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Beginner Quilting Series Part Two: Quilt Layout & Piecing

Welcome to Part Two! This is going to be an exciting week...we will see our quilt top all put together! If you've been following along since last week, we now have (120) blocks and are ready to lay them out. If you missed last week's post, click here. I will be sharing some tips on quilt layout, what a 1/4" seam allowance is and how to sew one, and walking you through how to efficiently piece together your quilt top by nesting seams! Let's get started! If you love the series...sign up to my newsletter to be notified about next week's post!

Supplies You'll Need:

Quick Jump Links:

Fabric Used in This Series:

Quilt Block Layout

Now that we have our blocks cut from the previous lesson, we are ready to lay them out in preparation for assembling them for our quilt top! We lay them out first to make sure that we're happy with the way they look before sewing. This part is always so fun to me. There are so many ways you can lay your quilt blocks out. You can create intricate designs even with basic blocks! For this series, we are using charm packs and a matching solid color fabric. For simplicity's sake, I'm introducing two ways that you can lay out your blocks but the sky is the limit!

If you aren't quite sure which layout you'd like to go with yet and don't want to waste time moving blocks around I do have a downloadable PDF coloring template available for 0.99 in my shop! Download it and print as many as you'd like...fill the empty blocks in with whatever color scheme you're thinking and get a preview of what your quilt top may look like!

We will lay our blocks out in a 10x12 format...meaning 10 rows across and 12 rows down. Our finished quilt will measure 45" x 54".

I have always utilized the floor when laying out quilt blocks. You will see some quilters have design walls, such as this one, which is essentially felt fabric mounted to the wall. They use this to get off the floor and place their block layout on the wall! It will save your knees and back... but it's something I haven't invested in yet! I place my entire block layout right in the middle of my sewing room and this is just how I've always done it. However, with five children, this can be a little problematic! I'll be sharing an interesting way to organize my blocks after layout further down in this post.

Random Layout

A random layout is always one of my favorites. It really showcases the fabric and how well it all goes together. This is particularly nice if you are excited about the fabrics you are using or if you choose to go with precuts as we did. This is the layout that I went with for this quilting series.

Start by laying a block in the top left corner and working your way across and into the next row. Try to avoid patterns and colors touching. This layout is easier with more patterns and fabrics.

Random Layout Tips:

Depending on how many fabric patterns you are working with, it can be difficult to randomize your layout and avoid similar patterns/colors touching. Sometimes this just can't be avoided!

If you complete your block layout and are concerned with the cohesiveness or color balance in your quilt top, take an overall photo of your quilt, then switch it to black and white. You'll be able to see if there are any darker areas or places that need to be switched around!

As you can see below, to the left is my randomized block layout. After reviewing a black-and-white photo of my quilt top, I noticed some darker and lighter block groupings in several places. From here, I was able to move some blocks around.

Below are some examples of previous quilts that I've completed with a random layout.

Organized Layout:

If organization is your thing, we can do that too! The best advice I can give you when trying to organize your blocks is to group them according to color and lay them out that way. This is easier while using charm packs or many different patterns in a quilt.

The second option is to create a pattern by laying out blocks in a sequence. This option is a lot easier if you have a limited number of patterns that you're using. For help creating an organized layout, consider adding in more solid colors and alternating between fabric and solid. You can also create rows either horizontally or diagonally.

Here are a few examples of quilts with an organized layout.

Sewing Tips & Seam Allowance

Before we walk through how to chain piece our quilt top together, we're going to talk more about the 1/4" seam allowance that we'll be using to sew our quilt top together.

Now that we’ve got our quilt laid out and are ready to sew, let’s walk through some beginner sewing tips. I created this class assuming that most viewers already know how to sew. However, sewing with a 1/4" seam allowance may be a little new if you’ve never quilted before. If you have not worked with seam allowance before it’s important to make sure you can sew in a straight (or semi-straight line). Let me show you some tips here.

Tips for Sewing in a Straight Line:

I often hear sewists joke about how they can sew...but not necessarily in a straight line. This always makes me giggle! Of course, they can. In my opinion, even if you can sew in a kind of straight line, you can make a quilt! I am all about finishing a quilt over perfection. 99% of the time, if there is a mistake in a quilt, you will be the only one that notices it, unless you point it out to someone else.

If you feel as though you need a little more practice sewing in a straight line...I've found a fun tip! Use a primary journal to practice sewing on. Any lined paper will work here!

First, unthread your machine and remove the bobbin. Place the lined paper under your sewing machine and just practice sewing on the lines. Get used to the machine naturally feeding the paper (or fabric) through. Don't push or pull. Your machine knows what it's doing! Don't stare at your needle, as it is constantly moving. Instead, try looking just under it where the paper (or fabric) goes into your feed dogs.

