keeping organized when chain piecing?

lola99May 21, 2012

Once you have made all of the squares in a quilt and it is laid out (on a design wall, floor, bed, etc.) how do you organize sewing your columns and then columns into rows when chain piecing? I want to do this as quickly and efficiently as possible.

I am working on a watercolor I spy quilt and I have 12 rows across and 14 columns down. I have numbered my columns and used letters for my rows, so across the top I have square 1a, 2a, 3a, etc. up to 12a and the next row is 2a, 2b, 2c, etc. The square in the bottom right corner is 12n. My plan was to use double stick tape and label each row. That way I would not get confused when chain piecing. Then I was going to sew 1a to 2a, 1b to 2b, etc.

I found this paragraph by Kathy Somers, and I don't understand how you end up with your net.

Sewing the squares together is simply a matter of stacking each row, in order, and sewing it to the previous row without cutting the threads. Stack from top to bottom and don't turn your squares. Soon, you will have a lacy 'net' of squares. Press so the seams will run in alternate directions (One row up, one row down - this is important!) and your seams will 'lock' together when sewn together. When sewing rows together, sew first from top to bottom, then from bottom to top, etc. This will keep it from becoming lopsided.

Do you use a similar method to Kathy? Do you have any advice?



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I do this, and I don't think it makes a difference if you sew 1a to 1b to 1c, or 1a to 2a to 3a as long as you are careful to collect and stack them as all columns or all rows from the lowest to highest number or letter, and be consistent about it. My only hint is that I immediately hang the row or column on the design wall and procede to the next until I am all done with either the columns or rows and then sew all of them together, again stacking them in a sequence, or lifting one at a time and then replacing them on the design wall. I need to 'see' them one next to the other at that point, hanging in their proper sequence. It's sure a bear if I don't get them in order. I check at the end of each step that way so I don't get too far along and find one placed out of order than then have to take a bunch of seams apart.

    Bookmark   May 21, 2012 at 12:20PM
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It sounds like the lady you quoted chain pieces the individual blocks into pairs then chain pieces the rows without cutting the pairs apart, or something similar. I think that would confuse me! LOL It would be nice to see a picture of what she's talking about.

I often piece the individual blocks into squares rather into long rows. But whether I do squares or rows I do like Calliope and put them back on the wall when they are done. And I press even rows to the left and odd rows to the right (I can remember "even=left" b/c they have the same number of letters).


    Bookmark   May 21, 2012 at 12:26PM
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I have tried the chain piecing, keeping all the pieces attached to create 'a net', but found I didn't feel confident enough that I was keeping the right order after pressing, so I would lay it out again anyway.

When I was making several 9Patch Pizzazz quilts, it was a good exercise in keeping & sewing the small pieces together in order and joining them to the larger patches in a continuous row & column method. From those quilts, I learned that I preferred piecing into individual sections, like Donna, and then only piecing one long column or row. I always safety pin the numbers and alphabet like you described all in the upper left hand corner of the patch facing in the same direction. As I sew the sections together, I only remove some of the numbers until I am sure I have the layout correctly sewn. It has helped me a few times when I sewed something wrong!

    Bookmark   May 21, 2012 at 1:50PM
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When chain piecing a long row, I write the row number on a scrap of fabric and start the chain with that scrap. Then when I get to the next row, I start with a scrap with a 2 written on it. And so on through the last row.

I'm paranoid about mixing up blocks because I've done it too often so i tend to lay out everything again after I finish the rows. My numbered scraps let me know which end is the start and which is the finish, so they do help.


    Bookmark   May 21, 2012 at 3:47PM
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That sounds like a lot of work to me. After arranging on design board, I usually sew columns first, putting the second column blocks right sides together over the first column, stack by the machine, sew and hang back up. Continue in this fashion until all columns are together, then sew the rows together. By this time, I'm usually using each row as a leader/ender. LOL

Should I be using small squares, depending what the size and pattern is, they go into a ? patch block then sewn together as above.

Pressing seams is done at the end.

SharonG/FL (maverick)

    Bookmark   May 21, 2012 at 4:32PM
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I do as Sharon does. I work from the top down.

