≡ Menu

Overrun with Scraps? Make String Quilts!

Overrun with Scraps? Make String Quilts! post image

The more time I spend quilting, the bigger my scrap pile grows. The thought of throwing away all that precious fabric makes me break out in a cold sweat, so I keep all but the very smallest scraps.

But what is a quilter to do with all those odd bits and pieces that accumulate as you trim off selvages, square up blocks, and cut out odd shapes?

The answer is easy: Make string quilts!

What is a String Quilt?

“Strings” are all those leftover fabric strips and pieces that float around everyone’s sewing room. String quilts are simply quilts made from your longer fabric scraps.

To make a string quilt, you start with a foundation fabric or foundation paper, then use an easy sew-and-flip technique to attach strips and scraps to the foundation until the scraps completely cover the foundation.

That’s all there is to it! There’s no fussy measuring, no templates to follow, no precision cutting, no pattern to worry about. The license to be imprecise is my favorite part.

What Kind of String Blocks Can You Make? 

String quilt blocks are usually made on a square foundation and look more or less like this:

You can also make string quilts on triangular-shaped foundations, although the technique is a little more complicated. Here’s one by made from trimmed-off selvages by Katja Rother:

 And another by Heidi Elliott:

 I’ve also made string borders on long rectangular foundation strips. Here’s what one looked like:

In this post, though, I’ll show you how to make a square string quilt block.

You can make your blocks any size that works with the scraps you have. The smaller the block, the smaller the strings and scraps you can use. Larger blocks need longer strips to cover the foundation. In general, wider strips look good on larger blocks, and smaller ones look better on smaller blocks.

The most common setting for string quilt blocks combines four blocks into a large diamond shape. If you use large blocks to start with, keep in mind that the completed unit will be four times as large. I found this out when I made these big string blocks for a quilt I gave my daughter.

This four-block unit is 17″ x 17″ square! That poses some challenges when it comes to laying out a quilt. Luckily, I ended up using these in a bed quilt.

String Quilt Foundation Options – Fabric, Paper, and More

String quilters use many different types of foundations. Here are some of the options you might try:

  • Muslin
  • Quilting fabric in prints or solids. Darker foundation fabric may show through lighter-colored strings.
  • Copy or printer paper
  • Commercial foundation paper
  • Old phone book pages (this one recommended by Bonnie Hunter of Quiltville)
  • Wax paper deli sheets (also recommended by Bonnie Hunter)
  • Used fabric softener dryer sheets
  • Lightweight interfacing
  • Old bed sheets. This is what I use. Sheets are densely woven and are probably easier to quilt by machine than by hand.

Paper foundations need to be removed from the blocks before you assemble the quilt. Fabric foundations can be left in as part of the quilt. That’s one reason why I prefer fabric, although the added foundation layer makes the quilt a bit heavier. Any type of foundation helps stabilize the strings and make them lie flat. Using a foundation also means you don’t have to worry about stretching or distorting scraps that were cut on the bias.

Which Fabric Scraps are Useful for String Quilting?

Both small and large scraps can be used to make string blocks. Cut larger pieces into 1” to 2½” strips. The strips don’t need to be all the same width, or have perfectly straight edges. Smaller or odd-shaped pieces can be used to fill in the corners of the blocks.

Supply List for Making String Quilt Blocks

Most of what you’ll need for string quilting is already in your sewing room.

  • Pile of fabric strips and scraps from your scrap bin. These can be organized by size or color, or simply pulled out of the pile as they come.
  • Foundation fabric or paper, cut into squares.
  • (Optional) pins or fabric glue to hold the block’s center strip in place for sewing. I just skip this step.
  • (Optional) 1”-2” strips of a focus fabric to make “sashing” for the blocks. Unlike the rest of your strings, these strips should be cut neatly so they are all the same width.
  • Sewing machine. If you’re using a paper foundation, set the stitches to a short length for ease of tearing off the paper when the block is finished.
  • Denim or quilting needle, size 14 or 16. A large needle makes it easier to pierce the foundation.
  • Neutral colored thread (light grey or beige both work well.)
  • Rotary cutter.
  • Cutting ruler for squaring up the blocks.

