General Tutorials

Blocking a Quilt {Photo Tutorial}

A little over a year ago, I needed to learn to “block” a quilt for the first time. Blocking a quilt is the process of manipulating a quilt into a squared-off, flat shape after quilting. Sometimes during the quilting process, a quilt will become slightly wonky, and the process of blocking that quilt will return the quilt to a perfectly square shape and ensure the quilt rests on a bed or hangs on a wall beautifully.

Sunburst After Quilting

Sunburst After Quilting

Take, for instance, my Sunburst Quilt. The quilting left Sunburst very wavy, and I did not want to trim and bind the quilt when it looked like this! So I read up about blocking quilts and with a deep breath… put the quilt in the washing machine.

Blocking Sunburst

Blocking Sunburst

After the spin cycle, I laid the quilt on the (freshly vacuumed) carpet in my bedroom and spent somewhere around 30-45 minutes gently manipulating the quilt to lay flat. I wasn’t necessarily trying to get the edges of this quilt “square” due to all the negative space. I was aiming for straight seam lines (when they were available as reference) and symmetry left to right and top to bottom.



After the quilt dried, I squared it and added the binding. I’m totally biased (since Sunburst is still one of my favorite quilt finishes), but I think it turned out pretty well. 😉 So, that’s a quick overview of when not to panic and remember that blocking can help!

Note: Blocking a quilt occurs *before* trimming or binding.

What Quilts Should I Block?

Ultimately, this choice is a personal decision. I don’t block quilts that are destined for use: baby quilts, lap quilts, and bed quilts are going to be used and washed often; squaring up and binding is usually sufficient to get them to be straight enough and drape well on a bed or over the back of a sofa.

Personally, I will occasionally block:

  • Show/Magazine quilts
  • Wholecloth quilts
  • Wall hangings

Directions to Block a Quilt

The first step is to evaluate your quilt after the quilting is complete and decide for yourself if the quilt needs blocked.

To Block or Not to Block - That is the Question

To Block or Not to Block – That is the Question

Here is an example of a recent mini quilt (yet to be fully completed, gifted, and blogged about. I’ll talk more details on it in the next few weeks!) that I chose to block. The reasons I wanted to block this quilt were:

  • I wanted a quilt to demonstrate the process so I could write this tutorial (yup, can’t lie about that).
  • The dense quilting at the top of the tree contracted the quilt in that area.
  • As a wall hanging, I wanted to make the quilt sandwich very stable and flat so that it will hang square and look lovely for the intended recipient.
"Victory Lap"

“Victory Lap”

Once the decision is made to block a quilt, the next question to ask yourself is if the edges of the quilt are secure enough due to dense quilting or if a “victory lap” stitch around the edge would be a good idea. In many of my previous blocked quilts, I went straight from quilting to washing. However, this quilt had edges that were not secured by quilting so I opted for the “victory lap” edge stitching.

The final consideration before washing is to take measurements of the quilt’s height and width and write them down for later reference.

Quilt Immediately After Wash and Spin Cycle(s)

Quilt Immediately After Wash and Spin Cycle(s)

QUILT WASHING NOTE 1: Please take your normal precautions for fabric bleeding when washing your quilt. If you do not prewash fabric (I won’t judge you: I don’t prewash!), this is especially worth considering. I will always throw in a color catcher just to be safe. If I am worried, I will also use Synthropol. I also choose to wash my quilts in cold water for their first wash. Water temperature is another preference thing: if you marked your quilting with markers, it might require luke warm water for the marks to be removed. So think and plan ahead accordingly.

Quilt Immediately After Wash and Spin Cycle(s)

Quilt Immediately After Wash and Spin Cycle(s)

QUILT WASHING NOTE 2: There are several different options for washing an unbound quilt for blocking. I personally just put the quilts in my washing machine and let it go through a gentle cycle. Many others prefer instead to soak and hand wash in a bathtub and then transfer the quilt to the washer for a spin cycle or two. Again, I am offering up as many suggestions as I have seen and you will need to decide what you are comfortable with. As you can see in the image above, because I choose to put my quilts in the wash, the edges unravel and fray much more than those that are hand washed in a tub and only placed in the washer for the spin cycles.

Spread Flat by Hand

Spread Flat by Hand

NOTE ON DRYING LOCATION: I live in the desert southwest, and the largest quilt I have blocked to date was 60″ x 80″ and it dried in under 4 hours. I am comfortable crawling on my hands and knees. Because of these factors, I am comfortable pinning my quilts to my bedroom rug to block and dry. To get off the floor and provide an easier surface to pin to, 1-inch polystyrene insulation foam from the hardware store is easy to place on a table or upraised surface. Just be sure to get enough foam boards (and butt them together) so that the quilt will be smaller than the surface of the foam you will pin it to.

