How to Make a Quilt

Piecing is the part of the quilt-making process where you sew the pieces of the patchwork together.

With a pattern of simple squares we are mainly playing with the fabric design to get the look that we want. There are lots of options here: alternating lights and darks, diagonal rows by colors, etc. There’s no right or wrong – just personal preferences. For this project I chose to go ‘scrappy’ – meaning there’s no rhyme or reason to how I laid it out other than I just liked the way it looked – and I tried to balance the solids, prints and colors. (If you’re eagle-eyed you may notice I changed my layout a little from a couple of weeks ago. You can read more about adding a ‘zinger fabric below.)

These squares are cut 4 1/2″ x 4 1/2″.

1. Lay out the 81 squares in 9 rows of 9 squares each. (If you are working with the pre-cut Charm Packs you will need 64 squares laid out 8 x 8.)  Stack the squares in each row, starting left to right, on top of each other.  I suggest labeling your rows by number to help you keep track of them.  Use a piece of tape with a number, chalk, anything easy to help remember which row goes where.

2. Take the top square (square 1) and lay it face up. Pick-up the square 2 and lay it face down on top of square 1, then pin the right sides together.

3. Bring the paired-up squares to the machine. Sew the squares together with a ¼” seam allowance from one end to the other end.  You do not need to backstitch when piecing quilts.

I can’t stress enough the importance of using a consistent ¼”seam allowance.  It’s the key to good looking piecing.

A scant ¼” seam allowance is preferable. A seam allowance that is even a few threads wider than ¼” will make all quilt blocks smaller. This isn’t as big of an issue on the patchwork squares quilt that we’re making here where all of the blocks are the same size. But once we get into piecing multiple quilt blocks to sew together, it can make the blocks too small, making it difficult to fit all of the pieces together.

Some machines have a foot that is specifically a ¼” foot in which case you can line up the edge of the fabric with your presser-foot. Other machine feet are a little wider than ¼”. You can sometimes adjust the needle to create the scant ¼” seam allowance.

It’s a good idea to measure you seam to make 

4. Now open up that pair and pin square 3 facing square 2. Sew a ¼” seam. Repeat for the next 5 squares and for rows 2-8.

5. You will want to press your fabric here. Pressing may seem tedious, but it really makes a difference in how your quilt turns out.   (There’s a difference between pressing and ironing.  Pressing is a little more gentle.  Using some steam can make things crisp.) For this project we are going to press our seams to one side – not open.

Alternate directions the seams are pressed for odd and even rows. (See top photo just above.) This illustration shows rows 1 and 2 with seams pressed alternating directions. Continue to do that in the rows that follow.

6. Place the two rows facing each other, matching up seams.  The pressed seams should butt up against each other. Pinning at the seams will help the square points to match up.

7. Repeat this process to sew all the rows together and then press the pieced part of the quilt.  Hopefully things will line up neatly. All of this – pressing, getting used to a consistent seam allowance especially – will take getting used to and I promise it gets easier and more natural the more you do it.

Now, don’t have a panic attack if some points are not perfect.  Promise? Especially if this is your first quilt. The final quilting will help hide some of those flaws later.

Up next Tuesday in our Quilt Along Series: Adding the Borders.


This is the quilt as I laid it out a couple of weeks ago. And I didn’t like it. At least not as much as I thought I would. It felt too bland.

So I added some red squares and I like it a whole lot more now.  Quilts need a ‘zinger fabric’ to make them interesting – a fabric or two that’s a little brighter than the rest – that kind of pops out of the quilt. Sometimes zinger fabrics totally clash – and that’s what makes them so awesome.  Balance is important too. Notice how the red is spaced throughout the quilt.

So if your quilt feels flat or boring, try a ‘zinger fabric’ to give it some spunk. Has this worked for anyone else? Feel free to link to examples!


You Might Also Like


  • Reply
    October 4, 2010 at 11:12 pm

    in my family, we always add an "ugly" fabric or two. not that the uglies are actually ugly…they just don't match perfectly with the other fabrics. it creates more interest. (or "zing" as you like to put it. 🙂 )

  • Reply
    October 5, 2010 at 2:17 am

    Thanks for the tip, I'm always worrying that my fabrics don't match well enough because they're not from the same line.

  • Reply
    Sew Create It - Jane
    October 5, 2010 at 2:21 am

    Good advice! I like it better with the red too!

  • Reply
    October 5, 2010 at 4:21 am

    I agree I recently made a pink quilt for my niece but it was the flashes of clashing red that made the quilt pop and stopped it being too sickly sweet

  • Reply
    October 5, 2010 at 5:01 am

    I agree….alot of ho hum quilts could go fab if they had just used a zinger! It's hard to brave and go where no quilter has gone before! LOL! yeah, a little Trekkie there LOL!

  • Reply
    Bea Lippott
    October 5, 2010 at 5:51 am

    What a great tip! I'll remember that.

  • Reply
    October 5, 2010 at 6:37 am

    Excellent! That's probably why I get stuck so often, I'm too scared to do that! I love your fabrics in that quilt, too.

