How to make a string quilt block using foundation piecing

Welcome back. I’m going to spend another exciting week chatting about the Husqvarna Viking Opal 690Q.

I’ll be exploring some techniques and features that are based on recent observations at various classes and sewing retreats. In addition, there’ll be loads of sewing tips as I progress through the week.

The focus today is on string quilting. I’m excited so let’s get started.

Husqvarna Viking Opal 690Q

String Piecing

String piecing has been around for a long, long time. It’s a great way to use up scraps and odd pieces that are deemed too small for regular piecing. It’s also great on those days when you can’t seem to sew a straight line. String piecing is very forgiving and it’s always exciting when you trim up the blocks at the end of the process.

There are several methods of string piecing and I’m going to walk you through some of them. Essentially, you need “strings” or strips of fabric. Here are some tips for choosing fabrics to make a string quilt.

1. Choose a color scheme or style for your quilt. This depends on how many scraps you have access to. You can go monochromatic, you may choose only floral fabrics, or you may choose to have a totally random look. Let’s just say that I have a few strings of fabric so I’m able to be very selective about the string pieced quilts I’ve made.

2. If you don’t have strings of fabric, you can make strings by cutting up some of those ugly prints that you keep passing over when you go through your fabric stash. If you do this, you can vary the width of the strings or you may choose to have them all the same width. You make up the rules as you go along.

3. The uglier the fabric, the narrower you may want to cut the strip. But I wouldn’t go less than 1″ wide and I wouldn’t go wider than 2″. The strings don’t even have to be perfectly straight, a slight angle on some strips is perfectly acceptable.

4. Select the shape you want to use as the base. Some of the most common shapes are squares, diamonds, and triangles, although you can string piece any component of a block or the entire block can be string pieced. See what I mean by you make up the rules as you go along!

Assemble the strings

The first step is to assemble the strings. I keep my scraps sorted by color and I had several plastic shoe boxes that were green. Now green is a very broad term and there were some very monochromatic greens as well as some with green in them. I sorted out the monochromatic pieces that will be used in another project. That left a wild mishmash of fabrics that have green in them. Note that my green color scheme covers a wide range.

Plastic shoe box filled with fabric strips that have green in them

As I trim the blocks, I also keep any larger pieces that are hanging over the edges of my foundation. Those pieces work perfectly at the points of diamonds or triangles if you’re working on those shapes. You can see  my bag of leftover bits in this next photo.

Plastic shoe box with green fabric strings and a bag filled with small bits for corners

Choose a foundation

If you were going to string piece a square with the strips running parallel to the edge of the block, there isn’t really a need to use a foundation. Let’s say you’re going to make a 6½” unfinished block. I would cut my strings to approximately 7″ long, then sew enough of them together (long sides together) until I could cut the 6½” block.

If you’re going to piece an unusual shape, like the diamonds or the triangles, then you need a base to guide you in the placement of the strips. You can use muslin or an ugly fabric as the foundation. This fabric will remain in the quilt and will add weight to the quilt. I would cut my foundation squares slightly larger than the desired unfinished size of my blocks.

Muslin foundation squares and rectangles

Alternatively, you can use newsprint (i.e. telephone books – which are getting rare these days) as a foundation. In the example below, you can see that I’ve used phone directory pages as my foundation for the equilateral triangles.

Telephone books make good foundations for string pieced blocks

Partially completed blocks on the newsprint foundation

In the photo below, you can see one of the paper foundations has been completely covered with fabric.  I keep the larger pieces that will be trimmed away to finish off the points of the other blocks. See that checked fabric at the top on the left? That will be saved to finish off the top of another triangle.

Block is ready for trimming

String piecing blocks is a quick way to zip through bobbins. I would highly recommend winding several bobbins beforehand. Why not wind those 4 bobbins that I’ve mentioned in the past, zip through some blocks, change the needle and do it all over again. Before you know it, you’ll have enough blocks for a quilt!

Time to change the bobbin

Once the foundations are completely covered with fabric strings, it’s time to trim them up.

If you’re using fabric as your foundation, the fabric will stay in the blocks. If you’re using paper as your foundation, the paper needs to come out.

I had trimmed all my blocks and happened to be doing a lecture on scrap quilts. I took the blocks for show and tell. Someone asked me why I hadn’t removed the paper before I trimmed the blocks. The rationale being that I’ll have bias edges after the blocks are trimmed and I could stretch them when removing the paper. Hmm – I hadn’t thought of that. I guess I’ll just have to be careful when I remove the paper.

