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This is the first in a series of tutorials that introduce the most basic quilting techniques, one by one.


I am very drawn to quilting for a number of reasons. There’s lots of encouragement to quilt from the online community. I’ve been inspired by modern quilts, like Heather of Olive and Ollie’s silo quilt and the Jay McCarroll Habitat challenges at MQG’s across the country. I absolutely want to make my own full-sized blankets. I won’t lie: I’ve also been frustrated by introductory garment-making, and quilting is not quite as difficult, at least for the beginner.

So, I have been working my way through small projects that incorporate quilting techniques. They’re very simple, perfect for the beginner, and especially the beginner who wants to warm up to quilting without committing to sewing a blanket.

First, a quick aside. What do you think of, when you hear the word “quilting?”

I used to think of gorgeous blankets, block-quilts pieced together, like this Pottery Barn quilt:

Yes, this qualifies as a quilt. But actually, “quilting” is very simply defined — even simpler than blocks of fabric sewn together, sandwiched together and bound. Very simply: Quilting is a sewing method done to join two or more layers of material together to make a thicker padded material.

Technically, all you need are a couple layers of fabric, sew them together, and you’ve got something that’s quilted. The art lies in what kind of fabric you use, what stitching you do on top, and the utility of the quilt in the end. So keep an open mind with these beginning projects: no, maybe you’re not making a double wedding ring quilt just yet, but you are making beautiful small quilted items that you can show off, give away, and practice your skills.

On to the tutorial: Cocktail Coasters!

(aka mug rugs)

I don’t know the exact origin of the name, but this picture shows why people call them “mug rugs.” I am a bit mystified by the phrase, and I’m not going to use it here because it seems like it’s part of that “inside crafting” language that’s a bit foreign to the average beginning sewist. Instead, I’m calling them Cocktail Coasters.


Two fat quarters of matching fabric, or you can use scraps

Cotton batting

Matching thread

Each coaster is made from two squares of fabric and a square of batting. The size doesn’t matter; for this tutorial, I used a few squares that I erroneously cut for another project, and for the back of the coaster, I used a scrap from some fabric left over from a skirt project.

I made three coasters; you can make two or ten – it’s up to you! But two fat quarters should give you enough fabric for four 8-inch square coasters.

For one coaster, cut one square of fabric for the front, one for the back, and a piece of batting that is the same size. Since I used scraps, mine are just approximately 8 inches square. All that matters is that all three pieces of fabric are the exact same size.

Pick a thread carefully: you’ll be able to see the stitching on the front and back of these coasters. I used a grey thread for my top stitching and a blue thread in the bobbin, for a decorative stitch on the bottom of the coaster.

To make these coasters, we’re going to use a technique very similar to “free motion quilting.” Don’t get scared; indeed, free motion quilting refers to something a lot more advanced that can be pretty intimidating. But it is also the closest term for what you’ll do here. It’s actually pretty easy, and I think it’s fun.

I’ll teach you binding in the next tutorial, and here instead we’ll do a quick turned edge. So, sandwich the three fabrics and sew them together. Make the sandwich with your top and bottom fabrics right sides together; then, stack the batting on the bottom of the pile.

Start from the middle of one edge and sew all the way around your square, through all three layers of fabric.* I used a straight stitch at the 2.5 setting with a quarter inch seam allowance. Stop sewing just after you’ve turned the 4th corner of your fabric, to leave a 2-3 inch hole. Pull the fabric off the machine and clip your corners; this helps eliminate bulk from the coaster, letting it sit flat. Then, using your fingers and a pencil if necessary, turn the coaster right sides out. The batting will end up in the middle between the two outer pieces of fabric:

It looks like a little potholder at this point.

Now you have to sew that hole closed. Turn the edges of the hole inside, so they are even with the other edges. Sew very carefully around the entire coaster, using an 1/8″ seam allowance. It may help to use a zipper foot, to get closer to the edge of the coaster.

Once you’ve sewn the edges, you can jump right into your “free motion” quilting. Again, don’t worry! This is really simple and fun. It’s just like driving a car. For my coasters, I used a wide squiggly line pattern. Here’s a short video that shows how to guide the fabric through the machine and create that squiggly line:

When you finish one line, lift your presser foot with the needle down, turn the coaster 360 degrees, and make another line next to the first one. There are no rules for the beginner – you are totally free to make any number of lines, any distance apart. Here are how mine turned out:

Voila! Cute hand-made cocktail coasters.**

Congratulations! You’ve finished your first “quilt!!”

Though you can’t snuggle under these little guys in bed, I promise you that this technique will help you learn to be a better quilter as you graduate to bigger projects, especially if you do free-motion on your own at home. It helps to practice on these little guys, and you end up with adorable coasters for home or work!

The 2nd project in this series will incorporate this very basic free-motion quilting with your first binding. Project 3 will add piecing to the mix.

*I use a regular presser foot for these small projects. When you do a bigger quilt or when your three layers of fabric are a lot thicker, you will need a walking foot. That helps guide both the top and the bottom layers through the machine. But I want to stress that a regular presser foot is fine. As a beginner, I went out and bought a lot of stuff that I didn’t necessarily need. Yes, it’s great to have a walking foot so you can use it when you’re ready for it. But maybe you won’t reach that stage; maybe you’ll love making little quilted things and then move on to garments or knitting. So no need to rush out and buy a walking foot for these tutorials!

**I’ve heard it before, so I’ll address it here: no, my top stitching isn’t perfectly even. I think that is what makes these uniquely MINE and HANDMADE. I have these sitting on my desk at work, to give a burst of color to my fairly drab office. But I’d happily give these as a gift – and likely will give a set to a few friends for the holidays!