We all know that sewing isn't what might be called a cheap hobby (despite determined attempts to convince our families that it actually saves money, what with all the handmade quilts, mini quilts, mug rugs and pincushions we're not having to buy retail. Ahem), and more and more of us are becoming, through choice or necessity, increasingly budget conscious when purchasing sewing supplies. With that in mind, Abakhan Fabrics have introduced the "Sewing on a Budget" series in partnership with Lily's Quilts.
This months theme is the Olympics, and since I live with a bunch of sailing obsessives (well, one sailing obsessive and two small sailing-obsessives-in-training), it seemed natural to make something with the yacht racing in mind. And so, The Weymouth Picnic Blanket was born.
(In case you're not aware, Weymouth is where all the Olympic sailing events are being held).
As it happens, we're not actually going to Weymouth to watch the sailing (too disorganised, too poor, too busy finding a new house and training for an entirely new career. You know, the usual), but I'm thinking this blanket will be more than suitable for picnicking on while we watch the action on the TV/listen to it on the radio in the garden. And probably for being used as various boats/gymnastics mats/Playmobil athletics tracks by the children, depending on what we're watching.
The block for the blanket was inspired by a quilt that I saw at last year's Festival of Quilts (scroll a long way down this post for a picture), simplified and enlarged by a factor of about 75.
Oh, and apologies in advance for some of the pictures - I don't know if you've noticed, but for the sake of efficiency the UK has decided to dispense with summer this year and crack right on with autumn, which makes photography a bit challenging at times.
Anyway, on with the project. I was given a simple brief:
- £20 budget
- make a project with an Olympics theme
Seriously, it was difficult. There is a really good choice of budget sewing supplies at Abakhan, from the endless variations on the theme of gingham, to fabric bundles, buttons and trims. I spent an embarrassingly long time trying to justify working some orange butterfly trim into my project.
Eventually, I managed to choose, and put together a selection of ginghams and plain white fabric for a simple picnic blanket that hints of vintage ginham table cloths and a day's sailing in the sunshine.
The Weymouth Picnic Blanket
(This photograph is what as known as Making The Best of a Bad Situation. A tree fell down in our garden, giving us all a bit of a shock. But it made the perfect hook for a rolled up picnic blanket).
The Weymouth picnic blanket is a generously sized family picnic blanket, measuring 60" x 70", perfect for rolling up and taking to the beach to watch the sailing. Or rolling up and taking to the back garden to make a fort. Or rolling up and taking to the top of the nearest hill for afternoon tea. Wherever you take it, a simple carry strap enables the blanket to be thrown over a shoulder while you marshal children/adults/small animals back home at the end of the day.
Here's what I ordered from Abakhan (all fabrics are 44" wide):
- 1m 1/4" yellow gingham polycotton for the boat and cornerstones
- 1m 1" yellow gingham polycotton for the border
- 1m white polycotton for the boat background. In all honesty I could have done with an extra 0.25m of this, as I had to piece part of the background from literally every last 1" scrap
- 2m 1" red gingham polycotton for the backing
- 1m 1/4" red gingham polycotton (optional) for the straps
You will also need:
- White thread (or other pale neutral. I think mine was actually cream)
- General sewing supplies (sewing machine, pins, scissors etc)
- Rotary cutter and mat (although if you use exclusively gingham you can actually be pretty accurate with scissors)
- chalk or pencil for marking fabric
- All seams are 1/4" unless otherwise stated.
- Remember to backstitch a few stitches at the start and end of every seam. Polycotton is a fraction more slippery than 100% cotton, so this is extra important.
- Turn your iron down! Polycotton will warp if you have it on maximum heat - look for the setting for synthetics (I actually have mine a little hotter than the recommended synthetics temperature, but you know your iron best - better to start too cool than too hot).
NB: In order for the sail portion of this tutorial to work, you need a double sided fabric like gingham. If you use a fabric with a right side and a wrong side, you will need to cut triangles individually to ensure that you don't end up with two sails facing the same way (if you imagine the mast as a mirror, the sails both face out from it, which only happens because we're going to flip one of the triangles upside down during the cutting process).
Cut one rectangle, 33" x 16.5" from the 1/4" yellow gingham
Cut one rectangle, 33" x 16.5" from the white fabric
Cut one rectangle, 13.5" x 5.5" from the white fabric. Set this aside for now.
Lay the two large rectangles on top of one other (you may have noticed that my white rectangle is pieced thanks to a cutting error on my part. Ignore that) and draw a diagonal line from one corner to another. Cut straight along this line. You should be left with four triangles, two gingham and two white.