More about 1/4" Seam Allowances

Now that we’re a little more comfortable sewing in a straight line, we’ll talk a little more about seam allowance and how to make sure you’re sewing an accurate 1/4" seam.

The seam allowance is the amount of space that is between your sewn line (and needle) and the edge of your fabric. Most quilts call for 1/4” of space between these two.

We cut our blocks out to be 5” square, however, once they’re sewn into our quilt, they’ll actually measure 4.5”. This is because around each of the sides of the block, we are utilizing 1/4” of the space to sew the blocks together. This is an important fact to remember when thinking about quilt math. You have to account for seam allowance when calculating how much fabric you’ll need for the quilt and how big it will be once sewn together.

I’ve already done the work for you in this quilt by pre-measuring out everything. But if you want to figure out a different-sized quilt, just play with the layout a little.

For example, if you wanted to lay your blocks out in an 8x10 format, you would multiply each of these numbers by the FINISHED block size. In this case, it would be 8x4.5 and 10x4.5, meaning your finished quilt size would be 36" x 45.5".

When we talk about the finished block size, we’re talking about the blocks that are already sewn into the quilt. In this series, it's a 4.5" square. The unfinished block size that we are using in this series is 5”, because we haven't sewn together our blocks yet and taken up 1/4" seam allowance on each side.

To sum it up:

Unfinished: The size of the blocks you cut

Finished: The size of the block after it's sewn into a quilt top. (-1/4" from each side)

1/4" Seam Allowance Test:

Before you begin sewing, you may want to do a test run to make sure that you're accurately sewing a 1/4" seam allowance. Let's take an extra 5" block and cut it in half. You should have two pieces measuring 2.5" x 5" now. We're going to sew those together using our seam allowance! Iron or finger press your seam. Next, measure across your block. It should measure 4.5" wide if your seam allowance is correct. This measurement should be true at the top, middle, and bottom of your block.

Some things to keep in mind while sewing: When we sew our blocks together for our quilt top, we will be sewing them right sides together (the printed sides, not the back).

What to do if your machine doesn't have any seam allowance markings:

If your sewing machine did not come with any markings to help you gauge seam allowance, have no fear, Amazon is here! Below are some products that can help!

Sewing Tape, such as this, is stuck down onto your machine directly in front of your presser foot. The needle on your machine should align with the middle red line, then on either side of it measure 1/4". You can line up the fabric edges to the blue line to sew an accurate 1/4" seam allowance.

A second unique option is this Magnetic Seam Guide by Madam Sew if you need a little help with seam allowances. It includes a magnetic guide for your machine and a seam guide ruler so you'll know exactly the right place to put it.

Some sewing machines do have 1/4" presser foots available that have a guide attached to it but not every machine has this. A quick Google search will give you an answer! If you'd rather not purchase anything, you can also just measure out 1/4" and mark with a sharpie, or tape a piece of ribbon to your machine as an easy guide.

To figure out where your ribbon or line needs to be, you can take a ruler, stick it under your presser foot, and line the needle up with the 1/4" line.

Now that we're more comfortable sewing our seam allowances in a straight line, let's get our quilt top put together!

Quilt Top Organization

This is the exciting part! After this, we will have our quilt top put together and really get to see things come together!

So...we've got 120 blocks on the floor. In years past, I would sew together two blocks, walk back, grab the next one from the row, sew it to the two, walk back, grab another block, and so on. I quickly figured out that this was not efficient at all. Not to mention the fact that as soon as a kid ran through the room I was panicking.

I'm sharing an easy way to organize your blocks that gets them off the floor, on your sewing table, and in a convenient order so you can grab and chain piece. The video may be a better visualization for organizing and chain piecing.

Step One: If you're facing your quilt layout, let's assume that the first block in the top left corner and every block in the row beneath it is Group One. Directly to the right of that is Group Two, and so on, until the last row which will be Group Ten (Diagram 1).

Step Two: Next we are going to be stacking our groups into 10 stacks. Start from the block on the top left (1), pick it up, and stack it on top of the block directly under it. Pick up both of these blocks and stack them onto the block under them. Continue to move down until all of the blocks from Group One are in a stack, with the first block from the top left on the top of the stack.

Step Three: Continue this pattern with each of the rows. At the end, you will have 10 stacks of quilt blocks.

Step Four: Write the numbers 1-10 on sheets of paper. Clip the #1 paper to the TOP of the Group One stack. Repeat this for the remaining stacks. This step does two things: first, it lets us know which side of our block is 'up'. This is particularly important if your fabric is directional. Second, it lets us know in which order are groups need to be.

