How to make this Tribal Quilt

Article Posted 11 May 2020

Hi there, this is Marilyn Parker from Lindylou Kidsworld.

I haven’t been around for ages. Life took over for a while, and I didn’t want to play. I am slowly coming back to my sewing world, and am hanging to show you some more of what I do and how I do it.

This blog is going to be a “how to” for a quilt that I have just made. Hopefully it will inspire you to have a go yourself, if you are not already hooked on doing machine embroidery on larger items.

This quilt uses designs from the Bunnycup Embroidery Design Set Tribal Animals.

When I am in the swing of things, I make a new quilt every 4-6 weeks, depending on size and other pending orders that I may have. The large cot quilts take approximately 30 hours to complete. The single bed quilts for the bigger child take over 40 hours.

Most of the quilts that I make are the 12 squares all boxed in with sashing and lots of love. Sometimes I get to be a bit more creative with the layout. I have developed this layout- that I am going to step you through here. I use 3, 6, and 9 inch squares in an irregular layout instead of the traditional squares/blocks using increments of 2 inches. This quilt uses 11 large embroidered squares, 13 medium sized blocks & 65-68 small blocks. As I share my work on Facebook, I have had a lot of interest for a pattern for the layout of this quilt. So Quentin (Mr Bunnycup) made me a swish looking template so you can see quite clearly how the squares all fit together. Download Layout Template.

Now for the technical stuff

RE: The embroidery/applique designs

For my large cot quilts, I have developed a “recipe” for different styles of embroidery re sizing and fabric use.


When I use colourfill embroidery, I used software to resize the designs to suit the effect I want. I use designs that fit into a 5 x 7 inch hoop, so make them up to 6.5 inches at the wider/longest point.

When I use the applique designs, I use software to resize up to 7.8 inches at the widest/longest point.

For ALL of my embroidery blocks I cut the background fabric to 12.5 inch squares. I find that by not skimping that the hoop has a better grip on things and the design doesn’t move too much. I also use a medium to heavy weight cut away interfacing to help stabilise the work (the stuff you would use in clothing).


Colours for room decor have been rather muted over the last few years, and customers are requesting greys and beiges for the main colour in the fabrics. So in this quilt “how to”, with a tribal woodland theme, I have found prints and plains in the greys, with a bit bright blue. The embroidery too has a lot of grey & brown/beige with gorgeous bright blues/oranges/greens.

1. Holding the work in place in the hoop

For the colourfill embroidery, when hooping I also use pins to hand the fabric tight at the side of the hoop (Figure 1). Most of the time the embroidery is perfect and the outline lines up and all is good with the world. Sometimes though, no matter how hard I try, thing don’t go quite right. (Figure 2a) There is a gap on the snail’s back. Instead of redoing it (after cursing!) I have figured- cosmetically fix it! I go for excellent rather than perfect……to fill in the gap between the outline and the colourfill, I fill the space with either a thin zigzag or a triple running stitch. You may need to practice with the width of the zigzag that you will need, but this technique works a treat. (Figure 2b)

2a. Gap on embroidery near the top of the shell
2b. Snail shell all sorted zigzag fill in

So you have done all the embroidery using the interface backed squares, and have meticulously cut the residual backing from around the embroidery. I try to leave ¼ to ½ inch of the interfacing around each design- it helps to stabilise the design. You have pressed them all, and cut them back to 9.5 inches. I use a 9.5 inch template, which you can get from all good quilting stores. It saves making errors in cutting.

I was taught: measure twice, cut once.

To fill in some of the blank space around the embroidered figures, I used my 6.5 inch template and marked a square around each figure, with my water soluble pen. I then used a pale grey thread with decorative design from my sewing machine, and stitched a border around each character. (Figure 3a and 3b)

3a. Decorative feather stitch 6.5 inch square
3b. Squirrel with 6.5 inch decorative border all around

I always then lay all the squares out in a rough layout using the template for a guide. I like to see how they look together. I will change various ones around so as not to have too much of the same colour/shape/size together. I also don’t like my characters looking out, so I change squares around to make sure they are all looking toward the centre! Once I am happy with the set out, I stack them up in order, with the top left hand square at the top of the pile – all ready to sew together. My machine has been set up with a ¼ inch seam foot, so I can keep my seams even and regular.

Now to play with the colours and textures of the fabrics you have chosen. You need to cut 13 squares 6.5 inches. I always like to have 8 or 9 different fabrics, so there is variety in the shades and textures without too much repetition. (You need 13, but I usually cut 3-4 more just in case I don’t like the look as I do the final layout) Then you need to cut 65-68 3.5 inch squares. Once cut sort them so they look random – helps for placement.

