…Classic Squares Quilt Tutorial, Part 1: Topper

TenInch Sample Quilt c

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

Classic Squares, Part 1, Topper: Sewing a simple quilt top with ten inch squares, finished size approximately 6×6 feet.   A wonderful quilt-making experience for a true beginner, and a classic quick quilt for anyone to make. (easy, machine pieced, charms, layer cakes, scrappy) Very popular with youth groups. Shown using ten inch squares, this technique will work for four inch, six inch and any other size square as well. Should you have a layer cake stack of 40 ten-inch squares, you can use 36 of them to make a quilt that will be be about 54×54 inches.

Note: You can enlarge any photo by clicking on it. See right hand side bar for links to eBay to purchase my sets of 64 precut squares!


Classic Squares, Part 1, Topper: Sewing a simple quilt top with ten inch squares. A wonderful quilt-making experience for a true beginner, and a classic quick quilt for anyone to make. This process will work with any size fabric squares or fabric charms.(easy, machine pieced, charms, layer cakes, scrappy)

Pic.1 – Adriana is going to show you how she made her first quilt top.

Meet Adriana, neighbor to Mary, The Curious Quilter (pic.1). She lives with her parents and sister, and will soon be experiencing dormitory life far away from home. Before she has to leave for this super adventure, she wanted to make a simple quilt. I thank her for letting me take so many photos while we worked on it!

Adriana had never sewn before, so we spent a little time learning how the machine works.  If you have never used a sewing machine before, take some time to practice, and play with old fabric scraps and rags before starting your project. Once she was comfortable with the basic operation of the machine, we set the stitch length to 12 stitches per inch, and threaded it with a good quality cotton thread. (If you are wondering, we used my mother’s wonderful old Singer 301.)


Stacking the squares in pairs for chaining.

Pic.2 – Random pairs of fabric are stacked right-sides together, preparing for chain-piecing.

Materials and Supplies: These are the items Adriana had on hand before she started to piece her first quilt top. 

    • 64 pre-cut ten inch fabric squares (Adriana’s were all different, and cut from fabrics that had been washed before cutting. If you are using precut purchased pieces like a layer cake, prewashing is not recommended. Wait and launder the completed quilt.)
    • Cotton thread, neutral color (grey, cream, tan, etc.)
    • Pins – two-inch straight pins, with large heads, work well
    • Scissors
    • Seam Ripper (just in case!)
pinning squares

Pic.3 – Pinning the pairs of squares before chain-piecing.

  • Bobbins: we wound three before we started
  • Steam iron and pressing board

Since we are making a quilt which will be subjected to the rigors of college life, we selected large squares, and have chosen to use ties for anchoring the quilt sandwich together.

chain piecing squares

Pic.4 – The chain-pieced stack of squares grows quickly.

I had Adriana use 1/2 inch seam allowance instead of the quilting standard “scant 1/4” seam. (With these large pieces of fabric, being tied instead of quilted, I felt that the wider seam allowance would better hold up to dorm life. If making a classic squares quilt with smaller pieces, you may prefer a 1/4 inch seam.)

This means that, once pieced, each square will be nine inches. For a first quilt, this tied quilt is very forgiving. The actual corners where the squares meet will have a tie on them, so imperfections in matching will not show. Scrappy fabrics are also a good choice for a beginner, as the busy nature of their combined patterns distracts the eye. In making a quilt top, often the actual sewing takes the least amount of time. The cutting, pressing, and trimming can take far longer. In this beginner level quilt we are taking the easy route whenever possible, with the goal of creating a first quilt quickly.

Note: Many people prefer to assemble a simple square quilt row by row instead of using this method. I am showing this method as I feel it is simpler for new quilters.


Turning 64 squares into 32 rectangles:

chain of squares completed

Pic.5 – Adriana has a chain of 32 stitched pairs of squares.

