Free I Spy Quilt Tutorial (Easy Raw Edge Applique)

I became an Auntie again recently and I decided to make my new niece an I Spy Baby Quilt. 

What is an I Spy Quilt?

We all know the game – I spy with my little eye…well an I Spy Quilt is basically a quilt that helps you play that game!

Included in the quilt are lots of fun images to play I Spy with your baby or little kid.

There are lots of ways to make I Spy Quilts. Many of them are pieced, but I didn’t use a traditional i-spy quilt pattern.

Mine was made with raw edge applique using simple beginner free motion quilting (the free motion bit is optional but it is a super easy introduction to free motion quilting if you’ve ever been curious but weren’t sure where to start!).

I spy quilt tutorial

Because current advice is not to have babies sleeping with blankets and quilts, I made mine with a high loft polyester batting so that it could be used as a play mat and a bit of an educational learning tool instead of as something to sleep with.

It can still be cuddled up with on the sofa of course!

Here is how I made my I Spy Baby Quilt.

P.S. you will find the video tutorial for this project at the bottom of this post along with the easy print pdf instructions.

Materials Needed – I Spy Baby Quilt

  • High Loft Polyester Batting – approx. 50” x 50” (My final quilt was about 42” square but you want a little extra for when you are quilting – also you can make this quilt any size you like!)
  • White or low volume background fabric – approx. 50” square (same again for the measurements above – you can vary this to suit)
  • Backing Fabric – approx. 50” square
  • Various scraps of fabric with pictures, motifs or recognizable patterns on them that a child could name or ‘spy’. Cut some smaller 2-3” and some larger 4-5” to create variety and interest.
  • Selvage edge remnants with words, numbers or pictures on them (optional)
  • Pinking Shears
  • Heat n’ Bond Lite
  • Black thread and white thread suitable for quilting (I used aurifill 40wt)
  • Quilting Gloves (optional)
  • Free motion quilting foot (optional)

Step 1: Cut or piece your Background Fabric

I spy quilt tutorial - background fabric
Photo: Scrap Fabric Love

I used two white-on-white fabric remnants and pieced them to make the total size of my background fabric. I cut it large so I could trim it later. 

You can make your quilt size whatever you like. 

Typically baby quilts are anywhere from 36” to 45” wide or long.

Mine was approx. 42” square (ish)!

You can use one piece of fabric or many as long as they are low volume enough that they won’t compete with your I spy images that you will cut from your scraps. 

Step 2: Cut out your I Spy images

i spy quilt tutorial
Photo: Scrap Fabric Love

Using your pinking shears cut out various images to play I Spy with. See below for some suggestions.

I use pinking shears (the scissors with the triangle teeth) to reduce fraying on the edges of the scraps. 

Note: There will still be some frayed edges or loose threads as this is a raw edge applique technique and some fraying thread edges are part of the charm!

If you don’t have pinking shears you can absolutely use rotary cutters for this just be aware you might have a few extra loose threads after the first wash.

How many images should you use?

How many images you cut out is up to you – I had about 65 different images on mine. I could have kept going but I like having negative space in my quilts so I wanted a distinct ‘border’ type area where there were no images and only the background fabric.

What kind of images should you use in an I Spy Quilt?

i spy quilt images
Photo: Scrap Fabric Love

Cut out any kind of images you like but try for a variety so that parents and carers will be able to talk to the baby (and later the toddler) about the images in more ways. You don’t have to stick to just kid’s fabrics either – look through your scrap bin for images of everyday objects, places or animals. 

Leftover charm squares or scraps from different prints can be great places to find images for this quilt.

Novelty fabrics, fabric panels, jelly rolls and specialty prints are great for this. I used several scraps of Tula Pink and Ruby Star Society Fabric for this too as they often have fun images on them.

You don’t need lots of fabric for this so you could also consider asking some of your quilting friends to cut images out of their fabric or let you rummage through their scrap bins for interesting bits to include!

I spy quilt
Photo: Scrap Fabric Love

The sorts of images I used for mine were:

–      Animals – hedgehog, cat, bear, unicorn, Peter Rabbit, ladybird, otter, butterfly, owl, giraffe, leopard

–      Vehicles – tractor, airplane, fire trucks, rocket, school bus, police cars

–      Buildings & Landmarks – castle, wind turbines, Greenhouse, houses

–      Nature – tree, sunflower, branch, rainbow, rain clouds, leaf, stars, plant in a pot, water

–      Objects – sunglasses, apple, phone box, tea cup, bottle

I cut the images out in whatever size they appeared in the fabric – cutting roughly a square or a rectangle shape. This isn’t mandatory though – you could cut them out in whatever shape you like.

I spy quilt tutorial
Photo: Scrap Fabric Love

The important thing is to cut with enough space around the image so that when you stitch it down you aren’t stitching right over the image and making it harder to see!

