5 Common Quilting Mistakes (and How to Fix Them)

We’ve all been there. You’re fairly deep into your quilting process, and you realize you’re out of border fabric. Or your seams are so wavy, they become unintentional improv piecing. And somehow, after taking all those measurements, your blocks are all different sizes.

Thankfully, each quilting project is a learning experience! But it’s also helpful to learn from others’ mistakes as well as the methods that work best for them. Here are some quilting tips that will help you avoid some common quilting mistakes the next time around.

Free Motion Quilting on a Machine - www.craftsy.com

1. Free-motion follies

Craftsy blog reader Judy has this dilemma: “There are far too many times when I realize I did not allow an out while doing a quilting design and I get stuck in a corner with no place else to go. Or if I need to go on to the next block, I am in the wrong location and cannot go into the ditch along the seam to the next block. While doing free-motion quilting, how do you handle the thread when you cannot go any further for one reason or other? Very tiny stitches, stitching in place before cutting or burying the thread? Are there other tips we can try?”

Great questions! We reached out to free-motion quilting instructor Angela Walters, and here’s what she had to say: “If I find myself stuck in a corner, I will travel along a seam or a previously quilted line until I get where I need to go. I don’t mind if it’s not perfect!! When I start and stop a line of quilting, I take several tiny stitches and then start quilting.”

Quilting Fabric

2. Running out of fabric

Have you ever miscalculated your quilting fabric, only to run out in the middle of piecing your quilt top? There are many free tools you can use to help you avoid this mistake before it happens. One of the most popular quilting calculators is available for free online at Quilter’s Paradise. You can use this tool to calculate your yardage needed for quilt backing, batting, binding, borders. It also has some great tools for calculating how many fixed-size pieces you can cut from fabric yardage.

If you use a particular fabric often, such as solid white for background fabric, it might help to order it by the bolt. Finally, if you run out of a specific print mid-quilt and can’t find it anywhere, you may wish to take a photo of the desired fabric and post it with the letters ISO (“in search of”) to Flickr or other social media sites.

Allowing for Seam Allowance When Quilting

3. Inaccurate seam allowances

Have you ever followed the instructions to make a quilt block and ended up with a block that’s too small? This may be due to inaccurate seam allowances.

A scant quarter-inch is generally recommended across the board for quilting patterns. There are a couple ways to achieve this. If your sewing machine has a quarter-inch foot (pictured above), you can use this to get an accurate seam allowance for quilting. Your foot may also have a metal ridge to mark a precise quarter inch.

An alternate method is to place a piece of masking tape or a sticky note on the base of your sewing machine to mark the correct distance away from the right edge of your foot. This method is demonstrated by Kathy Patterson of McCall’s Quilting.

Pressing your seams after each step can also help with piecing accuracy. Be sure to press your iron up and down instead of waving it from side to side, which can stretch or distort your fabric and make straight seams look wonky.

Quilt with Mis-Matched Rows - Common Quilting Mistakes

4. Mismatched rows

Because fabric stretches, you may end up with mismatched rows even if you use sewing pins at every seam. This can be frustrating for quilters, because it may mean ripping out stitches.

Measuring Seam Distance

One method that has worked well for me does not involve pinning at all. Here’s a method you may want to try:

Step 1: Hold together the first two seams you’d like to join with your fingers, and carefully insert under the presser foot.

Step 2: Sew a few stitches back and forth just along the intersection.

Step 3: After backstitching, cut the thread and move along to the next intersection.

Once you’ve finished this step, open up the joined rows to see if any of the seams are amiss. (See photos above.) If they are inaccurate, you can rip out just a few stitches and try again. For me, this added step can be a real time-saver! Once all the seams are aligned to your liking, finish stitching the raw edges together to join the rows.

Quilt Borders

5. Wavy borders

Have you ever been plagued by wavy quilt borders?

If the left side of your quilt strangely measures 2 inches longer than the right side, you’re going to have trouble getting an accurate border.

  • The first step to accurate borders is to make sure your quilt top is even lengthwise and widthwise. Trim off the excess anywhere you can before adding borders.
  • Instead of measuring the length and width of your quilt and cutting that exact border length, try sewing a longer piece of fabric to the side of the quilt and trimming off the extra. This way, you will avoid easing in too much fabric, which causes wavy borders.
  • If you don’t have extra border fabric to spare, measure the length and width of your quilt by placing a tape measure in the center of your quilt instead of the edges. Cut your borders to these dimensions and pin the exact center of your border to the exact center of your quilt side. Pin outward from the center and stitch in place.

How about you? Do you have any quilting questions or common problems you’d like help with? Leave a comment and let us know what you’d like to learn more about!

 

30 Comments

Rumi

Thanks for all tips. They are helpful.
I have the following problem with finishing quilts, specially big wall hangings:
I use method with additional strips (2inches) and folding them over to the back aka in front I can see only the quilt. Sometimes the side of the quilt looks a little bit wavy and when I expose to the wall it doesn’t “lay” at the wall. I mean quilts with length/width more than 40 inches.
Thanks and Merry Christmas!

