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Family Tree Quilt: A How-To

Alright, you’ve seen the quilt, now it’s time to find out how you can do it yourself! The total cost was just under $50. I used an old sheet set for the backing and border, which really helped offset fabric costs. If you don’t have one to use (or are uncomfortable thrifting some) it will put the price up in the $70 range. I split up the tutorial into 2 hour chunks, which is all I could stand to do at once each day. You could probably sit down and conquer the whole thing in one day if you have the patience, but for me it was easier to do in the evenings a few nights a week. Here’s a list of my fabrics and supplies:

Supplies:
• 2 jelly rolls of quilt fabric for the background (hobby lobby at $12 each, I get them separately with 40% off coupons – You could save money here by choosing a patterned background fabric or piecing together your own, you’ll need about 1.5 yards of 54″ fabric)
• old sheet set, fitted & flat (I looooove the organic bamboo sheets from Target. But 2 dogs in the bed with us wear them out fast, and these had a couple of holes in them, so I didn’t mind using them. The fabric is super soft. If you don’t have sheets, you’ll need roughly 4 yards of cotton fabric)
• 1 yard brown fabric for tree
• 1/2 yard green fabric for leaves
• 1/2 yard fusible interfacing *optional* (you’ll only need this if your green fabric frays badly. Fleece/felt/flannel won’t fray so much)
• Scrap fabric for heart on tree
• 3 yards cotton quilt batting
• 1 spool thread

Hours 1 & 2

Step 1 – Piece together your backing

Since I chose to use a jellyroll, I laid out the strips in a pattern I liked. Sew each horizontal line with 1/2″ seams, right sides together.

Once all your strips are sewn, start joining them with 1/2″ seams right sides together. I found it easier to sew chunks of 4 strips each, then joining my 6 different chunks rather than doing one strip at a time down the whole piece.

All done! You can see that I’m not a pro by any means when it comes to keeping lines straight. It wasn’t until after I finished my quilt that I noticed my machine had a seam guide. *sigh* If your machine doesn’t have one, you can purchase the attachment at HL or another sewing shop. If you find that your lines are crooked (like mine) find something with straight lines that you can use as a guide to square up your piece. Or, if you used your own fabric for the backing, you can skip to step 2.

Step 2 – Adding your border

Cut the elastic off your fitted sheet and then cut it into 12-15″ strips. I like to make them extra wide, because I often shift my fabric around when I’m quilting, and the extra gives me lots of room to cut off when I square it up at the end. I think I ended up cutting about 4″ total off my edging once all was said and done. Ok, so you’ve got your strips cut. Attach the first two to the top and bottom with a 1/2″ seam, right sides together. Cut the ends flush with the quilt background. Now pin your sides, and sew with a 1/2″ seam. Now you’ve got your square border!

Hours 3 & 4

Step 1 – Draw your Tree

I pulled up an image of a tree that I liked from an illustration I made a while back. I used this as my reference while I drew my tree shape in chalk. You can find a lot of good images with a simple image search online.

On the backside of my brown fabric, I freehanded a tree shape with chalk. Once I had the shape I liked, I cut it out and pinned it to the background.

Step 2 – Sew your Tree

I don’t have any fancy attachments or feet for my machine, I just use my all purpose foot. It would be a lot easier to have a free-motion foot, and someday I will get off my lazy butt and invest in one. But for now, this goes to show that you can do “fancy” quilting with a regular old machine and foot. Once my tree was securely fastened with pins, I sewed around the edge at about a 1/8″ gap. I deliberately chose a fabric that wouldn’t fray, this is a type of faux suede with an embossed pattern.

Step 3 – Make your Leaves

Iron the interfacing onto your leaf fabric. Cut off the excess fabric once done.

Draw leaf shapes in various sizes, then cut them out. I went for a very basic pointed oval shape.

Hours 5 & 6

Step 1 – Attach your leaves.

For some reason I skipped taking a picture of this step. All I did was pin my leaves where I wanted them around the branches, and then pinned a few by the base of the tree to ground it a little. Then came the tedious job of sewing roughly 60 leaves onto the quilt top. I did it just like the tree, rounding the edges with an 1/8″ gap. Lots of turning, lots of time on the machine. This is probably the most boring step!

Hours 7 – 9

Step 1 – Pin Layers Together

Finally! The leaves are done, and it’s time for the fun stuff. I laid out my fitted sheet on the ground, then topped it with my quilt batting and smoothed out as many wrinkles as I could.

Next I laid down the top, lined up the bottom left corner, and pinned away! Make sure you use a billion safety pins so you don’t end up like me. I only had about 50 straight pins, and that’s why I have tucks and gathers where there shouldn’t be any. Once it’s all pinned, I cut the excess off and started quilting. My advice would be to start in the center, with the tree, then work your way out. I started with the edges, and because of that I had extra fabric bunched in the center. Here’s how I quilted the blanket:

For the edges, I quilted “straight” lines roughly an inch apart. I wasn’t too bent on keeping them evenly spaced, I wanted it to look casual and organic. For the middle area (where I should have started) I started by tracing the outline of the tree, about 1/8-1/4″ away from the edge of the fabric. Then I did the same for the leaves. I sewed the heart on last, so you would be able to see the seam from the back as well. I used a zigzag stitch to emphasize it a little more.

I didn’t want to have any straight lines cutting through my leaves or tree, which is why I kept the pattern of the appliqués. Below the tree (where there are no leaves, next to the trunk), I toyed around with the idea of sewing more leaf shapes to look like falling leaves. But I decided I was way too tired and totally over fancy quilting patterns. So I just did straight lines starting from the bottom up to the lowest leaf, with about a 3-4″ gap in between.

Hour 10

Binding the quilt.

After the laborious job of quilting, you’ll need to cut off any excess and make sure all your layers are flush and square. Once that’s done, you’re ready for binding! I fussed around with making binding from fabric, decided that was way too much trouble, and just used hem tape. You can find hem tape (and nice, silky blanket binding) over where the zippers are in your sewing section. They’ll be in a display case showing you all the different colors. I already had 2 packs of cream at home, and needed to purchase 2 more packs to make it around the quilt. But they have a wide variety of colors to choose from, like magenta and teal and lime. So you can really have fun with it! They cost about $3 each, but it’s worth it because it’s so easy to get a clean edge. It’s already pressed in half with the edges folded under, so it’s a breeze to sew on. Once you finish your binding, the quilt is finally D.O.N.E.! See? Not so hard. A little tedious, for sure, but not incredibly difficult. Oh, and I used a fabric gel pen to write all the names, because I’ll be damned if I spend another 6 months hand embroidering them like I did for our wedding quilt ;)

 





 

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4 comments

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  1. Maddie

    You, lady, are amazing! This is unbelievable!

  2. Lisa

    I am new to this and I have been wanting to make a tree quilt for our king bed. One of the things that nags me is… when using a fabric applique how do you sew it on and not get fraying around the edges (i.e. the leaves)? Thanks! Also, did you quilt this by hand?

    1. Brooke

      The method I used can cause fraying depending on your fabric. Some people have better machines that allow for true applique with thread encompassing the edges. I just used a regular stitch, but my tree is made from faux leather that does not fray and the leaves are a jersey material. So far I haven’t had any issues with fraying, though the edges of the leaves may curl over time.

      1. Lisa

        Thanks

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