I start by using scissors to snip away the thread nests that accumulate around the edges of the quilt (usually from the backing which is larger than the quilt top). Then I smooth the quilt by hand to lay flat. This initial step informs me of the areas that are likely to need more attention.

Pinning Quilt to Dry

Pinning Quilt to Dry

In much the same way that you would prepare to baste your quilt sandwich, start pinning the quilt in the middle of the longest edge. While pinning, using a measuring tape or tailor’s tape, gently tug the quilt to get it back to the sizes you measured (and wrote down) prior to washing the quilt.

Pinning Quilt to Dry

Pinning Quilt to Dry

Measuring tapes, carpenter’s squares, yard sticks, laser levels, and any other long straight edge objects you might have on hand are also handy tools to use as you pin the quilt down to dry. If you are blocking a quilt with defining piecing lines, borders, or other visual references, take care to keep them straight as you work the quilt flat and pinned.

I typically check on the quilt every hour or so to see how it is drying. That is usually because I am excited more than any real technical reason or need. 😉

Trimming Square

Trimming Square

Once the quilt is dry, trim square using your normal process. I always try to start in the areas that I am the most concerned about. In the case of this mini quilt, that meant working around the tree. And when in doubt, I always trim too large first and then go around for a second pass if needed. I also allow just under a 1/4″ of batting to show on the quilt top or back as it will be covered by binding later.

Blocked Quilt Ready for Binding

Blocked Quilt Ready for Binding

If you have never blocked a quilt before, do you have any questions about the process? And if you have blocked a quilt before, is there anything have I did not mention that you like to do?

Linking up with Tips and Tutorials Tuesday.

36 thoughts on “Blocking a Quilt {Photo Tutorial}

  1. Kaja says:

    Funnily enough I was having a conversation with someone about blocking a quilt as a way to sort out lumps and bumps just the other day, so this tutorial is really timely!

  2. kitty says:

    Thank you for this tutorial!!!

  3. Cindy says:

    When blocking I have used T-pins to hold it in place as it is drying. I am a bathtub soaker and then a spin in the washer to get the water out. Your instructions are great!

  4. Sherry VF says:

    Thanks for the tutorial. Like you, I only block quilts when absolutely necessary. I will have to try blocking before binding per your suggetion. The major problem I’ve had in the past is that huge pin holes show in the finished quilt. I use the T-pins which are sturdy enough to hold the quilt to the carpet. However, the combination of the pin size and the pull of the stretched fabric leaves the gaping holes (not what one wants for a show or hanging quilt). I think I’ll also move the pins to the area of the quilt that will be under the binding. Thanks again.

  5. Beth LaMotte says:

    Great instructions! Thank you for taking the time to put this tutorial together. The pictures were a great help. BTW, beautiful quilts.

  6. jayne says:

    I admit it, I have never blocked a quilt in my life! Thank you for the detailed and well written directions. Blocking will be one of my new techniques learned and used in 2017!

  7. Ben says:

    I have a quilt stretched out on the floor drying right now. But it’s not something I’ve done often, and I’ve never done it prior to binding. You’ve given me something new to consider.

    1. Ben says:

      Also, my most distorted piece was a pillow front which had lots of straight-line quilting going in various directions — much like your (fantastic) Sunburst quilt.

  8. Lisa says:

    Thank you so much for sharing this information Yvonne: I’m going to bookmark this page. As usual you’ve given us great photos for reference and good information.

  9. Paula S. Pike says:

    Yvonne, you always have such great information to share. May you and your family have a very Merry Christmas.

  10. I’ve never blocked a quilt, but it was interesting to hear about your process. I’ll keep the info for future reference should the need arise!

  11. Heidi says:

    I block most quilts, using a tub soak & spin dry. I pat it all out on a linoleum floor & flip it after a few hours. I am also in the desert so it is nearly dry at that point. I dont use pins, but one time I hand-basted along an edge to gather it a tad before binding. Also, I prewash any binding used on a blocked quilt to help match shrinkage.

    Looking forward to seeing the front of your mini!!

  12. Great tips and seem totally doable! I haven’t blocked one but I have blocked knitting so the process makes sense! Thanks

  13. Elizabeth E. says:

    Thanks for this tutorial–it’s quite thorough and answers any questions a quilter might have. I have only blocked quilts once, but I have another quilt that needs the binding removed and to be blocked. So, thanks!

  14. Good Afternoon Yvonne! Blocking a quilt of any size is something I have never heard about. Therefore, I was very curious about your post today and so glad I took a break from what I was doing to check emails and relax for a few minutes. Your tutorial is written and photographed magnificently! I am definitely going to be trying this in the next year. Would you mind if I shared a link on my blog to this post, Yvonne? Thank you for sharing this great tutorial! Have a fantastic creative day!

  15. Great instructions and details! I also block quilts only that are having flatness issues or will be hung on walls or in shows.

