Thursday, 16 February 2012

Quilting Tutorial 2 ~ Chain Piecing

The other day I wanted to explain to someone how to chain piece quilt blocks.  As we were talking online, naturally I googled thinking I would send a link, but I was surprised to find that while there were plenty of tutorials claiming to be about chain piecing, I did not find one that actually explained the process fully.  So, thought I, I'll have to make one myself.

So here we are, the BK guide to chain piecing.

First, a word about seam allowances. When you are piecing patchwork blocks, always use a 1/4" seam.  Some quilters buy a special 1/4" foot for this, but you probably don't need one to sew perfectly good 1/4" seams. If you haven't done 1/4" seams before, it is a good idea to do a test first on some scrap fabric.  Simply move your needle to either the half-right or right position, and, with your raw edges in line with the edge of the foot, do a little test seam.  Measure this seam. You hopefully will find that by moving your needle, your machine will be able to sew 1/4" seams without a special foot.  It is much easier to keep your fabric in line with the foot and move the needle, than to line up the edge of your fabric with an imaginary line on the footplate!  And it is much cheaper than buying a special foot! On my machine, I have the needle at the half-right position, and it works a treat :-)

Now, before you begin, you will need to prepare your fabric, and cut all your squares to the size required for your project.

For this project, I needed one hundred  2 1/2 " squares.  (I actually cut a whole lot more than I needed, because I couldn't be bothered working out how many strips I needed to cut to get the right number of squares.  Never mind, I'm sure I'll find a use for the extras) 

Lay all your squares out, right side up, as required for your project.  If you are wanting a scrappy look, just move them round till you are happy with the arrangement.  Or, if you have an overall pattern, then this is the time to get everything in the right place.

Many methods for piecing quilts involve joining squares together to make larger squares, and then joining those squares.  In this method, we will join the squares together by columns.  Just so we are all clear, this is what I mean by a column:

First, turn all the squares in the second column over, and place them right side down on the first column, so that you now have a column of pairs.  If any of your pieces have a directional design, make sure you keep them facing in the right direction. 

Next, starting at the top of the column of pairs and working downward, pick up the first pair and place them on the next, then pick up both pairs, and place them both on the next pair, and so on all the way down the column.  You will have a stack of pairs with the pieces in the same order as they were when laid out.  It is important to keep them in the right order.  If your pairs are out of order in the stack, they will be out of order when you sew them together.  Also, make sure you don't turn the stack round ~ if you are worried, you could put a pin in the top right hand corner to remind you which edge you will be stitching together.

Now take this whole stack to your machine, and place them where you can easily reach them, right by your machine, or on your lap.  Pick up the first pair, and with the raw edges even, stitch a 1/4" seam.  (Did you do a test seam like I suggested?  Yes?  Good :-)  Then lets sew...)  

Sew the first pair together, stopping with the needle down, just past the edge of your fabric and not a stitch further.  Pick up the next pair, check that your raw edges are even, and place it under the foot right by the needle, so that when you start sewing, this pair will be no more than a stitch away from the pair before.  You do not cut the threads.

Sew the next seam, and then continue in the same way with the next pair, till all the pairs have been stitched together.  Only cut the threads when you have stitched the last pair, leaving a long tail.  (Don't back tack.  Once you have finished, you can knot the ends)

You will have something that looks a little bit like a string of bunting flags, with all your pairs held together by the thread.  (By the way, this was the point at which all other tutorials that I saw online stopped...but we've only just begun)

Next we press the seam allowances.  As we need the seem allowances to be pressed to one side, and we need them to alternate, I like the flip my "flags" in alternate directions, then when I open them up to press them, the seams will automatically be alternating.

This is what it will look like on the back (I just realised that if I'd used fabrics with greater contrast, it might be easier to see what I'm talking about, but I didn't have any projects like that to photograph, so hopefully you can see what we're talking about anyway)

Now, put your completed column back in place, and repeat the whole process with the next pair of columns, and the next, till all your columns are joined into pairs.  If you have an uneven number of columns, that's OK, just join the left over blocks in the same way as the others so you end up with one column of three squares across instead of two.

Now we need to join our column pairs to each other.  We do this just like we did with the squares.  Take the second column pair and lay it right side down on the first column pair.  Just make sure the top stays at the top, and everything else will automatically be in the right place for you.

As these columns are already joined together, we can't stack them up like we did before, so this time, we start at the bottom and concertina them up.  Pick up the second and third pairs from the bottom at the seam where they are joined together, and fold them onto the bottom pair, and continue in the same way till you get to the top.

Take this concertina stack to your machine, and starting with the top pair, stitch 1/4" seams on the right hand edge.  As you come to the end of each seam, stop with the needle down just beyond the end of your fabric, and you will find that the next pair will have come up into place ready to sew.  All you need to do is match your raw edges and stitch.

Press the seams to one side, alternating which direction they face just like you did before. Continue in the same way till all your columns are joined together.

You will then have all your squares in place held together by threads.  All you need to do now is stitch the rows together.  This will be very easy, as the threads keep everything where it should be.  All you have to do, is check as you go that your seams are matching, as some of your fabrics may stretch a little as you sew, so just ease them to fit.

Press your seams, and there you have it!  All your squares are now joined together!

This method can be used to piece quilt blocks, or to piece an entire quilt, as long as the pieces you are piecing are square or rectangular.  If you have triangles or other shapes in your blocks, these pieces can be joined together to make square units which can then be chain pieced.


  1. You must have so much patience Bronwen! Great tutorial :)

  2. Hehe, people say that to me all the time! Lots of patience for crafting...not so much for naughty children!!


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