Today I want to share with you some of my tried and true quilt-piecing tips and tricks that you can use while you are constructing a quilt.
If you are new to quilting I hope that some of these tips help you to feel more confident as you tackle your first quilt.
If you’re a long-time quilter, I’m guessing you may also share some fantastic quilt tips if you do feel free to leave them in the comments section so that everyone can benefit from your knowledge!
Table of Contents
- 9 Must-Know Quilt Piecing Tips & Tricks
- 1. Before you Start, Check your Seam Allowance
- 2. There is a Difference Between Pressing and Ironing
- 3. You May Need to Trim your Blocks
- 4. A Small Ruler is Better for Trimming
- 5. Use a Large Book to Keep your Seams Flat
- 6. Pay Attention to the Direction of your Fabric
- 7. Work in Batches & Chain Piece When Possible
- 8. Use Leaders and Enders
- 9: Relax, This is Fun!
9 Must-Know Quilt Piecing Tips & Tricks
I’m primarily a self-taught quilter. I’ve had lots of friends to help me along the way. I’m always grateful when people are willing to share their knowledge with others.
Since I am mostly self-taught, there are a lot of things that I learned the hard way, which is where most of these tips and tricks originated.
I also get questions from you guys frequently. I thought I’d also address some of the most frequently asked questions about constructing a quilt that I get.
1. Before you Start, Check your Seam Allowance
Quilt patterns are designed to fit together like puzzle pieces. Each piece has a ¼″ extra on it to account for seam allowance.
If you sew your pieces together and your seam allowance is not exactly ¼″ your quilt block will not line up properly. Imagine puzzle pieces that are too big or too small.
I use a ¼″ foot on my sewing machine and a seam guide. My machine came with one. If yours didn’t you can purchase a magnetic one that will attach to your machine.
You can also use a bit of washi tape or painter’s tape to tape off the ¼ mark on your machine.
When I think I’ve got my seam allowance where I want it, I check it with a seam gauge. I have this simple one.
After you’ve figured out where ¼″ is on your machine, make sure that you are consistent with keeping it throughout the quilt construction.
2. There is a Difference Between Pressing and Ironing
When you iron your clothes, you move the iron back and forth. If you iron your quilt seams you run the risk of stretching your fabric out of shape, which will cause problems when you’re piecing your quilt blocks.
In some quilt patterns, the blocks are more “at risk” for stretching seams if there are triangle pieces cut at an angle. (Fabric stretches more on an angle due to the weave of the fabric).
When you iron the seams in your quilt block. PRESS them. Don’t iron them. Pressing means moving your iron up and down and apply even firm pressure. When you need to move your iron to another part of your seam, pick it up and move it. Don’t slide it.
3. You May Need to Trim your Blocks
There are a few things I hate more than making a quilt block and having it come up ½″ or ¼″ too short in width or the height.
When I want an 8″ x 8″ block I want it to be exactly 8″ x 8″. I have found the best way to get a quilt block the size I want it, is to trim it down after it has been pieced.
Some quilt patterns like my Halloween Haberdashery quilt are designed to be trimmed. It is designed on purpose to be a bit large, then trimmed (and squared up) at the end. That way, you get perfect square blocks.
When you’re trimming, just remember, you can always trim the piece down more, but you can’t add fabric back on that you cut off. So be conservative with your trimming until you get the hang of what you’re doing.
4. A Small Ruler is Better for Trimming
While you’re trimming your blocks, I find it easier to use a smaller ruler (like 18″ long) instead of a big quilt ruler. You’re working with smaller pieces of fabric and there is just less ruler to get in the way.
5. Use a Large Book to Keep your Seams Flat
This is a tip I learned from Alison of Cluck, Cluck Sew. If you are pressing in “bulk” (i.e. many quilt blocks at a time). Press one block then while it’s still warm, put it under a heavy book either on your ironing board or table.
Then add the next “warm” block on top. Keep doing this until you’ve got too many blocks, then move them out from under the book and start again. The heat of the block under the big book with flatten out your seams for you.
6. Pay Attention to the Direction of your Fabric
Some quilts, like my Halloween Haberdashery quilt feature diagonal seams If your fabric is directional the fabric will be at an angle when your quilt block is done. It’s okay! Here is a photo of Erin’s quilt. You can see her backgrounds are all facing different directions.
