Piecing Basics in Quilt Making
Quilting starts with patchwork. Patchwork is the process of cutting up the fabric and then putting it back together making different shapes.
Some people make what are called "Whole cloth quilts." These are quilts made of a solid piece of fabric. The beauty in these fabrics comes from the quilting pattern. Most of these quilts are hand quilted. Many hours of labor go into these quilts, and they are quite beautiful
There are rules you must follow when you work with fabric. Here are a few of them in alphabetical order.
- 1/4 Seams You must perfect the 1/4 inch seam in order for your pieces to fit correctly. Have you every wondered why you are told to sew a "scant" quarter inch seam? That is because when you press the seam to one side, some of the fabric is taken up in the fold.
There are places on quilt blocks where you must have 1/4 inch from the end of a point to the end of the fabric. Notice in the flying geese quilt block below the top of the fabric where it comes to a point. You must have a 1/4 seam allowance there, so that when you join the top of the flying geese to another block you don't cut off the point. However, on the bottom of the block you will be joining a piece to both the side and the bottom. You can see by the drawn lines that you don't need a seam allowance for the pieces to join properly. After you sew the side and bottom seam, you will have a good corner.
- Accuracy You cannot be a good quilter and be sloppy. You must be accurate. If you are off just 1/8 of an inch per block, and you have 8 blocks in a row, your row is going to be off close to an inch. There is nothing more frustrating than trying to fit together blocks or rows that are not the same size.
- Cornerstones These are small squares put at the junction where the corners of 4 quilt squares meet. They are used with sashing strips to separate individual blocks.
- Chain Piecing Chain piecing means that you are working on multiple blocks at one time, doing the same step. You just put one piece after another under the presser foot and keep sewing without stopping or breaking the thread. It speeds up the patchwork process.
- Cotton 100% cotton is the ideal quilting fabric. Cotton holds creases well. This makes both finger pressing and ironing easier. Cotton is also durable, and washes well.
- Design Boards Design boards usually made of plywood and covered with fleece or flannel type fabric. You can put quilt blocks on them, and they hold without pins. There are used to put up fabric or blocks and look at them before making a fabric or color decision. You can make a very frugal and portable design board by just using the flannel back of a shower curtain.
- Fussy Cutting Fussy cutting is when you cut a particular section of fabric out of a piece of fabric, even if it is in the middle of the fabric. Usually it is a design that you want to show off, and place in the middle of your quilt block.
- Nesting Seams When you sew two pieces of fabric together that have seams in the same place, the seams should be pressed in opposite directions to remove bulk.
- Pins Not every seam needs to be pinned. Some quilters are quite confident holding two seams together. However, other very experienced quilters pin both before and after points that must match. Besides the obvious seams that need matching, be careful when you come to the end of the seam. When you start a seam, you are usually very precise. However, it is very easy to veer off at the end.
- Pressing Be sure and read the page on pressing fabric Nothing can ruin a quilt block faster than over pressing. More is not better.
- Quilting - Think ahead. You are going to have to either tie or machine quilt your work. If you have the money, you can send it out for machine quilting. However, it you are doing it yourself, plan ahead how you will quilt it, as it may affect your design.
-Raw vs. Finished Be sure and read the section on Raw vs. Finished sizes. This is so important that the words raw and finished will also be in bold print on these pages.
- Ripping Seams No matter how experienced you are, you will be using your seam ripper. In fact, sometimes you sew seams that you know you will be taking out. The correct way to remove a seam is to cut the stitch every half inch or so. Then then pull it open. Sometimes it will just pull right apart.
- Sample If you are making a very structured quilt with an all over color scheme, make a test block first to make sure you like it. Put it up on the wall for a few days. You don't want to spend hours making something you are not going to like.
- Sashing Strips Sashing strips are put in between blocks to separate them. This is usually done either to highlight a block by framing it, or to unify blocks in a quilt.
- Scale Not all fabrics lend themselves to piecing. Fabrics that are solid or read solid from the distance are ideal. Small scale, uniform prints are next. Batiks and other designs work on most blocks. As long as your pattern shows in the block, you can use the fabric. Here is an example of a bad piecing print, and a good one.
- Squares If you are making a quilt out of nothing but squares, vary the scale of your prints to give your quilt more interest. Adding plaids and stripes is also desirable. Some of your fabrics will be "stars", and other fabric will be the "workers". The "workers" are more solid and less interesting, but the supporting cast for the "stars." Too many "stars" makes for a busy quilt.
- Strip Piecing Strip piecing is done by cutting long strips of fabric and sewing them together. It is a quick way to many blocks. The illustration to the left is from the Irish Chain Page.
Long strips of fabric are pieced together, and then cut apart. In the illustration to the left, a 9 patch is being made. This is the first strip set.
The second strip set would have white on the outsides and one red strip in the middle.
In this strip set, the long strips are cut 2 1/2 inches, sewn together, and then cut again at 2 1/2 inches. This gives you your rows. You do it for both strip sets, and then join them together for your block. See the Irish Chain Page.