how to make a group baby quilt

This post has been a long time in the making.  I've been a part of so many group baby quilts over the years that I knew one day I'd have to share my foolproof "recipe" to make a crib-sized quilt.  In the United States, presenting special-occasion group-made quilts is as old as the colonial days.  My posse of girlfriends and I have been making baby quilts for 15 years; the first one being presented to my grand-daughter Annie when she was a newborn--the first grandchild of our bunch.  We've since made a dozen plus, and we've got it down to a science.  We are "all-in" for every one, because we know it will be our turn soon!  We give ourselves about 4 or more months from start to finish, and throw a group shower at the end when we present our quilt that was made with so much love.  Every baby quilt has been made for our children's children and since we all met when we were young mothers, we have quite a history.  I've know every child since they were little, attended every wedding, and now get to be part of celebrating the growing of their families.  Our children call the quilts, the book club quilts or the grandmother quilts.  Making, giving, and receiving them is a very sweet tradition, and one that we all, grandmothers, mothers and grandchildren, treasure. One day I'll make a post and share all the gorgeous quilts we've made over the years.  Today however, I'm going to show you exactly HOW we make a group quilt.  Bookmark this post so you'll have it handy if ever you find yourself thinking about being part of a group baby quilt.  Perhaps it will help you start your own tradition!  It's easier than you think, and very little previous sewing experience is required, just an old-fashioned can-do spirit! 

This will make a 40" X 52" (approximate size), 12 block quilt.  Since our group has made so many, we have decided it's best to make them all exactly the same size and in exactly the same way.  This consistency and familiarity makes participation easier for the less experienced sewers. I'll go into detail here and just assume you don't know a thing about quilting.  If you want to print out the directions, here's the PDF for that.

One person will be the facilitator.  For us it is the mother (or mother-in-law) of the mother-to-be.

Step 1:  Choose your embroidery design and colors.  You may want to contact the mother-to-be to see what her nursery colors are going to be and coordinate with that.  Often, the mother-to-be will come to my house to peruse my large collection of iron-on patterns.  The most commonly found hot-iron transfer patterns for quilt blocks are from Aunt Martha.  They've been around for years.  You'll see the price above is for 19 cents, but they've now gone up to a whopping $1.50--still a bargain!  They are found at most quilting and fabric stores and can be purchased on-line here.

Step 2:  Purchase your supplies.  Buy only high quality, machine washable, 45" wide, 100% cotton.  If in doubt, ask the sales lady if she recommends your choice for hand quilting. You can purchase almost everything on-line these days, but if you have a fabric or quilt shop near you, please go there!  It may cost a few pennies more than shopping online, but you will be supporting an actual brick and mortar location AND you'll be able to pop in and ask for help if you need it!  Here's your shopping list:

   1 set of iron-on transfers from Aunt Martha (the pattern baby animals pattern above is 3047 and is the easiest for beginner embroiders)
   1 1/4 yds. white or off-white muslin for blocks
   1 yd. Color A for the sashing (blue in the above quilt)
   1/4 yd. Color B for the connecting squares (above in yellow)
   1 1/2 yds. coordinating fabric for back (the above quilt used white but it's fun to use a jazzy pattern too)
   1 spool sewing thread to match Color A
   1 spool quilting thread in white or natural
   1 skein each of various colors of DMC 6-strand embroidery floss.  I think brights and bright pastels work best  as they really pop and show up better than the softer colors.  Don't forget to get some black, brown, red and gray for small details.
   1 package embroidery needles
   1 package quilting needles
   6" embroidery hoop
   2 packages of Wrights Bias Tape, Extra Wide, Double Fold (3 yds each and .5" wide) in a coordinating color.
Do NOT make a mistake and get Wrights Quilt Binding!
   1 roll of crib-quilt sized thin poly batting.  My favorite is Mountain Mist.

Step 3:  Pre-wash, tumble-dry, and iron your fabrics.  Nothing else needs to be pre-washed.

Step 4:  Cut your fabric.  (All measurements below include a 1/4" seam allowance.)  Here's where a self-healing cutting mat, rotary cutter and quilter's easy-view ruler with grid comes in handy.  If you know a friend with these supplies ask for her help; quilters are generous.  This step will take less than an hour for an experienced cutter and I do it all the time for my friends.  You can absolutely cut these by hand with sharp scissors, but it will take a longer time.  Either way, accuracy in cutting is a must.  Measure twice, cut once--your finished quilt will suffer from even a slight inaccuracy.

   Cut 12 10" x 10" white blocks
   Cut 31 3" x 10" sashing strips from Color A
   Cut 20 3" blocks from Color B

Step 5: Transfer the hot-iron designs to the blocks.  Follow directions on package.  My only hint is this:  don't wiggle or rub back and forth with the iron, firm and and steady pressure is best.  Do not use steam.

Step 6:  Cut your floss, make floss kits and distribute the blocks for embroidery.  Six friends?  Each friend takes home and stitches two blocks each.  Twelve friends, or three friends?--well, you get the idea.  Now make little thread kits for each block.  Cut the 6-strand floss into 18" lengths.   Kit up a few strands of the main color, and a strand of flower, eye and hoof color or whatever you need for the embroidery design.   Include embroidery needle and hoop if they don't have one. As you work, separate the 6-strand floss into three strands for the embroidery.  That means that each 18" length will have two 3-strand lengths to embroider with.  The most commonly used stitches are stem stitch, back stitch, lazy daisy and French knot.  They are easy to learn and a good tutorial can be found here.  Gather your friends together and hand out their kits.  Give them specific instructions about what color to use where, and what stitches to use.  For consistency's sake, I asked each friend to embroider eyes, hooves, center of flowers, etc. in black, see close-up photos above.  This helps these small but important details to pop, plus the blocks will look simpatico when these identical features are harmonious.  Also, consistency will help your finished quilt look balanced.  Ask your stitchers to have the blocks back to you by a certain date, usually a week or two.  Ask them NOT to wash their finished block.

