Cutting it Square

Last time I told you about Robin’s bedspread top, but what I didn’t tell you was that she wanted it cut 79″ x 81″ to fit the bed top.  And, this will be for a customer of hers.  So, not only did I need to worry about making sure my customer was happy with the finished product, I was now also making sure it was good for her customer (double-edged sword).  I was nervous about cutting this exactly as measured.  You know how one mistake can mess it all up…

So, I took out my trusty laser square to help me get the measurements exact and not skewered, with one end longer than the other or wonky with curved lines.  The first thing I did was get close to the edges of where I quilted and put my 12 1/2 inch ruler in that corner (you can see the ruler in the upper right hand of the picture).  Then I took my laser square and lined up the laser lines with the cuts I had made.

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I proceeded to cut along the laser lines with my long ruler and rotary cutter until I got to the middle of the sides. For the top end, I used my 12 1/2″ square ruler to start the other long side and then I would use my laser square to get down those long sides.  When I got to the bottom end of the “quilt” I then put my laser square at that end to join the lines and proceeded to cut from there.  I measured the sides several times along the way to make sure I was meeting the exact measurements of 79″ across.  And, then I moved the laser square to the other end and started to cut across the bottom in the same manner after I’d measured to be sure I had 81″ along each side.

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I am not sure where I got my laser square, because I’ve had it for awhile now, but I’m pretty sure I got it at Home Depot.  My husband is not handy, so he would not have one of these in his tools,  But, if your significant other is handy, look in his/her toolbox for one of these before purchasing it yourself.  I have found this to be a huge help to me many times.  It’s definitely worth the $42.97 that Home Depot charges for it.

Oh, one more thing…  After all this measuring, I took this to my client’s house (yes, I travel to my clients to make it convenient for them) and we measured this folded in half the long way.  It measured 78″ folded.  Talk about sweating bullets!!!  Oh my gosh, I thought I was going to faint right then and there.  We then unfolded it and it measured 79″.  So, it just goes to show you how rolling or folding quilts in any manner, to include on a quilting machine frame, can make your quilt shrink up or appear to shrink up.  :-\

Squaring-up Backing Fabric

For those of you who don’t quilt on a large quilting machine frame, it is extremely important that when you attach the quilt top to the frame, the first thing you do is to first makes sure the backing is squarely attached to the frame.  Then the batting needs to be centered on that and then add the quilt top.  Make sure the quilt top is squared up as much as possible and then keep it squared up as you unroll the top during the quilting process.  But, like I said, MAKE SURE THE BACKING IS SQUARE!  It’s the foundation for the finished quilt.

But, how on earth do you square up backing fabric that is 118″ wide?  I ran into this problem recently and was met with a few problems.  First off, you get the fabric folded up several times, and it’s not folded up enough for your 24″ ruler to span across.  I felt very confident when I had added plenty of extra fabric and then cut the fabric.  When I was ready to attach it to the leaders, this is what I found.  Yikes!

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So, how do I fix this?  It is too wide for my ruler to fit across and too big for my multiple cutting mats, too, if I open up the fabric at all.  So, I tried tearing across the fabric.  Imagine my horror when I found this after ripping what I thought was the straight of grain!  This messed with my whole belief system of what is true in the fabric world!


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Can you believe there is that much leeway between the selvages?  That’s about 9 inches.  Needless to say, ripping the fabric was not going to work, and now I didn’t have enough fabric for the backing of the quilt.

I remembered my laser square and how I  had used it to square up a finished quilt and also to make sure the quilt is square as it is on my quilting machine frame.  I decided to at least try it, and I’m glad I did.


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I lined up the laser with the selvage and then tried it to see how far across the top of the fabric it would go.  The laser line hit the wall, so I was thrilled!  The above pictures show the “too short” fabric, but I now had a strategy for squaring up all backing fabrics.  I could shine the laser light across the fabric and run my ruler next to and along the line and cut straight lines along the laser line.

So, if you are a longarm quilter and you don’t already have a laser square, you might want to purchase one (or “borrow” your husband’s).  It’s a small price to pay (they run from $30 to over $100) for fixing mistakes before they happen.

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.


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.


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.


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


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.