Scots plaid block (a tutorial)

DSC07865

I am in the peace circle of the do. Good Stitches charity bee and March is my first month to choose the quilt design. How exciting!

I recently purchased 500 Quilt Blocks (love!) and for some reason this simple block is my current favorite.

Here is a little tutorial for my bee mates and anyone else who’d like to try out this block.

marchblock

It is extremely important to note that the numbers in the graphic represent the finished dimensions of the components. For cutting purposes, simply add a half inch to each. For example, you would cut a 6.5 x 6.5 inch square for the large square in the bottom left corner.

To assemble the block:

  1. Join the 6.5 inch square to one of the 3.5 x 6.5 inch rectangles.
  2. Join a 3.5 inch square to the other 3.5 x 6.5 inch rectangle.
  3. Join the two pieces from steps 1 and 2.
  4. Join one of the 3.5 x 9.5 inch rectangles to the piece from step 3.
  5. Join the last 3.5 inch square to the last 3.5 x 9.5 inch rectangle.
  6. Join the pieces from steps 4 and 5.

The block will measure 12.5 inches when assembled and finish 12 inches in the quilt top.

Here are the 2 blocks I completed.

DSC07875

DSC07873

For the peace circle: if you can, I’d love the squares to be flowers (large scale if you have it, but medium or small is ok too) and the rectangles to be low volume (or light colored) dots or stripes. Other large-scale prints are good too (birds, trees, etc). Try to stick to the colors show here – purple, pink, green, yellow, orange, blue/turquoise. Just do your best, use what you have, and have fun! Oh, and please make 2 if you can.

Why pin? (a tutorial)

DSC05062

After some interesting email discussions with some of my barn door quilt along participants, I decided to take the time to talk for a minute about pinning.

Every quilter has to determine her (or his) own personal pinning system. Most quilters are not going to pin every single seam they sew. Some quilters never pin at all. I’m going to share what I do in case you find it helpful. The goal is for you to make your own decision in order to maximize your enjoyment of quilting and your satisfaction with your results.

When I first started quilting I used pins whenever my strips were longer than 6 inches because that is what the Learn to Quilt DVD instructed! I didn’t understand the hows or whys, and I didn’t have good results. I got really frustrated when my strips didn’t seem to line up so I started over cutting and trimming afterwards.

(Edit: by “over cutting” I mean cutting the strip longer than it needs to be, sewing, and then trimming).

This went on for some time and I made several very useful and pretty quilts that way. They always had a little wonk to them but I did my best with the information I had at the time.

In fact, allow me to show you something you probably didn’t notice the first time you saw barn door:

barn door oops

Woopsa-daisy! The triangle should be a normal, complete HST (half square triangle) and the first piece of the bottom border should line up with it. Completely not a big deal and not anything you’d notice if you view the quilt as a whole.

DSC06670

When I make mistakes that don’t ruin the quilt, I frequently leave them in. I’ve said before that it’s not fun anymore if I have to sew it twice. But I do try to understand what went wrong and how to avoid making that same mistake again.

In this case, the mistake was over cutting and trimming instead of carefully measuring and pinning.

I had similar problems with the solid stripes quilts I made my nephews. In that case my incorrect pinning technique caused my quilt top to completely refuse to lay flat. I don’t have any good pictures of that because it was before blogging. You’ll just have to trust me: it would not lay flat and it was extremely frustrating. (By the way, if you have trouble with your borders “waving” or “smiling” this is why!)

After watching a few Craftsy classes and receiving some very expert instruction from my husband’s aunt, my results (and enjoyment!) have improved quite a bit.

Here’s what I learned.

Most importantly, you have to pin in the right order. Besides the over cutting, this is the biggest thing I was doing wrong.

pinning
Line up and pin the outer edges first and then place a pin in the middle. If this was a longer strip I would add additional pins in the middle of these pins and then keep adding pins in the middle until I had pins every 3-4 inches.

If your strips are slightly off, you still line up the outer edges. Use even more pins (every 1-2 inches) and leave them in until your needle is just about to hit them. You’ll be amazed by the way that extra fabric somehow eases into the seam and disappears. If it doesn’t, that may be because your strips were too far off for “easing in” to work. Then you have to decide whether to go back and redo something or live with it the way it is and try again on the next strip!

If your strips have seams that you want lined up (as is the case for barn door) you line that area up and pin it first. Then you proceed with normal pinning procedure: outside edges followed by the middle.

DSC07356

On this strip I pinned my 2 triangle points first

That’s all there is to it! It’s simple and effective and I’ve personally found it worth it because of the frustration it saves me later in the process.

