). I had another print that was white based with red fire trucks (not a lot of red, just a little) that I didn’t test and now that I have washed the quilt, just those printed squares are a bit pink. I have other white based squares on the quilt that are still white, so do you think the fire trucks bled??

    • says

      Sorry that you had that happen. I think it is very possible! I have had something similar happen to one of my quilts. It really stinks because I know I would have never thought about that as a problem area. You might could wash it a couple times with a color catcher now to see if it would help. I’m thinking I might have put laundry detergent on the spots and let it set for a while. Hope that might help.

  21. Lindielee says

    Hi! I hope you or anyone here can advise me. I’ve made dozens of quilts but never a rag quilt. I was always concerned about my washer and the lint produced by washing the quilt. Because of chemical and perfume sensitivities I can’t go within 30 ft of a laundry mat and my hose is not long enough to reach the utility sink. Do you have any suggestions how to avoid my washer being clogged with lint? Also, I’ve seen some rag quilts that are very thick with fluffy edges and wondered how it is done, perhaps, two layers of flannel for batting?

    • says

      I wouldn’t worry about the washing machine. The dryer causes problems for some people, but all you need to do is stop it a few times in the drying cycle and clean the lint filter. I just wouldn’t wash it or dry it with anything else. The 2 layers of flannel alone get pretty fluffy, but I know my mother- in-law has cut her batting the same size as her blocks so the batting or flannel sticks out in the frayed part. I hope that makes sense. Let me know if you have any other questions.

  22. Lynne Lampman says

    I made my 1st of 5 rag quilt 6 years ago. At that time I bought a walking foot for my Kenmore sensor sew 70 purchased in the mid 80s during the time a friends and I ran a quilt shop in CT. I still love my machine, but for some unknown reason my foot is now breaking my needles. The metal plate is just too far forward. Instead of driving myself crazy I’ve just now ordered the model Kenmore says will work. Other than that temporary slowdown I’m wondering if you have a formula for the olacement of the squares on the ragged side? I call it the top, but some refer to it as the bottom. I love to make my backside (unragged) into quilt patterns. I did a log cabin on my daughters. Doing that makes one a tad crazy when putting the 3 pieces together. I laid the log cabin design out then numbered each piece per row then figured the rag side.
    I’m now working with 6 prints and 3 solids and my unragged side is going to be the disappearing 9 patch. With that said my chemo brain is looking for an easy set-up of either 6 or 9 fabrics for a 7×10 row of the rag side without any 2 same fabrics touching.
    I’m praying you or someone here can help me. Thanks y’all. Lynne

    • says

      I’m not sure if this answers your question or not, but my back unragged side is the same as my front. I didn’t want to get the front perfect to find I had a mess on the back, so both sides are the same for my sanity.

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