Tips for Squaring up a Quilt

My quilts are usually wholecloth, as you can see, that is the case with this one. It does have an appliqué border to the left hand side so I’m conscious that I don’t want to be in the position of needing to trim much of this off. First up, I fold the quilt in half top to bottom, open it out, and then in half from left to right. When doing this, I’m looking to see how square and symmetrical it is. I’m looking for dog-ear corners or an edge that is particularly wonky. This quilt was pretty true. I didn’t photograph it folded, but essentially it was slightly twisted, so more of a diamond shape than a rectangle. In this photo you can see I’ve rough trimmed some bits of the backing and wadding away with scissors.

So, here’s what I do:

I lay the quilt on a flat surface. This one fits on my cutting table which is great. If it was a larger piece I would put my cutting mat on the floor and work on the floor instead. Obviously for a large quilt, the quilt will be bigger than the cutting mat. That’s OK, you’ll just be sliding the cutting mat along as you go.

You’ll need your largest quilting ruler. I have a large square ruler and a large long ruler. I use both together for this. First I place the square ruler onto every corner to see how each one shapes up. I’m not cutting anything off yet, just looking to see where the excess is.

This is where having two rulers is helpful. I place the long ruler where I’ve just cut, lining up the cut edges. Then I place the square ruler on the next corner.

If you need to at this point, slide your cutting mat so it’s in place behind the corner you’re going to cut. Make sure the two rulers are butted up and that everything is correct. We don’t want any mistakes at this point!

In this photo you can see that I’m trimming off about 1/4″ of quilting from that right hand edge (which is actually the bottom edge of the quilt). I’ve opted to lose the discrepancy on this edge, because then I hardly have to lose any off the edge with the appliqué border. This is why the prelmimarny evaluation of the quilt and how you’re going to trim it is so important.

I repeat the process for all corners. In this photo you can see I’m at the last corner. I’ve got the square ruler in place, and the long ruler butted up down the long side edge. What you’re looking for here is for that side edge to line through with the first cut you made. Fingers crossed it should! If there’s a slight discrepancy you can ease it. Don’t forget, no-one is going to look at your quilt and hold a ruler up to it when it’s on display, they are just going to admire all your hard work. So as long as it’s close, it’s fine.

I’ve completed the machine quilting on this piece and it’s now ready to be finished. I’ll be using a binding, but I need to square up and trim the quilt first. I think this is one of the most satisfying jobs when making a quilt! In this post I’ll be showing you how I square up my quilt by trimming. This method doesn’t work for all quilts though so please consider what works best for your project.

Some people prefer to block their quilt prior to trimming it. Why would you do this? Well, the quilting might have distorted the quilt top considerably. You’d want to restore the squareness with blocking so you don’t lose too much of your quilt in the trimming. This is especially important if you have borders or seams that run parallel to the edges, or if you have pieced blocks that need to be square.  Blocking a quilt involves wetting it and then basically stretching it out until it is the correct shape and pinning it to a stable base until it is dry. This can be problematic – what if you’ve made an art quilt and don’t want to wet it? Maybe there are techniques involved on your quilt that simply can’t be washed. It’s also quite a faff! But, lots of makers find it suits them. Once the quilt is blocked, the excess backing and batting/wadding is trimmed and then it’s bound.

I have never wet blocked a quilt.

I hope it goes without saying that you want to trim off as little as possible. There’s no point in doing loads of quilting only to trim it into the bin! Look for the best corners, the worst one, think about how you can trim your quilt to achieve a square, straight finish without losing too much. Is just one corner dog-eared, or one edge wonky? Take time to evaluate what you’re working with. A judicious tug on the quilt might be all it needs to encourage it to behave better and pull it out of a twist.

I have sometimes given a quilt a gentle and careful steam press with an iron from the back, (when it’s on the ironing board, not on your cutting mat!).

When you’re ready to trim, place the large square ruler on the first corner and trim with a sharp rotary cutter. In this photo you can see my first cuts, holding the ruler in place, I cut on both sides to ensure that corner is a perfect 90 degrees.

Next I’m going to leave the square ruler in place on that corner, and move the long ruler so it is butted up in place on that long left hand edge of the quilt. These long sides are where it can get tricky. Make sure your quilt is flat and not shifted to one side. If necessary ease it a little to square it to the ruler. While we’re trying to be accurate, this is not a precise science, a little easing here and there might be what it takes to get it looking good. When you’re happy trim that long edge. Again move the mat as required making sure that the quilt doesn’t shift out of place.

And there we have it, the quilt is trimmed and square. You can see the trimmings at the side of mine are really quite modest. The quilt now looks lovely and sharp, just ready for its binding. Bear in mind that with this process, you’ve just sliced through lots of your quilting lines. You don’t want those stitches to start to unravel, so get that binding on sooner rather than later!

Thank you for reading, I hope you found these tips useful when you consider how you’ll trim up your next quilt.