Strip Piecing Tips and Techniques for Quilters

Facts About Strip Pieced Patchwork

Strip Piecing Tips for Quilters
Strip Piecing Tips. Janet Wickell

Use these strip piecing tips to help you sew quick and easy quilts with this time-saving method that eliminates the need to work with small, individual pieces of fabric.

Strip piecing is a patchwork quilt making technique that's accomplished by sewing multiple fabrics together to create a 'strip set' that looks just like a portion of a quilt block. The strip set is cut apart to yield segments that replace two or more pieces of fabric.

Quilt and quilt block patterns that include strip piecing methods explain how to sew fabrics together to create strip sets. 

Troubleshooting Problems With Strip Pieced Patchwork

Awhile back, a reader made a comment on this quilting Facebook page about an error in a pattern, but the pattern is correct. Let's talk about the problem the quilter encountered because many beginning quilters experience the same issue.

The pattern asks quilters to sew five 2" wide strips of fabric side by side and press. After that, one end of the strip set is squared up. Starting from the squared up end, the instructions say to cut as many 8-inch segments from the strip set as possible to create 8" x 8" patchwork squares.

The quilter was unhappy with the 8" length, stating that it was a waste of fabric because the segments should be 7-1/2" long -- the width of her strip sets. The problem -- her strip sets were too narrow, and there are several reasons why that happened.

Look at the strip dimensions first:

  • Each of the inner three 2" strips includes a quarter inch seam along both sides, making those strips each 1-1/2" wide in the completed strip set.
  • Each of the two outer strips has a seam along only an inner edge, making those strips 1-3/4" wide.
  • 1-1/2" x 3 = 4-1/2" in width, and 1-3/4" x 2 = 3-1/2" in width (the slight differences in width are visible in the photo above, although the strip sets are from a different pattern).
  • Add 4-1/2" to 3-1/2" and you'll get 8", the correct width of the strip set -- and the length required to cut a square segment.

Why did the quilter's strip set only measure 7-1/2" across?

A few possibilities:

  • Seams may have been wider than 1/4", 'eating' some of the strip width.
  • Pressing may not have been adequate.
  • Strips might have been slightly narrower than 2".
  • A combination of errors could have occurred.

Even small discrepancies are compounded when several seams are present in patchwork.  It's important to set up your sewing machine to sew an accurate 1/4" seam allowance, to press carefully but thoroughly, and to take care when cutting strips of fabric.

One important way to increase accuracy is to press to set seams before pressing the seams to one side. It's an extra step, but worth the effort.

If Strip Sets Are Distorted

Sometimes strip sets become bowed -- narrower or skewed on one end of the combined strips. Help prevent the bowing by sewing each new strip to the set beginning at the end where the previous strip ended. In other words, reverse your starting point for each new strip. The back and forth technique won't make up for other problems but can be helpful, especially when sets are sewn from lots of strips of fabric.

Measure as you go to make sure that your patchwork's dimensions are correct, and always make sample blocks before cutting all of the fabric for any quilt.

Other Quick Piecing Methods

Strip piecing is one form of quick piecing. Easy half square triangle unitsno-waste flying geese, and quick quarter square triangle units are three more examples of popular quilting components that can be assembled using quick piecing techniques.