There’s nothing I love more than using strip sets in quilting.
Honestly, it’s like a magic trick, and strangely enough, one that isn’t used as often as it could be! I run into quilt patterns all the time that miss out on this incredibly time saving technique!
And once you get it down.. you’ll be a fan too. I promise. Okay I can’t make any promises (legally), but I can hope that you’ll love it as much as I do!
If You've Struggled in the Past.. This is for You
To be successful at strip piecing, you need to follow a few tips. This will avoid the common mistakes of wonky seams, mismatched sizes, bowing, etc.
So let’s get you on your way to making perfect (as perfect as you want it) strip sets. And really, they aren’t revolutionary, but if you’re new to quilting, perhaps someone hasn’t truly explained to you how to achieve this particular skill.
In this blog post, we will explore five useful tips to help you effectively use strip sets in your quilting endeavors.
What is a Strip Set?
Strip sets are created by sewing together strips of fabric before cutting them into smaller segments for quilt blocks. Easy peasy right?
TIP #1 Preparing Fabric Prior to Cutting
It feels like I say this literally every day.. but really I mean it. Preparing your fabric prior to cutting is imperative when making strip sets. Seriously it is, and let me explain why.
Fabric is made from natural fiber (quilting cotton at least), and natural fibers move, stretch, wrinkle, bend, etc. and trying to make perfectly straight thin lines can be hard.
And so.. I always starch and iron my fabric before cutting (not after!). It reduces all that stretching and bonus, less fraying!
Starch can help those fibers maintain a nice shape so as you cut, pin, and sew it, it won’t distort as much. I use a heavy starch (I’m hardcore) but many quilters use softer starches, you do you.
TIP #2 Folding and Cutting the Strips
I have to admit, for my latest quilt pattern I cheated. I used an Accuquilt to cut a lot of my 2 1/4” strips. And it was awesome!
But really this tip still applied. Usually you’ll need to fold your fabric in half to make it short enough to fit on your cutting mat (unless you have a 42” cutting mat!!).
The folding step trips up a lot of quilters, it can cause bends, bumps, curves, etc. Don’t let this happen to your strips!
While I’m ironing my fabric (back to tip#1), I fix any strange folds, and I make sure the fabric is even on both sides. The selvage should be parallel, no strange angles here.
When folding, I smooth it out, starch, and iron it down. This creates a very crisp bend. After I’ve ironed both sides of my fabric, I fold it again and iron the last fold.
This last fold shouldn’t be loose, it will be tight, like the first fold. I overhang the fabric just a hair over the edge, so that it stays flatter while cutting. Let’s move onto cutting!
TIP #3 Precision in Strip Cutting
Accurate cutting is vital to ensure precise strip sets. Use a clear ruler and rotary cutter for clean, straight edges.
Measure and cut the strips to the desired width, usually between 1.5 and 3 inches, depending on your pattern or design.
Consistency in strip width across the set is essential to maintain uniformity in the finished quilt blocks.
Additionally, take care to cut strips perpendicular to the fabric's selvage, ensuring the fabric grain runs straight within each strip.
As I said earlier, I used an Accuquilt die, but that’s mostly because my little finger is still healing (watch those fingertips!)
Usually I use a slotted ruler (Quiltcut is awesome) and it’s awesome, however it may not work as great for more unusually sized strips.
TIP #4 Seam Alignment and Sewing Techniques:
So you have a stack of beautiful strips! Let’s get sewing.
Before sewing the strips together, pinning them at regular intervals can prevent fabric shifting during stitching.
To avoid puckering and distortion, use an accurate 1/4-inch seam allowance (I use a scant ¼” seam allowance for almost everything).
I usually chain piece strips and turn on a book to listen to, because let’s get real, this step can get monotonous.
Pressing the seams open, depending on your pattern, will result in flatter quilt blocks, however these seams are more vulnerable to wear and tear. Ironing to the side is stronger but bulkier.
When pressing, make sure not to distort the strips, they should lay completely straight after ironing.
TIP #5 Efficient Cutting and Block Construction
Once your strip set is sewn together, it's time to cut it into smaller segments for quilt block construction.
Use a sharp rotary cutter and a quilting ruler to achieve accurate cuts. Depending on your design, you may cut the strip set into squares, rectangles, triangles, or other shapes as required.
Super Tip: Cutting multiple layers of strip sets simultaneously can save time and ensure consistency across blocks.
Exploring Design Possibilities
Strip sets offer endless design possibilities. By varying the order, orientation, or combination of strip sets, you can create intricate patterns and visual effects in your quilt.
Consider alternating the direction of the strip sets or incorporating sashing and borders to add interest and framing to your quilt.
By exploring and adapting strip set techniques, you can personalize your quilting projects and bring your creative vision to life.
Incorporating strip sets into your quilting projects...
adds versatility, efficiency, and aesthetic appeal. By following these tips - you'll be well-equipped to use strip sets effectively in your quilting endeavors.
Once you’ve cut a bunch of strip sets, you’ll see why it’s so magical. They save so much time, and really it’s a bit of work up front, but then it’s so fun to assemble blocks later.
Let me know if you love strip sets as much as I do, or if you’ve struggled (these tips should help!).