A baby's first year is all about touch. Their little fingers are busy exploring the world around them. Why not create a wonderfully soft surface full of interesting textures to investigate?! A recent trend is what's called a "tag blanket." The idea is to combine the classic security blanket with an activity play mat, giving babies an interactive adventure that still has the cuddly comfort of their favorite blankies. We met with our friends at Fabric Depot to review the latest, greatest, and softest fabric options. Then we put our own Sew4Home spin on the tag blankets we found in stores and online by increasing the size to play mat dimensions (ours is 35" x 35") and designing a unique patchwork surface of fleece, faux fur, and cotton. The ribbon "tags" around the perimeter are all satin, the hands-down favorite of babies and toddlers. How many satin blanket bindings did you rub off as a child?!
We added 48 looped satin ribbons around the edge of our tag blanket, in nine colors and four widths – lovely to look at and fun to feel. The loops make it easy for baby to grab but without the worry of little hands or feet getting caught. Fabric Depot prepared a handy Ribbon Bundle with all the colors and lengths we used.
The loops are also handy to clip a little toy ring, pacifier or rattle, which adds yet another texture to grab and explore.
Thanks to Fabric Depot, we had a fantastic variety of fleece from which to choose our textures. We settled on super soft Cuddle fleece in two textures and four colors. Then, as an extra tactile experience, we added three squares of faux fur with an extra long and fluffy nap.
When working with fleece, remember it's the unique nap that makes it so incredibly soft. Because of this, it helps to follow a few special instructions when using it. First, we recommend standard polyester thread with a stretch needle since it can be a bit slippery and stretchy. Also, be very careful when pressing. You don't want to press the fleece much, if at all; it will flatten the nap, especially on the embossed fleece options. Finger press or lightly press from the wrong side.
The 100% cotton stripe we used for the back panel, as well as five front accent squares, is from Fabric Depot's excellent home décor selection. The heavier weight of a décor fabric makes the blanket sturdier and more durable, a plus for a play mat you want to be able to toss on the floor. The Wave Runner Stripe comes in nine different colors.
Our tag blanket is done in an "ice cream" palette. We searched first for classic baby pastels, then looked for similar tones with a bit more saturation: coral rather than pink, mango instead of yellow, turquoise over traditional baby blue. Handy shopping links are listed below so you can create our exact look. Or, browse the selection at Fabric Depot to build the perfect combination to match your nursery.
If you're new to shopping on FabricDepot.com, make sure to sign up on the home page to get their emails so you're the first to know about all the great products, deals, and sales that are happening each day! If you're in the Portland, Oregon area, you'll definitely want to make plans to visit their 40,00 square foot retail location for a day of dream shopping.
We always recommend pre-washing fabric based on how the final item will be used. In this case, since a baby play mat is likely to be laundered often, pre-washing is an especially good idea. All the fabrics we selected are washable; the amount of faux fur used is limited so it doesn't create an overall washing issue. The perimeter seam as well as four lines of quilting keep the layers from shifting or pulling apart when washed. We recommend using a gentle cycle with cold water and a mild detergent. Tumble dry on moderate heat and fluff up the nap of the fur.
Our tag blanket/play mat finishes at approximately 35" x 35".
Sewing Tools You Need
- Sewing machine and standard presser foot
- Walking or Even Feed foot; optional but helpful for both the thickness as well as the final quilting. The Janome Skyline S7 we used has the amazing built-in AcuFeed™ Flex fabric feeding system; if you don't have this feature a Walking or Even Feed foot is the best alternative.
Fabric and Other Supplies
Supplies and links shown below will allow you create a blanket just like ours. Of course you are always welcome to create your own patchwork design. As mentioned above, Fabric Depot has a colorful selection of both the home décor stripe we used as well as a rainbow of soft fleece options.
As usual, our recommended yardage includes extra to allow for fussy cutting. If ordering online, round up to the nearest available cut.