Pair up one gingham and one white triangle along their longest side, as shown in the image above, and pin. Set those triangles aside. Before you pair up the second two triangles, flip both the gingham and the white fabric over so that what was your wrong side is now your right side (the fabric will look the same, because gingham is magic like that and white fabric is, well, white fabric). Flipping the fabrics will ensure that your sails mirror one another when they are sewn rather than facing the same way. This sounds complicated, but becomes very obvious when you've got four giant triangles in front of you. Pin these two triangles together along their long side.
Sew together along the long side. Try not to tug your triangles about too much - you're currently sewing two very long bias cut edges here, so there is plenty of scope for horribly distorting your fabrics if you aren't careful.
Repeat for the second pair of triangles.
Open out the triangles and press your seams open, again being careful not to distort your shapes too much.
Time to trim your sails! You'll be trimming them to different sizes, to create the impression of a jib (get me with the sailing lingo) and a mainsail.
When you trim, remember not to chop the top off either of your gingham sails. If you need to trim the top at all to square the edges up, remember to trim some of the width off the long gingham side as well so that the point of the sail is not chopped off. If you need to remove any length (as I did, show in the picture above) trim from the bottom of the sail - it doesn't matter if the bottom of the sail doesn't extend all the way to the edge of the short side.
Trim your first rectangle to 31.5" x 15.5"
Trim your second rectangle to 26.5" x 13.5" - this will necessitate chopping a big chunk off the bottom of your second sail, like this:
You should now have a pair of sails, one smaller than the other. Don't panic if yours have ended up the other way round (i.e. the smaller sail is on the left) - your boat is simply racing the other way! And if you've somehow ended up with both your sails facing the same way instead of mirroring one another, you can either unpick one pair of triangles, flip the fabrics over, and try again, or just pretend to everyone that you are actually depicting a schooner.
Before we add in the 'mast', we need to bring that smaller rectangle back up to size.
Grab the 13.5" x 5.5" rectangle you cut earlier, and pin it, right sides together, to the top of your sail. Sew, and press your seams open. Don't worry about the fact that you've just chopped 1/4" off the point of your sail - this will rectify itself when you sew the sail to the mast.
You now need to cut two rectangles from your white fabric. The easiest way to do this is to cut one rectangle 31.5" x 5", then slice it lengthways so you have two strips 31.5" x 2.5". You now need to trim one of these strips so it measures 30.5" x 5.5". Set this shorter strip aside.
Pin the longer strip to the vertical side of one of the gingham sails - it doesn't matter which one you do first. Sew, then open and press the seam. Repeat, attaching the other side of the strip to the other sail, so it forms a central mast.
(I promise my sails are not quite as wonky as they look in this picture).
Attach the shorter white strip to the bottom of the sails in the same way.
Set your sails aside for a moment - we're going to make the hull of the boat, then join it to the sails.
You need to cut the following pieces from your fabric:
- one rectangle, 16.5" x 7.5", from 1/4" yellow gingham
- one square, 8.5" x 8.5" from 1/4" yellow gingham (you can get away with 8.25" squares, but I like plenty of space for trimming half square triangles)
- one square, 8.5" x 8.5" from white fabric
Draw a pencil line diagonally from corner to corner on the white square. Place the white square on top of the gingham square, pin in place and sew two lines, 1/4" either side of the pencil line you have just drawn (you are creating two half square triangles here). Cut down the pencil line with a rotary cutter and ruler, and press your seams open.
Sew your HSTs to your remaining gingham rectangle, as shown above.
Now you can sew your hull onto your sails. align the hull right sides together with the white strip below the sails, pin and sew.
Unfortunately at this stage in proceedings I lost my space on the sitting room floor to take photos, thanks to the larger of my small children taking up station there with a quilt and a pillow, and it seemed mean to move him since I'd just taken him for injections at the doctor, so you don't get a picture of the completed boat before we move on. But, you know, it looks like a boat.
Adding the white sashing:
You need to cut four rectangles now from the white fabric, all 5.5" x 40.5". If, like me, you only have 1m of the white fabric, you'll find yourself piecing these rectangles from every last scrap of trimmings. Even if you have an extra 0.25m of white fabric, you'll need to do a bit of piecing. It doesn't matter. Admittedly you could have bought an extra 1.5m of white fabric just so you didn't have to piece here, but that would (a) slightly defeat the object of a budget project and (b) be horribly wasteful, so I'm not going to encourage you to do that
unless you're really lazy
(Sorry, small child still taking up the sitting room floor, so I've resorted to the boys' bedroom floor. But you can see the sashing, and where I've pieced the strip at the top of the sails).
