New to Quilting?

If you are brand new to quilting and don't know where to begin, start with the posts in September 2011 (look in the blog archive). The first four posts cover basics such as choosing equipment, choosing colors, how to sew 1/4" seams, how to use a rotary cutter, and how to press (not iron) your block during construction.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Strip Piecing (New Skill)

To get ready for our next block you will need to know how to strip piece. You can sew the four-patch units the 'old-fashioned way' by cutting out each individual piece and sewing it together, but it is much easier to cut strips of fabric, sew them together, slice them, and then re-sew them into the four-patch unit we will need.

I know it sounds like more work, but trust me, it is not only much less work, the finished sub-units are more accurate.

Strip piecing is cutting long strips of fabric and sewing them together. Then cutting the sewn strip into smaller pieces to get them ready to sew into a block or a unit. You can sew any number of strips together, then cut them apart and re-sew them into new designs.

The easiest strip set to make contains only two strips, which is what this tutorial will show.

Cutting the Strips
For our November block we need strips that are 2 1/2" x 26". My ruler isn't long enough to cut a 26" strip. Although I can fold my fabric in half (I'll show you how later in the post), I wanted to show you how I make a longer ruler.

Line two rulers up end to end (the top two rulers in the photo are lined up end to end)
Use another ruler or the edge of a table or any straight edge to make sure that the first two rulers are perfectly aligned along one edge (the ruler at the bottom of the photo is my straight edge making sure that the two rulers on the top are perfectly aligned).

Place a piece of Scotch (or other clear) tape on the matching edges of the top two rulers. If you look closely you can see a piece of scotch tape along the ruler edges in the photo above.
That's it! Now you have a longer ruler than you started with. Since the edges are aligned there is no chance to get a nick in your cutting blade by running the cutter into the spot where the two rulers are connected. And if you are cutting long pieces of fabric, you don't have to move your ruler, you can just move your hand along the ruler, which helps keep your cuts even along the length of the fabric.

Now you can cut a 2 1/2" strip.


Here is how you cut a strip from a piece of fabric that is folded in half. The fold is on the right side in the photos.

First you will need to 'square' your fabric, which means you need to make sure that the cut edge of your fabric is 90˚ from your folded edge.

Line one of your ruler marking lines along the folded edge of your fabric.
Chances are the cut edge will not be the same width all along the fabric below the ruler (which is why we are squaring it up), it will probably be narrower at one edge and wider at the other. Match the bottom of your ruler with the shortest spot of the fabric and trim the excess fabric. 
Once your fabric is squared up, line the ruler marking line along the edge of the fabric and the measuring marks 2 1/2" from the edge. See photo.
Cut along the ruler and you will have a 2 1/2" strip of fabric.

Press the strip to get rid of the fold. If you have cut a folded, squared-up piece of fabric you won't be able to see where the fold was. If you didn't square up your fabric properly you will see a small V shape where the fold was. (The scissors are pointing to where the fold was.)

Strip Piecing
Place two strips right sides together and pin if necessary.

Sew a scant 1/4" from the edge of the fabric.

Press the seam flat before you press it open. It helps to set the seam and it helps the fabric on the bottom 'stick' a little to the ironing board which makes it easy to press the strip open.

Whatever fabric you have on top when you press the seam open will have the seam allowance pressed towards it. In the photo above you can see the green fabric is on top, in the photo below the seam allowance is pressed towards the green fabric.

Press the seam towards the dark (or in this case green) fabric.

Cutting the Sub-units
Time to cut the end off the strip so it is at a 90˚ to the center seam (NOT THE BOTTOM EDGE!)
Line one of the ruler lines up with the center seam of your strip, trim the end of the strip so that it is straight.

Flip your strip the other direction so the straight trimmed edge is on your left (if you cut with your left hand, reverse the strip direction in this and the previous photo.)

Because I get distracted and often cut pieces, strips, units (you name it!) the wrong dimensions, I use a piece of colored tape on the ruler line that I need to line the cut edge of my fabric up with. In this photo the pink tape is on the 2 1/2" line.
Make 10 cuts to end up with 10 two-patch rectangles.
I use Glow-line Tape by Omnigrid. One package lasts for years... and years.... and years... I bought 2 rolls about 6 years ago. I estimate that I have about 60 years worth of tape at the rate I use (and re-use) it.

For the November block you will need 10 pieces cut from the strips to sew back together to form the Four-Patch sub-units.

Here is a short, one page tutorial on strip piecing a four-patch block.
Quilt University: Making 4-patch unit

Now that you know how to cut and sew accurately, sew half-square triangles, and strip piece you can make hundreds of different blocks!

Please leave a comment if I haven't explained something clearly enough or if you need photo(s) of a step that I haven't included. I would really like to have this be a resource you can follow along easily.

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