First, I lay column2/block1 right sides together with column1/block1, and do the same all down the column. Then I stack with blocks1 on top of the pile and chain piece down the column. Then hang it back up. I don't use leaders/enders, so the thread tail reminds me which is the 'top'.

Sometimes I repeat with each set of 2 columns. Sometimes I will add column3 directly onto the growing row.

After all the vertical stitches are in place (without cutting between) you have that 'net'. And can then sew horizontally.

Sometimes rather than working the whole length and then width, I will sew 4-patches, even if I'm working with 12" blocks. I think sometimes working in smaller groups makes things more accurate.

I rarely press until the entire top is together. If I keep track of how seams are turning when nesting them, it presses pretty well. But in the end it doesn't really matter. I took a hand piecing class once that said don't bother with pressing as you go... just slap it on the ironing board and press all seams matter which way the go!

    Bookmark   May 21, 2012 at 6:08PM
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I prefer to minimize the number of long seams.

I sew blocks into 2x2 (4-block units), or sometimes 3x3 (9-block units) and then join those up until I have just one or two long seams.

I have tried the "keep everything chained together" method, but I find it awkward (and annoying!). It's really easy to have units flip themselves without you even noticing until they are buried in the center of the quilt top.

    Bookmark   May 21, 2012 at 8:11PM
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Thank you all for your advice and the descriptions of how you chain piece. I'll let you know how it goes, and hopefully have some pictures to show in the next few weeks!


    Bookmark   May 21, 2012 at 11:20PM
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Here is a great picture of a web or net chain pieced top, by who else, but Miss Bonnie Hunter sewing in different hotel rooms. She is so organized. You probably wouldn't notice a piece sewn out of order in her scrappy quilts, but she picked up this top, packed it, unpacked it in a different city (hotel room), and began sewing right where she left off.

Maybe it is worth another try for me.

Here is a link that might be useful: Bonnie Hunter chain piecing pic

    Bookmark   May 22, 2012 at 8:56AM
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Just over the last few years I've gotten brave enough to do chain piecing with a whole top instead of doing one row at a time like I have done for years. I do make sure that I am alert and not tired, because I know that if I get 'off' there will be a lot of ripping! I lay out my quilt top and then I work down the length of the top going one row at a time starting with the top row and lay block one on top of block two on top of block three, etc. and then leave that pile of blocks on top of the last one in that row. I continue down each row doing the same so that at the end I have a pile for each row. Then I pick up the piles and turn every other pile on point so that I can distinguish pile one from pile 2, etc. Then when I sit down to do the chain piecing I start with row 1 and put block one down with block two on top and sew, then I take the rest of row 1 (block three and on) and set the pile off on the side upside down. Then I sew block one and block two from row 2 and set the remaining part row two on point upside down on top of row one. And continue down through all the rows. When I'm done with all the rows, I pull my 2 block chain down and turn my row piles right side up again so that I now am sewing block 3 on row one, block 3 on row two, etc. and turn over the remaining rows upside down as before. So there ends up being a chain of thread that connects all of row 1 to row 2, row 2 to row 3, etc. When all the rows are sold together, all that is left is sewing the rows which are all connected with thread. The danger is if I forget after taking a block off of a row to turn that row over upside down and set it aside, I will then take the next block from that row instead of the following row. As long as I keep methodically working through it, it does go together nicely and is really easy for connecting the rows, and uses a minimal amount of thread.

    Bookmark   May 22, 2012 at 10:41AM
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Chain piecing not only saves thread, but it also saves time. Every time you have to pull a unit out, clip the threads, put it back in place, and start again, it takes time.

I attribute my ability to complete projects quickly to chain piecing. I sometimes even chain iron, but that's a different explanation! lol

    Bookmark   May 22, 2012 at 3:01PM
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There are several Elenor Burns videos online that show this method. Stack all the columns with the 'a's on top and line them up in order. After sewing all the 1's to the 2's you just pick up pile #3 and add them on. If you watch the video it all becomes clear. Once you have all the blocks added you just have to go back and sew the rows together which is a piece of cake because they are all attached. Its a great method and once you have done it a couple of times it becomes second nature. Have fun!

    Bookmark   May 23, 2012 at 6:37AM
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