Oh the Joys of Blocking a Quilt!
Sometimes you just have to do the stuff youdon’t want to do. After a month with an abundance of travel, I’m just beginning to catch up.
I need professional photos taken of some of my work, so I’ll need to wash and then block them beforehand. My quilts are touched by many hands at the guilds and shops I visit and that does make for some very grungy quilts after while! I have refined my blocking technique over time so I want to share it with you here. Since I seem to be skilled at making wonky quilts, blocking is something I have gotten good at.
Two situations might create a need to block:
-Your quilt is super wonky and you want it to hang well
-You compete and you need your quilt dead-on flat with all seams and borders straight.
In this case, two quilts had to be re-blocked because they were wonky when they were made.
There is an important point to be made here-if you bind a wonky quilt and THEN wash it, you have bound in the wonky and will need to block it every single time you wash it. Don’t do what I did!
Instead, wash it unbound, then block, then bind. Then your binding will hold your quilt in the form you want it. I figured that out with this quilt. Actually two things happened-the quilt was initially wonky and also I did not pre-shrink the binding and it shrunk considerably after washing.
To get started you’ll need some basic supplies: steam iron, your biggest square ruler (mine is 22 1/2″), tape measure, your longest straight edge (or a laser level), spray bottle of water and pins.
But not just any pins. You’ll need strong, sturdy pins. I use those cheap yellow-headed pins from JoAnn’s; I call them my Mean Girl Pins. You don’t use your refined, thin pins with the pretty heads. Two things not in the photo that are helpful-24″ interlocking foam flooring to create a platform to pin into and a laser level which you will see later in another photo. Unfortunately my foam flooring pieces are in storage and not here at the rental.
Prepare your quilt by washing it. I throw it in the dryer for 3 minutes or so to undo the worst wrinkles. Gently unfurl it and lay it on the floor or foam flooring, getting it as straight as you can for now.
I start in a corner and snug my square ruler right up tight against the binding or edge of the quilt. You may need to push and nudge the quilt to get it snug against the ruler. Now pin every inch.
Angle those pins away from the center or the quilt might scoot up the pin and release the pull of the pin. (I had to go back and move some of the pins here-see that some of them are not in a row?)
A word about perfection here. When I am blocking, I am trying to get dead-on straight lines. I’m using either a straight edge or a laser level, so why not? If you’ve ever watched judging, they will put their head down until their eyes are right over a seam or edge and peer down to see if it’s straight, the same angle that you see in the photo above. I figure I might as well aim to get it straight!
A 90 degree laser level is a great asset to this process. It projects for miles so you can block any size quilt. The 90 degree angle is very useful to get a perfect corner set in too. It was a bit pricey, I think around $80, but so worth it.
Once I’m past the edge of the square ruler I put the laser level down to project my line and I finish pinning. If you don’t have a laser level, use your longest straight edge. I continue around the quilt, measuring both length and width to assure that I am keeping everything straight and square.
Once you get to the fourth and final corner you may have to do a good bit of tugging and snugging to get it all in the correct alignment. Take your time to make sure it all is straight. Spray with water any area that begins to dry out.
Yes, this is hard on the body. I don’t see any other way to block a large quilt other than on the floor. I suppose it you had a ginormous table you could use your foam flooring and block there. I don’t have a huge table so it was hands and knees for several hours.
Once I got it all pinned and straight, I saw this. But I knew not to be worried. This will happen. I went back to this area to spray it then pat and coax it into shape. Remember, this is cotton and cotton has a whole lot of give and stretch to it. Once the quilt dried, it had just a wee bit of a puff left.
For some reason WordPress won’t load the rest of my photos so I’ll describe my next step. I took my warm iron set to steam and hovered over any puffy parts, flooding the area with steam. Then I patted that area flat. If I had an especially troublesome area I would lay a big square ruler down over the area after this step and let it dry that way.
And here’s what Poppies looked like before blocking! What a mess.
After blocking, Morning Breeze was perfectly square and flat, as was Poppies. Here’s a quick summary to keep you out of trouble:
-Remember to wash your quilt and binding first. Then block it. Then attach the binding. Block again if needed.
