How to Make a Patchwork Table Runner: Part 1

How to Make a Patchwork Table Runner: Part 1

Admit it.  When you heard our first sewing project was going to be a pillow, you were disappointed, right?  “That’s not exciting!” you thought.  And then I announced our second project would be a table runner and you just about cried.  “But that’s so boring!”  Okay, all kidding aside, I do know that these projects may not seem terribly exciting, but these types of projects are laying a foundation of skills for you that will allow you to do really awesome things down the road.  So be patient and play along with me.  I promise, it will get better.  🙂  Besides, our table runner for today is not just a table runner, it’s patchwork table runner!  This is great news for you because once you know how to make a patchwork table runner, you know how to make a patchwork wall-hanging, or better yet, a patchwork QUILT!  Seriously!  Isn’t that awesome?!  Well, I think it is anyway…How to Make a Patchwork Table Runner: Part 1

Before you get too excited about this post, I want to let you know that you are going to be getting 3 parts to this post.  Making any sewing project will require a lot of pictures for the different steps, and that’s just easier on everybody (and everything… computers and mobile devices) if I break it up into separate lessons.  Warning: there are still a LOT of pictures.  I’m a descriptive person, and I think that a lot of people who struggle with sewing struggle because there isn’t enough description going on.  Anyway, I really, really want you to do this project with me, and I really, really want to see your final results, or even your work in progress, so please, share them with us through our contact page (I think you can add a picture to a message… maybe not.  You’ll have to let me know.  And I fixed the contact page, so if you tried to get in touch with me before…sorry about that), or share your pictures on our Facebook page Spring Lake Homestead.  I would love to put together a post of all of your finished projects sometime down the road.  I’ll remind you about that at the end of this post and the end of this project.  🙂

Okay, a final note before we move on.  As always, read all the way through before you begin following directions.  Get comfortable with the instructions, and ask if you have questions!  I try to get back to everyone promptly, so hopefully you won’t have to wait too long to hear back from me.

What You’ll Need…

Let’s get started!  Armed with the knowledge I shared last week about buying fabric, you can make a trip to the fabric store for this project.  And remember, it’s okay if you are using material from your stash.  Or your mom’s stash.  Or a friend’s stash.  You do not need to buy the materials recommended (though, if you don’t have the right supplies, you won’t be able to participate), and you do not need all of the tools that I use.  It is possible to make a patchwork table runner without a rotary mat, cutter, and ruler, but I will say that it will take you a lot more time.  Moving on…

I purchased 1/3 yard of four of my fabrics, and I purchased 1/2 yard of one of the fabrics.  That was enough for me to make one full table runner (front and back), another table runner top, and a small wall hanging.  My official recommendation to you if you are purchasing materials will be to buy total of 1 1/3 yards of material for making a table runner top (you can use anywhere from 2-5 fabrics), and 1 yard for backing your table runner.  In part 2 of this post, I will show you how to bind your table runner several ways, but if you want to add a binding, you’ll need about 1/2 yard of another fabric.  You will also need a minimum of 1 yard of low to medium loft quilt batting.  It can be polyester or cotton or a blend… doesn’t matter!  I used a medium loft polyester batting that I had left-over from another project.  These yardages will allow you to make a larger table runner than I did or practice your skills and make a second table runner that you can give as a gift for Christmas (or keep for yourself), but I wouldn’t recommend getting less… this will allow you room for mistakes as well, something a beginner should always account for!  Use “standard” cotton fabric for this project, not flannel or satins, etc…

How to Make a Patchwork Table Runner: Part 1
Pick out materials that look good together and that make you happy 🙂

You will also need a spool of thread for sewing your top together.  It could be white or black or whatever, but generally, you’ll want to go with something that matches at least one of your fabrics.  If you are doing a lighter top, you could use a white, beige or light gray thread.  Darker?  Black. Or brown, dark gray or blue.  You just don’t want it to show through your fabric.  You also need a spool of thread for the quilting.  I’m going to encourage you to use a thread that coordinates, but contrasts with your fabric.  For example, I used fall fabrics in a variety of colors, and gold was a common theme within each print, so I chose a gold thread for quilting everything.  The intention is to have the quilting stand out in a positive way.  However, you could choose something that matches or blends well… I won’t fail you for it 🙂

Let me write that in a list without all of my commentaries:

    • a total of 1 1/3 yard of fabrics for your top (2-5 fabrics)  (if you are using 2 fabrics, you could buy 2/3 and 2/3 or 1/2 and 1/2, though 1/2 might not be enough)
    • 1 yard of fabric for the backing
    • 1/2 yard fabric for binding
    • 1 yard of low or medium loft batting
    • thread for assembling the quilt top
    • contrasting (but coordinating) thread for quilting the quilt top
    • double-sided fusible webbing (Optional… for use if you want to add an applique.)

