And so, just the other morning, I was browsing through one of my favorite sewing-idea books, Alabama Studio Style by Natalie Chanin. The book has all sorts of amazing tutorials on ways to embellish fabric items. Most are quite elaborate and are geared towards clothing but they can be adapted to home fashion items also. I was drawn to a more simple technique called "string quilting"where one sews strips of fabric directly on to a foundation fabric. The tutorial was for a string quilted throw pillow but I saw immediate possibilities for that simple, flat placemat I had been searching for!
Here you see my first almost-final effort, looking a little wonky and hiding behind a plate. I wasn't really planning to sew that day but was so anxious to see how this string quilting thing would work. I do need to refine my product! Therefore, this is more of a "come along with me on the process" tutorial.
My first though was: how do I make four fat quarters into four placemats? The fat quarter being approximately 18" x 22" is much larger than the average placemat, which I consider to be around 12" x 17". To start with, I simply took the 18" measurement down to 14" and then cut each 22" width into 8 even 2.75" strips. I just pieced all those strips together without a foundation just to see what size it would be. This is much easier for me than doing the math! I used a 3/8" seam because that's the width of the foot on the sewing machine. Once again, the easiest way! This turned out well because 2 seams per piece adds up to .75", so the visible strips are a nice even 2" wide.
I was not super impressed with my first arrangement so I turned one side around for a more symmetrical look. This would mean that I would be better off keeping one wide strip for the center. So, decide which fat quarter will be the center and cut the width into 4 even strips 5.5". But there is another problem. All the sides are going to be turned under and folded to the back to hide the raw edges and create a binding. So, those two end strips are not going to be the even 2" anymore. That might be OK with you or you might want to figure something else out.
I decided to come up with a less even arrangement. I also decided to simplify the color scheme. The math started to get more complicated, which did not make me happy, because I was trying very hard to keep this as a four-fat-quarter project. Sadly, I was not successful with that goal and am still trying to figure it out! In the meantime....
The following calculation will give you a placemat that is approximately 17" wide. I would cut the 18" measurement on the fat quarter (18" x 22") down to 16" rather than 14"(as I did). You will see why when I get going on the "how to" part of this post.
Fabric A (red) = four 5.5" strips (1/4 of 22" width)
Fabric A (again) = eight 2.75" strips (1/8 of 22" width)
Fabric B (green) = sixteen 2" strips (this is more than a fat quarter width, so you'll need a 1/2 yard)
Fabric C (white) = eight 2" strips
Of course, you can use whatever combination of fabrics you like. A combination of solids and prints would be especially nice. I also sell single fat quarters that you could buy and mix with whatever else you have in your supply basket!
This is why we have to do all the math ahead of time! You need to cut your foundation fabric to the size you want your placemat to be. I like to cut a template so I don't have to measure the same square over and over. Then I just trace around the edges and cut. Select a fabric that will look good on the back of your placemat. If it's nice enough, you could also call it a reversible placemat! I recommend a sturdy and thick fabric like canvas. Or, you could layer two fabrics together to achieve the sturdiness and thickness. I am using my favorite hemp/linen canvas that is a really nice neutral color. Hemp has great absorbency and even some anti-bacterial properties, so it's perfect for a placemat.
If you have enough fabric to be fussy, it's nice to consider the print placement within each stripe. This is an easy technique I learned way back when. Just cut a strip of paper the width of the fabric you need to cut, find the center of the paper strip and mark it. Then, line that mark up with the motif you would like in the center of your stripe. Mark your fabric at the two ends of your paper strip and cut.
Also, being hand-printed fabric, ripping the fabric down the grain may not work as it can be slightly off. Better to line up the motifs with your ruler and trim.
Find the center on both the decorative and foundation fabric. Place your decorative fabric in the center with an even amount (hopefully 2") extending over the top and bottom edge of the foundation. Secure with maybe two pins somewhere in the middle.
Then, right sides together, line the edges of Fabric B strip with Fabric A. If your fabric is directional like mine is, be sure the motifs are going in the same direction. Pin those edges securely.
Sew those two seams. Just line the fabric edge up with the outside edge of the presser foot which will give you a 3/8" seam. Since you can't see any other marked guides with the foundation fabric in the way, this is the easiest thing to do. I have that little piece of white tape marking a 1/8" seam which I could add a 1/4" mark to, but the outside of the presser foot is still easier to see. And I'm lazy.
You will want to press the two seams we just made before adding the next strip from Fabric C. Line it up with the Fabric B strips (which you can't see because they are the same size of Fabric C strips on top) just as we did in the previous step. Sew those two seams just as before. Iron seams open and flat. Add next strip, etc. etc., until you reach the end.
Once the top is done, you can turn it over and see the beautiful and tidy stitches on the back! Lovely! Now you will want to trim the border so it's even. I ended up having to trim mine down to only one inch which then resulted in a half-inch binding. I had cut my strips to a 14" length and this is why I now recommend the 16" length. I think it's best to have a 2" border so that when you fold it over it will be a one inch border.
First, turn under...
....and then fold that in half. Bring that folded edge back up over the foundation fabric and pin.
When you get to the corner, you will want to just pinch it in ever-so-slightly so that the raw edges won't stick out once it's folded over. I hope you can see what I'm doing there.....it's sort of like gift wrapping. It's probably the hardest part of the whole project (besides the math!)
Pin that down so it doesn't get away!
Carefully sew 1/8" from the inside folded edge of your decorative border, from one end to the other (not all the way around). This is where I use my white tape marker.
Your stitched corners should look like this.
And like this on top.
Here is a photo of the whole border from the back. Looks pretty nice. But it would look nicer if it were wider and that would also be easier to work with! Next time!
As a reward for reading through that whole tutorial, I will give you a special code to receive 40% off your total order of anything in my shop.
Enter the code at check-out.
This is only good through August 31, 2013.