Sunday, January 31, 2021

Won't You Join Me For A Little String Therapy?

Hi, all!

Welcome to this year's tutorial series, String Therapy!  I figure after the year we've had, a little therapy is in order - and what better way than with fabric?  If you're anything like me, you've got tons of string-y scraps - narrow pieces cut off from the edge of quilts, little bits left over after cutting pieces for quilt blocks - and if you're anything like me, you just can't bear to throw away fabric!  (Come on, I know I'm not alone in this!)  So let's take all those pieces, see if we can come up with some fun quilts, and diminish the piles a little bit.  Not a chance we can make them go away completely probably, but at least make a dent!

String quilts can be some of the easiest and most forgiving quilts to make.  You can use scraps that are cut unevenly, or take the time to trim them to uniformity.  Seam allowances don't really matter when making the blocks, so they are a great learning tool.  

Another local church used to make string blocks in group meetings once a week because they could always be trimmed to the same size. Even people with little sewing experience could participate and help create beautiful quilts!

So I hope you'll join me in a little group String Therapy and learn some simple patterns that can be used for comfort quilts as we prepare for Hands2Help 2021!


Here's our first string quilt, which for this tutorial we'll call "I Feel Blue".  I had an overwhelming amount of blue string scraps (doesn't everyone?) so this definitely seemed like the place to start.  The basic block is called a quarter cabin block, a variation on a classic log cabin block.

The pattern for this quilt is not original to me.  My good friend Christina Cameli suggested this tutorial of hers when I asked her about the possibility of her writing us a tutorial for a new quilt she was making, and it was absolutely perfect for this quilt!  She's a busy lady these days, so I was more than happy that she had an alternative. And what an alternative!  I'm going to show you how I made mine, but I suggest for more pictures about how to construct the blocks, and some great improvisational tips and ideas, you read her tutorial before starting.  Let's get started!

I took some time before beginning on all of these tutorials to divide my strings out by color, and arrange them neatly in color-coordinated drawers.  I highly recommend this if you want to stick within color families, as it makes the process of creating your quilts much faster.

Or maybe your string collection looks more like this?  No worries!  Either way works just fine!

For this quilt, you need a square to build your block around.  I dug around in my scrap drawers and came up with forty-six 4.5" squares of a textured white fabric that had been in my drawer F.O.R.E.V.E.R.  Perfect! Let's use that and get it out of here!  (At this point, I will add that it turned out I needed 50 squares to finish off the quilt, and I was fortunate enough to find four 5" squares of a white fabric with tiny blue random dots that blended in well enough to finish everything off. Whew!)  Your corner square doesn't have to be 4.5" - it could be larger or smaller, your choice.  If you go larger, you may wish to make a larger block, to give room for at least two strings on each side.  

Isn't that a lovely pre-quilt?  And at this point I was worried I might not have enough strips in my chosen color (HA!).  If that is something you are worried about, you can either choose a secondary color to add in (I suggest sticking in the warm or cool category of your primary color) or you can look at your stash and see if there are any pieces of yardage or precuts that you might be willing to harvest some strips from.  Reclaimed materials are always a good source, too - many of my husband's shirts, once headed for Goodwill, have ended up in my sewing stash, as there is a lot of 100% cotton fabric in a man's shirt!  But always keep in mind, scraps go a LOT further than you think they will.  This quilt barely made a dent in that drawer, as you can see by this "after" shot!

And now I'll give you some tips about making the block.  Here's what we're aiming for as an end result.  But don't worry - this isn't precision sewing. It's mindless and easy, and it all gets looking neat and professional at the end.  

So - for each block, I took one white square and a blue string, and sewed the string to one side of the block.  Pretty easy, right?  Cut off any excess with scissors (you don't have to be precise at this point, it can even be a little longer than the edge of your white block).  You will sew the next strip to the long side created by your corner square and the strip you just sewed on.  Keep adding strips to each side, alternating (or not - you can see that on some of my blocks I decided that one side needed a little extra before I proceeded to the other side) until your block is a little larger than your desired size.  I made mine 8.5" square, because it was small enough that I didn't get bored making it, AND because I had an 8.5" square ruler to measure and trim it with.  It's the little things, right?

Here's what my block looked like once I finished sewing it.  A little wonky, but we're going to fix that now.

Lay your ruler on top of the block, and decide where you want to position it.  In this case, I lined the corner of the ruler up with the corner of the white block, pretty much close to square.  I checked the side strips to be sure they would have at least an inch left on each side after I trimmed, because little skinny strips can be a real trip to piece, and make for bulky seams sometimes.  Not that you might not want one or two but it's better if they are a choice rather than an afterthought!

