How to Square Up Strip Sets for Quilts

  • Square Up Your Strip Pieced Patchwork

    Square Up Strip Sets for Quilts
    Janet Wickell

    When you make a quilt it's important to sew every piece of the quilt as accurately as possible. Squaring up the ends of strip pieced patchwork is one way to make sure pieces are as accurate as possible. 

    What is Strip Piecing?

    Strip piecing is one of many types of quick piecing techniques — methods that help us make quilts more quickly and easily using assembly-line sewing and cutting. To strip piece, long strips of fabric are sewn together in a way that mimics a portion of a quilt block, and the...MORE resulting multi-fabric piece is called a strip set. The images above illustrate a strip set sewn with two strips of different fabrics. 

    Segments, like the two patchwork units at the bottom of the photo, are cut from strip sets.

    The layout of strip sets varies greatly and depends on which areas of a quilt block they are meant to replicate. If you're a new quilter, browse quilt patterns for previews of strip piecing variations.

    What's Squaring Up and Why Is it Important?

    Take a look at the strip set in the top left photo. The lighter strip's end was scooted about 3/8" back from the end of the red strip. Why? Because the red strip has a white selvage end that shouldn't be included in the finished set (learn about fabric grain).

    Even if the  white strip hadn't been moved, the ends of the two strips probably wouldn't have matched exactly, and that's why squaring up is an important task. Cutting segments from a crisply squared up end produces accurate patchwork. 

    How to Square Up a Strip Set and Cut Segments

    A left-handed cutter should reverse the orientation of the strip set. 

    1. Turn a strip set around so that the edge to be squared up is on the right. 
    2. Place a rotary ruler very near the right end of the strip set and align one of its horizontal lines with the bottom edge of the bottom strip. The top edge should be parallel to a line on the ruler, too.
    3. Cut along the right edge of the ruler, removing a sliver of each fabric to create a new vertical cut that's at a 90-degree angle to the top and bottom edges. 
    4. To cut segments, flip the strip set around so that its squared up edge faces left, and then position the ruler to make 2-1/2" cuts, taking care to keep top and bottom edges parallel to horizontal lines on the ruler.
    5. Check occasionally to make sure the leading edge of a strip set is still at a 90-degree angle to the bottom and top strips. It isn't unusual to find that you must square up again, especially when cutting segments from long strip sets. 

    Strip Piecing Tips to Help You Sew

    • Check your strip set widths before cutting, because it's easy to 'lose' width in a seam allowance that isn't thoroughly pressed. For instance, if you sew two 2-1/2" wide strips together with a 1/4" seam allowance, each of the strips in the pressed strip set should measure 2-1/4" in width. If you sew three 2-1/2" wide strips together, the center strip should measure 2" in width and the two outer strips should measure 2-1/4".
    • Press to set long seams before you press the seams to one side.
    • Sometimes segments are cut at different angles — refer to your pattern. 
    • Some quilters use the same squaring up technique to rotary cut long strips of fabric. Before opting to cut from several layers remember that folded fabric must be flipped around, and the movement can separate the layers, leading to errors.
    • Try adding 1/4" - 1/2" to strip lengths to allow for more squaring up potential. 

    Squaring up your strip sets just takes a few extra minutes, and greatly enhances your sewing accuracy.

    Easy Strip Pieced Patterns for Beginning Quilters