Four Flying Geese, Three French Hens, Two …

[I published this in April when I was making lots of geese. Well, I’m at the geese stage again! Since I needed to remind myself of the four-at-a-time method, I thought I’d remind you, too. Cheers!]

Fooled ya, huh? It’s actually “four calling birds…” The geese don’t come in until later, when there are six geese a-laying…

One of the reasons I love flying geese blocks is they can be made almost any size. Blocks that are on grid are less adaptable for sizes. For example, regular 9-patches are on a 3-grid (3 rows by 3 columns) and are most easily made in sizes that multiply easily by 3, such as 6″ finish with 2″ patches, or 7.5″ finish with 2.5″ patches. For a harder one, bear’s paws are on a 7-grid, so are most easily made in sizes like 7″, 10.5″, or 14″. But geese are ungridded. The flying geese I need finish at 8.25″ in length. That’s a weird size, but easy to make. (Half-square triangles and hourglass blocks also can be made any size.) 

There are a variety of ways to make geese, but I only use two of them. One is the stitch-and-flip method. With this, the base (goose) is cut the size of the finished block, plus 1/2″ each direction for seam allowances. For example, if you want a block that finishes at 3″ x 6″, cut the base as 3.5″ x 6.5″. The background (sky) is cut as two squares, both half the length of the finished block, plus seam allowances. Using the same size block, cut two pieces that are 3.5″ square. Pat Sloan shows how to put these together to make a perfectly sized flying geese unit.

The method works great. However, you do have waste triangles of fabric cut off. Some people make good use of them and convert them into half-square triangles for other purposes. I do not. For small flying geese, throwing away the waste doesn’t bother me much. For larger ones, it does.

The other method I use is the four-at-a-time method. Why choose this one? The process allows more efficient use of fabric, because there are no waste triangles. For me, the disadvantage is I have to be more careful of my seam allowance. To adjust for that, I check sizing on the first set I make. If I need to trim slightly, that means I need to use a slightly bigger seam allowance, perhaps only a thread width bigger. Even so, it’s a great way to make a lot of geese quickly and with no waste.

Here is a video that clearly explains the process, as well as a link to another set of instructions from Connecting Threads.

For each FOUR geese units, use 1 large square and 4 small squares.
Large square = finished length of unit + 1.25″
Small square = finished width of unit + .875″ (that is 7/8″)

Example: for four flying geese units finishing at 3″ x 6″, cut 1 large square (the geese) at 7 1/4″, or 7.25″. Cut 4 small squares (the sky) at 3 7/8″, or 3.875″.

Draw a diagonal line across the wrong side of each small square, corner to corner. Arrange two of them right sides together in diagonally opposite corners of the large square, with the drawn lines meeting in the middle. The small squares will overlap a little. Pin them in place.

FG 1
Stitch from corner to corner, a scant 1/4″ away from the drawn line. Then turn around and stitch the other direction on the other side of the drawn line.

Cut on the drawn line between the two stitching lines. The video shows using the rotary cutter and ruler, but scissors work fine.

FG 3
Press toward the sky squares. You end up with two pieces shaped sort of like a heart.

FG 4

On each of those pieces, pin another of the small squares with the drawn line running from the corner through the “cleavage” of the heart. Sew 1/4″ from both sides of the drawn line, as you did before. Cut apart on the drawn line, and press toward the sky triangles.

FG 5

What is the difference in fabric used for the two methods? I needed 32 flying geese units with finished measure 4.125″ x 8.25″. To make FOUR units this size:
Stitch-and-flip requires 4 (units) x 4.625″ x 8.75″ = 161.875 square inches of the base fabric, and
4 (units) x 2 (per unit) x 4.625″ x 4.625″ = 171.125 square inches of the sky fabric.

Four-at-a-time requires 9.5″ x 9.5″ = 90.25 square inches of the base fabric, and
4 x 5″ x 5″ = 100 square inches of the sky fabric.

For this size example, stitch-and-flip requires almost twice as much of each fabric, compared to the four-at-a-time method. For 32 of them, that’s almost a half yard difference for each fabric. I don’t always have that much more fabric available. Note that different sizes of flying geese will have different outcomes on this calculation, because of the proportion of the seam allowance compared to the rest of the unit.

One more alternative is to create the effect of flying geese using half-square triangles. Instead of 32 flying geese, I could have used 64 half-square triangles. I chose not to do this because I wanted the toile of the base fabric unseamed.

Do you use flying geese in your quilts? Do you have a favorite way of making them? Questions or comments?


15 thoughts on “Four Flying Geese, Three French Hens, Two …

  1. Sandra Lanter

    Thank you for the comparison of the two methods for making flying geese. The difference in amount of fabric used is significant. I also like the idea of cutting bigger and then trimming to correct size. As hard as I try, when I size my whatever up, it is always smaller than called for. I measure my seams, etc., but …Thanks again.

    1. Melanie McNeil Post author

      You’re welcome. Even with oversizing and trimming, the fabric saving would be substantial. For me, both methods have their place. And certainly I don’t always have chunks of fabric big enough to do a 4-at-a-time, if I’m working from scraps. So I’m glad to know both ways. Thanks for reading and commenting.

  2. Paula Hedges

    Once I learned the four at a time, I have never looked back, as the saying goes! Only wish I had known that technique years ago when I put several (probably close to 100) flying geese in a quilt. After that I swore I’d never make another one!

    1. Melanie McNeil Post author

      No kidding! I’ve done way too many the hard way, too. I actually like doing one at a time for small geese, as it’s easier for me to make them right-sized. But larger geese are more forgiving for size anyway, and easier to get “right” with the mass production method. Definitely the right way to do them!

  3. snarkyquilter

    Melanie, your measurements that involve 7/8 of an inch send fear into my heart. I’ve made one quilt of all flying geese, for which I used a specialty ruler someone gave me. That ruler essentially used your second method, though the measurements were marked on the ruler. I have paper pieced the geese into oddly shaped ones that went around a corner. The paper piecing was helpful for using the odd shaped scraps I had. I’ve never made really large geese like you’re using, so that might be something to try.

    1. Melanie McNeil Post author

      Ah. Well. Rulers take care of the 7/8″, as long as I put it in the right place. I have not done paper piecing. Honestly removing the paper is what keeps me from that. I guess we all have our barriers. 🙂

      1. snarkyquilter

        Flying geese lend themselves to freezer paper piecing, where you don’t sew through the paper. Instead you use freezer paper to hold you pieces in place while you sew and then remove that by peeling it off.

  4. katechiconi

    I make them with paper piecing too, as it means I never, ever press the seams into a curve by mistake and spoil the shape of the goose. Perfect gooses, every time… But I do like this second method you’ve shown, and in the event that I had dozens to make (as in my future medallion quilt!), I’ll be using this version.

    1. Melanie McNeil Post author

      Yes, it is really nice to be able to make so many, so quickly. If I do my next border as I’m currently planning, I’ll need 64 of them. Really too many to do one at a time (though certainly I’ve done that before!)

  5. Cindi Lambert

    The only flying geese method I generally use is paper piecing. I like how the geese come out this way and of course they can also be made any size. You shrink or blow up your geese paper to make what you want. I will say this method is not as hand quilting friendly but works great for a longarm machine, which I do not have.

    1. Melanie McNeil Post author

      I can make them any size with these methods, as long as the size is a ratio of 2:1. But the lovely thing about paper piecing is you can really make them ANY size, not limited by the rectangle ratio.


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