Imagine if you knew a sewing technique that would provide an unimaginable amount of design opportunities and could be used in a slew of projects from quilting to clothes making to home decor projects.
That technique is string piecing.
What is String Piecing
Strings are strips of fabric.
These strips can be leftovers from a project, cut from a larger piece of fabric, or purchased in a precut set.
Because strings are strips of fabric, it’s also referred to as strip piecing.
When you sew these strings together it’s called string piecing. Frequently, strings are sewn on a foundation (either paper or fabric) to provide stability as quilt blocks are created.
The string piecing technique can also be used with long strips of fabric (with or without a foundation) to create a textile you can cut up and use for a quilt or a variety of other projects.
Can You Spot the String Blocks
My mother has been quilting for over 40 years and scrap quilts are her favorite. Over the years she has made a variety of string quilts for herself and family members.
While she frequently uses scraps she also has quite a stash of fabric she pulls from to quickly put together quilts with the string piecing technique.
Tools for String Piecing
As with any project, when you have the right tools, the task at hand is easier. The same is with string piecing.
- Rotary cutter, mat, and rulers
- 6″ x “24” and 3″ x 18″ rulers work best
- a cutting mat at least 18″ x 24″
- Sewing machine
- Iron and board
- Fabric or paper for block foundations
- lightweight fabric like muslin
- commercially produced paper or paper you have at home
- (see notes with tutorial videos below for additional details)
- fabric glue stick – can help to anchor the first strip
- pins – helps keep strings lined up
Where to Get Fabric
Fabric strings are usually between 1 1/4″ – 2 1/2″ wide. If a string is too thin, it will be barely visible. Keep in mind a 1/4″ seam allowance is used to sew the strings together.
There are many places to get strips.
Use your own scraps. Don’t throw the scraps away from your projects. Scraps of all lengths and sizes can be used for string piecing. Also, hold on to selvages. These can be used, too.
Cut strips from fabric whether it’s a fat quarter (18″ x 21″), fat eighth (9″ x 21″) or larger yardage.
Buy precut 2 1/2″ string sets. These can be coordinated sets called jelly rolls.
Scrap bags are good sources, too. However, the lengths and widths of the strips can vary. I’ve gotten several Moda Scrap Bags as gifts and they are always fun to open.
Cut strips from clothes that are outgrown or never used. Strings don’t need to be 100% cotton. In fact, depending on the project, different types of fabric can add texture to the finished item.
Swap fabric with sewing friends. This is a great way to get rid of fabric you don’t want and acquire some new-to-you fabric at no cost.
String Block Tutorials
Use a Fabric Foundation
Fabric foundations are permanent and left in place after the blocks are trimmed.
Lightweight fabric, such as muslin, can be used as the foundation.
In the video, Sherri from A Quilting Life demonstrates how to use a fabric foundation to make a string block from scraps.
At the end of the tutorial, she gives some ideas on how to arrange the string blocks to get different visual effects.
Use a Paper Foundation
Paper foundations are not meant to be permanent. They should be removed after the blocks are trimmed but before sewing them together.
In the video, a commercially produced paper is used as the foundation.
Paper at home can be used for foundations, too. Copy paper or parchment paper works well. If you want to try a circle shape, use a coffee filter.
Sewing Tip: Make the stitch length shorter on your machine so the paper is easier to remove the paper.
In the video below, Jenny from Missouri Quilt Company shows how to create a string quilt block on foundation paper.
Planning a String Pieced Quilt
Now that you know a couple of different ways to string piece, consider using this technique on a project.
If you decide to make a quilt using string pieced blocks, the size of the blocks can vary. It just depends on the finished size of the project you’re doing.
The main thing to remember is when deciding on a block size, make sure to include an extra 1/2″ for a seam allowance of 1/4″.
Example: For a lap quilt with a finished size of 32″ x 48″ the finished block size could be 8 x 8 inches (6 rows with 4 blocks in each row; a total of 24 blocks). So you would cut the foundation 8 1/2 x 8 1/2 inches. The extra 1/2 inch is the 1/4″ seam allowance all around the block.
String Piecing and Chain Sewing
When making multiple blocks for a string block quilt, chain sewing is something you want to consider.
When you chain sew, you save time and thread.
Instead of sewing strips on one block at a time, you prepare and sew multiple blocks at once.
Videos are great to see techniques in action but print resources have value, too, especially in the inspiration provided through each author’s designs made from strip piecing.
In researching string piecing, I found the following books to be excellent sources of information and inspiration.
- String Quilts ‘n Things by Marjorie Puckett
- This book was copyrighted in 1979 but provides a wide variety of projects to make with string piecing.
- Strip-Pieced Quilts: Easy Design from Just Six Fabrics by Maaike Bakker
- The quilt designs created by 6 fabrics is amazing.
- Strips and Strings: 16 Sparkling Quilts by Evelyn Sloppy
- Inspiring design ideas
- String Quilt Style: Easy techniques and inspiring designs from strips, scraps and stash by Mary M. Hogan
- String quilts are shown not only in blocks but also circles and triangles.
My main goals are to support, empower, and inspire you to discover the joy of sewing.
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