Another option is to intentionally make your block just a little wonky.  You can see in this picture that I chose to twist the ruler just a little so that the white square isn't square any more.  I like the way this looks in a quilt - it gives it a little movement and makes it feel less regimented. Just remember, it's your quilt and your choice!  Do what makes you happy!

You may also choose to make your corner square not so square! I cut this one into more of a rectangular shape. Oh, the possibilities!

Now comes the fun part - building your quilt design!  Start popping those blocks up on your design wall or laying them out on your design floor.  You may feel the need to structure yours somehow - mine had so many different fabrics that I really was just able to slap them up there willy-nilly.  

One thing I do notice in these pictures, though - see the upper corners?  You really want one block in each corner rather than two - it makes it easier to add the setting blocks for the edges.  So you want one more block on your first row than your second row, to get that layout.  You can see here that I used five blocks on my first row, and four on my second row.  I had five sets of nine blocks like that, and a final row of five blocks at the bottom, for a total of 50 blocks in this quilt.  After washing, it ended up at 53" x 63", a good size for a comfort quilt!

Once you have your blocks all laid out, you will notice, possibly with dismay, that you have triangular spots along the edges with no fabric in them.  Do not fear!  Setting blocks are a lot easier than you think they are, and I'm going to give you a tip that will make figuring out the right size even easier.

Go into the app store on your phone or computer, and type in quilting calculator.  Find this little gem offered for free by Robert Kaufman Fabrics.  It is a LIFESAVER!  Among the many things it can figure for you is the size of the setting and corner blocks you need for an on-point quilt.  You simply enter the size of your FINISHED blocks (in my case, that was 8") and it tells you what size to cut the squares for your setting and corner blocks, and it even shows you how to cut them.  FYI, for setting blocks, it told me to cut a 12 5/8" square and cut it across both diagonals to yield four setting blocks.  I am not a precision sewist, and I want the white squares to have nice corners along the edges, so I cut my squares 13" instead.  I needed 18 setting triangles for this quilt, so I cut five 13" squares, cut them diagonally twice to yield 20 triangles, and threw the two extras in my scrap bin.  For the corner triangles, the app told me I would need a 6 5/8" square, so I cut my square 7" (same reason).  For corner triangles, you only cut your square once on the diagonal, so you will need two 7" squares to do all four corners.  

And here's a little info on why the squares are cut diagonally.  Once you place the setting triangles in place, you will see that the bias edges are against your blocks, and the straight of the grain is along the outer edge.  Same with the corner triangles.  This keeps your quilt from stretching along the outer edge!  It does mean, though, that you need to be careful not to stretch your setting triangle edge as you sew it to the block.  Not hard, just something to keep in mind.

I chose to make my setting triangles and corners out of a piece of denim I had on hand.  (Oh the things COVID has taught us to do!)  It ended up being the perfect thing - the colors all blended well, and it makes a nice sturdy quilt without being too heavy.

When you are ready to start assembling your quilt, take one of the corner blocks and sew a setting triangle on opposing sides.  Then take one of your corner triangles and fold it in half, making a crease on the long side so you can see where the halfway mark is.  Fold your block in a similar fashion along the edge where you will be sewing the corner triangle.  Match up the creases, pin there and anywhere else you feel a need to, and sew the triangle on.

Here you can see the finished corner piece, and the adjoining row I sewed up next.  It's easy to see how they go together, and there are few seams to match - just the corners of the blocks.  And it's no sweat if your setting triangles don't match up perfectly along the edges (although they shouldn't be far off) because you can trim them after quilting.  Oh the joys of cutting a little larger!

When assembling, I usually put half the quilt together from one direction, then start over again in the opposite corner, finally joining two large pieces at the end.  That way you don't have to wrangle a huge piece all the time.  

Once the quilt top is finished, decide on a back.  For this quilt, I chose to use a single piece of fabric because, time constraints! But you could also piece a back out of unloved and long forgotten fat quarters in your color family, or combine larger but not quite large enough pieces of yardage that have sat neglected in your stash for too long. Maybe you don't love them any more, but would they make a nice back?  Look at it this way - someday the fabric stores will start having loads of fabric again, and if your stash is cleaned out, you'll HAVE to replenish, right?

