Intentional Piecing

Intentional Piecing

On October 28th during a Facebook Live recording, Terry demonstrated a technique she calls intentional piecing. So, just what is intentional piecing? Short answer: It’s a method that saves fabric, thread, time, and effort by eliminating nearly all unproductive sewing!

When quilters sew blocks together, they typically use a technique called chain piecing. Chain piecing involves feeding fabric pieces, one after the other, through a machine, without raising and lowering the presser foot. This technique saves both time and thread. It also prevents thread nests, those tangled threads that can form underneath two pieces of fabric as they are sewn together.

To address this potential problem many quilters, use a technique, commonly referred to as sewing on and off, which entails using spare scraps which are sewn on at the beginning, and sewn off at the end, of a line of chain piecing. To employ this technique, you first place a scrap on your machine and lower the presser foot before you start sewing a chain of quilt blocks. When you get to the end of the chain, you should continue to sew, but now, onto a scrap of fabric, leaving it under the machine’s presser foot. You can then snip the threads between the scrap and your chain. This method leaves a piece of fabric under the foot and ensures that you will not have to trim the long threads at the start of the next chain. If those long threads are left behind, they can get tangled and sucked down the needle hole, pulling your fabric pieces along with it.

When sewing on and off, many quilters use the same scrap, but only until it becomes too clogged with thread to be useful. They’ll normally throw the clogged scrap away and start with a new one until it, too, becomes too full of thread. This method not only wastes fabric and thread but also, your valuable time.

To eliminate this waste and increase your efficiency, Terry has developed a method that she calls intentional piecing. Using this method, you can avoid waste AND make two quilts at the same time!

To become a highly efficient intentional piecer you should take fabric leftovers from previous quilt projects and cut them into squares or rectangles BEFORE you even start your current (new) project. In this example application of the intentional piecing method, we’ll be using 2 ½” squares.

Layout the pre-cut scrap squares, in a square, next to your machine, either randomly, or in a planned fashion. In our example, we laid out 5 squares across and 5 squares down (Figure 1).

Figure 1

Now, when you start to work on your current (new) quilt project, instead of using a throw-away scrap of fabric to sew on and off, as described above, you’ll use two of the square scraps, which you will sew together, with right sides together (Figure 2).

Figure 2

After sewing those two squares together you can then chain piece blocks for your current quilt project (Figure 3), ending each chain by sewing off with another set of 2 ½” squares (Figure 4). You should, of course, clip the threads (Figure 5) connecting your pieced chain to the 2 ½” square pair that you sewed off on, leaving it under the presser foot.

Figure 3

Figure 4

Figure 5

Continue this sew on sew off process with your 2 ½” squares, as you create additional chains for your current quilt project, laying the 2 ½” squares you have sewn together next to your machine. Once you have sewn each of the squares into groups of 2, you should sew them into rows of 4, then, finally into rows of 5. Take note that you are doing this productive sewing, on a second quilt, while you are working on your current quilt project.

Continue this process until you have 5 rows of 5 2 ½” squares (Figure 6).

Figure 6

Note: you SHOULDN’T iron as you go. Iron only when each row is done so you can press the seams in the correct direction, allowing the seams to be properly nested (Figures 7 and 8).

Figure 7

Figure 8

Now that you have five rows, made up of five 2 ½” squares, you should sew Row 1 to 2, and Row 3 to 4. Then you should sew the Rows 1-2 group to the Rows 3-4 group and, finally, you should sew Row 5 to the Rows 1-2-3-4 group (Figures 9 and 10). Voila! You have completed a block, but for a second, alternate quilt, while, at the same time, making progress on your current quilt project!

Figure 9

Figure 10

After making as many blocks as you want, trim them down to 10” using a 10” ruler (Figures 11 and 12).

Figure 11

Figure 12

You can then purchase a layer cake (10” squares) and layout your scrappy quilt! Just think, you made this second quilt basically for FREE without any extra time spent!

Some helpful items used in this method are a 2 ½” x 6 ½” ruler and a 10” ruler. Terry also suggests using a neutral color thread such as gray.

Benefits of using the intentional piecing method

  1. Great way to use up fabric leftover from another quilt.
  2. You will be piecing two quilts at the same time!
  3. Prevents a thread nest from forming on the underside of your stitching.
  4. Saves thread by eliminating long tails of thread that need to be cut off.
  5. Prevents your needle from unthreading.
  6. Helps to maintain a more consistent stitching—fabric will not be drawn down into the needle hole of the throat plate.
  7. Forces you to clip your thread tails.
  8. Saves money on fabric and thread and it is an efficient use of your sewing time! 

So, with a little advanced planning, you can eliminate waste and make two quilt tops in only a little more time than it takes to piece one! You will be amazed at how fast the finished blocks add up. Once you get used to intentional piecing, instead of sewing to throw away, it will become routine for you to begin and end piecing chains with a pair of 2 ½” squares (or 5” squares, rectangles, etc.). Give it a try and let us know what you think!