You may find that before you sew the white sashing to the boat block, you need to square things up a little bit - with such large pieces it's hard not to end up with the block ever so slightly distorted. It really doesn't matter - this is a picnic blanket that is going to get covered in food and sand and thrown in the wash at 60 degrees to get the stains out, not a precision quilt that you're going to treasure for 50 years before bequeathing it to your favourite grandchild.
You need to add the sashing strips to either side of the boat before the top and bottom. Place each strip right sides together against its respective edge, sew and press the seams open (I'm sure a lot of these seams could be pressed to one side, but I press all seams open out of habit).
Adding the gingham border:
Grab your 1" yellow gingham.
You need to cut strips 8.5" wide to create the large gingham border. The easiest way to do this is to fold your fabric in half selvedge to selvedge, then fold it in half lengthways, and in half lengthways again, before cutting 8.5" strips parallel to the selvedges. The joy of gingham here is that you can make sure that your grain runs totally straight here when you fold the fabric, but don't worry if it doesn't - you can always trim a little off to square it up later. Equally, if you have more fabric, or less, feel free to make the width of your strips more or less than 8.5" - I only chose that because it meant I got enough for the borders from my 1m of fabric!
You will now need to piece your strips to make four strips measuring 50.5". I did this by sewing all the strips end to end, then chopping at 50.5" intervals, but you may prefer to do each strip individually.
Add the two side borders first, in exactly the same way you added the white sashing earlier.
Before you sew the top and bottom sashing on, you need to add the corner stones. Of course, if you don't want cornerstones, you can just piece a little more large gingham to make the top and bottom sashing lengths 60.5" - be aware that you'll need an extra 0.25m or so of the 1" gingham if you want to do this.
To add the cornerstones, cut four 8.5" squares from the 1/4" yellow gingham, and sew one square onto each end of your border strips. Working with one border strip at a time, pin the border, right sides together, to the blanket top, ensuring that the seam where the 1/4" gingham meets the 1" gingham is lined up with the join between the vertical border strips and the white sashing (once again, a photo might have been useful here, but you'll see exactly what I mean when you come to pin.
Your cornerstone should perfectly fit in each corner. And that's it for the blanket top!
The blanket back:
The red gingham fabric for the blanket backing is 44" wide, so you'll need to piece it by chopping off the bottom and adding it to one side in order to create enough width for the blanket back. If you want to piece your blanket back entirely from the 1" gingham, you'll need an extra 0.25m, but in the interests of economy and making a slightly more interesting back, I added a strip of leftover gingham scraps from the front to make the back of the quilt. I haven't got any photos of the back construction as I was piecing it in the dark, tutorial writing having taken a slight back seat to a brief trip to A&E during the afternoon (I dropped a kitchen knife on my toe. Dumbest injury ever. It's fine), but I'll briefly talk through what I did.
I cut a 72" length of red backing (i.e. a bit longer than the blanket top, to give me room for error). I pieced a strip of yellow gingham with red at the top and bottom, again 72" long. I then attached this yellow piece onto one edge of the 72" 1" red gingham piece. I used the excess red gingham fabric to make another skinny 72" strip and added this to the other side of the yellow. The final backing ended up being about 72" x 65", plenty big enough for our picnic blanket.
Sewing the blanket front and back together:
You don't actually have to trim down the backing before sewing the picnic blanket together, but I did for the sake of neatness. You can do this either by measuring the top to ensure that it measures the 60.5" x 70.5" that it should, or by laying the top on the backing (ensuring that both are free from wrinkles) and trimming away the excess, which is what I did. Again, the gingham helps you keep everything square here, assuming you've been cutting it straight all along.
You may find that the red gingham backing shows through the white fabric surrounding the boat (because this is not a 'proper' quilt, so has no batting in the middle). If this bothers you, you can add in an extra layer of white fabric - you could add batting here, but it makes the whole thing a little bulky for carrying easily. If you want to add a layer of white fabric, just piece it as necessary so it measures the same as the top and backing, lay it underneath your backing when you pin the pieces right sides together, and henceforth treat the backing and lining fabric as one piece. It is actually a lot simpler than it sounds - the only potential for going wrong is when you are turning the blanket right sides out again; it's possible to pull the lining fabric through in front of the front fabric, but you can just turn it back inside out and try again if that happens.
