Grain Lines and Squaring Up – Part 2

If block units, blocks, and all the sashings are squared up and the cutting is accurate, at this point, your quilt center should be squared-up, too, right?

This is where we left off last week.  We went through exactly what the squaring-up process is and why it really shouldn’t be left as the last step before sewing on the binding.  At this point, we’ve square up everything as we have constructed the quilt and now we’re ready to put on the borders.  And yes, if you’ve faithfully squared-up the block units, blocks, sashing, and rows, your quilt center should come out to the size the quilt pattern says.  It’s easy to think at this point you only need to cut the borders to the size dictated by the pattern and sew them on. 

Well, yes…and no.  Technically if all the squaring up has been done, the borders should go on quickly and easily.  However, if you’ve come this far, you want to be sure everything will still go together wonderfully in the end.  So here’s what we will do:

  1.  If you’re quilt top is badly wrinkled, press it.
  2. Lay it out, face-up on the floor or a table – some surface which is big enough, so the quilt lies flat.
  3. With a measuring tape, measure the length of the quilt an inch in from the right and left edges and in the middle.  Average these three measurements.  The average will be the length to cut your side borders.  Ideally, all three measurements should be the same.  However, there may be variances and if there are, the measurements still should be pretty close.
  4. Cut out your left and right borders the width needed per the pattern and the length deduced by your average.
  5. Find the center of the length of the border strip and the center of the length of the quilt.  Pin both centers together and then pin the edges together, working from the center pin down one side and then the other.  Sew on and repeat on the other side.
  6. Press the borders, with the seams pressed towards the border strip.
  7. Lay the quilt out again, face-up on the floor a table – some surface which is big enough that the quilt lies flat.
  8. Now measure how wide the quilt is.  Again, take three measurements – one an inch from the top, one an inch from the bottom, and one across the middle.  Average these three measurements together and cut your top and bottom border this length and the as wide as the pattern calls for.
  9. Repeat the pinning and sewing as dictated for the left and right borders.

One really helpful hint about borders – border pieces cut along the lengthwise grain of fabric really stabilize your quilt center the best.  However, whatever you do, cut all the border pieces on the same grain – all lengthwise or all crosswise.  If you mix the grains, the borders will be wavy.

Sandwich your quilt and quilt it or send it to the long arm artist.

Once the quilting is done, you’re on the final stretch.  And at this point, you have two options:  Do you want to wet it and square it up again or not?  There’s a reason this becomes an option.  A long arm artist will baste the top, bottom, and sides of your quilt to the backing and batting.  This will help stabilize the quilt and keep all three layers of the quilt sandwich from shifting and keep it square.  They will also do some stitching in the ditch along some of the squares for the same reason.  If you’re quilting your quilt on your domestic machine, you do the same thing.  However, no matter how careful you are, the quilt could become slightly un-square during the quilting process – not so much the quilt center, but the borders.  Instead of the corners being a perfect 90-degrees, they become a bit wonky.  There are two ways to approach putting those borders back to a 90-degree angle.

The Wet Method

I will be honest at this point and tell you I generally only use this method for wall hangings which must lie flat and even against a wall or truly special quilts, such as those destined as mile-marker gifts (such as weddings, special birthdays, etc.), or quilts which are definitely show-bound.  While this method does work wonders to get everything squared-up beautifully, handling a wet quilt can be difficult and the larger the quilt, the more difficult it can be. 

This method requires two items – a washing machine and either an area you can pin the quilt flat, or one of these:

A cardboard dressmaker’s cutting surface.

The first step with this method is to trim the backing and batting even with your quilt center.  To make sure I get the four corners of the quilt as close to 90-degrees as possible I use a square ruler along the sides, like this.

Then thoroughly wet your quilt.  I generally do this via the washing machine on a delicate cycle (my washer does not have an agitator – if yours does you may opt for a soaking in the tub or shower stall instead of using the washing machine).  Helpful hint insert:  If you’ve used water dissolvable marker or Frixion pens on your quilt, this is a great time to get those out.  After the quilt has gone through the delicate cycle and spun out, it’s time to pin your quilt to either a clean carpet or the cardboard cutting surface.  Pin judiciously, making sure the sides and top are perfectly straight and even.  If you’re using a carpet, you may want to purchase one of these:

The laser light can help you line up your quilt evenly.  If you’re using one of the cardboard dressmaker cutting surfaces, the gridded lines on it are your guide. 

This process takes time.  Use your hands to spread the quilt out and manipulate the quilt sandwich to square it up.  After the corners are at 90-degree angles and the sides are even, pin it in place and allow it to dry completely.  If you have a fan, you may want to use it to help it dry quicker.

The Dry Method

This is the method I use the most, because most of my quilts are made to be “used up.”  They’re not show quilts or super-special-once-in-a-lifetime quilts.  The quilts are cuddle quilts, play quilts for my grand darlings, picnic quilts, lap quilts, and charity quilts.  This method will square these quilts up nicely, but I don’t have to wet them.

The first step I take is to trim down the backing and batting – especially if the quilt was long armed.  Traditionally we always make sure the batting and backing are several inches larger than the quilt top, but most long arm artists want you to have a 6-inch to 8-inch border of the back and batting so they can clamp it to hold the quilt taunt.  I trim those down to about an inch, just so I don’t have so much bulk to deal with.

I realize the borders may still be basted down to the batting and backing, and if the stitches are still pretty well intact, you can skip this next step.  If the basting stitches have broken or aren’t intact, I take the quilt sandwich to the sewing machine and stitch the sides and top and bottom of the quilt again, about 1/8-inch away from the edge of the quilt top.  This keeps everything taunt as you begin to square up the quilt for the last time. 

If you don’t have one of these:

You may want to purchase one.  I find these square rulers are the most useful for squaring up the corners.

Place the square ruler at one of the corners of the quilt.  Line it up as best you can at the bottom (or top) of the ruler and along the sides.  Then, with a rotary cutter (a 45 mm or 60 mm works best for this), trim the backing, batting, and any slender pieces of border fabric you need to in order to make the sides, top, and bottom of the quilt square and even. 

Now all you have to do is bind your quilt and enjoy!

I hope these two blogs have helped you in two areas.  First, I really want you to understand how important it is to square up your quilt with every step, and if you’re making large blocks, it’s crucial to make sure your fabric is on-grain.  These minor actions play a major role in making sure your quilt will lie flat or hang straight.  Second, I hope the blogs have demonstrated squaring up isn’t a horribly scary process.  As long as you have a good ruler, cutting mat, and sharp rotary cutter, you’re good to go.

Until next week, Make Your Quilt Yours!

Love and Stitches,


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