Setting Quilt Blocks

In order to make a quilt top, blocks need to be set, that is sewn together to create the upper layer in a quilt, which will be layered with batting and backing and then the three layers will be quilted together. There are several ways to sew the blocks together. Let’s take a look the different ways to sew the blocks, that is “setting” the blocks into a quilt top.

Straight Sets

The simplest way to sew the blocks together is called a “straight set”. The blocks in this case are simply sewn together side by side in rows first, then the rows are sewn together to create the quilt top. There are advantages and disadvantages to setting the blocks this way:
-The quilt top often times will develop a secondary pattern when setting blocks side by side. Depending on color straight set quiltplacement on the blocks, a second pattern that was not visible appears when sewing them together.
-It is very simple to figure out how many quilt blocks will be needed to complete a top. Simply by measuring the bed’s mattress, adding the desired length of drop to cover the mattress sides, you will know exactly how many inches you need. Then simply divide this amount by the size block you have chosen. If you need a 90 inch quilt and your blocks are 10 inches square, you know you will need at least nine blocks to set from left to right in rows and nine blocks to sew in columns; thus you will have to sew at least 81 blocks to complete the quilt top.
-A set with blocks side by side means a lot of points to match when sewing one block to another. Extreme care must be taken to match points, to keep them sharp.

A straight set can be sewn with alternating plain blocks, to make less pieced blocks go a longer way, and to bypass the straight set quiltingproblem of matching points. It will mean less work piecing as well. Consider the fabric chosen for the plain (non-pieced blocks) carefully. Using the same fabric for the plain blocks as for the background of the pieced blocks makes the pieced blocks appear like they are floating.
Also, two different types of blocks can be sewn together, alternating them. Normally, the second type of block is simpler (Nine Patch, Four Patch, Hourglass). Interesting secondary patterns can develop this way as well.

Another way to avoid having to match as many points when sewing a straight set is to use “lattice” strips. Lattice strips are simply strips of fabric sewn between blocks. It helps separate busy looking blocks, or to even out blocks that might not be the exact same size, since they can be eased when sewn to the lattice strips. Lattice strips can be cut any size, but consider the block size to keep them proportioned. Lattices can be pieced with more than one fabric as well.

A variation on the straight set of blocks is the vertical straight set, in which blocks are sewn in “bars”, in columns. Often times, two types of blocks are sewn: the main block of the quilt for one column and a second type of block to separate them (such as a Flying Geese block).

Setting Blocks On Point

When the blocks are rotated ninety degrees, the setting is referred to as “on point”. The blocks appear to balance on their corners when sewn together this way. Sets on point are dynamic. This type of set is sewn in diagonal rows and columns.

There is one disadvantage to sewing blocks in an on point set: a little more math is needed to figure out how many quilting for beginners blocks are needed to complete a quilt top. The measurement of the diagonal of the block will have to be divided by the desired quilt measurement to figure out the number of blocks required. There is a mathematical formula that allows finding out the measurement rather quickly. Since the diagonal line that bisects a square is equal to the long side of an equilateral triangle, if you multiply the size of the block by 1.4142 (Pytaghoras theorem a2 + b2 = c2, if a and b values’ are equal to 1), you will get the measurement of the diagonal. So if your block of choice is ten inches and you want to set them on point, the measurement of the diagonal of the block will be 10 x 1.4142 = 14.14 inches. You will have to divide the measurement of the desired quilt top by 14.14 to figure out how many blocks you need.

Just as when working with blocks in a straight set, you can add lattice strips, or sew blocks with alternating plain blocks. A problem unique to this type of quilt setting is the fact that you will need to cut “setting triangles”. Setting quilttriangles are the half block shapes required to square the quilt top when sewing blocks in an on point set. Two types of triangles need to be cut: you will have to cut four corner triangles that will square the corners of the quilt and then, you will have to cut as many triangles as needed to fill the open side spots of your quilt. These triangles will have to be cut so that the straight grain of the fabric runs along the edge of the quilt to prevent rippling and stretching.
The four corner triangles are “half square triangles” (a square cut in the diagonal once to yield two triangles) and the side triangles are “quarter square triangles” (a square cut on the diagonal twice to yield four triangles). An easy formula to remember what size squares to cut to subcut and keep the grainline straight to avoid rippling edges is:
Half square triangles: Finished size of block divided by 1.4142, round up to the closest dimension in the ruler, then add 7/8 inch. In case of a 10 inch block:
10/1.4142 = 7.07, thus 7 and add 7/8 = 7 7/8 inch squares.
To figure out what size squares to cut for quarter square triangles, multiply the finished size of the block by 1.4142, round up to the next measurement in the ruler, then add 1 ¼.

Medallion Sets

Not used very often, a medallion set has a central block surrounded by borders and other blocks. The center block quilt pattenscan be placed either straight or on point. This type of quilt requires design choices to highlight the central block. It is not used very often, but you might encounter it when participating in a “round robin” exchange in which each participant pieces a block and sends it to the next participant with fabric so that they add a “round”. Each participant in turn adds a round to the original block to create a quilt top.


For more information on making a quilt click here!


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