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Sewing together quilt blocks made from stretchy fabrics like jersey knits

A reader inquires...

When I sew together quilt blocks made of jersey knits, how can I stop them from stretching?

All my blocks have been stabilized, but when I sew them, the top one always gets longer??

I've adjusted my tension but it's still happening??

Any advice?

This is a t-shirt quilt.

Julie replies...

While I have never made a T-shirt quilt, before I was a quilter, I made all my own clothes. Knits were/still are a staple in my fabric stash and closet.

There are a couple of tricks for working with knits in general sewing that will be of help here.


Did you stabilize your blocks with an iron on stabilizer?

Personally, I like to work with a tricot knit fusible interfacing. You've got to be careful with your iron's temperature if you're fusing to a knit that's not all cotton, but it can be done. Turn down the iron temperature to the lowest point that it will work and use a press cloth. (Press cloths don't need to be fancy, a spare piece of fabric works just as well as an 'official' store-bought one.)

Even though knits are stretchy, you'll usually find that there's less stretch in one direction. Find it and note it.

Then do the same for your fusible tricot. Note it.

Before fusing the two together, make sure that the more stable direction of the t-shirt runs crosswise to the more stable direction of the fusible web. The stronger 'grain' of each compensates for the weaker one of the other, making both more stable and less stretchy.


Pin those layers together.

It can be harder to pin through knits but the fusible does help. Just remember don't force a pin through because it's liable to snag the fabric. Just pull it out and start again.

Distribute any excess fabric along the seam and stitch with the longer block on the bottom closest to your sewing machine's feed dogs.

Your sewing machine (without a walking foot installed) tends to feed the bottom layer through just a bit faster because it's right next to the feed dogs (it's got the most traction). Those feed dogs will naturally take up a bit of the excess.

The presser foot tends to push out the top fabric just a bit because it's riding right on top of the layers pressing down.

All things being equal (including the blocks), if you stitch two layers of fabric together and didn't use pins, there's a very good chance that the top layer would end up a bit longer due to how a sewing machine works.

Pins are the equalizer.

Walking foot

Install your walking foot to sew your seams. The foot acts as an additional set of feed dogs to help pull the layers evenly through your sewing machine.

The biggest draw back is that, at least for my walking foot, there isn't a quarter inch marked on it and my throat plate is marked in metric. My quarter inch isn't as accurate when I use it.

If you are sewing all your blocks edge to edge, there shouldn't be a problem. The seam allowance (even if it's off a bit) will be the same around all the blocks.

I hope these suggestions are helpful to you.

Readers, how do you tame the stretch in knit fabrics in your quilts? Please share your secrets using the 'comments' link below. Thank you.


Julie Baird

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