Monday, June 23, 2014

Basic Quilting Tutorial: PIECING

I promised to write a quilt tutorial for a reader who asked that I help her to get started with a small, easy quilt. Read that post here.
I'm publishing this now with the hopes that anyone who sees an error or has a suggestion or tip will chime in.  Email me at and I'll add your ideas or make changes.

Chain stitching
I been think it's probably necessary to include a little of everything: basic piecing, applique, quilting, and finishing; but I've decided that to make things easy I should divide the tutorial into the four sections. Today I begin with piecing.  For the neutrals quilt that I'm working on, I cut four and a half inch squares. 

Any size squares will work, but I'm doing the math for the 4 1/2 squares.  Because I want this quilt to be a little larger than crib size, I've chosen to make 12 strips of 10 blocks each for a 40 x 48 inch quilt.  (Crib size is generally 36 x 40).

Once you have the 120 blocks cut, begin stitching by chain piecing the squares.  Put two squares together right sides facing and stitch the first pair, then get the second pair, make 2-3 stitches with no fabric under the needle, and slide the square under the needle.  Continue in this fashion until you have a long chain of pairs all connected by the thread.  Cutting them apart takes only seconds and your ready to begin the second chain. 

Snip the thread so the pairs are separated and you're ready to begin the next chain.  Open two sets of squares and place side by side.

When you sew the two sets together, you will get a row of four squares all lined up in one line.  You should sew up several of these.  For your first quilt, don't worry too much about keeping all the fabrics in a particular order...that can drive a girl nuts!  Instead, just have fun matching pairs and rows so that there aren't two of the same next to each other.  Eventually you'll have just rows of four.  

Repeat the process to get rows of eight.  But wait!  Don't sew everything into eights!  You need 10 rows of eight.  Then you'll add another four set to an eight set to make a row of twelve squares.  That's your goal, remember?  10 rows with 12 squares each.  

The easiest way to arrange your rows is to put them on a design wall, but arranging them on the floor or a large table works also.  First press the rows so that the seams are all going one way.  ONE way: all to the left or all to the right.  

Once they are pressed, begin placing them side by side making sure the seams now alternate directions.  The seams on row 1 go right, then the seams on row 2 go left and so on until all the strips are arranged.  This will match up the seams so that you will be able to stitch quickly and efficiently and the quilt will look neatly put together.  I put it all together then check the seams one more time because it's easy to get mixed up when moving the strips around.  

Now it gets interesting.  You have the strips in order but you need to get them to the sewing machine without mixing everything up.  This is what I do--keep in mind that you sew on the right side of the fabric--take the top strip and fold it down over the adjacent strip and pin.  The trick is to put the pin in the right the top of the strip with the head of the pin pointing to the right side.  So take the strips in your hand as though you are going to put them under the needle.  Pin them together near the top and make sure the head of the pin is on the side that will go under the needle.  Your pin is always your way of knowing where to begin.

Now you're ready to arrange the next set of strips.  Ah, how do you keep them in order?  I number them.  A sticky will do, but I don't trust anything that is supposed to keep me in order, so the same pin holds the paper slips, tells me which way is up and which side to sew on.  Here they are all stacked neatly and ready to sew.  Notice that the pins are not in the way of the needle so that they can stay in the fabric while all the strips are sewn.

I don't pin anywhere else on the fabric.  Instead, I hold the strips together at the first seam.  Remember all that arranging so that seams are going in different directions?  Now it pays off.  Hold the first seams (seam allowance going away from each other) with your right hand and begin sewing at the edge going all the way into the seams.  Needle down, let the machine do the work of holding that seam in place while you catch the next one.  Again, seam allowances going away from each hold the seams and sew through the seam.  I let go of the seam when it's going under the presser foot.  (I'm not at all afraid of my's my friend!)

It takes a while for this chore.  There are six sets of long strips, but goodness it's beautiful when it's done.  Notice that I've moved my paper numbers to the front of the strips.  Now they are pinned near the seam that I just finished.  I won't move them again till the quilt is finished.  

Notice also that they are numbered backwards.  #1 is all the way to the right and #6 is all the way to the left.   That's correct!  Remember we sew on the right side, so I'll flip #1 to the left on top of #2 and pin.  #3 flips over left on top of #4.  And that leaves #5 to flip over left on top of #6.  I pin each one as I flip and place it on the other one and my pins tell me which end is the top; the pin head tells me which side I'm going to sew on just like before.  No other pins needed, I just sew exactly the way I did before: hold the seam and sew.  

At this time I leave the chain-stitches intact.  Since I always sew in the order of the numbers, the chain-stitching is just another way to make sure that I don't mix up the order of things.  Later, when you make a trip around the world or some other pattern that requires keeping everything in exact order, you'll be glad you've practiced this.

By the time you've finished stitching this set, you'll be ready for the final round.  Do it all over again, but this time you're working with three sets of four strips and, once you stitch the first two together, you will add the third set to it.  And you've got a completed quilt top!

Again, email me if you see an error or have a tip for our new quilters.  
Happy Quilting,

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