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Become a More Efficient Quilter With Chain Piecing

Looking for ways to spend less time piecing, and more time enjoying your beautiful quilts? Want to piece a quilt top together on a deadline? Chain piecing is a technique that many quilters use to piece just as accurately — but much more quickly.

Why chain piece? 

Chain piecing is faster, saves thread, and can lead to more accurate piecing. By feeding one piece directly after the next, and piecing in batches rather than pressing after each seam, you’ll find your quilts come together much faster.

If you’ve never chain pieced before, you’ll find it takes some practice to get into the habit. But if you’ve ever had your threads knot up at the beginning of each piece, you’ll soon fall in love!

threads under the presser foot

How to chain piece

Step 1:

Chain piecing is very simple. When you come to the end of a seam, don’t stop. Continue a couple stitches beyond the end of the piece, then tuck the next piece under your presser foot, and continue on.

tuck fabric under presser foot

Step 2:

Stitch to the end of the next piece, then repeat the process. You will end up with a series of pieces chained together at the back of the machine.

chain off the back of the sewing machine

Step 3: 

After you have stitched the pieces, cut the threads between each to separate them. You can use scissors, a rotary cutter, or the blade on the side of your machine.

chained pieces

Step 4: 

Chain piecing is much faster that starting and stopping between each seam. Chain piece as much as you can, cut them apart, then press the seams for all the pieces. Once they are all pressed, take the pieces back to the sewing machine, chain piece as many seams as you can, then press again. 

By sewing and pressing in batches, you’ll spend less time moving between your sewing machine and ironing board, and more time watching your quilt come together.

How to chain piece two quilts at once

You can become a very efficient quilter by chain piecing two quilts at once! Instead of piecing just one quilt top, work on two simultaneously.

Simply chain piece one, then the second, without cutting your threads between. Then cut them all apart, press them all, and continue.

By making a very large batch of cutting and pressing, you are working in a more efficient assembly-line fashion. You’ll be surprised how much more productive this technique makes you.

How to be more efficient with chain piecing

For a quilter with only small pockets of time, chain piecing will make you more efficient as well.

During one short session, piece as many pieces as you can, cut them apart, then place them on the ironing board. During the next session, iron your pieces and prepare them for their next seam. Place them next to the sewing machine, ready to be stitched.

Repeat these steps during each mini quilting (or pressing) session, and you’ll find your quilt is always ready and waiting, and comes together much more quickly.

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11 Comments

Margaret

And, if you always end your chain by piecing two scraps of fabric together you will be on your way to a separate scrappy quilt. Always leave the scraps under the presser foot and you’re good to go for your next chain piecing session. Or use this tip with any other sewing you need to do. Never again any tangled threads under the presser foot. If you don’t want a scrap quilt just use the scraps over and over again, snipping them off from the end of the chain and resewing them at the front of the chain, leaving them under the presser foot.

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Emily

I’m very new to quilting and I want to know if backstitching is a common practice or not? Chain piecing is a really great idea but it makes me nervous to think about working so hard on something only to see it come apart because there is no backstitching.

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Carolina Moore

Backstitching is uncommon in quilting. In other sewing, backstitching is done to secure the ends of the seam. In quilting, the ends of every seam are secured by another seam – blocks being sewn together “seal off” the seams on the edges of the block, borders finish off any seams along the edges of the quilt, and binding finishes it all off. Also, a quilt is quilted or tied, adding extra security and stability, and all seam allowances are tucked inside the quilt where they get less wear than seams on a garment would.
If you backstitch, your may sacrifice accuracy. That extra back-and-forth of thread adds bulk in the seam, which, with hundreds of seams in a quilt, adds up. It can also be difficult to quilt through when quilting the finished top.

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Emily

Thank you so much for your reply! That makes a lot of sense and now I’m really excited to try quilting and especially chain piecing.

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Barbara OConnor

Thank you Carolina Moore for that very comprehensive explanation of why backstitching is not necessary when piecing.

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Sally

Press before cutting the pieces apart — it’s much easier to move the string to the ironing board. Pull from each end and smooth them flat, orienting the for the direction you want to press.

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Jean

The link to the PDF guide is broken… it goes to my pattern library.

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Kristin Doherty

Hi there! You may have downloaded the guide in the past, so it’s already in your library. You can search for the guide in your library and it should come right up!

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Claudia

Sorry, but I don’t find this approach to make any sense at all! I’ve watched experienced quilters using this technique and stressing about keeping the pattern correct. PLUS, I don’t see it saving any time in the long run, let alone the quilts I’ve had to work with after using this technique are a “mess” in the back as the seams can’t be pressed flat because “being fast is what’s important” according to them. I’m enjoying the seam by seam approach, pressing as I go and ensuring everything lays flat for easier quilting at the end. Just call me “old fashioned” in my approach but speed is not why I quilt; it’s the pleasure of putting it all together and watching the patterns unfold that I find most satisfying about this new hobby I’ve begun within the last 5 years.

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Carolina

Hi Claudia! I’ve been quilting for over 20 years. My quilts have hung in booths at Market, and won ribbons at Quilt Shows. I wrote this article, and love chain piecing.
Chain Piecing does speed up the time it takes to put together a quilt top. But it should never result in a quilt that is not well made. I still always press each seam before another seam is stitched across it. Pressing is not a step that should be skipped. When I chain piece, I can still press my seams well – and I can choose if I’m pressing them open or to the side. It does not affect pressing. It sounds like the people you’ve seen chain piece allow their seams to get twisted in the process (with one side of the seam being pressed in one direction, and the other side of the seam in the other). This can happen whether you chain piece or not – when the presser foot runs over the seam it can twist it. By paying attention to what is under the presser foot, quilters can make sure that seams don’t get twisted.
Chain piecing often keeps me more organized. I’m able to work in steps. Each step becomes a chain, then I cut and press, and continue on to the next step. For example, I made 28 Snowball blocks earlier this week. I stitched one corner onto each block. Then cut them apart. Then stitched on the next corner. I repeated this process for all 4 corners. After each set, I counted to make sure I still had all 28.
It also can result in greater accuracy, and points that match better. When taking those first few stitches on a new seam, fabric can get “sucked up” into the stitch plate. This is avoided with chain piecing.
But if chain piecing isn’t the right technique for you – don’t worry about it. I think the bottom line is – do what you love. There are so many different techniques in quilting, and not all of them work for everyone. I can tell you I’ve had a few “great techniques” that quilting friends swore by – that had me in tears after trying them! If it isn’t fun, it isn’t worth it. I’m glad you’ve found a technique that works for you. It sounds like you’ve really found the joy in quilting. <3

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Sue Ryckman

Claudia – enjoy the process that works for you! I do chain piece sometimes, but depending on my pattern/plan, I have to do seam by seam or I get them all messed up! 🙂 And I hate ripping out stuff! lol

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