Sewing for Independence

Sewing for Independence

June is wrapping up, which means that July is on the horizon. If you’re an American, that means Independence Day is right around the corner with its fireworks, watermelons, and recollections of the birth of our freedom. But along with those standard notions for the 4th of July, there’s also a sewing story to be found within the details of our nation’s birth. It’s a story you might be familiar with, and we’ll explore it a bit on this post.

Betsy Ross

Betsy Ross presenting her flag to George Washington & two other members of the Continental Congress.

Betsy Ross presenting her flag to George Washington & two other members of the Continental Congress.

Once upon a time in the 1700s, a widow—named Betsy Ross—who was trying to make ends meet by sewing and such was approached by none other than George Washington and two other members of the Continental Congress. Why? They wanted her to create a flag for the nation that was budding around them. It’s easy to write off this detail as unimportant since countries and states often have their own flags as standards, but when you dig deeper, you might find how significant this moment was in United States history.

“Don’t Tread on Me” flag.

“Don’t Tread on Me” flag.

Before this, not once since the colonists started struggling for freedom did they have one unifying flag. Rather, a number of flags were decorating their army, and that concept doesn’t spark ideas of unity—not to the level that one overall flag for an army can showcase. If one group is using a “Don’t Tread on Me” flag, and another is waving the “Liberty Tree” one, that’s division even on a subtle level. Through Ross’s work, there would be one flag to fly for all the Colonials in their push toward independence. All of them would be united under that one flag in contrast to the subtle division they’d experienced before.

“Liberty Tree” flag.

“Liberty Tree” flag.

Ross accepted that responsibility to create the nation’s flag, and the rest is history.

But let’s take a moment to consider what could’ve happened if the United States had lost the war. I’ve heard how the men who signed the Declaration of Independence were essentially signing their own death warrants if the British had prevailed, and while I’m not saying that 18th century soldiers would’ve executed Ross for her assistance in the rebellion, it’s hard to say what her consequences would have been. Would she have been imprisoned? Banished? Would she have become a social outcast? Maybe she would have lost her business—her means of supporting her children—because she agreed to take on that duty of sewing the nation’s first unified flag.

Betsy Ross risked everything to make the USA's first flag.

Betsy Ross risked everything to make the USA’s first flag.

I’d be surprised if Ross herself didn’t wonder these same things. Imagine the unease she would’ve felt, thinking that she could’ve lost her means of providing for her children, as an 18th century widow, for such a sewing detail in the war. She could’ve passed the prospect on, choosing instead to let someone else sew the nation’s flag—someone perhaps who wouldn’t have so much to lose.

But she didn’t

She agreed to be an active part of the nation’s struggle for independence, risking so much to let her talent bring the colonists that sign of unity. And now? Now, we have flags waving across the nation and a pledge that’s to be given to that flag. Children have been taught to honor and revere the flag because what began with a handful of Continental Congressmen and one upholsterer has come to symbolize the nation as a whole and every man and woman who’s given their life or blood to keep it striving.

Did Ross know that so much would come out of her sewing project? She likely hoped the colonists would prevail to build a free nation, but knowing that it would happen is different. Even if she had known about their upcoming victory, how could she have known how much that flag would come to mean to the generations of Americans that would come in later years?

The evolution of an American tradition.

The evolution of an American tradition.

The point is that sewing was a part of our nation’s beginning, and it was a substantial moment for the United States. For once, we had a unifying flag, regardless of how much it could have cost just to agree to thread a needle and start sewing on it. Ross took that chance, and to say that the product has been significant to our nation would be an understatement. Overall, sewing has impacted our nation, and it’s linked to the struggle that allows us to celebrate our nation’s day of independence.

Enjoy the fireworks

So for the Americans reading this, happy Independence Day!

For others, even if the 4th of July is just another day on your calendar, consider how important such a small sewing project was. Will one of us sew something that noteworthy? Probably not! But clearly, each sewing project can matter—whether on a personal or public level. Tackle them with passion, because we never know how everything will turn out.

Quilt A String-Pieced Scrap Quilt For Baby

Quilt A String-Pieced Scrap Quilt For Baby

Here is an easy scrap quilt idea that is great fun to make.Here is an easy scrap quilt idea that is great fun to make.

You could clear out your scrap stash to make this gorgeous gift.

