How to Make Not-Your-Grandma’s Yoyo Quilt

Learn how to make a yoyo quilt (or yo yo quilts) and create a fun yoyo project. Great way to use up those fabric scraps!

I’m sure you’ve seen them. These intriguing little fabric rosettes that form entire yoyo quilts or are used as accent appliques on traditionally pieced quilt tops. They might not be your typical quilt project, but a yoyo quilt is a are great small project for quilters to use up fabric scraps and offers so many possibilities you don’t want to miss out.

What is a yoyo quilt?

A yoyo quilt (or yo yo quilt) is a quilt made of circular fabric rosettes (or yoyos), sewn together to form a large surface. Individual yoyos are made from round pieces of fabric, gathered at the edges to form a small pouch. The pouch is then flattened to form a disc-like shape. (Keep reading to learn how to make a yoyo quilt.)

Traditionally, yoyo quilts have no batting or backing. They are usually used as coverlets or as decorative pieces.

It is also possible to make a yoyo quilt with batting and backing.  In this case, the yoyos are usually appliqued onto a quilt top. (This is described in more detail at the end of the article.)

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Yoyo Quilt History

Let’s take a look back in time, shall we, and see where these intriguing designs first came from. The earliest known examples of yoyo quilts date back to the 1920s. In fact, according to the Tobacco Farm Life Museum, yoyo quilts were most popular in the 1920s through the 1940s. It’s not hard to imagine why these quilts were popular, especially during the Great Depression in the US. They could be made from small fabric scraps and not many tools were needed, so women could use up whatever fabric was on hand. 

Fast forward to the 2020s, the yoyo quilts are now one of the many scrap-friendly projects on a quilter’s to-do list. And there are ways to make them super contemporary and modern. Naturally, that’s exactly what caught our eye.

How to Make a Yoyo Quilt

Before we take a look at some amazing yoyo quilt projects, let’s learn how to make a yoyo quilt. This yoyo quilt tutorial will show you how to make a single yoyo and how to join multiple yoyos to form rows and entire quilts.

This is the traditional technique, which requires no specialty notions. There are however special Yo-yo makers available if you want to speed up the process. If you plan to make a larger yoyo quilt, it might be a good idea to look into those.

Yoyo Quilt Tutorial

First, let me show you how to make an individual yoyo.

Tools to Make a Yoyo Quilt:

– A circular template (a bowl or plate works fine)
– A hand sewing needle
– Fabric Scissors
– Fabric marking tool

Materials for a Yoyo Quilt

– Fabric (great opportunity to use scraps!)
– Thread (I use Guttermann polyester thread)

Steps to make a Yoyo Quilt:

Step 1: Prepare your template

Choose a circular template depending on the size you want your finished yoyos to be. The diameter of the template should be about twice the diameter of the desired finished yoyo + ½ inch. I used a 6’’ bowl to make my yoyos that a bit smaller than 3’’.

Step 2: Cut a fabric circle

Place the template onto the wrong side of the fabric and use your marking tool to transfer the circle onto the fabric. Cut out the circle.

Step 3: Prepare your needle and start sewing

Thread a hand-sewing needle with a double strand. Knot the ends of the thread. If you prefer, you can use a sturdier thread and only use one strand.
Fold the edge of the circle over to the wrong side to create a ¼’’ seam allowance. Baste the edge down with a running stitch. 

Step 4: Sew around the circle

Continue sewing around the circle until you reach the starting stitch.

Step 5: Gather the yoyo

Pull the thread gently to gather the edges of the circle creating a pouch shape.

Step 6: Shape the yoyo

Lay out the pouch and press it down with your fingers to create a nice yoyo shape. Adjust the fabric so the gathered circle is right in the center.

Step 7: Secure the edge

Take your needle and make a few stitches around a few of the pleats. Make a knot to secure the stitch.
And there it is, your perfect little yoyo!

How do you sew yo-yos together for a quilt?

