Friday, October 15, 2010

Colorbrick: Chain Piecing

This post is part of a series {Colorbrick} a Beginner’s Quilt-Along. You can join in anytime, even if you’re not a beginner! Please see this page for links to all posts, and join us on Flickr to share your questions and work-in-progress!

Hurray, it's time to start sewing.  Finally, right? This step is so much easier than the last - and way more rewarding. Let's go!

Step 1:  Gather Supplies

Chain Piecing - Supplies

So, you'll need all your bricks, all your short sashing pieces, thread-snipping scissors and quality cotton thread. I've put some natural Gutermann thread in my machine.

Chain Piecing - Foot

I fitted my machine with a 1/4" seam foot. This foot has a little black edge that you press the fabric against to sew a 1/4" seam. Now, this foot is totally unnecessary - I've never actually used it before! It came with my walking foot accessory set, so I thought I'd give it a whirl. As expected, it does make stitching a consistent 1/4" seam rather easy, so if you have one you may as well use it! If you don't have one, just use your favorite sewing machine foot. You don't need your walking foot at this point (though if it is already on your machine, there is no need to take it off - it'll work just fine).

Step 2: Preparing to Sew

Alrighty. Now lay your short sashing strips over the bricks with right sides together, aligning the right edge just so. With this linen I can't even tell which side is the "right side", and with Kona Cotton it'll be hard too. But, the "right side" of your Kona will be slightly smoother and softer than the wrong side. I wouldn't worry too much about it. Obviously, the right side of your printed fabric is the side you like to look at!

Chain Piecing - Pins

When sewing these short 5.5" strips, I don't find pinning necessary. I just hold the edges of the fabrics together as I sew. If you'd like to use pins, be my guest. Please note that we are sewing a short sashing strip to the RIGHT of every brick only.

Step 3: Stitch a 1/4" Seam

Chain Piecing - Sew

Keeping the edges aligned as nicely as possible, stitch a 1/4" seam. If you don't know how to do this on your machine, you should do some experimenting first. There may be a spot on your machine foot that has a line denoting a 1/4" seam. If not, you can place a piece of colored tape on your machine that will help you stitch at 1/4" exactly. If you're new to this, measure your finished stitching to see if the seam is actually measuring correctly. While the 1/4" seam allowance does not matter much on this project, it is quite important for other quilt piecing. Might as well get in the habit of sewing a 1/4" seam as well as you can!

You do NOT have to backstitch when piecing patchwork.  In fact, backstitching will often cause your machine to "eat" the edge of the fabric.

 Step 4:  Don't Stop!  (or how to Chain Piece)

Chain Piecing - Feed new brick

Now you're going to "chain piece", which is a fancy way of saying that you aren't going to stop sewing when you finish one brick and start the next.  If your machine has a "needle down" setting, turn that on so that your needle stops in the down position whenever you stop sewing.  As you get to the end of your edge, stop with the needle down and raise the presser foot.  Feed the next brick under the presser foot and continue sewing.  You should leave a small gap between bricks so that you can cut the thread to un-chain them later.

Chain Piecing - Keep sewing

I was shocked to learn that it's OK to run the machine with no fabric in there.  Yep, it doesn't hurt anything -just makes a nice little thread chain!  Chain piecing is faster than stop-and-go piecing, plus it saves thread!

Step 5:  Snip and Press

Chain Piecing - Snip

After sewing as many bricks and sashing pieces as you'd like, stop sewing (remember, no need to backstitch). Snip the thread chains that link your bricks. Feels good, doesn't it?

Chain Piecing - Press

While many quilters press their seams to one side, which saves a lot of time in projects with tiny piecing, I recommend you press seams open. Pressing seams open results in a flatter (to me more attractive) seam from the right side. And, flatter seams make for easier quilting in general.  Some say they will withstand wear better too.

Try to "press" not iron. Pressing refers to a lift and set down motion, while ironing refers to moving the iron across the fabric. Ironing can stretch and distort your piecing, so aim for a "press" technique. I am known to iron anyways, cause I'm lazy.

Note:  If you've been following the directions exactly, you cut 5 more bricks than needed.  You only  need 55 bricks (and you only cut 55 pieces of sashing).  So, as you go, you can start to lay out bricks to see what prints are easy-to-place or look the best and which prints you don't mind having less of. When I made Colorbrick last time, I found that some prints went with anything (yah!) and others I had to place more carefully so that they didn't "clash" with their neighbors.  Try to think ahead as your stitching to guess which 5 bricks you'll exclude.  If you change your mind, you can always rip a seam or cut some more sashing.

I'll be back on Tuesday with our next step in the quilt-along.  Until then... sew, sew sew!

P.S.  Thanks to those of you who have shared your appreciation for this quilt-along.  It has been a lot of typing on my part, but I'm so glad to share this with you, and I'm thrilled that so many people are joining in!  Many of you are happy with our pace, which thrills me, but I'm sure we are going dreadfully slow for some of you experienced quilters.  Thank-you for bearing with us!


  1. I love the pace!! :) I am going to cut my sashing tonight and sew tomorrow. Excited!

  2. I still have to cut my sashing as well... I whipped out my bricks in no time but life brought things to a halt. My husband a son are away at a regatta so I have the weekend to myself!

  3. This is awesome! I haven't had the chance to start just yet, but in a week or so i will catch up:)

  4. yay this is why I am doing this, I had no idea about chain stitching! I love learning new things, thanks Rachel...going to sew them tonight (if the kids let me!)

  5. just finished chain stitching...had never done that before and LOVED it! Fast and fun!

  6. I love the pace of this! It's easy to fit it in when I get a little block of time and I don't feel under any pressure to rush. Thankyou for the relaxed pace and the great instructions!

  7. The pace is perfect for me too - I was away last week and am so glad to find that I'm not too far behind - especially because I thought it would be a good idea to make two Color Block quilts at once! Thanks again for all the super-clear directions.

  8. Ugh!!! I started piecing prior to reading this post -- I thought, I may not know much but I can sew some pieces together! I wonder how much time I wasted backstitching at the beginning and end of every brick pair! Especially since mine is going to be a bit bigger with 78 total bricks. Sheesh! Serves me right, I suppose. Rest assured that I will thoroughly read all other Colorbrick posts prior to jumping in!

  9. On pacing... I'm pretty behind, but it's my fault, not because the pacing is too quick. The pacing is actually perfect, but at some point I realized that midterms (and grad school in general) should probably come first. I should be mostly caught up by the end of this week though! Weeee!!!

  10. This is a great tutorial as a beginning quilter! One question - if you aren't backstiching, then how do you prevent the seams from coming apart later, even just from handling? Is it secured some other way later in the quilt? I'll admit to being new to sewing as well, so these construction details make me nervous.

    Thanks so much!

  11. Chain piecing only works for patchwork because all of these pieces will be pieced again and again. The next step catches the start and stop points of the threads in the new seam allowance to secure them. The final step of the quilt - the binding - catches the outermost edges. You should handle them gently while piecing to preserve the edges.

  12. Thank you so much for doing this tutorial!!! I found you on pinterest on Friday 1/20 and I just finished my chain piecing. I am an absolute beginner and your directions have been just PERFECT!!


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