  • Reply
    Sarah Craig
    October 5, 2010 at 7:09 am

    Excellent tip! I think we sometimes get so hung up on using a "line" of fabric that we forget it wasn't always that way – people actually had to put together their own color combinations! Your quilt is much more interesting with the addition of the red – it gives the eye something to "stop" on, then it gets to admire the rest of the quilt!

  • Reply
    The Tulip Patch
    October 5, 2010 at 7:24 am

    I was grabbing fabrics for a Katie Jump Rope Autumn quilt last month and on a whim threw in some black/cream flowers from American Jane Peas &amp; Carrots. I did quarter square triangles of that around as a border and I am totally in love with it because of that fabric that doesn&#39;t really go.<br />http://tulip-patch.blogspot.com/2010/09/finish-autumn-hourglass-quilt.html <br /><br />I

    • Reply
      July 9, 2012 at 9:30 am

      Oh see, I look at that and I think it totally goes. It matches with the black in the sunflowers and with that darker stripe.

  • Reply
    Laurie Anne
    October 5, 2010 at 7:51 am

    Great tip! love the red!

  • Reply
    October 5, 2010 at 8:18 am

    this is beautiful with the red…sometimes colors fall flat. this happened to me recently while working on a quilt for someone who said their favorite colors were pink and purple…and just those two alone seemed a little nauseating so i added some blue and green. i did not think it worked at first but once it was all done i knew that those extra colors were what made all the difference.<br />

  • Reply
    October 5, 2010 at 9:55 am

    I also like a bit of the unexpected. I made a simple strip quilt our of Joel Dewberry Modern Meadow, in its lovely browns, blues and greeens, then added a simple square of red to draw the eye on both the front and back. I liked the effect! Will do more of that. Here it is (though I remember you have seen it!):<br /><br />http://ocd-obsessivecraftingdisorder.blogspot.com/2010/09/

  • Reply
    October 5, 2010 at 9:56 am

    This is so true! I did this with my current quilt-in-progress with the green dots. They don&#39;t really match but they &quot;pop&quot; and make all the pink in the quilt much less overbearing.<br /><br />http://www.thatgirlthatquilt.com/2010/10/fabric-tuesday-incongnito.html<br /><br />Jennifer 🙂

  • Reply
    October 5, 2010 at 11:34 am

    That must be what&#39;s wrong with my most recent project. It&#39;s all blues &amp; greens (ranging from limey to teal) with a bit of very pale yellow, so it&#39;s very oceany. While it&#39;s very pretty (and for me, very well matched &amp; pointy at the tips, tyvm!) it is kinda boring. I think &#39;cuz it&#39;s all the same values. Maybe next time, I&#39;ll throw in a splash of ummm…see,

  • Reply
    October 5, 2010 at 2:08 pm

    Wow, what an obvious difference. I like it okay without the red, but with the red it&#39;s just gorgeous.<br /><br />I studied English lit. in college, and I remember hearing that the most famous and popular of Shakespeare&#39;s sonnets (and this goes for other famous poems, too) were ones that mostly followed the traditional rhyme scheme and meter, but had one or two noteworthy exceptions where

  • Reply
    October 5, 2010 at 2:37 pm

    Hey,<br />Saw this today and thought of you, You&#39;re a Cath Kidson fan right??<br />http://www.lonnymag.com/issues/1-aug-sept-2010/pages/1#p33<br />Melissa

  • Reply
    October 5, 2010 at 4:13 pm

    the red really makes the quilt! good to know i am not the only that isn&#39;t happy the first time i lay something out ;o)

  • Reply
    October 5, 2010 at 5:49 pm

    The red really added interest. Lovely quilt.

  • Reply
    Stray Stitches
    October 5, 2010 at 8:01 pm

    Wonderful advice – thanks!

  • Reply
    October 5, 2010 at 8:31 pm

    Love to add an unexpected fabric or color in a quilt. It spices things up!

  • Reply
    a little bit biased
    October 5, 2010 at 9:22 pm

    I agree. I like the quilt better with the red. Thanks for showing the example. It&#39;s a darling quilt!

  • Reply
    Stitched With Prayer
    October 6, 2010 at 7:40 am

    I think the red adds some &#39;pop&#39; to the quilt.<br /> I always try to add something that is a little out of the range of the basic fabrics too because I feel like this style of quilt needs to have… for lack of a better word the &#39;pop&#39; in it. I also, I have been wandering around your blog for a few days and it is a wonderful blog. I love the tutorials and projects you share. Thank

  • Reply
    October 6, 2010 at 12:45 pm

    I once took a class, and the teacher&#39;s advice was &quot;Every quilt needs a little lime green.&quot; Same idea 🙂

  • Reply
    Jen O
    October 6, 2010 at 6:32 pm

    I really enjoy your blog. I made a Halloween table runner with your tutorial and featured it on our Praiseworthy blog (lovelypraiseworthy.blogspot.com). I think there are a few zinger fabrics in it, and I love how it turned out!

  • Reply
    Dan and Katie
    October 7, 2010 at 10:04 pm

    wow! crazy how that makes it look totally different! Love your nephews quilt too!!