Adriana takes time to stack her squares in pairs, right sides together (pic.2). Selecting pairs can be completely random – no need to plot and plan for a scrappy quilt. (Note: Adriana did choose to color sort her squares before stacking, completely optional. This results in color groups in her quilt, but a totally scattered color pattern would be just as lovely.) She will be pinning the side she is stitching on (pic.3), then chain-piecing them in one long string, allowing a wee bit of room between each pair (pic.4). At this point, it looks like a streamer of happy little flags (pic.5)!

pressing the seam allowance to the side

Pic.6 – All the seam allowances on the stitched pairs are pressed to one side.

After the threads connecting the chain-pieced squares are cut, Adriana presses the seam allowance to one side (pic.6). As this is a scrappy quilt, and there is not common “light and dark” side, she randomly selects the pressing direction. First she presses on the wrong side, then she presses again on the right side to be sure there are no teeny little pleats hiding. Her 64 squares have become 32 rectangles!


Turning 32 rectangles into 16 squares:

Alternating seam allowance direction

Pic.7 – Seam allowances are placed in opposite directions, so the actual seam line can match up and nest.

Adriana stacks the 32 rectangles together in pairs, right sides together, just as she did the squares. As she stacks them, she turns them to alternate the side that the seam is pressed to (pic.7). This way, the pressed seams meet neatly and nest together, helping to keep her new seam flat.

Pinning 32 rectangles together before sewing

Pic.8 – The 32 rectangles are stacked in pairs, right sides together, and pinned before they can be chain-pieced into 16 larger squares.

She starts by pinning at each nested seam, then adds pins out to the edges every few inches (pic.8). Once all 32 rectanlges are paired up and pinned, she chain-pieces them just as before, removing the pins before stitching over them (pic.9). Taking care that her matched seam allowances stay nicely nested helps to keep clean corners on her completed squares.

Pic. 9 – Chain-piecing 32 squares into 16 rectangles. Seam allowances are then pressed to one side.

After chain-piecing these rectangles together, Adriana has a set of 16 squares ready to have their seams pressed! Once again, she will press the seams to one side, first pressing on the wrong side, then on the right side of the fabric. She now has 16 squares, each made from four pieces of fabric.


Turning 16 squares into 8 rectangles:

Matching seams on the 16 squares.

Pic. 10 – The 16 squares are stacked for chain-piecing into 8 rectangles.

Now that Adriana has a grasp of the basic assembly of her quilt top, it goes really fast. She stacks the 16 rectangles in pair, right sides together (pic.10). She takes care to line up the latest (and longest) seams on her squares, alternating the direction the seam allowance faces and nesting the seams as she pins. Soon she has eight pairs ready to chain piece.

Next round of chain piecing.

Pic. 11 – The16 rectanlges become 8 squares as they are chain-pieced together in pairs.

Adriana sews the eight sets together, creating a chain (pic.11). After snipping that chain apart, she presses the new seam allowance to one side. In a scrappy quilt like this one, the pressing direction does not matter. All the squares will randomly find their place in the quilt throughout the piecing process.


Turning 8 rectangles into 4 squares:

pinning the 8 rectangles tomake 4 squares.

Pic. 12 – The 8 rectangles are stacked in pairs, right sides together. Adriana pins into each nested seam, and at several point between them.

There are now 8 completed rectangles, each consisting of eight fabric squares. This time when Adriana stacks them in pairs, right sides together, she has three seam allowances to align and be cure they go in opposite directions. She pins in each ‘nested’ seam allowance, and at a few points in between(pic.12).

As the sections grow, additional pins before stitching can be very helpful. The weight of the fabric can tug it out of line easily, pins make it behave more like one piece of fabric. There are now 4 pairs of matched rectangles ready to stitch into 4 sqaures.

Pic. 13 – Adriana chain-pieces the 8 rectangles into 4 squares.

one fourth of the quilt top is done!

Pic. 14 – Adriana displays one of the four sections that will be her finished quilt top.

Adriana stitches the pieces in a chain, keeping an eye on her pins, removing them before they reach the pressure foot. She also checks to be sure her seam allowances remain nested as she works (pic.13). After stitching, she snips the connections, then presses the new seam to one side. Taking a look at a pressed square, Adriana can see her quilt top is really coming together (pic.14)!


