Quilt Blocking: The Real Story


I am relatively new to the quilt show circuit and have never before (gasp!) blocked my quilts prior to showing them. (I’m sure this partially explains the lack of ribbons in my quilt show adventures!) As a result, I signed up for a quilt blocking class at MQX East this year. The teacher, award-winning quilter Cathy Wiggins, made the process sound pretty simple.

Essentially you get a foam board (she recommended insulation board with metallic coating) and place your quilt on the board. Wet it using a garden sprayer (clearly marked as “water only” so it’s not also used for bleach!). Then — using a set square and a straight edge as guides — use T-pins to hold your quilt in place. Let it dry and, voila!, you have a perfectly square quilt. Sounds easy, right? It would have been easy, if the experience had gone as planned.

Today is the deadline for our local quilt show. Quilts must be turned in between 3:00 PM and 7:00 PM. I’d procrastinated the blocking process because I was afraid it would ruin my quilts. The first quilt was tough. Clearly I was not channeling Cathy Wiggins because I found blocking the quilt to be very difficult. Here’s how it worked for me:

1. Go to Home Depot with the intention of purchasing the 4 ft by 8 ft insulation board recommended by Cathy Wiggins. Realize that insulation board is too big for my car. Decide on a substitute (package of foam boards made for re-insulating garage doors) that fit easily into my vehicle. Add a tarp (for under the foam) and a piece of painters’ plastic (for on top of the foam) and decide I am a brilliant problem-solver.

2. Refuse to admit that my basement is too cluttered with crap to have enough space to block the quilt. Decide that the garage will be a great substitute. Ignore the fact that a garage floor is very hard and garage lighting pretty much sucks. Fortunately there are several variety of bugs flying around in the garage to provide some entertainment.

3. Buy a garden sprayer (for wetting the quilt) that requires an engineering degree to figure out. Seriously. My husband has an engineering degree and he had to help me. Wetting the quilt required a lot less water than I’d anticipated, so a squirt bottle would have worked just as well and saved me $15.

4. Don’t buy enough T-pins. I bought 2 packages, but didn’t realize there were only 25 pins per package. I had to finish blocking the quilt with quilting pins.

5. Make sure that I’m blocking my quilt on the hottest, most humid weekend yet. This has two effects: (1) It ensures that I am dripping with sweat and in a foul mood, and (2) It takes the quilt 48 hours to dry.

(Please check my blog at quiltnotes.wordpress.com if you can’t see these photos.)

My “do-it-yourself” quilt blocking station. The bottom layer is a paint tarp. Next is a double layer of foam (the kind used to insulate garage doors).

Here’s my finished blocking station. You can see the painter’s plastic underneath the quilt, as well as the sprayer I used for wetting the quilt.

As you can tell, I did not enjoy blocking my first quilt. However, after 48 hours of drying time, my quilt hung incredibly straight. All the sudden I was a fan of blocking and ready for quilt #2.

My second quilt was MUCH easier. I knew what I was doing and the blocking process went smoothly. Unfortunately it was even more humid and drying was a problem. After 24 hours the quilt was still very wet, so I opened our garage door yesterday to let the air circulate. This would be a no-brain solution except that I live in a rural area where critters like to come live in our garage. (I still haven’t recovered from the crazed squirrel who gripped all of the foam insulation off our garage door as he was trying to escape.)

I checked the Quilt #2 this morning (it is still pinned to foam on my garage floor) and am pretty sure it will be dry by this afternoon’s deadlines.

Here’s Quilt #2 in our garage. Instructions for the show say that quilts must be free of threads and animal hair. I didn’t see anything that required them to be dry!


One response »

  1. Oh Sue Thank you! Your humorous comments and insights make blocking seem, believe it or not easier than I had thought! Glad to hear this method works and that the quilts look great.

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