Blocking… the final frontier

The quilting is done and all I need to do now is add the binding before sending this quilt back to its owner.  But, before I do the binding, I want to “block” it to make sure it will lay flat and square.  I’ve heard that once you block a quilt, it will always be square, but I don’t know about that.  Have any of you heard that?

So, here goes the blocking and how I do it.  There are many strategies for blocking, but I’ve found that using a laser square is the easiest for me.  First I lay out the quilt onto a surface that I can pin into – that would be my design wall placed on the floor.  I forgot to tell you that I get the quilt wet first and run it through the spin cycle in the washing machine and then air fluff it so that it’s not soaking wet; just damp enough to nudge the fibers around.

I start at opposite corners and try to make sure those corners are fairly square and then do the other 2 opposite corners.  This is just to get them in the ball park area, because you are going to be doing some nudging and things will shift.  I then work from the middle out – I start with the middle blocks and make sure they are as square as possible, putting a few pins in there to hold the blocks in place while I work outward.

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You can barely see the orange beam of light along the blocks’ edges, but you can see where the laser square is on the right side of the picture.  Look for a horizontal beam and a vertical beam.

Sometimes as I am working along a seam line, the beam gets blocked by a pin or the quilt sticking up a bit in an area.  In that case I run my finger along the beam to help me nudge the fabric into line.

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When I’ve got the blocks where I want them, I then start with the inner borders and make sure they are square, sticking more pins along the lines to hold them in place.

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And then I move to the inside edge of the outer border.  Yes, more pins!

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And then, finally, the outside perimeter of the quilt… I stick the most pins along these edges and will many times I will go back and remove some of the pins that are inside, especially those around the blocks and sashing.  The quilt is where I want it at this point, and it will just be laying there.

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When I’ve got it all pinned in place, I finger press down the edges to get it completely flat and then let it dry for a couple of days.  This is a good reason to have a place that will be undisturbed.  Oh, and I have a fan or 2 blowing air on it to help it dry.  Then, it will be ready for binding.

So, if you have a laser square tucked away somewhere in your garage or in your husband’s tools, borrow it some time to see if this strategy is easier for you, too!

Quilting Strategies on a Quilting Machine

Ever think how lucky someone is to own a longarm quilting machine?  I mean, they must just slap the fabric and batting on there and turn it on and it does all the work for them.  Right?  WRONG!  There is a a lot of work that goes in to loading a quilt, getting it straight, and making it come out right.  With backing fabric, it’s nice not to have any seams in it, because each seam can draw up the fabric around it.  You can’t avoid that with the quilt top, but you can with the bottom/backing.  Batting needs to be a decent quality, too, because these high-powered machines will run right through thin batting and shred it to pieces.  As for the quilt top, this is the most important to make sure you have it loaded properly.

As I load the quilt backing and top, I make sure I am rolling them so that their edges meet the edges of the fabric they are rolled on.  For example, think of a fabric that you roll around a pole.  With each roll, you want to make sure the edge of the top fabric meets with the edge of the fabric underneath.  You also want to make sure you are not rolling one side tighter than the other.  One strategy I use for that is the blocks and sashings in a pieced top.

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The above photo shows a block and sashing.  See how it is kind of caddy wonker and not straight across?  If I were to roll the quilt top like that, the whole quilt will end up caddy wonker and stay that way after I’ve quilted it.  So, using the seams and sashing as a guide, I try to roll it straight on.  I look down the length of the roller to make sure it is straight before advancing the roller.

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See how the sashing on this is a little crooked at the bottom of this picture?  I’d make sure it was straight before advancing the roller any farther.

Another strategy I like is using a laser square for making sure my quilt top is laying square on the frame during and after I roll it forward.  I also like to use my laser square for blocking my quilts, but I will show you how to do that in a later post.  You can buy a laser square at the hardware store.

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I can use the laser line as a guide for pinning the top edge of the quilt top to the batting and backing before I baste it together and stabilize the entire quilt.  You can line up the vertical line to the edges of the quilt as well as sashings and other pieces within the blocks and the horizontal line will go across the top to show where the edge needs to be in order for your quilt to end up “square” and not caddy wonker.  There are many tools you can use to achieve this.  The laser square just happens to be one of my favorites.