…Classic Squares Quilt Tutorial, Part 2: Finishing

TenInch Sample Quilt c

Classic Squares: A simple tied quilt made from ten inch squares.

Classic Squares Tutorial, Part 2, Finishing: Backing, batting, ties, and binding. A wonderful quilt-making experience for a true beginner, and a classic quick quilt for anyone to make. (easy, machine stitched, hand tied, scrappy)

Note: You can enlarge any photo by clicking on it.

Classic Squares Tutorial, Part 2, Finishing: Backing the quilt top, sandwiching the batting, ties, and binding. (easy, machine stitched, hand tied, scrappy)

Adriana likes the back of her finished quilt too!

In Classic Squares Quilt Tutorial, Part 1: Topper, we met my neighbor Adriana. We followed her as she sewed a simple quilt top with ten inch squares. Here she finishes her quilt, using simple techniques. Since we are making a quilt which will be subjected to the rigors of college life, we made the topper with ½ inch seam allowances, and have chosen to use ties for anchoring the quilt sandwich.

There are three steps to finishing this quilt.
As Adriana learned, sometimes the finishing steps can take longer than creating the quilt topper. We broke it down into three sessions, with detailed instructions for each shown in this tutorial.
Step One: Preparing the Quilt Backing (one hour or less)
Step Two: Sandwiching and Tying the Quilt (sandwiching-less than one hour, tying-one to two hours-helpers make it faster-TV watching permitted!)
Step Three: Binding the Quilt (three hours or less)

Materials and Supplies: These are the items Adriana had on hand before she set about to complete her first quilt. She found the fabric store staff helpful in selecting batting and other items.

  • Adriana’s completed quilt topper, see Classic Squares Quilt Tutorial, Part 1.
  • Sewing machine (zipper foot is helpful with binding), steam iron, and pressing board, large work surface such as a table or floor
  • Cotton thread, Adriana used green to match her binding and backing
  • Pins – two-inch straight pins, with large heads, work well
  • Safety pins – large, 200 should be do
  • Scissors. A rotary cutter, ruler, and mat are helpful, but a scissors could be easily used.
  • Seam Ripper (just in case!)
  • 2 skeins pearl cotton floss for ties – any color/s, with a large-eyed sharp needle that can handle the pearl cotton.
  • One low loft polyester quilt batting, at least 78×78 inches. Excess can be used for small projects later.
  • Fabric for backing the quilt: If using a sheet, remove hems and wash first. Be sure it is at least 78 inches square, or six inches larger than your quilt top.  If using wide quilt backing, purchase 2.25 yards of fabric at least 80 inches wide. Excess width can be cut off and used for another quilt!  If using fabric that is around 44 inches wide, you will need 4.33 yards. Instructions included below for assembling this piece.
  • For binding, instructions for attaching given in tutorial: If using manufactured binding, purchase 8.33 yards of folded continuous binding, that is between 1.5-2 inches wide, AFTER it was folded (at least 3-4 inches wide BEFORE folding). Fabric stores have limited supplies on spools. If making your own binding, you will need to start with a piece of fabric about 38 inches square. Secure 1.25 yards of 44” wide cotton quilt fabric, and save the excess for future projects. To see how to make your own binding check out How to Make Quilt Binding at About.com (is not as hard as the diagrams look!) For this quilt we used binding I had previously made using the method shown in that article. It was cut at 3.5 inches wide, and yielded 1.75 inches folded, giving a beginner a little extra room to work with.

Step One: Preparing the Quilt Backing (one hour or less)

Pic. 1 - Removing the selvages from the backing fabric.

If using a sheet, remove hems, wash, dry, and press the sheet. Trim to at least 78 inches square, or six inches larger than your quilt top. Move on to step two.

If using wide quilt backing fabric, wash, dry, and press. Trim to at least 78 inches square, or six inches larger than your quilt top, making certain that selvages are removed. Move on to step two.

If using 44 inch wide fabric for backing, as Adriana did: Adriana and I were committed to making only minimal purchases to complete her quilt. We used fabric from my stash to create her backing, which we had to piece to make a 78 inch square. Before we began assembling the backing, the fabric was pre-washed (see note below) and ironed. We chose to use a center panel layout, so there would not be a seam down the middle of her quilt back.

Pic. 2 - Adriana cuts two small pieces to complete the side sections of the backing.

