Monday, January 24, 2011

TUTORIAL - String Pieced Quilt Block

New to quilting? Tired of traditional piecing? Looking to machine-piece for the first time? Need an eye-catching product that requires little thinking? You've come to the right place!

I've been working on a quilt for Belle's bed for a few weeks now and thought I would take some time and show you all how I'm doing it. This is a standard foundation method for string piecing...nothing fancy here. I haven't reinvented the wheel or created some magic method...just a basic show and tell of the steps in the process.

The tutorial below is heavy on pictures and light on words. You will need a square of foundation fabric (with this particular method this fabric WILL show on the front of you block, so pick something that complements your color scheme), strips or "strings" of a variety of fabrics in a variety of widths, a large square ruler, a rotary cutter, pins, a hot iron, thread and sewing machine.

This is the completed block, and while it doesn't look incredibly impressive by itself, don't let it fool you! When combined with other blocks it is pretty fantastic!

Begin by determining your finished block size...mine will be 12.5" square. Use your ruler and rotary cutter to cut a square that is 1/2" to 1" larger than your desired finished block size. I cut a 13" square of natural colored linen for my foundation. If you are new to quilting and are afraid of making errors you will probably want to go a full 1" larger than your finished block size just to be on the safe side.

Fold your foundation square in half on the diagonal and press well.

I like to assembly line piece these blocks as it saves on trips to the iron, so I prepped 8 foundations. I recommend that if you are new to string piecing, you start with one at a time. As soon as you get the hang of it though, you'll make progress a lot faster if you do more than one at a time. Here are my 8 prepped foundations.

Use your square ruler to draw a faint pencil line 1/2" on EACH side of your fold line.

This line will not show in your finished block, but it is very important for getting everything lined up correctly.

Here are my pencil lines.

These lines will result in a 1/2" strip of visible foundation fabric in the center of your block. If you would like to see more or less foundation fabric you can adjust the distance of your line from the fold on your fabric.

If you are planning a large project then you will need to know which colors to select for your blocks. I used graph paper to design Belle's quilt. Then it was very easy to count up the number of blocks needed for each color combination. You've seen all the blocks with red/pink in them already. Today's block will be blue and green.
Another option is to go SCRAPPY! For this you will select any fabrics from your stash without regard for color or even all works out in the end I promise:)

At this point, you will need to cut your "strings." Strings are simply long strips of fabric cut in various widths. My widths range from 1-3.5". When making smaller blocks I tend to use thinner strings so that there are still 12-16 different fabrics in each block. If you are following my dimensions you will need at least 8 different fabrics of each color (8 blues, 8 greens, etc.) so that you do not have to repeat a particular fabric in a block. I'm sorry I don't have any pictures of string cutting...I pre-cut all my strings for the entire quilt last week. Just use your ruler and rotary cutter and slice away:)
To attach your first string, with right sides together, align the raw edge of the string with the pencil line on your foundation. Pin in place. Use a 1/4" seam allowance to sew the strip to the foundation.

Fold the strip back so that wrong sides are together and press well.

Repeat the process on the other side to attach the second string.

You now have a string on each side and a small strip of foundation peeking out in the middle.

From this point forward you can work on both sides of the block at the same time. Select your next two strings, place them right sides together with the previously attached strings (blue to blue; green to green) and align the raw edges of the new string with the one that has already been attached to the foundation. Pin in place and use a 1/4" seam allowance to attach the new strings to each side of the block.

Open up the strings you just attached and press well.

You will repeat this process to continue attaching new strings to each side of the block. Be careful that you do not use the same fabric twice within a block. Your edges will be messes and that's OK! It is VITAL that your press well each time you attach a string. This will prevent bumps and rumples in your finished block.

When you have covered the entire foundation in strings, it is time to trim the block. I just happen to have a 12.5" ruler and want a 12.5" finished block...this is VERY HELPFUL, but NOT necessary.
If you haven't used a square ruler very much, you are now about to become good friends with your new tool.
Look carefully at your square and you will see a diagonal line running across it in one direction. You need to align that diagonal line with the diagonal fold in the middle of your block. MAKE SURE THAT, HOWEVER YOU MOVE YOUR RULER FROM THIS POINT ON, THESE TWO DIAGONAL LINES REMAIN ALIGNED!!!
Center your ruler on your block.

Check that diagonal again...still lined up??? GOOD!

Now use your rotary cutter to slice off each messy edge.

Keep an eye on that diagonal...your ruler may want to slip a little at this step.

You now have one string-pieced block! Like I said, it doesn't look like much now, but put with similar companions, it becomes a show-stopper!

Now go give it a shot, and be sure to share your results. AND if you're still with me and interested in a block swap let me know and we can set up a little exchange:) I'm working on scrappy 6.5" blocks (a little bit different method, but we can chat about that) for a doll quilt and would love to get some new fabrics into the mix!


  1. Oh, I like this method. I've only seen it with paper as your foundation before. This quilt is going to be incredible! Can't wait to see more

  2. This looks like something I can do....Thank you!
    I will share the finished block:) Wish me luck I am a beginner!