Blocking Your Quilt

Do you block your quilts? If you don’t, you should.

Truth be told, I don’t block all my quilts. They don’t all need it. If a quilt is going on a bed, or will be well used and loved, I see no reason to do the work. However, if you plan to put a quilt into a show you should block it. If the quilt is obviously askew, go ahead and do the work. That wall hanging not quite right? Block it. You will thank when you don’t continually look at a quilt that won’t lay flat or has really wonky, wavy sides.

So, what is blocking? Basically, blocking is the process of squaring up your quilt after it’s been quilted so it’s flat and square.

Even though we square up blocks and borders and all our pieces as we sew, the process of quilting can stretch your top (think quilting it out) and you may need to block your quilt. Sometimes your quilt just isn’t square when it’s quilted. Who knows? But it happens to a lot of quilts for one reason or another. Don’t worry if yours isn’t quite right – it can get fixed. Even the professionals have to block quilts from time to time. And, it’s important to reiterate: if you are going to put a quilt into a show, block it. You will never get a blue ribbon if your quilt isn’t perfectly square.

Blocking is one of the most underrated steps in finishing a quilt. I don’t think a lot of quilters talk about it – certainly not high on my list of quilt-related conversations – but for some reason it’s come up twice in the last few weeks. Maybe that’s a sign? I’m taking it as a sign.

I made this Little Lone Star for my friend Sarah to display in her booth during Quilt Con 2017. It’s a quick and easy quilt but I didn’t have time to block it prior to getting it back to her before the show. I knew it wasn’t quite square – mostly square, but not completely – because of all the bias and y-seams, even with starch, thankyouverymuch.

Honestly, I wasn’t even going to mess with blocking the quilt but since it’s not quite square and it’s been a recent topic of conversation in quilt circles (see also: sign), this turns out to be the best little quilt to show you how I do it.

Like most other things quilting, there are multiple ways to achieve your desired results. Blocking is no different, and I’ll go through my process below.

Before doing anything, wet your quilt in the tub. Make sure you get the quilt good and saturated, then press out as much water as you can. I just use my hands and press down into the lob of quilt I’ve created.  Get as much water as possible out of the quilt before transporting it. I roll the quilt out of the tub onto a beach towel to take to the washing machine. This allows the towel to carry the weight of the quilt, meaning you are less likely to damage your quilt from the weight of the water. Gently dump your quilt in the washing machine and turn on the spin cycle.

Once you have a damp quilt, you are ready to start blocking. There are several different ways to block:

carpet over foundation trick
use a plastic drop cloth
use insulation foam/board

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For all methods you’ll need:

rulers
t-pins
tape measure

Here’s the skinny on each:

In my old house, I worked in semi-finished basement room with an inexpensive carpet over the concrete foundation. I may have blocked quilts on the rug from time to time. The carpet on foundation trick worked extremely well. I mean, really well. I had a really solid, stable surface, I didn’t have to worry about t-pins scratching the floor and my quilts came out unbelievably square. So if you have an unfinished basement, get an inexpensive piece of carpet (perhaps a remnant?) and use that on the floor if you have space. Works like a charm.

Recently, I used  a plastic drop cloth over carpet. I didn’t really care for the method. I should have cut down the drop cloth and taped or tacked down the edges. Not doing that resulted in  a plastic sheet that shifted as I worked.  I had to continually pull at the sheet and the quilt to get my quilt to square up. And it didn’t come out quite square on one side. I didn’t like feeling like my quilt wasn’t as taut as it could have or should have been because of the carpet and padding below, either. It could have been a rookie blocking-over-carpet and using a plastic drop cloth mistake, too, but I found greener pastures.

Method three is by far the one I like best. Insulation board. I am currently in the middle of blocking a 77’x72″ quilt and absolutely LOVED using the insulation board! You can buy it in 4’x8′ sheets. I had the home improvement store cut the board into 4′ square pieces so I could get it home. You can also buy 2′ square pieces of insulation board. The smaller pieces are more expensive but if you can’t fit large sheets of insulation board in your car then it’s the way to go.

Tape the insulation board together. I used painters tape because it’s easy to remove so I can store the 4’x4′ boards in the workroom. The example I have here uses a small quilt that fits onto a 4’x4′ board.

Open the quilt flat onto the board(s). You do not need to pull or stretch it, just open it.  I make a few initial measurements (see diagram below).  I block my quilts to the largest measurements. For example, if I measure 76″, 76 1/2″ and 77 1/4″ from top to bottom of a quilt, I make sure the quilt is 77 1/4″ long across left, center and right of the quilt.

blocking

Use t-pins to mark the longest measurements in those 6 spots, gently stretching the quilt where necessary.

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I like to block with the binding on the quilt but not sewn down. I do this for two reasons. First, the quilt can stretch when you sew on the binding. If the binding is sewn down then I can’t stretch it as easily, though I have done that too, like with this example. I use bias binding so I have the ability to stretch the quilt. Second, you can stick t-pins through the seam allowance and not have to worry about messing up the top of your quilt since you’ll sew down the binding and cover up any holes the pins make. If this isn’t an option because the binding is already sewn down, carefully place pins along the edge of the binding where it meets the quilt. You can use your fingers to manipulate the fabric back into place once the pins are removed.

Next, I place a large, square ruler in the corner of my quilt. Gently pull the quilt so the edge of the binding is lined up with the edge of the ruler. Place a t-pin every 3-5 inches.

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I like to have a long ruler that meets my square ruler to continue working along a side to get a straight edge. Line the rulers up along the binding (second photo). You can also pick a spot along one edge and measure a straight line across your quilt using rulers and tape measures (top photo). This works well if you have a lot of acrylic rulers or a small quilt.

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I work my way across the quilt, extending from each side of the square ruler. When I am halfway down an edge of the quilt I place my square ruler in the corner to make sure I get it straight (not straight here).

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I measure and remeasure as I pin to make sure all sides are the correct length or width. You might have to adjust and remeasure here or there.

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Once you have the quilt square, leave it to dry. I like to put a fan on the quilt to help it dry faster. If it’s a nice day, I’ll leave the quilt outside to dry. I put a white sheet on top to keep of animals and debris.

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When the quilt has dried, sew down the binding if you haven’t already, and enjoy your flat, square quilt!

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