Saturday, April 25, 2015

Creating a String Quilt

Creating A String Quilt

String Quilts have a long tradition. Since they use small strips (strings) of fabric, they are a good use for fabrics left over from other projects.

Assembling a string quilt isn’t hard—in fact, if you like playing with fabric, it is a lot of fun. I can’t tell you how many yards of fabrics you need, I’m afraid—this is a project where you pull out the scraps and create as you go.

Before beginning, think about the type of block you want. For this demonstration, I was learning how to do a star, but simply cutting straight strips will work as well. You can choose to make the center of each block of the same fabric and strip width to tie the quilt together visually like this:

or you can go with a completely random block—the choice is yours. Take a look online for images. You will be astonished at the variety.

Also, think about size. I usually make a 10” block (I got a good deal on some 10” piecing papers), but either smaller or larger will work.

Think about a foundation. As I mentioned, I use paper, but many people like to use fabric (usually muslin) squares. The advantage to this method is that the foundation becomes a part of the quilt, rather than requiring removal as paper does. I prefer paper since it doesn’t stretch out of square, but many people have good results by starching their foundation squares.

What you will need to begin:

Strips of fabrics

Foundation material of your choice

Sewing machine (I suppose you could do this by hand, but that’s not something I want to tackle!)

Cutting mat

Ruler (a 6”x24” is what I use in these photographs)

Rotary cutter (You can use scissors, though it will be a slower process.)

Iron and Ironing board

Washable glue stick (optional)

About the fabrics—you may use leftovers from other projects, buy new fabrics to cut, or check out thrift stores for old clothing to cut up. I advise using 100% cotton fabrics, but I know people have made quilts with cotton blends as well. Avoid anything stretchy or meltable—you will be using the iron for this project.

About the tools—I love my cutting mat/rotary cutter/ruler combo—it takes so much less time than scissors and markers—however, unless you plan to do more quilting/crafting, you may not want to invest the money. Quilters got along without my handy gadgets for many years, and they made gorgeous quilts.

Safety alert—Rotary cutters are razor-sharp! Take your time and pay close attention to your cutting. 


To create a string block:

Place your foundation flat on the table


Choose your center strip. Note: in this case, I am making a star-shaped block, so my center strip is shaped like a kite. A straight strip about 2” wide will work perfectly, if you want to make a straight block. If you are planning to make a quilt that ties together in color like the picture I showed earlier, all your center strips will be the same width and color.

I like to use a glue stick (washable) to anchor this first strip across the center of the square, though that isn’t required

 Choose your next strip. It can be any width greater than ½” (though I’d stay between 1” and 3” when learning to do this). 

 Place your strip on the edge of the center piece, right sides together.

 Stitch along the edge using a 1/4” seam allowance and a short stitch length (this will help with paper removal later).

 Press your narrow strip away from the center.

 Add a second strip on the other side of the center, just as you did the first and press it in the same manner.

Continue adding strips, until your paper is covered.

 It doesn’t look great right now, but it is time for the magic. :)

 Turn the whole piece over.

 Using a ruler and rotary cutter, trim the block using the edge of the paper square as a guide. 

 When you have trimmed all four sides, turn the block over.

 Viola! You now have a beautiful string block!

 You can remove the paper at this point. If you have used a short stitch length, the now-perforated paper will peel off easily. (You can wait until after putting the blocks together to remove the paper, if you wish. It is your choice.)

Putting your blocks together

When you put four of the squares together, the star appears. (Or the X if you are using a constant color/fabric/width strip in the center.)

 There is very little matching when sewing these together. Note, however, that in this case, I was careful to match the edges of the black (just above the colored strips in this photo), so the star doesn’t appear jagged. If you have used a constant color/fabric/width in the center of your blocks, make sure it matches in that same place, so your lines will be smooth.

 Sew the blocks together in fours.

 Sew the large stars together to form your quilt.

I chose to add a border to mine, but that is up to you.

Here are closeups of some of the fun fabrics I used:

This shows the backing and binding I chose:

String blocks are a lot of fun to make—I hope you will try them.

Making a Disappearing Nine Patch Quilt

The Disappearing Nine Patch ( often abbreviated D9P) is a quick and easy quilt to make, though when it is finished it looks quite complex. This tutorial will explore the steps in making this quilt.

Step 1: Choosing Your Fabrics

For this quilt, you can use as few as three fabrics for a controlled pattern, or as many as hundreds for a completely scrappy look—it’s all up to you. For this tutorial, I’ll be using ten fabrics as shown below:

Each of the fabrics with the circle print has a coordinate. The black with white dots (upper left) will be a constant in each block, and the black and white houndstooth (bottom left) will be a border. I’ll choose the binding and backing materials after the quilt top is done; I like to audition them with the actual quilt to see what I like best.

Step Two: Cut Your Fabrics

For this quilt I cut 5” squares of everything but the border fabric to make my 9-patches. In each 9-patch, I used four of the circle print, four of its coordinating print, and one of the black and white dots. Determine the size you want your quilt to be to figure out how many of each you need to make.

