Ensuring a Square Quilt

Do you want a “square quilt”? That is not to say that your quilt is literally a square shape (unless of course you want it to be a square shape); what this means is that your quilt will lie perfectly flat with no puckers, tucks, or unwanted pleating after it has been quilted. So how do you achieve this? Here are some helpful hints.

First, be very careful when cutting your fabric. Precision is key! Do not use your cutting mat for measuring – it should be used as merely a surface for using the rotary cutter. You will want to invest in a quality quilting ruler such as an Omnigrid or similar.

Then once you have cut your fabric, you’ll want to ensure precision in your piecing too. If possible, use the same sewing machine for the entire quilt as every machine has their own ¼ inch allowance. This may sound strange, but when machines are assembled they can be off ever so slightly. If sewing on multiple machines you can end up with varying block sizes depending on the number of pieces in each block. Every time a seam is made, it can increase or decrease the size of the block depending on where the needle is coming down.

The next thing you will want to do is square up your blocks once they are all pieced. You will want to be sure not to cut off any star points or flying geese points, and always leave a quarter-inch from any points so each point will be properly displayed in the finished quilt. And of course ensure that your blocks are the same size using your quilting ruler.

A common mistake that many quilters make is neglecting to measure sashing and borders. Too often, quilters will take a strip of fabric and begin sewing it onto their quilt or block and then cut it when they reach the edge. Unfortunately this is not a reliable way to build your quilt. Fabric will always have some stretch to it and when applying borders or sashing you can end up with what we refer to as “wavy quilts.”

measuring through lengthwise IMG The proper way to size the sashing or borders is to measure through the center of the quilt lengthwise and then again between that measurement and the edge of quilt on both sides. (Do this for the width as well.)

cut and pin You can also lie your strip through the center of your quilt and cut it there. Once you have it cut, you will want to pin the center of the strip to the center of the side, pin the ends to the ends, and insert extra pins as needed. As you sew, be careful not to pull or tug on the fabric.

What are your best tips for ensuring square quilts?

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18 Responses to “Ensuring a Square Quilt”
  1. Wilma Darlington

    I love to stretch my quilt layers individually on a hardwood or tile floor, taping each layer to the floor, as I smooth and gently/slightly “stretch” (the operative word is gently/slightly)each layer, to ensure the seams have no folds. Then, I pin the corners of the blocks, using quilting safety pins in an X…two pins per location, crossed. When completely pinned, the quilt lays smooth, and can be transferred to my frames…I quilt by hand..and stays nice and flat through the quilting process.

  2. Gail Burk

    I carefully cut and then keep a close watch on the 1/4 seam and still find my blocks come out small. I find it frustrating and would welcome suggestions to get perfectly sized blocks regularly. This article helps to explain why our quilting group gets different sized blocks when members create them at home.

    • Barbara Porter

      Gail Burk, have you tried using a scant quarter inch seam? I was having this problem and my sewing instructor showed me how to adjust my needle so I use a scant quarter inch for most of my quilts. This seems to work for me. I have a foot with a quarter inch guide but my seams still come out to big unless I use the scant quarter inch.

      • Jean Stocks

        Both of these comments are interesting as I have a Janome and a Husqvana machine and have found the latter machine has a much smaller 1/4 inch. So I always stick to one or the other machine when piecing. I still have problems with blocks being different sizes even though I square up each time.

    • Mary E Spriet

      Measure the actual seam. It may be ever so slightly off. I have to use a “scant” 1/4″ for my seams. I use the foot as a guide & sew just inside the outer edge. …and when cutting, I tend to cut a smidge larger than needed. Usually I come out with the correct size block. So cut a hair bigger & sew a hair smaller.

    • Susan Greene

      You might also want to look at how you are pressing seams – while you don’t want to stretch the pieces after sewing, you do want to ensure there isn’t a “lip” of fabric on the front after you’ve pressed each seam.

  3. Carol Newton

    Trying to learn how to cut fabric and set it together. I hope this helps

  4. Ann Resto

    I use an O’Lipfa quilting ruler which I love, but I must not hold my rotary cutter the same all the way through cutting a strip because my stips sometimes come out wonky. I have tried slowing down as I cut and that seems to help. Any other suggestions will be greatly appreciated.

  5. Vickey Winn

    This has helped to read and learn what I was doing wrong all these years. Can’t wait to to what happens on my next project.

  6. Susan Roder

    I measure and sew with a scant 1/4 inch seam but the blocks always seem to come out wonky because of the way the fabric is cut. Sometimes I think starching it to keep it really crisp might help but what does that do to your sewing machine? I tried to square up the blocks on my latest project (curved pieces) but if I trim a little here then I’ll be short there. They measure 8 1/2 inches in one place and a little more than 8 1/4 in another so can’t be trimmed square. Argh!!! Its so frustrating!

  7. Susan Greene

    My tips for avoiding wavy borders are to cut border strips from the length of fabric (parallel to the selvedge) and to use a walking or even-feed foot to attach long borders. There is very little give in the length of fabric, so you are less likely to stretch the borders.

  8. Eddie

    Thanks for the advice about the cutting mat and the 1/4″ foot I thought something was wrong when one Janome wouldn’t the otherJanome

  9. Kathryn

    I saw things about how to help have a square quilt but not how to square a quilt which is what I need the most help with.