Sunday 23 August 2015

Chain Piecing A Quilt Top: A Tutorial

I'm back! With a tutorial no less. I have had a couple of people ask me about my Top Chain Piecing method recently, and I started teaching it at my beginner quilting class at Patch Halifax, so I figured it is high time I do a tutorial up and share it here.

Now, let me start by saying that I can in no way claim this method of piecing a top as mine. I am fairly certain this is an Eleanor Burns (of Quilt In A Day fame) trick that I picked up over time and just never stopped using it. So all hail Ms. Burns! Chain piecing goddess!

This method works best on single block quilts e.g. all blocks are the same size, but really could be adopted to most quilt tops, just takes a little figuring. Without further ado...get ready for Pictures!

Chain Piecing Your Quilt Top

All seams in this tutorial are 1/4" unless otherwise noted. 

Step 1: Laying Out Your Top

Being able to lay out your quilt top in full and leaving it in place during the entire piecing process is important. It will make your life a lot easier. Now piecing your top will be quicker with this method, but if you cannot sit down for a few hours and finish your top all in one setting, make sure you put your top in a place that that you can leave it laid out. Here, my HST quilt is up on the design wall.

Step 2: Mark Your Rows

With your preferred marking method - I like a post it note and a pen - mark your rows from the top left hand block. I have nine rows so marked one through nine. I like to pin the post it note in place as the blocks will get moved around a lot and at the beginning the row markers are important!

Step 3: Join Blocks One and Two in each Row

Now we start to join the blocks to create the rows. Take the blocks in the second column and fold them over the blocks in the first column, right sides together. Basically you are setting up the first two blocks of each row to sew them together

Once you have the second column blocks on top of the first column blocks, start picking them up with number one on top, number two behind one, number three behind two and so on.

side note - I tried to video tape myself doing this step, because it is a very visual step, but recording things on your own is a hoot! What the heck, for your viewing pleasure...

Again, here we are picking the blocks off the wall to take to the sewing machine. picking them up with number one on top, number two behind one, number three behind two and so on.

Take the pile of blocks to the sewing machine and start sewing! 

Here the full pile of block one and block two

This is the first two blocks, they will already be right sides together from the wall, but just wanted to show you how they go other. Once your have the blocks lined up, lining up any seams that your pattern calls for, sew the blocks together.

Once you reach the bottom, line the second rows first two blocks up and keep sewing, not breaking the thread chain until all blocks are sewn together

 You will end up with a string of block bunting

Step 4: Adding block three (etc.) to the first two

Now that you have two columns sewn together and your rows started, leave it at the sewing machine and head back to the top. Go to the third column of blocks and pick them off the wall. Again, start picking them up with number one on top, number two behind one, number three behind two and so on. Take that pile to the sewing machine

At the machine - open block one and two and lay block three, right sides together, with block two lining up any seams and start sewing. 

Keep adding the third blocks to the row, again not breaking the thread chain. Do not cut anything apart!

Here is the top with four blocks sewn together.

Keep moving to the right until all of the rows are complete.You will end up with a top that looks like this

Step 5: Preparing To Sew your Rows Together

Now you have all of your blocks sewn into rows. It is time to sew those rows together.To get ready for this step I head to the ironing board first. From the wrong side I start at Row one and iron my seams in alternate directions e.g. row one seams are ironed to the left, row two to the right, right three to the left etc. This will make nesting your seams easier and more accurate. 

Step 6: Joining the rows together

Now, lets get those rows together. Starting at row one, fold row one down to row two with right sides together. Nest seams where the blocks join and pin the whole row

Sew row and row two together.

After you are finished sewing, take to the ironing board and iron open. I like to iron as I go, but you can save it all to the end if you would like. 

Next step would be to fold row two down on row three, nest seams and sew. Continue sewing all rows together in this method.

Step 7: Celebrate your finished Top!

Once all of your rows are done,  so are you! You will have a completed quilt top! 

I really love this method of piecing a top. I have never measured the exact time it takes to piece this way vs a block by block method, but this feels faster, so I go with it. 

A note about this quilt top: Our awesome Maritime Modern Quilt Guild has undertaken a charity quilting project to make Quilts for The Lodge That Gives. We have been collecting HST blocks all year and have collected enough to make Eight Quilts! We are getting ready to finish the quilts at our September and October Sew Ins. This top will be part of my contribution, and I am loving how it turned out so much that I think I will enter it into MMQG's Second Annual Quilt Show at the Amherst Fiber Arts Festival. So you will be seeing more of this baby as it gets quilted up! 

Thanks for dropping in. I hope you find this tutorial useful. Are there other tutorials you would like to see from me or just ones you have always wanted? Maybe I can make the magic happen!


  1. Thanks! Great timing as I am putting 2.5 HSTs on the wall. What was I thinking? The tutorial will help.

  2. This is great - i always end up with a piece upside down or in the wrong place - so trying this next time!

  3. I've heard this called "webbing your quilt" as well. I tried it when I made my "scrap vomit" quilt a couple of years ago.

    And have you ever tried painter's tape for labelling? Doesn't poke as much as pins do!

  4. You did a great job with this tutorial. Sometimes this is a difficult concept to get across without hands on help understanding the process. And your quilt! Amazing!