As always, if you have any questions please let me know via comment or email. And if you have any additional pinning tips or techniques we would all love to hear them.

Tutorial: Cut a yard of fabric in a flash

DSC07007

Have you ever done a swap?

There are all kinds of them out there! People swap fabric (of course) but also finished blocks and even finished projects (usually small projects like mini quilts, bags, etc).

I recently joined an Anna Maria Horner charm square swap on Flickr (it’s full now but I’m willing to bet there will be another round soon). We each send 2 sets of 56 charm squares (5 inches) of 2 fabrics and get 2 sets of 56 different fabrics back.

I ordered some of AMH’s 2 new lines Dowry and True Colors.

DSC07013

(BTW, don’t be confused if you search for True Colors at your go-to fabric sources and find multiple lines coming up under that name. It’s actually a new collection of several lines by several Free Spirit designers- all basics intended to blend with each designers’ individual typical palettes).

When I made this order I ordered an extra yard of 4 different prints for my contribution to the swap (I signed up for 2 slots, so I have to send 4 sets of 56 charms).

What’s fabulous about this is that it’s incredibly fast to cut 56 charm squares from one yard of fabric. It would take way longer to go through your stash and cut 56 charms from 56 different fabrics (if you even have that many!).

As I was cutting these charms yesterday I was thinking about my cutting tutorial from my Your 1st Quilt series. I didn’t discuss cutting multiple pieces at a time because I honestly don’t think that’s a good idea for beginners. But just in case some of you might benefit, I thought I’d do a really quick tutorial on how I cut a yard of fabric if I’m fortunate enough to need a lot of one particular size cut.

I should give credit to Camille Roskelley’s excellent first Craftsy class. I do it a little differently, but this is definitely inspired by her method and I highly recommend her class. She has a second class out now that I’ll definitely be checking out.

A yard of fabric in a flash:

1. As always, starch and press your fabric first.

2. Now hold your fabric selvedge to selvedge so that it hangs straight and place it on your cutting board. (I explain this fully in my introductory cutting tutorial here.)

3. Line up a line of your ruler with the bottom, folded edge of the fabric. Create a straight, fresh edge on one side.

DSC06938 DSC06941

4. Working from your new fresh edge, cut into 5-inch strips. To line up your ruler with the folded edge you’ll have to rotate the board or go to the other side of your table.

DSC06957 DSC06946

Each time make sure you are getting a good 90-degree angle. Sometimes you may need to create a new, fresh edge if that angle somehow gets off.

5. This is where it gets fancy! Carefully lay out as many 5-inch strips as your cutting board and ruler can handle. I have a large board but only a 24 inch ruler. My setup can handle 4 strips at a time.

DSC06965

You’ll line the strips up using the lines of the board, but use your ruler to measure and cut.

5. Create fresh edges again by cutting off the selvedges.

DSC06979 DSC06989

Then rotate the board and cut your strips into squares.

DSC06992

Frequently double check for 90 degree angles on all corners.

If you are having trouble with the ruler slipping at the end, try pausing to move your hand higher up the ruler. I usually move my hand half way through a long cut like this. You may even want to move it twice if your ruler is particularly wild.

DSC06996

When you get to the end you’ll have 56 charm squares and some small scraps left.

DSC07001

DSC07011

I do not like to stack multiple strips, even though that would make this even faster. I have not had good results when I’ve tried that, so I don’t do it.

Accuracy is more important than speed, so check your accuracy often. If you are not getting good results, you may need to change your cutting blade or simply try different methods until you find one that works for you. This is the method that works for me!

Perfectly perfect half square triangles and hourglass units (a tutorial)

DSC04945

When I made my Swooning for Baby Charlie* quilt I decided it was time: time to get those half square triangles (HSTs) just right.

(*Shout out to baby Charlie’s great grandmother by the way! Apparently she’s a big fan of my blog. You just cannot imagine how happy it made me to hear that.)

I slowed down and took the time to figure out what works for me, and now I’m passing along what I learned to you.

If you’re having trouble with your HSTs ending up too small, this one’s for you!

1.  The math.  Determine what size you need your HST to be and add 3/4 of an inch. I like to think in terms of the unfinished measurement: the size of the HST when it is a unit that is not yet sewn into your project. It will finish 1/2 an inch smaller on both sides once it is sewn into the project, but for now let’s keep it simple by just thinking about the size it needs to be when it is a lone unit.

