Wednesday, June 05, 2013

squaring up a quilt, a non-traditional approach

I'm not sure I should admit this, but I'm not one to square up quilts on a regular basis. Usually I just follow the rows of patchwork when adding the binding, then I trim off the excess batting and backing afterward. That usually works for me. But what do you do when you have wavy solids on the edges of your quilt with no patchwork to guide you? Well, you have to get a little creative!
(I didn't plan to blog about this, so I didn't take any step by step photos along the way, but I'll try to explain what I did anyway. I hope it makes sense!)

The goal was to square up my leftovers quilt. The edges weren't square after piecing it, but I figured if I started hacking at the quilt top things might go bad. So I decided to quilt it and THEN deal with the problem. Nothing like procrastinating, huh???


What I did to square things up:

I laid the untrimmed leftovers quilt on the floor, as flat as possible. (In the photo you can see the grey front and the blue back.) Then I pulled out my spiderweb quilt-which is MOSTLY square-and laid that over the top. I smoothed things out, much like I do when I baste a quilt. (Nothing is taped down at this point.) The purpose of the spiderweb quilt was to act as an approximate cutting guide. Working on one side at a time, I anchored the masking tape on the floor, then stretched it taut over the width of the quilt, parallel to the edge of the spiderweb quilt, as pictured above. (Think of stretching a string from post to post when planting a garden to achieve a straight row.) After eyeballing the line, I lowered the tape and smoothed it out very carefully onto the quilt, making sure to not distort the line. My cutting guide (the tape) was in place. I got out my 6"x 24" ruler, my rotary cutter and a mat and cut oh-so-carefully following the tape line. The long ruler kept my cutting line true. I had to be sure to move my mat with each cut! I was also VERY careful not to cut my finished quilt!  By the time I got to the 4th side of the quilt I was heaving a huge sigh of relief. It looked pretty good. I measured the final side and I was only off by 1/8" from top to bottom, which isn't bad at all! I did a bit more trimming in one particular area and called it good! I am quite happy that this technique worked or I may have ended up with a very small quilt. :)

I'd love to hear your thoughts on squaring up quilts. Do you bother? Or are you like me and only do so when completely necessary?

If you have any questions about my approach, I'll try to answer them in the comments.

50 comments:

Michelle said...

I just kind of eyeball them and proceed. (I can hear the serious quilters 'gasping' now! ;)

Happy Cottage Quilter said...

I never square up my quilts!!! In all the years that I have been quilting, I have only had one quilt that ended up wonky and not working right. I read about quilters who wash and block their quilts, but truthfully I never take that much time :-S Is that a terrible way to quilt?? Am I the only one joining you in being a renegade?

A Quilter's Mission - Vicki said...

I have never squared up my quilts! I guess I am not alone. I know, I SHOULD do that, but now that I know I am not alone......

Colleen said...

Unless there are raggedly uneven edges I dont square up until after quilted. I use a large square 12" or larger and square one corner. The use the long 24" to square the sides stopping well before the next corner. I square it up finish the side with my long ruler then proceed to the next side. In all my years of quilting I have never had a problem with wonky quilts. It amazes me that some quilters who are "known" seem to have such wonky quilts. squaring up is easy. Just do it.

C. Jaeger said...

I am with Michelle. I take car of any obvious problems and then move on!

Mary said...

I only square after quilted and I use the term square very loosly. I square the corners then use a 24" ruler to join the 'squared lines'. Seldom do I check to see if they are square after binding. At that point it is pointless......I'm not ripping. Nope.

QuiltyGirl said...

I square up after quilting. To me, the proper way would be to lay it out on the floor to square up....but I'm typically too lazy to do that. So, I start in a corner with my 12.5" square ruler, trim a corner and then use my 24" ruler to trim the sides and again use the 12.5" square for the other 3 corners. It doesn't come out perfectly, and sometimes I have to go back and trim a bit more....but I don't always have enough clean floor space to do it the right way. :)
Thanks for the mini tut!

ircabbit said...

I straighten the edges of my quilt but usually just measure from the edge of the patchwork. I feel like a crooked quilt is less noticeable than having part of your pattern or border trimmed away!

Suzan said...

I square up my quilts after the quilting. I square a corner first and work from there. If the quilt has a border, I choose an inside border seam and use that as a general reference point. Maybe I have just been fortunate but I have never had a really crazy, wavy border after quilting. I can tell if it is a little wonky BEFORE I quilt so I actually quilt out whatever wavy or excess fabric there might be. My motto is "When in doubt, quilt it out!"

Kim said...