Using Selvage Edges

I spy quilt - selvage edges
Photo: Scrap Fabric Love

As well as the main I spy images I also cut out some small bits of selvage edges to add to my quilt. 

These pieces were meant as companions to some of the images – so for example I found a piece of selvage edge that had the word ‘cats’ on it so I cut it out and put it next to the I spy image of two cats that I had already cut out. 

This is totally optional but if you save selvage edges anyway this is a great way to add some extra life to your quilt or play mat as it can be referred to again by parents and carers when the child starts to read simple words.

Of course, you won’t find a word that matches every image you cut out so this is just a little added extra for some of the images.

Other ways to include selvage edges:

  • Cut out the part of the selvedge edge with the coloured numbers in circles and add it next to a tall image
  • Cut out small images on the selvedge edges that corresponds with a larger image
  • Cut out a word that describes something related to the image even if it isn’t exactly what the image is – so for example I put the word ‘create’ next to an I spy image of a sewing machine and the word ‘sailing’ next to an I spy image of some waves.

Step 3: Fuse Heat n’ Bond to the back of your I Spy images

I spy quilt - attaching images
Photo: Scrap Fabric Love

You can use any kind of lightweight double-sided fusible product to prepare your I Spy Images for attaching to your quilt. I’m talking about the stuff that has a paper backing that you can peel away.

I used scraps of this kind of fusible of various types for mine as I was cutting them to very small sizes so it’s great for using bits that you have leftover from other projects.

You don’t have to be exact with your cutting either. You just need enough to secure the image down temporarily to your quilt top before you stitch it down. 

I had some images where the heat n’ bond was nearly at the edges and some where there was an oddly shaped triangle of it on the back of the image. Don’t stress just get them all prepped.

To attach the fusible product follow the package instructions for the one you have bought – in general, you would place the fusible with the non-paper side to the wrong side of your fabric and iron for a few seconds to secure it. 

Don’t remove the paper until you are ready to fuse it to your quilt top!

If you are using selvage edges try your best to add some fusible to the back of these too – if it is too fiddly just leave them aside and you can pin them in place before sewing down.

Step 4: Baste your Background Fabric to your Batting

Okay this part might feel a bit strange but what I did next was to baste just the background fabric to the batting – no backing fabric yet!

We are going to attach the I Spy images using some super simple beginner free motion quilting and I didn’t want to have to bury my threads on the backside of the quilt so I decided to add the backing fabric and the additional quilting lines to hold it in place AFTER attaching the I Spy images.

I used a micro stitch basting gun to baste my background fabric/quilt top to my batting but in retrospect, for this project a spray baste would have been better as I was having to cut out the tags every time I went to place an I Spy image down!

Step 5: Decide on Your I Spy Image layout

I spy quilt tutorial
Photo: Scrap Fabric Love

Next is one of the fun parts! You get to sit with your quilt top and play around with where to place your images.

I wanted my images grouped together in roughly a square or rectangle kind of a shape in the middle of the quilt top but you could place them totally randomly if you like!

I spy quilt tutorial
Photo: Scrap Fabric Love

I like to place the largest images first – roughly one or two big ones per quadrant if you think of it like a huge 4 patch grid. 

I then added the smaller images roundabout and switched them back and forth so that I had a good distribution of bright colors in different areas.

I also used a ruler to try to make sure that the outer ‘rows’ of my images were roughly the same distance from the sides, top and bottom of my quilt top.

This is the point where we unpeel the paper from the back of our images and iron them in place.

I spy quilt tutorial
Photo: Scrap Fabric Love

The fusible is not enough to hold these images permanently though so next we need to sew!

Step 6: Raw Edge Applique with Simple Free Motion Quilting

beginner free motion quilting
Photo: Scrap Fabric Love

To attach my I Spy Images to my quilt top I used simple free motion quilting – you could use a straight stitch or zig-zag stitch if you like but it will involve you rotating your quilt around more times. 

The beauty of free motion is that you don’t have to rotate your quilt top to stitch around an object because your needle can go in any direction.

I used black thread for this because I wanted to create little ‘frames’ around the images – especially because some of them had light backgrounds and my background fabric is also light.

How to use Free Motion Quilting for Raw Edge Applique

Note as well as the instructions written below there is also a video tutorial at the end of this post.

beginner free motion quilting
Photo: Scrap Fabric Love

1.     Lower your feed dogs and attach a Free Motion Quilting Foot (Mine is a foot that comes with the Bernina Stitch Regulator but you can use whatever foot is suitable for your machine).

2.    Lower your needle and keep hold of the top thread then lift your needle again to pull the bobbin thread up to the top. Use tweezers if necessary to pull it out so it is a similar length to the free end of your top thread.

