I love the fact they are a cost-effective way I can take home a complete fabric collection in one pretty little bundle. BUT…I have to admit that in the not so distant past I have been known to shy away from Jelly Rolls simply because of the fact that for me they have been a little harder to ensure consistent accuracy when piecing a quilt.
I imagine that for some patterns 100% accuracy (or at least as close to that as humanly possible) isn’t such a big deal, but for other patterns it can be, and struggling with seams that don’t meet can be frustrating. I want my quilting time to be fun and creatively rewarding so rather than assume the strips are ready to sew straight from the roll I now take the time to check and prep my strips before I begin to sew.
Before I jump into how I like to achieve accurate strip sets let’s talk a little about the anatomy of a Jelly Roll™.
The term ‘Jelly Roll’ is a trademark of United Notions (Moda Fabrics). There are other similar products manufactured by other companies and they go by different names but I love sewing with Moda fabric and a Jelly Roll is primarily what I have experience sewing with, so for all intents and purposes I am using the term Jelly Roll here.
Each Jelly Roll is a compact bundle of 2 1/2″-wide strips cut across the width of the fabric (42″). Most Jelly Rolls contain 40 strips from one line of fabric, and depending on the designer’s collection may have one, two or a few duplicates to make up the number of strips.
If you look closely at a Jelly Roll you will notice that each strip has a pinked edge. This saw-toothed edge ensures the fibres in the cotton cloth don’t begin to unravel before you have had a chance to sew with the strips. I quickly did some online research to see what people were saying about the pinked edges and was surprised by the number of people who were actually avoiding precuts altogether because they weren’t really sure how to handle the pinking, AND by the number of different opinions on what ‘edge’ you should be using to line up your fabric.
In a perfect world each strip would measure 2-1/2″ from each pinked edge tip to tip, but all manufacturers are slightly different and in my experience a Jelly Roll strip might actually be 2-1/2″ from one outer tip to the valley of the opposite pinked edge. So if you want to achieve accuracy when sewing your strips together the first thing you need to do is check the size of your strips before you begin to sew.
Step 1: Line up your acrylic ruler (a 24″ one will work best) with the lines on your cutting mat.
If the strip is particularly holding its shape from being rolled, or if there are any little folds or creases I like to use some steam and quickly press the strip flat.
Lay the strip adjacent to your ruler and use the tips of your fingers to gently butt the tips of the strip up to the edge of the ruler. You may need to hold the ruler steady and gently tap the outside edge of the fabric starting at the base and moving slowly upward. Be sure to align both the top and bottom tips of the strip.
I keep my strip folded in half because it fits on my cutting mat and is easier to align the folded strip against the length of the ruler without having to move the strip.
(If you want to be extra fussy you could unfold the strip and complete the steps in two parts where you move the strip down and realign once you have trimmed the first half to the correct size – if that doesn’t yet make sense, read on and it will.)
Step 2: Be sure the bottom edge of your Jelly Roll strip is aligned with a horizontal line on your cutting mat.
If this line isn’t straight then you will most likely end up with a slight arc in your strip which will make accurate piecing difficult. This issue occurs more often when you cut your own strips and haven’t aligned the fold perpendicular with the straight edge of the fabric prior to cutting, but it is a good habit to check the overall alignment as you go. (If you have decided your preference is to work with an unfolded strip you would omit this step ;).
Step 3: Without disturbing the Jelly Roll strip’s placement on the mat, gently lift up your acrylic ruler and place it on top of the strip.
Carefully ensure the 2-1/2″ mark on your ruler lines up with the left hand edge of your Jelly Roll strip. At this point you should be able to determine accurately the overall width of your strip. As you can see from the images below this particular strip needs a tiny trim to ensure that the overall width is 2-1/2″.
Once I have used my rotary cutter to trim off the little ‘dog ears’ I will have a strip that is 2-1/2″ wide from the left edge of the pinked tip to the straight (or almost straight depending on how much excess needed to be trimmed) edge on the right.
Step 4: Top and tail your strips in preparation for sewing.
In order to have a straight edge guide for sewing you need to place your fabric strips right sides together and ensure the strip on the bottom has its pinked edge to the left (straight edge to the right) and the strip on top is in the opposite position. This means that you can align the straight edge of the strip on top (to the left) with the pinked edge tips underneath, and if all is well you should be able to see a straight edge peeking out from underneath the pinked edge (on the right) of the top strip as you can see in the image below. You can now use the straight edge to gauge your 1/4″ seam allowance. Sew your strip together aligning the edges as you sew.
Step 5: Press your strip set and check for accuracy.
Pressing is an important part of accurate piecing. Place the strip set on the ironing board just like you removed it from your sewing machine and quickly apply some steam to the closed strip set to ‘set the seam’. Setting the seam reduces the loft created by the actual stitches and helps to embed the stitches into the fabric, and the light steam helps to correct any small tension issues you may have had with the thread or the stitching.
Give it a few seconds to cool (so you don’t burn your fingers) and then flip one strip back while finger pressing the seam open to ensure no tiny folds are hiding in the join. Just prior to applying any heat check that your strip set appears straight on the ironing board and once you are confident the strips aren’t arcing turn your steam off and apply the iron with some heat in a gentle pressing motion.
By this stage you should have a perfectly pieced strip set, but before you begin sub cutting use a ruler to check your accuracy. If you align the 2-1/4″ mark with the centre seam you should find the overall width of the strips to now be 4-1/2 from edge to outer tip. If you are slightly out then most likely it is because you need to make an adjustment to your seam allowance and be sure it is measuring a scant 1/4″.
There is an awesome world of Jelly Roll patterns out there – I hope this quick tutorial gives you the confidence to decide to make something today.
Remember, there is really no need to be scared of the tiny pinked edges – with a little love and some attention they will happily fall into line ;).
Below you can see a sneak peek of my latest Jelly Roll friendly pattern. It’s called ‘Cherry Tree Lane’ and will be available soon.
My favourite Jelly Roll pattern would have to be my Going Places quilt I designed for my son to replicate a quilt he had when he was small. This is a great simple to piece queen sized quilt (but could easily be made smaller) and I have been considering making it again for my own bed using a Little Miss Sunshine by Lella Boutique Jelly Roll and some solids. If you would like to make your own version of this pattern you can purchase it here – and as a thank you for stopping by and reading my blog you can use the coupon code JR50 to pick it up for half price 🙂
Do you have a favourite precut or precut pattern? What’s your experience sewing with precuts? Do you remember the first precut you purchased? (Mine was a Bonnie and Camille ‘Vintage Modern’ Layer Cake.)
I love to know you have dropped by so leave me a quick comment and say ‘hi’ :).
Until next time – Happy sewing!
PS: My computer tells me today’s ‘word of the day’ is Inchoate, which means imperfectly formed.
So here’s to wishing now that you have read this post your Jelly Roll quilts will never be inchoate ;). – I learnt something new today, and maybe you did to 🙂 – Have a great day!