Ignoring Fabric Grain Bias? A What NOT to Do in Quilting

If you’re new to quilting, you may be asking: “What in the heck is Fabric Bias and why should I even care????”  Let me tell you, fabric bias is sneaky and it can RUIN your quilt.

How to cut fabric strips on bias for quilting.

“’Ruin a quilt,’ seriously, Jenn? Why so dramatic??” you may be asking.  Yep. Ruin a quilt.  Let me tell you a quick story. 

Mom and I were happily creating a low volume quilt using The Indian Hatchet quilt block

Essentially, The Indian Hatchet creates a cool diagonal stripe down the middle at a 45° angle.

Illustration of Indian Hatchet Quilt Block
Illustration of Indian Hatchet Quilt Block

We had a beautifully square quilt going into the quilting stage.   All our points matched and seams nested – looking good so far!

We had quilted around all the 4” squares and we added additional quilting on the diagonal strips of the Indian Hatchet blocks.   

We didn’t know we had ruined our quilt.

The quilt looked beautiful while it was on the sewing machine, but when it came time to trim and square it up for binding, the quilt was no longer square. 

It turned into a rhombus.   

Yes, I’m showing you our terrible wonky quilt.

And there was no way to square it.  And there was no way to save it. 

That’s when Mom looked at me and said – “Quilting on the bias has stretched our quilt.”

The bias quilting???  What the what???  Remember geometry? Well, get ready – it’s paying off here: 

When you’re looking at a yard of fabric, there are 3 directions of weave: Lengthwise (straight-grain), crosswise (cross-grain), and bias (on a 45° degree angle.) 

Fabric Bias Illustration for Quilting

If you were to rate “stretchiness” on a scale of 1-3 with 1 being the least stretchy, cross and straight grain ranks 1 and bias is a 3.  A definite 3.

So that means: diagonal quilting on the stretchiest part of the block = RHOMBUS. 

Typically, quilt patches are cut on the straight or cross grain without much attention given to the bias.  If you do a quick google search, you’ll find that bias really comes into play when someone WANTS to work with the stretch – typically in garment sewing, or curvy sewing. 

In our quilting world, cutting on the bias isn’t really talked about – unless you’re into bias binding.   

But the bias shouldn’t be ignored (as you can see from our quilting fiasco!). 

Now that Mom and I are aware of “what not to do” when piecing these Indian Hatchet blocks, we have a plan of attack to fight that pesky bias.   

DISCLAIMER: The following directions are for a right-handed quilter. And this method is for our Indian Hatchet Center Block. We don’t advise you using this method for most of your quilting!

How to cut quilt blocks on bias.
1. Start with 1 yard of fabric.
How to cut quilt blocks on bias.
2. Cut fabric in half on fold line.
How to cut quilt blocks on bias.
3. Work with one of the halves, and take bottom right corner and fold up.
How to cut quilt blocks on bias.
4. Take top right corner and fold down.
How to cut quilt blocks on bias.
5. Take bottom left corner and fold up.
How to cut quilt blocks on bias.
6. Turn fabric so that is straight and line up ruler on right side of fold 1/2″ from edge.
How to cut quilt blocks on bias.
7. Trim off folded edge.
How to cut quilt blocks on bias.
8. Rotate fabric so that edge is on left and use cut line to cut 4 1/2″ strips all the way down edge.
How to cut quilt blocks on bias.
9. Unfold fabric into bias strips and sub-cut strips into 4 1/2″ squares.

We found that 1 yard of 40-ish” wide fabric yields approximately (50) 4 1/2″ squares.

Yes, there will be some fabric waste cutting our center blocks this way, but the Indian Hatchet block will be a lot stronger and less prone to QUILTING STRETCH DISTORTION (I think I can coin that phrase!). 

Well, we found out the hard way all about fabric bias, and we had to throw that quilt away.  But hopefully our mishap will save you from some of the heartache we endured. 

So did that stop us?? NEVER! We started over and now it’s time to finish this new (perfectly squared) Low Volume Indian Hatchet quilt! 

Happy Quilting! 

Jenn + Linda 

P.S. This is a special circumstance, and we won’t be cutting squares this way from now on!  We just feel the Indian Hatchet is a special case where we need to “stretch” the rules. 

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