For example, the final block (after sewing, cutting, and re-sewing) for this quilt finishes at 12 ½” square. If I decided to make my quilt 6 blocks wide (75”) by 8 blocks long (100”), I would need to make 48 blocks in total. Since I have four sets of circles and coordinating fabrics (red, green, yellow, and blue), I would make 12 blocks of each color combination. Each block needs 4 circle print squares, 4 coordinating print squares, and one black and white dot square. Therefore, I will need 48 squares of each color of the circle print (192 total), 48 of each coordinating fabric (192 total), and 48 squares of the black and white dot (48 total). If you are using more colors, or want your quilt a different size, you would figure this out in the same way.

# total blocks x 4 = number of squares to cut of focus fabric (green in diagram)

# of blocks x 4 = number of squares to cut of coordinating fabric (yellow in diagram)
# of blocks = number of squares to cut of center fabric (red in diagram)

Step 3: Assembling the Nine Patch

A Nine Patch is easy to assemble; it’s just three rows of three blocks each. Using a ¼” seam, assemble each block as indicated in the diagram. Be sure to put the focus fabric at the corners since these squares won’t be sub-cut. The center square will be a constant in each block. When pressing seams, they should go away from the coordinating fabric (yellow above). Doing this will ensure that your seams will nest when sewing the rows together.

Step 4: Sub-cutting the Nine Patch

You’re probably thinking, “But I just sewed it together—what do you mean sub-cut?” This is the “disappearing” part of the Disappearing Nine Patch.

Measure your Nine Patch to determine the center of your center row:

 Cut vertically in half. Turn your ruler to cut the horizontal center:

Here is your sub-cut block:


Step 5: Rearrange your sub-cut blocks

There are many ways to arrange your sub-cut blocks. You can keep your colors together or mix them up. You can turn the blocks to form a sashed look or create a mini-chain with the smallest square of fabric in the blocks:


I decided to go with this third option.

Step 6: Reassemble the sub-cut blocks

Easy step…sew the four sub-cut blocks together. Sew the top two blocks together; press the seam away from the smallest center block (in my photo, the black and white dots). Sew the bottom two together; again, press away from the smallest block. This will cause your center seams to nest as you sew the two halves (top and bottom) together.

 Voila! Your block is done.


Step 7: Assemble your quilt top

You will sew your blocks together in rows next. I chose to keep my blocks in the same order (red and blue at the top) when assembling my rows. In this way, I have the small center blocks (the black and white dots) in pairs (see the center of the block above) all over the quilt. However, lay your blocks out to see if you prefer them to be arranged differently. Sew the rows (horizontal) together, one to the next, until you reach your planned width. Repeat until you have the number of rows you have planned for the length of your quilt.

Next, sew the rows together, carefully matching your seams. Pinning can really help you here—when a seam needs to match, align it and pin, removing the pins as you come to them on your sewing machine. I like to sew the rows together in pairs, then sew the pairs together. This means you have less fabric to work with at a time—the whole thing can get pretty bulky before you are done.

Step 8: Attach borders

You may skip this step if you like the quilt as is. I tend to like borders, so I will audition the fabric to decide on the border’s width. You can add as many as you wish. I like a “stop” border—a narrow piece of fabric that frames the top and provides a clear visual end to the pattern. Often, I’ll follow this with another decorative border.

First border attached.

 Second border attached.

 Step 9: Layer your quilt

Choose your backing. I decided to go with blue. You may need to piece your backing unless you buy extra-wide fabric for it.


I glue baste my quilts with Elmer’s Washable School Glue.

To do this—first check that everything is the right size. Your backing and batting should be a bit larger than your top. 

Lay your batting out flat. Drizzle glue on the batting, then smooth your backing over it. It is hard to see in this picture, but think of the glue as pin basting—the whole surface doesn’t have to be covered. I only have a small surface, so I have to do it in parts, but if you have a large enough flat surface, do about half at a time, so it doesn’t get too unwieldy. Allow the glue to dry until tacky—an hour or so. Turn it over carefully and repeat with the top. Be sure to put your glue on the batting rather than the top—you’ll get a smoother finish.

 Here I have the top folded back exposing the batting for glueing.

 Smoothing the top back over the batting after applying the glue.

 I use a ruler first to be sure it is flat and that the glue and fabric have a good connection.

 Check with your hand to ensure everything is flat and smooth. Let your quilt sandwich dry for a few hours (overnight is good, if you have the room).

Step 10: Quilt

How you decide to quilt is up to you, You can use stitch in the ditch, a straight line grid, free-motion quilting,...there are many choices. Since quilting is a complicated process on its own, I'm not going to try to cover it here. There are many books and websites devoted to the topic.

Step 11: Bind the Quilt

The last step is binding the quilt. Again, there are many books and tutorials which cover this process thoroughly. Choose a binding fabric which complements your quilt top. I decided to repeat the black from the narrow inner border.

Step 12: Finished!

Be sure to take a picture of your quilt for documentation and to share with others.

Here is mine:

This is a fun project that is suitable for beginning quilters. The end result looks intricate and complicated, but, as I have demonstrated, the technique is composed of easy steps.

Have fun making your own Disappearing Nine Patch!