Tuesday, October 02, 2007

strip-piecing one-oh-one

I was asked for a little tutorial on strip piecing for quilts. Here's a really quick 'n dirty look at this efficient and fun process, using 2.5" strips (though you can use any measurement you like):

You need fat quarters, scraps, or even full cuts of fabric. I'm using fat quarters because I have a million of them and it's easier to show the steps with large, even pieces. I highly recommend using 100% cotton (though I know lots of people like to do "mixed media" types of quilts with linen and stuff...that's ok too). I am also working with only 2 fabrics, but you can use as many as you have. You also need a pressing surface, a hot iron (steam or not, doesn't matter), a rotary cutter, a large acrylic ruler, and a cutting mat. Also, of course, a sewing machine!

Iron your chosen fabrics and place them as straight as possible on your cutting surface. I have 2 fat quarters stacked here, but I find I can comfortably and accurately cut 4 to 6 layers at a time. Experiment to see what you're comfortable with.

Line the ruler up with the grid lines on the mat and carefully cut off the edges of the fabric. There are different schools of thought on using the cutting mat for this purpose - I am in the camp that says go ahead and use it for squaring up fabric.

Line up the ruler using the grid as a guide to make a straight cut. Carefully cut the raw edges off. Then spin the board around rather than moving the fabric so you don't distort the nice clean cut you've just made.

Line up the cut edge of the fabric with the 2.5" mark on the ruler.

When using a large ruler like this, carefully spread your fingers out to stabilize the ruler. I've seen some really horrific injuries due to slippage when rotary cutting. BE CAREFUL! Don't try to rotary cut when your kids are anywhere nearby.

Carefully cut a 2.5" strip.

Continue cutting your fat quarters or scraps into 2.5" strips, moving strips out of the way as they are cut, and lining the ruler up with the freshly cut edge each time.

This is a Bernina 1/4" foot. If you have one, use it! Many sewing machine shops stock generic 1/4" feet if you want to invest in one - you just need to know if your machine is straight or slant shank. If you don't have one and don't want to buy one, use a piece of masking or painter's tape to mark an exact 1/4" from the needle. In quilting it's really important to be exact with your seams.

Stitch two strips, right sides together, using a precise 1/4" seam allowance. Pin if you feel more comfortable doing so.

Lay the strip set on your ironing surface.

Gently press to set the stitches.

Open the strip set, with the seam allowance toward the dark fabric (the green).

Press very gently. Press is the key word, do not iron like you are trying to take the wrinkles out of your husband's khakis right before you have to leave for church on Sunday morning. That would distort the strip set.

Carefully lay your pressed strip set on the cutting mat.

Line up the markings on the ruler with the edge of the top strip (in my example that happens to be at the 16.5" line but it doesn't matter which mark you choose).

Slice off the raw edge junk and toss it.

Spin your cutting board around, and line up the ruler with the 2.5" mark at the cut edge of the strip set. Here you have the added plus of being able to line up the ruler markings with the seam you've already sewn...that's what I'm trying to show with my finger.

Slice as many 2.5" segments as you can get out of the set. Again, steady the ruler with your hand and cut very carefully.

This is two of the above segments placed as they will be sewn.

Here is the same thing from the back. See why you press to the dark? Now the seams will "lock" into each other.

Two segments placed right sides together. Note the awesome interlocking seams. Whoever invented this method was a genius. Stitch, pinning if you like, using a precise 1/4" seam.

Here is the finished four-patch fresh from the machine.

Gently press to set the stitches.

Open the four-patch and press the seam to one side.

Gently press from the right side.


You can make a ton of these in any fabrics you like, just always press to the darker fabric. To join more units together, be sure to line them up so the seams nestle into each other and you'll get nice matching points at the corners of the squares every time.

I did a four-patch for speed purposes today, but to make a nine-patch or larger, make your strip sets larger. For example, to make a nine-patch, do two strip sets: in my case green/yellow/green, and yellow/green/yellow. Always press to the green, and slice the same way to make 2.5" chunks. Then just line them up with nestled seams. I'm not sure if that's clear - in the next few days I can try to get a nine-patch example up here. Beginning quilting books can be found in abundance at my local library, and I bet that's the case nationwide. Check out a book of basics for more info on strip-piecing! It's definitely addictive!


Anne said...

I've never really "got" quilting - I mean, it looks very pretty and everything, but I've never felt drawn to doing it myself (more than enough knitting and spinning to do), but having read your tutorial I do begin to feel the first little pangs of "Oooh, I want to do that" - when the kids (now 5 and 3) are at college maybe...

Really good explanation - thank you.

Bizzikid said...

Love the yellow fabric with the little flowers and butterflies!!! Ohhhhh! Thank you for the explaination, it is nice to see easy ways to put pieces together!

Have a fabulous day!
Paula :)

Karen said...

And now I will set my computer up next to my sewing area and follow step by step. You are fab, as usual.

And, um, isn't that more of a presser LEG than a foot? Haha.