Saturday, June 27, 2009

Bento Box Tutorial

bento box quilt tutorialAs I've shared, my oldest child is graduating to high school this year, and I wanted to mark the occasion. At the same time, my husband has been telling me that "we" needed a new quilt for our son's room since the one he currently uses was a preschool graduation gift from his Gagi(my mom). It is still in fine condition, but it has an appliqued circus train on it and, while I find it the perfect girl repellent, both husband and son believe he is ready to move on to a slightly more mature look.

(OT: That reminds me of a quilt I saw one year at the East Cobb show that was a gift for a young man going off to college. It was a great, masculine quilt, very simple, with a giant spider appliqued in the center. The spider left you scratching your head for a moment until you read the description and the title "Girls are Afraid of Spiders." I loved it!)

Anyway, I have been dying to do a Bento Box quilt, and this seemed like just the opportunity. I found some lovely flannel plaids and mixed in the colors of his high school and my alma mater, Florida State (because the boy is a 'Nole fan - I always knew he was my favorite!)

The thing about a Bento Box, though, is that every time I looked at the pattern I thought there must be a better way to do it. Logically it would seem so much easier to make large Courthouse Steps blocks, cut them in quarters, mix them all up, and then sew them back together. Right? Right. But I couldn't find a pattern like that. If I figured it out myself there was all that math. And you know how I feel about that.

Then one day I was googling-when-I-should-be-working and came across this blog and tutorial and person who obviously thinks like I do (poor soul!) and had gone to the trouble of figuring it out. Now, she hadn't done all the math for me for the particular sized blocks I wanted, but by looking at her work I realized it was really very simple and nothing to have a phobia about.

The down side to this method, according to Melissa, who has made several gorgeous Bento Box quilts, is that you don't get as much variety. She has a terrific method for making every box different, which I hereby challenge her to write as a tutorial for her blog. That actually was okay for me, though, because I made this out of plaid flannels in certain colors and didn't have time for lots of shopping. My choices were pretty limited anyway, so going to a lot of trouble to mix them all up was going to be a waste of time.

So here's what I did:

I bought 1/2 yard of each fabric - 6 darks and 6 lights. You could use as many different fabrics as you wanted and you would still need the same amount for this size block. Just make sure to get an even number of darks and lights.

My Bento Box units finished at 10 1/2" and the Bento Box blocks finished at 21". The quilt is set 3 x 4 blocks, for a total of 12, and was 63" x 84" before any border. This is a nice twin sized quilt.

You have to cut these just right to get all of the pieces out of 1/2 yard of fabric, but there is almost no waste. The following instructions are for each fabric, and you will need an equal number of lights and darks:
  1. From each 1/2 yard, cut 2 - 8" strips. Cut ONE 8" square from EACH strip.
  2. Cut ONE of these 8" squares in half to make 2 - 4" x 8" strips.
  3. Cut the first strip to a length of 22", then in half lengthwise to make 2 - 4" x 22" strips
  4. Cut the second strip in half lengthwise. Then cut 4 strips 15" long for a total of 4 - 4" x 15" strips.
Now you should have:
  •  1 - 8" square
  • 2 - 4" x 8" strips
  • 4 - 4" x 15" strips
  • 2 - 4" x 22" strips
Let's move onto the sewing. Match up pairs of dark and light fabrics so that you have a nice variety. I have given the instructions for the half of the blocks with dark centers and outsides, but obviously you reverse that for the other half of the blocks.
  1. Sew the light 4" x 8" strips to either side of the dark 8" square and press.
  2. Sew the light 4" x 15" strips to the other two sides of the square and press.
  3. Sew the 4" x 15" strip that matches the center square to the first two sides that you sewed and press.
  4. Sew the matching dark 4" x 22" strip to the last sides and press.

    bento box quilt tutorial
  • Fold the block in fourths and lightly press as a cutting guide. Measure and cut each block into fourths.
Now is the fun part of laying out the blocks and rearranging them. I chose to do this one day when the Wanna Bees were there so I could get some input. Taking a picture helps you to visualize the quilt from far away, so you can see it without getting overfocused on each individual block.

I sewed them together in pairs and then again to make the actual blocks, then sewed the blocks together to make rows, and then sewed the rows together. Easy as pie!

I chose not to add borders, but you could if you wanted to adjust the size. I laid mine on a twin sized bed and found it to be a little wider and several inches longer than the quilt he has on there now, so I decided to go with that.

For the back, I found this great flannel, but there wasn't enough left on the bolt. I divided it in half and then pieced some of the binding fabric into a center strip to make it long enough. Be creative! Pieced backs are very interesting. If I had flannel in my stash that didn't have reindeer on it, I would have shopped from my stash instead of buying fabric.

Obviously you can quilt it any way you want, but I always hate when books say "quilt as desired." Like a suggestion would kill them? I decided to do a large crosshatch design through the actual boxes. Then I quilted two concentric squares inside the squares that the crosshatching created. It made a really nice design and quilted up beautifully. I hope you can see it in this picture:
bento box quilt tutorialThen I just bound it with some of the gold flannel and added a label that included a picture from his first day of school and one from graduation.

Let me know if you try this and what you think of the tutorial. Did I leave out anything essential? Please share and link back. I love to see pictures of how ideas grow.


  1. Thank You for this lovely Tutorial. I need to Make A quilt for my Older Boy/man as well. Poor guy is using my girly quilt from when I was in High School. XD I'm a bad Mom. LOL Any way Thank you again I think I can do this with the clear directions that you gave me. Mahalo

    1. So glad you like it! Hope it turns out great. I would love to see pictures when you're done!


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