Once you cut all your fabrics, it is time to play with the layout of your quilt squares.

I use my cutting table to lay the squares on, so I have to do the layout in two batches. Use the template as your guide, and do the top half first. (Figure 4a). I try not to have too many prints next to each other, and not too many similar shades/colours next to each other. If in doubt of your placements, look at the work through a camera lens- this is less subjective than your eye, and you often see things that you didn’t realise where there. Move squares around, swap them over if needed, until you have a pleasing look. (Figure 4b)

4a. Top layer started in top left hand corner
4b. More top layer placement

We are up to the fun part of sewing your squares together. I usually start with sewing my 3.5 inch squares together, I like to contain all my small parts so they don’t fall off the table while I am working. As I sew these together, I “thumb nail” press the seams open. I find there is less shape distortion this way. (Figure 5) Then looking at your layout you can see that some pieces will join together easily into larger squares, some of course wont. (Figure 6) I tend to sew rectangles that I can will fit together first. It is a bit like a jigsaw puzzle. Cutting the squares in 3 inch increments makes for lots of “L” shaped corners and “T” intersections. This is where you test your sewing skills. I enjoy the challenge! I have detailed three of these joins in the photos below. (Figures 7a, 7b, 7c, 7d, 7e, 7f, 7g, 8a, 8b, 9a, 9b abd 9c) All the while, as most of the seams aren’t continuous, I thumb nail press all the seams as I go. The small squares have open seams, while the 6 & 9 inch squares have the seams turned out away from the white as often as possible (Figure 10).

5. Thumb nail pressed seams
6. Top layer retangles sewn together
7a. Highlighting a T intersection and an L corner
7b. Close up of the two seams we are sewing
7c. One seam done
7d. Attempting the L corner the grey square is sewn 14 inch short so then we can go to 7e
7e. Sewing the 6 inch square to the small grey square
7f. That bit is sewn in now to 7g
7g. The T intersection L corner are done
8a. A nice L corner close up
8b. Pinning the 2 squares together
9a. Close up of 2 more corners
9b. Sewing the T intersrction part
9c. 2 more squares sewn together
10. All seams neat tidy and pressed

Once you have joined the squares for the top half you need to move the work back over the edge of the table and weight it down with some scissors or pin cushions (as the bulk of your work will be hanging off the side of your table), and do the bottom half of your quilt layout. Follow the steps above re placement/colours etc. Do use your camera to check for the overall look. You can always cut some more small squares if you need different pieces in the work. This is going to be your work of art! (Figures 11a and 11b)

11a. Laying out the bottom half of the quilt squares using the template
11b. Bottom half coming together

When you have finished you need to give it a good press. I always do the wrong side first to make sure the seams flow properly.

Then turn your work around and give it a press from the right side to make sure there are no tucks or puckers. Then stand back and admire your work! Top layer of your quilt is done. (Figure 12)

12. Top layer all squared pressed and perfect

*To follow how to put a quilt together, please refer to my blog from Sept 2018. It steps you through putting the three layers together and trimming and binding.

I also like to do some stippling on my quilts. There are gorgeous designs out there! I often use a background design and use it on the large blocks behind the colourfill embroidery. On this one, I have done the stippling on the 6 inch blocks. (Figures 13a and 13b) I have used designs from Sweet Pea for this. When I stipple these blocks, I hoop the whole three layers using the ridges on the hoop to line up the seams of the blocks. I hoop the blocks on the table, not on the machine. I find with these cot size quilts there isn’t too much weight on them to pull the work out of the hoop. I do need to babysit these though, and keep an eye on any movement on the edges of the hoop. It is definitely do-able though, and well worth the practice. (Figure 14)I have read a lots from other embroidery machine enthusiasts, who don’t like this method, and they suggest you “float” your work on top of the hoop and hold it with magnetic clamps or even just large bulldog clips – I haven’t explored these techniques. Please read up on You Tube or google if you want to learn more.

13a. Close up of stippling on the 6 inch blocks
13b. Stippled blocks
14 Hooping for stippling
15a. Quilt Complete
15. Quilt complete

Hope you enjoyed my latest blog. I try to make it “chatty” and I like to tempt you out of your comfort zone. We would love so much for you to try this method and publish your works of art with us xx.

Disclaimer: The methods I use are methods I have developed over many years of practice and making endless errors. They work well for me and I am glad to share. They in no way either reflect or are affiliated with any professional teachings. Thank you.

PLEASE do share what you make here at Bunnycup Embroidery or at either the new Bunnycup Embroidery Facebook Group or at Lindylou Kidsworld Facebook Page. Looking forward to seeing your version of this theme xx.