What is an I Spy quilt and how do you make one? Well, this question has many answers – and I can provide you with my take on the I Spy quilt, as I have made a few. The feature that all I Spy quilts have in common is that they will contain ‘Conversational’ fabrics. These are fabrics that depict scenes, familiar items, – they are not simply a pattern; examples of items you may find on Conversational fabrics (and this is not an exhaustive list) include footballs, cakes, cars, lorries, pirates, unicorns, stars, planets, flags, cats, dogs, sweets, chocolates, clothes, dresses, yachts, waves, flip-flops, elephants, giraffes, flamingos, drinks….are you starting to get the idea?


Example of labels
Houses with quilts
Tropical fish
The Owl and the Pussycat
Hey Diddle Diddle
Groovy guitars

These fabrics do not usually feature large designs. I have used labels in my I Spy quilts – those 3 inch bordered squares, that feature a scene from a fabric range. These labels were where I started my I Spy quilt journey. I cut these labels removing the background fabric – you may choose to leave this as around the square, so that you don’t lose too much of the featured scene – this gave me squares of about 3 inches. I then collected all my Conversational fabric, and cut squares of 3 inches from them. For some of the fabrics I cut more than one square, as there were several images I wanted to use – the fabrics called for fussy cutting; a couple of examples of fabrics needing fussy cutting include The Owl and the Pussycat (fabric included characters from the poem), Hey Diddle Diddle (again, fabric included characters from the nursery rhyme), Safari animals fabric (being able to choose several different animals).

The next stage was sewing the squares together. Some people opt for creating a specific pattern with their squares – light centre, then a dark border. I choose to randomly select my squares and then sew them all together using chain piecing – this makes it easy to create the quilt very quickly. Once the squares are joined in pairs, you can either join the pairs to make squares, or you can join the pairs into rows.

My first I-Spy quilt, made for my sister and her family

For several of my I Spy quilts, I have added borders, and then I have taken it further still. I have added upper and lower case letters to the two vertical borders, and numbers to the horizontal borders. I appliqued these on, using rayon thread and a satin stitch to ensure that they were securely attached. This made the quilt even more of a learning tool – once a teacher, always a teacher; I added these not just for learning letters and numbers, but also to get used to using a co-ordinate system to locate specific squares.

The I Spy quilt for my home – great for games when the grandchildren come round!

What about the quilting? I decided for my quilts that I would use free motion quilting – I still need to learn how to love my walking foot. Simple quilting is ideal for this quilt, and I used a free hand wavy line down every second column and across every second row, ensuring that where the blocks joined the borders that seam was quilted as well. This wavy line is very forgiving, and softens the lines, giving a slightly whimsical feel.

So, you’ve had the how, but what about the why? Why make an I Spy quilt? This type of quilt is a great way to showcase Conversational fabrics, and in the past 20-25 years these type of fabrics have become increasingly popular and more widely available. This type of quilt is ideal for young children, and thinking about it, it could also be used with older people – perhaps it is something that dementia patients could engage with. It is a great learning and teaching tool – getting the child / user to find a specific square – can you find any ice lollies, can you spot a boat, how many cats can you find? With my quilt, the users could find a specific square using simple co-ordinates – e.g. G4, J15. Then there is the traditional game of I Spy: I Spy something beginning with p… (this works well with older children, my younger grandchildren – the under 5’s – would struggle I think with knowing what letters words begin with). It could be a great addition to a car journey – those in the back of the car could play I Spy with it, which would lessen the distractions for the driver. It could also be useful for a nervous flyer – something to distract them when waiting to board or during take-off or landing.

An I Spy quilt made for Project Linus. Because I had all of the squares cut out ready, it is easy to piece as a leaders and enders project

This is just one method for making an I Spy quilt. It has been a little frightening (as I write this) to consider just how many Conversational fabrics I own…and not all of them have made it into my I Spy quilts. We won’t mention the rest of my stash either…! I have considered making some small changes to future I Spy quilts – by including squares of a solid colour in the quilt. As I’ve made one of these for family groups (rather than for an individual family member), I found it helpful to cut multiples of the Conversational fabrics, sort them and store them so that there is one of each Conversational fabric (with exception of the stories / nursery rhyme fabrics, and the different animals) in the quilt.

I hope that if you are thinking of making an I Spy quilt, this will give you some ideas about how to start. Remember – it is YOUR quilt, and there are no rights or wrongs. You can choose the size of the squares you use. You may choose to use rectangles, or you may want to make one using hexagons, or diamonds. Once you get started, you may be surprised at how many Conversational fabrics you have! Whatever you decide, however you make your I Spy quilt – have fun with it, and enjoy the process!