I also used the following tools:

  • iron and ironing board
  • sewing machine (and at least 2 bobbins of thread)
  • seam ripper ( you are bound to need it at least once)
  • extra machine needles (You may or may not need it, but there is nothing worse than having to stop a project because you need to go to the store to get more needles!  Speaking of which…I think I just put my last one in my machine…)
  • rotary mat, ruler, and cutter (optional, but highly recommended if you don’t have them, read this for more info on what you can do instead)
  • scissors
  • pins
  • hand sewing needle
  • thimble (optional)
  • safety pins (optional, but recommended)
  • pencil (you may or may not need this… it’s for the optional applique, and taking notes)
  • scrap paper (for marking rows or making notes)
  • patience (Be kind to yourself, especially if you are new to sewing!  It takes time to learn and get good.)

Cutting out your materials

I’m probably going to remind you of this every time we do a project, but before we begin any project, you should always iron your materials.  If you are using colors that tend to bleed (reds and blues) with lighter colors, you should probably consider washing your materials first.  You do not need to wash your materials first, and if you do not, your quilting will stand out a little more when you wash your project for the first time.

Begin by cutting squares out of your total 1 1/3 yardage of fabric.  To do this, lay your fabric on your cutting mat, and cut strips 3 1/2″ wide out of the fabric in one direction, leaving them on the mat as you cut, until you cannot cut anymore.  Remove the excess, and now turn the mat (or reposition yourself) and cut strips 3 1/2″ wide in the other directions.  This will create squares that are 3 1/2″x 3 1/2″.  I almost always keep my fabrics folded on the factory fold when cutting out pieces for a quilt, because it allows me to cut my fabrics twice as fast.

My table runners were each 5 squares wide by 11 squares long, so I used a total of 55 squares per runner.

Laying out your table runner

After you cut out your squares, you are going to want to lay out your patchwork top on your actual dining room table (or coffee table, if that’s where you plan to use this) to decide what size to make your table runner.  I opted for 5 squares by 11, but you can make yours narrower/wider or longer to better suit your needs or pattern (should you try to get fancy 🙂 )

Play around with your squares to create a pattern that you like.  I tried several designs before settling on two that I liked.

Once you have your pattern decided on, stack your squares from each row, creating piles of squares.  My design was 5 rows wide, so I had 5 stacks of squares.  Always start stacking rows from the same end so that you do not mess up your design/pattern (or lack thereof… random doesn’t always look great, so when you find the right random order, you want to keep it that way!).  It may help you to keep your squares organized by pinning a piece of paper to the end square of each row.  Just mark the same end on each row.  The key to keeping your squares organized is consistency!  You can stack your rows and then label them “row 1, row 2, row 3,” ect… that way if you need to put your project away, you can easily come back to it and know which row is which, where one pile starts and where one ends, and what order they belong in.

Piecing the patchwork top

With your pieces cut and your design settled on, it’s time to start putting this all together!  Make sure your machine is set to straight stitching, and that you are using a short to mid-range stitch length (for me that’s between a 2 and a 3 on my stitch length dial).  The longer your stitches, the more likely your work is to come apart (a long stitch is meant to temporarily hold things together and to be removed easily and is called a basting stitch or gathering stitch).   A very short stitch is going to hold your fabric together VERY tightly and will be nearly impossible to remove.  Play around on a sample piece of fabric if you aren’t sure if you have this right.  “Factory settings” will usually have you set up for the kind of stitching I’m talking about.

Start with one row of pieces, and take the top piece on your stack and flip it to be face down on the next square on your stack (they should be “right sides together” like the pictures below show).

Sew a seam, 1/4″ on one of the edges of your squares.  Instead of clipping threads in between each pair of squares, wait until you have paired together all or most of the squares.  I was left with one “extra” because I had an odd number of squares.  This process of sewing without clipping your thread between sets is called “Chain Sewing” and will help you stay organized and to use a little less thread.  I should note there that if you are using a directional print, meaning that the pattern printed on the fabric all points in one direction (a picture of a child, animal, pumpkin, house…), you need to be extra careful about placing your seams on the correct sides of the squares as you go to keep everything consistent.  Then again, you can let a directional print spin and turn on your project too…sometimes we just want things to be consistent.  If it matters, pay attention.  The white and orange fabric I used was directional, but I intentionally had it turn in different directions.

Once you have your pairs all stitched together, clip your thread from the machine, and lay out your squares on your table so that they are “hanging” like a banner.  This will show you what order they were assembled in, and make it easy to piece everything together properly.  Remember, consistency is key!  You flipped your top square upside down onto your second square, and continued that patter all of the way down the stack.  Clip the threads and turn the squares so that the seam is pointing to the left, and then open each pair of squares. (How you put your blocks into the sewing machine matters too… did you sew your seam with the first square on top, or the bottom?  Pick one and stick with it.  You’ll notice if something is off when you open up the pairs.)

Now pair the pairs together in the same way, and do the same sewing process again.  If you are doing an odd number of squares like I did, then you can pair your final pair with your single square, for a set of 3 instead of 4.  Repeat this process until you have all of the squares in the row pieced together.  *You CAN just piece one piece onto the row at a time, but this is more time-consuming and uses a lot more thread because of all of the tails you create as you go.* (Reference pictures below.)