  • Reply
    October 8, 2010 at 3:35 pm

    I really &quot;get&quot; the zinger thing, but there are a few people who don&#39;t love it so much. I used one brighter green polka dot that wasn&#39;t part of the &quot;Dandelion Girl&quot; quilt I made, plus some black touches throughout. I think it&#39;s great! I put it in one quilt show, and it didn&#39;t even rate a comment from the judge. In a different show, I won a blue ribbon. To

  • Reply
    Aunt Spicy
    October 9, 2010 at 6:02 pm

    My problem is I use too many zingers and have to tone it down! Excellent post!

  • Reply
    October 15, 2010 at 1:04 am

    I agree with this, some times you need it, i have posted something similar today and shall try to create a link to this !!!!

  • Reply
    July 10, 2011 at 10:19 pm

    Thanks very much for this tutorial! I a piecing my first quilt today, use your instructions. I blog my sewing journey and have linked back to you here: http://mamassewingroom.blogspot.com/2011/07/piecing-finally.html<br />Best wishes from Australia 🙂

  • Reply
    November 17, 2011 at 3:47 pm

    This post is AMAZING! Thank you thank you thank you.<br /><br />I&#39;ve been wanting to make a quite for a long time now and your tutorial is jsut what I needed.

  • Reply
    Digital Michelle
    December 30, 2011 at 4:18 am

    I love zinger fabrics! It really does make it pop!<br /><br />Love the Thomas train, too!

  • Reply
    March 15, 2012 at 12:26 pm

    Thank you for this, I have just started my first quilt and have been a little bit worried about piecing it. I am only doing square blocks as it is my first project. I will be very careful with the seam allowance!!

  • Reply
    June 21, 2012 at 10:18 am

    Thank you so much for your tutorial! I am a first time quilter and I am making a quilt for my son, so I ordered charm pack thinking it would be easier, but I am finding that not all of the squares are exactly 5×5&#39;s! Some are 5 1/4, so I just laid them all out like I wanted and started piecing and by the time I lined up my second row, none of the lines matched……I&#39;m trying to know get

  • Reply
    Janet Sonnier
    June 11, 2013 at 7:27 am

    Well, it&#39;s 2013 so not sure anyone is still around but…. so super excited I found this tutorial. So detailed that I&#39;m thinking I can do this! Wow – does make a difference with the red! Who knew? Thanks!

  • Reply
    Janet Sonnier
    June 11, 2013 at 7:31 am

    Well, it&#39;s 2013 so not sure anyone is still around but…. so super excited I found this tutorial. So detailed that I&#39;m thinking I can do this! Wow – does make a difference with the red! Who knew? Thanks!

  • Reply
    Amanda Long
    July 25, 2013 at 2:00 pm

    just a question… once you sew all of your rows together do you press that seam open or alternate up and downs? Thanks!

    • Reply
      amy smart
      July 25, 2013 at 2:37 pm

      Great question! I press the seams all one direction.

  • Reply
    December 18, 2013 at 9:35 pm

    This is probably a silly question, but when you are piecing do you back stitch? I have done a lot of sewing, but I have never quilted before.

  • Reply
    December 18, 2013 at 9:36 pm

    This is probably a silly question, but when you are piecing do you back stitch? I have done a lot of sewing, but I have never quilted before.

  • Reply
    Foy Update
    March 16, 2014 at 8:40 am

    I found your quilting tutorial because I wanted to try my first quilt. I&#39;m due with our second kid in June. Our first got six lovely hand made quilts; and I know there is no way the second will be gifted so many. I decided to go with a charm pack to save time. I&#39;m also doing this all by hand as we don&#39;t have a sewing machine. I&#39;m almost done with the quilt top. It&#39;s

  • Reply
    November 4, 2018 at 6:28 pm

    Hi! Just wondering what size the squares are? 4” x 4” ? Or ….?

  • Reply
    Melissa Grace
    March 20, 2020 at 7:19 am

    Amy, thanks for this tutorial. The quilting group at church rolls along with our mission quilts with hardly any input from me. With your instruction I may finally bring my own project for Show and Tell!
    Nice Thomas the Tank Engine!

  • Reply
    April 16, 2020 at 3:02 pm

    Hi! Thanks for a great tutorial. I just started my first quilt and you just made it 10 times easier!
    I do have one question. How did you change the squares after you finished? I need to change some squares, but I don’t know how?
    – Sofie

    • Reply
      April 20, 2020 at 9:32 am

      Do you mean take out squares after they’ve been sewn in? It’s tricky but not impossible. You’ll need a seam-ripper. Carefully unpick the portion of the row the square is in, then unpick the square from the row. Sew in the new square into the row and then sew the row back into the quilt.

      I hope that helps!

  • Reply
    Briana Johnson
    November 10, 2020 at 5:41 pm

    I’m working on my first quilt and this is exactly what I needed to have to help guide me along. Thank you so much for sharing. I’ve bookmarked this page and will be following along from beginning to end.

  • Leave a Reply

    This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.