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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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 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.
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.
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.
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. 😉
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.
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.