Step-by-Step Instructions for Making String Quilt Blocks

  1. Start with your foundation square. 
  2. Lay a fabric strip right side up so it stretches diagonally across the foundation from corner to corner, like this. The strip should be long enough to cover the whole length of the square from corner to corner. You can pin or glue the strip in place, but I don’t bother.
  3. Place another string right side down on top of the first one, aligning its edge with one edge of the center string.  Make sure the new string is also long enough to more than cover the foundation from edge to edge. 
  4. Sew the strings to the foundation along the aligned edge, leaving a ¼” seam allowance. 
  5. Flip the second string over to show its right side, then finger press or press with a dry iron.
  6. Keep laying on and sewing new strips in the same way until you have covered the foundation block all the way to the right corner. Then turn the block around and add more strings until you reach the other corner. Here’s the block with all the strings added. 
  7. Press the block, then use a rotary cutter and ruler to square it up. After squaring, it should look something like this:

That’s all there is to it! You are now officially a string quilter. Keep making blocks until you have enough for the quilt you want or until you use up all your scraps. (Like that will ever happen…)

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...
{ 32 comments… add one }
  • Andree August 7, 2013, 4:54 am

    This is the best tutorial for string quilts I have ever read. Thank you.

    • cdmwriter August 7, 2013, 8:33 am

      Thanks, Andree!

  • Sarah March 10, 2015, 4:55 am

    How do you attach them to the adjoining block?

    • Felicity Walker March 10, 2015, 6:46 am

      Thanks for the question, Sarah. You can sew string blocks together using a standard 1/4″ quilter’s seam, just like any other blocks.

  • Rae Davie January 21, 2016, 1:39 pm

    do you have to use a foundation block? Why can’t you just seam the strips together and trim to size at the end?
    I can see that using a foundation block makes it easier to lay out the strips to make sure the final size is correct, but why sew the strips to the foundation block?

    • Felicity Walker January 21, 2016, 3:17 pm

      Good question, Rae. You don’t HAVE to use a foundation block. As you point out, you can just sew the strips together and trim to the size you want. And using a foundation layer can make the block heavier than it would be if you didn’t have that extra layer. I find, though, that having the foundation makes the whole project much easier and more fun. I can see exactly where each strip or piece will end up on the finished block. The foundation layer keeps the strips from getting pulled out of shape. The block is easy to square up because I can see what shape it ought to be before I cut into it.

      It’s really a matter of preference. I prefer to use a fabric foundation layer that stays in the finished quilt. Other people like to use a paper foundation that they pull off after they finish sewing. If you think you would like it better to go without the foundation layer, give it a try and see if it works for you. Happy quilting!

  • Sheila Beaumont February 21, 2016, 2:48 pm

    I have Started to make a play mat for my great grandson who is due in May and will put the string blocks as a border with baby type fabric in the middle .
    Thank you for the idea of the string blocks . Sheila

    • Felicity Walker February 21, 2016, 3:26 pm

      What a great idea, Sheila! I hope you will send us a photo.

  • Mangal June 17, 2016, 1:28 am

    Loved your idea.will try some thing similar. Will keep you posted.

  • KBBarden June 19, 2016, 1:48 pm

    There is a picture on Pintrest of a string pieced crazy quilt stype block and a reference to this website. I cannot find the tutorial mentioned. Any suggestions would be appreciated.

    • Felicity Walker June 19, 2016, 8:55 pm

      Hi KB, and thanks for taking the time to comment. The article you posted your comment on is the main one on this site about string quilting. I can’t remember any string quilt we’ve made in a crazy quilt style. I wish I could be more helpful.

  • Michele July 22, 2016, 12:02 am

    One thing I hever see mentioned it the size that is prefered when making these blocks? If i dont have a pattern in mind. But would like to make them as i sew other stuff, what size do you suggest?

    • Felicity Walker July 22, 2016, 8:20 am

      That’s an important consideration, Michele. If you’re planning to make the popular diagonal striped string blocks and arrange them into a four-block diamond pattern, the finished diamonds will be about four times the size of the original blocks. The first set of string blocks I made were 9″ blocks, but then the diamond blocks I assembled them into were 36″ squares — pretty large to make a pleasing quilt pattern from. If that’s your plan, I would recommend making your string blocks 6″ (6-1/2″ unfinished.) If you don’t plan to use the diamond design, you can make the string blocks larger.

  • Judy July 28, 2016, 6:37 pm

    Do you use thinner batting then? Muslin might be easier to quilt through, but would it stretch out of shape?

    • Felicity Walker July 28, 2016, 9:03 pm

      Thanks for the question, Judy. I use polyester fleece in place of the batting and backing layers on most of my quilts. If you’re asking whether thinner batting makes sense because of the added weight of the foundation layer, my answer is that yes, anything you can do to reduce the weight of the quilt makes it more comfortable for the person who will eventually use it. I have used muslin as a foundation layer and found that it works fine — no stretchier than regular quilter’s cotton. I also use old sheets for the foundation layer. Hope that answers your question.