For some parts of a quilt, it DOES matter which way the fabric faces. For example the witch hats on this quilt. You want the fabric to be “up and down” for both the triangle hat piece and the brim piece.
Before you cut out your fabric for a quilt or a quilt block, take a moment and make sure you fabric will be facing the correct direction when the block is constructed.
7. Work in Batches & Chain Piece When Possible
I think it takes longer to make one block from start to finish, then repeat the process 40 times. Instead, I prefer to work in batches.
I will sew the right side of the hat on all the blocks. Press and trim. Then sew the left side of the hat on all the blocks. Then move onto the next seam.
There are parts of this quilt that you can chain piece. This means essentially that you can start sewing a seam, then when you get to the end of the fabric, but the next piece under the presser foot and keep sewing.
You’ll save time by not cutting your strings and restarting with each block. When you get to the end, simply snip the pieces apart.
Here’s a video that shows you how to chain-piece your blocks.
8. Use Leaders and Enders
This is hard to explain but it is covered in the video above. If you’ve ever started sewing a quilt seam and had the fabric jam into your sewing machine, using leaders and enders can help to prevent that.
A leader is a small piece of fabric that you start sewing first, then feed the quilt piece next while chain piecing. It keeps the first small piece from getting jammed down in your feed dogs. You can use an ender as well to keep the last seam on your “chain pieced” blocks straight.
9: Relax, This is Fun!
Guys, it’s a hobby. It’s just for fun. That doesn’t mean that there won’t be frustrating parts, but on the whole, it should be enjoyable.
If you mess up, shake it off and move on. Take your time, and don’t be in a rush. Just think about Mr. Rogers singing “I like to take my time….” as you work.
When I quilt I’m not out to win any contests (not that there is anything wrong with entering a quilt in a show or fair). I’m doing it for fun.
Each quilt you make you will learn something new. You can then take that knowledge and use in the next quilt you make.
If you’re new, gradually your skills will improve. The only way to learn and improve is to DO. Sometimes “doing” means messing up. If you mess up a lot and it’s terrible, what’s the big deal? Just don’t show it to anyone. Like I said. It’s supposed to be fun.
More Quilting Tips:
Tips & Tricks for Picking Fabric for A Quilt
45+ Beginner Quilt Patterns and Tutorials
Robin Klein says
Thanks Melissa #1 for working on giving us the “print friendly” page. I always look on every blog where there is something to download, as you well know ads take extra paper and a lot of color ink. I hate commenting but….on the Print Friendly page the is usually an option to print or PDF. I could not find that option here. I prefer to save as PDF and I can print when I am home. I read my blogs and email on my phone. I have no idea if the PDF button was optional or $$$. Has anyone else looked for the PDF?
#2. Great work on the tutorials and Tips on the QAL. You are making this fun!
Melissa Mortenson says
I didn’t enable the PDF version. I had to take the print and PDF away a few years ago because people were selling the tutorials as PDF’s. It was pretty rampant, not just one or two.
I’m trying the printing only this time to see how it goes. With a PDF someone will just email the post and not come over to visit the blog. It’s all a balance, people visiting the blog lets me keep the content free for visitors. If they don’t visit then I can’t keep running the site.
I have a secret Pinterest board that I pin projects I want to make in the short term too. You could pin the project to a board so you know where it is then come back and print when you are ready.
Amanda Mahon says
Random question, what breed is the dog in the shot with the bunny quilt? He’s adorable!
Melissa Mortenson says
He’s a Brittany
I have been quilting for about five years but some of the worst mistakes I made were when I tried to overreach my abilities. Just remember to keep it very simple in the beginning and don’t buy the real expensive fabrics until you’re starting to feel confident. Many times in those years I have forced myself to dial it back and I’ve gone back to a very simple pattern. Doing that helps to build up my confidence again. Happy quilting.
Thanks for your tips. Piecing is so vital to the finished product and you cover all of the factors that can lead to a disappointing outcome. I find that trimming as you go is so important, but your point about not over-doing it (you can trim more, but you can’t put it back once its cut off) is also crucial. Thank you!!!
HIlary S says
When I’m in a tizzy my favourite quilter always calms me by saying there are no quilt police and there are no mistakes just design opportunities 😁