Repeat this process with each subsequent row, making sure to keep them in the correct order as you go.

How to Sew a Patchwork Table Runner: Part 1
All of my rows, pieced together, waiting to be ironed.

Whenever you are done sewing a row, you need to bring it to your ironing board to press the seams flat.  There are two ways to go about this.  One option is to open up each seam and press.  The other is to press the seam all to one direction.  If you are using a combination of light and dark fabrics, you will need to either press your seams open so that you do not end up with dark fabric showing through your light fabric, or you will need to press your seam away from the light fabric.  With something like this, chances are you are going to have lights and darks alternating, between rows, so your best bet is to press your seams open.

After you have finished pressing the seams from the back side of a row, flip the row over and give it another pressing from the front side.  It will really help your project lay flat.

There is another aspect to pressing to consider as well.  If you press your seams open, it is more difficult to properly line up your rows to have nice, crisp intersections.  If you press your seams in one direction on one row, press them in another direction in the next row.  The squares will line up very neatly. This is called “nesting” seams. If you use this method, you will probably want to press the seams between rows open so as not to create lots of bulk and allow your finish project to lay more flat.

I’m getting a bit ahead of myself.  After you have pressed each row, you will now need to join each of the rows to the next row.  Lay your rows out like you want them to be for the finished product. (This establishes order, but also helps you to identify if you have sewn everything together properly and if there are mistakes to be fixed… now is the time to fix them!)  Flip your top row down onto the next row so that the right sides are together.  Pin the rows together where they should be sewn together.  If you sew the wrong edge together, your pattern will be opposite of what it is supposed to be.  After pinning, open up just to make sure you have pinned the correct edges.  When you pin your rows, do your best to line up the seams from one row to another.  The goal is a crisp intersection.  Things that will affect your intersections: uneven squares (even if you were off by 1/8″ on the size of some of your squares, your pieces will not line up… same is true for crooked squares), inconsistent seams, stretchy fabrics (some fabrics have a print on them will not allow for as much give in a fabric as others), and lack of pressing, or sloppy pressing.  

Please know that even somebody like me who has done plenty of sewing, and excellent quilters like my mother (AHEM! Thanks a lot, Danielle! Lol Just kidding… it’s true!) still have imperfect intersections in our work from time to time.  The goal is to get them as neat and clean as possible.  If you are finding that you are consistently having issues with your intersections, it’s time to double check your seam allowances and square sizes.

With your rows pinned, join them together with 1/4″ seams.  I just added one row at a time, but you could do the pairing thing that we did above to join your rows as well.  Press the seams open.  Flip the patchwork top over, and give the whole top a nice pressing.  I did not mark the ends of my rows, and I ended up goofing and sewing one row on topside down, and to the wrong side of another row.  Oops!  See, even “pros” use their seam rippers from time to time!

Okay, now I know that’s a lot to take in.  Don’t get hung up on the patterns that I used, or even the order that I did my piecing in.  There are other ways to piece things together, and we’ll deal with that another day.  The main thing is to focus on making rows with 1/4″ seam allowance between blocks and rows.  Focus on cutting out neat squares, accurate seams, and good pressing.  If it feels too complicated to use more prints, then stick with two, and alternate between them, switching up the fabric you start with for each row.  Get used to your seam ripper!  Mistakes happen, and that’s okay.  Get your practice in.  Get good at doing these things now.  Building good practices now will make for better results and lead to an easier time with projects down the road.

And now that you know how to piece together a patchwork table runner, you can make a patchwork quilt or table runner, or a patchwork pillow… You don’t have to make your future project with 3 1/2″x 3 1/2″ cut squares.  Remember that with 1/4″ seam allowances, your squares with shrink 1/2″ in either direction  The finished squares on this table runner are 3″x3″.  Make your squares 2″ or 5″ or anything that works for you.  Keep in mind when you are laying this all out, that it WILL “shrink” when sewn together, so my advice is to go a square larger than it appears before finishing so you get the size you need.

Now you are ready for the next step(s)!  Do you want to add an applique to your table runner?  Read that post here.  Next week we’ll teach you how to quilt it all together, bind it, and add a label 🙂  Don’t forget to share your pictures with us!

Love~ Danielle and Trudy

P.S.  Did you miss the rest of our sewing series?  Do you need to go back and reference other posts?  You can find them right here:

The Basics

Introduction to Sewing: Part 1

Introduction to Sewing: Part 2

Sewing Tools

How to Buy Fabric

Hooked on Sewing

Your Sewing Machine

Acquiring a Sewing Machine

Getting To Know Your Sewing Machine

Setting Up Your Sewing Machine

Sewing Machine Maintenance and Troubleshooting

Hand Sewing

Sew, A Needle Pulling Thread

Basic Hand Sewing: Part 1

Basic Hand Sewing: Part 2

Hand-Sewn Stockings


Throw Pillow Supplies and More Sewing Tools

How to Sew a Pillow

How to Make a Table Runner: Part 1

How to Make a Patchwork Table Runner: Part 2

How to Make an Applique


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