Tips for Squaringa Quilt

Tips for Squaring a Quilt


Tips for Squaringa Quilt

I am working on a secret sewing project that I absolutely cannot wait to share with you. Unfortunately for me (because keeping secrets is hard!), I have to wait 4 months to reveal it. And in the short term while I work on meeting the deadline, I am a bit less able to keep going with blog posts.

Then again, I have a whole grouping of ideas that have cropped up, so I hope to carve out time to write posts like this one while I am busy offline. Basically, I thought I would show you another reason I think carpenter’s squares are awesome quilting tools.

Squaring a Quilt - My Tools
Squaring a Quilt – My Tools

Above are the basic tools that I use to square a quilt. I have a smaller cutting mat that I take on travel (which is rare) and basically only use to trim square my quilts because: the batting. My goodness, does batting stick to a mat. Having a dedicated mat to trim my quilts on has been a huge plus. I also have a larger carpenter’s square (2 feet on the longest side) that I will use on occasion as well.

Squaring a Quilt - The Beauty of a Carpenter's Square
Squaring a Quilt – The Beauty of a Carpenter’s Square

So the image above is really the summation of how I work. I start at a corner and using the square, take my first pass at getting the corner square. Then I move the mat under the quilt, keeping the newly cut line on a grid. I do not slide the carpenter’s square all the way to where I stopped the last cut; instead I offset it down about 2 inches and make sure the carpenter’s square inner edge is aligned with the straight edge of the quilt and perpendicularly aligned with another grid on the mat. Trim, repeat.

Typically I take a conservative first pass around the quilt and then measure the quilt width at the top, middle, and bottom. I then measure the quilt length on the right, middle, and left. Then I pull out the larger carpenter’s square, lay on the floor to eyeball a line, and slowly adjust until I get the quilt measurements to all agree. Sometime that is fast… and yesterday I took a tiny bit off at a time and it took an hour to square the quilt.

Do you have any great tips on how you square your quilts?

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  • I haven’t tried this and it’s a bit of an investment, but Mandy Leins uses a laser level to square her quilts. I think that’s the way I’ll eventually go.

  • I rarely square a quilt after it’s built. While I am working I make sure the measurements continue as expected, and I trim corners (or rebuild) when they get out of whack, rather than waiting until the errors have multiplied and made a mess of things. So while my quilts might not be exactly squared when I am done, they are in pretty good shape. However, thanks for the lesson, as I can see how your way would make things pretty simple.

  • Sometimes I feel like a bumbling idiot squaring up a quilt! In the end they do get done! I use a combination of long rulers and a big square ruler. As for the batting that get stuck in the mat, what a mess that can be! I bought a new mat yesterday and also try to use a dedicated older one like you do!

  • Squaring a quilt always messes with me, especially if is very large. Floor space for a king quilt is hard to find in my house. 🙂 I like how you take multiple measurements – that tidbit of info is helpful. I just finished trimming up a quilt, now I’m wondering just how square it really is! I’m off to do some measuring. 🙂

  • I thought I must be the only one else using these tools. Glad to know I am in good company! I recently used two squares and a six-foot straight edge to square up a quilt. It worked beautifully. The only hard part was working on the floor!! This decades-old body does have trouble getting up and down.

  • I haven’t measured any quilts while trimming after quilting them up. Usually there is a border so I just make it a consistent width. It works OK most times 😉
    Would be a great idea if I ever make a more non-block based quilt. I’ll try a more abstract or assymetrical type of quilt someday – there are do many techniques to master!

  • I like to keep my blocks square along the way, so I don’t worry too much about how square the quilt really is. I sometimes think that it is more important for a quilt to look square than be square (like keeping borders the same width when trimming). Most of my quilts are cuddle quilts lately. However I am more careful with wallhangings. Then I use my 20.5 inch square Omnigrip ruler. Do you have any problems with the metal ruler and the rotary cutter? I must admit that just thinking of it makes me cringe. Kind of like the fingernails on the chalkboard thought.

    • Using a metal ruler and my rotary cutter did have a learning curve, but now I pretty much only exclusively use my carpenter’s squares. The one exception being an omni grid ruler for squaring up HSTs 6.5-inches square and smaller! 🙂

  • Yvonne, I have seen my father use this tool so many times for so many projects and it never occurred to me to use it to help square up a quilt. But, I think it is a brilliant solution to a problem that I can never quite solve. I usually just get frustrated and end up giving up with wonky quilts. I have got to go and buy one of these tools quickly because I am getting close to finishing a mystery quilt that is turning out so wonderfully that I do not in any way want it to be wonky because I can not get it to be squared properly. Thank You for sharing this stupendous tip/tool with us! Have a wonderful creative day!

  • Great tip. I could have used it the other day, as I had a quilt to square up and really struggled. I try to keep things square as I work, but quilting usually pulls things a bit. So I wonder: are you ever afraid of cutting off some of the quilt that you don’t want to trim? When I go to square up, I’m always afraid I’ll cut off points or other elements. How do you square, but keep the design intact?

  • Honestly Yvonne, I sort of suck at squaring quilts, so I appreciate your tutorial. My husband is a contractor, so he has the tools. I shall now steal them from him and put them to more interesting uses. Thanks for the 411!

  • Four Months is a long time to keep a secret, perhaps it will get easier over time. Interesting tip with the carpenters ruler. I square up using inside sewing lines or blocks as a reference and a squaring up ruler, doing a small part at a time. I’m not sure how successful I am.

