Wednesday, March 9, 2011

How to use a jelly roll

Here's a little advice for the newbie sewers out there.  A "How-to" piece.  Get your visualization equipment into gear.

     A “Jelly Roll” is a pre-selected collection of co-ordinating fabrics sold in fabric stores that cater to quilters. Usually it is rolled in such a way that a little bit of each fabric shows enticingly in a swirl of color.
     It’s likely that your jelly roll is all fat quarters (18 x24 inch swatches of fabric.) First, you should unroll them, wash and dry them as you would wash and dry your quilt, and iron them flat.
     Sort your fat quarters into light and dark piles, then decide how much sewing you want to do. You might try laying them out on the floor as is, alternating light and dark in a checkerboard, and see if you like the effect. If it seems too blocky, fold a few of them in half the long way, then the wide way and see if the smaller rectangless make the checkerboard more acceptable. If so, cut everything into quarters, and do a random light / dark checkerboard. Simple straight seams, and no “Wrong” way to assemble it, with a surprisingly satisfying result. You could piece a whole quilt top in a weekend.
     OR cut them into 18 x 6 inch strips, make light/dark/light squares, and dark/light/dark squares. Again, make a light / dark checkerboard, but put the light/dark/light stripes vertically, and the dark/light/dark stripes horizontally.
     Get out your graph paper and colored pencils to help visualize this. In fact, you may spend several days playing with your graph paper and pencils to decide what you want, but remember that there is great freedom and satisfaction in surrendering to randomness and appreciating its beauty.
     I like to assemble my squares by sewing all the light squares to all the dark squares. Then, matching center seams, I sew those blocks together, lining them up so the darks and lights alternate, making bigger squares. Again, matching center seams, I sew the bigger blocks together and so on until the top is done.
     Remember that you will lose fabric in the seams. If your cut piece is 6x6 inches, and you sew quarter-inch seams, the finished piece will be 5.5 x 5.5 inches.
     You can back your quilt top with a piece of micro fleece or you can use a sheet the proper size. I make pieced and tied comforters, which means that rather than carefully sewing all the layers together in precise lines of tiny stitches, I take a stout needle and some wool yarn and , every five inches, I take a single stitch through all layers of the fabric, cut the yarn about an inch from the fabric, and tie the ends together in a sturdy square knot. Washing and drying will felt the yarn and secure it even tighter. This makes for a fluffier, warmer quilt and one that you can finish before next Christmas.
     I don’t make heirloom quilts. I make drag-arounds to be thrown on the floor, used for tents and forts and taken into the yard on a clear night for star-gazing. Because I don’t think of these works as Art for the Ages, I can be a lot freer in my use of color and simple design and in accepting things that didn’t turn out as I had envisioned them. I create, not magnificent works of craftsmanship, but manifestations of warmth and comfort. And I have fun with it. You can, too.


  1. I love jelly rolls. But my sister, she-who-knows-everything, said not to wash them. Who do I believe?

  2. If you will wash it after you sew with it, you should pre-wash to avoidshrinking and color bleed problems. But if you are talking about cake and jam, do not wash before eating.

    Believe me, fer cryin' in the sink!