Cut the center of the backing: To piece a back out of 43-44 inch wide fabric, start by cutting a length of your backing fabric that is six inches longer than one side of your quilt. We cut ours 78 inches. Trim the selvages from this piece of fabric (pic. 1). The selvages are the long edges of the fabric where it was attached to the loom. They may be white, or have print on them, and are often firmer than the fabric. Remove at least ½ inch from each selvage side of the fabric, taking any white or non-printed area with it.

Create two side panels for the backing: Measure the width of this first piece after removing the selvages. Ours was now 42 inches wide. Subtract that from the size square you need. We need a 78 inch square, minus the 42 inch piece we have just cut. That means we now need 36 inches more, plus seam allowances of 2 inches (we use ½ inch seams throughout this project), for a total of 38 inches. Divide 38 by 2, so we need two pieces each 19 x 78 inches.

Pic. 3 - Each side panel needs and extension to match the center, so they are pinned on before stitching.

From the remaining length of backing fabric, cut a 78 inch length (or your needed length if you made a different size topper.) Remove one selvage. Measuring from the cut selvage side, cut TWO pieces, each 18 x 78 inches.

As we were using up stash fabric only, we were a little short here. Our available fabric would only yield 65 x 18 inches, so we pieced a complimentary color to each to make the 78 inches. Adriana picked two other green prints from my stash, and cut them each to 14 x 18 inches, which allowed for a seam (pic. 2). She then pieced one of these on to each 65 x 18 inch section and pressed the seam to one side, creating the two 78 x 18 in side panels (pic. 3 and 4).

Pic. 4 - Adriana sews the side panel pieces together.

Pin and stitch the side panels to the center panel, using ½ inch seam allowance (pic. 5). Press these seams to the center (pic. 6, above). This completes your backing. Move on to step two.

Note: You can enlarge any photo by clicking on it.

A note about pre-washing of fabric for backing: Very often, quilters pre-wash cotton fabrics before cutting them, which simply means running them through the washer and dryer at home using mild detergent and warm water. Then you must press your fabric before cutting. Pre-washing is done for two reasons. One is to permit potential shrinking to happen before your item is assembled. As fabrics may or may not shrink, and different fabrics may shrink different amounts, not pre-washing means you run the risk of uneven shrinking in your completed quilt (not pretty!)

Pic. 5 - She pins the side panels to the center panel before stitching.

The second reason is to remove the finishing and processing chemicals from the fabric, making it safer for the sewer and the end user. See also: Pre-washing?

Should you pre-wash your cotton backing? While doing this project, and others, there are three things to consider before deciding if you need to pre-wash. If you are undecided after reviewing this, I recommend pre-washing.

Classic Squares Tutorial backing 5c

Pic. 6 - Adriana presses the seams on her backing.

1. If you made your quilt top using pre-washed fabrics for the ten inch squares, as Adriana did, you definitely should also pre-wash your backing fabric before assembling your quilt.

2. If you used purchased “layer cakes” of fabric or squares cut from unwashed fabrics, you should not pre-wash it. Instead, once completed, the entire quilt will need to be laundered before use to remove any chemical residues in the fabrics.

3. If you are using Batik fabrics ONLY, not a mix, they are usually pre-washed already as part of the resist-removal process. I recommend pre-washing your backing for these, UNLESS your backing is also a batik.

Step Two: Sandwiching and Tying the Quilt (sandwiching-less than one hour, tying-one to two hours-helpers make it faster-TV watching permitted!)

Pic. 7 - Adriana has the backing spread on the large table, right side down, and prepares to add the batting.

Creating the quilt sandwich: Adriana places the completed (and neatly pressed) backing RIGHT SIDE DOWN on the large surface of the dining table. It does hang over the edges a bit, but we can slide it around to reach each area. Working on the floor is another option, especially if your dining table is less than four feet wide. She is careful to center it to the table (pic. 7).

Then she opens the package of low-loft batting and lays it out on top of the backing. (I do not recommend a high-loft batting for your first project, as distortion is more likely. Second project, great!) A helper is a great idea here, as the batting is fluffy and big and wants to fly around. Take care to smooth it out without stretching it or creating any holes in it! There may be creases from how it was packaged, smooth them by hand as well as you can.

Pic. 8 - The batting is trimmed to match the backing, or even slightly larger.

Before placing the quilt topper, Adriana trims the batting to match the backing (pic. 8). It is fine if the batting is slightly bigger than the backing, but do not cut it smaller than the backing. Extra bits of batting are useful when making small project like wall hangings, so I recommend holding on to them.