Once your pieces are trimmed, lay them on the floor, right sides together (with the lining fabric behind the backing fabric, if you are using it) and pin every 6-12" all the way around the blanket.
Sew your blanket pieces together. I used a 1/2" seam for this rather than a 1/4", so that the seam allowance would be caught in the top stitching and give the blanket a bit of added stability for the abuse it will probably receive as a family picnic blanket. When you have gone round all four sides of the blanket, leave approximately a 12" gap between where you started sewing and where you stop - you will turn the blanket right side out through this gap.
Before you turn your blanket right side out, trim the excess fabric from each corner so that you end up with nice sharp corners once the blanket is turned. Be careful not to cut through your stitching.
Turn your blanket! Pull the fabric through the 12" gap you left, being careful to pull from between the top and the backing, rather than the backing and the lining, if you are using it.
Once the blanket is turned, reach inside and use a point turner or a ruler to push the corners out fully before pressing all around the edge of the blanket, ensuring that the front doesn't roll too far to the back as you press, or vice versa. Press a fold in fabric at the open edges where you left the gap, to make slip stitching it closed a little easier.
Before you top stitch, you'll need to close the opening you left in the blanket using slip stitch, whip stitch or any-other-stitch-you-like stitch.
I am atrocious at slip stitching, so I'm not going to attempt to teach you how to do it here. There are lots of excellent video tutorials on You Tube, and your stitches don't need to be particularly tiny or neat as you are going to be top stitching the edges of the blanket in a moment.
Top stitch all the way round the blanket, 1/4" away from the edge.
Ta da! your blanket is basically finished. However, if you want to make this a really useful picnic blanket, you can make a simple carrying strap.
Making the carrying strap:
You don't need to make a carrying strap like I have here - the blanket fits very neatly in a small bag, or alternatively, when I made a similar strap for my son's play mat I just used a metre or so of cotton webbing. If I'd spotted the cheerful red carpet webbing at Abakhan when I was planning my blanket, I would have used that instead and saved myself a lot of work.
Nonetheless, I'll show you how to make a rather cheerful gingham carry strap. It's pretty.
Fold your fabric from selvedge to selvedge. Cut 4" wide diagonal strips from your fabric - don't be too worried about getting them perfectly on the bias. I normally use a rather fancy folding method to get perfect bias strips, but for the purposes of this project I just cut using the diagonal line on my cutting mat as a guide (you could also cut diagonally across the gingham squares). You need enough strips to get a little under two yards of finished bias tape, so cut yourself around 2.5 yards worth of strips. When you've finished cutting your strips, unfold and cut along the fold line any strips that were cut over the fold in the fabric (where the strip turns a right angle).
Place two strips at right angles to one another, right sides together, overlapping slightly, and draw a chalk or pencil line diagonally across the intersection. Pin and sew along this line. Add another strip in the same way, ensuring that you have right sides facing (even though the gingham doesn't have a right side itself, you need all your seams to have the same wrong side). Continue until you have at least 2 yards of continuous length.
Trim all seam allowance to 1/4" and press seams open
Fold your strip of fabric in half lengthways and press - you should now have a 2 yard length of 2" wide fabric. Take this opportunity to cut off all the little 'ears' that stick out - I like to leave this until I've pressed the fabric in half lengthways as it means all the ears are on the same side so I have to move my scissors less. I'm lazy like that.
Unfold your bias strip, then fold the edges towards the middle as shown above. Press.
Can I just take this opportunity to apologise profusely for the state of my ironing board? Our iron leaks really badly and I refuse to cover the ironing board until we've bought a new iron.
If you're speedy at making bias tape (like your truly) you can fold with one hand and pull through with the other, leaving the iron on the ironing board. Move it occasionally so as not to scorch a great big hole in your ironing board.
Once you have pressed the entire length, fold it in half again (lengthways) so you have a 1" wide strip. Press one last time.
Top stitch all the way round your bias tape, about 1/8" from the edge. You can just do the 'open' edge, but I like to stitch all the way round for security and (mostly) symmetry.
When you get to the ends, unfold the bias tape, tuck in the raw edges, fold it back up again and keep sewing.
Once you've finished sewing the tape, you can wrap and tie round your blanket any way you please. I didn't do anything fancy here, just looped the tape round the blanket, tied a knot, and did the same at the other end.
And there you have it. One (very, very long. I'm sorry, I'm not efficient at writing) tutorial for your own Weymouth Picnic Blanket!