  • Oh! I do have a tip! You can get most of the batting (or fleece/other fuzzy fabric) fibers out of your cutting mat using an eraser! Use it like you would to erase pencil, then brush off! I don’t remember where I read that tip, but I use it fairly often and I’m sure it has added years of life to my mat. For trimming quilts I put my biggest mat on the floor (36×24) and use a combination of my 3 largest rulers ( two 6×24, and 12.5×12.5) and for larger quilts I use a carpenter’s square I specifically bought for that purpose after seeing one of your posts about it.

  • I have a quilt to trim–I’m going to dig out the carpenter’s square and give it a try!

    When I have fuzz on my mat, I use a bath pouf and scrub it off. A new one, of course!

  • When I square my quilt, I’d be on the floor with all my omni grid rulers. 🙂

    I do have a big L shape metal ruler like yours, didn’t know the name then, but I used mine when I worked on upholstery projects. I think I’ll use it with quilt next time.

  • But you don’t run your rotary cutter along the edge of the metal square, do you? I did that one and my blade ended up as dull as the wrong side of a butter knife.

  • You may have noticed I don’t really square my quilts, but the corners do need to be true or the binding becomes a nightmare, so this would still be useful for me, so thank you!

  • That’s a good way to do it. I’ve always just used my biggest ruler to eyeball and square it up, but this is much more precise. I read another comment about using a laser level and I’m really curious about that. Can’t wait to hear more about your secret project. Given my issues with secrets (refer back to our earlier Christmas convo) I don’t think I’d ever get asked to work on a secret project! 🙂

  • I’ve got a 60″ longx1-7/8″ wide cork backed metal “”yard stick” that I use. I found it at Harbor Freight for $3. I put two 24×36 mats together and trim with it. I find that using such a long cutting edge helps keep things truly square on larger quilts. I tended to wiggle off as I moved smaller cutters. That said, I used to obsess about a quilt being square as you read sooooo much about squaring quilt tops. So, as an exercise, I did a whole 60×60 quilt and intentionally stretched one end to make it be waaaaaaay off. And I did not square it up, just trimmed from corner to corner….and know what? I couldn’t even tell the difference. So, I no longer obsess over it and most often, I do just trim corner to corner and things look just fine.

  • I do have a laser leveler which replaces the chalk line method for builders and painters. However, when your scissors or rotary cutter lift or press the quilt to cut, the laser line is thrown off … Not very helpful! My question is, do you square each corner first, then go back and reconcile the sides with the corners?

    • I start by evaluating the 4 corners but not making a cut. I choose to start at the corner that is visually the most “square”, but I only cut along one edge. Then I lay out something long and straight (a yard stick, a tape measure, etc.) to get an idea of where I am headed and work all the way down an edge. Then I turn the corner but only after looking at what is both square and straight with the long edge again. I hope that makes sense.

  • never thought to steal my husbands square but he has a big table with it on so I just put my mat down, my quilt on it and away I go! But only when he is out as it is his drawing table as he is a civil engineer and does calculations on it! Handy man to marry, he does all my calculations in his head for my quilts, hahaha! Then I write it down and he is always right!

  • Square each piece, block, section as you go. If not, exponentially it will be off. Wavy borders are usually caused by not verifying the accuracy of each piece as you go AND/OR not cutting the border length and widths based on the actual interior quilt length and width. As you piece sections – lay them on the floor. When it lays flat it’s a good indication it is remaining square.

    Assuming you squared as you assembled your pieces, then all you need to do to square the finished quilt is use the largest Omnigrid ruler (or similar). Place it on each corner and notice how the interior pieces on the bottom and sides line up with the ruler lines. 2″ pieces, 4″ pieces. etc. You can then trim away excess of each corner. I always cut my plain borders a bit wider so when I trim, the finished widt is what I wanted around the entire quilt. Always trim so you see the front of the design. Trimming from the back you cannot see if you are short changing the width of the border in areas.

  • Just found your blog and already love it, new to quilting & have only finished small baby quilts, knew nothing about how to sqaue a quilt!! Thanks a bunch!! Do you link to pinterest?

  • I use a standard squaring up plastic template on the “inside corners and then cut up the side and across the top, it’s much easier I think! You can use, an 8″, 10″ or even a 6” square up plastic template; using whatever you own or can borrow. But here’s another tip: if you have added borders to your quilt, I use the long Olipa Ruler and measure how ide it is from the left side of the border to the outside right….and then use that measurement all the way around…

  • I also do some carpentry, so I use a framing squares for the corners, but then use a dry wall square (which is T-shaped and 4 foot long) for the sides. It works beautifully and is NOT expensive to purchase.

  • Being a very very new quilter I love all the tips I can find. And this is a great one. Thanks for taking the time to share this.

  • Thank you and I hope you give the t-square a try. I don’t believe that you will go back to anything else smaller. My husband has to squares for drywall one with the T at one end and another one without the t. I line the t-square on my table and I know I’ll have a straight cut the length of the material. I simply put something heavy on the opposite end and start cutting. I look forward to following you. And if you wish check me out on Facebook at Invitingly Rustic. I hope to start my quilting page soon and I will post that on there once I have finished creating the new site. Share this if you like.

I really appreciate the time and thought you take to comment, and I look forward to conversing with you. :)