Technique in Focus: Piecing

If there’s something I love more than embroidery, it’s embroidery AND quilting together. If you’re new to piecing, start with basic quilt blocks, as they’re more approachable and serve as a good basis for perfecting basic quilting techniques.

fS quilt fabrics Technique in Focus: Piecing

And they’re a lovely canvas for embroidery designs, which can be used as a design feature to compliment the block or fabric pattern or as the quilting design. I love a basic log cabin block – and that’s just what I had in mind when I designed the Halloween Scene wall hanging .

Halloween scene 1000  648x1024 Technique in Focus: Piecing

Get started with this handy how-to guide for piecing, starting with the common four-patch block for practice.

Patchwork refers to a simple process of combining fabric pieces to create a larger surface, so it’s ideal for using up small scraps. The smaller pieces can be randomly combined or pieced into an organized design. Most organized patchwork designs are comprised of smaller pieced panels called blocks. When creating a quilt, the combined blocks form the quilt upper layer. The smallest fabric pieces in a block design are called patches. There are many traditional patchwork blocks that quilters have been using for decades, such as the four-patch block, log cabin block and pinwheel block. Even the most complicated-looking blocks begin with patches in simple shapes, such as squares and rectangles. The pieced patches are then cut, arranged and stitched into more complex patterns. If you can stitch a seam, you can piece a block!

It’s possible to use any fabric for patchwork piecing, but most patchwork quilts are made from basic even-weave quilting cotton, which is very stable and easy to stitch. Most patchwork blocks use a 1⁄4” seam allowance, which is wide enough to prevent raveling but narrow enough not to require trimming. Also, as opposed to garment construction, where seams are pressed open, patchwork seams are usually pressed in one direction, often toward the darker fabric. Pressing the seam in one direction distributes the bulk and protects the stitching. Careful pressing is an important part of piecing, as it flattens the block and correctly aligns the seams. Precise cutting is also important for neat patchwork, so a rotary cutting system is very handy for accurately measuring and cutting patches.

Stitch a Block

Practice patchwork piecing by stitching one of the simplest designs: the four-patch block. The finished block is a 6” square.

Select two contrasting quilting cotton fabrics. Designate one as fabric A and the remaining fabric as fabric B.

Prewash the fabric before cutting to eliminate shrinkage and remove any chemicals or sizing. Wash and dry the fabric according to the fabric manufacturer’s instructions.

Press the fabric along the lengthwise or crosswise grain rather than diagonally to avoid stretching or distorting the fabric.

From each fabric, cut two 31⁄2” squares using a rotary cutting system.

Align one fabric-A square and one fabric-B square with right sides together. Stitch one edge using a 1⁄4” seam allowance. Press the seam allowance toward the darker fabric (below). Repeat to stitch the remaining fabric-A and -B squares to create a second panel.

37 300x179 Technique in Focus: PiecingTurn the second panel so that the fabric-A and -B squares are stacked diagonally (below).

38 300x291 Technique in Focus: Piecing

Align the panels with right sides together, carefully matching the seams; pin. Make sure the seam allowances are “nested,” meaning that they are pressed in opposite directions (below). Nesting the seams reduces bulk and helps produce a neat and flat block.51 300x210 Technique in Focus: Piecing

Stitch the long matched edge and then unfold the block (below). Press the seam allowance downward.39 300x287 Technique in Focus: Piecing

If desired, stitch additional blocks to combine into a larger panel. Align the blocks with right sides together, nesting the seam allowances, and then stitch (below).

40 297x300 Technique in Focus: Piecing


Interested in more great quilting basics? Check out episodes 1-13 of My First Quilt, now available in

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