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Quilt Basics - Piecing Quilt Blocks by Machine Part 4B of 5

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We're back for the second half of our piecing tutorial – part Four of our Five-part Quilting Basics series. Quilters are very resourceful and innovative. You can see this trait revealed in some of the popular quick-piecing methods that have been developed over time. The mindset behind each is to save thread and/or time. They also often make the quilt-building process easier. As we move through today's article, we're going to assume you’ve reviewed the previous tutorials in the Series: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3 and Part 4A.  If you've not done so, we recommend starting from the beginning so you can make sure you have the appropriate set up, precut fabric pieces, etc.

Chain Piecing

Maybe chain piecing was born from necessity, or maybe it was just someone’s ingenious idea; we’re not really sure. All we know is you tend to use a lot of thread in patchwork piecing (and in the quilting process too). This handy technique helps limit the amount of thread as you build the units for each block, and is a fabulous timesaver as well. You can use the method to join rows too, but you must keep track of the order of your pieces, especially if you're building a larger design and/or the blocks are different.

For our example, we’ll be using the basic 9-Patch block from our Part 3 tutorial. You may also see some similarity to the general piecing instructions described in Part 4A.

  1. Lay your cut pieces alongside your sewing machine in the order you plan to sew them. In our case, we have one stack of black squares and one stack of white squares.
    NOTE: Depending on the type of quilt/quilt block you're making, you don’t necessarily have to lay out the pieces in the block pattern first. Sometimes you’ll simply be building units. But, we like to add a reminder of how important it is to keep track of the order of things!
  2. Place the pieces you plan to sew, right sides together. We’ve alternated our squares into pairs: black on top of white, white on top of black.
  3. Using a ¼" seam allowance, sew the first set of pieces. At the end of the seam, do not cut the thread or remove the fabric from the under the foot.
    NOTE: Traditionally, quilters do not use pins to hold the pieces together during this technique – that’s part of what makes the process so quick. The pieces are smaller at this stage and will stay evenly together. However, if you feel you need to use pins, by all means do so! 
  4. Place the next set of pieces under the foot and begin to sew the next pair. Don't butt the new set up against the first space; there should be a bit of a space, approximately ¼" or so, between the pairs.
  5. As you sew, you'll notice there's a thread tail connecting the first set with the second set – this is the thread chain.
  6. Continue to sew the pairs of patchwork pieces until you have the total needed. When done, remove your chain pieced units from the machine.
  7. Clip the threads in between and press the seams to one side.\

    NOTE: Some quilters prefer to keep the connecting threads in between as they continue adding on to the unit. Again, this choice depends on the type of quilt you're making.
  8. Once the units are sewn, you can then add on to them, or join them to create your quilt block/quilt.

Strip piecing

In Part 2, we talked about cutting strips of fabric and mentioned the fact that sometimes strips are all you have to cut. This is the beginning step of what’s called strip piecing. With this technique, you sew a number of strips together, then cut across the strips (also known as subcutting) to get your beginning block units. This technique could be used to create a 9-Patch block, the smaller blocks in the Double 9-Patch, or Irish Chain blocks -- all of which we showed in Part 3

  1. Let’s say you want to sew the smaller blocks for a Double 9-Patch, using the strip piecing technique. First, you need to cut six 1½" strips, three from one fabric and three from a second fabric. We're still using black and white for our example. 

    NOTE: For this technique, strips can be of various lengths or even the entire width of the fabric. If you’re following a pattern or tutorial, the length will be indicated.
  2. Lay the strips next to your machine (or other layout area), in two sets of three, alternating the two colors of fabric as shown below.
  3. Using a ¼" seam allowance, sew one combination of the three strips together in the order you’ve laid them out. Than, sew the remaining three-strip combination.
  4. Don’t forget to the press the seams! In this case, press the seams toward the darker fabric. On one set of strips, the seams will be pressed toward the center strip; on the other set of strips, the seams will be pressed away from the center. This will allow you to precisely match your seams, as we described in Part 4A of piecing
  5. Using your rotary cutter, quilt ruler and cutting mat, subcut the sewn strips sections in 1½" widths. Remember, 1½" is the width of our original strips. Our goal is to end up with a 3½" nine patch square to put in our Double 9-Patch block.  
    NOTE: You will have to trim off the uneven end of the unit before starting to cut the sub-sections.
  6. We need two of one subcut section color combination, and one of the other to create the Double 9-Patch. You can alternate them as shown below.
  7. Now, simply sew the sections together using a ¼" seam, making sure to match the seams as described in Part 4A. Don’t forget to also press your newly sewn seams!
  8. Once you have enough blocks, you can incorporate them into another block, as we would have to do for our example, or you can simply join the blocks together following the general piecing instructions, making sure to match intersecting seams.