  • Pat Pagels August 19, 2016, 4:55 pm

    I’m making one of these for my granddaughter…To make it a little lighter, I bought some thin flannel fabric. I haven’t got that far yet but I was told it’s much easier to hand quilt through this and it’s not flamable. (sp)

    • Felicity Walker August 19, 2016, 5:38 pm

      Great idea, Pat. Flannel is so cozy and I’m sure it must be easier to hand quilt than a foundation of sheets, which is what I use (machine sewing only for me!) Just make sure you prewash to minimize shrinkage.

  • Corinne September 16, 2016, 8:25 pm

    I’ve made two string quilts. Like you, I have so many scraps. Love making string quilts. I’ve made my string blocks into tote bags as well. I’ve turned two of my newbie quilter friends into “stringers”.

    • Felicity Walker September 16, 2016, 9:07 pm

      Thanks for your comment, Corinne. I haven’t tried making string quilted bags. That’s a great idea! Happy to know you are spreading the word about strings.

  • Helen Grantham October 27, 2016, 8:27 pm

    My mother made string quilts when I was a child. I got the job of tearing off the paper backing off each square. She used the pages from the Sears-
    Roebuck catalog for her foundations. By the way, her quilts were all pieced by hand!! I do not like to use a fabric for the foundation because of the extra weight. After experimenting I found that ordinary tissue paper worked best. Surprisingly it is tough enough to work well, but easy enough to tear away. I cut the tissue whatever size I want the block to be (lots of them). Then square up the block from the back with a ruler. Blocks can be made any size you wish to have. I mainly use the 4-block used as one block with sashings and cornerstones to put together. I spend a good amount of time pressing strings. I love it. Makes me think of my mother. Her quilts were made of necessity, mine are for fun.

    • cdmwriter October 27, 2016, 8:36 pm

      The things we did with our mothers make some of the best memories, don’t they? Thanks so much for your story and your tips, Helen.

  • Marsha November 4, 2016, 9:11 pm

    I make my stringers using quilt-as-you-go method. I cut my backing fabric and batting into 11″ Squares. I then layer them with backing wrong side up, followed by batting. Then I start sewing diagonalally like you do through batting and backing. Once squares are finished and trimmed, I lay them out the way I want them to be finished. I sew squares right sides together including a 1 1/2 finishing strip in the 1/4″ seam allowance. Finishing strips are of the backing fabric. Then I sew rows together with that same finishing strip. The edges of Finishing strips need to be turned under 1/4″ and hand stitched. Then I bind off quilt. Check out other QAYG methods on Pinterest for sewing squares together and rows.

    • cdmwriter November 4, 2016, 9:17 pm

      This sounds like a terrific method, Marsha. Thanks! You had me hooked until the hand quilting — but I’m going to try it and see if I can find a way to substitute machine sewing for the hand stitching. I have only made quilt-as-you-go squares with finishing strips a couple of times. Time for another try!

    • Pamela Krieg January 11, 2017, 4:34 pm

      Hi Marsha, I read your comment about how you join your QAYG blocks and I have a question… do you only use finishing strips in the front (in the same fabric as your backing) and have none on the backside? This is something new to me, I’ve done 1 quilt as you go quilt and I had finishing strips on both the front and the back sides. Just curious. Hope you have time to explain it more in depth. Thanks so much.

      • Felicity Walker January 11, 2017, 5:32 pm

        I have done QAYG with only a set of finishing strips in the front. The procedure is complex enough that I think it calls for its own tutorial. Stay tuned!

        • Pamela Krieg January 13, 2017, 7:08 am

          Definitely waiting to hear more! Thanks so much for the reply 🙂

  • Sheilah December 23, 2016, 8:53 pm

    Brilliant and easy to follow directions! Thanks!

    • cdmwriter December 23, 2016, 10:21 pm

      Thanks for your kind words, Sheilah.

  • Marjorie January 10, 2017, 6:58 pm

    I have made string blocks and started with a red string as a starter string down the middle of each block. I can then arrange them make a pleasing design eg a red diamond when you put 4 blocks together.

    • Felicity Walker January 10, 2017, 7:14 pm

      Thanks for the suggestion, Marjorie. It’s one of the ideas mentioned in the blog post, but I don’t think we included a photo.

  • Monica Goings January 11, 2017, 4:44 pm

    Wonderful tutorial! Very easy to follow. For the paper backing, I tried using inexpensive wrapping paper. Works great!

    • Felicity Walker January 11, 2017, 4:53 pm

      That’s one we hadn’t heard of before, Monica. Thanks for the comment!

Leave a Comment