We all know that wool is wonderfully warm . . . but many of you may be surprised to learn that a pretty blanket made of this natural fiber is a luxury that anyone with access to a sewing machine can afford! In fact, except for the backing material (which I found on sale), I didn't spend a cent on any of the colorful patchwork pieces shown in the accompanying photographs. All the material used in my creations was salvaged from old clothes or sewing scraps . . . and I even used thread left over from other projects to assemble the components.
Actually, I was downright astonished by how quickly I was able to collect enough usable wool fabric to make a wool blanket. People are usually so glad to have their castoffs put to good use that they thank me for taking them! Folks who make their own clothes are also great potential sources of cloth scraps. (I once got nearly a yard of brand-new wool fabric from a friend who had misjudged how much she needed to make a dress.) Don't overlook men's clothing shops, either. A lot of fitters throw out perfectly good material cut during the alteration process, and I've sometimes come across pieces as wide as six inches.
Wash the Wool
Before you begin to put a blanket together, wash all your material — both old and new — in cold water, with a soap recommended for laundering wool. (This cleaning should take care of any shrinkage that might otherwise occur the first time you wash your finished product.) In addition, be sure to cut around any moth holes or weak spots in used material. These can be found easily by holding the fabric up to the light.
I'd suggest that you avoid using knits, since they can be difficult to handle in sewing and will sometimes run. Blends of wool and synthetics are acceptable, but 100 percent synthetics aren't as warm as wool and are sometimes troublesome to work with and care for.
It's also wise to press all of your cloth before you begin, and to do so again after each step in the assembly process, using a steam iron or a damp cloth with a regular iron. Don't press all the seams open . . . just iron them so they all face in one direction (such seams are stronger than the open variety). Finally, since various weaves will stretch in different ways, don't knock yourself out trying to make each seam perfect. You'll find that irregularities actually add to the blanket's charm.
Fast Versus Fancy
I use two methods when making my quick-and-comfy covers. The first technique doesn't require much advance planning . . . in fact, you can produce a multicolored blanket (like the blue-bordered one pictured in the photo) simply by piecing together a bunch of sections and then deciding later what to do with them. Since you'll sew the backing on last, you could even change your mind and turn your patchwork efforts into a cozy shawl, a decorative pillow, or a warm skirt.
To tackle this "simplified" project, begin by sewing the sides of two squares or rectangles (A and B) together as shown on Fig. 1 in the Image Gallery. Then stitch another piece — or several put together patches (C) — across the bottom of the first two . . . press the seam . . . and continue adding patches until the section reaches the size and shape you want. Next, go on to start a new section, adding it to the first in the same manner in which you assembled the patches: Just sew them together . . . press the seam . . . and continue piecing until the blanket's top is complete.
To put on the backing, sew together (or cut, as the case may be) a section of material that's the same size as the front patchwork piece. Then position those two parts with their right sides together, and stitch along three sides.
Now, turn your project right side out . . . press the seams . . . turn in the raw edges on the fourth side . . . and finish sewing by hand (or, if you prefer, topstitch the border on the machine). Then, if you like, you can run a machine stitch around the entire blanket at a point about two inches in from the edge. (It's also a good idea to use scrap yarn to tuft the backing to the top cover, in order to prevent the two sides from sagging or pulling away from each other.)
That's my fast method. If, however, you'd prefer your blanket to have more of a quilted look about it, you'll have to use the "fancy" method . . . which takes a bit longer, but is well worth the effort. To begin, decide what size you want the finished cover to be, and cut your backing material into squares or rectangles that will — when pieced together — equal the desired dimensions. (I've found that pieces 15" to 30" on a side are easiest to work with.)
Next — as illustrated in Fig. 2 in the Image Gallery — pin one of your wool patches (X) approximately in the center of the larger square of backing, making sure that wrong sides are together. Put another woolen patch (Y) over one edge of Patch X (right sides together this time) . . . sew it along one edge, all the way through Patch X and the backing . . . and iron the material flat.
Now, attach a patch or several patches already put together (Z), whose length equals the long edge of X and Y . . . sewing in such a way that the seam runs through Z, X, Y, and the backing, as indicated on Fig. 3 in the Image Gallery. Press the seam . . . and continue adding patchwork pieces to the raw edges until the entire unit is covered, leaving only the outside edges unsewn (Fig. 4 in the Image Gallery). This will allow for material to be flapped back when the separate units are hitched together.
After you've quilted all your large backing squares individually in this manner, it's time to put two of those units together, patchwork sides touching. Join them by folding back the unsewn inch on the backing of the first unit and sewing the remaining three layers together on one edge, using a 1/2" to 5/8" seam and leaving one inch free at either end of the seam (Fig. 5 in the Image Gallery). Then iron your newest seam flat . . . push it upward . . . tuck in the backing fold . . . and stitch by hand as illustrated in Fig. 6. Continue sewing the units together until you have several long strips, then stitch those strips together in the same manner, until your blanket is completed. (If necessary, trim the outer edges to straighten them.)
As a final step, you'll want to bind the blanket's borders. So cut strips the length of each side . . . adding enough allowance to miter the corners (Figs. 7 and 8 in the Image Gallery). These pieces can be any width you feel is appropriate. Simply sew the strips along the outside edges with the right sides together . . . press the seams . . . fold the strips over . . . tuck under the raw edges of the backing seams . . . and sew by hand. To miter the corners, fold the ends of the strips diagonally and tuck in the excess, then slip-stitch them in place.
Read more: Check out Make It a Flannel Quilt for more on quilting.