Basic Quilting Skills Series · Rose Cards · Tips and Tricks · Tutorials · villa rosa designs

Basic Quilting Skills for Beginners: Squaring Up Your Quilt

Hello Quilty Friends!

Happy Thursday to you!

First, I want to give each of you a great big THANK YOU hug!

Thank you for reading our Villa Rosa Designs quilt blog, Villa Rosa Quilts. This past week, the number of views has exploded and we’ve added new followers, too. And it’s all because of you, our VRD fans and followers. We are thrilled that you find our blog to be informative, fun, and worthwhile.

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Now let’s hop right into this week’s Basic Quilting Skills for Beginners post — Squaring Up.

You cut, you sewed, you quilted, and now it’s time to square up your quilt. I was planning to do both Squaring Up and Binding in this post, but I decided it would probably be better to separate the two topics, otherwise the post was going to be too long, too wordy, and probably too boring and we can’t have that.

Forgive me, but you’ll have to wait until next week for Binding.

Squaring Up

Before you can do the binding, you first must square up your quilt.

Why should I square up my quilt? Can’t I just slap on the binding and be done?

That’s a good question — sure, you could just slap on the binding, but you probably wouldn’t be satisfied with the results. Things can get distorted as you handle your quilt, press (or maybe you iron), quilt it, tug, pull, crumple it up and throw it on the floor — well, you get the picture. Think of squaring up like pre-binding.

My quilt “volunteer” today is a new Halloween version of my Ice Jam VRD pattern. I made this runner a couple months ago as a sample project in my 2022 Villa Rosa Rose Card Table Runner a Month class, but never finished it.

BIG SHOUT OUT to all my awesome class buddies — Mary Lee, Sherry, Missi, Debbie, Anita, Robin, Kim, Gaynel, Jean, Donna and Gayle (the owner of my local shop, Homespun Treasures, where my class meets). Homespun Treasures, of course, has lots of Rose Card patterns in stock. Just sayin’….

Here’s the Ice Jam Rose Card pattern. It’s a super fast and fun table runner which measures 18″ x 54″ and uses 5″ charm squares. It’s a very versatile pattern and will look great in any style or theme. So, try it out.

Here’s the pattern cover with the original wintery blues.

What!?! You don’t have the pattern? You can order it HERE.

Just a quick note about the machine quilting. If you missed our Quilt As Desired post last week, you can find it HERE. I added my wiggly lines free motion quilting video to last week’s post and I just wanted to point out my fun wiggly squiggly lines on this table runner.

Okay, okay……let’s get back to squaring up.

You might want to press your quilt before squaring it up. Pressing your quilt will help everything lay nice and flat.

Next lay your quilt out on your cutting mat, centering one corner of the quilt on the mat because we will square up the corners before cutting the sides. If you are working on a large quilt, it helps to support the weight of the quilt on a table or chair. The problem with larger quilts is that if the quilt is hanging off your cutting mat/table and down to the floor, the weight of the quilt can pull things out of whack . Oops! Gravity works. Now if you lived on the moon, you wouldn’t have to worry about this issue…. (wink, wink)

Use the biggest square ruler you have for cutting your quilt corners, the bigger the ruler, the easier it is to square up your corners. I personally love my 12 1/2″ square for working with table runners and smaller quilts, but I also have 15″ and 18″ square rulers to use for larger quilts.

Once you’ve smoothed your quilt out flat, lay your square ruler down on a corner of your quilt. Adjust the square as needed to make the corner 90 degrees, sliding a little this way and that way until it’s square.

Don’t worry if batting, backing, and even slivers of your top are beyond the edges of the ruler. If you see too much of the front of the quilt beyond your ruler edge, though, wiggle the ruler around some more until there is very little of the quilt top showing beyond the ruler. You don’t want to cut much from your quilt edges, especially if you have triangles all the way to the edge of the quilt because you will probably cut off your triangle points and that will not make you very happy.

Take your time here because once you cut, you can’t go back. Hold the ruler down with one hand using good solid pressure — be careful not to shift the ruler – and cut on the 2 outer sides of the ruler, thus making this corner square.

Let’s move on to the next corner. Line up the ruler, adjust it gently for another nice square corner, then cut. Repeat for corners 3 and 4. Yep — you’re going to have weird strips of batting/backing hanging off your quilt. That’s okay. We’ll take care of that in the next step. In the meantime, think of it like quilt spaghetti.

Now it’s time to position the quilt on the cutting mat so we can cut the long edges and remove all that quilt spaghetti. I use my 6″ x 24″ ruler for this part. Again, if you’re working on a big quilt, support the weight so the quilt doesn’t slide off your mat/table or skew your cutting.