-Use sturdy pins for blocking and angle them away from the quilt.
-Use a large square ruler to set your corners.
-A laser level is very helpful to set a straight line.
-After the quilt dries, use a steam iron to smooth out any remaining wrinkles.
May you forever enjoy flat, straight quilts! I’ll be posting tomorrow to Nina-Marie’s Off the Wall Friday.
Kay Salley says
Great tutorial. I like the tip about not putting binding on till after blocking. Never thought of using the foam blocks either. I quilt in a fifth wheel so will have to figure out how I can store some foam blocks in my limited space
Thanks Kay. The blocks don’t take up that much room-24″ x maybe 3/8″ each, lightweight and could store where it’s hot. But then in a fifth wheel do you have enough floor space to block on? Can you tell I am not a fifth wheeler, giggle?
I have a pretty small sewing studio, my house is not terribly big either but I have dogs and by I, I mean my husband..so dog hair and carpet does not make for a happy quilter no matter how much I vacuum. Plus if my quilt is very large, like a oversized queen or a king I still have to mop my garage floor and go out there as i STILL dont have enough floor space. So I feel your pain. I have a fifth wheel as well. I might as well be in it, lol.
Okay Kellie-you do have a challenge there! The garage floor sounds painful. Maybe try a friend’s house!
maureen Gealey says
This was really helpful! Thank you!
You are welcome Maureen! It’s a task we all have to do.
Carla Fiedler says
Thanks for the tutorial on blocking quilts. You taught me something! Some quilters use drywall sheets to pin their quilts to, especially if they have the space for it. Using the laser light to get square corners and straight edges is a great idea.
Thank you for the comment Carla. Drywall sheets? Seems like that would be very heavy and something you would have to move every time to block something. Whatever works to get that quilt square though! The laser light makes a huge difference I think, worth the investment
You can purchase pretty light weight insulation sheets (not drywall) but the challenge is finding something that you can PIN into. Take a few pins to the DIY store and test them out. they come 4 feet by 8 feet. But they can be cut in half so you can get a bigger surface by taping them together and then folding them up for storage in the garage.
I LOVE the idea of using those interlocking foam squares. They are light weight and eaasy to store. I may get some of those for my next blocking.
Thanks Carole-I am going to make my design wall from the insulation sheets-can’t wait!
Janet Stone says
Great tutorial for a task that is a necessary evil of quilt making. :)
Thank you Janet. And evil it is!
I’m always amazed when I talk about judging and ask the group if they know how to block a quilt. Usually about one in fifty will raise their hands. Now if there was a way to keep the quilt blocked . . .
Yes Helen! I get asked about blocking all the time in class too and I am also surprised at how few know how to do it. But then again, not many people quilt the dickens out of their quilt, making it wonky!
Kelly Whitaker says
Well, I’m completely surprised! This is exactly how I do my quilts, but I’m not a pro and I use every ruler in the house to do it! I need to get that laser level – that would be SO much better :)
And the Bosch GTL2 is only $33 … yay!
Well Kelly you are a pro! The laser level will give you a more secure straight edge and once you use it you will not go back to rulers!
Christina Savoie says
Thanks for the info. It’s very helpful. I am considering entering a quilt in a show for the 1st time. Will shipping mess up the blocking ? Did you have shipping tips ?
I’m thrilled for you that you are thinking about entering a show-go for it! I have not found that shipping messes up the blocking-it does sometimes wrinkle the quilt though. There is a great You Tube put out by the people at the Am Quilters Society (Paducah people) here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fu8y9KJjB60
When I make quilts that will get shipped and folded a lot, I use washable wool batting from Quilters Dream. Wool releases wrinkles very quickly.
Thanks so much for all the info,there was new advice for the process like Washing the binding and others
Glad it was useful to you Lucinda!
Great tutorial Jenny.
Thank you Janice!
Might be a dumb question, does this work with cotton fabric/wool batting quilts?
Of course it is not a dumb question Bambi! It’s funny-that combo is what I almost always use so I know it works perfectly well. Both Poppies and Morning Breeze from the post were cotton with wool batting.
