How To: Strip Piecing

Eloise Quilt Pattern from Penelope Handmade available here.

Strip piecing is such a versatile method to create patchwork designs. It can greatly reduce the amount of cutting and piecing required to make small patchwork patterns. The first time I used strip piecing, I was pleasantly surprised with the reduction of effort, but my pieces were pretty wonky and hardly any of my points matched. I've used the method several times since then and have compiled my tips and methods to help you avoid those wonky strips and mismatched points!

I start by pressing any large creases out of my cuts of fabric, leaving the fabric folded along the width with selvedges together. I use a dry iron and a spray bottle with water in it to remove any harsh creases.

Before cutting my strips to size, I trim the edge from which I am starting to make sure both layers are aligned. I use the marks on my cutting mat to trim just enough of a strip to even out the edges and give me a nice straight edge from which to start cutting my strips. 

Using the vertical marks on your ruler, align your freshly trimmed fabric edge with the size needed for your project. My project called for 2.5” strips. I align the bottom selvedge of my fabric with a horizontal mark on my ruler to make sure my strips are square.

If you notice as you’re cutting that your strips are no longer square, simply cut your strip slightly larger than the size you need. Then, flip your strip over and align the edge you just cut with the size strip you need. Trim off the excess.

Piece your strips right sides together. To avoid your fabric getting “eaten” by your machine or your threads knotting on the back, you can start sewing slighting away from the edge in the selvedge (since the selvedge will be getting trimmed off anyway), or you can use a “leader.” A leader is just a small scrap of fabric that you place under your presser foot, behind your needle. You don’t sew any stitches into the leader, it just helps get your fabric fed through the machine.

I also like to begin and end my strips with a securing knot. While ultimately these securing stitches will be cut off, I think it helps keep the stitches secured while pressing the seam. If your sewing machine does not have a securing knot feature, you can simply reduce your stitch length and make three very small stitches at the beginning and end of your strip, or backstitch over your first and last few stitches.

Press your seams as desired. I generally follow Suzy Quilts’ pressing tutorial to get my seams nice and flat. You want to avoid stretching your strips of fabric so pressing (placing the iron on the seam and lifting to reposition) vice ironing (keeping the iron on the fabric and sliding it along the seam) is very important here. 

When strip piecing, you’re typically dealing with long, thin strips of fabric which have a tendency to stretch. For this reason, many quilters use starch to stiffen up their fabrics before cutting. I have never starched my fabric (I honestly just don't want to place anything sticky near my iron, fabric, or ironing board!), but if you're noticing a lot of stretching, it may be worth exploring starch.

Now it’s time to cut your strips! Start by trimming off the selvedges on either side of your pieced strips to create an even cutting edge. Align that edge with the vertical marks on your ruler for the size needed for your project. For me, that is the 2.5” inch mark. Now, here’s the important part! Align a horizontal mark on the your ruler with the SEAM of your strips to keep your pieces square. In the photo below, I have the 4.25" mark aligned on the seam. 

 

The first time I used strip piecing, I aligned the horizontal mark of my ruler with the bottom edge of my fabric instead of the seam. I ended up with wonky strips that didn't match up. While the quilt is obviously still usable and well-loved, things would have been much, much better aligned (and less frustrating!) had I used the seam as a guide.

If, as you’re cutting, your notice your pieces get wonky, don’t worry! This usually happens to me as I get close to the midpoint of the strips and is generally due to any stretching of the fabric. Keep a horizontal line on your ruler aligned with the seam, and slide your ruler over to cut slightly larger than the size you need for your project. Turn the piece around, align the edge your just cut with the vertical mark for the size needed for your project and trim off the excess “wonkiness.” Most patterns provide for enough excess that these small sliver trims won't cause you to run short.

Piece your newly cut pieces as called for in your pattern, matching the seams. To keep the seams from shifting as I sew over them, I use a leveler to keep my presser foot slightly lifted. Before reaching the seam, I lift the presser foot and slide the leveler underneath, just behind the needle. Lower the presser foot onto the leveler and sew across the seam. Continue piecing your pieces, and press your seams. 

And that's all there is to it! Have you tried strip piecing? Did you find this post helpful? Do you have any tips to share? Tell me in the comments!

 

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