Pic. 9 - The top is spread out, right side up, centered so the backing extends evenly beyond the edges of the top on all sides.

Now the quilt top is placed on top of the batting, RIGHT SIDE UP (pic. 9). A helper is very useful here as well. Center the quilt top on the batting, so the backing extends beyond the quilt top evenly on all sides. If there is a wee bit more space on one side than the other, do not panic, it will be alright! Perfection is not required. DO make sure that it is even and square with the backing and not askew.

Note: You can enlarge any photo by clicking on it.

Pin-basting the quilt sandwich: Starting from the center, she smooths out this sandwich with her hands. The the pin-basting begins! Large safety pins are placed approximately every five inches, or closer, starting in the middle (pic. 10). As she worked outward from the middle, Adriana smoothed the layers and adjusted if needed, so the backing and batting did not bunch up under the quilt top.

Pic. 10 - The first basting pins were placed in the center of the quilt.

I recommend working in a spiral motion out from the center, so you reach the outside edges of the quilt top in the last round (pic.11). Place extra safety pins in about an inch from the edge of the quilt top. This is especially important if you need to fold it up and set it aside before tying.

Pic. 11 - Adriana pinned generously to within 4.5 inches of her quilt edge

After the quilt sandwich is pinned to the edges, turn it over. Check the backing and batting for distortion or bunching. If you find some, turn back to the quilt top side and repin that area. Be sure to check the back again! It will have dents from the pins, you just do not want any folds or stretched areas. Once you are satisfied with the pin-basting, you can set it aside for a bit, or proceed with tying the quilt.

Tying the quilt sandwich: Cut a length of your pearl cotton about four feet long (pic. 12). Thread it through a sharp needle with a large eye, and bring the ends even so you are working with a double strand. Do not make a knot.

Pic. 12 - Adriana prepares to tie her quilt, using perle cotton.

Adriana tied knots at every intersection of squares, in the middle of each square, and half way between each intersection along the seam lines. She did not tie any knots on the outer 4.5 inches of her quilt top all around, as the binding will secure that area later.

Note: You can enlarge any photo by clicking on it.

Starting at the intersection of squares in the middle of your quilt top, the first tie is made as follows (see pic. 13 a-e):

how to tie your quilt

Pic. 13a

Place a hand under the quilt so you can feel the needle come through. Be sure you are picking up the backing in each tie!

Peek occassinally to be sure you are not folding or bunching the backing. If you did, just remove that tie and re-do it.

How to tie your quilt.

Pic. 13b

Insert your needle about one eighth of an inch in from one corner at the middle, and bring it up in the “kitty-corner” square, also about an eighth of an inch in. The distance is not an exact science, but you do want to have the in and out spots wind up being approximately 1/4 inch apart.

Pull your thread through, leaving a tail about 2.5 inches long.

Pic. 13c

Now, in that same place, insert your needle in an unused corner, as above, and come up kitty-corner again, which being this stitch across the first one. As you pull the thread through, catch the tail under the stitch between corners on top.

Be sure you still have your 2.5 in tail, and that it is tucked under the second stitch on the quilt top side.

Pic. 13d

Holding both the tail and the thread attached to the needle, pull firmly, causing a pucker in the fabric aroudn the stitching. Tie the tail and the thread twice, using a square knot. Pull this knot very firmly.

Cut off the excess tail and the thread from the needle, leaving about one inch on each side of the knot.

Pic. 13e

One down, lots to go. Just as in pinning, work from the middle out towards the edges.

She removed the safety pins as each area was tied, but Adriana did not remove the pins from the quilt edges.

Pic. 14 - Tying can be a very sociable time!

This is another good stopping point if you need a break. Adriana decided she did, and went to the lake for a while. Then, we moved on to step three, the final step!

Note: While tying your quilt, it does not have to be at the table. Spread it out in front of TV, or any place that has room to have a large section of it accessible at once. Adriana and I watched Glee while tying. Also, helpers make it go faster! Thread up a few needles and have a friend work away from the middle in the opposite direction from you. One person who did this project had her whole family help, and asked them each to use a different color of perle cotton. When she was done, she thought of each tie as a hug from that person!

Note: You can enlarge any photo by clicking on it.

Step Three: Binding the Quilt (three hours or less)

Pic. 15 - Adriana trims away the excess batting and backing.