Carolyn Mehlow says
Looking at a Dalia quilt on my wall with all its puffs here and there and it has always bothered me that it didn’t lay flat on wall. Some have stretched out but all sides look square to me. It does drives me a bit crazy.. So, thank you for your article, have learned something tonight and I will be doing this.
Hi Carolyn-I hope it all goes well and you are thrilled by your flat quilt! Write me if you have problems.
Julie Bagamary says
Beautiful quilt and great tutorial on blocking.
Thank you Julie!
Thanks for this tutorial! I have only blocked one quilt before, I believe, but now I have a wall hanging that is very wavy. I hope blocking it will fix that problem.
You’ll find that you can block out most wavieness Ruth-good luck!
Carol Mcdowell says
All I can say is ugh! But what a difference and so worth all the agony. Thank you for sharing your technique and tips.
You’re welcome Carol. Sometimes ya gotta block!
When I’ve suggested quilt blocking to my quilting friends, they tell me they’re worried the fabric will bleed during washing/wetting. I’m fairly sure they don’t pre-wash fabric. Have you come across any opinions one way or another on this? BTW, I stick long pins into the padding of wall to wall carpet when blocking a quilt, and sometimes speed up drying with a hair dryer.
Okay! I don’t prewash either, I will admit and once I did have a bleeding problem. If I were worried about bleeding I would just spray the quilt instead of immersing and washing it. I would also test on some scraps. The only reason I don’t block onto my carpet anymore is that once I began blocking white quilts during this black and white phase I’m in, I found out how dirty carpet is! Even without Basset Boy or children, carpet is dirty. I kept coming up with these awful dirt stains on my quilt until I finally figured that one out. Now I block on the foam squares, except I did not bring them to the rental so I blocked in the room no one uses and the carpet was clean there.
Thank you for the tutorial. I’m new to blocking (and quilting) so this is very helpful. Quick question – do you finish the edges of the quilt before washing and blocking?
Hi Diane, yes I will secure the edges. Meaning I will run a line of machine basting 1/4″ from the edge of the top and another around the edge of the backing and batting. I typically cut the backing and batting to be about 3-4″ larger than the top all around. Write me if that doesn’t make sense.
Awesome tutorial! I was wondering just the other day about washing before binding! How timely! Thanks.
Oh I learned the hard way Kaholly-did it many times wrong before it even occurred to me to wash first.
Tomomi McElwee says
Thank you for this super tutorial. Love those quilts you have here very much.
Thank you Tomomi!
Your blog entry couldn’t have come at a more perfect time. Entering two quilts in my guild show and followed your instructions to the letter and couldn’t be happier with the results. Thank you so much
Oh yippee Joanne! I’m glad it worked out and you have flat quilts! Appreciate your comments.
Rebecca in SoCal says
Great instructions, and the illustrations are so helpful!
I think I would have started with getting one edge straight and proceeded from there, but I think starting in one corner would work better. I should put this in my reference list!
Glad you enjoyed it Rebecca-block away!
Annette Johnston says
Jenny, what a great tutorial! So…to be clear…you was the quilted quilt *before* binding preferably, prewashing tge fabric with which you intend to bind said quilt so the binding won’t shrink in future washings, correct? Hiwever, if the quilt is already bound, necessary blocking xan still be successfully done with the binding or do you remove the binding, block, then rebind?
My quilt was washed before binding and I constructed it from pre-washed fabrics. Then I bound it and blocked it again. If I have already bound the quilt, I still block it as usual and do not remove the binding. I hope this helps Sorry for the late reply-I’ve been traveling.
Annette Johnston says
Thanks ao muc h, Jenny. I have a quilt I’ll do that to right away. Great tute. Have a great summer!
Great Annette-block that quilt into submission!
Is this tutorial done with binding on already?
Hi Janet; It was with the binding on since this one was a long ago completed quilt. I have figured out that I need to block both before and after binding if my quilt is significantly wonky.
OH man.. this is nearly as bad as blocking knitted lace! I’ve spent many many hours on my hands and knees pinning out lace shawls into perfect circles with a bajillion pins. Ive yet to finish a quilt so I’ve not gotten to this point yet. I have to block my quilts too?? Ack!!