I don't bother, my quilts are just for loving and using....no show quality stuff from me and I find they come out pretty darn close to square.

Your idea was really smart to use another quilt as a guide, nice job.
Now how do you have time to do anything but unpack?

Happy Sewing

liz said...

"I square up after quilting. To me, the proper way would be to lay it out on the floor to square up....but I'm typically too lazy to do that. So, I start in a corner with my 12.5" square ruler, trim a corner and then use my 24" ruler to trim the sides and again use the 12.5" square for the other 3 corners."

This is what I do too, but I use my giant 20.5" square ruler for the corners.

Carla said...

I have used the lines in my hardwood floor as a guide. If I have a border on the quilt I make sure I trim the border using the inside border seam as a guide. Hubby helps too!

✾Jamie Lee Cooley✾ said...

I liked reading all the comments. I square mine up like most of the commenters, but sometimes I do end up with a wavy binding. I'm not sure why really, sometimes the quilt turns out perfectly flat, but sometimes not. I don't do anything differently. Wish I knew why!

marcella said...

I always square my quilts up after quilting. Usually either with a square ruler for the corners, a long ruler for the sides and a chalk o' liner to mark the lines. Once everything is marked and looks good then I cut, sliding the mat along like you did. I've also used a laser level with a right angle. Just turn it on, lay it on the corner of the quilt and it shoots a beam of light down two sides with a perfect right angle - I mark the lines with chalk and then put it in the opposite corner and mark the other two, but the really brave could skip the marking and just cut on the light line.

Suzanne said...

Hurray for your successful venture in squaring up. And what a tease you showed with the pretty quilting!

I rarely square up my quilts. In fact, based on what others have said, what I thought was squaring up might not be that at all. I thought it meant measuring the top, bottom and the middle, taking the average and loping off the excess. That, I do occasionally but more often than not, I quilt and bind. Done is done as I agree with what said earlier that my quilts are for loving and they don't care to be square.

Kelly Young said...

I don't usually square up, but in the case that it is absolutely necessary, I do so after quilting, and use a plank of my wood floor as a guide. Happy quilting!

-Kelly @ My Quilt Infatuation

Kimberly Harris said...

I am completely self taught, with the help and inspiration of Fons and Porter and Ellen Burns and a few others on PBS while the kids napped. I tried for years to "square up" my quilts. I would find the center and fold, and trim the sides to match each other, and then fold the other way and repeat. I ruined more tops that way. I quilt as a way of connecting with things that are simple, and handmade, and not factory produced perfect. So if it isn't square... such is life. If I wanted it centimeter perfect, I would go to the store and buy it. I like the beauty found in the imperfect. (Which could just be a way of justifying to myself the results I get now. Maybe someday, when the kids are grown and the dogs are gone and work and school and church all settle, I will be more interested in doing things right!)

Aliceart said...

I do square up this way:

First, When I put my borders on, I measure width and length in three places across the quilt. Then I measure and cut my borders to the smallest measurement on each side.

After quilting, I square up the corners and trim bits as needed to make things connect up.

Jenny said...

I was taught to square up by experienced quilters in a 9-week (super comprehensive!) beginner class. The way I was taught is similar to what Liz says above, and it's a piece of cake, so I can't imagine not doing it.

Quilt first, always. Then grab your largest SQUARE ruler (mine is 15" -- I wish I had something bigger). Line it up on a corner and do a little tugging if you need to in order to make it match up as best as you can for the entire length of both sides of the square ruler, then cut along the ruler in both directions.

Move straight to the second corner, then the third, then the fourth. Then use your 6x24" ruler (or whatever 24" length you have) to trim the rest of the sides, doing a little gentle tugging as necessary to get the sides in line with the ruler.

It's no biggie to do and everything comes out quite nice. I've never had to cut off a big chunk of pattern or anything. :-)

Kitchener Quilter said...

Very interesting comments. I try to be as square as possible as I make the top, aiming to square up for the borders. I use a big square ruler to trim the corners and edges. One quilt that I heavily quilted, I wet it and blocked it out to dry. It really needed squaring up! Then I measure the edges and binding so my edges don't get wavy when they go on. Love how a quilt hangs straight.

Patti said...

Ah, kindred spirits. I don't typically square up my quilts. I measure for my borders like many of the above comments and then quilt and bind. What can I say? Quilting is my time for fun.

Sarah Craig said...

I don't usually square up a quilt - most of them are close enough for "government work", as the saying goes. But I went through a spurt of jelly roll quilts, and those are awful for being wonky. So I took the top , pressed it nice and flat, then folded it in half along one of the seam lines and pressed the fold. Then I folded it in half the other direction and pressed that fold. Then I took the much more manageable quartered quilt and squared it up with my large square template and my 24 ruler. It did a pretty good job!