- 1½ yards of 44"+ wide décor-weight or light canvas for the back and two front squares: we used 54" home décor weight Wave Runner Stripe in Coral from Fabric Depot
- ⅜ yard of 44"+ wide décor-weight or light coordinating canvas for three front strip accent squares: we used 54" home décor weight Wave Runner Stripe in Caribe from Fabric Depot
- ½ yard of 54"+ soft fleece in the dominant front patchwork color for ten front squares; we used 58/60" Cuddle 3 Solid in Ivory from Fabric Depot
- ⅜ yard EACH of THREE 54"+ soft fleece fabrics for the accent front patchwork colors – we recommend a mixture of smooth and textured finishes, we used 58/60" Cuddle fleece in Mango (two squares), Turquoise Dimple (three squares), and Coral Dimple (two squares), all from Fabric Depot
- ⅜ yard of faux fur in an interesting texture for three front accent squares; we used Faux Mongolian Fur in Off White from Fabric Depot
- 1¼ yard of 44"+ wide low loft batting; we used a baby size pre-cut of Warm & Natural cotton batting
- Ribbon of various widths (we used ⅝" - 1½") and colors (we picked NINE different colors) for the 48 tag loops; we used all satin ribbons - to get our exact look, below are our recommended lengths/colors; as mentioned above, Fabric Depot has create a handy Ribbon Bundle with all nine ribbons!
A: Aqua @ 1½" - 1 yard
B: Yellow Gold @ ⅝" - 1¼ yards
C: Pale Yellow @ ⅝" - 2¼ yards
D: Pink @ ⅝" - 1¼ yards
E: Pale Green @ ⅞" - ½ yard
F: Orange @ ⅞" - 1 yard
G: Ivory @ ⅞" - 1¼ yards
H: Peach @ 1" - 1 yard
I: Coral @ ⅞" - 1 yard
- All purpose thread to match fabric
- See-through ruler
- Scissors or rotary cutter and mat
- Measuring tape
- Iron and ironing board
- Fabric pen or pencil
- Seam gauge
- Seam ripper
- Straight pins
- All cuts are shown to create our patchwork design.
- From the heavier cotton fabric for the back and two front accent squares (Wave Runner Stripe in Coral in our sample), fussy cut the following:
TWO 8" x 8" squares for the front
ONE 36" x 36" square for the back
- From the additional heavier cotton fabric for the front accent stripe squares (Wave Runner Stripe in Caribe in our sample), fussy cut THREE 8" x 8" squares. Center the stripes to allow a full solid colored stripe showing along each seam, which means some of the white may show around the edges.
- From the main fleece color (Ivory Cuddle in our sample), cut TEN 8" x 8" squares.
- From accent fleece color #1 (Mango Cuddle in our sample), cut TWO 8" x 8" squares.
- From accent fleece color #2 (Turquoise Dimple Cuddle in our sample), cut THREE 8" x 8" squares.
- From accent fleece color #2 (Coral Dimple Cuddle in our sample), cut TWO 8" x 8" squares.
- From the accent faux fur (Mongolian Faux Fur in our sample), cut THREE 8" x 8" squares.
NOTE: As shown in the photo above, when working with faux fur, you measure, draw guidelines, and cut all from the BACK of the fabric. This allows you to only clip through the backing rather than clipping through the nap of the fur. It creates a much more natural edge that blends well. For more on working with faux fur, see our full tutorial.
- Here are all our patchwork squares ready to go.
- Leave the batting un-cut, you'll trim to match the blanket front when the patchwork is complete.
- From the ribbon, cut FORTY-EIGHT 6" lengths. Our cuts were as follows:
A: Aqua @ 1½" - FOUR strips
B: Yellow Gold @ ⅝" - SIX strips
C: Pale Yellow @ ⅝" - TWELVE strips
D: Pink @ ⅝" - SIX strips
E: Pale Green @ ⅞" - TWO strips
F: Orange @ ⅞" - FOUR strips
G: Ivory @ ⅞" - SIX strips
H: Peach @ 1" - FOUR strips
I: Coral @ ⅞" - FOUR strips
At Your Sewing Machine & Ironing Board
- Decide which squares you want where BEFORE you begin to sew. You can follow our design or come up with your own look. There's no wrong design; it's all based on what you like best. Our main recommendation is to vary the position of the different textures to give baby the most variety. Lay out the squares on a flat surface. We've found it's easiest to use the floor to do this; make sure it's clean. Mix and match until you have a layout you find pleasing.
- If you are brand new to quilting, even though this project is super simple, you may want to review our Quilting Basics Series, which starts here with Part 1 of 5.
- Because of the thickness of the fleece, this blanket uses a ½" seam allowance throughout rather than the traditional ¼" quilting seam allowance. We used the AcuFeed™ Flex fabric feeding system on our Janome Skyline S7; a standard Walking or Even Feed foot is also a good choice.
- There are a lot of pieces to keep track of, so work in a specific order, like a grid. We worked from left to right then from top to bottom.
- Starting with the five squares in the first row, pin squares one and two right sides together.
