Easy-to-Make Dollhouse Quilts

Easy-to-Make Dollhouse Quilts

by Janet Wickell

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Expert guide offers step-by-step instructions for foundation piecing. Simple enough for beginners and interesting enough for experienced quilters, this volume features 10 gorgeous patterns. 150 black-and-white illustrations.
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Expert guide offers step-by-step instructions for foundation piecing. Simple enough for beginners and interesting enough for experienced quilters, this volume features 10 gorgeous patterns. 150 black-and-white illustrations.

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Dover Publications
Publication date:
Dover Quilting Series
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Product dimensions:
8.30(w) x 10.84(h) x 0.16(d)

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Easy-to-Make Dollhouse Quilts

By Janet Armstrong Wickell

Dover Publications, Inc.

Copyright © 1999 Janet Armstrong Wickell
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-486-16286-7


Getting Started with Fabrics

Selecting Fabrics and Thread

• I recommend you use 100% cotton fabrics for your dollhouse quilts, rather than cotton/polyester blends. Cotton wears well, is easy to work with, and frays less than blended fabrics.

• Match thread content with fabric content. Over time, thread that is stronger than fabric cuts into fibers, creating rips at seams. One hundred percent cotton thread is the best partner for cotton fabrics.

• Other fabric choices include lightweight satins and silks. Note the manufacturer's care instructions when using special fabrics.

Test for Colorfastness

Some dark cottons bleed—or lose their dyes, particularly dark purples, blues, and reds. Always test suspected fabrics to be sure they are colorfast.

• Submerge a small piece of fabric in warm, soapy water. See if dye bleeds into water. Or, place the wet patch on a white paper towel. Check to see if dye bleeds onto the towel.

If a fabric bleeds, wash it a few times and check again. If the problem continues, don't use the fabric in a quilt. You might try setting the dye with a commercial fixative, such as Retayne®.

Fabric Shrinkage & Pre-washing

All 100% cottons shrink. Fabrics with low thread counts shrink more than tightly-woven fabrics do, because as fibers relax in water they tend to fill-in the larger gaps between threads. If the blocks in your quilt contain unwashed fabrics that shrink at different rates, distortions will occur when the quilts are dampened. Even small distortions are noticeable in these little quilts, so play it safe and prewash unless you are sure the quilt will never get wet.

Prewashing removes most of the loose sizings and protectants that were applied to fabric at the mill. Use spray starch if you prefer to work with crisper fabrics.

Prewash your fabrics in cool water with a mild, phosphate-free soap.

Understanding Fabric Grain

Have you been to a craft fair, where you watched someone weaving on a loom? Quilting cottons are made in the same way, although much of the process is automated, and on a larger scale.

Long threads, called warp threads, are stretched on the loom and secured. These threads become the lengthwise grain of the fabric.

Weft threads are woven back and forth along the entire length of the warp threads. The weft threads become the fabric's crosswise grain.

Selvages, the bound edges along the sides of fabric, are formed when the weft threads change direction as the weaving process travels down the length of the loom.

True bias is defined as a 45° angle to the straight of grain, but we refer to any off-grain cut as a bias cut. Fabric is very stretchy along the bias.

The lengthwise and crosswise threads are both referred to as straight-of-grain, however, the lengthwise grain is less stretchy. Unlike the moving weft threads, warp threads were firmly attached to the loom during the weaving process, and the interlaced weft threads actually help stabilize them. There are usually more warp threads than weft threads per square inch, another stabilizing factor. Lengthwise grain strips make sturdy anchors for quilt borders and sashing.

The following test helps you see the variations in stretch along the different grains

1. Cut a 3-inch square of fabric with edges parallel to the straight grains. Tug on it along the lengthwise grain, then along the crosswise grain. Did you notice a difference in stretch?

2. Now tug on it from corner to corner, along the bias. The fabric will stretch even more, and may become permanently distorted.

Recognizing the different properties of grains gives you a better understanding of why pattern pieces are cut in specific ways.

Selecting Prints

One of the most important aspects of fabric selection is variety. Do you want to make a scrappy quilt, one that contains a wide variety of fabrics? Or do you want to follow a more structured, repeating color scheme? Even quilts made with a minimum number of fabrics benefit when you include a variety of print sizes, because they add visual interest and texture to the piece.

Print selection is a little different for dollhouse miniatures, because the size of each patch in a block is so small. One way to help visualize what a print will actually look like in your quilt is to make a window template, which is simply a cutout of an individual patch.

1. Trace a copy of the foundation template for your quilt. Do not include the outer seam allowance.

2. Cut out only the individual patch shape the fabric is intended for.

3. Position the cutout against fabric to see how it will appear in the block. Repeat with additional patches or fabrics if desired.

If the fabric is a medium to large print, chances are the patch will look very different when placed on different areas of the fabric. It doesn't mean you shouldn't use the print, but do be aware that patches won't all look alike unless you take special care to cut and sew each piece in the same manner.

