Does She or Doesn’t She?

When you go to a quilt show and see a heavily quilted piece hanging perfectly flat, there may be more than just expert stitching at work.

From the Bride's Trousseau ©Margaret Solomon Gunn
From the Bride’s Trousseau ©Margaret Solomon Gunn

What’s the secret? Blocking. Not every quilter believes in it (I’ve seen some quilting rock stars on both sides of the question), but it can make a huge difference in the final look of your quilt. In my experience you can “block out” quite a bit of trouble, even sometimes going from a fairly skewed parallelogram to a perfectly squared up rectangle.

Detail from California Dreaming ©Diane Rusin Doran The variation in the density of the stitching on this piece caused it to become very misshapen during quilting. Blocking it saved the day!

Margaret Solomon Gunn wrote a very thorough article on blocking in our May/June 2015 issue. I especially like her tips on using foam insulation board as a blocking surface, and marking it to help square your quilt. I often make quilts that have to be a specific size, and have marked insulation board to help me block a quilt to those dimensions.

Margaret’s article explains how to completely soak and immerse a quilt to block it. She also details what to do if a quilt is bleeding, which was the case for the quilt shown in the photo below.

Immersing a quilt prior to blocking. In this case Margaret is also trying to remove some bleeding that occurred.

But what if you have a quilt with delicate hand stitching or embellishments on it? Or maybe a painted surface or special materials that you don’t want to soak? There are a couple of things you can do instead.

One option is to lightly spray water on the back of your quilt to just dampen it. The damp fibers can provide you with enough give to gently pull and prod your quilt into submission.

Most folks think of blocking as something that is done on a horizontal flat surface, such as a table or clean flooring. However, my favorite method for blocking an art quilt is steaming. The steamer I have can only be used on a vertical surface.

Steaming Intertwined (©Diane Rusin Doran)

It works great to pin my work to my design wall, then steam and smooth the quilt. When it’s nice and flat I pin it in place, then allow it to dry for several hours or overnight.

Not everyone realizes is that you can block your quilts repeatedly. If for some reason a quilt becomes distorted, you can repeat the blocking process and bring it back into shape. Even a favorite bed quilt can be lightly blocked as desired after washing.

Do I recommend blocking every quilt? No. Quilts that are intended for heavy use, such as for babies and children, are not going to benefit dramatically from this process. That said, no matter what style or technique you’ve used, if the quilt is not as flat or square as you’d like you always have the option to block it. Go ahead and give it a try, it’s easier than you think.

2 Responses to Does She or Doesn’t She?

  1. It really depends Sylvia. If the quilt was really misshapen before the first blocking it might be necessary. If it was fairly square before you blocked it probably not. I would consider gently reblocking any heavily quilted quilt after laundering. By that I mean simply drying it flat and doing some gentle tugging and prodding to get it back into the shape you want. It almost certainly would not require extensive pinning, measuring, or squaring up.

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