- Stitch together, using a ½" seam allowance. Don't press the seam allowance at this point, again because we are working mostly with fleece, we will lightly press from the back when all the seaming is done.
- Pin square three right sides together with the square one/two unit. Stitch together, using a ½" seam allowance.
- Continue in this manner to add squares four and five.
- Place the completed row on your work surface.
- Repeat to assemble rows two, three, four, and five in the same manner.
NOTE: When you pin the faux fur squares to a regular square, brush any long nap out of the way. Then, tuck the fur to the inside as you pin; an aluminum knitting needle works well for this. This keeps the seam looking the most natural. As mentioned above, see our Faux Fur Tutorial for more tips.
- When your five rows are complete, you can stitch them together. Working from the top row down, pin the first two rows right sides together. The most important thing to remember is to keep your seams in line with one another. It helps to place a pin in the seam to make sure it's lined up on the other side.
- This will insure perfect intersection points on the front.
- Using a ½" seam allowance, sew the rows together.
- Continue in the same manner until all five rows are sewn together from top to bottom.
- Working from the wrong side, gently press all the seam allowances open and flat.
Layer the batting and position all the ribbons
- Place the batting flat on your work surface.
- Center the blanket top right side up on the batting. The batting should extend beyond the blanket top on all four sides.
- Pin the top to the batting along all sides and along each of the top's patchwork seams.
- Find the center point (seam-to-seam) of each block along the outside perimeter. The inside blocks are 7", so your center point is 3½" from each seam. At the four corner blocks, remember to account for the remaining raw edge (these blocks measure 7½"); simply measure 3½" from the one seam to mark the center point.
- Fold each ribbon in half, wrong sides together, aligning the raw ends.
- Use the center point of each square as a guide for positioning the ribbons. If you use a single ribbon, place it on the center point. If you have two ribbons, place them to either side of the center point with ¼" between the ribbons. If you have three ribbons, place one on the center point and the others to either side of the center ribbon, again, we recommend ¼" between all ribbons.
- Pin each ribbon in place. The raw ends of the ribbon should be flush with the raw edge of the blanket top.
- The illustration below shows you the position and color code for our ribbon pattern.
- When all the ribbons are securely pinned in place, trim the batting flush with the blanket top on all four sides.
- Using a ¼" seam allowance, machine baste the blanket top to the batting around the entire perimeter. This also bastes all the ribbons in place.
Assemble font to back and quilt
- Find the 36" x 36" back panel. Place it right sides together with the completed top panel.
- Pin around all four edges, leaving an 8-10" opening along the bottom edge for turning.
- Using a ½" seam allowance, stitch around all four sides, remembering to pivot at each corner and to leave that 8-10" opening for turning. Lock your stitch at either side of this opening.
- Clip all four corners at a diagonal, being careful to not cut through your stitching. Then, trim back the batting/top panel side of the seam allowance to ¼".
- Turn the quilt right side out through the opening.
- Push out all four corners with a long blunt object, such as a large knitting needle or chopstick. Gently pull out all the ribbons into position.
- Press from the back side (remember, fleece doesn't like direct heat from an iron). The corners should be sharp and the layers should be flat.
- Press in the raw edges of the opening so they are flush with the sewn seam.
- Pin the opening closed.
- Keep those edges flush!
- Slip stitch the opening closed with tiny stitches.
- Lay the quilt right side up and flat on your work surface. Again, smooth the layers flat with your hands so there are no large folds or wrinkles.
- Thread the machine with a thread the best matches the majority of the top patchwork (this seam will mostly disappear into the nap of the fleece; we used natural) and a thread that blends with the back panel in the bobbin (we used natural in the bobbin as well). Use your built-in feeding system or attach a Walking foot.
- Lengthen the stitch. We used 3.0mm.
- If using a stripe for the back panel as we did, position the blanket so you are working horizontally on the front – perpendicular to the stripes of the back panel.
- Stitch in the ditch (along the exact patchwork seam line) from one side to the other, removing the pins as you go.
- Repeat along each inner horizontal seam line. Remember to brush the long nap of the faux fur out of the way.
NOTE: We suggest just the four horizontal seams. This is plenty to keep the layers from shifting and to hold them together in the laundry. We recommend stitching horizontally (perpendicular to the stripe) for the best look. As hard as you try, as careful as you are, there will always be a bit of shifting and your seams will wobble a little. With a stripe this is MUCH more noticeable if you are stitching parallel to the stripe, but you can't tell at all when the seam is perpendicular to the stripe.
Project Design: Alicia Thommas
Sample Creation and Instructional Outline: Debbie Guild