Whale of a Tale: A Visit with Karen Ackva

Welcome guest blogger and quilt designer Karen Ackva. A Michigan native who has lived in Germany for a number of years and built her family there, Karen blends her American heritage with the traditions of her adopted country in her designs, such as in her crib quilt Whale of a Tale. You’ll find this quilt in the McCall’s Quick Quilts August/September 2017 issue. We’re excited to have Karen here to talk about her design process!

QQ20 STYLE 300 200x300 Whale of a Tale: A Visit with Karen AckvaThis is my very first quilt found in McCall’s Quick Quilts, and I am so happy to share it with you. Whale of a Tale is a very quick and simple baby quilt designed for the beginning quilter. It uses two simple blocks: a Nine Patch in two size variations and the Road to California. When you reverse the Road to California Block and put two blocks on adjacent sides, you create a frame for the larger Nine Patch Block in the center.

When I designed this quilt, I wanted to use simple blocks that were fast and easy to make, because sometimes you need a baby blanket quickly. I believe every family deserves a new handmade baby quilt in their family, and it is my duty and pleasure to provide it. And recently, I found out that two new babies were due in our family circle; I really got the memo on these very late. This design is simple and can be sewn very fast for those unexpected ones.

I live in Germany where there is a long tradition of Krabbeldecken, which are blankets used for newborns to lay on in contrast to an American quilt for warmth. The exact translation means a “crawling blanket.” I guess these blankets were used so the tiny knees of the sweet babies wouldn’t get bruised while learning to crawl.

When I design Krabbeldecken, I try to make a standard size of 100 x 130 cm, which is roughly 40″ x 51″. With this size in mind, you can also put them into a German-sized baby blanket duvet cover and reuse if desired. Since most traditional quilts look beautiful in a square design, I added a couple of borders on the top and bottom of this to elongate it to the size needed. Nice fluffy batting is also used, so you can lay the baby down on a hard surface and the baby still has some cushion.

whaleofatale basiclayout 03 150x150 Whale of a Tale: A Visit with Karen Ackva

Diagram 1

Here are some cool ways to approach the design of your own quilt. Diagram 1 shows the original design.


whaleofatale basiclayout 01 150x150 Whale of a Tale: A Visit with Karen Ackva

Diagram 2

If you remove the Nine Patch Blocks, you can see the frame of the Road to California Blocks (Diagram 2).


whaleofatale basiclayout 02 150x150 Whale of a Tale: A Visit with Karen Ackva

Diagram 3

If you change the Nine Patch into a Plus block by changing color placement, you get a more modern design (Diagram 3).


whaleofatale basiclayout 04 150x150 Whale of a Tale: A Visit with Karen Ackva

Diagram 4

Essentially, you could use this simple layout and insert any type of block for the middle and on the four outer corner blocks. Diagram 4 shows the original design with a Churn Dash instead of the Nine Patch.


whaleofatale basiclayout 04a 150x150 Whale of a Tale: A Visit with Karen Ackva

Diagram 4, Alternate

Change up the colors slightly and you have a new design with the same layout.


If you make your own baby quilts, don’t worry too much about the quilting. I find less is more on a Krabbeldecke to allow the fluffiness to remain in the quilt for a while. This quilt will probably get a lot of tear over the years and should most importantly be durable. I also prefer a machine binding from start to finish. You should always wash the baby blanket or the fabric before you give it to the recipient so it can be used from day one without a lot of fuss. Be sure to tell the new parents how to wash the quilt as well so it doesn’t bleed or shrink in the future. I like to print the washing instruction right on the quilt label for future reference.

New Offset Printing Cover 01 mini 209x300 Whale of a Tale: A Visit with Karen AckvaIf you are familiar with foundation paper piecing and love advanced quilting techniques, you may also like my very first printed pattern, Long Island New York Beauty. It provides eight pages of color instructions as well as all foundation papers and templates. I also have a free cutting instructions download on Craftsy for a 10″ scrappier spring fabric version.

You can find more information on my website (http://easypatchwork.de) or blog (http://easypatchwork.blogspot.com) or just drop me a note to karen@easypatchwork.de

Thank you for taking the time to join me today on this guest blog post. A big thanks to the men and women of McCalls’s Quick Quilts for graciously asking me to participate as a guest blogger.

If you make this quilt, we would love to see your version! Please share with all of us. Thanks again!

Thank you, Karen! Leave a comment below before midnight July 12, 2017, and you’ll be entered into our random drawing to win one of two copies of the pattern for Karen’s foundation-pieced wall hanging Long Island New York Beauty. The winners will be notified by email with subject line beginning YOU WON.

This contest is open to US and Canadian residents, excluding Quebec. 

About Mary Kate Karr-Petras

Mary Kate is an associate editor at McCall's Quilting and McCall's Quick Quilts. If you ask her what type of quilter she considers herself, she'll answer, "Slow." Favorite techniques include hand quilting, both traditional and big stitch, but she also loves her walking foot and keeps meaning to get better acquainted with her open-toe embroidery foot.
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16 Responses to Whale of a Tale: A Visit with Karen Ackva

  1. Studio B says:

    The baby quilt is the perfect size for charity quilts that our hospital is collecting. I would make the churn dash version in predominantly aqua with light grey background and coral accents. Thank you for sharing your quilting expertise!

  2. Marjorie Worden says:

    I like the design making a frame for the center. Great design idea! thank you

  3. Elizabeth says:

    Great pattern for quick baby quilt.
    Also always wanted to try New York beauty.

  4. Heidi says:

    Karen,
    it’s a wonderful pattern and I love that you show more possibilities. I like especially the plus variation !

  5. Meta Bonnell says:

    Thanks for showing the variations. I think on the one with the plain blocks, it would be wonderful to have the baby’s first initial in the center, however someone wants to add it, pieced or applique.

  6. Carol says:

    Thanks for the insight in how to vary a basic framework design. Lots of food for thought!

  7. Brenda says:

    What a great article and how fun to see the new look of the quilt by just making some changes!!

  8. D Gross says:

    Always like ideas for a baby quilt,

  9. Melody says:

    Thank you for sharing your story with how you made the quilt. It is an inspiration for my future projects as well as a wonderful reminder of my first baby 30 years ago who spent much time on his loved quilt made by Great Grandmother.

  10. Arlene says:

    I love the variations in this pattern! It’s perfect for the baby just born into my family circle! I will be getting material today for it

  11. Silvia says:

    Karen, I just love the idea of this pattern. It looks fancy but seems to be not too hard to make. I am a beginner and want to quilt a Krabbeldecke for my girlfriends newborn baby boy. So happy that I found your baby quilt. Thank you for sharing also your thoughts on the German blanket size. Love to see more of your quilt patterns.

  12. Peggy G says:

    Thank you so much for all the wonderful ideas. I am a beginning quilter still building confidence to quilt my first large quilt. I love the baby quilts; they seem less threatening to me.

  13. Valerie Thompson says:

    I love the Churn Dash quilts they remind me of the dasher on an old Butter churn. I love that these quilts are easy to make as both of my daughters are expecting. The oldest one is due in Oct. and the youngest is due in Jan. So I have some fun quilting to do. Good luck everyone.

  14. Cindy says:

    Thanks for sharing you ideas, it is enjoyable to look at things from a different perspective .

  15. Karen says:

    Thank you for sharing. I like having the variations. I am also from Michigan.

  16. Angela Short says:

    Cool info! angielovesgary2 atgmail dotcom

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