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Mary Ann

Since I began gluing my seams with Elmers WASHABLE school glue, I no longer have problems with mismatched seams. A few dots of glue, hit it with a hot iron, and it won’t budge! The best part is, I can check to see if my seams match before I sew it. The washable glue comes right out in that final laundering before I gift the quilt. I use glue for piecing, sandwiching, and binding. I don’t use pins for anything anymore, and I don’t miss them.

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Lori

That sounds ABSOLUTELY AMAZING, I see u wrote this a few years ago but I’m just starting and my seams are a little off and my rows are wiggly, lol. I’m getting there tho, so thanks for the tip

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Tina

I love the sound of this glue method. Pins suck so do the spray adhesives, too messy. When I do use pins I use quilt safety pins for sandwiching quilt together to stitch. I think I will
Try the washable glue.

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Barbara Weiland Talbert

Sewing a longer piece to the edge for a border and then cutting it off, is not the best solution–in fact I did that with one of my first quilts and the quilt is not square. Trimming the quilt top may also cause problems if it means you trim off the points of intersecting blocks seams. The only way I’ve found that works every time is to measure the quilt top through the center and at the long edges first. Average the measurements unless they are all within an 1/8″ of each other. Then use that measurement to cut the long borders. Add them to the quilt top and then measure through the center horizontally and at the edges and average if necessary. Cut the borders and add them.

There are lots more answers to quilting questions in The Quilting Answer Book, published by Storey Publishing.

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Sue R

One additional thing I do to prevent wavy borders is to cut the border on the length of the grain. There is generally less stretch on the length of the grain than there is on the cross grain. This is something I’ve become more convinced of over the years. Even if I have to piece together lengths because I don’t have enough fabric to cut an entire length, I’ve found that it gives me better results.

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Mary Helen

To make the quilt hang close to the wall you could add some washer weights to the lower back before putting on the facing. Dressmakers use this tip to make coats hang properly.

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Winny

Mary Ann, do you wash your quilt in cold water or hot water? That sounds like a great idea, I’m going to try your tip next time I tackle a project. Thanks.

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Beeje

Hi. I’m working on my very first quilt, completely from reading and watching videos. It’s no masterpiece but I’m keeping a journal of “lessons learned” for future efforts. Despite cutting as carefully as I could, laying out my design, pinning it together and going ever so slowly along the way, some of my squares and rows are mismatched, as shown above. Some are perfectly square and straight. I now have the front all done and don’t want to take it apart or rip out seams, as I plan to keep it intact, errors and all, for inspiration and future reference. I do plan to finish it but would love some advice on the best way to work around these mismatches when I do the actual quilting. I don’t have the talent (or patience!) to do any fancy whirls, etc and was planning on just straight stitch quilting, but I’m not sure if I should try to go around every square, or go diagonally, or maybe just choose every other square or something else entirely. If anyone has any guidance to offer I would be grateful. Many thanks.

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Beeje

I forgot to mention … I am still getting familiar with my very basic sewing machine, but I do have some experience with cross-stitching. So aside from how to best quilt around my mismatches, am I better off machine quilting or hand quilting? Thanks again!

Reply
Chantal

Hi. All my first quilts were stiched in the ditch using a walking foot. The first one was even done with a regular foot. I used painter tape to do diagonal lines (do not forgot to line up a quarter inch apart from the border, where the binding will met). You cal also do just parallel vertical or horizontal lines, randomly, as in modern quilting.

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Beeje

Thanks! Painter’s tape is a great idea, and we always have some around the house from DIY projects.

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Penny

I have a question about what to do when you square up a block and suddenly you don’t have a quarter inch seam allowance for points. When you sew them together the points are blunted. Any fixes? Thanks so much!

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LuvMyRide

Have had so much trouble with this issue. Took every block apart on one quilt that was supposed to be a wedding gift. hst present several issues regular squares or rectangles don’t . Stars I love, but I have trouble getting them all the same size and when cutting off to square up lost some of the points. I’ve started making my hst out of 2 large contrasting squares, fronts together, I draw an X corner to corner on one side , then stitch a 1/4″ seam along both sides of the lines. I then draw a line through the middle both ways. Then I cut on the lines I drew to get 8 hst that are usually perfect to sew together because i’ve kept the bias edges from stretchine out at all. A 10″ square makes 8, 4.5″ hst. 8″ squares make 8, 3.5″ hst. Haven’t experimented with other size squares, but the math seems to indicate there will be 1/2″ gained or lost if I go up or down in square sizes by an 1″. Another thing that’s good about this method is it keeps the staight and cross grains of the fabric on the outside of the hst blocks so they keep their shape. I also make sure the blank blocks in the corners of my blocks are added as I go. So I stitch a strip of the same height to two hst’s that have been sewn together. I then put the seams together against the row I am sewing them to. Check to see if the two seams match. If it looks like the side with the strip is too far away, I stitch a new line a couple threads deeper. If it looks like I’ll have over 1/4″ left for the other corner, I stitch a couple threads deeper between the hst’s. Remember everything is DOUBLE , since it takes up fabric on both sides. If the strip I had sewn was too deep to begin with i rip it out after I sew a few threads along side of it, check against the other seams it will be joined to. Of course pin the seams after butting them up against each other. It’s a little slower to do it this way. But accuracy is much better. If the blocks arent the same size, I’ve started adding a 3″ border around each one, then size them down to match the smallest block. The ‘floating’ effect provided by the wider boarder fools the eye enough so they look matched. Sorry no pics to show. It would be much easier if you could see i guess.