Marianne said...

I have never squared one up and it has never occurred to me that you needed to! If it lies mostly flat and isn't frilly around the edge I am happy.

Elizabeth Ant said...

I must admit I am very anal about my quilts being square. I alway make sue when I add the borders that the quilt is square and after quilting square up again before I put my binding on

Jeneta said...

That's a great idea (provided you have a square quilt to work from...)! Love your floor by the way!

Debbie said...

It never occurred to me to NOT square up a quilt. I always do it after quilting - much like Jenny does, tho I do two corners, then the side between them. Then move on to the next corner, and that side, etc. After all that, I made sure the top & bottom are equal and that the sides are equal. If not, I adjust. Very interesting convo here!

Erica said...

I am so glad you started your discussion because I have been thinking about this lately. I definitely square up my quilts because it drives me crazy if I fold a finished quilt and the edges don't match up right (maybe I'm OCD?). I do what several other people have mentioned and use a square ruler on the corners and then a 24" ruler on the sides. It is definitely not my favorite part of the process but it is fairly quick.

Qltr89 said...

I only square-up a quilt if it is a wallhanging. I find it easier to square-up when it's quilted.
There is one wallhanging I thought I squared-up, I proceeded to bind it, and then hang it. It was wavvvvvyyy. Oh well, I said. Whenever I walk past my son's empty bedroom, the wavy border catches my eye. I can't see myself undoing the binding, so I just keep walking.

Mary said...

I do square up my quilts, as best I can. I use a large square ruler on the corners, and a 24" long ruler on the sides. Also the backs - very important to square up the backings before quilting. I quilt my own with my long arm, a square back makes a difference in how the top quilts, in the stitch quality; and how the finished quilt will lie (flat, we hope!) after quilting. I cut pieces for a quilt only after squaring the fabric; square each block as I finish it; and square the quilt again after quilting. If I'm making a complex pattern with a gazillion little pieces, ever piece must be squared up as you go along.

Beth said...

I just went to a presentation by some quilt judges at my local guild. They said cutting borders in the same direction of the selvage, which stretches the least, will help prevent wavy borders. Sometimes I will do a rough squaring up before I put borders on. Also, measuring sides and middle before borders helps. Then make border length equal the average. Although I don't always do this, nice to know how if it's an important quilt.

Linda said...

I always square mine up, but I am really just making sure the corners are square. I start with the corner that is most square and use my 6.5 by 22.5 ruler. I line up the long side of the ruler with the quilt edge that I am getting ready to trim as best I can while trying to keep the other edge square with the short side of the ruler. I use the lines on the ruler as a guide. When I get it as square as I can, then I cut the length of the ruler on the side I am trimming, unless it is wayy out, then I will only cut part of the way. I slide the ruler along the edge of the quilt but only cutting about half the length and using the other half to line up with the previously cut edge so that the line is smooth, lining it up with the edge of the quilt top as best I can. When I get to the next corner I do the same thing. Usually once I get one or two cut square the rest is pretty easy and it usually works out just fine for me. I rarely find myself cutting more than about 1/4 to 1/2 inch off of the side in any one place, and that is only if it is really bad. It's a lot like squaring up a block only on a larger scale and sometimes I am just creating the illusion of a perfectly straight line from corner to corner, but keeping the corners as square as possible. I hope that makes sense. LOL

Joan Lowder, your Stampin Up creative coach said...

I always square up as best as possible... after it's quilted and before binding. I tend to not sew so straight and seems it always gets out of wack. It's not perfect but it works.

Lisa C said...

I've been quilting two years this summer. I guess I'm at a loss to figure out what the big deal is? You have to cut off the excess batting and backing so why not square up? To me it's just a natural step after quilting and before binding.

Valerie said...

I square them up after I've quilted them too, just works better for me!

sharpie said...

I think I'm a half and half type of quilter. Sometimes I square off, others I don't. But after skimming through some of the other comments I love the idea of squaring off *after* quilting (!)

Quilting Grannie said...

I don't square up a quilt either. If there is one square that is not squared with the rest of the quilt, I trim it when I finish quilting before sewing down the binding.

karen said...

I fall into the I-avoid-it-as-often-as-possible camp. Seriously, it depends on how it'll be used. Quilts for sleeping, snuggling, or picnicking, I don't bother to square up. Quilts for hanging, I do my best.

