Friday, January 2, 2009

Bento Box Quilt, Part 1

Whew, now that my trip has been blogged, I can focus on more creative endeavors. This is sick…while sitting on the beach, I kept thinking about all the projects I wanted to work on when I got home. What can I say, my hands like to stay busy.

So, as promised, I’ll take you along as I make my yellow and green bento box quilt.

In my opinion, the first step in making a quilt is to get some inspiration. Not the “oh, that’s nice” sort of inspiration but the “I can’t live another second without that!” sort of inspiration. I can’t tell you how many unfinished quilt tops I have at my house because I wasn’t really excited about the idea from the start.

Search through sites that offer free block patterns (my favorite site but warning: music) or take a look through sites like flickr or etsy for ideas. Usually I’ll really hate a particular pattern until I see it done in colors I like…then suddenly it’s awesome!

I don’t ever buy quilt patterns. I know that probably makes me a jerk but I prefer the challenge of figuring them out for myself. If you just want to get started, though, I think a pattern is a good idea. They usually have nice directions and tell you how much of each fabric to buy.

Once you’ve decided on a block or pattern, you’ll need to decide how large you want your quilt to be. Any block can be sized up or down. I want my quilt to be baby or lap sized. If each of my blocks finishes at 15” and I lay them out 3 blocks by 4 blocks, my finished quilt will be 45”x60” which just happens to be the perfect size.

The next step is to decide how many different fabrics you want to use. I decided on four yellows, two greens and white. I already had more than enough fabric in my stash so I didn’t bother figuring out how much of each fabric I’d need. When I do need to figure it out, I use math or some graph paper. It’s hard to explain here but you just need to figure out the size and number of pieces to be cut from each fabric and then figure out how much space those pieces would take up if they were all laid out on a 40”-42” wide piece of fabric…like filling up a Tetris screen. Remember that each piece needs a ¼” seam allowance on all sides.

My recommendation is to buy more fabric than you think you’ll need because having extra fabric is nice. And make sure to buy quality fabric. In the beginning I didn’t think this was important and I didn’t change my mind for a long time. But now that I’m making things for other people, the thought of giving someone a quilt made with crappy fabric makes me cringe! I pay more for the good stuff but it’s easier to sew and it won’t fall apart after a few washings.

Just in case you wanted to know, I never pay more than $7.50 a yard (before shipping). I also think it’s important to pay a quarter of that for a fat quarter. A lot of people will charge up to $2.50 for a FQ but that adds up to $10.00 a yard. No way! I like to shop on and find people who are willing to sell 4 different FQ’s for $7.50 or less. I’m not cheap, I just feel a quarter of a yard should be a quarter of the cost.

Moving on, for each of my 12 blocks I need to cut pieces in the following sizes:

Fabric A (center):
1 – 6”x6”
Fabric B:
2 – 3”x6”
2 – 3”x11”
Fabric C:
2 – 3”x11”
2 – 3”x16”

Start with the center piece. Sew two pieces of Fab. B to either side. Use a scant ¼” seam allowance. I also like to press my seams open instead of to one side.

step 1

As you can see, I cut the side pieces a little longer than 6”. This is so I can go back and trim them to the right size after sewing. Sometimes when I do Courthouse Steps blocks (which is the name of this block) my strips come out too short and since I can’t seem to do anything about it, I cut all strips a little longer. Better safe than sorry.

Next, add the other two pieces of Fab B, pressing seams open each time:
step 2

Add Fabric C in the same way until you finish the block. It should measure 16”x16”.

step 3

I need to make a total of 12 of these blocks. 6 will look like the one I just finished. The other 6 will have a white center, a color and then a white border. This plus another step will turn the Courthouse Step block into a Bento Box block.

Click here for the next installment.


  1. This is amazing. You know so much more about sewing than I do, and I love picking up little tips and tricks like the ones you've listed here. I also love that you're jerky for not using patterns. I just can't read patterns because they look like a foreign language to me, so that probably makes me a jerk. Heh!

    Anyway, thanks for the beginning of your bento box quilt tutorial. I definitely plan on tackling a quilt in the future, even if it is just a small square one that hangs on my son's wall.

