I tested 7 different quilt as you go methods in search of the perfect no hand sewing technique.
Quilt-as-you-go is a great way to join individual blocks that you have quilted with regular machine quilting or more intricate designs done with free motion quilting.
Many quilters struggle so much with quilting large quilt tops that they take them to professional long armers to finish for them.
Quilt as you go is a great way of joining finished blocks rather than trying to wrestle an entire quilt through the throat of your home machine.
I made up pairs of quilt blocks with some scrap pieces of batting so I could test the joining methods for 7 different methods of quilt-as-you-go methods from no sashing methods to joining strips, self-binding and more.
I made a video that explains how each method comes together as well as recording my thoughts on each method and the best time to use the different ones.
You can watch the full video on Youtube or watch the sections of the video for each technique below.
Full Quilt as You Go Video on YouTube.
The Quilt-as-you-go Methods
These are the 7 methods I tested – scroll down to find info on the one you are interested in.
- Quilt as You Go with False Quilt Backing
- Quilt as You Go with Joining Strips (joining strip on the front)
- Quilt as You Go with Joining Strips ( joining strip on the back)
- Quilt as You Go Back to Back with Sashing
- Quilt as You Go Self Binding (Fun & Done)
- Quilt as You Go with No Sashing (No joined batting)
- Quilt as You Go with No Sashing (Batting joined)
My Quilt as You Go Tests
I started with 4 1/2″ quilted blocks and followed the instructions on a number of different popular quilt as you go tutorials.
Below are written & video instructions for each method as well as an image of the finished test blocks and my own thoughts on each technique.
I’ve included references at the end of the post for different quilt as you go methods if you want more information on any of the methods I tested.
Method 1: Quilt as You go with ‘False’ Quilt Back
Okay the back of this quilt in this method is real, it just doesn’t get quilted through in the same way as the top of the block.
- For this method you quilt your two quilt blocks as desired but without your quilt back in place – only quilt through your block or quilt top and your batting.
- You don’t need to worry about leaving a gap between the edge of the block and your quilting design – you can go all the way to the edge.
- Your block and batting should be the same size or you could making your batting bigger and trim down after quilting but before joining.
- Once your blocks or quilt sections have been quilted you put the blocks you want to join right sides to right sides and sew together with a 1/4″ seam. You should use your walking foot as it will be bulky.
- Next open up your blocks and press open the seam from behind (if you are using polyester batting be sure to put another piece of fabric between your iron and your batting.
- When you have attached all of your blocks you then add the quilt back.
- Baste the back on as you would normally, either with a spray baste or pins.
- Then stitch in the ditch around all your blocks to attach your quilt backing to the rest of your quilt.
- This quilt-as-you-go method is easy to do if your quilt isn’t very big.
- The back looks neat and tidy.
- You can quilt your blocks right up to the edge.
- You still have to fit your quilt through the throat of your sewing machine to stitch in the ditch to attach the backing – which defeats the purpose of quilt as you go for a lot of people. So this quilt-as-you-go technique isn’t actually suitable for a large quilt.
- By comparison with other qayg methods there are more bulky seams with this method depending how well you have pressed your seams open.
Video Tutorial – QAYG with a False Back
I used this method (along with the self-binding method) in my Learner’s Quilt.
Method 2: Quilt as You Go with Joining Strips (Joining strip on the front)
The next two methods are very similar but the resulting look of the front of your quilt for each method is very different.
For this first test of the joining strips method I put the smaller joining strip on the front of my quilt blocks.
- For this method you do need to leave a gap between your quilting design and the edge of your block – some people say 1/4″, some say 1/2″. I left about 1/4″ for my test as my test blocks were so small.
- Quilt through your block (quilt top), batting and backing. They should all be cut to the same size.
- Cut one 2″ strip of fabric and one 1″ strip of fabric. I used white for my test. I made my strips slightly longer than the blocks and trimmed them down after.
- Place the 1″ joining strip right sides together with one of your blocks.