If you want to make a yoyo quilt, you’ll have to make many more yoyos as described above. Once you’ve got them all ready, it’s time to attach them together.

This is actually very simple:

  1. Thread a needle with a double thread and make a knot at the ends.
  2. Place two yoyos gathered side together.
  3. Using the needle, make a few whipping stitches on the edge of the two yoyos. Secure the stitch with a knot.

To create a yoyo quilt, continue adding yoyos to form a row. Create as many rows as you need. Then, attach the rows together using the same method.

Of course, you can always get (extra) creative. Attach the yoyos together with a contrasting thread to create an interesting visual effect. Our friends over at Purl Soho used a contrasting plied thread to attach their yoyos together. And we think it takes the quilt to a whole new level!

How Many Yoyos Does it Take to Make a Quilt?

The number of individual yoyos you will need for each quilt depends on the size of your yoyos and the size you want your finished quilt to be. To get an approximation of how many yoyos you need to sew, follow this formula:

A = the width of the quilt divided by the finished yoyo diameter

B = the length of the quilt divided by the finished yoyo diameter

Number of yoyos to make = A x B

So if you’re making a 50×60’’ throw quilt with 2,5’’ yoyos, the number of yoyos needed is:

A = 50 / 2,5 = 20

B = 60 / 2,5 = 24

Number of yoyos to make = 20 x 24 = 480

How to Make a Yoyo Quilt with Backing?

While yoyo quilts are traditionally made without batting and backing, it is possible to make a yoyo quilt with backing, as well. You’ll want to think of yoyos as applique pieces that you’ll attach to the quilt top.

Here’s how you can make a yoyo quilt with backing:

  1. Lay out a large piece of fabric as your quilt top. Add about an inch of extra fabric on each edge to account for binding. (You don’t want the yoyos touching the finished edge of the quilt.)
  2. Arrange the yoyos on top and pin them in place (you can also use some fabric glue, as Sharon suggests in her yo-yo pillow tutorial). 
  3. Using an embroidery thread attach the yoyos to the quilt top. 
  4. When you’ve finished make a quilt sandwich and baste the quilt like you normally would. Hand-tie the layers together. 
  5. Bind the quilt.

Although she made a yoyo pillow (rather than a quilt), Sharon Holland gives great visuals for the steps described above, so I suggest you take a look at her tutorial

Yoyo Quilt Ideas

Now it’s time for some yoyo inspo. These little fabric rosettes are truly versatile and there are tons of quilty things you can make with them. So while these are not all technically quilts, they are all made of yoyos and we think they might inspire some yoyo-making in the future.

Yoyo Coverlet by Purl Soho

The team at Purl Soho created this beautiful mini coverlet using denim-colored blues accented by bright orange stitching. I think it’s the stitching that makes this yoyo quilt a true masterpiece.

Yo-Yo Pillow by Sharon Holland Designs

Sharon created this beautiful yoyo pillow and she also shares a great step-by-step tutorial. I love the dimension the rosettes give the finished piece. This would make a great accent pillow for any living room.

Yo-Yo’s a la Mode Quilt Pattern by Rachael Daisy

This is actually a quilt pattern that will take you through the steps of creating a modern yoyo quilt with batting and backing. The yo-yos are made of bright solid fabrics on a low-value fabric-print background to create a fresh contemporary look.

Yo-Yo Curtain

I love this idea of turning a yoyo quilt into a fun handmade window treatment. It probably won’t provide any real privacy (in fact, I think it might even attract more looks), but it looks amazing!

Yo-Yo Garland

I couldn’t find a tutorial, but it is pretty self-explanatory. Just make as many yoyos as you like, and attach them together to form a long garland. Depending on the fabric you are using, these can be birthday garlands, Christmas garlands, or 4th July garlands for all our US friends. So fun!

So what do you think? Is a yoyo quilt something you would ever make? Or have you made one and have insights to share? We’d love to hear all about it in the comments below!

Happy sewing!

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