For example, the project I’m working on (writing my first pattern, in fact!) requires me to attach HSTs to 3 1/4 inch strips so I need my HSTs to measure 3 1/4 inches. Adding 3/4 of an inch means I need to cut 4 inch squares.

2.  Cutting.  Cut a square from each of your fabrics to the size you determined in the step above.

DSC04703

3.  Drawing.  I use the Fons & Porter quarter inch seam marker for this, but I’ll show you how to do it without one too.

If you have the seam marker, draw 2 lines- each a quarter inch from the diagonal of your square on the wrong side of the fabric. If one of your fabrics is a lighter color, it’ll be easier to see your pencil line on that one. A mechanical pencil is the best marking tool for this job.

DSC04709

If you don’t have the seam marker, draw one line down the diagonal of the square.

DSC04842

4.  Sewing.  The directions that come with the ruler say to sew on the lines you just drew. Don’t do that! Sew just slightly to the side of that line. This is called sewing with a scant 1/4 inch seam. It takes into account that tiny line of fabric you lose when you fold the fabric over and press it after sewing. In our case, the over-cutting actually makes this less important because we are going to have a fair amount of wiggle room. But sewing with a scant 1/4 inch is still a good thing to practice.

DSC04740

DSC04768

If you are only using a center line, sew a scant 1/4 inch on either side of the center line.

DSC04791

Sew slowly here. You are sewing on the bias, where the fabric is weakest. If you zoom your machine too quickly the fabric will stretch.

5.  Trimming. Cut and press your new baby HSTs.

DSC04794

I like to finger press them open before pressing them with the iron, otherwise they don’t always open all the way.

DSC04807

Yes I need a new ironing board cover. And a manicure.

Use the 45 degree marking on your ruler to “square up” your triangles to the right size. It was a bit of an “ah ha” moment for me when I realized that a triangle can be trimmed to any size as long as you keep the ruler’s 45 degree line right on the triangle’s 45 degree line. That means if you are following a pattern, when it comes to HSTs you don’t have to be nervous about changing the cutting directions a bit to allow you the extra you need for trimming. You can cut the size you want to cut!

DSC04811

DSC04817

DSC04827

This is a little easier if you have these cute little square rulers, but you can certainly use the 45 degree angle of any cutting ruler.

DSC04839

Now you have a perfectly perfect HST and you can make just about 75% of all quilt patterns!

A word about the waste. Ok, so those little tiny strips of fabric can be pretty hard to part with when the fabric is this cute. But it’s worth it! The main reason you want those little edges gone is because you’ve just sewn on the bias. Any time you cut or sew diagonally across fabric (even if you go slowly) it stretches and weakens. Those edges were manhandled by your sewing machine’s feed dogs. It’s best to part with them in favor of a more accurate quilt top.

6.  Hourglassing.  (I just invented a new verb. “Mommy’s hourglassing, I’ll be there in a minute.”) If you need hourglasses instead of HSTs the process is very similar.

The math: add an inch to the size of the unit you want. Just like the HSTs, you can always trim an hourglass smaller as long as you watch the 45 degree angles and the center point.

I want my hourglass unit to measure 3 1/4 inches. Unfortunately, we cannot use the HSTs we just made because those will end up too small. We need to cut our squares 4 1/4 inches this time and then make 2 HSTs using the method described above (stopping prior to trimming). Before trimming we need to diagonally cut the HST as shown below and then join the pieces into hourglasses. One HST will yield 2 hourglasses.

DSC04854

DSC04862

This is a good place to mention that when you’re joining things like this you should make sure the 2 seams are pressed in opposite directions and then “nest” the seams together as shown below. This is how you get perfectly aligned points. A pin wouldn’t hurt but I personally don’t use them for this.

DSC04874

To trim, find the center measurement of your hourglass and line up your ruler there. Our hourglass makes this kind of tricky, but I want to keep it real. Half of 3 1/4 is 1.625. Eyeball it! It’ll be fine. Just make sure you trim about the same amount from each side so your center point stays centered.

DSC04885

DSC04903

And there you have a nicely square 3 1/4 inch hourglass unit with 4 clean and strong sides.

Please feel free to contact me with questions about this tutorial! I hope it helps.

Hide-the-basting-stitches method for EPP (a tutorial)

DSC03451 DSC03473

Welcome to my first tutorial! I’m really glad you’re here because english paper piecing (EPP) is something I am passionate about and I think my method simplifies what is admittedly a time-consuming (but lovely!) process.

Let’s make some pretty hexies together!