- Fold the 2″ strip of fabric in half and place it to the back of your block with the raw edge lined up with your block’s raw edge.
- Sew through your block, joining strip and the bottom strip with a 1/4″ seam allowance to attach them all.
- Join your second block right sides to right sides with the other edge of your 1″ joining strip (see video below if you aren’t sure what I mean!).
- Lastly pull the folded edge of the strip on the back of your block over to your second block and stitch down. Many tutorials for this method call for hand stitching at this point but I did it by machine. If you want to do the same be mindful that that stitch line will show on the front so it should ideally be part of a planned quilting design.
- You don’t need to sew through two bulky quilt blocks at once as you are only ever attaching one block to a strip.
- If you like the look of narrow sashing this could serve a dual purpose for you.
- You don’t have to feed the entire quilt through the machine as the backing is already in place.
- You have to cut the joining strips.
- Attaching the strips and keeping track of which one goes on the front and which on the back is a bit fiddly and feels like it takes longer.
- You need to be really consistent with your quarter inch seam or it can look a little wonky on the front.
- The thin sashing on the front makes it a bit more easy to figure out that you made it quilt as you go – not a problem for everyone but I would rather people couldn’t guess right away!
Video Tutorial: QAYG Joining Strip on the Front
Method 3: Quilt as You go with Joining Strips (Joining Strip on the Back)
This method is basically the reverse of the method above and results in a wider ‘sashing’ look on the front and a thinner one on the back.
- As above quilt through all 3 layers of your quilt sandwich leaving a gap for joining at the edge.
- Again the same as the method above cut one 2″ strip and one 1″ strip.
- This time put the 1″ joining strip right side to the wrong side of the block and place the folded 2″ strip on the front of that block raw edges towards the edge of the block.
- Sew all in place with a 1/4″ seam.
- Attach the other side of the joining strip to the wrong side of your second block.
- Sew down the folded edge of your top strip to your second block. Again many recommend doing this by hand but I did it by machine. I sewed very close to the edge of the strip (similar to how you would machine sew a quilt binding).
- As with the method above you don’t need to sew two thick blocks together.
- You don’t need to fit the entire quilt through the machine as the backing is already attached.
- It is personal preference but I think the thicker ‘sashing’ on the front looks marginally better than the thin joining strip on the front in Method 2.
- Similar cons to the method above – you need to cut extra strips and attaching them feels fiddly.
- Again the sashing look makes it fairly obvious that it was done quilt as you go.
Video Tutorial: Quilt as you Go with Joining Strips (joining strip on the back)
Method 4: Quilt as you Go Back to Back with Sashing
This method feels a bit like a cheat but it is my favourite of the methods that involve sashing as I think it looks the neatest both front and back.
- For this method you can quilt through all 3 layers of your quilt sandwich and you can quilt all the way to the edges of your block if you wish (however a small portion of your quilting at the front might be covered by the front sashing).
- Sew your two blocks (or quilt sections) together back to back (wrong sides to wrong sides) with 1/4″ seam. You will likely need your walking foot for this.
- Press open your seam at the front.
- Take a strip of fabric 2″ or wider and fold both raw edges under to meet in the middle (as if you were making bias binding). My strip was 2″ but you can go as wide as you like with this method.
- Use quilt glue or steam a seam to temporarily affix the fabric strip down to cover the seam between your blocks (wrong side of fabric strip to right side of block).
- Sew in place as close to each folded edge of your strip as possible – again similar to sewing down quilt binding. Some people use invisible thread for this step and many would take the time to hand sew – I didn’t!
- You only have to cut one strip for the front sashing rather than two for the joining strip methods.
- Attaching the blocks is straightforward if you have a walking foot.
- You can quilt to the edge of your blocks which saves marking them or pinning.
- The sashing looks neater and more even than the joining strips methods (at least the way I did them!)
- Because there is no strip in the back of the quilt it disguises the fact that it is quilt as you go.