3.    Take 2 stitches in place.

4.    Use your hands to move your quilt top while putting your foot on the presser foot to start the needle.

5.    Move the needle around the edge of your image drawing a frame around your image. You do not need to have straight lines – imagine a child drawing an outline and do the same. Go around your image 3 times (this makes the waviness look intentional!). You do not need to hit the same sewing line each time – in fact you want it to be a bit off the previous one to give it that intentional ‘naive’ look.

6.    When you have finished with an image frame cut your threads and repeat the process for the next image.

7.    If you have used bits of selvage edges do the same for these.

It is going to feel a bit tedious to be continually cutting your thread and starting again but I didn’t want the traveling stitch lines I would need to do this in one run of thread. 

If you are new to free motion this is a great repetitive exercise to help you get comfortable with pulling your bobbin thread up before you start!

I spy quilt - back of the quilt
Photo: Scrap Fabric Love

Step 7: Final Quilting to attach your Backing Fabric

wavy quilting lines - I spy quilt
Photo: Scrap Fabric Love

Once all my I Spy images were attached I basted my backing fabric – this time with a spray baste! 

I used a grey anti-pill fleece for the backing. 

i spy quilt - quilting
Photo: Scrap Fabric Love

To quilt my backing fabric in place I used wavy lines at semi-regular intervals on the outside border area. I switched my thread out for a light grey/whitish color so that it wasn’t really visible on the top and the images were still the main focus.

I sewed all the way down the sides of the quilt using a gently waving line and then repeated that line waving the other way – to sort of mimic the naïve outlines to the I Spy images. 

I spy quilt - quilting lines
Photo: Scrap Fabric Love

Instead of quilting the wavy lines over the images I had already stitched down I quilted up to about 2” away from the images, turned my quilt around and stitched back to the edge.

This means there is an area in the middle of my quilt at the back where the backing is not quilted with top two layers but the top and batting are still quilted together so I decided this was okay! 

I don’t think the batting will be separating inside!

Step 8: Bind your Quilt

I spy quilt tutorial
Photo: Scrap Fabric Love

For the final step, I used scraps of Black and white 2.5” strips to bind my quilt and finish it off. 

My favorite binding method is the late Melanie Ham’s machine binding method which you can find here.

Lastly, I added a label to the back of the quilt so the baby knows her Auntie made it for her! 

Finished I Spy Quilt!

I spy quilt tutorial
Photo: Scrap Fabric Love

Here is the finished quilt! I love how this I Spy Quilted Play Mat turned out! 

I spy baby quilt
Photo: Scrap Fabric Love

I think a baby or child would have lots of fun spotting all the fun things on it. It is plush enough for baby tummy time and big enough to be used as a toddler sofa cuddle quilt in a couple of years too!

I spy baby quilt tutorial
Photo: Scrap Fabric Love
I spy quilt tutorial
Photo: Scrap Fabric Love

I spy quilts are great quilts to give as baby gifts as modern mums are more likely to understand what to do with it – use it for playtime – than they will a baby quilt (as new mums get lots of advice about not using heavy blankets for nap and sleep time!). So if you are looking for a small quilt to make as a baby gift this could be a great idea!

Have you made an I Spy quilt? I’d love to know how you made yours! Leave me a comment.

Printable I Spy Quilt Instructions & Video Tutorial

If you can’t see the video below click here to view it on YouTube.

I spy quilt tutorial

I Spy Quilt - Easy Baby Quilt or Baby Play Mat

Active Time: 2 days
Total Time: 2 days
Difficulty: Beginner Friendly
Estimated Cost: 20-30

Make a quick and easy I-Spy Quilt for a new baby or child. Makes a great playtime gift or sofa cuddle quilt! This free pattern uses simple raw edge applique using beginner Free Motion Quilting.

Materials

  • White on White Background Fabric 50" square (can be pieced)
  • Various fabric scraps with images
  • Heat n'Bond Lite
  • Black and white machine thread
  • HIgh Loft Polyester Batting
  • Backing Fabric (I used anti-pil Fleece) approx 50" square (can be pieced).

Tools

  • Pinking Sheers
  • Sewing Machine
  • Free Motion Quilting Foot (optional)
  • Quilting Gloves (optional)

Instructions

  1. Cut or piece your background fabric a few inches wider and longer than you would like your finished quilt. My finished quilt was 42" square.
  2. Use your pinking shears to cut out images on fabric in square and rectangle shapes of varying sizes
  3. Fuse heat n' bond or a similar product to the back of your images.
  4. Baste your background fabric to your batting.
  5. Set your images out on your quilt top, decide on the layout and fuse in place.
  6. Use simple free motion quilting and your black thread to draw a frame around your I Spy Images.
  7. Once your images are all attached, baste your backing fabric.
  8. Use wavy lines to attach your backing fabric to the rest of your quilt and finish the quilting process.
  9. Use black and white binding to create a frame for your quilt.
  10. Label your quilt if desired.

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