Summer is well underway here in NJ, and I’m having so much fun already with the Summer Trip Around the World Sew-Along! Remember, you can find the original tutorial for the block by Bonnie from Quiltville HERE.
As I wrote the tutorials for the Sew-Along, it dawned on me that much of what I was presenting assumed that the sewist had a good understanding of the strip piecing technique. If you find yourself a bit unhappy with the way your strips are coming together, do not get discouraged! Usually it only takes a few small tweaks to get your strips laying straight and square.
5 Tips for Strip Piecing Success
1. Square up your fabric
This may seem like a no-brainer, but I think we are all sometimes eager to get moving on our projects, and we will skip this important step. In order to increase the probability that your sewn strips will be square, you have to start with square strips in the first place! If you are using precuts with your project, this may not be something that you have to worry about as much, but even still, I recommend checking your strip before you begin sewing and setting the ones that aren’t square to the side.
So what does it mean to be “square?” it means that your cuts are running with the grain and crossgrain of your fabric and your corner angles are true 90 degree angles. This may seem intimidating, but there are some really obvious visual clues to strips that are not square. For example, if you cut your strip and open it up, check the area by where the fold was when you were cutting. If there is a bump/peak at this point, then your fabric was not square when you cut your strip.
As a generally rule of thumb, if I am cutting a bunch of strips from yardage, I will square up my fabric every 4 strips or so. I don’t cheat on this part either. I open up my fabric, press if needed, find my grain on the fold, and then square up my side again so that I can continue cutting strips. Maybe every 4 strips is overkill, but I am a big fan of reducing the chances of problems. I never regret taking *more* time on my work, only skipping steps and facing problems down the road!
The images below show another example of squaring up. You can see that the image on the left shows a bulge, indicating that the fabric is not folded with the grain. The image of the right shows the fabric after the correct fold has been found.
2. Sew ScantI will be the first to admit that I have my preferences when it comes to certain aspects of sewing, and sewing scant is one of those things! I prefer to sew an accurate 1/4″ seam, but I understand that for certain techniques, sewing scant is required. Generally speaking, sewing a scant 1/4″ for strips is a good idea because it will help you avoid losing space across the entire block as you add on more and more strips. Sewing scant can also be important depending on your pressing plan (see below).
3. Alternate Directions
When you sew strips, the feed dogs are pulling the bottom fabric at a different rate than the top fabric, which is simply being fed under the foot via the momentum of the bottom fabric. What this means is that you may sew two strips together and end up with your bottom piece ending sooner/feeding through faster than the top, even if both strips were cut exactly the same! This is normal, and can be corrected while sewing by holding the bottom fabric slightly taught. This issue with this, is that it may cause your strip to be stretched in some areas, which will lead to a wobbly wonky block.The best solution is to sew your strips together in alternate directions. Say you have 3 strips – red, white, and blue. You begin by sewing together red and white, wrong sides together, which red on top and white on the bottom. If you open your fabric up with the point that fed through the machine first oriented at the top, white will be on the left, and red will be on the right. Say you want to add blue to the left side so that it is next to white. Leaving your sewn strips where they are (white on left right side up, the point that you fed through the machine first oriented on top), place your blue fabric, right side down onto the white. Then, holding those strips in place, turn your fabric 180 degrees so that the side that started through the machine first with the first two strips is on the bottom. You are now sewing in the opposite direction.
If the bottom fabric in your machine is feeding through faster than the top, your fabric is now oriented so that the fabric that was the bottom fabric is essentially the top. This will allow any stretching, etc. to neutralize!
4. Pressing Plan
Having a pressing plan is super important, especially if you intend on sub-cutting your strips and reassembling them into a block. By having a plan, you can determine whether you need to press your seams to one side or another, and which direction your seams need to lay in order to have a nice, flat block with few bulky intersections. In some cases, like with the Trip Around the World quilt, alternating the direction that you press your seams will allow you to nest your seams once you sub-cut and are ready to re-assemble.If you determine that you need to press your seams to one side or another, then you absolutely should be sewing with a scant 1/4″ seam. This will allow you to compensate for the small amount of loft that is created by pressing the seam to the side.
5. Sew Short
Sometimes we have no choice and have to sew really long strips, especially when a pattern calls for it and we can’t quite find a work-around. I believe that the longer the strip, the harder it is to cut it square, the more challenging it is to keep your 1/4″ accurate (whether it is scant or not), and the more difficult it is to keep your fabric (top, bottom, or both) from stretching when you are sewing. When possible, sew together smaller strips to help avoid all of the issues just mentioned.
If you need to sew loooooooong strips, then considering adding a couple of inches of extra so that you can trim the ends once you sew the strips together.
Wait a minute…
You may notice that the list does not include pinning. This is because I don’t pin when I strip piece! I find that pinning does not help me with accuracy or efficiency, my top two priorities when piecing. The only time I do recommend pinning with strip piecing is if you are piecing very long strips and you feel that your accuracy will be sacrificed the further down that strip as you sew. In this case, pinning may help keep your fabric where it needs to be, and allow you to ease in any fabric as needed while you sew along the length of the strip!
I hope that these tips help you out with your work, especially if you are working with us on the Summer Trip Around the World Sew-Along! As always, feel free to post any questions in the comments, or hunt me down on IG, Facebook, and on the Tea & Brie Community Page!