- There is still an extra strip of fabric to cut plus some sort of glue or fusible to fiddle with.
- You have to like the sashing look which I usually don’t (although this one was nicer looking than the others to my eyes).
Video Tutorial: QAYG Back to Back Method with Sashing
Method 5: Quilt as You Go Self-Binding (Fun & Done)
This is the last of the methods that uses sashing as part of the joining process.
- Cut your backing fabric 1-2″ wider than your batting and quilt block. Most tutorial say 2″ wider on each side but if you are doing a really small block like I did that would be a bit much so I did 1″. If your block is 9″ or larger then go ahead and use 2″ wider on all sides.
- Centre your batting and quilt block on the backing fabric and quilt as desired up to the edge of your block.
- Repeat with your second block.
- Place blocks back to back and sew together as close to the edge of the batting as you can get.
- Open up your blocks and fold the raw edge of the additional backing fabric under and sew down the folded edge on to your block. For the corners use the same process you would when binding a quilt top (see video).
- Only ‘bind’ down the edges to create your sashing when you have attached all the blocks you intend to attach to the block you are working with.
- Great for small projects like keychains and placemats where you aren’t actually joining anything. It saves that additional binding step.
- It can look cute for something like a baby quilt that has basic blocks or big blocks where sashing wouldn’t detract from the look.
- You don’t have to cut additional strips for sashing or for binding.
- Folding down and sewing the sashing/block binding is actually a lot of work. I’d rather just bind the whole quilt!
- It is a bit of an odd look for some quilts. While it could add interest to a baby quilt with simple blocks, all that sashing would start to compete with a lot of other quilt blocks.
- The join of the blocks is relatively un-secure. It’s just the two pieces of quilting cotton that are actually sewn together not the batting or the block tops.
- I can’t figure out exactly why but I feel like I see the thread ends where the quilting stops more on the back of the blocks with this method.
Video Tutorial: QAYG Self-Binding Method
Method 6: Quilt as You Go with No Sashing (No Joined Batting)
The next two methods are my preferred methods for larger quilts.
There are subtle differences between the two methods and which one you choose will be a matter of personal preference.
I have not noticed much bulk in the joining seams for either of these methods.
- For this method you cut your backing and quilt block to the same size as each other but your batting is cut to the finished size of your block. So for a 6″ unfinished quilt block your batting size would be 5 1/2″ (taking account of the 1/4″ seam you will sew on each side).
- Quilt through all three layers but leave 1/4″-1″ unquilted all the way around. I went with a little over a 1/2″ unquilted as my test blocks were so small.
- Pin back the batting and backing for each block.
- Attach blocks to each other by sewing right sides together with a 1/4″ seam allowance.
- Press the seam open or to one side.
- Unpin the batting and backing. You should find that the sides of the batting touch each other but you do not do anything to join it with this method.
- Fold the raw edge of your backing under on one side and sew it down on top of the other block’s backing fabric.
- Sew as close to the edge of your folded fabric as you can to make it both secure and neat. As with the other methods, many people would hand sew this step but if you use straight line or matchstick quilting on the front the extra machine sewn line from closing your backing will not be noticeable.
- No need to sew multiple thick blocks with batting in them together.
- Unnoticeable on the front of the quilt and only a small join line visible on the back.
- No sashing or extra steps invovled.
- No need to join batting.
- Depending on your quilting you could end up with a small gap between your batting as it has been cut so precisely to the finished size.
- If you want to hide the extra line of machine stitching on the front you are limited in your options for how you choose to quilt the top – you would need to account for quilting lines on the top either around the edge of each block or each section. If you like quilting with straight lines anyway this method is perfect for you though.
- It can be hard to get the folded over backing fabric in a precise straight line – depending how large your sections are – so the machine sewn line on the front might not be 100% straight.
Video Tutorial: Quilt as You Go with No Sashing (No Joined Batting)
Method 7: Quilt as You Go with No Sashing (Batting Joined)
This is the more common method for no sashing quilt as you go but it can involve a bit of wastage if you follow the most popular tutorials to the letter. I’ve adapted it slightly.
