Saturday, December 30, 2006

Tips for quilting as you go

Okay, this is not a craft blog, but someday someone may be crying over a quilt-as-you-go project, working with a book that gives no helpful information and may search for tips. Those of you who have no interest in quilting may skip this post. It is not a metaphor for foster care -- it's just about making quilts.

Quilt pieces are typically sewn with a 1/4 inch seam allowance. If you have two strips of fabric that are 2 1/4 inch wide and you sew them together you end up with one strip that is 4 inches wide. Except that you don't, quite. A very small amount of fabric will be lost in the fold of the seam. So quilters quickly learn to sew a "scant" 1/4 inch seam and then "square-up" the block (trim it to the size it is supposed to be) after stitching.

Quilting as you go is a technique where you work in sections. You start with a large square of backing, put batting on top of it, and then sew pieces through all three levels.

The problem is that as you sew and turn over fabric you will lose significantly more fabric in the seams. Depending upon the height of the loft of the batting, the fabric "shrinkage" can be significant. It is not possible to predict in advance how much you will lose. You must experiment with your materials. I recommend using a low-loft batting. I have found that with a flat, natural cotton batting I am losing a full quarter inch of fabric per seam. (I.e. 2 1/4 inch strips sewn with a 1/4 inch seam are resulting in approximately a 3 3/4 inch wide stip).

Once you have determined how much seam allowance to give yourself and how deeply to stitch the seams, you will still face the problem of "squaring up" the block. You cannot do this with a rotary cutter as you would, obviously, cut through all layers.

I recommend putting your complete block on top of a large plastic cutting mat. Using large plastic, see-through rulers, square up the block by drawing lines with chalk pencils or other fabric markers. Remember as you do this that you need to be concerned with the size and shape of the pieced block, and with the position of the pieces relative to the backing.

Currently I am working on a log cabin quilt using this method. I may post photographs, and I will update this post after I have sewn the blocks together. If you are a quilter who has used this method and have any tips for that part of the construction, please do leave them in the comments.


For photos of block construction and finished blocks go here. To take comfort in how difficult I found the project to be initially, go here.

If you are quilter and found this page to be helpful, please leave a comment. (Of course I like getting comments from anyone!)

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