One more step, then Adriana’s first quilt will stop being a WIP (work in progress) and become a completed project! Time to put the binding on the quilt sandwich, to enclose the batting and raw edges. Whether you made your binding, or are using purchased binding, it has been folded in half and pressed. One side is the fold, and the other side is raw edges. As you apply the binding, the folded edge becomes the finished edge on the back of your quilt.

We are going to apply the binding in four sections, each side separately, and overlap the corners. This is an excellent way for beginners, who can look up other ways later and learn to miter corners then. To keep this project fast and beginner-friendly, we are also securing the back edge of the binding by machine, but I know there are purists out there who would recommend hand stitching the folded edge of the binding down.

Pic. 16 - She pins the prepared binding to the quilt edge, matching raw edges.

Binding the first side of her quilt: Adriana started by laying her quilt sandwich out top side up, and trimming away the excess batting and backing, creating a neat, straight edge even with the quilt top (pic.15). With one edge flat on the table edge, she unrolled some of her binding, aligning the end with the corner of her quilt. Pinning every 3-4 inches, through ALL layers, she smoothed as she went (pic. 16).

Pic. 17 - On the first side, she cuts the binding.

At this point she is pinning to one side of the quilt only. Adriana placed the raw edge side of the binding away from the quilt center and towards the open edges of the quilt. As she pinned, she removed the safety pins.

When Adriana had pinned this entire first edge, she cut the binding even with the quilt corner (pic. 17). Be careful with this step, as the last edge of the quilt will be cut differently when it is pinned.

Pic. 18 - She stitches the binding in place, catching all layers.

Moving to the sewing machine, Adriana stitched through all the layers, ½ inch in from the quilt edge (pic. 18). As the fabric moved under the pressure foot, she took care that it all layers were smooth. She removed each pin before it passed the needle. As she neared the end, she found she had to un-pin the last few inches and re-pin to avoid a pucker.

Note: You can enlarge any photo by clicking on it.

Now Adriana folded this back over, wrapping the raw edges of the quilt with the binding. She folded the binding to the back, and pinned again (pic. 19). Here she was taking care that the folded edge of her binding covered the stitching line visible from where she just attached the binding.

Pic. 19 - She folds the binding over the raw edge and pins.

She pinned every 2-3 inches. Yes, she finds all this pinning to be annoying, but she knows that I also dislike pinning, and yet I insist here. When she finished this round of pinning, she checked to see that it was laying flat, with about ½ inch of binding showing on the quilt top side, and the fold edge covering the stitching on the back edge. She also checked that each pin is securing that folded edge of binding well!

Back at the sewing machine, she learned that you can change your style of pressure foot. We switched from the standard one to a zipper foot, which will allow us to get close to the binding as we “stitch in the ditch.”

Adriana quickly saw how using the zipper foot let her stitch close to her lovely bound edge, without catching it in the stitching.

Pic. 20 - Stitching in the ditch.

She was careful to remove pins, and keeps the layers flat as they move under the pressure foot.

Her goal was to stitch as close as she could to the binding edge, thus catching that little bit of the binding on the back and securing it (pic.20).

When she finished her first side, she turned it over to see if everything caught.

Pic. 21 - A small OOPS to fix.

Adriana found one “oops” area where the pinning did not keep the binding in line for sewing (pic. 21).

She repinned this area and repeated the stitch in the ditch, started and ending about an inch outside of the “oops” area (pic.22).

Pic. 22 - Fixing the OOPS.

This time, because she was in the middle of the side and not an end, she backstitched as she started and finished. Then she trimmed the threads close to the fabric and her mistake was corrected.

Note: You can enlarge any photo by clicking on it.

Binding the second and third sides of her quilt: Everthing is just the same as the first side EXCEPT:

Pic. 23 - One end of binding is folded to the insise to tuck the raw edges in.

As she started to pin the binding on the second side, where it overlaps the piece she just bound, Adriana folded the short raw edges of the binding inside about ½ inch (pic.23).
This will be the finished edge later, when she completes the final step in binding the quilt. When she pinned this on, she let it extend beyond the edge just a hair, less than 1/16 of an inch.

Adriana then pinned the side and cuts the other end off even with the quilt edge. Then she repeated all of the steps from the first side.

Pic. 24 - The second and third sides are pinned and stitched.

And again, as the third side, she folded this edge under to create a finish edge and extended it a hair, just as with the second side, (pic. 24). Then she repeated all of the steps from the first side of the quilt.

