When you are learning to quilt there are many terms that you see bandied about – ‘1/4″ seams’, ‘piecing’, ‘basting’, ‘binding’ all of which can seem a bit foreign. As you proceed through your first quilt, you can wrap your head around each term, and at the basting and binding steps can even consider a couple of different options for each, presented either online or in classes, in the form of pin or spray basting and machine or hand binding. There are, however, other terms that will start to creep in and as you find yourself creating more and interacting with more people, you will find you often get advice (solicited or otherwise) on how you can make things ‘better’ (in the eyes of the adviser of course!)
One of the things that I was advised on early on in my quilting career was the notion of ‘chain piecing’. This is a method whereby you stitch together a whole load of things at the same time, leaving some thread between each ‘unit’, thus creating a chain which can then be separated and pressed at a later point. It is seen by many as the optimum way to piece repetitive blocks, since you can do all of unit ‘A’ at one time, then ‘B’ etc, or you can even dare to do all the pieces from one block and then the next and so on. It can apply to basic units such as HSTs or to piecing sections of your blocks together. Here’s the thing though – I absolutely, cannot make it work in an optimum way for me! So I thought I’d break it down for you why, just in case someone has tried to steamroller you into it and really and truly you’ve found that it’s not the optimum way for you either.
The quilt above which I made for gran’s 90th birthday (which I will get a better picture of one day!) would have been ideal for chain piecing except for one thing – I had spent hours arranging all the bits to be in the exact place I wanted them. I had a whole host of rules for myself about what could be in a block regarding colour and pattern and chain piecing would only have meant one thing – it would have got out of order. Trust me, I’ve tried it once before, and while it’s fine for blocks where you don’t care what goes where, it would have, quite frankly, pushed me over the edge with this one, thus I worked my way through it methodically, one block at a time.
This Moda Building Blocks quilt above would have been another good candidate, at a block level, but the other problem I found when I tried to chain piece is that my accuracy levels went down, as I was more concentrating on getting the bits fed in one after the other than paying attention to what was going on in the middle. This quilt has lots of tiny, intricate pieces and I really used it to hone my levels of accuracy – chain piecing this baby would have lead me to a seriously wonky quilt!
Don’t get me wrong, I piece efficiently, but I cut my thread between each and every unit, and press and trim in batches. I do what works best for me, and you should too!