Oh no worries JC! You don’t have to block. I quilt my quilts heavily on a domestic machine and I need to block-they’re very wonky and trot around the country showing them in trunk shows and exhibitions. Don’t block if you don’t want to! Sounds like you have done your lifetime duty of blocking so don’t, giggle!
Janet Robertson says
I have a hand appliqued, hand quilted Hawaiian quilt (bound) that I would like to enter in a local quilt show but, it is 104″ x 102″ and I do not have any floor space big enough to block it. Is there any way to block in sections? Love your tutorial! Have blocked several quilts in the past but never one this large.
Well that is a challenge Janet! I have not heard of blocking in sections but I think you are onto something. I have no experience with it but I think that you have landed on a great idea. It seems logical and it seems that if you overlapped your blocked sections, it should work well. I’d actually love to hear about it if you do this. Thank you for the comment and question.
Janet Robertson says
Thank you for the quick response. After emailing you, my husband said “let’s just move some furniture” which we did in our living room and I was able to get the whole thing on the floor after moving a floor lamp, recliner and rocking chair, etc. We will have to step over and around for a day or so :-). I did put it in my front loading washing machine instead of the tub, on delicate cycle, which worked out very well. However, I’m thinking , like you, that doing one in sections might just work. Will try on my next huge quilt. Thanks again for your prompt reply.
Nancy Causey says
I have checked out the various floor tiles and am very confused . There are to many to chose from. Which brand and type do you have? How many did you purchase? I also have looked for the laser level. Where did you get yours? Thank you, Nancy
Hi Nancy; They are 24″ tiles that you will find in either automotive (for the garage) or children’s (for the nursery, playroom, etc). I got mine at Sear’s. Brand is not important, just about a 1/2” cushion or so with puzzle piece sides so that they snap together. The laser level could be found at a hardware store. I got one on-line and one at an Ace Hardware store. Hope this helps, I do think this is a good method for blocking. Write me at [email protected] if you have anymore questions.
Laur Macdonald says
Terrific tutorial and I am in a ‘too small’ space as well. But….there is a community hall nearby and they will let me work in there once in a while. If I go in while they are cleaning, I don’t have to pay rental.
Lucky you Laur-sounds like a nice option!
Suzanne Steel says
Thank you for the blocking tutorial. I definitely have to block my quilts ASAP. In my guild’s recent quilt show, I gave myself the “Wonkiest Quilt ” award. Something I was not proud of. The quilt in question has a strip-pieced sky, which was heavily quilted. The bottom third is appliqued leaves and quail, which wasn’t quilted as heavily. Can I block this quilt flat with the different amount of quilting in the two sections? Also I faced the quilt instead of binding it. Does that make a difference?
You’re welcome Suzanne-glad you enjoyed it! Yes, you can block that type of quilt into submission. My most wonky quilt was faced so I know you can block a faced quilt. I have been amazed at how much wonky I could block out. FYI, learned this one the hard way: if you’ve got wonky, DON’T bind/face. Block it first, then bind/face. Otherwise you’ve literally bound in wonky! Write me if you have questions.
Suzanne Steel says
Thanks, Jenny. I will give it a try.
Let me know if you have any questions-bet you’ll block out all that wonky Suzanne!
I will never enter a quilt in a show, but would like my wall hangings to be square and flat. This is a wonderful tutorial. Thank you!
Thank you Marti! May your
Quilts always lie flat!
Reena Kaplowitz says
Oh boy- I am the queen of wonky which does not bother me that much. But now I have a wall hanging art quilt I am entering in shows and even just hanging on the wall it is no way flat. Bound of course. I will take your tips and vac the heck out of my carpet & dig out those JoAnn’s pins & a spray bottle & hope for the best. Thx so much for this great tutorial. My search was- can you block a quilt while it is hanging on the wall? Yikes. I have heard of it of course but this will be my 1st try…
Hi Reena; Yes, I have blocked on the wall but felt that I had more control on the floor. I don’t generally make smaller quilts but that would work well on the wall. Good luck, it’s really a simple thing and makes your quilt sing!