Making Perfect Blocks

First, I’m adding the border posts to the side bar under “Free Patterns & Projects”.  Once I’ve covered all the topics I’m going to cover, I’ll post several charts that can be printed.

I’m not saying my blocks are perfect (they’re usually NOT!)  but I do know how to get real close to perfect.  Do you realize that being off just 1/16th of an inch can make a big difference?  Say you have a nine patch block that’s supposed to measure 9″ finished.  With two seams, each of those seams having two pieces of fabric, if either your seam allowance or your cutting is off by even 1/16th of an inch .. that’s 4/16th (or 1/4″) for your seam problems and another 1/4″ for any small cutting errors.  That’s 1/2″!  Add another 2/16″ for the two edges that might have a cutting problem but no seam!  Just a very, very small error can lead to over 1/4″ error in a simple 9 patch block.  Think of blocks that have 8 or 10 or 12 pieces across the width of the block!  Just a little bit of error compounds itself.

Here are some tips if you’re having problems with your blocks being the size you need for them to be.

  1. Be sure you’re cutting accurately.  Check your rulers.  After time, I’ve found that some of the edges just wear away.  If you feel you’re not getting accurate cuts, take some scrap fabric and use several different rulers to cut squares — make them all the same measurement but use different rulers.  Stack those squares on top of each other.  Are they all exactly the same?  If not, either you have a ruler that’s off or you’re not being careful enough with your cutting.
  2. Make sure you’re getting a perfect 1/4″ seam.  Cut two squares that are 2″.  Make sure they’re exactly perfect.  Sew them together, using a 1/4″ seam.  Press and measure.  This little practice piece should now measure 3-1/2″.  Does it?  If not, try different methods for getting that perfect 1/4″ seam allowance til you get it right.  Not all 1/4″ feet are created equally.  If you have a problem, it can be as simple as where your needle is hitting the fabric.  Maybe the position of your needle is off by just a teeny bit but it adds up.  Figure out what’s right for your machine!
  3. Be careful when you press.  I find that some fabrics tend to stretch and distort more so than others.  Fabrics vary from one brand to another and even different fabrics from one company can vary in weight and “stretchability”.  Using something like Mary Ellen’s Best Press can help; steam or not steam is a personal preference.
  4. Thread can make a difference.  Think that every seam has 2 layers of thread.  If you’re using a thicker thread like Star Cotton, which is “size 50”, which must be a “TEX weight”, it’s going to result in more bulk than using something finer like Aurifil or Superior Master Piece.  There’s a great article on thread weight at Superior’s site. Thread can make a big difference when you have star points coming together where there are lots of seams in one spot.

If you’re having problems getting your blocks close to perfect, make a few simple blocks and change whatever you can until you get it right.  You can get very close to perfect if that’s your goal.  While I don’t worry a whole lot about getting my blocks perfect, if I want my sashing to fit and my pieced borders to fit, then it is important to get as close to perfect as I can.

And, while we’re on the subject of perfect, quilting is supposed to be fun.   If quilting is stressful for you, something just isn’t right!  Just take the time to figure out what’s causing your stress and resolve it.  Wasn’t that easy?  No more stress! 🙂  One thing I always tell those in my classes — this isn’t brain surgery.  If you mess up in your quilting process, no matter how badly you mess up, no one is going to die!  No one is going to be permanently disabled or scarred for life.  It’s fabric!  Yes, it’s expensive and yes, you may be 90% finished with a top and you may ruin enough that you can’t finish the quilt as intended.  There’s always something you can do to salvage it.  Make it smaller, try to find more fabric, improvise and use a different fabric but do not stress about quilting!  We have enough in life to stress about . . let quilting be your de-stresser (is that a word).



  1. 1


    Good grief, I don’t even know how to cut a block on the /16th of an inch mark!

    I’m so bad, I usually starch my blocks to size. LOL

    • 1.1


      We don’t often cut on the 1/16th mark (unless you did my Star BOM!) but just a smidgen off or over where you’re meaning to cut can come out to 1/16th. We don’t normally cut a whole 1/4″ off when we’re trying to cut our squares or whatever. But, just in case you ever need to make a 1/16th cut . . the ruler has hash marks every 8th of an inch. In between those marks is 1/16th.

  2. 2


    GREAT points about quilting being FUN and shouldn’t be stressful…….I think we sometimes forget that!

  3. 5

    Robin says

    Thanks for saying it’s OK to not be perfect- now if I can just get that little voice in my head to tell me that!! I just took a top to be quilted yestereday and was commenting on how some ( more like many) of my points were chopped off and she said well I probably meant to do that and it was OK. I have to keep remembering what someone once said- if you don’t notice it from a few feet away then forget about it!

  4. 7


    Great post! I love the last part about stress. Do you think you could do a series of posts about becoming a quilt teacher? I would like to do that, but I really don’t know how to begin. What is a good curriculum to start teaching?

  5. 9


    I find I get stressed when I have to piece something for another person, like a Round Robin or a swap. I try for perfect with my own stuff, but I’m truly anal with others’ stuff.
    I think I’ve said this before, Miss Judy; I think you’d be great teaching at MQX!! I would sign up in a heartbeat to take a class from you. Plus, since it’s moving to Providence, RI it’ll be a whole new show.