From here, you can move your stacks up off the floor and onto a table without fear of them being messed up or disorganized.

Chain Piecing our Quilt Top Together

Supplies Needed:


Last stop! Quilt top! Don't forget- you can refer to the video at any time. It may be a little easier to understand this part. I've done a great job notating the time stamps so you can easily navigate around!

We are going to chain-piece this quilt together. If this is a new concept for you, chain-piecing not only saves on thread usage, but it allows you to sew things together much more efficiently by not cutting the threads in between blocks. You simply take one or two stitches in between blocks and it keeps them attached.

To begin sewing our blocks together, grab Group One and Group Two. Keep them set next to each other near your machine. We have the numbers pinned to the top to note which side of our block is the 'top'. Remember this, and go ahead and remove the clips and numbers from groups one and two. We're done with these!

Now, we're sewing the blocks in Group Two to the blocks that were directly to the left in Group One. To do this, take the block on top in Group Two, and place it right sides together with the block on top of the Group One stack. Don't forget about our 1/4" seam allowance here! After sewing these two blocks together, don't cut your thread.

Grab the next block in your Group Two stack and pair it with the next block in your Group One stack. Take a couple of stitches on your sewing machine, then begin sewing these blocks together. Continue sewing the remainder of the Group Two blocks to the Group One blocks. You may have already begun to see what the 'chain' in chain-piecing means! When you finish your row, you will have a total of 12 blocks that have been pieced together!

Next, grab the Group Three stack and set that close to you, remembering which side is 'up'. Cut your thread on your machine and pull the chain towards you until you reach the first block from your previous stacks. Now, we will be sewing Group Three to the right sides of Group Two. To do this, take the top block of your Group Three stack. Open up the two blocks you sewed together first, and pair the Group Three block with the Group Two block. Sew these two right sides together. Grab the next block in the Group Three stack, and sew it to the next block from Group Two. You will not cut threads in between blocks and only when you get to the end of the stack.

Continue doing this until you have sewn each stack of Group blocks to the previous Group. Your quilt top is almost done! It should look something like this.

Nesting Seams & Finishing our Quilt Top

The first step to finishing our quilt top is to do a little ironing. I know, I know...who signs up for ironing. Not me! I will never make you iron any more than you absolutely have to. But it's quite necessary here!

From your ironing board, place your chain pieced quilt top right side down. We need to iron our seams in alternating directions. This helps to nest our seams later. Beginning on the first row, iron these seams towards the left. On row two, iron your seams to the right. Repeat this alternating pattern down the remaining rows.

Next, we will be sewing our rows together by nesting the seams. Since we chain-pieced the blocks together, some of the hard work has already been done for us. The thread that we didn't cut is keeping the seams that we need to nest together!

Why do we nest seams?

While we quilt, we want our blocks to line up nicely! This is done by taking the area that we have in seam allowances and butting them up to each other, right sides together. On the front of the quilt, it creates nice straight lines.

To make this happen, we will begin sewing our rows together.

Take Row One and flip it on top of Row Two so that the fabric is right sides together. Our seams should already be naturally wanting to get together here!

Starting on one end of your two together rows, grab one set of seams. Your seams should butt up to each other. When you hold it between your thumb and first finger, your seam should feel flat. You shouldn't feel a bump at all.

When you are happy with the placement of your nested seams, clip them in place. Repeat this all the way down your row. Row One and Row Two are now ready to be sewn together! Using a 1/4" seam allowance, sew down the row, removing clips as you go. I like to pause before each nested seam and make sure they didn't get crazy since I last clipped them! Sometimes they have a mind of their own.

Continue the last step until you have sewn all of the rows together. Oftentimes, I will clip several rows, sew, then clip the remaining to save time. You should see seams matching together like this!

At this point, if your seams aren't perfect, DON'T PANIC. Obviously I picked the prettiest one for this photo. But, if you are noticing some off seams, it may be because your seam allowance is a little off.

I'll be honest...I rarely pick out stitches and redo things. If things aren't perfect, I'm okay with that!

No one will notice except for you. If it bothers you, feel free to take your seam ripper and pick out the stitches. But if you don't want to...that's perfect with me!

The last step to our quilt top assembly is to iron our newly created seams. I like to iron them all in one direction, and then give the entire front a once-over.

Congratulations! Your quilt top is pieced together and ready for the next step...batting and a quilt sandwich!

I hope you'll join me next week as we dive into the world of batting, basting, and backing. Feel free to leave your questions and comments below. I would love to help!

Until next week...



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