Want to save time and fabric? Strip piecing might be the best quilting technique for you!
The technique, as the name suggests, uses sewn-together fabric strips to create a “strip set.” Then, you can cut the strip sets into pieces and sew them back together to create detailed patchwork designs.
Strip quilting is fun and straight-forward, but knowing a few important tips will help keep your patchwork flat, accurate and the right size.
Our top tips for successful strip piecing
Cutting fabric strips
When cutting strips, it’s best to use the lengthwise grain of fabric. When the strips are cut from the fabric parallel to the selvage, they will not stretch as much as the fabric cut across the grain.
Accurate measurements are essential. Check your ruler and make sure the edge of the fabric is directly under the marking line. When cutting longer strips, move your hand placement along the ruler to secure the area being cut. This will avoid slipping, which results inaccurate strips.
When cutting strips that will be sewn together, layer them right sides together before cutting. This will hold the strips snugly together and save time later — they’ll be ready to take to the sewing machine!
Sewing fabric strips together
An accurate ¼” seam is vital. Consistent seam allowances will result in consistent finished strips. Measure your strips after sewing them together to verify that they’re accurate, and adjust your seam allowance accordingly.
While pinning is not necessary for sewing strips together, hand placement is important. Keeping a light pressure on the fabrics will ensure they don’t slip to the sides and that the bottom fabric feeds at the same rate as the top fabric. Resting your fingertips on the strips will keep things in place.
Keeping strips 18″ or less in length will also improve accuracy. The longer the strips, the more likely they are to stretch or shift. Keeping strips a bit shorter will help prevent issues.
Pressing sewn strips
Always press sewn strips from the back first, pressing the seam toward the darker fabric (or whatever direction your pattern instructs). This ensures that your seam allowances are going the direction they are supposed to. Pressing from the back first sets the stitches as well.
When pressing from the front, make sure that the seams are fully open. If the seams aren’t completely open, the iron will create tucks along the seam line, which will result in mistakes later in the patchwork process.
Avoid pressing the strips into curves. Using a pressing surface that has lines or linear designs will help. If your pressing surface does not have lines, place a striped fabric on the surface and use the stripes as a guide.
Cutting strip sets
Once you’ve cut the strips, sewn them together and pressed the seams, you can use the strip sets to start constructing a quilt top. However, you can also continue your strip piecing by cross-cutting the strip sets into smaller units and then sewing them back together.
When cutting strip sets, always align the seam lines with the lines on the ruler. Don’t worry about the outer edges — they won’t be as accurate as the seam lines in the center of the strip set.
It’s often easiest and most efficient to start by cutting larger segments. For example, if you need to cut 2” segments, cut a 6″ segment, then cut that into three equal segments. This will prevent the segments from drifting to the left or right.
When cutting multiple strip sets at one time, layer them so that the seams are not directly on top of one another. By staggering the strip sets every ½”, the layers remain more even and therefore will cut more evenly.
Piecing cross-cut strip sets
Sewing strip set segments back together again is where the magic happens. The design emerges very quickly once the sets are sewn to one another.
If your strip sets are accurate, matching seams at this point will happen almost automatically.
Always nest the seam allowances together so that they are facing opposite directions. This will prevent bulk at the intersection and will increase the accuracy of the intersection.
When possible, have the seam allowances on the top layer facing toward the needle as you sew. The bottom seam allowances will be facing toward you. This prevents issues with the seam allowances getting caught in the feed dogs. It also snugs the seams together as they pass under the presser foot.
Taking the time to increase accuracy in the beginning will save time later. Precise piecing is easier to work with and results in more accurate patchwork. Doing these steps correctly the first time is always faster than redoing them later! And it’s always more fun to get good results the first time.