Square it Up!

by Lorie on July 22, 2009

Creative Grids makes FABULOUS rulers!

Last week, we talked about all the myths about squaring quilt blocks–basically, what you shouldn’t do.  This week, I’ll give you some ideas on the best methods of squaring.  Once again, I invite your comments!  If you’ve found methods of squaring that work well for you, I’d love to hear them! 

My husband is an engineer, and I have to say, I give him lots of credit for helping me with this article.  He builds things–perfect things–that amaze me.   So, who better to go to when discussing all things geometric?  Here’s what we discovered:


The ruler should be larger than the block:  As I mentioned last month in Quilters Rule, not all rulers are created equal.  You want to have two squaring rulers–one small one (6″) and one larger one (15″-18″).  The ruler you use to square a block should be larger than the block itself.  Why?  The longer the ruler, the easier it is to see that the edge of the fabric is actually in line with the edge of the ruler so you can get a true square and avoid cutting off points or critical seam allowances.  If you put a small ruler on a large block, you only get a few inches of the corner of the block to guide you. 

Purchase rulers in whole inches:  Some squaring rulers are made in 1/2″ increments, such as 6 1/2″ x 6 1/2″.   I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve made errors as a result of that extra 1/2″.  If you’re an experienced quilter and the 1/2″ increment ruler serves a purpose for you–then by all means, use it!  If you’re a beginner–get only rulers in whole inches. 

Squaring rulers can be square or triangular:  You can use a triangle to square a block, but again, the ruler should be larger than the block. 

Mark the intersection:  If you have trouble visualizing the correct measurement on the block, use colored tape to mark the intersection of the measurement you need.  Mark an arrow on the tape to indicate which edge of the tape is on the correct measurement. 


Use starch:  If you crisp up a block, you’ll find it easier to square.  Use a starch or starch alternative and press, don’t iron the block.  If you slide the iron around, you risk creating creases or stretching the fabric on your beautiful block. 

Find the true center:  Many quilt blocks have lines that run through them that allow you visualize the center of the block.  Squaring rulers have one-inch blocks that can help with this, and often have a diagonal line to help find the true center angle of the block.   Knowing where the center of the block is will help you to place the ruler such that the image of the block is in the square.  After all, if you just line up the edge of the fabric, and it’s out of square to begin with, you won’t end up with a visually spot-on block. 

Cheat a little:  If a block comes out too small, you can either start over and make a new one, or you can add strips of fabric to the edges and square it to the size you need, leaving a border around the block.  This can be an effective design element, and it’s also very useful when mixing stretch fabrics with wovens.  A woven fabric will always square better than one that stretches, so border that knit with some woven strips and square away!  The other cheat?  As long as the block is square, you can cheat upt to 1/8″ on the seam allowance on a block that’s just slightly too small.  Mark the stitching line on the block with a soluable marker and sew on the line to ensure a straight result.  Use a slightly smaller stitch length to ensure the fabric doesn’t fray.


Always square two sides at a time:  If you try to true-up one edge of a square, and then use that edge to square each subsequent edge, you will always end up with a parallelogram.  The only way to truly square a block is to square two edges at a time, flip the block lining it up with the proper measurements on the ruler, and square the remaining two sides. 

Always use a transparent squaring surface:  If you can’t see the block elements, you have no way to know if the block is visually squared.  Put away that freezer paper!

Can we stretch this article out a little more?  YES we can!  Next week, I’ll put together some photos of how to square a block.  In the meantime, go get yourself a few squaring rulers and you’ll be ready to work with me!   I know you guys are going to ask me the best ruler to buy.  There’s a UK company called Creative Grids that makes wonderful rulers.  They are non-slip, the markings on them are wonderfully clear, and they are simple to use.  Google the name to find a source in the US.


1 Ginger 07.22.09 at 12:21 pm

Good article. I will have to politely disagree with you about only purchasing rulers in whole inches. I personally like my square rulers to be in 1/2 inches (6 1/2 x 6 1/2) because most unfinished square blocks need to have that half inch as a seam allowance. What I mean is a 6.5 square block will sew up as a 6 inch finished block. But since there is no “quilting police” there really isn’t one right and one wrong. We each can do what works best for us and our quilts. And that’s what makes it fun.

2 Lorie 07.22.09 at 1:54 pm

Good point, Ginger–thanks for your comment!


3 Kris 07.23.09 at 7:16 am

Such great information! Thanks Lorie! (I totally get the engineering mind-thinking…our famiy is full of engineers! LOL!)

4 Carnan 08.01.09 at 9:14 am

This info was awesome! I’m printing this out and putting it in my quilting binder. I’ve been a shameful squarer too long!

5 Eleanor 08.07.09 at 6:23 am

I dont have a problem with the individual squares – but it is when the whole quilt (queen size) is put together – that is where my difficulty comes in. I take it apart and still it isnt right and so I put it away and dont finish it. Help me with this problem!!!!!

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