Education Sampler Sew-A-Long

Squaring Up

“Squaring up” in the quilt world can refer to anything from a small pieced unit to the blocks, and even the quilt top.  This post will address squares and blocks.

Quilters are not perfect.  If we were, probably we could measure and cut exact pieces, sew perfect scant 1/4″ seams always, and never have a wonky block.  Our blocks would all be square and put together into a quilt, it, of course, would always be square no matter how it is quilted.  But since we are not perfect, I will continue with this post.

There are so many rulers out there to do pretty much anything you can imagine.  I have some rulers that are good for maybe one or two things – I call them my specialty rulers I could live without, but when needed I’m glad I have them.  For squaring up blocks, I have them ranging from 2 1/2″ to 12 1/2″, so I have the size blocks I make covered.  I would suggest if you are going to purchase a square ruler you can use to square up your blocks, buy the largest you can afford.  I could use my 12 1/2″ square on any size below 12 1/2″.

I’ll show both my little 2 1/2″ square and my big one as I use them to square up a half square triangle and the 8 1/2″ block.   Notice I could use this 2 1/2″ block on any smaller block, as well as cutting smaller blocks of fabric to use in blocks.

 I love this little ruler and the others I have that are the size I’m trimming to.  Used in conjunction with a turntable cutting mat, there is no need to disturb either the fabric or ruler while you trim.  Placing the 45 degree line at the seam line and edges with the outside edges and you can trim.  You may have only the dog ears to trim and a thread or two from the sides. 


If your block is skewed a bit more than you are comfortable putting in your quilt, before remaking or ripping, try spraying the block with water so it is damp.  Place the block on a surface like an ironing board on top of a grid interfacing, pin the block to the dimensions a perfect block would be and check it the next day to see if it looks like it should or if it contorted during the drying.  Wonky blocks make good potholders, so you don’t have to worry about waste.  Make the potholder, and then remake the block.  You will be happy you did!

Squaring a block is a little different unless it is a half square design and you can use the seam for placing the ruler.  When blocks are so not accommodating, you will use the seams in the block to help you.  For example, let’s say the strips or blocks around the outer perimeter of the big block you are squaring were cut at 2 1/2″ and 1/4″ seam was being used.  Those blocks/strips should measure 2 1/4″ from the seam to the outside edge.  Placing the 2 1/4″ line of the ruler on the top seam and on the right  seam, you can see if fabric is at the edge of the ruler or is extending beyond the ruler just a smidge.  Trim and line up the ruler the same way on the opposing sides.  What if you see the edge hiding under the ruler, too short to meet the edge?  First check the 2 1/4″ line is truly on the seam and has not shifted.

Shift your focus deciding if it is useable, fixable, or a potholder.  My criteria for useable:  if I put it in the quilt, would I have a seam that would be just shy of 1/4″, it is useable.  If I would be only catching a thread, maybe two, in the 1/4″ seam, I go to fixable and see if replacing or adjusting is going to be doable without  excessive ripping.  If it is fixable, I fix it.  It becomes a potholder if not fixable.  If it is the size of potholder you like, take the few minutes it takes to make a potholder.  Cut down or add to the quilt reject and bingo, you have another potholder!

Here I am doing a quick check of how square my whole block is.  Goal was 8 1/2″.  I can see the lower left pink square is definitely wonky!  The right vertical edge is a bit over the 1/2″ at the top, but is only 1/4″ at the bottom.

Experience has taught me bias cuts can pull a block out of square, but it also can assist in straightening a block.  I gently pulled the pink bottom block while holding the top pink corner.  I then did the same with the opposite corners.  When that wasn’t quite enough, I gently stretched the fabric from the center to the lower corners.  As you can see, the block now is much more square and will be pinned to hold the shape.  I want to alter the fabric memory of the wonky block.



For a quilt like the Sampler Quilt-a-Long, it is necessary to measure each block and trim all so they are the same size.  Bear in mind you may lose points if you trim to far into the 1/4″ seam allowance.   If you find one or two blocks much smaller than the rest, I would suggest you look them over closely before cutting the rest to see if you perhaps can do a little ripping and increase the size.

Once all your blocks are sized to be the same square dimension, you can start playing with how you want to place them into a quilt unless you are following a particular pattern.  The Sampler Quilt-a-Long has no set way the squares should be combined.  A layout of three blocks across and four down with added sashings and borders makes a quilt approximately 40″ x 50″; without borders but with sashings approximate size is 32″ x 42″; and, blocks with no sashing and no borders would measure approximately 24″ x 32″.


  • there are no quilt police
  • quilters see all their own flaws
  • quilters do not need to point out the above mentioned flaws to others
  • finished is better than perfect!