1.  Introduction.  If you aren’t familiar with EPP here’s how it works. EPP is a very old-fashioned method of hand sewing small pieces of fabric around a piece of paper and then sewing the shapes together before removing the papers and finishing the project. You can read my post on EPP to hear more about what makes EPP so awesome and different from other sewing.

2.  Supplies.  Most of the supplies are your basic sewing basket contents: needle, thread, scissors, pins. The only new supply you will need to acquire is the “paper” part of the EPP. I like to get my papers from paperpieces.com rather than making them myself. If you do a project of large size I definitely recommend purchasing your papers rather than making them. I have been very happy with paperpieces.com and I think the papers are pretty affordable considering the time you are saving. And they’re reusable so you don’t necessarily need as many papers as shapes in your quilt. Oh, and the accuracy is a safer bet when cut out by a machine rather than your scissors. (No offense.)

DSC03777

3.  Cutting.  Oh, the freedom of casual EPP cutting! One of the fun things about EPP is that you can put away your rotary cutter because your cutting does not have to be accurate. You can simply chop at some fabric with scissors and the paper ensures the accuracy. In fact, I use square pieces of fabric for my hexagons and it works just fine. Your fabric needs to be about 3/8 to a 1/2 inch bigger on all sides than your shape. A little less is okay but don’t make yourself crazy by limiting it to a 1/4 inch. A little wiggle room will make your life a lot easier and keep the process relaxing.

4.  Pinning.  Ok, once you have your supplies and fabric ready to go the next step is pinning. I simply put one pin through the middle of the paper and fabric to hold them together during basting. This prevents the paper from sliding out of place once you get going. This is particularly important with my method since you won’t be sewing through the papers at all. I like to pin a pretty little stack and then proceed in an assembly-line fashion.

DSC03790

5.  Basting.  Now you are ready for basting the fabric around the paper. This is the magic of EPP right here: the papers are all exactly the same size and perfect shape so once your fabric is wrapped around it it’ll be perfect too. I baste my EPP shapes by pinching each corner and taking a loop around it with a single stitch. I do not go through the paper at all, and that is the main difference between my method and other methods. Because all of the stitches are on the back side of the shape, they will not need to be removed. Once your pieces are basted you can remove the pins. (I am using nice thick red thread so that you can see my stitches. You should just use white all-purpose thread.)

DSC03830 DSC03834 DSC03837 DSC03844

6.  Ironing.  Press your shapes while being sure not to misshape them. I use the tip of my iron and iron toward the shape. Then when I’m sure the fabric is flush with the paper on all sides I press down to flatten the seam allowances.

7.  Whipstitching.  After you’ve basted some cute little piles of EPP shapes, they can be pieced together by whipstitching. At this point it’s not a bad idea to consider your thread color. I’ve never had a problem with hexies but when I did diamonds I regretted using white thread with my dark fabric.

You hold the pieces right sides together and take small even stitches across the length of the shapes. You want to get just a few threads from each hexagon fabric and not eat too far into the middle of the shape or your stitches will be visible and misshape your pieces. Use the paper as your guide.

DSC03850 DSC03856 DSC03867

8.  Joining rows.  You can piece several together into a row and then join the rows. Unlike sewing machine sewing, there is a lot of flexibility regarding what order you do this. You really can’t screw it up because at any point you can always go back and fill in more hand stitches.When you start joining hexies together you’ll realize that it’s sometimes necessary to fold an adjoining hexi in order to get them to lay right sides together for whipstitching. You do not remove the papers until the individual hexagon you are removing the paper from no longer needs to be joined to any other hexagon. Since the paper is your guide, you want to keep the paper in as long as there is still sewing to do for that hexagon. Once the hexagon is sewed into the quilt, the paper has served its purpose and can be removed.

DSC03886 DSC03896 DSC03901 DSC03924

There really are endless design possibilities once you get the hang of EPP. Here are a couple of experiments I did with diamonds, squares and triangles.

DSC03877

You can even completely design and cut out your own shapes. I’ve used this method to create little ties and bowties to decorate the onesies in this post. All I did was draw the ties on a piece of card stock and cut them into workable shapes. This was a bit easier than some other methods of this project because the EPP created finished edges.

Click here for a fun chart that helps with hexagon math from paperpieces.com. It gives you various measurements for different sizes of hexagons and some tips for cutting your fabric.

All right, please feel free to ask questions and I will update the tutorial from time to time as questions recur. I’ve also added a “Tutorials” tab to my home page so you’ll be able to easily access this and other future tutorials.

Enjoy!