5 Tips for Chain Piecing Success

Chain piecing is a method used in sewing to make the piecing of blocks more efficient. Chain piecing is typically used when a pattern calls for many of the same block to be made.

Chain piecing can make assembly of a small quilt take no time at all, but what happens when you try to use the technique on a larger scale? Do you still feel overwhelmed? Does it feel as though you are chain piecing as best you can, but the quilt is still taking for.ev.er?

By making a few small adjustments, you can use chain piecing to its best advantage, and piece your tops as quickly as the Pros!

  1. Read through the entire pattern. I know how exciting it is when you get a new pattern. You want to just jump in and GET TO THE MAKING! One of the best habits that you can get into is reading through a pattern before you begin working on it. For various reasons (pattern size, writing for certain types of fabric cuts), Designers don’t always write patterns in a way that is the most time effecient. By reading through the pattern first, you will be able to identify any aspects of the pattern that can be sped up by using chain piecing.
  2. Stay on top of your organization game. Once you read through the pattern and begin cutting, make sure you are organizing your pieces in such a way that when it is time to begin piecing, you will not be slowed down by hunting for that rogue 2″ square, or that elusive 2″ x 4″ rectangle. Separate your cuts by whatever method works best for you, whether it is all pieces by the same size together, pieces separated into piles for each block, etc. Use sticky notes or index cards to label your piles so you know which is which. If you have any cuts that are of very similar size (ex: 4 3/4″ vs 4 7/8″), be sure to label them right away so that you don’t get stuck having to go back and measure every time the pattern calls for you to use one or the other.
  3. Get the right tools, and have them all laid out before you get to work. Big quilts can start to feel really monotonous, especially if there is a lot of work that needs to be done before you even begin sewing. Using the right tools will remove a lot of the headache and allieviate some of the impatience you may be feeling. For example, the small rulers specifically made for drawing lines on fabric are much lighter and more manageable than the rulers you use for cutting. It may not seem like much, but if you are marking lines on (300) 2.5″ squares and your gigantic ruler is knocking over your tidy piles or causing your fabric to shift when you are drawing, you are going to recognize by the 10th line or so that there has to be a better way, or a better tool to use, to get the job done! Check out this post on types of sewing/quilting rulers to learn more about the types of rulers that you can use to make your chain piecing less tedious!
  4. Repeat the same action all at once. Do not move on to the next step in a pattern until you have completed the step you are on. For example, do not begin pressing open and squaring up that HST until you have finished sewing every single HST that you need to make. Once you are done sewing them all, then move on to pressing them all. When pressing is done, then you can trim all of them. You will need to figure out how to tweak this in a way that works best for you. In big quilts that have more than one block, I will work one block at a time, especially if each block is made up of different units (ex: flying geese vs. half-square triangles). If all of the blocks in the quilt have repeating elements, I will go through those elements one at a time (ex: I will make all HSTs before moving on to flyin geese) before moving on to the next element, making sure to make piles and clearly label what is used where in the quilt.​
  5. Similarly, do not move on to the next seam until you have finished sewing the first seam on all required units. For example, if you are making half-square triangles 2 at a time, chances are that you need to sew 1/4″ away from either side of a line that you drew on the fabric from corner to corner. If you made to make 25 of these 2-at-a-time HSTs, sew all of the seams 1/4″ to the left of the line on all 25 squares before cutting your thread, flipping your blocks, and repeating again on all 25 blocks.

I almost always make quilts that are lap-sized or larger, and one of the reasons why I love making larger quilts so much is that I have figured out a way to quickly move past the aspects that I don’t like so much. This gives me the ability to enjoy the aspects of sewing and quilting that I do like, without getting pulled into a cycle of thinking, “this is taking way longer than it should.”

Do you have any additional tips to add? Let me know in the comments! I can add them to the post above and give you credit for being such a fancy-schmancy chain piecer!

Happy Sewing!