Learn to Quilt Series: Sewing blocks into a quilt top

Well – I’ve been so good about getting posts up by Friday morning…but this week has been BUSY. Like oops-we-have-to-eat-pizza-for-dinner-again busy. Better-give-those-socks-a-sniff busy. Sorry-now-it’s-Saturday-afternoon-and-I’m-just-now-typing-the-next-post busy.

But I’m here and I have a quilt top to show! Maybe you’ve got blocks anxiously awaiting the same fate. Or maybe you’re still cutting fabric. Or maybe you’re just following along waiting for your sewing machine to migrate to California. (Herro!) At any rate, let’s do this! Literally or figuratively.


Sewing blocks together

Remember how we chain-pieced our blocks a couple of weeks ago? Well, I hope you loved it, because the concept is the same for sewing blocks into a quilt top. At one point, you’re going to have heaps and gobs of fabric in your lap, but don’t you worry – it’ll at least be pretty to look at!

The first step – the absolute BEST part – is to commandeer a large swatch of floor space and lay out your blocks. The pattern includes two different options – a 67.5″ x 67.5″ square quilt in a 5 x 5 layout, or a 54.5″ x 80.5″ rectangle quilt in a 4 x 6 layout with one block leftover. (Matching pillow anyone?!) I chose the 5 x 5 layout.

As you’re laying your blocks out, pay attention to the seams. All the seams will nest nicely, but you have to have the blocks turned the right direction. Twist the blocks 180 degrees until you have each horizontal and vertical seam going the opposite direction from it’s neighbors.

Or don’t. You can pin and muscle over un-nested seams. But this little detail will make sewing your rows together much easier later.

Once you have your final layout, stick a pin in the upper left-hand corner of each block in the first column.

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Do yourself a favor – snap a quick picture here. It’s not a huge issue with this pattern, but I can’t tell you how many times I’ve managed to get myself all out of order with nothing but a picture on my phone to re-orient me. If you get in the habit of snapping a photo of your final layout, I promise you it will come in handy someday.


Next step is to take the second block in each row (column 2) and flip it over right-sides-together with it’s mate in column 1. Take care not to twist the blocks – just flip it like a page in a book.

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Now stack all the columns – I started at the top and stacked down, so the first row of blocks was at the top of my stacks. To be super safe, you can stick a pin in the upper left-hand corner of the top block in each stack. You have to be very careful to always keep the stacks oriented as they are now – if you twist them, you’ll sew the wrong sides together. A pin will help orient you if that happens in the transfer from floor to sewing machine.

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You’ll be sewing column 1/2 (already placed RST and ready to go!) first, followed by columns 3-5, in that order. I placed my stacks within arm’s reach next to my sewing machine in order.  (3-4-5 pictured) Remember, upper left is STILL the same upper left, just like it was when they were on the floor.

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Don’t forget your pins, in case you get lost:

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Step 0: Make sure you have thread in your bobbin, and that your machine is threaded correctly. Move your coffee a little further from the action. Trust me on that one.

Place your sewing machine as far to the right on your table as you can manage. Give yourself a nice, big work space on the left. You’ll need it.

Now chain piece all the blocks in columns 1 and 2 that you already have right-sides-together. Once blocks are RST, you’ll ALWAYS sew down the right-hand side of the squares.

Here’s where the magic happens, as well as the gobs of fabric in your lap. When you’ve sewn the last block, cut your thread at the end but DO NOT cut threads between blocks. You can drop the entire project on the floor and pick it back up, and all the blocks will still be in order and you’ll have a pin to tell you the top from the bottom. That half inch of thread between all the blocks is your safety line.

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Pile all the blocks in your lap, and at starting with the top row open the blocks up like a book and place the top block in your column 3 stack right-sides-together with the column 2 block. Sew down the right-hand side of the square, and continue chain piecing through your column 3 stack until you get to the end.

In pictures – open book:

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Place RST and sew:

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Wash, rinse, repeat:

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PS, are your middle seams nesting? If so – yay! If not, consider pinning them so they don’t shift when your foot runs over them.

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When you’re finished with column 3, pull the whole mess back to your lap. You’ll have two safety lines now. Again, you can walk away, drop in on the floor, throw it in the air…but you’ll still have all the blocks you’ve sewn thus far in order. Don’t snip the threads yet!

Repeat the whole dance with column 4, and 5 if you have it.

Yes, you will have an absurdly large amount of fabric sitting in your lap, and behind your sewing machine. Yes, you’ll be adjusting and shifting the blocks as you go to keep them from pulling on each other. A small TV tray on your left can help hold some of the weight if you’re having trouble. Go ahead and (gently) shove and pile however you need to – everything is still connected.

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When you finish – you’ll have all the blocks sewn into rows!