A useful print type for any quilt, including miniatures, is a print that reads as a solid. In other words, from a distance it appears to be solid, but on closer inspection you discover a subtle print. These prints introduce texture to a quilt, without adding clutter.

As you build a fabric collection, add fabrics from all color families, even those you don't particularly like. Don't hesitate to use colors together in ways you never imagined. Look at nature, because colors are often combined in ways we don't think of as "matching." Be a good observer, and try to recreate what you see in cloth.

Since dollhouse minis require only small amounts of each fabric, you might consider purchasing assortments of precut six or ten inch squares. They are available from many quilt shops and mail order sources, and are an inexpensive way to add variety to your fabric stash.

Color Value

Stated simply, color value refers to how dark or light a fabric is in relation to others. The amount of contrast between adjoining patches can change the appearance of a block or quilt.

To sort by value

• Pin fabrics you think are of similar value to a wall and stand back. Do any pop out at you as definitely lighter or darker than the others? Remove them from the group and check again.

• Make black-and-white photocopies of fabric swatches, because color often clouds our judgement. When it is removed, it's easier to judge the true value of a fabric.

• Use a value filter to view fabrics. The filter masks color, giving you a black and white image of fabrics. Take care, most of these filters are red, which makes it difficult to judge red fabrics in relation to others.

If you feel uncertain about fabric selection, browse the library or quilt shops for a book about fabrics and color. There are several written specifically for quilters. Visit quilt exhibits to see how others have combined colors. Most of all, experiment yourself to discover which combinations you like best.


Foundation Piecing Basics

The quilts in this book are all constructed using the same technique many 19th-Century quilters chose, foundation piecing, which totally eliminates the need for exact seams and precisely-cut patches. Even beginners can make a perfect block every time. Foundation piecing opens up a new world of possibilities for miniature crafters who have always wanted to make quilts for their 1-inch scale dollhouses, but felt they just couldn't manipulate all of those tiny bits of fabric.

What is Foundation Piecing?

Patches are sewn to an exact replica of a block, called a foundation. For the method used in this book, fabric is positioned on the reverse side of the foundation, with raw edges overlapping drawn lines. When seams are sewn on the front side, directly on the lines, the overlapped edges become seam allowances. If you position fabric correctly, and are careful to sew on the lines, your blocks will be a perfect replica of the foundation. If you don't understand yet, don't worry. Just read through the instructions a few times, then make a few experimental blocks. You'll catch on quickly.

When Can You Foundation Piece?

Foundation Piecing is possible when each new patch covers the entire width of prior patches, such as in the Log Cabin block shown here. Piecing begins at the block's center, and continues outward in a circular motion. Each new log is stitched across the entire length and width of earlier patches.

Sometimes it's not possible to foundation piece a block as one unit, but the accuracy that can be achieved using foundations is good reason to use them for segment piecing. The Twisting Stars block shown below is an example of segment piecing. It is pieced on two foundations, which are sewn together to complete the block. It would have been much more difficult to sew an accurate miniature block using traditional patch-to-patch techniques.

Foundation Materials

Foundations can be temporary or permanent, with each type exactly what its name implies.

Temporary Foundations

Temporary foundations are removed from blocks before the quilt is sandwiched with batting and backing.

• Vellum or smooth tracing paper is my favorite temporary foundation for quilts of all sizes. It remains stable as blocks are assembled, but when sewing is complete it tears away easily without loosening or distorting the stitches. Seam lines are visible from both sides of the paper, so you can use smaller patches, because you know exactly where to position fabric. When pressed, fabrics stick slightly to this type of paper, which keeps the unit crisp and stable as new patches are added.

• Another choice is plain newsprint. It is easier to remove than heavier bond papers, and is available in pads at most office supply stores.

• Tissue paper is easy to remove, but sometimes tears away before the block is complete.

• Commercial foundation materials are available from mail order sources and quilt shops.

Permanent Foundations

Permanent foundations remain in the quilt forever.

• Muslin is a commonly used permanent foundation, but I do not recommend it for dollhouse quilts. Muslin foundations sometime stretch out of shape as blocks are assembled, resulting in distorted blocks.

• Nonwoven interfacing is a less bulky, more stable choice for permanent foundations. Used fabric softener sheets (the sheer type) can also be used. Starch and press sheets before marking.

Avoid using heavy permanent foundations for dollhouse quilts that will be placed on a bed. The extra layer makes it harder to hand-quilt, and more difficult to drape the piece on the bed.

The stiffness of permanent foundations might be welcome for some projects, such as blocks that will be used for a miniature wall hanging.

Foundation Accuracy

Foundation templates are block blueprints, and their construction is the one aspect of this method where accuracy is essential. Every line on a foundation becomes a seam line, so if your drawings are not accurate, seams won't be accurate. Accuracy is especially important for dollhouse miniatures, because even small discrepancies are noticeable in tiny blocks.

