I want to revisit blocking. I wrote about blocking in 2016, 2013 and 2012, but I have changed my methods since then; it seems like a good time for an update since I am currently blocking a quilt. This turned out to be long enough to be a magazine article!
Please note, there are variations on blocking. I have found these methods work well for me and I have passed them on to my students with no complaint. You may do it a little differently. At the end of the day, what we want is a straight quilt.
First, why block? I want my quilt to hang dead-on straight if possible….and so do the judges. It’s not a difficult thing to do, so I block my competition quilts. Not all quilts need to be blocked; many hang straight on their own. If you made a well-pieced quilt and it was long armed, there is a good chance that it will hang straight on its own, especially if you used an all over pantograph design.
“Wonky” is your definition of wonky, but what I mean is that I want my quilt to hang dead-on straight. If there is rippling going on, it could be a candidate for blocking. Blocking is a pretty simple thing to do so I block if is wonky.
I generally make whole cloth quilts and quilt them to death on my domestic sit-down machine, which lends itself to wonky. With both “Morning Breeze” and “Poppies”, the density of the quilting varied greatly, so both needed to be blocked. Also, if there is a lot of quilting on the diagonal, it may go wonky.
Let’s start with some basic premises:
- Blocking has a low skill set; you can do this as long as your body cooperates.
- It is a tedious task that can be hard on your body.
- You can block on the wall or on the floor. Blocking on the wall is much easier on the body than on the floor; more on this later.
- You can block a LOT of wonky out of a quilt, but you can’t fix a ridiculously wonky quilt that is maybe 4″ off on one side.
- IF you have a really wavy/wonky quilt, block it twice: once before you bind and then after you bind. If you bind a very wonky quilt and then block, you have bound in wonky and the quilt wants to return there. Ask me how I know.
- Many quilters use laser levels to project a straight line (as opposed to a ruler). I don’t anymore. A competition level quilter wrote that they can actually be off a bit over say an 80″ span. The jury is out on that; do what you think best.
You need some basic, inexpensive items to block:
- Spray bottle with water. You’ll want the continuous spray type, similar to this; way easier on your hands.
- Steam iron.
- Long straight edge. It’s best to have something at least as long as the edge of the quilt you are blocking. I have two 72″ carpenter rulers like this that you get at your hardware store.
- I like the carpenter’s rulers because they are heavy and will hold the line in place. Many times you are trying to coax a line or a seam or edge that is waving in and out. The carpenter’s ruler will hold that line well.
- Strong, sturdy pins. Use the cheap, yellow head pins from your big box store, not the refined, skinny pins.
- The largest t-square or square ruler you have. I love my Ominigrid 22.5” square.
- A surface to block upon – either a wall or a floor. A wall is easiest on the body and the preferred method IF it works for your quilt.
Those are the bare bones basics.
Notes about wall vs floor blocking:
My most recent quilt is 80” long. I am 64” long. If I blocked that quilt on the wall I would constantly be reaching upwards and going up and down on my step stool. Not good. I had no choice and had to block on the floor.
- Easiest on the body.
- Great if you have a design wall already in place.
- In most cases you can steam lightly right into the design wall; test this first.
- Not a good option for those without design walls.
- Harder on the body. You are sitting and reaching on the floor.
- For larger quilts, many times it is the only viable option.
- If you are working out a lot of wonky, it’s easier to tease the poochy parts into place if it is on a horizontal surface.
- If possible, you will want those interlocking foam blocks to pin into, like these.
- Ask me how I know…. I blocked a white quilt on my “clean” carpet and after blocking, the quilt was dirty. Carpet is almost always dirty unless you just cleaned it.
- Yes, you can put a sheet down first, but it can bunch up and go squishy on you as you try to block. I find that highly annoying. Investing in foam blocks is worth it and they store easily under a bed.
Whether you are on the floor or on the wall, the main and most tedious part of blocking is the same. Starting at the top:
- I usually just put my quilt on the blocking surface and spray to wet. You want to wet the quilt so that you can more easily move the fibers into place.
- If my quilt needs washing anyway, I will wash it on the gentlest cycle possible (yes, even with wool batting) and then throw it in the dryer for just 10 minutes. I would not block a large wet quilt on a wall though – too heavy.
- Coax it into place on your blocking surface, just getting the basic shape down.
- Begin at a top corner and snug your largest square ruler/t-square into the corner; pin. Do the same on the opposite top square, tugging a bit to make sure it is taut and parallel to the edge of your blocks. Begin to pin every 1 or 2 inches.
- As I pin, I am double checking myself by measuring from the side of the foam blocks.
- Angle your pins away from the quilt’s center.
- Go as far as you can with your straight edge (this is where the 72” ruler can come in handy). Otherwise, very carefully move the ruler along, keeping that straight line, pinning as you go.
- Before you get to the other top corner, move your large square ruler in there and snug it in to make it is still square.
I am moving around the quilt now. I will go to the bottom of the quilt and use my ruler to create a straight line from the top. Tug it taut, then smooth the quilt down and put a pin in that corner.
- Again make sure that first bottom corner is square by snugging the big square ruler in there. You may need to move that corner pin a bit to get the right line.
- Begin pinning every 1 to 2 inches until you get to the final corner. You might have to move that pin a wee bit also after pinning that side.
The last corner might need some trial and error pinning.
- Snug the ruler into the last corner. It is helpful to have 2 long rulers. Now you can see why it’s good to have two 72” rulers if possible. one for either side of that last corner.
- Use the longest ruler you have to project your straight line from the corner ruler on both sides. Hopefully things line up.
- If things don’t line up perfectly, you may have to smudge a wee bit this way or that. You will figure this out.
- Once you’ve got your lines set with the ruler, pin those last 2 sides.
Throughout this process you might have to spray repeatedly to get enough moisture into the cotton fibers to get them to move the way you want them to. Top competition quilters will make sure their sides and diagonals each measure the same.
Now that you’ve blocked the perimeter, look at the interior of the quilt. Get your eyeballs right down on the surface of the quilt and look at the edges and the lines in the quilt. Are they straight? Do they wobble? Go back and fix those with pinning. If you have a block format quilt, are the block and/or sashing lines straight? You may need to pin them too.
If I have a wonky part after pinning the edges, I will coax it into shape, steam that spot, drop a ruler on it and let dry overnight. It works!
It takes so many words to describe a simple process. I hope you can see that it is a pretty straightforward process, just tedious, but worth it in the long run.
I’ll be linking up on Friday with Confessions of a Fabric Addict.