  16. Excellent breakdown of the steps for blocking a quilt. I recently made that star quilt with some Fleet &a Flourish fabrics and it had a bit of a wave to it. I didn’t really want to wash it because I listed it in my Etsy shop- (I never know if I should wash or not when selling one?). Anyway, since I didn’t want to wash it, I sprayed it with water until it was moist, flattened it on the clean living room carpet and smoothed it. Pinned the edges with long pins, into the pad below the carpet and left it to dry. It worked out well. After listing it, I wasn’t sure how to store it – I rolled it on a rather wide cardboard roll that I had ansd secured it by tying ribbons around it, loosely so they wouldn’t crease the quilt. How do you store quilts you have listed? I didn’t want to fold it, tho I am not sure why? Anyway, great tutorial. Never have I thought to do this before binding but it would be much better so the binding doesn’t get all puckered.

    1. Tiffany says:

      I have been meaning to buy a bunch of pool noodles at the dollar store for storing my quilts. A lady at my guild shared this excellent tip with us a while ago. Just wrap your quilt around the noodle and tie with a ribbon.

      1. That is a good idea. The tube I had used was about that size. Pool noodles would work. Thanks Tiffany.

      2. Paty M. says:

        Great idea! And a wonderful way of reuse them, since my boys have them dumped in a corner 😉 Thank you 😉

      3. Stacy Clarke says:

        Be careful when using pool noodles. I think my quilt spray may have been still damp and it really wrinkled. Had to redo it. 🙂

  17. Paty M. says:

    Great tutorial, thank you very much for share your experience with us. I’m a beginner and I’m planning my first twin quilt so this kind of tutorials are VERY important to help easy the nerves 😉
    I have made only a few pillows, mostly handmade, and blocking never pops up in my mind… Thank you again and Merry Christmas! Greetings from Uruguay ;D

  18. composchoreo says:

    I have never blocked a quilt but was wondering just the other day about when and how one would block a quilt. I have blocked knitting and this process looks to be pretty much the same. Thank you for the tutorial, if I ever find myself blocking, I’ll certainly come back to it. Happy Holidays!

  19. Cindy mentioned using T-pins. I’ve used those as well, pinning them directly into the carpet pad to help keep the quilt square. I originally used them for blocking sweaters that I knit but it’s the same concept. I’m now thinking that I should have blocked my recent corkscrew wall-hanging quilt but I didn’t want the sky area to be crinkly at all.

  20. Thank you for this easy to follow tutorial! There are a lot of them out there on the internet and I’ve kind of created my own process in the works (I haven’t tested it enough to feel confident suggesting to others, though). I blocked a small quilt using very hot water with Synthrapol in the bathtub, then pinned it to the carpet. I think the most difficult part is finding a place to lay the quilt out for hours! I let mine dry for a whole day and I was very pleased.

  21. Jasmine says:

    Wow! What a difference the blocking made. Thanks for sharing your method.

  22. pennydog says:

    I’ve only just started doing this as it’s pretty much essential with art quilts, but just by spraying them with water and pinning onto my design wall, I hadn’t considered I could do this with the washing machine and larger quilts!

  23. Sarah says:

    I need to block a quilt this month and I’ve never done it before. I remembered you had written about it recently so I came back here. This is a great tutorial! It made me feel more confident in my ability to do it. Now I need to figure out where I have the floor space that my kids won’t trample on…

  24. JoAnn says:

    you can store quilts rolled on a pool noodle

  25. JoAnn says:

    Never mind, i got excited 🙂 didn’t read further to see it had been suggested

  26. bellasews says:

    I just finished and bound a quilt that I wish I had taken the time to block. I can’t wrap my head around how the blocking stays permanent. Doesn’t it want to go back to how it was pre-blocking?

  27. margie says:

    Thank you so much for this! I was discouraged when my first quilt made with complicated blocks turned out to have waves and irregular edges. This seems do-able, and I can’t wait to see the results!

  28. Reena Kaplowitz says:

    Thanks so much. I have never blocked a quilt & have been marked down for it really at shows. But now I have a smaller more art quilt wall hanging that I will try- I see it needs it due to pretty dense quilting. Your tutorial is just what I was looking for! I am going to spray bottle it & use the carpet- I have so little space for that so that will be my biggest hurdle I guess. Thanks again!

  29. Daphne Themelis says:

    Thank you for this tutorial and the encouragement to try fixing the extreme skew I quilted by using diagonal lines. Having no carpet and living on a foggy sea coast, I sprayed the quilt and then taped it down to a tile floor, using the grout lines as a guide, and leaving it for 24 hours. It’s so much better!

    1. Stacy Clarke says:

      Brilliant!! I live in the same foggy environ, and of course have tile. I think I may try to spray it stretch/block and blue tape it!! thanks!!!

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