Please be patient and take your time with your squaring up (I know it’s hard but trust me — I have the attention span of a four year old, so if I can do it, you can do it) because if you don’t square up properly during this step, your quilt will never be square, no matter how much you tug and pull later down the road. Wonky quilts don’t lay well on tables or beds nor do they look nice hung up on walls.

Start at one nicely squared up corner and line up the long ruler. Again, don’t worry if you see bits of your quilt top sticking out beyond the ruler edge as that is completely okay and to be expected. Once things are lined up to your satisfaction, cut with your rotary cutter along the ruler edge, stopping before you reach the end of the ruler so you don’t accidentally cut into your quilt. Gently slide the ruler across the quilt edge so you don’t distort your nice straight edge or your square corner. Make sure that the ruler is still lined up with your fresh cut quilt edge. Cut again. Continue doing this until you can line up your ruler from your freshly cut edge to your next squared up corner and cut. Yay you! Only 3 more sides to go.

Go ahead and repeat for the other 3 sides. Luckily with a table runner, I usually only have to cut the 2 long sides this way as the short sides get squared up when I use my 12 1/2″ square ruler for the corners. Not so lucky with big quilts — sometimes it’s like wrestling an octopus, but keep at it, you will be the winner.

Here it is! My squared up quilt. Yay!

Ice Jam runner in Halloween fabrics

Let’s do a quick check to make sure things are all square before we move on.

Fold your quilt in half, lining up the edges and corners as best as you can, use a few straight pins if you need to. If things are nice and square, everything should line up pretty well (there really is no such thing as perfect, so if things aren’t 100% exact, that’s okay). If corners or edges are not lined up, then you need to check the squareness of your corners with your large square ruler again and make any necessary minute adjustments to square up those corners. Then check the long sides again using your long ruler to make sure things are nice and straight, only cutting away slivers of quilt to make things more square and straight.

Fold your quilt again, lining up corners and edges, to check your squareness. Repeat until things are as square and straight as you can get them.

Well, I think that’s it for today. Next week I promise we will attack the Binding in our Basic Quilting Skills for Beginners series.

Quilt on, my friends, quilt on.

Until next Thursday —

Sew. Laugh. Repeat.

Always,

Tricia @VRD

Basic Quilting Skills Series · Tips and Tricks · Tutorials · villa rosa designs

Basic Quilting Skills for Beginners: How to Find a Quilter’s 1/4″ Seam Allowance

Hello Quilty Friends!

Happy Thursday to you!

Recently, we received a message from a quilter who purchased a couple kits featuring Villa Rosa Rose Card patterns at a quilt shop while traveling. She asked for instructions for the kits she purchased. Oh no! I thought, did the kits not include the Rose Cards?

After further communication back and forth, I found out the cards were in the kits, but the quilter, being unfamiliar with Rose Cards, wondered why the pattern was so small and on the back of a postcard– there must surely be more to the instructions than that, she thought. So, she contacted us.

Brick Wall Photo by Joe Woods on Unsplash

This message got me thinking about how our Rose Card patterns really are very beginner friendly, but beginner quilters are expected to have some basic quilting skills.

So, what skills does a beginner quilter need to know in order to successfully make a Rose Card quilt pattern?

Haven’t gotten your August 2022 Rose Cards yet? You can buy them HERE.

Several things came to mind right way, so I thought — why not write some posts about beginning quilting skills? That way if we get beginner questions, we actually have somewhere to send them for answers besides a vague reference to the Internet or YouTube.

The first one I thought of — and possibly THE most important beginner quilting skill — is knowing how to sew an accurate 1/4″ seam.

An accurate 1/4″ Seam Allowance

Most if not all quilting patterns use a 1/4″ seam allowance. Pattern designers build that seam allowance into their cutting measurements so the pieces will fit together properly when you sew them together. YAY MATH! (You can check out my post about quilting and math HERE.) In the past, way before rotary cutters, quilters had to draw seam allowances around patches, cut them out of cardboard or heavy paper, and then cut the patches out with scissors using the cardboard patterns. HORRORS! Please note that applique can be a little different, though, as you might have to add a seam allowance around the shapes — but this is a topic for another day. For our purposes here, we will refer to pieced quilting patterns.

Seriously, though — a 1/4″ seam doesn’t just happen by magic — you need to make friends with your sewing machine so you are both on the same page. One of the best things you can do to make friends with your sewing machine is to keep your sewing machine manual nearby and to actually use it! If you’ve lost your sewing machine manual, you can check the manufacturer’s website because they might have your manual available for download. Sometimes you can find reprints of manuals on Amazon, too.