Half square triangle alternate quick methods

Quilters have devised quick methods for making half square triangles so you don’t have to cut triangles but instead can use squares. 

One method will yield one half square triangle. In the other, you get two. Caution: each method also yields different size half square triangles, so make sure you start out with the appropriate size squares. You can read more about this in Part 2 of our Series.

Draw one line

  1. Place two squares right sides together. Using a fabric marking pen or pencil, draw a diagonal line from one corner to the opposite corner on the wrong side of one of the squares.
  2. Sew along the marked line, using a straight stitch.
    NOTE: Since you’re sewing on the drawn line, you can use a standard pressure foot.
  3. Trim the square ¼" from the stitching line. 
  4. Press the seam. And, you get a half square triangle.
     

Draw two lines

  1. Place two squares right sides together. Draw a diagonal line from one corner to the other on the wrong side of one of the squares.
  2. Sew ¼" from the drawn line on both sides of the drawn line. 
    NOTE: We recommend using a One Quarter Inch Seam foot for this method, lining up the foot's guide with the drawn line. 
  3. Cut along the drawn line, and you get two half square triangles. Don’t forget to press.

Hints and tips

  1. Look for stages in the quilt piecing process where you can utilize chain piecing. Chain piecing can be used to sew the blocks of a quilt, strip piecing, etc. You need to identify areas where there is a repetitive pattern. 
  2. If you liked learning about strip piecing, you can search online for quilts made with this method to find patterns, books, and blogs dedicated solely to this very popular technique.
  3. When sewing strips, it’s best to flip the previously sewn strips and sew the next strip from the opposite side each time you add another strip. Otherwise, the sewn strips will slope (or angle) downward, reducing the number of subcuts you can get from one section of sewn strips. 

Contributors

Sample Creation and Instructional Outline: Jodi Kelly

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Comments (10)

Kay in WA said:
Kay in WA's picture

to clarify, I mean I have sewn some open, and some to one side.

Are you ALWAYS supposed to press seams open? What about if there are light or white pieces? Are you not supposed to see the seams behind them?

Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home said:
Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home's picture

Kay in WA - take a look at Part 4A of 5 - it talks quite a bit about pressing and how to next your seams for a flatter result. There is no "always" rule and different quilt patterns may have specific pressing notes, but this part of the series gives you some of the most standard techniques. And, yes, in general, when you have light and dark pieces, you seam allowance is usually pressed toward the darker piece.

Kay in WA said:
Kay in WA's picture

My greatest challenge as a beginner quilter is pressing seams. After I have assembled my blocks and sewn them into strips, no matter how hard I've tried to be careful, my seams fold every which way, some open-some not. I wish I knew a trick or easy way to accomplish a lump-less "back."

LaVerne Buetow said:
LaVerne Buetow's picture

Do you have a book of Quilt Basics that I could buy. I'm new at this and I like to have pictures next to me when I am sewing

Thanks

Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home said:
Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home's picture

@ LaVerne Buetow - the quilting section of your local bookstore is filled to the brim with wonderful resources. We suggest browsing there. In addition, at the top of each of our articles you'll find buttons to print and/or save the article as a .PDF file. You are welcome to try either of these functions to save copies for your personal use. 

Rabia Malik said:
Rabia Malik's picture

Such a lovely work . Thanks for sharing these great ideas with your readers . 

Anonymous said:
Anonymous's picture

You are very artistic minded person. I love your work and i wish i could all these <3

smiledi said:
smiledi's picture

I looooove chain piecing! :) I also use it for sewing strips of bias tape together. You end up with a wonky looking thing at the end because of the way you pull the ends of the pieces around, but it saves time and thread.

I pin all the pieces together with the pin going the direction I want the seam to go (and making sure all the right sides are the same way!), and then it's easy to sew. 

Thanks for the clear tutorial and great pictures! I'll be referring people here :)

 

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