Stashbuster Alert!: Sew an I Spy Quilt from Fabric Odds and Ends

My fabric stash is really bad. I don’t buy a lot of new fabric, but I’m a sucker for beautiful secondhand fabrics, and I’m the willing target of any friends or family or friends of family who need to unload the odd vintage sheet or tablecloth or faux fur rug, etc.

Fortunately, I love to sew, because it’s my constant burning obsession to use up my shameful fabric stash. Cotton is sewn into patchwork, denim is sewn into thick and sturdy quilt tops, flannels make colored pencil rolls and pajamas, and fleece makes for even warmer pajamas.

But those odd little remnants and cuttings left over after every project simply destroy me. I’ve got what looks to be a 50-year-long postage stamp quilt project in the making for the teeny-tiny bits, and my girls have recently discovered the ages-old activity of making doll clothes out of the slightly bigger bits, but my special project for cotton fabric in novelty prints is the I Spy quilt, an easy, entertaining, and educational gift to sew for a baby or younger child.

An I Spy quilt is a child’s game of visual discrimination, all wrapped up in a comfy, cozy, warm quilt. The quilt top can be a matching game, with pairs of quilt blocks distributed randomly–one player points to one block, and the other player must find the matching block. Or, if you have more fabric to spare, the quilt can be a charm quilt, with only one block of each fabric used on any quilt top–one player can say something like, “I spy a tractor,” and the other player searches for the block made up of fabric printed with small John Deere tractors.

To make your own I Spy quilt, you will need:

  • bits and bobs and ends and remnants of cotton fabric. Novelty prints–those fabrics with, say, jalepenos on them, or cats, or Christmas trees–really work the best for this project, but if you don’t have enough to complete an entire quilt with just novelty prints, you can also intersperse fabrics printed with different colors of polka dots or stripes, or even use plain fabrics to divide the quilt into separate game boards. Skip down to Step 1 to determine how much of this fabric that you need.
  • iron and ironing surface
  • rotary cutter, clear plastic ruler, and gridded self-healing cutting mat
  • sewing machine with a universal needle, straight stitch, and matching thread

1. Determine how large you want your quilt to be. This will help you then determine how large you want your blocks to be, and thus how many blocks that you need. You can either decide to make your quilt a specific standard size, perhaps for a crib quilt or a twin-sized quilt, or, if you want to bust some more stash, you can find a blanket or sheet that you want to use as the quilt backing, and use that to set your quilt size.

Once you have length and width measurements for your quilt, choose a block size that will divide evenly between those measurements. For instance, a 40″x50″ quilt could be made from 5″ square blocks, or 2.5″ square blocks. Add 1/2″ to both the length and width of the block template for seam allowance.

2. Using your block template, cut out all the quilt blocks that you’ll need for the entire quilt. Cut a window into your block template if you’ve made it from cardboard, if you’d like to fussy cut your blocks.

3. Mix up all your quilt blocks until the assortment is random. Then, lay out your quilt on a large surface, and double check that the arrangement is pleasing and that no two too similar blocks are too close to each other.

4. One-block quilts, in which every block is exactly the same shape and size as every other block, are very simple to sew. Simply sew the blocks together in their rows, then sew the rows together to complete the quilt top.

After your quilt top is finished, you can back, bind, and quilt it in whatever fashion you’d like. I generally always use the back-to-front mock binding technique, but you can also get great results by making your own bias tape, as well.

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