Turning 4 squares into 2 rectangles:

Pic. 15 – Two pairs of the 4 squares are stacked, face down, and pinned, once again matching the seam allowances.

Following the process from the last step, Adriana stacks her squares together in pairs, right sides together. There is one long seam on each, and she lines those up first, making sure the seam allowances fall in opposite directions and that they nest nicely. She pins there, in each of the other seam points, and at some points in between for stability (pic.15).

One half of the final quilt top.

Pic. 16 – One large rectangle, one half of her finished quilt top!

The pairs are stitched together, but this time, instead of chaining the sets together, she stops and snips after each one. The sections are getting big! She now has two rectangles, and presses the seam allowances to one side.Voila! Half a quilt top has appeared (pic.16)!


Turning 2 rectangles into 1 square quilt top:

Pic. 17 – Pinning the two halves together means lots of seam matching and pins!

Pic. 18 – Sewing the long, last seam.

One last seam to go! But it is a long one. Adriana matches up the two halves, checking the seam allowance directions and nesting the seams. She pins in each seam, and at several points in between (pic.17). There will be more weight to pull the quilt top away as she sews, she knows the pins will help keep it together (pic.18).

One long seam to sew, it is then pressed to one side. Again, she presses on the wrong side first, then the right side, to be sure no little pleats or puckers show up. And here it is, Adriana’s first quilt top (pic.19), completed in about three and a half hours.

Pic. 19 – Adriana\’s completed quilt top!

Now she needs to go buy batting so we can finish her quilt. My biggest thanks to Adriana for being such a good sport and letting me take all these photos while she worked!

See also: Classic Squares, Part 2, Finishing: Join Adriana as she makes a backing, ties her quilt sandwich, and binds her quilt, all in time to head off to school.


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17 Responses to …Classic Squares Quilt Tutorial, Part 1: Topper

  1. Pingback: Classic Squares Tutorial, a very easy quilt | The Curious Quilter

  2. findshruti says:

    this is beautiful… Way to go Adriana.. I wish you all the luck…

  3. Jane says:

    What a great accomplishment, I’m looking forward to the next stage

  4. cindy says:

    Welcome to the world of quilting Adriana. Nice job on completing your first quilt top.

  5. Trish L. says:

    THAT is an awesome quilt top Adriana! I wish I started quilting when I was your age. It’s so much fun, isn’t it!!

    Hugs,
    Trish L.

  6. susan says:

    Great job! you have started on a journey that can take you to a wonderful world of creativity and friendships. Enjoy the ride………

  7. Joanna says:

    Very nice quilt top. You’ll have your quilt for years to come. Thanks for the tutorial.

  8. Brenda says:

    congrats on a great finish to both of you!

  9. Andrea N says:

    What a great set of instructions! Nice pictures, wonderful volunteer “guinea pig”, I think my teens could do this on their own (except winding bobbins and threading the machine). Thanks for posting this, looking forward to more.

    Well done, Adriena

  10. David says:

    Beautiful job, Ana, nicely done. 🙂

    Does this mean you’ll be making quilts for all your aunts and uncles? 😉

    Just kidding. But anyway, that is nice.

    Uncle David

  11. AleExi says:

    Now how cool is that! WTG!!! I hope you have fun in school, but continue to try making new things too.

  12. Sarah Schultte says:

    OMG,Adriana, very nice, but I especially love the little turtle fabric in the middle!

  13. Annmarie says:

    Congratulations on your first quilt, Adriana. It is GREAT!!! I hope it is the first of many you will make in your lifetime. good luck with your first year away at school – study hard but have fun too!

  14. Beth T. says:

    Hooray for you! I suspect this is the first quilt of many–you have a great eye for color.

  15. Angelia Wood says:

    Can you post pics of the finished quilt? Great job. This encouraged me to do one!

  16. Valerie says:

    Beautiful, beautiful quilt!! I love the simplicty of it as well as the size of the patches!! Well done. 😀

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