Life is full of learning experiences.

Ready to trim

I use a 60-degree ruler to trim my equilateral triangle blocks. I trim two sides and then turn the block to trim the remaining side. Even if the paper were removed before trimming, the basic shape of the triangle is there and I could trim without the paper.

Use a 60-degree ruler to trim the triangles

And as easy as that, I now have 150 blocks of crazy greens. Notice how the widths of the strings aren’t the same. It’s going to be a totally crazy quilt. I don’t have time to show the finished quilt, but I’ll get it completed and show you. I do have another show and tell of a finished quilt from the last week I posted. Stay tuned as it will show up one day this week.

Two stacks of trimmed string pieced blocks

And you can see that the paper is still on my blocks. I’ll be very careful not to stretch the edges as I remove the paper. That’s a perfect job when you watch TV. Since I don’t watch TV, I’ll be listening to an audio book when I remove the paper.

The paper needs to be removed from these trimmed blocks

There’s only one problem when string piecing your blocks. We have this crazy fear of running out of fabric. And after I was finished, the plastic shoe box was still very full. Granted it was packed when I started. I don’t have a picture of the box when I first started, but these strings seem to multiply in the night.


The example below is a square pieced diagonally and I’m using the telephone book as the base. Again, these blocks have been trimmed, so will have to be careful when removing the paper.

String pieced squares on paper foundations

You can see by my blocks and the basket of strings, that the red blocks are very monochromatic compared to the green blocks. It all depends on what you have available to you and what the desired end result is.

Monochromatic fabric strings

These blocks look very wonky once the piecing is complete, but they look super once they’re trimmed up.

Blocks look wonky until trimmed

I judged the fabric requirements much better this time as when I was finished with my red blocks, there was very little fabric left over.

Blocks are sewn, not many fabric strings left over

Here’s a basket of strings that I’ve been saving. I’ve thrown everything in this basket. There are all colors, there are all different kinds of patterns, different styles, tones. You name it, it’s in the basket. These blocks are going to be very eclectic.

Basket of very assorted fabric strings waiting to be sewn into string pieced blocks

The eclectic look isn’t for everyone so tomorrow, I’ll share with you a picture of what you can do to pull those wild blocks together.

The blocks below were made with a bag of strips that someone gave to me. They had no use for the strips which were already cut. The blocks have since been assembled into a quilt and I’ll be sharing that one with you later this week. I did have to add a few of my own fabrics to finish off the blocks. This was a perfect example of how someone’s trash became someone else’s treasure!

Bundle of string pieced blocks made with brightly colored fabric strings

Tips for setting up the sewing machine

Even though you’re stitching through two layers of fabric and a foundation, I didn’t make any specific changes on the Husqvarna Viking Opal 690Q. I left my stitch length at my preferred length of 2.0. The rationale being that I don’t want those seams to come apart, especially if I’ve used paper for the foundation, which I’ll remove.

The needle may dull a bit faster than if you weren’t stitching through paper, so you may want to change the needle a bit more frequently. I do like the thread cutter on the side of the sewing machine – this makes it very fast to sew the seam and clip the thread and move onto the next one.

Handy thread cutter on the side of the sewing machine

One other point about the Husqvarna Viking Opal 690Q that makes a fast job of string piecing is that there’s no presser foot to raise and lower. It’s all automatic and it just doesn’t get any easier than that!

As I’m finishing up this post, I realize that I haven’t actually shown you how to sew these blocks! I’m going to leave that for tomorrow. That means you have until tomorrow to find some fabric strings or ugly fabric that you can cut up into strings. Get those foundations ready and let’s go!

There’s no take-up lever for the presser foot on the Opal 690Q

Can’t wait to show you how to piece this block and those finished quilts tomorrow. Stay tuned.

Have a great day!


This is part 1 of 5 in this series.

Go to part 2: 3 key steps to string quilting an eclectic beauty

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Quilting Tangent June 23, 2019 - 4:45 pm
Thank you for saying that paper is only a guide and not needed to do strip piecing.
Dawn Jones December 1, 2016 - 8:38 pm
Thank you for the tutorial, I would love to try this.
Judi Duncan November 30, 2016 - 1:01 pm
always wondered how to do this...thank you!
Tyanna Perkins November 27, 2016 - 9:13 pm
Thanks for all your helpful tips. I am just beginning to quilt and really love reading all your tips. I have learned a lot.
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