Someone mentioned not cutting up your patchwork. Next time, if you're using a border, cut the borders to the correct size. Thread a needle and do a gathering stitch close to the edge of the patchwork. Then ease the patchwork to the border (as you would a skirt to a waistband). Ideally, the adjustments should be so small that they aren't noticeable. And you don't have to chop part of a block away.

Esch House Quilts said...

I square my quilts after quilting like many others have said. Square the corners using my 12 1/2" square ruler and then connect the sides as straight as I can using my 24" ruler.

It is much harder when you don't have any line of piecing to measure against. In this case, I line up the edge of my cutting mat with the edge of my counter top and, making sure the other edge is fairly perpendicular, trim from there. Sounds like your method worked well!

Heidi said...

I do a 'pretty good' square off to a quilt top, then square it off after quilting. If it is heavily quilted, I block it first. I feel satisfied if the finished quilts folds up nicely when complete:-)
If it is large, and without a datum of some sort, like straight border to from, I have actually laid another quilt on top of it to mark lines to start with. Works well!
I love your book Sunday Morning Quilts, and noticed yesterday the picture of your Juki. If you have a moment, please check out my post about Juki http://redletterquilts.blogspot.com/2013/06/should-i-buy-juki-tl-98e-any-advice.html

Thank you!

Cheryl said...

I square up (ish) using the lines in the tile or hardwood floors of the kitchen. I think 1/8 inch off is just about perfect!

Wonky Girl said...

Now that I'm learning to quilt on a mid-arm frame I see why it's important to keep a quilt squared. I mean, while you are sewing blocks into a top and especially when measuring for borders.
A fun way to keep a wonky quilt looking good is to cut border strips extra wide. Then after quilting use a dinner plate (or smaller) to mark a gentle undulating wave (no deep scallop notches). Trace the plate edge and mark each corner first with a big half circle arch. The waves do not have to be evenly spaced. It is easy to bind and gives the quilt a fun quirky look.

Marei said...

I square every quilt I've ever made. Always after quilting. Like many of the comments above I start squaring in all 4 corners and then work from one corner 'cut' to the next corner. Takes no time at all.

wannabequilter.com said...

Since we're confessing....
I only recently started 'squaring' them up with the patchwork. I had been just cutting off the extra batting/binding by cutting along the edge of the quilt/border. My buddy Gretchen is the one that gasped when she saw me doing that and now has me squaring up a little more property. But mine tend to be wonky anyway.

P Taylor said...

Isn't a wavy border or wavy binding caused by a border that is too large?

SueAnn W said...

I will lay a 15 inch sq. ruler to just kind of eye ball the corners. I think this method is just very creative ! YAY a new way to think about checking and or fixing the wonky quilt!!!! You are so smart!

Lea said...

I like to use my clear quilting square and square everything up as much as possible. Sometimes, I have to "fudge" a bit as things have moved while quilting, but I really don't think anyone is going to check your quilt for squared off edges so not to get too fussy....

Samantha K said...

As I am far from being a perfectionist, I do not square up my quilts, unless it is a small table topper or something. I've always made quilts that are to be used and loved and it is the little imperfections that make them hand-made!

I usually eyeball my top when I'm laying it out to layer it with the batting and backing and fix anything major before I pin it all together.

As I don't heavily quilt my quilts (just some basic stitching in the ditch or a zig-zag over the seams or some are even just tied) maybe I've gotten lucky with things turning out good for me.

I tend to also like the security of the batting and backing still extended beyond the quilt top when I go to sew on my binding to make sure it is behind my seam when I'm sewing it on. After I sew the binding to the front, then I use the seam allowance to trim the batting and the backing off.

I'm thankful for all that have shared their methods for squaring up their quilts. I may have to give it a try on my next completed project.

Michele said...

I don't square up my quilts either. I should and will try to do it more in the future. Thanks for your insights into this new method.

Seamingly Sarah said...

Oh boy. I'm not nearly as experienced at quilts and quilting as many others are, but I square up my quilts by lying them on the floor after I've basted them. Then I cut with my straight edge, rotary cutter and mat. It's more like eyeballing it with a straight edge at the same time!

I used to have a bigger problem with extra fabric at the corners after adding a border. But I think with more regular use of pins and straighter cutting and sewing along the way I've made it a much smaller and less noticeable problem.

brigitdermott said...

Thanks for hosting this interesting discussion! Because I make my quilt tops without a pattern I need to square up at the end. I also square up after quilting. I use one edge as as a starting point and fold the quilt in half along that edge. I trim away the edges that don't align. Then I fold in the opposite direction and do the same. End result--a quilt that folds up neatly.