  2. geez, crystal, every time i read an entry in which you link i have to click on the link and then read that entry. and if in that entry, there are other links,of course i have to follow those, too. make no mistake, this is no fault of your entries, i have just taken such a liking to your persona and crafts that i have to read it all up :)
    not quite clear on what a bento box quilt is since all the ones you liked looked a little different, but i have an idea. and haven't read this entry yet, so here i go.

    hey, this looks really interesting. i look forward to reading more, so sew away!

    my sewing instinct tells me to press the seams open, too, but the ragged squares quilt called for to the side. if you press it open, nah, the batting won't show through cause you'll have sewn it well.
    i was amused to read that your perfectionism won't allow you to make a ragged squares quilt. RAGGED! ;) i'm enjoying the cozy hippyish style at the moment, so ragged is right down my alley.
    thanks for the fabric price info, i'm a virgin there but also don't like paying too much.
    how do i know if it's good fabric other than me thinking "hey, this looks like good fabric"?

    will now check out, ever been there?

    i'm glad you're back from mexico, and thanks for all the photos :)

  3. Allison,

    Thanks for the feedback...I was worried I'd bore people with all my "do this, do that, I'm a bossy know-it-all" post. I don't mean to be, it's just that when I was starting quilting I craved some real information. Some real advice. It's easy to find dry, pattern-like info but I wanted tales of firsthand experience, what to do and what not to do. So, that's what I'm trying to do. I'm happy to hear it's not too annoying.

    I'm excited to see your (future) quilt. Quilting is very easy once you get the hang of it. It's like art mixed with math which, for me, is very comforting. And quilts are, you know, it's an all around nice hobby.

  4. Christine,

    "read it all up" That's nice! I'm so happy you like what I'm doing here. I'm perfectly content doing my own thing just for me but there's something about passing along information, helping people who are as eager to learn new things as I am...well, it's just really nice.

    Yes, you're right, my block doesn't look like a bento box block yet. I devised a way to be more efficient but I'll post about that in the next installment.

    I tried one time to press the seams to the side but it felt so wrong that I never tried again. I love the smoothness after pressing a seam open. It also makes matching seams so much easier. I'll explain my process for that too.

    I was also worried about the batting showing through...or more than that, the thread ripping and the seam popping open (it just seems less protected for some reason). I don't worry about that anymore, though. After I quilt it, everything is very secure and if a seam does pop open, it would be pretty easy to fix. Also, washing and drying the quilt really tightens things up.

    Ugh, ragged...I cringe! Maybe I'll make one for my brother and his fiance. They're the free-spirit type and maybe the raggedness won't stir up chaos in their brains like it does in mine. I do like yours, though. Very nice!

    Oh, about the fabric. My non-expert advice is this: if you can buy it in person, do. Feel the thickness...if it feels like it'd rip if you tugged hard enough then it's no good. If you can see a lot of light through it then I also think it's no good.

    If you can and you don't freak out like I do, go to a local quilt shop instead of a chain store like JoAnns. I feel too much pressure going into those small stores (a touch of social anxiety) but they usually have much better stuff. If you do go to a chain, feel the fabric and judge for yourself. I've bought plenty of good fabric at JoAnns but I would never buy from the online store.

    If you order online, my only suggestion is to go with what you know will be good. I hate being one of those people who only buy "designer" fabric but it's an easy way to get quality fabric without touching it first. It's expensive but worth it.

    I especially like Free Spirit and Michael Miller fabrics.

    Hope this helps. :)

  5. Good info. I don't know how you could impart directions without "do this" and "do that" although you could say "this is what works for me" or "this is the way I do it. Feel free to do it your way." Personally, I'm always tickled to get tips and tricks from others who are knowledgeable and you certainly are. Definitely not a "bossy know-it-all," just Crystal with stuff to share to make quilting easier or more interesting for others. I'm loving it except this is going to take hours as I chase down all the links. Suppose I don't need to be so curious!

  6. I know this is an old post, but can I just give a big THANK YOU for the "do this" and "do that"?

    I LOVE having explicit instructions.

    I think I'm going to use this pattern to make a sock monkey quilt.

  7. Thank you for this quick bento box quilt trick. My very first quilt was a bento box the old way, one smaller block at a time, and it went fast, but this is going to be lightning fast! Going to try to do one in a weekend as a challenge! :)