everything you never imagined that you needed to know about sewing strips

design, quilting, sewing

I got an email recently from a kind lady in Australia who was making the Beach Glass kit. She wrote to say that her strips were bowing and not coming out straight. She asked for some tips so I thought that I’d share my response to her. Having just completed a 9 foot long custom version of Beach Glass for a client, all of these tips are fresh in my mind (I assure you that they will be replaced soon by some other obscure tip that would clear the room if I decided to share it with non-quilters at a cocktail party). Not everyone appreciates a good sewing tip you know, however painfully figured out.

We encountered many problems on our first long strippy quilt our first year in business in 1999. We were making a version of our quilt “Ice Coffee” when we noticed that the strips were starting to arc to one side. After much debate we finally decided to start piecing with the walking foot instead of the #1 foot most quilters use for piecing. The logic is that with the #1 foot the fabric gets a tiny bit stretched as you sew because the top and bottom pieces of fabric are being pulled between the pressure of the presser foot and the tension of the feed dogs.If you are sewing blocks you wouldn’t notice the slight amount of stretching but the course of sewing a long strip it becomes apparent. When you sew all of those strips together, the bowing gets even worse.

The second thing we figured out was that if we alternated the ends when piecing the rows together that it would even things up. For example, most people would line up the ends of the strips and think of it as the “top” of the quilt. They would piece together all of the strips beginning at the top. We figured out that if we alternated piecing one set of strips from the top and the next set of strips from the bottom, that the bowing of one strip in one direction would be counteracted by the bowing of the next strip in the other direction (see diagram).

If you’re sewing placemats or something small, it’s not a big deal but if you’re sewing a bed quilt or a 9-ft long piece, believe me when I tell you that knowing this tip will save you massive amounts of frustration.

Pass it on.

11 thoughts on “everything you never imagined that you needed to know about sewing strips

  1. I learned this the hard way! I was making a similar quilt, it bowed and I thought I could cut it to square it up. Good thing I didn’t–I just ripped out the seams and then did the alternating method you mention and the quilt was fine.

  2. Unfortunately I read this two weeks to late. Now my Beach Glass quilt top is sewn together and showing exactly the same problem. I already suspected that by alternating the direction in which I sew the stripes together I could fix it. Thanks for reassuring me that ripping out half of the seams will not be for nothing.

  3. When making a Chinese coins quilt I learned the hard way not to just feed the two pieces through the machine without measuring or pinning. I was in a hurry because I usually know better. Now that little unfinished quilt top sits in a box.

  4. Thank you for sharing this – I learnt it the hard way too while making my olympic quilt two summers ago. Since then I have treated all stitching of long strips the same way I do with borders: measuring and pinning (marking the half and quarter distances and matching up the pins). It takes a little extra time and effort, but ripping out seams takes time too ;-)

  5. Thanks Weeks. I just got done with a quilt for my daughter and it was out of whack! I had to pull it apart. Next time I will remember your sage advice! Thanks again.
    Terri Karls

  6. On a different subject…How do you choose the quilting thread color and pattern for a quilt? I’ve been stuck in stippling and looping for far too long.

  7. @MiChal – Living in Chicago, we’ve considered the pieced duvet cover idea as well. Our conclusion is that if a pieced quilt top is not quilted, it places a lot of stress on the seams. So we decided not to do it for that reason. We were worried that it would fall apart too easily. However, I’d be happy for someone to prove me wrong.

  8. Thank you for the so helpful ideas on sewing long strips of fabric together. Have not did a quilt like this but it is planned, so you saved me a lot of difficulties!

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