Area 3 Chapters

Area 3 Chapters in the beautiful state of Maine:

*Chickadee Quilters-Bridgton Area
*Classic Quilters of Lewiston-Auburn Area
*Country Aire Quilters-Turner Area
*Country Square Quilters-North Jay/Wilton Area
*Cross Country Quilters-Bethel Area
*Grammy's Choice Quilters-Canton Area
*Ladies of the Lake Quilters-Peru/Rumford/Dixfield Area
*Lisbon Krazy Kwilters-Lisbon Area
*Pine Needle Quilters-Norway/South Paris Area
*Scraps and Patches Quilters-Poland Area
*Village Scrappers Quilters-Livermore Area


Tuesday, March 15, 2011

The Do's and Don'ts of String Blocks

String blocks allow you to explore your design and color sense. For instance, the block on the top is done in 30's repros with a common thread of the red print center strip laid out in the "barn raising" pattern. The block below is done with a lime green center strip (my favorite color!) with black on white on one side and white on black on the other in the "O" pattern. This allows a dramatic contrast in color values. The sky is the limit as to the color combinations and layouts you can obtain when working with strings! A great block for beginners and experienced quilters alike!

Let's get your supplies to make string blocks ready!

Pre-washed muslin for foundations, strings between 1 1/4"-2" wide, scissors, rotary cutter and mat, 6 1/2" and 9 1/2" squares, long ruler, pins, sharp No. #2 pencil, iron and board and pressing spray.


However easy, their are several do's and don'ts for successful string block making:


1)   Use pre-washed muslin (bleached muslin is my personal favorite as you can use them with light colored strings) for your foundations. Some people might want to use cotton sheets, but it is much harder to machine quilt due to the higher thread count.

2)   Cut your strings into even strips. Wonky strips are fine if you do not care for a special pattern. Normally, I use a 2" center strip in most of my blocks with 2 1/2" being the largest for the 12 1/2" blocks.


3)   Cut your strings with a rotary cutter into strips no smaller than 1 1/4" and no larger than 2" wide. If you are using the 2" center strip, I don't use any strips larger than 1 3/4" in the block. You don't want to compete with the center string.


4)  Always sew cottons with a 1/4" seam allowance, NOT a scant 1/4". This is key to keeping the block seams from stress and coming apart in laundering. If you use flannel, do not pre-wash your flannel before sewing, BUT use a 1/2" seam allowance. Flannels shrink and need the extra allowance.


5)  When I buy my unbleached muslin, I usually buy a bolt and cut into 3-yd. increments and wash using warm water and a hot dryer. Pressing is key to ensuring a good foundation base. While it might sound like a lot of work, the muslin will shrink up more than the cotton strings causing puckers.


6)  Most string block makers usually make the same size blocks. Mine are either 6 1/2", 9 1/2" or 12 1/2" unfinished blocks. Since you should add at least 2" to the foundation, the foundation for the 6 1/2" would be 8 1/2" or 9". You will trim them later. Better to be too large and trim down than not big enough!


7)  Again, preparing your foundations in advance save you so much time and will be ready when you are. I will cut all three sizes above, fold each block in half and press. All of one size are kept in a baggie in a foundation box. Just grab the correct size and sew.


8) When you start sewing string blocks, you might find it helpful to center the finished size square in the middle of your foundation block and trace with a light No. 2 pencil. That way, you will be able to visually see how much overhang you need to leave at the beginning of a new strip and when you are coming to the end of your block. Once you get the hang of it, you can delete this step.




9)  When you plan on working with lots of strips, they can get to be a tangled mess! If I am planning on a large project, I press the strips and place on a wooden drying rack used for clothes. In this way, they stay wrinkle-free, which is important for a crisp block. For here on in, you will notice I call strings strips. Same difference.


10) If you are using the 2" center strip for your block, take the foundation and put your long ruler 1" to the left of pressed center-mark with a light pencil. Do the same on the right side. This should be the guide for placement of your center string between the lines. Always leave an inch or so at the beginning and end of the block. If not, you will find when you press the string back you might be too short. Safe than sorry is usually best. 





11) I cannot emphasize pressing as you sew. But before you do that, set your seams! You can do that by placing your steam iron on top of the seam in an up and down motion. No side to side! This will allow the threads to "melt" into the fabric and when you fold over and press the seam it will lie so much flatter.


12) Most of you use steam, some a dry iron. I have the best pressing spray and it costs pennies to make and will give you the BEST pressing you have ever seen. You can take this spray on the most stubborn wrinkles and they will melt away! Here is the recipe:


16 oz. distilled water (do not substitute!) You can find this in the water section in your store.
3 oz. white vodka (yes, I said vodka!)


Put into a spray bottle and shake lightly. I know my local liquor store thought I was odd when I got a half a gallon bottle of the cheapest stuff they had and when they asked me where the party was, I told them "upstairs in my sewing room." BYOI--bring your own iron".


13) As far as sewing the strings onto the center strip, that is pretty self-explanatory. It is not necessary need to have a special center string. Just use all strings of different sizes. To save time, I usually sew several blocks at one time and then press, add the next strip and sew.

This block doesn't have a center string, but half lights and half darks
 14). If you marked with pencil the finished size of the block on your foundation, you will see when you need to put on the last strip. Here is where you really need to pay attention. Watching where the last string hits the finished block is important. You don't want just a bitty corner left, as you will lose it with your 1/4" seam allowance. You might want to use a larger piece of fabric, such as a triangle, so have a few larger pieces around. The rule of thumb is not to use a piece larger than 3" for the ends.




15) Once the foundation is covered, it is time to trim the block. Don’t plan on cutting when you are tired. The first step is to put the block upside down (face down) on your cutting board. Using your long ruler, place on the foundation block and trim to the edge of the block. You can practice your Eleanor Burns techniques and throw the scraps over your should. Be aware you do not have a crew on hand to pick them up. Done? Now turn the block right side up (face up) and using your square, center the squares 45-degree center line over the center of the center strip. Be sure the line is straight and even on all sides. Ready? Time to cut! Now, put some muscle into holding down the square and rotary cut the first two sides, then rotate and be sure you didn’t move the ruler. Trim the other two sides.

Back of trimmed block

This particular block doesn't have a center string--I wanted half the block light and the other dark for a highly visible contrast

If you did it correctly, you should have the most beautiful string block in the world! Made a mistake? Join the club. The great thing is while this block might not be the correct size; you can always trim it down to a smaller size and use for another project, such as a potholder. Make lemonade! If you still are not happy with the first block, try again. I have my own pile of mis-sized blocks due to trimming when tired or other reasons. Suffice to say you will be able to use the smaller blocks to make a table runner, place mats or a small quilt.

This is the look I am going for.
 16) If you still have some foundation scraps, I cut them into 5” square and use those odds and ends leftover from the string blocks. Sew together with like blocks or alternate with solid fabric blocks of the same size. Makes a nice doll quilt.


Just Google "String Quilts" for lots of ideas. Explore and let these quilts motivate you! Welcome to the wonderful world of string blocks!