No, you still cannot cut the threads.

Patience, my dear.

Place the quilt somewhere it can live stationary for a bit. I have a handy quilt-draping banister, but a bed or floor space works well too.

Now go heat up your iron!

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Sewing rows together

If you didn’t already, place a pin in the upper left corner of the first block in each row. Trust me, as soon as you clip those threads and take the row to the ironing board, you’ll get all mixed up.

Clipping the threads as you go, press each row in opposite directions so the seams will nest as you sew them together. (One row pressed towards the pin, next row pressed away from pin…and so on.) Place the row back on your bed/floor/banister after it’s pressed, keeping everything together and in order.

Once all the rows are pressed, flip row 1 down right-sides-together with row 2. (Remove the pin from the corner of row 2, but leave it in place in row 1. This helps orient you to the top of the quilt.) I always pin my seams when sewing rows together – it helps keep everything in place while you sew such a long strip.

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Sew and press! It doesn’t matter which direction you press the rows. (Don’t forget to “set the seam” by quickly pressing the iron to the seam while it’s still right-sides-together!)

I actually found pressing from the back worked best – experiment a little to find what works for you. My seams were being ornery and didn’t want to lay flat, so I turned my quilt over and smoothed it down from the back.

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Very awkward to take a picture while holding a hot iron to my fabric with my left hand.

“Quick quick, before you burn the fabric or your fingers! Did the camera focus? Is the picture good? Doesn’t matter, just don’t burn your fabric!!” – Self.

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When you’ve pressed your seam, attach the next row. Press. Next row. Press. And then before you know it, you’ve ran out of bobbin thread.

You thought I was going to say done? You can’t ever finish a project before running out of bobbin thread. It’s like the quilter’s curse.

Just keep sewing, just keep sewing…now you’re done! Whoo-hoo! Snap some pictures and congratulate yourself. Next week will be a catch up week for those still making blocks, and we’ll go over attaching borders and piecing your backing.


This is somewhat embarrassing for a self-proclaimed competent quilter, but I wanted to include this picture. I sewed my blocks super fast and wasn’t paying much attention to accuracy, and this reminds me of the seams on my first few quilts. If your seams also look like this, don’t worry. If the seam allowance (the amount of fabric on the raw side of the seam) is too skinny it can weaken the seam. Pick it out and re-sew it if it’s < 1/8″ or you’ll have a hole someday. But if your seams get wonky like this, I promise you won’t notice it from the front.  Move on and keep going!

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Briefly – quilting supplies

We will talk much more in detail about quilting, but if you know for sure you want to quilt yourself there are a few more supplies you’ll want to gather:

Batting: Twin size should be fine for either layout – you’ll want at least 8″ longer and 8″ wider than your finished quilt. Double check measurements before ordering. I prefer lightweight cotton batting – my favorite is Quilter’s Dream Request, in white. Best part, you can find it on Amazon

Marking pen: I like the iron off pens by Frixion – you can find them on Amazon or Fat Quarter Shop. JoAnn’s, Walmart, and your local quilt shop will also have lots of different types of fabric-safe markers. You’ll need something to mark your quilting lines unless you’re free-forming it. (Which is totally ok too!)

Walking foot: A walking foot is hugely important for quilting. A regular sewing machine foot relies on the feed dogs on the machine to pull the fabric through. (Feed dogs: those little toothy bits that go up and down under your fabric.) When you have a thick quilt to manage, even when really well basted, it will shift and pucker beneath a normal quilting foot. A walking foot has extra feed dogs on the top that evenly feed all the layers nice and smoothly through your machine. Just like presser feet, they are machine specific. Ask the internet, your local quilt store, JoAnn’s, or even me if you have trouble finding the right one for your machine. They might run upwards of $30-40, but you’re still saving money compared to paying a long-arm quilter.

Quilting needles: Yep, there’s a needle for every job. You might get by with your regular piecing needles for quilting, but I found far too many skipped stitches and have to use larger needles. I have the best results with either a “jeans/denim” needle, size 100/16 (larger than 100 will punch an unnecessarily huge hole), or a “top-stitch” needle of similar size. Both are made for going through thick layers, and have large grooves to protect the thread from shredding. Available here and here, and I generally can find them at Walmart as well.

Basting spray or basting pins: I legitimately have no idea how many pins it takes for a throw size quilt. Buy a few packages? (Advice in the comments welcome!) One can of basting spray is enough for this project.

Happy sewing!

Rebecca


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
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10 Comments on “Learn to Quilt Series: Sewing blocks into a quilt top

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

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

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

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

  5. Pingback: Beginner Quilt-along: Getting started! Basic cutting, sewing, and pressing. – RebaLeigh Handmade

  6. Pingback: Beginner Quilt-along: Making your blocks – 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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