What is strip piecing? You may ask. Strip piecing is a method of sewing multiple long strips of fabric together on your sewing machine and then cutting them apart to create your patchwork blocks or units. It sounds a little crazy, right? To sew them together and then cut them up again? But in fact, it is a technique that can speed up your quilt-making considerably. It saves you from cutting out individual squares or rectangles and then piecing them together.
If you are a beginner quilter, strip piecing is a nice easy way to start, because you are simply sewing long strips together. If you are an expert quilter, you can get creative with your cutting and piecing of the strips! The magic of this technique happens when you cut your strips apart, and in the way you put the units together again.
Strip Piecing - Supplies
- Fabric - Closely woven cotton is best. It is advisable to not mix different types of fabric when strip piecing, as you can easily get distortion if you do this.
- Sewing Basics - Thread, sewing machine, pins, quilting ruler
- Cutting Tools - Scissors, rotary cutter, self-healing cutting mat.
- Pressing Tools - Iron and ironing board. Have these close to your sewing machine so that you are not tempted to skip the pressing of seams!
Strip Piecing - How It Works
Strip piecing can be used as a quick piecing method for many patchwork patterns, as long as they have straight edges.
Instead of cutting each individual shape, you cut long strips of fabric across the width of your fabric, then sew them together in the desired color sequence. It is perfect for using jelly rolls, as they are already accurately pre-cut into strips.
This strip set is then cut into pieced units which are placed together in the desired pattern.
This does make piecing your quilt quick and easy, but it is essential to cut and sew accurately with this method.
How to Do Strip Piecing
Step 1 - Cutting and Preparation
If using large pieces of fabric rather than jelly rolls, first make sure your fabric is “square”. There must be a 90-degree angle between your cut edge and the selvage. If it is not square, trim it using the markings on your quilting ruler to be accurate. (Read how to cut fabric straight)
When you are sure your fabric is squared up, you can begin cutting strips.
Do not forget to include the seam allowance when deciding on the width of the strips. Add an extra ½” (1.2 cm) to each strip, for ¼” (0.6 cm) seam on either side.
Decide on the width of your strips, then cut them using the measurements on your ruler, rather than on your cutting mat. Cut the strips across the entire width of your fabric. Your cutting mat should be on a firm table, (not on the bed!) so that it doesn’t sag and give you curved strips.
WARNING - Do not be tempted to take the shortcut of folding the fabric over multiple times to cut a strip quickly. Your strips will not turn out straight. You can cut with the fabric folded in half, but more folds than that is risky!
Step 2 - Sewing
Sew the two strips together, lengthwise
. Sew the next strip to your first two strips. Continue until you have used all the colors you require for your quilt.
SEWING TIP: As you sew multiple strips together you may find that the fabric starts to bow, or pull out of shape into a curve, rather than nice crisp, straight lines. To avoid this, alternate the directions the seams are sewn in. Sew the first two strips in one direction, then when sewing on strip number three, start at the opposite end. Continue alternating for all your strips.
When all your strips are sewn together, press the seams well. Be careful not to distort or “bow” your fabric. Just press, don’t slide your iron along.
Return your pieced strips to the cutting mat. You may find that you have uneven edges. Place your ruler with one of the horizontal measurement lines along one of your seam lines. Cut off the edge of your strip set, making an even, straight edge. Use the same method to cut off your selvages.
Step 3 - Cutting your Strip Piecing units
Now comes the fun part! If you want square units, you must cut them to exactly the same width as your strip pieces.
Again, don’t forget about those seam allowances! Measure this when they have been stitched together. Your units will then be ready to stitch together into your chosen square-based quilt design.
You can use this strip piecing to make rail fence quilts, pinwheel quilt blocks, traditional 9 patch quilt blocks, Irish chain quilts, and checkerboard quilts among many others. If you haven’t decided on your final pattern yet, lay your blocks out on a flat surface and rotate them and alternate them until you find the most pleasing design.
You can also just stagger strips to form an effective pattern. You will just need to unpick your bottom square each time and add it to the top of the previous row.
Using this staggered technique you can also make a “Trip around The World” quilt, one of my all-time favorite patterns! If you look at pictures of these quilts, you can easily see how these strips are aligned. You will need to make it in four quarters, then sew those larger blocks together.
You will usually use more than 3 colors, but this diagram is just to show how to assemble your strips. An odd number of colors is best.
More Strip Piecing Ideas
You don’t need to stop there with strip piecing! You can use your strips as a basic fabric and cut any shapes from them.
For triangles, you could use a triangle template and place it over your strip unit to cut out striped triangles. Or you can use your normal quilting ruler. You need to line up one of your seam lines from the strips with the 45-degree line on your ruler,(or the 60-degree line, depending on what shape triangles you want) then cut along the edge of your ruler. Keep repeating this until you have enough triangles, and use it to create any triangle-based pattern.
You can create a Bargello-style quilt by varying the width of the pieces you cut. You can then use the staggering method to put the strips together, and because of the different widths, you will get a flowing, Bargello-style design. This design would make a beautiful table runner.
Another strippy idea is to create diagonal strips by sewing your strips in a staggered fashion. Then place your ruler with a strip seam lined up with the 45-degree line on your ruler. Now draw parallel lines using your ruler and cut along those lines. This can result in some very unusual combinations for your strip quilt. If you then place these strips horizontally, you will get diamond shapes for your quilt.
You can use any templates you have on your strip pieced fabric. What about Dresden plate shapes, or hexagons?
Whatever shapes you choose to use your strips with, be sure to make a small sample first to check your measurements, and also keep measuring as you go along. Because there are so many seams involved, if your ¼” (0.6cm) seam is just slightly out, you can end up with inaccurate blocks.
Strip Piecing - In Conclusion
When I first started quilting, I took my mom along with me on a fabric buying trip. I bought quite a large selection of beautiful, dainty floral fabrics. My mom watched all this and just shook her head, saying ”I really can’t understand why you buy all these lovely fabrics, just to cut apart and put them together again! You are just giving yourself work!” Strip piecing involves even more “putting together”, but gives such lovely effects. It is even a shortcut if you are simply using blocks!
Now that you know how to do strip piecing, you can have a lot of fun with this technique. It will save you time and help you create intricate designs which are actually fast and easy!