A Beginner’s Guide to String Piecing

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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.

When you sew these strings together it’s called string piecing.

Because strings are strips of fabric, it’s also referred to as strip piecing.

When used for quilting, strings are usually sewn on a foundation (either paper or fabric) to provide stability as quilt blocks are created.

This technique has been around for a looooong time.

My mom has many quilts she has rescued over the years and a few of them are unfinished.

The following quilt blocks she rescued were put together with string piecing.

String pieced blocks done on newspaper
Look at the date and phone number on the newspaper used for the foundation of these string pieced blocks.
String pieced quilt top done on newspaper
The strips were string pieced on newspaper before being cut into triangles and sewn together to form the blocks.

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 making garments, home decor, and even quilts.

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.

Full view Christmas quilt
A Christmas themed string pieced quilt.
Spider web quilt full view
I call this a spider web quilt and display it in October with other Halloween decorations.
Close up of spider web quilt
The strings were sewn on triangle-shaped foundation pieces.
Strip pieced trunk quilt
This is my niece’s trunk quilt. Mom has made a trunk quilt for almost everyone in our family. She uses flannel for the back and no batting. They are great utility quilts.
Trunk quilt full view
This is my trunk quilt. I’ve had it for over 25 years and use it for all kinds of things like covering furniture when moving, a blanket for picnics, and covering the back seat when our dog was in the car.
Trunk quilt close up
My mom made these blocks by first drawing a diagonal line as a marker across each square-shaped foundation piece then sewing the strings from there to the edge. After that, she sewed a string across the raw edges and then finished that side.

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.

Essential Tools

Optional Tools

  • 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 but can vary in width.

Keep in mind a 1/4″ seam allowance is used to sew the strings together. If a string is too thin, it will be barely visible.

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. I’ve gotten several Moda Scrap Bags as gifts and they are always fun to open. However, the lengths and widths of the fabric in the bags can vary.
  • 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.

Some paper at home can be used for foundations, too. Try tissue paper, copy paper or parchment paper. If you want to try a circle shape, use a coffee filter.

Make a sample first if you’re trying paper you have at home. You want it to be easy to tear away after you’re done sewing the strips together.

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.

Print Resources for your Sewing Library

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 from my mom’s sewing library to be excellent sources of information and inspiration.

String piecing book resources

Let’s Connect

My main goals are to support, empower, and inspire you to discover the joy of sewing.

Need help or have questions on this project, pattern, or tutorial? Send me an email at nicki@theruffledpurse.com and we can work together to get it figured out!

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2 Comments

  1. I learned of your tips because I was searching how to use coffee filters as the base for string quilt circles. I’ve got to get on my sewing machine and try this RIGHT NOW. THANKS FOR YOUR INPUT.

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