Learn to Quilt Series: Basic cutting, sewing, and pressing

So by now, you’ve dusted off or unpacked your sewing machine, bought lots of sharp and pointy tools, and have a pile of pretty fabric sitting around. So how in the world are we going to turn that stack of fabric into a quilt?!

Truuuuuuust me. You can do it! And remember – you can always unpick stitches. Nothing is permanent in quilting!

Except stains. Anyone have a good oil removing trick? Asking for a friend…

Now would be a good time to plug in your iron, thread your machine and an extra bobbin, attach the 1/4″ presser foot, and double check your sewing machine manual to make sure you did it all right. I sew with a stitch length of around 2.5, but it’s a matter of preference. (Keep in mind tiny, short stitches are harder to unpick if – when – you goof up!)

Make a few stitches on a small piece of fabric – you may need to adjust your tension. Read your sewing machine manual for help and if you have trouble, don’t be afraid to take your machine to a local repair shop. A shop near me was able to fix my tension and didn’t even charge me!

Depending on your comfort level, you can start cutting and piecing your quilt as we go this week. (Lingo alert – piecing just means sewing quilt pieces together) If you just want to practice on scrap fabric, that’s okay too! For those of you who want a head start or just want to take a look at the nuts and bolts, you can download the free pattern we will be using here.

Rotary cutting

If you choose to pre-wash your fabric, do it before cutting! Personally, I do not pre-wash, though you may choose to do so if you’re concerned about shrinkage or bleeding. Do not wash pre-cut fabric (charm squares, fat quarters, etc.) or they won’t be the right size when they come out!

Also, if you choose to starch fabric, do it before cutting! I rarely use starch and won’t be using it for this quilt because a) there’s no itty bitty pieces and b) I don’t pre-wash fabric, which removes some of the stiffness. Remember, starch and no-starch don’t play nice, so if you starch you need to starch all your fabric. Or just skip it. 🙂

Moving on. Rotary cutting!

I have three rules –

  1. Don’t use the measuring lines on the cutting mat – your quilting ruler is much more accurate.
  2. Square up your edges often.
  3. Watch your fingers.

Quilting rulers measure right to left – it’s weird at first, but you’ll get the hang of it. Here I have a strip of fabric I’m about to cut 5″ wide – the 5″ mark is on the left, and the rotary cutter will slice along the right side of the ruler.

And it will slice anything in the way. Did I mention to watch your fingers?


And because it’s easier to see than read, here’s a video!

Note: I am not a videographer, nor an actor. Bear with me. 🙂

If you want to go ahead and cut all your background squares needed for the quilt, you’ll cut 13 strips 5″ wide, and sub cut into 100 5″ squares. Keep an eye on the straight edges and square your yardage back up if you’re getting wonky. (I square up again every 5-6 strips.)

If you’re cutting fat quarters, the idea is exactly the same: square up an edge, cut 5″ strips, and then sub cut into squares!

Piecing a 1/4″ seam

Ah…here’s where I make good on my promise that quilting really isn’t as hard as it looks! At the end of the day, an accurate seam is the magic pixie dust.

What I love about this pattern is it’s very forgiving, but the more accurate you can be with your cutting and piecing the easier it gets! It can takes some practice to feel comfortable with your sewing machine, so go nice and slow at first. If your machine feels like it’s trying to drag race down your fabric, slow down until you feel back in control again.

Another golden rule in quilting: fabric is sewn RIGHT SIDES TOGETHER. This means put your fabric pieces together with the fronts facing each other. The “front” = “right” side. The “back” = “wrong” side. RIGHT SIDES TOGETHER – don’t worry, when you forget – as we all inevitably do at the beginning – you can unpick the stitches and fix it!

(My white is the same on both sides, so it doesn’t matter which side faces the print.)


Example of the “right side” of my print – when I flip this square down, it will be right sides together with my background.


If you’re looking at the pattern, I’m starting step 1. We will first sew a background square to three squares of print:

Pattern step 1

Now take your fresh seam(s) to the ironing board!