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WarrenandLachelle Kimball

My quilt top now measures 67-3/4″ wide and i need to add a border of 5″ pinwheels with 2″ strips between each one but obviosly the measurements arent coming out right, how should i do this? Aaahhhhh please help!

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vicki drutowski

Just finishing my first quilt . I put the binding on the way I was suppose to and there is not quite enough fabric to wrap it around the back. Should I take it all off, or trim the backing and batting? It is for a baby. I used a 3 ” strip and 1/2 inch not 1/4 inch seam

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Rosanna Hodge

II made a quilt top for a queen size bed finished it put it on the bed and it measured 5 inches long past the mattress all around all side. Took it to the quilter she quilted it for me I got it back and now it just barely come to the edge of the mattress . It needs to be past mattress .How do I make this bigger without ruining it. This quilt is very busy . What about making squares and folding into triangles and overlap a little and add them the to extra 3inch border. Then add to quilt. It makes a zig zag edge. Is this too much?

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Susan Clapp

I am about to finish a Ginnie Beyer Faberge quilt. all the quilting is done, but now I am left with the border to finish, then the binding, but the upper layer of the border is a little uneven and I may have to cut into the border to make the corners perfectly square. I messed up. Would it be awful to cut into the border to make it square?

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Carole

Help! I was quilting the borders on my quilt and my machine screwed up the pattern I was using. It kept
backing up and going over what was already quilted. I can’t rip it out. I tried.
If I cut the border off it will leave a border of only 1 1/2″. How can I make this look decent?
Thank you!

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Kathleen

I can’t rescue my first project at this point because it’s done. Guess I’ll just NOT show it to anyone. But I definitely need help so it doesn’t happen again. (I did quilt something 30+ years ago but much simpler)
I had all 3 layers nicely pinned, flattening as I went. I did not free motion since I’ve not even tried it. I used my walking foot. I decided to start in the center and used a nice straight stitch and putting squares on it to begin with. However, by the time I had made all the squares, my fabric had bunched and there was no fixing it. I now have gathers and puckers in several spots. It’s done, but I’d like to know how to keep this from happening again. Very discouraging after spending a fortune to get back to quilting again. Thanks for any advice. If there is a way to send a pic I’d be happy to.

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Bev

I have just finished hand quilting my sisters quilt. I have noticed that some of the fabric has stretched, it is the triangles. I used a hoop, but did not have it tight. What can be done, your advice would be much appreciated.
Bev

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Joy

If you have the cut on-the-cross side of triangles at the edge of your quilt it’ll be very easy to end up with wavy edges. DON’T put an iron anywhere near the edges at all. It won’t matter if those seams are not properly ironed right to the edge of the quilt. They will lie flat enough. I make a mitered square quilt frequently, with squares on point and seams going towards the side of the quilt every 1 1/2″. I never iron right to the edge and I’ve never had any wavy sides.

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Tina

I’m repairing a 30 yr old baby quilt. Has a lot of memories. It has cross stitch lettering that has held up well. A few of the letters are starting to ravel. Any suggestions on how to repair this?

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C McCann

One problem I have is that when I am quilting a quilt top set “on point” the fabric stretches! I press and pin baste and it is completely flat when I begin but when I start pressing in between quilting sections I find that the top (or back) has stretched. I do start from the center and work out and try to do small sections at a time. And by the way, I have not mastered free motion yet so my quilting is mostly stitching in the ditch or a straight line.

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Jenny Shaw

I just did mitred corners on my quilt. I have excess fabric on two of the already finished sides, (I already cut the longer 2 1/2 ” strips. Borders are not lying flat, I have to add another 15 ” border to the quilt. How can I fix these two sides.

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Adele Aiken

I am making a small quilt that is made entirely of small HST blocks. After I sewed the blocks together and pressed them, I noticed that a few of the blocks seemed to have stretched on one side of the HST. Probaably the bias edge! Is there a way to fix this?

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Helen

I just finished my quilt and when I took it off the frame I noticed that the backing was on backwards and the seam was showing on the out side how do you correct a seam showing down the middle

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Lynda

Maybe applique a strip down the length of the seam using a fabric from the front.

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Debra Stallings

My mom and I are finishing a quilt for which she had made all of the blocks. The blocks are meant to be set on point. Only problem is that she cut the setting squares 12 inches instead of 13 inches. Is there any slick fix for this other than just buying more fabric?

Reply

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