more about strip quilts – a mini tutorial

I’ve made many strip quilts in the past and I’m often asked for a pattern. I don’t really think that a pattern is necessary – one of the things I really like about strip quilts is how you can change up the look by altering your strips and fabric placement – so this little tutorial is more about my method, rather than precise instructions. But hopefully it will provide a start for those of you who may be interested in making this type of quilt. (I apologize in advance for my excessively wordy post!)

To begin, I typically select a stack of printed fabrics I want to use for my quilt. Then I usually add in several coordinating solids. I find that I typically use about 7-12 printed fabrics, along with 2-6 solids, depending on the size of the strip quilt. I like variety in my strip quilts, and this provides enough fabric to use 1-2 strips of each fabric.

Next you’ll want to cut these fabrics into several strips, cutting selvage to selvage. To start, I usually cut 1 strip of each fabric – 2 of those I’m particularly fond of. I try to vary my strip widths – cutting widths from about 1 1/4″ to about 6″. I usually select a couple of my favorite fabrics to use as feature fabrics, and I cut the wider strips from those fabrics. As you can see in yesterday’s Strawberry Seas strip quilt, I cut wider strips of the mermaid and octopus prints because I wanted those to be a focus. In this quilt, I cut wider strips of the FMF seeds and dotted leaves prints.

[I tend to use narrower width strips of the darkest color, since I don’t want it to be what you focus on – in this quilt, I’ve used smaller strips of the dark brown solid (in yesterday’s quilt I used narrow strips of the darkest orange).]

Now you’ll start to lay out the strips to find a layout you like. I usually start with the wider strips, leaving space between each wide strip. Then I fill in with the remaining strips. Once you’ve laid them out, you may find that you need to cut a couple additional strips. I try to vary the placement of the fabrics and the colors, so often there’s a lot of rearranging of the strips until I find a layout I like. At that point I typically take a photo to make sure I still like the layout – it’s often easier to see the layout as a whole in a photo.

I stack the strips in a pile from top to bottom, and then I sew them together in pairs – sewing the first two strips together, setting those aside and then sewing the next two strips together. Repeat until all pairs have been sewn together, keeping your strips in the order you’ve set. You’ll likely find that your strips aren’t exactly the same length, especially if you’ve mixed in several different fabrics, and that’s ok. They’ll be trimmed up in one of the next steps.

Now you’ll want to repeat this process, sewing the first set of pairs to the second set. You’ll now have sections of fabric strips that each contain 4 strips. At this point I iron all the seams in each section. (I wait to iron until this point because I’m not a fan of ironing, and I find this method to be faster, but of course you could certainly iron after sewing the pairs together).

[I sew the strips together in pairs and then sections like this because I find that there’s less distortion of the fabrics. It’s been my experience that this method keeps the strips straighter and truer.]

Now you’ll trim each of these sections. I find the section with the shortest strip to determine the length you’ll cut each section to. For this particular quilt, I found that my shortest length was about 42.25″.

Cut the selvages off one side, and then cut the other side at your determined length – 42.25″ in this case.

Once all the sections have been trimmed to the same length, pin the first section to the second and sew. Repeat for remaining sections. Then sew each larger section to the next section until they’re all sewn together. Iron these seams and then stand back to admire your quilt top!


  • Since you’re cutting your strips from selvage to selvage, the maximum width of your quilt will be somewhere around 42″ or so (assuming you’re using 42/44″ width quilting cotton). With a quilt of this width, I like a length of around 55″ or so (but of course this is all personal preference!).
  • Smaller is nice too (as in the Flea Market Fancy baby strip quilt I showed the other day). You can trim your strip sections to a shorter length and use the trimmings for a pieced backing.
  • When you initially lay out your strips, it can be hard to determine if you have enough strips to make a long enough quilt. Once you have your strip sections sewn into 4-strip sections, I like to lay out all the sections again and measure the quilt length, taking into account the seam allowances. If you find it to be too short, you could add in a strip or two to get to your desired quilt length.
  • I like to use a medium/large width strip for the top and bottom. This way if you need to trim up the quilt once it’s all sewn together, you’ll have enough space to be able to trim without ending up too close to the seam.

Any questions? Leave them in the comments and I’ll respond there!

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