The most popular quilt as you go tutorial I found for this method suggests cutting your backing and batting 1″ wider all around.
This makes sense for large quilted sections but it is a bit much for smaller blocks.
Below is my version.
- Cut batting and backing slightly larger than your block or section while you are doing your quilting – leave 1/2″ unquilted all the way around the edge of your block or section.
- Once you have finished quilting, trim your block all the way around so that the batting backing and block top are all the same size.
- Pin back batting and backing.
- Sew quilt blocks together right sides to right sides with a 1/4″ seam allowance.
- Press open seams.
- Flatten batting down and trim off any overlapping batting but make sure the batting is nestled in closely with the batting from the second block.
- Use steam a seam (either 1/4″ or 1/2″ size) to join the batting sections together. The original method calls for hand sewing the batting together.
- Fold the raw edge in of one side of the backing fabric and sew down onto the other side of backing fabric to cover the raw edge.
- Sew as close to the fold as possible – same as the method above. Again you can hand sew this step if you don’t want the stitching to show on the front but I did it by machine.
- Not noticeable on the front of the quilt that you have used quilt as you go.
- Cutting the backing and batting slightly larger initially makes it less likely you will end up short after quilting.
- No sashing or joining strips required.
- Trimming and joining the batting is an extra step.
- As with the method above, the only way to avoid hand-sewing is to incorporate the machine sewn joining line into your quilting design so some forward planning is necessary. If you don’t want to do straight line quilting you could experiment with sewing down the back with a decorative stitch. You might want to try this on your own small sample quilt first!
Video Tutorial: Quilt as You Go No Sashing (Joined Batting)
When to use different Quilt as You Go Methods
Everyone is going to have their own favourites of these methods.
Having now tried them all my favourites are all of the no sashing methods both because they don’t require extra strips to be cut and because to me they look neater and make it less obvious that it is a quilt as you go quilt.
The easiest and best looking front and back for me is the first method with the false back but it won’t work if the reason you chose to do quilt as you go is so that you don’t have to struggle your large queen or king sized quilt through the throat of your machine.
So for large quilts I personally think a good method to pick is Method 7 with my modifications.
For baby quilts you could try the Self-binding method either block by block or just all in one if you can manage your baby quilt through your machine okay.
As I said above the self-binding method is also perfect for quilted placemats, coasters or even a table runner.
The other methods that involve sashing are not to my personal taste and I find them a little fiddly.
But – if you usually use sashing anyway or the quilt pattern you are using calls for it then Method 4 – Back to Back with Sashing to my mind is the easiest and neatest looking method.
How Big Should My Blocks or Quilt Sections Be?
The important thing to keep in mind when dividing your quilt for a quilt-as-you-go approach is to divide your quilt into manageable pieces.
What is manageable will be different for each person. For some this could be as small as a 6″ basic block and for others it could be half of the quilt.
I did these tests so that I could decide which method to use for a big queen sized quilt. I ended up dividing it up into 4 really long sections.
That wouldn’t feel manageable to a lot of people but for me it cut down on the amount of visible joins in the quilt and it was about as large as I could handle on my domestic sewing machine!
You also will need to think about the quilt construction and the sections you want to divide it up into in relation to which method of quilt as you go you will use.
It doesn’t make sense for most quilts to have only two lines of sashing down the middle of a quilt! So just think ahead to what would work for your project.
What is the best size of stitch to use for quilt as you go?
I use the same stitch length that I use for piecing – between 2.0 and 2.2 for most of these methods.
However if I am doing some machine stitching that will be visible on the quilt top I tend to lengthen my stitch to closer to 3.0.
Which method would you choose?
I hope this post and the accompanying video has helped you find a fun technique to try for your next quilt project.
Which one is your favourite? Have I left any out?
Do let me know in the comments if you have a fab method that I haven’t tried yet!