Wednesday, September 20, 2017

biased-a quilt block tutorial

One of the quilts that I'm working on for my solids challenge is my biased quilt. I have had so much fun making the blocks, so I took some photos along the way that explains my process. I hope you find this tutorial useful. I can imagine this quilt stitched up in prints, too. I think it would be pretty fun!

Supplies needed:
A phone book (or other lightweight paper) for foundation piecing
A rotary cutter, mat and ruler
A glue stick
A scissors is optional, but helpful.
An iron.
Spray starch.
Also, a working sewing machine. :)

Before you get started, you need to choose a block size. My unfinished block size is 10" high (because it was the height of the phone book) x 6" wide (because it is the width of my ruler). No need to make it complicated!

Cut all your papers to desired size. I'm making 88 blocks, so my quilt will measure about 60.5" x 76" finished.

Please note, in most cases I used strings of fabric that measure between 1 1/8" and 1 3/4" wide.

Let's get started....

Take a glue stick and draw an angled line on the paper. (Sorry that you can't see the glue. It's transparent.) If you use enough glue to see it, that will be bad news for your quilt! You only need a bit to temporarily hold the fabric in place.
Place the fabric on the glue line and trim the extra fabric length with a scissors. I like to trim my scraps straight, rather than at an angle, because I'm more likely to use the little bits that way.
Choose a second string of fabric that coordinates with the first one. Cut to length.
Align the edges of the fabric on one side and sew a 1/4" seam, using the edge of the fabric as a guide.
TIP: Backstitch at the beginning and the end of the seam where the paper edges start and stop. This will prevent the stitches from coming apart when you are removing the paper later. (It's a lifesaver!)
Press the second string of fabric away from the sewn seam with a hot, dry iron.
Select another string of fabric and cut to length. Make sure that it extends from the edges of the paper about an inch on either end.
Repeat steps above to attach the third string to the block.
Continue to add strings to cover the entire corner of the paper, pressing after each addition. Remember to backstitch.
Once the paper is half covered, flip it upside down and add strings to fill in the remaining corner.
Once the block is completely pieced, give it a good press.
I like to use a little spray starch after the block is pieced to help stabilize it a bit.
Now it's time to trim the block down to size. Place the block face down on a cutting mat and use the ruler to measure the block when trimming, rather than using the paper to measure. I've found that the paper shrinks up a bit when piecing, so this is a good way to get an accurately sized block every single time.
Here you can see that the paper shrunk a bit...about 1/16 of an inch. Not a huge deal, but it sure is nice to sew blocks of the same size together.
Once the block is trimmed down to size, carefully remove the paper backing. Your block is complete!

Troubleshooting (or avoiding trouble):

Sometimes a strip gets a little wavy, for one reason or another. If that happens, it's not too difficult to fix.
Flip the block face down and fold the paper back.
Use a ruler and rotary cutter to straighten out the fabric.
Fold the paper back into place and continue to add strings and strips to the block. Having a straight edge makes it much easier to add the next piece.
TIP: When aligning a light fabric over a dark fabric, be careful to place the fabric on top ever so slightly over the edge of the dark fabric, to prevent shadowing.
Conversely, if you place the fabric as shown below, you will get an unsightly line showing through the lighter fabric after pressing, also known as shadowing. (It's a little thing, but also the kind of thing that drives me crazy in a finished quilt. Might as well avoid it if you can!)
This block had a little bubble issue....the pink fabric shown didn't lay flat when I added the next strip. Rather than press a crease into my block and leave it....
I removed the paper before trimming the block down, then gave it a good press to remove the wrinkle/crease. I was sure to use spray starch, too.
Then I trimmed the block down to 10" x 6".
In most cases, trimming the blocks before removing the paper is the way to go, although it is nice to have a way to fix it if things go awry.
I had a few questions about how I select colors for my blocks, so I'll touch briefly on that. Generally, when I am piecing blocks like this, I try to use a mix of lights, mediums and darks. I do a lot of auditioning for each block. As far as what goes next to what, I try to let go of my preconceived color ideas, but I find that I do place the same colors next to each other over and over at times. (I'm soooo not ready to blindly chose scraps out of a paper bag! I have too many control issues for that. ha!) My rule of thumb is, if the colors don't make me cringe when they are placed next to each other, sew it up! In this quilt, I found I had to keep cutting more and more lights to balance out the darks, because I didn't want the quilt to get too heavy and dark. So far, so good!
I think I'll leave it at that! I hope that you give this block a try! If you do, I'd love to see photos.


tisha @ quiltytherapy said...

Can't wait to try this. The dry iron doesn't get ink on your fabrics?

Robin said...

Good tutorial! I was wondering the same thing as Tisha. Dry iron or steam-does the newsprint ever transfer to the fabric?(

Rene' said...

So many useful tips in this tutorial! Thank you for taking the time to explain your process, tips, and tricks! I love the rectangular size you chose as well!

Amanda Jean said...

Tisha and Robin,

I suppose it all depends upon how the phone book is printed. I did not have any ink transfer problems on this project, thankfully! I have, however, had problems with ink transfer when I was paper piecing using sheets I printed from my home printer. It's worth doing a little test before you get started!

I hope that helps!


Amanda Jean said...

Thanks, Rene!!

stamperwithdayjob said...

Thanks for taking the time to give us a tutorial on this. I love string quilts and I love the size block you used.

Kay said...

Thanks for the great tutorial and tips. x

KaHolly said...

