This illustrated tutorial on piecing a quilt will provide step by step information about basic quilt piecing techniques along with some great quilt piecing tips.
- The learner will learn basic terminology related to quilt top piecing.
- The learner will successfully piece a basic quilt block.
This tutorial on piecing a quilt is designed to provide beginning sewists with a knowledge base of the tools necessary and the skills needed to cut out and assemble a basic quilt block. It can also be used as a refresher course for those wanting to review their knowledge of quilt piecing.
Terms to know and Quilt Piecing Tips
Quilter’s square– a square ruler, made of clear acrylic and marked with inch, half inch, quarter inch lines. These come in many different sizes
Rotary cutter– a plastic handle containing a sharpened blade; 28 mm, 45, mm, 60 mm sizes available (This is a dangerous tool and should be handled with extreme caution)
Cutting mat– a flexible plastic rectangle marked in inch and ½ inch measurements; suitable for use with rotary cutter (see above). These are available in many different sizes.
Fat quarter– a quarter yard of fabric cut to 18” x 22” rather than the more traditional 9”x42”
Piecing– the process of sewing together smaller pieces of fabric to create designs and patterns to make a quilt top
Seam allowance– the amount of fabric to the right of the needle when sewing. We will use ¼ as the correct seam allowance.
Pressing– holding the steam iron firmly in place onto the fabric pieces, pressing the seams into place rather than sliding it back and forth like ironing clothes
Materials Needed for Quilt Piecing
- Acrylic square rulers- 6 ½ inch square and 12 ½ inch square
- Cutting mat- 16 x 20 or larger
- Rotary cutter with blade
- Fat quarter of each of two different fabrics (one light and one dark)
- Sewing machine with straight stitch
- Iron and pressing surface
- Painter’s tape or business card and scotch tape
Measuring and cutting your fabric
You will be creating a pieced block 12 ½ inches square from alternating light and dark fabric squares. There will be a total of 9 squares used to create this block. This is called the 9 patch block.
Because your finished block must measure 12 inches, you must start with blocks 4 ½ inches square. This is necessary because you will lose ½ inch off of each block due to two ¼” seam allowances.
4.5 + 4.5 + 4.5=13.5
Preparing your fabric and cutting your squares
- Press your fabric to remove as many wrinkles as possible. This will help you create accurate cuts and seam allowances.
- Place your fabric on your cutting mat. Place your 6 ½ inch quilter’s square ruler on top as close to an edge as you can while still having at least 4 ½” square under the ruler. Roll the cutter down the fabric, letting the ruler serve as a guide to keep the cut straight. Repeat along the perpendicular edge of the ruler.
3. You now have a piece of fabric that is straight on two sides and square on one corner. Reposition the fabric and ruler so the 4 ½” lines are on your cut edges. Use your cutter to cut the remaining two sides of the fabric square.
4. Repeat the process until you have 5 squares of your dark colored fabric.
5. Use the same techniques to cut your light fabric. You will need 4 squares of light colored fabric.
Preparing your sewing machine
Unless you are one of those lucky individuals whose sewing machine came with a ¼” quilting foot, you are going to have to set your machine up for machine quilt piecing.
All your seam allowances will be ¼” while piecing. This is standard, and most any quilt pattern you purchase will have this requirement as the seam allowance.
In order to set your machine up, you need to know how far from the center of the needle ¼” is. You can easily do this at home with a tape measure or ruler, some tape, and some cardstock or business cards.
Begin by turning your machine on and selecting the needle right position if you have that option. If not, continue with the steps below. Now, put your machine in the needle down position. Use the tape measure to measure from the center of the needle to the right ¼”. You can see that my presser foot is ¼”. If yours is not, place a piece of tape or make a mark at the place ¼” to the right of the needle.
You will need to create an edge guide, so you can consistently hit that ¼” seam allowance while piecing. Take a few old business cards and line them up with your ¼” mark. Tape them down with scotch tape.
As you sew, allow the right edge of your fabric to travel along the edge of the business cards. This will keep your seam allowance at a consistent ¼”.
For more on achieving the perfect 1/4 inch seam allowance check out the video tutorial embedded below.
Assembling your quilt blocks
Set your machine to straight stitch. I use 2.0 in terms of stitch length to sew my pieces together. Some people prefer a stitch length setting 1.5 or 1.8.
Place a dark block on top of a light block with the wrong side of the fabrics on the outside and the right side of the fabrics touching. Carefully align the edges of the blocks so everything is lined up and square.
Sew the seam together. Guide the fabric under the needle along the edge of the business cards.
You will end up with a sewn piece that has perfect ¼” seams on the front and back.
The next thing you need to do is press your seams. Place your sewn piece on the ironing surface, dark side up. First you will press it with the pieces still closed together. This is called setting the seam. Then you will gently fold back the dark piece and press the piece again on the front side of the opened piece.
Remember you are pressing, not ironing!
Flip the piece over and press the seam again from the back. You should end up with a flat, straight seam going toward the dark side.
Do this with the next pair of light and dark quilt blocks.
You now have two sets ready to be combined into a 4 patch quilt block. You want to turn them so the light of one is next to the dark of the other one.
Place them right sides together so the two seam allowances match up.
Sew this seam, following your edge guide. Use your iron to set the seam, then open the pieces and press from the back, pushing the seams into a counterclockwise pattern. Then, use your finger or a tool to open the center, where the seams intersect. Press this down with your iron.
Sew another set of light and dark blocks together. Follow the same steps for setting and pressing the seams. Turn this set so the dark block is next to a light block of your 4 patch piece. Sew this seam using a ¼” seam allowance.
Press these seams into a clockwise direction and open up the center square like you did above.
You now have this completed unit. You have two dark blocks and one light block remaining. Sew those three together, with the light one in the middle. Lay them on your work surface like this: .
Be careful not to make this mistake.
Look at the direction of the seams in your 4 patch unit. You want to press the seams on this 3 piece unit so they will be opposite of the 4 patch seams. In other words, press them toward the center block.
.Sew this piece to your larger piece, matching the seams like you did before. Open up the center intersection and press so all your seams go in opposite directions.
Flip it over and press from the front.
Congratulations, you have just completed your first quilt block. It is called a 9 patch. It should measure 12 ½” on all 4 sides. Place it on your cutting mat and lay your acrylic quilter’s square on top of it.
For more awesome block tutorials and great tips check out the rest of our content and the other articles in this tutorial series for quilters.