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Sewing for the Novice: {Handmade Baby Blanket Tutorial}

Several years ago, in a quest to learn a new skill and avoid all mom responsibilities, I decided to buy a sewing machine.

A friend from work had been sewing gorgeous quilts and after one trip with her to the fabric store, I was hooked. Knowing absolutely nothing about sewing, I purchased my first (and very basic) machine on Cyber Monday at a discounted price. I think it was about $110 or so and it shipped via Prime.

Within a few days, I was fumbling with sewing pins, scissors, scrap fabric and thread, reading the manual several times and learning how to thread a machine. After many failed attempts and one questionable napkin, I started to get the hang of it.  Over time, I taught myself how to sew simple items (think rectangular shapes) and have since opened an Etsy shop, and sold enough handmade goods to support my fabric addiction.

Let me be clear: I am a total novice. I cannot follow patterns, I have not attempted to sew my own clothes, I have no clue how to sew on a button, and I don’t speak seamstress. Please don’t judge my lack of sewing knowledge if you happen to be the real thing.

With that said, I have perfected a few basic items, my favorite being the super-simple-best-baby shower-gift-ever-Minky-blanket. Now I know that you can buy adorable blankets at Target in half the time, but there’s something very satisfying about creating something handmade. It takes more effort to sew it yourself, but giving a handmade gift is such a sweet sentiment for both the giver and the receiver.

Disclaimer:

I am intentionally keeping this very user-friendly. If you have lots of time to kill, go ahead and wash your fabric ahead of time and trim the selvage ends (or be like me and don’t). I apologize if I’ve broken the sewing rules. But in real life, I’m a middle school teacher and we tend to live on the edge.

Standard Supplies:

  • Sewing Machine (I use a Brother XL 2610 which happens to be pink)
  • One yard of flannel fabric (your choice of print)
  • One yard of coordinating Minky fabric (the super soft dot fabric)
  • Thread (all-purpose)
  • Sewing scissors
  • Straight pins
  • Pincushion

Optional Supplies:

  • Rotary blade
  • Cutting Mat
  • Clear Ruler
  • Seam ripper
  • Label for blanket

Step 1: Head to your local fabric store.

I tend to go to Joann’s, mainly because they always have in-store or online coupons and the variety is good. I recommend snuggle flannel (always on sale) or nursery flannel (rarely on sale). Remember – you only need one yard. Once you’ve chosen your flannel print, go find some coordinating Minky. The selection of colors is great, so it should be easy to find one that matches up. Now hit up the cutting counter – get a yard of each, find some all-purpose thread with a similar color to the Minky, and you’re on your way.

Step 2: Find a good workspace.

I usually clear off the kitchen table and set up shop. Lay out your flannel first, right side facing up. Next, lay your Minky over the flannel, right side down, lining up the edges. You might need to trim some of either fabric to match it up, since the standard sizes are different in width even though they are the same length. Smooth out wrinkles and line up the fabrics as closely as you can, although they don’t have to be perfect. Remember, right sides should both be facing each other, with the Minky on top.

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Step 3: Pin like you’ve never pinned before.

Minky can be intimidating. Some people call it the devil. But I’ve never had trouble with it because I tend to pin the heck out of everything. If it’s pinned well, it won’t be quite as slippery once you start to sew. If you put in the time on this step, the sewing part will go quickly. Place pins one inch above the bottom all the way around, forming a rectangle. Pins should line up close to one another but shouldn’t quite be touching.

Step 4: Sew it, sister!

Take your fabric sandwich, and start with one of the longer sides. That way, your last side will be a short one, which will be important later on. Line up your presser foot with the pins on the outside. Use a basic “straight-stitch” for this part (on my machine, it’s stitch 2). To start, I like to do a backstitch on the corner sections to give it some added strength, so once you sew down about five inches, double back again to secure those corner sections, repeat for each corner.

For the straightaways, just go slow and steady, and try to keep a straight line. This part will end up being the inside of the blanket and won’t be seen anyway. My other tip is to use both hands! Your foot is controlling the pedal speed, your hands should be guiding the fabric through and keeping it straight since it has a tendency to want to pull off center. Once you get to the last side, don’t sew it all the way closed. Leave a 6 – 8-inch gap open at the end – you need an opening to pull the blanket through.

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 Step 5: Leave no pins behind.

Now, remove all the pins. This is tedious but important. Use your hands and slide across the edges to make sure you’ve gotten them all. Next, cut the corners just below where the thread intersects, this helps the finished blanket have corners that appear more rounded instead of square. Be sure not to cut through the thread, trim just underneath it to get rid of the excess triangle piece on each corner.

                     

Step 6: The big reveal.

I love this step because it’s when the blanket really starts to take shape. Put one hand in the opening you left, and go down to a corner on the bottom side and pull it back up and through the opening. Be gentle here! You don’t want to make this opening bigger than it already is. Keep pulling through slowly until it’s all right side out. Now, put your hand back in and push out each corner with your finger so that no extra fabric is bunched up. They actually have special tools for this, but your finger will do the job.

Step 7: Time to topstitch and close the gap.

Smooth the blanket out as best as you can. This time you will be sewing on the flannel side, not the Minky side. I don’t pin when I topstitch, but if you want to, you can. You won’t need nearly as many pins now if you do decide to use them. So now, you are basically just sewing a one-inch “decorative stitch” around the top side of the blanket all the way around. This will obviously be visible, so take your time.

Find a fun, cute decorative stitch to use on the top. I really like the zigzag style (stitch 6 on my machine). Start on the edge with the gap, but start on the top of the edge so that the gap is the last part you sew on that side. When you approach the gap opening, stop sewing, fold in the sides of the flannel and Minky and tuck them inside the edge of the blanket. Use your hand to try to keep the folds in and slowly sew across, finishing the edge while simultaneously closing the gap. Continue through the next three sides until you reach the end.

                                     

Step 8: Finishing touches and wine.

Joann’s sells little labels that add a sweet handmade touch. If you feel up to it, you can either iron on, or sew on a label in the bottom right corner of your blanket. If you wanna get real crazy, get yourself some personalized labels on Etsy with your name. I tend to think that the label really pulls it all together and gives it a professional look.

If you want to iron it, feel free. But be sure not to iron on the Minky side, since it will ruin the dot effect for good. Use a low setting on your iron, or just toss the blanket in your dryer to fluff it up and get stubborn wrinkles out. Lastly, fold it up neatly, flip up a corner to show the gorgeous Minky underneath, tie some cute ribbon around it (scraps are great for this), and voila! You’ve just created a one-of-a-kind, super special baby shower gift that is sure to be the talk of the party. Now go and pour yourself a glass of wine!

                       

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