Making String Quilts - Scrap Management Series
In today's scrap management post, Patti Laird shows us how she keeps her stash and scraps in check, and how to use up all those long, skinny leftovers by making string blocks.
Patti has been a quilter for about 20 years, and has been sewing since she was a little girl. She owns Sleeping Cat Creations, where she sells her original patterns, offers longarm services, and makes Memory Quilts for customers – and she's the founder of the International Quilters’ Guild, a free Facebook group where members swap blocks, mini quilts, mug rugs, potholders, and she offers Mystery Quilts, Quilt Alongs, Classes, and Demos.
Click the link above to join her!
I'm Patti Laird and I have been sewing for more than 50 years and quilting for about 20. My mother was a professional seamstress, and she taught me to sew at a young age. I began by sewing my own clothes (as well as clothes for my dolls and Barbies). I sewed all my own clothes through junior and high school and into college. When I married, I sewed curtains for every room in our house and set about learning to make slipcovers and do upholstery.
I took a basic quilting class through my local Viking sewing dealer. The instructor quit halfway through the class, but I was lucky enough to get some help later that summer from a quilting instructor at Mid-Appalachian Quilters (MAQ). The year was 2003 or 2004 (I didn’t know then to put a label on my quilts!).
I don’t make many scrappy quilts, but I do save my scraps for use in applique and string blocks.
My scrap management system
Fabric that is a fat quarter or smaller but still large enough to wrap goes on comic book cards sorted by color on shelves. I keep batiks on a different set of shelves, and novelty prints have their own shelf.
Smaller pieces are sorted by color and tossed into bins. It’s not “organized” except by color and I don’t cut scraps into specific sizes.
“Strings” (long, narrow scraps) are sorted by color in bigger bins. They are not cut to a size or sorted in any way other than by color. This is where I put the edges I trim from quilts and my leftover binding.
My favorite use for scraps is to make string blocks. String blocks are mindless sewing, easy to make (there’s no ¼” seam allowance required), and can be put together in many ways.
I visit with friends for a week each spring and we sew for charity. I make string blocks all year, and my friend Patty likes to put them together into quilts.
How to Make String Blocks
Foundation or no foundation?
There is some debate about whether a foundation is needed. I find that it is easier for me to use a foundation. I don’t have to worry about bias and I know the size I’m going for.
Foundations can be paper (which must be removed), used dryer sheets (which are left in the quilt), or fabric. I prefer to use muslin as my foundation. I buy bolts of it on sale or with a coupon at Joann’s. Of course, blocks made on a fabric foundation are heavier than blocks without a foundation–making the final quilt heavier. Something to consider if you live in a warm climate!
What size should your blocks be? You can make string blocks any size. The size is somewhat determined by the size of your strings.
I like to make mine the size of one of my rulers, which makes them quick to trim. So, I tend to make mine 6-½” square, 8-½” square, or 8-½” x 12-½” rectangles.
Because I use muslin as my foundation, sometimes I just cut the muslin into blocks that are easily divisible. For example, I might cut 42”/44” wide fabric into four squares that are about 11” each. Then, I’ll trim those after I’ve covered them.
How wide should each string be? That’s up to you. I recommend that they be no narrower than 1”, but the maximum width is a matter of preference. I cut my bindings at 2-½” and I think that’s too wide for strings, so I cut those in half lengthwise. My strings are generally 1” - 2” wide. Strings don’t have to be equal width within the strip either. Using wonky strips gives a different look.
Most of the time, I just pull a scrap from the bin and sew it on without looking–resulting in totally scrappy blocks.
However, at times, I go for a color palette or values, like this pastel version.
Also, as you can see in these two photos, choosing one dominant color to start each block can create a secondary pattern.
Constructing the blocks
1. Decide whether you will use foundation or not. If using a foundation, cut it to size. I prefer to “rough cut” my muslin, cover it with strings, and then trim it.
2. Mark a diagonal line on each foundation (not necessary, but recommended)--you can “eyeball” it if you want.
3. Choose two strings that will cover your foundation diagonally.Place the first one right side up along the diagonal line.
4. Place the second string right side down on top of the first string (so the two strings are right sides together).
5. Sew along one edge to the foundation. Use a ¼” seam, but you do not need to be precise.
6. Finger press or iron.
7. Add a string to each side of the sewn strings, and press.
8. I chain piece these blocks and then press them after adding a string to each side.
9. Continue adding strings until the foundation is covered.
10. Trim each block to the final size.