Strip Piecing Tips and Techniques for Quilters

Troubleshoot Common Patchwork Problems

Strip Piecing Tips for Quilters
Janet Wickell

Strip piecing is a time-saving method that can help you sew quick and easy quilts. It eliminates the need to work with small, individual pieces of fabric.

Strip piecing is a patchwork quilt-making technique that is accomplished by sewing multiple fabrics together to create a "strip set" that looks just like a portion of a quilt block. The strip set is cut apart to yield segments that replace two or more pieces of fabric.

Quilt and quilt block patterns that include strip piecing methods usually have instructions on how to sew the fabrics together to create strip sets. While following the instructions in the pattern, there may be times when problems arise and the instructions do not offer solutions. If you run into any issues while making a strip set, these tips may help you figure out the cause of the problem.

Strip Sets Are Too Small

One of the most common issues that quilters encounter when strip piecing is that their strips end up too small. When this happens, it is easy to assume that there is an error in the pattern. However, most of the time the pattern is correct. If this happens to you, do not feel bad because it is something many beginning quilters experience.

For instance, a pattern asks you to sew five 2-inch wide strips of fabric side by side and press. After that, one end of the strip set is squared up. Starting from the squared up end, the instructions say to cut as many 8-inch segments from the strip set as possible to create 8-inch by 8-inch patchwork squares.

You may not be happy with the 8-inch length, thinking that it is a waste of fabric because the segments should be 7 1/2 inches long—the width of your strip sets. The problem is that your strip sets are too narrow, and there are several reasons how that can happen.

Double check the strip dimensions first:

  • Each of the inner three 2-inch strips includes a 1/4-inch seam along both sides, making those strips each 1 1/2 inches wide in the completed strip set.
  • Each of the two outer strips has a seam along only an inner edge, making those strips 1 3/4-inch wide.
  • 1 1/2 inches times 3 equals 4 1/2 inches in width, and 1 3/4 inches times 2 equals 3 1/2 inches in width.
  • Add 4 1/2 inches to 3 1/2 inches and you will get 8 inches, the correct width of the strip set and the length required to cut a square segment.

Why did your strip set only measure 7 1/2 inches across? There are a few possibilities:

  • Seams may have been wider than 1/4-inch, which would "eat" some of the strip width.
  • Pressing may not have been adequate.
  • Strips might have been slightly narrower than 2 inches.
  • A combination of these errors could have occurred.

Even small discrepancies are compounded when several seams are present in patchwork. To avoid these problems, it is important to set up your sewing machine to sew an accurate 1/4-inch seam allowance, to press carefully but thoroughly, and to take care when cutting strips of fabric. Another important way to increase accuracy is to first press to set the seams before pressing the seams to one side. This is an extra step but worth the effort.

Strip Sets Are Distorted

Sometimes strip sets become bowed—narrower or skewed on one end of the combined strips. You can help prevent the bowing by sewing each new strip to the set beginning at the end where the previous strip ended. In other words, reverse your starting point for each new strip: start from one end with the first strip, then start from the end you just finished on when sewing the next strip.

Other things to keep in mind:

  • The back and forth technique will not make up for other problems but it can be helpful, especially when sets are sewn from lots of strips of fabric.
  • Measure as you go to make sure that your patchwork's dimensions are correct.
  • Always make sample blocks before cutting all of the fabric for any quilt.

Other Quick Piecing Methods

Strip piecing is just one form of quick piecing that you will encounter in quilt patterns. Easy half-square triangle unitsno-waste flying geese, and quick quarter-square triangle units are a few more examples of popular, quicker components quilters use.