Binding the last side of her quilt: As with sides two and three, Adriana folded the first edge under to create a finish edge, and let it extend by a hair. When she reached to the last corner, this time she also folded in about ½ inch there, so no raw edges were present.

Pic. 25 - The last side gets stitched.

As Adriana moved to the sewing machine for this last side, she backstitched at the beginning and end of each stitching pass (pic. 25). This was needed as no other edge will be stitched over this to secure the ends.

When she reached the final corner, she found she had to remove the pins and adjust her binding length a little bit. She carefully redid the ½ inch fold of fabric to the inside of the binding, letting it end a hair beyond the edge of the quilt.

Pic. 26 - Whipstitching the open corners to seal the edges.

The last little step – whipstitching the corners: Using a needle and doubled thread, with a knot at the end, Adriana whipstitches the open ends of each corner fold shut, making certain that any raw edges are tucked inside (pic. 26). She knots each corner off tightly.

Pic. 27 - Proudly labeled!

Adriana takes a minute to label her quilt with her name and the date.

Her quilt is done, and it is lovely!

Pic. 27 - Adriana and her COMPLETED first quilt!

©2010, The Curious Quilter, thecuriousquilter.net, maryeoriginals.com.

14 Responses to …Classic Squares Quilt Tutorial, Part 2: Finishing

  1. Pingback: Completing the Classic Squares Tutorial | The Curious Quilter

  2. Martin says:

    Adriana, thanks for sharing this with us! I hope, when you are not overwhelmed by all the wonderful new experiences you will have at school (Harvard? you GO girl!) – that one day you will come back and make something else with Curious Mary and share with us.

    Everyone needs an outlet for their soul, and tactile things like sewing, knitting, sculpting, and so on, really help me balance. In my ‘real’ life, yes, I quilt, and it balances out my work life. May you too find balance.

    Mary, thanks for doing tutorials! Ok, personally this one is a bit basic for me, but we do forget that every day, some one is just starting out. Loved the Testing Quilt Patterns piece!

  3. bird says:

    Looks wonderful!!! Thanks for the tutorial Adriana. Now use it during those cold nights at Harvard! You can think about home 🙂

  4. AleExi says:

    Wow, hard to WANT to make a quilt on a hot summer day. It is really nice, are you making more for holiday gifts? Thank you for sharing with us, and being a role model for young people wanting to try this! I forwarded the post to all the teens I know! (six of them lol)

  5. Nancy Sue Phillips says:

    Adriana, you gave us a gift! A gift of being able to watch you make your first quilt. That won’t ever happen again!!You are inspiring to others out here in blogland that have yet to complete a quilt. Your nonthreatening style (and Mary’s great camera angles) inspire newbies to be newbies only temporarily. When you’re in your dorm, snuggled under the covers, remember the times of sweltering heat, when you helped others without really knowing it, nor how many others, to take the plunge and quilt!
    Kudos to you lady! Many blessings in your college endeavors! And thank you Mary for sharing this with us! How special indeed!!!!

    From a fellow Gleek 🙂

  6. Annmarie says:

    Thanks for being such a good sport, Adriana- your quilt is GREAT & that is a wonderful tutorial for beginning quilters. . I look forward to seeing your next quilt (xmas break?) ! Good luck at school – I’m sure you’ll do A+!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  7. Donna says:

    Now that the fall chill has hit, I bet you are really glad to have this quilt to come back to after classes! We all hope you are enjoying school…

  8. Dawn says:

    Thanks for sharing this. I have never ever made a quilt before. I followed your directions and sewed my two daughters each a quilt for Christmas. Next project – a quilt for me!! Thanks again, I found myself running back to my computer to reread your directions while I was sewing. The photos were a great help too. I think I just might be hooked on quilting!!

  9. Pingback: Basting away again… | The Curious Quilter

  10. Pingback: Things I Have Learned While Cutting Squares, and a giveaway | The Curious Quilter

  11. Linne says:

    This is so lovely! I am always glad to see young people learning the old arts. I hope you will post an update on Adriana and how she is getting along at college.

    Adriana, I am printing all this out to keep for my granddaughters, who are less than one year to 12 years old. But before they get to make one themselves, I plan to make one each for them (and for their brothers!).

    Thanks again, both of you. ~ Linne

  12. Pingback: Quilting Up a Postage Stamp Quilt | The Curious Quilter

  13. Lovely tutorial. Thank you for sharing. It contained all the info that I was googling for on the web.

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