Step 7:  Assemble the quilt top:  It's nice if you can get a few friends to help.  For the above quilt I seamed half and gave half the pieces to a friend to take home and finish.  Assembly can be hand or machine pieced.  Using the quilt picture as a guide, lay out your pieces in order on the floor.  With a 1/4" seam allowance and beginning at the top: Row 1, seam first yellow connecting square to a blue sashing strip.  Seam this sashing strip to another connecting square and continue until row 1 is complete.  Row 2, Sew sashing strips to blocks as above and repeat until all the rows are completed.  Iron seams open.  Connect rows by first pinning and basting: Row 1 to Row 2, then Row 2 to Row 3 until your quilt top is completed.  Match each seam carefully so all the "points" match!  Iron seams open.

Step 8:   Mark your quilting design.  I keep the design simple because of the different levels of sewing skills in a group quilt.  For the above quilt I cut out a template of a heart and traced that onto each square with a soft lead pencil.  This will wash out in the last step.  Quilting will also be done 1/4" away from each seam on connecting squares, sashing strips and quilt blocks and does not need a marking as it's easy enough to eye-ball.  See the close up pictures above.

Step 9:  Assemble the quilt "sandwich":  You can invite a friend or two to help, but crib quilts are easy enough to assemble on your own.  Lay out the quilt backing fabric face-side down on the floor.  Pat to smooth out all wrinkles.  Lay batting on top, again smoothing out wrinkles.  Lay the quilt top face-side up on top of this.  You've now made a quilt sandwich, with the backing on the bottom, the batting in the middle and the embroidered quilt top on the top.  Smooth again--wrinkles are a no-no--and with thread and needle, baste the 3 pieces together using large basting stitches.  Baste all the way around  the quilt top, up and down and side to side, about 3" apart widthwise and lengthwise.  You don't want these layers to shift when you're working, so they need to be fairly close together, 3" is fine.  Your basting stitches don't need to look pretty at all as they will be removed at the end. The backing and batting will be slightly larger all around than your top.  You can trim them to 1" all around, but no more.  You'll cut off the final excess in the next step.

Step 10:  Quilt the top:  Here's where we change the word "quilt" from a noun to a verb.  The quilt stitch is what will make all the layers permanently stay together and turn the 3 separate pieces into one quilt.  The quilt stitch is basically a running stitch.  I don't use a hoop, but like to quilt with the quilt loose on my lap.  I prefer a very small quilting needle, but you should offer your friends a variety of sizes to see what they like best.  There are hundreds of tutorials on the quilt stitch and I love this one from Sew Mama Sew.  Gather your friends around one last time and ask them to bring their calendars.  Show them how to do the quilt stitch and have each person sign up for a week of quilting.  We ask that they commit to spend at least an hour a day on the quilt, then after a week, deliver it to the next person.  If there are 6 quilters, hopefully they've been able to quilt 1/6th of it.  Have a deadline when all the quilting should be done, at least a few days before you'll present it, which is probably at the baby shower you are all giving!

You might opt to "tie" the quilt rather than quilt it.  It's a very fast way to finish a quilt.  I've never done this because I don't like the look, but if you like it, I found a tutorial here.

Step 11:  Bind the quilt:  Cut the batting and backing to match the top exactly.  Un-fold the bias tape and read the most excellent post ever written about binding and how to apply it and then go ahead and do it her way!  From her post you will download a terrific PDF tutorial.  The first part covers how to make your own binding, but we did it the easy way and purchased ours ready-made so you can skip that.  The only thing I do differently is on the last step I hand stitch the binding to the back.  She shows you how to machine stitch it, and I think either way is fine.  Pull out basting stitches.

Step 12:  You're done!  Before gifting, wash your finished quilt in the washing machine with cool water and mild detergent.  Tumble dry on low.  The pencil markings, hot-iron transfer markings,  and any grime will come right off.  Quilts are sturdy things and make sure your recipient knows that. It's meant to be used daily and washed weekly--loved and cuddled, and take a bit of a beating if need be.  It will last through several children, and God willing, several generations.  The quilt above was made by ten women in our church and was given to our pastor and his wife who are expecting their first baby at the end of the month!





  1. This is really neat. I am not, nor will probably ever be, a quilter. Sewing has never been fun for me, despite the fact that I have in the past made dozens of garments (go figure. either I am a glutton for punishment or else I just love clothes.) But I love the IDEA of a quilt and have always been in love with the Roly Poly Circus quilt designed way back in the 20s or 30s. It would fit so well into the design of your lamb one, and has a lot of the same charm. I wonder if you have ever come across it. (I'm not a grandma yet, but if that lucky event ever occurs I might be able to squeeze out a one block pillow of a baby elephant, say, and your clear instructions will come in really handy.) Thanks for the tutorial, Kristen!

    1. The Roly Poly Circus is very famous from the 20s and is still made today! I collect the old patterns and do have the pattern even though I've never made it. The pattern can still be found here:, but if you want to see the quilt made up, you can see it here: It's a classic and would be so fun to make! You should make it!

  2. So nice to hear that it is still being made! I am afraid though that a pillow may be all that I can manage. But, a pillow has two sides and a child can still enjoy that! Thanks for the encouragement, Chloe


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