In my opinion, pressing accurately is one of more difficult skills to master. As you’ll see, I do a lot of finger pressing to try to flatten the seam before applying heat, and I use steam. I find I distort my blocks too much if I don’t finger press, but you’ll find what’s comfortable for you. Just remember that cotton stretches, especially when hot, so handle your blocks carefully!

In my patterns, I press to the side as opposed to pressing my seams open. It’s a matter of preference, but as a beginner you’ll find pressing to the side makes it easier to line up blocks and take advantage of nested seams. You’ll see patterns often give directions on which way to press.

We will be pressing towards the print in this quilt – shown in arrows in the pattern. Here’s an example of what that means:


And another video! (You’re either celebrating or groaning…)

Some other pressing tips:

  • Lay a heavy book or stack of magazines on your block while it’s cooling.
  • Some quilters prefer to spritz with a spray bottle rather than use the iron’s steam setting. If you’re getting too much distortion with steam, try a dry press.
  • If you’ve pressed something the wrong way, simply fold the block back right sides together, press the seam closed again, and then carefully re-open it and try again.

If you want to finish up step 1 of the pattern:

Lastly – you’ll see me tell you to “nest seams” in the pattern. Nesting seams simply means pressing the seams in opposite directions so when they are nestled together, they snug tight and almost “lock” in place. It reduces bulk, makes your sewing machine happy, and makes it easier to get your squares to line up perfectly.

Here’s a happy nested seam:


Oops! Unpicking seams.

You’re gonna do it – sew something upside down, backwards, forget to put your squares right sides together…it happens to everyone. I have a seam ripper next to my sewing machine at all times, and I’ve had to replace them after they get dull. So better learn how to do it!

If you need to rip stitches, simply place the pointy end of the seam ripper under a stitch and push it forward until it cuts the stitch. Repeat every 4-5 stitches or so, all the way down the length of the seam you need to remove. Turn your fabric over and grab the bottom piece of thread and pull – it should come right out. Clean up the little bits of thread left and you’re good to go!

Guys….that’s it!! If you want a weekend to practice, have at it and we will dive head first into making our blocks next week. If you want to get a head start and start your nine patches, look over the pattern and shoot me any questions you have. Next week we’ll talk more about reading the pattern, chain piecing, and how to slice your nine patches before letting you loose to get your quilt underway!

I’m so excited! I hope you are too!



Learn to Quilt Series: Tutorial links

  1. Notions Part 1 – Sewing machine and basic supplies
  2. Notions Part 2 – Cutting and pressing supplies
  3. All about fabric!
  4. Basic cutting, sewing, and pressing
  5. Making your blocks!
  6. Tips for staying organized and sewing blocks into a quilt top
  7. How to attach borders and piece backing
  8. To quilt or not to quilt – professional long-arm services vs. quilting at home, plus a basting tutorial
  9. Quilt at home – machine quilting yourself
  10. Binding your finished quilt and quilt care

10 Comments on “Learn to Quilt Series: Basic cutting, sewing, and pressing

  1. Pingback: Beginner Quilt-along – Fabric! – RebaLeigh Handmade

  2. Pingback: Beginner Quilt-along: Notions Part 2 – Cutting and pressing supplies – RebaLeigh Handmade

  3. Pingback: Beginner Quilt-along – Introduction! – RebaLeigh Handmade

  4. Pingback: Beginner Quilt-along: Notions Part 1 – Sewing machines and basic supplies – RebaLeigh Handmade

  5. Pingback: Beginner Quilt-along: Making your blocks – RebaLeigh Handmade

  6. Pingback: Beginner Quilt-a-long: Sewing blocks into a quilt top! – RebaLeigh Handmade

  7. Pingback: Beginner Quilt-along: Borders and backing (and block catch up!) – RebaLeigh Handmade

  8. Pingback: Beginner Quilt-along: Long-arm vs. home quilting and basting tutorial – RebaLeigh Handmade

  9. Pingback: Beginner Quilt-along: Machine quilting – RebaLeigh Handmade

  10. Pingback: Beginner Quilt-along: Binding and finishing your quilt – RebaLeigh Handmade

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