Blue is my favorite color, so I had heaps of blue scraps. That is what gave me the idea to make this crib sized quilt for a special new baby boy. You could choose a different color of scraps for this, or you could choose to not restrict your palette and clear out a random colorful scrap pile instead.

You will need:

  • A variety of cotton scraps
  • 48 5-inch cotton muslin squares
  • 12 2.5 inch muslin squares
  • 1 yard border fabric
  • Crib size batting
  • 1.5 yard backing fabric
  • Quilt binding or fabric to make binding

To make the patchwork squares:

Press and cut your colorful scraps into approximately 1 inch wide strips. You will trim strips to the desired length as you construct the squares.

Take a muslin square and angle the first scrap strip diagonally, from the bottom left corner to the top right corner of the square. You can create a sort of uniformity in your blocks and allow for the Xs and squares effect achieved in this quilt by choosing one color scrap to use as this center piece in every square. In this case, I chose navy. All squares are made with navy as the longest, first piece in this quilt.

Next, choose another strip and place it right side down atop the first strip, then sew along one side using a quarter inch seam. Flip the second strip down to face up, then press.

Once you've added the last little strip to cover the corner, you can turn and repeat the process to fill in the other side of your square.

Once you’ve added the last little strip to cover the corner, you can turn and repeat the process to fill in the other side of your square.

Then add another strip, placing the third right side down atop the second, and sew using a quarter inch seam, then flip with right side up, and press.

Please do not skip the step of pressing each strip neatly down after sewing. Careful pressing makes the difference between neat and well made quilts and something that is more of a mess!

Repeat the process, using shorter strips and smaller scraps as you get close to the edges of the square. Once you’ve added the last little strip to cover the corner, you can turn and repeat the process to fill in the other side of your square.

Now you have your first completed square.

You have your first completed square.

Place the square right side down and trim excess strip ends from the muslin square. This is most easily accomplished using a rotary cutter, or you can trim the excess with scissors instead.

Now make 47 more.

Now make 47 more.

Now you have your first completed square.

Make 47 more.

Assembling the quilt top:

Once you have completed all your patchwork squares, sew them together into rows.

Different looks can be achieved by varying the placement of the squares. You could turn them all in the same direction or assemble them where they form the X’s and O’s pattern pictured here. This is one of the things that makes quilting so much fun, that the same simple block can be turned different ways to vary the look of the completed top.

When joining the squares, take extra care for the tiny corner triangles, as it can be easy to make a careless mistake and miss joining these “ears” properly. This is easy to avoid by being careful in joining the squares and avoiding rush.

You also have options in this design: once you have completed the joining of the strip patchwork, you could call the quilt top done. Or choose to border the patchwork with a solid fabric. You could make borders of equal widths, or you could choose to add an additional embellishment, as I have here, with smaller blocks set off with borders. I did mine this way to indicate the top of the quilt and bring the design to the right dimensions for a crib sized quilt..

To make this quilt as pictured, sew 3.5 inch border strips around all sides of the patchwork design.

Prepare the three smaller blocks in the same way as the larger ones, using 2.5 inch muslin squares for the base.

Join these into a row by alternating the small patchwork blocks with 4 4.5 inch squares of the border fabric.

Sew this strip to the top edge, and finish the top by adding one more 3.5 inch strip above this.

To make the “quilt sandwich”:

  1. Cut your backing fabric 3 inches bigger all around than the top, press well, and place it right side down on your table or workspace.
  2. Carefully smooth the batting atop the wrong side of the backing layer.
  3. Press the top and seams one more time, taking extra care, then layer it wrong side down on top of the batting layer. Smooth nicely.
  4. Then baste all three layers together, using either long running stitches or quilters safety pins.


Meandering stipple stitch.

Meandering stipple stitch.

You can quilt this using the quick and easy route: the “stitch in the ditch” method of quilting over the seams that joined the individual blocks, or drop your feed dogs and use a meandering stipple stitch in one long line that (ideally) never crosses itself, guiding the quilt using your hands, working in sections until you have covered the entire quilt.  I quilted this pretty closely, like this:


Trim the excess batting and backing, using your scissors or more quickly with your serger.


Use prepackaged quilt binding or make your own. Sew binding strips together and then sew to quilt top, beginning along one side. Leave approximately an inch free at the beginning of this seam to join the binding ends once you have sewn it down all around. Join them, then fold over and sew the binding down on the back of the quilt using invisible whip stitches sewn by hand or using your machine if preferred.

Now you have made a beautiful heirloom gift that will be treasured forever!