Narrow lines improve accuracy, because they leave little doubt as to where a seam should be sewn. Ideally, lines should be no wider than the width of the needle as it pierces the foundation. Use a straight edge as a drawing guide, making sure to position it so that traced lines match those on the template exactly.

Transferring Images to Foundations

• If you need just a few foundations, trace each image individually.

Techniques For Multiple Images

• Trace one or more copies of an image onto a sheet of paper. Stack foundation material with carbon paper, alternating layers. Place the image on top and secure the layers. Use a seamstress's tracing wheel to transfer the image to all layers. Use a straight edge to make sure the wheel rolls directly on marked lines.

• Use a hot iron transfer pen to trace one or more copies of the image onto a sheet of paper, then use the master to heat-transfer foundations onto foundation material. When the image no longer transfers, draw over lines again with the pen, making sure new marks match previous lines. If you use a hot iron pencil, sharpen it often. Avoid pens with wide tips.

• Trace one or more copies of the image onto a sheet of paper. Stack several sheets of foundation paper under the drawing and secure the layers. Sew through lines with an unthreaded needle. Needle holes should form easy-to-follow lines, but should not be so close together that paper falls away during block assembly.

• If you are careful, photocopies can be used. Set the copier to reproduce at exactly 100%. Always copy an original image, because copies of copies are more likely to be distorted. Position the original near the center of the copier's image area, and make sure it is flat. Before using the foundations, compare all copies with the original to verify they are an exact match. If the copier doesn't accept thin papers, select a low-quality, recycled paper, which is usually easier to remove than more expensive bonds.

• Scan templates at 100% . Print images on a laser printer. If you have an ink jet printer, use a dry iron when pressing blocks, otherwise inks could bleed onto fabric. Be especially careful to remove little bits of marked paper that get stuck in seam allowances.

Template Markings

Transfer all numerical markings to foundations. In addition, it is helpful to mark fabric designations on each piece. Since patches are positioned on the reverse side of a drawing, you must always remember that the finished block will be a mirror image of the printed side of the foundation. Jotting down a short notation on each area, such as "dark" or "light," is often enough of a reminder to keep the layout accurate as you work.

Grain Placement

To minimize stretchy edges, fabric that lies on the outer perimeter of a block should be cut on the straight grain. Even though we often use odd-sized scraps for the foundation method, it's best if we keep that goal in mind when positioning fabric on the foundations.

If you wish to use a specific print in such a way that a bias edge is on the outside of the block, go ahead and do it, but handle the block carefully during assembly and foundation removal. If you do not wish to worry about grain, consider using a sheer foundation that will remain in the block to permanently stabilize patches.


To stabilize stretchy edges, or edges with multiple seam intersections, stitch around the block, approximately 1/8." from the outer perimeter. Fold the foundation out of the way before sewing.

Stitch Length

Fourteen to twenty stitches per inch is usually considered a good stitch length for foundation piecing. For dollhouse quilts, try to stay in the upper range of that guideline, because many blocks contain short seams that tend to pull out easily when longer stitches are used. Stitches should be short enough to remain stable when foundations are pulled away, but not so short that they cause unnecessary wear on the fabric, or are impossible to remove if a seam must be resewn.

The ideal stitch length will vary from project-to-project, depending on the type of foundations and fabric used. For instance, thicker, difficult-to-remove foundations require shorter stitches so that seams remain intact as foundations are pulled away. Longer stitches can be used with permanent foundations. Loosely woven fabrics require shorter stitches to act as a barrier to fraying.

Needle Size

Some quilters prefer to use a needle with a large eye for foundation piecing, because the larger hole it punches makes the foundation easier to remove when the block is complete. I recommend you consider the scale of your quilt when determining needle size. A needle that leaves smaller tracks in the fabric is more appropriate to the delicate scale of a very tiny block.

Trimming Back Seams

It is usually necessary to trim back the seam allowance after sewing each seam. This step removes bulk, and leaves you with a neat, consistent seam allowance. A 1/8" seam, or just slightly wider, is a good standard for most dollhouse miniatures. Always trim through all layers, or your block will end up with a bulky mass of fabric on its reverse side.

Patch Size and Placement

Most recommended patch sizes are based on adding a ¼" seam allowance, plus a bit extra to allow flexibility for patch placement. The illustrations are guidelines to help you visualize placement, not absolute rules. Part of the fun of foundation piecing is that you are free to estimate, which speeds up construction. When you are comfortable with foundation piecing, you can probably use smaller patches to assemble blocks. Include a minimum of 1/8" seam allowance on all sides.


Excerpted from Easy-to-Make Dollhouse Quilts by Janet Armstrong Wickell. Copyright © 1999 Janet Armstrong Wickell. Excerpted by permission of Dover Publications, Inc..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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