Very thorough tutorial! We have the smaller phone books up here, so my blocks wouldn't be as big. I've been saving them to make string blocks and look forward to giving it a go. Haven't done so in years.

✾Jamie Lee Cooley✾ said...

Hey this is really awesome, especially what to do when a strip bows out a bit. That kind of thing happens to me quite a bit when working with longish pieces. Thanks!

Pamela Arbour said...

Thanks for the tips, especially the one how you decided the size. LOL I just bought a package of newspaper print which is 9x12 so I can just cut it in half to make mine 9x6. No paper waste. I like that! So, are you working on another book? I sure enjoyed your other ones.

Jean said...

Great tutorial! I especially like the trouble shooting tips, and the tip about trimming to the ruler rather than the paper. I'm working on a pineapple block quilt right now, but now I'm inspired to start a string quilt as well. Thanks again.

Patty said...

great tutorial! Thanks so much.

grammajudyb said...

Thanks Amanda Jean for all the tips. My phone books are stacked ready to cut into as soon as a few more projects are moved up the ladder toward the finish line!

Tracybug Creative said...

Finally a use for the phone book! I just recycled the last one after my kids finished ogling over the novelty of it!

MissPat said...

I have an old Buffalo, NY phone book that is 8x11" and 3" thick, that I'm guarding protectively. All the new ones are much smaller. I haven't had a problem with ink bleed, but I also haven't starched my blocks, so I don't know if the moisture would pull up the ink. Printer toner doesn't soak into the paper so that's why it can rub off. Our local shopper news publisher sells end of roll newsprint cheaply. It would require more cutting, but you would also have more flexibility in size.

krazgrl said...

Having never tried this before my questions is....why use the newsprint at all? Couldn't one just sew strips together and get the same outcome? Love your final block. :o)

lalaluu said...

Bittersweet to see this! I made a quilt using this technique (borrowed it from my memories of my grandmother quilting) out of my blue and brown strips and scraps. I had a lovely print from my stash for the back and binding and quilted it myself. I turned it in at guild night in August, then at last night's guild meeting, I learned that we lost everything in our storage unit because of flooding during Harvey. Hundreds (maybe thousands?) of yards of fabric and batting, kits, and of course, about 200 finished quilts. I just know that blue and brown scrappy string quilt with flannel pieces and doggie prints was among those lost! Fortunately, our guild is receiving donations from all over - here in Texas and as far afield as Minnesota, South Dakota, and Pennsylvania. Quilters are a great community. However, as I sat there last night, I thought, "I've got to make another one now!" And I think I will...eventually. It will be part of the healing process.

fabricpixie said...

Love this rectangle block, would not have thought of doing a string block like this.

but have to admit I absolutely hate using paper on the back, I've been using the cheapest muslin, no removing paper, whew.

sue in CA

MaterialGirlQuilts said...

Thanks for the tutorial...I'm loving this quilt!!

marciinidaho said...

A good friend gave me a good hint about making blocks on paper backs. She said to shorten your stitch length to as small as your machine will let you when sewing the fabric onto the paper. It makes taking the paper backing off so much easier. Just remember to re-adjust your stitch length when you start another project--the voice of experience speaking!

Amanda Jean said...


yes, you could absolutely piece it without a paper backing. I tried a partial block and I didn't like it at all. It's a personal preference. With the angle of the strings, it was hard to keep track of how long the pieces needed to be. You could try it, though, and see how you like it. There are multiple ways you could make this block!

I hope that helps!


Amanda Jean said...

Marci Roberts,

good point! reducing the stitch length does help quite a bit when it comes time to remove the papers.


Suzanne said...

This is so thorough! Thanks for investing the time to share the knitty gritty details. I bet many of these will be popping up.

a concubine said...

You don't need a phone book. Use the cheap drawing pads from the Dollar Store that are intended for kids. It's newsprint. Easy to tear and no issues with ink transfer...and it's cheap.

Mystic Quilter said...

Great tutorial - thanks for this - I have now another quilt to be made from my strips!!

Sharon Brown said...

I enjoyed your tutorial, Amanda Jean, but am wondering if each block has the same strip slant? If yes, how do you accomplish this? I love making string blocks, and I almost always use phonebook paper because it is a way for me to "reduce, reuse, recycle!" It is super easy to remove from my block backs since I do use a smaller stitch length. All my string block quilts, though, are either on the diagonal from point to point, or from side to side, really depending on what length scraps I am using and the size of phonebook pages I am using. I have not yet made one using all solids but I look forward to doing so, when I have enough solid scraps, because your block is lovely.

Amanda Jean said...

Sharon Brown,

all of the blocks have generally the same slant....but not exactly. I like the subtle variety among the blocks. it adds interest to the quilt without being chaotic.

I hope that answers your question.


Cocoa Quilts said...

Thanks for this great tutorial. I have it pinned to try out soon.

Home Sewn By Us said...

Hi Amanda,
I really love the colors you chose for your block, and I'm glad to hear I'm not the only person who CANNOT just randomly take a strip and add it to another if it doesn't match. Ugg. I took a mitten class once and had to do that . . . and just couldn't. I would take a strip out of the bag and set it aside if it didn't match and keep selecting another strip until I found one I liked. The instructor was getting annoyed with me! I also wondered why you use the paper at all, but I can see how you would get lost in just how long a strip needed to be. This will look beautiful in a quilt - will you use sashing between blocks or just sew the block together? Just curious. ~smile~ Roseanne

melody said...

Like this idea. What does the quilt look like when blocks are put together?