Quilt your top in whatever way you are most comfortable with.  You could do a random meander, or organic straight or wavy lines. You could tie your quilt if you don't feel comfortable with free motion quilting yet, although you should be aware that some charities prefer that quilts be quilted rather than tied, because they hold up better under hard use.  Add binding (scrappy or one color) and it's done!

Go out with your photography assistant (mine was a little unwilling on this particular day!) and snap some beautiful pictures so you will always remember your quilt!  Then I hope you will take a look at the wonderful organizations hoping to benefit from this year's Hands2Help Comfort Quilt Challenge (there's a link right under my blog header) and see if you can find a worthy group to send your quilt to.  We'd love to have you join in!

See you next week with another session of String Therapy!




  1. Beautiful quilt, fun pattern. Thanks for all the time you put into these tutorials. Blue quilts are always so pretty, and the white centres just make it all so fresh and crisp.

  2. Such a lovely quilt and a great tutorial thanks for sharing hugs, Julierose

  3. I love this quilt and I can see one in my pile of quilts in a year or two. Need to deal with the strings. Thanks, Sarah. ;^)

  4. I like your version for strings a lot. It is less busy and frenetic than doing all strings, the squares give the eye a spot to rest. Lovely, great progress!!

  5. This looks like a great pattern. I'll be trying this with some 2" strips I need to use. My blocks will be larger than yours but it will work. First though I need to finish the String X blocks. Thanks for the information!

  6. Wonderful post - good information! And isn't Christina just the best?!!!

  7. Hi Sarah - so nice to "sit & sew" with you during Carole's virtual Zoom retreat last week. I am an avid string piecer, and often sew string block when my brain can't engage in something more complicated! I used to keep them in boxes by size, but a few years ago I sorted into color groups which makes my brain MUCH happier. I'm glad Carole linked to your page today.

  8. Just beautiful, Sarah, and you amaze me with all you do for others--you are the true Wonder Woman!
    I wonder what these blocks would look like if they are sewn straight on instead of on point?

  9. Great tutorial, Sarah! I may have to try that...when I get my sewing mojo back ;-) However, I did actually sew a couple of hours this week. Hallelujah! I worked on my cat quilt border. I didn't get very far but I have it all mapped out now.
    I put this year's H2H button on my page and signed up. I need to remind you to update the button on your page too :-) it's still showing the 2020 one. I hope we beat some more records with quilts again this year! You are off to a great start!

  10. Great use of strings! Don't we all have plenty of strings and scraps? They just keep multiplying!

  11. What a great quilt! Thanks for the tutorial. I'm wondering how it would look to use light string-piece blocks, pieced on the diagonal, for the whites. Maybe I'll have to try it and find out!

  12. Fabulous looking string quilt, with such an easy and attractive block. Might make one of these with my leftovers.

  13. I love this quilt SO MUCH!! Thank you for the tutorial. My kids went back to school today and my hubby is at work, so I have the whole day free to go into my sewing room and make a start on this quilt. Such fun!

  14. LOVE it, Sarah!! I've already chosen my strings, but still need to consider options for the "center" squares. Thanks for the tutorial. I can't WAIT to get started!!

  15. Thanks for all the tips and pattern. I need to try that.

  16. Super tutorial, Sarah! I've been waiting for this String Therapy series and am not disappointed. And I just came across a chunk of lightweight denim that I wasn't sure how to use. Setting triangles are the perfect answer! Thank you SO much for that idea :)

  17. Just wonderful! Great info, (thanks for the app recommendation) and a straight forward way to get a great string quilt! I will try it out!

  18. Denim corners--love it!!! Thanks for the tute! I definitely have strings waiting for me in my studio!!!

  19. YES! I need some therapy! I have lots of strings so I hope to sew along!

  20. I am so happy you started this string quilt. I decided after seeing some of your scrap quilts recently I really needed to tackle mine. I accidently broke a plastic organizer that was holding umpteen ziplocks of scraps and decided that was a sign. I starting sewing strings over the weekend then your post came up with this quilt. I am making my version blue/green/aqua for a beachy sea glass feel and hope to get it done this week for a charity quilt for kids organization locally. I am making it a tad smaller but my scraps say I should maybe consider making 2..haha. I have my blocks done for one so far. Thank you so much for this. Can't wait to see what you come up with next.

  21. I’m just going through all your string tutorials now. Wonderful ideas in each of them. All I’ve been doing lately are string blocks so this is perfect!! Thank you for this series and hands2help. I love sewing for these great causes.

  22. What a great way to use strings! Thanks, Sarah.

  23. And see if you can find locating gas stations
    a worthy group to send your quilt to We'd love to have you join in!


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