One of my all-time favorite sewing machine accessories is my 1/4″ guide foot. It’s a typical 1/4″ foot for quilting but it also has a nice little metal guide on the right (see below) that I can bump my fabric right up against while sewing, which helps me to sew a more accurate 1/4″.

Janome 1/4″ foot with guide

Don’t panic — if you don’t have a special 1/4″ foot for your sewing machine, there are other ways to get a accurate 1/4″ seam allowance.

The technique I was first taught as a beginner was to cut 3 strips of fabric 1 1/2″ wide by say 5″ long (the length is not as important as the 1 1/2″ width). Sew the 3 strips together side by side into a mini Rail Fence block. Measure the width of the center strip. If your center strip measures exactly 1″ wide, then you are already sewing an accurate 1/4″ seam so don’t change a thing!

If the center strip measures more than 1″ wide, then your seam is narrower than 1/4″, so you need to make an adjustment to sew a wider seam. Make the adjustment, then sew 3 more strips together and measure the center strip. If it’s still not right, keep making minute adjustments, sewing mini Rail Fence blocks, and measuring the width of the center strip until it is exactly 1″ wide. Note what adjustments you made so if you need to change the width of your seam allowance, you will be able to find your way back to your 1/4″. When in doubt, sew 3 strips together into a mini Rail Fence block and test the width of the center strip.

If the center strip measures less than 1″, then your seam is wider than 1/4″, so you need to make an adjustment to sew a narrower seam. Like above, keep making adjustments, sewing mini Rail Fence blocks, and measuring the width of the center strip until it is exactly 1″ wide. Note what adjustments you made so if you need to change the width of your seam allowance, you will be able to find your way back to your 1/4″. When in doubt, sew 3 strips together into a mini Rail Fence block and test the width of the center strip.

What adjustments can you make with your sewing machine to perfect your 1/4″ seam?
  • Your machine might have the option to move your presser foot either right or left, depending on whether your seam is too narrow or too wide.
  • You might need to place a strip of tape on your machine to mark where to line up the edge of your fabric to get your 1/4″ — you might try painter’s tape or washi tape, which would both be re-positionable as you make your adjustments to get your 1/4″.
  • Speaking of tape, you can actually stack up layers of tape to get the “bumper” effect of the guide on my 1/4″ foot.

If these ideas don’t work for you, you might want to consider purchasing a 1/4″ guide foot that will fit your sewing machine. To do this, you might have to know whether your machine is a low shank, a high shank, or rarely (mostly older Singers) a slant shank. How do you determine what kind of shank you have??? Why, refer to your sewing machine manual, of course!

Sew, what do you do with all of your little (and possibly wonky) Rail Fence blocks? Make a cute pin cushion, of course!

Here's how:

Press your Rail Fence block flat.  Make a tiny quilt sandwich with a piece of fabric for backing, a scrap of batting, and the Rail Fence block on top.  Press or pin in place.  Quilt by hand or by machine.  Square up your little Rail Fence sandwich.  Now place the Rail Fence sandwich right sides together with a piece of fabric you want for the back of your pin cushion.  Pin the layers together.  Sew 1/4" away from the outside edge of the Rail Fence block, leaving a couple inch opening on one of the long sides.  Trim the backing and Rail Fence block to the same size if needed.  Turn the pin cushion right sides out through the opening.  Push out the corners carefully.  Fill your pin cushion with stuffing or crushed walnut shells (mine is filled with crushed walnut shells).  Stuff or fill it firmly, making sure to fill the corners.  Leave a little bit of space at the long edge with the opening.  Turn the backing fabric and Rail Fence block raw edges to the inside of the opening.  Pin in place.  Now hand sew the opening closed using matching thread.  DONE!

I do want to point out that a consistent seam allowance is just as important as an accurate 1/4″ seam allowance. That being said, not all 1/4″ seam allowances are exactly the same. You would think so, but in truth there really is no one PERFECT EXACT 1/4″ seam allowance.

SHHHHHHHH. Don’t pass this around — you’re sure to offend someone who thinks their seam allowance is THE perfect 1/4″. We ALL know a quilter like this. LOL!

But alas, as hard as you try to find that elusive perfect 1/4″ seam allowance, there are always going to be things that make tiny differences — like the machine you use, the thickness of your fabric, you, how accurate your cutting is, possibly even the environment, and a host of other little things.

My advice to you is to find YOUR very best 1/4″ seam allowance and stick with it. Your pieces will still fit together as long as you’re consistent.

Our next topic will be Rotary Cutting Basics. Sew……Stay tuned!

Until next Thursday —

Sew. Laugh. Repeat.

Always,

Tricia @VRD